Growing [The Grace of Waiting 1]

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“I am caterpillar. The leaves I eat taste bitter. But dimly I sense a great change coming. What I offer you humans is my willingness to dissolve and transform. I do that without knowing what the end-result will be.” – Joanna Macy, John Seed, Pat Flemming, Arne Moss.

Each month for the next few months I will be sharing some thoughts from a wonderful book I’ve been reading called ‘When the heart waits’ by Sue Monk Kidd. I’m accompanying this with some photos of caterpillars, cocoons and butterflies I took in my Cape Town garden last year. I hope you’ll join me for the journey.

Deep within us there is a longing to grow and become a new creature

but we possess an equally strong compulsion to remain the same.

We waver unpredictably between clinging and letting go.

Apparently, as surprising as it sounds,

some caterpillars resist the process of spinning a chrysalis,

clinging to their larval life longer than their peers.

They put off surrender to the cocoon until the following spring,

postponing their transformation a year or more.

This clinging state of being is called ‘diapause’.

We can all live in diapause in our journey of transformation

when we cling on to the self we know.

Even a broken and false self seems safer than an unknown transformed one.

“We fear it is all we have. Even its sufferings are familiar and we clutch them because their very familiarity is comforting… yet so long as we aim at the maintenance of this present self, as we now conceive it, we cannot enter the larger selfhood which is pressing for life.” – Daniel Day Williams

The word ‘clinging’ comes from the Anglo-Saxon word ‘clingan’, which means ‘shrink’. As we cling to the way it’s been, it creates a shrinking within the soul. A shrinking of possibility and growth.

Thomas Merton writes about two levels of the process of ‘letting go’, or surrendering fully to God. The first is an active work, letting go of the things we recognise that we depend on more than God: our ability to succeed; our ability to keep other people happy; our attempts to live a significant life in our own efforts. Releasing all we have clung to for meaning, success, security and validation. Releasing not only the images we have of ourselves but the ones others have of us too. We pray, we turn loose. And maybe this is where some of us stop.

The second level, he suggests, is needed to tackle deeper, more unconscious patterns. At that stage we need to trust the initiative into the hands of God, allowing God to work directly on our more ingrained attachments we have to our old ways of being. Allowing God to release us through experiences, encounters and events that come to us, and being attentive to his work in us. We are called then to let go even of our frantic attempts to let go, giving up our self efforts and allowing God to draw us forward.

“It takes courage to let go and yield yourself to the changes that take place in the chrysalis. It takes courage to become who you are. But the opposite of courage isn’t only fear but security. Security can be a denial of life. Total security eliminates all risk. And where there’s no risk, there’s no becoming; and where there’s no becoming, there’s no real life. The real spiritual sojourners- the ones who touch the edges of life as well as the centre – are the people who risk, who let go.” Sue Monk Kidd follows this by reminding us that Jesus told his would be disciples to sell all they had and follow him. If you lose your life for my sake, you will find it, he said. We have to risk everything in order to gain everything.

I will wind up this post by recounting a childrens story Sue Monk Kidd mentions about Yellow the caterpillar.

Yellow came upon a gray-haired caterpillar who told her about becoming a butterfly. “But how do you become one?” she asked.

“You must want to fly so much that you are willing to give up being a caterpillar,” he said.

“You mean to die?” asked Yellow.

“Yes and no,” he answered. “What looks like you will die but what’s really you will still live.”

 

Monk Kidd shares with us a prayer from her own heart in a season of change.

“To be fully human, fully myself

To accept all that I am, all that you envision,

This is my prayer.

Walk with me out to the rim of my life,

Beyond security.

Take me to the exquisite edge of courage

And release me to become.”

 

So I wonder, whether like the caterpillar you are sensing a change coming, longing for growth and to become a new creature, to become more truly yourself. Instead of shrinking back or clinging on, dare we step out from the security of known ways of being, into the risk of who we could become? Do we have the courage to let go, to surrender to the cocoon and the transformation without fully knowing yet what the end result will be? Because maybe it’s only as we release all that we’ve depended on for security and validation, and trust ourselves to God, attentive to his work in us, that what we look like may die and what’s really us will live.

This post is based on Chapter 5 ‘Letting go’, in the book ‘When the heart waits’ by Sue Monk Kidd and some parts are directly quoted from there. I highly recommend the book for seasons of change and waiting in our lives. It has been an invaluable companion for me through hard times over the past 18 months.

Woodland revelations

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Outsides bleached by the sun,

insides shattered and exposed, firey ochre and amber,

limbs strewn on the ground

lifeless and sharp

debris from a storm long ago

and from a harsh axe.

My view is dominated immediately infront of me

by the dead wood and bare ground.

Just as my mind and heart

can focus on what’s lost

and what I don’t yet have.

