It’s Time

Change. The church has been doing it since she was born. We are a responsive creature. We move, adjust, transition, re-configure, re-imagine, re-group, adapt, alter, and transform. It’s a sign of life.

Here’s a potted history: Pentecost, Constantine, Polycarp, Clement, Iraneaus, the Council of Nicaea, Arianism, the Council of Ephesus, The Nestorian Schism, the Iconclasts, monastic reform, the Inquisition, the East-West Schism, the Crusades, John Wycliffe, the Protestant Reformation. Each name or event a marker for a moment of tumult…

I wrote a guest post on Pat’s blog for the series we are writing together about marriage equality. You can read it over there.

south

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It’s been three weeks since we left, two and a half weeks since we arrived. This was the sky that spread itself over us as we travelled south, the wide wide blue pressing down onto yellow-dry land. Driving off the ferry and through Malborough to Kaikoura was like turning a corner and suddenly finding ourselves somewhere completely different. Not so different that we didn’t know where we were, but different enough that there was no doubt we were somewhere else.

And it’s all new down here too, in this place we now call home. Dunedin is different to Auckland in almost every way. The size, the weather, the landscape, the people, the pace of life. I spent the first week or so pinching myself, reeling as if I’d just stepped off a ride at an amusement park. Where was I? Was I really here? The first few days were mad, the hallway so full of furniture and boxes we could barely walk through, the floor in the girls’ bedroom a forest of partly unpacked boxes, the contents spilling out over the floor.  We had no internet for two weeks,  waiting for our fibre to be connected. Every time we got in the car we had to use GPS.

Even now, here in this tiny sunroom that is my study, I can only get into the room by gingerly walking sideways, careful not to knock over the towers of boxes and papers and books stacked up behind me. We knew it would be a challenge downsizing to a small three bedroom house, but we really couldn’t have imagined just what a challenge it would be. On the day the truck arrived with all our things I stood on the footpath watching the movers ferry our boxes and furniture into the house and it dawned on me that our lounge suite was not going to fit, not in the lounge which we had measured up carefully on paper, nor through the front door and into the hallway which was already filled with furniture which we hadn’t yet been able to fit into place. I rang my friend Stacey and said By the way I’m crying and Do you want to borrow our entire lounge suite? She said yes, having just done the opposite of us and shifted from a small place into a much larger one. There were no words for how grateful I was.

I wrote about letting go a while ago, about the process of paring back. We did that in plenty of ways before we moved down here, but it wasn’t until we were here in the reality of this new life that we saw how much more we needed to do. Isn’t that just how life goes? There’s only so much preparation that can be done prior to the event. Preparation takes us so far, and then at some point we have to step out and do the thing we’ve been preparing for. Whether an adventure or venture or some mix of the two, we really have no idea how it’s going to go until we begin it. And look, I’ve just written my way to the word Advent. From the Latin adventus, to arrive or approach.

The season of Advent finishes today, Christmas Eve. Our Advent this year has been the least advent-y of them all. We put the Christmas tree up a few days after we arrived and bought a few presents for the girls, but other than that we’ve been living in a nebulous time, as if we somehow became separated from the calendar. The light down here at the bottom of the world is so different, it barely gets dark before ten in the evening. The days stretch out so that we completely lose track of time. We’ve hardly known what day it is, let alone how far away we were from Christmas. And yet we were living an advent of our own as we prepared for the big move. And living in a wider, less tangible advent over the last two years as we sensed a growing need within us for change.

Significant change doesn’t have to involve physical change, but often it does, the outward transformation becoming an external representation of what has happened internally. I think of a friend of mine who transitioned from female to male over the last couple of years. I watched from afar as he ‘crossed over’ via surgery. It seemed to me that the surgery he underwent both confirmed and crystallised the state of being that already was already  a reality for him on the inside. The physical change he experienced in surgery was a representation of something internal and at the same time the catalyst that brought the change about in its fullest, most complete sense. It brought congruence.

