Experiential Sensory Prayer – Part 5 – Fidget Prayers

Fidget toys are a current trend. Ask any kid and they’ll be able to tell you  all about slime, putty, kinetic sand, fidget spinners and numerous other fidget toys. It’s a great time to be a kid. Fidgetting is mainstream! Fidgetting is fun! Fidgetting is good!

Here’s a very, very, quick run down on why fidgetting is good for our brains.  There’s research around the benefit of fidgetting with tactile objects, not just for children, but also for adults. Neurological research has shown that fidgetting and manipulating a moveable small object is a way to regulate the body’s nervous system. Rather than distracting the person fidgetting with their toy or other fidget, by integrating in this tactile way, the part of the brain responsible for processing and integrating sensory information is able to filter the sensory input, actually decreasing distraction, helping calm and aiding concentrate on what is going on in front of them.  Of course we’re not all the same. Some people need more sensory input to regulate their nervous system. What works for one person, doesn’t for another. We don’t outgrow the need to regulate our nervous system. A child who benefits from fidgetting to regulate their nervous system will likely be an adult who also benefits from fidgetting to regulate their nervous system.  The autistic community understand this to be stimming but it’s not just autistic people who fiddle or stim to calm or alert their sensory system.

The trend in current toys means kids of all kinds get to legitimately play for hours with all the cool fun stuff, while their brains are secretly regulating, adults shouldn’t feel left out. There are actually lots of fidget toys out there specifically targetting adults.  They look ‘more grown up’ but what’s wrong with having a small tin of putty in your handbag or a fidget cube in your pocket. Invariably, people make their own fidgets anyway. Clicking a pen, unwinding a paper clip, doodling on a pad with a pen, flicking a rubber band, tapping a knee, twiddling thumbs, squeezing a stress ball, drumming fingers on a table, fiddling with a ring or watch or any number of fidgetting actions. Take a few moments this week when you’re in a group of people to notice the fidgetters around you.

It strikes me that if fidgetting helps concentration and focus for large numbers of people, that this fits in very well with my thoughts on experiential prayer. By deliberately touching and manipulating objects, not only does it help bring a sense of calmness, it also focusses concentration on the prayer.  While this style of praying doesn’t work for everyone, and could even be considered a bit of a gimmick by those who prefer stillness  there are others who will find this way to pray brings them closer to God than a words based prayer.

One of our young grandaughters has joined with a couple of friends and started a small slime making business. They sell only to their friends through their closed Instagram accounts. They make their own slime (google it if you want to try making it – it’s super easy) and then they make videos of the slime. She’ll spend hours making slime, playing with slime and watching videos of other people playing with slime. I asked her to make me a video for this blog post because I thought it was a great way of illustrating a fiddle and introducing an experiential, tactile, multi-sensory, fidget prayer.

Slime Prayer

Fidget with your slime. Pull it into long strands, twist it and turn it and fold it back on itself, push your fingers into it, squeeze it and squelch it, get absorbed in playing with the slime. As you put your energy into moving the slime, pray about your stresses and concerns in your own life. Give your needs to God. Talk about things that are bothering you, that aren’t working out, that need some God input. Notice the changes in the slime as you work it. Ask God to be at work in your life, making you more open and malleable to God’s involvement and promptings.

5 Senses to Prayer © Caroline Bindon 2018 (Sense of Touch – Adoration and Praise (SP.T.1) 

5 Senses to Prayer Virtual Prayer Room

Our new resource, 5 Senses to Prayer Virtual Prayer Room is now available for purchase. It’s a subscription resource with monthly or annual subscriptions.  Every week two curated, tactile, experiential prayers are provided via email.  Check out 5 Senses to Prayer Virtual Prayer Room and look at a free sample. Subscribe here and either pay via our website or we’ll send you an invoice.

We’ll shortly be publishing our first 5 Senses to Prayer book and introducing a 5 Senses to Prayer Basic Box Kit. Both will be available for purchase from our website.

Sign up to Friends of Kereru to be sure to hear the release news as it happens.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Experiential Sensory Prayer – Part 4 – An experiential walk through John’s Gospel

The gospels tell the story of God’s son eating, drinking, walking, washing, socialising, crying, sleeping, laughing and living a human life. We read about a Jesus who can relate to our everyday experiences but at the same time we read about a Jesus who is no ordinary person. Reading the gospels is not a flat two dimensional collection of words. Instead it is a life and death and resurrection story which points the way to our own journeying story. It’s an experiential story and when we experience it, it changes our world.  Words are not enough for us to use in response to such a story.

This is the greatest story ever told and it requires a reaction from us. When we read it, focusing on the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and touches of this story, we are left with some of the sensory impressions that might have been experienced by those who were witnesses at the time. It’s more than a historical story. It’s a story that gives life for us today as we journey. If it’s our journey story too, then we have to pay more than lip service to the story. It has to be a whole-of-ourselves experience. Of course we can’t really walk through a story, but we can read it as if we were reliving the experiential moments in the story by using our understanding of our own sensory experiences.  Take a multi-sensory walk through John’s gospel.

Read each chapter in John’s gospel, considering the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and touch included in the story. There are several aspects to focus on by reading it from a multi-sensory perspective.

Jesus uses senses to live his ordinary daily life

The gospel tells of God’s son as a human. There are ordinary parts to the gospel where we see Jesus’ actions in his life journey being very similar to our own. We read about him walking, talking, eating, drinking and sleeping. We read about Jesus the man and we experience the Jesus who has a sense of smell, touch, taste, sight and hearing just as we do in our ordinary daily lives.

Jesus uses senses to teach and tell stories

Whether in telling stories or trying to make a point to explain something, Jesus uses a lot of images and metaphors. It’s as if he knows the points themselves are too complex and remote to understand and we need a sensory experience to aid our understanding. We read Jesus’ words about being born again as “Only God’s Spirit gives new life. The Spirit is like the wind that blows wherever it wants to. You can hear the wind, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going.” John 3:8 CEV

Jesus uses senses to perform his signs and miracles

The miracles performed by Jesus are very multi-sensory. The water turns into wine. How would you know if you didn’t taste it? The royal official’s son is healed. The effects of the fever that could be seen can now no longer be seen.  The invalid man lying beside the pool picks up his mat and walks away. After 38 years that is some activity!  Jesus feeds five thousand. Imagine eating enough bread and fish until you’re full and then watching the leftovers being piled up. You can almost taste the moment.

There is a storm on the lake and Jesus walks on water.  A storm uses all our senses… smell the stirred-up water spraying, see the effect of the wind on the waves, listen to the haunting echo of the wind and the waves crashing, taste the rain drops on your lips, feel your wet hair clinging to your face, the water droplets running down your neck and into your clothes and feel that chill that seems to go right through you to your bones when you’re cold and wet.  Suddenly all is still. The senses are shocked into silence. Jesus walks on water. This is surely a visual experience never to be forgotten.

