Faith through a fog

Okay, so this blog is pretty personal today.

Last week we had the privilege of seeing my baby nephew christened. It was an Anglican High Mass, with lots of ritual and incense, and I liked the quietude and the solemnity of it (well, I think I would have enjoyed it more if we hadn’t been trying to keep 10 kids quiet for the whole 2-hour service). I was a little amused though when Picasso said to me, “Mummy, why is it foggy in here?” I think the priest had got a little over excited with the incense at that stage, and we were indeed all looking at each other through a fine, scented mist.

Later on I fell to thinking about his comment – and how true it is of where I am at in my spiritual journey at the moment.

I grew up in a fundamentalist black-and-white kind of church environment. It was a very particular, narrow world view that I was presented with – and expected to believe unquestioningly – and I spent a long time forcing down the questions and concerns I had with what I was being told was “true”. So many limits on knowledge and understanding; so many rules and regulations.

After I decided to embark on a more personal journey of discovery, I very nearly gave away my faith. I have this very clear memory of sitting on a beach in Sri Lanka and asking myself, “What do I believe?” I could only come up with one certainty. I believed in God. That was kind of it. The rebuilding of my faith began from there.

A lot of the people I grew up with in church have given their faith away completely, and I totally understand why. It’s why I relate to Guy Sebastian’s struggle you can read about here. When you grow up in such a narrow world, and you finally move beyond it, you realise how limited your previous understanding was. It’s easy to have defined views about gay people if you’ve never actually befriended someone who’s gay. It’s easy to accept being told that marriages only work if women are submissive to their husbands until you get beyond that little world and see there are so many different models for marriage and relationships, and that actually patriarchy is of the most destructive forces in any society.

There are so many things that make me frustrated with religion. The fact that Christianity is so often hijacked by a (mostly right-wing) political agenda. That a friend of mind is shunned when she walks down the street, just because of her sexuality. That religions of all kinds are used to justify the most appalling acts of violence and hatred, resulting in the destruction of so many cultures and peoples. The very reason we have our current nation-state system is because creating states for people was the only way to stop the religious wars that were destroying Europe in the 1600s. The fact that religion has so often been used to preserve social institutions that are inherently unjust – it is mind boggling to me that women are still, to this day, not allowed to speak in some churches. The fact that ministers and pastors and priests and rabbis and whoever else can speak with such certainly about knowing “the truth”. I just think that’s supremely arrogant. Of all the trillions and people who have lived and died, and the trillions yet to come, it’s a little absurd to think that one particular person, who has grown up in a particular culture and has a particular world view, has sole access to “the truth”. I think we are all so far from the truth that we get glimpses now and then, but generally, in my experience claims of “but this is the truth!” are mostly used to convince you of a belief that you might be validly questioning.

And so why, despite all this – am I a believer? Why do I still have faith? I read somewhere recently that just as we don’t do away with science altogether because science was responsible for the atomic bomb, we can’t distill religion down to the crumby bits. Faith has also produced the most wonderful acts of sacrifice and service known to man. Take Corrie Ten Boom, who went to a concentration camp because she could not bear the suffering of the Jewish people around her. Or Mother Theresa. Or countless others who live daily lives of love and sacrifice because they actually take the commandment to “love others as you love yourself” seriously. I hang in there because of all of this, and the fact that there just has to be more to life than what we experience day to day. So my journey along the spiritual road is foggy, and at times challenging. We do, after all, see “through a glass, darkly.” But it’s what makes life meaningful and beautiful.

I wish all of you well in your own spiritual journeys, and hope you can take comfort in peace and beauty during those times when it is hard to see the road ahead.

 

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Birthdays, time travel, and the meaning of life

So it was my birthday on the weekend, and to celebrate, Souljourneyboy and I went to the movies (and happy days! We saw something other than a Disney or Pixar show).

We saw Looper – which, despite some gaps in internal logic, was a really good movie. So for a while I debated whether this post should be a nostalgic, heart-warming piece about birthdays and memories and the meaning of life, or my thoughts about time travel.

And then I realised they were actually two sides of the same coin, and I couldn’t really write about one without talking about the other.

How? I’m glad you asked.

