On days full of doubt about my purpose, my direction, and Your plans for me… like today… this is what I need.
This blog began on 10 August 2011. In a few days it will be 9 months old. I read the About Page and I am flooded with gratefulness for the flow of the Singlestream and the God-given gravity that guides it. This little brook has burst through the cranium out of my pained and haunted thoughts, caught a ride in the veins of my intentions, got flushed out and clarified by the kidneys of newfound dreams, given fresh air on the journey through the lungs of my discovery, until the flow finally found itself back at home in a place it had almost forgotten – my heart.
For nine months I have travelled… through my pain, out of bitterness, touching base with my roots and cutting connections with the millstones that previously sat friendly around my neck. I am a different woman. The 9 most profound things I have grown to know in the past 9 months are.
- My body is mySelf. It isn’t just a vehicle to carry me through life that can be treated like junk and traded in for a new model later.
- The mind is a dangerous thing when left alone to run things.
- Vulnerability is hard as hell to practice. But only through being brave enough to be vulnerable can we find real connections.
- Love in friendship is no less important and no less powerful than romantic love.
- Strength is not the opposite of feeling.
- I can heal.
- Time alone is the only place where I can get to experience God.
- Love takes work. Every castle needs maintenance. The bigger the love the more important and the more costly the maintenance. But the bigger the reward.
- Some relationships are meant to end.
This blog was meant to be an experiment. In the end it has given birth to a new woman. One of wisdom, zest, power, conviction and a reigning heart. A woman with the ability to lead.
Much like the woman in the end of this video, cracks and stains have been washed away within the Singlestream.
calls me singing from my bed,
a million busy thoughts
fight for attention in my head,
the daunting tasks at hand
grow into mountains in my sight
but my sheets are gentle satin
and my pillows feather-light.
The week is full of battles
folks to lead and lives to save,
Goliaths gang up on
my inner David forcing brave.
The thought that fortifies as I
face down the righteous fight
is my sheets are gentle satin
and my pillows feather-light.
As Wednesday grows more bloody
and defeat feels very near,
the arguments grow louder
with defense and craven fear.
To just make it to sundown I
turn my cheek against my plight
for my sheets are gentle satin
and my pillows feather-light.
The tide begins to turn
as solutions bubble up,
energy swims to surface
as I drain my coffee cup.
I focus on the goal
with eyes squinting all my might
at my sheets of gentle satin
and my pillows feather-light.
Finally the week is ended
and war melts down with the sun.
Kicking back my soul reflects
upon the battles God has won.
Grace rains down in drops of beauty,
my heart rests and dreams take flight
in my sheets of gentle satin
and my pillows feather-light.
It was a last-minute plan made by tired people. We had four days off from work – public holidays around Easter – and we needed to get away. From everything. Tickets were bought and hotels were sold out so we ended up with a house. On the South Side of Cayman Brac.
We arrived to gentle moonlight, near enough to the full moon to ease us into the silence. Silence of phones, of computers, of television, of radio, of demands, of jobs, of drama… and heard the deafening sound of waves. Quickly we were asleep.
This was to be a spiritual journey for me. I intended to relax and renew but I also brought reading material – The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. There was something fitting about this book because NOW is all I had this trip be about. It was about sleep when my body called for it, waking when the sun rose, meditating in the morning breeze and eating whatever fish came our way that day.
On the first morning we began by taking a look around.
The property itself fit our needs perfectly – it was by the sea, had a hammock and lounge chairs, a few mean-faced guardians and a fire pit. What more could a sojourner need?
After the first walk we were hungry… and the kitchen empty. And so we left the sanctuary and went in search of friends and food. All the while savouring the warmth of the sun and the fresh air through the car window.
With food sorted, we decided to drop in on some relatives of one of our companions. While the family caught up, we explored their garden, connecting with the flowers, the power of the Bluff face, the traditional decorations of this traditional sand yard.