Then there is the blind man who is healed when Jesus spits on mud and puts it on his eyes. This sign involves both sight and touch.  As for the rising of Lazarus from the dead – a bad smell experience is averted. 39 Then he told the people to roll the stone away. But Martha said, “Lord, you know that Lazarus has been dead four days, and there will be a bad smell.” John 11:39 CEV

Jesus uses senses with his “I am…’ statements

The seven ‘I am’ statements in John’s gospel create experiential images for us to understand Jesus. When Jesus uses these metaphors to describe himself he also gives us clues as to how we can understand the metaphor. For instance, if we eat the bread of life Jesus says we will never go hungry again. It’s a very ordinary, practical example of a sensory experience to explain an aspect of our spiritual journey.

I am the bread of life (6:35)

I am the light of the world (8:12)

I am the gate (10:7)

I am the good shepherd (10:11)

I am the resurrection and the life (11:25)

I am the way, the truth and the life (14:6)

I am the true vine (15:1)

Jesus uses senses in his final days & at his resurrection

The story of Jesus’ final days is overwhelmingly full of sensory experiences. The shouts of jubilation from a palm waving crowd, the ride into Jerusalem on a donkey, the meal shared with bread and wine, the lonely vigil amongst the olive trees, the sword that Simon Peter uses to cut off the ear of the servant of the high priest, the tying and binding of Jesus, the way Peter is cold and warms himself in front of a fire only to hear the cock crowing, the beating of Jesus, the wearing of a crown of thorns and a purple robe, the shouts of the crowd calling ‘Crucify him’, the nailing of Jesus to a cross, the gambling over his garments, the wine held out to him on a soaked sponge, the spear stuck into Jesus’ side, the spices that Nicodemus took to the tomb, the stone that is rolled away, the weeping Mary, the resurrection of Jesus, the locked room with the disciples, the way Thomas had to put his hand into Jesus’ side, the net that was full of fish, the breakfast on the beach with the disciples …  this is a story where those that were there must have had their senses filled; the tastes, the sounds, the sights, the smells and the touch.

This is the story of Jesus.

The language of a common meal

My friend Sylwia and I do not have a shared spoken language.  She has two languages, I have one… and between us we have three.  Not exactly a straightforward start to a friendship.  But here’s the thing…  we have shared food together.  There is something special about eating food with others.    We met  Sylwia for the first time across a table from each other and a couple of hours later Sylwia was entertaining Andrew and I in her home in Dresden, Germany, with more food!  We would never have met if it hadn’t been for a particular set of circumstances in our own century and because of the connection between the stories of other people in a different century and of a different culture to each of our own.   A complex recipe of religion, culture, academic study and being in the right place at the right time.

Sylwia is a very special person to us. Who could have guessed on the day in which we met, that less than 24 hours later I would be in hospital fighting for my life?  On that first day and in the days and weeks that followed, while we were still in Germany, Sylwia took us both into her heart and Andrew into her home and her family.  With our large and loving extended family hundreds of miles away, we were alone.  Sylwia was my mother, my sister and my friend.  A bond has been formed that is beyond words, so the fact we don’t have shared words to use probably doesn’t matter much!

Caroline and SylwiaIn person our communication has been conducted in gestures, smiles, laughs and the odd experimental word in one of our own languages.  Via the Internet we continue to communicate regularly in a way that is a constant wonder to me.  We actually manage to keep up to date with the news by the means of all kinds of things (in written form with the help of electronic apps and translators, and in spoken form with the help of Claudia who translates between English and German and Polish for us, and in visual form –  because a photo tells a thousand words!)

So where words fail we do have that first language that we did share… the food of an ordinary lunch across a table.  I’ve always been keen on the idea of sharing food as part of our gathered together worshipping community.  At our Avenues Church we always have food as part of our gathering.  As a child I grew up in a family with a round dining table, and an approach to dining that meant there was always room for one more person.  Around our family dinner table we caught up on the things that were happening in each other’s lives.  We debated, we encouraged, we argued, we shared, we ate, we challenged each other, we welcomed others and we grew.

The opportunity of sharing food together, as a part of our Christian journey is not new.  Jesus’ ministry begins at a feast.  He turns water into wine at a wedding feast.  The gospels record numerous other meals including the feeding of enormous crowds with a boy’s humble lunch, and smaller events like Jesus catching up with his friends Mary, Martha and Lazarus.   Then there is that significant last meal shared with his closest friends and followers, his disciples.  Who would have guessed after the last supper that the pattern of this meal would be repeated across centuries, across countries, across cultures?

annabelenglishannabelpolish.jpgWhile I was in hospital in Germany I was trying to think of a way that we could thank Sylwia and her family.  What is the perfect gift that money does not buy?   I wanted to find a gift that said ‘New Zealand’ and ‘grateful thanks’.  I remembered that Annabel Langbein, Kiwi successful cook, cookbook writer and businesswoman had been to the Frankfurt Book Fair, the year New Zealand was guest country, and I was pretty sure her book, “The Free-Range Cook” (which I owned in English) had been translated into German.  It was a start – a way to signal to Sylwia in a language that she spoke, the ‘language of cooking food’, to tell her that we were grateful and thankful to God that she had been there, at that time, in our lives.  With the help of my tablet, I found that not only had Annabel Langbein’s  book been translated into German, it was also available in Polish.  Polish is Sylwia’s mother-tongue!  From what I already knew of Sylwia, I knew she’d love the ‘grow your own’, ‘feed everyone’, ‘simple food’, feel to Annabel’s approach.

It took some weeks longer before I actually managed to navigate my way through the possibilities of ordering a book in the polish language and getting it to Sylwia, but finally it arrived to its destination.

So now we speak a new shared communication language.  The language of ‘Annabel Langbein’ or maybe it is the ‘language of a common meal’ – across countries and time.  Our regular skype conversations are conducted with our recipe books at hand, and page numbers to explain and show what we made last.   It’s kind of like hospitality or the sharing of a common meal in the virtual world!

Chilli Jam.jpg

Last week at my work we had an international week.  I was on bringing food on the ‘German’ day.  a nod to my Polish-German friends that God had sent my way?   Thanks to google translator I was able to ask for and receive a recipe for ‘the best apple pie in the world’ – ‘Szarlotka’. It is such a great feeling to send a ‘help’ message across to the other side of the world and get a message straight back with recipe as well as further instructions on the tricks to make it even better!

Szarlotka

Simple entertaining as a daily part of life has been given a back seat in our culture today.  While the café and restaurant culture has grown in NZ, and the age of the dinner party or the more relaxed, but still elaborate barbeque are typical hospitality events, the regular and simple act of dropping in to a friend for a cuppa, a biscuit and a chat is less frequent.   Of necessity, our busy lives move even catching up for a coffee and a chat to the side-lines of daily life.  They become scheduled activities, events in their own right, booked into our jam-packed calendars between other busy activities.  They have to be arranged, rather than just happen.  We still drink our coffee, we just do it on our own, sandwiching it between our own busy activities.  We stand in queues, buy it in paper cups, drink it in our cars, on our own, in the traffic, listening to the radio, on the way to work.  Even ordinary daily family dinners are disrupted and staggered events, with nights where there is sports practice for one person, a meeting or other evening activity for someone else, another person being home late from work while someone else is watching the news on tv for homework. Our time is sliced, diced and cut up into tiny portions, and having the space in our programme to leisurely share food together is treated as a luxury.