But now

I sink my weight into the solidness

of the tree at my back

and breathe.

I look to my side

to see intricate layers of patterned bark

and a tiny fragile ant

scaling the impossible landscape.

I lift my eyes

to watch an agile, fearless squirrel

scamper in high branches.

Lift my eyes further

to the towering mountain

above the canopy.

Dramatic craggy surfaces of majestic proportion.

Hurrying clouds skimming it’s summits.

Bright sun on the far slopes.

In the same way

I’m reminded to notice the good

that’s not always in my immediate sight,

to lift my eyes

to notice the blessings

of what I do have.

In this moment.

Being present to gratitude.

Rich blessings.

Generosity and kindness

of my Heavenly Father

in a myriad of ways

that sometimes escape my immediate line of vision

but take intention to see and give thanks.

I’ve been learning it’s good and right

to acknowledge the dead wood and the bare ground,

to be honest and vulnerable with ourselves, God and others.

To grieve loss.

But ultimately not to let it dominate the view

and distract from the mountain.

Gratitude is always an option

even in the midst of loss.

Copyright Hilary Murdoch 2015

 

 

The gentle invitation

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Dappled sunlight

falling on my arm,

gentle breeze,

a glimpse of the mountain,

through glowing branches.

Birds cheerfully chirping in the trees,

the sound of water splashing in a fountain,

sun shining through the vine leaves above me

highlight the firey edges of autumn.

The smell of coffee and baking.

Here, in my happy place,

I tell you how I feel,

I choose honesty

over a stiff upper lip.

As I give up certain foods

I realise how much I turned to them for comfort.

I realise I’m stiff necked and slow

to turn to you for that comfort.

As I return to South Africa

I miss family and friends in the UK.

More time alone.

I realise how quickly I turn to people for comfort.

You invite me gently not to rush to fix the aloneness

but to look to you to be my constant companion.

Feels hard

Easier to pick up the phone.

As things seem uncertain and unfamiliar,

my things in cardboard boxes

both sides of the world;

living in a friend’s spare room, not my home;

a new season, not yet fully defined;

in this place, you invite me gently to turn to you

with certain hope and anticipation

that you are my rock and my certainty.

You remind me that wherever I am,

I can be ‘at home in your love’.*

As I struggle to articulate my life

and comparison knocks loudly at the door,

again you gently invite me to turn to you

knowing my significance, value and meaning

is rooted in you alone,

not in what people think of me

or whether I’m doing things

that I or others define as ‘significant’.

You tell me your word is a light to my feet.

Not a search light to see the whole road ahead

but a flickering candle in a lantern

only enough light for the very next step

and that step was to return.

You invite me to place my hand in yours

and I know it’s true

(even when it doesn’t feel true)

that it is safer than a known way.

I guess it’s true you have more patience with me

than I have with myself.

For a short while I live in lack

and tears come

not recognising the person

standing close by my side

who can meet me in every place of need.

Who can be my everything.

* John 15:9 “Make yourselves at home in my love.”

The space between loss and hope

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Reading these beautiful words from ‘Abbey of the Arts’ about Holy Saturday really struck a chord with me today.

“I love the wide space of Holy Saturday that lingers between the suffering and death of Jesus on Friday and the vigil Saturday night proclaiming the return of the Easter fire. For me, Holy Saturday evokes much about the human condition—the ways we are called to let go of things or people, identities or securities and then wonder what will rise up out of the ashes of our lives. The suffering that we experience because of pain or grief or great sorrow and we don’t know if we will ever grasp joy again. Much of our lives rest in that space between loss and hope. Our lives are full of Holy Saturday experiences.”

You can read the full blog post here.

Peace – In this broken world

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This beautiful South African song expresses what I wrote in my last post, and is also so appropriate for Good Friday. Have a read of the translation of the lyrics below.

Cape Town Youth Choir (formerly Pro Cantu) – “Ukuthula”

Translation:

Ukuthula – Peace

In this (broken) world of trouble
The blood of Jesus flowed (so that you could have:)

Ukuthula – Peace
Usindiso – Redemption
Ukubonga – Praise
Ukutholwa – Faith
Ukunqoba – Victory
Induduzo – Comfort

————–
Purchase this track on their album “Forever Young”:

https://itunes.apple.com/za/album/ukuthula/id603615325?i=603615699

Website: http://www.ctyc.co.za
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CapeTownYouthChoir
Twitter: https://twitter.com/capetownchoir
iTunes: http://bit.ly/ctyc-itunes
Google Play Music: http://bit.ly/ctyc-google-play

South African Traditional
Conductor: Leon Starker
Soloist: Astrid Joseph
Live recording in St. George’s Cathedral, Cape Town (21 Aug 2011)

Stick with the pain a while – Good Friday

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I’ve just read a wonderful blog post by Sarah Kewly Hyde about how to deal with pain. I thought it was pretty relevant to share on Good Friday, when we are asked to wait a while with grief and not rush to Sunday too quickly. She writes about not rushing from our own pain and grief, otherwise we just repress it and store up trouble for later.

