The Pioneer Gift – a love story

I really like the film ‘Sense and Sensibility’ and must have watched it a million times! What I find fascinating about it is the different approach to love that the two Dashwood sisters Eleanor and Marianne adopt. Hence the title. One seems very sensible and level-headed, yet nurses a secret hope. The other is passionate, romantic and indiscreet, almost allowing herself to be destroyed by betrayal and rejection. I resonate with this story so much because I see the two sides of myself represented in these characters. As Marianne asks throughout the film, ‘is love a fancy or a feeling?’

As you have seen from my previous blog, I have been reflecting on the relational dynamic between the pioneer and the institution. I had a great conversation this week with a friend and she really helped me to see that the issue at the heart of what often goes wrong is trust. But why does trust break down to be replaced by control? On reflection, I think it comes down to fear. The institution fears losing what it has and feels threatened by the critique of those who see new possibilities. Yet I am reminded of these words of Jesus, “For whoever wills to save his life will lose it and whoever will lose his life for me will find it.” (Matt 16:25) This seems equally true for institutions, as well as individuals. By seeking to maintain the status quo and go for the safe, tried and tested model of growth, organisations can become irrelevant and their fear of loss actually becomes reality.

So what is the antidote to fear? Well, the Bible is clear on this too, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18) And what is love? Yes, “Love is patient and kind and keeps no record of wrong.” However it also, “does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but delights in the truth.” I wonder if pioneers are misunderstood because when we think of love we only remember the first part of 1 Corinthians 13. Yet, as the passage continues, there is another way to express love. And that is to say the difficult, truthful things no one else is honest and brave enough to say.

I love like this not because I want to wound or destroy, but the exact opposite. I want the best for those I care about most. I love enough to be unpopular. I love enough for my intentions to be misconstrued. I love enough to be excluded and humiliated. However, there comes a point when I also love enough for the consequences of poor decision-making and misdirected strategy to come to pass and I love myself enough to say no more.

In addition, I love God enough to create the new thing without it benefitting the institution. “Is love a fancy, or a feeling? No. It is immortal as immaculate Truth.” So, neither is love dead. “It is my love’s being yet it cannot die, Nor will it change, though all be changed beside; Though fairest beauty be no longer fair, Though vows be false, and faith itself deny, Though sharp enjoyment be a suicide, And hope a spectre in a ruin bare.”* Love will always remain and, even though I choose a different path, be assured I continue to grieve the loss just as keenly.

*Sonnet VII by Hartley Coleridge

The Pioneer Gift – A fairy tale

Sanguine Pelican – Lino cut print by Fuchsia Voremberg from 2021 Moon Calendar produced by Simone Kay and Lewis Kay-Thatcher

I’ve been reflecting on the relationship between pioneers and the institution and what goes wrong. This story came to me which explores this dynamic. It is just my imaginings and I’m sure you will find different ways to interpret it.

Once upon a time there was a handsome prince who would one day become king. He looked at his father’s kingdom, and while there was much that was good and holy, he could see how things could be done so much better in order to generate even more beauty and creativity in the world.

On the birthday he came of age, the king showed his love and pride in him by granting him enough power to begin creating the better world he could see so clearly in his mind’s eye. On that same day, the wise woman who lived in the woods gave him a special birthday gift. It was a fire bird with the most striking red plumage who always sang the truth. When the bird flew, she sang her prophetic song and new life would spring up in what looked like dead and desolate land. Yet the bird could only be seen by the prince and the wise woman. Everyone else was unaware of the significance of the gift he had been given.

So the prince set about turning his dreams into reality. Together with the fire bird, he explored forgotten bits of the kingdom bringing healing and restoration to places that had been ravaged by war and famine. Regularly the prince purposefully strode out from the palace with the bird on his wrist. And when he released her to fly, a spirit of hope, joy and new possibility was let loose in his father’s land.

As word of the success of the prince’s endeavour began to spread, the king became concerned that he would not be able to keep up this rapid growth and transformation. So he begged his son to take a wife to share the work with him in order that he wouldn’t be overwhelmed and become discouraged. For a while the son was able to resist the increasingly persistent concerns of his father. But, eventually, he too became persuaded that he needed help to achieve all he believed was possible.

