Come to the manger all you sweet wanderers with disconnected memories and synapses that do not quite link up any more, like frayed cables lashing blindly in the wind. Come and worship the one newly born from and to wholeness. Where your ends do not meet he will find you, somewhere in the middle. All will come flooding back to your heart, if not your mind. Remembering is now done in the stillness of your soul and the integrity of ideas does not matter here.
Come and sit by the crib, all you dear and desperate ones, clinging to difficult pasts or fragments of yourself because it is all you have to go on in the jigsaw of life. The unknowing and the heart-breaking urgency to belong somewhere, anywhere, will come to rest here. This place is your storm harbour, and your safety. Find your identity here, sat on sacred ground, be it cold and stony. He knows who you are, even when you do not.
Come, blessed hearts, to the stable, all you anxious and traumatised, troubled and sobbing. Here is the Prince of your Peace, bring him all you have, the flashbacks and the anger, the deep desire to forgive and forget the terrible. The longing to have a future free from angst. Come weeping and gnashing and find your soothing lullaby here in a cradle of heaven’s heart.
Come near, you beloved, to the soft golden straw, you unsure of your own senses, hearing the voices and the commands of harm and horror. The fog of uncertainty surrounds and taints all things and the promptings are powerful, but here in the love-light you will see the mist clearly dissipate, hear the dark declarations silenced this quiet night. For the Good Shepherd sleeps and softly gurgles here, and you will know his voice as it quells those other tides.
Come now, the cherished, drawn to the light of the candles, you claimed forgotten, clenched and exhausted, abandoned by sleep and joy, left dwelling in dark clouds and unable to feel your way to any happy thought. Despair and disappointment have long been your companions, their constancy too strong to fight and too hard to bear. This is the home of hope, this small and perfect beginning. The glow can start again for us all, the flame rekindled.
Come all you treasured edge-dwellers, to Bethlehem, you precious peerers around corners, you unworthy ones who cringe and cower if someone notices your difference, your bare brokenness. Do not cover your eyes here or hide your shape that appears so unseemly to your skewed vision. Here is the reflection of your true self that is able to look at its image and smile. This tiny form contains you as beloved and acceptance is yours to receive.
We all come, we scarred and smashed, we broken and battered, we weary and wounded. We adored. There is miraculously room for all to gaze and know, in one awestruck moment of seeing, that this baby boy is our centre, the middle of all things, the stone dropped in the centre of the ocean of the universe, rippling out in waves of wonder that will captivate us and draw us in to love.
Here in the UK the next two weeks are when the bluebells are at their best. Before my chronic illness made me housebound, I used to make an annual pilgrimage with a carer and wheelchair to a little copse a few miles away. It meant the world to me to see such beauty, and to breathe in the delicate perfume of the flowers.
It’s been a few years since I was well enough to go, and it makes me very sad. But this year, there are lots more people who are sad that they can’t get to visit woodlands to see one of Britain’s natural wonders.
Moved by that and the Holy Spirit’s prompting, I decided to write an immersive piece to help us all go and see the bluebells. I would love it if you would read and share it, and also, if you would take up my Honeycomb Hermit’s challenge: to fill social media this week with bluebells; paintings, photos, videos and poems. Whatever melts your heart about these wonderful flowers, let’s all celebrate them and their amazing creator together! Please use the hashtag #BluebellChallenge and tag me @HoneycombHermit
You stand for a few moments by the barbed wire on the verge. Little strands of wool have caught here and there and are tugged gently by the fresh spring breeze.
“Come and play,” it seems to be saying, echoing the sentiments of the lambs in the field. Now and then it’s a little chilly, but mostly the sunshine is warm and it makes you feel strangely hopeful for the future.
There is a large oak tree in the middle of the field and most of the sheep are lazing in its shade. A few newborns bound about, chasing one another, calling to their mothers,
“Maaaaaa…maaa” when they turn around sharply and forget in their joy where they are. She anchors them with a lower sound, letting them know she is watching. There are quite a few twins, as always, and some of the braver ones see you, and look wide-eyed in wonder at the strange new creature. The ewes eye you with suspicion, protective of their little ones. They are all well looked after, bales of hay straggling in corners, lush green grass, troughs of rainwater.
