The Antithesis of Anamnesis

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I learned a new word this week: anamnesis. If you’re a medical person it means taking a patient history, but in a theological context it means a remembering – the act of remembering the last supper and the crucifixion in the re-enactment that is the eucharist.

Jesus gave us this one thing to remember Him by. Only one. And when we do it we are bringing to mind the night that He sat with His friends, knowing He was about to be betrayed, tortured and killed – and told them to love one another and to remember, always remember, this meal that they had shared. When we take communion we share again with the disciples, all unknowing, the mystery of the sacrifice.

‘For though we are many, we are one body’ says the Anglican prayer. Are we broken enough for Him? Are we welcoming of brokenness, for His sake? Do we allow ourselves to be broken in the breaking and the making of His Kingdom?

This is my body, broken for you.

When Jesus spoke these words He gave us something to replace the remembering that took place every year at Passover. The seder meal was (and is) a remembering of the slavery of the Israelites, and a symbolic re-enactment of their redemption, by grace. Our 21st century eucharist is a remembering, a symbolic re-enactment of our redemption, by grace, through Christ.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is the opposite of this. PTSD is a remembering and an unwitting re-enactment of something awful that won’t let go. It is a suspension of time and space and a re-living, a re-experiencing, of the awfulness that caused it to be labelled a ‘trauma’ in the first place. Trauma is the Greek word for wound. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a wound that won’t heal, a festering, gangreous wound. Just for extra fun, Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is when you experience so many wounds and so many un-forgettings that it screws you up even more.

But maybe – maybe we have to be broken?

By His wounds we are healed.

Do the healthy need a doctor?

All I know is that I am broken. A million pieces broken. Yet I have a feeling that there is something very special in this brokenness. I have a feeling that PTSD, and its unwilling anamnesis, is a direct, if unconscious echo of the extraordinary beauty of the eucharist. Time heals all wounds, they say (it doesn’t) but I don’t want it to heal this one. Maybe this PTSD is the 21st century equivalent of stigmata? It makes no sense. It makes perfect sense.

Lord, I have cried ‘take this cup away from me’ and I have meant it. And yet I would not want You to take Your cup away – because that would take You with it. I am so sorry for my unfaithfulness, for my pathetic attempts at loving You. I have nothing and I can give nothing. Fill me with You till I am overflowing with Your grace. Amen

 

King of Kings

It was a relaxed Sunday evening and after we shared a chapter from A Young Person’s Guide to Knowing God by Patricia St. John (which I think is an excellent resource for young people – honest, earnest and never patronising) the girls and I wanted to have a bit of a sing song.

“To be honest,” said Fluff, “the singing is my favourite part of going to church and I miss it when we don’t go.”

Aside – I was actually well enough to go this morning but wanted to finish off inventorying the kitchen with Chip so we didn’t go because it takes an hour to drive there and back and then the service is about two hours, plus chatting to people afterwards – it basically means a whole morning and mornings are when I have the most energy. Our family is currently doing the 31 Days of Living Well and Spending Zero challenge and the first big task is to inventory the contents of your kitchen or pantry. I needed a lot of help because my energy levels were never going to last me through that one and Chip was a little trouper.

Into my mind popped this old favourite. I learned it about 30 years ago at Warrior Camp and lo and behold my girls loved it as much as we did back then. They are old enough now to appreciate the harmonies so we had great fun.

My small, but heartfelt, prayer lately has been along the lines of “God, I’m so broken and small, I manage so little. How can I possibly do anything for Your glory?”

Seems like God has answered in the smallness of a smile, in the glimpse of the sun in a bright spring sky, in the soft touch of a guinea pig snuggling into my shoulder, even in the voices of two adolescent girls roaring out, “Jesus, Prince of Peace, glory hal-le-lujah!” In contrast to all that the world has to say, God says that small and insignificant is ok. Indispensable, even. Because He is strong when I am weak. I really don’t get it. But that’s ok. As long as it is all for His glory.

