Floating on the ceiling

You know when you simply know it’s time to give up? Time to stop following a hard path, to admit defeat, to stop flogging the dead horse of a one sided relationship, to stop yearning for something you can’t have, to stop trying to haul yourself out of the mud and climb to dry land, to close your eyes, cover your head, to lay down the whole damn mess of your life and say “I’m done.”?

You know when the pain is so bad that you dream of shutting yourself off from everyone in hateful defiance because then, then, hah-hah, the bastards can’t get at you any more? You conjure up an island in the North of Scotland  or a small anonymous flat in the centre of some crowded noisy city, anywhere but here would be good. Anything but this. You imagine packing a bag, grabbing the dogs (kids, cat, rabbit whatever), getting into the car and heading off. Who cares about the mess you leave behind – you’ve left it behind. Blinkers on, chocks away, and off we jolly well go.

You know those times? I think most of us have fleeting thoughts like that at some time in our lives.

Listen, my friends. They’re the times I need to float to the top of the room (I’m fortunate, I have very high ceilings so I get a good wide view up here) and regard myself clinically. Look down at the me who’s weeping or raging or terrified or coldly indifferent. Why does that other me feel like giving up? Is it because she’s exhausted, and the world is unfair, and no one understands her….  or is it simply because my world is all about me?

Oh, damn.  It’s because my world is all about me. Even when it doesn’t seem to be about me, it really is. That makes me think of that Bible verse  that says even our righteousness is like filthy rags.

Today we were talking, a friend and me, about grief,  doubt and why some people have tragedy-filled lives while others sail through untroubled. Some of us are lashed to the mast in 50ft high seas and icy hurricanes, year after year, and others, well, the worst they ever seem to deal with is a mild sea-sickness of the soul every now and again…. life not going absolutely as they wish it too. Hah! Lucky sods.

See? See how self-pitying my subtext is? Have I fooled you? I haven’t fooled me. It’s all about me.

Anyway, this pal and me discussed the hardest parts of heart-ache and agreed that these are when we see someone we love suffering, gripped by pain or addiction or broken by life. That’s when submission to the will of God is really tested. I may be able to accept what He sends me, but can I accept what He sends my child, my grandchild, or the love of my life? And who am I kidding? Do I have any right to balk at what He does in the lives of others? Am I more just and more compassionate than God? Is my selflessness true? Or is my selflessness just another filthy rag?

Come on, Luce. Float up to the top of the room and look down and see who you are, who you really are. And while you’re up there (I imagine bumping gently against the ceiling, like an astronaut in a weightless spaceship) think about God. Who He really is.

“Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness and who seek the Lord: Look to the rock from which you were cut and to the quarry from which you were hewn;” Isaiah 51:1

And then I remembered something our pastor said a few months ago, and I spent ages raking through my notes trying to find when he said it and what the context was, but I can’t find it. Maybe it was said in a prayer… anyway, the thought was that the greatest love the world has ever known was the love of the Father. Because He sent His beloved Son to die for us. That’s the worst pain – knowingly, willingly, agonisingly sacrificing a Son, knowing the shame and agony that will come to Him. To Him.  And the greatest pain the world has ever known was the cry of anguish from the cross “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” How that must have torn the Father’s heart.

If that doesn’t move you to tears as you think about it, really think about it, you haven’t understood.

Today as I remember that sermon or prayer I get it. I think.  God gave up His beloved son, His own divinity for me which means the agony of the crucifixion was twofold;  Christ on the cross and God the Father, in eternity. I understood today that the tearing of the temple curtain mirrored the tearing of that divine relationship, that it was a billion times greater  seismic explosion than the splitting of any physical atom. It was the splitting, the renting, of time and history, the fulfilment of creation, the end of the world, all there in that moment. It was all the grief and pain and sorrow of the world for all eternity embraced by the Father and the Son.  For me. To bring into this shaken broken world the Spirit of God, to extend the hand of God to me.

So, when I feel like giving up, driving up, retreating to a corner, slashing and burning, shouting and weeping….. when I see no sense in the suffering of the people I love, or the suffering I hear about, 39 people frozen to death looking for a better life, or when peace seems out of reach, when I’m lost in the past in fear, or simply confused,  and I just long to have someone to turn to, saying “Help me”,  I think of the God who knew the greatest pain and emotional torment the world has ever known , and I turn to Him and say “Help me.”

