hand washing and sitting

window pic jpegthe view from where I was sitting 

It’s so long since I last wrote here. So much has changed. Suddenly the things we thought we could depend on and the ways we reassured ourselves have become less sturdy. I went to the doctor on Monday and could see the stress on her face. Tuesday morning at school our pandemic plan was presented. Now we know when a school will close, what will trigger each respective stage. In January we were reading about a virus which was so far away. Now it is very close, and it’s unlikely that anyone will be unaffected, in some way.

I am wrestling with my own anxiety, and feeling a primal urge to self-isolate – a word which has strong-armed its way into common usage in record time. Self-isolation, social distancing – these were new words yesterday, today they are familiar as the hills. I am not in the category of the most vulnerable, but I still have weird things going on with my health. Even ordinary sickness ramps things up for me. I don’t want to get the virus.

I’ve been pretty germ-phobic since I was pregnant with my eldest sixteen years ago. My midwife had a client who ate a pie in the car after going to the supermarket, without washing her hands first. She caught listeria and lost the baby. Being pregnant is obviously intense – physically and psychologically – and that information coalesced with my heightened state and transformed me. I became germ-phobic overnight. Once I went back teaching, spending all day in contact with hundreds of teenagers, my cautious behaviour increased. I pushed open doors with my feet, pulled down my sleeve to turn door handles. It felt like self-care.

At times I’ve been embarrassed by this behaviour. We now understand that unless you have a dysfunctional immune system, living in a perfectly sanitized environment is dangerous. I wondered, for a while, if I had been overreacting all those years. And yet as we head into a period of unparalleled global emergency caused by a single virus originating from a single source, I’m thinking that all these years of “paranoia” have actually been useful training. I have skills. I can turn a tap on and off with my arm. I already avoid touching my face.

But all the hand washing in the world is not going to completely stop the course of this virus. What we are collectively facing is unprecedented. We are going to lose people. People are going to lose jobs and businesses. The arts community is reeling. The hospitality industry is beginning to reel. One of my best friends has had to postpone her wedding. My dad was due to visit next weekend. Normal, whatever normal looked like for each of us, has gone. I can feel it in my gut, it’s a heavy wariness. The world is going to look very different when we come out the other side of this.

I’m not religious like I used to be, and that’s a good thing. But I still pray. And somehow it’s one of the few things that make sense for me right now. It’s not that I think my sitting quietly is going to change anything external to me (although I hold space for the possibility), it’s just that I have to do something. I can’t think of the families who have lost or will lose loved ones and do nothing. I can’t think about those facing the loss of their income or their life’s work and do nothing. So I pray. I pray a simple version of the lovingkindness prayer, thinking of a person, or a group of people.

May you be happy. May you be safe. May you be healthy. May you live a life of ease.

It seems impossible to think about a life of ease right now. But perhaps it’s the right thing to ask for, even if it’s only relative ease, or ease in a small detail, or ease in spite of what’s going on, or ease on the inside of us, when the outside is so unpredictable.

eight and forty-four

IMG_2860Warrington, Monday 16th July

I’ve taken a while to find myself. I was looking for so long. I caught snatches every so often, glimpses of my reflection in the still water of calm, when the calm found me. There were moments when my reflection was so vivid, so arresting in it’s me-ness that I thought I’d actually found myself, but then the image would inevitably fade, and things would grow murky again.

It was like searching for something through silty water. Every time I took a step forward my movement stirred the mud again, and there I was, seemingly no wiser than before I took the step. And yet perhaps it wasn’t so futile. Perhaps it was more like the kind of methodical turning over that happens in an archaeological dig. Laboriously scraping back layer after layer, not with the infinite care of a professional about to uncover some world treasure, but with the desperation of someone who knows they have yet to live. Each layer compelled me downwards. My nails were caked.

I saw The Return of the Jedi at the Civic Theatre with my dad when I was eight. I remember it was eight because it was the first movie I ever saw in a theatre and the event played a starring role in my childhood folklore. I didn’t go to the movies until I was eight. My mum didn’t let me because she said going to the movies was evil. What a movie to see on my first trip to the cinema. And what a theatre! I could take you to our seats today. Upstairs just left of the middle, about three rows below the aisle. Peering down at the golden lions either side of the stage, eyes glowing, and back up to the midnight sky above, those tiny blinking stars calling me into my imagination.

What an invitation! And I heard it loud and clear! My saving grace through those early years was my imagination. Through it I rescued myself, as often as I could. I was like the dancing princesses, in the collection of Grimm’s Fairly Tales gifted to me on my eighth birthday, who escaped from their beds every night and danced until dawn. I was like them because I could escape. I could take myself away, up into the wide open spaces of my mind. And reading was the best way of doing that. Dear Moonface. Dear Uncle Bilbo. Dear Muffie Mouse. Dear Wombles, all of you.

