Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow… must be lockdown

Yesterday’s walk.
A bit duck-like? Well, that’s how I roll, my friends.

When I have my quiet time I often take photos of the sky and dream of where one day I might be. In eternity. Yesterday I looked back and to the ground to see where I’d been, to see if my walk had left any impression at all in the sand. I felt a tiny surge of satisfaction to see those perfect imprints (for once not scampered over by dogs). So! That’s what the last moment of my life had been… a solitary amble by the sea. Luce was ‘ere.

I don’t know why I feel a need to capture daily images on my iPhone or why they are so often of the rising sun and cloudscapes. I certainly don’t imagine the sky as ‘where God is’, nor do I think of eternity as a place or a time or a knowable concept; I don’t imagine myself angelic and on a cloud, or floating serenely between the planets, or purposefully soaring heavenward with muscular wings…. nor do I imagine being all too human up there in the thin, thin air, fighting for oxygen as I plummet earthward to certain death (screaming). I just gaze and wonder, wordless, revelling in the enormous miracle of existence, and then, inevitably, in the ephemeral and trivial nature of my life. My grand and important life.

But I liked the image of those footprints. Half an hour later as I walked back along the sea’s edge, all my perfect footprints had gone. As if I never was. ‘My grand and important life’ ?

Nothing.

When I opened my Bible this morning, heading towards the Gospels, it fell open at Isaiah (I wonder why?) and I skimmed the first few verses of Chapter 66. Then I read them properly. And then I looked them up in The Passion Translation. Wow. They’re good. I mean, ‘seriously gooooood.

The heavens are my throne
    and the earth is my footstool.
    Where is the house you will build for me?
    Where is the place where I will rest?
My hand made these things so they all belong to me,” declares Yahweh.
    “But there is one my eyes are drawn to:
    the humble one, the tender one, the trembling one
    who lives in awe of all I say.

It reminds me of another verse, in Psalm 51

My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart
    you, God, will not despise.

What great good news that is! What fabulous news. When we are feeling our at our smallest, most inconsequential and feeble, well, hang on… here’s how the Passion Translation puts that last thought:

You will not despise my tenderness
as I humbly bow down at your feet.

Why is it good news? It’s good news because it means that we can be honest, that God really does take us as we are, where we are, warts and all.

When I look at the sand washed clean, as if I had never been that way, that’s when I know who I am and who God is. When I really know.

I’ve found this lockdown time horribly and surprisingly difficult. You would think that someone who has lived alone for 28 years and worked mostly from home, someone who is not by nature a crowd loving, party going extrovert, who doesn’t easily unbend for hugs and emotion, who had a loveless youth, would find lockdown a doddle. Not so. Really, really not so.

There have been days when I felt so alienated from the world, so full of loneliness, so sure that my friends were not my friends any more, that my church was insincere and pharisaical (forgive me, church!), that everything was nonsense, that life itself was futile and everything I knew and trusted was… hang on, Shakespeare’s Macbeth put it much better than I ever could:

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Days when I could barely drag myself from one moment to the next. And lockdown really does ‘creep in this petty pace from day to day’, doesn’t it? Days when the pain was so much I would have done anything for respite – sell my soul, gouge my eyes out, anything. But I knew that there was no peace in any of that.

What? That’s not what you were expecting from someone who calls herself Christian and has the Christian tag on her blog?

I think we have to be honest. If we are to reach out to each other and say “You’re my sister, you’re my brother, we feel the same sorrows and joys” then we have to be honest, and share them. Own them. I have an advantage over many in that I’ve not been in the church a whole long lifetime, I’m a Johnny-come-lately and for most of my life I’ve been a half-hearted follower of Jesus, or not followed him at all. So, you’re not getting an expert here. Why is that an advantage in this instance? Because it means that I can look at the spiritual footprints of my life and see that they’re shallow, and they’re not beautiful, and they have had no lasting effect on the Kingdom of God. I have a contrite heart because I have a whole load to be contrite about.

