Worship is relationship

I was taken to church weekly as a child. Reciting the creed was part of life, and believing it was part of my identity. I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of Heaven and Earth, and of all things visible and invisible… So when in 2010 I no longer believed, that was painful as my identity was remade against my will. It felt that I still believed, sometimes. Yet when in February 2011 I was touristing around the south coast having admitted to myself that I did not believe in an Eternal God, creator, outside time but in some way a Person, I went into a church to admire the building and was forced to my knees by the holiness of it. My heart had been opened by the Hoffman Process and I was in a strange place, open to remaking my identity, new and greater understanding, accepting feelings which had not fitted my world view or self-image before.

The world is not as I thought it is. Perhaps you have had such experiences, or will have, or else have a smoother, less painful, way of learning and integrating learning.

The field where Greenbelt is held each year is eldritch at all times, and magical during the festival. I don’t know where the tree was, only that I was unaware of it until a broad leaf almost hit my face, and I jerked my head away, looking at it in shock- and then I was fully aware of it, the beauty of that leaf, and I was in relationship with the tree, I-thou with it, seeing, appreciating, loving. There are spirits, naiads and dryads, within feet of you at all thymes you are outside.

Slowly, the utterly magical spiritual experience, where I am aware of my surroundings or at one with them, merged with my quotidian experience, where I could move into awareness by touching a surface then appreciating it, entering fully into my sensation of it. Then my awareness expanded to my other sensations. — talked of repeatedly waking up: he would be walking along the street, then he would awaken into awareness and realise he had not been awake for a week. There was the dullness of going through the motions and ruminating on fantasy, then the quick sharp awareness of reality like fresh clear air among smog. And yesterday there was the millennium bridge, the fried nuts seller, the pigeon, those tourists, the River. The Cathedral. I was, there, in that space, at that moment.

(My judgment kicks in. Was it like that, really? That was how I saw the church at the time; and the tree was an intense experience, though only for an instant. And I am a story-teller, and these are my stories for you now.)

Freed from the idea of a God in some way separate from all things visible and invisible I have moved towards the idea of worship as relationship, which seems more valuable. I turn outwards. There is Me and everything else, or Not-me, and I contemplate it. Me and Not-me, or me in Not-me, something greater than myself, inexplicable, inexorable, with Love Wrath and Indifference mixed. “Before the Big Bang God lit the blue touch-paper, and advanced.” God is in everything. Rationally I am non-theist, emotionally I am theist: I cannot believe in a creator of this Universe which fits the Christian ideas I learned, yet being in relationship with Not-me fits how I am made.

God is that which is Not-me. God is in me. God is our relationship. This organism, being and growing, perceiving, relating, and also second-guessing, doubting, ruminating, has moments relating to the world and seeing itself. That is worship, a time devoted to truth.

(c) Manchester City Galleries; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Greenbelt encounters

I got recognised. “You did a talk last year, didn’t you?” asked the person sitting next to me. She had enjoyed it. How wonderful to make an impression on someone like that!

I really enjoyed meeting Kirsty. She was walking up the path as I was leaving my tent for the Eucharist. We talked deeply, enjoyed the sun together, and without irony she expressed admiration for my wisdom. I can’t remember anything we talked about. I saw her again just as I was leaving, and we hugged warmly. She is a lovely person, and found me a lovely person. With another, I enjoyed getting my reference understood- I had “seen a cloud no bigger than a man’s hand”.

At Greenbelt, we consecrate the bread and wine together. We are worshipping, we become one body, but we need no priest or leader to do that, just the whole group of several thousand people. I raised my hand in blessing of the bread and wine- the priest’s physical action is much like a healer channelling Qi- and we share it among ourselves. We danced and we sang and we heard a teenager preach through a speech device she programs through eye movements, as she was starved of oxygen at birth. She quoted Daniel 7:9-

an Ancient One took his throne;
his clothing was white as snow,
and the hair of his head like pure wool;
his throne was fiery flames,
and its wheels were burning fire.

