Today is the first Sunday of the month when we share guest posts from people living and teaching the Contemplative and/or Celtic Christian way around the world. One of the beautiful things about the internet is that people doing amazing things in isolated parts of the world can learn from one another and grow together. We hope this article inspires you to dive a little deeper into what it means to follow in the footsteps of our ancestors while looking forward to what kind of world we will leave for our grandchildren. This article is written by Nicolette Joy Rodden. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!
My real passion and aim in life is simply to draw ever deeper into the depth of Divine love and to show that love to others as the spirit directs me.
Currently, that is expressed through being a wife and a mother to two teenage boys, as a noviciate ‘Monastic Voyager’ (lay monk) with the dispersed monastic Community of Aidan and Hilda and in my recent appointment to become the equality, diversity and inclusion co-ordinator for the community. I am also extremely privileged to accompany several people on their spiritual journey, as a soul friend to them. I feel such depth of joy and fulfilment.
However, that wasn’t always the case. It is only a few years ago, I strongly considered taking my own life. Whilst I was (and still am!) married to an amazing man and have two precious children, I have faced a life long battle with low self-esteem, anxiety and depression.
I have acquired a collection of diagnoses over the past 25 yrs. Whilst the labels don’t define me, they do help me understand some of the difficulties I have faced throughout life. I have a diagnosis of dyslexia, autistic spectrum condition, dyscalculia, and dyspraxia.
Growing up I felt I was uniquely inept, void of even the most basic abilities to do the things everyone else seemed to manage with ease! To add insult to injury I also believed myself to be fat and ugly.
Finding where I fit and my purpose in life has been a real struggle. I felt like I had nothing to offer anyone! My self-talk…well let’s just say I would never, in a million years, dream of speaking to another in the abusive way I did to myself!
I spent so much of my time wishing I was someone else, that I looked like someone else, had their ability to sing or for art or maths or music or writing or science or organisation… Everybody else had gifts, which I was good at spotting in the briefest of encounters, but I was convinced I had none.
So what changed?
Nearly 5 years ago now I stumbled across the Community of Aidan and Hilda and the ‘way of life’ by which members lived.
Now maybe it’s just me? Maybe its because I have autism? But for most of my life, despite considering myself a Christian, I had not really understood HOW to live out my Christian faith.
I tried to be a ‘good Christian’, I really did! I tried to believe the things I’m ‘supposed’ to and ignore the fact that much of what I had been taught sat queasily in my gut, not really ringing true. I tried to have a daily quiet time, but reading the Bible was arduous and the ‘notes’ I had made me feel guilty for all the ways in which I was failing. I tried to live out what I learned about God at church on Sunday but, when I was faced with the challenges of every day life, I either couldn’t figure out how to apply it or it seemed irreverent.
“Stop trying to do things in your strength and do it in God’s”
“We (Christians) have freedom in Christ Jesus!“
“Cling to God, your rock. He is our protection in life’s storm!”
“Ours is not to reason, God’s ways are not our ways”
I have heard these said so many times during my life!
Was God the rock I clung to? I strongly suspected not, as I seemed tossed about by every wave and, anyhow, how do you cling to an abstract concept? Which was what God surely was? How could I use God’s strength and not my own? As for ‘freedom in Christ’, I felt anything but! I simply didn’t understand!
Inside I screamed, I raged. I felt if God had chosen to create me this way then God must hate me!
Then, came this chance encounter where I was introduced to The Community of Aidan and Hilda (CA&H), and this way of life. In these 10 way markers, as they had been explained to me, I saw the potential for the HOW to live out a life of faith.
One of the way markers was to attend a retreat, at least yearly. Something I had not experienced before. A few months later I went to my first one, an advent retreat.
I arrived anxious and weary of life, still finding God elusive. For me this retreat was a ‘Hail Mary pass’. Either God showed up for me and helped me or I was done with living, it was simply too hard.
What I learned on the retreat resonated deep within me. I started to feel a connection to my four year old self, who knew God before the church taught me about God!
It was there I met my ‘Soul Friend’. Another of the CA&H ‘way-markers’ is to share your journey, its ups and downs, with someone to support you and help discern the spirits call in each area of your life.
Well, it was like God turned up in flesh and blood that day! He allowed me sob my tears and spout my sinicism, vitriol, self- hatred, confusion and despair. Not only did he seem able to take all this, he did not judge me, give me a load of platitudes or try to solve my issues. He just listened!
One thing he did say that stood out was, that I needed to learn to love myself. That Jesus’ teaching on the second greatest commandment was to “Love your neighbour AS yourself”. How can you love others if you can’t love yourself?