Cooking was a joy and not a burden. Fresh fish caught the same day and vegetables we got on our morning drive were thrown into the pot by the man that was with us. My task was to make the fritters or the jonny cakes to eat with the fish. It was a truly Caymanian vacation – not at all free from form or context but at the same time free of all restriction.
Every day we rested. Every day we read. Every day we walked on the beach. One day I went for a swim and came face to face with an 8 foot Nurse Shark – talk about feeling every inch of the NOW!
On our last day we drove up the Bluff and along the Bluff Road to the Lighthouse at the highest end. We sat and soaked up the breeze of the moment, watched the Man-O-Wars glide up and down the Bluff face keeping watch over secret nesting grounds, and marveled at the blue of the sea. I have never seen sea so blue as off the Bluff. This has been a marvel for me from childhood.
Determined not to dwell on our return to our home island, and determined to remain in the peace we had found for as long as we could, we lit a fire and cooked our dinner over it.
It is so easy to rely on the past to tell you who you are and who you should be. It is also easy to rely on the future to offer you salvation from your worries, your fears, your stresses and your pain. But why would we rely on the past and the future when We and God are both here and the NOW is so very perfect?
“You. Were you in church on Sunday?” I shook my head no, for I certainly was not at this church. “What did you come to church tonight for?” I didn’t understand the question. I turned to the friend who had invited me and, glad to not be the person Prophet-man was picking on, his eyebrows reached up for his hairline and he moved his head out of my way to give me a better view of my questioner. Peter, peter why did you deny me?
Prophet re-phrased his question. “How do you want the Lord to bless you tonight?”
Stalling, I said “I haven’t thought about it.” I mean, how can one think with all your jumping around and rebuking?! No. Of course I didn’t say that part.
“Think about it.”
And he waited.
Seeing he wasn’t going away I capitulated. “I’d like some rest.” Incredulity hit his face and he looked at the rest of the church over his wire-rimmed glasses. But no, Prophet-man wasn’t getting into any more of my business than that. “Yes. Rest. That’s a big deal you know!”
“Stand my sister and receive your blessing”. So I stood. I was told to close my eyes and raise my hands “to receive my blessing of rest.” The man said “I see you need a vacation.”
I said “Yes. I leave on vacation tomorrow.”
“Where are you going?”
“Where in Jamaica? Trelawny?”
Bahahahahahaha (inside of course) “No. St. Elizabeth.”
“You going to look about some land?”
“Do you have land there?”
“No.” Not until my parents die and Lord I sure as hell don’t want to inherit anything today. Who knows? This Prophet man with an interest in my land might well and engineer it.
“Do you need land?”
“No. I have everything I need.” At this point I had opened my eyes and sat down, feeling like a fool standing with eyes closed and this man trying to pick my information out of my mouth. “Well my sister, you are about to receive some land. Since you don’t need it you should sell it and give the money to the church.” Resounding amens.
Swiftly moving on from my uncooperative rebellion, and before his failure to crack me gained much notice and put a spoke in his wheel of momentum, he called out “Who has a headache?” (Classic.) Closing his eyes, reaching out his hand like Moses parting the sea, and making his face the picture of concentration he called out “Stand up! I feel your pain my sisters. Two of you have headaches!” (What are the odds?!) Two women stood up. (Of course.)
He held out his hand to the head of the one nearest to the front, gesturing for someone to stand behind her. And blowing wind into the microphone he pressed one finger into her forehead and down she went. She was so overcome that he left her to the care of her neighbour who fanned her face with a sheet of paper. Leaving her he twisted snakelike to headache number 2 and said “Sister does your head still hurt?” She shook her head a quick no and sat down. “See? GODDDD does not WAIT for man to do his work!” he bellowed triumphantly.
Hell. I woulda said no too! My friend brought his mouth to my ear and whispered “I know you’re ready to go.” I nodded “A half-hour ago. Wait till the time is right.”
