Stories

I’ve had two lovely long chats today with good pals in the village, and it was really good, after so long in lockdown (still in it but relaxing a tad), to rekindle friendships and chew the fat. We all have stories to share – we think our lives are mundane but they are rich, rich, rich.

I remembered back to when I was a new Mum, when money was tight, and I really needed a job. I could work at night because my husband would be home to look after our baby, and I would be there during the day, napping when she napped. I belonged to a nursing agency and one night I was called to care for a dying woman in her own home. I arrived after dark at the 1930’s bungalow – nothing unusual about it at all, the traditional two bay windows, a decent sized bedroom, space to sit beside her through the night. The family left to return to their homes and I read her notes, checked her medications, all the usual stuff. There was not much to do except hold her hand, keep her comfortable and warm, maybe rub her heels, be ready to give comfort. By about 3am I was half asleep myself, in that hushed, peaceful state of a night vigil. The room was only dimly lit, cosy, the only sounds were her soft breathing and the tick of the clock in the hall. As if we were wrapped in a blanket, that sort of night. And then, right by my ear, strident and and rough, coming out of nowhere and no one, “What time is it?

Well! I nearly hit the roof! It’s the nearest I have ever come to a heart attack.

The family had forgotten to tell me that, in the bay window, behind the curtain, there was a birdcage and a mynah bird. When I’d picked myself up from the floor and stopped swearing, I found myself answering “Twenty past three.” The bird put its head on one side, blinked slowly, and said again “What time is it?”

That bloody bird asked the same question every two minutes for the next half hour. Hardly an ideal deathbed companion. So much for serenely departing this life. I moved the cage to the other room.

Funny things happen in the strangest, most tense and emotional moments. Mostly, they’re not very funny at all, but we find them hilarious because we so need to escape from the weight and the emotion of the moment, to be silly old us, sniggling and giggling, rather than sombre strangers the occasion seems to demand. At my husband’s funeral, the hearse driver didn’t bother with signals and seemed to apply the brakes randomly. In the following car we got the giggles.

In my village there’s a woman I worked with on two films, she was the set designer, and strangely we’ve ended up living a quarter of a mile away from each other. Today we sat on the wall outside my house and remembered an old friend, now dead, a much loved actor – one of those precious ‘national treasures’ – and what joy it was to have him come alive to both of us, as we remembered his sweet and silly ways.

Stories draw us close, stories are windows to human nature, tributes to humanity. Stories reveal so much. They say to me “You’re not so different from everyone else” and they say to you “You are not alone.” and I think that a good story, honestly told, teaches us to forgive. It teaches us that we are all flawed, that we are none of us apart and better than others, that we all deserve love. That loneliness kills.

Something about the conversations I’ve had today has released the desire to write and so I’ve finished the first chapter of my second book. Hoorah! I think that when we remember how full of humour and nonsense and love and grief and rage and contradiction our lives are, we can’t help but tell each other all about it. These are our stories. I do love our stories.

A couple of days ago I wrote a blog about my newly discovered covetousness. I had an email from someone I’ve never met telling me that she has just had the very same experience! On the very same day, she had realised that her discontent wasn’t harmless ‘thinking’ but damaging, corrosive covetousness! Like me, she was a bit shocked. Like me, it woke her up.

Stories, see? They whisper “Me, too, sister.” They tell us that we are forgiven, that we are loved, acceptable, and that even when we are no earthly use to anyone, we are eternally valued by God, and that with his help, we can learn and grow.

Whinge whinge

We have a heat wave here in the UK and that’s just fabulous. The sky is amazingly heart-piercingly blue. OK, not ‘heart piercingly’ but so pure and blue and deep and wide that it brings tears to your eyes. So beautiful.

But we can’t see the sky from our house, or only a small patch of it. And there’s nowhere to sit outside in the sun, and indoors it’s cool and darkish, which is lovely when you first come in from the sun but not so great if you’re there all day while the sun is cracking the tarmac.

This morning I paddled in the sea for two whole hours and it was wonderful, but I was home by 8 with the long day indoors stretching ahead. I can’t go for the meandering walk I long for because my back won’t let me, I can only amble very slowly and when my back ‘goes out’ I have to stop and bend down until the spine rights itself. Or sit down. And you can’t do that walking on the pavements and roads. So here I am, stranded. Scuppered.

Mid afternoon I could stand it no longer, I grabbed my granddaughter by her ear and like an ancient old couple we set off for a drive. We drove past Fred and Freda’s house, and saw them in the garden. Past Bert and Bertha’s house and admired their sea view, past Pat and Patricia’s house and admired their decking, past Simon and Simone’s and wondered how long it took to cut that huge lawn, past Dave and Davina’s and remarked on the length of their drive…. and you know what? I was beginning to feel really hard-done- to. All these people with all these gardens, all that space and sky and sunshine… and all we could do was drive past. We headed towards Mwnt to sit on the cliff top and gaze at the sea, hoping for dolphins, but the road was closed (Covid, I think) and so we chuntered on to Aberporth but there the car parks were also closed, and with double yellow lines everywhere we couldn’t even stop. I was feeling a bit miffed with life by then. I started to enjoy a quiet seethe.

“I’m stuck here,” I said to God, “for another blinkin’ year, and no one cares a damn. Including you.” I may even have had a little thought about George being dead for, like, a hundred years and everyone else, truly everyone else in the whole damn world, married. I don’t see the point of saying the ‘right’ things to him, if my heart says something else. I told God that it was never meant to be like this, life and stuff. I think by now my thoughts were tumbling and incoherent even to me. I asked him if he remembered my lovely plans for a garden when I moved into my current house. Everyone else I can think of has one….. well, apart from a friend in a London flat and she’s got flipping London on her doorstep and over there they’re free to move around and meet and greet and visit and everything…. but me, I’m here in Welsh Wales (“where, incidentally, Lord, I never intended to live at all”) and I’m stuck, aren’t I? Proper bloomin’ stuck. And then .. and then…. and then….. I had a serious , first time ever thought…. is this what it is to covet?

Am I coveting my neighbour’s gardens? Their company? Their lives?

I think I am.

