Dead meat

I am working through Becoming Your Story, a journaling course, when it mentioned Jonah and the Whale. All it actually says is this, but I got so much more from it.

Falling out of myth is like being regurgitated by Jonah’s whale as it beaches. We suddenly see a bigger world outside the belly of the whale, but it also feels like an
alien and disorienting world that we don’t know how to navigate. Meanwhile the whale that has been our environment and our containing story dies and decays.!

p115 Becoming Your Story

DSCF0782.JPGOk so picture this – you’ve been sent to go and do some huge task that you don’t want to do. I think we often hear this in our childhood or teens. But it is so huge we runaway. I know I ran away into  was drink, drugs, etc. Other people can runaway in a calmer, more acceptable fashion. In the running away you get to a place where others throw you overboard (we’re on the Jonah on the ship now) and you get swallowed up by something that you know has saved your life. Ok it isn’t great inside the whale but it is safe, you are going nowhere, you’ve got enough to eat, you aren’t doing yourself or anyone else any harm. You’re even wondering if you could live the rest of your life in that dull, dark place.

One day the whale beaches and vomits you out. I know we have seen the children’s picture books of how the whale is out at sea and does this huge spit, generally with a smile of its face, and out flies Jonah. Sorry but it wouldn’t have worked like that. To get Jonah on to the beach safely the whale had to be on the beach and vomiting.

Suddenly you are out of the dark, safe place. The sky is big and bright. You know you are up for this. You see all the signs pointing which way to go. In the Bible story it appears Jonah knew which way he had to walk to get to Nineveh. Maybe he knew how long it would take, maybe he didn’t. For us knowing how long it will take to even just live the rest of our lives a question that frightens us – saving for old age, giving up/taking up a career, having children, etc. How much of what we have got used to can we take with us? This whale is dead!

So we have a choice. We can [1] walk away alone from the dead, safe place, [2] we can DSCF0768stay by the dead, safe place and live off it as it rots, or[3]  we can take some of the dead meat with us. With the last two options we will be living off dead and decaying meat. Stinking flesh. Rotting flesh. We need to leave the dead behind and move on into the unknown.

We all need to leave the dead behind, whether real people who have died too soon, dreams and ambitions, safe places, expectations. That isn’t to say that we don’t grieve for those we’ve lost – whether people, places, dreams or expectations – but we don’t try to carry them with them. We let go of going over phrases like  “if only I had done x,y,z then ….”

There’s a lovely song by Hazel O’Connor from 1980 called If Only that has stayed with me all those years and has helped to keep me focused and not carrying the dead, rotting whale with me.

What’s done has been done, and I won’t be the one
Who despairs in the wheelchair, resigned to “If only”
No, I’ll stand up again and I’ll run
I’ll jump up till I touch the sun
Because I won’t be the one to be bound
By the sound of “If only, if only, if only”

Hazel O’Connor “If Only”

So like Jonah, we must walk away, leave the dead meat on the beach to rot, walk through the grieving process, as painful as that is, and wait to see what comes. And if we stay with the Jonah story there is hurt, disappointment, anger to come. But what I always hope is that after God has withered the vine and Jonah has had a major moan about it, he ponders and gets over it, moves on from Nineveh and walks into the rest of his life – with its hurts, disappointments, issues but also its running and leaping and wondering.

Let each and everyone us look and say “This whale is dead. Let’s leave the dead meat to rot on the beach and go to what’s next.” 

 

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Why I’m still a Christian

I’ve written around this theme before but can’t find the posts to tag them. I am writing this now because I have been given an journaling exercise that is post-heroic. And I’m doing it without pictures for a change

