Tuesday, February 11, 2020

To Host or... Not.

I was getting ready for work this morning, and as I walked past a bookshelf a title caught my eye:  "Hosting the Presence", a book about how to be a person who hosts the presence of God.  This is a book I've had for years, have read several times, and marked in lots of places.  It's a good book.

But... as I walked past this morning, I thought how foreign that metaphor feels to me now.  To me, 'hosting' implies several things.  First, that I am in charge.  The host is the one who invites the guest, and sets the time, place and purpose of the visit.
Second, 'hosting' implies a defined time period, with an end.  If someone lives with you, you don't say you are hosting them - you use different words.
Third, 'hosting' implies effort.  If I am hosting someone, I want my house to be clean and tidy, my kids to be well behaved, and I want to have plenty of delicious food and drink to offer to my guest.  None of these things are my normal state of existence, and none of them happen by themselves!  (We do have plenty of food and drink, just not 'special occasion' food.)

Last month I was on holiday at the beach.  We visited many different beaches, but at one particular beach there were lots of waves, with a big calm space out behind them.  My kids were playing in the waves, but I went out beyond them and floated in the calm water, only moving enough to keep my balance, letting the water hold me up and the waves rock me as they moved towards the beach.  I stayed there for a long time, enjoying the peace - the warm sun on my face, and the cool water around me.  Close enough to hear the sound of the surf and the kids playing in it, but far enough away that the sounds were not filling my attention.  When I eventually looked around, I realised that the water had carried me a way down the beach.  Despite making absolutely no effort to move, I was now several hundred meters away from where I'd started.  I hadn't been carried out - the water was still the same depth - but I was in a different place. 

I met with my spiritual director a few weeks ago, and we talked about God and me.  As you do, when you meet your spiritual director! (If you don't know what a spiritual director is, Google it.)  He knew that I'd been on holiday, and I told him about this experience.  Towards the end of the session, he asked me if I thought this might be a metaphor I could use for my current relationship with God.  It certainly is!

I've 'come a long way down the beach' from when I first read that book.  Now I know that I am not hosting God.  Instead, I am a very small being, floating in a very big Sea.  In Him I live and move and have my being. (Acts 17:28)  My life exists within the presence of God - I don't have to work to entice the presence of God to visit my life.  I am in control of my life to a certain extent... but to quite a large extent, I am not. I can try to control my life: make decisions about how my life is going to be, and work hard to try to achieve those decisions; or I can relax, and let the currents of God carry me where they will, while I try to keep my balance and enjoy the journey.  I say 'try to', because the journey isn't always sunny days and calm waters.  Sometimes it rains, sometimes the waves dump me instead of rocking me, and sometimes it's night and I can't see the stars.  To clarify, life is often hard.  Money is usually tight, the kids aren't angels, I can make dumb choices with the best of them, and scary things like cancer don't only happen to other people.

Regardless of my circumstances, I believe I am always in, floating on, and sometimes under, the presence of God.  I don't visit God, and God doesn't visit me - instead, we are constant companions.  If I truly believe the scripture that I quoted before, that I live and move and have my being IN God, then I live my life within that Presence.  We all do!  The differences between us are our varying levels of awareness both of this fact, and of the Presence that saturates every moment and cell of our beings.  Our job is to do what some call 'practising the presence of God'.  This doesn't mean that I am practising being God - LOL! - but that I am practising being aware of, or remembering, the presence of God that I am always with.

I apologise if this doesn't make sense.  It's a tricky topic to try to nail down with words.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Morning Prayer

Eternal God,
You are the still, calm home around which our busy lives orbit
Like specks of dust around the sun.

Remind us of Your kindness today,
And open our eyes to Your glory
That fills the whole earth.

We - broken and imperfect as we are,
Are also containers of Your glory.

As we inhabit our lives among Your many creations,
Help us to see Your life and love reflected in
The iridescence on swallows' wings,
The blaze of autumn trees,
And each other.

We are specks of dust, carried on the wind...

We are made in Your image,
Balanced by the weight of Your love,
Carried on the Wind of Your Spirit.

