Learning to Breathe

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Deep communion and dear compassion is formed much more by shared pain than by shared pleasure… We are not saved by any formulas or theologies or any priesthood extraneous to the human journey itself. “Peter, you must be ground like wheat, and once you have recovered, then you can help the brothers.” (Luke 22:31-32)

from Breathing Under Water by Richard Rohr

I went through a ‘Peter’ experience a few years ago. I promised to love God, to be His child, to follow Jesus with all of my heart – and then I went and did something I was immediately ashamed of. I didn’t just do it once, either. It was a very messed-up time. I think I wanted to show God how unworthy I was of His love. I had been on the receiving end of so much hurt that I truly believed, deep, deep down, that no one, not even God, could love me, and that my behaviour would prove it. What did God do in response to this display of weakness and pain? He brought me, within months, to baptism by immersion (an amazing experience) and a few weeks later to the man who seemed to see the ‘me’ underneath all the hurt and loved me in a way that I never knew was possible (of course, I came to love him too, but Frank loved me first, in so many ways that I could never even have imagined). It was truly a match made in heaven.

When I read the words above by Richard Rohr this morning, I recognised their import and impact on my life. Suffering – for reasons I don’t claim to understand – and shared suffering, are essential for growth in Christ. Maybe we human beings can only truly appreciate (and participate in) the Light when we have experienced darkness.

You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden.

Matthew 5:14 (NRSVA)

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shined.

Isaiah 9:2

AFTER EMDR: WHAT NEXT?

I had my final EMDR session. It went well, as these things go, meaning that I was little more than a quaking wreck by the time I walked out the door. At the end of every session I go ‘into my safe place’, which means I close my eyes and imagine I am in St. Julian’s church in Norwich, kneeling before the altar. I surrender everything to God and I pray the Lord’s Prayer. As I pray, I imagine all the people who have knelt in that place, including Lady Julian, all who have prayed and praised and lived out their lives for God. How wonderful it is to recall centuries of prayers and centuries of saints whose shoulders we stand upon.

Do not be afraid—I will save you.
    I have called you by name—you are mine…”

Isaiah 43:1 (GNT)

Afterwards, at home and curled up on the day bed, I was listening to ‘Flash’ by Rachel Anne Ridge. She quoted the above verse. I recall a friend giving me the same verse several years ago, when life seemed like nothing more than a long, dark tunnel. I couldn’t see the light at the end of it, but I had faith in The Light, if that makes sense. I clung to the belief that just because I was in the tunnel it didn’t mean that light couldn’t exist. It was what might be termed a ‘dark night’, but eventually I found myself able to see the light again. I was bruised and scarred, but I could see.

In ‘Flash’ Rachel Anne Ridge describes the moment she recognised all the names, all the identities, she had taken on herself:

damaged

defeated

afraid

alone

unloved

etc., etc.

I suspect Rachel is not alone and that many of us have borne a long list of negative names for ourselves. It is a prolonged process to become free of the sticky web of lies. As I have learned through the years, abuse shapes a person’s sense of self so deeply that often we’re unaware of it (this is partly why we are commanded not to judge one another – but that’s a post for another day). Sometimes the world creeps in and tells me that because I am not such-and-such, because I haven’t done such-and-such, I am worth less than other people, I am somehow a failure. Now that I have finished EMDR, I admit I haven’t a clue where God will lead and of course I am wondering. Will I get a job? Will I complete my degree? How will I serve Him? What does He want me to do? Will He make use of the talents He gave me?

I have been praying recently, knowing that EMDR was coming to an end, about where my life will go. I know it sounds daft but sometimes I feel my life has been wasted. I’m rapidly approaching 40 and yet there are so many things I’ve never done. I feel odd and foolish when I’m around other people who have done all sorts of different things. But maybe – just maybe – that’s a good thing. Maybe God has given me a gift because I have learned (am learning) that my value is not in what I do or who I am. My value, my dignity, is a gift from God, God-breathed and God-inhaled, and that is a gift worth sharing.

Ridge also says:

‘That afternoon, it hit me: as a child of God, I belong to Him. He made me. He owns me. I am His… Only He has the right to name me… My identity is in Him. He has given me a new name. I am not what I do. My value doesn’t come from my successes or my failures. What I do comes from who I am, not the other way around. My value is inherent, not earned.’

I reached the end of the chapter. Still of a prayerful mind, I felt the stirrings of praise and out poured this song:

‘…I saw the Lord… sitting on his throne, high and exalted… Around him flaming creatures were standing… They were calling out to each other:

“Holy, holy, holy!
The Lord Almighty is holy!
His glory fills the world.”’

Isaiah 6:1-3 (GNT)

I looked up the passage from Isaiah that talks about the angels singing ‘holy, holy, holy’. Then, as I read the following verses, it was like God tapping me on the shoulder. It’s as if He was saying, “You’re useful to me, even if you don’t see it.”

‘I said, “There is no hope for me! I am doomed because every word that passes my lips is sinful, and I live among a people whose every word is sinful. And yet, with my own eyes I have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

Then one of the creatures flew down to me, carrying a burning coal that he had taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. He touched my lips with the burning coal and said, “This has touched your lips, and now your guilt is gone, and your sins are forgiven.”

Then I heard the Lord say, “Whom shall I send? Who will be our messenger?”

I answered, “I will go! Send me!”’

Isaiah 6:5-8 (GNT)

I hope these words are useful to you, too, dear reader. God bless.

Made to Bend

I was thinking of how much I have been through in my life. I was considering how much I have suffered and how I have survived and come out the other side. I was thinking how people sometimes talk about ‘the worst time in my life’ and about how confused I am when I read or hear about what their ‘worst thing’ was, because I’ve been through the ‘worst thing’ so many times. I wasn’t judging those people. I was just interested. I observed.

“Why God?” I asked, quietly. “Why did you make me stronger? I don’t feel strong. I feel weak. I think of myself as weak.”

God showed me an image of a bow and arrow. The arrows represented God’s working in the world. The bow represented me.

“I made you.” God said, “See how well crafted you are? You are made of the finest quality wood. I made you to be strong, yet supple; always able to bend but not to break. See how well the arrows that I fire hit their target.”

I saw the bow bend. I saw the arrow fly, straight and true.

“It is true that alone you can do nothing. Alone you are just another piece of wood.” God said, “But I made you for a purpose. You were made for Me. I made you strong enough to bend and bend and bend, but not break.”

I thought about this bending and not breaking. I thought about the Dark Night, when I had nothing left. I don’t know why God made me this way. I just know that He did. I am glad He made me useful, even though I don’t feel useful. If I was made a bow, what about you? What did God make you?