When is a boundary not a boundary? When you have more to gain by crossing it than by protecting it.
It can look like ‘being a martyr’, but there can be more to it than that. It is sometimes in taking the hits, in pushing through the pain, that we can grow. Of course, you have to resist the urge to lay the passive-aggressive lens over it!
We have boundaries and expectations in order to protect ourselves, but perhaps it is only in being open to letting down those defences that we can find new ground.
A hit to the ego hurts. Being forced into places (physically or metaphorically) where you feel unhappy is something it seems pretty natural to resist. For me, I am learning to feel angry in these circumstances. I’ve had to learn it, in ways that other people perhaps have not, because I somehow grew up in a bubble where I looked at the world from the other side: I had no sense of personal boundaries at all. And important though this lesson must presumably be to my self-development, I wish I could let go of it. I wish I could be my old self, who felt no need to protect myself, because I had an innate sense of…I’m not sure what. Of invincibility, perhaps. But I’d be more inclined to term it ‘a sense of connection’ – connection with God, connection with community, connection with earth, connection to bigger things than I. It may even, interestingly, be that it is born in a sense of smallness – when ego is irrelevant, when we know (with joyful submission) the deep heart-truth of our own tiny place in the Big Picture, what is there to protect? In floating free, we are safe. When I have nothing to hold on to, I need have no fear.
Of course, I’m human, so perhaps the fear then is fear of not fitting in, of being different and alone and excluded on a human, face-to-face level. When you don’t look at things the same way as most people, your journey must surely be a lonely one. I’m learning, though, that with maturity and deepening of self and awareness, comes further isolation – that to be alone in oneself is an essential part of the path to self, and to place, and to community. My faith can only be my faith, my ideas can only be my ideas, and the more alone I become in those things, the more I have to offer those around me, both in terms of content (the things I am thinking or doing) and of form (the me I am being).
“Confidence” is a strange concept – to be confident of something is not always to be bold, or to be fearless, or to be strong; to be confident of something can leave one a gibbering wreck, as it’s no longer possible to escape that which is truth-to-self in order to make space for that which is truth-to-others. Moreover, one can display confidence precisely out of an absence of security – it isn’t necessary to fear when one has no particular expectations to meet (or fail to meet).
So – I’m having to face being in a situation that hurts me, that kicks me in the ego, that makes me feel small and alone and exiled. And I have choices (of course I do): I can choose to object, to be my small self, to do the ‘normal’ thing of complaining and trying to change things; or I can do the other thing, the thing that feels terrifying until it’s begun – I can let go of my self, and feel the hurt, and expose myself to abuse and to a possible future of loneliness and hopelessness and emptiness…and see where it takes me. I will, I think, learn. I hope I will learn to fear this situation less. I hope I will learn a little more about how to be that me I used to be, the confident me. I also hope that my being Big like this may expose those who are small, those who might abuse power over me or others, those to whom I am making myself vulnerable. In my submission, perhaps they will learn no longer to project themselves on to others. Perhaps they will learn a little about difference, and about themselves. Probably they won’t (that’s another lesson I’m learning as I grow), but if I don’t take the risk, if I don’t humble myself and allow them to hit me if that’s what they need, then sooner or later (and probably sooner – probably already) I am become them. I am projecting my fears onto the world. It is only in letting go of hope, of defence, of self, that I can hope to find and defend myself.
Argh! I don’t want that to be true! It’s really, really hard. But the more I object to it, the more I see it everywhere. It seems to me it was certainly what Jesus was trying to say. And others. In washing the disciples’ feet; in submitting to the corruptions of the law that led to crucifixion; in living as God-made-flesh; and in pretty much all the words Gospels report, it seems to me that the message of the Messiah is this: that the first shall be last, and the last shall be first, and it is in dying we are liberated to live. Blessed are the meek. Not because they will come to some great prize in the end, but because in being meek they are blessed – blessed with freedom from ego, from pride, from status, and from holding on.
Today, an unscheduled visit to a ruined castle: bleak, windswept, bare, alone.
Yesterday, a planned-but-executed-differently visit to a much-tended, much-fed castle: full of human connection, on this encounter at least.