There were so many things that happened the year I turned eight. As I sit here writing it down I find myself wondering if it really all happened in one year. But this is my story, not a historical account, so here’s a list. I had a sleep over at my friend Celina’s who lived around the corner. We slept in a tent in her garden and were awake until after 11pm. I know because I saw it on the digital clock on the dresser in her parents’ bedroom which we kept getting up to visit, even after they’d gone to sleep. One weekend my mum made homemade ice-cream, chocolate chip mint, icy and sweet and we shared it with the kids from next door.

Other things happened. I watched the old woman next door water the garden with an empty kettle. My dad came back to New Zealand and my mother wouldn’t let me see him. He turned up at our flat one day with a present for my birthday and I sat on the lounge floor frozen, while he and my mother talked in low tones at the back door. Go and see your father, said the friend of my mother’s who was visiting. Go and see your father. But I couldn’t move a muscle. How could I? That was the year I lay awake for hours most nights, sleep as far away as the moon. When the heavy weight of sadness descended in the evenings as the sun went down, the same weight I recognised as depression much later.

I have often wondered why my fairly ordinary childhood gave me so much to work through. Everyone else around me seemed to be getting on with things pretty easily. Other people with more tragedy in their lives than I’d experienced, or perhaps more obvious tragedy, seemed more resilient. I grew up timid, anxious, shy, and more than all of those things; acutely sensitive. I managed to build a kind of armour around myself as a teenager, but it was mostly bravado, and a thin bravado at that. Underneath I was all open and aching heart.

I’m reading The Choice, by Edith Eger, a survivor of the Holocaust.  It’s an incredible book, not just because of the power of her story, but because she narrates it as a psychologist, from the perspective of someone who has worked through her own story and also walked alongside others as they do the same. Something early on in the book moved me to tears. “There is no hierarchy of suffering,” she writes. “There’s nothing that makes my pain worse or better than yours, no graph on which we can plot the relative importance of one sorrow versus another…I don’t want you to hear my story and say, ‘My own suffering is less significant.’ I want you to hear my story and say, ‘If she can do it, then so can I!’” Her words gave me permission to tell my story as it is, without shame or excuses. And with that permission came a rush of self-compassion.

There was an evening earlier this year when I’d been hurt by something. Something ordinary became a trigger of enormous proportions and I was completely adrift in a sea of grief. The pain was extreme. I tried to make sense of my hurt, tried to rationalise it. Tried to figure out why it felt so bad. I’ve been aware of the little girl inside me for a while now, and as I slowed my thinking down I realised how terrified she was right in that moment. Terrified that she was all alone, terrified that there was nobody who could help her. A memory came flooding back. The scariest scene in The Last Jedi. Jabba the Hut’s pit, and that awful monster with the sucking tendrils at the bottom. And there I saw myself; a little girl holding on to the side of that pit for dear life, about to fall in.

There’s fear and then there’s terror. This was terror. It was completely overwhelming. It wanted to swallow me up. It wanted me to fall into it and never get out again. It was the fear beneath the fears. The terror that had lurked behind every loss and hurt that followed. And I was finally feeling it. Finally, I could witness that terrified little girl.

What happened after I saw myself on that edge is the kind of thing that can happen to any of us, when the circumstances are right. I was with my partner, and she was holding me. It wasn’t so much the words she said as the fact that I knew I was with a wise witness. Somehow her presence helped me to see that the moment I was in was sacred. That it wasn’t to be avoided or run away from. Suddenly I could see that I’d been waiting to get to this place all my life, and that now I was here, there was work to be done. Holy, magic, soulful work. The work that can change the course of a life.

So I focused on that girl, that dear, terrified girl. Holding on so tightly because if she didn’t hold on tight she would fall in and never get out again. And as I watched her, I saw angels. Angels. They weren’t doing anything. They weren’t trying to rescue her or even stop her falling, they were just being with her. Being with me. Because being there, witnessing her, and letting myself feel that terror was one of the bravest things I’d ever done. The angels confirmed that. They were there because what I was doing was important.

Then I looked up and saw I wasn’t alone. There were people just above me at the top of the pit. They were the people who I knew loved me and would help me if I asked. There weren’t many of them, but I didn’t need many. I just needed to know I wasn’t alone. And then one of them stepped forward. The most important one of them all. Me. Forty-four year old me to be exact. With the most exquisite look of calm determination on her face as she walked towards the edge. She climbed over and let herself down to where I was holding on, picked me up, and wrapped me in her arms. I was found.