Known and loved from eternity to eternity.


Sunday, January 14, 2018

Father Abraham, Brother Laurence... and me.

I had a bad sleep last night, but I woke at some point during the night with words from God still in my ears.  Which more than makes up for the lack of sleep!

For years, I have struggled with the Bible, particularly the Old Testament.  I struggle with the stories and people in it, and with the way God is portrayed in it.  In fact, I almost lost my faith over reading the Bible.  So for a couple of years I have barely read the Bible at all, because I didn't want to upset what felt like a delicate balance of faith.

Yesterday a book arrived in the mail for me.  It's called The Practise of the Presence of God, by a 17th century monk, Brother Laurence.  It's a very short book, less than 100 pages, but it's one I know I will re-read many, many times.  Brother Laurence talks about how he doesn't find the set prayers and times of prayer to be of much importance, instead he focuses his thoughts and heart at all times on God, and in this way he has been constantly aware of the presence of God with him for many decades.  As I read his thoughts on not doing what everyone says you should do, but doing what works for you, my thoughts went back to my struggles with the Word… because I miss it.

I have been aware, over the last few weeks, of whispers in my spirit from God - little nudges and promptings back towards Himself.  I am more aware of Him as I go through the day and night, and it feels like a re-awakening.  It's lovely.  It's also sad, because I realise how much I have lost and missed  of this communion.

So I woke last night with the clear thought that I should try reading the Bible again, but this time rather than letting my focus be captured by the flawed people who populate the pages, I should focus instead on God in the Bible.  Look for Him, and His works and character.  The other thing God said to me was that apart from Jesus, He has never had a perfect person to work with.  We are all, the whole human race of all times, messy, generous, sinful, kind, stupid and flawed.

As I lay in bed thinking all this over, one thing became clear to me: the teaching I've heard from birth about the Bible from varying denominations has all had something in common.  The people in the Bible are placed in gilded cages; ring-fenced with perfection.  Either their own perfection, or the perfection of God.  Because of this perfection, it is very hard to see them as real people, just like us.

Take Abraham.  He is talked about in churches as the father of faith, and the man who would do whatever God asked of him - he was even willing to kill his own son because God asked him to!  If we take off the perfection-tinted glasses, we might notice some things that, if they are mentioned in church, tend to be brushed over VERY quickly.  Abraham pimped his wife.  He pimped his wife to the Egyptian pharaoh, and got so much cash and livestock as a consequence that he became one of the richest men around.  Hmmm… that isn't usually mentioned when we're talking about Father Abraham!  Then there's the story of the sacrifice.  The Jewish take on the story of Isaac's near-sacrifice is very different to the Christian one.  They see it as a story of Abraham's failure, rather than the triumph of his faith - in their view Abraham failed because he didn't question that God wanted child sacrifice, just like all the pagan gods did.   They say that Abraham should have known God well enough to know that that was not something that He would ever want, and that God was wanting him to have the courage to say so. 

I've never ever heard a sermon on any of this from Sarah's perspective.  Sarah tends to be looked down on because she doubted God - she laughed, mockingly, at the prophecy, then she lost faith and tried to fix the problem herself instead of waiting for God, creating Ishmael in the process. 

So.  We've got faith-filled Abraham, and doubting, impatient Sarah.  Or, we've got a man who doesn't mind handing his wife over for someone else to use if it makes him rich, and who would rather kill his son than question what he thought God said… and long-suffering, loving, patient Sarah, who follows her man through right and wrong, childlessness, bigamy, deserts, step-children, visits from angels, family break-down, near murder and visions… because her love is as strong as his faith.

See what I mean?  Both these versions of the story are true, but only one is ever spoken.  And the air-brushed version is the one we get. 

I'm starting again, reading through the Bible.  I'm reading a new translation that I haven't read before, and I'm going to do my best to see the people I meet in the pages with fresh eyes.  I want to let the stories breathe a bit, and let the people be who they are, instead of who we've made them be.  And somehow on this journey, I'm hoping to find more of the God who is whispering to me to come looking for Him… because He is the whole point of this.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Happy New Year!