Firstly – the movie (and don’t worry I won’t spoil it for you). The central theme of Looper is time travel. I really like this kind of mind-bending sci-fi, and the endless amount of dizzying possibilities you can talk about in the car on the drive home. Generally, time travel movies fall into two camps. The first are the movies that have the basic premise that if we go back in time we can change the present. Back to the Future is a good example of this. The other kind suggests that we can’t actually change what will eventually happen – that destiny has a way of unraveling in such a way that no matter what we do, we’ll still end up at the same point. The movie 12 Monkeys has this as its premise.

I won’t tell you which Looper is – but Souljourneyboy and I had an interesting discussion about whether we think: a – time travel is or ever will be possible, and b – whether we can actually change the future, or whether destiny is fixed.

We talked about it for quite some time. And after all that discussion – you know what? I have absolutely no idea. And this brings me back to my birthday.

For a couple of years there, my birthday was a bittersweet occasion. Seven years ago, my darling nephew was born, and also died, on my birthday. He only lived for about 20 minutes. A year later, my father’s friend was killed in a terrorist bomb attack. And then a few years after that, a dear family member of Souljourneyboy’s died on my birthday after a battle with cancer.

I guess my point is that all of this tragedy on a day that is traditionally celebratory showed me a few things. Firstly, that life sometimes makes no sense. I struggled for a long time to find God’s plan in my nephew’s death, that I had to make sense of it somehow. Then I gave up – it doesn’t make sense, it isn’t right or fair. It just is.

The second thing is that love is all that matters. I don’t care if it’s a cliché – love conquers all. Love keeps my nephew alive in our hearts and minds, even though he’s not here with us. Terrorist attacks happen when love is absent. And love helps us celebrate a life well lived, after it’s gone.

So I don’t know if the future can be changed or if we’re all hurtling irreversibly towards our own fates, but I don’t think it really matters. If we just make it through today, the best we can, then that’s all anyone can ask. I’m glad I share my birthday with my little nephew because it is a constant reminder to treasure the things that matter. Like loving unreservedly. Which is exactly what birthdays should be about.

An ode to friendship

I caught up with some wonderful friends this week.

I always feel sorry for women who don’t have close friends. All my life I have had wonderful friendships. Soul Sister of course, who has been my best friend since we were 5 years old, and many others along the way. Some have been part of my life for only short periods, and others will be part of my journey always, but they have all encouraged me and blessed me, been honest with me and made me a better person.

So the other night I went out with three such friends (including Soul Sister) and while the café closed WAY to early, we had a great catch up.

The thing I love about this group of friends is that we can and do talk about every topic under the sun. We talked about our kids, and some of the parenting traumas we’re currently going through. We discussed our careers and our goals, our families and good TV shows we’ve discovered. One shared a significant spiritual and emotional breakthrough she’d recently had, which had brought her great peace of mind. Then we talked about the best way to do our daughters’ hair. We can go from politics to philosophy to online lingerie shopping to counting calories and our favourite flowers in a heartbeat.

It doesn’t matter what we talk about, I always come away feeling encouraged, and like I’m not doing this thing called life all alone.

So here’s to great conversation, and even greater friends – I would not be who I am, if you had not been part of my souljourney.  

Love to you all – you know who you are 🙂

Generosity – what’s in it for everyone

I’ve been thinking lately about generosity.

I think it was first inspired by an argument between Bookworm and Picasso, one of those truly trivial sibling fights that started because Picasso wanted to borrow Bookworm’s bey-blade rip-cord and Bookworm said no, even though he wasn’t using it, didn’t care about it, nor indeed had used nor cared about it for possibly six months. I gave a rousing speech about how I want them to be generous-hearted people, which means allowing people to use – or have – things of yours you don’t use or need.

Then my Mum shared with me something from a book she had been reading, written by Tim Costello (CEO of World Vision).

Tim has written a book called “Hope”, which is a collection of his experiences traveling around the world, visiting under-developed countries. This particular story was from when he visited the people of Nagaland in a tiny part of north-east India, where people wear different colours to represent their roles in the community – for example teachers wear blue and elders red.

Here is the extract:

“One morning I was to address the village where I was staying at the 6am prayer meeting…I remember seeing the usual colours and spotting a person adorned with a gold coat. It was a knockout. I asked my host what that colour represented and was told that it indicated a person who had given a feast of merit.

