Spiritual Golf.

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I don’t play golf, but I can totally see why people love it.

All it would take for me would be one true stroke. The perfect connection of body, mind and spirit to club, with the ball flying high, far, and true. Oh the high!  How I would forever after be chasing that congruence again.

Looking over a golf course yesterday, I thought how much the walk of faith is like a game of golf.

You have an end goal.  A finishing point. A certain destination.  And many along the way.

And ohhh, what it takes you to get there.  Determination. Focus. Joy in the victories, perseverance in the defeats.

The club has a purposed use, but oh it can be used for so many other things.  Hacking up the course, hitting people, thwacking the ground in frustration.

And then there’s that ball.  So small, so exact.  You know what you’re meant to do with it so you try, and try, and try again. Practice helps.

Every stroke is another shot at playing the course.  And there are so many outcomes.

You miss the ball.

You connect to it and it flies in entirely the wrong direction.

You hit it and, although only off by just a fraction at the tee, over distance you’re way off the mark.

Then those bunkers. Man-made.  Not like the course, God-given.

And the wide, wide, margins.  Woods, undergrowth, valleys, and who knows what lies beyond that? It doesn’t matter what it is, it’s simply off the course.  Hit your ball over there and you might never find it again.  Unless you ask.  And then a kind spectator, who’s watching you and walking with you for the whole round, will lop it back to right where you stand.

And what about the lake? That huge distance that at times you have to get your ball over?  What if you fall short?

And, of course, you’re not the first one to play the course.  So many have gone before you that you’re navigating areas that have been completely messed up. You can easily twist your ankle or break your leg if you don’t look where you’re going.  If you don’t notice where other players have been before you.

And the other players. You have to leave everyone else’s ball alone! Their game is theirs, yours is yours.

And… here the analogy ends.

Because, unlike golf, no  matter how many times you mess up – even in a day! – if you ask for your ball back you won’t be disqualified.  That kind spectator who’s been there all along will lob it back to you and say,

“Just keep going! You’re doing great! I know how hard the game is, I made it! But without the bunkers!  By the way, it doesn’t matter how many strokes you need.  Everyone’s allowed to make mistakes, I redesigned the course that way. Don’t give up. I’m right here beside you, cheering you on, pointing out your next shot if you need me.”

So you tamp down the divots you wilfully made with your club in your fury and frustration, and accept the grace (for grace is what it is) of another chance.

You could get down on yourself, and beat yourself up for being so crap at the game.  Or you could face forward and course correct.  You may be in the thicket, but you can still redirect your focus to the end point.

And try again.

If you keep going? Every so often you will hit the ball true.  And as you watch it soar through the air in the right direction, your breath catches in your chest as you notice the glory of the sky, the green of the grass, the majesty of the trees, and the gift of the air.  All around you.

And you’ll be grateful again.

For the gift of the game.

jsg/march 18

Hot Loneliness.


It was just like this.

Last year, I discovered an old lap writing desk that had belonged to my great grandmother.  Made out of beautiful polished wood, it was edged with brass and had an inbuilt, well-used leather blotting pad embossed into the lid.  And it was heavy, which meant that something was still definitely being kept inside.

I found the writing desk in an outside shed in the bottom of a box of mildewed linens which had not been opened since my parents’ move into their current house 11 years ago.  The problem was, there was no key.

Until one day, exploring treasures, I found it.  One of those old fashioned hollow keys with a curlicue handle that fitted the lock exactly. The desk sprang open and inside were carefully tied bundles of letters and cards and photographs and hair ribbons and memorabilia that had been painstakingly stored by my mother’s mother’s mother.  Irreplaceable family memories locked away for posterity.

And just to think, I had so nearly taken that box of smelly linen to the tip without even checking.

Like Gan’s writing desk, I found a key to myself  this week. I read a book that referred to the “hot loneliness” of the human condition.  I gasped and lay still for a long time.

I’d always assumed loneliness was cold and isolated and lifeless. Hadn’t it felt like that? Recognising that loneliness is hot, pierced the centre of my being and connected me to myself.