You smile at their antics and look further on, gazing at the mauve hills and acres of sweet chestnut woodland behind them, so many colours and curves, so many new leaves. A feast of abundant life.
And for the first time in a long while, you are able to stand and look at the sky. It is always a shock, after a long time indoors, to remember it is there, this great ocean of pale blue, heaven’s canopy, stretching too far for mere human vision to follow. You feel stunned by its grandeur and that it is, like everything holy, just too much to look at for long. You close your eyes and take a deep breath of fresh ozone. You cannot help but smile at the idea that you now have lungs full of sky. The beauty and crispness of it seem to pass into your whole being, as though you too, might be glowing with light.
You stretch, and turn, a little reluctantly, but then remember why you are here. There is another natural wonder waiting for you. You cross the small country lane and head along the dirt path that leads into the copse. Even those first few steps, where the world changes from grass to woodland, are a beautiful transition. The ground ivy and delicate purple violets look up at you, starry-eyed, wondering what you are about, so large and clumsy. And the buttery celandines shimmer seemingly just for you.
The edges of the path are littered with last year’s dead leaves, dried and crunchy, brittle-boned reminders of a season long over. Life is here now, and the tiny buds and green leaves poke out everywhere from stems and stalks that have shot up in joyous abandon. You start, as you see a quick movement off to your right, deeper into the trees. A rabbit perhaps, or a fox? Your heart beats a little faster and you breathe deeply, savouring the moment. There is a magical sense of wonder at being so near God’s creatures. You feel, just for a moment, overwhelmed with gratitude. That you are here, that all is well, that things past are done with.
As if to affirm your delight, a holly blue alights on a wood anemone, a piece of sky that came loose and zig-zagged its way down to earth on spring wings. It looks so perfect as it sups on the nectar of the white flowers. Your instinct is to reach for your phone, to take a photo. But you stop yourself. This is a sacred time and instead you commit the whole thing to memory. A few pictures as you leave perhaps, but not now. The butterfly soars upwards, having shared your life for mere moments, and brightened it immensely. Some people are like that, you think, dazzling with their loving presence. And prayer most certainly is. Entering the woods feels like a pilgrimage you have put off for too long.
And then you turn the corner, and you see them. You cannot help yourself, and gasp.
All about you, at every side, is a carpet of bluebells. A cobalt cloud of witnesses, purpling every inch of ground. The perfume, sweet and mesmerizing, does not cloy, but refreshes more than just your senses. The perfection of the scene is almost too much to bear, after such a long time. No wonder nature only makes this display for one fortnight a year. No-one could take more of this. A few tears fall. You had been holding them in. Maybe they were saved for today.
“Thank you,” you mouth, afraid to break the quiet. And then, heaven, a robin’s song, one chorister in this cathedral of trees, singing out praises you can only dream of articulating. How such a tiny creature can belt out such arias is a mystery. But the woodland is full of the sound, and you can almost hear it sigh, like a hungry belly rounded with delicious food. You look around as the sound gets nearer, and suddenly there it is, sat on the large branch of a fallen tree, right before you, staring at you, and it is as if, for one glorious moment, you are the only two creatures in the world. It stops singing a moment, to consider you better, cocking its head once to either side, and then flies up to a better viewpoint on the next tree along, bursting into a flame of song again, as if to encourage you onwards and give you its approval.
There is no-one else here, and you instinctively take off your shoes and socks, putting them carefully to one side of the nave, walking slowly and purposefully down the path, through the middle of the blooms. It feels so good to connect with God’s earth. The soil is a little dusty, there has not been much rain this year yet. You can feel every tree root and bump in the ground, and it is like coming home.
