To Believe or not to Believe.  That is the Question.  TEN Reasons Why I Believe in God

Charlotte Gyllenhammar’s ‘Double Bind’ in Gothenbourg’s art gallery  illustrates the tension some people face about believing in God. A Double Bind in a relationship is where a person is caught in a trap of contradictory messages.  

In the absence of any ‘proof’ either way, I have decided to simply believe. Here are my …

Ten Reasons Why I Believe in God.

1. It’s so simple.

For me it is the most obvious thing, and anyone can do it. For 60 years I’ve listened to people duck and dive around the simplicity, thinking it is far too easy to innocently ‘accept’ the honest possibility of a Designer/Creator. I’ve heard all the “Who created God, then?” arguments. In the face of such design intricacies and interlinked complexity in the natural world, simply to accept that there might be an Eternal Being who was and is the Source of it all seems so obvious to me. Why fight it?      Here’s the next one…

2. I have someone to thank, thank God.

Yes, someone to blame for all the GOOD stuff. The atheist’s most embarrassing moment is when she or he feels supremely thankful  for something and doesn’t know who to thank. Beauty. Love. Health. Sleep. Life. Children. Hope. 

3. It inspires faith.

I love the fact that you cannot prove God doesn’t exist.  Or does, of course. Believe it or not, it’s a choice! (Yes, I know this argument is rejected by all the logical people in the world who question whether we have choice or not. They rather miss the point methinks.) This doubt-ridden world is crying out for the beauty of simple trust.  Who better to trust than a loving  Creator?    OK, here’s my next one …

4. It’s healthy.

It is now well established that belief in a benevolent God has physical, emotional and psychological health benefits. They live longer, have better relationships, are more socially contributing, less stressed,  and healthier. He has to be a benevolent God though.  Malevolence has the opposite effect.

5. I’m never alone. 
Allowing myself to sense the presence (pre-sence?) of an Eternal Spirit who is interested in me and ready to connect with the deepest part of me is massively reassuring. It means that I always have someone to share my life with, who loves me unconditionally and listens to my every heartbeat, wherever I am, whatever I’m thinking, in good days and bad. 

6. It answers the question “What’s the Point?”

It has been said that the two most important days of your life are the day you were born and the day you found out the purpose of that event. I personally am happy to accept that there IS an objective reason for my existence – which gives a sense of fulfilment and purpose beyond the decision of a couple of people to mate and have a baby. Belief in God may be subjective, but if it is true then he is ‘beyond’ us in so many ways.  I think human beings need that ‘something, someone beyond ourselves.’ 

7.  I haven’t found anything better.

I’m talking about an all-forgiving, kind, all-powerful, GOOD God here, not a legalistic, authoritarian, punisher of human wrongs who spends his (or her, of course) time dreaming up nasties for bad behaviour.  Mine is a God who accepts me and loves me just as I am, no strings attached. ‘Love personified’ describes him well. There is nothing I can do to make him love me more … or love me less.

8.  Heaven and hope.

The God I love has prepared a perfect home for my spirit the other side of death – heaven. Bring it on … in due course, needless to say. He knows the perfect time for my transfer from this world to that one, and has it in his control.  This conviction provides deep reassuring hope.  Self-deception? Maybe. How will you or I know? (Frankly, I don’t care. This works for me.)

9. I feel deeply deeply safe.

As in ‘deeply’.  I still feel insecure sometimes, and occasionally afraid, but the safety I’m talking about is much more profound than that. It runs very deep, the reassurance that whatever happens to me physically or emotionally, spiritually I’m safe.  Secure.  It’s an all-encompassing awareness that this God is absolutely on my side and that it will be, not just alright in the end, but unimaginably amazing. To quote that 2012 classic Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (sorry!) “It’s going to be alright in the end, so if it’s not alright, it’s not yet the end.”   I love that line!

10. History.
When I was sixteen I had a stunning experience that changed my life. I may tell you about it sometime. For me it was my personal entry into an understanding of God that has affected everything. There have been hundreds of similar moments since. Some people might call them coincidences, or lucky moments, or the ‘universe’ looking after you’, or just flukes. They may be right, but that doesn’t work for me. I think such moments have a spiritual origin. They are the Creator actively participating in my daily life.  I like that.