We don’t have to hide that from God or from each other. I think sometimes we are ashamed of our contrition, but we shouldn’t be. A contrite heart pleases God, not because he wants us grovelling in the dust but because when we are contrite we are turning to him, loving him, seeing ourselves and him as we really are. Reality. We are never closer to God than when we have the deep deep joy of contrition. I want to own it.

Honesty is important. If we present a smooth untroubled face to those around us, we are not just deceiving and hiding, we’re also holding them at arm’s length. Not letting them in. If we aren’t honest about the struggles we have (a fine balance between honesty and dragging everyone down, I know) then how can we expect our sisters and brothers to turn to us when they need help? If we say to the world that we never need help, then the world will never understand that we have help to give.

This is the time, more than ever before, when we need to turn to each other, talk and listen to each other, care for each other. And take responsibility for encouraging each other. This is a time for listening, keeping each other going. Unbending.

I’m so glad that we have had this time. It’s bludgeoned me, humbled me. Wrecked me. Cleared a film from my eyes. It’s hard and horrible and I hate it. It’s killing me. And I am so grateful for it.

Weird, eh? And yet, God loves me. And however you are feeling right now, however weak and lost and flawed and quite-like-Luce you are, God loves you, accepts you, will do great things in you.

Whatever is lovely, think about such things

I would give everything I own just to hold this in my hands for a few minutes.

Screenshot 2020-05-19 at 11.21.54

That’s an odd statement, but a true one, and it has the advantage of being a very safe  (if sweeping) statement to make, because this chalice is in the British Museum, secure in a glass case, and there’s no way I’m going to be told “Go on, Luce, help yourself”. But I do mean it emotionally. Emotionally, I really would give everything I have in exchange for a few minutes cradling that wonderful chalice, warming its gold in my hands, tracing the battered rim with my fingertips.

Why? Beats me.

I saw it about 6 years ago, when I took my granddaughters to London, and it made me want to weep. Because I’ve always been fascinated by monstrances I was drawn to this glittering cabinet, and there it was, just one work of art among many. I don’t know how long I stood there. Not long enough.

Is this next photo blurred, out of focus, confusing? That’s what the sight of that chalice did to me. I was drunk with delight.

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I don’t know why the chalice overwhelms me with emotion. The blurb on the British Museum website doesn’t offer any clues either: circa 1380, a gift from Juan De Velasco to Christ the Peacemaker, and it has something to do with  James I of England (I know, I know, James VI of Scotland, my Scottish friends). The engraving features St Agnes, and there are the emblems of all 4 Gospel writers, but, you know, I don’t care about any of that church stuff. I don’t think it is any more sacred than anything else made with love, any other article in this world, I don’t revere it because it once held Communion wine. Those things don’t matter one jot. I just love this beautiful, beautiful work of art because I love it. I do.

Over 600 years ago some craftsman (probably not a woman) was commissioned to work in gold, to create something fit to give to a king. Not King James, but the King of Kings.

What a commission! What a commission! Imagine the goldsmith hurrying homeward to tell his wife, to tell the apprentices, to start planning and drawing and dreaming… imagine his excitement, his passion and love. I think that’s what I’m responding to.

I know that he was filled with love and awe as he weighed the gold and stoked the furnace and filled the crucible, and filed the mould, to the days when he engraved and painted and burnished, and right through to the last day, and maybe his last loving touch, placing those pearls around the base, precisely, thoughtfully. Nothing too good for our good God.

Isn’t that what every Christian sets out to do, every day of our lives? Make something beautiful for our Love with our love? And all he wants, we know, even as we craft and polish and shape our days for him, all he wants is just that – our love. I think that when God sees that wonderful chalice, he sees only the commitment and longing that made it.

That’s what this chalice is, to me. The proof of one man’s love for Jesus. A craftsman I will never meet in this world. But I know him well. I really do.

‘And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us,
And establish the work of our hands for us;
Yes, establish the work of our hands.’       Psalm 90:17

Times are hard. Many of us are really struggling with mental health issues, our spirits down and battered. These are the times when we should deliberately, intentionally, stubbornly, fill our minds with good things. 

