My mother died, aged 79, in December 2021, and I have still not been able to distribute the proceeds of her will.
This is perhaps not unusual when people die leaving a complex estate, but my mother did not have a messy will or lots of difficult assets – she had a small amounts of savings in several accounts (two of which she seems to have forgotten about) and a semi-detatched house full of vast amounts of worthless things collected over a long life time.
She had spent much of her adult life on disability benefits after all, having suffered from chronic mental health problems and having lived a life of poverty and extreme self-denial.
Furthermore, there were only two main beneficiaries from her will, myself and my late sister.
As the only executor charged with the ‘sadministration’ of her last will and testament, the greatest challenge was clearing out the aforementoined lifetime of hoarding and accummulation in her house, or at least I thought this to be the case. What actually happened was that after one of the hardest weeks of my life, filling skip after skip and making innumerable trips to charity shops, we returned to Scotland to find a letter waiting for us from the benefits agency.
It turns out that the benefits agency check the probate records of anyone who dies whilst on benefits. My mother had a top-up of ‘pension credit’ as well as her state pension, which amounted to a few extra pounds a week, and because this entitlement tapers off dependent on the amount of savings someone has, the agency noted that she had more savings than the threshold and so started an ‘investigation’.
To understand how this came about, you need to understand something of the circumstances of my mother’s life. I mentioned some of this previously in this post, but suffice it to say that she never fully escaped the extreme poverty and emotional neglect of her childhood. She never felt safe or worthy. One of the ways she sought to make the world more predictable was by hoarding and stockpilingv- mostly food, but also shoes and clothing. She also had a relationship with money that was entirely dysfunctional, in that she scrimped and saved every single penny, way beyond what was reasonable, even for people on benefits. For example, her daily food intake was almost all gathered from the past-sell-by-date section of supermarkets, and she spent much of her later leisure time in charity shops.
This ability to make her tiny income stretch out started early, in that she had saved and borrowed enough money to purchase her house (the one I was born in and the one I had to sell after her death) long before her short marriage to my father. She did this by working long hours at various jobs – a butchers, various factories, Boots chemist (who sacked her when she married as they did not employ married women) and a bread delivery service.
She then brought up two children as a single mother on benefits. She passed on her fear to my sister and I, but at the same time we never went without anything that mattered. Even if our comparative povery marked us out as less-than, it was not the poverty of the food bank or the begging bowl.
It was not the poverty she grew up with.
But back to the money thing. For most of her life, my mother did everything by cash. She withdrew her benefits (and later her pension) then paid all her bills ‘over the counter’. She lived in fear of NOT paying her bills – due to some encounters with bailiffs in the wake of her marriage ending – so was very careful to always be in credit if at all possible with all her utility bills.
For the same reason, she always tried to have some kind of emergency ‘nest egg’, in the form of a stash of cash hidden somewhere around the house. After all, the roof may need to be mended or the cooker could break, and these sorts of things were the greatest fears of my mother’s life (and being found out as the child of unwed parents, but that is a story for another time.)
Towards the end of her life, due to the slightly more generous income of a state pention and dissability living allowance, my mother was unable to increase her lifelong committment to extreme penny-pinching, so the cash she was accummulating in her house started to increase. By then my sister, who was geographically much closer to my mother and more involved in her day-to-day life, was very unwell and subsequently died, so I was trying to support my increasingly infirm and very eccentric mother from distance.
I should paint a picture of just HOW eccentric she was for those who did not know her. The effect of her mental health problems and isolation had been the adoption of a number of coping strategies that she held on to fiercely – extreme religion, an addiction to exercise that to others seemed remarkable and ideas about food and central heating that left medical people aghast. What seemed extreme was her normal, for example in terms of the distances she walked, pushing a disability trolley, bent over by arthritis. She lived in a home with almost no heating and until the last year or so of her life, no hot water. She cooked a limited number of spartan meals, often using ingredients that anyone else would have condemned as unfit for humans. The problem was that as she became more infirm, she was unable to let go any of her coping skills or eccentric routines, with some small exception – one was was slightly more willing to let me make some decisions on her behalf.