When we turned our attention back to the front he had drawn information out of other members, one lady in a custody battle for her child, another praying for a family, and turned to target a woman in the back by the door. “Come up here Mama. I see your pain and it hurts me too. The Spirit has told me of your secret sickness.” She came, all two hundred pounds and five feet of her frame, labouring to walk to the front, swaying with the spirit like the Okonkwo of Chinua Achebe. Her unnamed illness was targeted as the Prophet put his finger on her forehead, calling out the demon in her, and pushing her down determinedly with one finger while looking over his glasses. The whole thing happened right before me in the aisle between our row of chairs and the pews across. She fell into the arms of another member, missing my swiftly drawn-in legs by a hair’s breath. His face was a fury as he focused all his strength into one finger and I could feel the tension of his arm and of his concentration as he struggled to make it look spiritual. Oh… and also… he blew tongues and holy wind all throughout into the microphone. “Shambalaambalusha.”
She then began to shake and convulse, her hair braided in rows close to her round scalp falling heavy on the person behind her, bawling out in tongues – once again a line of unintelligible sounds repeated over and over – at my feet. They brought out a sheet to cover her legs (clearly this church was prepared) so that she wouldn’t expose herself in the Spirit. My eyes were glued with morbid and removed curiosity at the woman twitching like a murdered calf on the floor when another lady stood to the front. As the new woman started to sway the woman at my feet quickly scrambled up to the chair next to me given up for her, her performance briefly forgotten, and resumed bellowing and wheezing out her tongues, shaking her hands and shoulders out to each side and pushing me into my friend. As the new woman getting her “healing” came down, her hand swept my friend’s face pushing him into me. And so we were pinned between two babblers, convulsing without care for their neighbours, proving themselves to be deeply spiritual indeed.
“Yo bredrin, this church is a contact sport!” No one would have noticed my even voice with all the high volume nonsense words flying about and so I said it out loud this time, looking my friend full in the face. He turned his head and his shoulders shook against me as he bit his lip against the pending flood, and we both looked up to see another woman on her way down. At the sight of the last remaining escape route about to be blocked off, I picked up both our Bibles, my handbag, my keys and his keys and said “Let’s GO.” Climbing over three bodies laid out on the floor (they had run out of sheets by now) I made it to the door not caring to see if he was behind me. I half-gasped, half-guffawed goodnight to the ladies at the door and ran through the blissfully quiet night air to the car before the body count got any higher. Two steps out the door the laugh bubbled up and tumbled out in peels like sheets of rain. He was five steps behind me and as we clambered into the car he laughed out “Speak your mind! I’d love to hear what you think.”
Tears came out as uncontrollable laughter shook my whole self. “Take me home bro. In order to sleep tonight, I have a bottle of wine I have to finish!”
Now ladies and gentlemen, forgive me if I misunderstand. I do not dare to claim perfection or complete understanding and risk being rebuked like Job. But I believe deep in my soul that my God doesn’t destroy people, doesn’t demand that they not feed their families, doesn’t get up in their business or rebuke them for using their gifts, isn’t rude and would not have someone wait to apologize for an offense. The God I serve doesn’t expect me to behave possessed like a voodoo priestess, He praises self-control and consideration, good stewardship and offers grace and not judgment. He doesn’t demand I tell all my business to every man who calls himself a prophet. In fact He Himself stands at the door and knocks and waits for us to open it, doesn’t kick down the door and go through the drawers for the cash we have hidden in the sock drawer.
As for Prophet-man, something my God told me Himself “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes or figs from thistles? See, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.” (Matthew 7:15-20)
These are the fruits all Prophets in the Holy Spirit should have:
Please forgive the irreverence with which I recount the following experience. Truth is I found nothing at all reverent about it and try as I might have in the days following the most reverent response I could find was a nervous chuckle. I know God has his flock in many pastures but the story I’m about to relate (as factually and as untainted by opinion as is probably possible for someone like me) reminded me much more of the lion David killed to protect his sheep than any green pastures or still waters.