Everywhere you look, the thin green blades have shot up their fireworks. The blue heads bow, a cavalcade of priests, ringing out their prayers on their campanulae, writing their illuminations on non-scripted hyacinth petals, shaking out more and more incense with every gust of wind. This is truly sacred ground, and you are glad to be here, glad to be present at this service in this chapel of light and shade.
You walk or wheel a little further, go around or over a stile, and then sit smiling on the ground. There is nowhere else you need to be, and for now, you can simply take it all in.
What you experience today you can carry with you to sustain you in difficult times. A rescue kit of memory, the sights and sounds of woodland beauty sink deep into your heart; imprinting themselves on your mind, travelling deep into the refuge of your soul. This is one of those times that exists outside of normality, in some kind of eternal space. You will be able to come back here time and time again by just closing your eyes. The robin sits silent now, having sung his heart out for today, and listens with you to the chanting bluebells, and the soft sighing of the wind. You lean up against a silver birch, and run your hand along its peeling metal. Such treasures all around us. You smile, and breathe deeply, and stay exactly as long as you would like.
“If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.” Romans 14:8 NIV
The world seems fearful right now. Things feel out of our control (because they are). We don’t have any training except in media-hyped panic and we are falling foul of the invitations to hoard and make sure we are marked safe in the war on contagion. Death is fine if we can keep it “over there” somehow, at a distance, like an old woman who lives at the end of the road. We nod at her sometimes, we see her out of the corner of our eye as we run to the next errand, the next appointment, the next job, but we don’t really look, just in case she has something to say. The last thing we want is to be neighbourly with the one whom St Francis called Sister Death.
We Christians have, in the west, been guilty for many years of thinking Jesus is like a kind of spiritual Domestos, that he will kill all the germs and keep us safe and that it is only the poor people abroad in those other, far-flung, not-remotely-like-ours places who will die, hopefully quietly and off camera.
But those of us who have been living in various states of isolation for a long time, those of us who are chronically sick and who have asked Jesus for help and have found him, rarely healing us, but more often climbing down into the plague pit with us, those of us who are well-used to looking death in the face, and finding only a sweet smile, we have some things to say to our fellow disciples who are scared.
You know all those poems you have heard at funerals that tell you your beloved dead are only in the next room? Though they are steeped in metaphor, they are not wrong. You know all those hymns that sing of heaven as a real and glorious place full of praise and light? They are not selling you a lie.
“He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.” Luke 20:38 NIV
Death is a part of life just as Winter is one of the seasons. And Resurrection, just like Spring, is a real and certain living hope.
We all want to carry on living our earthly lives. Though if you are comfortable, you might be surprised at how many of the sick and poor are quite keen on passing through into something better. Death might sometimes be called a doorway or a rebirth, and so it is. But we spend so long avoiding the very thought of it, that such sentiments seem silly and twee, even to some brought up as Christians. We don’t really believe all that hokum, do we, about heaven and that? Somehow, it’s become a bit like believing in Father Christmas, a nice idea but we all know that’s not how things are.
Well, maybe now is a good time to sit with the idea that it’s all true. That this is part of the Good News. Maybe now we might quieten ourselves down and decide whether we really believe what Jesus told us, that we might, if we die, be that very day in Paradise with him. Maybe now is a time to sit and ponder how we might want to live now, if we really believe that we are going home to God when our earthly time is done.
Perhaps then we might be less afraid of dying and more concerned about not having lived for Christ. We all have an opportunity to make this pandemic a turning point in our faith and in our relationship with the Lord at the same time as taking necessary precautions. Maybe we have a little extra time that could be turned to prayer, or to loving our fellow humans and any creatures in need. Maybe we could be a witness to the love of God and the eternal nature of his kingdom by standing firm and sure in our hope of “the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting” that we profess to believe in each time we recite the Apostles’ Creed.
We may have less to lose, and more to gain, than we think.