I’d LOVE you to comment on this.  Feel free to add your honest (but polite please, or they will be taken down!) thoughts.

Davey’s Redemption

Davey was frightened. He had made all sorts of mistakes in life, and now it had come to this, he thought to himself as he gazed fixedly into the putrid black water.

IMGA0060Thinking all the usual thoughts  that people think in Davey’s position – he was practiced at them by now – he contemplated the ordinary bleakness of the future and what he might do next. After all the comings and goings of the last few months, he was low. Very low.

One thing was for sure, he had no more ideas.  His energies for life were all used up on the efforts he had made throughout his life’s journey and, here, in this decade of his life, he had finally come to a standstill. He had run out. In more ways than one. 

The black water looked menacing and cold. It flowed slowly and silently round and round, yet if he stopped to listen he could hear it’s siren song calling him towards its clammy waters. It was all he could do to resist the water’s damning message.

Yet the stranger had definitely said that it was possible for good things to come out of bad, or even to actively turn bad things into good. “There is always a way” he had said, if you are patient and reach for it.

In despair and the deepest disappoint in himself he had ever known, Davey had finally given up the fight, declaring himself hopeless and the stranger’s words deceptive rubbish. The guy clearly had no idea of how bad bad can be. Bad things into good things? That could only be a platitude. There was no way forward from here. Yet the stranger had said that one day he would find out for himself.

Davey reviewed his life for a few moments.  Had he not become a respected scientist? Was he not indeed a competent entrepreneur? So how had it come to this? He had the finest of university educations and been taught by world class professors. He had a caring family, who even now we’re grieving for him in his sadness.

He felt overwhelmed by self pity. As he stared into the black sludgy polluted water he felt hopeless seep through his clothes and into his heart. Good out of bad?  This bad?  It was all a meaningless cruel joke, and now he would indeed take the next step that would… that would … that … would…

He stopped. A flash of moonlight on something in the water caught his attention. Swirling innocently in the incessant gurgling flow was a little glass bottle complete with its stopper.

In some strange way, it floated clean and sparkling on the surface of the blackness.  He felt it was waiting for him, a last chance perhaps, and he knew without doubt he must have it.

It was a long way down to the waters edge, but something in Davey’s heart came alive sufficiently to prompt him to action.  Stepping back for a moment from his precarious position (and his self pity) he climbed down to the bank of the putrid pool and reached out. He would need to reach out much further than what was safe for him to rescue the bottle (and maybe himself) from the fate that called them both, but driven by his sudden inexplicable change of mood, he was determined. That little fragile bottle might change his life he thought irrationally. Perhaps it already had. He must have it at all costs.

He reached out, accepting the risks of his new passion, no longer afraid, no longer obsessing about his failings and fortunes, risking being carried away, or sucked into the sludge.

No, it was beyond him. It was out of reach, but for the first time in his life he threw aside his inhibitions and looked around for help.

That was when he saw the stranger just a few yards away who had been quietly watching his efforts all the while, and seemed to read his mind. Unselfconsciously he asked, “Can you help me please? I need that bottle.” The stranger stepped forward and anchoring himself into the bank, grasped Davey’s outstretched hand. 

Trusting his weight to this Kind Stranger made the difference.  Davey felt the bottle at his finger tips, and with one last stretch, grasped it firmly in his hand. It was his. Looking up he saw, in the moonlight, a glimpse of a smile on the stranger’s shadowed face.

Davey sat for several minutes, still and quiet at the water’s edge, reliving the last few minutes of what had seemed an impossibly challenging day (and the last few years of what felt like an impossibly challenging life.)  He took a deep breath, and as he exhaled said to himself, “This moment is a turning point for me.  I know it. Life will never be the same again.”

For the first time, in a single moment he had reached out for help, and it was as if all the struggles to achieve, all his efforts to be accepted and loved, all the disappointment and inadequacy no longer mattered.

