Deuteronomy 30!

As I ponder my life today there is a long list of things that I am happy and grateful for – from sunshine and a washing machine to friends and family. Each of these can be countermanded by a negative – too much washing, friends sick and struggling, uncertainty about seeing family. It was then that these verses struck me. God goes on a life-and-deathlot, it seems, in the Old Testament about whether to choose death or life, blessing or curse and I must admit I never quite got it. I was a bit like “why would you choose death or curse? Surely everyone chooses life and blessing!” But I know a lot of people who will look to the negative – the family visit and list all that could go wrong, the day out in the sunshine waiting for the rain, etc. I never realised until today when I was doing my “mindfulness” stuff of looking at the good things in my life – my blessings – that it is about attitude as much as what we do. So today I’m not going to steal anything, murder anyone, covert anything, hopefully not use God’s name in vain, etc, but I could very easily slip into the negative thinking.

Example – I’m off to the circus tonight. All very exciting. It’s an interactive one with pancakes. But I have to catch the train to meet up with my husband so we can go now or never circus.jpgtogether. I could very easily be dreading catching the train, worrying that he’ll be late, being nervous as to what they are going to be doing with pancakes, anxious about going and doing something I’ve not done before. I have a choice. Do I want life and so be looking forward to it and seeing it all as a blessing, or do I choose negativity and death and spend my whole day under a curse?

Relationships – now we all struggle with relationships whether family, spouse, friends, workmates, people we see in passing (though these seem to be easier to deal with 🙂 ) . Each of us can choose who we view those relationships. If we are always putting someone down then that relationship becomes a curse and in the end we often have to kill it off, but if we are always saying and thinking good of someone, even if they can be a bit of a pain, then that relationship is a blessing and we want it to live.

So today I list all the things I have to look forward to – all the blessings in my life. I will not do that in a Pollyanna sort of way and believe they don’t all come with difficulties. I pollyannawill be real and honest about them – like the catching the train tonight. If I don’t catch it I won’t get there. I will have to eat and walk the dog beforehand and I do find having set times to do things in my life isn’t what my personality enjoys. So I know it will be hard but I can choose to look at the things I don’t like or I can choose to focus on the good.

We’re off to my son’s new regiment’s family day on Saturday. Again this is a mix of good and bad and I can choose how I focus on it. It is a long way to go; he will be stressed; it will be busy; we don’t know what’s happening. But I will get to see my son and his fiancée and I haven’t seen either of them since Easter; because it where he is stationed is an hour from where we used to live we can catch up with friends; and we get to bring my daughter home with us for her birthday. Which will I focus on? Which will give me life and which death?

So those verses in Deuteronomy 30 and other places are not about physical death but life.jpgabout that thing inside of you, that part of you that is alive. Your soul? Your spirit? I’m not sure what it is called but it is that part of each of us that either draws or repels others. Today I chose life.

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Taking Thoughts Captive

aid3019-v4-728px-Spear-a-Fish-Step-1-Version-2I have heard so many preaches about “taking every thought captive” and think from one I gained an image of spearing the thoughts like they were fish and casting them away. But I think that is not the point. I don’t think that is what Paul meant when he said

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

2 Corinthians 10:5

My thoughts are not wrong and do not need to be killed. Yes they do need to be captured and shown in the light of Christ, in the love of God. They need to be acknowledged and accepted as my thoughts.

In an Abbey of The Arts online mediation course she talks about focusing on your thoughts, feelings and emotions:

… allowing some time to move your focus and attention to your body. Allow some time to breathe and connect with what you are experiencing. Notice both physical pain as well as emotions. Bring your full awareness to whatever the experience is, without trying to change it. Notice how you experience this in your body. If you feel sad, how is that manifested in your body? Don’t try to change anything. Just stay present.

So I am capturing all my thoughts but not like the spearing fisherman to then discard them but to accept that these are my thoughts. I think making our thoughts “obedient to Christ” means that we learn to accept who we are, what we think and then give it to God. Not to fix, not to change, but to accept.

Here is an excerpt from a fictional piece I wrote around that:

She took a breath and tried to relax. Then all the thoughts and worries and things to do came rushing to the surface of her mind. She held their joys, their fears, their richness and their frustrations. Then she let them go. They rushed onward to the surface of her mind. Each task, each important concern, each trivial chore, believing it should take priority of her time. She let them go. This was the thrum of her existence. This was the pulsating of her life. She smiled. Instead of fighting it she must learn to relax into it and be lifted up on the current of her life.

