Do Not Touch

When the New Testament was first written, it was written in Greek (not quite the same Greek as Aristotle and Homer and Plato and that lot, that’s earlier). Later it was translated into Latin and of course Latin was used throughout the centuries as an international language, which was all very laudable and whatnot except that ordinary people couldn’t read or write it and were forbidden to read the bible and stuff… and then Martin Luther came along and set the cat among the pigeons and this other chap called Tyndale did the unthinkable by translating the bible into English and Henry VIII… well, he had a bit of a god complex. And problems with lust.

Anyway… when I was a little girl I used to write plays for my friends to perform. Once when I was about 11 I wrote a Christmas play with elements from various Christmas-themed stories, including Narnia. There were Narnian shields (cereal box card covered in tin foil) for which I designed a coat of arms: the lion rampant and the Latin words ‘noli me tangere’.  ‘Noli me tangere’ is the Latin version of what Jesus said to Mary after He appeared to her in the garden following the resurrection (John 20:17). In English it means ‘don’t touch me’. These words seemed to be almost magical in their power, especially when combined with a sword and shield: Do Not Touch Me.

Every abused child wishes they could say those words, I’m sure. After reliving some pretty horrendous stuff in my EMDR session today I feel a bit like that little girl again, with her cardboard shield with its paper lion and Latin words. I feel like I’m fighting a battle with toys. DO NOT TOUCH ME.

Noli Me Tangere by Fra Angelico, painted 1408-1455.

Then this evening I read the following, and I felt God giving me an answer. It’s not an easy answer. It doesn’t change the suffering. But it does give hope:

…our Lord would have all men know that this soul is His own and that none may molest it, for it is all His.

St. Teresa of Avila – The Interior Castle

Needed Time

I’m off to my EMDR session tomorrow, with the full intention of trying to ‘let go’. My friend is in labour with her first baby. My parents are flying back to Europe this week from America. The children are at school tomorrow. A friend mourns his wife.

In the Middle East, Christians are fleeing their homes, their livelihoods, running from everything they have ever known. Worse still, some of them stay, knowing the consequences but choosing to live as people of light in the land of darkness, God help them. God bless them. See how bright they blaze in the darkness?

Children the world over are abandoned, abused, neglected. Families starve in the basement while in the penthouse they party with champagne. One is born into poverty. One is born into privilege. The world groans under the weight of her own iniquities.

Now is the needed time. Lord. As much as ever, we need You. We need a Saviour. Help us to be thankful for ‘enough’ and when we have more than enough, help us to share. Help us to always be alert to the suffering of our brothers and sisters, and to help them in whatever small way we can. We know that with You, Lord, small becomes big, last becomes first, poor becomes rich. Thank you, Lord, for your Upside Down Kingdom. Help us in our weakness. We need You.

Amen

EMDR, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Mental Illness

My doctor psychologist lady tells me I’m holding back. She tells me I’m ‘blocking’: I am not letting the EMDR process move forward at anything other than a snail’s pace. Which is ok, she says, but I only have 18 sessions and then I have to go back on the waiting list if I need it again. So if I want to be seeing real improvements I have to allow her in, as it were… No, I don’t have to allow her in. I have to allow me out – the me that stays hidden, locked inside the vault. This tomb was created so that I could survive. If I hadn’t, I would have lost my sanity or, worse, lost my children.

It is the existence of the vault that causes the PTSD, because occasionally the vault is shaken, and occasionally, outside of my control, one of the terrible things hidden inside escapes and wreaks havoc, even if only temporarily. It happens often enough that they give it a name and call it Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which is quite a polite-sounding name for what happens when your own head screams danger! danger! danger! because the man walking by looks vaguely like your ex-husband, or emergency! emergency! emergency! when you hear a certain type of sound that sounds a bit like something far worse. Mind you, I’m very good at hiding it. Abuse teaches you to hide your thoughts and feelings because they make you more vulnerable, so you become a master of disguise.

