Sunday, December 5, 2010

Further up and further in

When I first started this blog, I put as my subtitle “Beneath the Surface”.  At the time I had neither 17,000 year old tectonic faults, nor 100-50 million year old Late Cretaceous coal deposits in mind.

What I was thinking of at the time was about the surface of my life.  When I meet with friends we talk about the weather, current events, how's work, how are the children, what have you been doing lately, and so forth.  It’s the day in day out going through the motions kind of life. 

But there’s got to be more to it that this.  There’s more to ME than this.  So I had hoped that I could blog about some of the deeper stuff that doesn’t really get talked about in normal social conversation.

As a Christian, I believe in a spiritual reality, that goes beyond what we can observe or measure.  (Similar to the concept in Quantum Physics, where the mathematics of the universe works best when you calculate based on multiple dimensions of both space and time, more than our three spatial and one temporal dimensional experience can measure directly. Not that I can follow all the maths myself – I’ll take the physicist’s word for it.) 

Lately I’ve been experiencing a sense of wanting to “go deeper” into my faith.  I find similar feelings echoed in the Scriptures:

My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
Where can I go to meet with God? (Psalm 42:2)

One thing I ask of the Lord,
this is what I seek:
That I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all of the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
and to seek him in his temple. (Psalm 27:4)

O God, you are my God,
earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you,
my body longs for you,
in a dry and weary land
where there is no water. (Psalm 91:1)

One of my favourite authors is C. S. Lewis, and one of my favourite passages of the Chronicles of Narnia is the final chapter of “The Last Battle”.  Having witnessed the end of the world of Narnia, and entered Aslan’s world, the characters are exhorted to “Don’t stop! Further up and further in!”.  At each stage of this journey the characters pass through a landscape that resembles that of Narnia, but is somehow more real, more “Narnia”; the Narnia they’d previously known was somehow a shadow, and imitation of this “real” country.  This chapter is titled “Farewell to the Shadowlands”.

C. S. Lewis visualised that heaven was somehow more real than the world we now live in.  The physical is but a reflection of the spiritual.  (He explored this concept using different imagery in “The Great Divorce”)

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. (1 Corinthians 13:12)

It is the basic message of Christianity is that we can experience a relationship with the divine in the here and now.  At Christmas we celebrate the birth of Jesus, God coming to us, and entering into history as a human baby. 

Christians look to a future where “God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-4)

The surface life I live day to day, my husband, children, household, work, friends and so forth, pales into irrelevance compared to the spiritual reality, the bigger picture of what Jesus called the “Kingdom of God”.  I need to live now in the “Shadowlands”, and yet still search for that higher and deeper connection to the spiritual.

So I choose to pray, to worship, to meditate and reflect on Scripture, and to make the effort to seek “the presence of God”.  Would anyone be willing to join me on this journey into higher and deeper faith, to go “further up and further in”?

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Pike River Mine

Rest awhile you 29 and tho born near or far lay in the land we all call home.
And if the land from which you wrought the treasured black gold should hold you longer we know it shall keep no greater treasure.
Be at peace.
Coasters all.

By Kerry Byrne 25 November 2010.

My various drafts over the last 8 days have not kept pace with developments, and this post has been completely rewritten several times.  For any of my non Kiwi readers who haven’t caught up with our news, Google “Pike River Mine” and you should get a pretty good coverage.

While I don’t know personally any of the 29, I know people who do.  New Zealand is a small country, and we’ve all felt the loss of these miners very deeply.  I was surprised at how intense my own feelings were as the week progressed.  I felt the shock, the anxiety.  I prayed for hope.  Then I wept. Then I prayed for those left behind, and wept some more.

I was conscious earlier in the week of feeling more for this tragedy than other “far away” events that have been even more tragic in terms of loss of life.  I posted the following on my facebook page:

When stuff happens in far away places like Chile or Georgia, it's easy to shrug it of as "just another mining accident". When it happens just down the road, it suddenly becomes more significant. But the far away ones are just as significant, so why does it take a close to home event before I actually start caring?

As humans we don’t have the capacity to care deeply about every disaster that’s happening on this planet on any given day.  (We’d probably end up in a nice comfortable padded room if we tried.)  But I believe in a God who does care, and walks through the grief and pain with us.