I “became a Christian”, as the phrase was then, because I met something that amazed and astonished me. Yes I was lonely. I had just had my son and was living with someone who wasn’t his father in a house with other people. It was not a safe time. But something inside me was urging me to change. Some well-meaning Christians came along and knocked on my door. I went to their coffee morning and then I went to their church. I experienced an amazing spiritual encounter where I know that I met with the God who made the universe who told me He loved me and felt like I was being covered in a viscose glittery substance. I have since been told that was a Holy Spirit encounter. To me, at that time, it was like meeting the entity that made me, made my world, looked deep into who I was and how I was living and said “you may not being doing it all right but I like you. Come on let’s walk together.”
Since that time I read the Bible loads, studied Christian doctrine, theology, right ways to be a Christian, been on mission, led prayer journeys and set up prayer groups, done all that stuff and in doing it totally agreed with the U2 song “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.” I’ve blogged on this and pondered this. I’ve tried to tame the mystery even though I know in my head “he is not a tame lion.”
I have reached a point in my Christian life where I am no longer wanting to be heroic, no longer wanting to tame the lion, understand the mystery. I have seen God let me down by letting people I know and love die with horrendous timing so that anniversaries of untimely deaths come at a time when we are trying to celebrate birthdays. I have seen God not come through on some dream that I believed He had promised me we would fulfil together. I have been angry and hurt and let down when it felt as if the mystery of God had turned out to be hollow.
Today I turn a corner. No that’s way too dramatic. Today I have decided to let the mystery out of the box and fly. I may never experience the viscous covering again, may never have a request answered as I like, but I know I have reached a point where I want to just hang out with the mystery, where I just want to be with whatever it is that I have tried to box as God.
So I’m still a Christian because I have decided that just as I don’t need all the answers neither does God need to tell them all to me; just as I don’t need to get it right all the time neither does God have to do what I think is right. I might even stop doing but learn to start practising and start just being. Not in that cheesy “oh I’m a human being not a human doing” but in that way that says it’s ok to just be me and for God to just be God, and for other people to just be who they are.
So I am still a Christian because there are no answers, no right ways, no clear paths but I do know that even through those dark paths the mystery that I call God is more than happy to walk with me and all my whinging and moaning and He still says “you may not being doing it all right but I like you. Come on let’s walk together.”

Going Deeper

I love this when I get bombarded by the same concept from different angles. I have been

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Beddgelert where two waters meet and the pool is deep

challenged on this whole thing of cutting back and doing less, of focusing on my writing and of perfecting that. I am struggling with that too, especially with the mentoring angle. My mentor is awesome and patient. The problem is there is so much more to writing than writing. There is working out what I want to say then editing so that the piece I have says what I want to say and doesn’t treat my reader like they are stupid. I do  have a tendency to either overstate or understate. So either my reader gets the same message twice or it is so vague they have no idea what I’m saying (NB here I have overstated 🙂 ) But actually this is what going deeper is about.

On Sunday 10th February the Bible reading was from Luke 5:1-11 where Jesus tells Simon to “Put out into deeper water and let down your nets” The fishermen then catch a huge pile of fish and Simon and others are so amazed they leave everything and follow Jesus. Well our minister that morning preached on that. What struck me was that for me deeper water is cutting back, being available for friends, getting my writing polished, being about for my Airbnb guests, etc. But it is about cutting back, doing less, being more focused on what I do. It also means that I get more downtime than I did last year when I was rushing about doing 101 things. It means I have time to chat to the people I see whilst dog walking, can arrange coffee with friends around their schedule, etc. And in the end will lead to catching more fish rather than lots of small catches.

So going deeper for me is about doing less.

Just as I am accepting this I get it from another angle. My mentor said she was reading

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Oyster catchers on Conwy Beach – imperfect Feb sunshine 

about “wabi sabi” – the acceptance of life being transient and imperfect. So being me I got a book out about it. Well I’ve only got as far as the first chapter which is talking about having to slow down to be able to notice the imperfect and enjoy it, to notice that things are transient. It cannot be done at going fast and looking for something to make me better.

So I must make my writing the best it can be not for my ego to be massaged but because I can.  But to do that I must slow down and give it time. I must “smell the roses” so to speak. I must enjoy life even the bits that are crap.

I know I have blogged on this before but if I am to say “The joy of the Lord is my strength” I cannot have it just in the bits where life is going well. I need to find that joy when life isn’t going well. And I believe one of those ways is to slow down, go deeper and have time to accept the imperfections and transient-ness of life.

Meaning of Life?

I am working my way through a wonderful journaling course by Jan Fortune. I have also just started reading The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard. (A big thank you to Josh Luke Smith for divine conspiracysharing this book on his Instagram ages ago) This quote from Jan’s course jumped out at me because it fits in so much with what I am reading at the moment that Willard is saying the problem with Christianity is. (Note I am only on page 77 at the moment 🙂  )

Joseph Campbell says:

People say that what we’re all seeking a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances with our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.

I think way too often, as Christians, when people ask us about Jesus, we talk to them about the Meaning of Life, being freed from sin, going to live in heaven. So very, very rarely do we talk about being truly alive – or as Jesus put it “having life in abundance”.