When you pass through the waters,
    I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
    they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
    you will not be burned;
    the flames will not set you ablaze. (Isaiah 43:2)

Don’t think I’m having a hard time, I’m having a great, confusing , wonderful, bewildering, learning time. All things work to the good for those who love the Lord. 

Don’t think I need rescuing. I’m being rescued.

All things work to the good … even floating on the ceiling, bumping along gently, looking for God. Finding Him.

Value the tough times, because they confirm the certainty of our hope.

 

 

This isn’t a blog

Just a thought…

The UK is in upheaval. Loads of firsts – first time the Queen has been drawn into a political debate, first time the PM has been accused of lying to her, first Saturday sitting of the House of Commons…. first time democracy has stumbled over the outcome of a referendum in the UK, first time the opposition has admitted it doesn’t want a General Election. All is madness.

I don’t know who’s right and who’s wrong. I think everyone’s a bit of each. But Brexit isn’t the only saga  – my church has a Brexit of its own, a debate about where the church goes next, physically. And of course the physical reality of any organisation reflects its spiritual state and aspirations. Do we hunker down, or step out? It goes to the heart of who we are.  Should the UK remain forever an Island Nation,  or can we embrace Europe? Is the church forever the organisation we have now, in the form we have now, or should it embrace change?

Our Brexit (‘Prexit’) is just as laboured, long winded and snail-like as the one in Westminster and it’s a lesson in patience.  Or impatience. We have prayerful, thoughtful, elected leaders and they’ve been so diligent about this whole thing, prayers and meetings and surveys and discussions and vote after vote that…  well, to paraphrase and mangle a speech from the film ‘Network’:

 I want my church to get up now. I want all of them to get up out of their chairs. I want them to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick their heads out and yell: ‘We want to come to a conclusion! We trust that God is in control and guiding us! We trust our leaders and we support them! And we’re not gonna have any more blanketty- blank meetings!’

But thankfully, Brexit… Prexit….  there’s one huge difference. While the politicians are baying at each other, hurling insults, plotting and scheming to get their own way, encouraging mobs to harangue their opposing numbers, bullying, tweeting, campaigning, our church members are praying, smiling, listening, trying to understand the other person’s viewpoint, looking not for what we prefer, but for what God wants. Yes, yes, it’s become a bit tedious, the excitement of a couple of years ago is wearing a bit thin, and yes, it does make me want to throw them windows wide and yell, but I am very grateful for the care and kindness knitted into this three year discussion. (I may be exaggerating – it may have been just two years. But, in mitigation, it feels like 43)

We’re looking for the greater good, for God’s will, in love. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our politicians did the same?

 

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And soon?

To quote Bob Newhart: “Stop it!”

The Bible has relevance for every reader, on every page. But this reader struggles with some books. This reader loves Isaiah and Jeremiah,  Job, John, Romans and Hebrews, and grits her teeth through certain other books.  Wonderfully inspired and instructive, but I struggle to read and understand them. That will change, I know. And I’m going to say something now which may make you wiser and saner people suck your breath in disbelief…. the book of Psalms has always been a bit of an ‘also ran’ to me.

Shock horror.

But this last week, going through a slight upheaval of the soul (like you do), and wanting a contrast with Hebrews which requires a whole lot of brain power,  I sat on a damp rock and decided to give Psalms another go as my beach read. As a sort of light relief (don’t judge). After quite a few days I found Psalm 119 and I discovered that if I get carried away with wonder and amazement then David did too, but much more so. Much much more so.  My prayers are banal and hollow,  superficial and cursory next to his.  David, my man!  David, who turned to God in true dependance and desperation and trust, David, mate, you’re great. Please can I pray with you?

Psalm 119 is a sort of defiant prayer, a declaration and a great huge paean of praise. Wowzer, this guy knows the heart of God and reaches up the the heavens in humility and joy. And triumph.

Then, the next day, I read Psalm 120. Which starts “I call on the Lord in my distress”.

Distress? Where’s the defiant joy and strength I’ve just read about?

