Sunday, 1 March 2015

Belonging: Be-Your-Longing

Every month at the beginning of the “Living the Questions” that I host, I always offer space for those present to say a few words of introduction, it is an attempt to help them feel welcome. Just a few words about who they are and why they have come. Well at the last get together a regular attender’s husband came along. As he introduced himself he said my name is so and so and I belong to (he gave his wife’s name). He had come along, a little under duress I suspect, as it was his wife’s birthday and this is how she wanted to spend it. Now at that moment I didn’t say anything, I waited until the end of the evening when I would introduce the subject for the next month. The subject was of course going to be “Identity and Belonging” so I thanked the gentleman in question for leading us so beautifully into the subject by the way he introduced himself, he had disclosed both his identity and who exactly he belongs too.

Now of course this was all done in humour but there is a serious point. Who are we exactly and who or what do we belong too? What makes us who or what we are? What gives us a sense of belonging? What is it that gives us a sense of identity? When we say this is who we are is this an invitation to others or does it in fact create barriers? What happens if you feel that you don’t belong? What happens when you hit an identity crisis and all that you believe that you are is taken away? Are any of the things that we identify with permanent? What happens if we are cast out of the group we believe we belong or decide we have to leave because we no longer feel that we belong with them? Where does spirituality, a sense of oneness, God fit into all of this? As you can see it brings up lots of questions; questions I’ve been wrestling with for quite some time.

It’s interesting what it is that we think makes us who we are, what gives us our sense of identity, our sense of belonging. Last week I visited a member of the congregation who has been ill for quite some time. I sat in her home and we talked about many things. I asked about one of the pictures on her wall and as she told me about it she spoke of her first job and how her husband of 60 odd years would come and wait for her to finish work on Saturday before they would go “courting”. She talked of growing up in a Lancashire village that was right on the border of Yorkshire and how folk had often mistaken her as coming from Yorkshire. I half-jokingly said “I bet you didn’t like that”, to which she replied, that it didn’t really bother her. She then went on to speak of her own father, who she described as somewhat eccentric and how he used to write Lancashire dialect plays that were broadcast by BBC radio. I remember a few days later saying to a friend how I’d love to get a hold of those plays, to which my friend replied, “You probably wouldn’t understand them”. I have to concede that this is probably true.

Now I don’t know if it was me who got this conversation started, the lady I was visiting, or some power that has the capacity to influence if not control our lives. What was interesting though is that earlier that day a friend had asked me some questions about accents and dialect and what I thought about them with regards to English language being taught in schools. It was part of survey for something she was studying at college. I said that it saddened me that regional accents and dialect were disappearing. I said I did not think that dialect had had a detrimental effect on my generation and those who preceded us with regard to written English. In fact it would seem that many had a better grasp of the written word than current generations.

This got me thinking about my own grandfather and the loss of some of the things he used to say. Things that my generation would never say. This brought a tear to my eye. I suspect that this sadness had more to do with the fact that I would never hear him speak again rather than the loss of his way of speech. I do wonder though if I will ever authentically hear the greeting “Nah then owd lass” or “Nah then owd lad”. It “allus med mi chuckle” when he called my mum “owd lass”. No doubt if he’d met the Queen he’d have said to her “nah then owd lass.” I mentioned this to my mum and in response she sent me a whole list of sayings from Batley, the town in West Yorkshire where I come from, she had to translate one or two for me, because I didn’t have a clue what they meant.

All this got me thinking about belonging, about where I come from, about what makes me who I am about my own identity and about how we identify ourselves.

It’s a phrase I hear a lot “I identify as…” I think I understand why increasingly people feel the need to do so, certainly those who have been excluded and or persecuted in many ways for certain aspects of who they are, due to race, ethnicity, religion on non-religion, gender, sexual orientation etc. There is a reason why people say that they identify in certain ways. This is why the various pride movements have developed. There is still an awful lot of work to be done too. As a society we do still exclude and reject people due to certain aspects of who they are. It is so important for a person to be able to be who they wholly are in order to feel that they belong. To accept a person we have to accept them wholly as they are.

