This Little Light of Mine

…historically the Christian life began with the public acknowledgement of two uncomfortable realities: evil and death. And in baptism the Christian makes the audacious claim that neither one gets the final word. 

When I get to [certain] stories in the New Testament I’m inclined to take the sophisticated approach and assume the people who had demons cast out of them were healed of mental illness or epilepsy or something like that which, when you think about it, simply requires exchanging one highly implausible story for another. But lately I’ve been wondering if this leaves something important out, something true about the shape and nature of evil, which, as Alexander Schmemann puts it, is not merely an absence of good, but the presence of a dark and irrational power.

~ Searching for Sunday, Rachel Held Evans

 

 

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Only in silence the word,
Only in dark the light,
Only in dying life:
Bright the hawk’s flight
On the empty sky.* 

As I said to my daughter, who asked me about suffering a few days ago – the darker the room, the brighter a flame burns. This is not an easy answer. Neither is it an acceptable answer, but it’s the only answer I have and the only answer I can have, in this life. Held Evans continues:

…God is in the business of bringing dead things back to life, so if you want in on God’s business, you better prepare to follow God to all the rock bottom, scorched earth, dead-on-arrival corners of this world, including those in your own heart, because that’s where God works…

Evil and suffering are realities in this world, however much we want them to be no part of it. But God has a plan in all this – and it may not be one that we understand. When we call Him Messiah, Jesus gives each one of us the God Light – the Holy Spirit – that burns and forever burns, even in the dark.

The Light shines on in the darkness, and the darkness did not understand it or overpower it or appropriate it or absorb it [and is unreceptive to it].

John 1:5 (Amplified)

*from A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin

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

 

A Slave to Love?

 

When man follows the inspirations of grace he finds liberty and peace. In this state we may say that fear renders him free, and that love enslaves him.

~ St Anthony of Padua, as quoted in Flowers from the Garden of St. Francis

Ah, you are beautiful, my love;
    ah, you are beautiful;
    your eyes are doves.
Ah, you are beautiful, my beloved,
    truly lovely.

~ Song of Solomon 1:15,16 (NRSVA)

Exclusion

I had to fill in a form for my new doctor. I have finally been given an appointment to see a CFS/ME specialist. It included questions that asked me to compare my current state with my ‘normal’ state. I am flummoxed by questions like these. I was diagnosed with this condition when I was 14. I have never lived a ‘normal’ adult life. Then there was the question of employment. I never chose to be a housewife, although I’m trying to do the job well. Coerced away from education and into my first marriage and immediate motherhood at the age of 21 I never had an occupation, as such, so it’s no good asking me about this. I never chose to be a mother (yes, you did read that right and yes it probably does mean what you think it means…) and I never chose to be a housewife, just as I never chose to have this condition or to be abused or to end up with PTSD.

In that moment I understood what it is to be excluded from general society, to be treated as less than human. There was no box for me to tick. The assumptions were already made. Perhaps that is why my response to those whom society has excluded is so strong. I get it. It sucks. It’s wrong. They and I are no better than anyone else, but equally no worse. They and I, like every human being, are made in the image of God. We are all God-breathed.

This morning God spoke to me through His Word and it directly relates. You may find it useful, too, so I share it here:

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body…

Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot were to say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear were to say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’, nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honourable we clothe with greater honour, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honour to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it.

1 Corinthians 12:12-26 (NRSVA)

So the people that seem small and insignificant are deemed ‘indispensable’? That’s good. I’m ok then. How about you? And how does this change the way we view our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world? How does this change the way we view our potential brothers and sisters in Christ around the world? Why do Christians follow worldly ideals and create ‘celebrity’ Christians?

 

Rise Up and Walk!

Silver and gold have I none,

But such as I have give I thee:

In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth

Rise up and walk!

These lovely words are from Rob Evans, aka The Donut Man, and form a children’s song paraphrasing chapter 3 of the book of Acts.