My loneliness had only felt cold because I tried so hard to suppress it or obscure it.  To cover it with story, or smother it with food, or wrap it in my duvet, or – later – to extinguish it with alcohol, or vaporise it with anger, or deny it with distraction.

But I see now that my loneliness will have none of that.  My loneliness is searingly hot,  and this week since I’ve stopped all my semiconscious attempts to starve it of oxygen, it has burst through in all its fiery majesty enabling me to see it for what it is.


Suddenly, I can’t wait to take off all the layers upon layers upon layers I have been using to try and cover it up.  This hot loneliness.  The layers have only made me hotter!   I am suffocating in here! I can’t breathe!

I need to take it all off.  Off, off, off.  No more concealing, no more quenching, no more diverting, no more reaching for a sonic boom of anger which will somehow blast it into space.  Away from me.

No, I think I am finally ready to face it for what it is.  Loneliness.  Searing, scary, intimidating, enraging, flaming, crushing, unbearably heavy. And hot.

And by loneliness, I don’t mean being alone.  I am content with my own company much of the time. Loneliness is simply the shield covering the painful, incendiary core of why we feel lonely.

Because I have God, I think I’m at last ready to acknowledge this newly understood hot loneliness for all its worth.  I’m at last in a place safe enough to say, “OK, Loneliness. You wanna show me what’s underneath? However painful it may be, I want to see it.”

The surprising thing is, now I’m ready to face reality and lifelong memory, I can’t wait to get rid of all the layers I’ve been using to hide myself from it.

I’m willing to feel loneliness melt all my carefully applied bandages and break off the hard caked substitutes I’ve plastered over myself to protect me from reality.  To keep me hidden.

Because unwrapped, nakedly me, I will be in the light. And God will be able to show me/I will be able to see who I truly am, what I truly want, where I have truly been and how God can truly use it all now for my good.

Loneliness had always been working for my good, calling me to look so that I could own my own life. Face the real pain.

I need to let loneliness do its work, reveal its core, so I no longer need its heat to remind me of what I have to face.

Because I’ll be facing it.

And it will be really me.

jsg/feb 18

The Two Sides of Freedom.

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‘Freedom’ presupposes that it follows on from something which has gone before it, which was not that.

And the nature of Freedom is two fold.

Initially, there is “Freedom From”:

Freedom from bondage.

Freedom from oppression.

Freedom from addiction.

Freedom from control.

Freedom from darkness in all its forms, if you like.

While these “Freedom From”s are fantastic, they’re not easy.

“Freedom From” entails a stripping away.  There may be relief; but there is also trauma, grief, shock, fear, destabilisation, disintegration, and then – slowly – sobering recognition of what one has really been freed from.

Being freed from, is exhausting.  You feel like you could sleep for a decade – or at least a few months – if only you could rest. But there is so much to do!  So much change.  So much admin.  So much recalibrating of your every breath.  So much reorganising of your daily existence.  (And you can multiply all of it by however many people are dependent upon you in this new-found Freedom From.)

“Freedom From” is knackering and, it seems, never ending.


Just as you’re wailingly considering if all the grief, trauma and challenge to being set free is worth it (it is), you crest the hill.

And here, looking out, you discover the second side of freedom: the Freedom To.

For, all that climbing/all that struggling/all that offloading/all that renegotiating/all that clearing/all that healing/all that hoping has brought you here.  And I can tell you this, suddenly you will gasp.

Ahead of you is a new landscape.  Not like the old one (even if it looks the same) because you are different.  And this is your landscape now.  You can be whoever you want to be.  You can go wherever you want to go.  You can make it work however you want to make it work, because it’s up to you.

After so much work to be freed from, now at last the second side of freedom can begin – and it gives you so much energy!

Freedom to be who you suspected you might be all along but didn’t feel free enough to show it.

Freedom to try new things without judgment, scale new heights, astonish yourself with your own – freed – God-given capabilities.