I’ve taken a while to find myself. I’ve been looking for so long. It’s a life’s work. One I won’t ever completely finish. And yet there are moments along the way, like this one right now, when I know I’ve got somewhere significant. When I know I’ve seen something important, and rather than ignore or hide I’ve faced it, head on. And in the facing of it I find myself, right there at the centre of the pain. Each time is incredible. Like a homecoming and a reunion and an unveiling, all at once. I am witness and rescuer. Every time.

the truth right now

me 1

This is my question: what is the truth right now?

In her lecture “The Value of Not Understanding Everything,” Grace Paley instructs writers to remove these lies:

  1. The lie of injustice to characters.
  2. The lie of writing to an editor’s taste.
  3. The lie of writing to your best friend’s taste.
  4. The lie of the approximate word.
  5. The lie of unnecessary adjectives.
  6. The lie of the brilliant sentence you love the most.

Which lies am I guilty of? I am guilty in part of writing to an invisible editor’s taste, yes. I am guilty of the lie of writing to my best friend’s taste – if you replace best friend with “audience of IRL people who I’m aware read my blog sometimes.”  The lie of the approximate word? No. Tell me if I have ever done this and I will rectify it immediately. The lie of unnecessary adjectives? God I hope not. The lie of the brilliant sentence, chapter, section, character, event, you love the most? Absolutely.

So I am learning to be cutting with my work. To be my own worst critic. Not before the thing is written, not during the writing of the thing, no, then the critic is in solitary confinement, all doors and windows locked. But afterwards? After the thing is written? Critic I must be. I must be ruthlessly after my very best. Nothing else will satisfy.

So what is the truth here?

The truth is this. I was lost for a long time. I didn’t know the sound of my own voice. I didn’t know what I was capable of. I was driven to please.

About Goya, Andre Malraux writes:

“To allow his genius to become apparent to himself it was necessary that he should dare to give up aiming to please.”

I have been driven for approval. Thinking that as long as I finished the novel I would gain it. That somebody would like the story and validate me, and then my whole, desperate, life-long search for approval would be over, once and for all. Ha! What was I thinking? It also happens that I was burdened with a false sense of importance. Oh dear. What a contradiction. To completely lack self-belief and at the same time be weighed down with self-importance. I thought the world needed me. I thought my story would fix things, make a small corner of the world better, even in microscopic amounts. I thought I had the power to ameliorate. Ha.

The truth is, I need me and I need this story. The truth is, I do have the power (by the grace and mystery of God) to ameliorate  myself. I can help myself, in microscopic, incremental amounts. That is all.

So this is the truth: I write for an audience of one. I have known this deep, deep down, for a very long time.

And this is what I tell myself: shut the door, turn off the phone. Shut down every highway that brings you information and comment from afar. Turn away from every source that leads you away from you. Turn down the volume to the world until all you hear are whispers and quiet songs and ancient murmurings. Close the curtains on the peripheral – the constant, blinding movement of other people’s lives. Narrow your focus until all you can see is your own sacred present. Leave all else in shadow, it is not your concern.

Now, when everything is almost silent, present yourself to yourself. Step out of the shadow of your own obscurity to yourself and take a good look. You are not what you expected. You are neither as good as you hoped, nor as broken as you feared.  You are not the knight in shining armour you thought you needed, not the vision from afar you were waiting for. You are no more and no less than you. And there aren’t any options. You did not come with an exchange card. You are irreplaceable, a unique composition. Available and useful primarily to you. The beginning of everything. Look up at the mirror and say it: here I am.

Now what will you do with yourself?

I will take care of myself. I will listen to myself. I will write the words that I most need to hear. I will harness the stories I most need to listen to. I will ask the questions I need answered. I will seek the learning I lack. I will not cover my wounds. I will not hide what is broken. I will not walk when I should be limping, will not run when I should be walking. I will not move when I should be still, will not be still when I need to move. I will not stay when I should go, nor go, when I should stay. I will treat myself with tenderness and kindness. I will go ferociously after my own best interests. Which I believe, in the end, are the best interests of all of us. Honesty. Safety. Quality. Nurturance. Growth. It’s not rocket science.

Will you let me go? Will you help me to release myself from the heavy bonds of loyalty I gave to everyone but myself? Will you hear me when I say no, not now, not yet, not ever? Will you let me be silent while I wait for new words to come, because the old words didn’t always serve me well? The old words kept me heavy and bowed down. God knows they kept you bowed down sometimes too.

I thought I mattered to the world. I was misinformed. I matter to myself. Now, to see to that.

At the beginning

st clair pic2

If you look closely at the picture above you’ll see three girls heading off into the future. Ignore the sign to the public toilets, that’s a minor detail. The point is everything else. The signs directing us to the rest of the world, the one marking the spot right where we are. This is the beginning of everything.