So I smiled at myself (because I know God was smiling too) and kicked myself (because he wouldn’t) and said sorry, and admitted (silently) that I had never before thought that I had any weakness in the area of coveting. Never! I don’t like owning things, I don’t hanker after success, I just don’t have the knack of holding onto money or stuff and nor do I want to. If you have a six bedroom house .. so what? So did I once, and that went the way of everything else. And you can live in only one room at a time, sleep in one room at a time. And success is crap. So is money. And I don’t want posh holidays. And I’ve had fast cars and I’m over it. And I always knew they were just nonsense trappings anyway. Give it away, I say… give it away! So I have never had a problem with coveting. But this afternoon… boy! I was covetous to the power of ten (whatever that means). And I felt alone and washed up and friendless. Really really, no, really sorry for myself.

Here’s the funny thing. Trying not to show my granddaughter how utterly pissed off I was, I was making all sorts of flat conversational segways. One of them was “Do you know what I’d really like now? I’d really really like a Mr Whippy ice-cream.” and warming to my theme I went on “You’d think, with cafes closed, that ice-cream vans would make a killing in Covid, especially on a day like this. But you never see ice cream vans these days, do you? Maybe there aren’t any left. It’s years since I saw…. “

And I kid you not, at that very moment, as a tractor turned off in front of me, there, in a lay-by…. Mr Whippy!

It was more than I deserved. Far far more. But I really enjoyed that ice cream. It must be about ten years since I had a 99.

So. I may be sour and human and flawed and full of self, but God knew just what I needed and he had pity on me.

I ain’t a preacher but I’m telling you now, as one who knows; don’t covet. It takes the colour out of the day.

And I have nothing, absolutely nothing, to moan about. This is the photo I took this morning, as I paddled. The sea was a long way out, and we were all alone with the blue blue sky and our great great God. You know, the God who gives ice cream to spoilt brats.

End of a chapter

About six years ago, I’d just finished a TV series, I was deep in a radio play and toying with the idea of writing my autobiography, leading a happy and busy and messy life. I’d been a writer for half a lifetime and in that time I’d been widowed, gone through surgery, seen my daughter married, become a grandmother…. busy, busy, busy. Razamatazz. But something was missing.

From a standing start, someone who had been to the theatre only once and left school at 16, I’d become a writer and exec producer, and it was a good life because it was always about the thrill of writing, not about success. Starting out, I had been over-awed by meetings full of intellectuals, graduates, execs, Oxbridge types, middle class men with suave confidence, but over the years I had come to realise that I belonged there. Whatever else I was, or wasn’t, I was a dramatist. These clever people were all there because I was there. Without a writer, there would be nothing to make. Without them nothing would be made. Equals. At home in that environment.

But the awareness of that ‘something missing’ persisted and when I wandered into a little red church and heard a challenge “We are called to lead a holy life. Are you leading a holy life?” the question hit me where it hurts. It took my breath away. Stunned.

I knew what I was looking for, a life with God, a life I’d slipped away from when I started writing.

I dutifully finished my current projects but since then I’ve written only radio plays, work that could be done from home, not in pre-production meetings or post-production edit suites, not in studios or on set, just quietly tapping away at my desk and missing nothing of church life. From going to London every few days, rising at four to attend morning meetings, returning at midnight, working and planning and having FUN, driving fast cars too fast, busy, busy, there was suddenly …. stillness. Aloneness.

After such single-minded non-stop writing, I really couldn’t talk about anything other than scripts and film making. I had no small talk. Still don’t. The church was lovely and accepting but we spoke different languages and overnight, like some sort of internal collapse, all my confidence fled. Who was I? A fish out of water, that was me. The church was small so it didn’t take a whole lot of people to make it feel crowded, too many strangers and conversations to navigate so I decided I needed something to do. You know – something to do – a way to be useful, carving out a little niche to hide in when the chatter was going on. I persevered, trying to find a role. I tried this, I tried that. Nothing doing.

One day I mentioned to an established bloke in the church that I was really looking for a role in church life and he said “People always want cakes. You could try baking cakes.” What???? Fortunately I wasn’t holding a gun or a baseball bat. I was speechless. Is this who God wanted, a cake-baking old woman? But my companion didn’t notice my silence – he said that firemen always wanted cakes, and then there’s the ambulance crews, the nurses, the bin collectors…. I managed not to choke the life out of him.

I have to tell you… my cakes are NOTHING like this

Fast forward a few years to the Covid lockdown, and like many others I’m much more domestic than usual. A couple of days ago I made a cake for friends and drove to their house to deliver it. My granddaughter nipped out and knocked on their door and when she came back to the car she was smiling – she had told our friend ‘Nana has a new ministry – cake making.’

Wow! That sent me back to that day when I could have cheerfully strangled a perfectly nice man for suggesting the very same thing. What I so deplored has come about. Flip me! Is this a lesson? What is God telling me? What is he showing me? He wasn’t finished, the lesson concluded today:

This morning two very different new writers asked me for advice. One is just about to begin drawing together a dozen threads with no clear vision yet of what she’s weaving, and one is preparing for his first commissioning meeting with an embryonic ‘good idea’. Neither of them quite know where their narrative is leading and both are uncertain about how to proceed. The advice I gave them both was “Distill all the ideas you have about this piece, decide where the core truth is, and then chase that core truth and nothing else. You don’t have to know where it’s taking you, truth will find its own ending.”

I didn’t say it that clearly – I write better than I speak. It’s something I’ve come to believe through my work because in any story told with truth, truthful characters, truthful intentions, truthful consequences, light and shade, there will be a natural conclusion. It may not be the neat ending you hoped for or planned at the beginning of the process but it will be true.

A few hours later, as I drove through the beautiful countryside (yes, delivering another cake, weird, eh?) my thoughts came together with startling clarity. I’ve come full circle, from competent writer to inefficient idler and occasional cake maker. I’ve lost myself along the way but I know now that this is what I needed to do all along. And now God has drawn a line under this strange few years, the lesson is learned, and it’s time to move on. How do I know? I know because this narrative has reached a perfectly satisfying conclusion, told in truth. My narrative is that drawing near to God is all about being, not doing. That I don’t have to be the sorter-outer of problems, or the writer who gets an audience of millions, I don’t have to drive across country at dawn to auditions in London (just as well – one pre-dawn I hit a fox and wrote off a Jaguar and nearly killed myself) but neither do I have to be busy and productive in church, because I don’t have to belong there. I don’t have to belong to any group of people. I already belong, to God.

God loves me even when I’m no earthly use to anyone.

I read ‘Shaped by the Word’ a couple of years ago and although I’m not in the habit of marking up books, I underlined one paragraph and drew a great big exclamation mark next to it. I knew then it meant something very pertinent for me but it’s taken a while to grasp it.

