Avoiding being triggered

Perhaps the greatest lesson I have learnt this year is that I will never get to a point where I am not emotionally triggered under particular circumstances.

For a long time I think I have been trying to get to place where I can roll with the punches regardless of what is thrown at me. I thought that getting to a point of equanimity meant getting to place where my old buttons could be pushed and I would be unaffected. I think this is cloud cuckoo land. It may exist in some mythical perfect reality but it probably will never be my life.

No, rather the point is to be able to know when I am triggered, to find the support I need to unhook my emotional response, and face back in to the situation to achieve what was hoped for in the first place.

When I find myself triggered by someone I have two choices. If the person is someone close to me it is probably worth explaining that I find that particular circumstance more emotionally charged than may be expected. But if it is someone I only interact with occasionally, it is probably better to simply find a way to recover my equilibrium.

Perhaps the greatest gift for me this year has been the discovery that I have people in my life who can and will help me recover my equilibrium. And with this discovery I no longer have to be afraid of being triggered – I can recover. I no longer have to wait for the dawn of the era of cloud cuckoo land. I can live a beautiful, rich and wholehearted life right now.

Christ plays in ten thousand places

The gospel of the fourth Sunday in Advent was the annunciation, and yesterday the visitation. Two places I got to visit in June on a Pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Two places I had the honour of breaking open the Word.

For personal reasons the pilgrimage was a crucible. One that really did burn off some of my dross. It was acutely painful, but I was well supported by Christ clothed in the flesh of my companions.

So for me this Christmas Eve it is Gerard Manly Hopkins whose words are playing in mind:

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.
I say móre: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is —
Chríst — for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.
With deep gratitude for all my companions on that particular journey.

Five years

I began this blog five years ago today.

It wasn’t my first blog, I had at two failed attempts at blogging prior to this. Both failed because I was afraid of putting my thoughts ‘out there’. And so I made them subscriber access only or hid them and invited a small select few to read. I had to become brave enough to let my words take on a life of their own before I could actually sustain a blog.

A couple of years ago I bumped into someone after church who said to me ‘I read your blog and I enjoy it, but how do you come up with all of your ideas.’ I can’t remember now what I said in response, but it was question that slightly mystified me – what do you mean how do I come up with the ideas? What is posted here is a tiny fraction of what occupies my mind. The ideas that I share are those that I want to crystallise for myself, or that I have crystallised and I think will be helpful to others.

What has surprised me is that five years on, I still cannot tell whether a post will gain significant traction or not.  Those posts which I have thought were either very context specific or very much written for my benefit rather than the desire to say something meaningful tend to resonate a lot more than I would expect.

Why do I keep writing? I enjoy the gentle feedback. It is encouraging to know that there are others thinking in similar ways. Occasionally I get some push back, but that is normally because the 300 or so words that I usually use doesn’t allow for much nuance or development of thought.

So for now, I’ll keep going. It is sufficiently uncomplicated that it doesn’t require terribly much energy, and I gain a lot from the process. If that balance tips then, I’ll revisit.


Flamboyant trees

I cannot explain why but this image and many like it somehow hit me in a particular way.

It is the gathering of the crowds. But it isn’t that moves me in the depths of my being. It is the blaze of red in the trees. There is something so powerful in my psyche about the fuzzy red blossoms in the trees that moves me. The combination of the people marching so peacefully and the blossoming flamboyant trees in the country to which my body know it belongs is so profoundly moving.

My soul aches in a particular way when I see these images. It is an ache of belonging. An ache of hope. An ache of the fear of disappointment.

I did not realise that I had utterly given up any sense of possibility of change while Robert Mugabe lived. I did not realise that until this week. This week of possibility, of hope, and a deep deep fear that the change may be cosmetic rather than actual.

I live in a country now where peaceful protest is almost unknown. I watch the images and hear the reports of thousands and thousands gathering in peace in my home country.

I am deeply fearful of hope. But the blossoming of the flamboyant trees…


The cost of compensation

I broke my right tibia when I was 13 (that’s your shin bone). The bone was set correctly, but my knee was at a slightly odd angle in the cast. The result is that lower half of my right leg now juts out at an angle. Most people wouldn’t notice.

The problem is the rest of my body has been compensating ever since. In my mid-teens a shoulder injury resulted because I was doing a lot swimming and my right leg didn’t have the same strength. In my early twenties a lower back injury, in my mid-twenties trouble with my knee…

Almost every physical injury I have had since then can be traced back maybe not all the way back to that one injury, but most injuries are related to earlier ones. One part of my body now injured because too much was demanded as it tried compensate for an earlier problem.

