Learning To Breathe Under Water: Celtic Thoughts On Life

20170718 LEARNING TO BREATHE UNDER WATERI’m sitting in the garden again. The sun has just risen. It’s early. The day is fresh. I’m sitting at the garden table with a coffee in one hand and a book of poetry in the other hand.

Hush. The Presence is here.

My actions feel like a pre-ordained ritual and the book of poetry a time liturgy. Around me are ‘pews’ cunningly disguised as hedges and fences, and the ‘parishioners’ are trees and their branches are really hands raised heavenward in praise. Nature is my church. The Source of All is all around us. The God of Green Hope is gracious to all.

And, I thought deep thoughts as I sat at the garden table, and I read some ‘liturgy’.

There are times in life when things don’t run smoothly. We so often want the life-journey to be smooth and without any ‘judders’, and yet life is seldom like that. I do believe the aim is not to get to the end of this life without any cracks and dents. But maybe the aim is to have lived fully the hand that has been dealt us, and as we stand, one day, covered in scars, slightly scorched, and covered in band-aids, and to look That Which Is Larger Than Us in the eye and give thanks for the ride that involved love (and yes, because we loved there will be heartache too, maybe in proprtion to our love).

I build my house by the sea.
Not on the sands, mind you,
not on the shifting sand.

Each one of us is different. Unique. What we experience, a facet of reality, will be different to the way it is experiened by everyone else. Our reactions will be different, too. The thing we have in common…is that we’re all so different. And, so our life is like a house by a storm-tossed sea that we inhabit…for now. We do our best, we make the most of things. And life is good.

And I built it on rock.
A strong house
by a strong sea.
And we got well acquainted, the sea and I.
Good neighbours.
Not that we spoke much.
We met in silences,
respectful, keeping our distance
but looking our thoughts across the fence of sand.

We get familiar with the way things are, and yet if we’re honest, bit by bit we know things are changing. I find it easy to make new friends. I love it when their are new births to celebrate, new joys like new jobs that arise, or a handfasting or engagement, or wedding etc (whether it’s of a family member or close friend, or I’m the celebrant at such events).

Boundaries are wonderful things to hem in joy. But, I weep when a family member or close friend goes ‘home’, and passes through that boundary. Are we not all alike? Isn’t the beach a boundary between the land and sea, like a ‘gap’ between here and the Other, metaphorically, like the barrier between life and Life here-after, Heaven, the Summerland or Caer Wydyr (the glass fortress).

Always the fence of sand our barrier,
always the sand between.

And yet, life like sand in an hour-glass continues to flow. Time flows. Relentless. Make the most of each day. Life maybe built on solid rock, but sand around it flows. Tempus fugit.

And then one day
(and I still don’t know how it happened)
the sea came.
Without warning.
Without welcome even.

Life is never smooth. Unexpectedly there are ‘ups and downs’, life-traumas, ailments (and doesn’t it seems that when such things are witnessed in family and dear friends, and we look on, it is worse than it actually happening to us), the loss of family and dear friends and other ‘judders’ occur. Such events catch us by surprise.

This is life, isn’t it? For now.

Not sudden and swift,
but a shifting across the sand like wine,
less like the flow of water than the flow of blood
Slow, but flowing like an open wound.

And, as I sit here drinking the final gulp of coffee, thoughts continue to flow.

So many family and friends have it tough. Perhaps if they look at my life they will think the same. We each have life-trauma we keep covered, but it’s there, and it’s a mark of our ‘human-ness’. And yet, when we’re ‘going through it’, the last thing we want is an academic appraisal, someone to tell us that ‘they know’. It feels so personal. It is! How can anyone else know. We experience life differently, and react differently.

If this is ‘you’, then you’re not alone.

And I thought of flight, and I thought of drowning, and I thought of death.
But while I thought, the sea crept higher till it reached my door.
And I knew that there was neither flight nor death nor drowning.

When ‘judders’ occur, we change. When I was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer about ten years ago (and by the grace of God and the NHS health-care system in the UK ‘defeated it) my motto was ‘business as usual’, but deep down I knew nothing would be the same.

We adapt.

That when the sea comes calling you stop being good neighbours,
Well acquainted, friendly from a distance neighbours.
And you give your house for a coral castle.

This maybe life for now. There is an ancient story about King Solomon wanting a ring that would make a happy man become sad if he looked at it, and a sad man happy. He sent a servant by the name of Beniah to look for it. He had a year in which to find it. Beniah travelled the globe, returning without it and with only one day to go. And yet. on that final day he found the ring in the local market. That evening he approached King Solomon. As soon as King Solomon read the inscription on the ring the smile vanished from his face. The jeweller had written three Hebrew letters on the gold band: gimel, zayin, yud, which began the words “Gam zeh ya’avor” — “This too shall pass.” At that moment Solomon realized that all his wisdom and fabulous wealth and tremendous power were but fleeting things. Yes, everything changes.

And you learn to breathe under water.

We change.

Life teaches us that when the wind blows; lean into the storm. When the sun burns, seek shadow. When it rains, seek the shelter of a mature tree. And, when we seem to be engulfed by water, up to and over our heads, we adapt, we really do – you do – we, metaphorically, learn to breathe underwater. It’s a times like that that we ‘step out’ of ‘normality’.

It is one of the reasons I believe that I am blessed with great friends who are latter-day Celts, Celtic Christians, Druidic Christians, Druids, Pagans and others, who ‘see’ life differently, share their buoying-up worldviews and beliefs with me, and I see life differently, anew, bigger than the life-trauma, bigger and brighter than anything previously imagined. As in says in ancient text: For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

With no more coffee left, I had finished reading that poem – the liturgy for life. For all its difficult times, and whatever we’re going through right now life has a habit of reminding us that we’ve come this far, and to take heart for the rest of this wonderful journey, that we will make it through this ‘storm’.

And that barrier between life and Life here-after, Heaven, the Summerland or Caer Wydyr (the glass fortress), that event when this life ends is really just the beginning. Mae mwy – ‘there is more’, is my favourite Welsh phrase. Oh there is so much more. But, not just yet. Today, we live life to the full and seek joy – which is not dependant on felt events – and are blessed in doing so, whether we feel it or know it or not. Hush, the Presence is (t)here.

You are blessed.

(The poem read at the coffee table this morning, this life liturgy, was by Carole Bialock and is entitled ‘Learning to breathe under water’, and is used here interspersed through my writing as indented block-quotes)

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