Grow. Now.

About a thousand years ago, I had a postcard blu-tacked to the door of my study in the tiny flat my ex and I shared. It was a postcard which followed me through three or four moves to three or four different houses, and I don’t remember whatever happened to it, but I’m sad that I lost it.

The postcard was red, and it had a drawing of a man standing over a tiny but brave pot-plant, glaring down at it. The caption to the postcard was “Grow. Now.”

I kept the postcard for so many years because the absurdity of it appealed to my sense of humour, but looking back at it I see why it so strongly resonated, humour aside: I’m the plant, and I’m the guy.

I was chatting recently with my spiritual director, who is one of the wisest people I’ve ever met. We were talking about my struggle with prayer – how every part of me wants that time and space to simply Be within the Sacred, to allow the recitation of prayer to draw me deeper into the Spirit which dwells so deeply within me – and how I find it so utterly difficult, to the extent that at times I recoil from it. I understand the barrier – fear – but I can’t get through it. I want to, but I can’t, and I grieve about that even as I seek to hold myself in compassion.

Chatting with her, I was reminded forcibly of the man standing over the plant, ordering it to “Grow. Now.” Silly man – the plant will grow, whether he wills it or not, because that’s what plants do. That’s the nature of their very being – they take what nourishment they are given and they grow. Giving the poor old plant an imposed directive will serve only to infuriate the man, while the plant grows quietly, patiently, in its own time.

The man has to trust that the plant will grow, and I have to trust that I will grow. That my soul’s yearning for for light and growth is the same as that of the little plant: it’s my soul’s way of being to grow towards its Source. My actions can nourish or hinder it – but I can’t force it. I can’t order it, I can’t impose my perfectionism and my impatience on the process. I have to let it be.

I do miss that postcard though. It was a cool postcard.

 

A little little legacy.

I felt a bit bleak yesterday, when I sat down to write my journal in the evening. Sitting at my desk, with my cat on my lap resting her chin on my forearm (which made writing very difficult), I felt myself wondering about the, at times, futility of life. It’s Thursday, and soon another week will have ended, and what will I have to show for it? What will be different, other than that I’ll be a week older?

So I ended up making a list, of what changes because I do what I do. It wasn’t a comprenensive list, but it included the following:
• I’m good at what I do. My work in the management side of things helps my colleagues to help clients. That’s not a small deal.
• this week I have sent a number of messages to people I love, just to see how they are, or to ask how their first day at a new job went, or to wish them happy birthday. I’ve phoned a friend I haven’t been in touch with for a while; I’ve been a friend to different people. It makes a small difference, maybe a negligable one, but a difference is a difference.
• people have read my blog. I know they have, because I look at the statistics, and because every now and again I get an email telling me that someone is following it (those emails are small bright points in my day). Presumably the blog, too, makes a small difference.
• I’m writing. I’m writing a book, a poetry anthology. It’s a book about domestic violence, and escape, and healing, and rebirth. My poems will be Out There – not sitting patiently in a notebook, waiting for the day they’re tossed into the wastepaper bin: they’ll be out in the world, and real people will read them, and the world will be very slightly different because of that small book of poems. At least to the fifteen or so people who buy it…

We all have a list like this, because each of us change the face of the world just by walking on it. But I realised that the list of what I do to make a difference in the world is about caring, and creativity. If I fade out of existence tomorrow, that’s what I’ve left. That’s what my life has been about.

Caring and creativity. There are worse things to base a very small legacy on.

Low at his feet, and compassion.

I wrote yesterday about Michael Mayne’s comment, that if fatigue and anger and the bleakness of life is all you have to offer in prayer and sacrifice, then that’s what you offer. It is with those things that you do honour to the Creator, because the Creator and Source of all knows deeply and profoundly what it is to be tired.

And in many ways, that’s easy. It’s easy to own to being tired, to lift that in offering: I’m tired, I feel unwell, I had an asthma attack yesterday and a rubbish night’s sleep, and I’m starting a headache and I didn’t make time for a proper lunch today, and God I feel like shit, but here you go. It’s all yours because it’s all I’ve got. 