Sylwias pg 67What would happen if we could find a way to strip all the frills and fancies of entertaining back, to just be ourselves, to keep things simple and uncluttered, casual and relaxed, to make the focus of the shared meal about ‘breaking bread together’, about the act of eating and drinking and talking together and about creating a common experience?   If we recognised the language of the common meal to be about something else happening as well as food, to see it has a God-given opportunity to make connection, meeting each other’s needs, sharing each other’s burdens and joys?   I think this might be an important part of living out our Christian life and faith.   And I think that it can be the start of some amazing opportunities to share God’s love with others.  It might be a way of listening to the voice of God, of receiving and giving, of bonding with each other and with Jesus Christ… something like communion.

(Photo credits: my Szarlotka, Sylwia & I, Annabel Langbein’s books in Polish & English, ‘my page 128’ and Sylwia’s page 67)

A couple of Horton’s I heard this week

Long before he starred in his own movie, I knew Horton was on to something big and important.  He might seem to be a simple soul with a single-minded purpose, but his compassion, his dedication, his tenacity and his sheer stubbornness to stick to his beliefs and principles are inspirational.  I strive hard to be a Horton.  And it’s not simple and it’s not easy.  But saying that, Horton’s big idea does make it sound, actually, rather simple.  In his own words, “A person’s a person, no matter how small.”   Despite the fact that Dr Seuss’ book, ‘Horton Hears a Who’, has been successful worldwide and across generations as a picture book, (and spin-offs including a movie) since it was published in 1954, it seems his message isn’t so palatable to us humans after all.

(Aside: If you’ve never heard the story of Horton, you should borrow a copy from the library or go and buy your own copy!  You can also read a synopsis of the story of Horton but if you really have not read the book before … it is a must read!!!)

When the movie came to the big screen and then to DVD, I was given a gift of a special edition copy of book and movie, complete with soft toy Horton.  He lives in my desk drawer at work and he comes out sometimes to entertain visiting children, but more importantly, I keep him there with me, to remind myself in a tactile way that, ‘a person’s a person no matter how small’.

It is so easy to say.  It is so hard to practice.

In the last few weeks we have seen the issue of refugees hitting our NZ mainstream news.  There have been a variety of issues and news articles which have potentially raised awareness and highlighted some real possibilities about large amounts of refugees actually trying to come to New Zealand.  What? “Boat People” heading to NZ?  Is it true?  Would it really happen?  Don’t worry, our government will keep them from coming!  And if they don’t, it seems we can rely on the Australian’s to turn them back!  So actually not super likely in the near future!

It’s easy for us here at the bottom of the world, to think ourselves far away from the problems in other countries.  Our remoteness protects us from having to think too hard about people beyond our shores.  We don’t have ever-changing border lines on a map.  We are an island nation a long way from anywhere.  And it appears that we are a complacent nation, for while we can speak words of compassion, while we congratulate ourselves on what we do on a global stage, we can also excuse ourselves from getting too involved with the needs of our neighbours.  After all, there are plenty of people here in NZ who need our help before we help strangers from afar!  Despite the fact that we are an immigrant nation, a nation where most of us can track back in time to when our ancestors first arrived here, in the hope of a better life from wherever they came from, we want to keep our borders closed.   

I was in a group of people a few months ago, having a conversation with someone in the group about a mutual acquaintance who also happened to be a refugee to New Zealand.  I’d just said something along the lines of not being able to imagine myself in the shoes of this particular person, when another person came into the room and joined our conversation, and said, “Oh here we go, she’s getting all political again!”    It stopped me talking.  Probably mid-sentence.  I was, I confess, a little bit taken aback.  Political?  Me?  I’ve replayed that conversation in my head numerous times since then.  Okay, I have some strong views, but actually, in this particular instance, I wasn’t sharing them.  All I was doing was talking about someone that I knew.  A person.  A real person.  A refugee.   “A person’s a person, no matter how small.”  Don’t get me started!

This blog idea has been swilling around in my head for a couple of weeks and as per usual, hasn’t quite made it to the fully formed and published.  (Here’s what happens for me – I have a half hour drive to work and another half hour home again… and I compose my writings in my head as I drive… and they just take a bit longer to make it to actual scribbles and then blog posts or whatever else it is I’m writing)   I’ve been thinking that it is easy for ‘us’ to put ‘them’ into a labelled box, into a form that we can package up and hide away somewhere out of sight.  To think of ‘them’ as individual people with feelings, abilities, hopes, dreams, needs, fears…  it just isn’t tidy, and so ‘we’ work hard at our passiveness, our remoteness, our distance.

But it’s not what Horton would have done.  It takes courage to be a Horton.  Courage and compassion and maybe in the face of public opinion, a sizeable dose of craziness.  I was surprised then this week when I was working on my computer at the table, away from the television screen and I heard the on-air host give her ‘opinion piece’ on refugees.  It was a Horton moment.  Her views did not provide me with new information, she didn’t open my eyes, but I knew when she spoke that her words would impact.   No surprise the next night to find that she’d had plenty of naysayers ranting at her opinion!   Not a popular viewpoint then.   You can watch it here.  The follow-up reaction is worth watching to see how some people reacted to this simple idea.

I was also privileged to read a blog post from another Horton of our time.  I have only just discovered the existence of her blog, through this particular piece and it is so beautifully written, that I thought I’d share it here as she says everything I want to say so much better than I could!  http://sacraparental.com/2015/06/18/refugees-welcome/

My prayer is simple.  May we all remember that ‘a person’s a person no matter how small’ or in the words of Jesus told in a story in Matthew 25, “My father has blessed you! Come and receive the kingdom that was prepared for you before the world was created. When I was hungry, you gave me something to eat, and when I was thirsty, you gave me something to drink. When I was a stranger, you welcomed me, and when I was naked, you gave me clothes to wear. When I was sick, you took care of me, and when I was in jail, you visited me.”  and then, “Whenever you did it for any of my people, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you did it for me.”

And if we are not brave enough to be Horton’s ourselves, to be clarion voices heralding the way for others to follow, then may we quietly listen to the words of the Hortons of our time and may we follow their lead, quietly encouraging our friends, our neighbours and our family to listen too.  And more, may we change and adjust our own attitudes, our perceptions and our behaviours… and in the process of living out a simple and big idea, may we surprise and be surprised by our own Horton moments.  Because they will happen.

Perform a u-turn whenever possible

Last week in morning peak hour traffic, I had to drive our youngest daughter across the city for an exam.  It was a last minute panic, as she’d assumed her exam would be in the city, and had she known it was at a different campus she would have stayed in the city, rather than coming home to Whangaparaoa for the night.  I knew roughly where I was going, but thought I’d better rely on the GPS just in case!  I set the route before I left home but didn’t push start until we were near the motorway off ramp I was expecting it to tell me to take, as for the first hour of our journey we were on the main highway south and didn’t need any help.