I think PTSD occurs because human beings are wired for survival. It took me time to figure that out. I thought I was weak and that that’s why it affected only some people. I don’t now. PTSD occurs when you have to push your emotions down in a hostile, sometimes life-threatening situation, in order to think rationally and clearly – in order to survive. It’s a great survival technique. The trouble is that you then have to be able to process the memories of those terrible events, because that’s what the brain does every night as you sleep, but if you’ve had to push it down far enough, and if you’ve had to push it down over and over and over in order to survive and continue to survive… well, then you end up with PTSD, because we’re not made for intense and unrelenting distress.

The past two days I have been giving what the psychologist said a lot of thought. She’s right and I know she’s right. I have talked it through with my dear Frank. I have talked, in less detail of course, with each of my children. It occurred to me that if I was diagnosed with a different kind of serious illness, I would allow myself the time and space for the treatment to work, and I would explain to the children what was happening (because they’re all old enough to understand) so that we could muddle through together because that’s what families do. So why had it not really occurred to me to do this for EMDR? Why did I think that my treatment and its effects were not ‘worthy’ enough to be given consideration?

I don’t think the fault lies solely within me. I don’t think it’s just me wanting to push through and just get on with it, because, as St. Teresa of Avila says in The Interior Castle, ‘getting on with it’ is just common sense. No, I think that our culture looks upon mental illness and its treatment with cynicism. Sufferers are often perceived as weak-minded or morally deficient, as malingerers or somehow less human. Our culture subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) degrades those with mental illness. They become objects of fear, scorn or pity, as if they’re no longer worthy of the same respect and dignity as someone with a ‘physical’ illness. Yet even Jesus experienced mental anguish:

‘In his life on earth Jesus made his prayers and requests with loud cries and tears to God, who could save him from death. Because he was humble and devoted, God heard him. But even though he was God’s Son, he learned through his sufferings to be obedient. When he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all those who obey him…’

Hebrews 5:7-9 (GNT)

Mental illness is a physical illness. If my brain doesn’t work properly because the neurons got screwed up by too much adrenaline, or if the brain’s hormones are too high or too low, how is that not physical? Who in this world can look into my malfunctioning brain and know what I am thinking or feeling? No one. Yet still the fear within ourselves makes us view the mentally ill at arms’ length. In the 21st century that is nothing short of a disgrace.

I read an excellent post from Ann Voskamp today. She could have written it just for me at this exact time. Praise God for His provision! How can I be anything but thankful for today? Here’s an excerpt. I pray it blesses you as it did me:

Dear Thriver

I once held a bird in my hand.

No one else could see it, but I felt it. I felt it’s heart thumping hard and afraid.

It happens– there are ways to look fine on the outside…. and no one knows what you’ve really survived.

But honestly? You didn’t just survive, so let’s toss that myth right at the outset.

The way you keep walking? You may be wounded. You may be hurting. You may be limping. You may feel alone and overwhelmed and an unspoken broken — but you’re no victim. And you’re not just a survivor. You’re a Thriver.

You may bleed but you rise.

Yeah, it may not feel like it — but you are seen… how you just keep keeping your chin up and living brave through the hurt and how you keep taking one step out of bed and another step through the door — and how you keep scaling mountains by relentlessly taking steps forward.

But I wanted you to know — your wounds are seen and it’s okay… 

To read more click here, it will open in a new tab.

Lent: Solid Food

We have been to a few churches locally and, while each has had its positives and its negatives, the biggest common detractor is the quality of teaching. It is clear that there are many people who would consider themselves as Christians for many years whose spiritual growth and wisdom is, frankly, stunted.

I don’t seek to judge. I seek… a Church that strives and thrives and lives and loves with enthusiasm for every aspect of belief. Why is it so common in English churches to find spiritual baby food served up every single week? Imagine what we could do for Christ if only we were willing to go deeper.

‘There is a great deal that we should like to say… but it is not easy to explain to you since you seem so slow to grasp spiritual truth. At a time when you should be teaching others, you need teachers yourselves to repeat to you the ABC of God’s Revelation to men. You have become people who need a milk diet and cannot face solid food! For anyone who continues to live on “milk” is obviously immature—he simply has not grown up. “Solid food” is only for the adult, that is, for the man who has developed by experience his power to discriminate between what is good and bad for him.’

