Stop Trying

October 29, 2018

 

I have been enjoying Elizabeth Gilbert’s podcast Magic Lessons recently. One of the phrases she uses to coach budding creatives is “Don’t try; allow”.

Don’t try.

Allow.

I’m sure many artists and creatives in all sorts of fields would have experience which backs this up. It is important at times to recognise the straining and striving and let go of it. We need to allow that which is to be created to spring forth of its own accord. So much of childbirth is about allowing the baby and the mother both to do what comes naturally.

Many writers will have a favourite quote pinned up above their desk reflecting this idea of allowing the characters to form themselves, allowing the characters once formed to drive the plot. I am no sculptor, but I have heard both of the following quotations many times and found them useful:

“Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” (Michelangelo)

“The sculptor produces the beautiful statue by chipping away such parts of the marble block as are not needed – it is a process of elimination.”                               (Elbert Hubbard)

More and more, I am finding wider use for ideas such as these.

Some years ago I camped by myself in the middle of the Sussex countryside, a rare gift of time alone. By the middle of the second day, I was very tense. There were more people camping nearby than had been there on my previous visit. Sitting outside my tent involved friendly conversation and constant social interaction. I had hoped to be by myself and pray. I wasn’t sure whether to go on a short walk through the woods, or take a longer walk across the downs, or to walk back to the car and drive to the beach. Where would I find the solitude, quietness and connection with the Divine that I was seeking?

I nearly wrecked the retreat with this striving, this questioning, this trying too hard to do the right things in order to connect with God. The fact that God was right there, ready and willing to connect with me without the need for strenuous effort seemed to have eluded me. There was too much emphasis on getting it right, doing the right things in order for the divine encounter, which I had scheduled, to happen.

A few years later I camped alone on the coast of Cumbria. I did nothing. I didn’t think very hard at all about the best way to spend time. I just wandered around on the beach and the cliffs and ate what I fancied when I felt like it. Not having to think about anyone else was a huge boon. After a couple of days of doing very little indeed, I sat in the sunshine on a grassy down looking out to sea and God spoke very simply and clearly.

Sometimes I just need to do nothing for long enough in order to hear what God wants to say to me.

It isn’t quite possible for me to disappear off on my own for a couple of days every week in order to hear God. You neither? So what can we do?

I am trying to apply the simple idea of allowing rather than striving or trying to take root in a number of areas in my life. One suggestion that caught my eye recently was “Walking Meditation”, offered by Richard Rohr, at the end of his book, co-authored with Mike Morrell, The Divine Dance.

Rohr suggests leaving for the walk alone and in silence and returning alone and in silence, and making the time you spend walking goalless. Take no books or journals and don’t aim to come back with something profound to say or write. If you do, that’s fine but don’t go out with that expectation. The aim is to walk at a natural pace, to be with what is, and to allow the flow of the Trinity through your body.

Now I have got my writing out of the way, I am going to give this a go this afternoon. I nearly wrote “give this a try”. I will not try this walking meditation. I will allow it.

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Gravitas

October 8, 2018

“She’s so deep. She’s very practical and clear and helpful, but underneath all that, you feel this weight, this profundity in her voice. Simple, but deep…

…That’s the goal, isn’t it?”

And in the last five words of my comment, I revealed one of my deepest desires. It slipped out almost as an afterthought. My voice was trailing off but my heart was inflamed. My brain, in the tiniest of split seconds, took notice and filed it under “Interesting: let’s come back to this.”

Evening walks, late night pizza, mornings on park benches, afternoons in coffee shops, a quiet corner of break-time, a long sitting at the table extending well beyond the meal, surprise ‘phone calls with silences and tears. These are the snapshots of my life doing what I do best and what comes naturally to me.

I have always enjoyed listening to people. I could add all kinds of language to that like “holding space for people”, “pastoral support”, “chaplaincy”, “mirroring”, “offering guidance” or “enabling others to see that which is deepest within them.” This, although helpful to me, is post rationalisation. I have always done this, before I knew what it was I was doing.