The prince took a wife and together they began to build in the places which needed reconstruction. They worked hard and buildings went up, rivers were redirected and barren fields began to sprout crops. Things were going so well and he enjoyed co-labouring with his new wife so much, he clipped the wings of the fire bird. No longer did he need her help to do the resurrection work they had started together and he didn’t want her to fly too far without him. Yet despite grief and frustration, she continued to go ahead, as far as she was able. And there were times newness sprang up in unexpected places.

However, the prince did not really like this. He wanted his and his wife’s endeavour to prosper without the assistance of the fire bird. He knew the places that should be rebuilt and wanted just him and his wife to be responsible for this amazing turnaround in the fortunes of his father’s kingdom. He no longer enjoyed the assistance and companionship of his gift and began to resent the influence of such a small and insignificant creature on his grand plan. So, to curtail her activity further, he locked her in the castle.

Here too the fire bird flew around and tried to bring her gift. But she could only sing the truth. Once her song had been one of love and hope for the future. Now it was shrill and critical of the prince and his wife. The prince took to throwing stones at the bird when he caught sight of her and covering his ears to block out the song which was increasingly desperate and rage inducing.

Finally, he decided this situation could not go on. He set a trap to catch the bird, put her in a cage and covered it with a cloth. The bird grew silent. She could no longer see the sky and bring her gift to anyone or anything. There was no way out and she lay at the bottom of the cage waiting for a different kind of release, the freedom of death.

Then one day the wise woman came out of the woods to see what the prince had been able to achieve with his vision and the gift he had been given. She was impressed. There was life and energy in places where previously there had only been devastation. However, she also began to notice something else. It wasn’t so much who was present and engaged in communal life, but those that were missing; the uneducated, the poor, the sick and there was a lack of diversity of age, colour and tribal identity. The wise woman was confused. She knew this wasn’t the fruit of her gift!

She sought out the prince and found him hard at work with his wife and the others he had recruited to his cause. They were doing good work, but she was surprised that there was no sign of the fire bird. The purpose of her gift had been to make the work easier and more joyful. Yet he had chosen the harder road, which at the same time appeared to the king and his subjects the most obvious and sensible one.

She asked what had become of her gift and he began to curse her for giving it to him. He went back to the castle retrieved the cage and threw it at the wise woman in disgust. She picked up the cage and at the sight of her the bird began to stir and find her voice. The wise woman uttered an incantation and instantly new feathers grew. The bird began to flap around her cage. The wise woman opened the door and set the fire bird free.

The scarlet songstress soared high up into the broad expanse of blue sky. Once more she could bring the gift of her song and release divine resurrection power in the world. Never again would she let a prince, or anyone else, silence her and she lived happily ever after.

Redemption and penalty shoot-outs


On Monday I finished a 6000 word paper on shame. I’ll be presenting this at a conference called ‘When Woman Speak’ in Melbourne on 15th-18th August. Obviously, it’s a huge honour, as well as being vaguely terrifying! In it, I decided to focus on how to find healing from shame. However, following England’s first ever successful penalty shoot-out in a football cup competition, I may have to slightly re-work my conclusion.

For some time now, I’ve come to think of my shame as a stone. A huge rock that when I’ve stepped out in courage and vulnerability has come crashing down, threatening to crush me entirely. I picture it having fallen on me as if I were a healthy and verdant plant, with a stone now lodged at it’s core. Because it didn’t kill me, or completely destroy me. In fact, over the years, I’ve grown to accommodate the stone and have continued to flourish and put out new shoots in spite of it. Yet there are moments when the pain, disappointment and rejection that the stone represents gets triggered all over again, and I’m re-shamed or right back in, what Jill McNish calls, “the godless vortex.” (Transforming Shame: A Pastoral Response, p.143)

So, as I embarked on my paper and, at the same time, found myself back in that wasteland of hopelessness and desolation, I told God I could not live with the stone anymore and I needed to find a way to be rid of it once and for all. One of the ways I thought this might be possible, was to reframe the story I tell myself in order to make sense of the shame I’ve experienced. But, I guess I’ve always struggled with this idea because it seems a bit forced or artificial. I concluded, therefore, that maybe what I needed was some profound divine encounter to heal me from shame. I have a good friend who has written a wonderful and encouraging testimony of how God has done just that! I’m totally thrilled for her and can see the amazing transformation that has been brought about as a result of God’s healing. However, that is her story and not mine.

