Between worlds

Leaving people and places is hard. No matter how many times I have done it, (and that would be allot) it doesn’t get any easier. When you throw your self in deep, as I tend to do, you give away your heart. When it is time to go, extricating that same heart is impossible without leaving pieces of it behind. It is a tearing process.

 Two years at theological college have come to an end. I have written about Liminal Spaces and Transitions before, and pointed out that the word liminal means threshold. The journey towards ordination is full of liminal spaces, so I ought to be used to it by now. In the early stages of exploring vocation you are mostly on your own, reflecting with professional guides, turning over the stones of your life thus far, with the timing and direction of your future, firmly in other’s hands. It can be a lonely journey. Coming to theological college is yet a different sort of liminality. This time it is shared by a close community of others, all going through a similar set of experiences. The courses and placements vary of course, but living and praying together, sharing the academic and formational pressures brings a special sort of bond. An understanding at deep levels.    The college community was from a wide range of backgrounds, ages and eccelesiology , which adds hugely to the rich experience, but also adds challenges, as we all have a part of shaping each other’s lives, consciously or unconsciously. Not everyone experiences living in community as a positive experience, but my gregarious, extravert nature loved it. I learnt as much, if not more, from my fellow students than I did from my tutors, books or courses, stretching and growing me as a person. Precious memories. Precious people, for whom I am very thankful. The friendships I have made, I will take with me of course, but the unique community I was a part of for two years, is no more. Even now, new students are packing up their lives, preparing to move and wondering nervously what might lie ahead. These, and the students whose courses mean that they will remain studying for the next year or two, will form a new community which will inevitably have a different shape and feel.

The leave taking was done beautifully and symbolically within the rich context of a EucharistEucharisteo = thanksgiving. The stoles with which we will be ordained in a week’s time were laid on the altar and blessed, then given to us by our personal tutors. The liturgy was creatively put together by students. We were given a book and a glazed pottery cross  (shown above), made by a skilled fellow student. (the heart was received at the Federation Commendation service earlier that week).  We were prayed for and then processed out from church to college. It was an immensely moving service, and there were plenty of tears. I  cried through all of it, seeing these people and their families whose lives had been woven so deeply with mine. A good friend carried his newborn daughter with immense pride and joy, to receive communion/ blessing from the principal who was celebrating and my heart turned over. The service was followed by a wonderful party, enjoyed outside, on an unexpectedly dry and sunny evening (against all forecasts).

Leaving over, we were spun out country wide, into yet another liminal space of waiting. No longer an ordinand in training, and not yet a Deacon.  No longer part of the ‘old’ community and not yet a part of the new. I have moved to the benefice (group of churches) in which I will serve as curate, but it is not general practice to attend these churches prior to ordination. To extend and analogy I used in my last post, Stepping Stones, it is as if we are pushed off the last stepping stone into the cold water and have to swim and climb out onto the bank.  A spin cycle of emotions, combining with the exhaustion of  the efforts of recent weeks  to organise a move and finish academic work simultaneously, gives it a very strange feel. Looking forwards, looking backwards and trying to process it all.  The church wisely provides a time in which to do this. For four days before the ordination I will go into silent retreat, my family and friends not seeing/hearing from me until I appear in the cathedral procession at the start of the service.  I can’t predict how I shall be feeling at that point, but that my heart will be full, I have no doubt. Like my marriage, it is an intensely personal moment shared in a very formal setting and witnessed by family and friends. A moment of consecration and line crossing; of saying my YES to God publicly and symbolically.

O Lord, you have searched me and known me.

You know when I sit down and when I rise up;

You discern my thoughts from far away.

You search out my path and my lying down, and are aquainted with all my ways.

Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely.

You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. 

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;

it is so high that I cannot attain it. 

Psalm 139 v.1-6  NRSV

Light in the cracks

There is a crack in everything, that is how the light gets in” A famous line from Leonard Cohen’s song Anthem. I came across the song for the first time at an alternative Eucharist I attended recently, based on Cohen’s intense, insightful songs.  Robust, creative liturgy provided the framework in which the songs were used, each powerfully complimenting and enriching the other.  An ancient, candlelit church provided the backdrop for this powerful encounter with God in the broken bread and poured out wine.  Many songs were used, ‘Hallelujah’,’ Suzanne’ and others, and each is worthy of its own reflection, but I have picked out this one particularly, as  it touched a nerve in allot of us who were there.

