Category Archives: Something to think about

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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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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What matters most … is a matter for the heart

Love cannot come in to you, it can only come out of you. [MC]

The last day of the year and, like every other year, the endless wandering of my soul ‘ups the ante’.  When my yearning and longing reach their crescendo. It’s noisy, creative, anticipative and full of fire in the belly.  It also dumps with it, a bunch of melancholy. A restlessness. An ache. Of something I cannot quite see or grasp. It’s like waiting for that bus you know should come, but never comes, but you keep waiting for it.   I feel a bit like a ping pong ball – pinging and ponging my way between the fire in my belly and the stormy blues of melancholy. But today, round one, goes to the fire in my belly – the ignition point at the heart of my yearning and longing … love.

We spend a lifetime searching for love and acceptance.  A friend of mine sums this up beautifully. She says most of us are limping along in this life with deeply buried inner pain, facades of confidence, with no idea how to make it right. Love has always been at the core of my search.  The chasing of futile dreams in fantasy places, happiness in external pleasure, love in religions, even other people, hoping to fill the emptiness that has plagued me. The irony is, the only place I ever needed to search was within. How fabulous is that!

Most of us journey a long way to find what is near.  People carry such wrong notions about love. We look everywhere for our perceptions of love. But love cannot be found through external influence. Not in people, power, wealth, beauty, legislation or status. Love is not about performance or doing or going anywhere.  No-one can learn to love by following a manual. Love does not force its will on anybody. We cannot control it.  And contrary to how the world portrays love, love has no economic value, it is impossible to measure. You can’t love to order – love’s steps are experienced not constituted. Author Mitch Albom says,
“Love is not revenge. It can’t be thrown like a rock. And you can’t create it to fix your problems. Forcing love is like picking a flower, then insisting that it grow.”

I have talked in previous blogs about the way the truth hits you – both hard and gentle at the same time. How it punches you in the stomach as it puts a loving arm around your shoulder. [Anne Ursu].  A few years ago, at a time when I was mentally at my ugliest, I had one of those moments of truth.  I love to run. I find the action of putting one foot in front the other calming when life is in a turmoil. On this particular run, when my thoughts were anything but calm – full of self-pity, anger and confusion, I heard the words, ‘Margaret, love cannot come in to you, it can only come out of you.’ Wham!  It still sends shivers down my spine. I literally stopped dead in my tracks and looked around me to see if anyone else had heard anything. What a truth!  ‘Love can only come out of you.’ Those words of love literally changed and saved my life.

We are all looking for that place where love has hidden itself away. The aching for love and acceptance links us all. To truly understand love, we need divine help. People don’t like to hear this, because we tend to want to be in control of love, dictate love on our own terms, but we won’t get there without God, because God is love – nothing more, nothing less. To seek love is to seek God. And that is a matter for the heart.

I want to finish the year with a quote I used at the beginning of my blog journey. I’m hoping you may take this into the New Year with you.  It’s by the 13th-century Persian Sunni Muslim poet, Rumi, he says,

“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”

The greatest weapon we have is love.  And love starts with you, from the inside-out. You must be the love. It’s what you feel in your chest.  Your heart knows the way so run in that direction. The alchemy of love can only come from inside you. Oh yes, what matters most is most definitely a matter for the heart. Happy New Year.

A miracle happened to me last week

Photo of a pohutukawa flower

Miracles happen every day, change your perception of what a miracle is and you’ll see them all around you.  [Jon Bon Jovi]

Miracles do happen – they really do. Let me tell you about mine. Last Friday, in an act of sheer rock-bottom desperation, I got on my knees and literally begged whoever was listening for help – God, Jesus, my deceased parents, my ancestors, the universe, the angels – everything and everyone I could think of. “Please help me!  I don’t know what to do. Please keep her safe.” Over and over again. To be honest, the silence that followed was expected, but the agonising noise of aloneness at that moment, I think, will stay with me forever.

Afterwards, for want of something to do, I sat at my computer and keyed in the words ‘help for homeless kiwi women living in Australia’. Hoping for anything that could take me to my next step of doing … well just doing ‘something’. For those who don’t know ‘Kiwi’ is the nickname used for people from New Zealand. The name derives from the kiwi, a native flightless bird, which is a national symbol of New Zealand.

Google search results gave me nothing to smile about. Numerous articles and stories about the more than 3000 homeless New Zealanders in Australia filled the search results. Sadly, this figure also includes my Melbourne based thirty-nine-year-old daughter.  Here in New Zealand we often refer to Australia as our Trans-Tasman relations (relations across the Tasman Sea). We are geographically and culturally close, both countries share a British colonial heritage, and our bond made even more special by the ANZAC’s who fought side-by-side on the battlefields of WW1 and WW2. Australia is also one of the first place New Zealanders head to for a ‘change of scenery’, whether it be to work, live, or holiday. My daughter has been living there for 15-20 years.

As I scrolled aimlessly down the depressing search results, I intermittently clicked on charities I felt could offer help.  I clicked links and sent messages telling my story.  I wrote about my daughter who has been living on the streets, on and off for years. Of how she was mentally unwell, a consequence of addiction issues, and certainly not well enough, mentally or physically, to hold down a job. She was not eligible for any assistance in Australia and she had finally reached out and said “I want to come home. I want to heal.” A charity paid her fare back to New Zealand, but because of unpaid child support, and several reneged plans to pay it back, she had been denied permission to leave the country. So last Friday she returned back to the city from the airport, and continued her life wandering around the city, begging, and sleeping on park benches.

“I don’t know what to do, and I am desperate”, I wrote.