I have discovered that others found my words encouraging and helpful well before anyone trained me how to be encouraging and helpful.

One of the dangers for me in my desire to be helpful, is to be continually gathering information and seeking more knowledge. That’s how books and podcasts keep getting made, isn’t it? We have a thirst which is almost unquenchable, for the next parcel of knowledge, the latest addition to our personal archive which will be the thing that really unlocks the next level of life for us.

Over the last decade I have very slowly experimented with unknowing, with holding back on cramming more information in, whilst attempting to let go even what I have held on to for some time. In a world of every expanding exposure to information, this is very difficult indeed. I have just returned from a weekend with family with two more podcasts added to my playlist and another app added to my ‘phone. The journey to and from my visit involved listening to podcasts and reading books.

There is a difference though, between gathering knowledge and applying it. Knowing about someone is very different to knowing them. I suppose one of the criteria for all this listening, watching and reading I do is to pay attention to what is actually transforming me, and ditch what is filler: copious amounts of information added with little actual personal growth and benefit to others.

Increasing my knowledge has, at times, made me more argumentative. I am quicker to dismiss what others are saying. Fact gathering in isolation can lead to fact presentation with the motivation to win an argument rather than actually be of some help and service to someone else in the middle of their present mindset and circumstances. In my head, that killer fact was going to deliver such freedom to the person I am talking to. My heart (or more often someone else) will show me that I killed the conversation and shut the other person down.

Listening to others can be wrecked by trying too hard to help. Sometimes I have stopped really listening because my focus is on constructing the most amazing reply they have ever heard. Most married men I know have discovered that their wives are not looking for answers or championship-level problem-solving when they express how they are. Being human means desiring connection and companionship. We want to be heard first, before the attempts to help.

Finding the sweet-spot of the right amount of knowledge which is at the same time helpful, easy enough to apply, and accessible to others is not easy. How do we regulate it?

I suppose a move in another direction is what I am finding most helpful. Instead of wondering when I have had T.M.I., I am taking the step to build in times of silence, moments where I practice thankfulness, or simply pay attention to my breath and the present moment.

I am heading inexorably towards ending on a cliche here, but I guess things become a cliche because they hold a helpfully repeatable truth.

Being present is our present to the world.

I can only hope that within that presence, I might have times where my words are fewer, my expressions are simpler, and what I say is deeper.

Ch Ch Ch Ch Changes

October 1, 2018

I am feeling pretty elated and free this morning.

Maybe it is because a month ago I made a decision to write on Mondays and this is the first time I have actually sat down to do it.

I think there are some other factors too: Rest and Change.

Rest

Last week I started listening to a new-to-me podcast where Ruth Haley Barton “just happened” to be talking about being dangerously tired. I had a ready example as I remembered a late night a couple of days before where a telephone conversation became fractious, unpleasant and uncomfortable as I struggled to communicate through fatigue. You know those conversations, where you just need to go to bed but now you can’t until you have repaired the damage done by tiredness. After that call I surrendered. I left all the day’s outstanding chores and sunk into bed.

Before I was asleep, I heard footsteps on the other side of the bedroom door. Somebody needed to talk. Deep inside somewhere, I hid a maniacal laugh at the absurdity and ridiculousness and asked for the grace and wisdom I had run out of.

I have had this kind of scenario many times. I am at the end of myself and even though I try and rest, these opportunities are snatched away and the roller coaster or merry-go-round continues. The trying to rest has come to late. If I am honest, I stop complaining at the relentlessness of the world and look back through my weeks to see the engagements that were unwise, the lack of intentional space in my diary that would have prevented the tiredness which came. We have all nodded at the rightness of the wisdom which says that we don’t have to earn our rest by working hard, but that rest should come first in order to facilitate work of a high quality. It’s a different thing trying to put it into practice.

