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Locating God

Posted by Simon Parke, 02 March 2021, 2.03pm

In locating God, we may need something other than the traditional grammar of success.

So, we’ll not locate God in statistics of religious attendance, up or down; for it is well known Hitler could draw a good crowd. And Buddha and Jesus died almost alone.

Neither will we locate God in the public utterances of religious leaders; history simply will not allow and may laugh with impolite disdain at all who attempt it.

And we’ll not locate God in morality which is a tired cultural animal possessing a thousand expressions and an ally in Order and Judgement – but with no known links to the divine.

We’ll not even locate God in community support, in the running of foodbanks or clubs, tempting though it is; for while altruism asks questions of the godless squad, in the human heart, it is too mixed a metal to be proof.

Instead, we give up the argument, we give up the fight – and glimpse God, like smoke in the wind, like lining between joints, in all things; in the interstices of life between vulnerability’s cry and creation’s green joy.

In the mending of life; in the pilgrimage from denial, we find footprints; and rumours in the air of the numinous pulse, this irreducible presence.

Clothe it and the clothes won’t fit; the cloth will instantly rip and burn.

Here we cross a threshold, we trespass on holy land; and in our hearts, away from scrutiny and hurt, know it for the first time. 

A grammar of success difficult to speak of.

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Notice

Posted by Simon Parke, 01 March 2021, 5.38am

NOTICE

No need to run away. Most of the fear we feel is an out of date response, a memory of former times

Observe carefully what is going on inside yourself. Truthful observation is key to growth

The path is kind, always kind. We will be given what we need

It’s OK to be disturbed by what we feel

Calm always comes after the storm

Enlightenment comes when we are able to sit with reality and allow it to lead us home

Shellie Parke

 

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Making anxiety speechless

Posted by Simon Parke, 23 February 2021, 5.10pm

When anxiety arrives at night, do not deal with it.

Your defences are down, it will have all the best lines; lines enough to keep your body in its grip.

So instead, look away from anxiety’s pressing breath and find your little self in the dark; the child from whom you grew.

And once found, greet and hug, greet and hug - and talk with them, your soul mate; for they know more of now than you do.

Speak of your adventures together; so many down the years and some not easy.

Praise your little self for all they managed, and all they survived; tell them just how well they did.

Because it’s true.

And celebrate with a smile and a wink how far you have come - each carrying the other.

Who’d have thought it?

And then praise them again, and love them again, for they did all they could; they could not have done more.

And as you laugh together, you might turn and find anxiety speechless and your body quite free of its grip.

Today is always about yesterday.

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This inevitable beauty

Posted by Simon Parke, 22 February 2021, 1.53pm

When considering an extension, there is only one sign of success when the architect and builders have gone.

Inevitability.

If an extension has worked, whether it’s in the loft or stuck on the side, it must look like it has always been there.

It must somehow look inevitable; and it’s the same with music.

Beethoven composed quickly, without thought; whereas Mozart thought and thought again, he thought endlessly, crossing out and adding in.

Yet the music of both, when finished, sounds inevitable, as if it just had to be that way.

And writing is no different. The best writing moves with a sureness of foot, which leaves it quite unnoticed.

Insecure writing may be a little jerky, pulling different stunts; lines that don’t feel right, character sacrificed for plot.

But the best writing, like a deep-flowing river, just is. It possesses inevitability. How could it be any other way?

And beneath the surface of all these stories is integrity of vision which understands what is and what might be.

And we see it in Jesus. There was a dangerous inevitability of direction in him.

So when Satan tempts him in the wilderness, he schemes to chisel away at his integrity. Various out-of-character stunts are proposed, to jerk him away from his vision.

Jesus says ‘No’.

And such integrity of vision is a good call in all creativity, whether it’s the care of another; running an organisation; holding a home together; making a chair – or building an extension.

There’s an inevitability to beauty.

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I step out now

Posted by Simon Parke, 17 February 2021, 9.22am

There is my multiple life

And then the heart beat beneath it all

I listen now

There is dawn breaking

Then brighter than any sun, the long back-thread of light, the glistening glint and gleam of my origins

I see now

There is daily happiness

A clue to a joy too large, squeezed between stars, bursting through creation’s green veins

I feel it now

I walk about, I effect the world

But the true source of external effect is without activity and silent, the still ground of my being

I pause and breathe its scent

There is weak body

And my carer soul which holds its hurt and cradles it’s crying

I rest now

There is experience to guide; and when experience has no answers -

It is trust who shows me the way

I step out now

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A discovery beneath the rubble

Posted by Simon Parke, 15 February 2021, 9.35am

She was found beneath the rubble when the search had been called off.

