what do you see?

It’s a common refrain of the personal trainers on fitness programs I follow: your embodied experience will follow the story you tell yourself. That is, whatever you focus on will become your reality. Tell yourself that you hate working out or that getting hot and sweaty is a sign that you’re close to dying, and you will struggle to finish that day’s workout. On the other hand, focus on how much stronger you’re feeling than before and how fantastic you’re going to feel at the end of this, and you will find energy to meet the demands of the workout.

This idea that our focus determines our trajectory is not a new one. Think of all the times in scripture when the Israelites are instructed to rehearse the story of God’s faithfulness. They do this through feasts and festivals, some practiced weekly and others annually or over a rhythm of several years. There are many reasons for this, but the one that seems significant for me is this idea of regularly refocusing on the truths that will shape the way they move forward.

In the ceramics studio this week, I was practising a technique called sgraffito. This is when the clay is glazed and then marked using sharp tools with differently shaped ends. The tools are used to pull off the surface of the coloured clay, in lines or swirls or other patterns, so that a design emerges. It struck me as I looked at various examples that, depending on where you put your focus, the design could be seen either in the colour of the glaze that remains on the pot or in the natural colour of the clay that is revealed when the pattern is removed.

Again, this reminds me that we can choose to see one side of a reality or the other. Partly this is a result of our personal experiences, our family or wider culture, and the narrative we have been told or have told ourselves. 

Interestingly, on the way to the studio I was listening to a podcast in which the author Ali Smith was interviewed. Her book, How to be Both, has been published in two alternative formats, one beginning with the story of one of the main characters and the other structured to start with the story of another main character. Both publications have exactly the same story, told in a different order. And time after time, readers of the books have said that they read both versions but could never completely get away from whichever telling they read first.

choose the story you believe

My mind goes to many of the things happening in our world currently. Conflicts in different parts of the world, socio-political realities in different countries, issues of institutionalised racism and the ways in which one group tends to see another group. Once we have understood things in a certain way it is terribly hard for us to truly hear another perspective. (Just like it is hard to see the old lady in this image, once you have focused in on the young one.) Tim and I have friends whom we respect and care about whose perspective on various elements of theology, say, or the black lives matter movement, or the gap between rich and poor is absolutely other to the view we hold. While we can love and respect one another, make room for one another, it seems that the narrative we believe will shape our choices, our relationships and the trajectory of our lives. How could it not?

These fundamental ways of viewing the world and the foundational values that shape and are shaped by such narratives, can become sources of misunderstanding or division in all kinds of relationships - marriages, teams, organisations, churches, and communities. To what extent are we truly willing to open ourselves to the perspective of others? In what ways might we deliberately choose to see the story from their point of view? And given the consequences we understand to arise from different ways of reading the narrative, to what extent do we want to shift our values and interpretations towards (or perhaps away from) that which we hear from others?


In what ways am I aware of an internal narrative that shapes my choices, responses and interactions? To what extent do I feel free to examine this narrative and explore other ways of reading the story? How is my embodied experience a result of the stories I tell myself?


Spirit of Wisdom, sent to us as teacher and revealer of Truth, may the light of your presence shine ever more clearly through the dim lens of my interpretations and perception - in the places I know I need your illumination and in the places I do not yet see my true need.