Being a follower of Christ, I believe, isn’t all about “getting it right” so that God loves us, but is about believing that we are really alright people just as we are accepted and loved by God. And really it is about time we got on a loved and accepted ourselves as He does.

On Thursday I was having some healing prayer and God called me His little princess and showed me a picture of me sat on a rug with Him behind me. He had me between his legs pulled back close to His chest. As anyone, child with parent or with a lover, has sat huglike that, this is where you can feel someone’s heartbeat. I haven’t done anything momentously good. In fact I’d gone for the prayer because I was feeling seriously grouchy with a lot of things and God didn’t tell me to take capture all those thoughts and get rid of them and start doing things right. No! He showed me that He just wanted to be close to me and to hug me just as I was.

So taking those thoughts captive – I truly believe means accepting when we’re down as well as up, when we’re depressed as well as joyful, when we’re anxious as well as calm, when we’re angry as well as understanding, when we’re fed up of the world as well as when we’re content with the world. It is about accepting not rejecting who we are and how we feel. So I’m not going to throw away those thoughts because also some of my so-called “negative” thoughts are actually a great help to me in understand how I am, why I am and what I’m meant to be doing next.

Self-Care

stones.jpgThere is a lot of talk about self-care at the moment and yes it is very important, but what struck me yesterday was how you actually need a level of confidence to be able to care for yourself. I was made aware of this because when I mentioned that I was going to start kick-boxing the response I had hoped for, and needed for my confidence, was “well gone. Good on you” but the response I did get was “what do you want to do that for? It’s violent and dangerous.” Now if I had got that response a couple of years ago I would have not gone to my classes because my confidence would have been knocked, but I am still going to go because my confidence isn’t that fragile now. I am able to step out and do things without the need of full approval. The comments, once I was able to challenge that person, were all valid and made sense but they were not encouraging.

I think often we see people who are abused, in a bad place, addicts etc and think “why bigger-heartcan’t they get out of there?” “Why don’t they care for themselves?” But they can’t. They need someone to say encouraging things to them. I have a friend who works in a women’s support group and one of the things she says they try to do is to make the atmosphere as loving and accepting of the women as they are as possible. This is something we should do for all people – accept them as they are not as they should be. Even if we think as they should be would be a much better place. We need to give people encouragement so they can have the self-confidence to look after themselves.

I come back to the verse “love your neighbour as yourself” which doesn’t mean, I don’t What-is-Self-Carethink, giving and giving to someone else. But, I think, it means saying “if I’m an ok person then my neighbour is an ok person, if I can be kind and have self-care for me then I can be kind and care for my neighbour.” Or to look at another often misunderstood Bible verse about turning the other cheek. That again wasn’t about being abused and downtrodden but was about saying “the law says it is ok to slap my right cheek but I give you my other cheek which by law you are not allowed to slap. Will you do that too?” It is about being strong enough to stand up to justice not to lay down and be beaten. It is about self-care not humiliation. It is about self-care and humility rather than putting yourself last and being humiliated.

How have I got to this place? Slowly and with the help of others who didn’t even know. My work at Gwrych has been a great help even though at times it has been a struggle; a struggle with putting in clear boundaries, which of course only come with confidence and self-care; a struggle learning to say what I think about things but in a gentle way not aggressively, which I often stay quiet rather than say anything due to lack of training in how to gentle speak my mind; of learning to balance my time and not do everything. I put on, almost single handedly, an amazing production for WWI working with the local schools. I made mistakes doing it but didn’t feel down heartened by my mistakes. Doing that exhausted me but also energised me. I am running great writing workshops. Not a lot of people come but those who do are faithful and keep coming and I get amazing comments and compliments. Starting to take care of myself help. That started small by getting Kinspa membership and going for a swim and a relax in the hydro-pool regularly, which has led to going horse riding which has led to the kick-boxing.

For me some of it has helped that I am impulsive and do jump in, but when I am not feeling confident I also jump out quickly. As I said a negative word, like I got yesterday, would have caused me to cancel, but now I can keep going and doing what I want notself-love what other people approve of.

Coming back to the topic though of getting self-care – I would say when we see someone who needs self-care instead of expecting them to just do it we need to let them know that we think they are worthy of that self-care. Our role, as we come slowly able to lift our heads up from the gutter and look at the stars, is to help others know they are worthy.

(Interesting note – as I was getting images for this so much was about getting self-care so you could be better at …. whatever …. rather than just saying that it is ok to care for yourself. I don’t want to be better, do more, etc. I want to just be a more contented me doing the things I like doing. That’s why I care for myself. But again it does seem like we are always having to project outward and be “better”. Thoughts for another blog?)

