An unusual vicar and the power of friends

Come to the edge, illustration by Jo Bradshaw

The long-haired American vicar stood up there and chuckled. Not in a jolly-faced-country-vicar way. He didn’t look much like typical vicar material. In fact, I had the distinct impression he had been on a career path of rock and roll stardom before being called to this profession. But here we were, in small-town New Zealand, at midnight mass, in St Luke’s Anglican church. 

‘Why,’ he asked, ‘are you here tonight?’

Uncomfortable shuffling. The effort to think worthy thoughts - to be good enough to answer this question - was audible. 

But his response was disarming. He listed a few reasons why he thought we might have been there. Because that’s what you do at Christmas. The tinsel effect. Carols. Yearning for something more than superficiality. Needing a bit of church action. 

It was disarming because there was no judgement. Here we all were, many of us midnight mass tourists (me included). What was I there for? I don’t belong to any church. I walk in the grass and among the trees to feel connected to Source. I have my deepest spiritual conversations silently, or bending over seedlings in my garden.

If ‘mister god’ is anywhere, he is everywhere, so I don’t usually go to church to meet him.

So, what was I looking for that night? Well, carols make me cry. But only when I sing them with other people, and give myself permission to sing loudly, imperfectly, in a group, fighting that huge lump in my throat. They make me cry in the same way that watching an exceptional and buried talent emerge on X-Factor makes me cry. Something to do with release, connection and unity. Of promise. X-Factor and carols make me cry because they make me feel alive and loved. And the act of coming to a place with others - of joining together in some  kind of contemplation is too rare for me.

I guess if I had to put a finger on why I had shown up, it would have something to do with being witnessed in love. Because when you’re feeling a little invisible, what can you do but show up, as you are?

The evening was deeply entertaining as well as uplifting. As a midnight mass tourist, I’ve been to a few Catholic ones (my mother’s family - lapsed catholics) and found them dry and scripture-heavy. Wake me up for the carols, indeed. Part of the reason I never liked going to that church was that whenever I did, I’d leave feeling faintly guilty. Not good enough. Slightly sinful. See ya later. I think you’ve missed the point, dear bishop. Back to my carrots. 

But long-haired vicar Andy in Greytown? You know what he pulled off? Making us reflect on ourselves without feeling guilty. Making us feel accepted and loved. And, as well as some pretty funny god-as-a-sea-monster and jesus-and-modern-physics metaphors, he asked us this:

How much living have you done this year? How many of us are existing instead of living?’ 

The ripple that went through the crowd this time felt sadder. Like too much mere existing had been going on. Too much making ends meet, too much churn, too much mindless spending and too little playing, living, and stopping and smelling that beautiful honeysuckle bush you drive past because you’re in too much of a rush to walk. 

The vicar’s point was that too many of us are putting up with just existing because to change is scary. In his words, we might be scared to meet god that night, because if we did, it would be hugely transformative. Life would change. We would change. 

For me, those words resonated on a slightly different level and I’m not writing this to get into Conversations About God. I was thinking about all the things that had surfaced for me and I realised that in my case, ‘meeting god’ was really ‘meeting the most powerful and loving and divine version of myself’ (OK, so this is probably the same thing, but I have a point, and it’s to do with you and me and how we show up.) 

How many of us are disabling or sabotaging or blocking that self from coming through because we’re scared?  

Showing up, playing bigger, getting more visible, having a point of view, standing up for what you believe: all of these are scary because, chances are, we probably haven’t been doing them nearly as much as we need to. And the funny thing is: that person standing next to you is feeling just as scared as you. That person who seems to have their shit together was just as scared as you. That successful entrepreneur has to deal with just the same feelings too. I am just as scared as you. 

That’s the reason I was there that night. Because showing up, committing to change is scary. What’s the answer? Surround yourself with people who understand. Who accept you and can do that with love and compassion. Whether those people are in a church or at a coffee morning, a Google+ circle, a mastermind group or next door to you. I’ll join in with long-haired Andy’s parting sentiment here: 

Courage. I bid you courage to live the life you always dreamed you would. 

And I’ll ask you another question: how much are you using your multipassionate nature as a safety net to NOT decide? To not move forward. ‘I don’t know what to choose’ is safer than ‘I’ll try this and learn from it.’ Choosing to help everybody is ‘safer’ than committing to helping just a few people, but waaaay less effective. Getting into action is scary. Indecision, shiny object syndrome and wanting to say yes to everyone are crippling. Just because you are capable of doing so much, of doing anything others ask of you, does it mean you should?