The other was that she became very dependent on the care and support offer to her by a remarkable neighbour called Sam. I will remain grateful to Sam for ever – she is one of the reasons that humanity still has a future. Same cooked, cleaned and watched over my mother when my daily phone calls and increasingly frantic visits seemed woefully inadequate.
But as I said, her normal was other people’s extreme. Those of us who knew her best had to come to terms with this.
Then, on one of my visits down from Scotland to try to help her sort out some of her affairs, I discovered nineteen thousand pounds in cash. Around the same time, the way my mother had always withdrawn her pension – through a Post Office card account – had come to an end because these accounts were all suspended. This meant that she needed to open her first ever current account. After numerous complications, this is what we did, with me as an administrator on her account so I could set up direct debits and make other payments as necessary. This enabled me to get some repairs done on her house, including installing a water heater.
My mother was very keen for me to keep the nineteen thousand pounds, but I refused to do this, insttead putting it in to her new current acount. You may think me fool for doing this, given the trouble it has caused since, but at the end of the day, I know I did the right thing. I have seen too much dodgy family practices about money in my former life as a social worker, often resulting in adult protection invesigations. I wanted to keep everything correct and straightforward.
It is important to remember that this money was all paid out to my mother as per her entitlements. Had she not lived the eccentric life of self denial, but spent the money on the things that others would have done – good food, taxis and busses, heating bills, new clothes etc- then she would never have accumulated this money. She had cash because she could not bring herself to break the fearful habits of her lifetime.
Having said that, I think my mother knew well that she was breaking the rules. At some point she had put some money in an ISA savings account. It was around ten thousand pounds. The threshold of savings that the benefits agency look at before they started to progressively reduce benefits was around eight thousand. In practice this meant that my mother would have lost a small amount of her ‘pension credit’ – which was less than ten pounds a week in total, so it would not have made much difference. She chose to ignore this.
I tried to talk to her about it a few times, but she always closed me down, so I chose to ignore it too, and regard it has ‘her business’. I still feel guilt and anxiety about this – as I said, I tried hard to do things properly. Perhaps I could have forced this issue, but there were so many more pressing issues at the time, as I stuggled to set up packages of care, deal with complaints about carers not showing up, and manage the constantly problematic interface with health care workers.
The end result is that my mother when my mother died, the level of savings she had – when we add together the money she had in different savings accounts and the cash I had placed in to her current account – was above the threshold for continued reciept of pension credit, which as I have already mentions was less than ten pounds per week. On reviewing the probate information I submitted, the benefits agency now knew this and wanted it back. They had started an ‘investigation’.
My mother was being pursued beyond her grave for money that she had only lost entitlement to because she had not spent it quickly enough.
What happened next was a long series of seemingly unending information flows.
Many telephone calls.
Letters of explanation. Everything by post as the department involved do not do e-mail.
Bank statements were requested going back into the 1990’s. The bank only keep ten years of records, but even to access them as a third party means a whole process of submitting forms and documents and proofs of identity.
I send what is requested then they ask for something else. The letters they send me never arrive so I only discover they were sent when I ring to ask what is happening.
Then they same for post office records. Some of these accounts are now handled by JP Morgan – a massive accountancy firm – who have different processes, requiring aurhorised copies of identity documents.
Everything moves at glacial pace, and here we are still. The sadministration continues.
I have to add that in my dealings with the department within the benefits agency charged with this investigation, all staff have been pleasant, decent and as helpful has they could be.
On one level, rules are rules. If my mother was not entitled to this benefit, then she should not have been getting it. If we need to pay back her savings to cover what she should not have been paid then so be it. I have said all of these things and meant them.