If you’re struggling, you are not on your own. Don’t be ashamed of being sad, lonely, afraid. It’s understandable, human, and there are things you can do. Maybe take a few minutes to think about these words, and remember that God loves you. 

Look at that chalice and think of all the people who have gone before us, loving and worshipping our God. Join them. Step away from self and look to God.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. Philippians 4:8

Let joy be your continual feast. Make your life prayer.  And in the midst of everything be always giving thanks, for this is God’s perfect plan for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

 

It’s been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon…..

On Wednesdays, after lunch, we have a Zoom call, me and Lynn and Lynne, intending to explore the Gospel of Mark together, following a study guide. We agreed, when we started this, that each session would probably last about 40 minutes, so there was no need to pay for the full Zoom – which would give us as long as we liked in each meeting. Week one, we had a break at forty minutes and finally managed to get back on together. Week two, the same break but this time we all got back to the meeting a little bit quicker. On week three I realised this was going to continue and maybe even get more disjointed, so I paid up. That week our meeting lasted 2 hours ( but on the good side we got half way through the planned lesson)

We are so studious, eh?

Well, yes, but mostly no. We spoke of cakes and bread, and family, and chickens, and covid (of course!) and prayer and vegetables and incubating eggs and – oh yes, the Gospel of Mark. The lives of Lynn and Lynne are very very unlike mine; they have real live husbands, and gardens, and chickens, and they grow green stuff and eat it, and they talk about sourdough (Lynne is good at it, Lynn is not)  while I have no husband, no garden, and quite like eating weetabix and doughnuts (not together. Although….) . They’re simply lovely. I feel as if I am in a Lake Wobegon story as I listen to them skipping back and forth, their images freezing a bit now, wavering a bit now, and then back with us, peering up Lynn’s nose, seeing Lynne’s husband wandering past in the background, Lynn’s grandson gesturing for a cup of tea. I am largely a spectator to this domestic stuff but I love listening, just as I love reading Garrison Keillor’s gentle stories as I wait for sleep to come along.

So, that was week 7 of lockdown,  a quiet week in Lake Whereweare. Lynn and Lynne on Zoom. Coffee and cake on a delivery run. Sermons on youtube. A few texts. A couple of emails. A lovely surprise delivery. A quiet week.  Silence and loneliness and long long days enough to drive you mad if you let them. I nearly let them. I so nearly let them. Dark thoughts, lost thoughts, a bit of despair. You know, a few minutes.

But.  BUT

The Gospel of Mark is really interesting. In that first study, three weeks ago, when our homework had been only to read the first chapter at least three times, we each gave our reactions. We hadn’t read any commentaries, we had just read it. My immediate reaction was that this first chapter read like the opening of a drama. As a screenwriter and playwright I’m familiar with the need to set the whole story up, engage the audience and make them care right from the very first image. TV is merciless. TV producers are brutal. Set it up, set it up, set it up! And that’s a big ask, when the writer is also wanting to deliver shade and light, tone and texture and character. But Mark does it! Mark absolutely does it. Mark, as the screen writer with Jesus as the action hero. Fabulous.

In that first chapter, listen, we open with the prophecy about Jesus, so we know who he is even before he steps into shot… there’s John the Baptist, a strangely dressed, wild figure, waist high in the River Jordan… there are the reeds and the bushes at the rivers edge, there are the crowds, jostling to be washed clean (but not clean enough) … we see all that in 20 seconds.

John speaks, the crowd listens, another twenty seconds… and behind him, maybe out of focus but drawing near, Jesus is already approaching…. John speaks of the Holy Spirit. Right then, before Jesus arrives, John speaks of the Holy Spirit.

As Jesus nears, John sharpens, focuses… heads turn to see who he’s looking at.

