God of no gender: part 2

I’ve spent a very humbling couple of weeks catching up on the BBC3 Queer Britain series. One of the early episodes was entitled “Does God hate Me?”

 

You may want to look away now if you consider yourself a conservative evangelical.  The programme highlighted just some of the pain and shunning that gay and transgender people of faith had experienced.  The more and more I thought about this episode, the more I realised that in my original post I had still separated God into the dichotomous genders and of ‘male’ and ‘female’.  How much could I blow the conservative mind if I were to say that the word “intergender” may actually best describe God?

I’m heartened to see churches like Steve Chalke’s Oasis Church in Waterloo leading the way in the UK in an open, inclusive, intelligent and thoughtful approach to theology and its application to issues of sexuality and gender.  We have a lot to learn.

 

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Comedown

inner critic

My inner critic seems to have a field-day with me after work events that I feel passionate about.  I’m not even really sure if I want to lay this bare, but maybe these black words on a white screen will resonate with someone else, like me, who needs a reminder to bring kindness back to the unkindness they find inside.

 

“Give someone else some space to talk

You overshare

Self-obsessed, self-important

Dominating the room, so eager to share your viewpoint

You consider yourself an expert?

You’re nowhere near

You’ll have to learn to shut up before you can truly support someone else”

 

Kindness today means saying hello to my inner critic and recognising her for who she is. Telling her that I know some of her observations may be grounded in truth.  

Telling her I trust that in my working future there will be people – a supervisor, a therapist, a friend – who can gently guide me in finding the balance of listening and sharing. Kindness today means switching off my phone and its Twitter feed from the day, helping my Eldest daughter to make brownies, kissing my Little One to sleep. Watching a documentary about whales and crying about the mass stranding on the beach, letting the tears fall for all kinds of different reasons.

 

 

Mother & daughter

heart

We share the same hands

Elegant fingers

Nails so tough they’re brittle

One ruby-encrusted, one with a single sapphire

One as yet unadorned

Except for the chipped plum nail varnish

Our hands have

Brushed away tears

Smashed stained-glass windows

Thrown broken heart pebbles

Coloured and stitched

Finger painted and planted seeds

Sliced and stirred a thousand recipes

Held on tightly

Held tightly on to each other

 

 

God of no gender

IMG_20170613_212814 (1)

You may find this post contains heresy and/or madness (depending on your perspective). Consider yourself warned…

So God created human beings in his own image.

    In the image of God he created them;

    male and female he created them.

Genesis 1: 27

I want to tell you about my psychosis.  Uniquely female, a psychosis triggered by pregnancy and childbirth.  It’s not unusual for people experiencing psychosis to have visions of the ends of the earth, and beliefs about their own messianic qualities.  Yet I know that my thought-processes during psychosis were wrapped around my growing struggle with the church and gender politics.  My beliefs were shaped by the visceral experience of giving birth and its powerful sense of womanhood.

What to the outsider looked like jumbled stream-of-consciousness had an intense sense of clarity for me.  Everything made sense.  I had it in my mind that as the end of the world drew near, God was seeking to bring the maleness and femaleness of himself back into unity in the world.  The beautiful (and of course to my loved ones terrifying) thing was that I would be the vessel, the girl-messiah who would bear the unbearable of losing my child and my husband.  I would be obedient even unto death.  I would submit, as the weekly-beaten doctrine of the past few years of church had instructed me.  And yet, in the submission there would be power.  Power to bring those in my life with terrible illnesses into their new bodies, into eternity, into the great Wedding Feast.  I even saw the feast, it was beautiful, and feminine, and filled with joyous reunions.  Everybody, everybody, everybody was there.  God, it was beautiful, I can’t really begin to express it. But it was not to be.

And yet… I probably shouldn’t get into a discourse here about what I perceive as the liminal space between psychosis and prophecy, madness and shamanism.  Maybe I will blog about it sometime in the future, but it feels too raw, too frightening in many ways.

What I can say is that after the long depression that followed my season of visions and dreams, I couldn’t stay in a church that sublimated women and did not allow them to preach, teach or be an Elder.  Nowadays I see all around me women becoming their True Selves through some truly unbelievable suffering.  I’m humbled to be the mother of two daughters who are unashamedly authentic, open and vulnerable.  May they celebrate their femininity, its strength and its power to bind up the brokenhearted.

The illustration at the top of this page was part of an art project in collaboration with Action on Postpartum Psychosis.  I love the Triumvirate somehow all wrapped up in the shape of a mother and baby.  I still believe the best is yet to come.

Be the kind of woman you want to be.  Regardless of doctrine.
 

Night Swimming

Sun sinks pink and amber into the horizon

Pale moonrise beyond the cliffs

Duck-dive just to feel the cold exhilaration of sea-salt tangled hair

Sea, moon, you and I

Thank you, beautiful world and

Thank you, swimming companion –

A friend through ebb and flow

Patience, darling

If you’ve been journeying with me for a while, you may remember that one of my hopes for the gap year was to decorate the girls’ bedrooms

Wow, that was almost two years ago.  That’s the thing.  Sometimes you have to have a lot of patience to realise your hopes and dreams.  Guess what?  During March my consultancy work enabled me to pay a decorator to bring Eldest’s Ravenclaw themed bedroom to life (I really didn’t have the skills for a dark blue feature wall!)  Eldest and I sat at the kitchen table in April and made a decopatch Harry Potter lampshade inspired by this one from Sunshine Sings on Etsy.  She loved choosing her favourite quotes from the old copy which was falling apart, and it turned out pretty beautifully!

