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Pain and Joy

September 18, 2020




in all the deepest
realities and ways
of our Cosmos
we observe
pain and pleasure
decay and beauty
loss and renewal

and though
we all might wish
for only beauty and pleasure and renewal

the universe whispers
through trillions of tiny tunnels

pain is essential
joy is fundamental

pain
is not a punishment
and
pleasure
is not a reward.

These phenomenon are
fundamentally
morally and economically
neutral.

The rich and indulged
are both envied and pitiful
The poor and deprived
are both pitied and blessed

Imagine
if we were able
to hold that truth
for one another
towards one another
around one another
as an embrace
as many of us are feeling pain,
and some of us are spared.

Imagine
if we didn't turn everything
into point scoring
wins and losses


imagine
if we were agreed
that suffering
was not a judgement
nor a deficit
nor a badge
neither shameful
nor leverage
nor a bargaining chip

but
grace
need
teacher
companion
lens
horizon
seed
harvest
truth
gift

what then would we spend our time our coin ourselves on?

what then would we give ourselves to?
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Home

September 13, 2020

the last two months are indescribable.

the last eighteen months are unexplainable

the last four years are indecipherable

the last thirty four years are too immense for words

but in the midst of so much turmoil, gut twisting, heartache, confusion, unknowable chasms of failure, sunken shipwrecks of incomprehensible eventualities

there are moments that hold something true

two months ago i moved here

into this house

and gathered my things, whatever i have managed to keep

stored here and there by kind friends and such

across the greater metropolitan area

til just before stage four stillness and silence fell

i and my son landed here

books are shelved, rugs unrolled, jars of pulses stowed in the pantry

the washing machine connected, precious paintings hung

plants found corners

and life has begun here

with an address and lease for a bit

there are always losses

always

life is constantly shedding

her skin her exoskeleton her shell her nest her leaves her branches her bark her seeds her pods her tufts to the breeze

if one is to live and to grow one has to be prepared for losing the broken brittle outer crusts that are spent, and allow the inner core to expand

I counted large losses of every kind

connections, finance, employment, stability, reputation, understanding

and i knew there would be small – trivial to all but my own heart treasure – losses: things i couldn’t keep; routines and rituals, symbols of meaning and story, that would become obsolete

And i decided some that i knew i could carry:

Standing in tree pose and breathing deep and long each night

The candle

lit for a short while at bedtime, as i measure the day in gratitude and grief and give it back to gracious hands that hold all time and all hearts

then leaning close, the last thing i see before i sleep, a gentle puff of my God-Given breath that releases its light and bids gentle dark hold me till morning.

the cups bearing waratah, bottlebrush, hardenbergia, wattle, on fine bone china from which i take my morning coffee while i pray and read and paint

red doc martens

running five kilometers in one direction, turning and running back bringing ten kilometers worth of sanity home in my muscles and veins

these remain among so many losses

But one thing i did not expect to lose: I have so few garments

just one piece of nightwear of such light and supple fabric

that although it flows from shoulder to lower calf

would fold into a square that could fit an A5 envelope

has travelled across the globe many times stashed in my backpack

and dries in an hour when washed

and this – how could it be? – this was lost in all else arriving here

Hardly a drama to lose such an item

it will emerge i thought

and easy to improvise something for sleeping in

as i have in past years improvised many times

something to sleep on:

couches floors mats cardboard, this bed and that

all quite adequate

But suddenly with not quite two months past

I could bear it no longer;

there were so few places this one small thing could be

and i was seized, driven to unsettle every drawer and recepticle

searching

eventually there it was

a small black square underneath other larger weightier black things in the bottom corner of the wardrobe.

almost as if i had hidden it there to test myself: how long would it take for my patience to expire

for improvising and making do to be called time.

and so tonight i will

sleep in this familiar black sheath

in this bed

in this room

in this house

that now

yes

now

is

home.