‘Are you willing to offer something to God as a discipline and to keep offering it day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year – to continue offering it for God to use in whatever way God wants in your life and have God do absolutely nothing with it? If you are (and don’t answer that too quickly) then you are engaging in a spiritual discipline that will cut to the heart of all those debilitating dynamics of our culture…’

Well, Robert Mulholland Jr, thank you (the emphasis is his). This meant so much to me that today, two years later, I remembered where that passage was, the top of a right hand page, towards the end of the book, and I went straight to it. The paragraph was seared in my mind.

For five years, I’ve offered my service to God day after day, on the beach, at my desk, ankle deep in the Irish Sea, going around Tescos, always asking God to use me whatever I was doing, whether it was worshipping, helping old ladies across the road, or pulling the injured out of blazing buildings (OK, I’m going too far now). I’ve offered and offered and offered and God has done absolutely nothing with those offers. Say that again, Luce….

‘I’ve offered and offered and offered and God has done absolutely nothing with those offers.’

Yes, that’s what I said but ahhh! That’s where I’ve been getting it SO wrong. He’s done a whole load with every day and every prayer, and taught me so much while all that ‘nothing’ was going on; that all he wants from messy old me is messy old me.

So, story told. This chapter in my life is ending. I’m going back to England next year. I don’t know why. I just know that this is where I must go next. The advice I gave to my writer friends is advice God has given to me, “You don’t have to know where it’s taking you, truth will find its own ending.”

I’m here until my granddaughter finishes school next July and then I’ll be off. No regrets, no looking back, just ‘off’ and I know that even if God has nothing in store for me to do over there, his ‘nothing’ will be perfect and exactly what I need. There will be new lessons in that nothing, a closer walk with God. Peace comes when he leads and I follow, even when I don’t seem to be moving at all.

So we are convinced that every detail of our lives is continually woven together to fit into God’s perfect plan of bringing good into our lives, for we are his lovers who have been called to fulfill his designed purpose. For he knew all about us before we were born and he destined us from the beginning to share the likeness of his Son.

Romans 8:28-29 The Passion Translation

Oh, do give it a rest!

I went shopping for an elderly couple this morning, but this is week 12 of this lockdown routine and so I could write their shopping list for them – very little varies from week to week. Their cat eats the same every day and so do they, well, almost. So when I got to the till and another queue, dull witted with boredom and in quite a bit of pain, for the first time in about ten years and on a whim, I picked up a magazine, paid for it, brought it home. I’ve just flicked through it.

Now I remember why I haven’t picked up a magazine for ten years.

Listen to what this one copy promises: A renaissance of kindness, mood boosters to lift the spirits, the key to happiness, and in another article joy. There’s a whole spread about how to fear less and live more (one of the ways to do this, apparently, is to laugh more) And oh! Look – on page 40 there’s even more ways to find joy, ‘new ways’ this time. Next comes a list of 50 podcasts I NEED, and then a few suggestions to give me a good life in July, and then an article about beauty that works (as opposed to beauty that doesn’t?) In these pages I can learn how to ‘boost my wellness’, and how to do something wonderful to my immune system, keep my feet in good shape, fight ageing, ‘eat better, get fitter and feel happier with Joe Wicks’ (he’ll have to shave that stupid beard off first) and then there’s some stuff about sex getting better with age (try not to roll your eyes). If you want to create ‘a sea of calm’ in your home, knock a wall down, obviously. There are instructions on how to sleep better, enjoy my garden, make fabulous food (mint and pea ice cream apparently) and there are many many recommendations for skin care, reflexology, anti-wrinkling, bronzing products, probiotic creams (make up a word and wear a white coat and we’ll buy anything). There’s an amazing article on how good posture is an anti-ageing trick and a load of stuff about how to wear clothes. So much for so little!

The cover promises 233 moments of JOY and that ‘simple pleasure starts right here’.

By the time I’d flicked to page 198 and read ‘Island hop in the untouched Hebrides’ I was a gibbering wreck, shouting to the universe “This magazine is crap” and my granddaughter yelled back from her bedroom “I knew you’d say that.”

Page 198 just about sums the whole magazine for me – it’s an ad for a cruise to the Hebrides, on a ship with a passenger capacity of hundreds, so a crew of goodness knows how many, a gross tonnage of over 7,000, and 8 decks high, towering over the waves. Those ‘untouched’ Hebrides won’t stay untouched for long. But there’s a little pic of a puffin with its beak full of fish, and a beautiful sunset above an untroubled sea, so that’s OK. Promise the plainly impossible and you’ll get away with it.

And that ad sums up the whole damn magazine industry, our culture, our dreams and hopes. They promise eternal youth, alluring beauty, deep contentment, perfect joy. Find it by crowding onto an uncrowded island, or by fighting the ageing process with 8.000mg of hydrolysed marine peptide collagen (only £1.92 a day), or by disguising your nail fungus (so much better than treating it!) so your feet are beauoooootiful again, or indulge yourself in the Caribbean, or…..

Flip me. That blinkin’ magazine has properly amused, enraged, surprised and depressed me. Are we so shallow? Are we so easily persuaded? I don’t think we are. So who keeps these publications going? It can’t be fools like me who splash out once a decade.

And anyway, what’s wrong with growing old? What’s so bloody wrong with growing old? I have wrinkles, I have a saggy chin, I have the tributary of the River Nile etched carefully on my upper chest…. my hair is grey, my spine locks out of place whenever it feels like it (usually at the till in Tesco), my shoulders ache like billy-oh…. I fall over occasionally (it’s a sort of hobby)… and no amount of cream or spray or backward-dog, yoga, running, dieting or or cosmetics or trickery will stop me growing old and one day dying.

AND I LIKE IT THAT WAY!

Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be fun

I have friends of all shapes and sizes and persuasions, cultures, politics and beliefs. I have family I love. I have dogs I love. Why on earth did I think a magazine, written by flighty clever-dicks in a glossy glassy office block might give my one brain cell something to chew on?

There is more joy and wisdom and interest to be found in one verse of the Bible than in a hundred self-help articles, or a million ads, or a billion bright new 21st Century ways to find happiness.

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labour or spin.  Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these.  If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you – you of little faith?  So do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.’ MATTHEW 6

Flash, bam alakazam!

