Tag Archives: transformation

Stolen [The Grace of Waiting 3]

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One day, as I glanced at the many cocoons attached to the wall in my garden, waiting for butterflies to emerge, I observed a fascinating phenomenon that made me look closer and got me thinking. A scary looking big flying ant, with bulging orange back legs was crawling over one of the cocoons and the cocoon, far from being a dead hollow coffin that I expected, was like a person in a sleeping bag, thrashing and wiggling aggressively to get the ant off. I was so intrigued. Did the creature inside, mid transformation between a caterpillar and a butterfly (a butterpillar maybe?!), know instinctively that this flying ant was dangerous to it in some way and knew it needed to be resisted? Eventually the butterpillar won and the flying ant flew away, its evil intent, whatever that was, frustrated for now, the cocoon returning to its normal still state.

Days later I returned to the wall of transformation in my garden to inspect progress and saw with excitement lots of empty cocoons on the wall. But as I looked closer I saw that they weren’t all the same. There were many flimsy white and black ones where the cocoon had been split open completely, along the natural lines of the structure, as a butterfly had fought free. But there were some burnt orange ones which on even closer inspection revealed a small round hole near the base of each cocoon. A sinister looking hole, clearly not made by an exiting butterfly. I tried to research it but didn’t come up with much (if you can solve the mystery do let me know). I don’t fully know what happens biologically to result in the butterpillar’s transformation process being interrupted, aborted, stolen. Maybe the flying ant, or something else, cuts a hole and eats what’s inside, or inserts eggs inside and the eggs grow into something that steals what’s inside before cutting a hole to escape. I’m not sure of the details but I feel sure that whatever it is that’s happened, those orangey cocoons with the little circular holes are not how it’s supposed to be, that something precious has been stolen and the transformation intended has not been completed.

This may seem a gruesome analogy, and it’s not in Sue Monk Kidd’s book but the physical phenomenon I saw was so striking that it got me thinking about our own transformation processes in waiting. It made me think, sometimes our waiting process is interrupted, aborted or stolen and the fullness of transformation is not gained.

Maybe our waiting season is rushed and truncated by the judgments and criticism of our quick-o-holic and productivity obsessed society. You may be called selfish and lazy or self-indulgent. ‘What are you waiting for? Just do something!’ Maybe we feel the invitation to a truer, more whole self but maybe we suppress it, unwilling to engage with the painful process of allowing our false selves to be stripped away. Maybe we face a crisis and instead of letting it be an invitation to a deeper journey we move swiftly on, trying to put on a brave face.

I know that last year, in one of the hardest seasons of my life, probably a combination of grief and burn-out which I had to ‘wait out’, I distinctly remember saying to God, “I know you probably think this is somehow good for me but just for the record, I’m not enjoying it!” I was desperate to be ‘back to my old self’, desperate to be strong again. I wanted to by-pass the waiting, the deep work God was doing. But my wise friend reassured me that it wouldn’t last forever and kept encouraging me to ask how I could cooperate with what God seemed to be inviting me to, which was a greater dependence on Him. She also said that maybe the aim wouldn’t be to get back to my ‘old self’ and maybe coming out the other side I might not be able to be as ‘strong’ as I was before, but maybe that was part of the process of being more dependent on God and more aware of my weakness and vulnerability. She was right of course, but it was hard to receive at the time.

So sometimes we ourselves can abort our own waiting process, or allow others to pull us out of it. But sometimes it’s more than that. It’s clear to me that the enemy of our souls despises and resists transformation in us to become more like Christ. Not just because he’s evil but because he fears the fullness of who we’ll become. In the bible it talks about the enemy being like a prowling lion seeking to devour the life in us (1 Peter 5:8). In those seasons of waiting we may feel unable to resist attack, weakened by the process. But our waiting needs to be attentive and alert; peaceful yes, but not passive. We need to realise that He who is in us (Christ) is way more powerful than he who is in the world (the enemy and his schemes) (1 John 4:4). We don’t have to be afraid of anything the enemy throws at us, in God’s strength we can resist him.

Yes we need to engage with our emotions and process them in the presences of God, not rushing to fix the pain, but the enemy would love to pile a bunch of other heavy stuff on top of that like bitterness, self-pity and isolation. Whispering lies to us that we’ve been abandoned or are worthless, and lies about who God is and whether he’s really good. It’s those things we need to be alert to and resist, like the butterpillar in its sleeping bag wiggling aggressively to shake the flying ant off and to stop it boring a hole in its cocoon to steal the transformation potential.