And I offer this hope to those who have lost loved ones.  The nation is grieving with you, praying for you, and we are here for you to lean on.  

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before be
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord

Psalm 23 (NIV)

Be at peace.  You will not be forgotten.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Sleeping Taniwha

Many eons ago a young taniwha played in the sun and splashed in the rock pools on the coast, watched over carefully by his mother in the Alps behind.  After some time he grew tired, and curled up against his great-grandfather’s resting place.  His watchful mother spread layers of alluvial gravel over him as a blanket as the taniwha sank into a deeper and deeper sleep.

The young taniwha dreamed of sea levels rising, of forests growing and giant flightless birds roaming among them.  He dreamed of people coming in canoes, who hunted the great birds.  He dreamed of forests burning.  He dreamed of more people coming in great ships with white sails, who planted pastures for their sheep and cattle, and built a city on the edge of the great plains.

On Saturday 4th September, 2010 at 4:35am, as the humans measure time, the taniwha rolled over in his sleep, without fully awaking.  The people in the city on the plains were woken by the shaking.  As the taniwha snuggled himself back into a comfortable spot under his blanket, the city was further rattled.

The taniwha is gradually settling back into his deep sleep .  He did not fully wake up, nor did his mother see the need to stir herself – this time.

Sunday, September 19, 2010


Things are slowly getting back into routine at our house. 

Pastor Pete recently posted a timely blog on “Habits”.  He mentioned in passing the “ruts” that unhelpful habits can get us into. 

At the same time, over the last month I’ve been reading my way through “Celebration of Discipline” by Richard Foster (thanks for the loan, Craig).  Foster points out that when we see the need for change in our lives, we usually rely on willpower and determination, and struggle to make that change any deeper than the surface.  As soon as the going gets tough we revert to our previous form. 

As Foster puts it - “When we despair of gaining inner transformation through human powers of will and determination, we are open to a wonderful new realisation: inner righteousness is a gift from God to be graciously received.  ...  We cannot attain or earn this righteousness of the kingdom of God; it is a grace that is given.”

Fosters spiritual disciplines are habits and routines that can help us come into a place where we are open to receiving that grace.  He also cautions against turning them into “laws” that become condemning and confining. 

I’d like to think it wouldn’t have taken an earthquake to shake me out of my ruts, but nonetheless here I am with the perfect opportunity to make some “tweaks” in my habits and routines in a helpful way. 

A starting place for me is to re-establish the habit (that stopped happening over winter) of a morning prayer time.  Especially seeing as I’ve been woken up before the alarm by the toddler anyway.  That will also be a chance to start practising some of Foster’s disciplines, and see what comes of them.  I’ll keep you posted of my progress.

On a more mundane level, I’m also aiming to start drinking more fresh water and less coffee, and I’m still working out how to rearrange our household chore roster.

What about your habits and routines – which are the helpful ones and which are unhealthy and need changing?  Are you in a rut, and if so what will it take to shake you out of it?

Sunday, September 12, 2010


As I was surfing the web this week, I found a number of comments out there on a number of sites along the lines of:

I wonder what Christchurch did to anger God to deserve this???

My first reaction in most cases was to shrug it off as a very insensitive remark, particularly since the authors of those comments are often overseas, and making many kinds of assumptions about the morality or immorality of Canterbury residents.

However, on further reflection, the comment does raise a couple of valid questions.  Why did God send this earthquake? If we consider the lack of fatalities, why did God not spare the lives of those in Haiti, Samoa etc?

I’m not a theologian nor a philosopher, but here are my own thoughts as a Christian on this matter.  In other words, Why do Bad Things happen to Good People?

I think the assumption underlying these kinds of questions is that calamity and disaster are a sign of God’s judgement for sin, while blessing and prosperity are a sign of God’s reward for righteousness.  I’m aware of a number of Christian preachers who appear to hold this idea (mostly ones I’ve seen on TV), but I don’t personally agree with it.

Reading the book of Job in the Old Testament, this issue has been grappled with by people of faith since the days of the Patriarchs. For those who haven’t read it, here’s a brief summary:  Job was a righteous man, yet God allowed major disaster and bereavement to fall upon him.  The bulk of the book is a dialogue between Job and his friends trying to convince Job he must have committed some grave sin, and his need to repent.  Job protests his innocence, and questions God, appealing to God’s justice.  (Read God’s answer to Job here).

