Sunday 22 November 2020

God's Schoolroom.

God has popped out of his school room for a ten minutes, and we get a peek inside.  What would God learn if he had to go to school like human kids? Well, lucky for us, we did get a look at his classroom.  

This is God's classroom.  Here are some of the things he's working on.  Those are not 
Hula Hoops crisps there, they are Holy Hoops.  God prefers them. 

This is another painting in the series "God's Life".  I have imagined that God lives as we mortals do, and has all the same rites of passage that we do.  In this painting, where we see inside God's classroom, I have given God all the projects, essays, reading material that an up and coming deity would need.  His paintings are even displayed on the wall, where he is quite rightly very proud of them.  We get to see and admire what he is working on right now.

The God in this series is from the traditional Christian story. This is what I grew up with, and know and love.  The Bible, the Christian holy book, is full of wonderful stories, accounts, poetry, miracles and proverbs.  It is written in two parts, the Old Testament which deals with the creation of the world, with all Godly stuff before the birth of Jesus, and the New Testament which deals with the birth of Jesus, and of his life, times and death. 

I had so much fun creating these witty, silly, happy paintings.  I love the idea that God is not an unapproachable entity, existing far away from us, waiting impatiently for us to annoy him so he can smite us and feel he's done a good job.  The God of my dreams is in every part of my life, and lives it with me.  My God loves a laugh, eats too much and has to sit down a lot.  Just like me.  So the God in this painting, in all of the God's Life paintings, is quite simply, one of us.  Let us begin, let us see what is going on in the divine schoolroom.

Here is a book open on the schoolroom floor.  It is called "The Essential Deity.  A compendium of Dos and Don'ts."  Any young God will have to be trained up well for the responsibility of looking after the world.  There are going to be times when his patience will be tested and so it is necessary for him to remember that he has been trained in the following, and will have ticked the box to make sure these attributes were there in him.  Have you got, the checklist says, Grace, Light, Mercy, Righteousness and Goodness?   Have you got Perfection, Faithfulness, Holiness, Justice and Gentleness?  And then, the book gives some very good advice.  "When the going gets tough, Transcend."

Here on the right is what is on God's desk.  First, an apple for breaktime.  But it is from Eden.  The garden of Eden was where the first people God created lived, called Adam and Eve.  They were forbidden to eat apples from the tree of knowledge - which was fine until an evil serpent came and tempted Eve to eat the apple.  She did so, gave some to Adam and because God knows everything, he knew, got cross and banished them both from the beautiful garden for ever.  But God, who already knows everything despite being here in a schoolroom, can eat the apples.  Theoretically, he made them in the first place. Also on God's desk is a book he is reading, and seems to have written too.  "It's Nice Up Here", an autobiography by God.  Chapter one is "A Head For Heights".  As many imagine, God lives way above the world, probably, a long way up in space amongst the stars, so he is beginning his story with how he has to have a head for heights.  Next to this are some subjects for an essay.  Onmi means all, or every.  The pun is on God being already all things and everywhere.  So omnipresence, omniscience, omnipotency are huge subjects.  He is being asked to think about how to fit it all in, and discuss. 

In the old Testament, the great prophet Moses was handed ten commandments, or ten instructions, by God, on a mountain top.  These were inscribed on tablets of stone, and were a template of how to live under God's rules.  These are the corner stones of a good Christian life.  Here is God's first try at them. He got these more or less right, but they will need some refinement. His commandments here on this first try are -

1. Thou shalt love me to pieces  2. No photos  3. Be rude about me and I'll hear you  4. One day a week is all about me  5. Thy parents are always right  6. Thou shalt not do any smiting, ever  7. Keep your hands to yourself  8. Thou shalt not nick anything  9. No telling fibs about people  10. Leave your neighbour's stuff alone

and in time would become these, that Moses could take seriously -

1. Thou shalt worship no other god  2.  Thou shalt not make any graven images  3. Thou shalt not take the Lord's name in vain  4. Remember the sabbath day to keep it holy  5. Honour thy father and thy mother  6. Thou shalt not kill  7. Thou shalt not commit adultery  8. Thou shalt not steal  9. Thou shalt not tell false witness against thy neighbour  10. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, wife or possessions.

But there were a few goes to even get the first ten up and running.

In every school, there is the football, or cricket, or rugby team.  Or whatever sport a school may play.  Here, God plays rugby and has done well, as the God Squad first fifteen.  Being the only one of his kind, his team are angels.  On the shelf below are boxes of spare feathers of the angel wings that become damaged.  Playing in the first fifteen must cause much mayhem to wings, so there are two boxes ready to mend them after the game.

