Archive for the ‘Psychology’ Category

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Fixing my life

November 28, 2010

Giving up on trying to be in control, I am learning to accept and appreciate the beauty of 'normal' life.

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I sometimes find myself shedding tears at the most unexpected moments.
I confess that it often happens late at night when I read the ‘Look inside’ sections of obscure books on amazon. It has happened tonight…and I feel blessed, literally as if someone has spoken a liberating good word over me.
Do you believe me when I say how welcome the tears are?
They are the end of my self-serving mechanical like reason. They represent a crossing-point, like those once manned by soldiers at the border points between Eastern Communist Bloc states and our Western Democratic ones. The tears are the transition through the heavily guarded check-point of self-determination into the short, but seemingly everlasting, solitary walk through ‘no-man’s land’ to the realm of mystery and spirit. I let go of ‘self-love’ and enter into the empty, open space of freedom from self.
Does this sound idealistic?
Futile or fanciful?
I don’t know. Maybe to some, even to many, it does.
Yet, for me it’s the quiet fulfilling of the aching longing that has tormented me all day, all night. The deep-seated drive to be alright, to be sorted, to be good, to be perfect, acceptable to others. At last at 11.30pm at night, I find my solace among the digital reproductions of the works of the dead authors of yesteryear.
Books, books, books…
Sometimes it feels as if these books are my only friends, my true comforters. Like gentle nurses and godly doctors of times gone by they treat my wounds gently. They unwrap the dressings, layer of cotton gauze upon layer of cotton gauze, taking note of the dried blood that has soaked the bandage.; aware of the discharged fluids – the poison that has seeped out from within. These authors and their words heal…and they heal the long way round. They whisper stories of words I know so well, but through familiarity have forgotten their true meaning. They go back to the beginning to stories and characters I feel I am a seasoned expert in and they tell me once more how what I thought I knew to be true was in fact just an ephemeral phantom. I realise again, and not for the first time that I am…but…a child! A novice…a complete beginner, who thinks himself an expert because he has finished his bottle of milk!
This death…This kindly release…to my ego…to my self…the writers bring. Yet, they do not bring their wisdom cruelly, so as to induce a shameful self-criticism, but deftly.  They are tender and welcome as a nurse or as my mother  used to bring a warm moist flannel to my head when I was feverish as a child. The water was warm, but in my burning fever it was ‘cool’. Coolness that took away pain. A human gesture which told you, you were loved and more than that it told you this infection and illness was not the end – it was transitory.That someone was in control as you drifted in and out of turmoil and consciousness. That someone would be waiting for you at the end, when you woke up. Revived, restored, alive again to a new day.
The authors and their works act as catalysts for me of divine healing. Their words for some reason tell me to let go of trying to fix my life. Only Mystery, only the holy can heal my ‘sickness’. Finally, I give up. I stop trying to be in control to dictate terms to God and the forces of nature and society on how my life should be.
I let it be.
I allow what is to be.
And give up trying to be in control.
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A Prayer of thanks for emptiness
Thank you tears.
Thank you authors.
Thank you books.
Thank you death.
Thank you life.
Thank you holy, divine mystery…whoever you are!
Blessed be your name!
Yes, let it be so!
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Tread Softly…