I’d already shifted, before I moved south. I was already somewhere else. The move was simply an external representation of what had been an internal reality for some time. And yet it was more than that. The change in location crystallised my inner transformation like nothing else could. It brought out what had been inside, it made physical what had been metaphysical. It shifted me to where I already was. So that I can now be where I am.

I can’t help wondering whether the Advent of Christ did something similar. That perhaps it brought into being something that had already existed. That the physical birth of Christ into a physical, tangible location was a representation of the divinity that was already present metaphysically. That by being born as a human child in the most ordinary of circumstances, Christ gave us what we already had. The presence of God.

We had no idea how much we needed to move, until we got here. We had no idea how natural the change would be, how easily the girls would fit in, make friends, make themselves at home. Just as we could never fully prepare for the worst that the shift would entail (and there were moments when the upheaval was overwhelming,) neither could we fully prepare for the best that was waiting for us. We couldn’t have imagined how good it was going to be.

I’ve written many times over the last few years about being pregnant with my self, about giving birth to my self, about being born, finally, after all these years. There were times when I wrote as if I was out, born, alive. And yet the actual birth process was much longer and more complicated than I ever could have seen. I’ve been born in little ways, bit by bit, for a long time. But perhaps it wasn’t until now, until I picked myself up by the scruff of the neck and threw myself down to the bottom of the country, that I could really breathe.

getting ready

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Of all the places I’ll miss when we leave, this is the one I’ll miss the most. This is the spot I come to, walking down towards the beach and then veering left before I get there. Down to the estuary and along the stream that meets it, splashing through the shallows and then walking up the path through the bush above. At the top is a hidden playground, a surprising open space on a small promontory with a bench seat out at the point , and this view. It’s beauty doesn’t depend on the tide. When it’s out the wily mangrove roots are exposed, reaching down into the fertile mud, and the water becomes a green ribbon winding its way down from the dam. The beauty is in its wildness, in the way, if you position the camera lens just so, you can’t see the raw earth of a new subdivision on the left, or the glinting glass windows of the houses high up on the ridge. The low line of trees in the background deftly hides the main road that takes us all back and forth from the city.  I watch the sea birds swoop and soar down towards the water, and it takes my breath away.

Everything went through last week. This house sold, the one we are moving to bought. We are tenants now, living here on someone else’s kindness. We have time to say good-bye to the place we once thought we’d never leave. It’s a bittersweet time, and there’s plenty of sweet with the bitter. It’s not our job to fix anything anymore, or improve anything, or deal to the weeds we know are waiting under the wet bush for summer warmth. The plans we conjured up for this place in naïve hopefulness have been laid to rest. We leave them here in the soil, like dreams or seeds or whispers from the past. They were here before we arrived, and they’ll remain long after we’ve left.

There are other plans to make now, practical ones. Our sprawling house-lot of belongings won’t be contained in the three bedroom house we are moving to, and so the process of culling and sorting must begin. This is a first world problem, of course. One that has spawned an entire industry of plastic storage bins and wardrobe organisers and self-help books. What do we do with all our stuff?  The religious men and women who’ve taken vows of poverty have it right. They know that there is an inverse relationship between peace of mind and material possessions. Our “stuff” costs us in more ways that we are aware of. It creeps its way into our subconscious, piling up in the corners of our minds, taking on a life of its own.

Some people deal with this by maintaining tight control over their possessions. Furniture positioned just so, boxes in storage meticulously labelled, strict rules regarding the approved territory for certain objects. And then there are the rest of us. The creatives, the easily-distracted, the absent-minded ones. We can’t exert that kind of control, no matter how hard we try. And so we learn to live with it, more or less. We tidy when we can, but the piles of books and papers and mail and school notices and children’s artwork are reliably regenerative. It’s a sign of life.

Moving day is three months away. Pat and I are slowly getting ourselves mentally prepared for the day when everything we own will be undone, unmade, packed up and transported down to the other end of New Zealand. We have been mapping out the rooms in our new house, deciding what will come with us and what will not. Writing lists, thinking through the options, talking out the pros and cons of keeping one piece of furniture over another.  It is a process of reduction. We are jettisoning, cutting back, giving up. Letting go.