God- in a wheelchair!! She was delighted to find God in her image in the Bible. God is us, and we are God: God is trans as well, the Father gathering us under Motherly wings. We are acceptable before God.

As I was packing up my tent, a man was walking by on the path, so I asked him to help me roll it up. “Are we folding it in half?” he asked. No, we are folding it from one end, about 2’6″ wide folds, then rolling up the folded tent. It is so much more efficient when you have one person each side, folding it inwards, dashing back and forth to do that is a pain. I roll the tent round the inner tent and the poles, but officiously he started to roll it up by itself, ponderously, forcing out the air. He was taking charge, diminishing me by looking after me. “You’ll have to dry it out later, or it will be smelly,” he warned. Well, that’s my decision. The rain had dried off in sunshine, the underside was not damp, I thought, it will be hard to roll up again if there is a breath of wind. He was talking down to me.

In the marquee, where the actors were preparing for their show, I looked over the shoulder of one into the mirror. Yuk. I have an old wig on, it is squashed flat, and its look displeases me. I push vaguely at the front, then move away.

“You’ll need to spend some time on that,” says a woman. She judges I have no idea how to present my hair, and starts to educate me. I could push it behind my ears, she tells me. That means I notice my own grey hair, and it looks more like a hat plonked on my head rather than my hair, I feel. What I said was, I was self-conscious about the tabs above my ears. “Oh, nobody notices those,” she said. My concerns don’t matter. She will show me what to do. She showed me in her own hair how it was fine around the temples, and how she had had to draw it forward to conceal that. I back-comb the front of my wig with my fingers, and it plumps out a bit. “That does not look too bad,” she says. It’s good enough. I want to take it off, possibly will drop it on the floor, and did not want to take my human hair wig. I don’t need to look impeccably groomed. I still got recognised, and given the microphone to speak from the floor.

Christian Science

I thoughtChristian Science was about Christianity for scientists, then I heard it was much nuttier than that. It has to get over beliefs like this- Has it? Can it?

The Founder, Mary Baker Eddy, wrote, The rich in spirit help the poor in one grand brotherhood, all having the same Principle, or Father; and blessed is that man who seeth his brother’s need and supplieth it, seeking his own in another’s good. She wrote Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures in 1875 that sickness is an illusion that can be cured by faith alone. Such can be deduced from certain Bible verses, such as “Be perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect” and “God created humankind in his image”. If we are perfect, in the image of God, we cannot be sick. People tried to convince themselves that they were not sick.

I hear the anger this belief still engenders sixty years after my friend ceased to believe it, aged 12. Her father had migraines, and tried to believe they were not there. Her parents read Eddy’s book, understanding the Bible through it.

How is it Science? Because God is understood to be unchanging Love—the infinite Principle that is constant, universal, inclusive, eternal, the only true power and source of all good. It explains the spiritual laws of Love that enabled Jesus to heal sickness and sin. This divine Science also answers our fundamental questions about evil, reality, and eternal life. And as the word science implies, it is reliable, consistent, and provable, bringing healing to individuals and humanity through a deeper understanding of God. It isn’t, in other words: the term sounded good. Mary Baker Eddy turned wholeheartedly to God when she experienced a critical injury in 1866. As she read accounts of Jesus’ swift, powerful healings, a new sense of God, Spirit, as the only reality flooded her thought and healed her. Impelled to understand the Principle behind this experience, she continued to search for and find in the Bible the underlying laws of God that would form the basis of her teaching and practice of Christian Science. One coincidence or delusion for one charismatic, persuasive woman, and people throw out real medicine. Children have died and parents been convicted of neglect because of it.

It would be so lovely, if only it were true.

Our true nature is spiritual, Eddy decided. No. We are animals, physical creatures. If I am tired I need to sleep. They still teach that if we accept and believe Jesus’ promises, follow his teachings and understand his spiritual laws (as explained by Ms Eddy) we will be healed- so if we are ill, it is our fault.

The fulfilled life

What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace?

This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.

I had heard of the God-shaped hole, but found the quote at this comment. I must read Pascal.

