Coming out of the God closet (Part 1)

When I turned sixty, my mortality taunted me. What the heck happened? Where did those years go? What is, and what was, my purpose in life? To placate a rising panic, I self-published a collection of short story/essays about moments in my life that had taught me some valuable life lessons.
Not long after the book was published, I began to feel an inside-out niggle that something wasn’t quite right. I kept seeing an image in my mind of the Disney character, Scrooge, emptying his bag of coins. Then I would see myself emptying my bag of coins, except a couple of my coins were stuck fast. And no matter how hard I shook and pulled the coins; I could not dislodge them. The coins represented two untold stories that should have been in the book. Today I rip the first of these coins from the bag. I am coming out of the God closet.

A note to my family: 
When I die, I want to be remembered for the story of my soul. Currently you are not that interested in my soul. Understandably, you are busy with the busyness of your own souls. But I know, once I am gone, you will be curious to know more about the person behind the monikers of Mum, sister, wife, Aunty and Nana.

If I were to ask you what was most important to me, you would probably list a variety of outside-in activity – running, yoga, family, friends, coffee, excitement, and my love for adventure. And you would be correct.  They have given me great pleasure in life. But what you cannot see is the excitement and adventure of my spiritual life. Nor can you hear the thunderous, persistent never-ending hum of yearning saturating my inner life. I’ve always known the ‘yearning’ is somehow linked to God, and I want you to know God, is very much my adventurous inside-out, every minute of the day, activity.

It shames me to say, I have deliberately kept the extent of my relationship with God quiet. You see, I’ve become pretty adept at skirting the peripherals of God. Good at perfecting my ‘safe from ridicule’ image. Comforting myself with small peeks from within the security of my closet while withdrawing when I sense any sort of opposition. The reason? Fear!  I have been consumed by fear. Terrified of being thought of as foolish. Scared of being different in a society that demands uniformity.
Yes, fear has been a constant companion alongside my hum of yearning. Fear is so powerful. It lurks in the dark, so I want to bring it out into the light. Declaring loudly my love for God, stating ‘I am a Christian’ is my way of bringing my fear into the light.  In a way I’m facing a bully. Because that’s what fear is, a crippling, debilitating bully.

I know some of your painful life experiences will have you doubt a loving God. ‘Why did, and why does God allow bad things to happen to me?’ How I wish I could make your pain just disappear with a swish of a magic wand. Just make it go away for you. But I can’t. I don’t have a magic wand, and apparently, neither does God.  But I know this one thing.  You will continue to find many ways to soothe your pain and you can choose to do this with, or without, God. From my experience though, there is no better way to rant, rave, sob, shout, swear, laugh, be angry and pour out your pain, than doing this with God by your side.

Alongside the cacophony of noise in my soul are the doubts. How do I know you are real God? Can you believe this – professing my love for God, and then my doubt that God exists, in one breath? Yes, I do doubt. But these doubts are very much a loved part of my God journey.  I read somewhere that ‘when your faith has no room for doubt, then you are just left with—religion, something that takes its place in your life among other things—like a job or a hobby.  Doubt is God’s way of helping you to not go there.’

When I doubt, is when I seek God the most. And questioning has always been a part of my seeking – never forget this, and never forget to do this.  Questioning helped me dismantle the myths, perceptions and misconceptions that have, at times, plagued my inside-out life.  Believing just by ‘faith’ or because someone tells you to, without questioning and challenging what you hear, makes you a slave to religion. In Part 2 of my ‘note’ I explain my proof that a living God exists.

But please don’t call me religious. This terrifies me.  I do not believe in organised religion.  Separating God from religion was big me. God and religion are very different. Oh, you should have heard the melody in my soul when I realised everything, I perceived God to be, was a lie.   When I finally understood there was nothing I needed to do, or belong to, to experience God, or God’s love.

Oh yes … love! We are all looking for that place where love has hidden itself away. People carry such wrong notions about love. And most of us journey a long way to find what is near. We look everywhere for our perception of love. For years I bought into the ‘love is a feeling’ concept. I searched for it everywhere. Did things I am not proud of, in the name of love. Tried to love according to my own, and of others’ expectations. Love was a never-ending battle of effort and, of course, failure for me.

The aching for love is a strand of yearning that links us all. And if you are seeking this love, then be sure of this one thing, this love is also seeking you. You see, what I’ve come to understand is, God’s love is inside me, not outside. Love cannot come into you; it can only come out of you. God’s love has a completely different look, feel and outcome, than the ‘love is a feeling’ concept. And it is this love that lures me out of the God closet for I cannot fully serve the truth, or follow Love’s footsteps, with one foot in the God closet

To seek love is to seek God, and that is the story of my soul. My pondering, wandering soul in my ragged, ragtag body.  It is God. It is love.