She couldn’t quite find the words she wanted at first, maybe she wondered if she should even be saying them, or thinking them, but eventually, with a half shrug of apology, my granddaughter asked “I mean, why is God, like, you know… so… I mean, maybe I’ve got it wrong, but it seems like he.. you know, always wanting praise and stuff, and all that… I mean, what I keep wondering is…”

“Just say it, Nance.”

“Nana, I keep wondering, why is God so needy? Why does he want us to praise him all the time and worship him and tell him how great he is?”

That was a few months ago and I can’t remember how I answered but I remembered Nancy’s question today because this morning, walking on the beach, I was filled – absolutely taken over – by a desire to worship. The desire was immense. It stunned me, this overwhelming impulse and craving to see, know, hear, honour, serve, praise and love God. Amazing God. Too amazing for me to get my tiny mind around. ‘Amazing’ a stupid over-used and mis-used word, all my words ineffectual and weak and stupid. But the word ‘worship’ still holds meaning. I craved to worship. Honestly! Me. There on the beach, on an ordinary summer’s day, with no warning at all, it was as if I was drowning in desire, lungs filling not with oxygen but with longing. I needed, absolutely needed, to worship.

Flip me. That was a bit of a surprise. Where did that come from? I sat on the rocks for a while, knowing that there is nothing I can offer God but everything. He wants everything and yet he wants nothing. He wants everything of me but, oxymoronic, that ‘everything’ must be my nothingness. Not me but him. By the ‘eck, it’s a puzzle, my friends. A right riddle and conundrum, beyond me, but not beyond him.

I started to smile because it reminded me of a strange saying we have in Derbyshire… if someone asks “I’ve run out of milk – could you spare some?” then the strange answer might be “Of course – we’re short of nothing we’ve got!” It’s a Derby way of saying “We have enough to spare and share.” I thought about that, and I thought yes, I don’t know how to wrap my head around the idea of worship, or what to make of this strange sudden compulsion, but God has enough understanding to spare and share.

Where did it come from, this strange overwhelming longing? And why today? And I mean, come onnnnn….. what? Lord, what? I mean, WHAT? I was walking with a friend, and we were flitting in and out of a desultory, relaxed conversation, so why now? Right now, like this? So that every other thought melts away and I can’t string two words together. Just when I look out at the sea and thank you for the day we have – BAM! WHAM! Alaka – Hang on, Nat King Cole sang it, and if I fiddle with the words just a tiny bit…

 I was walking along minding my business
When worship came and hit me in the eye
Flash, bam, alakazam!
Out of a bright blue crystal colored,
Pretty white cloud dotted sky
Flash, bam, alakazam and I’m just wondering ‘why?’

Out of the blue, this morning, by the grace of God

Worship. What do you want me to do with this word, Lord?

My Pastor said once that when we feel we have a word from God we should ask for confirmation. So I did. I said something like, mumbling and stumbling, ” I feel like a drug addict desperate for a fix, Lord. Longing with every breath and every beat of my heart, so that my pulse seems to whisper over and over again ‘worship worship worship’. That’s totally weird and not something I decided on. So if this is from you, will you let me know? And if it isn’t, will you let me know that too? If I’m just wallowing in some sort of emotional flux, that’s not good. But if this longing is from you, then it can be only good.”

My thoughts raced in and flooded out. I was unsettled by the ferocity of this need. The word ‘worship’ was taking me over. I knew that there was one person who I had to share it with. I knew this for certain. Just that one word.

I came home knowing that I couldn’t empty my mind and turn it over to God until the stuff of the day was clear. I sent an email to the person I had to share the word ‘worship’ with, and then settled down to my petty chores, to clear the clutter from my mind before giving every other minute of the day to him. Now then, here’s the thing: last night, just before bed, I was sent an email to send out to the whole church. It’s nothing heavy, a loving greeting to a woman’s group, but there were photos attached and interwoven with the text and it was a document that had been scanned so I knew I would have to fiddle with it to put it in an email. I couldn’t do it justice at that time of night so I left it to this morning.

When I came back from the beach I opened it and began to cut and paste and play around… and do you know what it was about? It was about LONGING. The email ended with “The more we feast on God the more of him we want. And his riches are inexhaustible.

That sent me back to a blog I write last week, quoting Mark 4:24, the words of Jesus, ” according to the depth of your longing to understand, much more will be added to you. For those who listen with open hearts will receive more revelation.

Now I know how to answer Nancy’s question. Our loving God demands worship because when we worship we lose ourselves and discover him, we find joy and truth, we draw nearer to being the people we were created to be. We find a Godly ecstasy, not the mindless ungoverned elation of drugs or booze or some other fleeting happiness, but a deep peaceful ecstasy of rightness with God. Acknowledging him, knowing ourselves, seeing eternity, being drawn ever deeper. His Spirit reaches out to meet our longing. “Deep calls unto deep.” Psalm 42:7 When we worship we grow.

God wants our worship because he wants the very best for us.

Here’s my revised answer to your question, Nancy: There is true lasting joy in worship. We don’t worship to make God feel good. We worship to fulfil the purpose for which we were made, union and peace and joy with God. Deep deep joy. When we live in Christ and he in us, everything we do, or think, or say, is worship. This funny old blog, is worship. It’s clumsy worship, and sometimes silly, but it’s worship. Written in love.

Today is worship.

The Manufacture of Madness

When I was a psychiatric nurse we studied a text by someone called, I think, Szasz (it was a long time ago) and his premise was that psychiatric medicine had replaced religion in abusing and denouncing those viewed by society as ‘different’ , and that now medicine labels as ‘insane’ those the priests had once labelled ‘wicked’. His book, The Manufacture of Madness, made some valid points but, for me, he stretched the analogy too far and too thin.

There’s a woman I’ve never met, whose husband accuses her of religious mania. She lives in far far Scotland and sends me brief and apologetic emails, usually appreciating the sermons from our church which she listens to online. Her husband, she tells me, has ‘forbidden’ her from church meetings, she can’t talk to him about God, and as she has no Christian friends this poor soul is really alone. She seems timid and vulnerable so it’s hard to know how best to support her, and to gauge how much contact she wants or can safely have. Her emails don’t sound as if she has a mania, just as if she’s desperate for contact with another soul like her.