What you do for the least of these you do for Me…

But Lord, I am ‘the least of these’.

So be ‘the least of these’ for Me. 

 

The Tracing of Scars

man of sorrows

Man of Sorrows

To…

every single one who carries

their own unspoken broken –

these pages had to be for you –

the tracing of scars.

~ Dedication at the beginning of The Broken Way by Ann Voskamp

He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.

Isaiah 53:5 (NKJV)

Weak, Strong; Broken, Whole

“What is my strength that I should wait?

And what is my end, that I should be patient?

Is my strength the strength of stones,

or is my flesh bronze?

In truth I have no help in me,

and any resource is driven from me.”

Job cries out to God, Job 6:11-13 (NRSVA)

Three times I appealed to the Lord about [my suffering], that it would leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me… for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth, 2 Corinthians 12:8-10

My dear mother-in-law is very poorly. She had a stroke at the weekend. It’s touch and go, as they say. When my sister-in-law visited yesterday my MIL was extremely distressed and crying out to God. Praise God she is a woman of faith! But dementia can be very cruel. It steals everything you have. When I read the words from Job this morning as part of my daily Bible time, I was immediately struck by how apt they were. Despite the extreme distress of my MIL (which is heart-wrenching because there is no way to offer consolation when a person has no memory, no way to comfort, no way to reassure) it is an honour to know a woman who, when all else is gone, has a faith that cries out to her Redeemer. God help us all.

In my distress I called upon the LORD,

to my God I cried for help.

From his temple he heard my voice,

and my cry to him reached his ears.

Psalm 18:6

 

God is good. God is always good.

Seven: Thoughts on Married Life

It’s been a little over seven years since I first met my husband. I was 32 then. How young that seems now! My dear Frank was a youthful 41. When I look back, when I consider the woman I was then it is almost like I’m remembering the life of someone else, so far have I come from that ill-used, halfling creature. It amazes me to think that Frank saw beyond all that jagged brokenness and, more than that, he loved me just for me. He rescued me. I was about breaking into a million sharp shards and this wonderful man didn’t run in the opposite direction when he found out my past, he didn’t even scarper when my then 10-year-old autistic and ADHD son attacked him when he babysat the kids for an evening, for the first time. Frank phoned me when I was in the middle of dance class and asked if I would come home. I confess I didn’t think it was all that bad and wanted to stay (single parenthood not giving me much opportunity for anything). Ten minutes later he called again and I realised that I needed to go home. His voice sounded polite, but strained. Here we go, I thought. I braced myself.

As I walked in the front door and saw Frank’s face, and then took in the fact that he was covered from head to toe in Vaseline and eczema cream, I knew for sure it was over. Who would willingly stay to become the step-father of a child who didn’t sleep, destroyed things and attacked you? Who would willingly desire to be the husband of someone as broken as me? Who could possibly think that we, the kids and I, were worth it? Also, at that point I had had not only the awful, abusive first marriage and the ramifications of that individual’s crimes, but a few months before had fallen for someone – a lovely Christian man – whom I thought felt the same only to find out he didn’t. Ouch. So I had wrapped my heart tightly inside me, to protect it. I had not let myself feel anything other than a moderate attraction to this new man, Frank, who stood before me as I stepped into the hall.

But the rejection never came. Instead, the very first thing he said was “you know that I love you, don’t you?” And I – well, how do I say this? – I began to unwrap the tight bindings of my heart. I can’t say he swept me off my feet or romanced me. Everyday life with two very little girls and a son with ASD meant that we stepped into (grim?) reality straight away. No time for all that lovey-dovey stuff. He stayed. And he loved. I grew to love him, and I also grew to love the ‘me’ that he saw – because I can tell you for sure that I did not even like myself, let alone love myself, and I didn’t see how anyone else could.