What does a loving church look like?

The church is its people, not its religion. I think we’ve forgotten this.

Coffee with my yoga group is one of my more enjoyable moments of the week. Our conversations cover a wide range of topics – from the day-to-day routine of our lives, to the more complex issues around love and relationships. Sometimes conversation takes place as we traverse the hills of Papamoa, other times they are a quick one-on-one after class, but mostly they take place at our favourite cafe. Our banter is always lively, and everyone contributes from their perspective on life.  I feel safe with this group.  Safe to download, upload and explode. A couple of weeks ago I did just that, last week it was someone else’s turn. These conversations, this group of people, are precious to me.

Likewise, so is my conversation with my terminally ill friend. With Kirsty there is a piece of treasure in every conversation. We discuss, rant and rave about this God we love and seek to know better. Again, I feel safe having these conversations with Kirsty. Secure to voice my often-wavering and questioning faith. Safe to be who I am. And again, these conversations are incredibly precious to me.

Then there is my elderly neighbour. Our weekly coffee morning chats are most enjoyable. Her perspective on life is intelligent and interesting and I always leave with a sense of well-being from having had a good healthy, robust conversation with someone who knows their topic.

Although these conversations vary in subject and participants, one connecting strand links them; I am having conversations with people I feel safe with. Friends I can openly share how I’m feeling about my life at that moment.  I trust these people with the ups, downs and anguishes of my story, and they trust me with theirs.  You cannot intellectualise that feeling of ‘feeling safe’ it is something you just know. When I leave these people, I leave with all of me intact. My heart and soul unjudged and undamaged.  I feel loved. And I’ve been thinking about this – wouldn’t it be great if the church was like this.  A place for everyone to engage in robust, hearty discussion about God, life and love, and feel safe doing so. The church, becoming THE place for conversation.

For most people their first introduction to God is by going to church. I have always felt a bit like ‘a square peg in a round hole’ in church settings. And for years I have blamed myself. I have had such amazing experiences of God’s love so going to church should be a breeze. But it’s not. Dread and anxiety accompany me and euphoria escorts me out; a relief that I made it.  When I attend church, I feel like a lion being tamed for a circus. My experiences of God and love become masked by religion and religiosity and I sense life being sucked from me, as a woman and as a person. My joy. My weirdness and humour, my creativity and energy, all that my wonderful God created me to be, feels silenced.

God is becoming irrelevant the media are telling us, and statistics show declining church attendances across several denominations. We can blame this on external influences all we like, but the truth is, the church is doing a pretty good job of adding to the problem. As my friend Kirsty so accurately describes, love has been ‘trodden down under religious mores’.  Yes, God and religion are difficult to untangle. When we merge God with religion, we are in danger of extinguishing the real message of God – the message of love.  I think it’s time for the church to wake up.  Love is the by-product of God, not religion.  There is nothing, we need to do, or be, to experience God’s love.  God’s pure unadulterated, unfettered, untamed love is free for everyone.

Thankfully, the Bible presents us with a list of characteristics, a bit like a recipe, of what this love should look like.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy; it does not boast. It is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. (1 Corinthians 13: 4-8a, NIV)

There’s a lifetime of living in those 15 ingredients. The aching for love and acceptance is a strand of yearning that links all people. Thankfully there’s no time limit on love. It is the greatest weapon we have, but it cannot be forced or imposed on anyone. We must be the love. The church is its people, not its religion. I think we’ve forgotten this.

Let’s bring back the people. Revitalise love, using Corinthians 13 as a guideline. Make church a place for both believers and non-believers. A place to interact with people who are different than us in some way, whether it be culture, language, identity, or something else. A place for people to be listened to and heard. People everywhere having conversations, sharing their lives, making sense of their lives. Feeling accepted. Feeling safe. Feeling loved for who they are, where they are. ­­­

What an opportunity!  What would the Church look like for you if love was present?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My friend Kirsty is dying

There will be no reprieve, no remission and no cure. The medical profession describe it as Motor Neurone Disease (MND). For two years now, this ogre of a disease has ransacked Kirsty’s body, causing chaos as it plunders and pillages, weakening and wasting all her muscles. I liken it to a home invasion; when all you can do is watch as someone violently strips your home of all its precious belongings.  Motor neurone disease is a progressive wasting and weakness of muscles responsible for speech, chewing and swallowing. Kirsty lost the ability to talk, cough, eat and swallow in the early stages of the disease. Her gait is now a lurching stagger and her head too heavy to hold up.  Motor neurone disease is fatal. Kirsty can do nothing but watch and wait, fully conscious of what is happening, for her end to come. Even her family of doctors, one a prominent Neurosurgeon, are powerless to offer lifesaving intervention – because there is none to offer.