The message I read in this book is that we don’t know or understand God’s plans or reasons, but the reality is that sometimes disaster does happen to “good” people, and it is not necessarily punishment for sin.

Another passage I found helpful in this is Luke 13:1-5.  Jesus challenges his listeners that victims of recent disasters were no more sinful than everyone else.  Romans 3 tells us that everyone has sinned and fallen short of God’s ideal.  What grace we receive is a free gift, neither earned nor deserved.

We live in an imperfect world, a creation that groans awaiting redemption. Tectonic plates are unstable, and produce earthquakes and volcanoes.  The atmosphere is unstable, and can produce hurricanes and other extreme weather.  The humans that are on the receiving end of these things are no more or less sinful than the rest of humanity.

I do believe in miracles.  Many of the close escapes last weekend have been described as miraculous. I don’t know if there was divine intervention in those cases, but if so then it does not mean that those receiving the miracle are any more righteous than anyone else.  Miracles are gifts of God’s grace. 

The God I believe in isn’t an old man with a white beard sitting above the clouds, handing out rewards and punishment.

The God I believe in never promised that Bad Stuff wouldn’t happen, or that I would always have blessing and prosperity if I follow his rules and regulations.

The God I do believe in does promise to always walk through the hard times with us.  He promises to provide comfort and strength.  He helps us find courage and compassion in times of disaster.

The God I do believe in challenges me about how I respond to hard times.  Do I spend time whinging and complaining, or by showing thankfulness, and practical love for those around me?  I don’t think a Christian response to disaster is to pronounce judgement, but rather to share the grace and love of God to those who are suffering.

John Key said this week “At the worst of times you see the very best of New Zealand”.  I like to think this would also be true of Christians.

How do you respond to suffering around you?  Are you tempted to think that in some way they’ve deserved it, or brought it upon themselves?  Or do you recognise the blessings we’ve received are so we can bless others, and demonstrate love and compassion?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

A New Kind of Normal

Humans are amazingly resilient creatures.

A week ago, a shallow, magnitude 4.something quake about 5km from where I live would have had me ducking for shelter.  Yesterday I stayed seated.  I still didn’t like them. When the tremor starts my stomach immediately knots up and I take several seconds to figure out whether it’s going to be one of the really big ones or not.  There’s been a couple that have been, but most of them I’m riding out.

Yesterday (Wednesday) morning there was a particularly sharp 5.1 magnitude shock.  My four year old carried on playing with her blocks, until I scooped her up and carried her to the door frame.  By the time we got there the shaking had stopped again.  A facebook friend posted photos of her children playing Jenga, with any aftershocks being treated as just an extra challenge to the tower falling over.

Of course we’ve been lucky to suffer no structural damage, and there are reports of very traumatised children in the evacuation centres whose families weren’t so fortunate.

But it got me all thinking about how relative “normal” is, and how “normal” changes over time.  When the shaking finally gets round to stopping, however long that takes, life in Christchurch will return to “normal”.  But it will be a normal minus certain historic landmark buildings around the city.  It will be a normal that sees a lot more people with emergency stocks of drinking water and camping stoves than we had last week.  Earthquakes will no longer be something that happens “somewhere else” like Wellington or Rotorua or on the main Alpine fault.  It will be a normal with rebuilt houses, and possibly rebuild suburbs.  In a few years time, we probably won’t notice the difference. 

Normal changes in other ways as well.  When I was growing up, I lived in a comfortable middle-class home.  Now I live in a low-income neighbourhood.  My perception of normal has shifted accordingly.  Parenting one child is quite different from parenting three children, and our normal has adjusted with the arrival of each child.

When you think back, how has your “normal” changed over time?

Monday, September 6, 2010

I’m over this.

I am OVER this earthquake.  I am over the aftershocks, and the continual wondering at the beginning of each one whether it will be big enough to need to duck under the table, or just stay put.  Even the smaller tremors tie my stomach into knots.  I’m over the stress.  I’m over needing to boil my water, and not flush unless absolutely necessary.  I’m over all the news about being nothing else except what I’m already living through. 

I need something to help me take my mind off all this stuff for a while, but all everyone around here can talk, blog, twitter or facebook about is swapping their various war stories.  I turn on the television and every channel is extended news coverage.  My normal method of relaxing is a deep hot bath, but we’re being asked to conserve water. 

