storms

Storms are magnificent and frightening beasts, sometimes they’re over and gone before you know it, and other times they last so long you get used to it. When a storm comes, it comes because of atmospheric instability- humidity, warm and cold air meeting, the build up of pressure. The storm creates a release; the rains clean the ground, the air clears, the lightning discharges some of the built up electrical charges.

A storm isn’t always pleasant to be in, and sometimes, there are unexpected casualties- a tree might be felled, even part of your house might cave in. If it’s a sustained storm, and there’s a lot of rain, there could be flooding. These things all change the landscape of your area and in some ways your life.

Our metaphorical storms function in a lot of the same ways. I’ve been thinking and ruminating on this for a couple of weeks now. A few emails I received one day all referenced storms, and the fact that they will pass. That often, storms clear up some of your mental landscape. That storms will come, and storms will go, and all we get to decide is how we deal with them. A storm won’t pass you by just because you run away… in fact, it usually chases you. I know that when I face storms head on, I have a much higher chance of creating a positive outcome- if the lightning strike hits a relationship I thought was solid, I had my eyes open, and I can deal with it. If the rain floods the basis of what I thought was true about my theology, I can get the sandbags out and examine the cracks, strengthen it for the next storm (because it will come). If the dark clouds seem to obliterate the light in my life, I know that behind them is the sun, waiting to break out, and for now, I have people to sit in the darkness with.

One of the greatest things about a good storm is that it gives us a new vision. The dust is cleared away, everything is sparkling, and you get a new perspective. The broken things can look beautiful, a way is sometimes cleared where there wasn’t one before. There’s a freshness to the air that speaks of new beginnings, new promises. Of course, sometimes it seems like the storm just created more problems, but in that moment- when it’s all blown away and you get to breathe in fresh breaths… It feels like maybe anything is possible.

You know that moment, though, when everything is calm, and the storm is over, except the light is still kind of weird? Or that relationship still feels a little off… like there’s more to come? That feeling of relief followed by oh, no- this isn’t over. The eye of the storm is a tricky place, one that almost has the promise of a new beginning, but in fact is just a temporary respite. It’s easy to get caught here (metaphorically) because facing the rest of that storm sometimes feels like too big a task, with a payoff too small. (It’s pretty good here, there’s been some clearing and cleansing. The catalysts that caused the storm are almost burnt out, and they’re certainly changed. There’s been some resolution, it’s not perfect, but it’s okay.) I know, I kept myself there for too long. Yet, my experience has been that stepping out of the eye, back into the storm, letting it finish its work is way better in the long run that sitting with something not quite right. That weird pressure just makes you sick.

My best storms have been weathered right next to people. It’s the reason (well, one of) that K is tattooed on my thigh as a storm cloud. She’s sat with me through the storms, laughing into the darkness. (There’s also a seagull in that tattoo which makes sense, because M pulls people together, like gulls circling tightly during a storm. She helps us seek safe places, spaces and people.) I think God teaches me through my storms and allows me space to question and to rail against who God is during them. I’ve become more and more aware through weathering storms that God is big enough to deal with all my questions, my doubts, my fears, my inarticulate ranting. It’s a lesson that I needed to learn in order to sit with others, friends and young people. It’s a lesson I was slow to learn, that took many conversations on kitchen floors, more than a few arguments, many tears and a lot of grace to learn.

I’m grateful that I had folk beside behind and ahead of me in that process.

contained      controlled      a mass gathering
the liturgy is well known, we gather
darken 
and slowly roll into place. 
our huddled gathered selves split open. 
the noise of the trumpets and 
the sound of the cymbals

this mass is noisy
to us it is joyful
to you
         perhaps not. 
we split ourselves
we divest ourselves of extraneous weight- 
(that which creates our darkness)
we pass to you
(in clearest crystal)

our darkness feeds your hunger
our darkness waters your fields
(our divestiture maintains your livelihood)

and though we, gathered, low-lying darkness
bring premature night
and loud cymbals
and cracks of golden light 
(might obscure your sight, 
                 your vision
                   blot out today's plans)
we also bring you cleansing 

a fresh start

see, when we gather, we pull everyone together
we bring in all the [various] pieces like us in 
your atmosphere
we reset
we
restore. 

our rages do not last long, and we go
where we are needed. 
to bring nitrogen
  hydrogen and oxygen
to replenish and regenerate the soil. 

we are artistry and we are the artist.
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home

I just spent two weeks away from my flat.

The first week I was up North with my family, celebrating Christmas. It was a lovely time of game playing, food eating, walk and photo taking, book reading and as much sleep as we could fit in. It was also a week where I felt rotten, switching immediately from work to holiday mode usually gives me the lurgy, and this time was no different. As lovely as this trip was, I was glad to be home again, in a place where I’m familiar.

Two days later, after some fun celebrating a family turning 100, and weather-related flight delays, I was in another place that I call home. This time I was taking 8 days in New Jersey to celebrate one of my favourite humans turn another year older, and also to join in with a big group of friends as we celebrated the marriage of a couple of precious humans.

Going back to South Jersey is always a bittersweet experience, and this time was no exception. On the whole, everyone is healthy, happy and well. There are always a few who are not, but they’re working towards the light. It’s trips like this that make me consider anew what it means to be ‘home’.

The dictionary has a range of definitions, centring around the idea that home is

1- One’s place of residence

2- the social unit formed by a family living together.

So, home is either a place or your people- living together. There’s a narrowness to these definitions that is both helpful (when we can describe what we do and do not experience) and exclusive (when we are bounded only by these definitions without space to stretch).

Though I no longer live with any of my family, my home is in one way defined by them. In the decade since I moved out, my idea of family has taken on a certain fluidity too. My definition has expanded to include the friends with whom I am doing life.

If my home is my place of residence, then it is a place of shelter, a safe haven. As I was leaving New Jersey in 2014, when I moved back to Scotland, one of my friends quoted Emily Dickinson to me: ‘I felt it shelter to speak to you’. When we talk of shelter, generally we’re talking in the physical. When we get the chance to discuss this in the metaphorical, we expand our hearts. If I experience ‘home’ just as the four walls in which I reside then I might be very stingy indeed with how I allow others to experience it. I am enriched, however, when I open up my life to others at the same time as opening my doors. When you’re living with people, you know their mess, you know how it feels to fight, you know how to pull them out of their black, blue or orange moods. Emily Dickinson, I think has the right of it here- our words become shelter; the first invitation to home. That invitation allows us to know and be known. It’s in that exchange that we become family to one another.

I am forever blessed and heartbroken to call multiple places home. I hope that’s true for many of us, and that we can continue to open doors and hearts to one another, in the midst of the not-perfect, the messed up, the broken. My prayer is that we continue to do that, when it’s hard and doesn’t seem worthwhile, when it might cost us something extra, when it feels like going too many extra miles.

May we be people of shelter, who bring each other home.