July 14, 2010
 

He Wishes For The Cloths Of Heaven

by William Butler Yeats

 
Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
 
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Two weeks into a new leadership role in a new church, it feels like the circumstances of life are combining together to exorcise some of the poisonous spiritual ‘puss’ of my life…and it is quite a humbling, yet necessary process. A series of events, most of them minor, yet seemingly carrying significant spiritual freight have come to undermine my sense of ‘self’ assured-ness in my ‘own’ holiness. I now feel quite in need of spiritual favour from God.
  1. First of all, there has been the momentous transition to living in a totally new and different part of the country. It is a move that I am very happy with and generally have really enjoyed, yet it is also destabilising and disorienting as the conditions and people of a new environment swirl around you. Even positive and enjoyable experiences can become intoxicating if gulped down all at once.
  2. Secondly, there has been the breaking of my spectacles – an achiles heal like weakness that can bring down even the most sturdy of giants. I am reminded so powerfully as I try to live with slightly out of focus vision, how frail human life really is. Our health can be taken away from us in a moment – mind or body. Good health is certainly an unearned gift, rarely appreciated until it is taken away in some form, no matter how slight it might be, like a couple of days without glasses.
  3. Thirdly, the breaking of my glasses provided the ‘sharp shard of broken glass’ in my mind to awaken me to the danger of using people as instruments for one’s own pleasure or plans and how subtle, but powerful a temptation this can be when you are a single person living alone. Perhaps, to protect the soul from experiencing the full weight of existential angst the mind plays little tricks with us, small, seemingly innocuous self-agrandising delusions that cushion us from feeling our true isolated state. Yesterday, I became freshly aware of my need for companionship – a loving and faithful spouse with whom we might shelter each other from the full brunt of the cold bitter winds while sailing single-handed the turbulent ocean of existence on this planet. For a Christian, indeed many religious believers would say that God himself/herself is with the individual soul on their travels across the sea of life, and I would certainly agree. Yet, even God must allow us to brave the existential winds alone sometimes, lest we become convinced that the securities of civilisation, money, pleasure, food and drink are more solidly eternal than fleetingly ephemeral. I remembered yesterday of how blessed I am and how God’s good gifts are not to be taken for granted as part of a self-centred hedonism (even if it be a spiritual or religious hedonism), but rather are kind mercies to help us remember that life could be much harder and indeed for many on this planet it IS much harder. Therefore, we should live soberly, thankfully and reverently. Yes, each day, even each breath is a gift. Thank you God for your kindness to us. Help me to live kindly to others too.
 
And hence, ultimately, the quotation from Keats – “Tread softly…”
 
Oh yes.
Yes, Lord, may it be so in my life!
May I tread gently on the dreams of others.
 May these tender and sacred sentiments expressed in verse be my prayer too.
  
 
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
 
 
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Being spiritual, yet remembering to be physical

July 13, 2010

It’s been weeks since I have posted on Dark Nights White Soul, mostly because I have had been given the great opportunity to start a new job  – namely, working as a leader in a small Fresh Expression of church in the East Midlands of England. I have suddenly – almost over night – been given the job of my hopes, prayers and dreams the chance to encourage others to grow in their spiritual journey with God (or without God some might argue). It’s an amazing privilege. One that has been hard-won over many years of frustration with institutional church; mostly in that I have felt institutional religion has often frustrated the Church’s mission to help ordinary people experience the love and forgiveness of God. All of a sudden, I have been given a formative role within a relatively young church, less than twenty years old. It feels like all my birthdays have come at once! It is a refreshing change to the bleakness of desert and night spirituality.

Ok, so understandably as a new church leader much of my role is to be a spiritual conduit to others, in this case, to be a channel of God’s love and wisdom to a vibrant, yet in some ways tender young Christian community. So why the need to ‘remember to be physical’? Aren’t we always physical any way? Don’t we need to forget our physicality and become more spiritual? more prayerful?

It’s perhaps a contradiction, but in the Christian and Judaic tradition spirituality or prayer and engagement with Holiness is not so much an escape from physicality, but rather a heightening of one’s appreciation of the physical worth of creation. Unlike some Eastern traditions or the western mediterranean cult of gnosticism Judaism and Christianity were intended to be deeply rooted in the earth, the soil of matter, the materiality of nature. For Judaism in particular, but also reflected in Orthodox Christianity, men and women were kings and queens of the created order – importantly there were also priests, priestesses in a sacramental tradition that described God as entrusting to humanity – men and women – the role of representing God to nature and nature to God. According to Judaism and Christianity humanity was therefore an intermediary (for Jews, the people of Israel were exquisitely so) between the material world of planet Earth and the esoteric spiritual God of the Heavens.