After I pushed start, but before we got to the off ramp it wanted me to take, we passed a couple of other off-ramps and the GPS obligingly said, “In 200 metres continue straight” and “In 500 metres continue straight.” We remarked on this together, the way that the GPS doesn’t talk in negative language.  It doesn’t for instance say, “Do not take the next off ramp,” and interestingly, it doesn’t ignore the off-ramp.   I wonder if the inventors worked on giving it positive language?

When we neared the university campus, I started to ignore the GPS altogether.  It was a reasonable sized campus with roads inside of it, so I assumed the GPS was targeting somewhere in the middle, whereas, we had a fair idea of the location of the building of the exam so I could drop her near there.   The GPS did not like this behaviour of mine and as I dropped daughter off, the GPS was intently advising me to, “Perform a U-turn as soon as possible”.   I continued to ignore it, fairly sure I was on a loop road and if I followed it I’d come out back on the road again.  The GPS continued telling me to perform a U-turn until I was back on the road, when it started “Recalculating route” and adjusting its instructions to match my new location.

With a good second hour in the car ahead of me, I began to muse about the metaphor of the GPS and its positive language.  It was the, “Perform a U-turn as soon as possible” that got me thinking about repentance.   The Contemporary English Version of the Bible uses the words, “Turn back” instead of the word, “repent” that is used in some translations:  eg. At the start of his ministry in Matthew 4: 17 “Then Jesus started preaching, “Turn back to God! The kingdom of heaven will soon be here.”  Turn back, repent, perform a u-turn… these are the same thing.  Change your ways, change your direction, get back on course… repent!

When we have our eyes on the goal of God’s kingdom, our destination is ahead of us, but our path to get there involves both the familiar and unfamiliar.  We will go down roads that we understand and don’t need any navigational help.  We’ll go down other roads where we need all the navigational help we can get.  We know there are many routes to choose from, many different ways to get to where we are going.  Sometimes we’ll make a wrong turn and God will gently nudge us to ‘perform a u-turn as soon as possible’.  Sometimes we’ll listen and other times we’ll go so far down the wrong route that God will help us recalculate the route that we’re taking.

I was thinking about the positive language of the GPS and the way that God gently guides us and forgives us when we stuff up.  We don’t see Jesus coming alongside people in the gospels and giving them a long lecture of all the things they’ve done wrong before he heals them.  We see Jesus showing compassion, love and kindness towards people, as well as preaching to people about doing some really tough stuff… such as looking after the poor and the sick and the needy.   We see gentle and challenge in the same stories.

There is something rather tricky about repentance and forgiveness.  It is God’s grace that keeps on forgiving us, time and again, recalculating our route for us, and doing it all gently, lovingly and kindly.  And for some of us there is a temptation to keep on going our own way, knowing that forgiveness is available.  But if we have truly repented and truly felt ourselves forgiven, if we’ve performed a u turn and are on a recalculated route, if we’re trying our best to follow God, then even if we make the occasional wrong turn, our hunger for staying on God’s route increases.  So while we might hear someone saying that they can keep on doing their own thing because God will forgive them, we know that they’re travelling a route that is not going to a Godly destination, it’s lacking, unsatisfying and may not get them to their destination at all.

There is always the need for repentance for all of us, there is always the frailty of our human nature, our selfishness, greed and pride, the things that keep getting in the way of us being like Jesus Christ.   Even when we’re pretty good at following God’s route, we still need to perform u-turns.  We also need to watch out for others on the journey, to help others perform u-turns and to be there to forgive and help them to make choices on the journey that will take them closer to God’s will for their lives.  We want to introduce them to our God, who is loving, just and merciful.  Just like the GPS that won’t be negative, there are no choices that we’ve made, no terrible things we’ve done that can separate us from God.  God is waiting with open arms to embrace the people of this world to perform u-turns and come back to him.

And it was Good

All by myself, with no-one else at home, I worked from home one day and it was a peaceful environment.  I was working on an excel spreadsheet which required my full concentration.  It was for my ‘Construction Land’ week day job.  This was no simple excel worksheet. It’s a complex connective multi-dimensional spreadsheet. I’ve been working on variations of it for years now! And it has at various times worked… to a point!  But on this occasion … it more than worked – it did everything I wanted it to do… I actually got there!   As I typed in the last equation by excitement was rising.  I knew this was going in the right direction… my gut feeling was that it was good!  And it was.  It was good!  All I could do was look at my screen in complete wonder. There was a sense of awe.  I wanted to shout and cry and laugh.  I’d done it.  It worked.  I sat back from my computer and just looked.  And it was good!

The thrill didn’t leave me for hours. And the strange thing was, that there was no-one I could really tell about it.  I could tell my brothers who are my bosses, and they would be pleased to know that I’ve finally got it to work and we can get the level of reporting they’ve been wanting.  So they’d appreciate its results, but even they wouldn’t get the thrilled feeling that I had.  They wouldn’t see the formulas, and layering beyond the numbers, and if they did, they’d just take it at face value; a bunch of formulas and spreadsheets with numbers.  They would not appreciate the beauty that was in this creation.  I could tell my husband and children and they’d be happy for me.  (But they’d also groan about my love and obsession with excel!)  No, for all of them, creative types that they each are, they would appreciate that I’d done the hard work and that I was satisfied, and they would relate to the thrill by understanding from their own creative endeavours what that feels like, but they wouldn’t feel it about this particular thing as I did.  The thrill was mine alone.

We are a creative household.  I remarked on this to our 17 year old the other day.  He’s always making movies, creating props, designing things on the computer or composing music!  He is often prowling around the house in the wee small hours of the morning before going to bed!  Andrew is a night owl too, although not as much as he used to be, and these days he can get up quite early in the morning to make a start on writing his latest ‘Taking Flight’.  Our daughter is also a night owl and a composer and crafter and creative, and although she’s only at home half the week, she does her share of creating when she is at home and although she is an owl, she is also an early riser.  As for me, I have at least six creative projects on the go at any one time, and my own hours of sleep and sleep pattern is affected by my current health issues, so there’s no pattern at all to when I’m asleep or not.  It appears that almost 24 hours a day, seven days a week, there is at least one person in our household being creative at any one time.   When I said this, our 17 year old agreed, although he does think we are probably lacking consistency in the 4am to 6am slot so we really need someone to take that slot for us to truly say we’re creative 24/7!