So I would like to thank God for answering prayers I never even uttered, and I would like to thank Frank. For being Frank. For being a man of God and a man of compassion and a man of so many other things that will remain unnumbered. Not a day goes by that I don’t tell him how much I love him. I am truly blessed! This post is for my husband. Thank you.

Flashbacks

In 2015 I went through EMDR. It was excruciating, but I saw tremendous improvement in the months that followed. I was told right from the beginning that it was not a cure, as such, that everyone responds differently and that ‘wellness’ occurs at varying degrees.

Lately I have been experiencing flashbacks. They are quite intense, but in a different way to those I endured before EMDR. Often these flashbacks are not related to overt violence or threatening situations. They’re usually about all the ways in which I was manipulated and coerced.

People often don’t realise that coercion is actively abusive, but in many ways it is equally as damaging as the more obvious kinds of abuse, and may in fact be more destructive *because* it is less easily identified. Coercion and manipulation work in such a way as to make the victim feel he or she has no choice. Coercion attempts to make the victim a willing participant. In certain situations this coercion is also known as ‘grooming’.

Sometimes it is as if I experience the situation all over again. It makes me sick. Nausea and a goose-pimply feeling of horror and disgust wash over me. At that point all I can think is: ‘I hate him. I hate him. I hate him.’

But my faith is my rock. As the flashback lessens and common sense drips back in, I tell myself that it is a sin to hate. Hatred eats away at you, making you permanently miserable; no room for love. My God says to lay all my burdens on Him. My Jesus stretched His arms wider than the earth on that cross.

I pray, “Lord, I can’t help feeling that I hate him, but I know you don’t hate him. I give my hatred and I give him over to You. Seventy times seven. To the power seven. And then some. Please keep him away from my family and from anyone else who is vulnerable. Don’t let him hurt anyone else. If you can reach his heart, I pray that you do. You tell me to pray for my enemies so that is what I’m trying to do. I don’t know what else to do but to reach out to you. Seventy times seven. And then some.”

I write because this is my testimony of what faith actually looks like – not pretend faith that avoids the nasty stuff. Life is hard. But God is always good. God is ALWAYS good.

Fellowship

Our relationships with other believers can be tragically shallow. Even small groups… can be more like superficial social clubs… Our fast-paced modern world makes it hard to slow down and invest in each other… Socialization and fellowship are [often] confused. They are not the same thing.

from Positively Powerless: How a Forgotten Movement Undermined Christianity by L.L. Martin (who blogs here)

This paragraph, from the final chapter of Laura’s excellent book, struck me as an incredibly powerful statement, and one that I know to be true. The vast majority of Christian encounters fall very much into the shallower end of fellowship, at best. The truest fellowship that I have ever experienced was that shared within Celebrate Recovery, where for a short space of time each week we could take off the ‘mask’ of everyday life and become our true, measly, weak selves. We could remove the Christian smile and the ‘hallelujah!’ attitude that pervades many churches here in the UK. Those things are not wrong, but they are wrong when they are constant and never tempered with the reality of sin and struggle.

Something miraculous happened at Celebrate Recovery. Every week, Jesus sat in that room alongside us as we confessed, and shared, and prayed, and wept. We grew to know one another at a deep level, we grew taller in our spiritual and emotional stature, we experienced profound and deep healing, and we experienced a true, spiritual fellowship. I pray God will bring Celebrate Recovery to our town, in His time. I know our town could use it! I pray that I will meet the right people, God-willing, to take on this none-too-small adventure.

Jesus… looked up to heaven and said… “I ask… on behalf of those who will believe in me through [my disciples’] word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

John 17:1,20-23 (NRSVA)

Courage isn’t courage unless you’re afraid

Courage is not courage unless you’re afraid. Courage is being afraid, but trying anyway. Have you ever been afraid? I have. A lot. It left me scarred.