No Newsletter This Year

mail-chimp-no-newsletter-square-fiI’ve not done a newsletter this year. The reason being that there is so much to say, so much has changed, but also that life is not standing still. I could have written about my volunteering work at Gwrych Castle but just as I was about to write things changed. Not majorly but just a little slip and change. I could tell you about my writing workshop business and what is going on there but then something does a little change. With the Barefoot At The Kitchen Table things I would have said that I was giving up doing overly writing for well-being and only doing creative writing workshops at Gwrych and the Memoir ones. But then I got an email from someone in the health service asking if I’d do some well-being with her clients, which was swiftly followed  by a text from someone saying her friend would like me to do some well-being writing with some homeless people works with. I could tell you how I’ve worked out the pattern of Airbnb hosting in this area but then for the second half of the year we have had one room booked out by the same person for over 4 months, the other room for over two and now have someone staying longer term. There is no pattern!

I could tell you how my children will be here for Christmas and what they are doing. You282-million-of-good-turkey-meat-trashed know I even ordered a turkey just before the end of November. But then my daughter says she’s off to New York with her boyfriend to have Christmas with her boyfriend’s family, and my son, who’s halfway through his basic training for the army says that even though he’s got a fortnight’s leave that this year they’ll spend Christmas with his fiancee’s family in Cornwall. Oh yes son got engaged in the spring!

I could tell you of the places we’ve been which have been good but then I realise that we’ve only had one week’s holiday in the whole year together. We’ve both had time off separately and been away for prayer support, seeing family, etc. But even then just when I thought of writing I would have had to squeeze in another place because we went to a wedding at the beginning of December.

kte335e7dd26I could list so many things that really you don’t want to here and so this Christmas/New Year I’ve decided not to send out a newsletter. My hope is that those who want to know what we’ve been doing will have kept in touch and if not will now use this as a time to say Hi. I love knowing what others are doing but most of those I care about I message – email, letter, phone, text – often, or follow on Facebook or Instagram. So my Advent vow has been to keep things simple, keep things relevant, and keep in touch more regularly.

Winter Solstice

winter-solstice-scenery1366x76854654Today is the winter solstice. The day when the sun stands still for three days before days start to lengthen again.

Today I got a revelation as to why the early Christians picked December 25th as the day to celebrate Jesus’ birth. It is a random day I’d always thought. Or had heard stories of how the pagans had celebrated on 25th because the sun had decided to reappear rather than disappear completely. But then I remembered another time when it looked like The Son had disappeared completely.

Two thousand years on from the event, knowing that outcome, as we also know that the sun will move on and the days will start getting longer, we forget what it must have felt like. Imagine firstly being a pre-science person and each year wondering if the sun would really continue or whether it would decided that it had had enough and the days lunar-eclipse-icelandwere just going to keep getting darker until there was no more. [Though maybe that isn’t so hard to imagine as we see the news and read the newspapers. We appear to be in dark times that are getting darker. So maybe we can understand.] Now imagine how it must have felt when you realised that the days were slowly minute but minute getting longer. I’m sure they had devises to be able to show them this was happening because their fear must have been great. Don’t think with 21st Century eyes and minds but with ancient minds who were not sure.

Then think back to that event two thousand years ago at Passover. So many people had given up everything – livelihoods, reputations, status, money – to follow Jesus and he’d been crucified. They knew he was definitely dead. If they hadn’t seen it they would have heard about the soldier putting his spear in Jesus’ side and the blood and water flowing out. Here was someone who was definitely dead. The Son had stood still for three days. The Son had been put in a sealed tomb – not because he was anything special but because it stopped the stench of a decaying body from seeping out. He had been still for 3 days.

I also think we miss some of this because the organised church decided that people wouldn’t wait that long so they put the crucifixion to a Friday and Resurrection to a copy_of_tombofkingsjerusalemSunday. Often I’d miss the whole Easter story by seeing the detail in that and so deciding it wasn’t a true story. There are not 3 days between Friday and Sunday no matter how hard you try. But there are scholars who have said that in certain years there are more “sabbaths” due to Jewish tradition and that Jesus was crucified on a Wednesday. [I suggest googling this yourself before I lost the thread of what I’m saying 🙂 ]

So try to imagine you think this is the man who will light into the world, who you have given up everything for, but here he is not just one day, not just two days, but three days still. Dead. In a tomb. Imagine then how you would feel when he came to stand with you, when people you knew told you they had seen him. When people said The Son has risen.