But this is not the whole story. It feels as though the legacy left – both literally and figuartively – by this remarkable woman is being demeaned, much as she was when she was alive. A hard and lonely life is being followed by a grubby and unpleasant afterlife. The money that would come to me, my children and my sisters children is not huge, but it now feels worth much less than it was, no matter how much the benefits agency eventually reclaim.
There is another question here too about the different ways we deal with the wealthy and the poor in our society. Here is a test – do a simple internet search entitled ‘inheritence tax’. You will be deluged with advertisements for companies trying to help you avoid paying it. There is no hidden subterfuge here, the purpose of this activity – the avoidance of tax to be paid after the death of someone who is very wealthy – is shouted out loud, as if this is a social good. As if tax avoidance is good sense.
I am sure you get the contrast here. One involves those who have much giving more of it than they should to their own. The other involves those with very little being scrutinised and criminalised for taking more than they should.
Perhaps this is right. Perhaps this is the only legacy my mother in all her mess and eccentricity could ever leave. Hers was not an ordinary life so how could her death be ordinary?
All I know is that the impact of this process on my own life and my own grieving is more difficult than it is possible to describe. I find myself in the same place emotionally that I was aged 13, wearing home-made clothes to school and walking everywhere because we had no car. Back then, benefits were so much more generous than they are now, but still we felt ourselves to be less-than. We were those who were entitled only begrudgingly, and this feeling is hard to escape.
This is a line from a poem I wrote some time ago, in which I used some ideas pinched from philospher Timothy Morton, whose writing has done much to shine a light on the way we are in the anthopocene age.
His most frequently cited book, Ecology Without Nature, says we need to scrap the whole concept of “nature”. He argues that a distinctive feature of our world is the presence of ginormous things he calls “hyperobjects” – such as global warming or the internet – that we tend to think of as abstract ideas because we can’t get our heads around them, but that are nevertheless as real as hammers. He believes all beings are interdependent, and speculates that everything in the universe has a kind of consciousness, from algae and boulders to knives and forks. He asserts that human beings are cyborgs of a kind, since we are made up of all sorts of non-human components; he likes to point out that the very stuff that supposedly makes us us – our DNA – contains a significant amount of genetic material from viruses. He says that we’re already ruled by a primitive artificial intelligence: industrial capitalism. At the same time, he believes that there are some “weird experiential chemicals” in consumerism that will help humanity prevent a full-blown ecological crisis.
On the micro level, this kind of thinking chimes well with ideas around permaculture, which seeks to replace consumptive and destructive industrial/capitalist/enlightenment methods with systems modelled on flourishing natural ecosystems. It is of course a feature of these ecosystems that they are circular – that each element of the system is dependent upon others and in turn forms the raw material for the next.
Rather than seeing the whole as a blank space in which elements compete for ascendency, the reality of natural systems is that they exist and sustain themselves by co-operation, interdependency.
Another way to put this is that rather than an input-output system in which resources are fed in one end and products spewed out the other, a system designed around permaculture principles includes the whole cycle within its model of production, including the generation of raw materials and the recycling and reuse of waste.
The most common way we hear the word ‘permaculture’ used is in relation to small scale food production. This is problematic as increasingly this is how the word is understood, rather than the much more dynamic transformative promise that it contains in relation to wider design principles. Having said that, it is a very useful way to think about my own attempts to grow food, allowing me to evolve my small holding practice in these ways;
I do not worry so much about ‘organic’, but try to only use things that can be re-used and re-purposed. This means that ‘doing as little harm’ to the natural world is built in.
If I need something, I try to find it within what I already have, even if it is ‘messy’, for example fences made from felled rhododendrons.
If I know I will create a waste product, I try to find a use for it in advance. The obvious part of this is compost, but I also make deliberate use of chicken bedding or even the soil in the chicken run.
I try to work with what I have – the west of Scotland climate, the heavy soil, the forest I live within, seeking to allow these to shape my practices, rather than try to alter things to fit other models of growing elsewhere. This leads me to raised beds, hugelkultur and forest gardens. I grow watercress in a stream and create ponds to increase helpful biodiversity.