Angels probably have a lot of wear and tear on their wings anyway, so it's good to have this repair kit on hand in the schoolroom.

The creation myth is fundamental in so many belief systems.  The Christian story is that God made the world in seven days.  He created a new thing on six consecutive days, and on the seventh, he rested.  The seventh day is known as the sabbath, the day of rest, the day to remember God in church services and prayers.  In older times, Christians were not allowed to do any work at all on a Sunday, and attended church many times during the day. 

Here is the order in which God created the world. Day one, light and dark.  Day two, clouds and water.  Day three, land and plants.  Day four, planets and stars.  Day five, fish and birds.  Day six, man and land animals.  Day seven, rest, the sabbath. 

So we have in the schoolroom, a first attempt to describe creating the world.  It's up on the wall as the "creating the world project" and like the ten commandments, will need some refining and tweaking to make it sound more serious.  God's day 1 is about creating light.  He has a light bulb and a lightening bolt.  For day 2, he made some blue stuff, and added some clouds. This would be the sky.

 Great. Going well. Day 3 God experiments and puts hydrogen and oxygen together and 

comes up with the sea.  He manages to make some land too, and then gets bored.  He makes vegetables, and decides he likes carrots best. 

Day 4 sees the making of the sun, moon and stars, but he doesn't know what to call them yet.  He just says he made some of these, and points to them.  

Day 5 is more taxing.  He says "decided fish best in sea.  Birds not lasting long in sea, best in sky.  Made something called Nessie.  V funny (secret)." here God realises the birds live in the air, not lasting long under water.  As a joke, he invents the Loch Ness Monster (Nessie) too, and keeps it a secret, so we will be constantly surprised by seeing her, and not sure what it actually is. 

Day 6 is even more exciting, God says he went mad and created people.  As an after thought, he gave them some animals to play with, and draws on his project plan an elephant and a cat.  Finally, on day 7 God is pooped.  He slept late and took the day off.  He had created the world, and this was a good time to take a break.  This would end up as Sunday, church day, the day Christians dedicate to their spiritual life.

Still in a creative mood, we have God's self portrait.  It is the self portrait of the week, but it would be, there is only one of him and so he would have to win.  No one knows the face of God, if he has one.  Perhaps he does not have one, and is as God depicts himself here, a huge burst of light.  
Next to the portrait is the schoolroom clock.  Here we get a bit esoteric, as time is a construct in the mind of man, some say.  And so God only has a clock for form's sake.  The numbers go round the face of it, and there are no hands, just a symbol of infinity from the point of creation outwards. Around the clock, as if to explain this, are the words "Ah, but there is no time (or is there?...)".  This is a nice little cliff edge for God to leave us upon, as he could, should he want to, invent time and make it quite a recognisable physical thing. But he has not done so. Yet.  

Basic Geography is next.  It really is basic.  It is about the world being created, the Big Bang where on the Before globe there is a mere dot of existance which may, or may not, be God.  And for the After globe, we have the Big Bang itself, and we infer the world is made and from that will come Geography.  A study of the physical features of the earth and atmosphere, and human activity on the earth. This is very basic pre-Geography.

Some useful textbooks for an intelligent divine being, always interested in learning more.  The books here relate directly to a Christian God's life.  We have "How To Answer Boring Prayers" - this must be so hard for God when he has to be loving and fair to everyone and their wishes, and he gets someone who is really boring and asking for tedious things over and over again.  Perhaps the next book, "The Confident Ruler of Time and Space" would help.  He will need confidence, it is a huge job and pretty much ongoing for all eternity. And beyond, if there is no time.  "Interviewing New Archangels" is probably a lovely job.  In the Christian heaven, there are many different types of angels.  The really important, big wig chief angels are called Arch Angels.  This book must be for when one or other goes on holiday, or more are needed.  The next book is more linked to the Old Testament.  "Ideas for Plague and Pestilence for the Busy Deity" is a serious book.  The Old Testament God is a passionate God, and does not balk at teaching whole nations and peoples lessons about themselves and their behaviour by sending plagues.  One of the plagues, sent by God to the Egyptians when the Pharaoh refuses to let Moses lead the Hebrew slaves to freedom, was of frogs.  Another was of locusts.  It worked, and the slaves left with Moses.  

"Infallibility for the Cautious" is probably a self help book.  To be infallible means that one is never wrong.  Absolute trustworthiness, immune from error and fallacy.  God is infallible, and for many centuries the leader of the Catholic Church on earth, the Pope, was considered infallible.  It needs a great deal of confidence, and this book for the cautious God is meant to help him to be brilliantly infallible.  "Baddies, How to Spot One" is a reference book for the interesting work of spotting good and evil.  God has to be on the alert, Baddies can be very clever and convincing, he has to know how to stay one step ahead.  

