It was so good to be back in England, and particularly good to be back in the South West, driving past places I remember so well from my childhood, Chippenham, Trowbridge, Devizes, Melksham, Warminster. Here’s a hoary old joke; “Why do they eat only mashed potato in Trowbridge?” Answer…. “Because they have no Devizes for Chippenham.”
Well, when I was about twelve I thought that was a pretty witty joke.
It was a short stay, just five days, but it recharged the batteries and reminded me what a beautiful world we’ve been given. Lent. And now it’s good to be home.
For those few days, I seemed to have a different, more focussed way of reading through 2 Corinthians. Maybe it was simply because I was reading in a very different environment, my senses more alert, routine broken, but I found I was more enquiring than usual, not more critical, but more engaged. Same Bible, same me, same voice in my head, but somehow a sharper exploration. Paul’s voice too seemed different, more personal, more human, with more personality and vulnerability. I began to sense the pressures and confusion he felt, as God guided his words. I felt that here was a man who was sometimes lost (but never abandoned) and bewildered (but never misled). I began to understand that when God leads we shouldn’t be shocked to experience a holy dichotomy, in ourselves weak and needy, while in Christ strong and courageous. I think that the modern church expects us to be always on the ‘up’ and full of serenity and calm and peace and assurance. Why? God doesn’t expect that of us. He knows we go up and down like the Big Dipper and we are just as acceptable at the top as we are at the bottom. Sometimes we are too quick with the cliché, or the verse that serves the moment a little bit too cosily. And sometimes we lack honesty and resort to what we think we ought to say rather than what we are going through. CS Lewis had it in a nutshell when he wrote about prayer ‘We must lay before Him what is in us, not what ought to be in us.’
I think that’s how we should live and witness, and support each other. Our fellowship should be open, and all about what’s in us, not what ought to be in us.
And then of course we have to nod to the thorny old question of balance. Do we want a community that’s forever baring its soul, banging on about our weaknesses? No thanks. But as in everything the balance comes in submitting to God, serving Him, submitting to each other, serving each other, rather than ourselves. If we do that we will neither bang on about our own needy souls nor pretend that we are better than we are. What’s the word I’m looking for? There are a few that fit the bill… integrity, openness, sincerity, and honesty.
That’s what I got when I read Corinthians, in the forest in Wiltshire. I got the word of God, in all its clarity and purity, and woven into the text I met the personality and perplexity of Paul, his earnestness and fervour. I think he must have been quite difficult to live with.
Talking of which – something has occurred to me that has never passed the threshold of my woolly brain before. Here comes something so obvious that you’ll all groan and roll your eyes and resolve to read no more of my blogs; it’s very easy for us to be full of deep deep love for everyone when we live alone. It’s when we live with other people that we find out that real love isn’t that easy after all. That’s the challenge of marriage, and family and church.
Marriage, eh? Tomorrow is the 30th anniversary of my husband’s death. I’d quite like to experience the challenge of living with him again. He was very very easy to live with, very easy to love.
I’ll leave you with the words of Paul, 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, the Message version;
“….we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever.”