Who knew we had to come so far to come so far? I didn’t. Sometimes the future turns up and smacks us right in the face with it’s now-ness, it’s very here-I-am-ness. “And what are you going to do about me,” it demands. “What are you going to do with all this potential?”

I’ve always felt that I was somehow defective, let’s make that plain. And that it was my fault. You may understand. I was too different, too clumsy, too opinionated, too stupid, too sensitive, too wrong. The list could go on. I wasted my time on self-doubt, spent forty years defending myself, threw my pearls down like cattle feed, bent my ear to everyone but myself. It’s time to get on with things.

I am making quite sure that I bring up children who know exactly how to talk back. I give them opportunities to excel in the language of disagreement. In our house doors are slammed, fists get clenched, faces ashen with anger. It is my job, and I take it seriously, to ensure that there is ample room for dialogue. Feelings are formulated into words, words are spoken. I want to know how they feel. And I don’t, generally speaking, take it personally.

The most exquisite and most painful challenge for any parent is to give to their children what they were not given themselves. This is true for all of us, everywhere. But to give it to them well, we must eventually (and the sooner the better) give it to ourselves. And so I am working hard on listening to myself, on putting feelings into words, on telling the truth. The truth begins inside, it’s an internal knowing that is apprehended in the quiet dark space within. But eventually it needs to take shape. It needs to be spoken out loud. This is where I begin.

south

sth is journey pic2

It’s been three weeks since we left, two and a half weeks since we arrived. This was the sky that spread itself over us as we travelled south, the wide wide blue pressing down onto yellow-dry land. Driving off the ferry and through Malborough to Kaikoura was like turning a corner and suddenly finding ourselves somewhere completely different. Not so different that we didn’t know where we were, but different enough that there was no doubt we were somewhere else.

And it’s all new down here too, in this place we now call home. Dunedin is different to Auckland in almost every way. The size, the weather, the landscape, the people, the pace of life. I spent the first week or so pinching myself, reeling as if I’d just stepped off a ride at an amusement park. Where was I? Was I really here? The first few days were mad, the hallway so full of furniture and boxes we could barely walk through, the floor in the girls’ bedroom a forest of partly unpacked boxes, the contents spilling out over the floor.  We had no internet for two weeks,  waiting for our fibre to be connected. Every time we got in the car we had to use GPS.

Even now, here in this tiny sunroom that is my study, I can only get into the room by gingerly walking sideways, careful not to knock over the towers of boxes and papers and books stacked up behind me. We knew it would be a challenge downsizing to a small three bedroom house, but we really couldn’t have imagined just what a challenge it would be. On the day the truck arrived with all our things I stood on the footpath watching the movers ferry our boxes and furniture into the house and it dawned on me that our lounge suite was not going to fit, not in the lounge which we had measured up carefully on paper, nor through the front door and into the hallway which was already filled with furniture which we hadn’t yet been able to fit into place. I rang my friend Stacey and said By the way I’m crying and Do you want to borrow our entire lounge suite? She said yes, having just done the opposite of us and shifted from a small place into a much larger one. There were no words for how grateful I was.

I wrote about letting go a while ago, about the process of paring back. We did that in plenty of ways before we moved down here, but it wasn’t until we were here in the reality of this new life that we saw how much more we needed to do. Isn’t that just how life goes? There’s only so much preparation that can be done prior to the event. Preparation takes us so far, and then at some point we have to step out and do the thing we’ve been preparing for. Whether an adventure or venture or some mix of the two, we really have no idea how it’s going to go until we begin it. And look, I’ve just written my way to the word Advent. From the Latin adventus, to arrive or approach.

The season of Advent finishes today, Christmas Eve. Our Advent this year has been the least advent-y of them all. We put the Christmas tree up a few days after we arrived and bought a few presents for the girls, but other than that we’ve been living in a nebulous time, as if we somehow became separated from the calendar. The light down here at the bottom of the world is so different, it barely gets dark before ten in the evening. The days stretch out so that we completely lose track of time. We’ve hardly known what day it is, let alone how far away we were from Christmas. And yet we were living an advent of our own as we prepared for the big move. And living in a wider, less tangible advent over the last two years as we sensed a growing need within us for change.

Significant change doesn’t have to involve physical change, but often it does, the outward transformation becoming an external representation of what has happened internally. I think of a friend of mine who transitioned from female to male over the last couple of years. I watched from afar as he ‘crossed over’ via surgery. It seemed to me that the surgery he underwent both confirmed and crystallised the state of being that already was already  a reality for him on the inside. The physical change he experienced in surgery was a representation of something internal and at the same time the catalyst that brought the change about in its fullest, most complete sense. It brought congruence.