It's the end of another year.  I took the kids for a swim in Mary and Arthur's pool this afternoon, after spending the morning with Ian, working out details of the landscaping we want to do in the next few months. We ate chips and dip, steak, meat patties, salad and cheesy herbed mashed potatoes while we watched Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  Halfway through the movie we felt peckish again, so we had salted caramel cheesecake and ice-cream.  Jamie and me nodded off occasionally towards the end of the movie, but we all enjoyed it.  Jamie went to bed at 10pm, and Samuel, Isabella and Ben are in Ben's room, determined to stay awake till midnight.  We shall see!

I'm looking forward to next year.  It feels full of possibilities and promise.  I'm sure it will hold it's share of troubles, but right now the new year is still a beautiful blank slate.

When I had my last birthday, I realised that having cancer has changed my perspective on birthdays.  I see no reason to be ashamed of the fact that I'm getting older - isn't a long life what everyone wants?  To achieve that, you have to get older!  Now, when I celebrate my birthday, I am celebrating that I have lived for another year.  I had a whole year to love and learn and live in.  I've had 44 whole years, full to the brim of laughter, tears, pain and joy, and I'm not finished yet!  What's not to celebrate about that?

So here's to 2017.  What a year it was!  Full of restoration, brokenness, grief, laughter, light and shadow.

 And here's to 2018!  The chance of another year to be with the people I love, watch them grow and change, to work and play and rest… I am so blessed.  Happy New Year!

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Love or Fear

I found out that a good friend died yesterday.

I only met her last year, but we had an instant connection.  We both liked growing things, and making things.  We both had fractured families and loved books. One of the other things that helped cement our friendship was discovering that we had both had breast cancer.

She was funny, kind, wise, interesting, beautiful and about ten years older than me.

Yesterday she died from breast cancer that had come back and spread to her liver and bones before it was noticed.

I was expecting to have more time with her, to be able to at least say goodbye, but the cancer was growing too fast... and yesterday we ran out of time.

Her name was Nanda.

She wasn't afraid, or even particularly concerned.  She was ready to die, but I wasn't ready.  I still have lots of things I want to talk with her about, and I'm sad that the relationships she was beginning to form with my kids have come to an abrupt end.  I want to hear about the corners of her life that we hadn't had time to talk about yet.

I'm sad about Nanda, and I'm scared for me.

See, here's the thing about cancer.  Once you've had it, your chances of it coming back are increased.  Mostly I ignore that uncomfortable fact, and pretend that I'm just as invincible as I used to be, and that my plans of living to 93 are perfectly reasonable... but then something like this happens, and I am reminded that while my chances are good, the reality is that this could happen to me just as easily as it happened to Nanda.

It's scary.

Even after the cancer is gone, the shadow of it lingers.  I'm very aware of things that might be suspicious (or not), I'm much more aware of my energy levels (does the fact that I've been feeling really tired for the last week or two mean anything bad?), and I am VERY aware that time is not guaranteed to anyone, including me.

I'm not overwhelmed with fear on a daily basis, but it often niggles away at the back of my mind.  Because I know that like my lovely Nanda, what seems like back pain that should be fixed by a visit to an osteopath, could actually be cancer destroying my life, one cell at a time.

But.  Here is what I know for sure.  Regardless of cancer, hurricanes, car accidents or winning the lottery, love and kindness are ALWAYS the best choice.  I can't chose whether I get cancer or not, or what path a hurricane will take.  Turns out there's an awful lot I have no control over!  What I can control is my reaction to the events I'm presented with each day, and I want to be responsible for adding love to the world, not hurt.

I chose love.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Time Is Like Water

I had a bath today.
Coming up from the water, after washing the shampoo from my hair.
At around the same time a year ago, I was coming out of a thick fog of anaesthetic
after surgery to remove part of my body
so as to save my life.

I had a bath today, and thought about how time is like water.
We are conceived into a seemingly unending ocean of time,
which we are as unaware of as the amniotic waters we temporarily live in.

As children, life stretches endlessly before us, never behind.
Children only look forward, and wish they were older.
Time's ocean is still so vast and mysterious, swirling around us - what will we be, when we grow up?