They’d said there was little hope, given the nature of the collapse, the way things had fallen.

Events had left everyone in shock, no one saw it coming; and then came the despair – despair and anger at various people involved.

And on a grey Monday morning, which was somehow appropriate, the search was officially ended, all hope locked down.

There was a short press conference of regret and then the cars and vans pulled away. They had done what they could and it was unreasonable to expect more.

Though when they had left, it was then she was found.

She was discovered beneath a huge beam which had protected her from the debris of events.

‘The beam was massive,’ said one of the young helpers. ‘Beneath that, she was safe from anything.’

Those who found her said they’d almost given up themselves.

‘Everyone had given up though somehow we carried on. And then suddenly, we heard her singing and there she was - joy.’

Life is difficult; but sometimes, beneath the rubble, joy sings.

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This smashed-egg glory

Posted by Simon Parke, 11 February 2021, 11.02am

There’s no going back, ever.

There’s no going back ten minutes, let alone ten or twenty years.

We cannot retrace our steps to some imagined Eden and start again.

Like the omelette – cracked shells, broken lives - we are what we are, because we’ve been through what we’ve been through.

Unmaking all that is way too fiddly for either heaven or earth.

So no going back from this place where we stand; no useful ‘what if’ or ‘if only’.

But is there a way forward? It’s an obvious question though for an answer this must do:

You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs; yet the omelette is lovely.

So a way forward? Maybe that’s a prayer, maybe that’s where you start.

Or maybe, without knowing, we’re already there and every day a prize.

In the door way to the future, in fine silhouette, we stand cracked, broken but lovely –

- and up for being lovely in new ways tomorrow.

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This illuminating dark

Posted by Simon Parke, 08 February 2021, 4.32pm

I was thankful this morning for the illumination of darkness; for it is so, sometimes.

Darkness lights the path.

I don’t wish to make darkness my teacher, because that isn’t quite the relationship.

Though maybe it is, and I protest too much, for despite the absence of a mortar board and chalk, it does reveal a great deal.

And what it reveals is old patterns of reaction inside me which perhaps I thought I’d left behind.

When the darkness comes, in whatever form, and security and hope seem to leave, in the vacuum - old voices appear.

I sort-of know they are lies, we’ve spoken with each other in the past.

Yet in the darkness, these old voices are loud and they are strong; they invite me to trust them as quietly – or sometimes noisily – they ransack my home.

Darkness illumines as the old voices return. I see them again, in all their useless power.

Perhaps I imagined them gone, thought myself super-well, but life isn’t quite like that.

Things do hang around beneath old sacks in our psyche.

But caught in the brightness of the dark; caught like dismal thieves in a search light, I see them now.

I see them.

And choose, on this occasion, not to listen. Instead, I go for a walk and feel my feet in the snow.

It’s a way back to the light.

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Who is Jesus to you?

Posted by Simon Parke, 01 February 2021, 10.11am

So who is Jesus to you?

It’s not a question that ever receives the same answer, even from his followers. So my new novel about him, Gospel, Rumours of Love faces some challenges.

People may not agree about this man; but each opinion will be strongly held, sincerely believed and vigorously defended. When it comes to Jesus, no one wishes another’s tanks parked on their lawn.

The identity of Jesus is certainly up for grabs. Recent events in the US - where the Evangelical movement has equated Jesus with Trump - reveal how easily we can make Jesus in our own image, with little regard for the evidence available.

We simply make him what we need him to be; and this appears true throughout history and across the world. He can become a mere avatar for political and religious factions who want him as their own.

He can also appear distant. For believers, the figure of Jesus can become waxy and disembodied, sealed behind a paywall of creedal statements, which is not how we traditionally relate to people. Can he be reached though the stained glass? Or is it too late?

So who is Jesus to you? Lord, Teacher, Friend, Fictional, Philosopher, Distant Historical Figure, Prophet, Saviour, Son of God, Healer, Good Man, Social Activist, Mystical Christ – or an historical Irrelevance, given the environmental crisis faced by 21st century humanity?

