What if God isn’t impersonal but formless?

There have been many losses as I have deconstructed the faith I inherited.  One of the more difficult has been the loss of relating to God in the way I would relate to a human friend.  I grew up in a expression of Christian faith that taught Christianity as having a personal relationship with God.  I liked that.  After all who wouldn’t want someone whose hands had flung stars into space to be their friend.

This was a helpful starting place, for the concept of God a person is definable and manageable.  Yet there was always a nagging dissonance between my notion of what a friend was and the reality of this “personal relationship”.   How could I enjoy the companionship of someone who didn’t verbally contribute much in conversation?   How could I really know someone whose thoughts often suspiciously echoed my own!

When I discovered the contemplative path, I begun to see God in a more expansive way.  I experienced Gods peace through meditation, and recognised Gods hand in a sunset or a walk through the forest.  It was beautiful and meaningful, but it wasn’t personal.  I loved and revered the largeness of God, but grieved what felt like to the loss of a personal relationship.

One of the problems with the word God is that it creates an image in our minds of a person.  It may be an old man with a white beard, a blue goddess with 8 arms, an icon, or Jesus in jeans. Each reduces all that God is into human form.  But God is not human, and no form can convey all that God is.  When we give God a name, and a gender (he!) we limit God to a single form.  Maybe that is why God gives so many different names and images when asked for one?

Love itself is without form, although it takes on many forms.  A mother nurturing her child.  A prisoner of war sharing their only piece of stale bread.  A man dying on a cross.  Each act a perfect but partial expression of divine love we know as God.  It is the formlessness of Devine love that enables it to express itself so freely in so many ways.

The same formlessness that enables God to be truly personal.  For Devine Love lives within me, and I live in Devine love.  God is the air that I breath, and you can’t get closer than that.

So maybe it is time to let go of my outdated notion of God as form to allow Devine Love to be truly present with me, in me, and through me.  To recognise my very life as an extension of this love and to live in relationship with it.  The closest of companions.

Slow is the new quick.

I recently attended a workshop to brainstorm ways of improving efficiency in the workplace.  As we explored innovative ways of achieving more from our minutes, it became clear that, like most workplaces, we unquestionably equated productivity with success.  Ironically, I work in the hospice sector.  It seems that in a culture that values speed, we believe that productivity is a measure of success in all areas, even showing compassion to the dying!  Perhaps it is time we question the assumption that faster is always better and open ourselves to the possibility that some things cannot be hurried.

I am a get shit done kind of person, and my carefully curated toolkit of organising, cramming, self-discipline, multi-tasking, speed and efficiency have served me well as I have juggled raising 3 children and managing a home with running an organisation and studying for a degree.  So, it came as a shock when I hit a wall in my spiritual life and found I could not progress without unlearning the very skills that have brought me this far in life.

Dallas Willard once called hurry, “the great enemy of spiritual life in our day.” He said that if we want to live a spiritual life “we must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from our lives”. 


As I have opened my mind to this uncomfortable truth I have discovered that it applies to other areas of life, in fact hurry undermines most things of lasting worth and value. For example, an experienced mental health professional noted that most people are too busy live an emotionally healthy life.  Their work had shown them that counselling can only get a person so far, real inner change requires time to practice self-awareness, reflect and make intentional choices.  This cannot be done in a hurried life.

Healthy relationships require time to be present, to notice the needs of others, and to listen properly.  Love cannot be rushed.  Kosuke Koyama said that

“God walks slowly because he is slow.  If he were not love, he would have gone much faster.  Love has its speed, it is an inner speed, it is a spiritual speed.  It is a different kind of speed to the technological speed to which we are accustomed.  It is slow, yet it is lord over all the other speeds since it is the speed of love”

There are two kinds of time, Chronos time, which is chronological, and Kairo’s time.  Kario’s is about meaningful moments; they stand out from normal time because they are moments of opportunity to have an impact or always be remembered.  Significant moments can so easily be dismissed as an interruption if you hurry.

I once attended a mindfulness retreat where the teacher claimed that they could increase our life by 80%.  He stated that much of our life passes us by because we are not present enough to experience it.  We know the joy on offer without taking the time to savour simple moments of joy.  We cannot truly live this moment, if our mind is in the next.  Could it be that in our relentless quest to achieve happiness, we actually rush past the very thing we seek?

Pause:  take a moment to consider the real cost of moving too fast.

I have found there are some common indicators that I need to adjust my speed dial.  They include:

  • Substituting the buzz of achieving tasks for enjoying the experience.
  • Thinking about what’s next rather than focusing on what I am doing.
  • Clumsiness, mistakes, and forgetfulness.
  • A tight chest, fast breathing and feeling tense (the body doesn’t lie!)
  • Feeling irritated by interruptions, learner drivers, and people who want to browse in the centre of a supermarket isle!
  • Feeling restless and unable to relax when I stop.
  • Compulsive overworking at the expense of things like sleep, exercise, and spiritual practices.
  • Numbness, disconnection and self-absorption.
  • Escapist behaviours
  • Hoarding energy

 Pause: take a moment to consider how your speed dial indicates it’s in the danger zone, and where the dial is right now?