But I don’t want this article to be about MND. This article is about the soul – mine, yours and especially Kirsty’s.  Does MND leave the soul alone. No!  Not even the soul has a free ‘get out of jail’ card.  MND taunts with power, boasts with its relentless destruction of the body. ‘Where’s your God now,’ it scoffs. But with the help of voice assist technology and some rather hilarious miming, I can tell you, Kirsty’s soul is alive, alight and very much on fire. Much, much more alive than the ravages of the disease. You do not see the illness when you talk with Kirsty. Her love for her God, her unwavering faith and the sureness of God’s love for her, stirs something in you. ‘What’? I hear you say. ‘If this God is so loving why the disease?’ ‘Why doesn’t God just heal her?’.  Good questions.  Kirsty and I touch on this from time to time, especially on the topic of healing.

As Christians we are taught and told of the miracles of healing the sick and raising the dead. Just pray and believe they said.  As a young Christian I believed this implicitly. But as I traversed the highs and lows of my faith, I began questioning. The multiplication of the loaves and the fishes, the blind to see, the lame to walk, bringing the dead to life, did they really happen and, if they did, is there any real, fail safe evidence that physical healing is happening now?  Will God answer my prayer and heal Kirsty? And if God doesn’t heal Kirsty, what does this say about God? What does it say about me? What does it say about Kirsty?  There had to be something we’re missing I mused.  The first part of the answer came from Kirsty herself.  I have reprinted it here.

Heaven or Healing?

It wasn’t so long ago that I had strong opinions about healing. I held a gritty assumption that healing was the rightful expectation of the believer. With sufficient faith and power-packed Scriptures, Satan would be disarmed, and God would triumph.

And then I got MND. I was the one needing healing.

As I faced this giant, I found that my thinking had changed. My growing understanding of God and deepening relationship with him had altered my perspective on the matter of healing. Also relevant was watching some mighty believers struck down by ‘untimely’ deaths.

Maybe there was no formula after all … and no guarantee. Maybe insufficient faith was not the culprit when healing did not happen? An element of divine mystery seemed so apparent.

From diagnosis I experienced a strong faith inside me. It was not faith explicitly for my healing, though there has never been an iota of doubt that my God heals. It was a faith that my Beloved held me securely in his hands and he was ordering the path before me. He called me to trust him with the unknown, with the fearsome.

As the months have gone by with MND’s unrelenting assault on my body, that faith has never wavered. His pleasure over me is real, his presence wrapped around me is strong and sweet.

Jesus the Immanuel … God with us … God with me. I gave him permission to have his way with my life, no matter what that looked like. I loved him so much that I just wanted him to be glorified – whether by healing me and letting me testify, or by taking me home. My real home. I trust in his wisdom and kindness.

So that is where is I am positioned this day. Almost overwhelmed by the ravages of MND but peacefully held. I would have it no other way. Hallelujah!

My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; he is mine forever. Psalm 73:26 NLT.

What an inspiring piece. This issue of physical healing is still a mystery to Kirsty.  She, me and we, do not have the answers to physical healing. But even though she is, as she says, ‘… almost overwhelmed by the ravages of MND’, Kirsty’s faith in God’s love for her, never wavers. And although I want, pray, cajole,  and demand, Kirsty be physically healed, God has been silent on the issue.  But God is bigger than our demands, expectations and perceptions – that’s the lesson I get from Kirsty’s writing.  She never stops seeking and searching to know her God better.  I love this about her.

In an earlier blog, I asked the question, ‘What if everything you perceive God to be is a lie?’.  It’s a thought-provoking question: It nudges, irks and challenges our ego. This is what it means to search and seek. It’s a question that excludes no-one – a God question that includes the atheist to the most ‘devout’.  A question daring us to let go of our perceptions of God. A question worth going back to time and time again because of the potential to discover new and greater possibilities of God’s love for us, every time we ask. This is the essence of Kirsty’s writing.

Whenever I visit Kirsty, I always hope I may be of some comfort to her as she faces the day to day grind of MND.  But exactly the opposite happens. I always leave with this weird feeling that Kirsty has comforted me. That my soul has been gently guided back onto the right track, as if I had been lost, and didn’t realise.   In our last conversation she was a bit down, “I just feel sitting here all day, I’m not contributing to anything,” she said. Well, I want my friend to know there is no bigger job than the work of contributing to the soul. Kirsty, you do that in bucket loads!

