Lips that rain

Photo on 18-01-2013 at 17.38Wasting time. Cynicism. Now speech.  Words are powerful, they have an effect, they change things for better or for worse, yet they come so easily. (And yes, those are my lips!)

Last post I shared a journal entry with you, one that led to both this poem and the one shared previously.  I was suddenly aware as I sat that day about  how caught up in busyness I had become, how self-centered that had made my life, how closed off to the presence of God, and how all of this had overflowed into my speech.  The sound that comes through our lips fills the atmosphere with whatever is in our heart.  This is why the Bible is so full of instructions about speech, telling the truth, speaking love and encouragement, controlling the tongue.  This is why worship – spoken and sung – is so essential as it trains the way we speak in every part of life.  This is the train of thought that led to the next poem.Again, please read generously, I don’t claim that these poems reflect incredible skill, but simply that they reflect my thoughts and heart at the time of writing. I hope they might speak to you too.

Poem

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Cynicism – a personal reflection

Last week I shared the first of two poems with you.  As you can see, I’m starting to get a bit more personal on here!  I’m going to share another poem in a couple of days, but today I want to take another step into openness and share a journal entry.  I wrote this on 10th November 2010 during a Quiet Day at college.  Quiet Days are an opportunity to take some space, be in silence at college, and listen to God. At least, they’re billed that way.  To be frank, I’d been disappointed at the last one because it had been full of input and someone speaking at me all day, rather than space to be alone and listen.  As you’ll see from my journal, I was expecting the same this time round.  This is a fairly niche situation, but what struck me re-reading this a couple of years on is how these reflections on indifference, cynicism and the power of words speak right to me today as well.  Hopefully you’ll find something in it, even if it’s just a mild interest in the way my mind works….

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Quiet Day – 10th November 2010…

 

“Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.”

These are the words of “The Amen, the faithful and true witness, the origin of God’s creation” (Revelation 3:20,14).

Manadeep this morning said we need to be hot or cold, not indifferent.  We need to be alert to hear you knocking, Lord Jesus, to open the door.

I don’t want to be indifferent Lord.  It is so easy to get caught up in cynicism and in busyness.  In fact, I feel like the former flows from the latter.  When I allow myself to become so busy that busyness defines me, sets my priorities, shapes my days; in that place I allow what I can do and get done become paramount.  This is essentially the same as putting me first.  Cynicism is essentially judgement stemming from the assumption that I know best, that others simply haven’t recognised what is so obvious to me, that if they did they’d agree with me.  Once my life is shaped as if it all depends on me and I am the most important, it is only a small step to begin judgng from my new found vantage point.  As I left the meditation, trying to decide whether to do the quiet day or carry on with my work like normal, a question came into my head – who am I to think I know best how I should be formed?

That’s what I’m assuming.  “The order of the day is foolish and allows no engagement with God”; “The timing of the day is bad as it comes just before a deadline”; “In fact, the whole weighting of the course is unhelpful as it focusses too heavily on academic awards so gives no time for formation or family”; “This focus omes from a misplaced desire to be a leading academic institution”.

See how far this cynical thinking can go once let loose without any challenge to my own competency to make such judgements?  And I’ve spoken these things out loud to fellow students – these haven’t been silent thoughts I’ve tried to repress or even quietly entertained, they have been judgements I’ve indulged and publicly proclaimed.  My lips designed for speaking the hope of the gospel have been employed to spread arrogance and judgement.  in fact, it has been in the telling that the judgement has grown.

Yet even the first judgement that seemed so self-evident can be seen to be empty and false.  For from having no time for silence we now have 2 solid hours and after the noon session will have another 2 at least, it’s just that we’ll eat in the middle if we’ve chosen to.  Suddenly it appears that the faculty may have thought this through after all – why on earth did I fail to trust?  Perhaps it could have been better explained by giving end times for sessions, and yes, last year was frustrating – but I still met you in it Lord.  All these provisos make no difference however, to the simple fact that with only slight provocation my heart spouted arrogance, self-dependence and judgement and I allowed it to overflow from my lipe – I hardly even blinked at it.

What keeps me indifferent? What keeps me from hearing you knock and letting you in? Fundamentally, it is being my own Lord; viewing my life as all about me.

I am not my own.

I am not alone.

I am waiting on you Lord.

This is my desire,

To go deeper into you.

The residue of time…

Writing Peace

Einstein called creativity “the residue of time”.

So quoted Pete Grieg at the Retreat to Advance conference last weekend.  A great weekend where God spoke many things, but this one stuck out.  Grieg threw out some real nuggets, explaining that “sometimes it is in the waste that the treasure is found”, referring to Lowack coffee – the most expensive coffee in the world made from beans found in a small animal’s poo.  His encouragement was to leave time to waste.  To not fill our diaries so full that there is no time for time to leave it’s residue and God to speak to our imaginations.  When we’re rushing from pillar to post, weighed down by busyness and pressure upon pressure, then we become our least creative, our most imaginatively restricted.  Then it is harder for our Creator God to speak.