Don’t read me as claiming towards climate sainthood. I have poly tunnels. I still buy seed compost. I make all sorts of compromises, including running petrol machines to cut and mulch. No paradise is perfect.
Which brings me to the theology of all of this.
Everything that ever was is with us still
We who try to understand our spirituality do so – unwittingly or otherwise – within the landscape of meaning that our circumstance give us. This is an unavoidable truth, made clearer when considering the difference between enlightenment and post-modern mindsets. The first, dominated by the book, by the ‘rise of mankind’, by ‘human progress’ towards industrialisation, by white Europeans. Meanwhile, postmodernism brought to us the chaos of competing information streams, the conspiracy theories, the doomsday realities of climate destruction, the tyrany and freedom of so-called individual choice. Do we accept the bias that these persepctives give to our spiritual meanderings? Can we ever hope to move beyond them?
Perhaps this is the wrong question. The right one might be how can we include them? After all, post-modernism is not just a repudiation, a replacement of the enlightenment, it is also a product of it.
So it is that many of us who have left behind older understandings of faith and spirituality might do well to check ourselves on some of the slash-and-burn destruction we have poured on the places we left behind. They are with us still. They were not wasted.
That is not the same as saying that everything goes. When waste material is put into my compost bin, it is transformed.
Or to put it another way, it is redeemed.
Or to put it another way again, it is included and transcended.
I am no (spiritual) permaculture saint, so I perhaps tend to waste more than I should. I am sloppy with my recycling and easily pulled towards a shiny new thing, often forgetting that the point here is not just the end product, rather it is the life it is embedded within.
It is the whole cycle, not just the point of swing.
I read this quote recently which seemed to follow a familliar furrow on this blog;
The significance—and ultimately the quality—of the work we do is determined by our understanding of the story in which we are taking part.
I went looking on t’internet to see if I could find where this quote is from, and to my slight disgust, I found it emblazoned on motivational posters and used to promote business success speak. It occurred to me that most people who use Wendell Berry quotes have not read much of what he wrote. Then it occurred to me that I was being an intellectual snob because I have not read much of what he wrote either, beyond a few poems here and there…
Quotes like this are used to tell stories, even when the quote is reminding us that it is the story that matters most.
The absence of a story makes us sick.
But not all stories are equal.
A song comes to mind;
I am entering a new season. After being being cloistered for some time, locked into my own world of words and distractions, I am trying once more to connect with others, to get out into the flow, to chase stories that matter. (More of this below…)
I don’t think we can do this on our own.
Partly, we need story tellers. We need people who tell stores of better, of more whole, of more beautiful, of more peaceful. Perhaps they will tell old stores or perhaps they will be brand new.
I did a little review of stories that have been important to me on this blog. Here are some of them, in no particular order;
I won’t go on – suffice it to say that I remain convinced that our society, saturated as it is by a constant deluge of information, has lost our stories. Or rather we have allowed our stories to be told for us by corporations for whom our only value is that of consumer. Where is the magic, the mystery and the majesty in that?
Far be it from me to make my blog about…me, but I mentioned the start of a new season.
Part of this is to take my latest book – concerned as it is with these ideas of a better story for a post pandemic world – on the road. The poster above is the first of these events, and underlines the degree to which it is not possible to find new stories on your own. These things would never happen without those who would host them, Michaela who organises them, Yvonne and the other musicians who play at them – not to mention people who come to be part of them.
In other news, in conspiration with a couple of friends (fellow poets Chris Fosten and Vicky Allen) we will shortly be launching a new podcast, named (Theo)Poetics, exploring the connection between meaning-making and poetry. Or at least this is what I think it will be about but all good things evolve.
In order to find new stories, we need to articulate them first.
That is not the same thing as inventing them, but unless stories are told together, they are not real, they are just merchandise on a shelf.
If I am right (and Richard Rohr) then if our belief systems remain the same from young adult into middle age and beyond, then something has gone very wrong.