 

It was like a big light going on. The whole idea of the sun staying still at the time we 1-3-1393234669celebrate Jesus birth fits hand in glove with the time we celebrate Jesus resurrection. God is so clever. And I also think as we do feel like we are entering a very dark time politically with Brexit, Trump, North Korea, wars and rumours of wars, refugees, more famines, and other atrocities we often don’t hear about we need to remember that it might look like The Son is standing still but the light is still with us and it will conquer the darkness.

Choose Life

Moses repeated the words God told him about the Jewish people’s having a choice life-spirit-feature-imgbetween life and death, blessing and curses. The apostle Paul said Jesus came to take the sting of death away. This poem on Velveteen Rabbi’s blog post this morning, says it all for me about how too often we choose death. For me not only are the gunmen responsible for deaths, the terrorists responsible for deaths but we all are. We are in a world that allows guns – ok so in the UK and Europe we don’t have the same gun laws and the US but we still have guns; young men in inner cities with guns because of fear and need for power, farmers with guns to shoot rabbit, vermin, etc, Policeman carrying guns because there are gun crimes. We live in a landscape that gives rise to fear and hate, for the need to control, for the need to be seen. Too often we choose death not live, we choose to put the other down rather than raise them up. We choose to fear rather than trust, to see the bad rather than the good.

Each time we fear or need power, don’t trust and don’t accept, we are choosing death empower1over life. Yes we need to stop gun crime. Yes we need to stop stabbings. But we also need to stop fear and disempowering others. If we gave people a voice, some place to speak, gave them power without the gun, maybe that would help them choose life over death.

 

Here’s Rachel’s poem

Prayer-after

I loved and grieved from the day you claimed your free will,
Knowing that you too would open into infinite love and grief,

Knowing how your hearts would bloom with gratitude and hope
With every child’s every first, and lament every child’s every last,

As I do and always will with My children’s every first and every last
In the raw and wild cosmic dance we began together in the garden.

What else could I do? You must become what you must become,
Like Me infinitely becoming, infinitely capable of love and grief,

So I clothed your shimmering lights in skins and hid in plain sight
For you to seek and find Me amidst life’s sweetness and sorrow.

How fast your lights flickered underneath: your second son’s blood
Cried out to Me from the ground, too soon returning earth to earth.

The guilty wandered the land howling, pining for peace and safety
Denied by the very violence that condemned the guilty to wander,

Setting in motion also the vicious whirlwind spinning through
Columbine, Sandy Hook, Orlando, Las Vegas. Where next?

I did not mean for you to live like this or die like this – in fear and terror,
In trauma’s torrents, in shrapnel showers turning streets into killing fields.

You still can choose life: the free will your ancestors claimed for you
Remains yours even now, and still I gasp with loving pride and worry

With your every first and every last, grieving the countless innocents
Returning to Me in My own image too soon, bloodied and bagged.

But still you choose death. Aimlessly you wander the land howling,
Pining for peace and safety that senseless violence steals from you.

Choose to be My love, My strength, My intuition, My prophets, My beauty,
My healing hands – My living essence in this bloody and weary world.

Only then will this cruelest of your roulette wheels stop spinning red.
Oh, how I long with you for that day when you truly will choose life.

 

Claimed your own free will – Eve’s “defiance” in Eden claimed human agency for all her successors (Genesis 3:6-7).

Knowing … bloom – An allusion to the Tree of Knowledge and humanity’s “opening” into the knowledge of love and loss.

You must become – God describes God’s self to Moses as אהיה אשר אהיה / Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh, “I Am Becoming Who I Am Becoming” (Exodus 3:14). We who are made in the divine image are also called to perennially become.

Clothed your shimmering light in skins – Because the Hebrew words for “skin” (עור) and “light” (אור) both are pronounced or, Zohar teaches that Eden’s first humans were beings of light, before God made us garments of skins. Even so, our skins cover our light, which we still can see if we look carefully.

Your second son’s blood… returning earth to earth. Humanity’s first murder – Cain killing Abel (Genesis 4) – spilled Abel’s blood (דם / dam) to the earth (אדמה / adamah).

Wander – Cain, after murdering his brother, was condemned to wander the land without peace (Genesis 4:14).

Setting in motion also – From Cain comes not only the first murder but also the rhetorical question – “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:8) – that continues to reverberate through the generations, and also the first “Why?” (Genesis 4:6), which teaches all future generations the possibility of teshuvah / return and repair (Radak Gen. 4:6).

Whirlwind – An allusion to the סערה (storm) from which God answered Job (Job 38:1). The storm’s circular shape resembles both a roulette wheel and a gun’s rotating cylinder that conveys bullets.