In spite of a rich religio-cultural tradition in Judaism especially, but also in the Gospels of people being encouraged by the writers of Scripture to deeply value Creation, there has always been a tendency at least in Western Christendom to drift away from sanctifying nature and the material world through prayer and Godly intention to trying to escape the limits and confines of the physical world to enter into some premature experience of spiritual bliss. Church history is certainly repleet with examples of where this has happened overtly or subtly and detrimentally to personal, societal and environmental health.

I think in recent days I have found myself slipping into this inconspicuous trap. I think the real danger is that religion, in my case the Christian faith, becomes a shortcut and highway to personal or corporate success (even if this success is defined in  spiritual terms). Perniciously religion then becomes a container of programmes or principles for new churches and for conventional religious establishments, rules and regulations, classes and classifications. In short, religion loses sight of the people and the planet it is meant to represent one moment at a time, one person at a time, one face at a time. That  is to say, it loses that engaged relationship with the material other, who happens to be our sister or brother – animal or human, plant or flesh and blood. With the intention of rapidly reaching spiritual highs of personal feelings or popular acclaim, we loosen the tie to humanity, to nature, to the elements – water, fire, wind, earth.

I caught myself doing that today. Forgetting that the people I meet are human – physical and yes, spiritual, but part of a physical history of place, persons and stories. Each prone to feelings of hurt, vulnerability, pain. Everyone needing regular food and drink, fresh air and clothes, physical touch and affection, gentle encouragement and kind humour. I forgot that each person I encounter every day of my life is a masterpiece, perhaps a flawed work of art, yes, but nevertheless a mystery of eternal as well as earthly proportions. I’m sorry people that I didn’t treat you right. I should have shown you more care, a little more awareness to your story and background, as well as your physical needs. I’ll try to be better next time, so help me God, I pray.

Don’t forget we are physical too. We’re only human even if we can sometimes appear to be almost angelic, we are a mixture of earth and breath. It’s unwise to separate the two.

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Falling into the everlasting arms of God …

June 10, 2010

I have been pretty quiet for the last couple of weeks due to some personal news that has kind of ‘rocked my world’, but thankfully, actually in a good way! About a month ago I made an application to a church in the East Midlands to work as a member of the community’s leadership team. Although the whole application and interview  process couldn’t have been done in a more friendly and civilised manner, I have to admit it was a bit of a nerve-wracking experience. Perhaps, you can imagine my surprise, elation and disbelief when after a second interview I was offered the job two weeks ago today! I was certainly pretty stunned…and honestly, overjoyed!

Since then I have been making plans to move out of Sheffield area to near Leicester and have been involved in all the throes of decisions and preparations such a life change entails. I have hopefully found accommodation for which I am making a formal written application. It’s really all good – a new start, a new church community, new friends and a new job. I’m really thrilled about it, although I still catch myself thinking is this for real and then saying, “Yes, this the real thing. It’s actually happening!”

Regarding Dark Nights White Soul, I have had to pause to think about what happens next. Dark Nights White Soul was conceived, carried and born during a period of feeling an intense sense of God’s absence in my life and enduring a real period of alienation from established Christian religion. Now suddenly I have reached the end of the proverbial black tunnel to walk out into the light of day. It is a welcome release. The warmth of God’s light and life is penetrating me deeply through the loving welcome and embrace of this new Christian church and community. It’s a wonderful sensation and touching experience.

So, is this the end of Dark Nights White Soul?

I think not. Dark Nights White Soul is my personal blog and my hope is to reach out to those in whatever circumstances of life that find themselves relating to or fully submerged in the experience of a Dark Night of the Soul. My experience has taught me, that however you feel  – God is actually still with you, in the darkness and in the pain, even if practically speaking it seems that you are completely alone…you are not. It is when you feel absolutely abandoned and isolated from all comfort and consolation that you are actually closest to the love of God, although paradoxically it seems that you are experiencing the opposite. Hold on tight, don’t let go of your hope. Even if you do let go of some of the circumstances around you. I know when my ex-wife left me, I literally felt like the ground beneath me might give way and I would fall through the core of the earth out into space and into a bottomless abyss. I felt like I was falling…and I guess in a way I was falling…falling out of and through the shattered fragments of my previous life, with no firm place or solid fixtures of a new life to hold onto. A wise and godly friend told me at the time that although I felt like I was falling, actually beneath me were the ever lasting arms of God. At the time I listened and somewhat cynically dismissed such sweetly,sentimental and contrived pseudo-spiritual teaching. I was so overwhelmed by the circumstances and how I experienced them as effecting me. Yet, looking back, my kind and gentle friend was right…the everlasting arms were beneath me…and eventually when I hit bottom they caught me.

