Take a look at the first picture. This is a piece called Square Peg Round Hole and Round Peg Square Hole by Liverpool based artist Brian Jones. A couple of years ago I seriously considered joining the clergy. Having got as far as a talk with the bishop, I realised that if I were to pursue this, I would forever be that round peg in a square hole. At a recent lay training day, we were asked to reflect on what we had learned to which my response was that I had learned that I have the gift of not fitting in, but that this is ok. I am currently on a course about the enneagram, which is a tool to help us understand how we operate as individual personalities and also with others. One of my traits, it seems, is to want to belong but to behave so oddly, because I like to be the ‘quirky individual,’ that people tend to back off. As soon as I read this, I almost burst out laughing. Oh so true. And it explained a lot about my intense concurrent desire to be loved and worry that I have offended everyone! Ask my husband, he will confirm this. I have never felt that I fit in and if I’m really honest, I don’t want to because I feel that fitting in is boring. But, and it’s a big but, I also want to fit in, because I want to belong, to have a ‘family’, a gang.
Something that my husband and I have realised over the last few years is that we have really eclectic group of friends, ‘group’ being a questionable term for the mix of personalities, beliefs, and lifestyles they represent. It can be quite nerve racking to throw a party! For example, two of my best friends are, respectively, an utterly outgoing to the point of rudeness blaspheming atheist, and a Christian hermit. The mix of those who otherwise wouldn’t spend the time of day with each other is also something I have always felt that the church does well. Many of my friends tend to mix with other people who have roughly the same beliefs, perhaps class or background, lifestyle and temperament as themselves. Even my radical choir accepts that we are generally a bunch of middle-aged lefties. But the church can, because in theory, everyone is welcome, feel more like a social experiment. And that’s why I, as someone who doesn’t fit in – billy no mates at school – can be in the church.
However, having said that, I am on the edge of church. And that’s where I like to be these days. I’m not sure it’s always healthy for me, but because church often becomes something else than church – an exclusive club, a habit, a social climbing tool, a hierarchy to name a few, I’m always out on a limb. According to Richard Rohr, this is the calling of the prophet, to stand at a slight distance, looking inside out and outside in. The second image is called Tent Door at Night by Georgia O Keefe. This still painting carries this feel of the inside coming in and the inside being partly outside. Rohr talks about the idea of the prophet’ vision not just with regards to the institution of the church but for all institutions such as government. He uses the image of the ‘tent of meeting’ -a temporary, mobile place for encountering the divine for the Jewish people which was outside the camp – away from the group. ‘It inspires me to wonder how we might maintain that same sense of prophetic freedom outside the contemporary political and religious “encampments” of our day.’ He also quotes Walter Brueggeheim: “Because the totalism [that is, the system] wants to silence, banish, or eliminate every such unwelcome [prophetic] intrusion, the tricky work is to find standing ground outside the totalism from which to think the unthinkable, to imagine the unimaginable, and to utter the unutterable.”
I like that. I want to think the unthinkable, imagine the unimaginable and utter the unutterable. I just need to stop worrying about what people will think of me!
Take time to look at the pictures and consider these questions:
- where do you find yourself? Inside out, outside in or neither?
- what vision do you have?
- how do we imagine the unimaginable?
You will need some blankets or sheets, a candle or battery powered light
- Make yourself a tent somewhere in your house, maybe under a table, or pegged sheets attached to rope across the room
- Spend some time inside, enjoy the time aside and away from your normal activities
- Try and give some time to being in your tent after dusk and use your light to help you be still and reflect: how does it feel to be apart? Where do you want to fit in? who are you deep down? How do you really be you and feel at home?