Cut to Jesus entering the water…. 20 seconds…

Underwater shot, swirling water, cut to a startling close-up, Jesus coming up, breaking the surface of the water, as the sky is ripped apart, and a voice “You are my Son, whom I love”

Wow, what a set-up. A minute. At the most.

And then the rest of this short chapter? Wild animals, mysticism, John imprisoned (later to be beheaded, do we hint at that, do we  allow the menace to creep in?) , Jesus proclaims “The time has come”, he gathers his first followers, dazzles the accepted authorities of the time,  heals the mad and the sick, takes his message all over Galilee, is mobbed and pursued and driven into the hills for prayer and peace.

Oh, man, I want to write that film.

But the wonder of it, the reason my eyes tear up when I think about it properly, is that in that short chapter of just 840 words, we see so very much of the mystery and the wonder of God. And the more I look into that simple action packed sequence of amazing scenes, the more profundity I see. Take a tiny phrase from the very first dialogue in our film;

‘but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit.’

It’s so easy to skim over these words. We are so familiar with the concept of the Holy Spirit, and looking back we see Pentecost, we know the work of the Holy Spirit, those of us who are Christians know his presence daily… but listen, listen, the Holy Spirit was a strange concept to John and to his followers, crowded there on the banks of the river. Why did he use those words when the concept of the Holy Spirit was barely known? He’s mentioned only 3 times in the Old Testament – Genesis 1, Psalm 51, and Isaiah 63:10.

Why did John the Baptist – how did John the Baptist – talk to the crowd about the Holy Spirit? And then, then, listen, right then, the sky split open and God spoke and ‘the Spirit descended on him like a dove’.  The timing blows my mind.

Do you think that maybe the Gospel writer Mark was bunging stuff in to validate his beliefs, to somehow twist the truth and pre-empt and ‘justify’ the claims he was making about Jesus? Rewriting rather than recording? No, he wasn’t doing that. Mark wrote this gospel about 40 years after Jesus’ death.  I remember clearly what was going on 40 years ago, and everyone I knew then will have their own memories. I have recently written my autobiography and I know that old friends and acquaintances will recognise the events I wrote about and will soon yelp and protest if I have made up any of them. Mark was writing a history, not a story. A true drama, not a fiction. If it had been a fiction it would have been ripped to pieces by his contemporaries and enemies.

So, there we are, for thousands of years, in our sacred writings, there are only three mentions of the Spirit of God. They are passing mentions. There is no devotion or commitment to the concept. When Jesus walks into the scene, the sky splits open, the Spirit comes down, and God speaks. God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost, there in our very first scene.

It blows my tiny mind.

Yes, it’s been a quiet week in Lake Whereweare, but there’s a raucous celebration going on in my heart.

More wise words. Or not.

I am not a humble person. Show me a writer who’s a humble person and I’ll show you someone who isn’t a writer. We are interested in only two things when we write: first off,  exploring and ferreting out the truth (we like to shout “Eureka!” as if we are the first people ever to know what we’ve just discovered) , and secondly communicating it to others. The first part, exploration, is more important to us than being right, and sometimes that’s mistaken for humility, but it isn’t. It’s just a single-minded, bloody-minded obsession with writing, as if what we write is important, even when we know that we’re blundering around in the dark and crashing into walls.

Writers are rubbish at most things. Most have lurched through a painful life and even those who seem to have led privileged lives have too-tender skins and too-acute vision, and often too-sharp tongues to be good company. Good writers are not saintly.  So should a writer  decide to add the ouvre of Christianity? Bonkers, difficult people like me? Really?

I’m a bit (very) conscious of prayer right now, very grateful for it, with a head full of half thoughts drifting in and out of focus. I recognise this as the first step in the writing process, but I’m not sure I should write about prayer.  Does the world need any more printed word, or ‘Christian’  videos, or Tedtalks? Really?

In an effort to answer my own question, I went onto a Christian website which offers all manner of teaching resources to look up “Prayer” just to see how well this topic is served and guess what? There are 364 different resources about prayer on that one site, from videos to books, to children’s lessons to training courses. Training courses! When they said to Jesus  ‘Teach us to pray” he did so in 53 words (I don’t count the doxology the King James version chucked on the end). Fifty three words!