It takes courage to just start. Show up as you are. And ask yourself whether ‘I could do anything’ is actually preventing you from really living.  

Leave a comment and share below.  

(Like the art? See this and my other fine art prints here)


Showing 12 reactions

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  • commented 2013-01-07 11:00:35 +0000
    So glad to hear that this is resonating. And it’s so true that existing instead of living IS something that we can slip into if we’re not mindful. I love how the very process of thinking about this then prompts action; how if we share our thought processes, bolts of inspiration and insight in public like this, they somehow become truer and more tangible. Touched by the depth and breadth of passion and philosophy here…put on your superhero pants and step out, everyone ;)
  • commented 2013-01-06 14:39:07 +0000
    Jo I love your post. Thanks for the ecouragement to live fully and to be the best that we can be.
  • commented 2013-01-02 19:46:45 +0000
    hmmmm…i think i’ve always found my excuse in my multi-passionate nature {incidentally, a much nicer term than “flighty”, “flaky” or “perpetually undecided”}.
    how to pick what to do? maybe better to dabble? am i using my current job as a crutch?

    the idea of living versus existing really resonates with me right now…i’ve allowed myself to slip into just existing over this last while and i’d really like to change that.
  • commented 2013-01-02 15:25:06 +0000
    Jo, this is an amazing post and perfectly timed for what I need to hear. Courage is exactly what I’m trying to maintain while I’m undertaking some big moves that may lead me away from my steady corporate job. Courage and gumption! It’s exciting, but very scary (what I call “scaryliscious”). I found your site via the Goddess Circle and so very glad I did. :) I’ll be sure to share a link to your post. Happy New Year!
  • commented 2013-01-02 07:15:14 +0000
    (oh, and regarding your question about using my multipassionate nature as an excuse not to decide… I had a bolt of inspiration this morning while I was out on my walk. I realised that while I naturally multi-task with the best of them in my day-to-day, if I try to focus on too many (i.e. more than ONE, apparently) huge-big things, I can’t seem to do any of them well.

    When I just have one (e.g. training for Trailwalker or a marathon, or looking after Dad, or launching my biz) major focus, I tend to do it really well, but everything else in my life gets neglected. But if I try to work on more than one thing at once, I feel as though I suck at all of them.

    I’m not sure what I’m going to do with this revelation, but it does seem to be worth some further musing upon)
  • commented 2013-01-02 06:53:56 +0000
    I remember the first time I walked into a Reform synagogue after having grown up my entire life going to Orthodox services (when we went to schul at all).

    The female Rabbi – something I hadn’t encountered before – was giving a sermon on the story of Abraham’s test, where God told him to sacrifice his oldest son, Isaac, as an offering. The Rabbi’s take on the story was that Abraham had failed the test MISERABLY by not thinking for himself, and just going ahead and doing something that was clearly wrong because “the voice in my head told him to”.

    It was the very first time I’d heard a religious authority figure recommend using common sense and thinking for myself. And it made me truly realise that the name we give to the path we follow isn’t nearly as important as what we choose to do in its name.

    Not a bad lesson to have learned, methinks :-)
  • commented 2013-01-02 05:26:07 +0000
    well this is the kind of Churchie that feels safe to be me. Thank you for giving me another look at priests who are human and not hypnotized. god bless you because i cried to at the last mass because I felt love of a different kind. thank you for you. happy new year!
  • commented 2013-01-02 04:26:25 +0000
    Hey Jo, existing vs living…I like it, I’m definitely on a similar path. My new blog series is all about going on adventures, big or small, just because. Just because I have one life and I want to live it. Keep up the good work!! xx
  • commented 2013-01-02 03:32:34 +0000
    This is so true – we tend to overwhelm ourselves instead of just focusing on doing what’s in front of us, even Mt Everest is climbed one step at a time. I LOVE your artwork – that quote about the edge is one of my most favourite. Great work!
  • commented 2013-01-02 02:35:19 +0000
    well bleep me Jo – this is good – really good
  • commented 2013-01-02 01:20:58 +0000
    How do you do that? How do you find the words to express what is hidden in my soul? That’s what I love about you : )
  • commented 2013-01-02 00:33:36 +0000
    I love this~!