On a whim and on an invitation given on short notice I found myself in what had once been the living room of a house. At the door a camcorder recorded and relayed the images of the main room, pewed out in chairs of blue upholstery much like those of my own church, into the other room or rooms of the house. Bibles open and ready for Bible study, worshipers filled the two rooms tight, two bottoms to a seat, as a team of four women led an emotional praise and worship session. The Pastor welcomed me to his humble church with a gentle and heartfelt squeeze of my hand and I decided to like him. I have since decided also not to hold against him what took place thereafter. There was much kindness coming off this teacher and I had heard a little of him from the friend who brought me to this place. The bottom of this friend and my own shared a seat at this very moment in the little pentecostal church.
But this Tuesday night was different – neither my host (nor the Pastor I’d like to think) had much clue about where the night would eventually end up.
During the music I looked around and saw quite a few faces I recognized. Mothers of some of my friends, one or two young professionals, domestic helpers, labourers, teachers, all mixed in but mostly humble and devout women. The music seemed to have possessed one lady over by the window and she chanted quietly to herself, swaying her slender back side by side against the wall facing me across the church. Two hands in the air and braids spilling long and pretty over each shoulder onto her long black and yellow dress. I remember looking at her furrowed brow thinking wow – that’s some pain she’s going through.
The music was ended by the signal of the Pastor up front in a space saved from the overcrowded seating for him to stand in. As the ladies took their seats he had the church greet each other. A sweet lady, one of the singers, came and greeted my host and shook my hand with genuine pleasantness that still lingers in the smile of my memory. I thought later, and in fact still think, she is a lady I would like to know.
Up to this point everything fit. I was in the house of God with His people and was most excited to break bread together and feast on some good Word.
A guest speaker was announced. There would be no Bible study tonight because we were blessed with the presence of Prophet Evan Macomb or something similar (but not quite). (The word “PROPHET” set off warning bell #1.)
A man about 5 feet 11 inches tall with a bald spot shining stark and small surrounded by hair that threatened to be an afro in the weeks to come stood to speak. He wore shiny black leather shoes, a black pair of trousers with white pin-stripes about four inches apart that you would find at a higgler stand, and a classy black shirt with white stripes, white collar and cuffs with onyx cuff links. A black alligator leather belt held the pants to his wiry frame. His watch caught my attention – I had seen one just like it in a recent sale at a duty-free store and balked at the price. The brown band and gold setting over a black face struck me as odd and I couldn’t figure out why immediately but the feeling lingered.
It was much later that it sank home to me. Nothing this man was wearing matched anything else. It came to me as he was speaking and the discord had become too powerful to ignore.
He began by complimenting the Pastor – the gentle greeter – for all manner of good purporting to have knowledge of the man that had been given him by the Spirit. He then went on to raise a frenzied response from the congregation and they were to greet the Holy Spirit. “Jeeeeeezus must be welcomed properly! You’ll get THAT by midnight!” The commotion that followed wasn’t good enough and so he called for them to try again. And involved the musicians – a man on a strange-looking electronic drum and another on the keyboard. He started to jump and shake like a man possessed and “speak in tongues” (warning bell #2). Then he drew his hand across his waist and the keyboarder missed the cue and didn’t stop. And then he called for more drums and the drummer could only find the sleigh bells setting. And the “Holy Spirit” took him on a rampage of biblical proportions.