True, the line concludes “and he answers me” but still… he’s in distress, this geezer who was bestriding the world with God in his heart just yesterday?  And in the next Psalm, although he’s trusting God, he’s still in trouble… and then I vaguely remembered hearing about David’s sin with Bathsheba (my knowledge of the Old Testament is patchy, as you’ll have gathered) so I started to read that chunk…

I really love David. He’s a mess. Just like me. But he loves God, just like me. And God loves him, just like he loves me. It’s a lesson to me, when my  soul is stumbling over hurdles,  don’t give up because David was crashing through a whole Marines assault course, struggling up the net, falling off the sleepers, splashing through mud, hurdling barbed wire, frequently falling flat on his face (murder and adultery for starters) and still he could turn to God in repentance  and submission.  And – here’s the thing – he could still praise and worship and delight in God. So, however low you get Luce (and you really do scrape the bottom of the ocean sometimes) don’t give up. You’re never so lost that God can’t find you. What am I saying? God never loses you at all. You may lose Him, but that can be fixed.

After our service today a friend came to me with a concern in her soul, and one of the things we talked about was Isaiah 43:19 which I love, because it’s immediate and personal, and it’s conversational, it’s real-life, real-time, easy to understand dialogue. It’s God saying “Oy! Wake up! Listen on.”

“See I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?”

I love it because it’s a command we can obey instantly. See the new thing he’s doing. Our transformation, our new hearts.  Think on, Luce. Selah. Don’t give up just because you landed in the manure again.

And while I’m wittering on, I may as well tell you what God has done for me today.;

I sometimes wake up with a sense of dread and fear. Fear of the present and dread of what might be racing towards me, like a clenched fist or a hand at the throat, or… other stuff. I don’t need sympathy or pity or comfort about this – it’s just how it is, a remnant from growing up, and intellectually I know there’s no sense to it.  Maybe it’s the thorn in my side. In my old bad times it was frequent and could last for days on end, but now, with an awareness of God’s presence,  it’s less frequent and lasts usually only a few hours. This morning, after the usual dream, I woke in that dense dread. The last thing I wanted to do with my morning was to spend it with a hundred others in a school hall, singing and chatting and being ‘fellowshippy’.

Anything but that.

But church has become a magnet to me. Even when I don’t want to go, I long to go. Even when I fear meeting eyes, I need to look them out. Even when the last thing I want is a friend’s hug, what I long for is human contact. Even when I don’t want to hear another single thing about God,  I’m desperate to hear and discover even more. And I know, although my emotions deny it, that during the hour I spend in Church, the heart rate will quieten, and all the physical symptoms will fade.  It’s very hard to get out of the  car, walk into that building, find a seat. The sound is muffled and yet relentless, like the pulse in my ears, my senses are crowded, I just want to go. Anywhere. I long to pray with someone but fear stultifies my mind and paralyses my voice so I can’t ask. People come up and smile and chat and I’m so glad to see them, and I ape the responses and for those few seconds it seems that it’s going… but it’s a circular thing, fear. Imagination and anticipation cause physical symptoms and then, as the imagination is brought under control the physical symptoms take over and vroooom – we’re off again! Someone stands close, or comes into peripheral vision and skin prickles, hands grow cold, breath shallows, waiting for the shock.

If you have never been afraid, it’s probably nutty to you.

This particular round of fear started a couple of weeks ago when I was sent something to read – it was not well written but it was well meaning enough (death to drama). It was about a very hard subject and even as I tried to be objective and give notes, I found it was triggering the old flight response. I suppose I’ve been holding that reaction at bay ever since and it broke through into my sleep last night.

BUT HERE’S THE THING:

When Christ was praying in Gethsemane, anticipating the crucifixion ordeal about to come, He knew absolute terror. “And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” Luke 22:24. I reckon that’s pure fear. The God of pure love and pure righteousness, pure power, pure omniscience, living through pure fear. For me. For me and for you.  The process by which sweat is mixed with blood is known as ‘hematridosis’ and it occurs when terror is so great that the capillaries just under the skin burst, and the blood is secreted through the sweat pores. 

So, when Jesus faced the pain and shame, and the torture of crucifixion,  His poor human body broke down. And yet, and yet, and yet He said “Not my will, but yours be done.” and then He walked to meet the soldiers who came, armed to the teeth, to arrest Him.

That’s what I call submission. For me. Courage, for me. Trust in the Father’s will, for me.

Fast forward 2000 years or so ; I drove into the car park this morning, really wanting to celebrate freedom from fear, thinking about Jesus, and as I battled with ideas and images and all that crap, I heard Him, clear as day, saying “Just do it. Just do it. I’m here”.

So I did.

