Monday, 13 April 2020

On love, bows and arrows

The strength and effectiveness of an act can be measured by the degree to which love was the motivating factor. An arrow can be fired from a bow without much tension in the bowstring but its potency and impact will be limited. A man can do the right thing without much desire, perhaps out of a sense of duty but without proper motivation its impact will be limited.

Love sees the person in front of you and desires their good even at its own expense; love motivates a man to risk reputation, or to risk rejection and the degree to which love is the motivation the man's risk will be worthwhile or not. The seed once planted, flowers eventually.

Knowing I am loved is the key to how I live. I can live my life in such a way that I am craning for validation, or I can live my life from the position of already being validated and approved. The same act can be noxious or sweet according to the driving force behind it.

In Christianity I see that it's not just an act but it's intention and motivation that matters. The right act for the wrong reasons is no good, it rots and dies in the very doing of the thing. A bad act but done for the right reasons and with the right motivations can be life giving and result in a harvest of good fruit.

Living consciously aware of my life-giving Father's love for me and approval of me means that whatever I do has the potential for far greater impact than I could ordinarily expect. My Father's arm is the strong arm that draws back the bow enabling me to sore high and penetrate deeply into the enemy's camp. A life lived under God's loving approval is a generous, open-eyed and encouraging life; it is able to give little thought to its own reputation and instead can see, truly see, the people in front of it.

I am loved. The bow is drawn back.
He loves me. The bow is drawn back.
I lack no good thing. Further. 
I know he cares about me. Further still.
I am his and he is mine. Taught and fully extended the arrow can be released.

Or in more familiar terms: abide in me and I will abide in you. If you abide in me you will bear much fruit. Apart from me you can do nothing.

Knowing he loves me and approves of me gives me what I need to leave familiarity and walk toward uncertainty. Knowing he loves me and approves of me makes it possible for me to approve of others, give life to others and look to do and give genuine good to others. The important thing for the world then is that the saints sit often enough under his approval to allow it to flush out their insecurities and fears long enough that they may be effective.

I know that when I am starved of love I'll snatch at any approval I can. I'll play manipulative games for my approval, I'll give in order to receive, I'll self-promote, I'll build my own kingdom, I'll withdraw from the world and isolate, and instead of crucifying my flesh I'll feed it. Being love starved makes one meagre with encouragement or dishonest and manipulative with it. Being love starved makes one fearful and afraid of others, it rejects others or keeps them always at a distance.

Only his love can draw life's bowstring back far enough to make the unexpected possible.

I see it, I long for it. I must sit often enough and walk often enough and meditate often enough in his love that it becomes not an idea on a page or the theme of a song, but the strength and vitality of everything I do.

Because of his great love we are not consumed. His compassion never fails.

Sunday, 5 April 2020

Thin vs Full


Thin. This is the word I find myself reaching for to describe the experience of life and relationships over video rather than in person. Whether a time of prayer with friends, or an evening of games in 'gallery view' it has all the components of the real thing but none of the actual experience; I mean we're all there, visual versions of ourselves on a screen with all the same noises - the 'yes, amen' and the 'hey you cheat it's my turn!' but somehow it doesn't feel, well, real.

This time of perpetual digitisation is reinforcing for me the significance of the embodied life and it's driving home the importance of stressing that we're embodied creatures, not just machines and not just souls with shells.

Praying with friends over screens is the activity where I sense it the most. There is the same sounds and the same intentions but none of the same experience. Praying with others in the flesh is an intimate and life-giving expression of familial affinity, praying over screens gives the appearance of the thing but with none of its life.

Sitting with someone in the same room as them and talking with them, requires me to attend to them in much closer detail. I can't walk away while they talk, I can't multitask, I can't fein interest, I can't offer the right words with none of the right sentiment. Rather, when we're in the room I feel your presence, I'm aware of the space you occupy and the atmosphere you've created. I have to move around you, I have decide whether you're a friend or a foe. When I'm with you I become tense when I've upset you, my skin discolours when I feel shame, my pulse raises when I'm angry; or I can tell when yours does. When I'm with a person I have much more capacity for empathy.

I have also noticed during this time how much TV shows and films require ad rely on music to elicit my emotions, and I've come to see that this is in large part owing to the lean medium of the screen. The musical bed does what a person's embodied presence in my kitchen does for my intuition and empathy. Had you noticed that before now?