“MUSICIANS KNOW YOUR PLAAAAACCCCCE! Play di drum man!” He was so pissed off he lost his accent AND his tongues and slipped into Jamaican patois (warning bell #3). At fever pitch he continued “I rebuke you! You may be what stands between a person in need and their HEALING! Don’t you know that MUSIC is what ushers in the HOLY SPIRIT?! Especially the DRUMS? The SPIRIT enters me through the DRUMS!” punctuated by foot stamps and jumping, and then turning to the congregation he hushed down to a half crouch and a cheeky whisper “You’ll get THAT by midnight.” (warning bell #4? Or did I lose count?) “PLAY DI DRUMS! Musicians you are ALL replaceable. ALLLLL of you. No matter how good you are or how well you sing God doesn’t NEED you. He ALLLWWAYYS has someone waiting to REPLACE you”, he continued with much animation in his spirited body to some nervous amens.
“This is not a rebuke my brothers but I am in the Holy Spirit. I will apologize for offending any of you later but not now, not in the SpiriT” (with a capital T and a rrrrolled Rs.) “So musICIANS. PLAY or get off the SPOT!” (warning bells and alarms and all hell breaks loose inside me at something sounding very much like the Caribbean phrase piss or get off the pot) “YES church, you’ll get THAT by midNIGHT!”
Then he turns his stern and angry eyes, to the palpable relief of the room not least of all the musicians, to the Bible. “Today I have been led to speak to you about Interceding.” And then some more “tongues” that sounded much too familiar now as they were clearly the exact same “tongue” phrases he’d enunciated at least twice now before this point. Now you see why I put quotation marks around warning bell #2?
His sermon went something like this:
- Selected verse with “interceding” in it, clearly pulled out of a quick internet search of a Bible.
- Some incoherent tongue speaking.
- An explanation or clarification that was clear as mud – e.g. “Christ is the only intercessor (interrrrcessaaaaa) so don’t let anyone talk to you about interceding for you. For they CANNOT DO what he has ALREADY DONE!”
- Some more tongues.
- Repeat steps 1-4 four times.
None of his “interceding” verses related to each other. Context was neither acknowledged nor discussed. At one point he was reading one version of the Bible and the version on the church screen was different so his verse said “interceding” where the screen said “intercession” and he yelled at the people out loud saying “it doesn’t say intercession, it says interceding. Interceding and intercession is two different things.” I looked at my friend but he couldn’t look at me for by this time my eyes were wide open as the wonders unfolded and his carefully held laughter was shaking his shoulders.
If the Prophet were to be believed it was Elijah and not Elias that was a New Testament church member, Isaac and not Abraham who was asked to sacrifice his son, Jesus alone can intercede, intercession and interceding are two different things (ok so tenses are different sure but COME ON) and he implored us to intercede for each other (see note on Jesus above) and for the church building project…
DONT. EVEN. TRY. TO. UNDERSTAND. That’s what I GOT by midnight!
Then the Prophet launched into the building fund that the Holy Spirit told him about. Didn’t take the Spirit for me to notice we were meeting in someone’s house, and I am no Mentalist! He asked the membership how many members there were. Pastor responded saying 100. He calculated swiftly that $1,000 from each member would equal $100,000. He called on members to pledge $1,000 a month right there and then. “I know you are all building and providing for your own homes but provide for God first and HE will provide for YOU”. He saw my coach handbag on my lap (Yes. I watched his eyes.) and called out “see you ladies who like your pretty handbags? Give your thousand dollars to the Lord and he will bless you with SIX HANDBAGS!”I was dumbstruck. Jaw literally dropped. And not a little annoyed. I saw domestic helpers and gardeners who make less than $800 most months walk up to the front of the church to pledge their thousand dollars because they were told by this fire-and-rebuke-breathing minister in the “spirit” that they would be given 100 times what they have given back.
And as my eyes widened even more the man turned on me.
More on what he said to me in tomorrow’s post.
Now we have covered some ground and formed some conclusions on Self-Esteem that take away from the value it is given in society as a theory that explains good and evil human behaviour. And here comes a spanner that changes the course of our discussion – Identity. What is it? And what does it have to do with Self-Esteem?