Then, I thought, well maybe this reframing of my story just happens naturally over time. I’ve observed how already when I recount previous life events what I include and leave out changes. Some things no longer seem relevant at all and other incidents take on new meaning given the unexpected or surprising twists our life journeys take. When, on Tuesday, I was presented with a modern day parable.

The England football team, managed by Gareth Southgate, who’d failed to score the penalty that knocked England out of Euro ’96, were once again confronted with their nemesis – the dreaded penalty shoot out. In the weeks leading up to the game, there has not been a press interview or article that has not reminded us of past failure and disappointment. And actually, in that moment, as Harry Kane stepped up to take the first spot kick after extra time, I wondered if perhaps we had to hold our nerve, face our collective fear and come out the other side having finally broken the ‘hoodoo’. A nation held it’s breath, and we came through victorious! But what I found remarkable, was not only that due to his previous experience Gareth Southgate was able to show such empathy to the young Columbian player who missed his penalty, but that he’d said to his players, “you do not have to be defined by the past, we write our own stories.”

Rather, then, than expecting the stone to be removed, I think I will decorate it and turn it into a thing of beauty. For, maybe, I need to accept that shame will always be a part of my story. But by acknowledging it and redeeming it, I believe I can now move beyond it into a brighter and braver future.

Mission is…


the eternal heartbeat at the centre of the universe.
the rhythm of an unparalleled love with no end and no beginning.
Longing to reach us,
to touch us,
to impress the truth upon us –
we are free to be the unique person we truly are.
We are loved and acceptable.
That’s it.
End of.
No qualification or exemptions.
No need for a constant desire to please.
No fear that we don’t quite measure up,
No exhausting battle to keep up a pretence and conceal the weakness, jealousy and rage.
A persistent anxiety that we might not have done enough,
the nagging doubt that we’re just ordinary and maybe don’t even deserve to be seen.
Yet even more than this,
we are celebrated for who we are!

The Creator gazes on us as a mother looks upon her newborn baby.
The Divine Spirit whispers an endless stream of love, encouragement and affirmation.
We spark interest and bring joy to the Redeemer and Liberator of humankind.
But we don’t see, hear or perceive.
We’re blinded by disappointment,
Made deaf by grief and betrayal,
Our perceptions are distorted by fickle friendship and past experiences of conditional love.

Yet some of us have glimpsed a different reality.
A place where when we’re lonely and on the edge, we are welcomed into community,
when we feel vulnerable and broken, we are protected and shown compassion,
when we’re in need, we are given what we lack,
when voiceless we’re provided with opportunities to speak,
when powerless offered space to exercise our gifts and express creativity.
It’s also where all living things are respected and considered of value.

Yes we continue to make mistakes,
the wounds are still very much part of our story,
we remain capable of causing immense pain to others, as well as ourselves.
But we seek to grow in self awareness,
confidence to admit our folly,
and a willingness to trust relationships are strong enough to ask for forgiveness.
We feel inspired to go and see where the Sacred is already at work,
join in with their transforming activity,
find the meaning and purpose for our lives,
by revealing a vision of what the Divine intended,
even before the first atoms collided,
and which we look forward to as our eternal inheritance.

28 October 2017

Advent Reflection

2011_0118MayMerrie0067
Call to worship

When the world was dark
and the city was quiet,
you came.

You crept in beside us.
And no one knew.
Only the few
who dared to believe
that God might do something different.

Will you do the same this Christmas, Lord?

Will you come into the darkness of tonight’s world;
not the friendly darkness
as when sleep rescues us from tiredness,
but the fearful darkness,
in which people have stopped believing
that war will end
or that food will come
or that a government will change
or that the Church cares?

Will you come into that darkness
and do something different
to save your people from death and despair?

Will you come into the quietness of this town,
not the friendly quietness
as when lovers hold hands,
but the fearful silence when
the phone has not rung
the letter has not come,
the friendly voice no longer speaks,
the doctor’s face says it all?