The children are coping better than I am.  I wish for the resilience of childhood.  If I curl myself up in a little ball will it all go away?  Please?

So I’m thinking now about different strategies for stress management.  Not just the surface anxiety stuff – but the day in day out this isn’t going away in a hurry kind of stress.  It can relate to other situations, not just natural disasters.  Long term unemployment or sickness, for example, can also bring these kind of feelings. 

So far I’m working on journaling, prayer and meditation, reading fiction (but NOT John Christopher’s “Wrinkle in the Skin” or C.S. Lewis’ “The Last Battle”).  Normally finding someone to talk to helps, but everyone here is in the same boat so it’s harder to find someone not also emotionally involved.

What do you do to cope with stress and extended anxiety?

Saturday, September 4, 2010


I started drafting a post last night about making choices.  I’ll come back to that another day.

I was rudely woken up at 4:30am this morning by the world rattling around me.  There’s something about that kind of movement that the pit of your stomach recognises as unnatural.  I immediately thought “earthquake” and moved to grab the children and shelter in the doorframe.

The earthquake was a 7.1 magnitude quake only about 40km away.  Once the shaking paused, the three children all landed in our bed to huddle through the aftershocks.  No-one got much sleep.  A few restless hours later, my radio alarm came on and we got an idea of the scale of what we were in the middle of.

16 hours later, we’re still experiencing aftershocks, and still feeling shaken and rattled – literally as well as emotionally.

Last week I commented about choosing to an attitude of thankfulness.

I’m thankful that everyone I know is okay.  In fact, the news reports tells me that there have been only 2 serious injuries, and no fatalities, out of a city of some 300,000.  I’m thankful that in our neighbourhood there has only been minor damage – broken chimneys, cracked pavements.  I’m thankful for neighbours and friends checking up on each other and looking out for each other.  I’m thankful we still have power and water (even if it does need boiling).

I’m praying for the two families I know of (so far) who have experienced serious structural damage to their homes.  I’m praying for my children, that they won’t be too scared to settle tonight.  I’m praying for a city still in shock, still in a state of emergency, and for those families without power or water, or have been evacuated from their homes.

By giving thanks and praying, I find my heart rate starts to calm, and my focus shifts off myself.  I touch base with a spiritual reality that brings peace and stillness in the midst of all this.  Try it – it does actually work.

What are you thankful for today? Who are you praying for?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Losing Happiness Points

In a dusty corner of a cupboard somewhere, I have a board game called “Careers”.  There is a square on the board called the “Auto Show”.  You can chose to spend up to 1 year’s salary to buy a car and gain 1 “happiness point” for every $1,000 spent, or lose 1 “happiness point” for “just looking”.  Even though the game hasn’t been played for a few years (I’m waiting for the children to be old enough to play it) the phrase “losing happiness points” has entered into our family vocabulary.

The other week I lost quite a few happiness points.  I spotted a house for sale not very far from my children’s school.  Our circumstances being what they are, buying a house is just not an option for the foreseeable future, but I did spend a week or so daydreaming about this one.  It was only an average home, but it was in a quiet street, very close to school, four bedrooms, reasonably sized fenced back yard for the children to play in.  The kitchen was modern, and it seemed to have a nice large living area.

On the face of it, there’s nothing wrong with daydreaming.  But I found myself comparing my current, small, drafty rental house with the daydream and feeling dissatisfied.  I also found myself comparing with the lifestyles of my friends, who have different circumstances, and feeling almost ashamed of where I live. Our one small lounge feels even smaller than it did before I started daydreaming. Sadly, my lotto ticket didn’t win, neither did Mum’s.

The tenth Commandment in the Old Testament is “you shall not covet”.  I had always assumed that the reason we’re commanded not to covet, is it creates too much temptation to break some of the other commandments, for example adultery, theft, or murder etc, out of jealousy.  But I’ve come to realize this week that there’s more to it than that.  Coveting takes our attention off God, and distracts us with possessions and things.  Coveting is never satisfied, someone always has something better.