 If these pauses feel frustrating to you, maybe you too need to slow down 😉

Slowing my pace is proving to be a long-term incremental change rather than a quick fix.  I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that slowing can not be achieved quickly!  I am however finding the following 3 step process helpful in resetting the pace of my day:

  1. Accept the frustration that comes with slowing down and not being able to achieve all you could.

If fast has been your Midas operandi for a long time and you have come to thrive on the buzz of adrenaline it offers, this will feel excruciating for you!  When I first begun, I found myself inwardly screaming like an addict in withdrawal and I’ve had to learn to hold such feelings with an equal amount of compassion and resolve.  John Ortberg recognises how difficult some people will find such a change when he writes “To choose to live an unhurried life in our day, is somewhat like taking a vow of poverty in earlier centuries.  It is scary, it is an act of faith, but there are deep riches on the other side.

2. Choose to honour your values.

I regularly need to remind myself what really matters to me, as its often the opposite of what I feel I want in the moment.  When I recognise the incompatibility between core values such as relationships, peace, meaningful contribution and a hurried pace, I am more able to redefine what a successful day looks like.

3. Re-evaluate your plan.

I ask myself what is realistic to achieve at a pace that honours my values?  This list is always shorter than the to do list I start out with!

When considering this remember to factor in margin for unforeseen problems and unplanned opportunities.  I have come to realise that so much of my hurry comes from planning my time with the assumption that everything will go to plan.  In reality it rarely does.  A fear of wasting time through being early, has many a time led me to arrive late and flustered.  I may not have wasted time, but I have wasted emotional energy and the opportunity to enjoy a few calm moments that could change the course of my day.

I am finding that to do this I need to emotionally let go of what I can physically achieve and prioritise what actually needs to get done today.  To be able to manage my daily pace, I periodically need to reduce my overall regular commitments to make this realistic.  When I feel at the mercy of my diary, I remember Stephen Coveys uncomfortable but powerful statement that I am ultimately in control of my schedule.

Most of us in the West have brought into the lie that we can do, be, and have everything we want.  In truth we cannot do everything, but we can do what truly matters to us!  So do what is necessary to live in alignment with your values, do it with love and attention, and make peace what remains.

What if God says yes!

The god I was raised with always had a slight frown on his face.  Much pain was taken to ensure I had sufficient fear of all the things God said no to, so that I would avoid them.  So, I tiptoed through life, careful not to take a wrong step; it was not a particularly joyous way to life, but at least I was safe.  But, If the god we know lacks colour, life will always feel a little beige.  If the god we know is like a oversensitive parent seeing danger round every corner, we will live in fear.  If the god we know frowns, we will curb our joy to protect ourselves from the sting of his disapproval. Yet….

What if God is smiling?

Throwing open all of life in its vibrancy and colour; inviting us to enjoy all she has created with a grin spread across her face.

This is the God I see when I take of my goggles of preconception and really look, as if for the first time.  I see a god with a big enough sense of humour to create some of the weird and wonderful creatures that walk this earth and swim its seas.  I see a God who creates a delicate flower that serves no purpose other than to frivolously touch the world with its fleeting beauty.  I see diversity embraced and celebrated, and creativity and exploration encouraged.  How does such vibrancy come from a god so bland?

What if God is bigger than fear?

Big enough to allow us freedom?  When mistakes inevitably happen, could it be possible that God is neither shocked, nor worried, but more than able to lovingly help us pick up the pieces of our broken world, and heal our aching hearts?

What if we desire rules because we are the ones who are scared?  For, if we are made in God’s image, how can our truest desires lead us astray?

What if God says yes?

like a loving parent excitedly introducing their child to new box of Lego.  Longing to co-create with them.  Taking pleasure in their joy?

What if Devine will is not a tightrope but a wide-open space?  What might happen if we truly allowed ourselves to hope and dream?  What if we allowed ourselves the gift of enjoying life with all its risks and imperfections.  What if we said yes back?

Happiness v Meaning


I think it would be fair to say that everyone wants to be happy.  It therefore makes sense to pursue this goal through doing things that make us feel happy in the moment.  Or so you would think.

In psychology, there are two popular conceptions of happiness: hedonic and eudaimonic. Hedonic happiness is achieved through avoiding discomfort and pursuing pleasure and enjoyment, while eudaimonic happiness is achieved through experiences of meaning and purpose.  Both play an important role in overall happiness.  Yet pursuing happiness for its own sake does not lead to a happier life.

In 2010, Psychologists Veronika Huta and Richard M. Ryan produced a piece of academic research entitles ‘Pursuing Pleasure or Virtue: The Differential and Overlapping Well-Being Benefits of Hedonic and Eudaimonic Motives’.  In this study they split participants into two groups.  They instructed the first group to do a daily activity that gave them pleasure.  They instructed the second to do an activity that they found meaningful.  After ten days the happiness group, who had undertaken activities such as sleeping in, eating sweets and shopping experienced the highest levels of happiness, but three months later the effects had waned.  The meaning group, who had pursued activities such as building relationships, helping others, or learning new skills, were continuing to experience greater levels of joy, wellbeing, and inspiration three months later.