Image from Pixabay
Keren Dibbens-Wyattis a chronically ill writer and artist with a passion for poetry, mysticism, story and colour. Her writing features regularly on spiritual blogs and in literary journals. Her full-length publications include Garden of God’s Heart and Whale Song: Choosing Life with Jonah. She has a new book, Recital of Love, coming out with Paraclete Press in June 2020. Keren lives in South East England and is mainly housebound by her illness.
I was not going to write a post this week. Honouring the dead with silence seemed more in keeping with the centenary of the end of WW1. Having recently completed a novel about that conflict, the horrors of it are all too fresh in my heart and mind. But, I felt moved to write this. Lest we forget.
I stand on the battlefield, careworn and weary with my own soldiering, sheltering my palmful of treasure. I cannot know the horrors that drench this earth, but I will still stand here with you, shifting the weight of my ignorance from foot to foot, my hand curling around the black dots, waiting for the right moment to release them.
I will keep silence for just this little while, when you have kept it a hundred years. And when I am soaked in the greyness of the clouded sky, and the countless white crosses have floored my heart, I will close my eyes and feel the solidity of the sadness in this land. It rises up through my soles, it tugs childlike at my humanity, it wrenches my gut, it bayonets my heart.
And when that song of your untimely end has pained its way along my living sinews, and shuddered my synapses, and made me remember you, only then will I say, “Lord have mercy,” and throw my poppy seeds into the harsh November wind, that they might be carried like you by chilly winds of chance, and thrown into the mangled mud of no-man’s land, the possibility of red resurrection always there, bright flowers on unmarked graves and trampled terror.
Hello lovely readers! Something a little different this week, as I’ve been too exhausted to organise this AND write a blog post. You are invited to an online art exhibition running for a week to raise awareness for this hideous illness that has stolen 22 years of my life. Artists with M.E. like myself, many of whom are housebound or bedridden, will be contributing pieces over the seven days.
12th May is M.E. awareness day when the M.E. community, our allies, friends, family and carers will be asking why so little is being done to help discover what the cause of the disease is, and what might alleviate or even cure us. We need governments and health services to take us seriously enough to invest in research and support. We need to be seen and heard! One of the campaigns running highlights just how many of us are hidden away, housebound or bedridden, or living half lives, often in a world of one room.
To view the exhibition, click on the link below and then on “Discussion.” Thank you!
There’s a lot of passion on social media, or at least, there’s a lot of anger and indignation, baiting and posturing that seems like political passion. Real passion about an issue is rare. It is recognisable by both its willingness to understand that not everyone agrees, and a determination to persuade, not by belittling or attacking the other “side,” but by telling the truth in a heartfelt way. It is never about personalities. It is not even about the integrity or otherwise of its proponents, because an argument that holds weight knows that people are fallible. It is about facts, it is about the application of those facts, and it is about seeing consequences that reach further than tomorrow.
Let’s take the environment as an example. The key, of course, is vested interests. People who are passionate about profits are going to be argue till they are blue (or possibly orange) in the face that fracking, drilling for oil in national parks and under ice floes, are good for everyone. Because they are good for them. People who are passionate about saving the planet’s ecosystems, husbanding habitats and saving as many species as possible, know that our vested interests are in the consequences of what we do now, and are about generations further down the line. Real passion is never short-sighted enough to think that it is about personal gain.
What does that have to do with our passion for the gospel? Well it means that if we are truly passionate about Christ, about the will of God, we are in it for the long haul, and we are not out for what our ministry can do for us. For this reason, I am usually wary of any ministry named for its founder/s because it isn’t looking far enough ahead, for one thing. If we truly believe that the Kingdom of God is needed on earth, then we will make way for it, we will do every task allotted to us with eternity in mind, not counting the cost. And this, I find, is not a popular teaching.
In a Church that struggles to differentiate itself from either capitalism, far right-wing politics, or both, being anything other than self-seeking is difficult. We tend, in the West, to define counter-cultural church as tithing some of our profit to a developing world charity, so that we can sit in our chrome coffee shop eating chocolate cake with gold leaf on (yes I have seen this, yes I have done this, and felt sick doing it) without feeling any guilt. We paid at the office and that’s that. But this is not to be counter cultural, this is to go along with the feel good “we do our little bit” edge of capitalism that dulls our conscience and tells us that as long as we do a little, all is well. The massive chunks that fall into other pockets don’t then matter. And I am not just talking about money here.