The final book, "3 Into 1 Does Go" reminds God of a central article of faith for Christians.  It is an article of faith, because it cannot be explained logically but it is of huge importance. There is only one God, and there is his son Jesus, and what is called the Holy Spirit. It is considered that all three are both three and also all one.  All one in God.  It is important that God has a book on this because maybe, Jesus and other heavenly bodies will need reminding that it is all perfectly doable. 

And finally, we have God's weekly attendance in this God's Schoolroom.  Instead of simply being present, he is omnipresent.  He is present in all places, at all times, all the time. And a small doodle on the blackboard above is the equation discovered by one of the world's most famous physicists Albert Einstein.  It is e=mc2 and basically means that energy and mass (matter) are interchangeable; they are different forms of the same thing.  So here, God says he is the equation.  He is the mc2 part, as he is all energy and mass and he thought this was a fun thing to think about. So he doodled it on the school blackboard.

I hope you enjoyed this painting.  It is meant to be fun and to cheer us up.  I loved painting this, and I painted it at the request of my father who was a very academic, eccentric and creative man.  He asked me to do the whole series, coming up with a different room in God's house for each painting.  The next one I will write about will be God's kitchen.  Of course, there will be apples from the garden of Eden there, but you will have guessed that as God has one here, on his desk, for his breaktime. 

God bless, see you again in two weeks.

Saturday 7 November 2020

I should be over it by now. (But I'm not). Some thoughts on loss.

Do you feel you should be “over it” by now?

Marie and Gill and I run Loss Conversations, a holistic listening support service, here in Bognor Regis. We run it for anyone who feels that loss, any loss, is affecting their lives, and we welcome everyone who comes.  We feel it takes courage to come and speak.  We listen and care and support.   

Loss comes in so many forms but grief after the death of a loved one is the first that comes to mind.  Grief can be overwhelming; it can knock us for six and leave us feeling confused, lonely and isolated.  They say that grief is the price we pay for love which is not much help when we are suffering, but it is true that the price of great love can be great pain. Grief after the loss of a pet can be just as painful.  We know that losing a beloved pet can be devastating and people deeply miss the companionship and comfort of a special animal in their life. 

But what about the loss of a relationship? A job? Our home? Our health? If these losses – relationship, job, home, health, identity, country, loss of purpose or belief – if all these other losses cause us to suffer, then that too is grief.  When we lose something physical, we can point to it, to the thing we have lost, and there is no doubt that something or someone has gone. With losses of such as purpose, connection, joy, confidence, the losses come from our emotional, mental and spiritual self.  They may manifest physically, such as anxiety causing our stomach to knot, headaches, tiredness and tears.  Or anger, being vulnerable to illnesses, and physical bodily pain that is hard to diagnose and strangely resistant to treatment.  This gives us a physical expression of our grief, but the physical manifestation is not the real trouble.  It is a symptom of our deeper grief at what we have lost. 

These more existential losses can cut us as deeply as the loss of a person, pet, job, or home.  But because they cannot be seen, we cannot point to an empty space and say, Look, that is where my loss was.  We tend to suffer on in silence, hoping no one will notice and that we will be left alone, because it is hard to find the right words to describe what is happening for us. In our Loss Conversation sessions at the moment we are hearing about the sadness of loss of connection, of purpose, of work and of health.  These losses make us feel vulnerable and exposed.  We fear we have lost our way, and do not know how we can find our way back.  We fear other people will judge us and this makes it hard for us to acknowledge out loud how bad we feel.

I have suffered many losses in my life.  I have lost a partner, a husband, both parents, and a brother.  I have also, as have most of us, faced losses in health, work, confidence and of purpose.  The power of these experiences changed my life, making me realise that no one is immune from loss.  I needed help, I needed gentleness, patience, time and support. We all need support and understanding when we are suffering.  We all need each other.   

I came through.  Not on my own, but with help and support from those who knew the story of loss themselves.  During those dark days, I found it hard to describe the emptiness I felt.  I couldn’t make an effort to be cheerful and I didn’t want to go out into the world where everyone seemed to have the things I didn’t have any more. But despite feeling that I would never recover, never be normal again, life did get better, and the light began to shine in my world once more.  It is because of these times that I support and work with people at and around the end of life because I know there is always hope.  And love. I know how bad the bad can feel, and I know how important it is to have someone sit with you and stay with you.

