The Annunciation Trust

to help you discover the God you already know

Author: Julian Maddock (page 1 of 3)

The Shift

Weeds creeping up between the paving slabsI keep returning to The Blessing that was given to me a couple of years ago. I see it as is a tectonic shift in image and attitude: from a god that is demanding, jealous, that needs to be appeased, to which we have to prove ourselves; to God whose Body is this world (and each creature in it), who made us to be free to enjoy the pleasure of simply being alive, the God whose quality is overwhelming generosity.

There is a lot wrong in the world. Inequality, poverty, epidemic, oppression, domination, violence, war, famine, environmental devastation, species extinction. These are frequently fatal to individuals, and may be fatal to many species including our own. These are all of our own making. Greed and lust for power are too seductive to give up.

This has nothing to do with God.

I see more clearly that the attitudinal shift offered to me is from fear to love: from fear of dire consequences from a god that demands compliance, to love of God from whom we come, from whose Body we are made, and in Whom we abide, breath by breath, heartbeat by heartbeat.

The rejection or death of a god does not lead to atheism. This is a basic mistake we sometimes make. But no scientist who found flaws in her beloved and much-worked-on theory of how the world works would conclude that the world doesn’t really exist after all. No. She picks herself up and takes a closer look.

Some of the gods we have worshiped have been found to be punitive, oppressive, tyrannous, death-dealing, uncaring and dismissive absentee landlords. (The technical word is ‘idols’.) Let’s not conclude, therefore, that God is not. Let’s take a closer look.

My contention is this: there is no god that needs to be appeased. In this I agree with the atheists. This idol is a god out there somewhere who demands our compliance if we want to be safe. This god is nowhere to be found except in our own heads and projections.

I am still held in its thrall. Sad but true. I suspect I shall ever be a work in progress.

God is not ‘out there’. God is the very matter out of which the world is made. That matter is love. God sometimes seems to be a Person to whom we can relate, and who offers us love and acceptance without requirements, who appears in various guises, as an incarnation of the Christ or an enlightened Buddha, or as the neighbour, the person next door, some tree on a hillside, the blackbird singing in the dead of night, the weeds creeping up between the paving slabs, and the paving slabs. At other times God seems to be the World taking us into Her arms. At yet other times God seems to be my arms embracing the world with open-hearted love and amazement that I “should be, who nothing was”.

[Syndicated from thisbody.info.]

Salvation

People think
they are
not good
enough.

Salvation
is discovering
you don’t have to be.

[Syndicated from thisbody.info.]

Beautiful and surprising

Winning and losing doesn’t matter. It’s about making something beautiful and surprising.

So says the character, Kimi Muroyama, in the Australian film, Paper Planes, which I have watched a couple of times with my younger daughter, Esther. The film is about an international competition to see who can make a paper plane fly the furthest. It is also about loss, letting go, and finding new life.

Life is not a competition, not about being the best, but something beautiful and surprising.

You can measure your path by your dedication to your path, not by your successes or your failures. (Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic, p.41)

The point, for me, is that each of us is capable of making something beautiful, maybe many beautiful things. But we don’t have to make things. Living is beautiful, of itself, without produce, product, or production. When we are made to compete, one idea of the beautiful is held up to be the ideal and we all try to be the best at that. But this is no way to live. If no one competed, but each tried their best to bring forth, to allow to come to birth the surprise that each beautiful life is, what a rich world we would live in.

The trouble with competition is that someone, somewhere, decides arbitrarily that something is good enough to test people on. This is fine as far as it goes, inasmuch as it stimulates some people to excel. But the downside is that is exalts certain traits and abilities as more worthy than others, and it turns people, from a very young age, into winners and losers. Education, education, education sounds like a good idea, but it becomes an agent of oppression when it is a method of social control to torture young minds into a narrow economic paradigm. As Jesus might have said, “Education is made for the human, not the human for education.”