Quakers would say there is that of God in everyone. It is one of our creedal statements. For us, it is not a matter of inviting God in, but letting God out. However that inner God made demands upon people, and when one demand was fulfilled, God asked more. I cannot remember enough detail to google- if Quakers remember the story, perhaps they could say the name- but recall a man asked to be truthful in all he said, including in his business, and not wanting to go so far along the road, because it would hamper him in making a living, he thought. Then he went that far, and was truthful, and God asked more.

He found the blessing in it. Not ducking and diving and trying to trick others, we found that our reputation for honesty was an advantage in business, and when we could not go to University, we could still make a good living.

I have decided. I am not altruistic. I am not good (you do not have to be good…) nor do I want to be. I love helping, reconciling, because I want to build community. I want my nice, safe Support Network. I got that jargon from Service Users, as the mental health support teams call us. If I imagined I was “good”, I might imagine that was the way to be good, and resent others for not being “good” in the same way; if I imagined I was “altruistic” I might resent others for not being grateful enough. Building connection in the insane world I find myself in is hard enough, coming to this understanding has been hard enough, through different understandings which may be better or worse, and I may move to other understandings. God is not in my understanding expressed in words but in my knowing, as the goose’s honk communicates without words.

I want to survive, I have never felt safe, I feel pulled in different directions, I judge my acts so am divided against myself. A house divided cannot stand. The verbal understanding, where my judge lives, cannot overcome the feeling animal.

In that comment thread, Sonel also said, Men think logically. Women think through emotions. And I thought, Yay! Affirmation! I am a woman! Then Roughseas went and spoiled it. My neurotic judging and questioning does not help.

If there is a fulfilled life-

you see here am I postulating it. I name my desire. I pursue my desire, from the heart of me, and that is fulfilment. And stuff gets in the way, and I get peeved and resent being peeved, for I should be fulfilled. Would not it be nice? Er-

I write here of subordinating rational thought in words to emotional response. Possibly reconciling them to work together is the answer. Or something else. I am a work in progress. If it were easy, it would not be so interesting.

I wrote this on 5 January, before my last two posts. What a way I have come in a week!

Murillo, The Immaculate Conception of the Venerable Ones

God is reality

God is that Reality which I cannot see because of my illusions, false hope and false despair. We do not see, because of our cognitive biases: we imagine patterns in random events and seek out evidence which appears to confirm our illusions; we cling to false understandings about reality, because reality is too frightening. We have intense desire. We fall in love. Behind our imaginings, we have a sense that there is something outside us, something bigger than us, something implacable, which I choose to call God.

I am aware that other people have their own feelings and motivation, and I have two ways of understanding these. The first is my unconscious, wordless empathy, from millions of years of primate evolution as social species, and the second is my conscious verbalised understanding, how I assign word-symbols to perceptions and experiences precipitated by events external to me, though how closely my understanding approximates to what is actually happening may vary.

It is strongly tempting to identify “me” with that conscious part, though conscious and unconscious motivations and perceptions interact in a complex dance. So my desire to transition, and my resistance to transition, wrestled mostly below consciousness, and while I believed consciously that consciously I knew myself, I did not. I did not know what made me happy. I did not know the depth of my self-hatred, and even now I lacerate myself.

I detest the idea of Substitutionary Atonement- that God was filled with wrath for humanity, because of our original sin, yet provided Jesus as a pure sacrifice to God, to take our punishment. It seems ridiculous; yet it unites the Wrath and Love of God in one understanding as few Christians may: we err on one side or the other. God is Wrath: we forget reality, and it bites us, as in the story of the Rich Fool; and God is Love, for we fit, here, in our society so beautifully that it can accommodate our failure, stupidity and misperception. Jesus calls us to see reality and shed our illusion; and promises that Heaven is Here, for all who will hear his voice.

And so I engage in spiritual work, according to the Way which human beings have found, which we attempt to teach each other. I sit in silence in the Quaker meeting to encounter Reality and my fellow human beings, and find that what is unconscious in me comes to consciousness, and my understanding of reality improves.

