I had a dream – but I’m savouring it …
I had a dream – but I’m savouring it …
No, God will not be ignored.
Three weeks ago a member of the congregation came to me and said; ‘This country is going to the dogs – our leaders are corrupt and the mismanagement of funds and immoral behavior being practiced is disgraceful, something has got to be done!!!!!’ (Poetic license gratefully employed for dramatic effect of course – but you get her meaning right?)
She went on to say how difficult it is for us Christians to know how to respond – on the one hand, corruption is not a condonable behavior, but on the other we are called not to judge – ‘you have got to guide us’ she said – ‘you have to speak from the pulpit about how we handle living in such times!’
Now of course I drew deep on my wisdom – I prayed into my soul and felt like God gave me the most profound answer – so I said to her – ‘you’re right – we need guidance on this matter – go and tell Stuart to guide us!!!’ (Stuart being my boss and our senior pastor) – GREAT advice yes? Delegation is a skill I am learning to employ with panache.
I then went and wrote exams for a few weeks and was not preaching during that time – fast forward to this Sunday – I pick up the lectionary readings and what does God want to talk about in our church this weekend? Dealing with our leaders … Matt 23 1-12. A little bit of Matthew’ness for you …
‘The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. Everything they do is done for men to see. They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long, they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues, they love to be greeted in the market places and have men call them Rabbi’
It’s almost as though Jesus knows all about our human nature, (!!!!) – it’s almost like he’s seen our delightful and humble public servants and knows just how heavy a burden they do place on the average person on the street – their big fancy cars and the need to be seen as important and special and, well you know …
And then he goes on to give us guidelines about how to deal with these religious leaders/political leaders/church leaders/!leaders.
He says first off:
a) If you judge from your own sin/shadow self, your judgment leads to nothing but
b) If you judge through the eyes of God, your anger produces action and you channel that energy into doing what you think the leaders are not.
We can criticise people in power, be they church leaders, political leaders, organizational leaders (although I am not sure that gets us anywhere) or, we can be what we want our leaders to be: kind, strong, ethical, humble, loving … we change our world when we change ourselves.
I guess it’s that simple?
Love is recklessness, not reason.
Love comes on strong, consuming herself, unabashed.
Yet in the midst of suffering,
Love proceeds like a millstone,
Hard-surfaced and straight forward.
Having died to self interest,
She risks everything and asks for nothing.
Love gambles away every gift God bestows
I looked back over my last two blog entries – ‘Wisdom comes from God’ and ‘Ignorance is Bliss’ and thought – Heavens to Betsy, people are going to think I have lost the plot. Talk about a contradiction in terms and yet this is exactly where I find myself – all full of knowledge and none of the wisdom – so ignorant and ill-equipped but knowing that I know that I know that I know that I know that I know … Do you know what I mean?
Well, no perhaps you don’t …
This might help.
About 18 months ago I had a rather sinister dream.
I was walking through the streets of what felt like 80’s Johannesburg. Old ‘regime’ South African white-washed stoep homes and red dusty streets. Set out throughout the suburb were children on elevated platforms playing some kind of ball game. Almost like tennis but of course it was a dream so it was nothing like tennis. They were scattered throughout the streets. What was disturbing was that they were all wearing masks. Beaded masks in the colours of the new South Africa. Beautiful, bright green, red, blue, black. You couldn’t see their faces, but I knew they were children by their size…
This was a very lengthy dream so I will just give the highlights. As I tried to find ‘my people’ I clutched hold of what was then (in real life) my brand new Blackberry, which had a red flashing envelope on the screen telling me there was a new message, (remember the days when that was how we knew had a message) anyway, I walked through the ‘game’ where everyone seemed to know the rules except me, I wrestled with some tiger type animal – as you do, to find out he was just cute and friendly and not sinister as I expected and then walked into the ‘church/school/institution, straight
into a kitchen which was piled high with dirty dishes, stacked up plates filled with leftover food.
Now of course with 18 months worth of hindsight and a little bit of that wisdom and knowledge that I seem to be lacking (sic), I have come to understand that dream in terms of my feelings about the church and my faith.