It makes me wonder whether that happens emotionally? And if that is true on an individual level what about society?

Graven images

Last night, I gave a talk to a group of people from my parish on ‘Creation and evolution’. The reading I have been doing over the last little while has really got me wondering about our attachment to our intellectual constructions of who God is.

Obviously we need to use images. We need some handle. But I think sometimes we mistaken our intellectual constructions for God Godself.

Those who operate in spirituality circles will say – yes, yes, we know about operational and theoretical images of God. But the point I am trying to make here is a operates at a different level. For example, the way in which we understand what happened when Jesus died on that cross and rose again are deeply embedded in Ancient Greek cosmology.

What happens to our understanding if we look at the same event, with the same Biblical texts, but from our current cosmology – do we come up with a slightly different construction?

Marcus Borg wrote

‘The Bible is filled with images of God, metaphors for the sacred. The biblical commandment to make no graven images of God obviously did not mean avoiding word-images. But it does mean that no one of these should be “carved in stone”—that is, made absolute.’

Are some of our intellectual constructions graven images? Who is the God we discover through a different cosmological lens?

The grace of forgiveness

It’s here!

The grace of forgiveness

This book has been a long time coming. In the end I know that I wrote it more for me than for anyone else. Those who have read it already say that they have found it helpful.

Essentially it is a guide to help navigate the world of forgiveness and apology in the everyday hurts and misunderstandings.

This is from the promo on Amazon:

‘”The Grace of Forgiveness” looks at the everyday pain of damaged relationships beginning with the recognition that the reaction to being wounded does not have to be striking back or pulling out! Author, scientist and spiritual director, Margaret (Mags) Blackie writes this insightful book from her own experience and journey out of the shadow of unforgiveness. These pages offer hope. They offer the possibly of new life. The journey of forgiveness is often uncomfortable, but in the end relationship may be restored leading to the fruit of interior freedom.’

To suffer through to joy

Occasionally when I read I stumble across a phrase which stops me in my tracks this is one of them:

‘The capacity to suffer through to joy’

It is profoundly resonant for me. We cannot avoid pain in life. It happens. Sometimes pain is simply to be endured and sooner or later it begins to dissipate.

I don’t want to say at all that all suffering must somehow be a good thing. I don’t believe that. I think we should do what we can alleviate suffering wherever we can.

But occasionally there are those excruciating circumstances which require attendance. In almost all of these kinds of times it is so tempting to try to avoid the pain. And yet, if we have the courage to stay with it, sooner or later something new emerges. Something which would not have been possible without the crucible of the pain.

It is these moments which are truly transformational. It is in these moments that our real hope lies. It requires discernment to figure out what kind of pain we are in. We should try to remove as much of the superfluous pain that we can. When turns out that the pain is actually essential, then we dare to embrace it rather than resist it, it can and it usually will give way to joy in the end.

For those who want to find the origin of the phrase – authorship belongs to Holmes Rolston III in a paper entitled Kenosis and Nature – you can find it here. 

The power of a question

Someone I am enjoying getting to know ended our last encounter by saying ‘Next time we meet, I’d like to know what you think about x’.

I met her again recently and after we had caught up, she asked me the question again.

I had thought about it before we met, and I didn’t have a coherent response. I knew my gut response, but I didn’t actually have a real answer. We spoke a little. I gave my gut response, she explained her own position – different and not different to mine. Similar in essence, but we come from quite different viewpoints.

It was only as I was driving home that I was finally able to put into words what was at stake for me. It may not make any sense at all to anyone else, but I understand my gut response now.

All because of a question, and the willingness of have a conversation.

My position isn’t set. Now that I understand my driver, I can engage with the same question again at a deeper level. Maybe the position will hold, maybe it won’t.

I don’t think the actual position is nearly as important as the willingness to explore with a spirit of discernment.

Salt of the earth

There is a verse in Matthew’s gospel:

‘You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless’

I don’t think I had ever really spent any time thinking about this. I presumed the metaphorical reading to be fair.

But I was doing a lectio divina on this passage yesterday when it struck me that reading with my chemist lens offers a new spin.

Sodium chloride is sodium chloride is sodium chloride. Salt can’t lose its saltiness. You can add weird flavour to it (something reasonably common in South Africa that I just hate), but even then, as a good chemist I can extract the pure salt from the horrible mix, just give me a little time.

Salt can’t lose its saltiness. And we can’t lose the love of God. We cannot lose the dignity and inherent value we have simply by being a human.