On 2nd August, 2015, I walked into a small red brick church in Cardigan. I’ve just found a diary note from that day ’11am, Priory Street. Mount Zion Church’. There’s nothing flowery about the words, no great import is attached, it’s not witty or funny, or memorable. And yet on that day my life was changed, for ever.
Just above the note about the church is one word, in quite large but scrawly letters, ‘GEORGE’. I’m not one for ‘special days’ and anniversaries and all that sentimental malarkey, but I can’t help remembering, every year, that August 2nd is the anniversary of my husband’s death. In 2015 he would have been gone for 23 years. Maybe that’s why I went to church that day.
Or maybe I went to Mount Zion because my South African pals, Leigh and Irene, had been nagging me and nagging me and nagging me. In some exasperation Irene sent an email ‘Why don’t you go to that cute little church we saw in Cardigan?’
Or maybe I went to church that day because I was sick of being alone, coping alone, being completely independent, completely self-contained, shut off and self preserving. I’d been a nominal Christian for 30 years (ish) but it was a brain commitment, deliberate and considered, it wasn’t from the heart. I really, really didn’t want to go to church. Me and a load of kind, sweet people? I’d stick out like a sore thumb. I’m mean, me. Mean and critical me. I look for sub-text, and I recognise the games people play, I function by cold honesty not by warm kindness, and – well, I’m a writer, an observer, not a joiner. Me in a sweet little church? Might as well put a hand grenade in a play group.
Growing up in the Catholic Church, I had long long ago rejected all that churchy stuff, the statues and candles and praying for the dead, the bribable God, rosaries and the sacristy lamp, venial sin and mortal sin, priests and confession…. all the trappings of religion. Can I bung a disclaimer in here? I have some lovely Catholic friends who walk with God and know Him and I recognise that my experience of the Catholic Church is not theirs. But I grew up in the cloying sentimentality and superstition of Irish Catholicism and I rejected it. When I was 34 I came to a personal faith in a very simple little unadorned church in Durban, a million miles from my childhood experience. I met God and I recognised His goodness, and the kindness of the people around me, but my life remained my own, not His. I didn’t go to church again for thirty years!
And then, August 2nd, 2015; My Pastor doesn’t read this blog so I’m quite safe telling you that I don’t remember what he preached about that day. But I do remember how he closed his sermon; “We are called to lead a holy life. Are you leading a holy life?”
The words hit me. They took my breath away and dizzied me. I didn’t know what a holy life was. I wasn’t naive enough to think it was a life of piety and plaster-saint perfection, but those words carried such promise! There was a clarity and a certainty about them, even as I groped for the meaning. What was being held out to me? It seemed that this man was offering the possibility of something ‘other’. I didn’t know what it was but, by God, I wanted it. By God’s good grace, I wanted it.
Now I know what a holy life is, and it’s mine in all my faults and weakness, it’s mine for today and tomorrow and for ever. A holy life is a life that knows the love of God, knows His reality and forgiveness. A holy life is a joyful life, even in sadness. It’s a life of discipleship, of growing and changing. In that little church I found discipleship. I was accepted as I was but allowed to grow and change. That’s why my life is joyful.
‘When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well, with my soul.’
I’m a ridiculous creature, posting this today. I should sit on it until August 2nd, but I can’t. When something means so much to you as the little old messy diary entry I just found, you can’t hang around for the ‘right moment’. You have to explode with happiness there and then, and say “Thank you, Lord, for finding me. Thank you for dragging me, kicking and screaming into that little old church. Thank you for joy. Right now. Today.”
A holy life is a warts-and-all life, but a loved life. So loved.