Thursday, 22 March 2012


That the divine becomes challenging rather than comforting.  

Of course there are times in our lives when we are utterly and completely fed up with challenge - our life is like an obstacle course or perhaps an army assault course. In these circumstances we would wish for more comfort and less challenge. 

When I was a social worker many moons ago I was in supervision one day with my boss. I was telling her how I didn't know how I was going to cope - I did a regular stint on the duty desk, had a caseload of clients', had oversight of a day service for people with mental health needs and was training to be an approved social worker. I described this issue as a problem for me. She, fresh from a management course, told me that this wasn't a problem but was a challenge. I can't remember if I said it or thought it but my immediate reaction was that challenges were things you wanted and problems were things that you didn't. And I didn't want this one.

It is interesting how we play around with words to make us feel better or worse about life in general and specific people or issues. Sometimes it works very well perhaps removing emotional content and judgement. I talking once with a man with schizophrenia about how people responded to him. One example stuck in my mind - he was talking about being sad and because he had a psychiatric label people wanted to say he was depressed. The words appear similar but they create a very different picture. Sadness is a normal human emotion, depression is a mental illness. He was denied the human experience of sadness.

It can take quite an effort to speak carefully, to consider the words that we are using so that we show that we appreciate how the other person is feeling. When my boss spoke about challenges rather than problems I felt that she had not heard what I had said, did not appreciate my daily struggle with too much work and was not going to do anything to help. All that from one sentence. My next boss when I said something similar talked me through my work to see what I could stop doing. Perhaps he hadn't been on the course!

Reframing our perceptions by using different words can be helpful but it usually takes more than this. Whatever words we hear we must be alive to the life situation which lies behind.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

A level of discomfort

Our faith community should help us to boldly go where perhaps we have not gone before. 

These bold journeys may be to places within or places without. Some of us are more comfortable with inner journeys and some of us more comfortable with those in the outside world.  We do well if we attempt the uncomfortable ones. Mike Scott Peck in one of his books, cannot remember which one, suggests that we should do at least one thing that we are not good at. If we are constantly engaging in activities that we can do then we are not challenging ourselves - we learn much more if we struggle.

It was with this in mind that about ten years ago I took a cartooning class. I have always struggled with art. Having some very good friends who are very talented I have been convinced over the years that I have no artistic talent. Reflecting on doing something that I was bad at I decided to try the easiest form - the cartoon. No need for realism or for subtle shadings - just an ability to draw and to colour. 

I actually found myself enjoying the process - sitting with a pen or pencil, either copying or creating, focused on the page. Then being faced with an array of colours and shades - pencils and pens - to bring my drawing to life. I discovered that I could draw - a bit. That I did enjoy it. That I loved to colour. And that it was very restful and therapeutic.  I have long since put my pencils down - perhaps I should pick them up again. Or perhaps I should focus on something else that I cannot do.

In our spiritual lives do we always go for the easy option - doing those things which come easily, which will bring few surprises and which demand little of us? Is this spiritual living for wimps? What do we need to do to bring a level of discomfort into our spiritual lives? What do we say to ourselves ... I don't like that ... I can't do that .... this has no meaning for me ... I am not drawn to this? I need to think about this but my immediate thought for me is around ritual. Apart from lighting a candle or two I don't really do ritual - perhaps I should.

What might we risk? A broken bone or a bruised ego? Probably not. Our biggest risk may be that the divine speaks to us in a language unfamiliar. That the divine (our divine?) which we have configured in our heads is transformed. That the divine becomes challenging rather than comforting. 

Monday, 5 March 2012

Emboldened by community

 It is the belief that this relationship will be the one that makes us come alive. 

Although sometimes feeling fully alive can be difficult.  We can be faced not only with the pain of our own lives but also the pain of others.  This is not to say that we should dwell on pain and disappointment but to be fully alive we live with it all, not just the happiness.

The survival mechanism of denial - I experience this in my own life and in the lives of others. From a simple denial of our own mortality to denying that our loved ones are hurting us, perhaps even physically injuring us, to a denial that what holds us back is a fear of success rather than fear of failure. We often deny our own power and seek to protect others as if they themselves had less power than us. We think that denial helps us to survive but in reality it means that all we do is survive rather than thrive.

As we get older we imagine that we will become more fearless as we have less to lose - fewer years of life - firmer friendships which can take harder blows - less attachment to our looks and our appearance.  And yet it seems to me that we get into pension-mentality - possibly somewhere in our fifties. We don't want to take risks because we are saving ourselves, saving our resources, saving our nerves - not for a bright new morn but for a comfortable sunset.

Should our faith community encourage us to bed-down early? Should our faith community sort people by age - youngsters to the left and oldies to the right? Should we older ones become models of conservatism valuing comfort over adventure? Clearly we should answer, 'No', to all of these. But somewhere in our collective psyche are firmly fixed stereotypes that we would do well to challenge.

What we should not deny is that each day is a new opportunity which does not discriminate between old and young, man and woman, tall and short, happy or sad. Today may bring sorrow or it may bring ecstasy. 

Our faith community should help us to boldly go where perhaps we have not gone before.