Hebrews 5:11-14 (Phillips)

Lent: As the Father has Loved

‘1968. Jerusalem. Brother Andrew had spent a decade visiting the church in Communist lands. He had built a team to help him. But the success of God’s Smuggler meant he was now too well known and could not return to those countries. A visit to Israel brought him face to face with the conflict between Muslim, Jew and Christian in the Middle East. He read again Christ’s messages to the church in Revelation. ‘To him who overcomes…’ [Revelation 3:7-13]

“But most of the churches in that letter had not ‘overcome’. They no longer existed. Individual churches could die… I knew then that my mission was to seek out the living church in the Middle East, learn about her condition and needs, and do whatever I could do to strengthen her.”

The core of Brother Andrew’s message is love. “Here’s what we need to remember: I Sincerely Love All Muslims.” Or ISLAM for short.’

from Open Doors email

as part of the Step of Yes series

Amen. ‘I Sincerely Love All Muslims’ – ‘Islam’ for short.

*********

This morning I had a cup of tea brought to me by my wonderful husband. The mug containing the tea was printed with the words ‘Love was His meaning’ over and over. How amazing  – no, how beautiful – that I should be sipping my tea from that mug and reading the above from Open Doors. A gentle reminder that God is good when times are good and God is good when times are bad.

‘Would you know your Lord’s meaning in this thing? Know it well, love was his meaning. Who showed it to you? Love. What did he show you? Love. Why did he show it? For love. Keep yourself therein and you shall know and understand more in the same. But you shall never know nor understand any other thing, forever.’

from Revelations of Divine Love

by Julian of Norwich

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

John 15:9 (NRSVA)

Reblog: Results of Almsgiving, Fasting, and Prayer

One thing that strikes me with many revered writers is that the English used in translation is quite complex. I had to look up ‘concupiscible’ and I have a good vocabulary. Yet I don’t think that the writers necessarily intended to be obscure. There are many people for whom the phrasing and vocabulary of such writers just goes too far. It’s beyond their intellectual understanding, but I don’t think that that in itself excludes them from understanding the spirituality, quite the contrary. It’s not as if our intellect can ever be anything but puny compared to God’s!

I had a go at paraphrasing what I thought St. Teresa of Avila was trying to say in a post yesterday, just a couple of paragraphs. I imagined explaining the ideas to my daughters, who are themselves bright girls with vocabulary beyond their years (11 and 9), but the biggest challenge would be to paraphrase it enough so that my son could grasp it, or something like it. He is 15 but has autism and receptive language disorder. His language skills are that of the average 7 year old, at best. He has taught me that good communication is in the ability of the *communicator* to explain a concept as simply as possible. Sometimes, of course, the writing has to be of a certain level, but many times writing is needlessly obscure.

I am glad God gave me my beautiful boy. He teaches me about Himself through my son. The boy has a way of seeing things in black and white, and with an inviolable innocence that is at once challenging and compelling.

Contemplative in the Mud

Almsgiving heals the irascible part of the soul; fasting extinguishes the concupiscible part; and prayer purifies the mind and prepares it for the contemplation of reality.
Saint Maximus the Confessor

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Lent: Prayer and Meditation

Cornish Daffodils – Happy St. David’s Day. Spring is in the air!

‘As most certainly the way to please God is to keep the commandments and counsels, let us do so diligently, while meditating on His life and death and all we owe Him. Then, let the rest be as God chooses. Some may answer that their mind refuses to dwell on these subjects and… this to a certain extent is true; you know that it is one thing to reason and another thing for the memory to bring certain truths before the mind. Perhaps you may not understand me, possibly I fail to express myself rightly, but I will do my best. Using the understanding much in this manner is what I call meditation.