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Not prepared for this

September 9, 2020
oh God
we were not prepared
for this
we have grown up
plugging in and switching on
and powering up and clicking through
and scrolling past

we think the movies
of the 80s 
are slow
who can blame us?

we have sped and sped
quicker and quicker

and we have 
groomed ourselves
and each other 
expecting 
everything
all the time
any time

collapsed the serial story
into bingewatching end on end
no waiting - unless we choose - no anticipation

collapsed planting and growing and tending 
and harvesting and preparing 
and soaking and salting and smoking 
and cooking - boiling, stewing, roasting...
waiting
into drive through orders 
and couch clicks for delivery

collapsed relationship and communication
sending instant messages
latest updates
clicking like- heart-laugh- angry-sad-care

And we have not been practicing
or preparing 
for this

So we are afraid that we will fail 
and break
we are terrified that we can't bear it

we do not know our own fibre
our rich life waiting to unfold given
the conditions of need 
Atheists we all are - lost our Imago Dei vision
thinking of ourselves 
as consumers
and units
rather than holy hosts of your heart
o God
lovers and sharers 
inspirers and servers
givers and growers


We have forgotten that things can run 
low, very low and not run out
and that when they do that there is more
help is found when need is allowed to be seen
We have had so much 
we have not had to test 
our will to share
our will to give up our extra 
and we are afraid that if our cup is empty
no one will hold out their cup for us
and bless the day they were able to offer Jesus a sip.

We have forgotten that we can take time
with a question
let it sit on edge 
shift it this way and that
thinking it over and around
before saying 
before doing
we can muse
we can wonder
we can consider
we can puzzle
and answer can remain out of reach 
around the corner
for a long time
and our minds can keep
stepping stepping
in puddles of confusion 
on hard stones of reality
on the long journey
which our feet were made for


We have forgotten 
that we can hold love for someone 
in our hearts
for an age 
and  a half age and another age
waiting, 
waiting
waiting 
waiting
waiting 
waiting
to see, to hear a word.
That in the long alone space 
love grows
despite our fears 
that we will be forgotten
love does not wither.

Restore to us
in this time
our patient knowing
of ourselves
not as workers
or racers
or fixers

revive our skills for the things that take time
loving 
listening
growing
shedding
paying attention

Re-mind, Re-heart, Re-embody us
in being
who we really are
human
vast infathomable oceanic beings of bathos
alive 
rolling, crashing, swelling, becalming
and 
god
please
let deep call to deep

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power play in a time of pandemic

September 4, 2020

hands over our eyes, thinking we are the centre of the world, counting down time, hoping to catch others out…


is that what our conversations about our life together in this time sound like? Do we sound like children playing? Are we just playing?

There is a kind of sport of public disgruntlement by anything and everything. It was noted even in the ancient world – as we see here in this first century Greek text.

“But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market places and calling to one another,

‘We played the flute for you but you did not dance; we wailed and you did not mourn.’

For John came neither eating nor drinking and they say ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’

Yet wisdom is vindicated by all her children.

Luke 7: 32-35; see also Matt 11:16-19

Whether Dan Andrews is actually the antichrist, the devil incarnate, or the messiah, or even just a decent public servant holding his unenviable office in a no win situation – if Jesus couldn’t avoid polarised opinion, the Premier is in good company.

Children hold a wisdom and prophetic presence among us; as vulnerable and dependent beings they to help us think about our ideas and claims to power, because they so obviously lack power in our systems. They help us remember that as grown ups we are wrong to think of ourselves or of each other as unconditionally powered.


Because this little girl knows that she is playing a game. She knows it’s made up.

Do we behave like this, but think we are being serious?

Do we turn how we live and think and speak about suffering and limitations and being human together and its difficulties into a point scoring, catch each other out game?

Do we place people – leaders, celebrities, prominent loud voices perhaps – at the centre, when no one of us is less responsible for living well and wholly and welcomingly and wisely than any other of us?

I struggle with the conversations around me. I get drawn in. I am provoked by the hyperbole.
I step back and wonder if the interaction was just a game.
I think to myself, how important it is to stay connected with children who know how to play. Play is an essential process for humans – in which we safely experience and process our senses and emotions and bodily reactions.

Humans – and not just children – all need a regular very decent session in the ball pit,

the sand box,

on the swings,

shoes off toes in the muddy creek,

banging the saucepans and lids like we’re Phil Collins,

digging up worms,

dancing to a breathless lather,

blowing up balloons and letting them deflate flubbering around the room as we chase them.

Where things are surprising and a bit out of control and yet we can start over without tears, where we can practice what it feels like to have a mess and it be ok. Where we can pretend to be a fearless fire fighter or a flamboyant flamenco dancer or a faithful farmer or even a flapping flamingo.


What an important pyschological tool that is.
Not because life is trivial or our sufferings and obstacles don’t matter, but in fact because of the trials of life.