Surely, any spiritual path that has meaning must involve transformation through reformation, rejection, rediscovery, letting go, doubting, leaving, finding and just… being?
I can not offer my own experience as any kind of exemplar, unless we add the word ‘failing’ to the list above (and perhaps we must) but in many ways it seems to me that defining beliefs is almost pointless. I don’t mean to be rude, but who cares what you believe?
So what that the Bible/Koran/Bhagavad Gita told you it was true?
What does spiritual truth mean if not anchored to our actual lived experience?
What is spirtual knowledge for if not to facilliate progress?
What is religion for if not to help us help things get better?
Having said all that, what we believe does matter.
Without new ways of understanding and seeing the world, how can we hope?
Sometimes it seems that my religion has gone. I have few rituals any more, few things that I collectivise with others around. When pushed I can give you an explanation but perhaps it might be easiest just to share this Mary Oliver poem with you, which says (like all poems do) what I was not sure how to say for myself.
I don’t know who God is exactly. But I’ll tell you this. I was sitting in the river named Clarion, on a water splashed stone and all afternoon I listened to the voices of the river talking. Whenever the water struck a stone it had something to say, and the water itself, and even the mosses trailing under the water. And slowly, very slowly, it became clear to me what they were saying. Said the river I am part of holiness. And I too, said the stone. And I too, whispered the moss beneath the water.
I’d been to the river before, a few times. Don’t blame the river that nothing happened quickly. You don’t hear such voices in an hour or a day. You don’t hear them at all if selfhood has stuffed your ears. And it’s difficult to hear anything anyway, through all the traffic, the ambition.
If God exists he isn’t just butter and good luck. He’s also the tick that killed my wonderful dog Luke. Said the river: imagine everything you can imagine, then keep on going.
Imagine how the lily (who may also be a part of God) would sing to you if it could sing, if you would pause to hear it. And how are you so certain anyway that it doesn’t sing?
If God exists he isn’t just churches and mathematics. He’s the forest, He’s the desert. He’s the ice caps, that are dying. He’s the ghetto and the Museum of Fine Arts.
He’s van Gogh and Allen Ginsberg and Robert Motherwell. He’s the many desperate hands, cleaning and preparing their weapons. He’s every one of us, potentially. The leaf of grass, the genius, the politician, the poet. And if this is true, isn’t it something very important?
Yes, it could be that I am a tiny piece of God, and each of you too, or at least of his intention and his hope. Which is a delight beyond measure. I don’t know how you get to suspect such an idea. I only know that the river kept singing. It wasn’t a persuasion, it was all the river’s own constant joy which was better by far than a lecture, which was comfortable, exciting, unforgettable.
Of course for each of us, there is the daily life. Let us live it, gesture by gesture. When we cut the ripe melon, should we not give it thanks? And should we not thank the knife also? We do not live in a simple world.
There was someone I loved who grew old and ill One by one I watched the fires go out. There was nothing I could do
except to remember that we receive then we give back.
My dog Luke lies in a grave in the forest, she is given back. But the river Clarion still flows from wherever it comes from to where it has been told to go. I pray for the desperate earth. I pray for the desperate world. I do the little each person can do, it isn’t much. Sometimes the river murmurs, sometimes it raves.
Along its shores were, may I say, very intense cardinal flowers. And trees, and birds that have wings to uphold them, for heaven’s sakes– the lucky ones: they have such deep natures, they are so happily obedient. While I sit here in a house filled with books, ideas, doubts, hesitations.
And still, pressed deep into my mind, the river keeps coming, touching me, passing by on its long journey, its pale, infallible voice singing.
I am both excited and not a little nervous about the first of our live poetry/music/art events. We hope to do a series of them through the year. If you are anywhere near the west of Scotland, please come along!
24th Feb, 7PM, Uig Hall (Which is very close to Benmore Gardens, on the Lock Eck road out of Dunoon.)