Let us begin by considering the mercy God showed us by giving us His only Son. Let us not stop here, but go on to reflect upon all the mysteries of His glorious life, or let us first turn our thoughts to His prayer in the garden, then allow them to continue the subject until they reach the crucifixion. Or we may take some part of the Passion, such as Christ’s apprehension, and dwell on this mystery, considering in detail the points to be pondered and thought over such as the treachery of Judas, the flight of the Apostles and all that followed. This is an admirable and very meritorious kind of prayer.’

The Interior Castle ~ St. Teresa of Avila

Addendum: The following is a paraphrase of the above in more accessible English (I imagined communicating the same ideas to my daughters).

The best way to show our love for God is to try very hard to keep His commandments and do what He teaches us through the bible. As we do this, we can also give thought to Jesus’ life and death and everything He did for us, and we can think about how our lives can and should be different now that we belong to Him. Don’t worry about trying to achieve more than this, though. Let God show you where to go and what to do next. I know some reading this will be thinking that they find it hard to keep thinking about these things, which is fair enough. Our minds don’t always stay focused on what we’d like them to stay focused on. However, when we do make use of our hearts and minds by thinking about these things in this way, this is what is meant by ‘meditation’.

Here are some ideas to get you started: first, think about God’s great mercy when He gave us His only Son. Then move on, considering all the amazing things in Jesus’ life. Another way to begin might be to think about Jesus’ prayer in the garden of Gethsemane before He was arrested, then you could imagine the actual arrest and Judas’ betrayal and how the disciples all ran away. Thinking about these kinds of things in this way is not only a type of prayer but a very beneficial kind of prayer.

Any thoughts on either the words from St. Teresa, or on my paraphrasing?

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?

He Knows Best

Jesus, worn out by the trip, sat down at the well. It was noon.

A woman, a Samaritan, came to draw water. Jesus said, “Would you give me a drink of water?” (His disciples had gone to the village to buy food for lunch.)

The Samaritan woman, taken aback, asked, “How come you, a Jew, are asking me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” (Jews in those days wouldn’t be caught dead talking to Samaritans.)

Jesus answered, “If you knew the generosity of God and who I am, you would be asking me for a drink, and I would give you fresh, living water.”

The woman said, “Sir, you don’t even have a bucket to draw with, and this well is deep. So how are you going to get this ‘living water’?…”

Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks this water will get thirsty again and again. Anyone who drinks the water I give will never thirst—not ever…”

The woman said, “Sir, give me this water so I won’t ever get thirsty, won’t ever have to come back to this well again!”

He said, “Go call your husband and then come back.”

“I have no husband,” she said.

“That’s nicely put: ‘I have no husband.’ You’ve had five husbands, and the man you’re living with now isn’t even your husband. You spoke the truth there, sure enough…

“…the time is coming—it has, in fact, come… It’s who you are and the way you live that count before God… That’s the kind of people the Father is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship. God is sheer being itself—Spirit. Those who worship him must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration.”

The woman said, “I don’t know about that. I do know that the Messiah is coming. When he arrives, we’ll get the whole story.”

“I am he,” said Jesus. “You don’t have to wait any longer or look any further.”

Just then his disciples came back. They were shocked. They couldn’t believe he was talking with that kind of a woman. No one said what they were all thinking, but their faces showed it.

The woman took the hint and left. In her confusion she left her water pot. Back in the village she told the people, “Come see a man who knew all about the things I did, who knows me inside and out. Do you think this could be the Messiah?”

extract from John 4:6-30 (The Message)

Jesus points out the woman’s unmarried-yet-living-together state, but He doesn’t condemn her. He doesn’t focus on the negative, He focuses on what He has to say to her. His gift to her is more important than what she has done or who she is. Given the 21st century Church’s penchant for accusatory finger-pointing, particularly regarding ‘sexual sin’ (I don’t know what else to call it, hence the inverted commas), it is interesting that Jesus doesn’t say more to this woman. Why is this interesting? Because Jesus certainly had plenty to say to those who did adhere to all the rules, e.g. the Pharisees, especially those who liked to show themselves as morally upright, righteous and worthy. Jesus had plenty to say to them and about them. But yet He says not a lot about this woman, and she seems to see something in Him that even His disciples don’t see. In this encounter Jesus implies that sin isn’t a list of tick-boxes. Instead, He speaks of the living water of grace. Grace is a state of being, not of doing, and it flows only from Him.