I’m finding my focus steadily narrowing. Like a runner prepares for a race, or a woman in late-pregnancy readies herself for labour, my world is shrinking to the things I must absolutely give full attention to. Anything else is slowly fading off my radar. It feels strange, as if I’ve suddenly walked into a sound-proofed room and the noise of the world outside has reduced to a faraway hum. I can hear the blood thumping in my ears, the air rushing out my nostrils.

And then before I know it we’ll be driving. Us in front, kids in the back. Bags of snacks and books and activities piled up.  Our eyes taking it all in, fixed on the road ahead. The way it pulls us ever south, the way it winds and turns and opens out along the unbroken coast. Leading us towards the mountains that wait, green and strong.

forty

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This is what I know. I am standing at the beginning of everything. I have waited for this moment. Finally, I am here.

This moment is not about finishing a book. Or getting published. Or being recognised for something.  Anything. This moment is not about being noticed. Or being understood. Or being beautiful, after all those years.

This moment is not about anyone else other than me. Nobody sees me here, nobody even knows. But I see. I witness, my senses intact. I see myself.

I see the lines under my eyes, the saggy skin around my soft hanging belly. I see the veins bubble on the underside of my leg, the red spidery lines at my ankles.

I am her. I am the one I have been waiting for. I am the one I have been searching for endlessly, wondering if she was ever going to show up. Fearing that I was a figment of my own imagination.

I lived beneath the surface of my life, day after day, year after year.  I had no idea I was there. Invisible. Waiting.

And so I invite myself to live. To live this life that belongs to no one else but me. It can’t be shared. Won’t be lent out or borrowed. Can’t be lived for someone else, according to someone else’s whims. It’s time to go.

So take the rack of clothes drying in front of the window like a Chinese laundry; the pile of bills, half paid. Take the stack of children’s paintings, the hard drive filled with a decade of unprinted photographs, the eighty litre plastic storage bin stuffed with thirty years of journals, written in my own hand. Take the boxes filled with clippings and notes and half-realised imaginings, the yellowed pages collected in a time that was so long ago I hardly believe it ever existed. The bookcases. The oversized dining table. The dishes in the sink.

Take the children sleeping warmly, their father too. Take the chaos, every bit of it. Take the dog, he’s one of the simple things in life. And a pair of shoes to walk him in. The sturdiest I own.

I’ll look up on my way out; see the bush the way it leans in towards me, so green and alive. I’ll take it in with one glance, it will follow. And the water, when the tide’s in, how green it is or how blue it is, it’s all the same, it’s the same sea wherever I go, salty hydrogen and air, stretched out along every bit of coast there is. I’ll find it again.

I’m ready now. I have the essentials. The rest can be left behind without any loss. I’ll sell it or give it or throw it away, behind me like the detritus of a life I no longer recognise. What was it that I thought I was here for?

together

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I sit here to write after watching a beautiful film; The Red House. It’s about Lee (a kiwi ecologist) and Jia (his Chinese wife) and the life they have woven together. They have only a portion of language in common, but their intimacy is all the more deeper for it. And despite her frustration with English, Jia has the most incredible way with words, they come tumbling out  with a disarming freshness. At the end of the film she is cutting Lee’s hair and talking to him about the purpose of life, and he asks her, how would you live, if you could. How would you imagine your life to be? And she smiles and laughs and says something like it would be to not be forced to do anything. To not have to make my parents’ breakfast, to not have to cut your hair. It would be to suddenly go and read a book, to suddenly go to the movies, to suddenly write.

At this I take an audible breath. Somehow in those surprising and seemingly clumsy words I find this truth; that freedom is a sure self. It is to know what we want, and then, at the appropriate time, to do it. To suddenly read. Or to suddenly, surprisingly, write. It is having a sure sense of self within, and the agency to act on it.

I see now that it is ten minutes until my birthday. And I remember all the other birthdays, those singular days jam packed with meaning; they couldn’t possibly hold any more of it. Some people can’t do a birthday without sharing it. The sharing is the meaning. For me, the older I get the less I need to share it. The sharing is lovely, and the love is always appreciated. But in the end this day is about the deep space inside of me, the one that only I can see. It is a chance to gaze within, to absorb the meaning of a lifetime, the meaning of a life.