There are times, when it feels like the institution of the church is playing a game where no one knows the rules except ‘those in charge’ – ‘they’ in turn wear masks and are not much more than children themselves. The blackberry represents for me a new understanding of faith as I have experienced it through the gift and the curse that is Social Media – Twitter and the Internet have introduced me to Theologians and thinkers who have widened my understanding of faith and God and yet at the same time, have left me reeling with confusion at the sheer scope and scale of the topic that is ‘theology’, God thought and dare I even say it, but RELIGION. And it’s religion that for me sometimes carries the sinister edge – the games that are played behind the masks of ‘piety and orthodoxy’ (Orthodoxy being about right belief, rather than right living which is orthopraxy).
This dream has become for me an ongoing metaphor for my struggle with my faith and my own ‘orthopraxy’ (right practice). I am a student minister in this institution called the mainline church and in many ways there is a party line that I have to tow. Matt 23: 3 tells us to obey our leaders, but not behave like them if we don’t agree with the way they live out their authority, so there is some ‘party-line-towing’ that has to go on in the wider scheme of things … but right now there is an even bigger issue for me.
The world is changing and as the world changes so our understanding of God changes, doesn’t it? And of course when we look at God as an absolute truth, our changing perception of that absolute truth can be scary, because surely God is unchangeable – ABSOLUTE. God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. Philosophers would do this argument much better justice than I can, but hopefully my meaning is somewhat clear. Is God a subjective construct – have we made him up? Do we interpret God in light of our own understanding? In postmodern conversations (which dominate
much theological debate) we have come to realise that much of what we do know of God is severely limited, or at least our knowledge and understanding is limited by
our individual contexts and so it should be, that makes sense – we know more now than we did when we knew a lot and so now we know that we know nothing… Confused? I was too …
Thank heavens for those who have thought these things out. Kevin Corcoran writes the opening chapter to Church in the Present Tense… he helped clear up this mess in my head… by saying:
The idea is that committing oneself to concrete Christian beliefs places oneself in
the primordial waters of modernism and the pretentious grip of the Enlightenment ideal. As the writer of the Cloud of Unknowing so succinctly put it: “God may well be loved but not thought”. The postmodern turn for Christians is, therefore, a turn away from Christianity as believing or knowing certain things and a turn toward Christianity as opening oneself up to a transformative event. To put it another way, it is a turn away from faith as a kind of scientia (knowledge) and a turn toward faith as a kind of sapientia (wisdom), wisdom construed more in terms of the subjective and affective than the objective and cognitive.
In other words, our faith is alive and exciting in so much as it transforms us and life around us. So, God is not just in the ‘head knowledge’, or just the ‘heart wisdom’, God is in the world and in the space in which we find ourselves at this present moment, transforming us if we allow him to.
This discovery has excited me because I am a thinker, because I love to have my mind stretched, but also because it is an affirmation of what I believe my dream was trying to wake me up to. The leftover food on a plate represents left over beliefs or ideas of God from another time and place. I want to have my own tea party with God. I am sure that the tea party that was had with God in that other time was fantastic, but this is a new time and my head and my heart knows that the beliefs that were ‘fed’ to me as a child do not serve me now as an adult living in a global village, serving another kind of marginalised and forgotten people. (we have new issues to grapple with now as well as the old ones – new regime and old regime problems)
But, BUT – the important thing is to have that tea party and to remember that a tea party with God involves more than just my head – it involves my heart, my spirit, my creativity, my loves, my hopes, my fears. It involves me spending whole-hearted time with God rather than just head time with God. Over the last few months of academic study I have come to realize that I miss BEING with God and that my belief in God is nothing if I don’t spend time in his presence.
It’s not enough to know you love someone, love needs a physical expression, an outpouring of person to person being and so I am going to have my own tea party with God, knowing that I find God in my everyday life expressions as well as my head. I will look for God in the faces I am called to serve and the faces I am called to love. I will feel God on my face as I sit in the sunshine, as I stand barefoot on dew covered grass, as I kiss my precious little four legged children. I will engage my life Blissphilly as a whole-hearted person of faith, who knows that she doesn’t KNOW God as well as she would like, but who recognises that she LOVES God with all of her being.
