Tag Archives: questions

Lips, life and liberation

“…this has touched your lips” said the angel.

As a sociologist I find the first reading tantalising. It’s not possible to be purged of the “unclean” discourses of your context in time or space. I think the cultural errors of any age boil down to what “original sin” is, the way that some grace-filled possibilities are shut off, rendered unsayable or drowned in a mire of the “inevitable”, we cannot even see our error because out language sets up binaries and misleading questions with closed off answers.

But the desire to rise above our context and to liberate others from it, this is utterly relatable and I like to think of God as the one who burns through the crap that bogs us down and sends us out to make sense of things after all. “My eyes have seen” something, some beautiful reflection of God’s presence, some possibility for liberation for us all…this is what it means to have “faith” perhaps. The eyes of our spirit yearn not to be enslaved to sin and the overbearing meaningless of the consumerist “life”. We want life to mean something, but meanings elude us.

The drive to speak is familiar, I first felt the need to be a voice, first heard the call I suppose when I was a little girl. “Here I am, send me” or when I try to be humble and not say that, then things fall apart into greyness and fear. Perhaps at times my motives have been mixed with the less than ideal, I have craved status, wanted to be “special” but over the years I learn what hard work it is to be a truth speaker, how easy it is to get it all wrong and how alone you can feel. I learn (with joy) that God has never called only me, not even mainly me. And then I can reclaim pride not as an individualising sin “I am better than the others” but as a virtue “I am made in God’s image like you, and you, and you, and our sister”.

The apparent pride that put me off in the first reading, has served instead to interrogate and redeem me as still called (among others).

I am feeling that psalm today, partly as I reflect on my call and my co-travellers with their calls too. God has answered my prayer and whenever I think of God listening to me and bringing me out of despair it brings me back to the huge transformation of my life when I realised the obvious (that I was a lesbian) and the way this identity has increasingly been a blessing in my life. I haven’t had lovers but I don’t want to make a virtue of that or pretend that “celibacy” is the only or best option for queer folk. I will be honest there is nothing celibate about my mindset I just have not found someone I can share and celebrate this with in that way.

Ironically the “uncleanness” that I needed a coal set to, to burn away, was not my lesbian identity at all but my inability to see God’s grace and act of co-creation in who I was. My being PRAISES God in a way that my self-hate never did. As the psalm rejoices at God “you built up strength within me” oh yes she did and she has not finished. Through the grace of God and the grace of everyone I travel with I am getting STRONGER. I can depend on Wisdom within and outside of myself (in both places for balance). God has placed gentle hands on me, like a sort of spiritual chiropractor or masseur, repairing and working with what is there to bring out the best in me. As the psalm tells me I will not be abandoned, I am not yet my perfect being but God is still working on that with me.

Some of this may sound arrogant but it is as true for an ant or a blade of grass as it is for me. We are extremely significant and “special” but not more so than each other. We have the responsibility to respond authentically and to grow with God into the gentle movements of God’s healing hands on us. Someone smiled at me this week and God was absolutely in her smile and I saw my own goodness and beauty in this wonderful person’s face. Everything reminds me of that moment. I saw God in a person, who is objectively probably as flawed as me. But who wants to be objective when they see God?

I won’t spend long on the second reading (read it) but I feel it is paraphrasing the same thing I am trying to say. Paul (or someone) is finding his place in the community of transformation, he is trying to articulate the pride and joy of that without coming across as arrogant. He is working to show that God is behind all these feelings of belonging and hope, God’s beautiful face shines out at us in the communities that accept us (and sometimes one person).

In the gospel Jesus uses the identities of Simon and the sons of Zebedee as the places where they can encounter God. He makes following God about being a fisherman (just as Wisdom makes following God for me about motherhood, writing, being queer or caring). In a way there is a “leaving behind” that happens, after the encounter with Jesus the fishermen are transformed but they are “fishing for people” their vocation is still a continuation and celebration of the way they know themselves.

I have always found this reading terrifying and mysterious because there is no flesh-and-blood Jesus I can unambiguously follow down the coast and away…I have to always find my way and strain to hear an ambiguous call. Perhaps I underestimate the leap of faith (and questioning and at times depression) of the apostles, who are portrayed as just “knowing” Jesus, recognising him in a flash. Perhaps it was not so easy (it is not so easy for any of us except the sociopaths who end up doing untold harm). What is the “everything” that I have to leave? I cannot speak to people if I make myself too alien to them. I cannot set myself apart from the world I must live in for practical reasons (I need to feed and home myself or die) and for spiritual reasons (separateness leads to vanity and irrelevance). The question of faith is the same as the question of politics. How do we authentically be with others (a splintered individualist approach achieves nothing) but do not become “sell outs”? When do lines need to be drawn? Where is the most honest place to draw them? How do we leave everything and yet bring everything with us?

The fact that all my spiritual “insights” lead to unanswered questions is frustrating but simply means I am not dead yet. This week I am a person who was smiled at. I want to curl up in a little ball and do nothing ever again and simply save that moment to myself…that is not how it works. Within the full net is not solace forever but a call further. God provides for us so that we can grow to be the ones who bring it. The moment of grace is always that, always the moment of having to stretch ourselves and follow more deeply.

I can only try.

I can only try.

Pondering the big questions

How dare I write about these things? How dare I “know” or even speculate about what other people are going through?

So long as I try to remember not to give answers, or try to understand that my answers won’t “work” for everyone. The big questions will remain and we will keep pondering them. But I want to find hope and comfort within the pondering, however fleeting and incomplete. So I will dare…

On Easter Day

“Something happened didn’t it.”