Will you come into that darkness,
and do something different,
not to distract, but to embrace your people?

And will you come into the dark corners
and the quiet places of our lives?

We ask this not because we are guilt-ridden
or want to be,
but because the fullness our lives long for
depends upon us being as open and vulnerable to you
as you were to us,
when you came,
wearing no more than diapers,
and trusting human hands
to hold their maker.

Will you come into our lives,
if we open them to you
and do something different?

When the world was dark
and the city was quiet
you came.
You crept in beside us.
Do the same this Christmas, Lord.
Do the same this Christmas.
Amen.

Cloth for the Cradle, Iona Community

Invocation

Light looked down
and saw darkness.
“I will go there,” said Light.

Peace looked down
and saw war.
“I will go there,” said Peace.

Love looked down
and saw hatred.
“I will go there,” said Love.

So
the Lord of Light
the Prince of Peace
the King of Love
came down
and crept in
beside us.

Benediction

“Light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it,”
proclaims the ancient word;
light stands firm against the dark landscape of reality,
warmth prances in rooms too long drafty.
Each of us holding a flickering candle;
seemingly insignificant one by one, yet magnificent when held together.
Each of us making a choice to stand in the light;
proclaiming the indisputable presence of unquenchable light.
Light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it.

Flash Fiction – Incineration

Bonfire

One of the values of Sacred Space Kingston is creativity and story telling. A member of our community, Denise Dale, has been attending a creative writing course and we wanted to share one of her recent stories. Be warned, it’s a murder mystery and a bit gruesome! So please don’t read if you are of a nervous disposition. However, it’s a well written and engaging tale, so we hope you enjoy it. Thank you Denise for being willing to post it.

Ray remembered sweeping her up into his arms and swinging her round, laughing together. It felt like they were the only two people in the world.

Driving home he recounted their first date. Ray had admired her from afar for months and had asked a mutual friend to introduce them. They hit it off straight away and talked and laughed all evening. Ray knew then that she was the one for him. He didn’t want anyone else, Lucy was his soul-mate.



“Fancy a spin on the motorbike Lucy? I know a stunning secluded beech where we can take a picnic”.



“That sounds wonderful Ray”.
They packed a cool box full of food and wine and off they rode. Lucy was used to riding pillion and leaning over at just the right time. Today however as Ray took a corner somehow the bike skidded and went over. It landed on Lucy’s leg. Lucy was in hospital for a number of weeks and had to have a plate fitted.



Today, a year after their first date, they were meeting for lunch in their favourite restaurant and Ray was planning to propose to Lucy; he’d bought the ring last week but hadn’t plucked up the courage to ask her yet. After lunch they drove to the nearby woodlands where he was planning to propose to her by the lake.



“Ray I have something I need to talk to you about”.
“Me too, you go first though”.



“It isn’t good news – Craig and I have been seeing each other recently, it started off as friends, however, we discovered we have feelings for each other and I am in love with him. I am so sorry Ray I know this must come as a shock. I do still care for you though, I’m just not in love with you anymore.”



“Ray was stunned, he hadn’t seen this coming.



“Well maybe it’s infactuation Lucy not love. I love you Lucy we belong together.”

“I am sorry Ray but it’s over.”



“I am going to see him now but I wanted to see you first and tell you in person, it felt the best thing to do.”



“Goodbye Ray”. She leant forward and gave him a peck on the cheek and turned to go.



Returning home he cleaned the car, took a shower and began lighting a bonfire in the garden.



That night his sleep was disturbed with dreams of happy times with Lucy mixed with their final hours earlier that day, when she told him it was over and she was in love with Craig.

The next morning he heard his Mum shouting up the stairs.

“Ray, phone call for you. It’s Lucy’s Mum”



“Ray do you know where Lucy is? She didn’t come home last night and I know you met her for lunch yesterday. She’s not answering her mobile and I’m worried sick.”



“She told me she was going to see Craig, have you contacted him?”



“Yes, he says she didn’t show up. If she contacts you can you let me know? If I haven’t heard by noon I’m ringing the police.”