Because He enabled me. The God who conquered fear is with me, even in the darkest hour. Even when I’m afraid, I know that He has already brought me through it.

Did it all go as if Fairy Tinkerbelle had waved her magic wand? Nope. Walking in is horrible. The first half hour was hellish. The children’s story was a babble of sound. Movement around me was a threat. When I’m afraid I sing flat (funny, eh?). Bonkers. I am a bonkers person, yes, undeniably, but I love learning and good teaching draws me in, so that I forget everything else. Just a pair of ears, that’s me. For a short time every week, Sunday morning and Sunday evening,  I am just a pair of ears. So, the teaching took over, and pushed the panic away. Phew.

Afterwards I sat on a bench with a friend and we ate cinnamon buns (you don’t get them at my old RC church!) and the sun was out and people were dead cheeky and all was good.

If ever you wonder what difference God would make to your life, or even if you ever doubt His reality and His relevance, come and talk to me. Let me tell you about my life without Him, and my life now.

And if you want to smile, go to youtube and bung in ‘Bob Newhart, Stop it’. There are some long versions but there’s one two minute edit of the scene… fabulous.  “STOP IT” A good friend reminded me about this little sketch (was he trying to tell me something? A subtle hint, perchance?) and now I think of it often….”Stop it.”

I think that’s what God was saying when I parked the car and looked at the building and quaked in my boots and He whispered “Just do it.”

Our village, the world.

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On my Instagram account there’s a young woman who lives in the middle of the United States. We first ‘met’ about 10 years ago when I had a brief dalliance with Twitter, and we liked each other immediately. She’s a single Mum, a newly qualified professional so we’re not at all alike, our cultures and interests are completely different, she’s a busy Mom and I’m a retired Gran, her days are packed with outings, school, work and a big family, while I struggle to find things to  fill even a few hours, but we simply ‘get’ each other!  Although I hope that one day we’ll meet in person, if we don’t, it doesn’t matter; I know what she likes, what she wants, I have seen her son as a toddler, watched him grow, admired his photo as he went to school for his first day, seen him decked out for baseball games (4th grade now), smiled at them both eating s’mores (she told me what they were) and I would even recognise her Mom and Pop. We don’t need to be in the same room in order to care about and support each other.  And she’s a great ‘liker’ !  I post maybe four photos a week on Instagram, and they’re nearly all of the beach and the sky. Very very boring, but she ‘likes’ them all!

Her name isn’t Susan but that’s what I’ll call her for this blog.

Susan and me are hugely different in one very important way. I am a Christ follower and she isn’t. But she has an amazing, warm, funny, lively, interesting, inquisitive mind and she delves here, there and everywhere, reads voraciously, devours films….  I love her mind. This is one of her posts from about two weeks ago:

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It wasn’t her original… it’s even banal… but she was reposting from someone else. Was she struggling that day, was her world view dark and lonely, or was she just idly chatting?  I know her circumstances and it must sometimes be a slog, a single parent, a newly qualified professional, not a huge income, elderly and very sick parents….  so I wanted to reach out, a bit like those two hands in the last sketch of her post.  But how?

So I sent this:

IMG_0089.jpegYes. She ‘liked’ it. Of course she did. She’s a great ‘liker’ as I said, so I thought no more of it.

But then, just today, I had an email from one of Susan’s followers/friends. I don’t know this woman at all, never heard of her and I can’t quite work out how she knew my email… but she tells me that she’d been wondering about returning to college, to study Physics, and she had a prospectus on her phone, and kept re-reading it, not sure what to do. She thought maybe she wouldn’t be able to cope academically as she left school as soon as she could and how would she manage financially? She had been dithering for ages. When she read  ‘nothing comes from nothing’ she remembered that wondering could be exciting. So she’s going back to college! She’s already started the process to enrol next Fall.  She says she has a year to save up.

From such a tiny, tiny, tiny thing…..

Wowser, my friends. Sometimes the way this world has shrunk is a heart warming thing. When she gets her degree, or whatever they get in the US, I’ll probably be gone to Glory. I’ll be up there in the Cosmos, the Cosmos she’s just learned all about!

How lovely. I’ve sent her Genesis Chapter One.  ‘And God saw that it was good.’

I’m so excited for her. How brilliant. How amazingly, heart warmingly brilliant. This evening I’m smiling fit to bust.

Ex nihilo nihil fit. 

Creato ex Deo.