Flip me. 53. And now a whole prayer industry, sorry, ministry.

It reminds me of something my husband used to say to our daughter; there was a patch of wonderfully wild waste ground right next to our house, a piece of land intended to be just another part of our council estate but never developed. George and Lou would walk our Great Dane there, following the tracery of paths that had been created over the years.As they came upon a crossroads of paths he would say “Oh, look – let’s take that one. No one has ever been down here before.” and Lou would caper on ahead, delighted at the thought of being the first human being to step onto that path. It was only some years later that she realised many people must have been there before her if there was a path to follow.

That’s very like me when an idea fires off and I shout “Eureka!” “I have it!”  I may, indeed,  ‘have it’ but a million billion other minds have discovered it first.

Maybe I shouldn’t write about prayer as so many better thinkers and writers and teachers have been there before me. Whaddya think, thinkers?

Hey. Talking of  teaching… listen…. recently I spoke to a sweet natured, gracious woman who loves God and has had a difficult emotional life. She is reading and listening to, and being affected by, the teachings of a woman she has never met, a woman who owns not one lush mansion but several, who preaches to packed stadia, who heads up a corporation distributing videos and publications all over the world, a woman who is a multi millionaire regardless of the world full of need all around her, saying that her immense wealth and extremely lavish life style is God’s ‘blessing’.  She teaches thousands upon thousands of followers, a tiny figure strutting across a large stage, surrounded by an army of security guards and acolytes, as unapproachable as the Holy of Holies in the Old Testament. My sweet, gracious friend who lives a simple life will never see how this ‘teacher’ lives, will never know her motivation, or be able to gauge how deep her sincerity might be.  Her talks and books are peppered with sound bites, ‘take-aways’, like “Have God make a message out of your mess.”  When you break that down, yes, there is meaning there, but it’s meaning the reader brings to it, it’s our human desire to make sense out of even the most banal statement that gives it any meaning at all.  But my friend, who is so thoughtful and so loving, reads and listens and is often rebuked (and made to feel less-than) by this so successful millionaire businesswoman. Dragged down by her certainty and dogmatism. How sad. I would like to fight my way through her security squad, or scale her electronic gates in her millionaire’s row, or barge my way onto her private jet, grab her by her designer jacket and tell her to leave my friend alone.

I know some Godly teachers. I know they are Godly not just by what they teach and their close adherence to the Bible, but by the way they live their lives. They teach from a very small stage, reaching out to the small communities they live in, living out the words they preach. The transparent way they live is a teaching more valuable than any amount of clever words, fanfares, fame, fandom.

In the very marrow of my bones, when I thank God for these wonderful teachers, I know that they delight Him. They delight God. Wowser. I know that for certain sure, in the very marrow of my bones. Seeing how they live, and cope with the ups and downs of real life,  I can happily and with deep excitement, listen to their teaching, knowing that it’s true, sincere, integrated with the Word. Shot through with God.

You know when you read my blog? That’s not what you’re getting. These are not words to live by. They are just words from a stumbling, bumbling writer-in-the-dark. A happily bumbling writer.

Thanks for listening. You’ve persuaded me. I am not going to write about prayer.

 “Constantly be on your guard against phony prophets. They come disguised as lambs, appearing to be genuine, but on the inside they are like wild, ravenous wolves! You can spot them by their actions, for the fruits of their character will be obvious. You won’t find sweet grapes hanging on a thorn bush, and you’ll never pick good fruit from a tumbleweed. So if the tree is good, it will produce good fruit; but if the tree is bad, it will bear only rotten fruit and it deserves to be cut down and burned. Look at the obvious fruit of their lives and ministries, and then you’ll know whether they are true or false.”  Matthew 7:15-20 (TPT)

PS. Just had an email from another pal, suggesting some other Christian women for my friend to read…. Elisabeth Elliott, Edith Schaeffer and Corrie ten Boom. Good point! And none of them lived as millionaires, none of them preached prosperity, they would all have had time and compassion for those who sometimes weep.