“Yep will do”. Ray’s heart was pounding and his mind racing.

He drove to the woods where he had been with Lucy yesterday. “Please be here, please be here”. He saw her pink leather handbag and picked it up. He began recalling the events of the previous day….



“Hello anyone at home?” he sighed with relief when no-one answered. He went to the bathroom, washed his hands and picked up his Dad’s keys to crematorium, which he knew would be closed today.



There were plenty of coffins in the room each containing a dead body. He couldn’t fit her whole body in with some-one else, he would have to cut her up and divide her into several coffins.



“I had to do this Lucy; I couldn’t let any-one else have you, you belong to me. Craig wasn’t your type he wouldn’t have made you happy like I would.”



He laid her body on the floor. He picked up the axe and began dismembering her body.



“I remember how these arms used to hold me so tenderly”. He said picking up her left arm, removing her bracelet, watch and rings. Holding her ring finger in his hand he said softly,



“I was going to propose to you Lucy by the lake, I had it planned; I know you would have said yes” Taking the engagement ring out of his pocket he placed it on her finger. “You are mine forever”.



The axe was sharp so it was easier than he had expected to cut off her legs and head.



Using the casket key to open each coffin he slowly and carefully arranged each small body part in a selection of coffins, holding his breath as the stench hit his nostrils.



“I loved every part of you Lucy – I will never forget you. This day could’ve turned out so differently if you had stayed with me.” 




Ray turned the key on the final coffin “Goodbye darling I’m sure we’ll meet again some day”.



“Ray you’ve not eaten much tonight are you OK?”



“Yes Mum I’m fine”.



“How was your day Dad?” he said trying to change the subject.



“Well, a strange thing happened. We were burning up old Mr Parker and found a metal plate amongst the ashes”. “His family were adamant that he’d never had anything taken away or added. So it’s a mystery where they came from.”



Ray smiled at his parents nervously, hoping his parents weren’t joining up the dots.

The doorbell rang and Ray’s heart started beating fast and his hands felt clammy.



“I’ll go” said Ray’s Dad.



“Ray it’s for you – it’s the police”. 


Denise Dale has asserted her right to be identified as the author of this Work in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

My Secret Garden

mary lennox2

Once upon a time there was a handsome man and a beautiful woman. They loved each other and they loved God and the woman longed for a baby girl to share this love with. The daughter she imagined would have warm hazel eyes, soft brown curly hair and a mild, sweet and kind disposition. She would dress her in pretty dresses and everyone would envy the love the little girl had for her. Then one day she got her wish and she gave birth to a girl. But oh no something had gone wrong! Her eyes were almost black and her hair was straight and definitely red! Worse was to come. This child would not do exactly what she was told! She didn’t want to wear the pretty dresses that had been prescribed for her and when they went for a walk she wouldn’t go the way the beautiful woman wanted.

So they each reached out to the handsome man to help them, but he was wrestling with his own demons. When he wasn’t working for God or for man, he would come home and be gripped by the most fearful rages that terrified them both. Once he calmed down he would be filled with such hopelessness and despair that it was like a black hole at the core of his being that threatened to suck him and everyone around him in to certain oblivion. So the little girl tried her best to do what the beautiful woman wanted and she was quite good at it most of the time. That was until sooner or later some disappointment or injustice would come along and cause her to vent her frustration and lose her temper. Then she would be called a ‘little madam’, ‘contrary’ or ‘just like her father’.

As she grew the little girl learned that not only did she have to try and do what the beautiful woman wanted but there was God to obey. She soon discovered that there were things she was not supposed to do because she was a girl and later there were expectations of being a godly wife and then good mother to live up to. And she realised that no matter how hard she tried and how hard she prayed, she would always mess up and then just like her father, the black hole would threaten to engulf her. Then one day God showed her that she was contrary because she saw things differently and He was calling her to other people who found it difficult to be what was expected of them. But this brought criticism from those she looked to for approval and she was scared that the black hole would become so powerful it would harm those she loved most.