I imagine that as I get older this will become even more true. I can imagine a birthday at ninety, completely alone. I know there will be children and grandchildren and an ancient husband, God willing. But my sense of peace and contentment will not come from without, great though the joy will be in sharing it with so many loves. Those loves will come and go, the presents will come and go, the praise, perhaps, will come and go. And in the end I will be alone, and happy. I will look back from that great distance and see everything, how all the twists and turns and dark spaces came together to form one incredible, unimaginable whole. I couldn’t have planned it.

It is obvious that every challenge and painful thing I have experienced has become and is becoming the raw passion and truth that I write from. It is obvious that there is nothing that has been wasted. There is no pain or difficulty that has been, or will be, without its own fruit. Strange fruit it may be. The unexpected and disconcerting fruit of the tropics, perhaps, like that wild-shaped and bleeding dragon fruit they eat in Cambodia.  But fruit it is, all the same. It won’t be to everyone’s taste, but I will relish it. And in the lean years of age it will feed me. When my adventures can only be made on the inside, I will look back over all of it in wonder. In wonder that one life could hold so much grief and so much joy.

This is my gift then, and will always be. The joy alongside the grief in complete union, my very own dance. I could wish the latter away all I wanted, but without it the joy would lose its depth. And the grief is my window onto the world, it is how I know you. It is how I came to be standing in the supermarket today with tears running down my face, feeling so alone and yet not alone, looking around at the people beside me and in front of me and behind me and knowing, suddenly, that between us all we had everything. We had money and the lack of it; health and the want of it, peace and the need for it, life and the dregs of it. Right there, in a suburban supermarket in Mt Albert, we were a microcosm of the world.

I wrote about this in my book. I wrote about it without even realising exactly what I was writing, and now I’ve written it, it can’t be undone. I feel it growing steadily inside of me, humming like a faraway rhythm, like a current of electricity. It’s a simple knowing, and it’s this; we are one.

I can’t live the same any more, not after what I’ve written. I cried at dinner last night because I realised that there were other mothers who served their children more than they served themselves, as I had just done and as my mother would have done once, and they were everywhere, all around the world. Only they went completely without, their hunger spreading through every fibre of their body until they were nothing but hunger, could feel nothing but hunger, could think nothing but hunger like an ache like a constant pain like a dullness in the mind, a shutting down.

And I can’t eat the same knowing how hungry they are.

My mountain knows this, the mountain I told you about when I last wrote. She knows that we all belong to each other, that we are all connected. That the leaves  on her trees are connected to their branches, and that the roots of those trees reach down into the soil which reaches out to everything, and all of us, everywhere. So that we are never truly alone. That everything we do and say reaches out in ripples and touches the people around us, those close and those far away. Even our breath goes out from us and mingles with the breath of every person who breathes with us now on this planet.  We are never cut off, never separated. We live and think and speak and write and love and grieve and eat and want, together.

at the end of the day

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I took the dog for a walk at dusk last night, and found myself thinking about a time when I was young, when I won prizes and had a story published. I was sixteen, seventeen, and the world held so much promise. But I floundered when it came to writing anything new, and my mother pronounced my words “bitter.” I had done my best work early, and after that, I was like a failed spring, a river run dry. I survived my years at university, studying mostly literature, by putting all my energies elsewhere. I was more lost than I was in love with what I was learning, and I only did what it took to get by, doing nothing that I thought I might fail. I had no idea about myself, no idea about the quirks that explained why I felt so lost academically, why I wasn’t what I had been expected to be. I lasted long enough to graduate, and in my final year, to take a creative writing paper. But I had no interest in revising my work, or in playing pretty word games. I wrote nothing that meant anything to me, or to anyone else. My light had fizzled out.