When was the last time you heard a sermon preached on “Even the little you have will be taken away from you?” or on Paul describing apostles (including himself) as “the scum of the earth,”? The theme of seeking out the poor and taking the good news to them, giving away everything to help others, of real altruism in a hoarding world, runs through the Gospels like Brighton through rock. It’s so plain that we are trying really, really hard if we miss it.
And yes, it turns out that this is something I’m really passionate about! I think that God puts on our hearts, issues we want to shout out about, and people that we want to help. I think these things that make our blood rise and our hearts beat faster are inscribed on our spiritual innards, and if we ignore them or push them away, we might be missing part of our calling.
Courses and books that help us discern God’s will for our lives are always popular, and yet, it is looking at what makes you passionate that will most likely give you the best clue to your ministry, to the difference you could make in this life that you might ever get.
I’m not much of a fan of blatant spiritual warfare. At least, not the “sound the trumpets, cast the nasties out IN THE NAME OF JESUS, do I hear an amen?” kind of thing. The last time anyone tried that near us, Rowan’s new t-shirt got covered in anointing oil and was ruined. He was quite annoyed that it didn’t come out in the wash. We think it was Mazola. But anyway…I’ve really always done my warfare by standing and resisting. It makes more sense to me. Yes, there are times when we have to be a bit more hands on and actively chase something away. But I find that most of the time, we are on far firmer ground by being quietly confident in our God, and indeed, in knowing exactly where we are standing, rather than trying to claim any more territory.
When the Moabites and Ammonites sent a vast army against him, King Jehoshophat did not jump, contrary to popular belief, nor did he wonder what he had done to anger a bunch of old fossils, but he enquired of the Lord. God spoke by his Spirit through a chap called Jahaziel:
“This is what the Lord says to you: ‘Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s. Tomorrow march down against them. They will be climbing up by the Pass of Ziz, and you will find them at the end of the gorge in the Desert of Jeruel. You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you, Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the Lord will be with you.’” (2 Chronicles 20: 15-17 NIV)
And of course, he was.
This is a pattern that we see over and over again in the Old Testament, and perhaps unsurprisingly, brilliant bible scholar Paul is also fond of the instruction to stand firm and let God do the fighting. Ephesians 6:13 is one of the best examples, leading into the wonderful description we all know of the armour of God:
“Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.”
There have been times in intercession, where I have felt led to stamp my feet hard on the ground as I’ve prayed, and I felt the power in this. It is always Spirit-led, and feels almost like a Maori Haka, the pre-battle dance that is more associated these days with international rugby. But in prayer at least, it is a taking of a stance, it says, “this is the line in the sand, and you will not cross it.” I know it might all sound a bit Gandalf (You shall not pass!) but it really does feel of the kingdom. We do not flee, the devil does that, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4: 7 partial NIV). We stand our ground. We know our footing. We have built our house on rock, and we are going nowhere.
Sometimes, in spiritual warfare, we do need to slip away quietly from our enemies, as Jesus did to keep God’s timing right, or we might need him to find us an escape route. But, more often than not, we do not run in, like Peter did just that once, with swords drawn, we simply hold the ground on which we stand, and are all the stronger for it.
One of the problems with the internet, and especially social media, is that there isn’t a lot of room to say anything. Tweets are limited to 140 characters and are just glorified soundbites, tiny excerpts, or very small doorways into very small presidential minds. Facebook now diminishes your font if you go over the same quota, and it isn’t very long before you hit the limit that means readers will have to click on the dreaded “see more,” and of course, most won’t bother.
Emails are meant to be concise and so blogs are perhaps the last bastion of real writing on the net. But writers are even encouraged to keep these short, for fear of losing the attention of those all-important followers. Have you noticed, as well, that “articles” in online newspapers barely deserve the word, being, quite often two or three hundred words spliced here and there by adverts?