That said I do wonder if sometime statements like “I identify as this…” creates barriers. When a person says that they “identify as” it is not revealing who they are, just a small aspect of who they are. By the way sometimes it is others who put those very same labels on us. This brings me back to the gay football loving stand-up comedian I spoke about a couple of weeks ago and his struggles to be himself fully and the loneliness experienced in his attempts to “fit in”. Looking for like hearted people

Looking at my own life it was during those days of yearning and longing, when I desperately felt lost and alone, that I tried so desperately to belong to some group of people and always felt that I never did. I have learnt that since I found that sense of belonging in my own soul I have found that I can easily find a sense of belonging with most people. I no longer need to fit in because I no longer feel alone. I belong in my own skin, I belong in the universe. I know I am a child of God, I know the love that passeth all understanding. I can accept myself warts and all and beauty spots too and I can therefore accept others too, well most of the time.

I love the following beautiful bit of wisdom from the late John O’Donohue’s wonderful book “Anam Cara”. I think in this passage he hits the nail squarely on the head with regard to our struggles to be who we are and to find a real sense of belonging. I love the way that he relates belonging to longing and yearning. He suggests that we need to find a balance in belonging and that often our problems stem from not being truly at home with ourselves. That we should be our own longing. That the key is to be-long within ourselves. If we belong within ourselves then we will feel at ease and belong wherever we are. Therefore the sense of who we are, our identity will not be ruled by the need to fit in, to belong, externally. 

“The Trap of False Belonging” by John O’Donohue

The heart of the matter: You should never belong fully to something that is outside yourself. It is very important to find a balance in your belonging. You should never belong totally to any cause or system. People frequently need to belong to an external system because they are afraid to belong to their own lives. If your soul is awakened, then you realize that this is the house of your real belonging. Your longing is safe there. Belonging is relating to longing. If you hyphenate belonging, it yields a lovely axiom for spiritual growth: Be-Your-Longing. Longing is a precious instinct in the soul. Where you belong should always be worthy of your dignity. You should belong first in your own interiority. If you belong there, and if you are in rhythm with yourself and connected to that deep, unique source within, then you will never be vulnerable when your outside belonging is qualified, relativized, or taken away. You will still be able to stand on your own ground, the ground of your soul, where you are not a tenant, where you are at home. Your interiority is the ground from which nobody can distance, exclude or exile you. This is your treasure. As the New Testament says, where your treasure is, there is your heart also.

A friend of mine recently posted the following quote by Brene Brown, during an on-line conversation on identity and belonging:

“Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”

I’ve listened to quite a bit of Brene Brown recently and I have to say she speaks to the soul of me. I love what she has to say about the difference between “Belonging” and “Fitting in”, that they are not the same thing although they are often mistaken for one another.

Brene Brown explains that “Fitting in” is really about assessing situations and becoming the person that you believe you need to be in order to be accepted and acceptable. Whereas “Belonging” does not require us to change who we are, but to be who we really are.

Belonging is an innate desire to be a part of something larger than ourselves. This is a primal yearning, deep within the soul of us and thus we often try to acquire it by fitting in and seeking approval from others. Now not only does this not satisfy this yearning it actually becomes a barrier to it. In so doing we lose our identity and feel even more lost and lonely. True belonging you see only happens when we present our true, authentic, imperfect selves to the world, “warts and all” and beauty spots too. Unless we are at home within ourselves we will never feel that we belong anywhere.

This brings me back to my Lenten practise for this year. This need to make time for wilderness, this need to take time be alone in silence and to come to terms with who I am and my place in life and to therefore be fully a part of life. To be - long here. To “Be-my-Longing” if you like. To truly know the soul of who I am, to become the “light of the world” to remember what I truly am or can be and to be that in the world. This is something that we can all be. To feel that sense of be-longing in life. We must first of all be-long in ourselves and if we be-long in ourselves we will no longer have to try and fit-in in the world and we will truly be able to serve our world and be who we truly are.

May we embrace our true be-longing…

I'm going to end this little chip of a blogspot with a blessing by John O'Donohue

“For Belonging” by John O'Donohue

May you listen to your longing to be free.
May the frames of your belonging be generous enough
for your dreams.
May you arise each day with a voice of blessing
whispering in your heart.
May you find a harmony between your soul and
your life.
May the sanctuary of your soul never become haunted.
May you know the eternal longing that lives at the heart of time.
May there be kindness in your gaze when you look within.
May you never place walls between the light and yourself.
May you allow the wild beauty of the invisible world
to gather you, mind you, and embrace you in

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