Choose life – “Choose life, if you and your progeny would live’ (Deuteronomy 30:19).

Aimlessly – The indiscriminate shooter, the nation’s inertia.

My love, My strength… – Seven emanations of the divine, corresponding to the seven lower sefirot of Kabbalistic tradition: chesed (love), gevurah (strength / boundaries), tiferet (balance), netzach (endurance / momentum), hod (beauty / gratitude), yesod (foundation / generativity), malchut (indwelling).

Roulette wheels stop spinning red – For the gaming tables of Las Vegas and the ultimate gamble: walking the streets safe and unafraid.

14 stanzas – 14 for יד, the yad (hand) of God: we now are the hand that must act.

332 words – 332 for לבש, lavash (clothed) in divine skins that cover our light.

 

Rabbi Rachel Barenblat and Rabbi David Evan Markus

(cross-posted to Velveteen Rabbi and to R’ David’s website; feel free to reprint, with attribution.)

What we going to do to wake up?

(Apologises if I’ve miss quoted lyrics or missed the point. These are my thoughts and how I heard this)

Last night I watch Kate Tempest at Glastonbury. In fact I watched her the night before p056s313too. I don’t do the “watching music” normally – in fact I don’t often listen to music. In the car maybe but not just to sit down and listen to. I have to be doing something else. But someone from one of the writing groups that I run suggested we watch her. I have not been able to get her out of my head since. Then, as things generally do, I met with a friend for coffee and she was talking about similar things to the things Kate was singing about. Last night when I watched I also took notes of the things that had stood out to me the night before. The title of this blog is one of the lines and it is the line that fits in most with what my friend and I were talking about – “what we going to do to wake up?

She starts with a knock out song about the present government and really does take down Theresa May using actual words that May has said. And this is where the media stops in their reporting but Kate Tempest does not stop there. She takes things onward. I think that is what made me listen twice. Yes it is great to hear someone speaking out against the mess our world is in but it is even more awesome to hear someone talk about what “WE” can do. Not them but us. I did a lot of journalling around that afterwards.

Her main song tells the story of 7 very different people being awake at 4.18 and I challenge anyone to listen to it and not see bits of themselves and bits of those they love in it but she challenges each of us to look for the “gods” out there; that each person is born to greatness – “Gods rise in the most unassuming and human way“. Each of us has the power to act. What I felt Kate was challenging each one of us to live out was; justice, kate_tempest_-_let_them_eat_chaosrecompense, humility and most importantly to realise that we are connected and to live with unconditional love for each other.

One bit that has stayed with me is when she says to realise that the oppressed and the oppressor are connected. I felt, and feel too that it is reflected in the medias response to her set, that we blame the government, blame “them” when in fact each of us holds others back, holds ourselves back, turns a blind eye to things, when in fact we need to realise that we do get what we either vote for or can’t be bothered to vote for.

I loved how she finished – that there is nothing new, nothing set in stone, we have it all in us and there is peace in face of people, but that things will not change until we all realise that they have to and are all willing to rise up and change things. We need to stop consuming and start looking to each other, encouraging each other, releasing each other, helping each other to dream our dreams.

What are we going to do wake up?” Before the US elections I read of a prophet (I’ve lost the piece so can’t quote fully) that I remember saying that Trump was in the running because we all needed a “trumpet call to wake up“, and that things were going to come into the light. I believe instead of reacting and fearing we need to ask what caused that boy to want to blow himself and lots of young girls as well after a concert in Manchester, aaeaaqaaaaaaaaesaaaajdc5yty5ytlmltfkyjmtngfjoc1imze4lwq4y2vlzjuyyzhmzgwhat caused those young men to drive a van into people they didn’t know and then go on a killing rampage, what causes the person in the town next to me to want to stab his wife, what causes builders to put cheap inflammable materials into a building and authority figures to turn a blind eye, what causes suicides, murders, the need to buy sweatshop made clothes, to drink, etc etc.

We all need to have that wake up call to find out what makes us happy to moan but do nothing. How much more needs to go on before we all take responsibility?

One of the things I journalled last night was “have I ever spoken to a potential terrorist, rapist, murderer? I don’t know. But maybe I have. Maybe something I have said has awoken a dream in them for something more than destruction. Or maybe because of things I do and say then those thoughts never cross their minds. It is time we all got out forgivenessfearlessness-unconditional-love-tmu702there, stopped blaming them and started seeing how we can LOVE UNCONDITIONALLY. Perhaps we can only do that when we realise we are all connected, all loved and all have something to contribute?