So, this weekend I managed to rest. I remember crawling into bed at 4 a.m. on Saturday morning very close to tears through sheer exhaustion. I was feeling nauseous after a twenty hour shift which I had started tired. When I got up at noon on Saturday, there wasn’t really any other option, and the diary agreed that a slow weekend was the way forward.

Change

Part of the restful weekend was some joyful pottering in the garden. I wanted to plant a few things and give some thought to the next steps in improving our tiny green spaces. The front garden is a wilderness. When we moved in to this house, there was no money to improve the poor, shallow soil which had been spread by the builders as an afterthought over the rubble of the previous house to occupy this land. So I threw down wildflower seeds and rescued a Buddleia  from a building site. This profuse home for nature has looked great for a couple of months a year and a mess for the other ten. This weekend I added some grasses and flowers to provide some autumn colour and to lend some shape to the overall design. In doing so, I pulled out a lot of plants. Imagine weeding where it isn’t dandelions or unwanted nettles you are pulling up, but plants that you put there, or that have successfully self-seeded  according to your design. I was pruning the garden as a whole, rather than a single tree or bush. Taking out the good in order to aim for better. The plants that are left have a chance at growing and looking better, and complementing each other. for the sake of the balance of the whole, I needed to be ruthless.

Which brings me to the final reason for my positive feelings today. Before the weekend I made a decision to cull that particular schedule of work on Friday which I described earlier: twenty hours leading up to the Saturday morning flop into bed. It is good, productive work. However, the effect on my body and mind is proving detrimental as conversations over the summer with various health professionals have proven. It is also wrecking the better chance I could have at productivity if I reshape and balance my week. There are some steps I can take that could produce better outcomes. I have not been able to take them, of even work up to taking them because of my busyness and resulting physical and mental tiredness.

Less is going to be more.

I am making a ruthless change that is going to be difficult for me and for one particular customer. However, the decision has come by paying attention to things as they actually are and realising that they cannot continue. Even today, before the change makes any material effect on my working week, I feel lighter and energised just knowing there are new possibilities and opportunities coming. It is going to be a good change for me. I sense a new balance, with more of my work reflecting who I am and what my core strengths are.

Who knows? If this is a good decision, maybe it won’t just be good for me, but one that is good for everyone involved.

Discomfort.

January 23, 2018

This week I have been remembering a particular evening in an ugly lounge in Northumberland over 21 years ago. Brown Sofas, thick velvet curtains of a mouldy green hue, dark wallboard failing to convince that it might be wooden paneling.

It was a miserable scene, filled by a miserable conversation.

A conversation about misery.

My wife confronted me with reality. Not for the last time….

She told me just how unhappy she was. I think I had known this, but I certainly hadn’t done much about it. For instance, I hadn’t engaged with it at all.

This was two years after our ordination as Ministers of Religion. I had just completed the extra study I had been assigned after the two years of residential college, and now I had nothing to distract me from the actual everyday job.

Which was rubbish. To put it very midly indeed.

So, my wife’s honesty created a moment where I was exposed to reality.

Of course ministry was tough. It was supposed to be. I had fully expected this tough-it-out scenario. Survival of the fittest. Suck it up. Get on with it. Onward and Upward. Push through.

“Are you happy?”

“Of course not.”

Of course not?

Of course not? Really? The very idea that I would be happy in my work was an alien concept to me. I believed that God had called me. I believed he (yes, very much a he: a task oriented father figure I would want to please) had equipped me and that if I did the things I was called to do my life would somehow be fruitful and worthwhile. But happy? Not part of the deal.

Doesn’t God want us to be happy? It was a serious question and I had no answer. In fact, any answer I attempted was closer to “No”.

Over the next few days and weeks my wife made it clear. She could not carry on like this. She would not carry on like this. If I wanted to commit to a ministry which was a war so attrition I would do so without her.

Hmmm.

This was unexpected, alarming, confusing. Do I listen to my wife? Do I take her seriously? Do I consider her feelings valid? Do I admit to and uncover and pay attention to my own feelings?

