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Beautiful Margins

‘Come to the edge’, He said. They said, ‘we are afraid’. ‘Come to the edge’, He said. They came. He pushed them, and they flew. (Christopher Logue)

Take a look at the first image. This is an artwork by Hilary Jack which is on show at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. I use this image as my computer screen saver. What does it make you think about?

The second image is one of several interventions I made as a gorilla art piece for our local art festival. Over the course of the festival, I wrote in chalk across the threshold of every venue that hosts an exhibition. This one shows our local parish church, where I wrote ‘utopia’ going in, and ‘paradise’ going out. Make of that what you will!

I have realised recently that I spend a lot of time on the borders. Not in a literal sense, but in the sense that I always fall between the gaps when it comes to groups and organisations. I used to feel that it was a fault to be always able to see both sides of an argument. But as I get older, I am beginning to see that a liminal non- dualist place of discomfort is where I am most myself.

Richard Rohr writes “When we are content and satisfied on the inside of any group, we seem to suffer from a structural indifference. We do not realize that it is largely a belonging system that we have created for ourselves. It is not until we are excluded from a system that we are able to recognize its idolatries, lies, or shadow side. It is the privileged “knowledge of the outsider” that opens up the playing field.” He also talks about how mystics and saints traditionally have chosen to live their entire lives at the edges of most systems: “living on the edge of the inside.”

Over the last few weeks we have seen an increasing polarisation over the covid crisis, with the institution of the government on one side and the covid sceptics on the other. There were non-masked protests across the country, including Leeds. The government are trying to keep us safe, but they are managing the crisis in such a muddled and inconsistent way that many of us are disillusioned and question their efficiency. The sceptics also question these things but add in a good dose of conspiracy theory into the bargain. I am neither in one camp or the other: the establishment or the extremist.

How do we navigate ourselves though these times? How, when what was a simple idea such as visiting our friends, seeing our grandchildren or grandparents, or going shopping becomes loaded with hugely stressful decisions? Which risks are worth talking? Which ones are unwise? Which guidelines do we believe? How do we keep our independence when we are being told what to do? How can we be free and yet adhere to rules? How do we find truth from the margins?

I don’t have answers to this by the way, I am struggling as much as anyone, both ideologically with regard to understanding what is reality and what is rhetoric, and personally in everyday ways, such as whether to board a train, or to give someone who really needs it a hug. In her book Accidental Saints, Nadia Bolz-Weber reimagines the beatitudes in a wonderful and refreshing way. She says “Blessed are they who doubt. Those who aren’t sure, who can still be surprised. Blessed are they who are spiritually impoverished and therefore not so certain about everything that they no longer take in new information”. And maybe this is the key, to have the humility and awareness of our own questions that we can offer ‘the ultimate hospitality’ – that of listening, of reacting and acting in an open minded, borderless way.

Take time to look at the pictures and consider these questions:

What are your questions?

What are your doubts?

Where are your margins?

Where are the margins in your community?

Meditative Action:

You will need a piece of chalk. Over lockdown some members of XR have been busy out on the streets making chalk drawings, asking us to question and challenge.

- take yourself for a walk

- draw or write your questions somewhere public

This meditation is commissioned by Leeds Methodist Mission

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