I went to a dance show with Greer last year, and at the end of the show the dancers invited the mostly school-age audience to come up on stage and dance with them. Greer, all curly-headed six years of her, was up there like a shot. She set herself up at the centre front of stage, locked eyes with the audience, and danced. The song was “Party Rockers,” of course, and she found her rhythm and got shuffling, right there at the front of the stage. More kids came up, and some of the professional dancers tried to encourage them to show us their moves. There were a few half-hearted attempts and some fun had around the edges, but the space wasn’t really working. A little six year old girl was dancing, face to the audience, literally stealing the limelight.

I was glued to my seat in shock. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I felt like I was under the spotlight as much as she was, as if everyone in the audience knew that she was my daughter. Of course they didn’t, and the scene eventually sorted itself out. One of the older dancers gently encouraged Greer away from the centre of the stage so that the group of kids could spread out and share the space. Greer came back at the end of the song beaming from ear to ear, and she got several high-fives and big smiles from the people around us. I told her how proud I was of her, and what a good job she’d done, and she was happy. She had no idea what had really happened, she told me later that she couldn’t even see the audience.

There was nothing prodigious about Greer’s performance on stage that day, except this, she got up there and did what she set out to do. She didn’t freak out when she realised all the kids around her were older, and she wasn’t dazzled by the lights, or the audience she knew was out there somewhere. She walked up to the front of the large auditorium, climbed up onto the stage, and started shuffling. She kept on shuffling until the song finished. She stayed her course.

It’s the best that any of us can hope for, in whatever time we have here in this life. To get out there and do what we’ve set out to do, to stay our course. I don’t mean “do”, in the sense of achieving a certain group of external markers, and I don’t mean “stay the course” as if that course is a tangible set of tasks or goals we must complete in a lifetime. I mean “do” as in become ourselves, the word my friend Stu used on a facebook comment on my last post, when he talked about life as a process of “becoming.”

I watched a cheesy clip from a Michael Buble concert that’s been circling around for a couple of years. In it Buble has a conversation with a woman in the audience who tells him she’s at the concert with her son, and that her son can really sing. So he gets this kid up on stage with him. The kid is sixteen, and looks like any ordinary guy, and Buble really just has fun with him and his mother, doing a bit of audience interaction before his next song.  Buble asks the boy to sing with him, holds the microphone between the two of them, and then the kid opens his mouth and sings and everything changes. The audience erupts, Michael Buble jumps back, puts the microphone in the boy’s hands and lets him sing solo. The boy’s voice is incredible, astounding for a sixteen year old, and completely unexpected. Buble is obviously impressed, and the camera catches the mother standing in the audience with tears running down her face, completely overwhelmed. Because she knew that kid could sing, and she’s been hoping and praying and wishing he’d get a chance to, one day.

I know these stories are common now. You can’t do much without someone sticking a camera in your face, and we seem to have an inexhaustible appetite for seeing “ourselves” on screen. Between The Voice and X-factor, and all the other versions of reality TV that multiply every day, we can’t get enough of seeing real people have their fifteen minutes of fame. Consequently, our idea of success has been narrowed to the group of activities that television producers deem worthy of putting in front of a camera. I’ve seen how this works; my two big girls are obsessed with The Voice. They watch it with their Dad any chance they get, give running commentaries as the show progresses, and talk constantly, on first-name basis, about “Joel” and “Seal” and what they themselves are going to do when they’re on The Voice one day. Their eyes light up with the wonder of it all, and with the sense I recognise in them because I felt it in myself, that there is something they are going to woo the world with.

I feel a bit like that sixteen year old boy as he was climbing up on stage. As if despite all my attempts, failed and otherwise, I haven’t really opened my mouth yet. And when I do, well I think it’s going to be a good sound. Actually, I know it’s going to be a good sound, because I can hear it echoing within me, getting ready to roar. I don’t say this because I’m anything special, not at all, I say this because I think most of us, whether we’re sixteen or sixty, are in that same waiting space. We know there’s something in us, we feel we’ve got something yet to give, and so we wait and hope and wonder whether our moment will come.