I fully believe that Jesus comes to give us life here on earth in abundance, that his plan for us is that our physical life resonates with our inner most being. But I also believe that, way too often, Christians have made it a serious of dos and don’ts and what one should believe and what one has to do.

I tried this month to do the whole abstaining thing; veganuary. So I gave up dairy, meat013.JPG and even alcohol. It lasted five days before I decided that I needed to finish the elderflower presse off with the gin liquor my daughter had given me. It was a week before I decided to use the cheese that was in the fridge for a meal, to use up the mushrooms that were lurking in the vegetable rack with the turkey that was sitting in the bottom of the freezer. Why couldn’t I do it? Because I was doing it as an “ought” rather than it being something my innermost being wanted to do. And the funny thing is that we generally only eat meat once or twice a week, drink wine only on a weekend, and only have spirits on special occasions! It was in the telling myself I couldn’t that I wanted to. When it is just a part of my life – I suppose part of my innermost being – then it is easy.

The interesting thing is when I feel the rapture of being fully alive then I want to love my neighbour, don’t want to do things that would hurt me or others, want to give something back to the world. Interestingly too when I am in church doing something I love to do – lead intercession, do some play with a deep meaning – I buzz and feel like turning up that morning was worthwhile. Not because there was meaning to it – even though there was – but because it made me feel fully alive.

Willard has suggested being immersed in the Psalms to feel fully alive. I remember when my kids were little we used to read a chapter of Proverbs and a Psalm every day and then something else. Today I read the first four Psalms and yes I did feel better. It didn’t tell me what would give me a meaning to life but showed me how I could equate my innermost being with what I believed and wanted to take onward and outward.

DSCF0397.JPGSo I think we need to stop telling people that Jesus lets us see a meaning to life, or even telling people they don’t know the meaning of life but help to show them the bits of Jesus life that help us all to find true connection with our innermost being and truly bring us alive. And to be honest I don’t want to hangout with a God that doesn’t do that for me

Working Together

dscf0582Before Christmas I shared my thoughts on encouraging each other. This is an ongoing thing for all of us. I am a natural encourager but as another encourager friend said “who encourages the encouragers?” Well we encouragers do all have to learn that not everyone is an encourager. Some people have other skills and gifting which we all need. You notice here as an encourager I find it hard to list them 🙂

Anyway over that lovely time between Christmas and New year’s day, when my grown-up children had gone back to their respective homes and my husband had gone away for 3 days walking with friends, I sat down and did my review of the year, wrote up my lists of what to do, dreamed my dreams and came up with my plans. I also took down the decorations and got the place cleaned up and ready to face 2019. I started on the morepens qualifiable tasks to begin with – planning and advertising writing workshops, and cleaning. Yes those were the only ones on my list I got to. I have a great writing project in  my head that I need to plan out but I am struggling with it. I have reached a point where I know I am rubbish and it will not get off the ground!! See need of encouragement.

A girl I want to university with had posted on Instagram a devotional book she was reading. Her and I chatted about it a bit. I bought it. It is good. The bit that has encouraged me most of all is where it says to take 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, the famous “love verses” and substitute Jesus for Love or it. Well that has definitely encouraged me.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 New International Version (NIV)
4 Jesus is patient, love is kind. Jesus does not envy, Jesus does not boast, Jesus is not proud. 5 Jesus does not dishonor others,  Jesus is not self-seeking, Jesus is not easily angered, Jesus keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Jesus does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 Jesus always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

I know not everyone who reads my blog is a Christian but I am and for me seeing that this whole Love passage is not some unobtainable goal but is how Jesus is to me has really encouraged me. In the version I have in study verse 7 says “always supports, always encourages, always hopes, always trusting.” For me to know that there is someone there who is always encouraging me, but not just always trusting me, always having hope in me is awesome.

But you know what, I’m not now rushing on with my plan for my writing project. I’m still stuck in the doldrums with it but, after reading and meditating on this, I am now being kinder to myself. I am leaning on other people to help me with finding my get up and go. I am reading things and looking up things that will help me to move to where I want to be. After reading this I am no longer beating myself up about not being able to.

I’m not sure if I put that in my last post but for me encouraging someone sometimes isn’t about getting them to move on but is about just staying with them and being there.

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Looking from Llanfairfechan nature reserve to Penrhyn Castle (taken by me 6th Jan 2019)

Writing Your Life Story

truth.jpgMy group asked me the other day about how to use real people in their memoir writing. I wish I had found this quote when I was looking for information to share with them.

Mark Twain said,

If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.