Ann Voskamp has a post today entitled ‘When loving your enemies, the stranger & your neighbor feels way too risky‘ (it is an excellent post; please click to read it). What could be riskier, when you’ve been betrayed in the worst possible ways by those you loved? Never mind loving your enemies, what could be riskier than loving your friends? Especially when it was those who were supposed to love you, to protect you, who hurt you most. They took advantage of your vulnerability so that in every small thing your loss was their gain. If you can call it gain. In the end it’s torture for them, too. That I can see, now. Healing brings clarity. It doesn’t make it any better, though, and it doesn’t stop the past from jumping up and shouting ‘”BOO!” even though, praise God, EMDR lessens the intensity.

And yet, by grace, five years ago, pre-EMDR, I stood at the front of the church and said “I do” to this other man – this man who would be my rescuer, my lover, my surest friend. Friendships are risky, whatever form they take, especially if you’ve been hurt too often to count.

Count. I like counting. That’s why I love maths – because it has no emotions. It’s a relief. We played Countdown last night. I bought the DVD version from the charity shop and four of us, Frank, Fluff, Chip and I, we sat and we made words from letters and sums from numbers. It was good. We made sense out of nonsense, a workable whole from the fractured parts. Isn’t that what following Christ is all about?

 

‘Everything we do in life either brings us closer to God or takes us further away; there are no neutral activities.’

Longing for God, Richard Foster & Gayle Beebe

 

Relationships, friendships: what I most desire… in some ways. And what scares me, in many ways. How do you let someone in without letting too much of yourself out? How do you love without hurting?

I don’t suppose you do – seeing as they’re human. Seeing as I’m human. By grace, we do it anyway.

*’As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.’

John 15:9 (NRSVA)

*The above verse is also, incidentally, my baptismal verse. I get goosebumps thinking about it. There is not one other verse in the whole of God’s wonderful Word that is more ‘for me’ and my life. I remember looking at the pastor as he gave it to me. He seemed surprised. I wasn’t. It seemed perfectly right. The whole moment seemed ‘right’, as if we were fulfilling a beautiful, divinely conceived idea. Providence indeed. Thank you, Lord.

On Grief

Sometimes I look at my son and wonder how he can be so self-absorbed, so utterly self-obsessed that the sun, the moon, the stars and indeed the entire universe seem to revolve around him. Then I remind myself: a) he has autism, this is his default mode, and b) he’s a teenager. What I don’t usually do is look at myself in the same way. Yet that is what I have been like, these past few weeks since my father-in-law’s funeral. I was glad when my mother-in-law seemed calmer, more settled and less teary, not just for her sake, but because I didn’t want to carry her emotional burden. My husband, too, has been remarkably calm and collected and because of this I have not really paid much attention to his quiet grief. I have felt sad for him, but glad that I didn’t have to deal with the ‘fallout’ of his loss. In part, I know this is because I am struggling with my own PTSD-related stuff, health problems, blah blah blah… and also fighting against my past co-dependency which made me feel in excruciating intensity everyone’s pain but my own… but this is my husband, the man I cherish. There’s no excuse; I have been selfish.

 

Last night my husband confided in me, and shared something which made me realise that his grief is ever-present, that he is struggling, he is sad, but it is just not in his nature to draw attention to himself. Also I suspect he is so used to being there for me that he forgot I could be there for him too – and so he has kept his head down and ploughed onwards, ever onwards, working hard and taking care of all of us. I was chastened. I spent time considering Jesus’ responses to grief:

‘As they approached the city gate, it happened that some people were carrying out a dead man, the only son of his widowed mother. The usual crowd of fellow-townsmen was with her. When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.”

Then he walked up and put his hand on the bier while the bearers stood still. Then he said, “Young man, wake up!”

And the dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus handed him to his mother.’