It was hard work trying to be faithful to what God had called her to and protecting everyone from the worst of herself. But then one day, on a trip to the seaside, God reminded her that He created the whole universe with all its beauty and diversity, colour and creativity out of blackness, out of a void. She remembered the story of a difficult and misunderstood little girl who made friends with a robin and brought to life a secret garden where miracles could happen and healing could come. As she looked up at the stars God said to the girl, who was now a woman, “You do that, with my help. You do not have a black hole at the heart of who you are, actually there is a garden. I created the earth to be a garden, I was betrayed in a garden but was revealed alive and victorious over death in a garden. My precious, precious child, meet me in the garden.”

Leadership as love

helping-others
What makes a good leader? Well I’m not sure I either know or care! Rather, I want to be a godly leader, one that emulates Christ. Jesus said nothing about church but had challenging words on leadership. “Kings like to throw their weight around and people in authority like to give themselves fancy titles. It’s not going to be that way with you. Let the senior among you become like the junior; let the leader act the part of the servant. Who would you rather be: the one who eats the dinner or the one who serves the dinner? You’d rather eat and be served, right? But I’ve taken my place amongst you as the one who serves.” (Luke 22, verses 25-27, The Message)

I have come to the conclusion that it is very difficult to be a godly leader in the Church and Christian organisations. The patriarchal hierarchies that have been created too closely resemble the values of the world rather than the Kingdom of God. Yet I still believe leadership can be a good thing and that some structure is necessary to effectively realise the divine vision we have been entrusted with. How then do we work efficiently but stay true to the model of leadership Christ adopted?

Firstly, we need to listen. I grew up being told I have two ears and one mouth in order to listen twice as much as speaking and offering an opinion! I recently went to a gathering of members of a Christian organisation and practitioners on the ground patiently and politely listened as director after director outlined their targets and the successes they’ve had in meeting these goals. However, when it was time for the workers to present what they were engaged in and the lessons they’d learnt from their practice, every one of the directors had left. Presumably their time was too precious, their tasks too pressing! I’m being harsh. I know some of them had good reason not to stay. But it still sends a subtle message about who is more important and whose work is of greater value.

Secondly, we all have part of the wisdom. Despite God conferring authority for leadership on a few, this does not mean they have a monopoly on sound judgement and revelation. As leaders are we respecting the opinions and experience of others to teach us and to change us, even when that makes us feel uncomfortable and highlights an area where we fall short of Christ’s example? There needs to be room for dissent to be aired and evaluated without blame and defensiveness, for, “we are to confess our sins to one another and pray for each other that we may be healed.” (James 5:16)

Thirdly, leadership wants the best for others. I am most concerned that my friends and co-workers in the community I am a part of, be all that I know they can be. I get so much more enjoyment and fulfillment from seeing others grow in confidence and maturity as they do the unique work God has called them to than I get for any of my own achievements and accomplishments.

Fourthly, leadership involves sacrifice. Jesus called his followers friends and was prepared to lay down his life for them. I love my friends but love causes pain either because we hurt and misunderstand one another or we see others suffering and feel powerless to alleviate their distress. Also, as always seems to be true of God’s ways, true leaders are not actually the ones at the head of the Church or organisation! My husband still has a very junior role in his workplace, yet he is known by everyone from the highest paid media star to the canteen staff as the go to man for compassion and advocacy that leads to justice. I hate that he is not properly acknowledged and rewarded for his tireless effort on behalf of others. Yet I know the trust and respect of his colleagues outweighs the frustration at his lack of promotion within the structure. And this, for me, is the essence of godly leadership. Success is depth and authenticity of relationship. In Kingdom terms then, leadership is love.

The hope of a new day dawning

When we are in the dark, the temptation is to put on an artificial light to illuminate our way and make us feel better. However, to do this before the blackness has taught us all we need to learn may mean missing out on wisdom we’ll need for the rest of our journey. Putting on a light might be literal. A friend responded to my last blog by telling me how when she was awake in the night with all her worries and fears looming large in her mind, she instinctively put on the bedside lamp, but then chose to turn it off again. When she did so, she realised the new day had dawned and it was actually naturally light again outside. She says of this experience, “I was reminded, if we don’t let the darkness fall how can we see the dawn when it comes? Trusting the process of the dark seems in some ways like giving in to circumstances, to me it seems like that anyway. And I’m scared, to be honest terrified. Can I really trust an unseen God whose ‘church’ has so often been so hurtful? But I really want to trust Love, the God of love.”

