Saturday 19 September 2020

Heaven is laughing

Fred has done a bunk.

Sometimes, life is so blinking difficult.  We feel so alone, and God, the Divine, Spirit or whoever you pray to (the late and much loved Rabbi Lionel Blue named his God "Fred") is nowhere in sight.  God has done a bunk, has better things to do, doesn't like you anyway, and you have ended up alone and lost.  What did you expect?  You are you, and as such, you are rubbish.

When we are down, it is hard to ask for help.  The further we slide into sadness, difficulty, or madness (perhaps), the harder it is to connect with other people.  Especially other people who seem to be doing just fine.  Everything we do not like about ourselves gets magnified until we think that is all other people can see.  In all our encounters we look for confirmation of our worthlessness, and we find it.  We find that confirmation, and because we are sliding downwards and feel this low, we absolutely believe that the confirmation is right.  

It is said that love is the answer, that we must all love each other.  They say that the real test is to love the unloveable, but when we are really down, we feel we are the unloveable.  What they don't say is that the unloveable find it almost impossible to accept love anyway.  When life is so blinking hard and everything is so dreadful, accepting love makes us feel deeply vulnerable and we reject it, sometimes with knobs on.  It makes us angry.  It makes us worse because, I suppose, it highlights the feelings of loss and lack we have.  And, often, we don't trust it.  "What are you up to?" We think.  "What's in it for you?"  and I suppose, we act from a place that says, "I am so bad that it's only a matter of time before you see that.  I had better reject you now so that I do not have to face even more pain of rejection later."

What is love anyway?  Is it the romantic thing that is sold to us as the answer and the goal of our lives?  Is it the perfect bonding of parents for their children?  Is it loyal and undying acts of selflessness for a friend?  Is self love about having more chocolate and having more bubble baths? In times of distress the very idea of love takes on a two dimensional aspect, as if it is at least a fraud, and at most, completely out of our league.  So it can get lost.  These notions of romantic love, family love, friendship love seem oversimplified and impossible, nothing we can count on and who would love us anyway?  Whatever that means.  Love of course is a more beautiful thing than that.  It is both more magnificent and more subtle than we can imagine, it is also more simple and much more accepting.  But when we are feeling this bad, we absolutely do not love ourselves and from our feelings of worthlessness and isolation comes a rejection of love from others.  

So God, the Divine, Spirit, Fred does not listen to us nor answer our prayers.  We may keep praying, but we expect nothing.  So we see nothing.  We may turn our back on all that stuff, we may simply stop trying.  We may have thought it all guff to begin with and are perversely satisfied that we were right - there was no magic god-thing anyway.  It is down to us.  And look where we are - we could do with a bit of a divine hand to help us - but there isn't one, never was one, and it is time to accept we are on our own.  Just us.  Just you.  Get used to it. 

I was in a frighteningly dark place many years ago.  I was a single mother of three young children, vastly overweight and without work, anxious and full of self disgust.  I had dismissed the god-idea because there was no evidence it existed in my life.  If there was one, a god thing, I would not be feeling this lonely and hopeless. The god thing would have looked after me and stopped all this awfulness.  It was hard to get through each day, to keep my children going, to cope.  I felt as if I were wading through thick darkness and that the darkness was closing over my head.  And then, one afternoon I picked up a book and noticed a small piece of paper drop to the floor.  Picking up the paper, I read the following 

Let nothing disturb thee, 
nothing affright thee
All things are passing;
God never changeth;
Patient endurance
Attaineth to all things;
Who God possesseth
In nothing is wanting;
God alone sufficeth.

I read "Let nothing disturb thee", and "nothing affright thee" and felt a deep moment of recognition.  Something happened in my chest.  I was afraid and disturbed.  I felt an opening in the darkness and I thought - perhaps, just perhaps, this was written just for me.  I couldn't believe these words, they shouted themselves into my mind, and made me stop.  I understood the rest of the prayer, but kept locking onto the not letting myself be disturbed or affrighted.  It was a moment of absolute revelation, but, only a teeny tiny one.  I did not have choirs of angels and beams of light. I had the touch of a loving divine finger on my forehead which enabled me to let those words in.  Over the next few days I read, "All things are passing", and felt the same deep recognition.  All things are passing, and this pain will pass.  It will pass!  Then, I read and understood, "Patient endurance attaineth to all things", and thought, Oh! If all things are passing, and I do not need to be so frightened and disturbed, I can patiently endure this and it will pass.  For some reason, I understood that I could endure this, and I could do something about it.  I was not alone and I did not have to stay still in this darkness.  I could move.  

"God never changeth" spoke to me next.  I didn't analyse it, nor have any deep thoughts about it, but I know I was comforted by the not changing.  Over the next few years, I kept this prayer with me, reading it when I was more than usually troubled, to see what line would speak to me.  I began to have faith that I would read whatever I needed to know for that moment from the prayer on this scrap of paper. It took a long while too, to find out that the prayer was from Teresa of Avila, a Spanish nun and mystic in the mid fifteen hundreds. It took a long while because I wasn't very interested in who wrote it or where it came from, I just wanted to read the words. 