Don’t we need to be looking forward rather than back?

And I have sympathy with the institutional church as they attempt to curate his memory. It’s an impossible brief. Yeshua ripped institutions down, he left none standing. He said you were more likely to find God in the splitting of wood than you were in the Temple.

Institutions are concerned with their own survival and Jesus wasn’t. So how does an institution faithfully look after his memory? It presents problems; and often, a straight-jacket.

He presents problems to writers as well. When writing Gospel, I found Yeshua (the Hebrew for ‘Jesus’) an exhausting and demanding presence; never comfortable.

I knew he was angry, but I hadn’t realised quite how angry and how confrontational he was. His ongoing assault on the Pharisees - ‘white-washed tombs’ - or Herod the ‘fox’ was savage. We would call it ‘satire’ today and laugh nervously – because in a mad world, truth is upsetting but surprisingly funny. 

It must have terrified his followers listening to him, because they needed friends, not enemies. But then here, in their teacher, was an undomesticated love. Jesus is often talked of as preaching love, and maybe he did, but we’ll need to re-define the word.

We have made love a pretty thing with ribbons, or a cosy thing like a Labrador’s eyes; or a jealous and possessive thing, about control. But Jesus’ love was offering truth that almost no one wanted to hear; a healing and freeing thing, but dismantling as well. If this is love, it is undomesticated love, which doesn’t really fit anywhere.

It is a love unknown.

Certainly it didn’t fit well with his family. Mother’s Day services in the church don’t often use as their text Jesus’ withering question, ‘Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?’ But he asked it, for no recorder would make up those words; they are just too offensive to everyone. But isn’t love meant to start at home? So what love is this?

I did wish to put Jesus in relationship. One reader of the manuscript, a churchgoer of many years, said they’d never thought of Jesus having relationships. ‘As far as I was concerned, he just taught people by blue Galilee.’

But, of course, like us, he did have relationships, and I wished to restore them, both those he endured and those he enjoyed. Friends, in Yeshua’s experience, could be very disappointing. And also marvellous fun.

I needed also to find a consistent voice for him, my starting point, in a way; for the gospels can leave us confused. Yeshua’s voice in the gospel of John is nothing like his voice in the gospel of Mark. And the gospel of Thomas is different again as is the gospel of Mary Magdalene.

And so, in the story, we follow Yeshua as, like us, he finds his voice; for it does need to be found. It wasn’t gift wrapped on his doorstep aged twenty one; or even, aged thirty. It needed finding.

I wished also to return the women to the story, from which they so clearly have been removed. The idea of twelve male disciples really doesn’t stand up to any investigation. The circle around Jesus was larger than twelve and (dangerously) inclusive.

We note that, apart from John, it was women at the foot of the cross; and a woman to whom he appeared first after the resurrection. Again, no recorder at the time would invent such tale. So in Gospel we get to know Joanna and Miriam, for Yeshua certainly did. The return of women to the gospel narrative is like an Old Master with its colours restored. It once again looks as it should.

And finally, I wished to discern Yeshua’s particular energy, an elusive aspect of our humanity, but perhaps the most important, as it shapes all else. Palestine in the 1st century was an awkward place to live, a region glued together by hate. And Yeshua made it a great deal more awkward with his message and vision for his homeland.

How did he survive the hostility? How did he stay hopeful in this political and social pressure cooker? What was the source of his resilience? It is, perhaps, in the quality of his energy that Yeshua has most to offer the 21st century. And it is a remarkable energy for a boy from racist Nazareth.

As many said at the time, ‘What good ever came out of Nazareth?’

Now there’s a question!

‘Gospel, Rumours of Love’ is published by White Crow books.

 

 

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Which Van Gogh are you?

Posted by Simon Parke, 27 January 2021, 5.36pm

Circumstances change us.

In the Netherlands, beneath a cold north sky, Vincent Van Gogh produced grey paintings.

When he arrived in Paris, and rubbed shoulders with the Impressionists-to-be, he introduced green and red to his work.

When he went to Arles, in the south of France, suddenly there was light on his canvass; blistering sun, hot yellow light.

Circumstances changed Van Gogh and they change us, for good and ill.

Be kind to yourself in yours –

- whether it’s the metaphorical Netherlands, Paris or Arles.

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