You have gone to pay with a credit card and been asked for your ID. You have travelled and had to present the picture page of your passport. Before you can vote in many countries a card with your picture on it must identify to the authorities WHO YOU ARE. But that picture only provides so much information – a snap shot of your facial features. The concept of identity is about the whole of you – what is seen, what cannot be seen, what you see and what you cannot see.
Once upon about two years ago I came across a new perspective on the concept of identity in a most unlikely place. I was helping a friend in the writing of his dissertation for a master’s degree in International Relations. The central concept was national identity – the identity of one nation in particular. By the end of the exercise I felt myself worthy of a master’s degree myself – one in Identity, so long did I analyze and so deeply did the concept of identity resonate within my mind. I had come across Identity before in a different and seemingly unrelated place – my spiritual search – and had been chewing on the word and savouring the flavour for some time. But for the purposes of a discussion in International Relations the concept was split into two main parts:
- How a nation sees itself; and
- How a nation is seen by other nations.
I have determined that both these elements are authentic pieces of identity – they are both real and true, even if one or both of them are outside of the control of the identified nation or person.
How You See Yourself
The internal element of identity is determined by the cultural mores, the rituals, the relationships that a nation has and values. Think of the holidays you have where you live and how your own nation identifies with them. Transferring that to our own human experience, internal identity is the thoughts and actions and – yup, Self-Esteem – of a person, their sense of self, their boundaries and their own image as it displays itself in their head. It is determined by their own actions and their own judgment of those actions based on their belief system – always measuring up to the ruler they create for themselves. This ruler set will be determined by their religion, their jealousies, their comparing themselves to people they admire or despise, and informed by their culture. But in the end this is also part of their internal identity. So they see their intelligence and measure it – 8 inches of intelligence makes me above average and I feel good about that. Or they see their beauty – 3 inches of beauty doesn’t compare to Kim Kardashian and therefore I’m not good enough. You can see the path here from Identity to Self-Esteem. You can also see here that the internal identity is also informed in some ways by the opinions of others.
How You are Seen by Others
The external identity is the way that the rest of the world sees a nation, not with the vested interest of ownership or the fears of facing ones self but with objectivity – or at least a different subjectivity – of an outsider looking on. And so, in our own lives, it is what our friends and enemies see, who they see us to be. How they become sorted into friends and enemies will depend on their set of rulers, their values, their belief systems, and how closely they match up with yours.
Let’s take the USA as a case study. Their internal identity has traditionally been informed by the values of their founding fathers – several freedoms enshrined in a constitution. It is also informed in the outcome of the conflicts they have entered into like Vietnam and the Gulf War and World War II. Their achievements in sports, their economic successes, all of these things inform their identity. One would simply need to drive out of the airport in any US city to see bumper stickers screaming national pride and national identity and the love with which this nation sees itself. Not to mention national holidays where the things that they value are celebrated like Thanksgiving and the 4th of July and even Martin Luther King’s holiday.
On the flip side there are other parts of their identity held deeper and less proudly that they choose not to make a part of national identity internally but inform they way they are seen by other nations. The racism of their history, the brutal corruption of their politics, the stain of assassinations, espionage, and the hypocrisy of their international policies all inform their international identity. The USA is not revered in France as it is in Wyoming, it isn’t seen as a nation that stands for freedom in Iran or in Cuba in the way it is seen in Virginia.
Two things can be learned from the identity of the United States. Firstly, the vision one has of ones self can be completely at odds with, or at least very different from, ones external identity. Secondly, identity is a fluid thing evolving as time changes and people grow.
Of course, how you esteem yourself will be heavily affected by who you see yourself to be. You will measure that vision up against your value rulers and determine how much value you give to yourself and, voila, out comes your Self-Esteem!
But is how you see yourself the problem? Or is it how you are BEING that makes you value yourself more or less? And perhaps, most importantly of all, is who you are being something within your control?
Stay tuned for the answers in the next installment of the common-sense study of Self-Esteem.