I put my head in the 17 year old’s door to say goodnight to him the other night.  He was facing his computer and had his noise cancelling headphones on.  He was editing the filming he’d done for the school show which had involved several different cameras filming at different angles over four night.  He had hours and hours of footage to edit.  When I spoke to him from the doorway he nodded his head.  I didn’t think he was nodding at me, I thought it was co-incidence, so I called to him again and he turned, surprised to see me there.  I laughed, and told him that the timing of his nodding was excellent.  An embarrassed look passed across his face. “No, I was nodding to myself because the transition between the two shots that I just made was really good!”  I could see he felt a bit foolish about this, but fresh from my thinking about my own creative success and the thrill it gave me, I told him that I could completely understand.  And then I told him the application I was making from my musings so that I could write this blog. (keep reading you’ll get there).  “I know exactly what you mean,” he said.  He completely understood “And it was good.”

I love the poetry in chapter one in the book of Genesis.  I love the creative feeling that underpins the words.  The words are so minimal, yet to me they convey and evoke the same sensations that I had when I looked at my completed spreadsheet.   The CEV uses the refrain, “And it was good.”  I love those words.  “And it was good.”  What other words can begin to explain that creative sense of satisfaction, that awareness of the combination of sheer creative brilliance and the hard work paying off with what has been made.  “And it was good” says everything and yet it is insufficient.  It is so understated, yet so punchy.  It says that words alone will not do justice to the situation.  To me “And it was good,” are the words of a creator, who is alone in their complex understanding of just what they’ve created.  To explain the detail is impossible, and would not be understood, to describe the feeling would take more words than have ever been invented, and so less is more, and rendered almost speechless the best way to describe the creative process and the result that has been achieved, is to say “And it was good.”

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis%201&version=CEV

As an aside, I probably need to say I’m amazed that anyone today would take the book of Genesis as some kind of scientific textbook understanding of how God created the world.  My blog isn’t about the arguments of creation vs evolution or to debate whether the bible is at odds with science or whether the world was indeed created in seven days.  Let me just say that I do not accept the bible as providing a scientific explanation.  This blog is about how when we are involved in our own creative processes and projects, we sometimes catch a glimpse of our Creator God in our own thrill at our creations.

It doesn’t always happen, this glimpse of the ‘and it was good’ sensation.  I am always creating things, but I don’t always get that same thrill.  I can be satisfied and pleased with my creative result without experiencing the, ‘and it was good’, glimpse of God.  It doesn’t take anything away from what I’ve created, but it does mean when I do get that rare glimpse, that satisfying thrill,  it is all the more special.

When I am saying creativity I am including two broad kinds of creating.  The completely original creation, coming out of someone’s head or the creation of something following a set of instructions or a pattern.   I always have several creative projects on the go of both types.  Some of my projects are original to me, I’m making them up as I go, like my half-finished manuscripts, an autumn quilt I’m hand sewing or a painting of Banks Peninsula which I’m doing for our dining room wall.  Other projects are still creative as in I am creating something, but it follows a pattern, a set of instructions or I’m replicating something I’ve picked up on Pinterest or something.  I’m not the person who created the idea, such as the incomplete knitting projects I have on the go.  Someone else designed the pattern and I’m following it, however, when I finally finish the baby cardigan which I started six years ago when my grandson was a baby it will still be one of a kind.  The variables of colour and type of wool I’ve chosen and my knitting tension will mark it out, then add to that the stitches I’ve dropped, the extra rows I added to the bands will still make it a one-off creation, even if the base design is not original to me.  But it will be unique.  It will still be a one of a kind, a bespoke, creation.

I do not know if people who aren’t creative ever get the ‘And it was good’ thrill.  I’ve grown up in a creative family as a child and my own family household today is creative.  Creativity is around me.  It is in the air that I breathe.  I can’t see the world in any other way.  Everything I view is through creative eyes.  I think that is why I love the beach so much, why I love to go for walks just after it has rained, why growing and picking strawberries is so much more fulfilling than buying them in a punnet, why my favourite Avenues church service of the year, is in the semi-darkness of an olive grove, remembering Jesus’ final hours with his disciples before he died, why being under Niagara falls as a tourist shoulder to shoulder with other tourists was a spiritual moment, why I love caring for people, why I am restless and frustrated if I can’t be making something with my hands.   I see the world through creative eyes.  I live in it creatively.

The other day at work, one of our site managers came in to the office at the end of the day.  On the wall next to my desk was a series of photos from a project where he’d been site manager.  He was looking at a photo that showed some a building with concrete panelling, and he said to me, “That’s a beautiful panel.”  I recognised in his voice the thrill of the creator.  He’d site cast the panel.  He’d been there every step of the way and he knew ‘that it was good.’   When the building is finished and inhabited with offices and shops, when the signage is in place and people are using it for its intended function, I do not think there will ever be another person in the whole world who would look at that project and say with a thrill in their voice, “That’s a beautiful concrete panel.”   For years to come people will talk about the building because of the food they ate at the restaurant, or the haircut they had, the accountant they visited in his office,  some might talk about the actual building and appreciate the complex design, the workmanship, the materials used or the colours the building has been painted.    But those involved creatively in the process will see beyond these things.  They will feel that remembered thrill of creativity.

What a privilege it is to catch a glimpse of our Creator God, to work together with our God to create a better world, to see and feel for a brief moment, the thrill of ‘And it was Good’.  What love we feel for our own creations, how we can understand albeit briefly and in a small way, God’s love for his creation.

God loved the people of this world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who has faith in him will have eternal life and never really die.  John 3:16Contemporary English Version (CEV)

(Photo credit:  A sunbeam taken on a trip north of Auckland, enjoying God’s creation)

Farm Fresh Organic Eggs and the Still Small Voice of God

‘If you could choose only one food, what food would you choose to not live without?’  That seemingly lightweight question that people ask sometimes for fun… and for most of my life, ‘chocolate’ would have been the first word on my lips, but with my recent health challenges, I’ve had to radically rethink my answer.

Since last November my diet has been lacking in variety.  Amongst a few other things, I’ve been eating eggs! I’ve always liked eggs, but I would never have thought them to be my ‘can’t live without food’.  How things change.  Currently they truly are a super food to me!

I’ve become obsessive about them, and very particular!  They have to be fresh and they have to be free range.  It’s all about nuances and subtle differences – I mean we’ve never stocked our pantry with reject eggs!  But as eggs make up at least one of my daily meals I’ve become a fussy egg connoisseur.  Does such a thing exist?  You hear of wine connoisseurs, but eggs???

I had such a special gift a couple of weeks ago.   Andrew was leading a church service at the country church in his parish and they had a harvest festival.  When he came home with six eggs, freshly laid that morning I was extremely elated, causing a lot of laughter in our household as I made it clear to the family (and a guest we had staying), that the eggs were mine only so hands-off everyone!!

It set me to thinking that by simplifying my diet and focussing on eggs, I have been able to notice the subtleties of eggs so much.  Whether it’s, the way the egg poaches, the size or softness of the yolk, the colour of the yolk, the flavour when I eat it – I notice it all now.