When you have committed your life to God, what place do your own feelings have? What about the feelings of the one I had committed to in the sight of God?

What about my two young children? Did I think they should suck it up to? So your Dad is miserable, giving his time to others in a way he doesn’t enjoy, to others who don’t enjoy him, allowing your Mum to be thoroughly miserable too…? That’s O.K. because he’s doing it for God. By the way, God loves you. He might choose you for this special work too. What a privilege all this is.

Well, alongside my sad and deflated and fatalistic attitude to ministry, in which there was no joy (but that was of course my fault), I had been slowly changed by being a father myself. Holding those incredible little lives in my arms, and those that followed in later years had begun to change my impression of God as father, of unconditional love, of original sin and more. If Jesus referred to his father as Daddy, surely God in heaven wasn’t a distant, demanding productivity driven absentee creator. If I loved my kids so much, that must be at least how much he loves me. I wanted my kids to be happy, playful, creative, excited, full of exploration and life.

Could God want the same for me?

It honestly makes me shudder to think that I had to ask. It makes me queasy to acknowledge the vision of ministry I had been given. I actually said “It is supposed to be this tough.” I believed being utterly miserable was par for the course. And the course included winning others to this way of life.

Good luck selling that.

I

In this season I underlined a belief I had that my primary calling was to relationship with God, with my wife and with my children. These were His most important and valuable gifts. Nothing had come before them in my heart, and I very quickly needed to wake up to my desire that nothing should come before them in reality.

As I said, my wife’s honesty opened the space for me to see for myself what I was really feeling. It called me to attention. We didn’t have this language back then, but that evening she established a healthy boundary. She outlined how far she could and could no go.

And it saved us.

At the beginning of this year I am reminded again to lean into discomfort and pay attention to how I am really feeling. Bringing these thoughts and feelings out into the open, sharing them with those close to me and giving them an airing before a loving, nurturing, listening God who allows the discomfort in order to cause us to take a closer look saves me again and again.

Morning in Langdale

January 9, 2018

Have you ever

climbed

where the grass

crunches and the rock 

is icy and the air

is prickly

to see the dawn,

to watch the stripped stalks

of bracken

catch fire

and the slopes

light up

and to feel,

eventually,

the warmth of the glowing

sun creep over the mountain

and fill the morning around you?

To gaze

and gaze

again

is to love;

is to start

the day well.

The afternoon too

is bathed

in gratitude.

Ascent and Descent.

December 11, 2017

This post has had at least 14yrs in the making. Who knows, there may be 14 more years of fermentation and distillation of this topic to come.

A couple of weeks ago, a friend was telling me of an extraordinary encounter with the divine. I won’t give you the full meaning and context of this powerful moment because it is not my story to tell. The tenderness and beauty of the story may not be conveyed without the precise details, but those are personal and private. My reason for sharing it is to do with it’s unfolding inpact on me.

So, my friend was praying.

In these moments of quiet contemplation he saw himself sitting on top of a mountain. A disshevelled gentleman appeared in front of him having clambered up the side of the mountain. “What are you doing up here, Son?” He asked.

My friend’s account took me back many years to visions and pictures of mountains that were recurrent in prayer for me something like 14 years ago.

It started when someone praying for me said that I was “nearing the top of the mountain”.

I reflected on those words many times and they became a subject of my own prayers.

How should I understand this image? How helpful is climbing as a metaphor when my business was serving a God who had incarnated himself and arrived as a human baby totally dependent on his parents? Was I reaching the zenith of my spiritual journey in my early thirties? Was I  somehow “above”? Above where I had been, above others, above…. what?

One of the difficulties in being ordained and commissioned as a bona fide Minister of Religion is that humble, deeply personal senses of service and calling become the means by which a living is earned. I, along with my wife, was given somewhere to live and an allowance to live on. Others decided for me, with a little cooperation at times, where I lived and what the exact nature of the work should be. There is an ongoing wrestling with submission and humility on the one hand, and how the decision making parties might see you on the other. Did they understand our strengths and weaknesses or value our contribution? Should that matter? 