It’s harder when all I’ve got is actually not caused by physiological realities. When it’s not tiredness of the body, but tiredness of my soul. Some days are good, and it’s easy to offer how I’m feeling as my prayer; other days aren’t good, and what I’ve got to offer is bleakness, and pain, and anger, and grief, and shame. The weight of the past, and my guilt that I cannot yet shed it; the anger of rapes and beatings and ten years’ worth of injustices and unfairnesses; the fear of panic attacks and the impact they have, and my shame that I cannot control them.

And that’s hard to offer not because it’s a pretty crappy gift – which it is – but because offering means owning it. Offering it means acknowledging that this is what’s going on – and that it hurts. I’d rather not offer it, to be honest. I’d rather be alone with it and pretend it’s not there than I would gather it up and acquiesce to it, and actually recognise the impact it all has.

There’s no choice, though – I get that. Until I actually acknowledge it all, and honour it, and feel it, I won’t heal from it – I’ll just bury it and pretend it’s not there, and carry it around unadmitted until I work up the courage to look at it.

In lifting all this shit up to the Source of all compassion, I must find the courage to face compassion. But that’s just the way the cookie crumbles, and that’s what I have to do.

Low at his feet lay your burden of carefulness; high on his heart he will bear it for you. 

I know these words to be true – living them, though, is a whole other matter.

It’s all I’ve got right now.

Disclaimer: this is a pretty rubbish blog post.

I’m back at work and things are their usual busy self, and I’ve been fighting off a cold (I’m winning) and my asthma is bad, which made singing hard on the weekend, and I’m tired enough that I actually dozed off at my desk today, and here’s a quote from Michael Mayne: If I know myself to be struggling, angry, depressed, tired, then that is what I have to offer to God. 

It makes sense. Jesus, alone in the darkness of the garden of Gethsemane, offered his brokenness, his fear, his regret. And even before that – Jesus never got tired? Sick of things? A little bit grumpy, and needing a cup of tea and an early night? The God who is radically present in all the experiences and manifestations of life knows what it is to be tired. The God who created the common cold (what was It thinking??) probably also suffered from one during the thirty-odd-year miracle of the incarnation.

And right now, that’s all I’ve got – not that I’m particularly depressed, or angry – I’m just tired. Which, according to Michael Mayne, is good enough for God. If that’s all I’ve got to offer, then I should offer it, honestly and openly and graciously and with a lightness of spirit.

And then I should get some sleep.

Me me me, and me too.

I often – normally – find myself writing about myself: that I need to learn to slow down, that self-care or spirituality or creativity falls off the radar first. And maybe that’s a reflection of being self-obsessive: it’s all about me, me, me – I am a soprano, after all.

I guess, though, what I’m actually writing about is us. Of course, I’m aware of the arrogance in claiming my own experience as being relevant to others; but I’m also aware that others’ experience is relevant to me. That we’re all in this together, and that so often, the experience that one person struggles with is in fact the experience that another carries, quietly and alone.

We all struggle, in this busy world, to retain a sense of self. We all struggle with the fact that it’s the important stuff that falls off the radar first; we all struggle at times to keep our equinaminity in the face of the demands of the world; to retain a sense of who and what we are.

I once read that “me too” is the most comforting phrase you can say to a person, because it’s saying, “you are not alone”. It’s saying, to quote Laurie King, “I might not be where you are, but I’ve been right next door” – or it’s saying, “Yep, I’ve been down that hole, and it might not feel like it right now, but there is a way out”. It’s saying, “you’re not the only one”. It’s saying that we have a shared experience. We are not alone.

I know I’m not the only one who struggles. I’m not the only one who loses sight of what being a human being is about, who comes from the open quietness of retreat into the busy roar of the real world and clings helplessly to the fragments of peace that I only last week held easily.

