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’ ?
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,
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.