In case you are wondering how such an event will work – one answer is, who knows? This will be our first, so we will be flying blind to a certain extent. But then again, this is not entirely honest. The ingredients are incredible after all- Yvonne Lyon will be weaving keyboard and song around my poetry, accompanied by Will Goan on Guitar/vocals and perhaps other instumentalists too (yet to be confirmed!)
Alongside this we will be projecting art from the book from the fantastically talented Si Smith, like this one.
The whole thing is about hope. Even when hope is hard to find. Our politics is often toxic, and the meaning we used to find in churches has largely been left behind. How else do we start to hope again, if not together with our friends, and if not through sharing art?
By the way, thanks so much to those of you who offered to host one of these events. If we have not already been in touch, then we will be soon. Michaela is trying to thread together a plan for the year.
We still have room for more events though. We can scale what we do to fit your venue, so if you think an event like this might be worth hosting in your living room/garden/pub/church hall/cafe/theatre, drop me a line!
I have mentioned a few times the plan for this year was to take some poetry from ‘After the apocalypse‘ on the road. We made a number of steps in this direction – identifying some hosts and venues (thankyou!) and imagining how I hoped this would work – but I have struggled to bring the final ideas together.
Partly this is because the last year has been one of the hardest of my life. I have been struggling with a number of things, probably related to the recent loss of both my sister and my mother. This left me grappling with the boy I was and still am within, bruised and broken by my upbringing, struggling to hide the shame that all survivors of abuse carry with them. Alongside some other family things, I was struggling to find the energy needed to invest in such a creative and collaborative endevour as I had imagined. In turn, this made me feel worse, as though I had nothing to give, nothing to offer. As if I was over.
In some senses, such is the creative life. We mostly create out of our vulnerabilities and brokenness. Or perhaps not all do, but the works that moved me most came from these places. Because of this, creativity always comes with a shadow of self doubt and even (in my case) self loathing. The nature of creativity can be so self-centred too, so endlessly self-referential, which can form a loop in which the urge to make reflects backwards in a harsh light. (Some of you will know exactly what I mean.)
With that as confessional context, you will appreciate all the more what I am about to describe. It is the rack that you too are stretched upon. No amount of ‘sucess’ seems to change the realities of this kind of being.
Images by Si Smith, from ‘After the apocalypse’
Yesterday (because Michaela had not given up on me when I more or less had) I took a few more steps.I did it almost unaware, just knowing that I had to keep moving. (But Michaela had been making connections, doing things that seemed to me to be almost futile.)She had already been doing the drudge-work, without which no good thing can ever happen. The form filling, the diary making. The frustration suppressing. The loving. She thought I did not see it, but I did, I just mostly thought she was wasting her time.
Then, yesterday, things took an entirely unexpected (by me at least) turn.
Before I tell you what happened, perhaps I should describe my longings for these poetry events. I have come to realise, that the things I do that bring me the greatest joy have to start with a certain kind of ‘uuughh’.
It is that feeling you get when your chest feels pregnant with… how can I describe it?… goodness? Hope? Love? Grace? Excitement? None of these words quite contain what I mean, so let’s stick with ‘uuughh’.
I know too that for me, uuughh is a spiritual thing as much as a physical one. It may seem totally fanciful to you to suggest that uughh is about connection to the great spirit that made the world and holds it all together, but there it is, this is what I feel, somewhere deep inside myself.
I have tried to learn to look out (above all things) for the uuughh and to trust it when I feel it. To follow it when I can. I think of this as a spiritual practice, informed by thinking around theopoetics that I have spoken a lot about on this blog.
In my experience, uuuhgg is most likely to be encountered around some of these things;
Kindness (always always kindness, that most underated for virtues.)
Community, when we do good things together
Friendship, which is precious and rare, particularly for introspective men like me
Hope, even in the shadow of despair
Beauty (particularly arising from brokenness)
Stories of hope and redemption
Stories of liberation
Justice bringing and peace-making
It is perhaps most readily accessed when art (particularly for me, poetry and music) becomes a channel for the above.