The birds they sang
at the break of day
Start again
I heard them say
Don’t dwell on what
has passed away
or what is yet to be.
Ah the wars they will
be fought again
The holy dove
She will be caught again
bought and sold
and bought again
the dove is never free.
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
We asked for signs
the signs were sent:
the birth betrayed
the marriage spent
Yeah the widowhood
of every government —
signs for all to see.
I can’t run no more
with that lawless crowd
while the killers in high places
say their prayers out loud.
But they’ve summoned, they’ve summoned up
a thundercloud
and they’re going to hear from me.
Ring the bells that still can ring …
You can add up the parts
but you won’t have the sum
You can strike up the march,
on your little broken drum
Every heart, every heart
to love will come
but like a refugee.
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
That’s how the light gets in.
That’s how the light gets in.

Leonard Cohen

This song has hovered in the background of the last few weeks which haven’t been the easiest start to a Lent term. Demands and stretching circumstances on a whole manner of fronts, have made juggling home and study, family and academic pressures, interesting to say the least!  Such is life, and that is how it goes sometimes. It has been my experience over my life time that if I let Him, God can use the hard times to be rich ground for growth or ‘formation’ as it is known at theological college.  The centre of Cambridge is being dug up ( again) at present. It doesn’t have a sign that says ” Men at Work” but it could. It is awkward, messy and  disruptive. Sometimes it feels like that in the spiritual/emotional realm. We need a big sign saying “God at work”.

Yesterday  I was leading our tutor group prayers/meditation. I used Cohen’s words paired with another powerful poem which goes further in developing the theme of growth and the cracks it causes. I didn’t know at the time, but it was written by a priest, Dave Bookless, when he was himself at theological college, some years ago. He used it for his own tutor group worship.


There are cracks in my world
I noticed them one day and now they are everywhere:
Sinister hairline cracks that start and finish out of sight
cracks that grow and gape and laugh at my certainties
My world has been declared unsafe
I have tried to paper them over,
paint them out,
move the furniture to hide them,
but they always return, 
cracks that hang like  question marks in my mind.
And now I begin to think:
why do the cracks appear?
from where do they come? 
They have made my room unsafe
They have thrown it open to new horizons
drawn back the curtains
raised long closed shutters.
One day I looked and crack had become a window.
Step through it said, what have you to fear?
Do you wish to stay in your crumbling room?
And then I remembered a childhood dream.
Watching the egg of some exotic bird
oval and perfect, spotted blue and cream
I wished to hold that egg and keep it on a shelf
As I watched it, cracks appeared.
Tiny fissures spread like zigzag ripples.
It broke in two and life struggled to its feet,
Wet and weak and blinking at the world.
Without those cracks that egg could hold
no more than rotting stagnant death
without its cracks my world would be
a room without a view
Cracks maybe uncomfortable, disturbing gaps
Could it be that I need them?
Do you believe in cracks?
Because I keep searching for God in the room
and find he is hiding in the cracks.
Dave Bookless    
This poem can be found in Dave’s book God Doesn’t Do  Waste IVP 2010 , and you can find out more about him and his work with A Rocha  here:  

Later that morning, one of my group shared with me yet another poem on this theme. The writer Imtiaz Dharker was inspired to write about her experience of the ceiling of her house falling in, leading to a cathartic giving away of her possessions, moving into a new freedom. She puts  this so much better in her own words on the website, Sheer Poetry:

“In the poem ‘This room’ I wanted to suggest first of all that some kind of constriction is suddenly falling away. The walls of the room could mean different things to different people, and I hope when you read the poem you will find something in it that you can relate to your own life. Very often people try to trap us inside the box of a word, a label, a definition or an expectation. The box could even be self-imposed, our own limited idea of ourselves, the structures we build up around ourselves to keep ourselves ‘safe’ – nationality, religion, social barriers that keep others out.

The poem is about a moment when the structure falls away. The room is personified. It breaks out of itself, out of something suffocating. The image of ‘cracking through its own walls’ could suggest an egg and something about to be born into the light. The lines are short and broken, the sounds sharp.

Instead of falling, the everyday objects in the room take flight to unknown possibilities. ‘No-one is looking for the door’ because doors have become irrelevant. There is no need for one conventional exit when so many openings have appeared.

Perhaps I was working towards the idea that a person or a whole culture actually becomes stronger by opening up to the outside instead of closing inward.

The poem ends with a feeling of amused dislocation and a final moment of celebration in the last lines

‘In all this excitement, I’m wondering where
I’ve left my feet, and why
my hands are outside, clapping.’