I’ve been really challenged on that recently – challenged to write emotional rants to God on scraps of paper which I will rip up and chuck (I realised my journal was getting a bit sanatised for fear of someone reading it one day!). Giving time to expressing my emotions, even when they are ugly. Reminding myself that God loves me as much in that space as when I’m feeling hunky dory. I sometimes then take a new page in my journal and start the page ‘My dear daughter Hilary’….and then write what comes to mind as a letter to me from God. And sometimes what comes is of great comfort and truely does seem to be from Him.

Sarah also writes about being present with those in pain and not rushing away for fear of not knowing what to say. I couldn’t agree more. Also something I’ve really learnt in my own life and actually wish I’d known earlier.

She mentions this passage in Isaiah, a verse God has really spoken to me through, in terms of finding treasures of revelation and intimacy with Him, hidden in the dark secret places of pain and struggle. Which is a different and new take on that verse for me.

“I will give you hidden treasures, riches stored in secret places,
so that you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, who summons you by name.” Isaiah 45:3.

Another theme that echos what I believe God’s been teaching me is that God never promised us an easy life with no trouble, in fact Jesus promised us there will be trouble (John 16:33). When there is trouble, it’s not evidence that God is not good or personal, it’s evidence that the world is broken and evil is present, as the bible says it is. Let’s be angry with evil rather than angry with God. Although he can take it if we are angry with him. He’d rather we wrestle with him than walk away from him. In fact he called his people ‘wrestles with God’ (the meaning of ‘Israel’) so that’s the amazing kind of relationship we’re invited into with him. He’s not distant and unquestionable but close and wanting us to engage with him. (I would emphasise that I don’t believe God brings pain or suffering to teach us lessons, its Satan who comes to steal, kill and destroy.)

So he doesn’t promise a trouble free life but what he does promise us is that he will be with us in trouble and that he will give us peace in the midst of it. And I for one have experienced those promises to be true.

Having said all that I am definitely a believer in Jesus’ power to bring transformation and healing, I’ve seen it in many people’s lives including my own. And of course we move towards that but sometimes we need to pause to be real along the way.

In her post she writes:

“Tragic, awful things happen to good people all the time. We need to get our heads around that. Life is not fair. Some people have an endless rollercoaster of heartbreak, others skip through with a platinum credit card, a fabulous job, a model family. But always, always God is present. To me, and to the Syrian orphan in the refugee camp. The one we serve didn’t get off the cross until he was done – until God’s will was worked out. That’s the blueprint for dealing with pain: stay with it until God says it’s done. We can’t rush these things. And know that as well as the promise of presence, after the agony of the cross came the healing and wholeness of new life.”

I highly recommend reading the whole post here.

The other thing I would recommend which has helped me hugely is a series of sermons at St Barnabas Kensington, London on going through tough times in February 2015, particularly ‘wrestling with God’ and ‘Desert’. http://www.stbk.org.uk/Media/AllMedia.aspx

Entering as a baby

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This Christmas I’ve been thinking about how surprising it is (if we reflect afresh, ignoring the familiarity of the story) that Jesus did not come as a powerful king with a palace, riches and an army. He didn’t have to enter the world as a baby but he chose to. As I look into the eyes of the babies in my life, I’m struck by their powerlessness and dependency on their parents. How radical and shocking that the creator and king of the universe chose to enter the world like that. Chosing to strip away all power and privilege he had every right to claim, to be a vulnerable baby to an unmarried mother. Born to a family travelling away from home, with no place to stay and then fleeing for their lives, refugees if you like.

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Even as a grown man he was a homeless wanderer, a controversial vagrant who owned nothing and encouraged his disciples to also go out into the world with no bag or possessions. He chose to hang out with people on the edge of society, the people others shamed and rejected. He didn’t do anything to elevate or justify himself in the eyes of others, in fact quite the opposite. He was not a king who dominated people but who chose to serve and invited his followers to do the same. He didn’t demand obedience but invited people to walk with him.

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If we look at Jesus as a person and if he is the exact representation of God as he claimed to be, it gives a very different view of God than if we take our view of God from the fallen and broken groups of ‘religious people’, who obviously and continuously get it wrong and misrepresent His heart, as we all do.

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So I’ve been thinking, for us who follow him and seek to emulate him in our lives, maybe we shouldn’t hold onto entitlements to a steady life, comfort, wealth, people’s good opinions or worldly power/influence. He could have chosen to have all those things but instead chose a life with none of them. That in itself is such a challenge to me. What am I expecting from life and are those expectations consistent with emulating the one I claim to follow?

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