Two and a half years later through a long journey of meeting new people and trying different ways to forge my own new success programme… and repeatedly failing…the Grace of God has put me back on solid ground with a new life, a new horizon, a new task and a new hope. I am so excited…and thankyou God and to everyone one who has helped me in both small and big ways over recent years, I am so grateful. Am I allowed the chance to express myself a little in the colloquial language of Christian sub-culture? I think I am. I’m going to give myself chance to celebrate too. Hallelujah! Amen! Thank you God, thank you family, friends and acquaintances I have met and passed like ‘ships in the night’…Halelujah! Amen! God is Good…even when it hurts and the world seems covered in the blackness of night. Even especially during those times. Thank you so much for the lesson, I hope and pray I might be able to help and comfort others going through their own desert and dark.

David

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Atheism and religion – the church has nothing to say to the world until it throws better parties.

May 22, 2010

‘Ultimately our gift to the world around us is hope. Not blind hope that pretends everything is fine and refuses to acknowledge how things are. But the kind of hope that comes from staring pain and suffering right in the eyes and refusing to believe that this is all there is. It is what we all need – hope that comes not from going around suffering but from going through it. I am learning that the church has nothing to say to the world until it throws better parties. By this I don’t necessarily mean balloons and confetti and clowns who paint faces. I mean backyards and basements and porches. It is in the flow of real life, in the places we live and move with the people we’re on the journey with, that we are reminded it is God’s world and we’re going to be okay.’

Central to reclaiming creation and being a resurrection community is the affirmation that when God made the world, God said it was “good”. And it still is.

Food and music and art and friends and stories and rivers and lakes and oceans and laughter and…did I mention food? God has given us life, and God’s desire is that we live it.’

Velvet Elvis, Rob Bell, page 170, 171

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Friday night!

Actually, Saturday morning…

Nearly 1 am and I’m sat at my desk with my laptop and the diffuse light of my desk lamp creating a cosy corner in the dark, still room, contemplating the world and how it should be…at least how I believe it should be. I have an interview on Monday for an inspiring role at a church and I’m thinking about what to say. I have been asked to make a short presentation to the interview panel on how I would host a group of people who are unfamiliar with the church and possibly, somewhat skeptical of its value and  ‘good intentions’. It’s a good task to set candidates. I feel challenged and enthused, but I ask myself – Can I really answer that question faithfully?

Faithfully, in two ways. Two different motivations and yet not entirely unrelated.

One, first and foremost, being faithful to the good people I know and love who, in my eyes are quite entitled to doubt  the existence of God in the Universe. Moreover, who question the Church’s sometimes dubious achievements in representing God and/or Jesus to the world. Skeptical, even antagonistic atheists have in many ways made a powerful case for arguing that progress in human rights, freedom, civilisation and democracy have often come from sources outside the religious establishment. Even worse than this, such reforms have often been actively opposed by the Church. I struggle within the keenness of such arguments, but I recognise their basis in fact and history, and my need, I believe, to accept those criticisms face on as bitter, yet necessary medicine.