Things like this;
You will understand then that despite the pressures we all feel to make a living, the plan for taking these poems ‘on the road’ was not about making money. It was about making moments of uuughh for others. Small moments of kindness and transformation. This or nothing.
But I knew I needed help. I needed to make community. I am fortunate enough to live in a family of musicians, but despite the best intentions, it can be hard to do things with your family. There is too much baggage and boundaries are too weak, even if love remains strong. Besides, what young musician wants to do something with dad? What we needed above all was a gifted catalyst from outside. But who would be kind enough to put themselves in the middle of such a project?
Our friend Yvonne certainly has the giftedness. She has even done poetry collaborations before;
Yesterday we got together to see how it would feel. My lad Will joined us on guitar and vocals. I read poetry whilst they wove sounds and then slid into song.
I can only describe what happened by saying one word.
And so the advent journey comes towards its apotheosis. Thankyou to those who have made the journey with us.
We have not put up a tree this year…untill today.
It will not be a traditional spruce, we will follow a recent tradition of choosing some bare branches from a birch or willow the woods at the bottom of our garden. Emily is always a little disparaging, calling it our ‘twig’, but I love it for several reasons.
I love the fact that we are bringing something inside the house from just outside.
I love the fact that no tree has died to make our Christmas celebration more decorative. Birch and willow adapted to the activities of large herbivores, mostly not here any more- the giant elk and the hairy elephants that tore through these parts when the woods were wild. removing a few branches just encourage these trees to coppice.
I love that we are doing this on Christmas eve, to mark both the first incarnation (creation) and the second one in the form of Emmanuel.
I love too that this is a tree in winter, without leaves, but with tiny buds. It is a tree that reminds me that what is now dark will find the light once more.
Everything was created through him; nothing—not one thing!— came into being without him. What came into existence was Life, and the Life was Light to live by. The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness; the darkness couldn’t put it out.
John chapter 1, from the message
A couple of days ago, I tried to describe the first incarnation as the Great Becoming, starting with the great explosion of love that was the Big Bang.
Perhaps we might describe this second incarnation as the Great Compassion, in which what was zoomed out was now zoomed right in. What was distant was now near. What was heavenly was now human.
On this Christmas eve, it is appropriate to allow space for wonder.
It is appropriate to speak of this great mystery that we call God.
I hope you have enjoyed this little ‘conspiracy’ as much as I have. It has been lovely to share this space with different voices whose words took me places I would otherwise not have gone. Thanks so much to Bob, Graham, Steve B, Yvonne and Steve P for your thoughtfulness and companionship.
All of which made me think about how we encounter other voices, other thinking. It occured to me that our social-media-shaped brains are increasingly innoculated against other views. Rather than freeing our brains for exploration and encounter, the internet seems to have set us up as oppositional avotars, whose purpose is to find the error in the ways of the other, not to listen and learn. Even when I try to NOT do this – to not engage – my brain still falls into familliar comfortable groves, thrilling to the failure of my intellectual/religious/political enemies…
…who are mostly not enemies at all, just people with a different perspectives, doing their best to make sense of the complex broken world in which we live.
Advent could easily be a version of the same in which we wait only for what we know, from those who are from our tribe. This would certainly be a comfortable experience, but it seems to me that this would not do justice to the radical disruption that always seems to happen wiht the coming of the light.
I was thinking too about the head/heart thing.
Increasingly I appreciate how an encounter with anything that matters is whole-body. In other words, when I am fully engaged, I feel it in my bones, my gristle, my heart. This is a very different kind of engagement than an intellectual titilation, in which I strengthen my own ego by bolstering my sense of intellectual agency.
In my limited experience, these kinds of embodied encounters are typically about two things;
1. Compassion – when we feel deeply drawn to the heart of another
2. Mysticism – when we sense the undefinable mystery that I will call ‘the divine’
Head and heart. I often find it difficult to go beyond the first, but I am getting better at the second.