Though I would say that finding this prayer changed my life, it was not a change that anyone else could see.  It didn't change my life so that suddenly I had answers and was happy.  It was simply one of the moments in which my life moved and shifted, and I had a small personal miracle shown to me.  I had, I still have, many moments like this and I would suggest that you do too.  The thing is, we often do not see them and if we do see them, we tend to dismiss them.  This moment of grace when I found the prayer gave me insight that I was not alone, that things could be different, and that I would have to make this change happen. How I made changes was up to me but at least now, I understood that I could at least try. 

Heaven is laughing.

There is an image that comes to me sometimes when I feel either that prayer does not work, or that I am cross because all I want (to love and be loved) is not blinking working.  I hate everyone and no one likes me.  It's all a mess.  Then, I get an image of what it is like in the place I will call heaven, somewhere in another spiritual dimension probably way up in the sky, high above the clouds.  That is where I was told heaven was when I was a child, and I still find myself going to that image.  So up in  this heaven I see a host of figures, all made of light and all in human form, moving together in a constant flow laughing out loud.  The sound of their laughter is glorious and fills the whole of heaven, joyful and spontaneous as if they had all just heard the best joke ever.  The figures in heaven have faces with deep laughter lines as I watch them laugh with joyful abandon.  Why are you all laughing?  I ask.  (Sometimes petulantly). The answer I get is that they are laughing with pure love and delight for me. I delight them and whatever is happening down here in my life, it does not change their laughter one bit.  What if I am deeply sad and everything is collapsing around me?  I ask. They answer - we laugh because we know you will be OK.  There is more to your life than your sorrow and hardship.  We see this and though we know you do not see it at the moment, it does not matter to us because we cannot get over how precious you are to us.  We are laughing more than ever when you are down, because of our absolute love for you, for all of you, and joy in all your existence, and maybe, one day, the sound of our laughter will reach you in some way, and you will know we are filled with this unending joy in your - and you reading this - your existence.  Oh, they say as the light shifts and changes around them, we love you so much.  You make us laugh with joy!

And then I think, maybe Fred, or God, or whoever or whatever we call it, did not do a bunk.  Life down here can be hard, is hard, but it is not that our god-idea or god figure scarpered when the going got tough for us, it's just that we needed to experience this darkness in our lives - but this darkness is not all.  When we do feel the finger of god on our forehead, and hear the faint sound of heaven laughing just for us because we are so uniquely and gloriously precious, the power of this experience will mean more to us than anything we can imagine.  It will give us courage to go on because, if the whole of heaven is laughing with utter delight in us, why not? 


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Sunday 6 September 2020

All I wanted was to be fabulous. That's all.

Me aged three

It is all I ever wanted from life.  From the earliest days, I understood that I was a fairy.  Being a fairy was not something I aspired to.  I was one.  I, Antonia Rolls, aged about three, was just like Tinkerbell. You could not tell us apart.  There was something so right about being a fairy, with a fairy's right to wear anything that glittered and do whatever she wanted.  My aunt had some spare material from a dress she had made for herself, a deep turquoise nylon with silver glitter threaded through it.  I wrapped myself in this and at five years old, I knew I was magnificent.   I drew pictures of fairies with wings and tutus on all my books, on the walls of my bedroom and wherever I could get away with it.  It was my world.  I believed in the magic, the beauty, and the wonder of fairies; no wonder I decided to be one.  If, of course, I did decide.  At the time, I had no doubt that I had been born one. 

The real thing
At my primary school, I discovered rival fairies.  A gang of girls decided that only those born in 1959 or 1961 were fairies.  When I said, "But I was born in 1960 and I am the real actual thing," they laughed and told me that the fairy queen, who they all knew very well and was a friend of theirs, said otherwise.  And she should know, they added spitefully. If I wanted to, I could ask her to agree that I was a real fairy.  She lived, the rival fairy gang said, in a tree outside the sports hut.  Go and ask her, they said.

All my lunch breaks for many weeks were spent standing under the sparse little tree outside the games hut waiting for Esmerelda to show herself to prove that I was a fairy.  My rival fairies checked in on me often, laughing unkindly, and I was too small to understand what they were doing.  Eventually, my mother asked me what was happening. I had become more and more withdrawn and unhappy and although the rival fairies had made me take this thing called a vow, which meant I could never, ever tell anyone, I did eventually tell my mother.  She was so lovely to me as I cried, and went to the school with me the next morning.  At lunch time, the rival gang came to find me, to tell me that Esmeralda had got it all wrong, and that I was a fairy after all.  They were very nice to me and I thought it was because my superior fairy-ness had won out.  Of course, now I know my mother had gone to the school to see all the gang, in the presence of the head teacher, a very fierce little nun called Sister Zita, and read them the riot act. 