I think it's in our thirties that we start to notice something changing.
There isn't as much time as there used to be, somehow.
We say things like 'How can it be July already?'
and 'It seems like yesterday that I was still at school!'

We feel vaguely confused about this, but life is so very busy and we don't pay it much heed.

There are occasions when time seems to stop;
 at the birth of a child, or the death of a parent.

 The rhythm of the waves of time change,
and we are left floundering, gasping...
everything seems upside down and far away.

Somehow, we regain a sense of equilibrium,
and carry on.

We don't realise that the ocean of time that we live in
is really a bath with an ill-fitting plug.

Time disappears while we are busy,
slowly draining away, season by season.

Sooner or later it runs out and we are left, high and dry.

Or are we?

I live within the boundaries of time, but my life is more than the time it takes to live it.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Oh, What A Day!

Today I had what could be described as 'a bit of a morning'.

It started off well enough, the kids all got on like best friends, and occasionally took a break from their conversations about the meaning of life to beg me for jobs to do around the house to fill in their time before they went to school.  I wish...  In actual fact they fought slightly less than usual, and didn't argue more than they usually do when I asked them to do their chores.

I had a cleaning job to do this morning, so I was leaving the house too.  The boys got in the car, while I figured out how to get my shoes on while carrying a bag, two pieces of toast and a mug of coffee.  My bag hit the ground hard, and the coffee tipped over, so once I'd cleaned that up, I got my shoes on and got in the car.  I put the keys in the ignition, turned them, and heard an ominous clicking sound.  The battery was flat!  Then somebody mentioned that one of the car doors was open when they got in, and we realised what had happened.  When we got home from school yesterday afternoon, my biggest boy was deep in The Hunger Games, and stayed in the car for 1.5hrs until he'd finished the book.  Which was fine, except that he didn't shut the car door when he got out, and now we had a flat battery!

I left messages on two friends' phones, hoping one of them would get back to me soon.  The two biggest boys ran to school, but I kept the youngest with me - I didn't trust him to behave for his brothers.  We came back inside, and started cleaning up the breakfast dishes while waiting for a phone call.

After fifteen minutes I'd heard from both my friends.  Meg said she'd be at my house in 30 minutes, and Kerri said she'd be here as soon as she found some jumper leads.  Kerri arrived after a few minutes, without any jumper leads, as she'd discovered her husband had them in his vehicle.  We hunted around our garage on the off-chance there might be some there, but no luck.  Kerri went down the road to ask my neighbour Albert if he had any jumper leads, and I came back inside to finish the dishes.

Kerri arrived back, and I went outside to chat with her while we waited for Albert.  After a few minutes a vehicle came down the drive, but it wasn't Albert - Meg had arrived!  She had jumper leads, but they were too short to be able to use.  Albert now tootled down the drive in his old ute with a bale of hay on the back.  He had jumper leads, but we thought we needed to push the car out of the garage to be able to use them.  I went to put the keys in the ignition, and realised I had locked myself out of the house.

So.  I now had a car with a flat battery, 3 extra vehicles in the yard, 2 sets of jumper leads that couldn't be used, 3 friends, one of their children who wasn't well, my youngest child, and no keys. 

We decided we would have to burglarize the house.

It turns out we wouldn't make very good burglars.  All the doors were locked, all the windows were shut, and despite applying a hairpin to one of the door locks, we couldn't open them.  By this point I was beginning to think I might have to break a window to get my car to start! However, after a bit of faffing about we DID manage to open one of the windows (without breaking it), and my son wriggled inside, and reappeared waving the keys.  Hooray!  The car started after the first try with the jumper leads, and Albert, Kerri and Meg left.  I rang my husband to let him know the problems had been solved, dropped my son off at school only 1.5hrs late, and went off to my cleaning job.

Lessons learned.
1.  ALWAYS shut the car door, no matter how fascinating your book is.
2.  We need to buy some jumper leads.
3.  We need a spare house key.
4.  You never know when you might need a hairclip.

Now I've just got to get through the afternoon...