If you would like to follow Kirsty’s as she writes about her journey with God and MND you can search for her on Facebook – Prayers  for Kirsty.

 

 

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The only thing we can change as individuals is our behaviour. 

So much hate dressed up in garments of religiosity and ideology. [MC]

Less than 24-hours after the attack, when a heavily armed, white supremacist, stormed into two Christchurch mosques killing 50 Muslim worshipers, I wrote how I felt powerless to effect any change. I don’t have a political platform or a public voice. My voice is barely a whisper among the finger-pointing cacophony of public opinion surrounding the attack. The only place left to go is within. Try to understand the ‘tilt’, and process the disquiet that has been slowly building. To be honest, it’s been a little uncomfortable.

The ‘tilt’ is not an entirely unfamiliar feeling. The first time my world tilted on its axis was when my sister woke me late at night to tell me she could hear my parents having an argument. We tiptoed down the hallway to listen. As a ten-year-old I had never heard my parents argue. And it rocked me. I was worried and scared. Something shifted inside me. I went back to bed with my fear and never talked about it again. But since the terror attack, I find myself thinking about this incident. When I try to process recent events, I am reminded of this past event. As though in some way they are linked.

And in their own way, they are linked. In both these situations my worldview shifted. I now understand my parents were only human, and not superhuman, as seen, and expected, through my eyes. It is only in hindsight I understand the lesson of this event. However, the lessons from the March 15 attack have been a little more confronting.

The most uncomfortable truth has been my worldview of Islam and of being Muslim.  Since 911 we have been bombarded with images and comments that talk about Islam, Terror, Muslim and Radical, as if the words were joined together at the seam. As though one could not exist without the other. All or nothing. I believed it.

Most of all I feel cross with myself because I did not question. Nothing is what it seems – and this is exactly why we should question everything we think, see and are told. Wasn’t it Albert Einstein who said, “The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing?”

I did not question what I was seeing and hearing. Did not do my own research – trusted everything I read and watched. And my left-over crumbs of ‘religiosity’ sealed the deal nicely. I saw only what I wanted to see instead of investigating to see what there was really to see. I became judge and jury according to any narrative dished out by so-called experts. I am deeply sorry for this, humbled by the grace, love and dignity shown by the New Zealand Muslim community.

Since writing this piece there has been another attack. This time in Sri Lanka when suicide bombers struck three Christian churches and four luxury hotels killing over 300 people. At face value it seems hypocritical, ridiculous even, to talk about God as Love when we are surrounded by all this hate ‘in the name of God’. So much hate dressed up in garments of religiosity and ideology. God has suffered a great injustice at the hands of those who claim to be the closest to God.  God is not responsible for this hate. Religion is not responsible for this hate. It is the people who use religion and God to hate and control who are responsible for these attacks.

Author, Speaker and Educator, Ruby Usman says we forget that humans are only humans.
“And it is the weak humans who use religion to exact power upon other people. It is not Islam; it is always the person who is using this power to control people in their lives.”
It is these people, Ruby says, who need to be called to account. Not God. Not religion.

Yes, my world tilted, my worldview was challenged, and my soul feels uprooted. What a lesson on Love Our Muslim community has given us. I feel like I have been both reprimanded and given a gift. Been asleep and just woken up. Reminded that no religion or belief system has a monopoly on God.  That I cannot contain God in a box of my own making. Love is the goal and we all have access to this Love. The Muslim community reminded me of this. Thank you.

 

Yesterday, when hate was unleashed, we lost our innocence.

No one can learn to love by following a manual. (MC)

I am just an ordinary person trying to grapple with a hate crime.

Normality amid tragic circumstances is bizarre. Today, I walked the dog, chatted to a neighbour, watched a large peloton of bike rider’s speed by, and did the weekly shopping. A normal life of a very ordinary person.

Turn me inside out though, and it’s a different story. Shock, grief, sorrow, helplessness and sympathy smother my ‘ordinary’.  We woke this morning in New Zealand feeling different. Less than 24 hours ago our peaceful country was infiltrated by hate, violence, and ignorance. An act of terrorism. A country in mourning after a deadly massacre at two Christchurch mosques. As of today, 49 have been confirmed dead with more than 30 people hospitalised, some critical. We are a small county, sitting at the bottom of the world map. We believed we lived in a safe and peaceful country. Yesterday, when hate was unleashed, we lost our innocence.