I’d already shifted, before I moved south. I was already somewhere else. The move was simply an external representation of what had been an internal reality for some time. And yet it was more than that. The change in location crystallised my inner transformation like nothing else could. It brought out what had been inside, it made physical what had been metaphysical. It shifted me to where I already was. So that I can now be where I am.

I can’t help wondering whether the Advent of Christ did something similar. That perhaps it brought into being something that had already existed. That the physical birth of Christ into a physical, tangible location was a representation of the divinity that was already present metaphysically. That by being born as a human child in the most ordinary of circumstances, Christ gave us what we already had. The presence of God.

We had no idea how much we needed to move, until we got here. We had no idea how natural the change would be, how easily the girls would fit in, make friends, make themselves at home. Just as we could never fully prepare for the worst that the shift would entail (and there were moments when the upheaval was overwhelming,) neither could we fully prepare for the best that was waiting for us. We couldn’t have imagined how good it was going to be.

I’ve written many times over the last few years about being pregnant with my self, about giving birth to my self, about being born, finally, after all these years. There were times when I wrote as if I was out, born, alive. And yet the actual birth process was much longer and more complicated than I ever could have seen. I’ve been born in little ways, bit by bit, for a long time. But perhaps it wasn’t until now, until I picked myself up by the scruff of the neck and threw myself down to the bottom of the country, that I could really breathe.

walking through

I walk through two narrow and windowless rooms every day on the way from my classroom to our department workroom. The desks in there are almost always empty, the computers that sit on them barely used, and the rooms are dark. The only light comes from either end; the hallway behind me where I’ve come from, and the hallway I’m heading towards. There’s a light switch but I never bother looking for it.

It has become a ritual of sorts, this regular walk through the quiet darkness. In the early mornings the darkness of dawn is matched by the darkness of my corridor; I begin the day at one with myself. Later, having just walked out of a bright and noisy classroom, the silent dark presses in as I walk through it, and my senses relax. It is a moment of peace, a walking meditation. I find myself again.

A long time ago I would have said it was wise to avoid darkness, in all its many forms. I’ve spent most of my life pacing the well-lit corridors of the stories I told myself about myself, never daring to go  more than a few steps into the dark that was my deep unknown, my unconscious self.  I would stand in the doorway and imagine I knew what was in there.  I couldn’t see any point in venturing in. Until I had no choice.

My daily walk through the narrow dark has become a small and tangible image of my own internal journey. It reminds me that although I’m still trekking those deeps, I am heading somewhere. And that the darkness, disconcerting as it is, can be peaceful. There’s no point rushing down there, no race to be won, no performance necessary.  There is no audience in the dark but myself. And in the end I find that it is myself that I must discover on this long and dim walk. No monsters lurking in shadows. Just a girl; patiently waiting.

The gift is to keep moving towards her, the treasure found in the walking, in the journey forwards. The movement doesn’t need to be consistent, or even necessarily in the same direction; there just needs to be some measure of mobility. This is grace, as I understand it. To be in shadowed, unfamiliar territory and still be able to take the next step.

This grace that keeps me moving is the sense I have of being part of something that is bigger than myself. And Easter, that strange ending that becomes a beginning, is the most eloquent image I have of this wider, wilder knowing. The one I find myself inextricably bound to, despite my moments of unbelief.

We  scoff at the idea of a resurrection; the grand embellishment on a story full of embellishments. A clever trick played by a few grief-stricken apostles.  But the motif of death and re-birth is nothing new.  It has been with us since the beginning. We’ve painted it, created rituals to celebrate it and told stories to remind ourselves of it, over and over again. If Jesus knew the significance his death would take, then he knew that in dying he was speaking a universally understood language. And if he knew that something waited for him beyond the doorway of death, then his death, that one solitary loss, holds meaning for as many of us who’ve heard it told. The moment he gave up his breath becomes an invitation from one to many. An invitation to move from death to life.

And there’s that idea of movement again. The same one I consider every time I walk through those narrow, windowless rooms.  I’m on my way from some where to some where else but I’m also, in a funny otherworldly sense, inhabiting a space that exists within me all the time. That space I walk through on the way to myself. But it’s a glimpse of something bigger too; that wider movement I will never escape. The same wider, wilder movement that we are all part of by virtue of being alive.   The one that Christ became part of on that infamous Friday, that tied him to all of us, as we live and breath and move and die.  Over and over again.