Often, when one is given a job which involves the supporting of colleagues it naturally becomes more about oversight and accountability. This then leads to such roles feeling like promotion. Often, those given such roles feel inadequate to the task. Sometimes, this leads to quite shady practices to hide one’s inabilities. Worse, we make sure someone else takes the rap for our failures.

Sometimes the ability (and funding) to do our job in the future is predicated on making current failures look like someone else’s.

So, all these hierarchical behaviours make any metaphor involving climbing problematic.

I continued to have experiences in prayer where God would meet me and show things to me on a mountain top. Many of these were profound and meaningful.

But, didn’t Jesus have similar mountain top experience? One where he was tempted to rule over all the kingdoms of the earth? 

He rejected the offer.

Soon after all these prayerful encounters involving mountain tops, a lot started to go wrong. Many, many questions were raised about our work and ministry. Perhaps I should rephrase that. About half a dozen questions were asked.

Over and over again.

There was a point where, after two full days of questioning with a mediator present, a document was signed and countersigned stating which questons had been asked and the answers given. The fact that we had answered them openly and honestly was also recorded, and in conclusion, it was clearly stated that the questions would not be brought up again.

They were, in fact, brought up again.

And again.

I cannot really tell you how excruciatingly painful those two days were. Or how utterly awful the two month hiatus between those two days were. 

During this period, and beyond it, we felt deeply and strongly that we had to let go. With Jesus’ words about a seed falling to the ground and dying in order to fulfil its purpose in our hearts, we allowed the death of our church, our ministry, our reputation, livelihood, family home, and any perverse notion if career.

Many friends prayed.

Some prophesied.

There were new pictures of mountains, pyramids and gargantuan statues. This time the various images contained the notions of us walking between, passing underneath, coming down from….

I remember a miserable day travelling to visit the next town to which we were to be sent. On the way, my wife and I met our next boss in his office in the nearest city. There was an aside he made which set off an alarm bell in our heads. Without direct reference to the difficulties which had necessitated the mediation, he spoke of us needing to prove ourselves.

Well, that proved to be a significant straw in the breaking of this camel’s back. Coincidently and significantly this man had been part of the body of people who had assessed us many years before and had recommended us for training to become Ministers of Religion.

Despite the most rigorous scrutiny and exoneration, even those who had originally affirmed our calling were now doubting it.

Our leaders did not trust us.

We did not trust our leaders.

I, for one, had no energy left to rebuild trust.

So much for climbing a mountain. So much for reaching the top.

“What was all that about, God?” I have asked many times since those days of prayer and visualisations of mountains.

The recent experience of my friend has given me a clue.

“What are you doing up here, Son?”

I am wondering if God led me up the mountain top in order to show me the truth. The view from the top, the heightened perspective, the sense of great power…. well, you can’t stay there. Majesty, awe, power, are all there… and look how Peter reacted. Jesus had led him up there, revealed his full glory, and let him observe a cosmic conversation. Peter wanted to build shelters and stay on that mountain. Jesus was having none of it.

You see, as Paul writes in a letter quoting a hymn of his day, Jesus did not grasp at his God-nature, but let go and took a downward trajectory. Jesus became a human, like us. He became a vulnerable baby, a hunted child refugee, a student, a manual worker, an humiliated criminal, dying painfully in view of all his mockers.

Jesus offers us a pathway of subtraction rather than addition. He offers us demotion rather than promotion. He offers us suffering and death.

And that’s the way to freedom.

Have you ever spent the morning climbing a steep hill, lunching at its summit and surveying the panorama in the sunshine and drinking deeply of the view?

Have you ever whiled away an afternoon clambering unsteadily down the slopes with legs slowly turning to jelly?

Have you ever welcomed the sights of rooftops, the signs of habitatiion, civilization, and your reconnection with the world?

Have you ever warmed yourself by the fire of a stranger, glad of your day in the heights, relieved at your safe return?