There are many things for me to go away and think about, including:
- how the ruins were far more accessible to the passer-by than was the grand fortress, and yet so much less invitational
- how the ruins were far more useful, in a practical sense: they could offer shelter to someone who had no other, whereas the vagabond would be cast out from the tended castle
- how each was built to defend England from the Other (Scots, in these cases!), and had royal pedigree
- how each had strong, deep walls, and ancient skin, and hallowed and unholy echoes
- how stories bring life and death to both, and how the unknown stories, the secrets of the rocks, bring depth and distance
- how the grand gatehouse in one is echoed in the total absence of gatehouse (evident only in the sign marking where it would have been) in the other
- how a mirroring process like that can operate in the mind, and can show us many things
- how defenceless the ruins are now, and yet they still stand
- how life was lived in and around each of the castles, which brings me to…some thoughts:
I was struck by how windows have become a feature of today’s world, and what they say of it: primarily that we spend a great deal of our time indoors, I think.
As we live our fortified lives, protected against any Otherness and enrichment, we want to look out, and to let in the light, of course.
We look out, I believe, in order to see what it is that surrounds us: what we are protecting, and what we are protecting it from. Each of the castles will have had life: communities, support networks, families – those who grew and produced food, those who loved and cared for and ministered to those whose work it was to watch, and warn, and defend. Those communities, that life…these are ostensibly the things being defended, perhaps, though it may have been in the name of the crown, or the land, or the faith. Defended from what? From change, from challenge, from difference, from slaughter too. The lives lived, sheltered, frozen, besieged, and the slaughter done, in support of those fortifications – are they lives destroyed by the work of protecting them?
Do we let our defences prevent us from living?
The harder thing to accept is that we have to let the light in. However much artificial light we can and do produce, there is something in the outside light, the light that shines on our earth, that we need. Without it we starve, our plants do not grow, our souls begin to die. This light is the light of life. This light is beyond our control; it is something we simply cannot shut out, no matter how much we might want to. This light holds us vulnerable, as we must have windows to let it in, or else we must go out into it – leave our fortresses and our defended places and venture into Beyond..and risk encounter with Others.
I don’t see why it should have to hurt. I don’t know why we keep on hurting each other; why we choose sin when we could choose life.
That childhood ritual of knocking on air:
“We need somewhere to stay”
“I’m sorry, we haven’t any room”
The perpetual searching for succour, connection, support, encouragement, life.
Even for the messiah – especially for the messiah – we have no room at the inn; space only for those who can afford to pay. How much less comfort we give to each other, to our brothers and sisters, our tribe, our kindred, to those made our blood family by rebirth in Christ, to those who need us.
God, cast out, from the very beginning. This is perhaps the flipside of the story of the fall, as well as that of the crucifixion: we chose our Godforsakenness, because we thought we knew better than God. Because we were afraid of our own fallibility; because we did not dare to be vulnerable. So instead we become the aggressors. We tear at every strip left hanging, we dart our blades into every chink, we defend every gap because we know how exposed we are, because we know how villainous we are – because we know that we would attack those gaps, given the chance. It is our fear of our own sinfulness that makes us believe we have no choice, that leads us to choose sin when we could choose life. If only we could allow our armour down just a tiny little bit – just take one small risk, make ourselves vulnerable to one other, maybe to God.
No room at the inn. No room at all, until that one person, maybe beaten down with guilt, maybe harangued by his wife, maybe sympathetic, maybe exhausted: that one person who chose to risk just a little, made space for the Other, the one who wasn’t like him and who couldn’t afford to pay, who would seemingly never reciprocate.
And in that moment, we learn. In our giving of ourselves, we take more than we know. The gaps we expose allow into us the love that was always within us, but that we resist so strongly and disappoint so frequently.
And so we are faced with a choice after all: forgive, and risk, and love – or defend and attack and die.
We are called to forgive, not because it lets other people off the hook, but because it causes us to risk. In forgiving, we expose ourselves and become vulnerable. Perhaps this is the angle I’ve needed into the crucifixion: God risked everything by becoming vulnerable in Christ. God allowed Godself to become exposed to us, and modelled for us the truth of life, the bread of life, the living water, the light of the world: that we must love. It is the only way we can live. Without love, we have no community, and without community, we cannot grow. We become isolated and frozen and then begin to shrink, until we are gone.
It is only when we expose ourselves to risk that we can afford to grow. It is only when we allow ourselves to be challenged, to be changed – when we welcome in the Other with all that is different and scary about them, and allow (force?) ourselves to forgive their differences and thus to risk being changed by what they teach us – that we are forgiven, and allow (force?) ourselves to be loved.
God, thank you for your help. Thank you for showing me: I need to forgive.