Freedom to push yourself because you want to (and not because you have to).

Freedom to walk in the light of truth.  Which is surely the greatest freedom of all.

If – like me – you’ve finally reached this place,  what are you waiting for?                                                                                                         Stop looking at your future and ride on into it!

Sure there will be other valleys, other hills.  But right now? Get out there, look up at the sky, and give yourself a forest-booming blast of Nina.

For today is a new dawn.

It is a new day.

It is a new life.

And I am, aren’t you?  I’m feeling good.




jsg/jan 18





Say not the struggle nought availeth,
     The labour and the wounds are vain,
The enemy faints not, nor faileth,

     And as things have been they remain.

If hopes were dupes, fears may be liars;
     It may be, in yon smoke concealed,
Your comrades chase e’en now the fliers,

     And, but for you, possess the field.

For while the tired waves, vainly breaking
     Seem here no painful inch to gain,
Far back through creeks and inlets making,

     Comes silent, flooding in, the main.

And not by eastern windows only,
     When daylight comes, comes in the light,
In front the sun climbs slow, how slowly,

     But westward, look, the land is bright.

Happy New Year – BASH ON!


jsg/dec 17


“Don’t be daunted.” I hear the whisper in my head. “Focus on This.  This day.  This moment.  This task. This intention.”

I glance at the New Year and look down again quickly.  It’s too much.  Not humanly possible. Not for me.

I stare at the ceiling and consider the weight of my own responsibilities. I feel their heft.  All on me.

Nothing to do but lie down and close my eyes to sleep.

Suddenly my eyes shoot open. I feel the substance of the load, but it is balanced. How come I feel it sit squarely and steadily upon my shoulders? My body bracing it? How come I am not crushed or flailing?

I lie and wait to understand before I get it. The load is balanced because it does not fall solely on me. I am yoked. There is another side.

My side, my weight, keeps me in place.  Close.

“Ohhh,” I sigh. “OK.”

I wait for Your lead.  I cannot fling myself forward or flail around blindly or throw everything at the wall or look back and agitate. My load will chafe.

However, if I move when You move?  Do as You do? See what You see? Think as You think?

Oh OK. That — I can see — is doable.

I am reminded now.  We can do this.



josie/dec 17




For now we see through a glass, darkly;

but then

face to face:

now I know in part;

but then shall I know

even as – also –

I am known.


Yesterday, my two children flew across the world to spend their first Christmas away from me/with their father.

We got through the airport.  Got through in both the physical and metaphorical sense.  My twelve year old with eyes brimming checking the angles to see if anyone was watching this poignant, heroic, moment of farewell. We giggled at ourselves, and through they went.

It is an oddly weightless feeling to be without your children at Christmas.  To be without anyone, in fact.  Not at all a tragic feeling, just a slightly bizarre one.

All my Christmas activities have been accomplished.  Father Christmas cannot land early (so I was off the hook in the stocking department) but we had our full-on Christmas meal (plus requisite soup the following night), opened presents (as is our wont) over several days, sang Christmas songs and watched favourite Christmas movies, wrote Christmas cards and even managed to send Christmas packages by filial courier to the other side of the globe.  I’m done! All finished!  And it’s not yet even the week before Christmas.

I find myself being still. There are loads of things I could be doing, but what might happen if I choose not to do them?  If I choose stillness. Quiet. Solitude.

Devotionals have been extraordinarily on point for me in recent weeks and this was today’s:

‘Muddy water becomes clear only if we let it be still for a while.’ Dallas Willard.

I feel very excited about being still.  Never usually alone in human terms, I could actually spend Christmas with Jesus this year.  Present, interactive, truly grateful, quiet.

As the water clears, whom might I discover myself to be?  Who might show up? The last time I had the leisure to ask this question was probably 20 years ago.  “Who am I?” I asked myself then. “And what do I want to do now?”

Over the next two weeks, the opportunity is there for me to ponder everything from the right side and not the back side. I often howl with friends about looking life’s backside square in the face on a daily basis, but it is also truly the back side isn’t it?  We can only see things from a temporal point of view.