By the time I’d turned around and started walking back home last night there was only the faintest hint of light in the western sky. I could barely see the road ahead of me, but I wasn’t scared. The sky was dark but the day was still fresh, as if it was only just drawing to a close. I knew that all the way over in the city, under those burning beads of light, were queues of cars still inching their way home. And around me, in the handful of houses that had people in them, dinner was being prepared and stories about the day were being shared. I stopped, pulled back the hood of my jacket, and listened. There was the faraway woosh of cars along the main road, and the wind blowing lightly around my ears and up in the trees. A cat miaowed strangely in the distance, and around and through it all was a peaceful silence. It was a contented, full silence. The contentment of a good day’s end.

That’s the best we can hope for, when we get to the end of our lives. Not the applause of an audience, nor the approval of critics, nor the praise of judges. Those things, as reassuring as they are along the way, are not the things that will give us contentment when our time comes. No, it’s what we did when we finally opened our mouths to sing that we will remember. When we finally started living the life that only we could live, and found that within us we had the most remarkable gifts to offer. That we had a love that had taken a lifetime of faithfulness to sustain; that we had forgiveness and had risked everything to give it; and that we had hope deep inside of us, despite the circumstances. These were our gifts, this was our true life, this was how we managed to woo the world. And at the end, when the lights went down and all was silent, we were content. We gathered around a warm table and shared stories. It had been a good day.

new

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We drove over to the other side of the harbour on New Year’s Day, to spend the day with my sister and her family. This was the view from the side of the road on our way home at dinner time, the sun heading down towards the sea, the wild grass beginning to pink. I never get tired of this drive, the way the narrow roads curve up along the ridge of the Awhitu Peninsula. One side looks back towards the city, and the other, over undulating hills and hidden valleys, towards the ocean.

It’s sad the hills are barren, in one sense. And yet there’s something sensual about their naked curves. I want to run my hands over them, smooth them out and bunch them up again, like a child with playdough. If you look carefully you get a glance at a small lake in the flat land between the hills, a glinting sheet of glass in the sun, a second later it’s gone. Earlier, at the beginning of the road, there’s a small old wooden church that commands a view not unlike the one you see above. It’s an unused church, religiously speaking, and yet it is iconic and beloved. A church with a view.

I like the days around New Year’s.  They command a view. A view back to the year that has gone, and a view forward into our dreams. Oh how we wonder how the next year of days will turn. What surprises, what successes, what dreams come true, what longings, what pain will surface in the next three hundred and sixty five days? The days will go fast, we know that for sure. They will tumble away behind us and we won’t be able to do anything about it. Except let them go.

I let 2012 go on Monday night, at midnight, when the crackle of unseen fireworks burst into the quiet night. I didn’t even try to hold on. 2012 was a complicated year, the hardest I’ve lived; emotionally, relationally and spiritually. I wouldn’t wish that year on myself again. And yet I couldn’t have got to 2013 without it. In fact, I couldn’t have got to the rest of my life without it. 2012 was the doorway to my life.

Catholic writer Richard Rohr talks about doorways and transitions as “liminal space”, a space that is “thin” in the Celtic sense, closer to the unseen realm. The term “liminal space” is not new, but its more deeper, spiritual sense has been best articulated by Rohr. The term comes from the latin limen meaning threshold and in this article “On the Edge of the Inside” Rohr notes that the tradition of having guardians and spirits of “doors, bridges, exits and entrance ways” can be noted across cultures and throughout history. He points out that “the ancients knew that you need guidance, patronage, and protection as you move from one place or state to another.”

The concept of liminal space has resonated with me since I first heard it, and I’ve come to understand it as a space or time of transition, often where things feel difficult, where life is not unfolding in a predictable or easily understood manner, and where perhaps it feels as if there is pressure on all sides, not unlike the pressure a newborn experiences as she is propelled through the birth canal. I said to a friend once that being pregnant is the ultimate liminal space, because it is nine months of transition, nine months of waiting for a new life to arrive, nine months of preparing to be transformed into the mother of the new life, with no escape route.  In a way, pregnancy is double liminal space. The gestation and the giving birth to new life is one form, and the gestation of the mother herself, as she waits to be born, as she waits to be transformed into motherhood, is the other. She is both the carrier of life and the growing life herself.