In this time of enforced solitude for so many people, when you don’t have to be hundreds of miles away to be isolated and lonely, I’ve been thinking about mental health and wondering how best to make contact with those who are struggling. This woman has more than physical isolation to cope with – she has a husband she holds in awe. Or maybe she’s just anxious not to rock the marital boat. I’m sure, from what she says, that he’s a kindly man, and he genuinely wants to keep her safe, but he has become her parent as much as her husband, so anxious is he about her faith and her need to worship. He tries to limit her devotion, to keep her safe from God.

When the world worships science with all its uncertainties, controversies and dogma, it’s become acceptable to consider someone who lives by faith in God to be insane.

I suppose I’ve thought about mental health as much as anyone has. And I’ve come to some small understanding that God is in this, even this. My Mother died of a brain tumour and in the later stages of her life she hallucinated, before going blind, when everything became chaos for her. She could no longer believe in God because her cognitive ability was fractured, and she lived her last months in frightened bewilderment. But I know that God is just and loving, and I know that he was there in even that terrible time. My Aunty Lucy, who I was named after, spent most of her adult life in Winwick Mental Asylum, and of all my aunties, she was my favourite. She lived in the grip of a condition we didn’t even have a name for. She wore dozens of bangles and a great garland of necklaces and her clothes clanked with brooches and pins, there were plastic flowers in her hair and she was just amazingly resplendent and grand and colourful and loveable and ‘other’. In a family where there was no love or razzamatazz anywhere else, I thought she was amazing.

A clinical definition of insanity is when ‘a person cannot distinguish fantasy from reality, cannot conduct her/his affairs due to psychosis, or is subject to uncontrollable impulsive behaviour.’ Many atheists would say that my belief in Jesus, in spite of the life I led as a child, the evil of the family I grew up in, is a retreat into fantasy. I believe that, on the contrary, it is a recognition of reality.

A more often quoted definition of insanity comes from some wit who said that it is “Doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result.”

Well, we all do that. Take democracy for starters – we keep on voting, hoping against hope that this time, this election, we’ll get a good leader (how’s that working out?). Take New Year’s Resolutions – when did they ever last beyond March? But we keep on making them. I do the same stuff over and over in hope, but that hope is never realised. I keep on and on attempting to communicate what’s on my heart when I know, deep down, that it’s impossible. Only God knows my heart. But I keep on and on.

When I read the Bible and something leaps out at me I want to shout “Look! Look! Look what I’ve found.” and to hear an answering yell of “Yeah! Wow! Amazing!” It’s a bit like catching a glimpse of a hippo wallowing in the Thames or a vulture carrying off a bank manager – you’d just have to turn to the person nearest to you , clap them on the shoulder and shout “Did you see that?” But of course, in my Bible reading or prayer life, no one has at that exact moment seen what I’ve seen, felt what I’ve felt. And even if they had, they probably wouldn’t respond as I do, because while we each have our own wonderful discoveries, we aren’t all brash and shouty about them, or scribbling them down into the wee small hours, like me.

This from the Times yesterday…. won’t someone yell at that bloke “Behind you! Behind you! Oh, look – how amazing is that?”

And so maybe, just maybe, I seem a bit mad.

Of course I don’t always obey my impulse to share but surely moments of celebration, wonder and joy shouldn’t be hidden? But how can I do that without making myself a damn nuisance? I reason that a phone call is intrusive, and I’m not great in conversation, so I communicate in an email, telling myself that the recipient will read it in their own time, and it won’t be too annoying. Hah! How we wheedle our way into doing what we want to do anyway. How we excuse our own foibles.

But here’s something that makes me wonder; I never, have absolutely never, received an unsolicited, spontaneous email from someone also bubbling over with wonder/excitement/joy/thankfulness and just needing to share it. Let rip. Never had an email from someone who’s just discovered something AMAZING from reading the Word. Hah! How strange. I thought that in a church I might find others like me, splurgers, but not so. Square pin, round hole, me. Maybe friends don’t trust me, maybe I am too trusting. Maybe I’m just not in the right place at the right time. I don’t know.

Even this blog is me ‘letting rip’ I suppose. I don’t get much response from this, either… but my madness is that I keep on doing it!

Am I just plain wrong to go on like this? Annoying? Tedious? Arrogant? Shoutey? Am I like the bloke walking around Speaker’s Corner with a sandwich board declaring “The end of the world is nigh”? Do I have a borderline case of religious mania? And do I want to be cured, if I have?

No. Even if I the world thinks I’m nuts, even if you think I’m barmy, I don’t want to be cured of this amazing joy. Yes, I’d like to share the asylum with a few other lunatics, but I don’t want to be cured.

I hope that my email friend in the far reaches of Scotland doesn’t feel that she has to be cured. I hope that she gets stronger, braver. And that her husband will one day listen to one of those online sermons with her so that she will not, for that moment at least, feel alone. That they’ll both think about the amazing miracle of life and God’s goodness together.

I delight greatly in the Lord;
my soul rejoices in my God.
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation
and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness,
as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
Isaiah 61:10

How can we gauge our own sanity? We can’t. All we can do is give a true and honest account of our lives and our certainties. I have some certainties, God is good, God loves me, God loves you.

How can I stop from singing, exclaiming, writing, shouting , when I know this with total certainty?

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16

I

Stop me, for pity’s sake, make me go to bed.

Yesterday there was a huge problem here in my little house – in the middle of a monsoon-like downpour, with the water flowing off the hill like a river, the drains backed up, blocked, overflowed. I had 4 men in wet weather gear splashing through the house, rods, jet washes, a huge lorry blocking the road, vans… a machine sucking up water… towels down to save the house… all that stuff. It was an afternoon and evening of Biblical proportions. I’ve had the flood, now I’m waiting for the locusts (just joking, God!). The men were brilliant and kind and sort of gallant, soaked to the skin but they saved the wooden floors and carpets from the flood and even did their best to clean up the worst afterwards.

What can I say? Dramatists find drama.

When we finally got to bed it was midnight and I lay awake until 1pm, just full of relief that it was all sorted and so grateful for the day, and then I got up and made a cup of tea and read some funny stuff by John Mortimer and finally turned the light off at two. Annoyingly I woke early and was on the beach well before six. I’m telling you all that to explain why I really shouldn’t be writing this blog with just three hours sleep to my credit in the last 40 hours. But you can’t go bed when you’re on the top of a mountain overwhelmed by the view, dizzied by the height, and shouting into the wind. What am I shouting ? Just this;

Then he said to them, “Be diligent to understand the meaning behind everything you hear, for as you do, more understanding will be given to you. And according to the depth of your longing to understand,much more will be added to you. For those who listen with open hearts will receive more revelation. But those who don’t listen with open hearts will lose what little they think they have!”

