“Have courage and wait” (Northumbrian Community Daily Prayer)
Take a look at the first image. This is the text from a book I made based on the Iona Community pilgrimage which takes you on a circular journey around the island. I have shared a version of the second image here before, but this picture shows the added circle, referring to the cycle of life. When I wrote this blog, I also realised that the quote I have used above is the same one I used on the very first blog back in April. It does feel like we are going around in circles at the moment. I don’t know about you, but I am finding the ongoing uncertainty we are all living with exhausting.
Let me tell you a story from my own life. In December last year my husband went for a job in a Scottish city and got it. I have been yearning to return to living in a city for a long time now for many reasons and so this seemed ideal. But I got scared. I wasn’t sure how I would cope living somewhere completely new without my large network of friends, nearly all of whom are in Yorkshire, without the stability of my job, without the art connections I have made over many years. And so, we didn’t go.
Since then, everyone’s world has been turned upside down, and I am no exception. All of a sudden, I was cut off from most of my friends, I nearly lost my job and couldn’t travel to art events, or network. I also had to confront things that I had been avoiding, such as really living where I live, family relationships that needed working on, and where I put my security. And the fact that I really messed up about that Scottish city. At times this melting pot was excruciating, but I have learnt a lot through it. I have learnt that I can love my family even when we don’t always agree on everything. That relying on work for my sense of identity and worth is not the answer. That really living where I am is so much healthier than avoiding it, even when I find it challenging. And, in fact, the time away from friends and job has birthed new possibilities that were always there but I hadn’t given attention to.
I am still learning how to love and forgive myself for the mistakes I make but I am starting to accept living with the uncomfortable questions, those things that are not resolved. To hold lightly what I have, because tomorrow it could be taken away from me. It takes a huge amount of courage to wait when what we are living through is not what we planned or hoped for. But it also prepares us for new possibilities. As I said to my 17-year-old niece who recently left home on a small island to start college, also in a big city, everything worthwhile is always going to be both exciting and scary. In his book Dirty Glory, Pete Grieg talks about the temptation to settle down and become comfortable when we are called to pioneer. He says “Frustration can be the greatest blessing of our lives, blessings the greatest test.” Maybe part of this ‘pioneering’ is to always live with the questions, never to assume we know everything and to always remain open to change. The following poem by Rainer Maria Rilke sums this up really well.
Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart,
and try to love the questions themselves
as if they were locked rooms
or books written in a very foreign language.
Do not search for the answers, which could not be given to you now,
because you would not be able to live them.
And the point is to live everything.
Live the questions now.
Perhaps then, someday far in the future,
you will gradually,
without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.
Take time to look at the pictures and consider these questions:
- What questions are you living with?
- What has uncertainty taught you?
- What might your ‘pioneering’ be?
You will need two pieces of paper and a pen
- On the first piece of paper write down words in response to the first two questions
- On the second piece of paper arrange these words in a circle, in a similar way to my first image. How do they feed each other? What do you learn from them?
- You can add words or images outside the circle in response to the third question if you like
- In the centre of the circle write or draw what you might be learning