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  • Luke Dowding

Our Lives Lived

In Albania there is a delightful pantheon of faiths that creates space for a variety of festivals and celebrations. As I write, Ramadan is a few days from ending, and just last weekend Orthodox Christians celebrated Easter – a week after Protestants and Catholics. This mix of faiths and traditions nurtures an atmosphere of celebration at this time of year, combined with other local holidays such as Dita e Verës; the upcoming Një Maj (as celebrated in many other parts of the world: the 1st May commemorates the work of trade unions, as well as celebrating workers); and at the beginning of June Albania celebrates Children’s Day (Dita e Fëmijëve).


Traditionally I have celebrated Easter in or near my hometown in the UK. In recent years that has been a big lunch with my in-laws (my mother in-law never known to not provide a veritable feast), and in the years before that it included a service on the beach hosted by the church I attended as a child, teenager, and finally as a member of the ministry team. For many years my Mum and I would get up early to head to the beach to join the motely bunch of enthusiastic folks who were ready to greet the dawn (sort of, I think the service now starts at 8am…) and celebrate the joyful festival of Easter. We’d then head back home for a breakfast of hot cross buns, before church round two.


This year my Easter was a little different, but it did come as a pair. It was moving to not only mark Easter in my own private way whilst on a weekend break with my husband in Gjirokastër in the south of Albania, but to also travel to Korçë the following week to witness and participate in the lighting of candles alongside hundreds of other worshippers at midnight on Easter Saturday. A friend and I stood in the crowded church as people bundled their way to have their candle lit by the priestly procession, and security (yes, paid security) attempted to hold them back. It was quite the experience.


L-R: The Orthodox Cathedral in Korçë; worshippers pack out the cathedral; hot cross buns!


Some traditions have been maintained (I think I’ve managed to eat more hot cross buns this year than any other, thanks to our favourite local coffee shop: Antigua), and ones new to me have been experienced for the first time.


Since then, I have wondered what it means to me to have experienced the festival of resurrection and new life twice in the space of a week: one marked quietly and in my own way, the other with jubilant crowds and fevered excitement. It has also prompted me to stop and reflect upon the duality of my life now too: one lived both in Tirana, but also in London. There is a life lived across two plains – often very differently. Sometimes alongside the buzz of others, other times in the quiet of my own company.


In many ways, we all live dual lives – or perhaps even multiple lives. Multiple universe theories would suggest that this is happening at a quantum level, but this is not what I mean here (albeit that’s what I believe to be true: in a universe somewhere, there is a me who pursued science and not the humanities and is currently serving on the International Space Station…). Rather, aren’t we all the summation of many lives lived out as one? One moment we live the life of an adventurer, the next moment we are living the life of a mourner; from one day as a worker, to the next as a spouse, parent, sibling or child; there is an hour in which we are a global citizen, shocked at what we say play out around the world, and then there is the next hour when we are found in a moment of sheer joy over a shared meal with kindred spirits. Our lives are not simple, and so we should not treat them as such.


In the West, which is the worldview I have been nurtured within, we are increasingly offered approaches and so-called “tools” that are geared towards the simplification of our lives – but what these approaches seek to do is compartmentalise the multitude of the lives we inhabit, not unite them as a whole and living organism.


Instead, we should be embracing the multitude and looking to nurture harmony – perhaps as a good conductor might seek to do the same within an orchestra, moving with the flow of the individual notes and sounds from the unique instruments and weaving them together. If we attempt to force, coerce, or even silence one of the instruments, then the piece loses an element that changes the nature of the music. So too does this happen to us when we treat our multiple lives in this way.


In my own experience I have begun to live this out by slowly embracing the following:


Each aspect of my life is lovable and ought not to be hidden. If I’m in a situation where I feel like I should cloak a part of myself, I might consider from where that desire is coming from? Is it an external pressure? Or something from within? Where possible, I will not put myself in situations in which I am asked to hide one of my lives. Should this be unavoidable, I will exercise grace with myself and others.


Gently ask: “where is there conflict?”

Living complex lives can lead to conflict between the multitude of roles we inhabit; sometimes this is obvious, other times we might notice a subtle imbalance in how we are feeling (in some circumstances I might call this a form of anxiety). When we acknowledge the conflict, slowly question why this could be happening and how it can be resolved. There won’t always be an immediate resolution but accepting the conflict and not pushing it to one side creates space to heal.


Exercise patience.

As with all processes, particularly those involving the self, this is not something that can be done at pace or with great ease. We have been conditioned to segregate, both the world around us and the world within; the process of reintegration may indeed take a lifetime.


Through Easter, the fullness of created life is reconciled with the Divine, and we are invited to experience that for ourselves too. Whether you hold a faith or not we can nurture a restoration within ourselves.


We can embrace Our Lives Lived.


Hard-boiled eggs painted red for Easter.


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