Cheesy. Corny. Cutesome. My kids used to love Donut Man when they were small. What a beautiful illustration these words are of how God works in our lives, how He uses the unexpected to accomplish what we never even imagined possible, and how He doesn’t need what we think is necessary to do what He needs to do.

Lord, help me, today, to ‘rise up and walk’, and may it be for Your glory.  Amen

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

Looking for Love

After a few years… you will know that your deep and insatiable desiring came from God all along, [that] you went on a bit of a detour, looked for love in all the wrong places, and now have found what you really wanted anyway.

~ Richard Rohr, ‘Breathing Under Water’

“Set your heart on the kingdom and his goodness, and all these things will come to you as a matter of course.”

Matthew 6:33 (Phillips)

From Victim to Victory

I’m in bed because I have a bad cold and whenever I catch anything these days I have to be very careful otherwise I will not get better in a timely fashion. Ugh. It’s mostly just boring and frustrating because I have a daily plan and I can’t stick to it 😕

However, this morning I am so glad because I have been listening to audiobooks and came across a wonderful recording which has been sitting in my Audible library for a while now. Today I have had the opportunity to give it my full attention.

 

“[There is] a giant step from knowledge to acknowledgement. In a family, a community and a nation there can be guilty secrets. Everybody knows something to be the case but there is no acknowledgement.”

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Michael Lapsley, Oxford, 2005 (from Wikipedia)

“Prayer, love, support, acknowledgement, reverence, recognition, giving it moral content, saying ‘yes, what happened to you was wrong‘, all of this is what I would say, in terms of my faith, [is] the way in which God enabled me to travel a journey from victim [to] survivor to victor… Something horrible happens to us [and] we’re victims. If we physically survive we are survivors, but frequently that’s where people stop and remain prisoners inside themselves… Life is like a river: something terrible happens and our lives become whirlpools, and we never ever really live again except in terms of what has happened to us…”

~ Father Michael Lapsley speaking in ‘A South African Journey’

by Radio Free Maine.

Audiobook available from audible.co.uk

(transcribed by yours truly)

Michael Lapsley campaigned against apartheid. In 1990 he was the subject of a letter bomb which caused severe burns, destroyed his hands and left him blind in one eye. Since then he has worked tirelessly for hope and healing, in particular he works with former victims of trauma.

“…if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.”

~ John 8:36 (NRSVA)

What’s Love Got to Do with It?

“Do you think you are a people pleaser?” He asks. I hesitate.

“I think abuse… makes you behave in a certain way. You always put your feelings last. It’s taken me a long time to not be like that, but I used to be, definitely.” I say.

Later, the words echo around my head. Do you think you are a people pleaser? Do you think you are a people pleaser?

I am puzzled. Why has this question stuck and no other? I know my motives are not based on approval from others. Not any more. In fact I’m quite indifferent, although I always do try to consider how someone is feeling. I’m hyper-aware of other people’s feelings. I hear a tiny voice in the back of my head, asking the same question over and over. Behind it is another question, but I don’t want to acknowledge it.

All day the question pops into my head. Finally, I talk to God about it, aware that I can’t hide from whatever is lurking behind it. It is as if God now asks me, “Do you think you are a people pleaser, Sandy?”

“Well, no.” I reply in my head, “Doing things because I want the approval of people is not right, not for a follower of Christ.”

Again the same question, “Do you think you are a people pleaser?”

I finally allow myself to look at what’s been hiding behind this repeated phrase, and give answer, “No, but I am a ‘God pleaser’.”

 Drat!

Is being a God pleaser a bad thing? No. Yes. It seems to be the best of motives. It can so easily be mistaken for the best of motives. The trouble is I know full well that nothing I do, and nothing you or I or anyone could ever do, can earn God’s love or even His attention. Not even Jesus earned His Father’s love. God doesn’t want a desperate-to-please puppy dog. That’s not relationship. That’s not love.

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Image from idpinthat.com

 

 

So what does love look like?

If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve [got] nowhere. So no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.

1 Corinthians 13:3 (The Message)