Children are experts in dealing with frustration. So much of life is mysterious, not given explanation, seemingly random, and cuts across their desires and real bodily needs. We ask so much of them. They use play to process and deal with so much. At times (normally only a half a dozen times a day for healthy toddlers) we see their tantrums and meltdowns – and the experienced parent understands how important the meltdowns are. You have to let them happen. They release tension and burn themselves out. The parent that tries to repress a tantrum may [rarely] temporarily succeed in the moment, but is only compounding a build up of power

I remind myself of this too. Vitriolic angry rants about stage four restrictions. Ok fair enough. The frustration is just too much. Better to have a twitter meltdown or facebook tantrum than pick up a knife.

But even better is to learn from children and pick up the perspective and power of play.

I’m off to pick out some pink feathers for a flamingo…

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a girl on the edge

August 30, 2020

One photograph holds many stories:

the stern and suspicious face of a young child being captured by a photographer;

traces of the architectural and economic legacy of colonial history;

the interaction of bright blue sky, honey-golden light and verdant green foliage;

terracotta, stone, wood and dust formed in unassuming artful grace for shelter and home;

a child alone;

a single broom and a collapsed hammock, contrasting symbols of work and rest the only icons on the altar of a bare porch;

and then….there is the story of the shadows. The photographer points out the form cast behind the little girl and the hammock on the smooth caramel wall of the house under the verandah.

We see wings – wings of an angel perhaps – and is she landing or lifting? And the smaller winged shape to the left – what will you call them? Birds? Spirits? Are they natural or supernatural?

How we see, and the story that finds each of us from this rich multivalent image is like the light casting shadows on the wall – our inner story of concern, of what we fear, of what we love, of what we honour, of what we cannot bear to see otherwise, of what we desire, of what we hold precious, this is projected in our reading all we see.

The same happens when we read our political events; when we interpret the story of the statistics and restrictions of our community experience; and how we read our sacred texts.

For some the story of Jesus on the cross is the story of the most valiant and courageous man laying down his life for a cause secure in the knowledge of certain vindication and cosmos redefining victory.

For others – witnessing the same tortured Jewish body on a Roman cross – the story is of a human driven to the edge of humiliation, suffering, disgrace, a body stripped of all its dignity, all its masculinity, and an event whose meaning and hope disintegrates into loss and death. It is the story of God utterly unconditionally human; in order that the claim of God to love humans, to love the cosmos, might be utterly and unconditional and irrevocably demonstrated. Resurrection is unthinkable in this moment – there is no escape clause. ‘My God my God why have you abandonned me?’

It is the story of God on and beyond the edge. Beyond the edge of any immunity that God might have from being truly with and for and loving creation.

Returning to the image of the young stern-faced golden lit shadowy angel, there is one feature that holds my gaze and imagination deeply.

It is in the interplay between seeing her winged form behind, and noticing her toes poised over the verandah edge.

She is a girl on the edge.

The voice that accompanies this image for me is this version of Christopher Logue’s poem:

'Come to the edge.' 
he said. They said
'We are afraid.'
'Come to the edge.'
he said. They came
he pushed them
and they flew.
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Surviving the adventure Aslan sends

August 25, 2020

This breathtakingly beautiful piece of photography – a silhouette with golden tinges of sinking sun defining the presence of the lion against a deep dark, and the whole form of the animal still also a mystery – calls to mind a favourite scene from The Chronicles of Narnia.

In The Horse and his Boy – the third book in CS Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, there is a scene right near the end of the narrative journey in which the orphan runaway boy called Shasta is walking in the dark, his part in the grand mission of saving a city accomplished, but himself, now alone and at a loss for what will become of him. And there comes beside him a voice – the reader knows immediately that this voice will turn out to be Aslan, the Great Lion. But Shasta does not recognise it. He does not yet know that he knows Aslan. The conversation provides a retrospective of the key scenes of the story, and then collects together the meaning, and reveals the identity and presence of the Great Lion through the narrative.

“Oh, I am the unluckiest person in the whole world.”

Once more he felt the warm breath of the Thing on his hand and face. “There,” it said, “that is not the breath of a ghost. Tell me your sorrows.”

Shasta was a little reassured by the breath: so he told how he had never known his real father or mother and had been brought up sternly by the fisherman. and then he told the story of his escape and how they were chased by lions and forced to swim for their lives; and of all their dangers in Tashbaan and about his night among the Tombs and how the beasts howled at him out of the desert. And he told about the heat and thirst of their desert journey and how they were almost at their goal when another lion chased them and wounded Aravis. And also, how very long it was since had had anything to eat.