I mean, really…. how amazing.

Every good and perfect gift…..

These are some ponderings. Ponder them with me.   You up for it? If not, turn away now.

First off,  I’ve been wondering if we really should we be thankful for everything in our lives. I know that we are to be thankful in all circumstances but does that mean we should be thankful for all circumstances? When there are sad times, grief and pain, when there’s addiction in those we love, or mental health issues, or cancer… should we be grateful and give praise for all these things? Can we attribute them to God?  I can’t. Because our faith is a growing process and sometimes revelation lands with a thump, maybe I’ll come to some other conclusion in time, but for now, I can’t believe that God visits this horrible stuff on us.

Only good comes from good.  Can bad water come from a pure spring?

I don’t believe that our totally good God would send bad things but it’s evident that he allows them. So, OK,  do we thank him for allowing them? Hmm. Not sure about that, either emotionally or intellectually.

What I do thank him for, even in the very worst and darkest hour, is his presence, his love, his unfolding plan. I think that’s what being thankful in all circumstances means. I thank him that he uses these hard times to teach and tenderly reprove and to bring my faith to a firmer  place. And I thank him for the Gospel.

I scrubbed my tiny  tiny yard on Saturday (it really IS tiny) because it was covered in horrible green slime. As I scrubbed I wondered if green slime came from God. I poured a bleach preparation on it and thanked God that there was a cure for the slimy stuff in life. The steps up to my tiny tiny courtyard are steep and deep so it took a few dot-and-carry-one steps, to get up there, carrying a bucket of water. I felt a sciatic nerve beginning to throb. Hmm. Sciatica crippled me a couple of years ago… do I carry on or give up? Did I thank God for this? I didn’t give up but I didn’t thank God either.  You get it. I thought on God, and he was there, but I didn’t blame him for the decay. That’s down to the fallenness of the world. If that’s a word.

That’s a trivial silly example, but in the small things we draw near to God, we explore our lives and our attitudes, we care for our our souls… and in the daily round God prepares us for the big life sorrows. In the small daily exercises of life, in obeying good teaching, reading the Bible,  we develop core strength, good habits, muscular Christianity, so that when the bad times roll in we are not alone but standing with God, who can do all things.

My second thing, the second little itch I have to scratch:

Earlier tonight (ooh, it’s well past midnight already) I was thinking about how the church talks to the world. I think we have to stop talking like the church.  Paul writes in 1Corinthians (this is the message paraphrase)

‘Even though I am free of the demands and expectations of everyone, I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all in order to reach a wide range of people: religious, nonreligious, meticulous moralists, loose-living immoralists, the defeated, the demoralized—whoever. I didn’t take on their way of life. I kept my bearings in Christ—but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view. I’ve become just about every sort of servant there is in my attempts to lead those I meet into a God-saved life. I did all this because of the Message. I didn’t just want to talk about it; I wanted to be in on it!’

There’s a real danger that Christians relate only to Christians, and so when we look out at the world we look out at strangers.  And when they look at us they see…..  erm, possibly this…

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I don’t want my neighbours to see something a bit weird and earnest and do-goodery.

I want them to see Joy.  I can’t help but be excited by the world and my life and eternity, and so I’m jolly well going to tell them that they don’t know what they’re missing. And if they roll their eyes at me, then I’ll laugh with them, and love them and put up with them just as much as they put up with me. That’s friendship.

If we are in love with Jesus, why is it a problem to talk about him in our everyday lives? Doesn’t everyone want to talk about their greatest passion, their reason for living?  I look at the life God has given me, the laughter and the sorrow and I see its richness and variety and I just marvel!

My only job in this world is to draw closer to God. If I do that, then he will do the rest. He will change this clumsy, stumbling, anti-social, impatient, sharp tongued loner into someone you might want to know. He will change me into someone who can show his love to the world. Not my love, a third rate threadbare kind of thing, but his.

And when you see that fabulous love, IF you see that fabulous love, guess what – you’ll want it!

And now, here are some of the good things God has given me. Every minute, and hour and day  of my life is a gift from him. These are some of those days. What a fabulous God we have! How His love for us and our love for Him feeds our souls and lifts us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Breath of God. How can I stop from singing?