My child, if you accept my words
And store up my commands within you,
Turning your ear to wisdom
And applying your heart to understanding,
And if you call out for insight
And cry aloud for understanding,
And if you look for it as for silver
And search for it as for hidden treasure,
Then you will understand the fear of the Lord
And find the knowledge of God.
For God gives wisdom,
And from Gods mouth come knowledge and
“Dreams are, after all, compensations for the conscious attitude”
I recently had an epiphany – an aHA! moment.
I went back over some journal writing and discovered that for someone who ‘preaches’ the Grace of God, I can be surprisingly un-grace-like with myself. I define Grace, in part, as the areas between the black and white, the areas where we cannot explain how or why God would love us, we just know that he does. The colour between black and white, for me is pink. My favourite colour is pink. Yet when I went back and looked at the way I view and interpret my own life I discovered that I am surprisingly dogmatic and ‘either/or’, very unpink!
My reflections highlighted that I seem uncomfortable with uncertainty. I guess I do like to know the outcome of something before I embark on it. I like to know where I am going before I set out on a journey – I mean how do you know if you’re there if you don’t know where you are going, right? I am also a perpetual student and so I value knowledge. Knowledge is something which helps me to understand the world in which I live, I use what I know to make sense of the world.
Enter … the unknowable situation, the frustratingly unpin-down-able-thingy-majig. I was gifted with one of these types of situations recently, where I couldn’t find any answers or come up with any explanations and I got really stressed and really unhappy. I looked everywhere for answers – I turned first to my guide-book the bible. I prayed and asked for answers, I tried to read into God’s Word the answers I was looking for. When no answers were forthcoming, I GAVE answers. When I couldn’t find a definition or a reason, I assigned one. And I got progressively more miserable and afraid, as I panicked about making the wrong decision based on an outcome I could not predict. ‘Consensus Reality’ this is otherwise called, ultimate truth – believing that there is a single, unified reality that we need to understand in order to behave appropriately and it can lead to narrow, black and white thinking and huge amounts of fear or anxiety.
Enter also, ‘The Tentacle Dream’… (The first thing I do with dreams is give them a name.)
In this dream I dreamt I was struggling to sort out a cup full of tentacles, (they looked like underwater earthworms – how’s that for a juxtaposition?) but they represented the problem that I was grappling with – of that I was aware. Behind me was a room full of books and lamps all randomly arranged on rows of bookshelves. They were every colour of the rainbow and beautifully bright. Whilst I was focusing on sorting the tentacles, the books and lamps were being sorted behind me into a uniform sort of way and when I finally turned around and looked, I was disappointed with how they had been arranged.
The tidying of the books and lamps BEHIND me really bothered me. I sensed that whilst I was worrying about the problem at hand, other things were happening of which I was not aware. And so in unpacking the symbolism of this dream I came to this understanding;
Books for me represent knowledge and knowing – learning. Lamps are about illumination, shining a light on a situation. Bookshelves are for sorting, colours mean awareness and consciousness and whilst I was trying to focus on my ‘problem’, the lessons of life were being revealed and sorted behind me. Jung said ‘dreams are, after all, ‘compensations for the conscious attitude’, and my dream was compensating for what was going on in my waking life – what was happening behind me whilst I focused on the issue in front. When I took the time to turn around and see what was
behind me, when I became conscious, then I started to notice the lessons. And the first lesson that hit me between the eyes was that life is not simply black and white (easily definable) and that sometimes living with the questions of life is just as, if not more important, than living with the answers – Jesus primary mode of teaching was to ask questions, he taught us by asking us and by encouraging us to ask questions ourselves.
I was seeing the world in black white, thinking that something had to be one way or another, trying to find the consensus reality, the fixed outcome. I realized that I was not comfortable living with paradox and with the words, ‘I don’t know’. My understanding of knowledge led me to think there had to be a specific outcome to every situation instead of just allowing the outcome to evolve over time.