I can hear my children groaning, “Here comes Mum with another metaphor!”  So I will not disappoint them!  Yep, I can see a metaphor for our own God journeys.   In this case, I was thinking how my new found appreciation of the subtleties and nuances in different eggs, is a bit like our conversations with God.   When we’re surrounded by a cacophony of noises, hearing God’s voice in our lives is hard work.  When we’re only talking to God occasionally on a, ‘I need something from you now God’ way, it’s almost impossible to know what is God’s voice and what is our own voice reverberating in our heads with our hopes and dreams.

My Aunty Ada was a distant cousin on my mother’s side.  When I was a teenager she used to visit us to stay sometimes.  Having an elderly guest in a house full of energy and the teenage activity of me and my three brothers might sound like a problem, but Aunty Ada was a welcome guest.  She was a very little lady with twinkling mischievous eyes, a sense of humour and a wicked laugh.  She was also a ‘rebellious nun’ (her words).   By rebellious I think what she meant was that she didn’t like being obedient within the institution of the church if it didn’t make sense to her and she as always looking at ways to challenge things.  It wasn’t that she was rebellious against God.  Having lived a very secluded life, she was amazingly knowing, intelligent and insightful about people. The power of prayer was strong in Aunty Ada. She prayed about everything and when she talked about God she sounded like her entire everyday life was one long conversation with God.   She always wanted fresh things to pray about and to know that she was praying for you was an extremely good feeling.  She was one of those rare souls who really ‘walked with God’ and her answers to prayer were amazing and breathtakingly spot on, time after time.

Eileen was also a little old lady, married to an energetic and extrovert Irishman.  With rosy pink cheeks and a warm smile, she was the quiet one.  Her husband, a church elder, was active and busy both in local church life and in para-church organisations.  He never sat still, and wherever he went, Eileen went with him, quietly supporting him in all that he undertook.  While her husband was often in upfront roles, including leading worship on a regular basis, where we were treated to upbeat rousing hymns sung with gusto and energy, Eileen was always the unassuming and quiet one.  But Eileen was neither invisible nor overlooked.  When Eileen spoke, people listened.  Because Eileen heard from God.  Often.  Sometimes Eileen would say, “I believe the Lord is saying…” and there would be a collective intake of breath, the hairs on the back of the neck prickling sensation around the congregation.  Eileen’s words from God were so carefully given, and so amazingly spot on.  She was also a woman who ‘walked with God’.

It is interesting how often in the scriptures we see God talking in the stillness and silence.  I loved the story of Samuel as a child and young teen.  The idea that God was calling out to Samuel in the middle of the night and eventually Samuel responds, ‘Speak Lord!  Your servant is listening.’ (You can read it in 1 Samuel 3 https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Samuel+3&version=GNT ) God spoke to Samuel and Samuel listened to God.

I do believe that God can speak to any of us, but I also know that life is noisy and finding time to listen to God is all too easy to reduce to the times when we want something from God.   We fill our days with a multitude of voices, and it can be hard to hear God’s voice amongst the competing noise.   It’s not that we don’t want to hear God, or even that we can’t hear God.  But in the same way as my change in eating habits has made me an egg connoisseur, hearing God’s voice requires regular prayer and times of silence when we stop to listen.

This is of course why retreat centres and health spas exist.  People need to take time out of their busy lives and their ordinary routines and stop.  Stop, relax and be refreshed.  Stop and reflect.  Stop and be.  Stop and think.  Stop and pray.   Hearing God’s voice is available to all of us.  But we have to be ready to listen.  We have to find the time and the space, and (just like noticing the subtleties and nuances of eggs) the more we do it, the more we hear from God.  I love this paraphrase from The Message of Psalm 46:8 https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm+46:8&version=MSG

Many Christians past and present have made a regular pattern of prayer in the early morning or in the dark evening.  There is something about the half-light or night light that makes it easier to be soothed and relaxed.   Some people like to walk and pray, or sit in a peaceful spot, or kneel to pray. Others like to pray before they fall asleep at night or when they first awake in the morning.  Whatever it is, having a pattern of prayer and listening to God, means whatever comes, good or bad, in the journey of our lives, we have the time and space as well as the practise of praying and listening about everything that is going on in our lives and in the lives of people near and far around us.   When God speaks we are not only ready to listen, we also hear the subtleties and the nuances.

We live in busy and noisy times, but God is not too busy to listen to us, ever!  While simplifying our lives might not be possible, maybe it is possible to simplify a portion of time in the regular routine of our days and focus on prayer.   A regular routine of speaking and listening to God, through the good, the bad and the average days of our ordinary lives.  And expect to hear the still small voice of God!

(Photo credit: my perfect breakfast)

Wrapped in Bubble Wrap

We all experience times in our lives when we have to deal with tough stuff.  Things go wrong.  Things we didn’t expect to happen to us, do happen and we are hurt, sad and grief stricken.  The truth is that bad things do happen to good people.  Having a Christian faith doesn’t protect us from sour experiences.  But, hopefully our faith when we’re going through tough times helps us cope.

After my dramatic health situation while on holiday in Germany, last year, I’m continuing to experience ongoing health problems.  But despite the fact that it’s now been five months, and I’m still not well, I’m still feeling somewhat cocooned and protected.  I said to Andrew the other day that it feels like I’m wrapped in bubble wrap.  The impact of all the ongoing health problems is cushioned.  It’s still happening, but I’m not bruising as easily as I could be.   I don’t think I’m in any denial about what is going on with my body, the daily grind is impossible to ignore.  So why do I feel so cushioned and safe?  I can only conclude that my faith has carried me through.

I shouldn’t be surprised by this really, given it’s what I believe for myself and for others I guide on their spiritual journey, but it’s nice when it really matters, to know that faith really does help!  And it’s extremely comforting to me, to know that my faith does provide me comfort.

But I know people who are going through difficult times and don’t find the same comfort in their faith.  It’s made me think a bit about this of late and reflect on why my faith has helped me so much as well as hoping that in the future I’ll continue to get the same comfort from my faith.  I’ve been wondering if for me, my current bubble-wrap comfort is rooted in my view of God.  Maybe our view of God, affects what we think God can be and do in our lives.  Two people experiencing the same thing, both cope differently and have a different view of God’s involvement in their lives.

I’ve heard all kinds of things said by people that show how they view God.

If our view of God is something like ‘God as Santa Claus’, handing out special treats to good boys and girls, we assume that our ‘goodness’ as noticed by God is rewarded by treats from God. Our interaction with God is reduced to something like us making lists of things we want to receive once a year, while trying to avoid getting on a naughty list meaning we’d end up with no treats.

If our view of God is something like ‘God as Fairy Godmother’, waving a wand and fixing things that are not quite right, magically turning our pumpkins into carriages and our rags into beautiful gowns, we assume that God moves in and out of our lives, transforming some of our ordinary into extraordinary and making us feel special.  Our interaction with God is reduced to a cry for help for what we want from God, a cry to change our circumstances and bring us riches and magical moments.

If our view of God is something like ‘God as Police Officer’, enforcing rules, keeping the law, looking after public health and safety, we see God as official law enforcers, uniformed and tough, sometimes on our side, sometimes on the side of the other person.  Our interaction with God is reduced to a valiant attempt to keep the laws and be a good citizen, staying out of God’s way, and only involving God’s help personally with our emergency phone call when something is going wrong.