“I do not call you unfortunate,” said the Large Voice.

“Don’t you think it was bad luck to meet so many lions?” said Shasta.

“There was only one lion.” said the Voice.

“What on earth do you mean? I’ve just told you there were at least two lions the first night, and -”

“There was only one, but he was swift of foot.”

“How do you know?”

“I was the lion.”

And as Shasta gaped with open mouth and said nothing, the Voice continued. “I was the lion who forced you to join with Aravis. I was the cat who comfroted you among the houses of the dead. I was the lion who drove the jackals from you as you slept. I was the lion who gave the Horses the new strength of fear for the last mile so that you should reach King Lune in time. And I was the lion you do not remember who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight, to receive you.”

“Who are you?” asked Shasta.

“Myself,” said the Voice, very deep and low so that the earth shook: and again “Myself,” loud and clear and gay: and then the third time “Myself,” whispered so softly you could hardly hear it, and yet it seemed to come from all around you as if the leaves rustled with it.

This unfolding revelation upon revelation, the meeting, the knowing, as the mysterious breath

becomes a voice – becomes a form – becomes one who knows –

becomes one who has carried and rescued and protected and guided and empowered Shasta.

This beautifully prompts the reader to think of how a mysterious, present, but selfless God might relate to a young person – indeed to any human. Not as a heavy hand steering a captain’s wheel; not as an instructor ordering directions; not as one behind a control panel, but as one who shapes lives from alongside, without having to be seen or known, without needing to control. I wonder if this image of God is comforting or confronting for us?

Certainly, Lewis means us to think more creatively about the way a Cosmos-Maker might interact with a complex and beloved cosmos. The invitation to magnify our imaginations, relinquish second guessings, and simplistic one step, linear cause and effect divinations is a healthy antidote to anxious pieties that fret over finding [capital T] The [capital W] Will of God. And a necessary defence against the power grasping conspiracies theories of apocalpytic determinism, plotting events crudely on a schema spun from some spiritual playbook.

The Aslan of Lewis’ Narnia – an imperfect image of God for sure – nevertheless challenges us to make intellectual and imaginative room for God to be free, alive, adventurous – and to be more deeply free, more definitively alive and more daringly adventurous than humans are.

Turning aside from Narnia to scripture for a moment, if there is one non-negotiable biblical theology, it is the theology of Love. God is Love. God Loves and calls us to Love.

Love is always free and dynamic and risky.

*

The past 4 years have had many major plot twists, but about a month ago, I had a week in which a series of plot twists came so fast it was hard trying to keep up with what was happening in my own life, let alone keep my significant others in the loop of where i might be living, and how i might be earning a living and who i might be living with – or whether indeed there was any provision for any of living to happen.

In the midst of updating my eldest son who lives 6 hours and at that time stage three restrictions away, i tried to give a sense that, although there were a pile-up of adverse outcomes to report, there were still lines of possibility cast that may (although in the end didn’t) provide some equilibrium.

In this moment, he listened and then responded:

“Yep, I guess it’s take the adventure Aslan sends us then.”

This phrase – a favourite quote which appears in several places across the Narnia Series – is one that I used to encourage a robust and courageous faith in my sons, to expect God to be wild and undomesticated, surprising and beyond our control or comprehension.

And here my son was – serving it back to me. I was accosted by this grace and heartened by his apt word.

Yes indeed. Of all the understandings of God i might have offered in the faith formation of young lives in my care, I am most glad God has been revealed as an adventure sender.

Still, how shall i survive this – the adventure that Aslan is sending me? Walking, like Shasta, alone and lost in the dark, my purpose spent, shall i wait for the breath, then the voice. The Horse and His Boy is a story of secrets and hidden identities, of unknown stories and of their uncovering. There are in the unfolding of the story many revelations in which characters come to know their true selves, and be seen and known by others for who they really are, and behind all of these uncoverings is the revelation of Aslan – seen though unknown in many forms by some, and known though unseen by others.

How will i hold my story? Defined as unlucky and abandoned and spent as Shasta believed his story was?

Or dare I let it be re-told in the depth of dark, lucid in outlines of glory struck by the setting sun, that reveal the presence and shaping by a subversive and subtle and surreptitious Loving Breathing Roaring Whispering Power.

