Category Archives: Fullness of Life

Widening the Net

Every June a rather classy invitation drops through our letterbox. It entices me and my husband to the Victoria and Albert Museum for the annual Summer Party of a leading executive search company. There in the atrium, underneath the fabulous Chihuly sculpture (see above), we are plied with delicious canapés and equally delicious champagne in the company of people who have intriguing jobs in the public, commercial and not-for-profit sectors.

We’re not there because we’re job-hunting. The rather quirky reason is that several years ago I used to celebrate Holy Communion during the company’s annual Away Day at Hever Castle in Kent. An unlikely gig, but a lovely one, and it led to the summer party invitations.

The world is divided into those who love networking and those who hate it; those who work the room with consummate ease and those who would be far more comfortable if someone asked them to help with the canapés. And then some who, like me, fall into either camp depending on inclination, energy levels, what sort of day it’s been so far and, admittedly, how frequently the champagne is topped up.

But now a new generation of networkers has woken me up to something: that the game doesn’t have to be all about who can convey the most impressive professional achievements in the shortest time whilst pretending modest self-deprecation. Instead we can network in order to encourage one another to discover our particular gifts; to meet people who release new energy and purpose in our own life and work; and to connect those from different areas of our life whom we intuitively know will share one another’s passions.

I’m fortunate to know people who network in their varied professional contexts with an intentionally generous agenda. They don’t try to ring-fence the most prestigious opportunities for themselves. They aren’t particularly interested in hierarchies or limelight. They have a larger vision which is to do with uncovering and growing God’s Kingdom in the world: planting seeds of justice, creativity, poetry, communication, social awareness and all the other things that enable human flourishing.

These people want to use their own gifts to the full, and if that means senior roles or public exposure then they will take up that challenge. But they will quietly subvert any institutional culture shaped primarily by the selfish ambition of individuals, because their aim is to encourage every person’s unique contribution.

The creative and hospitable search company that invites us to the V&A declares on its website: ‘We exist to change the world’. In the same spirit, a new generation of generous networkers is beginning to do the same.

Learning to Fly

If you happen to be passing Junction 38 on the M1 before the end of August you might want to take a detour. Yinka Shonibare MBE is exhibiting at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park: and for those who can’t get there, some of the works from his exhibition, ‘FABRIC-ATION’, can be glimpsed here.

If Shonibare, who is British-Nigerian, has an artistic ‘signature’, it’s the attractive batik prints that draw us into the gritty and challenging subjects of his work. Delighted by the vibrant colours, we’re surprised to find ourselves suddenly wrestling with the London Riots, the oil trade, global food production, the Arab Spring, colonialism and aliens.

In his late teens Shonibare contracted an illness that left him with severely restricted mobility. Every detail of his artistic creations is conveyed to a team of people who build the works on his behalf. Shonibare talks about art as being his ‘vehicle for flight’ from all that might otherwise have restricted him: referring not only to his physical disability but to other people’s limited assumptions, based on racial and cultural stereotyping, about what sort of art they might expect from him.

Absorbed by the artwork and the artist’s story, I find myself wondering about the relationship between the thorns in our flesh and our ability to fly. Shonibare is rightly celebrated for the stand-alone genius of his art: not the-genius-of-his-art-in-spite-of-his-disability-and-other-people’s-racial-stereotyping. Yet that genius grows from the soil of his whole self and the most challenging aspects of his life experience, as well as the easier parts.

Most of us live with a thorn or two, even if they are not in any measure so debilitating as restricted mobility or the experience of racial stereotyping. Our thorns might be the emotional triggers that can be traced back to childhood; the low moments that overcome us when we least expect it; the disorientation inflicted by grief and loss; the sense of inadequacy in the face of other people’s competence; the scars left by relationships where trust was violated.

Some of our thorns can be successfully removed and the wounds might even heal. But there are others that we will always wrestle with one way or another. Perhaps the question is whether we can use them as spurs to discover our ‘vehicle for flight’. Can the difficult things that shape us become our jumping-off point: to a deeper sympathy with how the world works, to an insight that enables change in a community, to a new confidence to take life-enhancing risks? Even, perhaps, to our own version of creativity, however vibrant, gritty or rebellious that might turn out to be.

The Kissing Habit

Kissing the ground is a habit I’ve been cultivating for some time. Not literally or publicly, in the-manner-of-the-Pope, though I suspect that his reasons for doing it were similar to mine. I don’t actually get down on my knees in the playground, street or tube station; my kissing habit is more something that goes on in my soul: if a soul can be said to kiss, which I’m pretty sure it can.

For me kissing the ground is about two things. Firstly it’s about recognising that in all of its complexity, brokenness and potential, the created world resonates with quite a lot of the stuff in me. I want to explore the connections between that world, myself and other people, in order to understand better how it all hangs together. Secondly, kissing the ground expresses a longing to live life in all its fullness, as the Jesus of John’s gospel invites us to do. So there’s no time to be lost. I’m almost certainly playing the second half of the game by now, and to echo Henry Thoreau: when I come to die I don’t want to discover that I haven’t lived.

Those closest to me will assure you that I’m not someone who leaps out of bed at 6am with a song in my heart and enough energy to give away to others. In fact I’m a bit rubbish in the mornings. So my determination to embrace life in all its fullness is not, I hope, of the irritating sort. Neither does it fail to take seriously global or individual tragedies, moments of meaninglessness or even just the dragging boredom of some of life’s necessary tasks. This new blog will not sit light to reality.

Instead, my sort of kissing expresses a commitment to ask myself in every situation and experience: what is there here that is significant and lasting, what connects with my life and other people’s, what pushes my roots deeper into creation, what will help me to grow in empathy and what feels real, exciting, meaningful and holy?

In Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov a wise monk called Zosima declaims: ‘Kiss the earth and love it, tirelessly, insatiably … Water the earth with the tears of your joy, and love those tears‘. Whether our tears are of joy or fragility, triumph or tragedy, they are intimately connected with the dust of the earth. In kissing the ground we say a loud and clear ‘Yes’: to life in all its fullness; to our own potential; to the exhilarating difference of others; to encountering the divine in the detail; and to the possibility of meeting God on ordinary, everyday, sacred ground.