Our whole culture, and even our economy, is built around encouraging us to covet, especially the latest consumer gadget.  We are encouraged to be the first of our friends to have the latest iPad (none of my friends yet that I know about) or iPhone4 (you know who you are) and so on.  If we’re not the first, then the pressure is on to keep up with the Joneses. The little 2G phone that was perfectly adequate when I bought it 18 months ago, and actually still is perfectly adequate for making calls and sending text messages, just doesn’t seem to compare any more.

I've been tying to figure out how to “ground” my value of my spiritual relationship with God, into the practical realities of day to day living.

I've been finding the book “Celebration of Discipline” by Richard Foster to be quite helpful (thanks for the loan, Craig).  In his chapter about the spiritual discipline of “Simplicity”, he urges finding a balance between the “Mammon” spirit of our current society and “un-Christian legalistic asceticism.”  Foster points out that “Both can lead to idolatry.  Both are spiritually lethal.”

After reading that chapter, I noted three attitudes that I thought were important in finding that balance.  
  1. An attitude of Thankfulness
  2. An attitude of Contentment
  3. An attitude of Generosity
I can make a choice, that when I look at my small, drafty house, to be thankful that we can afford the rent, to be thankful that the landlord has recently laid carpet, with a nice thick underlay.  (I’ll keep praying for insulation).  I can choose to be thankful that even when my husband is unemployed, I can still work and earn enough to keep our family afloat (mostly).  I can choose to be thankful that I and my family are all healthy and happy.

I can make a choice to be content in my current circumstances.  I can choose to trust that the recession won’t last forever, and eventually there will be employment available again.  I can choose to not compare with either friend’s houses, or even my daydreams, but to accept the differences in our circumstances.   I can choose to buy only what I actually need, not to keep up with the consumerism of our culture.  If it still works, I don’t really need to upgrade.

I can make a choice to be generous.  I think it was one of Steve’s sermons that I picked up the phrase “we are blessed to be a blessing”.  (I don’t think there’s a verse that specifically says that in the Bible, but I would be happy to be corrected).  When I’ve been “blessed” with extra funds or given extra goods, I can choose to find ways of sharing those with other who have even more needs.

What about you? Where do you lose “happiness points”?  How do you find the balance in your life?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

What is the most important thing?

Our family’s journey over the last few months has not been an easy one.  With my husband unemployed, we’ve been living on what I earn part time, family assistance and our savings.  We haven’t gone without anything we need, but 9 months down the track I’m getting tired of having no surplus, no buffer fir extras.  Emotionally and mentally I’ve been feeling worn down by the constant weekly challenge to keep the budget balanced.  With the economy where it is, the prospects of our situation changing in the next few months are slim.

I’ve been thinking again about what’s important for me, and realised my focus has been out of balance.  What is helped me most over the last few weeks has been my faith.  I know some of the readers of this post aren’t Christian, but I am, and this is about my own journey, so please bear with me.

I was reading the Biblical account of Jesus walking on water.  Peter gets out of the boat to walk towards Jesus.  As long as Peter keeps his eyes fixed on Jesus, he’s able to walk on top of the waves - they’re pretty choppy waves too.  But when Peter takes his attention off Jesus and instead looks at the wind and waves, he panics and starts to sink.

I felt like I was Peter.  The storm was like our financial circumstances.  So long as I keep my focus on what’s most important - my relationship with God -  then I can walk over the tops of even the worst waves.

I’m not advocating ignoring your circumstances! I’m passionate about careful budgeting and planning, the importance of knowing what’s coming in and where it’s going out, the setting of goals and working towards them.

What I am talking about here is not letting your circumstances overwhelm you.  I’ve found that taking a step back from the detail and looking again at the big picture makes it easier to ride out the emotional stress of the day to day ups and downs.

The question I’m now asking myself on a daily basis is “Where is my main focus?”  Are my eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and perfecter of my faith, or am I focused instead on the circumstances around me.  I’m making the effort each day to spend some time “re-focusing”.  I surrender my anxieties and concerns to God, and pray for spiritual guidance in my day to day living and budgeting.

Going back to the Bible: in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches us “So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' ... But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

I asked the question on my facebook page: “what's the no.1 most important thing in your life?”  The replies I got back were about prioritising financial needs.  Can I encourage you to also take a step back from the finances, look at the bigger picture of your life, and ask yourself again what is the most important priority in your life?  What perspective does that give you when you go back and look again at your financial priorities?  I’d love to see your feedback.