I went to a workshop recently to learn how to think like a Genius. The facilitator was quick to add that he couldn’t make us into genius’s, he could just show us some common traits in genius thinking and one of the common threads of a genius’ thought pattern is that they ask big questions. When they think they have come to a solution, they ‘suspend judgment’ and continue looking for further revelation. There is no fixed point, instead there is a continual evolving of process which in turn warrants continued reassessment.
So, thanks to that dream, I have stopped trying to make sense of this issue in my life and have allowed it to just be, to be pink. When it comes to matters of certainty, I’ll leave those to God, the only, ultimate certainty or truth. My consciousness of the issue is enough, there is no right or wrong way to proceed, there is no consensus reality, there is no one way to look at life and the situations that we find ourselves in and I have found that realisation completely liberating. I will let life evolve as it will. I will
continue to learn so that I have solid foundations on which to make decisions, but
as Rumi said:’ Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment’ … and so I have, and
I am reveling in my bewilderment, my ignorance.
Ignorance is bliss … is it not?
I am preparing to go to seminary…
I am preparing mentally, physically, emotionally and well, of course, spiritually!
We know that moving is one of the most stressful things that a person can do. In my HR studies it was right up there with bereavement and divorce.
So I am preparing – or should I say, God is preparing me for a new season…
I am doing the physical throwing out (literally downsizing by the bucket load) and God is doing the spiritual and emotional throwing out, downsizing me by the bucket load.
We all know when we are carrying baggage that doesn’t serve us. I knew I had some extra bags and so I invited the Holy Spirit to work with me – I consented to this journey. God didn’t make me do this work, but I thought what a great time for a little spiritual spring cleaning, now at this time before I go and focus my life in fulltime service…
I am not embarrassed to admit (ok, well maybe I am a little) that this has been an immensely emotional time for me. I have felt sensitive and raw and vulnerable and well, just not myself, and I seem to spend quite a lot of my prayer time asking God for courage and comfort in equal measure.
And so, together God and I had a look at old wounds, old insecurities, niggling fears and doubts. God revealed some of my scar tissue, the stuff which is hindering my ability to be truly brave said – ‘I have a prize for you – it’s a stretch to get to it – but I have a prize – come with me and I’ll show you who you can truly be…’
In Philippians 2 1-13 we read Paul’s account of who he was versus who he is now:
‘I was once wretched’ he tells us, ‘I once persecuted Christ, was part of the sect who crucified and vilified Jesus – I was the baddy, I was blind – but then Christ
showed me another, more excellent way’ – For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.
‘I would rather die like Jesus on a cross, he says, than go back to the way I was living before – I would rather suffer for him, than live without him’ … that is a powerful faith!
In Matt 21: 33-45 we read the parable of the tenants:
It reads like a Brothers Grimm tale. The Brothers Grim, the brothers who collected folklore stories of how dark and evil and twisted people can really be and recounted the stories to the delight of children and the horror of parents the world over…
It is interesting to note that those stories, which we have grown to love and cherish as fairy stories, in their original form, were far more gruesome than the versions we have today. They were originally cleaned up for the Christian brothers by the locals and then even further cleaned up for modern day fairy-tales. The Disney stories we see now, are not nearly as dark as the originals – and why? Because we, we struggle to face our darkness, our awkward stuff, our sin, our shadows. Disney cleaned up the stories not for the children, I’m guessing, but for the parents who couldn’t face the reality of what was being reflected in those movies … humanity’s darkness.
So the story about the tenants in the vineyard, the baddies in black, murdering person after person, after person, killing the messengers, revelling in their ability to take that which wasn’t theirs, living with the misguided belief that they could just keep murdering the messengers and then eventually keep the vineyard for themselves – is the story of humanity.
The theological themes are obvious:
But the verse I found myself returning to was this one:
He who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed’.
In verse 42 we are told that that stone is the Capstone – the central stone – that stone is Jesus. So those who fall on Jesus will be broken and those on whom Jesus falls will be crushed – hectic!
If we read this passage in its historical context, with its historical interpretation, then we see that the vineyard is the world, the vineyard owner is God, the tenants are the religious leaders, the messengers the prophets, and the son is, of course, Jesus.