Two, I want to be faithful to my God, my saviour Jesus of Nazareth. According to the ancient documents we call the Gospels, Jesus was a historical figure of passionate, religious fervour. Few would doubt this. Yet, at the same time his zeal for high ethical and moral standards was balanced by a wide and embracing grace and forgiveness for those who aspire and try to live a moral life, but fail. Jesus cared for those who found themselves tripping and falling on the very, lofty steps they had set themselves to climb. When I use the word climb, I am not suggesting that Christians believe people have to somehow climb up to God, by their own efforts.  Rather, Christianity teaches that God in the man, Jesus, descended from heaven to us, to earth. Jesus lived our life and lived with us – Emmanuel –  which means – God with us. When I refer to climbing, I am imagining our human predicament. The personal daily, neverending, trial of endeavouring to climb our own standards. The challenge of living an ethical and good life, authentic to ourselves and caring for our fellow human beings and creatures, inhabitants of this world. Jesus somehow held this balance and paradoxical tension lightly. High moral ethical standards in our individual and common lives, but mercy and generosity, not judgement for those who failed to meet those standards. Probably this was because Jesus himself, as a young man had grown up in the brutish hardship of ancient Palestinian life, and was aware of how frail, as well as how galant, the human frame and soul could be. Mercy, not judgement, he lived and preached.

So how might one answer the interview question faithfully, both to skeptics outside or on the margins of the religious frame of reference and to the source of religion itself – God and his/her teachings.

Firstly, listen. Listen, to the antagonists and iconoclasts who decry the self-serving delusions of religion.

There are a number of good, thoughtful voices who express eloquently these viewpoints in popular literature and media. A.C. Grayling, love him or hate him, has put forward a strong case to argue that much of  the freedoms, rights and privileges, as well as modern, technological breakthrough we take for granted, both religious and atheists, have originated in developments from the atheistic philosophical and scientific revolution of the Enlightenment. He is an atheist and his arguments, are not always waterproof. Yet, in a real way, I believe, he is right. Much of the benefits of modern society have been hard-won for humanity by non-believing pioneers working in science, philosophy, politics and social welfare.

To argue this, as Grayling does ably and articulately, is not in itself proof against the existence of God. However, it does present a healthy and sober challenge to the claims of institutional religion and personal religious conviction to represent a benevolent deity that has humanity’s best interests at heart. It also pours cold water, on religious confidence – I am thinking of Christianity in particular – that faith in God represents purely a revolutionary force for social justice and human welfare. Grayling and popular authors, such as Philip Pullman (See his recently published – The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ), argue that in fact religion and Christianity, in particular, has often been an anti-progressive force in history.

Ok… point taken. A sharp incision is made in the bubble of  benevolent, religious self-illusion by these intelligent and thoughtful authors.

Secondly, embrace. Embrace the refreshing source of  original ethical behaviour in religious terms – God himself, the Ultimate, the Eternal Spirit. And do so by remembering your history. Return to the stories of old. Rediscover, the lives of the great figures of the past, who did act faithfully – true to the incandescent, dynamic divine message of love. Love one another, love your neighbour, care for the oppressed, even love your enemy.

 It is true that looking back in history there have been great social reformers, philanthropists, artists and benefactors who have been inspired and passionate Christians – William Wilberforce, Joseph Rowntree, John Cadbury, Sir Titus Salt, Thomas John Barnado, Florence Nightingale, Chad Varah, Martin Luther King Jr, Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Charles Dickens. These figures and many others have made seismic shifts in society by improving the quality of life for poor, disadvantaged and marginalised people. 

It can be a depressing place to be standing face to face with the critics of religion. It is, I believe, a healthy practice to remember the good which many religious followers have accomplished by practically serving others. A lifestyle many of them claimed to be at the call of God. Both believers and non-believers can find inspiration and encouragement at the selfless, kind and noble acts of others who took faith in God as a vocation to help others.

So, we do two things. We listen to our critics and we embrace the stories of heroines and heroes of the faith of old. We don’t deny the voices of either. But how can we reconcile these two opposing accounts of history and the nature of the world and universe? Well, here I return to the original quote by Rob Bell. Perhaps, at one level the purely rational there is no easy or even adequate answer to these contradictory histories, to affirm one is to suppress the other, to silence another’s view, is to diminish the strength and authenticity of one’s own assertion. Perhaps, rather than operating purely rationally, as if in battle at the debating hall, we might meet over the dinner table. Rather than fighting to assert one’s case and defeat our opponents we could raise our glasses to life in all it’s fullness and variety. We could toast and celebrate our company, as long-lost friends, fellow travellers on the journey of life, in the search for truth, wisdom, companionship, belonging and love.