If our view of God is something like ‘God as Judge’,  determining whether by our behaviour we’re guilty or not-guilty and dishing out punishment accordingly, we see God as remote from us, sitting behind a high bench, protected by the legal traditions and processes.  Our interaction with God only happens at times of judgement, maybe when we think we’ve done something wrong or if someone else we know has wronged us, and in our eyes deserves punishment.

There are plenty of other views of God out there, and feel free to post a comment with your ideas. I think the closest I can come to describing my view of God, is something like God as Journey Guide.  You’ll know if you’ve ever been on a tourist tour and had a great local guide, how it helps to really see what is going on in the places you’re travelling through, to get an appreciation of the people that live in that place, their history and customs, to figure out currencies and sort out simple things that become so important on tour, such as great places to eat!  There is also the adventure guide, such as the Sherpas that guide hiking groups up the Nepalese mountains.  I imagine that these guides know the way, know the conditions, know what to do when things get rough, know the unpredictability and uncertainties of the climb.  These guides have experience of such journeys, yet at the same time, each journey is unique and new.  No two climbs are the same, and each brings their own challenges, joys, dangers and achievements.  And of course a journey guide can only lead if people are willing to follow. And as a follower, you can’t opt in and out of parts of the climb, picking out the parts you want, choosing only to walk on the flat bits and somehow jump over the steep climbs and avoid them. You have to follow from the bottom to the top all the way if you’re going to be sure of where you’re going.

To me this metaphor comes closest to my faith understanding of Jesus as journey guide.  One of my favourite things about Christmas is the celebration of Emmanuel.  In the birth of Jesus, the world received Emmanuel or ‘God is with us’.  As Jesus lived amongst people, we have the eyewitness records of what kind of person this ‘God with us’ was, what he did, what he said and what he felt. ‘God with us’ or Jesus Christ as ‘journey guide’ is to me extremely comforting.  Jesus who understands pain and suffering. Jesus who speaks words of peace and love, forgiveness and hope.  Jesus who gives priority to the poor, the needy and the sick.  Jesus who tells us to follow him.  Jesus who shows us the way, the truth and the life. Jesus who faced despair, loneliness, sorrow and grief.  There is such comfort in knowing that God with us, in the person of Jesus is alongside me. And right now he’s got me bubble wrapped because he knows that’s what I need.

I’ve been thinking all of this over in my head in the last few weeks, and had actually started writing the blog a few days ago up to this point…

This weekend I’ve been quietly sitting with my laptop and formatting our next book, ‘Solving the God Problem’.  It’s written by Brian K. Smith, and is actually a revised version of a manuscript he wrote many years ago, called ‘The Xerox Equation’.    As my eyes flicked over the words, it struck me that this manuscript has been hugely influential in my thinking and concept of my view of God.  In fact it actually surprised me how many of the thoughts and ideas in Brian’s book, are integrally part of my faith, fully permeated through my thinking and have been now for many years.   “Jesus is the Son of God. See him, and you’ve seen the God that nobody has ever seen.” (Brian K. Smith from the ‘Solving the God Problem – John for Today” Due for publication in next few weeks from Kereru Publishing.)

I first encountered Brian’s Xerox Equation when I was running a children’s holiday programme based on the seven signs from John’s gospel about 25 years ago.  Andrew had a photocopy of the manuscript from his time at theological college when Brian was the Principal, and I used it as my base document to build up our holiday programme content.  Over the years I’ve dipped into it many times.  We were very excited when Brian agreed to give it a brush up for today’s world and publish it with Kereru.   And many of Brian’s old students have already expressed enthusiasm to get a copy once we’ve published, so it’s not just us who’ve been influenced and impressed by his thinking. Brian’s commentary on John We see God through the person of Jesus.  Reading the book of John from the bible alongside Brian’s John commentary shows that through understanding Jesus, we get a view of God.

Well this blog did not start out as a plug for our new book, but it is intriguing that the blog post flitting through my head of late and half written until today, should connect so well with my weekend’s work, so I really can’t help giving this a push!  Brian’s book is written for those with little or no biblical background, so fits in well with my ‘all ages and all stages’ thinking and is really a book for anyone. Brian uses contemporary language and metaphors to unpack the gospel of John and things that you read in the bible and wonder what they mean, are explained engagingly and creatively.  In its earlier format it was probably one of the first bible commentaries I had ever read, and reflecting on it now, I see how significant this has been to the foundation of my adult faith, my view of God and my life journey through the good times and the tough times. My bubble wrapping shouldn’t surprise me after all!

(Photo credit: my dress as seen through the bubble wrap)

Taking a Detour

I always love a road journey and a road journey metaphor is even better.  This weekend Andrew and I and our 16 year old son, headed to Northland. Andrew was preaching at the Bay of Islands Co-operating Parish on Sunday and being the last weekend of the school holidays we thought we’d make it a weekend adventure.  We had planned on leaving after I finished work on Friday, but with the recent flooding up north, State Highway 1 was closed just south of Kawakawa due to part of the main highway being washed away in the floods.

The radio was recommending taking extra time and using detour roads.  There were several options we could choose.  We could go the really long way through Dargaville and add an extra couple of hours to the usual trip length, try our luck with State Highway 1 and hope we might get through or find our own way through the myriad of back roads going North.   The long way didn’t appeal, so we thought we’d try State Highway 1, and trust the road ..  which was fine all the way until we were on the outskirts of Whangarei and reached a sign that told us to turn around and go back to SH14.

The suggestion did not appeal… because we didn’t want to backtrack so far…  so we stopped and bought some Kumara from a roadside stall and asked for the local knowledge.  The vegetable seller was helpful and recommended that we go back to the first set of lights and make a right turn there and follow the detour signs.

SH1FloodDamage

We must have missed something in the translation, because we got back to the traffic lights and made a right turn, but we couldn’t see any detour signs.  Nothing daunted we stopped, rearranged and Mr 16 went in the front seat with his smartphone, we looked at the map, turned on the GPS navigation and set off on our own.

All went well initially, and we progressed for close to an hour without incident.  And then…  then we lost the navigation signal.  However, we could still see the map, so with Mr 16 directing we picked our route and happily drove on.   The tarseal roads changed to dirt roads, and they started to get rather windy, but with our navigator on the job, it looked like we were only about 10 mins from Kaikohe, the town where we were navigating to… when we passed a car that looked as if it had been washed down the road… and then… a road sign and barricade stopped us…  because the road.. was WASHED away!

Okay… perhaps the long way was looking like it might have been a better choice – or certainly a faster choice!  But like intrepid explorers we picked up our smiles, turned the car around, went back about three quarters of an hour to where the road last forked and changed direction.  Dirt road changed to tarseal and wonder upon wonders, we saw traffic!  Could it be possible that we were on the right detour road at last?