Is it any wonder then, that the attention spans of the young, trained to talk in predictive text, are shrinking, and that they can, often, barely get the words out? Is it a surprise that they struggle to express themselves? I know full well that the main reason I can form a long sentence (oh yes, I hear you cry, we know you can do that alright!) is because I’ve always been a reader. You don’t become a writer, certainly not a half-decent one, without a passion for reading.
What has this to do with Lakelight? Well, it has to do with our heart for God’s Word and for saying what needs to be said. It has to do with a whole ethos which is not about counting anything except maybe blessings. Because God’s outpourings are generous and abundant. I’ve been a very sick woman for the last twenty years, and yet, God has been pouring out stories and seeings, pictures and prayers through me that arrive in such torrents I don’t think I’ll ever get them all written out even if I live to be a hundred. And when I tentatively suggest to him that I’ve probably got enough to keep me going now, he opens up his storehouses and his magnanimous heart, and gives me even more!
Truly, my cup runneth over. Not with worldly things, possessions, influence, health or money, that’s true. But spiritually and in the world of words and art, I often sense that living water, that wellspring that Jesus said would flow out of a person’s “koilia” (John 7: 38) meaning inner place, belly, soul or even womb, is constantly rising. I’ve not had children, but I am having books, and I mean to give them all the space they need.
The same goes for how much time is given. I was in a church once where the edict was pronounced that people were to have ten minutes maximum in ministry time, because it was taking too long. If you need longer than that, we were told, then you have a bigger problem than we can deal with in prayer and we’ll have to arrange a longer session outside of the service. Quite how that longer time was going to be given was not discussed. I was rather horrified. Not because I ever took that long when I was well enough to stay for prayer ministry, but because putting time limits on God and on people’s needs is just wrong. So is assuming you know what God can do with very little. I’m all for guidelines on sermon lengths, believe me, because some of them would have trouble being condensed to 140 characters of any real meaning, and others are wonderful and need to be expanded into a series. But measuring out ministry?
With God, things take as long as they take. They are as big or small, as wide or tall as they need to be. Yes, we’re human and we have schedules. Nobody wants to read a blog the length of a novel, and those of us blessed to be able to get to church on a Sunday morning want to be home in time to get the roast in the oven. That’s understood. But within all of that there needs to be leeway, flexibility, openness. It’s okay to take time to say what you have to say. It’s okay to need more than a paragraph to pour out your heart. It’s good to feel heard and valued, and to experience and give out ministry without it feeling like a conveyor belt of neediness. It’s good to give God space to be generous. In my experience, when we do that, we may be flooded with blessings.
Leading from vulnerability does not usually take place on vast stages, from perfect PowerPoint presentations or from starting with an MBA. Only TED, where what is said is understood to be more important than how it is said, might be a worldly exception to this. But in the body of Christ, leading from vulnerability looks like smallness and suffering and the sharing of bread and delight in the Lord. It does not set itself impossibly high standards which it then fails to live up to, bringing the whole edifice crashing down. It sits with you, laughs with you, cries with you, and tells you about the time it sat in a deep, dark hole, to which it occasionally has to return. Spotlights are entirely absent.
Everyone in “leadership” makes mistakes, lots of them. Here at Lakelight, in so far as we are any kind of leaders at all, we want to be able to lean on you too, and admit our failings and ask for help, to be more facilitators than podium hoggers. Hold us to that, will you, please?
I saw a trailer for a Christian conference on leadership this week and it made me feel physically sick. The words “influence” “management culture” and “productivity” were used and seemed to sum up where the focus of the teaching would be, and I did not see or hear the word “God,” or even “Jesus” once.
Now, I can understand people in church leadership wanting to be good at what they do, to manage their churches and congregations well, to serve them better. There’s some healthy motivation in there somewhere. But everything about that is upside down. Churches have become businesses that need strategies, financing and management. This is a systematic failure and not one of leaders’ hearts. But teaching like this only reinforces this idea of Church as a business model, with a need for growth and targets.