“I looked quizzically at my host, who responded in surprise – surely my culture had feasts of merit? ‘No’, I said, ‘that’s new to me’. So he went on to explain that in Naga culture, when you become rich – meaning you have a lot of pigs and bags of rice – you can choose to throw a feast of merit. This means hosting a party for the whole village, particularly the poor, which might go on for two weeks or a month – whatever time it takes to liquidate all your assets.

“When everything is gone, you have a glorious gold cloak placed on your shoulders in a ceremony of great respect. Then you start again with nothing. I recall telling him that I was pretty sure I had never heard of anything like a feast of merit in my culture.”

What a beautiful story.

Finally, I’ve also been studying (for my degree) the idea of the “cosmopolis” lately. This is an idea that all human beings, regardless of culture, race, religion, political affiliation or even where they are located in history, are actually a single community, bound by the fact that we are all human. Our value lies in our humanity. It’s this kind of thinking that has birthed the concept of universal human rights.

So with all these thoughts bubbling away in my mind, I started thinking – what if we – as a family, community, or nation – really saw others like that? What would happen?

I think it would change the way we view so many things – our neighbours, our school community. The  marginalised. The impoverished. Nations who are starving. The disabled. The mentally ill. Refugees. And then I think we’d start by being more generous, in our views, our thoughts, with our time, and our kindness and compassion and also our resources.

So I have actually felt really challenged to be a more generous person in lots of ways. To actually treat my neighbour as myself, and be generous, with things (like bey-blade rip cords!) that have no actual value at all, but also with things that cost me in some way. I think the kids did take on board my little homily, and we are all excited about doing the “Operation Christmas Child” boxes, where you buy Christmas presents for children across the world who would otherwise have no present on Christmas Day. You can read more here.

I hope everyone has a great weekend – and you get the chance to be generous to someone in your path as well.
🙂

Life’s short, live it well

Most of you know it was my Grandmother’s funeral on Friday. She was nearly 92 – she had lived a full and complete life, and I was glad she left this world when she did, before she suffered much as she gradually declined.

But no matter what the circumstances, death is always confronting. To tell the truth, I hadn’t thought much about her death leading up to the funeral. Everything was so hectic at work and then we all got sick and I was trying to get the kids packed to go away (you know how it is). But once we were sitting in the church, looking at the coffin and the lovely display my Aunt had made to represent my grandmother’s life, I felt really overwhelmed.

As my mother said in her eulogy, by the world’s standards, my grandmother was not really an “important” person. She grew up on a farm in the Depression and trapped rabbits to sell their hides so her family had enough to eat. She didn’t have a “career”; she lived her whole life in a tiny country town that’s barely a dot on the map. Like most of the millions of people who come and go, my grandmother will not be remembered in history books or stories. But she was a quiet, faithful person. She served her family, friends and her community her whole life without asking anything in return. She valued the few things she had and was not wasteful. She brought up three children, who in turn had children, who now have children. We are here because of her, and hopefully, will make the world a better place because we were in it.

One of my favourite novels of all time is “Middlemarch” by George Elliot. Her main character, Dorothea, is one such faithful person. The novel ends with these words as it describes Dorothea’s life:

“The effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”

I love this quote – I love the fact that there are thousands of such people living their hidden lives, quietly adding to the growing good of the world, even though they’ll never be recognised for their efforts.

My life is so different to my grandmother’s. As a feminist I am glad of that – that I have the opportunity to have a career and spread my wings and do so many things that perhaps she did want to do, but never had the chance to. But I don’t want to lose sight of what she knew was important. Careers come and go, the lights on the world stage eventually dim – and what we have left is what really matters. I want to be a faithful and loving partner, friend, mother, sister, daughter. I want to make the lives of those around me better. Our lives are so unbelievably short, they really are just a breath. It’s good to take moments like this and think about the legacy we want to leave. Maybe nothing will change – maybe everything will. But when I get to the end, I want to be sure  I can look back with happiness and contentment – as I believe my grandmother did.

Special places, sacred spaces

I have been feeling reflective today. (When I’m like this it’s easy for others to think I’m being spaced out, but I  like to think it’s just that my mind is busy with higher things, and can’t be expected to remember where I left the keys or what we’re having for dinner).

