by Barbara Glasson.
It is very irksome to have been grounded. I am deeply indignant; I do not feel that I have done anything so outrageous as to warrant being put on the naughty step for an indeterminate length of time. I reflect, that ‘being grounded’ was not a strategy that my parents had in their punitive kitbag. The biggest sanction I recall them having was ‘being ashamed’ as in ‘you really should be ashamed of yourself for crayoning on the piano’. But, as a punishment, ‘being grounded’ has become more prevalent, it seems to involve all kinds of levels of solitary confinement and restrictions to movement depending on the level of the offense. To be isolated from others and from our freedom to move about is indeed a miserable thing.
This phrase ‘being grounded’ has taken this recent trajectory of punishment by confinement but it also has a quite different and parallel connotation. ‘Being grounded’ is a phrase used by therapists to help people through panic attacks. It is used by clergy to centre us in prayer. It is used by mental health services to keep patients in touch with reality. It is not about punishment at all but about a feet on the turf existential reality check. Literally, putting us back in touch with the ground. If I think about this use of the phrase then I think of physical reality, of my feet on the solid surface of the earth, I can feel it through the soles of my feet, this firm and steady place, this present moment.
Currently, in the face of Covid-19 we live these two meanings at the same time, We are both confined in our movements but also back in touch with the place on which we stand; we can do no other!
For the theologian Paul Tillich there was a tension between God as ‘presence’ and God as ‘ground’. And maybe this tension is useful to revisit right now. The thing about ‘ground’ is that is a place of assurance, it is a place to stand still, to be ‘rooted and grounded’. It is an anchor point, something that underlies everything else, it is firm. Which is curious because to ‘be ground’ is to be mashed into a lot of little bits, such are the mysteries of the English language! I digress.
To think of God as ‘ground’ as opposed to ‘presence’ is to move God away from analogies with human foibles and uncertainties. God becomes part of existence, the reliable substrate of life. God underpins everything and centres us differently in relation to the earth. And, whilst I personally don’t want to relinquish the sense of God as ‘presence’ I am also reassured and fortified by a sense of God being the ‘ground’.
I have recently discovered a book by Edmund Newell, The Sacramental Sea in which he explores the relationship between humanity and ‘The Deep’.[i] He draws initially on the book of Genesis, in which he reminds us that when God made the world the Deep was already there as dark, primal chaos. In Genesis 1:9 we read, ‘Then God said, let the water under the sky come together in one area, and let dry ground appear’. So the dry ground is the antithesis of the chaos, the ground is the place on which God will position the whole of creation, it is declared good,
So, to be ‘grounded’ is not simply a good psychological tool or centring device in a metaphorical sense, it is to be centred firmly on the holiness of God’s loving purposes for the world. When we are grounded in the presence of the Divine (however we want to describe this) God’s presence is not arbitrary, it is the core of who we are, it is our very being.
‘Being rooted and grounded in love’ as the writer of the letter to the Ephesians reminds us, (Ephesians 4: 17) is to be given the gift of comprehending the width and depth of God’s love for us. To be grounded, is to be held in the sure and certain foundations of God’s grace.
This is not to dismiss the punitive nature of being grounded, because surely the reason for our present predicament is within our shared humanity’s neglect of the natural balance and order of the Earth. But it is to say, that if we can find our relationship with the Creator to be the place where we stand, then maybe a new perspective and a new sense of grace might come as gift?
[i] Edmund Newell, The Sacramental Sea: A Spiritual Voyage through Christian History, (2019, London: DLT)
10 thoughts on “Being Grounded”
‘Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.’
We come from the ground and we return to the ground. Life is a circle. Strangely, the word ‘ground’ is just a circle and a space away from ‘go round.’
‘The mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding small.’
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow called this poem Retribution, which suggests a judgemental and punitive God, but I think I would have called it Restoration, as we come from God and are restored to God through the ground.
All of which hasn’t much to do with being grounded, I know, but isn’t it wonderful where a word can lead us?
I hope and pray that you are right to believe that good might come of all this. A friend has said in an email that in spite of the difficulties he can positively enjoy the opportunity of being quiet without constant change and stimulus. Yet this blog comes on the same morning that a news item spoke of the rise in the number of reported cases of domestic violence. Being cooped up alone isn’t easy – but being constantly cooped up with someone who hurts you is permanent pain which most of us can’t (or won’t) imagine.
Refugees and all those in danger from flood, fire, famine or war, who are doubly endangered, have completely disappeared from the news headlines.
And this at a time when we are sharing the last week of the life on earth of Jesus, when the eternal suffering at the heart of God became an event in time.
The Maori understanding of turangawaewae – one’s ‘standing place’ fits in with this idea of grounding. It’s a place to which one should return to gain strength and courage. You stand firm with the marae (meeting place) at your back, from where you gain strength, and that enables you to face the world
Thank you Barbara, I think in the last few weeks I have felt grounded in every way you describe above! A very helpful metaphor to play around with. But also important to reflect as Josie has above, about the very different experiences that people are facing in a time of being ‘grounded’ in whatever sense we take that to mean.
Normally i would love this time of quiet and a chance to collect myself without outside distractions but being isolated with someone who can’t really comprehend the seriousness of the situation and needs a lot of attention without being able to get a break is difficult.
Ruth, this is tough for you indeed. You are in my prayers. It is odd how this situation is so different for different people. Some seem to have more time and are doing all kinds of interesting things; others (like me) are working harder in order to be able to do everything effectively within an online framework, which does not come naturally at all. The thoughts of being grounded are helpful, in the sense of keeping our feet on the ground, keeping calm and steady and having an awareness of the ground beneath our feet and the presence of God within that grounding. I recently bought a pair of Birkenstock shoes (a lovely dusty pink, as you asked!) which make me stand well and give me far more awareness of the solid ground beneath me. It calls for a reflective piece of writing which I may never get around to!
Those shoes sound great! I find I do my best reflective thinking with my feet firmly grounded within a pair of sturdy walking boots, blue sky above me and the wind in my face.
This tallies with some of my recent thoughts and brings to mind a woven panel made to represent the ethos of MWiB, [and which would have had a public airing at Swanwick if we hadn’t had to cancel]. The book you mention is the next one on my reading list. I’m hoping it will add to my thoughts for some ideas for leading quiet days and retreats. It sounds as if it will. thank you.
I’m not sure about the last paragraph. Are you saying that Covid 19 is a punishment from God?
To suggest Covid 19 is a punishment from God is answered by Barbara’s comment ‘surely the reason for our present predicament is within our shared humanity’s neglect of the natural balance and order of the Earth’. This virus was started , despite several warnings, by human negligence – not as punishment from God. The punitive nature of being grounded is surely down to our actual perception of it, for despite everything, as Barbara says, we can still be reassured and fortified by a sense of God being the ‘ground’…in the knowledge that the love and security of Him is always the basis and corner stone, as shown through those who serve Him today.