The magic words had been “help me” and he knew it. He had never asked so blatantly for help before. He had always tried to make it on his own, brought up with the expectation that he should be independent, self sufficient, stand on his own two feet and manage his own affairs.

The very walls he had built to keep himself safe had imprisoned him.  He felt a deep sense of love filtering its way into the rocky caverns of his heart; a strange lightness beaming it’s mellow rays into its grey shadows.

And the little glass bottle was here in his hand, rescued from the very waters that he, just a few minutes before … He preferred not to think about that.

It was many years later he told me this story. He was now a wealthy man, with a loving family around him. Things had turned out well.  Reaching into his coat, he drew out the little glass bottle, complete with its stopper…

…and a crumpled, stained, scrap of paper.

“This is what was in the bottle” he said, passing it to me. “I just accepted what it says, and that has made all the difference”.

I smoothed out the paper and felt my own heart leap. There on the paper were the very words I had so longed to hear as a child – and actually through all these demanding and challenging years of life.  As I read them over and over, I could feel them washing me too, cleansing and healing me to the very core.

And I accepted them.

And that has made all the difference.

Full Circle to Christianity’s ‘faith, hope and love’.

In a world where the usual reassurances are no longer working, where, across the world, confidence in government, education, business and justice systems – even in ourselves – is at an all-time low, more and more people are looking around with searching eyes, hunting for some roots, some solid ground beneath their feet, something – anything – that they can rely on as an ultimate safety net, a better pathway along which to walk into the future and a better way of living for the present.IMG_2204

Is this ‘something’ God? Not the universe, energy, or Nature, but the God of Christianity, the creator of it all? I am increasingly of the conviction that it is.

There is an unwavering hope, wholeness and security in the Christian Faith. With its clear clean message of the ultimate in love, freedom and justice, it is proving yet again to be better than any kitchen or partner update, more reliable than Wikipedia, and more secure than a gated property or any amount of money in the bank.

Built around relevant real-time local worshipping communities, Christianity has consistently invited people to a liberating spiritual surrender of their lives to their Creator – along with a radical review of their current values and attitudes – reaching out to him in humility, faith and commitment.

The result is a profound sideways ‘paradigm’ shift, into a new world and a new way of thinking, where the goals and aspirations of 21st Century living are replaced by much more profound goals and aspirations that cannot be bettered and will last, literally, for ever.

  • Welcome to the experience of a loving and eternal here-and-now God who we can truly connect with and be honestly accountable to.
  • Welcome to the promise of heaven and eternal life awaiting us beyond our physical death.
  • Welcome to a set of uncompromised day-to-day guiding life principles that have been around since the beginning of time and we can surrender to.
  • Welcome to an understanding of the world we live in that takes us beyond the natural worries and concerns of economic growth, survival of the fittest, cancer and redundancy.

Yes, welcome to the faith-filled, hope-filled, and love-filled life of 21st Century Christianity. Signing up has changed the lives of thousands of millions across the world for over two millennia. Some track record, eh?  Agreed, there is a price to pay – the price is simply everything you have, do and are.  Everything.

I’m in.

Supporting One Another

SnapnDrag626
Supporting one another.

Yesterday I was in Brighton.  It is a fantastic city, with just everything in it.  Including Hove.  And on the green down by the sea, close to Meeting Place Cafe, I stood entranced by six quiet gymnasts from Brighton Acro Yoga. (Yes, I know.)

I was fascinated as I watched them playing and practicing, happy for anyone who cared to stop and stare. I took a video and a pic or two, whilst allowing the sheer beauty of the moment to infiltrate my thoughts.

I loved the trust, the gentle collaboration, the humility of these kind people – so evident in what they were doing. The flow of movement, the occasional shakiness of the less experienced members as they held position and allowed their muscles (and trust) to develop and strengthen, the discrete coaching from the more experienced members and …

Isn’t being trustworthy and trusting just so important? It’s true these ultra-flexible fit women had little distance to fall (and I did notice one of them accidentally stood on someone’s face!) but they trusted their teachers as they guided them sensitively, asking for help and support as they needed it – and that trust resulted in a delicious flow from one well-stretched position to another with grace, skill and lots of self-control.