Luke 7:12-15 (JB Phillips translation)

 

How beautiful, how unexpected! Jesus saw the woman had lost, in her eyes, the whole world. In the context of first century occupied Palestine this also meant she had probably lost her means of survival. Widows couldn’t own property or have a trade. Women did not have the same status as men. This is why later, in James’ letter, he exhorts those who would call themselves Followers of Christ to show love and care for ‘widows and orphans’ (James 1:27). I can only imagine the enormity of grief that this woman felt, first losing her husband and then her only child. She must have been in the very depths of despair (that much I can imagine – I have been in that swamp). Jesus saw the funeral procession. He knew that she was a widow, and that the coffin contained her only child (whether he knew this from divine inspiration or because someone told Him, we can never know). The Phillips translation puts it very simply ‘When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.”‘ Even though His own mother would stand at the foot of the cross and watch her son die horribly, painfully, Jesus felt sorrow for this woman. I love how the Phillips translation renders this as Jesus saying “Don’t cry.” More than this, I love how the final line in verse 15 is that He ‘handed’ the son to the mother. Jesus offered the grief-stricken woman the gift of her beloved son, even though He knew He could not spare His own mother from her ordeal (what a heartbreak that must have been).

 

The gift of Life is the same gift given to each one of us when we choose to follow Jesus. This is a different life than just a biological breathing and heart pumping (in Greek this is ‘bios’, and is a measurable event). When Jesus talks about ‘life in all its fullness’, it is the Greek word ζωή (zoe). This ζωή is the act of joy-living, of being… It’s hard to explain and I’m not a theology scholar. To put it into context, ‘the enemy of zoe [Life] is sin’ says James Edwards, Professor of Religion at Jamestown College – read more here – and we all know that ‘the wages of sin is death’ (hence life-in-all-its-fullness is the opposite).

 

Anyway, I was also thinking about what happens when Jesus is with His disciples and learns that His friend, Lazarus, brother of Mary and Martha, is gravely ill. He announces that Lazarus’ illness is ‘for God’s glory’, which must have seemed very odd to the disciples – but then I imagine that life as a disciple was one long stream of wonderful, albeit puzzling, happenings. For example, the previous chapter speaks of Jesus walking around the temple getting up people’s noses and talking about sheep…

sheep

I digress… Jesus doesn’t dash off to Lazarus’ side, or even run to comfort Mary and Martha. He hangs around for another two days, and only then announces that they’re going back. The disciples are even more puzzled. Hang on a minute – we were there a few days ago, you were talking about sheep and a bunch of people threatened to stone you for blasphemy… and we’re going back? I can almost hear them! I know that’s what I would have been thinking. But Jesus knew what was happening – He knew that even though none of it appeared to make sense, it would all come together for good. Hmm.

“All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

~ Julian of Norwich c.1400

 

So Jesus takes His followers back to Judea, back to the Mary who had wiped His feet with her hair and anointed Him with perfume, back to the Martha whom He told “Hush… Stop – sit and listen like Mary is” or something along those lines, when she was all flustered trying to be the ‘perfect’ hostess (how many of us would have done the same?!). Jesus walks back to the village of Bethany, and it is all – seemingly – too late. Jesus is wonderful, I mean, they know that. He healed the sick and made the blind see and the lame walk. But Lazarus isn’t ill; He’s dead. Four days dead by the time they arrive – and everyone knows death is final. There are no second chances – and in every death we witness, we also experience the echo of our own future selves. We each know that our time will come, too, to step through the door marked ‘no return’. There is a grief just in this knowledge. When we mourn others, we also mourn ourselves.

 

And then we have dear Thomas. I love what Thomas says: “I suppose we might as well go. Then we can die with him.” o_O Glass half full kind of chap – I bet he was a real joy to be around… Thomas reminds me of Eeyore. Yet Jesus doesn’t chastise Thomas. He just walks. I love how Jesus accepts our stupidity, our pessimism, our unbelief – and loves us anyway, just like Thomas! I believe that, although He was both fully human and fully divine, Jesus had not experienced this smallness of self, this aloneness of being frail, being mortal, sinful and stuck. These things come from our own desperate, earthly selves. We are all small, and alone, when it comes down to it, without Christ.