We need change, and we need it to come from the ground up. Like Francis, we need to rebuild the Church. Lots of people are saying this, I’m sure. The body of Christ is an organism, not a franchise. Its needs are therefore organic, and more to do with living water and breaking bread than they are with commercial enterprise. We are necessarily a bit chaotic and vibrant, full of a Spirit who is unpin-downable and who moves mysteriously. We are not a chrome cappuccino machine, we are a cracked and leaky teapot, of more sentimental value than monetary worth. This is automatically attractive to a broken world, which does not need more shine, but more connection.
We need to come back to our roots, to stand with bare feet on the ground, hugging the earth with our soles, digging in to the mud of the ordinary with our toes, so that humility is always our foothold and our imprint.
Recently on Facebook I put my status as “Fed up” and added a picture of Grumpy the dwarf from Snow White. What I really wanted to say was that I was feeling heartbroken, depressed, and really missing my parents whom I haven’t seen for six months since they moved to Worcestershire. But social media just isn’t the place for vulnerability, is it? It seems too harsh a place to be real about emotions, as though your heart might just as well be sat on a stainless steel tray under bright lights and prodded by various scalpels wielded by unseen hands. But can we, as Christians, afford to be anything but real? Isn’t time (hasn’t it always been time?) to talk about depression, sickness, mental and physical suffering, poverty, trials and all other kinds of genuine difficulties that many of us face, some of us every day?
It’s not that I’m against a bit of decorum, and we do have to be careful to whom we tell our problems, since not everyone is sympathetic, and words can come out oddly and be taken badly on screen (especially when we are low), it’s just that, well, I wish I could have been a bit more real the other day with my friends. But I genuinely didn’t know how, without looking like I was fishing for sympathy. The truth is, I could have done with some. And maybe the people who would have looked askance at that and passed on by are not really my friends at all.
One of the things I want both Christians and non-Christians to receive from our ministry here at Lakelight is the understanding that living out a life of faith is not all joy and wonder, and that this is okay. A lot of it is, of course, and a lot of that lifting your hands in the air in sheer awe and happiness is perfectly genuine. But we can be in danger of making an idol out of happiness, and also in turn, of making worship all about us, and how it makes us feel.
We can also put ourselves in a position where we are afraid to admit that we are having a bad day, or that we are feeling rubbish, put upon, down, upset, burdened, lonely, weary, or any of the other totally normal human things that we’ve classed as negative. When we do feel those things, there are reasons why. There is absolutely nothing to judge. And yet we do. More often than not, the happy-clappy-let-me-deliver-you-from-the-evil-of-sadness, “turn that frown upside down” brigade exists only in my head and makes me feel guilty for feeling down without any extra help. But when it comes from outside, oh boy does that make me mad!
If you are ever worried that you are not a “good” Christian because you are suffering a bout of depression (whether clinical or not), just take a good look at the Psalms, or the book of Job. It doesn’t get any more heartrendingly real than these writings from centuries ago.
“All night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears. My eyes grow weak with sorrow; they fail because of all my foes.” Psalm 6:6-7
How’s that for a Facebook status? Well, okay, so it’s not wise to share all our woes with lots of people all in one go. Yesterday I shared mine with a dear friend, albeit also over the internet as being housebound means I couldn’t quite get to Vancouver, but it helped a lot. And we really ought to be able to say when we are struggling without fear of reproach. That is absolutely going to be part of our approach here at the Sanctuary. In fact, we will be talking a lot about suffering, because it is such a huge part of both life and faith. And if you are feeling down as you are reading this, or are overwhelmed by one problem or many, you have our empathy and solidarity. You are normal, and you are not alone.
Sadly we don’t have the resources to offer one-to-one help. If you need to talk to someone, in the UK please call the Samaritans: 116 123 or go to http://www.samaritans.org