I must admit that since getting back from that weekend this week has been manic.  But today I finally stopped and yesterday God prompted me to look in a journal I started during theological college.  I found a few pages at the back written during a Quiet Day containing two poems.  Evidence of a creative side I rarely allow expression, but I love whenever I do.  So today I’m going to share the first poem with you.  Then over the next week or so I’ll share both the other poem and the journal entry.  Written in a particular situation 2 years ago, they still speak fresh to me today and (I pray) might speak to you too.  But for now, a bit of poetry, you don’t have to like it or even think it’s very good, but please be sensitive in any comments!  Maybe it’ll inspire your creative side too!  If you’ve every felt the pressure of being overworked, where everything seems too much but you feel you can’t stop, then you’ll know the feeling that started this poem.  I’ve seen first hand the effect of workaholic stress and have felt a tendency in myself at times. Yet I’ve also found a place, or rather a person, that brings peace.  That’s what this is about; read generously…

Striving

Surging

Pushing

Driving

Must not fall.

Never slip or slide.

Heaven forfend,

that my efforts cease.

For all depends on Me

Me

Me

Who am I?

Blinded, narrow gaze – wide as my face and no more

Who am I?

Face full of tasks and jobs – no arms in sight but mine

Who am I?

All there is, there is nothing more

Yet could there be any less?

Me?            I’m a mess

covered, smothered of swirling, churning slime

a suffocating damp of pressured time as minutes tick

and fall – hours, days, deadlines gone and

still I soldier on

a plastic toy on broken stand, bent gun at side,

I want to run and hide, but who then?

when I am gone, who then?

what disaster if I cease?

Only peace.

Peace.

Peace.

Peace.

The knowledge of another

standing near.

And fear?

Gone – stripped and slips away

as in my life I turn and pray…

…to Jesus.

King.

Lord.

Saviour.

My life is gift – his not mine.

Time held in his hands,

And his mind my feet shall guide.

For nought depends on me at all.

If I should fall, crushed or drown,

He remains.

With thorns for crown and pierced side spilling light.

Light that warms, leads and shines.

Rock that holds, secures, supports.

Drink that fills, sustains, renews.

Grace that occupies, endows with power,

For to this hour we are called as He was first

And now we follow, to have fulfilled in us all He desires and plans

Through Him and Him alone, for on the throne of my heart stands,

The only King, the worthy King,

Lord of light, my everything,

Jesus.

His name is Jesus.

Selective Attention and the Alpha course

This is the second post inspired by the Young Priest Theologians network meeting.  Again I want to explore McGilchrist’s thought on the brain, but before we go any further, if you’ve never seen the selective attention test with people throwing a ball, then take a look at this…http://youtu.be/vJG698U2Mvo

Did you see it?  To be honest, I don’t know if it actually works since I heard about the test with it being explained to me – kind of spoils it! McGilchrist used the phenomenon of selective attention to exemplify the difference between the right and left hemispheres of the brain.  As I said in the last post, the fundamental difference is one of attention.  Through our right hemisphere we gain broad attention – see the big picture; whilst through the left hemisphere we focus on detail and specifics.  The right hemisphere provides the context in which the left views and understands details – a context that is often assumed and unnoticed.  This is why, when focussing on details like the players in white throwing a ball, we can miss the bigger picture – because our left hemisphere perspective dominates the right.

McGilchrist went on to say that we always have a ‘take’ on everything before we see it, no matter how objective we may try to be.  The way we view the world is always shaped by some concept of the big picture every detail fits into – like wearing glasses that shape the way we see.  Our language, culture and community, for example, all shape the context in which we see and understand the details of life.

It can be difficult to accept that all our thinking is affected by an assumed context or perspective we may not have tested out.  Since Descartes the idea has been that you work out what is true by ignoring everything you assumed you knew and finding one small certainty (“I think, therefore I am”), then build up the big picture one piece at a time adding one verifiable fact to another until we’ve constructed the whole.  But the whole is never simply the sum of it’s parts – this is why, as I mentioned previously, poetry is more than the sum of words and grammar, music is more that the sum of notes and pauses – there is a whole that is greater than the detail put together.

So what’s the point?  This vastly affects the way we find out what is true.  First, it takes away the possibility of ‘proving’ anything 100% – every certainty is certain because of an assumed context.  But this doesn’t mean every viewpoint is equally valid – it means we find truth by questioning the big picture, by paying attention to our right hemisphere attention, to the context we easily assume.  We start to ask what assumptions we carry and challenge them by what we’re experiencing, by other people’s explanations, by encountering other ways of thinking that challenge our own.  McGilchrist points to Michelangelo’s ‘unfinished scultpure’ to say how creativity comes, not from a putting together, but a clearing away.  I would stretch the analogy to truth – we find what is true, not by adding details, but clearing away assumptions and finding what emerges.

Too abstract?  Well, take Alpha for example, a course where we look at a different aspect of Christian faith each week over 10-weeks. If people came as blank sheets then maybe we would be trying to establish one certainty after another from week one – who is Jesus…then why did Jesus die…etc.  But everyone comes with a ready made view of the world, a view we’ve been using to live by for years…but we may never have paid it much attention.  Alpha becomes about paying attention to that big picture and allowing evidence, experience and questions to challenge the way we see things….to keep asking, if this assumption changed, how would the detail look then?  What difference does it make if faith is not a blind leap, but a step based on evidence?  What difference if science and religion aren’t mutually exclusive? What difference if Christianity is not about what we should do for God, but what God has already done for us? What difference if Jesus, when we pay attention to what he actually said about himself, cannot be simply a good teacher, but must be mad, bad, or God?

Any of these differences could shift the way we see the details of God, the world and ourselves.  Any of these differences might help us see the gorilla in our midst.