Wholeness or the hamster wheel?

ricky-kharawala-10194-unsplashIf I could offer you a magic pill to make you less stressed, would you take it? I wonder. The frantic pace of modern life in so called ‘advanced’ societies is a time-worn cliche. But I’m bemused by how easily we succumb to a lot of the pressures that make us function this way. We choose it. Not everyone, and I recognise that people face varying degrees of constraint on their capacity to choose. Broadly speaking though. So do we have to? Well, here are some simple (or perhaps not so simple) ways to combat enervating over-activity. I speak from my own experience, limited perhaps and a bit unusual, but still valid, I venture. Examples of how I keep busyness at bay, and help protect the planet too.

First up, scale back on stuff. Let’s start with what for most of us is the biggest item of all – the roof over our heads. How many of us live in homes bigger and pricier than we actually need? Ok, I’m at an extreme end of the spectrum here, living just now singly in a studio flat. More-or-less a glorified bedsit; it’s tiny. But in the developing world, a family of five might occupy the same space. So chances are, for much of the world’s population, your pad is palatial. And to pay for it, we work long hours in stressful jobs. We may enjoy those some of the time. But overall – and in all kinds of ways – couldn’t we live more simply and enjoy the rest of life more?

Produce less. One small example: I read the Saturday Guardian and Radio Times – and I don’t pay for them. My good-hearted colleague passes them on after a week’s elapsed. I don’t mind reading this kind of thing late. Most of its still interesting, and it feeds my own writing. But I don’t get through all of it, or anywhere near. I’ve broad interests, and I like to read slowly and digest it. So I’d be happy with the same paper produced fortnightly, or monthly. Think how much less stressful the writers’ lives could be! And the ease on forests if more papers were shared around like this. I guess there’s an economic objection of some sort somewhere… but viva la change, I say!

Reproduce less. I won’t bang on about this one. Having children is a personal issue and I’ve never really had the desire, so I know it’s easier for me to focus on world population and suggest we have fewer. But we could all at least consider carefully, and maybe some of us weigh the benefits of less time and energy being poured into new little people – not least to free up more of it for the neglected ones already here. It’s just a thought.

The best things in life… Friendships, beautiful countryside, sleep, fresh air… a good number of them are indeed free. Why not spend more time enjoying them rather than the monetarily expensive stuff? It’s heartening to see cultural movements geared at helping us become attuned to activities that are more tortoise than hare: ‘slow radio’, marathon theatre (plays that last all day), forest bathing, that kind of thing.

But now, here’s the rub. We’re largely blind to arguably the greatest antidote of all to excess busyness. Secular remedies are lauded while this marvel is ignored – the irony being that it communicates the ultimate source of these fine but lesser goods.

We work hard and save up to visit remote places and have wondrous new experiences, but neglect the vast virgin wilderness of the inner spiritual life – revealed I believe most fully in the gospel of Jesus. Wander here a while, and I start to see my everyday world in a very different light, as through a re-orienting and re-vivifying pair of spectacles. The book of Ephesians tells me I’m a child of the King, heir to an inheritance, belong to a family, partake in rich promises (chapter 3 v 6). Abundance, belonging, relationship.

Just imagine how such an inner vision could transform my priorities. A sense of inner plenitude shrinks the anxiety that keeps me running on hamster wheels. Frees me to be busy, but with joy and on more worthwhile things – diving spiritually deeper, and making the world a better place instead of a more frantic and polluted one. “Seek first the kingdom of God… and all these things shall be added unto you” said Jesus. It’s that way round. Embrace wholeness, not the hamster wheel.

Hidden in plain sight?

feline-205449_1920Silent, still, with forest foliage blends;
Is God like this? Hints subtle sends
Signs and clues, allowing us to choose:
Threads to pursue with ardent heart
Or let shutters down and barely start
To trace the face of holy love…
Let grace embrace, below, around, above.

I sometimes hear people express the opinion that either God isn’t there, or he’s doing a pretty good job of hiding. As if at some point in their lives they counted to a hundred, hunted around a while, but gave up quick when he didn’t show up in any of the expected places. Either that, or more tangible distractions and amusements acted as an effective ‘tea’s ready!’ call, and they promptly stopped looking and forgot all about him. I’m also intermittently bothered by an objection to Christian faith commonly made by atheists and sceptics: there’s no evidence. ‘Not a shred of evidence’ as one friend rather emphatically puts it.

Now any number of thinking believers do offer up evidence, served in varying depth and detail in no end of publications. Sceptics often find it unconvincing – to the extent that they examine it – and to be fair I sometimes sympathise; I too have read some pretty simplistic, question-begging stuff. But today I want to consider one pertinent reason why a sceptic’s attitude and approach may effectively blind them to the reality of God if he is indeed there. I’m responding to a talk (with accompanying notes) called ‘Not enough evidence?: why God hides’ by Andrew Fellows, which addresses how God both conceals and reveals, and how ‘defective seeking’ can sabotage our search efforts.

It’s sometimes said that ‘God (or the Holy Spirit) is a gentleman’. Not primarily meaning that the divine personage wears a suit, tie and drinks tea at Claridge’s – though no doubt he hangs out there too – but rather that God is neither pushy nor forces himself on us. He’s always been cool with #MeToo.

One of the first things Fellows points out is that God’s hiddenness is necessary, true to his being – God simply doesn’t fit into categories of creation. I get that. Though the astonishing Christian claim is that God did once appear and live in human form in the person of Christ, there was hiddenness even there; no one easily grasped his divine credentials.  It’d be frankly disappointing if God just met our expectations and magically materialised as an old man with a beard in the sky. More seriously, I’m bothered by sceptics’ demands for a particular (and particularly narrow) kind of testable evidence. As if the Creator of the universe should meekly roll over and say “Sure, happy to go along with your experiment, I’ve nothing on today and it sounds fun”. Not gonna happen.

Fellows then outlines the rather more indirect ways that God has been understood to disclose, reveal and make himself known – primarily nature, scripture and as alluded, in the person of Jesus Christ. Take nature: the biblical view that it reflects qualities of its creator – grandeur, beauty and all the rest, are in contemporary western culture widely regarded with a mix of scorn, yawn and incomprehension. People have an awe for nature, but tend to see it merely as an end in itself, missing or ignoring its ‘signposting’ capacity to point beyond. Yes, there are some ‘horrid’ critters and processes too in nature, but they hardly detract from the overall ‘wow’ effect.

The key problem is that, if we think about it at all, we tend to elevate reason in apprehending ultimate reality, neglecting a rounded, fully human, personal response and more oblique lines of revelation. Ironically, in plenty of other areas of life we highly value these. Relationships and romance depend on them – it’s how we naturally get to know someone. They’re also essential to good humour, poetry and drama. Just take current BBC hit ‘Bodyguard’, where oblique rapid lines of thought produce crackling dialogue, and where speech and action (not direct exposition) reveal character.

The signs and images Jesus deploys in John’s gospel in particular – water, bread, shepherd and others – are designed to woo us, revealing dimensions of God’s nature that become personally real as we act in the light of them. Desiring relationship, He honours our freedom; as Blaise Pascale intuited, we’re given enough light to enable trust and action, but not so much as to force belief.

God can only be sought, found and engaged with as he is. To insist on only a narrow, particular brand of evidence, is a bit like turning up on a date not with humility and a listening heart, but with a list of demands. No surprise if the encounter is pretty truncated and you don’t get a second coffee. Or perhaps even a first.