 

the day after the ball

canon13MAY 084

I had a dream the other night which made me wonder, on waking, how I would live my life if I knew my time here was limited. I got up and looked out the back door and saw that the water on the harbour was shimmering silver blue in the early morning light. I tried to take a photo of it but the camera couldn’t do it justice. It caught the dewy leaves on the kauri tree at the bottom of the garden, and the warm depth of the golden early light, but it couldn’t catch the water. Depending on which setting I tried, the water was either just a pale hint of something grey in the background of the photo, or else it faded into nothing at all. I realised right then, standing outside in my pyjamas, that I had a choice. I could either live my life in the foreground, in the shallows, in the safe places, like the view the camera could see. Or I could stretch out and live my whole life, the one that reached out far beyond the space that was right in front of me.

There’s a humility that comes with desperation for the truth. It’s  a brokenness that’s not really broken at all. It comes to us when we take a very raw, very honest appraisal of our life and the circumstances surrounding it, and no matter how complicated it seems or how vulnerable that makes us, it’s actually entirely sane.  It’s a view like looking down at our life from a very high place and seeing the breadth and the depth of it, and realising that there is so much more to life than our temporary hurts or doubts or needs. Realising that our lives are about so much more than our comfort, or our perceived safety, or our being understood. Our real lives are about this burning sense we have somewhere within us of what it means to be us, and the responsibility we all have as uniquely created beings not to squander this incredible thing that it is to be ourselves.

I’ll tell you this. I know without a doubt that we are all created. I also know that we all belong to each other, all of us. I believe that our creator can be known as God, but that not all of our ideas about God are helpful or true.  I believe that God (adjusted understanding) is available to all of us, regardless of where we are or what we believe. And I think that Jesus Christ was the best representation we have of that unknowable and yet knowable God. I don’t say that to marginalise any faith that does not approach Jesus in the same way I do, only to state what I believe to be true, and which I bear witness to in my own life.

I think Jung was the first to use the expression “Christ-consciousness” in regards to an intuitive understanding about the uniqueness of Christ that exists in the world and is not restricted by boundaries of faith or religion, nor found only in the company of those who would call themselves “Christians.” This Christ-consciousness is an intuitive response to Jesus that would be witnessed to, I believe, by millions of people. Whether we think of him as prophet, universal teacher, good person, or the incarnation of God, a huge number of us agree on one thing; he was not an ordinary person, and there is much we can learn from his life.

I was brought up to be a Christian. This meant a whole lot of things, including that I understood on an intellectual level that Jesus Christ was my example of how to be human. This in itself is a powerful thing. We have the legacy of many men and women the world over who gave us much because they followed the example of Jesus. Some of them were Christians, Mother Teresa being one of many, and others were not, like Gandhi. For many of these people, their Christ-consciousness deepened and became more than just intellectual. Their knowings about Jesus shifted to the area we might call the heart, or the spirit. They came to understand, mysterious as it is, that Jesus can be “known” in the present tense.

My understanding of Christ deepened from the intellectual to the spiritual gradually, as I grew up surrounded by the stories of Jesus in the Gospels. The Jesus who took pity on the old woman bent over by crookedness in her spine; the Jesus who called children to him and showered affection on them; the Jesus who healed the leper and set him free from life as a perpetual outcast, was the Jesus I came to know and love. And not love in a rosy sort of Disney kind of way, like I might have said  “I love chocolate,” but a love that came from somewhere so deep I could barely recognise its source. A love that welled up out of a genuine, almost inexpressible gratitude for what I knew I had been given. For in all of those stories I saw myself. I was crooked and I had been made straight. I was diseased, and I was made whole, I was rejected, and in Jesus I knew I was found.

I went to the sixth form ball with a guy that worked at the same supermarket as I did. It was the Thursday night shift, 5-9pm. I was a checkout operator and he was a packer, and if he was assigned to pack at my checkout he would tease me and make jokes all night. I’d spend the whole shift laughing, and my till was always out. We didn’t see each other outside of  work, but when it came to finding a partner for the ball I didn’t have many options, and truth be told, I liked him. My mother sewed me a blue wool crepe shift dress.  I wore it with my hair in a sort of beehive, looking like a re-incarnation of her in the sixties. I mostly had a good time, and my supermarket friend and I kind of made out in the back of the taxi on the way home. We had a running joke about living up north somewhere and having babies, but really we were the most unlikely and unsuitable couple. We could have been plain old friends, I suppose, if that had occurred to me. But I was far too insecure to figure that one out for a long time.

The day after the ball was a Sunday, and on that Sunday evening, in a black tub filled with warm water on the stage of the school hall my church met in, I was baptised. There’s a photo of me in my wide tortoise-shell glasses and my uneven, ringleted fringe, with a smile beaming from my face just as I was about to be dipped under. I remember it clearly. “It was the happiest day of my life,” I said to someone a few days later. “I feel like I’ve been smiling all week.” At sixteen I was insecure and confused about a whole lot of things, but I wasn’t insecure about Jesus. Jesus was the most real, most dependable thing I knew, and getting baptised was a natural thing for me to do. It was purely symbolic, and in a sense, completely immaterial to the daily goings on of my teenaged life, but it meant the world to me. I was making an inner truth known externally. And as theologian Paul Tillich has expressed, I was participating in a symbol which pointed to something beyond itself, which, in the moment I sank under those tepid waters, drove the infinite towards the finite, and the finite towards the infinite.