Other ways in which I’ve become aware of turning on the light is to immerse myself in busyness. I can keep darkness at bay by allowing no time to let it in. I can kid myself that all is well, I’m loved and productive all the time I’m doing worthy things for God and for others. Yet, I’m a human being not a human doing. Intellectually I know that I am valued because I’m made in the image of God. But I still try to earn approval and justify my existence with constant activity in Her name. How else do we rely upon artificial illumination to make ourselves feel better? Dare I suggest that upbeat, charismatic-style worship could offer a similar means of avoiding the reality of disappointment and confusion when what we’ve been led to believe about faith does not tally with our experience of life? Can church become an unreal bubble where we pretend that the Bible is literally true and prayer always works when in our day to day lives we are struggling to come to terms with relationship breakdown, childlessness, redundancy, bereavement, terminal illness, and countless other symptons of a world that is not exactly the way God intended it to be?

However, this week I have been reminded that it was out of blackness and a nothingness void that God created all that is good, beautiful and wonderful in the universe. It was also out of the darkness of the tomb where Christ’s broken body was laid that death was finally defeated and new, everlasting life became possible. God comes alongside us in the darkness, but He doesn’t leave us there forever. If we are brave enough to sit and wait, She will, “bestow upon us a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” (Isaiah 61: 3) For joy does indeed come in the morning.

A new appreciation of the dark

Some people think me odd. This is because I don’t much like being in the country. I have good reason, though. I get hayfever, grass literally gets up my nose! If I walk too fast, asthma is the result and I struggle for breath. And at night it’s just too dark without the comforting glow of light pollution. I fear I will fall in all that disorientating blackness, injure myself and be miles away from swift medical attention. I have, therefore, come to the conclusion that green fields and rolling hills are best enjoyed from the window of a nice, quiet pub with pint in hand.

Yet this week I was encouraged by author Barbara Taylor Brown to learn to walk in the dark. Like me, she grew up with the conventional Christian teaching that light was universally good and to be magnified, while the dark was synonymous with all that was devilish and to be resisted. The words of Jesus such as, “the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.” (John 3:19) and, “The eye is the lamp of the body. If you eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness.” (Matt 6:22) seem to overwhelmingly support this. But as she dug deeper, she realised that many significant divine encounters actually happened at night. God affirming His promise of countless descendants to Abraham by pointing out the stars in the night sky. Jacob wrestling an angel all night to receive a dislocated hip and new identity at dawn. Hebrews enslaved in Egypt making their exodus under cover of darkness. The shepherds witnessing the heavenly host heralding the birth of the Messiah. Countless dreams foretelling events, giving directions or issuing warnings.

Also in scripture, God’s presence is not only described as coming in light. For example, while Moses is initially called out of a burning bush, he later meets God in cloud on a mountaintop. Maybe there are times when encountering the divine can actually obscure or confuse our vision, rather than simply bring greater clarify and sharper focus? This seems to be what many of the mystics came to understand. These include Gregory of Nyssa, St John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila whose writings are often about the mystery of un-knowing. Perhaps just as we experience joy and sorrow and all other emotions in between on the journey through life, we should expect varying degrees of light and shade in our spiritual walk? God seems to use times of darkness and gut-wrenching uncertainty to deepen our relationship with Her and stretch our faith to attain greater wisdom and maturity in Christ.

Oh how I wish it were otherwise! No one would choose the dark night of the soul. I am currently lost and wondering where next. It feels God is stripping away support structures, friendships and even my very hopes for the future. And I’ve been here before. It’s just last time I had the arrival of the new to make sense of the grief and confusion at what I was leaving behind. This time there is nothing and nowhere obvious to jump. I am letting go of the constant, purposeful activity that staves off depression and attempting to confront my deepest fear that I have no significance. It is hard and I have no idea how long this emptiness will last. But as I’m learning to enjoy the outdoors by walking along the seashore at my own pace, so I trust I will come to a new appreciation of the dark. I will overcome the panic of not being able to see, my eyes will adjust and I will find God is enough in the unknowing.