And then the miracle. The following morning, from across the Tasman, 2693km away, a message in my inbox. One single response to my previous night’s pleas. A group called Tautoko Whanau Help Australia, offers to assist in finding accommodation for my daughter and help navigate the processes and systems that would enable her to get back to New Zealand. I cannot begin to describe what it meant to see the words ‘we can help’.  From hopelessness to hope – that loving arm around my shoulder I spoke about in a previous blog, Perceptions of God. Someone listened, someone heard my prayer, and someone felt the pain of an anguished mother battling for the life of her daughter. My prayer was heard. That was my miracle.

I learned a valuable lesson about miracles last Friday.  Miracles don’t happen by waving a magic wand. They are not a sprinkling of foo-foo dust, nor a spell or a potion for an instant fix. In my daughters’ case, we are only at the beginning of a long winding road with several twists and turns.

No, miracles are the doors that open. People selflessly working together. Communities reaching out to those in need, time and time again. Taking the hand of someone and saying, ‘I am listening.’ ‘I care.’ ‘I can help you.’ Miracles occur when people love and care for one another.  It’s as simple as that. Read more

Religion and God – making sense of the nonsense

Like a woven cobweb, God and religion are difficult to untangle. [MC]

Religion and God. Oh, my goodness! This is one of those articles that will not go away.  As I sat browsing through one of my journal writings from the eighties, I noticed my first words, “My pen is the mouthpiece for my unspoken thoughts”.  It’s a quote that remains true for me today. Until my unspoken thoughts appear on paper, I’m stuck.  At a standstill, neither moving forward or backwards.

Unfortunately, I’m also a bit of a coward. It’s easy to write about the outside-in stuff. Regale you with stories of my interests – running, yoga, friends, family, memoirs, or even a work of fiction. However, I am drawn longingly to write about life from the inside-out. But religion and God? I’ve read enough bitterly scathing, caustic, vitriolic criticism from others to scare me from writing about the subject for a lifetime. But I need to move forward. As my outward life unravelled so too did my inner life.  I make no apologies about the fact that a central spiritual theme decorates my Fiftypluskiwi writings –– God, religion, love – all have woven a well-trodden path of bittersweet moments in my life. And all were littered with myth, perception and misconception. So I began the process of unpicking and discarding. Questioning everything about my spiritual life.  And part of this process was trying to make sense of the nonsense that surrounds God and religion. Here goes…

Like a woven cobweb, God and religion are difficult to untangle. In a previous blog, Love in three minutes, I mentioned how, we use the words love and commitment as though both words have the same or similar meaning when, in fact, they are quite different. We do the same with religion and God. Mention religion and people start talking about God.  Discuss God and people start talking about religion. Seeking God and identifying with a religion are totally different experiences.  Throughout history, God has suffered a great injustice at the hands of those who claim to be the closest to God.

Religion has done a huge disservice to God. Not long ago I received a curt email from an acquaintance. The one sentence email read, “This is why I don’t believe.” Underneath was a link to a YouTube clip featuring Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011) lecturing from his bestselling book, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. Hitchens was a controversial, thought-provoking British-American writer. He was a serious atheist.  In the YouTube clip he was witty, funny, riveting, confident and clever.  And I had to agree with most of what he said. I did not believe in the God he was talking about either. But the problem I had, and have, with the atheist argument is how they mix God with religion as though they were one and the same, when in fact, the two are very different. And it wasn’t until I explored the question, ‘what if everything I perceived God to be was lie?’, that I realised I had been doing the same thing.

Jeff Goldwasser, a rabbi at the Temple Sinai in Cranston, says our society, it seems, has become so confused about religion that we don’t really seem to understand what a religion is. Because of that, we don’t really seem to understand what it means to experience God, either.

“Seeking God and identifying with a religion are different experiences. Yet, many people seem to think that a person who does not identify with any particular religion must, therefore, be an atheist. That is an insult both to God and, I suppose, to true atheism. Religions are human institutions that, at their best, help people to experience and be close to God. At their worst they can give people an excuse to hate, control and be greedy. However, the relationship between a religion and God is like the relationship between a radio and music. Just because you don’t have one does not mean that you can’t experience the other.”

Goldwasser says seeking God and identifying with a religion are different experiences. He is right. Religion is an ‘outside-in’ experience, between you and other people; it’s full of interpretation, theories and opinions. But God, experiencing God, is an ‘inside-out’ experience just between you and God. A feeling in your chest – it’s a matter of the heart.  No one else is involved. God happens when you allow yourself to wander through the chasms, abysses and crevasses of your own heart and pay attention to what you feel. Religion is not necessary for this. Someone once told me ‘going to church makes you no more a Christian than going into a cowshed makes you a cow’. So true! There is nothing, you need to achieve, belong to, or go to, to know God.

Can religion be found in God? No! Absolutely not. Can God be found in religion?  Yes. But as a stepping stone, not a stopping place. Religion can one of the many, many ways we use when we are seeking that something or responding to matters of the heart.  But religions don’t work for everyone. They are not necessarily the ideal way for everyone to experience God. No religion, and no human institution has a monopoly on the truth. Because that’s what this is about. It is not about having the best argument or winning the debate. It’s about truth. You do not have to have a religion to find that truth. These days I tend to tell people, ‘If the by-product of what you believe is love, then go for it’.

Freeing God from the shackles of religion has been a liberating experience for me. When I began the process of untangling the web that ensnared religion and God, I noticed how my attitudes towards others changed. The people I met, their stories, became incredibly precious. Everyone’s life mattered. Love, peace and tolerance take on new dimensions when you separate God from religion and religion from God. Especially love, because we are all searching for that place where love has hidden itself away.

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