OK, here’s a challenge; I know that you can pray without paddling, but I challenge you… gauntlet slapped down with a mighty thud… can you paddle without praying?
Look at this morning, here in West Wales.
I can’t paddle without praying. It’s impossible. How could anyone walk through those cool silver waters under that crystal sky, and fail to think of the One who brought all this into being? Today I gazed into the clouds, intrigued by their promise of space unseen, distance unimaginable, and I was just bloomin’ well lost in wonder and overcome by awe. Trouble is, when you stand in breaking waves and gaze at the sky, your feet start to sink in the sand and you begin to topple. So, earthbound after all, I turned to watch my dogs, and a cormorant diving for fish …. “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.”
I paddled and sat and walked and paddled again, and I listened to David Suchet reading the Bible, and then I sang a bit, but my singing these days is just awful so I pretty soon stopped that and listened to the waves instead. Much sweeter.
How can we fail to be filled with gratitude and wonder? When once we’ve read the first two chapters of Genesis and that amazing opening of John’s Gospel, how can we fail to be broken, humbled, lost in love and delight? I’m sitting here now with my hair all mussed (the blessing of a blog – you can’t see me) and my trousers soaking to the knee (they’ll dry) and my dogs sand-coated (the sand will fall off eventually) and I know such joy.
The last couple of weeks have been difficult. All my doing, no terrible hardships clobbering me. But difficult nonetheless, life was a lonely slog, the past catching up and demanding to be sorted. I had some clear thinking to do and those thoughts were painful. I know that just five years ago my thoughts would have defeated me, but not now. What has happened in those five years to make the difference? So much. Those five years were filled with great teaching, shared prayer, many questions, some wonky answers (mine), a better sense of who God is, a new understanding of love and a realisation that – bonkers as I am – I am accepted.
Here’s the thing; as a young woman I suffered with depression. It was diagnosed as ‘reactive depression’, reacting to the physical and psychological damage of childhood , and I was told I would grow out of it because reactive depression can fade with time. It did. But when I was in that dark place I could see no hope, no end to it. This time, knowing God, I never doubted that He would be there for me, and I never stopped praying, I knew that He would not let this defeat me. “… hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. “ and finally I had the sense to ask friends for their prayers. An admission, an honest statement “I need help!”
You know another blessing of a blog? You can delete it! So I’ve deleted three blogs written when I was under the cosh. I haven’t scrapped them because I want to pretend joy at all times, or because I’m ashamed of my struggle, I’ve just deleted them because they were tedious and confused, self indulgent tosh.
This past fortnight has been a time of growing. One more tiny step of transformation. A dear friend talks encouragingly about three steps forward and two steps back, and that’s how it is. He also warns against taking three steps forward and five steps back and I’ve been known to do that, too. When you charge through life in leaps and bounds, impulsive and headstrong, your stumbling tends to be spectacular. Fortunately (!) I live alone so only God and me see the worst of it – and He carries me through.
That’s the simple truth. God carries me through. He has carried me through. And this morning I don’t thank Him only for the physical world, that sparkling sea and the heart-break sky, but for His word, for teaching, for the patience and understanding of friends, for their prayers, and for a little pendant around my neck that says simply ‘belong’.
I do. I belong to God. I can turn to face the hardest of truths with calmness, knowing that He is with me, and I am with Him.
I want to say a special thank you to the friend who listened to me yesterday and didn’t judge.