But in light of what I shared about my own journey I want to offer another interpretation.
What if we were the tenants, receiving messages from God about our own lives – about the sin, the darkness, the shame, the loneliness, the brokenness – the ‘stuff’ we really just don’t want to deal with and rather than give to God in honesty the fruit we have produced, be it good and healthy or small and puny, we just kill the messengers coming to collect and reject a truth which may be being hidden?
Rejecting the message which says – um – actually this is my intention for the land in which you habit, this is my intention for the life you are leading … and when we reject all the messages and signs, God sends the ultimate messenger – the Capstone – the Jesus. As people who are committed to God and to the Kingdom our lives belong to God, our fruit belongs to God. In the words of this parable, our responsibility is to give to God that which belongs to God, knowing that it may be hard and painful, but that living in denial may be even more painful. In order to live the abundant fruitful life that Jesus has for us – we have to show him our fruit – present to him our lives, give to him that which belongs to him… no matter how bad it looks to us. God owns all the fruit, not just the stuff ready for export! We need to be able to forget what is behind and strain toward what is ahead, for there is a prize. Notice we do not just hop towards the goal, we strain, we give it our all.
Ok, so how?
Awareness is the first step towards being who Christ asks us to be. Consciousness (alertness) to our surroundings and openness to the people and circumstances of our lives reveal to us the truth of ourselves.
When you meet someone who makes you uncomfortable, who makes your skin feel tight, or who just annoys you, take a moment to ask what it is that makes you uncomfortable, there’s a message there. That person may remind you of a part of yourself you would best like to keep hidden. Whenever we feel a prick of conscience or an uncomfortable nudge, when we overreact to a situation – chances are our shadow stuff is rearing its head… and God could be letting us know that there’s an opportunity for healing and wholeness in bringing that thought to consciousness, in bringing our shadow self into the light.
Recognizing our shadows takes courage and so sometimes it’s easier to ignore them – it’s easier to kill the messengers – to hope that if we keep killing them – they will eventually leave us alone.
Consider these words by Jung:
‘In many cases in psychiatry, the patient who comes to us has a story that is not told, and which as a rule no one knows of. To my mind therapy only really begins after the investigation of that wholly personal story. It is the patient’s secret, the rock against which he is shattered. If I know his secret story, I have a key to the treatment. The doctor’s task is to find out how to gain that knowledge. In most cases exploration of the conscious material is insufficient. Sometimes an association test can open the way; so can the interpretation of dreams, or long and patient human contact with the
individual. In therapy the problem is always the whole person, never the symptom alone. We must ask questions which challenge the whole personality…’ Jung
There have been times over the past few months, when I have literally felt crushed – there are no other words for it. I have felt broken and wounded. But I have been broken ON the Capstone – in order that I might recognize my good fruit and my potential. Was it painful? Yes. Would I go back to how I was before? No. will it happen again – I hope so, because with each painful growth spurt, I become a little more whole… and I get that much closer to the prize of who Jesus knows I can be.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God within us
It is not just in some of us, it is in everyone,
And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give
people permission to do the same.
Wholeness in Christ – that is the prize!
Yesterday I posted the introduction to Jung’s book on his ‘interior biography’, his memoir relating to the development of his personality and consciousness, where he said ‘my encounters with the other reality, my bouts with the unconscious, are indelibly engraved upon my memory… Outward circumstances are no substitute for
That resonates …
Yesterday I also received my final acceptance letter for Seminary for 2012. This is the beginning of what has been an epic journey already so far. And I wanted to mark the journey by reflecting and putting ‘out there’ what has happened over the last 5 years, reminding myself of the road map that has gotten me to this point, and as I thought about rehashing that 5 year old story – I thought to myself – I just don’t have the energy nor the inclination to revisit those moments that have made up the process so far, no matter how exciting they were at the time …
But, I did have a dream. A numinous dream (a divine dream) if you like, almost 12 months ago now which speaks into this journey so far… which tells this same story, from a past, present and future perspective and which, as Jung proposed, speaks far more tellingly of the inner development than it does of any outer happenings …
So should I share the dream? Here goes …
I am standing at the entrance to this enormous and beautiful building. It has an entranceway which towers above me. I can only see the foyer and inside there are columns maybe 100 times my size. The whole place was quiet and shadowy and echoey. It wasn’t frightening, but it was deeply overwhelming and I as I stepped over the threshold, my breath was taken away. It was too overwhelming to go inside.