Instant gratification has its place, but if we want to live a happier life, we must pursue things that have meaning for us.  This means that we must first find out what gives us meaning.  Its sounds obvious, yet it requires a level of paying attention to our deepest desires that few people take the time to do.  We are bombarded by messages, normally from those that wish to sell us something, telling us what we need to make us happy.  But to truly uncover this we must go within and get in touch with who we are and what is important to us at the most fundamental level, and to hold an awareness of who we want to be and the life we want to create.

This is important to do because the things we truly want don’t always gratify us in the moment.  For example, relationships are important to me; they fulfil me and make me feel connected and supported.  Yet sometimes I would rather suit myself than make the effort to nurture an important relationship in the moment.  I’m not suggesting that good relationships require that we never taking time for ourselves or express our boundaries.  Simply that choices that build fulfilling relationships such as taking the time to listen when we are busy, working through a conflict or fulfilling a social commitment when we feel tired, don’t always gratify us in the moment.

As a former hospice Chaplain, I have had many conversations with people coming towards the end of their life.  It is very normal at this stage to spend time looking back to find meaning in our lives.  Such things are not memories of instant gratification.  They are things that have required thought and intentionality.  Acts of service, learning, relationships, and the pursuit of meaningful goals.

I encourage you to picture yourself at the end of your own life and ask yourself ‘what do you want to look back and see?’.  Then turn off the TV, put the crisps away and go and go and make a start.

Decluttering: Creating space for a simple and meaningful life.


I have been thinking for a while about creating a more minimalist lifestyle.  Why?  Because I want to give my time and energy to the things that matter most to me.

I’ve discovered that desiring this isn’t enough.  There is so much competition for my time and energy, that if I don’t reduce things that matter less to me, they will always take precedence over things that matter most, for like toddlers they have a way of demanding my attention.

Inspired by watching The Minimalists documentary on Netflix, I decided to start with decluttering my house.  I thought this would be an easy win for me as I am not a particularly messy person.  I was also recognising a level of psychological stress that was caused by the endless management of possessions.  Every time I needed something from the garage, I had to spend time searching for it, shifting endless items around to find it.  Often, I avoided the frustration by just purchasing another one, only for it to turn up later.  More stuff to add to the pile.  The amount of time I spent cleaning, organising, and maintaining my stuff, or worse, thinking about the fact that I ought to, was time I wanted to spend differently.

Everything has a price that we continue to pay long after the money has left our account.

Everything has a price that we continue to pay long after the money has left our account.

This weekend I went all in.  Room by room, drawer by drawer.  Emptying everything out and only putting back items that brought value to my life.  I asked myself the following questions:

    • Have I used this in the past 6 months?  Will I use this in the next 6 months?
    • Does this serve a purpose in my actual life, as opposed to my past life or an idealised life!
    • Do I like it?  Does it bring me joy?

I was shocked by what I discovered.  Crockery for entertaining large groups that I have moved from house to house for nearly 30 years. I had stored, organised and cleaned it but rarely, if ever, used it.  In my mind I was a hostess, not because I like hosting. I don’t. Nor because I am particularly good at it. I’m not. But because I was raised in a family that always hosted and believed that this was something I “should” do.

I found a drawer stuffed full of all sorts of gift-wrapping paraphilia and crafting materials.  I loved the idea of wrapping beautiful gifts and making cards on a rainy afternoon.  I have never done either. This is not me; it is an idealised version of me I occasionally indulge.

As I emptied my bookshelves, it felt like peeling back the layers off my past life.  Books for a degree I did over a decade ago and have never opened since; who was I trying to impress? the dinner guests I haven’t invited on my homemade gift cards?  Books about religion that no longer fit my current spirituality.  Books about raising children that have long since flown the nest.  All valuable seasons of my life, but no longer relevant to my life today.

This level of decluttering was emotionally challenging and revealing.  I hadn’t thought of myself as being particularly attached to things, but parting with some of them felt like losing a familiar part of myself.  An identity formed from things is not something I want to hold on to, so the pile grew.   I was surprised to experience a low level anxiety when parting with items I had no use for.   I had spent my hard-earned money on these things and invested time in their upkeep.  Letting them go felt like a waste.  I had to admit to myself that I wasted my money when I made an impulse purchase, and keeping hold of it would not change that. 

At the same time, something strange and magical happened.  As I emptied, reduced and decluttered I felt a weight lift from me.  A shedding a life I have lived and a person I have been.  A way of life that once served me but had overstayed its usefulness and become a burden I carried from home to home, room to room.   I felt a sense of inner peace reflected by my surroundings.   As I stood back and observed my uncluttered shelves and empty surfaces I saw a blank canvas on which I could paint a life of my choosing.