There was no brainwashing involved. No coercion of any sort. Not from the church, nor it’s leaders, nor from my mother. Not explicitly or implicitly. In that moment, wet and grinning from ear to ear, with an other-worldly shine in my eyes, I was my own woman. I was doing something entirely for myself. And that, you might understand, was a miracle.

I’ve changed a lot since that day more than twenty years ago, and my understandings about God have shifted and re-arranged themselves countless times over. But when it comes down to it, the essence of what I believed then is the essence of what I believe now. God is, and God is available to be known, and Jesus is one of our surest pathways towards that knowing.

The view out over the harbour early that morning last week was beautiful. The grass was wet with dew, as were the leaves on the hedge in front of the house. Beyond it, slightly hazy in the barely risen sun, was the water like a strip of pale silvery-blue glass.  I stood at the back door looking out at that exquisite water which I could see with my own eyes,  but which I couldn’t record or reproduce, or even explain in a way that would do it justice, and I thought about my life, my real life, the one I’ve been writing about finding. I’ve had a nagging sense for a long time that my real life was “out there” somewhere, waiting for me, glinting with possibility and yet so far away, so illusory and hard to define. I’ve tried to capture it through others, I’ve wanted other people to tell me what it was and how to get it. I’ve used other people like the lens of a camera, trying to see myself through their eyes.

But they can’t see what I see. They can’t see how far into the distance the horizon stretches, nor how hopeful or blue the water is. They can’t see the almost imperceptible line where the harbour meets the shore on the other side, and they can’t see the buildings in the city beyond, square windows of light through to the other side of the world.

I don’t want to stay in the foreground of my life.  I can see that water so shiny and blue it makes my heart ache, and I can’t imagine living my whole life without venturing out into it. I’m writing these words today because I realised, standing outside that morning, that I’ve been living half my life. I’ve been living the life that other people could see, the life that other people approved of. I’ve spent thirty-eight years defining myself by comparison. It’s time to put down the camera, and open up my eyes.

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We drove over to the other side of the harbour on New Year’s Day, to spend the day with my sister and her family. This was the view from the side of the road on our way home at dinner time, the sun heading down towards the sea, the wild grass beginning to pink. I never get tired of this drive, the way the narrow roads curve up along the ridge of the Awhitu Peninsula. One side looks back towards the city, and the other, over undulating hills and hidden valleys, towards the ocean.

It’s sad the hills are barren, in one sense. And yet there’s something sensual about their naked curves. I want to run my hands over them, smooth them out and bunch them up again, like a child with playdough. If you look carefully you get a glance at a small lake in the flat land between the hills, a glinting sheet of glass in the sun, a second later it’s gone. Earlier, at the beginning of the road, there’s a small old wooden church that commands a view not unlike the one you see above. It’s an unused church, religiously speaking, and yet it is iconic and beloved. A church with a view.

I like the days around New Year’s.  They command a view. A view back to the year that has gone, and a view forward into our dreams. Oh how we wonder how the next year of days will turn. What surprises, what successes, what dreams come true, what longings, what pain will surface in the next three hundred and sixty five days? The days will go fast, we know that for sure. They will tumble away behind us and we won’t be able to do anything about it. Except let them go.

I let 2012 go on Monday night, at midnight, when the crackle of unseen fireworks burst into the quiet night. I didn’t even try to hold on. 2012 was a complicated year, the hardest I’ve lived; emotionally, relationally and spiritually. I wouldn’t wish that year on myself again. And yet I couldn’t have got to 2013 without it. In fact, I couldn’t have got to the rest of my life without it. 2012 was the doorway to my life.

Catholic writer Richard Rohr talks about doorways and transitions as “liminal space”, a space that is “thin” in the Celtic sense, closer to the unseen realm. The term “liminal space” is not new, but its more deeper, spiritual sense has been best articulated by Rohr. The term comes from the latin limen meaning threshold and in this article “On the Edge of the Inside” Rohr notes that the tradition of having guardians and spirits of “doors, bridges, exits and entrance ways” can be noted across cultures and throughout history. He points out that “the ancients knew that you need guidance, patronage, and protection as you move from one place or state to another.”