(Mark 4: 24-25)

That’s in the Passion Translation. It’s fabulous. I must have read it a hundred times in the NIV and I reckoned I understood it. Didn’t have to think about it. I knew it. You know? And then I heard it read from the Passion Translation this afternoon and one sentence has socked me hard between the eyes, and makes me want to shout “Yes!” and do a jig there on the mountaintop “And according to the depth of your longing to understand, much more will be added to you.

Yes, yes, yes. Oh, yes!

This is my story, this is my song – the more you long to understand, the more you understand. The more you dig, the more you find. The more you listen the more you hear.

Amazing! Takes me right back to Jeremiah 33:3, the verse that grabbed me last year and threw me against the wall and gave me a great big smacker of a kiss – “Call to me and I will answer you, and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.”

Amazing Word, amazing God.

And there’s another verse that’s meant so much to me this week, again a new thought about a verse I’ve read a hundred times. In Mark 4, giving us a simile for the kingdom of God, Jesus compares it to a mustard seed, the smallest seed which grows to be the largest of all garden plants. Yes, he was talking of the kingdom of God but he was talking about himself, too. It was a perfect simile for Jesus Christ, the most insignificant of men ( “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” Isaiah 53:2) the seed of truth and beauty who grew to shelter the whole world. One simple man in a dusty and arid landscape, but that one man altered the course of history and eternity.

And here’s a thing that made me laugh yesterday in all the muck and mayhem – the chap who came and sorted everything out was a burly Welsh man called Mark Jeremiah! I tried to tell him, but above the noise of the machines and the thunderclap and the downpour, I don’t think he heard me.

What a name. Mark Jeremiah. If, all those years ago, Mr and Mrs Jeremiah had added a middle name, Mark Isaiah Jeremiah, how great would that have been?

Banana Bread

There was an almost audible sigh of peace on the beach this morning. If a sigh could be tangible, this was. For the first time in nearly three months the car park was open, so there was no one parking illegally on double yellows, or sneaking guiltily into the lifeboat carpark. Fellow dog walkers who had been unable to come because of the lockdown were strolling across the sands, full of quiet delight – Christine and Ken, Andy and Julie, Helen and Anne, Sue and Peter, solitary Alan, the woman in the orangey top and man who waves but never speaks, there was the girl with the puppy and an old bloke walking with sticks, and all the dogs of course, Murphy, Faith, Rufus, Toby, Nina, Marcie, and on and on and on… a steady trickle of dogs and owners stepping onto the wide sands, quietly thankful. Three horses, two ridden and one, a Welsh cob, unsaddled, trotting along for the company. A gentle morning of smiles and greetings and catching up.

We are learning to live with Covid, as we’ve already learned to live with ‘flu, the common cold and measles… maybe we will never eradicate it as with smallpox, or vaccinate against it as with TB, but we will live with it. We won’t hide away from it for ever. It’s hard today to be exuberant when over 40,000 people have already died in this overcrowded little country, but we can allow ourselves peace and contentment, thankfulness, a quiet joy in friendship. And we can make this a day of prayer for those who are in mourning, especially those who couldn’t be there as their loved ones died; praying for sisters and lovers and brothers and children and friends who couldn’t hug each other in grief, collapse into each other, prop each other up, give comfort. Praying for everyone left behind.

Beauty and joy walk hand in hand with sorrow.

I’m not known for gushing sentimentality but emotions will have their way and as I sit here , in sunlight, typing this, I am glad of other people. Today isn’t about only sadness, it’s also a day of remembering that people are born to love and to be loved, that they are worthwhile. People. Awkward, self-absorbed creatures who walk upright and do terrible things and love with ferocity and reflect absurdity and stumble and soar in turn. Them. Us.

How can I reflect my delight in people? How can I thank God for them? How can I offer this day to God in gratitude? Saying “You know what, Lord? I never ever realised how much I enjoy being with other people until I was no longer with them. I didn’t know they were a gift, even the difficult annoying aggravating ones, until they weren’t around any more.’ How can I give my day of quiet joy to God?

Well……

So far, I’ve read Romans 8, and James, and done a tiny (teensy weensy) bit of homework for tomorrow’s Bible study (Mark), I’ve done my crossword and quintagram and Lexica, I’ve handed a jigsaw to friends at the door, had an email from someone I haven’t seen for 63 years (63! Bloody facebook. It has a lot to answer for. And I’m not even on it any more), I’ve made banana bread for my granddaughter to take when she meets her boyfriend (yay! Another cause for celebration) and there’s a second one in the oven for me to take this afternoon on a visit to friend in her garden (yay! Ditto) and it’s not even 11.30 yet!

There are two things I’m really really good at – scrambled eggs, and banana bread. I won’t have a gravestone but if I did I would like it to read “She was loved by God and she made a great banana bread.’

My favourite sort of day. Just… you know… what’s the word? Content. That’s it. ‘Content’.

Delighting in the ordinary.

It’s been horrible for some people, this last 11 weeks, or 12 weeks, or whatever it was. Horrible. Even those who hug their solitude to themselves, like me, have begun to miss human contact. To be completely honest with you strangers…. it’s driven me half mad. But it’s done! We did it. And now we all hold our breath and hope, hope that discipline will continue, that crowds won’t gather, that we’ll keep on keeping each other safe, and looking after the most vulnerable. Freedom with responsibility.

I’m reading the epistle of James. I think that if I never heard another word of teaching or preaching, never had another moment of friendship with a fellow believer, never had a word of advice or was ever held to account again in my Christian walk, as long as I had the book of James, I would have all I need. In there we have honest, no-holds-barred pastoral care, guidance and honesty, acceptance and love, the way to live. God spoke to me in the Book of James this last week, scooped me up and put me back on my feet. I’m a bit slithery still, not totally upright and steady but, hey, this is me.

The book of James, divine, loving, accepting, uncompromising, the God of the daily, the patient father, God of lockdown, of the grieving, the God of friendship, the God of today, Tuesday June 9th, 2020, the God of banana bread bakers.

I wish I could sing. I would sing of the goodness of God.