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Melbourne Stage Four: Forty days

August 4, 2020

from today…
forty days

of Stage Four Care protocols for one another


forty days

of living out a radical hope that we can save at least some from suffering and death


Forty days

of measures to draw us into thinking and acting as a community


forty days

of finding out if we think one another are worth it


forty days

that will be more costly, more difficult, more stressful, more taxing, more depleting, more impossible for some than for others

forty days

in which our deep inequalities are laid bare

forty days

in which our dark anxieties and dysfunctions will be challenged as if by the Satan, the accuser, the one who scoffs at love and sacrifice and relinquishing control, and resisting the intoxication of power, and asserting a freedom that degrades another


forty days

of a spiritual discipline – not for the sake of lent or an out of whack northern hemisphere medieval ecclesial calendar, but the real spiritual life of shared connectedness, in which we are all

– whether we like it or not –

Premier Dan,

and Bunnings Karen,

and our healthcare workforce,

and the elderly in aged care lockdown

watching death work its way around the corridor,

and the immuno-suppressed,

and those in industries who haven’t had a shift since March,

and those homeless,

and those in long life-patterns of domestic violence lockdown

forty days

in the midst of two and half thousand days in detention for asylum seekers

forty days

in which finger pointing is pointless


forty days

of covenant with one another, with those who have the least resources, hope, choices, support

forty days

in the wilderness together.

forty days

for real

Bark art, E. Rendell, c. 1978
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so simple?

July 5, 2020














here’s an idea
said the bosses
it’s so simple
to cut our losses

let’s take life…
it’s very complex
so let’s
dumb it down
give people a
one size fits all formula


then
let’s take faith
which is remarkably simple
and devise a complicated formula

let’s make faith

a profession
a science
a qualification
licensed
franchised

impossible to achieve

and let’s make
love a competition
won or lost
and
morality a game
with points to score
and
wisdom a market commodity
and
religion a passport
and
pleasure a duty
and
sex a snack
and
laughter a drug
and
science a circus
and
art a sensation
and
mystery a joke
and
hope an emotion
and
power a privilege
and
slavery a certainty
and
profit excusable
and
excess unembarrassing
and
simplicity a fashion

and
if we could just sort things into
2 categories
haves and havenots
his and hers
hubris and humiliated
heads and hearts
western and whereverelse
normal and evil
few and many
always and never
them and us

how well then
our businesses
our communication
our debates
our entertainment
our information
our politics
will run
like machines
off and on
on and off
always two sides
only two sides
endlessly equally
defensible and reprehensible
locked in
offense and pretense

a perfectly irresolvable
disquilibrium
granting
‘moral neutrality’
and
ethical immunity
to all that happens
while the war of words
rage on

there’s an idea
said the bosses
so doubly simple
to cut our losses

Who are these captains?
these invisible gods
who imagine have liberty
to set the odds

manufacture teams
split life at the seams
they are foolish dreams
unto themselves
a fracturing lie
between you and i

the world is not thus
we are all of us

for there is a god
god seen and known
not umpire, not judge
not from outside our own

flesh and fragility
god’s vulnerability
Jesus
godwithus
a child in a womb
a corpse in a tomb
a friend in the room

godwithin
godwithall
godwithus
godwithing

many are opposing
god is withing
simple

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Invisible God

July 2, 2020

 

How does it feel

for you God

when we say

you’re invisible?

when we sing

those grand hymn lines:

“Immortal Invisible…

light inaccessible…

hid from our eyes…”

do we offend you?

does your heart break at our tactless praise?

 

How can we have missed seeing you

God more real

than anything eye can apprehend

or lens can capture

 

How does it feel

for you God

when we act like you’re invisible.

Though you have poured your Self out

everywhere upon us

your love and justice

enveloping us

your mercy and renewing 

ever present to us

 

How does it feel

when even those who love you

call you invisible?

doesn’t it cause you

psychosis

or

anger?

a touch of wrath?

I’m

“asking for a friend.”

well, lots of friends really.

for all the invisible ones

all of the children

the world doesn’t see

all of the stories

that must remain untold

all of the cover ups

in order to protect the ‘right people’

Ha!

Why is it that the ‘right people’

are often those who have done such wrong?

 

For all who have carried terrible secrets

who hid themselves

when someone came to the door

who made themselves undetectable

who covered up

I’m asking because 

it makes them

it makes us 

mad. 

both kinds. 

to have the truth

that is written in all our flesh fibres

refabricated 

we who must be unseen unknown unhealed unloved…

 

I am invisible. 