It stood out but I had no idea how to do that. After all I was thick, ugly and devoid of all skill! There were many things ‘normal’ people did that I struggled with, like working out simple sums in my head, easily reading multisyllabic words, often not seeing important words like ‘if’ and ‘but’ in sentences (which of course means things often don’t make much sense). I am a woman yet I can’t multitask, I get in a right muddle! I struggle to sequence things in the right order and often have word finding issues. I am clumsy too! How could I love that!
I also experience the world in strange ways; I have a sensitive visual and olfactory system. Unlike normal people I had to study hard, over many years, on how to ‘read’ body language. I instead read energy. Sometimes this means I feel the vibrations coming off plants and people and I feel others feelings in my body, often viscerally. However, in a group I struggle to make sense of all these feelings, often becoming overwhelmed.
Other people celebrated how busy they were, yet I’d be exhausted by a quarter of what most people seem to manage in any given day! I simply was not a ‘normal’ person, despite trying so hard for so many years to be just like everyone else. I did a reasonable job of pretending to but it was lonely, exhausting, and not much fun!
I attended another retreat on contemplation. This was a really new concept to me! Here prayer wasn’t about talking but listening! Of course I’d been taught you need to listen to God but never understood how! Here I learned to embrace silence and listen to God speak.
Whilst Heart Rhythm meditation is my main practice now, I initially started with centering prayer; sitting silently for two twenty minute sessions a day, using a ‘sacred word’ to refocus each time my thoughts wandered off. I questioned the point of this. It felt like torture! Minutes seemed like hours and I had constant thoughts. I really felt useless at this like everything else but I kept going, assured that, even if it felt pointless and you had achieved nothing, it allowed God to work in your life.
Well, this process is not for the faint hearted and I am so glad I had my soul friend alongside! So much ‘stuff’ from my past resurfaced. I would just about deal with one trauma, be granted a brief respite, before more stuff came up!
At times it felt like I was looking in an unpleasant mirror, seeing all these disagreeable truths about myself; my biases (shockingly I had many!), Oh and just how judgmental and snobby I could be. It was horrifying! Yet my soul friend remained non-judgmental as I worked though each new unpleasant revelation about the gunk in my heart.
At another retreat I heard God clearly calling my name “Nicolette Joy, be who you were born to be”. I was known as ‘Nikki’ at the time, I had distanced myself from being Nicolette in my teenage years in an effort to fit in. Yet here was God calling my name and middle name, Joy, too. What did it mean? I hadn’t got a clue!
I was continuing my centering prayer practice as well as pausing at points throughout the day, reading the community liturgy and adding more spiritual structure. Silent, I discovered, is an anagram of Listen, for a good reason I feel! Now I had learned to be internally silent, I was now hearing God’s voice speak into my life, directing my path!
It was then I heard God say it was time to address the abusive manner in which I spoke to myself. God worked with me to bring to my awareness each time I was self-critical (oh, so many times a day!) Initially I would simply notice when I had put myself down, then with time was able to stop myself mid-sentence, then eventually catch myself before hand. Now it is rare for me to put myself down at all.
I also soaked in bits of scripture like psalm 139, or Isaiah 43. Eventually, I was able to notice and acknowledge positive attributes.
A while later it dawned on me that the person I was born to be was me, just as I am! Being neurodivergent was not a mistake! The very things I despised in myself, and felt a cursed by, were in fact my greatest gifts!
I worked as a volunteer chaplain at the local hospice, generally on a 1-1 with a patient or in small groups with family. Before I had not seen it as a skill, after all I was just sitting and listening to people and holding a space for them to express their heart.
However, I started to realise that my ability to feel others emotions as I do enables me to help others express what it is they feel, especially where verbal communication has become difficult. It enables me to ask the right questions in guiding them. I often concurrently feel God’s heart for a person and ‘see’ spiritually what is happening inside them. At these times it feels like I have stepped aside and the spirit has taken over, interceding with words which flow out of me, connecting the family members and patient together with a powerful sense of the Divine presence. I become a conduit.
What I have realised is, for years, I have tried and failed to play every instrument in the Divine orchestra! However, I now understand I was never intended to play an instrument but rather to conduct! Whilst I can’t play any instrument well, I can hear clearly the instruments played by others and know how to encourage them to play even better. I also know where they fit within this Divine orchestra.
I hope that you maybe feel inspired to explore the possibility of living by a ‘rule of life’ and developing a regular meditation practice yourselves, if you don’t already. I further hope that you would wish to consider entering into a soul friend relationship. I really share St. Bridgid of Kildare’s sentiments when she said.
“A person without a soul friend is like a body without a head.”
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