The Annunciation Trust

to help you discover the God you already know

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.]

Some reflections on my daughters death

Sarah, one of my daughters, died suddenly about two months ago. Amongst other things she suffered from epilepsy and died unexpectedly one night after an epileptic seizure caused heart and respiratory failure. Its an unusual way to die, but it does sometimes happen, it always seems to be without apparent warning, and nobody appears to know why. It came as a terrible shock to her sisters and I, and indeed to all her family and many friends.

 

Her twin and I travelled down to the city where she died and visited her body in the hospital mortuary, something we both wanted to do. I wept there [we both did] and I talked to Sarah and said a prayer committing her back to the God Who had given her to us. I remember her and her sisters’ births, I was present at each of them, and recall how moved I was by a sense of wonder and awe at the creation of new life. Where did it come from?  I knew something of the biology, and my part in it, but that in no way even began to answer the question ‘where has this new life come from?’.   Seeing her dead body provoked a matching question: ‘Where has she gone?’  It was her body, it could almost have been her asleep, and yet the life force that is Sarah [call it what you will] was gone, where is she now?

 

The only answer that seems to do justice to the realities for me, is the one St John wrote about in his Gospel.  In the Prologue he talks about Jesus being with God from the beginning, and laying that down in order to be born as a human being, and at the end of the Gospel he talks about Jesus returning to be with God again. I take it that this is the model for each of us. We come from God when we are born, and after we die, we return to God. While we are alive the divine spark lives within us, and our task, like Jesus, is to incarnate that divine spark as best we can in a manner that will be unique to each of us.  I have felt increasingly sure over the years that there is truth in this way of understanding things, and Sarah’s death, her funeral, and all that went with it, has confirmed my faith in it.

 

I have heard many people say that there is no worse experience for a parent than to have one of their children die before they do.  I have to say that I don’t feel that.  Maybe in the future I will, but right now I don’t.  Rather I feel a deep sense of privilege to have been gifted by God with Sarah as my and her mother’s child, to have tried my best to help the divine spark grow in her during her life, and then to let her go and return her with thanksgiving to the God from Whom she came, at her death.  I’m also humbled to be aware that she did as much and more to nurture the divine spark in me, than I was able to do for her.  Sarah taught me a great deal, and is a wonderful and rich gift to me.  She would be astonished to hear that, of course, which is an essential part of the mystery of it all.

 

I’m left with a number of things to attend to.  I need to name for myself where Sarah’s giftedness lies, both in herself and in what she called forth in me, and to do what I can to nurture it so that I can play my part in making it a giftedness for the world.

I need to do what I can to support her sisters and all those others who mourn Sarah’s death, just as they are supporting me.

I need to explore my deepening conviction that the dead, the yet unborn, and we the living, are all intimately inter-connected in ways beyond my understanding.  Prayer and love, which I suspect are the same thing but in different guises, are the key to this I intuit.

And behind all of the above, I have to look after myself: allow myself the time and space to grieve; listen to my body, head, heart and soul and attend to their needs; and to let healing come at its own pace.

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