Because I know in part, my understanding is insufficient and self-contradictory; perhaps when at its best it is paradoxical, better expressed in poetry; and clinging to false understanding is Suffering, though accepting unknowing can be intensely painful. For no situation is the same as any other: always we begin again, seeking to understand what is rather than how we might like it to be. And Christians see truth, and pass it on: “Live adventurously”. “The Spirit is the source of strength and guidance for all we are and do.”

William Blake, Night startled by the lark


At Greenbelt, I met an angel. That is the only way I have to describe her.

She is ordained as an Anglican priest, and is without a parish, working as a prison chaplain. She is a channel for the love of God to the men in her care. We agreed how there is spiritual reality, but the words we use to describe it often just get in the way: the church quarrels and faffs about the precise words used, but the things described circle but do not touch the spiritual reality beyond. So we shed our illusions, and see reality for ourselves, and might be able to share our experience with others who have had them too; but it is so difficult with those yet to have them.

The other prison chaplain gives clear guidance, which a man who has suffered a chaotic lifestyle may value. One of their parishioners became a Born-Again Christian, clear that the Bible might be known and give a clear understanding of God’s will for human living. One of the easiest ways of reaching a state of mindfulness or presence is to be submerged in beauty- Heaven in a wild flower, as Blake saw. However there is little immediately recognisable beauty in a prison. You may see beauty in a rusting table-leg, but it helps to see it in a tree first.

She gave him a copy of Brian Cox’s book Wonders of the Universe. Then she saw him again, and he had got it: he had seen the beauty in that book. Writing, now, I am aware that my words give a facile, misleading account of the experience. She was sharing with me one of her delights, one of her successes, in a job where she must have great dollops of yuck; slow progress or apparent sterile stasis for damaged men. I believe this man has a more complex understanding of how reality is, beyond the certainties of the conservative Evangelical. I have the advantage of having looked into her face as she told of it.

I felt her love as she told me, and showed my love to her. We hugged. Before, I had given her Advices and Queries, and declaimed from it.

I was outside the tent around 11.30 when a thick cloud, moving fast across the sky, which had been between us and the moon suddenly wasn’t, leaving a patch of clearness. It was as if the light had suddenly been switched on. I saw Terry clearly, and his clear shadow.

Luca Giordano, Youth tempted by the Vices

Experiment with Light

The Light is that power which illuminates, guides and strengthens us, which some of us call “God”. It can never be known from ratiocination, only experience. In the Experiment with Light (EwL) we sit in a circle in a guided meditation, and individually access the Light, or God, or the subconscious, which guides each of us with something in that person’s life, now. Today, it was mind-blowing.

After coffee and chatting, we gathered in the meeting room, and introduced ourselves. I said how that morning it had felt like reaching Enlightenment, and was actually a huge step forward. We had an introduction, and a practice of Centring:

Sit up straight, feet flat on the floor, hands folded in your lap. Tense all the muscles in your body, as tight as possible, then relax. Check feet, calves, thighs, for any sign of tension. Check your back and neck, which hold a great deal of our stress. Check that your head is properly balanced on your neck, pulling neither forward nor back. Relax your feelings and your mind. If there is any tension be aware of it and let it go. Be present.

After lunch and more chatting-
-Why was that business meeting so right?
-Because I allowed it to be, allowed us to be what we were.

we did the practice. It is in six stages:

Relax body and mind.
Let the real concerns of your life emerge.
Focus on one issue. Try to get a sense of this thing as a whole.
Ask what makes it like that.
Welcome it.
When you accept it, you will begin to feel different.

An image may come to you, or music, or sensations. F is not at all visual, so they explained there need be no visualisation.

I began to feel intense feelings: confusion, hurt, stress, tension, fear. I cried a little, I rocked a little, leaning forward so my chair would not creak. It seemed that I felt my feelings in turn, having time to identify each then move on to the next.

It then seemed that I got Answers. One was, I become that person I want to be– an impossible illusion.
Then, I was myself, just myself- but somehow sorted, not feeling like this. Again, illusion.
Then, I was me- like this, feeling that. Through me the gale of life blows high. I am safe enough, for the moment.