In these little pieces I lob out from time to time, I seem to be saying the same thing over and over. God, the Universe, the Source – whatever word you want to use for what can be loved but not named – has no need for us to do anything. We make “something beautiful and surprising” by nothing more than being alive as the unique beings that we are. We do not need to strive at this; quite the reverse. To breathe with amazement at the fact of breath is to make something beautiful and surprising.

What is “beautiful and surprising” to you?

[Syndicated from thisbody.info.]

The Kingdom of Heaven

It is Saturday morning. There is nothing I have to do – or nothing urgent. I sit at the open window in my pyjamas with the sunshine, the trees now in full leaf, the early morning birdsong, the air touching my face. This is what I want to do. This is how I want life to be always: nothing I have to do. I feel my upper chest relax, right into my shoulder joints, as I allow the truth and trust of this fully to sink in. Though it is my ritual upon waking to sit here, to pray and meditate, I don’t feel the need to do something ‘spiritual’. I want to sit and look out of the window and do nothing (except for the mostly unnoticed actions that occur autonomically: respiration, blood flow, peristalsis: this body is a dynamic system that does not rest – until it does).

I have a completely clear day. Nothing planned. No one about. I am wondering what to do. I decide to sit here until I find out what I want to do.

But then I realise: Sitting here, doing nothing, enjoying the edge of the rapture of being alive, is exactly what I want to do. For a few seconds, now and again, I choose to be aware of breathing and I feel the air on this body. How amazing it is to be alive! What a surprise! How shocking that I am of the Universe!

A stranger here, strange things doth meet, strange glory see,
Strange treasures lodged in this fair world appear,
Strange, all, and new to me: But that they mine should be who nothing was,
That strangest is of all; yet brought to pass.
Thomas Traherne, The Salutation

Frequently an impetus arises, a feeling that I ‘ought’ to do something, and there occurs a frisson of anxiety in my chest. My shoulder joints tighten up again. (A seemingly trivial example: Last week on Radio 3, there was a series of lunchtime concerts given by Michael Collins, a clarinetist I like. The acquisitive part of me wants to record these. And then this wanting turns into an imperative with a deadline (they are only available for a month on catchup) that I must fulfil or else they will be lost to me forever.)

Truly being alive, being with You, experiencing “the rapture of being alive”, is a continuous flow, like breathing, repeatedly receiving the unexpected and unwarranted gift of life, and then letting it go. This body is a sacrament of this flow: inhale, exhale; systole, diastole; ingestion, elimination; birth, death – inspire, expire.

Death is not the opposite of life. Holding on is.

He who binds to himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy
He who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity’s sunrise
William Blake

When did the simple pleasure in being alive get overlaid with the need to possess – to have and to hold, from this day forward … till death us do part? When did amazement turn into amassing?

Repetition” is not holding on to an experience, of God or of consolation or insight. It is revisiting and remembering and realising the eternal truth and reality revealed in that experience. To have felt God’s love once is enough to know that I am loved now.

So, in looking out of the window, which is also looking at You, I am not trying to get or achieve anything, something I can hold onto. I am being alive, being with You. This is my deepest desire.

Human being is a gift that is only on loan for a while. Growing up and ageing comes with the increasing apprehension (in both senses: understanding and anxiety) of the inevitability of death. With this apprehension comes a desire to hold on to life. This holding on – and the reverse of the same coin, a refusal to embrace – is precisely the condition of the denial of life. You really cannot have your cake and eat it.

Otto Rank described this life stance with a wonderful phrase: “Refusing the loan of life in order to avoid the debt of death.”
Irvin Yalom, Love’s Executioner

“Unless you become like children,” that is to say, unless you rediscover the simple pleasure in being alive that allows everything to arrive and depart, “you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven,” which is right here, now and always, within and among us. You do not need to search for it because it is what you already are; you do not need to possess it because it is what you always will be.

[Syndicated from thisbody.info.]