‘Indeed, we may often work and search until we are exhausted without finding as much as a pool, much less a springing well.

Therefore, sisters, I think it best for us to place ourselves in the presence of God, contemplate His mercy and grandeur, and our own vileness, and leave Him to give us what He will, whether water or drought, for He knows best what is good for us.

St. Teresa of Avila ~ The Interior Castle

On a personal note, I’ve had a few weeks’ break from EMDR, but I start again tomorrow. I’m not looking forward to it. Still, as St. Teresa says, I leave God to give me what He will, whether water or drought, because He knows best. I hope this post is helpful to anyone else who is struggling, whether it be with sin, or circumstances, or illness… this is my gift to you today: God is always good.

LENT DAYS THREE & FOUR: BE STILL; BE READY

Apologies for the lateness of this post – yesterday we were travelling back from a short city break and, after losing two children for a panicky 20 minutes in the hustle and bustle of a big city station, we missed our train, so we didn’t get home until gone 9 o’clock, after which we went straight to bed.

Peter is one of my all-time biblical favourites. Right from the beginning, right from when Jesus intrigued him by saying that he could be a ‘fisher of men’, Peter was wholeheartedly eager. That’s why I love him – because he so desperately wanted to do the right thing, he so desperately wanted to follow Jesus. When he first met Jesus, Peter was in awe of Him, and drawn to Him in a way he probably couldn’t have explained. Later, it was Peter who realised the significance of Jesus, realised Who He was, and wanted to please Him. It was also Peter who, when the time came for Jesus to meet His great sorrow, promised to never betray Him… and it was Peter who, when the chips were down, denied that he even knew Jesus.

What sorrow he must have felt in the days between Jesus’ arrest and resurrection. Peter didn’t know what would happen. He didn’t know about the resurrection. All he knew was the bleak emptiness of grief. Utter despair. I imagine he was racked with guilt and self-loathing. After all, he’d said he was willing to die for Jesus, that he loved Him with his whole heart, and instead he ran away!

Peter was, without doubt, very human, fallen and broken just like the rest of us. He’d sensed the greatness of Jesus’ life, been in awe and wonder over His mission. He just hadn’t had the strength to be who he really wanted to be. Later… my word! What happened later was phenomenal. But at first, in the early years, Peter just wanted to be with Jesus, and that was all that Jesus required – for Peter to just be Peter. That’s all any of us are asked to do: just be.

‘Turn your eyes upon Jesus,

Look full in His wonderful face

And the things of earth will grow strangely dim

In the light of His glory and grace.’

Lemmel, 1922

In time, things do change, if I stay focused on His face. But things do not change in my own strength. The strength required to change comes only from Him. It cannot be bought, or earned, or won. It is freely given. I just have to be willing.

…Jesus insisted on his disciples’ getting aboard their boat and going on ahead to the other side, while he himself sent the crowds home. And when he had sent them away he went up the hill-side quite alone, to pray. When it grew late he was there by himself while the boat was by now a long way from the shore at the mercy of the waves, for the wind was dead against them. In the small hours Jesus went out to them, walking on the water of the lake. When the disciples caught sight of him walking on the water they were terrified. “It’s a ghost!” they said, and screamed with fear. But at once Jesus spoke to them. “It’s all right! It’s I myself, don’t be afraid!”

“Lord, if it’s really you,” said Peter, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

 “Come on, then,” replied Jesus.

Peter stepped down from the boat and did walk on the water, making for Jesus. But when he saw the fury of the wind he panicked and began to sink, calling out, “Lord save me!” At once Jesus reached out his hand and caught him, saying, “You little-faith! What made you lose your nerve like that?” Then, when they were both aboard the boat, the wind dropped. The whole crew came and knelt down before Jesus, crying, “You are indeed the Son of God!”

Matthew 14:22-33  (JB Philliips)