And maybe it looks drab, or weird, or hopeless, or limited. But we are only seeing it now from our own vantage point.

If I spend time with Jesus – listening to Him, chatting with Him, chewing the fat with Him – I might get a clearer view of my life journey from His perspective instead of my own.  Look at it in His light, His warmth, His truth, regarding His eternal values. Not just these current, common circumstances.

So, as much as I’ll miss my children, I recognise the astonishing gift of time and space I’ve been given. In a season where usually these things come in minimal supply.

I want to see my life more clearly from Jesus’ point of view. To do that, and because my kids are away, I’ll get to take time with Him until ‘the things of this world grow strangely dim‘.  To ponder Advent itself, and this Advent in particular. Christmas too.

To see things about the daily rush that often, perhaps, I cannot spot for want of looking.

I’ll finish with this very favourite text for Christmas. A letter, written by Fra Giovanni Giocondo to his friend, Countess Allagia Aldobrandeschi, on Christmas Eve, 1513.

‘There is nothing I can give you which you have not got, but there is much, very much, that, while I cannot give it, you can take.

No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in today. Take heaven!

No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present little instant. Take peace!

The gloom of the world is but a shadow. Behind it, yet within our reach is joy. There is radiance and glory in the darkness could we but see – and to see we have only to look.

I beseech you to look!’

I beseech you too – along with myself! – to look.


Happy Christmas one and all,



jsg/dec 17



dawn edit

‘Go, go, go,” said the bird: human kind                                                                                       Cannot bear very much reality.                                                                                                    What might have been and what has been                                                                                Point to one end, which is always present.’


The last eighteen months have been a process of grieving, discarding, packing, storing, discarding more, packing again, shipping, unpacking, packing again, grieving, and now, finally and fully (and I hope for a longer period of time), unpacking everything I’ve chosen to keep with us.
There’s nothing like moving to give you a snapshot of life. It’s very existential, very real. You get a blurry snapshot as you pack up, but mostly this is lost in the mayhem of getting out on time and trying to be ruthless while frequently failing (amidst disastrous thoughts of, “Just box it, you can sort it out at the other end”).
Unpacking, later, with the very essence of things left is where the truth comes out. What did I keep and why? What would someone make of me from my things?
I still kept too much, but I think I’m getting better at moving on from the past. These are only “things” after all, life is what I carry within me and my children within them.
Whole seasons of your life can be contained in an envelope, or box, or one lamp. It’s enough. However I have kept three ducks that have held my keys by my front door since I was a student, because it is useful to have some threads that stretch right the way through.
This most recent move was my twenty second, of which the last three have been the hardest. I have carried my children with me for these, and not been able to change it for them nor give them a choice.
Unpacking boxes provokes a bit of existential musing so here is mine.
No matter how long we stay in any place, we are – literally – just passing through.  Like Uta Hagen‘s counsel to have an ‘element of costume’ for your character on stage, perhaps all we really need with us is an ‘element of home’. Not endless amounts of it. A reminder of who we are, how far we’ve come, how much we’ve got through, and how we’ve survived. What we treasure – whom we treasure – cannot be captured in a thing, whatever it represents for us.
I can see clearly what I get rid of over and over again, and now remind myself not to buy it this time. Not to clog up the pipes with lots of new stuff which I know I’ll have to discard when life moves us on.
My heart has learned by force of circumstance to travel light. To know that I always carry my identity and my purpose within me, not around me.
To have my heart set on pilgrimage, and not on settling down and staying put. To be willing to use the things of this world, without being engrossed by them. (Don’t think I’m completely spartan! I’ve kept some of my Limoges, like Karen.)
However, T.S. Eliot’s bird is so right:
‘Go, said the bird, for the leaves were full of children,                                                      Hidden excitedly, containing laughter.’
I am treading lightly, looking ahead.


I don’t want to miss the children.



Josie/Dec 17