I’ve read two things this week that have really disquieted me. First, I read about a practice of the Communists during the 1950’s to make a ‘red corner’ in their places of work, and if they met with difficulties they were advised to go to this area, where there was a picture of Stalin, and to think of him. Pravda printed this advice ‘If you feel tired in an hour when you should not, think of him – of Stalin – and your work will go well.’

Wow. I’ve been thinking a lot since reading that about prayer, all sorts of prayer; the current belief in ‘mindfulness’ , and then I remembered the new wave (it was new last year – maybe it’s petered out by now) of ‘non-church’ gatherings on Sunday mornings, where people would  hear feel-good messages, encouragements, ideas… a bit like Ted Talks but longer, more social, and very self-consciously non-church. These meetings were all the rage among aspirational young families yearning for community life. They reported feeling good after joining with others and they even used the word ‘fellowship’, borrowing the jargon of the church. But they didn’t want God. Whoever they sang to when, together, they sang Lennon’s ‘Imagine ‘, it wasn’t God.

It intrigues me that Christian prayers, which we value so very highly, are echoed by the world to smaller gods, to success, to mankind, to a general feeling of benevolence and well-wishing, to do-goodery. Even John Lennon’s nihilistic empty lyrics were a sort of prayer to nothing and no one. And of course I’ve been searching to define the difference. I’m like someone in a light mist, I can see where I am, I understand where I’m going, but I can’t quite make out the sharp edges of the answer.

Tonight, online, I read about the Catholic canonisation of Cardinal Newman, dead 130 years ago. To be canonised the RC church requires evidence of two miracles and there’s a story in the Times that a woman, in imminent danger of a miscarriage, with a ruptured placenta, prayed to Cardinal Newman and was instantly healed.

Prayer. Prayer? Is this prayer? It’s not what I call prayer. None of these practices are what I know as prayer. They may well be genuine and sincere invocations, cries for help, and they might make us feel a temporary lift of our mood, but not all invocations are good. It depends on who we’re invoking and what we’re asking for.

When I was a teenager I turned away from Catholicism because I was taught that God would reduce my mother’s time in purgatory if I prayed long and hard. Even as a not very bright 17 year old I could see that a god like this was corrupt, bribable, and his ethics were shabbier than even mine. A god with no integrity. If Mary Gannon would have her time reduced by her praying child, but the soul next to her would serve a full sentence because no one  was praying for her… where’s the fairness, the justice, the purity? How could I worship a god like that? I couldn’t. (I know that the Catholic Church, like all other churches,  makes mistakes, and I known that what I was taught back in the 60’s is not what my Catholic friends teach now)

I’ve asked myself a question posed by Philip Yancey ‘Does a person with many praying friends stand a better chance of healing than one who also has cancer but with only a few friends praying for her?” It’s the same question I asked all those years ago… is this who God is? A capricious self-serving despot, someone we can coax and wheedle? A god who plays favourites?

Questions are great.  Questions asked in humility, trusting God, and not quite demanding THE answer, will be answered. Our answer, when it comes, may be  simple and even incomplete but it will be entirely satisfying.

Is God capricious and bribable? Is his integrity even less than mine, is he less trustworthy than the friends I trust? Does he sway and change with the wind, in response to fawning supplicants? If he was here with me now and we were discussing a family problem, would I look at him with pity, realising that he was a people pleaser, and not even as honest as shabby old me? Are prayers just a load of old flannel flanneling a tyrant?

Well. No.

In the intervening decades, since turning my back on Purgatory and Limbo and Confession and prayers to the dead,  I’ve learnt a few things. Even me! And now, when I ponder the mystery and the joy of turning to Jesus, our servant God, it doesn’t weaken my faith that I don’t have all the answers to the questions posed by prayer, because I do have an answer about the nature of God.

I know the nature of God.

Was God capricious and self-serving when He sent his Son, an indivisible part of His divinity, into this world as a vulnerable child? Was he a cruel despot when He died for me, and all the sins that I bloody well keep on committing*?  Proverbs 21 tells us ‘A man is known by his actions’ and I would add ‘And God is known by His.’

The God I pray to is righteous and pure. He can’t wink at sin, or be flattered by entreaty. He isn’t moved by bribes or blandishments. He is straighter than straight. I can’t hoodwink him. He is justice, pure justice. But he is love, pure love. And when I come to him, whatever state I’m in, I don’t need the prayers of others to be accepted and to sit at his feet. I don’t need to bribe the doorman with twenty Hail Marys and three Our fathers, and a fiver for a Mass for the dead. My price has been paid. But I’m glad of the prayers of friends, because they are an incarnation of the love God has given us for each other. Do I mean ‘incarnation’? OK, they’re a realisation or proof positive of the love God has given us for Him and for each other.