The views are breathtaking up there, but it’s a bit inhospitable if we think of staying too long.

I am striding in the lower slopes, wondering how my mountain top experience will resource me for the everyday life in the valleys and plains and actually longing for home.

I am glad to have been shown the mountain, but even more grateful for my downward journey.

My wife joked with me this morning that she was looking forward to reading all about how beautiful she is. I replied that posting a photo of her would do the job very well and in turn let me off the hook. She seemed to prefer the idea of a photo with an ode to her beauty.

As it happens, and by a circuitous route, I have been thinking this morning of her beauty and value.

We went for dinner at a friends’ house last week. There were six of us and it was a lovely evening with great food and stimulating conversation. I left at the end of the night trying to hold onto the subjects and moments of heightened interest and impact for me.

However, the next morning was the beginning of 30 hours non-stop breadmaking and selling, so I didn’t spend much time in contemplation.

On the way home from Saturday’s Farmer’s market, my wife outlined for me incidents in that dinner party where I had got animated and excited and interrupted people and spoke over them.

I was a little surprised, maybe a bit disappointed with myself, but more that I was keen to consider why I was doing that. We had all talked freely and openly and given each other due deference and space to share, and my handful of interruptions had been jarring, at least to my wife.

In contrast, the way my wife related this me wasn’t awkward or difficult. There was no annoyance or frustration on her part, only a willingness and openness to tell the truth. She didn’t ignore the relevant incidents or hide them from me. I guess 26 years of marriage has given us a grounding which gives space to these kinds of conversations. I knew that she was identifying something important for my benefit, something I would want to see but certainly hadn’t.

The truth is, I am no closer to understanding why this particular subject charges me with such energy, or perhaps more to the point, why I am unable to harness it.

I don’t know if this is highlighting how much I care about something and therefore could look at giving more time and energy to it, or if it is an alarm bell signalling unresolved hurt, loss and tension.

I do know I should pay attention.

I am so grateful for an honest companion. I think spaces to be honest are so incredibly necessary and vital.

There have been a few occasions in recent months where I took part in conversation either in person or online where I thought my comments would be helpful and was surprised to find that they were not. Certainly, I can see that my engagement wth debate and perhaps logic and reason has cost me something, and that there has been a leaking out of another thing (you know, the thing behind the thing) that has been submerged and not helpful.

There are some things that we know in a deeper way than can be explained by rational argument. In English, and in much modern western discourse, knowledge is a word which refers to the cerebral, to the stuff held in a reservoir in our heads. It is the work of the brain. Yet older English would use the phrase “having knowledge of” to refer to sex. There is carnal, or bodily knowledge. There is an intimate kingd of knowledge outside of, or beyond mental understanding. I hope I know my friends in a deeper, more instinctive way that simply recalling their preferences.

Anyway, my wonderful wife’s observations lead me to acknowledge a desire to speak a little less and listen a lot more. I am challenged to seek a deeper knowing beyond reasoned argument and more helpful than my surface level observations.

That’s quite a challenge. The discussions and reasonings and debates of life – which are important and have their place – are swirling noisily around my head as I seek to pause go a liitle deeper.

And just so we are clear, my wife is truly beautiful.

Staying Present

November 27, 2017

I have had some wonderful experiences this week. In trying to describe the value, the emotion, the beauty and magical qualities of two particular moments, I used the word “transcendent”.

Using this word surprised me. “Transcendence” would seem to be a subject matter or word chosen by spiritual writers and gurus I would think of as way ahead of me. I hesitate to attribute such a lofty description to my experiences, but I can’t seem to portray the ‘specialness’ of the occassions any other way.

Both events were at gigs: the first was at The Met in Bury, alongside my four children enjoying Duke Special and his support act Gavin DeGraw. The second was with my youngest daughter at the High and Lonesome festival at Brudenell Social Club in Leeds. I could write a great deal about the delight of this lovely venue, the hospitality, the fantastic line up of artists, but I will cut that short and tell you that John Smith gave a performance that will live long in the memory. I have already used the word beautiful. I have already used the wotd magical. I have already ventured to use “transcendent” to hint at the weight of the moment. I don’t have more words. It was perhaps beyond my powers of description.