All my life I have wanted to be fabulous.  This fabulousness was never a sassy, practical, hard nosed
The Cyrenians on a very good day
thing, it did not include money, power and fame.  It was, when I look back on it, about expression.  It was about the wonderful internal world that had made me believe that I was a fairy, about the belief that there was always more to life than meets the eye.  There was something else, beyond all the conventional stuff, and I thought other people knew it too.  I was always surprised when no one else could see it.  I had friends throughout my school years, lovely friends, but I had a reputation of being very arty and very odd.  I wasn't odd, I was just different.  And it amazed me that other people did not see things in the way that I did.  I was arty though.  I discovered second hand shops while in sixth form, when I was fifteen and sixteen which opened up a whole new way of dressing in odd old cast offs and hand me downs, for next to nothing.  I thought I looked wonderful but, of course, wearing a man's old torn silk dressing gown as a dress with feathers in my hair at a respectable convent boarding school did not go down well.  At university later, in the wilds of Aberdeen in Scotland, I no longer thought I was a fairy but my need to express myself through clothes went into extravagant overdrive.  My friends and I discovered the old Cyrenians thrift shops.   The Cyrenians are a charity in Aberdeen helping homelessness, but back in the late nineteen seventies and early eighties, when charity shops were less fashionable and much more like a jumble sale, we would buy all our clothes and shoes from there, whatever we bought smelling old and bedraggled, and proudly wear them.  Our lodgings did not have bathrooms, and only outside loos, so we were not terribly clean to begin with.  These dreadful old clothes we loved so much looked as if they had been removed from down and outs on the streets, and sold on for a bit of cash. I, personally, thought I looked absolutely wonderful.  Not many others agreed.  I had bright pink beehive hair too, just the thing for Aberdeen in the early nineteen eighties.  Word went round the university that I was a witch, and I lived in a bicycle shed. Whatever I was, I was smelly, oddly dressed and totally oblivious.
Not a fairy so much as a 
witch living in a bicycle
But!  I still saw life as magical.  I did not drink, smoke or take drugs.  I drank tea, ate cakes, and discovered whole foods.  I became a vegetarian.  And I painted, drew and created - I even covered the walls in my lodgings with drawings and paintings.  I think I had trouble with boundaries.  

Being married, being divorced, raising children on my own, trying to work out this world in which I did not feel I belonged, followed.  Always, I painted.  Throughout all of the difficult middle years, whatever clothes I wore, however I did my hair, I painted pictures.  It was what grounded me.  For a long time, in my middle years, the struggle to keep going clouded the magic in the world, and kept me under a dark spell. It is enough to say that we all got through, and that the world does not stop just because we struggle.  There were many bright moments, but those difficult years taught me my most valuable lessons.  I did not feel fabulous at all then, I lost my way and lost my heart. But some of my best art work was created in those years.  Somehow, the fabulousness was still there, but hiding in a different form for when I was ready to see it.  Perhaps it needed to step aside while I learned hard lessons about life, and myself, and who I thought I was.

So where is all this fabulousness now?  How have I come to terms with it, and has my wish, so far, come true?  

All I wanted, was to be was fabulous.  I did not want to do fabulous, though of course that would be very nice.  I am fabulous.  So are you, if you believe it.  This kind of fabulous is about us, what we think of ourselves and what we allow ourselves to believe.  There has been a long middle section of my life between being born a fairy and now, when I am telling you I am fabulous, and in that middle section, I learned that the world can be a harsh critic, a hard task master and an unforgiving teacher.  I learned that I cannot wait for affirmation from anyone else to give me the right and the courage to go on.  Time and time again, the little light that I lit in my heart in order to be fabulous would be snuffed out by events, other people, and most importantly, my failure to protect it.  I ended up feeling very invisible and sad indeed.  I longed for other people to define me as wonderful, and to see that the magic was still there.  I did not understand that other people have very little interest in my magic, in my little light.  They are all learning how to deal with their own magic and little lights.  

Probably all of you reading this blog
And so now, when more than two thirds of my life is over, I can have a proper look at this question of being fabulous.  It is not dependant on my looks, which is a relief.  That is good, I don't have to be young and slim with a winning flirty smile.  It is not about my fame, because I haven't got any.  My fabulousness does not go up and down on a sliding scale depending on how many people tell me they love me, either in person or in social media likes, or I would be permanently trying to buy my followers on Instagram or Facebook, and forcing everyone else in real life to tell me they love me, so I can sleep at nights.  All of that is fickle, unreliable and at the mercy of whim.  No.  When I think of being fabulous now, I think of how I have come through, come up trumps, am still alive, and am surrounded by friends I admire and family I treasure.  I feel free.  I feel the magic is here, all around me and that I am a part of it.  So much has happened, I do not have to go through those lessons any more, I am older, wiser and still here.  And there is so much more life to come.  I am fabulous.  I do care, but not very much.  Not like I used to.  I care about kindness, love, friendship, quality of time spent with people, truth and focus.   At last, I like myself and I like who I am.   

If I say I am fabulous, I jolly well am.  And so, I think, are you. 


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