I need to forgive those who have taken so much from me: those who have taken my love, my resources, my hopes and dreams; even those who play me – or the system – deliberately. I need not only to forgive them but to thank them, because they are the ones who have allowed (forced?) me to grow. The pain is a sign of the growth. This is our curse, the consequence of our fallenness: that in pain we will give birth, and that through painful toil we might eat.
Perhaps I do understand, a little, why it hurts, why we make those choices. It’s just so very hard to face the light sometimes.
Abba, please forgive me, as I force myself into the space where I forgive others. Help me to love them, and us to love you.
Think I’m going to go and read 1 John….!
Not that one…but then again.
I’m finding I have a quiet space inside. I shall endeavour to take it outside of this small sacred space we’ve made.
It lets me into the silence.
The silence this morning took me…to forgiveness, to richness, to abundance…
as I found within, the well. There it resides, and I believe we all have it.
And the wonderful, wonderful thing:
It is a well of living water. It is abundance. It lives and enacts abundance. The more we draw from that well, the more I draw from that well, the fuller it becomes. The more I take, the more I give, and the more I give, the more I take. The only sin is not to live in this abundance: any life has life in it, and therefore draws from that well. It is the putting on of the lid, the guarding against scarcity, that dries the well and empties the heart.
There is richness indeed, if only we dare to spend it.
I’m not quite sure what I can write about this evening, as there was so much of the detail which was unbloggable, but what I need to say is that I have been fed. I found myself in the company of some people with whom I shared some common ground (by no means was all the ground common!), and in whose company I felt safe to be, to whose discussions I felt (knew?) I had something to add, and who weren’t afraid to go to dangerous places. Well, were less afraid than most of the people I deal with.
I am encouraged. I am less alone. I just really don’t like this stupid game we’re all forced to play. I want someone to stand up and say ‘No! Let’s do this stuff properly’. It doesn’t have to be me, does it?
I found myself saying (about a different matter) ‘it’s not my job; I don’t want to do it’, and yet I knew – and we came back round to this in the conversation – that it is my job, because I’m the one who is there and can see that it needs doing. It is my job because its not being done (or being done poorly) makes me cross! So, it is my job, because I believe in it, because I am certain that it needs to be done, and because I am in a position to have the opportunity to do it. What I don’t feel is that I am equipped to do it – but maybe I am, and of course maybe I’m on the journey to becoming equipped.
But why would people be called to things they don’t like, want…oh, I get it!
The thing I learned in the session tonight, after all: when it’s difficult is when it’s good. When we don’t know is when we learn. When we hurt is when we grow. When we take is when we give.
Aha! I just understood a little better the Bible passage we were discussing over wine this evening…which is where the interesting conversation began. I can honestly say that during the 6+ years I have worked in this Christian context, this is the first time I have ever seen a group of people taking out Bibles unbidden to look up a passage because they wanted to talk about it and share it together. In social time. Now, my not having seen it doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened – I’m not usually there in social time, but it does mean that I’ve never had the experience of being fed by that, of seeing that hope.
Why are we so reticent about the stuff that we feel deeply, about the things we believe to matter? Is it because we don’t dare own them? Or because we think we might ‘get it wrong’? Or because we fear frightening people? Or just because it’s not socially acceptable?
Why do we, as the church, spend so much in doing stuff we know not to work, and resist so fiercely the things that we know to work? Weird.
Anyway, I’m going back to revisit that story now, see how it looks from here.
The grief is getting in the way. The silence in particular is a very hard thing for me.
I don’t know whether I can let go, sometimes.
That makes me feel very foolish.
I am very angry, and ashamed. I wish I could go back and press ‘Reset’. That’s what I’ve been wanting, trying to do, but of course it doesn’t work, we can’t unlearn what we know, can we? We can’t unshare what we have given; we can’t take back love. We can’t become newly unexposed – and it’s the knowing, the intimacy that feels like a rip right through me.
I am sad, and that is getting in the way of my being in this space properly. I am angry about that, too. Give me back my mind!
And today? I guess I’ll need to keep fighting to stay here, battling within and without, and I guess I might try to think less – or fewer…I think much, but I also think many, and I’m not sure which of those is worse!
To share the space, that it the hard part, as I head into the second day, first morning.
I don’t think I realised how vulnerable I am.
What are we doing, as a church, when someone amongst us (and presumably, many amongst us) can feel so alone and afraid in our midst?
Why don’t we all just be a bit more open and kind with each other? Is it so complicated, really?