The Passion of Christ, El Greco

The Passion of Christ, El Greco

 

Jesus had never experienced this for Himself, because He had never experienced being cut off from God, which we all are as a result of sin. This is why later, on the night He is betrayed, He prays for His disciples and all who will follow – i.e. you and me – and asks that ‘they all may be one, [just] as You, Father, are in Me and I in You’, (John 17:21 Amplified)

 

 

 

 

Anyway, so they arrive in Judea to a four-days-dead Lazarus and his distraught sisters and this time Mary, who once knelt as she wiped His feet with her hair, again kneels at His feet and this time cries out – a real heart-cry, the cry of the broken, the wounded, the distraught (the human?).

When Jesus saw Mary weep and noticed the tears of the Jews who came with her, he was deeply moved and visibly distressed.

“Where have you put him?” he asked.

“Lord, come and see,” they replied, and at this Jesus himself wept.

John 11:33-35 (JB Phillips translation)

I don’t believe Jesus wept because He was grieving for Lazarus. Why would He do that? He already knew He could raise Lazarus from the dead. No, He wept because He understood the sorrow and the smallness and the aloneness that comes with being fallen and frail and human. He knew and understood. In this moment He truly became ‘a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief’ as the King James version poetically says (Isaiah 53:3).

Man of Sorrows

                The Man of Sorrows                      Master of the Borgo Crucifix

‘“Take away the stone,” said Jesus. “But Lord,” said Martha, the dead man’s sister, “he has been dead four days. By this time he will be decaying ….”

“Did I not tell you,” replied Jesus, “that if you believed, you would see the wonder of what God can do?”

Then they took the stone away and Jesus raised his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I know that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of these people standing here so that they may believe that you have sent me.”

And when he had said this, he called out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”

And the dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with grave-clothes and his face muffled with a handkerchief. “Now unbind him,” Jesus told them, “and let him go home.”’

John 11:39-44

That last bit is so beautiful. It is so ordinary, so down-to-earth: ‘let him go home’. Our God-become-man fully understands our smallness, yet here He does it – the biggest miracle – raising the four-days-dead Lazarus, undoing the death-knell that tolls for all. In this resurrection we are given the first glimpse of something beyond mortality. In this raising of Lazarus God shows us there is a different way to live – He takes our grief and replaces it with zoe.

And, you see, that’s what He meant when He was starting out, with that first remarkable declaration in the synagogue – the one that (also) caused an uproar:

‘He stood up to read the scriptures and the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. He opened the book and found the place where these words are written—‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach the Gospel to the poor. He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord’.

Then he shut the book, handed it back to the attendant and resumed his seat. Every eye in the synagogue was fixed upon him and he began to tell them, “This very day this scripture has been fulfilled, while you were listening to it!”’

Luke 4:16-21

The Holy Trinity, El Greco

The Holy Trinity, El Greco

I don’t know if all this has made sense. I have had a rest day today as my health is not been so good. It makes concentration difficult. This blog post has taken hours, but I had the sense of something that needed to be said – things that needed to be communicated. Thank you for reading this far and apologies if any of it has been muddled.

In conclusion, I pray for all who grieve. I pray for my Frank, that He might draw near to You, Lord of heaven and earth. I pray that You will use me to comfort him, and to comfort my mother-in-law and sister-in-law. May they be blessed with the peace that passes understanding. I pray for all who read who have been filled with sorrow and acquainted with grief. Thank you, Lord, that when You walked this muddy earth You walked right alongside us, and experienced all that it means to be human – the joy, the tears, even the mundane. Thank you that you showed how much You loved us by taking on the mantle of sin and suffering and grief. Thank you that we can ask You to share our pain and to relieve all of our burdens. May we learn, day by day, to rest in You. May we know when to speak, and when to be silent, by grace, and to love one another as You would have us love. In Jesus’ precious name we pray. Amen