“It was all easier when I was a child and there it was all up in the sky and you had to be good to go there.”

“All the answers.”

“Yes. It was all quite simple really.”

“When my mum died, I went straight back into believing all that. I knew it was childish or something and I didn’t even care. I just went straight back into it. Heaven is for good people and she was good people.”

“Yes I can see why you would do that.”

“I didn’t want her to be gone.”

“They didn’t want Jesus to be gone either. Was that all it was? Just memory.”

“It might have been.”

“It might have been…we don’t really know… We’re not supposed to believe all that any more are we? We are supposed to view it symbolically.”

“But we don’t really know”

“No we don’t”

“Something happened.”

I haven’t put names, I don’t actually remember who said what and how we uncovered our thinking together but those were the themes of a conversation a very short conversation.

“Don’t you think something happened?” there was a frightening moment of looking down from the cliff and seeing a dizzying precipice under me, because in my life the older feminists are supposed to have more answers than me and I get the luxury of being opinionated and hot-headed and possibly often wrong and they are wise and peaceful and have seen more and know more.

And in this moment one of the wise people didn’t “know” and seemed to be feeling a kind of existential panic connected to being old without the certainties she deserved to have supporting her. And if she was flailing then what about me? If she was not certain then how could I believe anything? In a flash I saw that someone who  has spent her life working and fighting to make things better, to build something that may or may not be valued in a changing world with a shrinking and stubborn church. She is at a time to retire from some of it and to let go of things she has made happen and she can’t even know for sure whether the next generation will honour it; whether even in a real sense there is a next generation.

That could easily be me, although I have spent my life questioning everything and achieving nothing so I don’t even have anything much to let go of.

That impermanence that shows us a deeper futility in all our efforts, if anything my generation had an instinct for that sort of cynical despair and were afraid to even begin to achieve anything because all thing ultimately are made to be deconstructed and for failure. We had depression even as we rolled our eyes at the things our parents took for granted and we had a sort of negative arrogance in knowing how futile, how empty everything is and was and will be.

Some of that critical thinking is justifiable, like realising that even if I work hard and earn a lot I will just find a lifestyle to damage the earth more and to live off the exploited labour of the third world even more than I already do. And as I breathe out oppression inadvertently so I hate myself. The temptation is embracing the despair, desiring nothing- cynicism or escapism become the methods for living this dystopian dream. The lure of death is that it is the only cure for the guilt that is synonymous with existence.

It must be acknowledged that neither our parents nor our teachers intended to burden us this way, just as we did not mean to give the negativity a further twist before handing it to the “millennials” we parented and teach. Where my generation, in passing on this despair to our children is most to blame is in our denial- we sternly tell them that we never have felt or needed anything that we were “tough” in some way and that we have mollycoddled them when they should be tough. And yet all we have mollycoddled is our own emptiness.

The beauty of our children is that they do not fully believe us and they dream dreams we have not permitted.

Praise eternal Wisdom for our children- electronic devices and smashed avocado and all!

“Don’t you think something happened?” Oh something happened alright!

“We just don’t know. Something happened. Definitely something because they wrote it down.”

“They wouldn’t have listened to women unless it really was something.”

“Yes one way or another there is a miracle there. Oh I want to hope.”

I don’t know that we used so many words actually, possibly we didn’t. There were facial expressions and a story we had both heard again as we do every year. Somehow we communicated our vulnerability and our surprise at each other’s vulnerability. With that there was a refusal to accept in each other any need to despair- I saw her as definitely possessed by wisdom and destined for the good at the centre of the universe and she must have seen me the same way, because there was a moment of recognition of “Oh you have fears and struggles too, but I can see you being more than them therefore more than them exist” only we didn’t actually answer any of the big questions.

It is a comfort when the bigger “other” also needs the comfort, then my own lack of knowing is normalised and not a deficit in me. I cannot believe that her life and work are emptying of meaning in the aging process, she cannot believe that my being born in the first place is an unfortunate mistake. That is a gift that generations can give to each other- the belief in each other’s significance. That is why we learn history and that is why nurture and mentor those younger.

I thought today about people who have died- some were younger than me and many were significant. I thought about how I have not achieved anything with this life I have been given and now I am beginning to get little wrinkles and touches of grey already- without having decided what to do or how to do it. Resurrection does not solve the way we suffer and grieve each other’s suffering and loss nor does it give us a blueprint for “what next in six easy steps”.

When I was a little girl I was so scared I would go to hell. I remembered that today as I drove through the twisty country roads. I felt quite secure that even without being a solved and perfect being there was God in me.

“If I do go to hell I will just bring you in there God for all the people who need you most.”

“You really think you can do something like that?” I could hear God laughing at me as usual.

“No” I admitted, “I think I just feel confident that you wouldn’t send me there.”

“You want to believe there is some point to everything don’t you.” Said God

“Yes” I said, “Is me talking to you a psychological trick I play on myself to try to believe there is a point to existing?”

“You need to learn to trust me.” God said and my car came over the hill and the tree-trunks were gold.

“Is this why you wanted to go via Clare?” I asked my son seeing the gold trees.

“I don’t know” he said, “we’ll just find stuff. Can I change the CD now?” and I realised we were not going to “end up” any particular where on this holiday. We’d deal with tailgaters and pot-holes and take detours to lookouts and if we were really lucky see an echidna. And then the day would be over without anything having been achieved.

So I may as well love the sight of the golden trunks of trees as not; and yes it was fine if he changed the CD.