Prayer in the time of plague

At the end of this blog is something that makes me feel a bit queasy. Don’t go there if, like me, you tend towards vertigo. This ‘thing’ I’m posting (a gif) has the same effect on me as looking down from a height.  You have been warned. But it makes my point. And now I’ll waste some of your valuable lock-down time trying, and failing, to put that point into words.

Look away now if you have a life to live.

Pooh Bear was a wise bear. He knew that he was a bear of little brain. He understood that this didn’t make him less than others, and that it was no reason to be ashamed. It was simply a fact. He didn’t make the mistake of Adam and Eve who valued knowledge more than anything else, more than peace and plenty, more than the presence of God, more than obedience. Pooh was a stout little soul who knew his place in the Hundred Acre Wood. When I pray, that’s who I want to be. Pooh Bear.

And if I really am Pooh Bear –  OK, I’m getting a bit tired of the metaphor now. Start that para again:

If I know my place in the world, accepting that I will never out-think or out-know my creator, and understanding his nature and mine, happy with the revelation he gives me, then I will never have to step into the place of prayer,  I will already be living in it.

Maybe without words.

That is my desire. To live in silent prayer. To always be aware, intentionally, of who God is and who I am, to always be in awe of who he is, to live wrapped in that thought, and the joy and peace it brings. And silence.

That doesn’t mean that I aspire to be forever on some higher astral plane, living only on the nutrients floating in the air around me, above all practical and emotional aspects of life. It simply means living in this fallen world always aware of his presence and reality, his guidance and care.

If you’re married, you are not forever paying obeisance to that marriage, courting your partner, romanticising every moment, yammering on about love, of course not. That would be exhausting – your partner might have to kill you just to shut you up. But you are always aware of each other. Always faithful, always caring, always conscious of where your partner is.  If she is reading in the garden, she knows that he’s making his fifth coffee of the day.  If he is cutting the grass he knows that she is on the computer pretending to research covid while watching  cat clips on youtube, conscious of each other. If they are sitting together, walking together, the silence is comfortable.

I want to be conscious of God in that way, moment by moment. Not holy-holy pious forever banging on about him, prattle and nonsense (like this). Just, you know, married to him. Walking with him.

And that doesn’t mean forever asking him for stuff, telling him stuff, reminding him about what Bill Bloggs needs, and how sick Salamander Simpson is, or how Boris Bumblechops needs to understand this or Trumpetty-Trump needs to get a grip of that. I just want to walk with my God, knowing he’s there, knowing he loves me, being guided by him, listening for him.

That’ll do me.

I don’t need to have a deep deep understanding of man’s doctrines and histories in order to pray. I don’t need to know the difference between one theological term and another, I just need to wait on the God who is here with me, in this room, now. The creator of the Universe, the ruler of eternity is here with little old me in my crumpled yellow cardi and my sandy barefeet. (Pooh had bear feet. Just saying.) And prayer is accepting that Jesus is the most important presence and truth and the central core of my life.

I’ve lived with words and earned my bread with words, but here, where it really matters, words are redundant. He knows what’s in my heart, the people I love, the cares I have, the desires I lay at his feet, he doesn’t need it printed out or written in the sky, or tripping off my babbling tongue.

He wants me. Not my words. Words are blah-blah hot air. I sit in silence with my God.

I bet some of you are thinking ‘You could have fooled me. How long is this blog going to be?’

Now, in Covid time, more than ever, I am grateful that I can sit in silence with my God. Silence with him, surrendered to him, is prayer. Lost in wonder. Sometimes lost in sadness or confusion or  feeling unsettled, but always with him.  Knowing that he rescues, that he is enough, that all is well.

‘Look to the rock from which you were cut, to the quarry from which you were hewn.’