We finish. We have twenty minutes of silence, to mull it over, and may take notes, draw something, or go into the garden. I check my mascara has not run in the tears, and reapply my lipstick: all this contemplation is beautiful and worthwhile, but one has standards. I write some notes, then go into the garden and stare at a complex beautiful pink flower- not a camellia- then a tiny purple wild-flower. Then the brightly sunlit grass, the trees, and the other people.

We share. Godric does not want to come in to the small group.
-You’re very special, he said.
-I know! We grin like children.

Final discussion. This is not therapy, and can take you to dark difficult places, they say.

-I am particularly well supported at the moment, seeing my psychiatrist on Thursday and my psychotherapist on Friday; but when that is finished I will go on with the dark places, healing, because that is what I do. I cleanse out pus, which stinks, and is better gone; and I take off my shackles. Moving a limb long frozen is painful and difficult, but then it relaxes, the muscle stiffness and joint pain goes, and the limb dances. I am rarely comfortable, but always safe.

I was surprised Annie spoke so strongly in favour of Reason. Reason is all we have. How can we communicate what is in our hearts? All we have is words. Those terrorist attacks yesterday (Friday)- so someone was moved by God to behead someone? John Lampen says reason is a useful tool, not to be undervalued, but it has to be balanced with intuition. We may test the spirits, together.

You may feel tired after the EwL. It is deep work.

Several times I felt like saying, I was in a Light Group before. The others cancelled it after a few months. They said we had not got as deep as other groups did, and the problem was me. Perhaps they were right. I did not say it: I would have been asking for absolution, again. I can’t be sure, but it seems alright: I can be in a light group, I don’t need absolution.

Cranach, Judith and Holofernes V

A “Bad act”?

Human beings escape reality with drugs, alcohol, gambling. The addiction becomes compulsive, and those ten years clean might call themselves “recovering alcoholics”, knowing that the craving will never leave them. My glue-sniffing client managed to give up- but then his grandmother died, and in the stress he sought relief the only way he knew, and was caught again. A young alcoholic I knew found himself unable to keep anything down, even water. So he would stop drinking for a day, and as soon as he could swallow properly he would start drinking again. Even random instances of unconsciousness, not related to particularly high intoxication but to brain damage, did not deter him from the drink.

These cases are horrible, an awful warning. God help us.

God wants to help us, actually. I remember a verse because it was sung in a chorus:

There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ
For the spirit of life in Christ has set us free
||: Oh, he’s alive, he’s alive, he’s ALI-I-IVE :||
Praise the Lord!

We need to escape reality for a bit. All of us. Hugs are good for this, cuddles even better. Love builds us up and strengthens us so we need not escape reality but are strengthened to face it better. And so we have a God of Infinite Love! Perfect love drives out all fear.

But human churches find that threatening, and want to restrict it. God loves you, they say, but you have to obey our rules. The post was inspired by this exchange on Violet’s blog. Francis has to condemn. “Wrong is still wrong,” he says, portentously. If we do not obey his rules, we are the bad people, the outsiders, and God’s love is for God’s church and not for us. But God’s love is for everyone. Some Catholics see that: the monk at Turvey Abbey was lovely. Carl Rogers saw it, using Love- “Unconditional positive regard” sounds more scientific, but only just- as a therapeutic tool.

George Fox saw it: I saw, also, that there was an ocean of darkness and death; but an infinite ocean of light and love, which flowed over the ocean of darkness. In that also I saw the infinite love of God, and I had great openings. “Openings” here means new understandings, opened to him by the Spirit.

We should not be parsimonious guardians of God, doling out short measure of Love to those who measure up. Starving, then, they turn to escapes from reality. God’s love is for everyone! Aged 21 I wrote this verse.

Her husband, drunk, has cut his thumb, and covered the room in blood.
She sits with her head in her hand and greets, the poor bag’s given in.
Who can blame her for craving the warmth and peace of the local loony-bin?
But we have to stand on our own two feet, or stew in our own crud.
In the senile ward they make her bed
The dying amid the unquiet dead.