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It takes courage to love yourself

To love yourself you must know your real self, not your relative, conditioned self. (Deepak Chopra)

I have spent much of my life travelling on journey’s that were not mine to travel. Blind to my self-worth, unbelieving of my intuition, and deaf to my own inner voice. And, sadly, my parenting reflected this.  If there is one piece of advice, I wish I could go back and build into my daughters’ lives, it would be that self-love is the most important of all love’s.  That the most prized of all relationships they will ever experience, will be the relationship they have with themselves.

Once again, I’ve been catapulted into the space of the ‘unknown’.  My profound awakening of my feminine soul is taking all sorts of twists and turns, none of which I envisaged. I blurred the lines of freeing my feminine soul, with that of being a feminist. I imagined myself fighting the good fight for women’s rights. Being a Naomi Woolf for women’s souls. A noisy, unfettered, unapologetic roaring feminist. I couldn’t have been more wrong. That may well be the end-product, but for now, I have entered a space which quite frankly terrifies me. The discovery of my feminine soul has spiralled into a journey of self-love.

In my journal entry from a few weeks ago, I wrote,

“I feel really nervous. I can see there is a real danger when the feminine soul is released from captivity. I don’t know what to do with what is happening. I’m worried I’ll go astray with this. Oh, my feminine soul, help me. Lead me to the next step…pleeeease’.

And that’s all the soul needs – permission to lead. And as it turns out I have much to learn before reaching ‘activist’ status.

Author Sue Monk Kidd says the real issue is that women have to come to understand themselves as ‘central’, not ‘peripheral’. Before anything can happen, she says, women have to depend on themselves.

“This cannot be done against men, and that’s the real problem. It cannot be woman against man, it has to be woman finding her true self, with or without man, but not against man”.

Depend? What do you mean? True self? Everything about this statement rocked my world. I do not know how to depend on my true self. I have not done this since …. well… forever. Just thinking about it sent me into a panic.

One afternoon I decided to visit my panic. I turned my focus inwards to the place in my chest where I literally feel the anxiety. I saw a couple of knots. As one of the knots loosened a baby girl appeared. She was snuggled in a womb, wearing a white bonnet and covered in a white blanket. I knew I was that baby. I held the baby’s face in my hands and covered her with little kisses, told her how beautiful and precious she was.  Me, telling me, how cherished and loved I was.  I visited other areas of my injured soul. Again, and again, I uttered words of love into those situations. This is a shortened version, blog version, of what happened, but overriding it all, was this awareness’ I wasn’t alone – I was with someone. This was my feminine soul doing Her work and how beautiful it was – absolutely liberating.

We spend a lot of time searching for love. We search for it everywhere, through other people, power, wealth, beauty and status. But the full alchemy of love is inside you not outside. Anything else is just a relative, a sanitised version of your true self. True love can only come out of you, it cannot come into you.

The aching for love and acceptance is a strand of yearning that links us all. We cannot fully serve the truth or follow in Love’s footsteps without self-love. To be a bold and unshakable voice for the soul we must also be unshakable. It takes courage to love yourself.

I’m wondering where my feminine soul is going to lead me next. All I know, at this point in time, is that without self-love, all other relationships, will be fractured versions of what is possible in love.

We are never ‘there’ on the spiritual journey

The spiritual journey must be experienced, not Googled. [MC]

How is my spiritual journey going? I feel it’s not going well at all, but I have a sneaky suspicion I’m right where I’m meant to be.

Sometimes I remind myself of that kid in the car who continuously asks: ‘Are we there yet?’
We live in an era where we have instant access to knowledge, so embarking on a journey is relatively simple these days. With a push of a button, GPS tools can quickly guide us to our destination, even pointing out the obstacles along the way.  But when it comes to the spiritual journey the dynamic changes. There is no road map, no GPS, and, as frustrating as it is, there is no instant answer matters of the soul. The spiritual journey must be experienced, not Googled.

In my last blog I wrote enthusiastically about being awakened to my feminine soul. It was a beautiful moment of awakening and, for a few days, I was ‘fist-pumping’ with euphoria and enthusiasm. I instantly became, or so I misguidedly thought, a voice for feminist spirituality. I had finally shed my spiritual confusion and found purpose. I was ‘there’!  And it felt wonderful! But I began to feel unsettled. The more I read about feminine spirituality, the more I realised what little I knew. I didn’t know what I was doing or how to get ‘there’.  Everything I tried went nowhere. There was no doubt I had been awakened, but what the heck, I did not know what to do.  As it turned out, I needed a few basic lessons on the spiritual journey, and I want to share these with you.

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