Learning to 'fly'?
Learning to ‘fly’?

Me? I engaged appreciatively with the process, spellbound from afar – a few short metres anyway – and allowed these artists to show me just what they can do. Then I decided to tell you about them. (Sadly these two iPhone pictures don’t do them justice, but I expect you’ll get the idea.)

Then I thanked God with a full heart that they can do it, even though I can’t.

Flexibility. Beauty. Trust. Humility. Flow.

I rode my Burgman 400 home asking myself…

“Who do I need to support so they can fly?”

I’ll support you if I can and you’d like me to – within the bounds of time and energy,, that is, and NOT with my feet!

Call me though.  Who knows?

Wasting a Moment.

It’s an odd comment, isn’t it: “There’s not a moment to waste!”

I’ve ‘wasted’ lots of moments this month.  August 2013’s remarkable beauty, particularly here in West Sussex, has requested that I stop and stare, contemplate, think, pray and dream.

IMG_1581
View from the swinging seat.

The swinging seat (or covered deck) in our enclosed, deliciously private garden gazing with wonder at some of the nine varieties of trees we have planted.

The bench seat in the back of my newly converted T4 VW camper (with the door wide open) looking out onto Bosham waterfront.

The two-mile-long beach on the Gower Peninsula having walked across the rocks of Worms Head.

Gazing down over Storrington from Chantry Post as my friend Derek and I shared lunch – these have all played host to me ‘wasting a moment’, or maybe hours.

And June had many ‘wasted moments’ too as I took the Camper to Orkney via Loch Ness and Inverness, then down the west coast of Scotland from Cape Wrath (what a name!), round the gorgeous Applecross peninsula, down through Yorkshire, a bare star lit field in Cumbria, home to Sussex again.

IMG_1755
Vital Spark hiding in a scottish harbour.

Alone. Quiet. Still. Gentle. Literally ‘thought provoking’ hours.

Wasted moments?  Of course not. These ‘wasted moments’ have been some of my most creative times, times of reevaluation, study,  times when crucial insights mushroom from an atom-sized spark in my brain, forming, growing, transforming.

And who decides what is wasted and what is not?  How can I ever know that the thoughts that came as I sat on the swinging seat were, in fact, wasted? Or the prayers I prayed.  How can anyone, in this infinitely complex world of unexpected, unintended, unpretended ‘coincidences’ know what is wasted and what is priceless?

The most creative and life-changing moments come from surprise connections. In the last week: a meeting in a motorcycle dealership; a conversation on a Art Trail (through 40 private homes in Arundel); another, sitting on a bank of wind-swept grass waiting for the tide.

Waiting for the tide.
Waiting for the tide, Worm’s Head, Gower.

Go waste some time.  It beats obsessing about efficiency and slotting people into already jammed diaries.  Ugh! How do YOU like being ‘fitted in’ to places?  Me too!  Yet the work still gets done, my contribution made.

So put aside the world’s demands for it to consume more of your life for a bit. Leave “Juggling your life” to the editors of life-style magazines and programme editors. Risk ‘wasting’ some time between now and mid October.

Be an example to the world of someone who knows how and when to STOP.  Step back from – or step out of –  the lemming- race and see what happens. Wait for the tide.

And if you meet a Kind Stranger? Well, you’re in for a very nice surprise.

The Phantom Box

We went for a walk on Thursday, my friend and I.  Not the Kind Stranger, you’ll be interested to know – though he was probably somewhere around too, but a friend I’ve known for about thirty years.  My friend is a highly skilled trainer.

The South Downs at Amberley.

We got to talk about our work and he mentioned a training he had attended where the guy had a ‘new take’ on Thinking out of the Box. You know the theory: Don’t just go for the same old-old. Be creative! Dream new ideas. Come up with something different.  Think out of the box – in a different dimension!

As we stood leaning over the five-bar gate admiring the vistas of the South Downs National Park, I said, “J, there is no box. It’s just a concept.”