The kids have been pissing him off all day, he can’t take it any more.
That pool attendant laughs at him as the kids just mess about
So he burns his throat with The Famous Grouse and it blows his brains right out
“Din wanno be a nurse” he moans, as he staggers through the door
The four-year-old stands o’er the prostrate fool
and the pool attendant thinks, “Uncool”.

I cared, but did not know what to do. That stops some people caring.

Rublev Saviour

Meaning of Life

Something evanescent may still be beautiful. Life has meaning, though we die. The Earth itself will end.

Life has different meaning for each of us, least, perhaps, for the psychopath, who seeks it in stuff, and power, and safety, all lost with death. For me, the meaning is in understanding and acceptance of who I am and how the World and life are, so that death might seem like completion, finishing rather than stopping. Though I hope always to be ready for the next moment, until death come.

Staretz Zosima says, Humanity has been created for happiness
and the one who is wholly happy has a perfect right to say,
I have performed God’s will on Earth.

What do you feel, now? What do you want? What makes you happy? You, not some conventional thing you should want. Some find joy in helping others or in creating, some in friends and family. It need not be unusual or surprising, but it must evoke your heart’s Yes.

My religion helps me find meaning. God is Love, and Love one another is the great commandment. I believe in God- this is a pre-Enlightenment statement. It is not saying, I accept as true the factual proposition that God exists, but that I have trust, faith and confidence in God.

Long ago, that gave meaning to life, because I thought of God as a benevolent policeman in the sky, giving moral rules. That belief in rules gave me the structure and order in my world which I felt I needed. Fortunately, God healed me, and the healing has taken the form of self-acceptance, and that is the subject of this blog. Whatever God is doing about suffering generally, what God is doing about my suffering has taken 48 years and is an ongoing process. I have trust in myself as a moral being, in my conscience created in God’s image rather than in someone’s formulation of moral rules.

Christianity was the perfect ideology for Constantine’s empire, reinforcing the hierarchy and giving eternal damnation as the punishment for disobedience. Christianity can be better than that.

two swans

al-Smite-y God

So there’s God, right, gives us free will, so we can either worship him (this god is definitely a him) or be wicked and depraved and homosexual and have abortions and stuff, and then he smites us with weather systems and floods and stuff, then sends us to Hell. He is not the nicest of Gods, then, even if he does it because he Loves us.

He is Pat Robertson’s God: he would smite Dover, Pennsylvania, because all the school board members who favoured teaching “Intelligent Design” were defeated when they sought re-election, or New York because of equal marriage. He is Mike Huckabee’s God, who will punish America for equal marriage. “If we reject His hand of blessing we will feel His hand of Judgment” says Huckabee, and I savour the rhetoric. Here is someone you haven’t heard of quoting “Vengeance is Mine, saith the Lord” about Hurricane Sandy.

He is John McTernan‘s God: The only issues that Obama is successful with are abortion and homosexuality. Everything else he touches is a disaster. This is because the curse of God is on him and the nation. The only reason he is successful about sodomy is that the nation died. The life of the nation is draining away and Obama is God’s judgment to finish it off.

Turning to the Authorised Version, there are 133 search results for “Smite”. After the Flood, God sent the rainbow and said, neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done. Note the sneaky get-out clause: he would not smite everything, but might smite as he liked apart from that. Much of the smiting is done by God’s servantsNow go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass- but sometimes God does the smiting himself, as with the plagues of Egypt. Sometimes God smites individuals with illnesses, and sometimes all of Israel because they worship- shock, horror- a Goddess! God carried on smiting in the New Testament: he would smite the High Priest Ananias, but used two witnesses to do the smiting in Revelation. Rather than smiting Sodom, he “rained fire and brimstone” on it.

Archaeology gives no evidence for the Exodus. Why would the Israelites make up such stories? To ascribe to their God what had happened to them, blessings and curses. Civilisations rise and fall, enter decadence and suffer military defeat. Reality, rather than God, punishes those who take refuge in illusion.

God is Love, of course, and that precludes deliberate smiting- there are 731 search results for that.

Inspired by Violet.

Gustave Moreau, Jupiter and Semele 2