Last week I heard about an elderly woman who is obsessed with the Endtimes (is that one word?Is it capitalised?) and who thinks that Covid means that God’s plan is reaching its end on Earth. Maybe it is, but we won’t know until it happens. Maybe it isn’t and if we keep obsessing about it we could waste an awful lot of time looking for signs and arguing and justifying our beliefs. There are some things we are not meant to know, and somethings we know but can’t possibly understand. The world will end one day, as all things end. It will die as all things die. And no one has a clue when that will be so why waste valuable prayer time, niggling away at it? All that will do is make us unsettled and tetchy and dizzy.

If this is the end times, or Endtimes, what better way to spend our time than in prayer? Not in questions, or demands, or arguments, or research. Prayer. Covid time is a time for prayer.

Our daughter was little, probably about 6 or 7, when we were downstairs one evening and we heard her crying. We went to the bottom of the stairs and she was above us on the landing, wailing, inconsolable. All she could say, between hiccuping sobs was “I don’t want to think of eternity… it just goes on and on and on and it never stops and I can’t stop thinking……it makes me feel dizzy.”

Lou learned right there and then, that there are some things we will never be able to fully understand,  like plague and suffering, like the end of the world, like eternity.  And when we waste time trying to, we just get dizzy. Like this:

 

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Is it too early to go to bed?

I’ve read a Psalm and been to the beach, and we’ve walked the length of it, and even up into the rocky hidden beach because the tide was right out. I’ve talked to God about being alone and I’ve  sung a few half remembered hymns really badly and laughed at myself. And I think He did too.  I sat on a barnacled rock and read Isaiah 4 in the Passion Translation because I knew that was what I needed to hear (well,  David Suchet read it to me on Biblegateway, so I just listened) . Then my phone battery gave out.  I’ve fed the dogs and had a shower and baked some stuff for a friend, and visited the  chemist (no queue! Bother. That would have used up some time) and delivered the baked stuff with the bonus of a short distance conversation over the doorstep and yards of open space. I’ve done the  Times Crossword (not the clever cryptic one) , and the Lexica and the Quintagram and two Codewords. I’ve read Mark 1 and answered a study book question about my response. I’ve re-read DH Lawrence’s ‘Odour of Chrysanthemums’ because I remembered it with fondness yesterday. I’ve had a late breakfast of scrambled eggs. I’ve cut my fingernails, which didn’t need cutting.

And now… it’s 11.15am and I have nothing else to do. The bed is made, the loo is clean, the rubbish is bagged up for tomorrow.

All over the world lock-down people are looking at the clock. Time, eh? It’s a bugger.

I lied this morning. When a friend (on my bakery delivery) called that we could have a virtual hug,  I replied “Yes, the best sort.” But that was an unthinking lie. A quick automatic make-you-smile, whistle-in-the-dark reaction. Virtual hugs are rubbish. Fact.

I so desperately want to be with someone, to be physically close to someone, to have someone sitting at my table, their hands cupping coffee, our voices soft, not calling across a lawn, a drive, a pavement. I want a hug. I really do, today, want a hug. Me. A person who shies from hugs.

My front door is only locked at night, last thing. Every morning, before I make my coffee, it’s opened. My house is a house of welcome,  but it hasn’t welcomed anyone for weeks and weeks. 7 weeks. I still unlock the door every morning, but of course no one can come in. There’s no dogs barking a welcome or an alarm, there’s no scuffle in the porch, no shadow on the glass, no laughter, no catch-up, no prayer.

Bum. This is a time when I need to say rude things quite calmly. It might just make me feel better.

No, it doesn’t.

I can write to them, can’t I? The friends I miss. But it’s not the same. And zoom and FaceTime are not quite the same. They’re more of a performance than a sharing. I want time to talk about how they’re feeling, and what they’re learning, and what God is doing in their lives, and I want time to tell them what He’s doing in mine. I tried to voice my thoughts, in writing, yesterday to a trusted wiser head than mine, but sometimes you just need the space, the time, the presence, to find the words you need. Typing them out…  it’s not the same.