Sigh no more

Then sigh not so, but let them go,
   And be you blithe and bonny,
Converting all your sounds of woe
   Into hey nonny, nonny.
Shakespeare: Much Ado About Nothing

People will often say that they can’t pray. When asked they will say that they are unable to make their minds still or empty of thoughts. Somehow they have acquired the fantasy that to be able to pray they have to be able to stop the hubbub of thoughts that happen. At this point I am reminded of what was said to me on a course in mindfulness: “When your mind wanders, this is not a problem.”

The reality is that everybody’s head is full of noise. It never stops. There are many things that go on in the mind. Try to be gentle with it. It is just trying to preserve and prolong your life and the life of those you care about. That is what it evolved to do. It is the nature of the mind always to be thinking. Prayer does not stand or fall on having a quiet mind.

There are many kinds of noise. Two of my favourites are planning and reminiscing – thoughts about the future and the past. The trouble with the brain is that, by evolutionary design, it is defensive. Planning easily turns into anxious thinking about how to make the future safe, either about a situation that is coming up that is worrying me, or a much longer-term concern about old age finance, health, and mortality. Reminiscing easily becomes rumination upon my failings and mistakes – “sighs for folly done and said.”

Ignatius would call these defensive strategies the work of the enemy of our humanity, inasmuch as they bring about “spiritual desolation”. Our hope and trust in God’s grace and mercy is undermined by anxiety and sad rumination allied with flawed thinking (what Ignatius called “fallacious reasoning”). Or, to put it in more modern language, because the brain likes the negative we can easily lose our momently delight in being alive.

There is a kind of work to be done to counter this preference for the defensive. I say ‘kind of’ work because prayer is mainly down to God’s grace, which is always present and active and abundant. Grace, it is said, abounds. God is only to be experienced in the present, and so our work is only to try to remain present and open to grace.

This ‘work’ is helped by two practices I have written about elsewhere:

There is another kind of noise which might be called censoring or filtering, and could be likened to a copy editor. A critical eye monitors our thinking and makes a judgment. “Stop thinking!” Don’t think that!” “That’s not allowed!” “Get a grip!” “Thank God no one else knows what I’m thinking!” And so on. Etcetera, etcetera. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights might recognise our right to freedom of thought and expression, but we don’t always extend that right to ourselves.

This too though, in its own way, is still the mind’s attempt to keep you safe, making sure you remain acceptable and don’t stray too far from social norms. For the human creature, belonging to the group is a significant survival strategy. In the not-far-distant past (on an evolutionary scale) it was a dangerous business to be excluded from the group. Here again we see how defensive thinking, by undermining our hope and trust in God who always includes, can lead to spiritual desolation.

I hope I am conveying that this is all utterly normal. No one who prays, however experienced, is without brain noise. You are not a remedial pray-er when your head is full of noise. Thinking is merely what happens. So rather than berating yourself for your lack of attention, be kind to yourself in your humanity. The human is a fragile construct.

In the end, three things matter in response to the noise in our heads:

  • Be kind and tender towards yourself and the thinking, planning, reminiscing, censoring, protective mind. It is not your fault when your mind wanders. This is simply what minds do. Reality is not as we would wish it to be. There is no blame attached to this.
  • Show and tell your thoughts to God, to Jesus, to Buddha, to whomever you pray. Realise that they present no lasting bar to loving relationship with the Divine. One way to do this is to turn what might feel like random thoughts into a conversation with God. If you find yourself making a shopping list or a to-do list, then talk with God about what is on the list. If you are anxious about a meeting you are soon to have, share your anxieties with Her. If you feel the shiver of shame at what you said to someone, let Her look at the situation with you. When you judge yourself, show this to God and let Her be the judge. These thoughts might not be what you hoped to happen in prayer, but to show and tell will cement the relationship you have with God.
  • Then sigh not so, but let them go. Your thoughts are not that important. They are not you. Hey nonny nonny. Be you blithe and bonny.

[Syndicated from thisbody.info.]

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