It's not that a physical encounter with someone is better and a video screen encounter worse, it's only that a video experience of someone is, well, thinner. It is the difference between pornography and loving, faithful monogamy, between individualism and a loving family and between a facebook friend and a loving father.

I have noticed as well how, paradoxically, in a video call I don't seem to see a person anywhere near as much as I do in a phone call. Why is that I wonder? Perhaps it's because that in the phone call my visual handicap forces me to focus much more on the nuances and subtleties of their communication, their intention, their pauses and their tone. On the phone I listen to them, on the video call I only see them. In the video call I recognise that they exist, whilst on the phone I can validate their existence.

To quote the famous wedding passage from 1 Corinthians 13: 'Right now, we see as through a glass darkly - but then we shall see face to face.' How ironic it is then that even though we see one another face to face we still miss the experience of being in one another's company?

We were made to know life to the full, God is life. We were made to know God face to face but experience instead thin encounters with him.

Our experience of life at the moment has been made thinner by the experience of forced separation, what we crave is fullness of relationship. Face to face relationship, for all it's awkward social experiences, and nervousnesses allows us to experience ourselves as living and breathing and shaping and making creatures. The pressure and anxiety we sometimes feel around one another stems from understanding the responsibility on us to make our interactions count. It comes from perceiving that our words and ways are acts of creation (or destruction); and it's this that makes our life feel, well, full.

Video calling feels like a constant exercise in planning for life rather than actually living it. We are designed to be movers and makers, cultivators and creators; that's what full living is, and that's why the video life feels so, well, thin by contrast.

Monday, 23 March 2020

Strange

I am finding myself use the word 'strange' a lot to try to describe the way I feel as I, along with everyone else, try to process the Coronavirus pandemic. As a country, our schools closed three days ago and we're all trying to get our heads around the prospect of home educating our children for the next three months.

How do I feel about everything at the moment?

Ans: Strange. 

But strange isn't a feeling, and in fact as a word the more I see it on the page the more the word looks, well strange.

It isn't an emotion, and yet it feels very much like the right word to use. It relays the general disquiet I feel in my soul. I've become quite attached to the word like it 'gets' me, it sums up the mood and manner of the hour. But what's behind it? I resonate with the word for sure, but it isn't good word to communicate actual experience and emotion. It's a word that essentially means 'I don't know' but it's a word that makes honest the fact that 'not knowing' isn't the whole truth; I know enough to know that everything is not ok.

No, what I believe I am feeling (and what others are as well), when I say I feel 'strange' is actually that I am feeling 'afraid'. Fear of the unknown, the myriad of potential worse-case disaster scenarios in my mind and fear of personal redundancy. I have no reason to feel these things, since nothin too obvious has changed in my immediate vicinity; friends and family members are largely healthy, shops are stocked, and yet there exists a foreboding and impending sense of inevitable chaos. It feels, well, strange.

But what I have also noticed is the behaviour my 'strangeness' is leading me toward; which is also pointing to another reality present in my soul. I am finding myself drawn to temptations old and new. I want to binge eat, I want to drink alcohol often, I want to (I feel drawn to) watch things on TV that I know what do be good - essentially pornography.

Why?

Ans: Fear. 

The events of the past week have unsettled me and have therefore created much greater need for comforting. My flesh seeks comfort in the only ways it knows how; by gratifying its desires. It convinces me that this wound of fear and discomfort can be treated with a bar of chocolate or a glass of wine, or the adrenaline of pornography. But these are not good sources of comfort. They hit a spot, but the spot then recovers, moves and grows (and needs another 'hit'). The fruit of the flesh, the result of gratifying the sinful nature, is not life but death. No, the flesh is good only for one thing - to be crucified.

Instead I must recognise that these feelings of fear and the need to be comforted can and must be taken to the Lord in prayer. I must do all the usual things I do to fight my flesh's demands - wrestle it, flee from it, involve friends in the struggle, and I must preach the gospel to myself and throw myself under the shadow of the Most High.

He and he alone is my comfort and the Comforter. In a world of uncertainty and crisis, he and he alone can lead my through it.

Do not gratify the desires of the flesh but rather listen to source of their noise, your need for and desire for comfort.