So obvious and so true, but how often it is hard for people to hear. I have been trying truth telling but often feel unheard.

Another suggestion I tell my group is that it is their truth and may not be someone else’s. Another quote:

Keep in mind that memories are subjective and tend to evolve over time.
[http://helensedwick.com/how-to-use-real-people-in-your-writing/ found 30th July 2018]

That is not to say that the truth changes but how you view the truth changes. There are facts that never change however. Things like “yesterday I went to see a waterfall with my in-laws.” That is truth. But then things like how busy it was, how warm/cold it was, whether it was a good time, bad time, etc become subjective. Even things like “your mum was really happy there” can be subjective. In reality she seemed happy to me but to other members of the family she could have looked sad, angry, distant, crazy, etc. Even thingswhat is truth like “Bob is an alcoholic” is not a truth unless Bob has told the family. So one could say “Bob appears to drink a lot and I am concerned that he is an alcoholic” or “Bob says he is an alcoholic”. Both statements are true because one is that I have seen Bob drink a lot and he has said he is an alcoholic. The concerned bit is my opinion. So with “your mum” I could say she seemed happy to me because that is my opinion.

So even though Mark Twain says tell the truth what is the truth is not as clear. Also as the second quote says our memories evolve over time. Emily Dickenson has a lovely poem:

Tell all the truth but tell it slant By Emily Dickinson
Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind —

So facts are facts and are unchangeable but our personal truths of what happened to us to change and evolve depending on what story we tell. There are people who say that the truth of their story doesn’t change but I don’t think that is true 🙂 We are an evolving people and so how we remember things will change.

Another quote that came to me as I wrote this was

Jesus said “know the truth and the truth will set you free” John 8:32

Now I wonder with this if Jesus meant that as we grow and evolve our theology will change and alter. Hopefully grow. He was talking to Pharisees who had spent years looking at the scriptures and working out the truth of them. Jesus says it is those who are his disciples and who follow his teachings who will know the truth and be set free by it. For myself I find that understand that how I perceive a series of facts is not how truth_set_freesomeone else might perceive them then I do feel freer to know that what I understand is what I understand and not to have to spend time browbeating the other person to believe in things how I see them. So going back to “your mum was really happy there”. That is my truth. Another family member could say “mum was really upset there” and that is there truth. Maybe we need to ask mum and see what she thinks? But then maybe mum was happy at the waterfall but upset as she walked back. Maybe both things are true and each person saw her at a different time (Note this is made up to help with a point and not factual 🙂  )

It is not about having different morals as is feared by some with the post-modern conversation, but it can be that all truth is subjective to who I am, my experiences, where I am as I tell this tale.

So my hope is, with my memoir writing group, that they can be free to write their story in their words with their memories of the facts that happened in their lives, as each of us should be free to.

Not as it should be

I was woken by rain hammering down on the skylight in the roof. I look at the window and see the rain pouring down. Things are not as they should be for Easter Saturday. I know as Brits we will laugh, shake our heads and say “typical British Bank holiday”. But rainactually we know they aren’t all like that but also we know this isn’t how they should be. Thanks to good old Facebook memories I was reminded of a picture I took from my window this time last year of the tree outside my window starting to blossom. This year it is still bare branches. Spring really is later this year.

But I wondered what the first disciples thought the day after Jesus died. Things definitely were not as they should have been. Things weren’t right. This isn’t why they had followed Jesus. They had expected more. There might even have been some who remembered his teachings about dying and rising again. But he was dead and had not risen again.

How often do we wait for something to happen and it always takes too long? Even if we know that date of a birthday, wedding, celebration it always takes too long to come easter-saturday-crossabout. Imagine not knowing the date? But also imagine not knowing for sure what would happen?

So this Easter Saturday, as things are not being as they should be, I am going to ponder the disciples and share this piece I wrote a while ago

How? What had happened?

What is wrong with the world?

Why is it continuing?

God why can you not make it stop?

Just give us time to grieve.

This is too much.

There was so much promise.

So much expectation.

And now he’s dead.

All hope of promise is gone.

It’s over.

All that we gave our lives for.

All that we gave up.

Gone! Over!

It is finished.

And who cares?

Us few that’s who.

The Passover continues

The people celebrate

They are free at last.

How? Why? Who could have let this happen?

God how could you have let this happen?

You should have stopped it.

He claimed to be your son.

We believed him.

We are walking dead now.

They will come to get us soon.

Gone! Over!

It is finished!