I’m not the only one, and I know that because in writing about myself, I’m actually writing about us. I’m writing about the commonality of experience. I’m writing about human connection, and whatever the opposite is of lonely: that’s what this is about.

Me too, world. Me too.

 

 

The still small voice in the earthquake.

I’m back from my retreat, back to the real world and – perhaps pertinently – here are two quotes I’ve brought back with me:

Teilhard de Chardin: “By virtue of the creation and still more of the incarnation, nothing here below is profane for those who know how to see. On the contrary, everything is sacred.”

And Michael Mayne: “Prayer is a way of seeing my whole life as containing significance and beauty it would not otherwise have.”

It’s easy(ish) to find a space of quiet and stillness when you’re sitting on the edge of a lake, the sound of lorikeets in the trees above you and the closing evening welcomed by kookaburra calls; or when you’re sitting in a small, silent chapel in the retreat house; and when there’s no demands, no to-do-list, no conversation to have or problem to solve, nothing in that moment other than space, and God. It’s harder to find that quietude, that peace, in the day-to-day, in-your-face roar of a full-on job and the clamour of the office and the whirling mental map of all the places my day must take me.

But both Teilhard and Michael remind me: it’s not just the sacred space, created for prayer and quiet worship, that is in fact sacred. The pasta I inhaled while fighting with the computer rostering system – that’s sacred, and the body it nurtures and the biological processes it supports is sacred too. The people I deal with, both face-to-face and removed – they are sacred souls. My prayer is that my hands will be God’s hands, my words God’s words, and my heart God’s heart – and that is both so much more difficult, and so much more necessary, in the profane sacred of my day-to-day life.

Breathe through the heats of our desire
Thy coolness and Thy balm;
let sense be dumb, let flesh retire:
speak through the earthquake, wind and fire,
o still small voice of calm. 

Sometimes it’s hard to hear that still, small voice of calm in the regular, mundane tumult of life. But it’s there – and sometimes I can hear it, and sometimes I can’t, but I’d really like to keep trying.

Still, if there’s an earthquake, then I quit.

The Sacred in the superficial.

I’ve been on my own little retreat – tomorrow, though, I go home. I will drive home, pick up the cat from boarding, zoom inside, feed her, get my music, and drive to choir. Saturday will be household-y type jobs, Sunday will be Cathedral and singing and friends, and then come Monday I’ll be plunged back into the day-to-day bustle and demands and chaos and stress of my regular work life. I can guarantee that my sugar and caffeine (and alcohol – ahem) intake will increase, and my hours of sleep will decrese, and it won’t take long at all for my post-holiday calm to fray.

And here’s what I need to remember: my spirituality is as inherent in my day-to-day life as it is in the deeper and quieter times. I dwell in the Sacred as much when I’m washing dishes or fighting with the computer rostering system at work as I do when I’m singing the Mass, or sitting on the edge of a lake bathed in the beauty of the sunset which inflames the sky and guilds the water in pink luminosity.

And the superficial layers of life are important, and the Sacred is present in them as well, because all that I do is underpinned by the Source and Ground of my being.

But – and this is a biggie – the superficial can very easily lose its connection with the Sacred unless “it springs from the depth of spirit where our whole being is centred, renewed, and daily refreshed”, writes John Main – Ahh, says Naomi. There’s my problem!

My problem is that, while I intellectualise that all I do is a sacrament, I often forget. I often let myself be drawn up in the demands, in the busyness, in the need (my own need, as much as others’) to constantly be moving, constantly be busy, constantly be stimulated. Because life’s busy, and there’s stuff to get done. Because I don’t want to be left alone with my thoughts, my emotions. Because intellectualising is easier than feeling. And so I forget the depth of spirit in which I’m refreshed – I’m the person who, parched, doesn’t reach for the glass of water on the table in front of me because my head’s in the job in front of me.

I can’t say things will magically improve when I get back to my daily life. But I’m taking learning away with me from this retreat, and I’m going to try to open myself to the idea of things changing.

That’s probably actually all I have to do. I have a sneaking hunch that God will do the rest.