(Just an extra note: I started writing this poem when a ceiling in my house in Bombay actually fell down. I should have felt terrible about it but I didn’t. Afterwards I gave away all the things I owned in the room and that gave me a great feeling of freedom).

You could also see this as a poem about writing a poem, when the writer steps away from an experience and looks at it from the outside, from an odd angle. This is the moment of celebration.

As often happens at one of the Poetry Live! days, a student added something else to the poem. She said the words ‘this room’ could apply to the room of the title and also to the ‘room’, the space, at the end of the poem.

That’s an example of how important you are as the reader and how a poem can grow in your reading of it.”

This Room by Imtiaz Dharker

This room is breaking out
of itself, cracking through
its own walls
in search of space, light,
 empty air.The bed is lifting out of
its nightmares.
From dark corners, chairs
are rising up to crash through clouds.
 This is the time and place
to be alive:
when the daily furniture of our lives
stirs, when the improbable arrives.
Pots and pans bang together   
in celebration, clang
past the crowd of garlic, onions, spices,
fly by the ceiling fan.
No one is looking for the door.
In all this excitement I’m wondering where
I’ve left my feet, and why
my hands are outside, clapping.

Where is your home?

Where do you come from?

It is a question I have never known the answer to –  does it mean where I was born?  (Africa)  My national identity ? Where I live now?  I am the child of Scottish and Welsh parents, and thought I was British. Turns out I wasn’t. I travelled on a British passport til I was 18, and then discovered that apparently I had never been entitled to it.   (complications of being born in Rhodesia, as Zimbabwe was then. It subsequently became a non recognised state, and my status was further complicated by my father having been born in India) I had to apply to be a British Subject with an application in the newspaper;  (do you know of any reason this person cannot be thus honoured?) only gaining my full citizenship when I married a few years later.

Where do you live? Well although my latter life has been more static, I have moved house 22 times, and lived in 4 countries and 3 continents. I have been a refugee from  national turbulence and war, on at least 3 or 4 occasions, leaving at short notice.  This somewhat nomadic childhood could have been unsettling, but wasn’t. It gave me a world view, and enhanced my flexibility in pretty well everything. It made me multilingual, not in the conventional sense, ( I was in the back of the queue when the usual skills for that were handed out – French. German, Latin. I tried. (And failed.) ) but perhaps in just as useful a way.  It gave me a wanderlust, and I have been a globe trotter ever since, hungry to see more of this beautiful planet.

Home is where you hang your heart’ was the message I received, and made my own. In other words, where ever you are. Bloom where you are planted, whatever the soil or the terrain.  I don’t know ‘where I am from’  or really where my earthly ‘home’ is, but it doesn’t bother me unduly. It has dawned on me that I have always been a pilgrim/nomad. I live without borders, or rather I move easily between borders of many kinds, with little or no sense of needing to stay within them. Sometimes I don’t even notice they are there.  This can be tricky if there are ‘border guards’ who aren’t happy with you leaving / or coming in, for that matter. If you have a passport stamp from one ‘country’  it can make  getting into another which doesn’t see eye to eye with their neighbours, less than comfortable. It can be painful too- being at home in each, and yet they at war with each other.  I by-pass both the borders, and the stamps, where I can, and try not to get caught in cross fire.

Now I find myself at theological college.  ( After a gargantuan struggle with God over this calling to priesthood business. That was largely about boxes. “Don’t put me in a box God! Especially an Anglican Vicar shaped one!” …mmm.. beginning to see deeper layers still, in that struggle )  A college that prides itself on defying labels and celebrating diversity.  Learning within the richness of a Federation, that spans even wider theological territories.  Having worshipped and ministered in a whole variety of contexts and churchmanships , I  can’t really say I have a spiritual home either. I move very naturally up and down  ‘the candle, and have good  friends whose homes are at both ends, and all places in between.  Being in a college that lets me wander, and doesn’t try to tie me down, is a gift to a person like me. The  diversity of the many ‘homes’ I visit, enriches and enlarges me.

Don’t fence me in” I don’t think I am a rootless cowboy, as the song goes, but I am slowly realising just how strong a theme this has been in my life. Living without borders, and moving easily between all sorts of strata, and perimeters, is very much part of who I am. We are all pilgrims in one sense or other….( mixing up my metaphors)  but we are not all called to be nomads. It seems I am, and I can run with that.

My real home, I guess is a Heavenly one, and my citizenship that matters most to me, is also there.  ‘Til then I am happy to continue being a nomad.  Pitching my tent wherever God takes me.