For a couple of days I’ve been proof reading a thesis. Flip me. For a professor. Me. What a laugh.
Academic writing is very very different from blogs, scripts and fiction. I knew that it would be, but I didn’t realise how very very different. Do you know what a ‘haruspice ‘ is? Neither did I. Do you know what ‘imbricated’ means? Neither did I. What did you think a diachronic approach to text might be? I didn’t have a clue. But now I was getting annoyed with myself so rather than google it, I broke the word down and came to a conclusion and only then checked – and I was right. The thesis was so engrossing that I kept forgetting the job in hand, instead stepping deeper and deeper into new thoughts, new questions. It’s an amazing piece of work. It’s even more amazing to realise that it’s a thesis in English by an Italian who reckons he’s not fluent in my language. Haha! His English is so good that I’m now nervous about emailing him.
It’s about Jeremiah’s prophecy of the fall of Babylon, a great reflection on the outcome after such a prophecy (here’s a hint – it looks like Jeremiah got it wrong) and I read 35 pages yesterday, just half the introduction, and cannot wait to delve into it again today. I can’t begin to understand what it must be like to be inside that professor’s head!
Then, yesterday evening, recovering from PTSD (post thesis stress disorder) and trying to find something worth watching on TV, my elbow nudged a book off the arm of my chair, Packer’s ‘Knowing God’ and as I reached down to retrieve it, Percy Dog jumped onto my lap and sent my Bible flying. It was a Mr Bean moment. There was an awful lot of scattered scraps to pick up from the floor, not just those two books but tatty notes, sermon’s jottings, bright thoughts and unanswered questions, and as I gathered them all (wondering why and when did I write ‘Simeon? really? Look up before Romans‘) I was aware of being surrounded by, and blanketed in, good teaching and the wisdom of others and I remembered Romans 1:20
For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.
I’ve always regarded that as referring to the pastoral and the emotional – flora and fauna, the sky and the oceans, and the joy of birth, the grief of loss, the circle of life. But as I gathered up the books and tried to put all my scraps of paper back in the right places, I saw a new meaning in that verse. The greatest miracle of all is that man seeks God, that man thinks on a non-materialistic plane, aching for the eternal and the invisible. That man, even me, longs, longs, longs to draw near to God. In Italy or Wales, Timbuctoo, Johannesburg or Canada, even when he goes to the Moon, man seeks the eternal. All the sermons, lessons, books…. the hours devoted to God and to prayer….. This is a visible reflection of the invisible nature of God. Man, for all his sin and weakness, is the greatest indication we have of the nature of God. ‘So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them‘ Genesis 1:27
In his own image. I went to bed, thoughts swirling.
And then, this sunny morning, driving back from the supermarket, across a bridge, I saw the beginning of my village in the distance and I recognised a friend’s house, a tiny dot two miles away, and then the curve of a hedge marking where I walk the dogs in the afternoon, and then the solitary tree where we pause to recover our breath… miles away! Miles away, but recognisable, dear and familiar. And I realised that the greatest gift of all, the greatest most wonderful, amazing, soaring, tumbling, splendiferous and blinkin’ heart stopping gift of all, is our mind. Thought. Understanding. Imagination. The greatest gift of all is that in every car I passed, every car that passed me, every home on that hillside, every aisle in that supermarket, there were conscious, thinking, seeing, understanding minds.
Thought. It’s bloody amazing. You are amazing. That you are reading this, from a woman most of you will never meet, and having your own thoughts (better ones, I know) and coming to your own conclusions. Isn’t that amazing? And it’s nothing to do with you! You didn’t create your brain or your awareness. Only God.
God’s invisible qualities can certainly be seen in the sky and the seas and the mountains and the Cosmos ‘in him all things hold together.‘ Colossians 1:17 but what greater proof of God’s eternal nature and power is there than each other? What greater proof of God’s power than the fact that he has given us teachers and preachers and writers and wise men and women, using this flawed and weak humanity to bring God’s wisdom to us? What greater sign of his nature than our desire to find God, contrition for sin, the delight of prayer and, yes, the thesis that has me googling words I’ve never heard before in sentences so complex I have to read them aloud, several times.
And yet, you know, we still haven’t arrived at the deepest greatest miracle. Here it comes: here’s the true miracle – by nature we want none of this. None of it! Our nature is self; self-protective, self-seeking, self serving, self, red in tooth and claw, but because of God’s nature, through him and only through him, we desire more than self, we yearn for God. Made in his image we long to be one with that which created us, that which calls to us. And he has promised us that when we truly desire God, we find him. ‘Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.’ Jeremiah 33:3
I have a mental picture now of mercury. A phial of mercury spilling out, droplets breaking off, and then flowing back together again. Drawn back, seeking unity. A visual metaphor for our fallen, broken nature being drawn back to oneness with God.
How often do we thank God for this longing to know him, and for the millions who have gone this way before us, for the wealth of wisdom they’ve left for us right now? How often do we thank him that he has given us the ability to teach and to learn? How often do we thank him for thought – what a miracle! Have you ever really thought about thought? I mean, how does it happen? I mean….. That we reason, and understand, that there is memory in this unfathomable organ of the brain…. that no computer can match a fraction of our minds, that they grow with our bodies and retain and develop and decide and discern. That an idiot like me has thought, ideas, can shape and posit concepts. That an idiot like me can drive down a wide empty road under a beautiful sky and see in the distance shapes and colours that mean something more than the visual, that mean Trix’s house, and my dog walk, and friends, and memories….. And all this a gift! Nowt to do with me. Isn’t that enough to make us fall on our knees in gratitude? That each mind is so miraculous and so loved – however difficult and wayward and careless – so deeply loved.
We are. Each one of us. Each internal universe in every mind, loved. Whatever we struggle with, whatever mistakes we make, however disobedient we are, Jesus stands at the door and knocks. Even when we stick our fingers in our ears and spend our lives making excuses. Our great God, our servant God, constant and loving, will never give up on us, he will never wander away, turn his back. Whatever we do, he will never love us more and whatever we do, whatever we do, he will never love us less. How do we know this? Oh, blimey…. we just do. That’s the miracle. That even I know this.
If we open the door, he comes in, the Holy Spirit floods into our lives, like mercury we bond, we become one…. how do I know to write this? By his grace.
Thought. What a gift.
Knowing God is so exciting. So joyful.
I don’t know what my friends are doing right now, but thinking (there’s that thought thing again!) about them, knowing that they love God, knowing that we are his sons and daughters, thinking of those who teach and preach, and of my chum who has written this amazing thesis, I am overcome by an awareness, a glimpse, of the love of God and of his nature. It is one of those electric moments, when the hairs on the back of the neck stand up, when tears come unbidden and unnoticed, when we are able to feel, by his grace, a part of him, and a part of each other. His church. His true church. My friends. His gift to me. This is unity, found in prayer, this is God. This is his nature. I share the moment with you.
Thought. So many thoughts. Each one a miracle.