There will still be ample time to discuss and listen to our differences, but at another level we might just find more in common with each other than we previously expected. We are all subject to the same plethora of difficulties and troubles. Most of us still delight in the same joys and hidden exultancies of life. Music, food, drink, dancing, crying and laughing…Maybe this way as Rob bell so eloquently puts it in his book Velvet Elvis:

‘I am learning that the church has nothing to say to the world until it throws better parties.  By this I don’t necessarily mean balloons and confetti and clowns who paint faces. I mean backyards and basements and porches. It is in the flow of real life, in the places we live and move with the people we’re on the journey with, that we are reminded it is God’s world and we’re going to be okay…Food and music and art and friends and stories and rivers and lakes and oceans and laughter and…did I mention food? God has given us life, and God’s desire is that we live it.’

 

 

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Wrestling failure – slowly coming to understand its treasures

May 16, 2010

‘Suffering makes us deeply aware of our own inability. It takes away our power; we lose control. The light of our eyes can see nothing. Now it is only the inner light in the eye of the soul that can help you to travel this sudden, foreign landscape. Here we slowly come to a new understanding of failure. We do not like to fail. We are uncomfortable in looking back on our old failures. Yet failure is often the place where suffering has left the most precious gifts.’

Eternal Echoes, John O’Donohue

Having dusted off, John O’Donohue’s book Eternal Echoes and written some about it a couple of days ago, I was leafing through it again today. There is such a wealth of wisdom in this book some thoughts are sad, others joyful, most are a result of deep reflection and compassionate, sensitive articulation. The above quotation caught my eye, among others, and I thought I’d cite it for little more reason than I think it’s beautiful and maybe someone who is questioning the value of their life will read it and feel encouraged. A kind of internet message in a bottle.

I like the first words of the citation especially:

‘Suffering makes us deeply aware of our own inability.’

This is such a hard lesson to come to terms with never mind embrace, but it is an absolutely necessary one and precious gift if we can accept it and receive it in the spirit it has been offered to us by ultimate reality. Suffering is that valuable reminder that we are not eternal, at least not in the sense that the Divine is. God may have ‘placed eternity in our hearts’ and there may be an eternal element of our souls, even our redeemed and future resurrected bodies…but, unlike God eternity is not for us the natural state of our existence.

Rather, we are finite.

We are mortal.

We will come to an end.

Grappling with this element of our vocation, an aspect that is common to all human life, indeed all physical life, has been one of the great battles of human history, of political, artistic and religious life. Yet, if we can not just grapple with this spiritual messenger, like Jacob and the angel at Peniel, in the book of Genesis in the Bible (Genesis 32: 22-32), but actually receive it into our lives, then its painful lesson can sweeten our existence.  The wounding, yet paradoxically healing message the struggle brings will help our lives to be transformed. We will receive a new start, a new identity. In the terminology of ancient cultures we will be given a new name. Not merely any name, but rather a better name – a name that reflects and sparkles with our true nature and inspires our highest achievement.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/3a/Lutte_de_Jacob_avec_l%27Ange.jpg

 

The ancient texts of the Bible discuss this paradoxical relationship with suffering in many places and yet, perhaps non is so vivid in its physical and poetic imagery than the story of Jacob. In the Biblical story, Jacob whose name means ‘deceiver’ (literally ‘he who grasps the heal’) had earlier in his youth stolen his brother’s birthright, when he tricked his father into blessing him (Jacob) rather than the rightful heir in tribal law the eldest son, Esau. Later in the narrative, Jacob is an older, more mature man, one who has personally experienced suffering, deceit and trickery himself at the hands of others, mostly in the employment of his cunning uncle Laban. In chapter 32 of the story, Jacob is now wealthy with two wives children, servants and cattle. It is at this point that he has to come terms with the real consequences of his youthful betrayal of his brother, as Esau and his band of warriors ride towards Jacob and his family’s caravan.

