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.
I have a problem with talk of ‘a just God’.
This is because the seeming injustice of mercy is central to my faith. It seems to me that God is not just…at least, not in human ways. God is, of course, just – as nature is balanced and as energy flows – but we cannot conceive of this justice. It is a sublime justice, which goes eons beyond our ken and our laughably-puny laws and visions. It is a justice which is love. It is a justice which offers forgiveness for all at the ultimate price – the sacrifice of self that God made in making it possible for us to end Jesus’ life.
This beyondness, this super-humanity, is perhaps why we talk of a ‘God of surprises’, of a Christ who ‘turns the world upside down’. This talk seems strange to me. If we are speaking of God here, of I AM, of a God that IS, of a God that is extra-human and is more than an idol we make in our own image, then the only option I can conceive of is that this God is pretty much entirely beyond our understanding, and is therefore not likely to play by our rules or neatly to acquiesce to ordering things in what we consider to be the ‘right way up’ (though I have had times when it has felt precisely as though God were ‘playing by my rules’…because that was all I could understand, presumably).
Furthermore, it seems to me that when we experience God as immanent, when we acknowledge ourselves to be in encounter with our God, then what is happening must be that we are allowing ourselves, for a moment, to reduce our blocks to that-which-IS. I don’t think it can be that God has changed, or moved into view, or come closer to us, or behaved strangely, but that we have changed, have allowed God into our view, have drawn closer to what IS, have behaved somehow differently to how we have previously. When God appears to us to ‘act’, suddenly; when God does something we didn’t expect…surely this must be a comment on our expectations and on our paucity of understanding regarding the nature of God rather than on the actual nature of God?
I’m ok with that. I make no claim or attempt (or even feel any desire) to try to ‘understand’ God. If God could be understood by my broken, human, sinful mind, then it seems to me that God would not BE, would not be God. The Mystery is surely essential, inherent, integral…isn’t it? Jesus’ resurrection is the only ‘firm’ answer I am currently able to see: it is answer for me in that I am aware that it is beyond my understanding. We ended life, we tried to play God..and God was beyond that. This, for me, holds me in inescapable mindfulness of my own smallness…thank Goodness!
What I don’t understand – and please forgive me for this, I recognise my weakness and narrow-mindedness here – is why that would be a scary or difficult thing for some (many, it would seem) people to countenance.
If you can help me to break through my own unseeing here, please do offer your comments. Thanks!
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.
As North from South
So is the great divide between us.
We are as far separated as the ocean is from the land,
As the sky is from the land,
As the mother is from the child,
As the Father is from the Son.
Thinner than fabled gossamer the line between us
So frail it cannot be seen,
And yet it prevails, sees all,
The divide that stands,
The wall that crumbles,
Each serve their purpose,
Each keep man from man from woman,
Love from love.
There is brokenness.
There is the break between heaven and earth,
Between God and Eve’s faithfulness.
We cannot see it
Because it is.
It is all we know.
As Hadrian decided, so do we each rule.
We are separate. We can barely even see one another
Through the flimsiest veil of time and life
And God. It is faith that divides us.
It is hope that divides us.
It is freedom.
I forgive you, always. I want there not to be grudges, resentment, bad feeling between us. I’d rather take the pain on myself than pile it on to you. It’s unconditional, in that I deliberately decide not to seek retribution, correction, restoration. I believe that only in letting go the hurt is there any hope of restoration.
What I’m struggling with is trust. I forgive you. I take on the hurt. But nothing changes then: you don’t stop doing it; you will do it again.
So I tell you about the hurt, about how you are harming me. Sometimes you hear it, sometimes you just can’t understand. Regardless, sooner or later you come back to do it again.
So – I have to accept that you will keep on doing it? That the hurt is part of the package? Is that how it goes?
Is hurt – repeated, avoidable, deliberate, insensitive hurt – always a part of the package?
I remember at the end of my marriage (and for quite a while before) I wrestled with what marriage is. Is it inherently painful? Does it mean that I need to absorb what suffering is incurred for me – is that part of love? Is that God’s plan?
I’m not sure that it is. But if it isn’t, then what? How can two people ever be constantly reconciled, never hurting, never making mistakes – never repeating the same mistake? It isn’t possible, right? We’re human, we mess up. So how do we learn to live with it?
This brings me back to the cross, and forgiveness. The whole point is forgiveness, that God, despite our permanent fallibility, loves us so much we can be forgiven, whatever the cost, even Jesus. And we’re supposed to echo that Christ-like forgiveness, right? “Father, forgive him, he doesn’t know what he’s doing” – right? But then what? I mean, there isn’t stuff in the Bible about Jesus getting crucified again; how it was for him the next time he came to be human and be killed. Would he do it again? I think perhaps so. But again and again and again? Presumably, yes. But that’s not me. I’m human. Can I learn true discipleship – to keep on absorbing the pain? Maybe I can. But should I? Is that healthy?