I’ve thought a lot about that since. The box is an illusion and always has been. We cannot actually think inside it or outside it, because the reality has never existed and never will. The illusion is merely the creation of people who would have us perceive ourselves in boxes. Who first decided that we are all in boxes? Who was it  lumbered us with thinking from inside them? And what purpose did the concept of boxes serve? Perhaps it allowed that person to exhibit his superiority by calling us to think outside his phantom creation?

The concept of boxes make us feel secure. It enables us to enjoy the illusion that we can take control of our lives. Or each others’.  In the natural world there are no sealed boundaries, but everything flows subtly into everything else – and you’re part of that natural world. The universe is not insular. Ask any quantum physicist. Even I, as I write this blog, am changing the brain patterns in your head. Though we may seem to be separated by space and even time it is not true. We’re not separated, are we? You just read this. There is no box.

Living without the pseudo-security of an illusory box out of which we are supposed to think can challenge our very roots. We are tempted to ask questions. How old was I when I began to accept being ‘boxed’? Where did I learn that limiting skill? What were the motives of my teacher? What has this done to me, to us?

In a world that is a wide open space (not filled with wide open spaces – that supposes natural boundaries again!  It’s deeply ingrained, isn’t it?) it is a joy to know that nothing can separate us from each other, except the belief that we are in different boxes. If we choose to abandon our belief in boxes, all is revealed. We are part of the whole, and the gap between you and me is gone.

Like Neo in The Matrix, I seem to have swallowed the red pill.  Ah well…

The Kind Stranger: On the Beach

I was sitting alone on holiday in the sun when the Kind Stranger came to me next. I’d been weary and tired – they’re different, aren’t they – and needed to hear a reassuring voice.

The beach at Speightstown, Barbados.

But it was his shadow I noticed first. It cast itself across the table I was sitting at and I knew straight away it was him. Typically he was not visibly filling the vacant chair at my side, but we both knew he was there. If he had been visible to the naked eye as well as the naked spirit, he would have been leaning back, smiling, relaxed, maybe with his legs crossed, drinking a smoothie.

“Hi Andrew.” It’s great he knows my name as well as yours. “Thinking again I see.”

“Yes, I do a lot of that.”

He didn’t reply. It amuses me how he is perfectly happy to leave my comments and expressed thoughts untouched. He has no compulsion to express his own (priceless) opinions, or pronounce subtle judgements in the way we humans are so clever at doing. So I asked him a question.

“Do you think a lot?”

He chuckled, as if the question itself was a little absurd.

“I used to,” he said. “However, now I tend to live more in the moment, being less concerned about having a thought-out answer for life’s pressing questions. Sometimes they’re better left alone with their mystery intact. I tend to consider whether or not the question has a satisfying answer – whether it needs to be asked at all. Often people ask questions to provide them with greater security or greater power. I’m not short of either of those!”

He paused, then continued, “And sometimes people think thinking is a safer alternative to acting, living out their lives.”

“Thinking to avoid the risk of failing, maybe?” I ventured.

He smiled again. “Could be.”

We’re never rushed when we’re together, the Kind Stranger and me. I don’t think he does ‘rushed’. We just sat for a few minutes, and then …

“I think to puzzle things out,” I said, “to somehow grasp the complexities of life and understand them, to simplify them, to increase my knowledge. In Powerchange we say that people are hunting for MCC, meaning, clarity, and closure.”

“And does it work?” he asked.

“I think so – it helps people make sense of a jumbled world.”

“That sounds to me like a quest for peace of mind!” he laughed.

“Absolutely!” I returned. We both laughed and the conversation went quiet for a few more minutes. We just sat.

“Andrew, I love you, you know.”

“Yes, I do know. I feel very very safe with THAT knowledge. It definitely brings MCC for me.”

“I love you when you’re thinking and when you’re not. I love you when you have answers and when you don’t. I love you when you feel safe and when you feel scared, and as I’ve said before, you’ll never be outside that love.”