Prayers bring us into the life of God and prove his reality. We share his heart beat, we thrum with it, as it  fills our hearts and souls with his life blood. When we pray and are aware of his presence, of his listening ear and his quiet voice, when we see answers to prayer, when we feel the support of others praying for us, it’s OK if we don’t understand. It’s all too much for our tiny minds, but we know. We know. When I pray, I know God. That’s why I pray.  To get in there with him. Wowser. What a blinder that is. Amazing.

We pray not to persuade God, but to enter into God, being transformed. Prayer breathes God into us, fills us, so that our prayers, breathed out in submission and joy, are his. At one with God. Our prayers, his breath.

*I fell headlong into a right old doozie last week. Think I’m going to tell you? Hah! You’ve got another think coming. I told God, and that was enough. If you’re feeling bad about something right now, lay down that burden (Oops!That sounds like an old Alabama Spiritual), tell God you’re sorry,  take out that sin and look at it, then dump it. Move on. Really, move on. Greater things are waiting. Apologise where you need to, no excuses. Step back into His love. He’s waiting for you. He will transform you.

 

Falling Out Of Love

Just as the heart plunges into love, so it can plunge right back out of love. Sometimes it’s as if a switch has been thrown… power on, and all is light and love and warmth…. power off, and it’s all gone, as if it never existed.

It happens. The heart is a fickle thing. And it’s not always a romantic ‘love’ that we lose, sometimes it’s a love for a friend, or a place, or a community. Sometimes, after a few years, or maybe a lifetime, of loving and being completely devoted, the moment comes when we are able, at last, to step out of the strange enchantment, and say “I am free of you. Hurrah.” It’s as if the scales fall from our eyes and we are no longer under that spell. We can look at the object of our former love and see that this trusted friend is self-centred and  uncaring. That this community is hopelessly unsupportive. That this lover is searching for love elsewhere. That our love was always and only one sided. And we can decide not to be harmed by this realisation but to just quietly, no fuss, no anger, walk away.

The world says “Good on you. An amicable divorce! That’s very mature and constructive. Well done, you.”

Stepping away from love can make life so much easier and truly liberated. When a friendship is one-sided, or a lover is fickle, or a community is unpleasant, it feels life-affirming and strong to turn away at last, to wipe out all the care we once lavished, not even counting the cost, on someone or something else.

And for some of us, walking away is dead easy. It’s the easy option and the one with an immediate reward. Instant gratification.

Sometimes, a little distancing is a good thing, and if a friendship or allegiance is truly one sided, it’s a way to preserve the frail relationship, to make it possible to heal a rift. Distance and coolness is not always bad.

But the heart is a fickle thing (sometimes a fact bears repeating). The heart is a fickle thing, and it can lie. When we are sad, or exhausted, or snowed under by a hundred concerns, we can misread the world around us, and that’s when the lies of the heart can defeat us.

There is more to you and me than our hearts. There’s our souls. Our hearts are ready to be pricked, to see the hurt the world can do to us, to build a wall around the wounds, to create a distance between us and the world. While our hearts  weep “Me, me, me.” our souls whisper ‘Stay steady. Hold on. Trust God.’

Stay steady. Hold on. Trust God. Step back if you need to but don’t stop loving.

Because when you feel as if the switch has been thrown and you are no longer in love, you misunderstand what love is. Love doesn’t end. True love doesn’t end.

Here’s that chunk from 1 Corinthians:

Love does not give up. Love is kind. Love is not jealous. Love does not put itself up as being important. Love has no pride.  Love does not do the wrong thing. Love never thinks of itself. Love does not get angry. Love does not remember the suffering that comes from being hurt by someone.  Love is not happy with sin. Love is happy with the truth.  Love takes everything that comes without giving up. Love believes all things. Love hopes for all things. Love keeps on in all things.  Love never comes to an end.

Keep on keeping on. With God you can weather any storm. Love doesn’t die. If your heart tells you that you are better off without all the complications and grief of love, ask God if this is true. Take it to the only wise friend you have. Listen to him.

Read 1 Corinthians and trust. Forget self, think Christ. He’s there for you, his love and his patience are there for you.