The concept of liminal space has resonated with me since I first heard it, and I’ve come to understand it as a space or time of transition, often where things feel difficult, where life is not unfolding in a predictable or easily understood manner, and where perhaps it feels as if there is pressure on all sides, not unlike the pressure a newborn experiences as she is propelled through the birth canal. I said to a friend once that being pregnant is the ultimate liminal space, because it is nine months of transition, nine months of waiting for a new life to arrive, nine months of preparing to be transformed into the mother of the new life, with no escape route.  In a way, pregnancy is double liminal space. The gestation and the giving birth to new life is one form, and the gestation of the mother herself, as she waits to be born, as she waits to be transformed into motherhood, is the other. She is both the carrier of life and the growing life herself.

I thought about this over Christmas. I had a card with a reproduction of “The Visitation” by James B Janknegt as part of our nativity scene, thanks to World Vision’s Advent in Art series. The painting shows Mary and her cousin Elizabeth  greeting each other, and the babies leaping in their wombs in recognition of each other. The picture is like  an animated version of an ultrasound, but with a slight difference: the babies are depicted as their adult selves, Jesus with a crown, and John falling to his knees in worship, the present and the future rolled into one.

If I was pregnant in 2012, it was a rough pregnancy. The symptoms surprised, and the growth didn’t happen in an orderly, expected fashion. What’s more, it was a funny sort of pregnancy, not one that was plainly seen by the bulging of a belly. It was all on the inside. And if I was pregnant, I gave birth to myself, which means I had that double liminal space thing going on. I was pregnant with myself. I grew heavy, weary, sick of the challenges and the complications, tired of the continual necessity for introspection and self-revelation. It was hard work. The growing was hard work too. And it’s not very pleasant to be forced under enormous pressure through a narrow canal, as if your life depended on it. But I’m out.

I’ve spent most of my life trying to find my life. I’ve tried, and failed, at plenty of things other than the two things I know I was born for;  my family, and my words. Even once I finally figured out that all I really wanted to do was write, I still did things the hard way. Always searching, always striving for the key that would unlock my “perfect” writing life. I was convinced that if I could just get the help I needed, or just wake up at five every morning, or just do the research I thought would answer all my doubts, that I’d be away, laughing. If I’d been right, I would have written several novels by now. In fact if you’d told me, at twenty-two, that I’d be approaching forty with no novels to show for it, I’d have been aghast. I simply wouldn’t have believed you.

I took the dog for a walk through our bush this afternoon. I found myself throwing a few words up at God, as I often do when I walk. I apologised for being useless at everything from being disciplined with food, to being disciplined with my art. It wasn’t overly dramatic or anything, just what naturally came out as I let the words rise. As soon as I’d said it, I looked up. There in the trees above me was a tui, one of my favourite birds. These beauties have a gorgeous green glint in their dark feathers, a beautiful white bell at their throats, and a trill of a call that is haunting. I smile when I see a tui in our bush, because it feels like such a luxury to have them so close, to be their neighbours. And as I looked up at this tui, I reallised. The tui doesn’t have to do anything to be beautiful. The tui just is. The tui is beautiful because he is tui.

Can I believe that about myself? Can I believe that I am beautiful, that my life has meaning, just because I am? And that the words I’m longing to write will come, not by some forced effort of will, but by the simple act of being. I am beautiful because I am. I will write because I am Idoya. The question came to me then, what would my name look like as a verb? What would it mean to Idoya. What would my life look like if it was filled with the simple act of Idoya-ing.

What would your name look like as a verb? What would it mean to Patrick, or to Hilary, to Joy, to Daniel, to Esme, to Carey, to Glen or to Allie? What does Melanie-ing look like? Or Heidi-ing? It sounds silly, I know, but it makes sense. What would a life devoted to the art of Jayraj-ing look like? Anita-ing? Leonie-ing? A life full of being Amy? What if your whole life’s work and purpose and joy was summed up in your name, in the essence of you. Could it really be that simple?

I think it is that simple, and yet, as 2012 has taught me, it’s not simple at all. To live a life devoted to the art of being you, you have to first know who you are. To be yourself, you have to know yourself. You might have to be born, as yourself. Stranger still, you might even need to give birth to yourself. And there’s that double liminal space.

Liminal space is sacred. It’s a time and space that requires things of us that ordinary life doesn’t. It’s lonely on the edge, and transitions can be confusing. There are pressures, complications, challenges to be met, sacrifices to be made, internal depths to scour. We need all the help we can get, other-worldly and otherwise. And yet it is a gift. In the way of mountain ranges and peninsulas, tunnels, valleys and canyons, it commands a view. The view might not come at the beginning, and sometimes you might wonder if the view’s going to come at all, and yet it comes. And there are angels and hidden lakes and small churches, and other pilgrims – bellies bursting with life like yours –  just when you need them.