I cannot describe how good it felt to hear him say that – though I’d known it to be true for many years. Friendship this deep, this real, this accepting, cannot be confined to the meagre expressions of the English language. It is drawn in through every sense we have – and more.

As I sat looking out from my shady table over the turquoise sea, listening to the breaking waves lap the shore, in my mind I saw the Kind Stranger get up from the table.

“Come on!” he invited. “Enough thinking!”

“Where are we going?” I asked, then watched in horror as he walked out on the surface of the water.

Another question, eh!” He teased. “You’ll never know if you stay where you are now. Come on, follow me.”

I rose from the table, left some change for the bill, and took a deep breath. Some things you just have to do, so I stepped onto the water too. It took a few steps of practice faith – about twenty or so – and I sank several times, but I soon got the knack.

You do, don’t you?

GOD: Part 1. The Pretend Experiment

Whether you believe in ‘God’ or not, spending time thinking about him (I’m using the masculine because it works for me, not because I believe ‘God’ to be necessarily male) is good for you.  Official.   Funny that.

According to the latest academic studies of literally hundreds of neuroscientists worldwide and summarised in Dr Andrew Newberg’s latest book “How God Changes your Brain” you don’t need to believe in a Supreme Being, God, Jehovah, Allah, or some other divinity, for thinking about him to be beneficial.

Dr Newberg from the University of Pennsylvania and his colleagues make a very strong case. Enjoy the read!  The truth seems to be that, neurologically, ‘God’ may be one of the most powerful words a person ever encounters, and that once the concept is in your head it won’t go away.

Personally, I’m delighted to be a ‘believer’. It works for me. I don’t put that into the same category as believing in Father Christmas – though in our house believing in FC is definitely beneficial on Christmas morning – or believing in Mother Nature, whoever she might be. It’s just that if I dig deep into my mind, heart, thinking, and soul, I can’t hand-on-heart, bring myself to say with any conviction that a single Supreme Being doesn’t exist. Reason? I think he does, and if he does, I want to be on his side and have him on mine. I hope you follow the logic.  However there are one or two conditions attached for such contemplations to be beneficial and not damaging.

The aforesaid God needs to be perceived as benevolent. No problem there, mine is.  Stick your head in Dr Newberg’s fMRI scanner and you’ll notice that contemplation of a God who is authoritarian, dictatorial, malevolent, vindictive, violent, critical, fearful, distant, angry or focuses on our wrongdoing (sin?) – any seriously negative thoughts in fact – will start to physically damage your actual brain within 20 seconds or so. I think the God I believe in would be very sad for me to do that to myself, wouldn’t he? So I like to avoid doing it; 19 seconds and no more. Only a benevolent God is good for you, not a fearsome one. That makes sense to me.

Another condition seem to be to believe that God is close. Many people perceive God as ‘out there’, separate and remote, an impersonal Force stirring up the stars.  But for us to properly benefit from contemplating this benevolent God we also need to perceive him as ‘in here’ – close, personal, even intimate. Today many people are perceiving God as a ‘living spirit in every human being’. Others may express their perceptions as a loving caring knowing Presence in and around them, wherever they are, whatever is happening to them.  From my teenage years, God has seemed close. Most of the time anyway!

So what happens if you honestly don’t believe God is real? Amazingly, you do not need to believe in the reality of a benevolent close God for God to be good for your brain. The evidence seems to indicate that just pretending (yes, pretending!) that this God – benevolent and ‘in here’ as well as ‘out there’ – is real, and living in that pretence on a daily basis for six or eight weeks, will change your brain structure in your favour. It seems you’ll be happier, more relaxed, think more clearly and your brain will become more integrated and function better … just pretending God is close and on your side each day! Who knows, you may want to continue the experiment if it turns out really good, or maybe refine it.

OK, so I don’t need to pretend because I am a believer. You might not be right now, and may need to pretend to get the benefits.

I know it’s very subjective and not very scientific, but do me a favour and let me know what happens. Newberg reckons you need to meditate, for twenty minutes a day for six to eight weeks, on this God who you imagine to be both benevolent and close.

Hmmm. Sounds like the Kind Stranger to me.