You are invisible

 

#snap

I am invisible 

except to you

el roi

the invisible One 

is yet the God who sees

 

you see me

invisible one.

 

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Belonging

June 25, 2020
braving the wilderness

I have just come across new material from Brene Brown: her 2017 book

.
Braving the Wilderness – The Quest for true belonging and the courage to stand alone.
.
So I’m just catching up on a few years…
.
Brown has been researching the phenomenon of belonging and points to the related, but ultimately sabotaging impulse to fit in.
.
I am a person who has had a deep sense of not fitting in, from the time I began school.
.
Being a country girl of the generation before Kindergarten was a childhood norm, the extent of my early childhood sociality was the bluestone baptist church, full of grey suited men with their hat-and-gloved women on Sunday, and the rest of the week, the backyard with the odd wild rabbit, or scampering rat, the chooks in the coop and the toads in the vegie patch.  I was the queen of this cold, contained, green cosmos, and there was no question of fitting in. I belonged there and it all belonged around me. It still is carried in me as deep, joyful, playful, sense-filled memory. I didn’t know fitting in or not fitting in. Only belonging.
.
School in the city seemed scintillatingly exciting – until i got there and discovered slowly and painfully, that fitting in was a thing. And that i didn’t.
.
Now, Brene Brown’s book belts out this beautiful truth.
.
‘True belonging doesn’t require you
to change who you are;
it requires you to be who you are.’
.
.
And this clicks into place for me too.
.
In year 9, I moved schools, and early in the term, one day found myself in geography class, letting my guard down and  revealing to a class mate what I had done on the weekend. I’d been songwriting.
This was the kind of weirdness that had meant not fitting in everywhere so far.
But suddenly, two boys swung around on their chairs and faced me – me being myself, the misfit songwriter – and they plied me with enthusiastic, esteem-filled intelligent questions about my music and I fired back at them to uncover their own gifts.
Here I had found – for the first time in a decade of schooling – belonging.
.
It was just as Brene Brown said; belonging lay in being myself. Not in fitting in.
.
“As it turns out, men and women
who have the deepest sense of true belonging
are people who also have
the courage to stand alone
when called to do that.
They are willing to
maintain their integrity
and risk disconnection
in order to stand up
for what they believe in.”
.
.
I find this a great encouragement, and an equally great challenge to stand with integrity as fearfully and wonderfully made beings; vulnerable, fragile but precious selves, for the sake of our own wellbeing – inextricably linked to the well being of each other.
.
In much of life, this call to risk belonging over fitting in, has been difficult.
I have not always felt that I had any other choice, but to (somewhat begrudgingly) be myself and bear not fitting in. As Brene says, courage; risk, standing up.
.
And I have not always chosen wisely, and compromised: at times I have felt, while  practicing a deep compliance with the environment, that I have not belonged in my own life.
.
Flexibility is a great personal assett, and the twist and turns of my life have made  flexibility a survival skill. But at times I have done my soul great injury in the gymnastic contortions of  over-stretching, cramming myself into the small space allowed and bending myself out of shape,  trying to fit into or across the gaps of other people’s lives.
I have rarely asked others to fit in with me. That is a long legacy of christian female conditioning – a topic for another time.
.
Over the past 4 years,  I have stopped fitting in – well – almost everywhere.
Do i fit anywhere? in house? in marriage? in employment? in role? in collegiality? in church? in community? in relationships?
.
And then…
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for fourteen weeks last year I was suspended from participation in one of my work contexts, including a sudden loss of income, with a global contact ban that affected not only the constituents of that organisation, but many other only tangential  relationships, while a matter concerning another colleague was resolved. Because of the sensitive nature of this matter there was no communication with me about the situation, except that i was sequestered, and summoned to answer to a number of confronting accusations around an event i was involved in. There was no clarity at the time that the accusations did not pertain to my role or behaviour.
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The darkness of estrangement from the organisation was terrible, but more than this, the mysterious questions excoriated my identity as a fit person to practice my vocation.  Alienation from my own knowing of myself as a professional was – in the truest sense – abysmal. I was miles and miles down into the abyss.  ‘If i make my bed in hell’ – the psalmist writes. Indeed there are large cold concrete rock hard beds in hell and I lay there for an eternity of judgement.
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This question of how i could possibly belong tested to the utmost.
Do I know how to be my very self? Just my self.
Do i have a core sense of integrity – a belonging that holds on deeply, even when whatever kind of ‘fitting’ i might have managed fails and falls away.
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A few times in life I have come to the moment that might be called ‘losing my faith’.
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In each of these times – and there have only been a few so far – i have had a profound sense that at the precise moment i thought i had lost my faith, i  discovered, instead, that i had lost my grip.
I had lost not my faith, but my grip on something false, something fraudulent, something fake,  something unfaithful.
And in losing my grip on this thing, when my own fingertips failed and my muscles melted and my grit gave way, and I expected to fall into the bottomless chasm below,
I encountered instead the strong grip that Faith had on me.
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Sorry, that is way understated. Let me say better: the strong embrace that Faith has on me.
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There emerges, in the worst of hours, in the iciest alienation, a core of belonging which makes all griefs and losses, all rejections, all not fitting in, all not being good enough, not being wanted, not being ‘right’ bearable. These awkward gaps and gaping chasms, sharp edges pressing in and   and only relative not ultimate pronouncements on being. Faith holds on. The Faithful One holds on. God holds on. The whole of the cosmos is still there, still turning, still breathing life, still being, still living. The life of God surrounds and infuses reality and my being entirely, inescapably.