Anyway I was given the chance to reflect as I helped the kids build this cubby house:

I love how excited kids get about cubby houses.  I have many fond memories of building cubbies when I was a kid – out of boxes, under chairs, and in the bush. I think this love of a special place continues into adulthood – there is some part of us that craves a space that is separate, set apart.

I think that this is what’s so appealing about really beautiful old churches – whatever religion they might represent. A group of people took time and care to create a space that was separate from the rest of the world, a place that was dedicated to the soul – for reflection and growth and spiritual commune.

I got a real sense of this on my recent trip to Italy, when we visited the incredible Duomo in Milano.

This cathedral took more than 500 years to build. I found it almost impossible to get my head around that timeframe. That’s nearly six centuries. Those who began building it knew they would never see the finished result – they knew their grandchildren’s grandchildren wouldn’t see it either.Yet they toiled to create a masterpiece of incredible workmanship.

It often saddens me that religion is responsible for so much violence and destruction – I understand those who, like John Lennon, would like to imagine a world where it doesn’t exist.

But there’s also something wonderful about how spirituality brings out the best in us as well. I sat in the Duomo and lit a candle on Easter Sunday and thought about how grateful I was that I could reflect in such a beautiful place, thanks to a brotherhood of faithful people who believed in the importance of sacred spaces.

Obviously we can’t all just pop down to the Duomo whenever we feel like being quiet and reflective (more’s the pity!) but I hope that we all have somewhere – a church, a mosque, temple, chair, room, quiet sunny corner or a favourite tree or garden – where we can find a sacred space that offers the same, private, tucked away feeling for our souls that cubbies brought us when we were little.

What is it with some days?

For all of you who were eagerly awaiting Italian Adventures part II – I apologise, because today was one of “those days” and I’m afraid I just have to share the pain.

The horror began early, when I accidentally used the nail-polish remover to wipe off yesterday’s mascara (the bottles looked the same because I have terrible eyesight – I’m probably eligible for some kind of pension).

Eventually the burning pain subsided and I was greeted by the sight of Picasso, who was still dressed in his pyjamas, trying to look sad and pale.

“I just can’t go to school,” he announced, and embarked on an impressive, theatrical coughing fit.

Now, this is the child who had stayed home from school yesterday with my Mum after convincing me he was practically at death’s door. I had arrived home to find him screaming with laughter as he raced up and down the hallway chasing Little Miss with a toy sword.

He was going to school today, and that was that.

Picasso was outraged. “I am CONTAGIOUS!” he kept shouting, “You are sending me to school and I am CONTAGIOUS!”

I wisely left Souljourneyboy to deal with that situation and headed to work – and things just went from bad to worse. I accidentally boarded the Quiet Carriage on the train and couldn’t make the urgent call I of course suddenly needed to make about three minutes into the train journey. When I disembarked I found out I needed to urgently email something to the Powers-That-Be, only naturally there was an IT drama and no one could email in or out. In the end I actually had to send a fax – I may as well have tied a message to the leg of a pigeon and sent it on its way.

Then in the midst of a presentation I was giving to a roomful of people I suddenly saw the cleaners had sent me a text. I had forgotten to leave the key out so they couldn’t get in to clean today. Oh, and as they don’t come in the school holidays I won’t actually see them for another three weeks. WONDERFUL.

Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, I got a call from my darling mother, who was minding Little Miss for the day, and had taken her to gymnastics (Little Miss does gymnastics, not my Mum, in case that wasn’t clear). Little Miss didn’t want to walk on the high bar and the teacher got cross and now Little Miss is inconsolable and I don’t know that there’s anything worse than knowing how upset your child is, and not being able to do anything about it.

Why is it that some days the big boot of the world just squashes you flat?

I had to get out. I went out for lunch and wandered around Dymocks, which is always a calming experience. Then I came back, sat in my chair and remembered this…

This was taken when Soul Sister and I went on a day-trip to St Moritz as part of our Italian Adventure. The photo doesn’t do it justice – it was the most amazingly beautiful day; our souls felt clean. I told myself I would keep this scenery in my mind for days like this – so I could remember the truth of Marvell’s words, “Society is all but rude, To this delicious solitude”.

And so I suppose this post has ended up being about my Italian Adventure. Because wonderful adventures have the powerful ability to stay with you long after they’re gone, and make the bad days just that little bit better.