Both events came in a busy and exhasting week. I worked through two nights (which happened to coincide with the first Ashes test in Brisbane to keep me company on the radio) and then slept for sixteen hours straight so any circadian rhythms had developed a certain jazz feel.

During these delightful musical interludes I told myself to put aside all thoughts about the breadmaking I had just done or was about to do, or thoughts about stuff that needed doing or about who in my family was where etc., and just experience the moment.

I am certain that this small decision to remain fully present enhanced my enjoyment of and participation in these incredible, heightened experiences.

I could leave it there and celebrate that thing I am labelling transendence and enjoy the little lesson in staying present.

However, today, staying present means allowing deeper questions and larger issues to emerge.

I read something last week about moments when we are able as a society, or perhaps as individuals to stop denying a difficult truth that we have subconsciously decided to ignore because acknowledging it would be so difficult and have far reaching consequences. This coincided with a real life example.

On Monday morning last week, national radio was reporting on the explosion across social media caused by the previous evening’s airing of Blue Planet II on BBC1. The melancholic sight of a whale carrying around its still born young for several days had troubled the audience. The reason for it’s death? Probably poisoning from the reaction of plastic detritus to dumped chemicals in our oceans getting into the food chain.

We have known about waste ending up in oceans for years. We know chemicals, raw sewage, plastic bottles, lids, nets etc. choke, strangle, impale and poison wildlife. But this short scene in a popular documentary may just cause us to act. We might ask more questions and demand more change.

Maybe.

How long will we allow ourselves to engage with the truth before it all gets too difficult and too big?

There are many issues and problems that are too big for me. I can’t see what I can do to effect change. I don’t know if any unintended consequences would make things worse. I don’t know how big business and government works. What can I do?

Here’s another moment I want to write about… a little less sublime but of equal importance:

I am in my kitchen shoving the latest junk mail delivery into the recycling bin. This one is from Farmfoods and has four sides of A4 of colourful offers.

They have a lot of frozen steaks.

Now, there’s a lot more than that on the leaflet but let’s stay for a moment with the steaks. I can picture them now all lined up in their bright enticing boxes in the freezers in Farmfoods.

I bet Sainsbury’s, about a mile away from Farmfoods, have frozen steaks too. They probably carry more than one brand. In my town there is a big Asda too, and an Aldi, a Marks and Spencer with a food hall and a couple of those smaller Tesco Express shops.

How many stores do Farmfoods have across the UK?

How many stores in this country have freezers filled with frozen steaks?

Can we eat that much steak?

Do we want to?

How much frozen steak doesn’t get bought? How much frozen steak doesn’t get eaten? How much frozen steak is thrown away?

Then there’s the fresh, you know, non-frozen steak.

What about the other cuts of beef? What about the pork, bacon, lamb, venison, chicken, cod, salmon, tuna…..?

So, these chickens and sheep and pigs and fish are slaughtered so that…

… well, it’s not so that we can survive. It’s not that they are giving up their lives to feed us.

They didn’t choose to die and we probably aren’t going to eat them.

We are killing animals at a rate I cannot imagine. So that our supermarkets are fully stocked all day and sometimes all night.

Why?

Are we going to eat all that?

No, we just want it there, in the shop, so it’s there just in case we fancy it.

Animals are dying just in case I decide to eat a meat pie next friday.

Walk through any city and count up the restaurants and takeaways.

Are we eating all of that?

Of course not.

So, what do I do?

I haven’t got onto how many crops we are are harvesting and what resources that takes and what gets eaten and what gets thrown away and how much water it takes to produce one egg or one pint of milk and whether chickens, cows, sheep, and goats are suffering in providing these alongside butter and cheese.