When we are deep in a reaction to loss, we can feel unseen and unheard.  Being heard is extremely important.  To have someone listen to us without judgement, to take the time to let us speak about what it true for us, whatever that is, and to really listen, can make all the difference to us in our sadness.

Feeling as if you are in a ravine is lonely and frightening.  Having someone alongside you in that ravine makes all the difference.  

Four common responses to loss 

Why they may manifest, and what to do about them.

  1.       I’m arguing with everyone. Anger is a very common expression of grief.  We expect sorrow but are surprised by how angry we are. We lash out, we blame, and we drive people away.  Often we don’t know we are doing this.  Sometimes the pain of our loss is too hard to bear, we don’t want to go there and find that anger is a powerful release.  Inside, we are unable to face the unfairness of our loss.  How could this happen to me?  How could they do this to me?  I need someone to blame, there has to be a reason.  I don’t understand.  It’s too much.  When someone is angry, they need help to go behind their anger to address the pain they are avoiding. It’s frightening to feel so vulnerable and anger keeps it at bay.  It’s important to find help to articulate the confusing emotions, and to hold the space for them.  Being angry takes a huge amount of energy.  The relief when it’s no longer necessary is very healing.
  2.       I should have got over it by now.  There’s no timescale to recovering from loss and it can be hard to feel the difficult emotions associated with it.  While it’s not good to become stuck in grief, it’s also not good to rush yourself through it.  It does take time.  If we push ourselves too fast, we may become ill.  Our bodies hold grief reactions which force us to stop and rest, take time off, whether we like it or not.  If you have not got over it by now, give yourself a break.  Some say it takes at least two years, some say more, some say less.  How long is a piece of string? Take the metaphorical phone off the hook.  You simply need more time and understanding, and you will come through in time, there is more gentle and kind work needed to help you recover.
  3.       My family needs me to be strong.  To take on the responsibility for other people’s grief and recovery when you too are affected by this loss, can cause you serious problems with your own healing.  You need support too.  Why do you feel you need to strong?  What happens if you too are vulnerable?  Sometimes taking on a support role keeps painful feelings at bay and makes you think you can avoid the pain.  You are too busy and you are needed.  But it will become too much if you ignore your own recovery in order to carry everyone else.  It will make you ill. Your need to support everyone else but yourself will create confusion and more distress for you.  You all need support.  Perhaps if you seek help, you will show that strong people need help too, and your family will follow and a very good example will be set.
  4.       I feel useless.  Deep in a reaction to loss, you may become exhausted.  You may want to hide away and do nothing.  You have no motivation, no purpose and no reason to do anything.  Where you once took part in the world outside, you don’t want to now.  You feel useless.  Invisible.  Lost.  You are bereft.  But you are not useless, and it will take time to come to terms with your loss.  Your body and mind need time off to do this, you will feel empty and tired, and this is part of the process of acceptance.  It will pass, it needs to be allowed to run its course, and it’s important to allow yourself time.  Patience and small acts of kindness to yourself will help, and do not judge yourself.  You have lost something or someone, you do not need to be on top form and full of beans.  You are not useless, but time, love, kindness and patience will work wonders.

A story from a Loss Conversations session

That sessions are intentionally face to face and not online.  This is a very good thing.  More than ever, we need each other.  Our Loss Conversations are a support group hosting up to fifteen people and are covered under the recent restrictions and so we can continue to support each other.

One young man came to a Loss Conversation session having lost a close friend about two years ago.  He came with his girlfriend and seemed to be more concerned with his girlfriend’s grief than his own.  She was sad but coping, but the young man was convinced that she was not coping.  He sat on the edge of his chair, looking hostile and deflecting any questions that came his way.   He was short with people and a little rude.  Eventually, I asked him, “Are you angry?”  For some reason, though it was patently obvious to everyone else, it wasn’t obvious to him.  After a few minutes, he agreed that he was.  And then, out came all the anger, the hurt and the pain of his friend having died and left him.  It was as if this friend had done it on purpose, had died and had not consulted him, had not given him time to say goodbye, and had left him forever.  The young man was very angry indeed.  But after a while, he calmed down.  It had been a revelation to him, just how angry he was.  He left calmer, with insight and very tired.  We never saw him again, but he wrote to me afterwards thanking me for allowing him to understand his anger and telling me that a burden had been lifted from him.

A lovely word from a recent attendee 

"At last I have had the opportunity to talk in confidence about how recent losses of friends and family are affecting and have affected me and can also listen to and empathise with the experiences of those who have also endured loss.

Thank you for hosting this voluntary compassionate social service especially at this time when it is most needed."  

Feedback from a recent Loss Conversations meeting. 

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Receiving - why are we so afraid to receive?  New video here