So I stepped back outside and went around the side of the building and into the
gift shop attached to this ‘museum’ (at this point I had not identified what
the place was although it felt like a museum or a cathedral). I walked into the gift shop and found it is almost like a cartoon zoo – the first part of the dream was dark and shadowy and in sharp contrast this part was full of colour and green grass and animation and life – lots of life – there were animals all around and little rabbits
popping their heads up out of their warrens – I continued through this fun and
special place and came to the back of the shop.
In front of me was a cupboard (very Narnia-like I know) with a doorway leading through the back into a dark room – I couldn’t see what was on the other side, but hanging in the cupboard was an orange garment, there were people standing around me, who I couldn’t see and they dressed me in the garment and sent me on my way through the cupboard. Equipped and ready.
It was perhaps some weeks after having that dream that I went to a talk where they spoke about and showed pictures of Nortre Dame and it was then that I recognised it as the place in my dream … (Collective unconscious, repressed memory from the media? I have never been to Notre Dame, nor do I remember seeing pictures – but I might have) … anyway in my mind I was too overwhelmed to step into that symbol of all things overwhelmingly and traditionally ‘churchy’.
When I started this journey into ministry – I was terrified and overwhelmed. I almost couldn’t breathe for fear of what would be expected of me and it took 2 extra years for my candidature application to be finally accepted and moved forward. During which time I was ‘gifted’ with the opportunity to work at Musgrave as the Assistant Minister. Over the last 2 years, I have been loved and nurtured and allowed to make mistakes and to grow – come the end of the year, I will be standing on the shoulders of the amazing people who have supported me in this time ‘in the gift shop’. I don’t know what the future holds, how I will get on in Seminary or the full time ministry for that matter – but I do know this – I am ready!
I believe (have faith in and trust) that twelve months ago God, through the Holy Spirit, spoke into my innermost being and planted this image for me – it has carried me through uncertain times, doubting times, impatient times and it has reminded me that not only are we loved – but that we are guided and that when God calls us to something – God makes sure we are ready to take on whatever it is that God has for us.
My initial calling came through Esther 4:14 … Esther was called for a specific time and place and when that time was right, she was prepared.
By the grace of God, I am prepared…
My life is a story of the self-realisation of the unconscious. Everything in the unconscious seeks outward manifestation, and the personality too desires to evolve out of its unconsciousness conditions and to experience itself as a whole. I cannot employ the language of science to trace this process of growth in myself, for I cannot experience myself as a scientific problem.
What we are to our inward vision, and what man appears to be sub specie aeternitatis,
can only be expressed by way of myth. Myth is more individual and expresses life more precisely than does science. Science works with concepts of averages which are far too general to do justice to the subjective variety of an individual life.
In the end the only events in my life worth telling are those when the imperishable world erupted into this transitory one. That is why I speak chiefly of inner experiences, amongst which I include my dreams and visions – all other memories of travels, people and my surroundings have paled beside these interior happenings. Recollection of the outward events of my life has largely faded or disappeared. But my encounters with the ‘other’ reality, my bouts with the unconscious, are indelibly engraved upon my memory. In that realm there has always been wealth in abundance and everything else has lost importance by comparison.
Similarly, other people are established inalienably in my memories only if their names were entered in the scrolls of my destiny from the beginning, so that encountering them was at the same time a kind of recollection.
I early arrived at the insight that when no answer comes from within to the problems and complexities of life, they ultimately mean very little. Outward circumstances are no substitute for inner experience. Therefore my life has been singularly poor in outward happenings. I cannot tell much about them, for it would strike me as hollow and insubstantial. I can understand myself only in the light of inner happenings.
It is these that make up the singularity of my life and with these my autobiography deals…