Because I don’t know. I haven’t researched it. I am not an expert or much of an activist. I can see my activist friends reading this and asking where I have been for the last forty years. Was I even listening?

Yes, I was listening. Kind of. I know all this. I dont know the details but actually, I know which documentaries to watch.

If I dare.

We all know this, don’t we? I am not writing this because I have done any research (yet). I just noticed something staring me in the face. I saw the blindingly obvious all around me.

Now, I don’t know whether I will change as a result of this Farmfoods leaflet dropping through my door. I don’t know if I will have the courage or make the time to watch documentaries on food manufacture or clothing manufacture or people trafficking or suicide among Indian farmers or where my coffee comes from and who is making a killing.

What I do know is I don’t have the capacity to act on every issue or care about the plight of every person and community in this world. But I don’t want to choose to be ignorant or numb or in denial.

How do I sit with these vast problems, acknowledge my complicity, brokenness and inability to help and allow them to transform me?

Could binning a junkmail leaflet become a moment of transendence?

I think maybe that’s it. Transformation is more likely to happen if I let the difficult stuff in. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin wrote in The Divine Milieu “Since my human dignity, O God, forbids me to close my eyes to this, teach me to adore it by seeing you concealed within it”.

This morning I made a list of issues that trouble me, that are too big for me to understand and change.

It’s my first step in avoiding avoidance. It’s my first step in paying attention to the things I really don’t like.

It’s an attempt to stay present to all of it.

Leaf

November 20, 2017

Have you ever
Seen a leaf
In the mud
It’s skeleton
Partially revealed
In giving itself
To the soil?

Down and dirty
Having fallen
From the tree
Where once the Sun
backlit it’s
Spindly frame
And made vibrant
It’s green flesh.

Letting go
The leaf
Cannot control
It’s flight.
Where it lands
Is not
of it’s own
Choosing.

Grounded,
It is time
To de
-com
-pose.

The leaf
Falls
Apart
Feeding the growth of
Another
And nurturing
A Future.

So Over It.

November 20, 2017

Have you ever

Loved someone

Admired them

Wanted to please them

Wanted to know them more

And to be known by them

Until

They let you down..

They undermine

And hurt you

And all that openness

And sharing

And supporting

And love

Is

Wasted.

Abused.

Shoved

Back

In

Your

Face?

You feel devastated

Betrayed

Lost.

 

They cannot see

Or understand

What they have done.

They seem oblivious.

You try to show them

But it is a fruitless task.

Pointless.

You do not recognise

The portrait

They paint

Of you

And your surroundings.

 

As the days pass

You try to make sense

Of what happened between you.

Where

Did it go so wrong?

What did I do?

Was I naive?

Silly?

Mistaken?

Was it me who caused

The problem,

The breakdown of relationship?

 

Is restoration an option?

Is reconnection wise?

Is forgiveness possible,

On my part at least?

What will I do

Or say

If I see them again?

Will I deny my pain?

Will I tell them straight?

Will I expose them

in front of their friends

those who still love them

and don’t know their dark side?

Hangers on.

Acolytes.

Sycophants.

Wait till they hear my

Well rehearsed

Speech.

 

Why am I so bitter?

Shouldn’t I be over this by now?

They don’t matter.

I don’t need them.

My life is going very nicely

Without them

Thank you.

But they remain.

Have they changed at all?

The events that changed me

Forever

Have done nothing

To them

I think.

Unscathed.

Unaware.

Unfeeling.

 

Do I matter at all

To them?

They

No longer matter

To me.

Irrelevant.

I am

Grateful

For our separation;

For the growth

That came

Through that trauma.

I needed out.

I have gained

So much

From that loss.

I am over it.

But

As I tell my story

To someone new

Cracks appear.

Something oozes through.

Splinters stab

And my words jar.

So pleased that I let go

And didn’t play the power game.

Yet they had my pieces

And played me anyway.

 

My story continues

with freedom

And grace

And richness

And yet

There is a

Sting

In my tale.