For those of us who feel God’s invited us into a waiting season, we need to be alert to anything, inside ourselves or outside that might abort or steal the fullness of the transformation that is the fruition of the season. We need to intentionally protect the process so its work in us can be completed, in God’s timing, not our own.

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© Hilary Murdoch. All rights reserved 2015

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.

Opening

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Like a tight bud, inside a green sheath
Like a tap firmly twisted shut
Like a door, locked and bolted
Like the hard packed soil after winter
My heart and spirit can be closed
Guarded, protected, safe
Layers of resistance
Wanting everything planned, controlled, tied up
Hiding in the comfort of the known
Fighting the call to growth and change
in my desire for security
Stuck in fixed expectations
Clinging to what I believe is unchangeable
Not wanting the status quo disrupted
Suspicious of others motives
Defensive, holding myself back
Easily offended, disgruntled, anxious
Critical and finding fault
Feeling angry, prevailed upon, misunderstood
Afraid of being hurt
Afraid of what people may think
Afraid of getting it wrong
Seeing the worst not the best
Noticing the mud not the gold
Like hard packed soil
So hard that the life giving rains can’t soak in

Like a blossoming flower, opening to the warm sunlight
Like a tap turned on, water free flowing
Like a door flung wide, to welcome in
Like soil, ploughed and turned over, ready for watering and planting
My heart and spirit can be open
Open to awe, to wonder, to surprise
Eyes to recognise God in my everyday
Receptive to love
Ready for change and growth
Eager for transformation
Open to my own emotions of tears or joy
Believing I can change and rise above my past
Seeing potential in others for growth and healing
Seeing situations with eyes of hope, things as they can be
Quick to praise and affirm
Deep security that’s unshakable
Welcoming the new, the different
Willing to step into the unknown and seemingly insecure for a season
Releasing my preconceptions
Letting go of my own agendas
Listening, expectant
Constantly amazed by the beauty in life
Seeing joy beyond the challenges
Heart open to a touch of God in places I didn’t expect to find him
Unthreatened by questions that seem to have no answer
Choosing to trust
Like soil, ploughed and turned over
Open to be watered by the surprising grace of God

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If you are in the mood for reflection read on…

In your life
Where have you been closed?
Where have you been open?
What has the fruit of that been?

Where do you see signs of growth, hope and change in you life?

Are there areas where you are resisting growth, change or something new?

Do you want to be more open in any of those areas?

How can you be more open in different situations and relationships in your life?

This coming week, maybe we all can practice having eyes to see joy, surprise, hope and beauty in the everyday.

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These are my thoughts after reading the ‘Watered Gardens’ chapter in a wonderful book of reflections by Joyce Rupp (which I highly recommend) called ‘May I have this dance’.

 

All poems and original writing on this blog are Copyright © Hilary Murdoch 2013

Tale of two wells

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I am re-posting this story written by Craig Stewart from The Warehouse, it really speaks a profound truth about ‘development’.

One for the road—- Tale of two wells

I recently had the privilege of visiting the Mwanza region of Tanzania to learn about a church mobilisation and transformation programme called Umoja which is being implemented in various parts of Tanzania and is proving very successful. It was an inspiring trip and one story I was told by Justin Nyamonga, the Tearfund Director for Tanzania, has stuck with me as a picture of transformation rather than simply charity.

It is the story of water wells being built in two communities. In one community a coalition of large multinational NGOs had partnered with a local Diocese to build wells in villages that clearly needed them. They had a sound strategic plan, strong staff and sufficient funds and could build the wells very effectively. The other community had been mobilised through their church with minimal external funding and had identified the need for a well themselves. They’d found the resources to build a simple well, it had taken time and hadn’t involved a bunch of well-educated outsiders.

A year after the wells were built both communities happened to be visited by the local Bishop. In the donor-funded village the well wasn’t working anymore as it had broken and been shutdown by the local representative. When asked why they hadn’t done anything to fix it, the answer amounted to “your well, your problem”. In the other village a local committee had been established to oversee the well and each person paid a small fee to draw water, which was then placed into a maintenance fund. “Our well, our problem.” Enough said.

– Craig Stewart, The Warehouse.