With growing confidence we felt that this new road was taking us to the place we wanted to go…  we were heading north, which was a great sign, and every so often coming towards us were a few cars and trucks, giving us comfort that this road was not going to end up washed away. However, after a while we noticed that there was a pattern to the cars coming towards us.  There’d be a dozen cars or trucks in a row, and then nothing for a while, and then another row of a dozen cars and trucks.   Pretty sure now that we would be stopped somewhere ahead and be reduced to one lane.

Sure enough we came upon a queue of cars that were not moving.  We stopped.  We turned off the engine.  We waited.  We waited. We waited. A truck full of yellow clay drove past us.  Another truck of yellow clay drove past.  Hmmm…  were they transporting clay, shifting the slips from the road?

Finally it was our turn to move and single file our queue of cars moved slowly around the bend.  We saw the devastation, the road that had slipped away on the right hand side and on the left the yellow clay dirt that had fallen down from the hillside and was blocking the road.  We saw the machinery, the men, the signs, the activity and action to get this back road detour route operating and allowing people to move north.

After that it was fairly straight forward.  We reached the town of Kaikohe and drove without any further  trouble to Paihia… our journey had taken twice as long as usual but we were there.

We talked as we drove, laughing at our adventure, but also wondering what would have happened if we’d made a different choice about the route of our journey. If we’d taken the long route – would we in fact have got there faster?  If we’d stopped to find the real detour, rather than allowing ourselves to take what we viewed as an easy choice and follow our own path would we have found the right way faster?  Or what if, when we saw the sign telling us to turn around, what if we’d ignored it and carried on down SH1?  What would have happened?

That’s the thing about choices, once they’re made you can’t undo them, you can only try to make the best of them and try to stay on the right path.  And is there only one right way? Is there only one route for each of us to follow, do we have to find the right path that God intends us to take and only follow that path, or is keeping our eye on the destination the more important goal?

Over the weekend we met several people who all had stories of their journey north or the journey of someone they knew, different routes were described and discussed, and it was clear that there were many ways to reach the north.  And it was also clear that time delay was standard no matter what route taken.

But we still didn’t know whether we’d made the right or wrong decisions in regards to our journey.  All we know is that we made our best choices based on the information we had, we made the most of our journey… and we got to our destination.

And life and faith is a bit like that.  We make some right calls and some wrong calls, but we’re never off God’s map.  And sometimes when we least expect it, a detour occurs, but even then, we press on to our destination and we find fulfillment in both the journey and the destination.

(An interesting postscript to this story is that Mr 16 had taken homework with him for his English research assignment.  He’s chosen the topic of Free Will vs Determinism and is using mainly movies as his sources.  So that night we watched ‘The Adjustment Bureau’.  The movie introduces the idea of theological determinism, and seemed an apt end to our day of trying to find our own path. Well worth watching and discussing)   

(Photo credit: Google maps & NZ Herald)

Religiously – imbued with salt and light

The other day I was taking part in a conversation at a meeting which seemed far removed from a religious context.  In my work-a-day construction environment the discussion involved developing a strategy around working with a difficult individual.   Someone present used the term ‘religiously’ to describe a negative characteristic of this individual.  There was a general murmur of agreement to this description.

Afterward I was reflecting on the use of the word ‘religiously.’  What the speaker had meant to convey was the negative idea of an over-zealous, intense individual who was committed to the strict pre-determined routine rather than coming at a problem with an open mind and a creative and flexible approach that would deliver a workable solution.   Hmm…   It made me think about the other times when I’ve heard ‘religious’ used in a negative context… and how a word that should be a positive is often used negatively.

I looked up the definition of ‘religiously’ on dictionary.com http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/religiously and it didn’t really help explain why the word can be used negatively.  I love this defintion of ‘imbued with religion’…  that works for me and my faith journey…  living a life imbued with the Christian faith in every aspect of the journey is something that is always my desire.

It reminded me of another conversation over a cup of coffee when I had just taken a leadership role in a community group a few years back.  I met with a woman who was not a friend at the time and had some influence in the group.  She was a no nonsense business woman and she started our conversation after initial pleasantries, with getting straight to the point.  “I don’t like religious types and I have serious concerns with you taking on this role. ”  Oh great…  now to dig myself out of that hole… “I am religious, but… ”   Fast forward a few months and perhaps surprisingly, I had a new friend.  I’d somehow navigated the path of maintaining my ‘religiousness’ with enough real life authenticity to change her viewpoint on my type of religious type.

That’s just two examples, but when I stop to think, there are plenty of times that I’ve heard about ‘religious nutters’ and the like.  And I wonder, how do I live out my faith in a way that is both true to the Christian religious teachings that are the framework of my faith and conveys a positive impression on those who sit outside of any Christian religious circles.

Perhaps there is a challenge for us in understanding, interpreting and living the word, ‘religious’.  I think for me the images I like to use to define my religious behavior and lifestyle are those of salt and light.   Matthew 5:13-15 says, “You are like salt for everyone on earth.  But if salt no longer tastes like salt, how can it make salty? All it is good for is to be thrown out and walked on.  You are like light for the whole world.  A city built on top of a hill cannot be hidden, and no one would light a lamp and put it under a clay pot.  A lamp is placed on a lampstand, where it can give light to everyone in the house.”

Most of our household likes watching the reality TV cooking shows, ‘My Kitchen Rules’ and ‘Masterchef’.  We get hooked on the competitions, rivalries, personalities and the cooking skills and it makes good winter time television watching.  Invariably and frequently the judges always go on about seasoning…  it seems that even when you’re good enough at home cooking to get all the way through to the finalists, doing something as simple as salting your food can be the difference of a winning dish or not.  I think being a salty Christian is one of my religious goals.  I like the idea of being a flavor enhancer and a preserver of the faith.

Thinking about the image of light, events of this last weekend, come to mind, when we had three nephews and a niece come and stay.  The two older boys at ages 8 & 6 were very thrilled with their sleeping arrangement on a double bed air mattress in front of the TV in the lounge.  The younger 3 year old was not quite as impressed with his mattress in the study next to his sister’s cot.  This might have been why when he woke long before the birds and the sun, he went and jumped on his brothers bed, yelling at the top of his lungs, “Hey guys is it still dark?”  When questioned as to why he’d woken everyone in the entire household up with a question that he could have answered himself by observation, he explained, “Well I didn’t know if it was still dark because I couldn’t see.”  ….  !!  (Okay,  so only the logics of a very verbal three year old could come up with that as an answer!)  That’s the thing with light – even a small glow can light up a large dark space.  A little bit of light cancels out darkness.  Maybe asking whether it is still dark is a question to test our religiousness…  is it still dark… or is the light of our faith, lighting up the way for others as well as ourselves?  It’s a nice picture, the impact of even a little light.

So to conclude this religious ramble…  I think that for the word ‘religiously’ to be viewed as a positive characteristic… it means ensuring our Christian faith journeys must be genuine and authentic experiences of salt and light religion…  and that is always far harder and more challenging than it sounds!

(Photo credit: salt and light on my dining room table)