Oh, what a perfect day

This last fortnight has seen such fierce and glorious sunshine that the paint of my new front door has split, so much sunshine that when I took a book outside to sit on the pavement, perched on my wall, I was blinded by the glare off the white page, and had to retreat indoors, peeved and defeated. No grass, no shade, no view, no breeze. Proper peeved for days on end. Grump. I moved to this house with the promise of a garden but the promise evaporated and now I am stuck. Proper stuck.

‘Rejoice in all things’. Yeah, OK, Paul, but when the sun is shining and I can see only a patch of sky…. give it a rest, eh?

Lockdown is a little less restrictive now but with no outside space I can’t invite anyone to my house, for a catch up and a coffee, so you know what’s happened? After ten weeks I have begun to withdraw, to decide again that people are not my thing, that chatting is not my strength, that the world is agin me, and I hate it anyway… that I must sever all ties and be glad to do so….. and I start to dream a Yeats dream;

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

Hah! Bonkers! I couldn’t grow a row of beans to save my life and as for building a cabin – I can’t even put up a tent. All nonsense.

But here’s the good news: Today it’s cold. The weatherman warned about a cold front moving in, but he didn’t say it would be bloody arctic. The beach this morning was a howling wilderness, the sky silver, and my feet are freezing. It’s four hours since I came off the sands and I am double socked, the fire is on, the underfloor heating is on, and my feet are still numb. And it’s fabulous. A cosy winter day and just what the doctor ordered, snug as a bug in a rug. It feels a little more normal to be alone, it feels OK, it feels… wait for it…. good.

You know what’s kept me on the no-strait-jacket-required-just-yet side of sanity? My mornings. An hour or so each morning on the beach where I can walk with a friend, the poet and me, standing together in silence or in nonsense or ambling along calling on God, exploring cabbages and kings and Covid regulations, his latest poem, my embryonic second book, his Mum, my husband, and always, always the dogs, Percy and Pip, Arthur and August (my dogs have names of music hall entertainers, his could be romantic heroes and ancient scholars) Those walks, given to me by my good God, have kept me sort of safe. My lovely Christian agnostic pagan poetic gay and pastoral friend.

And here’s what’s giving me such an overwhelming surge of happiness on a cold grey day – I have been lent a commentary on the epistle of James, and it’s absolutely magnificent. After being sand-blasted and turned inside out by the wind, I took my cold feet to the fireside, I sat on the stool as near to the roasty flames as I could be, the dogs at my side and I read and read. Just wonderful. You know, when I think of the Gospels, of the red letter words, of Isaiah and of James… what need have I of sunshine? Or, come to that, fireside, or society, or church, or anything? Aren’t these enough? These are enough.

The red letter words, the words spoken by Jesus Christ; I know they’re not the sounds he made, I know he spoke another language, that every translation bows to the language of the country and the day, but these are his teaching, his truths. Wherever they are read, however they are served, they bring God to us. That arrests me, stops me in my tracks. His words. Jesus teaching me. I mean, me!

And James – I learned today that this is probably the first writing in the New Testament, written just a few years after the crucifixion, maybe only two years after Christ died and rose again. I learnt that they were written by James, the half-brother of Jesus, James who didn’t believe that Jesus was the Messiah until he saw him, resurrected. This epistle is raw and fresh and practical. It isn’t packed full of theology and doctrine, it’s just bursting with a new fresh way to live. Luther despised it – cheeky sod – because it’s not ladened down with the teachings of the developing Christian doctrines. It is, like the preaching at my church, profoundly simple, unwaveringly true, compelling, demanding obedience, offering love.

James who didn’t follow Jesus in his lifetime, but who met with the resurrected Jesus, and became an apostle, and was stoned to death for preaching the gospel. James, here, at my fireside, with grumpy old me.

How can I want for anything, anything at all, when I have this?

Oh, and I’ve started writing book number two and that’s just a delight.

Sunshine? You can keep it.

Today is just perfect, and tomorrow is Sunday. It just gets better.

God loves the middle classes too.

This week I was asked to read a first book and to give some reaction to the idea of adapting it as a drama. I like this task – it gives me the opportunity to speak to a fellow writer, returning to my old life where stories are sparked and spun and made if not quite beautiful, at least interesting. The book I read this week should have been gripping. It’s about a successful woman’s terrible life-changing dilemma, a story of institutional prejudice and injustice. But there are just three dramatic sock-you-in-gut scenes. The rest is anti-dramatic. The writer, I think traumatised by the events, can’t step outside herself to find insight, or to give the other characters depth. It’s a book that shouts for help from the bottom of a deep ravine where the sun never illuminates the scene, a book that shouts about self and injustice, but never dares to look at the wounds, or to learn anything from them. The villains are wholly villainous, and the writer is virtuous.

I spent a few hours speed-reading it, and then twice as long wondering what the kindest and most constructive reaction would be. I gave a pretty safe and cowardly first response. Woke up this morning to an email asking if I would endorse the book. Damn! Too safe and cowardly. Now how do I decline without hurting an already hurting individual? Well, I’ve tried. And as I write this blog I am concerned about how this would-be writer is reacting. Drama is a construct and even the best stories in the world may not always lend themselves to it. It’s horrible when you have to tell someone that, and in a way I hope that this writer doesn’t believe me, that they keep on, keeping on. But it’s a hard slog for even the most gifted, and I tried to tell her that without squashing her dreams.

That’s the first ‘tale’ in this blog.

Here’s the second tale: this week a trio of us have been reading the Gospel of Mark and meeting (zoom) to discuss what we’ve learned or wondered. The words of Jesus “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners” are so very familiar that I almost didn’t think about them but the study guide we’re following asked “Why did Jesus reach out to the outcasts and not the leaders?” and I became very very excited! The question was all wrong! The supposition was totally skew-whiff! It assumed something that isn’t stated in the Bible. Jesus did not reach out only to outcasts or sinners. He never says that! He never does! He actually started his preaching ministry among the leaders, in the temple, he went to rich men’s homes, he reached out to everyone, because that’s who he is, he is Love. Here’s how I see that incident in the second chapter of Mark now. Feel free to disagree and throw rotten tomatoes, I don’t mind: Mark 2, just my interpretation

Jesus has just begun his ministry, already he’s the talk of the town, wherever he goes crowds flock to hear him, to catch a glimpse of him, this strange young man who comes with such authority out of a carpenter’s home in a poor village. A cousin of the ‘madman’ John who preached repentance, and ate locusts and wore the skins of unclean animals.