I need more than three dots when I’m searching for words. When I find a phrase I need to see how you listen to it. I need to hear your breath. See your patience, or your impatience. See where I’m not making sense and clarify… and I want you to be part of it. Whoever you are. There’s a real danger with writing that it’s always one way. All about me. I’ve had enough about me. I want to know about you. I want to share ‘me’ with you. I want to hear you say stuff – any old stuff will do!

Boris, Boris, when can we stop hiding?

And at 11.37am is it too early to go to bed?

 

 

 

 

 

When you’re crying out for manna.

Today I’m really struggling. Emotions are raw and near the surface. This morning, early, on the beach, in prayer, I felt the weight of some unnamed dread and greyness. I chose Joy instead.

I did. Jesus is Joy.

And here I am, ten to two in the afternoon, and I’m choosing Joy all over again. And I may need to choose Joy all over again, again, again, later.

We need to be honest, us human beings. Sometimes we are side-swiped by sorrow, engulfed. And Christians are … guess what ? Human.

I know that there are millions upon millions of people out there who live alone and are susceptible to the introspection and the sense of remoteness that solitude brings. In normal life we can dilute those feelings by social interaction. We have friends who will, somehow, feed the bits of us that our own minds can’t quite reach. Friends who understand in part how we are feeling and who we are.

But now, like so many, I am in four walls. Isolated. Like so many I’ve barely spoken to anyone today, just one brief conversation on a pavement, and the day stretching ahead into the long night, and more of the same tomorrow. And Tuesday. A brief trip to the shop on Wednesday. There’s such a temptation to email and face-time and phone… but I have no right to drag others down, and even if I wanted to,  I don’t have the words… there is no soul-mate to understand and accept, wordless, that I am shaken today…… no one to see.

That’s the bad news. Where’s the good news? Do you think I’m going to get all chirpy now and Patience-Strong-ish and say brave and wonderful things?

How about this:  “In this life you will have trouble.”

Jesus said that. The next bit is a tad more hopeful…. but we need to understand the context to get the full meaning. First of all Jesus said “A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone.” 

He was talking about his own death, the persecution of his followers, their grief and loss. He was talking about bereavement, distress, we could even say he was talking about covid. He was anticipating that there would be days when all seemed grim and bleak. He didn’t expect life for his followers to be forever jolly and cheerful and mindlessly smiling. There would be grief and he knew it.

He doesn’t expect me to be capering all over the beach in my quiet time, in a state of eternal bliss. Well, not every day. He knows I’m no good at cartwheels, for a start.

Maybe he saw their expressions, their disappointment, because in his empathy he reached out again and said  “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. “

So, Jesus told us that there would be trouble in our lives in order that in the middle of that trouble we would know we could also have peace.

In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

So, I can be fed-up. So can you. If that’s how you feel today, don’t be ashamed. Don’t be proud either (she said hastily) because it isn’t good, this sad corner. It’s not where anyone wants to dwell for long, so today has become a bit messy as I keep turning back to God, waiting to be rescued, knowing that he’s there, here, with me. And he is the one who rescues.

Today I need to reach out for help, and I need to explore this some more: is this sadness and loneliness from God? Is it brought into my life to turn me to him? If so, if today as I turn and turn again, seeking him, I learn more about my desperate dependance on him, will that have been a lesson worth learning?

Who do I write this blog for? I write it for me. I talk to me. When no one else can get in my head and understand me, I talk to my God and myself. If you are going through a hard time, talk to God, and listen, listen, for his love.

I discovered Psalm 62:1 last week and I’ve read and re-read it every day.

I stand silently to listen for the one I love,
waiting as long as it takes for the Lord to rescue me.
For God alone has become my Saviour.

I wondered why it meant so much to me. Now I know. I was being prepared for today. Our wonderful God. Every day , whatever the day, whatever the day, we have enough. We lack nothing. Manna.

Listen, bloggies, if you’re struggling, ‘take heart’! You don’t have to be inspiring and amazing and wonderful. You just have to be you. The you God loves and knows, and understands.