Aware of the wrong he committed as a young man, Jacob internally faces death as he contemplates what will happen when he meets his long-lost brother. It is in these circumstances: of contemplating his guilt and shameful failure of character with the prospect of ultimate punishment looming ever closer, as well as considering the harm that might be done to his family too, the innocent ones whom he loves, that Jacob comes face to face with God in a most intimate encounter. They literally wrestle each other.

The Bible tells the story this way:

Genesis 32:22-32 (NIV): Jacob Wrestles With God

 That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two maidservants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” 
 But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

 The man asked him, “What is your name?”
      “Jacob,” he answered.

 Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.”

  Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.” 
 But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there.

 So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”

 The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip. Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the tendon attached to the socket of the hip, because the socket of Jacob’s hip was touched near the tendon.

Jacob – the deceiver – like many of us fights God’s presence in his life, difficult, uncomfortable and afflicting, like physical combat with a wrestler, until he is wounded at the hip and faces his ultimate inability to overcome God. He has been, however, tenacious and utterly determined to win, to literally earn a blessing this time from the Divine messanger…and he does. He becomes Israel, ‘He who wrestles with God’. The stigmatizing label of deceiver(Jacob) is removed and a brand new, sparkling identity of a God Wrestler is stamped into his spirit and soul.

Yet, lest Israel forget the difficult process that led to this new name and new level of vocation, he is physically wounded. His hip is dislocated. From now on, he, Jacob, Israel will walk with a limp. It is this limp, I believe, this reminder of  hard-won successes and their intertwining with personal failures that characterise the mature disciple of Christ. It is also the sign of the weathered, seasoned, spiritual pilgrim of whatever tradition she or he may be a part of. The great  nineteenth century theologian and scholar of religion, Frederich Schleiermacher, (sometimes frowned upon in Evangelical circles), described religion as a sense of ultimate dependency on the Infinite. Perhaps, it is only through suffering and the persistent physical putting into practice of the desire to seek the Divine face and blessing, that we can truly become aware of our own ultimate inability…and thus… our need for… and dependency on God.

 

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Cold Desert – raw, lonely, pure, beautiful

May 6, 2010

Cold Desert lyrics
Songwriters: Followill, Caleb; Followill, Jared; Followill, Matthew; Followill, Nathan;

I’m on the corner waiting for a light to come on
That’s when I know that you’re alone
It’s cold in the desert, water never sees the ground
Special unspoken without sound

Told me you love me, that I’d never die alone
Hand over your heart, let’s go home
Everyone noticed, everyone has seen the signs
I’ve always been known to cross lines

I never ever cried when I was feeling down
I’ve always been scared of the sound
Jesus don’t love me, no one ever carried my load
I’m too young to feel this old

Here’s to you, here’s to me
On to us, nobody knows
Nobody sees, nobody but me

Just listening to the Kings of Leon album Only By the Night on the CD player in the car. I love this album, which I would rate as one of my all time favourites. The whole album has a dark, moody and raw emotional feel to it. It’s the kind of new postmodern rock  that just permeates your skin and bones and seems to speak directly to your heart, only after it has reached the black inner chamber of your secret emotions does it resurface to enter your mind and stimulate ones thoughts and imagination. There are loads of good songs on the album, including Sex on fire, Use Somebody, Crawl, Revelry, Be Somebody and the final track on the album is the one I have quoted and tagged above Cold Desert.

 

I don’t know what the artists mean – the song writers and musicians – at least not specifically regarding the details of the events and lives that inspired the creation of this beautiful and haunting piece of music. For me it’s just one of those songs that catches me unawares when it comes on the CD player in the car. It works like a ‘magic’ key that opens the door to my soul for a few moments. Like a charm, the song opens up the dark recesses of my heart and says to my hidden emotions – “You may be unwelcome in the light and that’s why you have been shut away in the darkness, but right now…you are part of something larger, more humane. You are a amongst a kind of community, where the pain, anguish, confusion, disillusionment, abandonment and grief are all welcome to come out the cellar and feel the warmth of shared human love and lament, as expressed through music.”

Yeah, thanks, that’s how I feel sometimes. Bless you.