The houses he went to were besieged by Israel’s version of paparazzi, people who heard and saw and hurried off to tell others about everything he said and did. A roof was demolished to lower a paralysed man into the room where Jesus was speaking, the road outside mobbed, people straining to hear, asking each other what he said, Chinese whispers…. and there, among the followers, were the church leaders, ‘thinking to themselves’. I love that detail, the rabbis sitting there, silent, thinking their own thoughts. Did Jesus see a look of disdain, did he catch a shared nod of “Ahah! Now we have him!” passing between the teachers of the day? It would have been impossible for these scheming men not to reveal themselves, if I was there, or you were there, we would know exactly why they were hanging around. I’m sure they were transparent.

Jesus heals the man. That’s his answer to their contempt and doubt. He has authority to forgive sins and he heals the man. Unapologetic, uncompromising, simple. The God of no compromise.

And then, walking on, pursued still by this mob, Jesus sees a tax collector. A man not much worse than a thief, someone who took what little they had from his own people and gave it to his masters, the occupying force. And Jesus went to his house, and had dinner with him. Had dinner with him! Can you imagine the disdain of the rabbis? They asked his disciples “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Maybe they thought that the disciples would be indiscreet and give them the excuse they needed to denounce Jesus to the authorities. But Jesus knew what was going on, and he said to them “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners.”

I think that when he looked at these scheming rabbis his heart went out to them. Pity for them in their blindness. I think that maybe as he said the word ‘righteous’ they squirmed under his scrutiny, I think that he was not calling them ‘righteous’ but rather acknowledging that they called themselves righteous. He wasn’t saying that because they were righteous he would not reach out to them. We know that even when we’re in our deepest sin Jesus loves us. Why wouldn’t he also love these men? When he said that he came to call not the righteous but sinners he was giving to those who would hear an invitation to acknowledge the truth about themselves. We are all sinners, thus he came to call us all. The tax collector, the Apostles, the mob, the rabbis, the women, the children, the thief on the cross, the rich young man, the Centurion, the woman with a haemorrhage, Pilate, you, me, all. No one was excluded. Not even me.

And here’s where – in my head at least – the two tales meet up, the new story that someone wants to turn into a drama, and the ancient history that is already the greatest drama ever played out;

When we had that Bible study, I found myself saying something that was a new thought to me. Does that happen to you sometimes? As you develop a conversation you find a new thought, like a small gift dropped onto your lap? (that’s one of the drawbacks of being single, you rarely have a conversation long enough to discover new thoughts) We were talking about the love of Jesus and I said that we love what we’ve created – even when it’s something as banal as a character written by a hack like me, the creator loves what he or she creates. One of my ‘zoom’ friends asked if I really did love all the characters I write, and as I answered that yes I did. I might heartily condemn their actions, but the job of a dramatist is to explore, understand, to forgive and yes, to condemn too. Condemn the action, not the soul. Love the sinner, hate the sin. I’ve created some terrible ‘bad’ people in my time, but if I didn’t try to understand them, if I had held myself apart from them, they would have been cardboard cut-outs strutting across the set, monsters.

Somehow the experience of reviewing that new book this week, and then reading the Gospel of Mark, has given me a new thought;

We are, each one of us, the spoken words of Jesus, his creative act. Just as he created his apostles, so he created the rabbis who persecuted him. Created in love. I never set out to write badly, a painter doesn’t dream of churning out rubbish, a baker hopes for risen bread…. an act of creation is an act of love. Jesus loved the rabbis who were dogging his every step and waiting to pounce, just as much as he loved Peter, or you or me. They were made to be his.

It came home to me, forcefully, that in day to day life, the daily round, meeting others, interacting with them, I should feel and know the love of Jesus for everyone. Flip me! Everyone? Yes, because God has breathed life into all of us. Whoever they are, they are here because he loves them. Already loves them. His love is not waiting for the moment when they turn to him. It’s there already, from the moment of their birth, before their birth, in the very idea of them, in every breath they take, every cell of their bodies.

My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.
(Psalm 139)

I have a book coming out this year about my first 17 years of life. I can’t call it an autobiography because it’s coloured by a child’s flight of fancy, nor can I call it a novel because it’s solidly rooted in my own experience. Maybe it’s best described as a fictionalised autobiography. We all see the world with ourselves as the central character but that is never how anyone else sees us. Each person is their own central character, playing out their version of the narrative which will differ from every other, even when the story is experienced side by side, like conjoined twins.  Good writing honours all lives with equal respect, and thoughtfulness. Good writing honours God in its honesty. All writers fail at this most of the time. Some writers manage it, fleetingly.

When I first started out as a dramatist, I worked very closely with a great young couple, producers who loved drama and understood writers. I was living in a council house, I wasn’t educated, they were super-bright graduates, they were from the Middle Classes, they spoke the Queen’s English, knew every book in the world (it seemed) and they were just the sweetest pair I could have met. They spent the first years of our working relationship patiently pointing out that even posh people have feelings, even aristocrats, even brassy millionaires. I eventually learned. It was a great lesson and it’s stayed with me – I have friends who are rich and friends who are permanently and hopelessly broke. No probs.

I think it was no probs for Jesus.

When the Christian sees clearly the nature of God, and her own nature, when she understands that grace is unending and lavished upon us, she sees that with God’s help it is possible to love everyone she bumps into, all through her long and messy life.

Wow. How I’ve failed at that, my friends!

When the Christian sees clearly the nature of God, and her own nature, she longs to step down as the central character of her life, for Jesus to take her place.

Wow! How I’ve failed at that, my friends.

I think of Jesus on the cross, forgiving those who were torturing and killing him. I think of people who have given me a rough time. And I realise that God created all of them in love, and his love never falters. Never. He didn’t wait until they were sorry for what they’d done before he loved them. He loved them even when they were deep in sin, and giving me a pretty lousy life. He wasn’t in communion with them, but even then, right then, in my childhood, he loved them as much as he loved me, as much as he loved anyone. All of them? The Uncles and the father and the aunties and those who looked the other way, the brothers and the drunks? Oh, do give over! ALL of them?

Yes, seriously Luce, all of them. Try it in italics, bold, written in blood. His blood. All of them.

God breathed us into being, spoke us into being, wrote us into being, and whatever we have done, whoever we are, we are precious in his sight. No villains. No one righteous. All loved.

You see? I thought I knew what forgiveness was, but I’m still learning.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34–35).