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The Cosmos-Lover

The Molecule-Weaver

The Giver of all Existence holds faith

freestyle bee hive
Natural form beehive
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Never far from my mind is the claim of faith that our gospel God belongs not in some distant realm, but an embryo embodied in the womb of a woman, an infant in the arms of an elderly aunt, swimming in the river with a wild cousin, drinking with the lads and dancing with the women. Reaching for friends with tears and terror. Belonging. Human. From these two dimensions, the divine cosmic being and the human enfleshed living I know the faith holding God. .

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Fitting in, as Brown discovered in her research, is a phantasm. An empty cup, constantly demanding to be refilled.
A mirage of demands and boxes and labels.
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Belonging is essential.
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Ontological is the beautiful word that theologians indulge themselves in to affirm this.
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Since the end of 2011, although working in many roles,  I have not worked for an organisation in a job which provided office space, and so have found myself parked in many (more and less) temporary squats, with all of the opportunity and vulnerability that comes along with being a gypsy: a colourful visitor, a welcome stranger, a curiosity, always an outsider, often an observer, present to but not part of the community.
In one of these spaces the three cornerstone words of the community were emblazoned everywhere: Belonging….Purpose….Inspiration.
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I spent a lot of time looking at these words, and at those who staffed and joined the organisation,  and considering how they shaped the way people related to one another. These were not words for me, but for the established community.
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One thing was evident. They were not equal values. Belonging was fundamental. Irreplaceable. Those who aligned only with the purposeful action of the community, or came for the inspiration it provided remained marginal, distanced, genuinely positive and supportive of the activity of the community, but there was a substantial difference in the quality of their connection and relationship and a limit on  the mutual impact they and others shared.
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Brene Brown articulates the call to give up  ‘fitting in’ and be ourselves in the name of belonging well and sincerely.
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Belonging configures how we relate –  firstly to our own inner and outer being in the world. How our insides and outsides align in a way that bears life with dignity and integrity.
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Secondly, belonging re-conditions our relationships. Belongingness turns on being with one another, for one another, in shared existence.
Belonging is expressed in actions, but not in transactions.
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Thirdly, holding our own belonging with honour carries a moral imperative to allow others their ontological space, as a rightful expression of human existence. We are not to extend ourselves falsely over another’s being. Belonging as ourselves requires justice.
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Belonging dares us to quit measuring out of ourselves in teaspoonfuls as if our jar was going to run out. We are invited to turn up with our full presence, being our full self, not levelling off to fit in, but assured that our being – our whole human being – 100 percent human being as i often say –  is welcomed and worthy of taking up the space that it does.
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The matter that each of us displaces in existing here is entirely ours to occupy. The cosmos needs us to take up this space that we are.
No problem ‘fitting in’ – each of us is precisely the right amount of us, of being.
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‘True belonging doesn’t require you
to change who you are;
it requires you to be who you are.’
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We [all] belong.
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I invite myself to take these simple syllables
as a prayer
and a dare
for how to live
in the free falling days ahead
still between stable points of almost anything
and yet feel Faith’s grip on me.