Harry potter lamp

Today I’ve been listening to Noah and the Whale in Little One’s room.  Sugar soap and sponge in hand, sandpaper for the woodwork.  I’m finally doing it!  I’m enjoying the metaphor of cleaning, smoothing down rough edges, creating a little friction in order for the new and the pretty to emerge.  She’s chosen a lollipop pink to go with her 1970’s inspired IKEA duvet cover which has brown, orange, yellow and pink birds and flowers. It’s going to be gorgeous and funky, just like her.

I’ll leave you with some thought-provoking lyrics from Noah and the Whale’s Life is Life

Well he used to be somebody
And now he’s someone else
Took apart his old life
Left it on the shelf
Sick of being someone
He did not admire
Took up all his old things
Set em all on fire

He’s gonna change
Gonna change his ways
Gonna change
Gonna change his ways

And it feels like his new life can start
And it feels like heaven

Left his house at midnight
Resolute and young
In search of something greater
Than the person he’d become
Threw his bags on to the back
Of his run down eighties car
Headed out to god knows where
The distance is too far

He’s gonna change
Gonna change his ways
Gonna change
Gonna change his ways

And it feels like his new life can start
And it feels like heaven
And it feels like his new life can start
And it feels like heaven

And it feels like his new life can start
And it feels like heaven
And it feels like his new life can start
And it feels like heaven

Sanctuary

Once again I find myself speaking through the lens of Nashville, but really – this says it all for me at the moment.

(In the spirit of avoiding plot spoilers I have chosen to share a cover version of this beautiful song.  If you’re in the UK and haven’t watched season 5 of Nashville, promise me you won’t Google it or follow any of the other YouTube links in the sidebar!)

As a mother, I’m finding myself in a season where I need to be a sanctuary for my girls, and especially for Eldest to be her safe place.  Being a sanctuary calls on me to shift my priorities, to seek the way of peace in my own life and to bring beauty to a very ugly situation.  Protection, justice, compassion.

I’ve cancelled work this week

I’ve bought mini-Oreo’s for the walk home from school this week

I’ve wept this week

I’ve taken Eldest with me to swim in the sea this week

 

I’m so thankful for the space to find my own way to be a refuge, and I guess I just wish that all kids had a safe place to fall.

 

 

Swimming

Flat, still sea blends softly into the horizon

Tingling hands, catching breath

Coolness and deep surround

The sea, the sky, and I
Run gasping into the breaker spray

Full of power the sea pulls us

Tumble of white

Icy cold exhilaration
Skin pricked with goosebumps

Delicious salt-sting as I pat with my towel

Quickly into my down jacket

Smoothed stones & hot mint tea

Give thanks to the sea

Ma’people

Readers of the last few months may have gathered… I am a huge Nashville fan.  I am committed to not giving away any series 5 plot spoilers for my friends on this side of the pond, so let me just say that Rayna is one of my heroes (and I do know that she is a TV character – but she’s my hero anyway!)  I love the way that we have seen her grow as a mother as her girls have entered turbulent teenage years,  I love how passionate and open-hearted she is, and I love the way that we’ve seen her struggle to balance her career and her dreams with her life as a mentor, mother and lover.

 

There’s a scene in Nashville a few years back where Rayna has to play at a Country Club benefit.  I remember her raising her eyebrows and assuring her band leader, “These are not ma’people” (try and imagine a lovely Southern drawl)

But here’s the thing, Rayna grew up with those people.  Yet the comfortable world of the elite wasn’t for her.  She knew they weren’t her people.

Ever since we moved from a cosmopolitan, diverse Northern city to a sleepy market town in the South West, I’ve been searching for “ma’people”.  The direction life took us when Eldest was born meant that our local conservative, evangelical church began to feel less and less like home.  We had too many questions.  One of the reasons I left Facebook earlier this year was because I felt so aware that the views of many mainstream Christians just don’t reflect mine.  These are not ma’people.

When life throws a lot of crap your way, it’s interesting how it can help you find your people!  Over the last ten years or so, my friendships have deepened with other people who know what it is to feel broken.  My little WordPress community is full of amazing people who are learning to live with limits.  Next weekend I’ll be meeting up with the other mums from the ‘Head up, Heart strong’ film who have all battled postnatal illness. We will be sharing cocktails and stories of relapse.  These are just some of ma’people.

 

This week I took a new step to reach out and find ma’people.  I joined Team East Devon Swimmers for an evening swim in Sidmouth.  The water was 12 degrees C and the swimming was magical!  It was a special thing for me after a number of years living with mental illness to meet people based firstly on a shared interest, rather than on a shared experience of suffering.  I learned a new word – Thalassophile – meaning someone who loves the sea.  These too, are ma’people… and I can’t wait to get to know them better.

Here’s where we will be swimming.  Just beautiful.

Derailed