I thought about this over Christmas. I had a card with a reproduction of “The Visitation” by James B Janknegt as part of our nativity scene, thanks to World Vision’s Advent in Art series. The painting shows Mary and her cousin Elizabeth  greeting each other, and the babies leaping in their wombs in recognition of each other. The picture is like  an animated version of an ultrasound, but with a slight difference: the babies are depicted as their adult selves, Jesus with a crown, and John falling to his knees in worship, the present and the future rolled into one.

If I was pregnant in 2012, it was a rough pregnancy. The symptoms surprised, and the growth didn’t happen in an orderly, expected fashion. What’s more, it was a funny sort of pregnancy, not one that was plainly seen by the bulging of a belly. It was all on the inside. And if I was pregnant, I gave birth to myself, which means I had that double liminal space thing going on. I was pregnant with myself. I grew heavy, weary, sick of the challenges and the complications, tired of the continual necessity for introspection and self-revelation. It was hard work. The growing was hard work too. And it’s not very pleasant to be forced under enormous pressure through a narrow canal, as if your life depended on it. But I’m out.

I’ve spent most of my life trying to find my life. I’ve tried, and failed, at plenty of things other than the two things I know I was born for;  my family, and my words. Even once I finally figured out that all I really wanted to do was write, I still did things the hard way. Always searching, always striving for the key that would unlock my “perfect” writing life. I was convinced that if I could just get the help I needed, or just wake up at five every morning, or just do the research I thought would answer all my doubts, that I’d be away, laughing. If I’d been right, I would have written several novels by now. In fact if you’d told me, at twenty-two, that I’d be approaching forty with no novels to show for it, I’d have been aghast. I simply wouldn’t have believed you.

I took the dog for a walk through our bush this afternoon. I found myself throwing a few words up at God, as I often do when I walk. I apologised for being useless at everything from being disciplined with food, to being disciplined with my art. It wasn’t overly dramatic or anything, just what naturally came out as I let the words rise. As soon as I’d said it, I looked up. There in the trees above me was a tui, one of my favourite birds. These beauties have a gorgeous green glint in their dark feathers, a beautiful white bell at their throats, and a trill of a call that is haunting. I smile when I see a tui in our bush, because it feels like such a luxury to have them so close, to be their neighbours. And as I looked up at this tui, I reallised. The tui doesn’t have to do anything to be beautiful. The tui just is. The tui is beautiful because he is tui.

Can I believe that about myself? Can I believe that I am beautiful, that my life has meaning, just because I am? And that the words I’m longing to write will come, not by some forced effort of will, but by the simple act of being. I am beautiful because I am. I will write because I am Idoya. The question came to me then, what would my name look like as a verb? What would it mean to Idoya. What would my life look like if it was filled with the simple act of Idoya-ing.

What would your name look like as a verb? What would it mean to Patrick, or to Hilary, to Joy, to Daniel, to Esme, to Carey, to Glen or to Allie? What does Melanie-ing look like? Or Heidi-ing? It sounds silly, I know, but it makes sense. What would a life devoted to the art of Jayraj-ing look like? Anita-ing? Leonie-ing? A life full of being Amy? What if your whole life’s work and purpose and joy was summed up in your name, in the essence of you. Could it really be that simple?

I think it is that simple, and yet, as 2012 has taught me, it’s not simple at all. To live a life devoted to the art of being you, you have to first know who you are. To be yourself, you have to know yourself. You might have to be born, as yourself. Stranger still, you might even need to give birth to yourself. And there’s that double liminal space.

Liminal space is sacred. It’s a time and space that requires things of us that ordinary life doesn’t. It’s lonely on the edge, and transitions can be confusing. There are pressures, complications, challenges to be met, sacrifices to be made, internal depths to scour. We need all the help we can get, other-worldly and otherwise. And yet it is a gift. In the way of mountain ranges and peninsulas, tunnels, valleys and canyons, it commands a view. The view might not come at the beginning, and sometimes you might wonder if the view’s going to come at all, and yet it comes. And there are angels and hidden lakes and small churches, and other pilgrims – bellies bursting with life like yours –  just when you need them.