Well fitting faith

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We skipped church this morning and took a walk in the woods.

Looking out across a frozen lake, shell duck and wigeon collected around the grass-tufted islands and a  cormorant had unfolded its great black wings to dry in the sun. We marched through the oak leaves and the beech mast and we played with our cameras trying to capture the ways in which, even the smallest change in light, can shift the perspective on a familiar scene. We drank our coffee in the hide and counted the swans that arrive everyday from greenland, we scanned the muddy edges for wading birds, ornithological treasures amongst the scores of ducks.

Usually taken amongst the faithful, today’s sabbath rest was taken amongst the reeds, under an open sky, taken in quiet companionship and by (literal) still waters. In a landscape of rest, that felt as if it had been made just for us, we gave ourselves permission to stay away from church and it filled up our souls for the week ahead.

There was a time when we would not have done this, skipped church to walk. In those days we did not neglect meeting together as some were in the habit of doing. Never.

But Jesus said are you tired? and I was. It’s a condition of the soul that must be dealt with. To be tired, all the time, is a sign that things are not well.

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

In Luke 13 Jesus heals a woman who has been crippled for 18 years, but he did it on the sabbath and incited the disapproval of the synagogue leaders and their well defined ideas. Their business was making sure that the people did the things that would bring them the most blessing. They decided what the blessings were, and they decided how they were achieved. Maybe their intentions were good, but let us be clear; these men would rather the woman remained disabled that see one of their precious rules bent in this way.

Jesus asks them, “Should not this woman ..be set free from what has bound her?” and begs the answer that of course she should. And so must we, be set free from thinking, and acting in ways that stifle the joy, peace and freedom that we saw when we first came to Christ. There is a depth of encounter with Jesus that can set us free from the things that weigh us down. There is also a phenomena where our pursuit of faith and the Christian culture we are part of becomes the burden.

It takes unusual courage to move away from long held beliefs and practices to embrace something new. Dark feelings lurk around such decisions and they often hide our need for approval and fear of disappointing others.

There is no quick fix or instant answer. Freedom is not always found at the altar rail or in the prayer line but it is often made good over a period of time as we work through, talk through and pray through who we are and what we want. This is a holy re-enactment of the promise, seek and you will find.  And I am confident of this: God is at work in us, without exception, completing the work he began and we will recognise well fitting faith like the sheep who know the shepherd voice.

 

 

 

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Farewell to Dappled Things

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After a break from blogging I’m ready to go again with a new place that I’m calling, I felt it shelter.

I started blogging in the Christmas holidays of 2012. After years of intermittent scribblings I was finally making myself write for an audience. Friends and one or two strangers received the efforts warmly and so I carried on.

Writing became a kind of shelter for me and a few other people, or so it seemed.

About six months into the venture I felt compelled to write honestly on darker aspects of life. The first time I wrote about depression I did not instantly feel it shelter to speak to my audience on a subject that had done a great deal of harm in my own life and amongst my family. I pressed “publish” then curled up foetal on the sofa ready to over-winter there with my face pressed in a cushion and my fingers over my ears.

But I had nothing to fear. The piece was received with kindness and opened up for me a world of fellow sufferers and sympathisers from the most surprising places. It would seem there are few of us who have not experienced this for ourselves or lived close to someone who has. I was a tiny part of a wider movement of people who wanted to expose the taboo and reassure others it was OK to talk about the negative aspects of mental health.

When I read the piece now it is tamed and controlled. At the time it felt radical, vulnerable and brave. It had a happy ending. Back then it was the only way I could write it. It seemed the most Christian thing to do. As things turned out my journey out of depression was more complex than it might have first seemed. I began to find that some habits of mind and some practices of belief were not as Christian as I once thought and not as helpful or healthful as I had thought.

The American poet Emily Dickinson shared a long correspondence with the publisher Thomas Wentworth Higginson, a man she met only once. “I felt it shelter to speak to you” she wrote in a letter that (like all her letters) read more like a poem. The line stuck with me, got under my skin even, wouldn’t let me go. I sense in these words the joy of an exceptional connection, one that comes when we meet a person who seems to understand and listen to the deeper part of who we are. It is as C.S. Lewis says: “Friendship … is born at the moment when one man says to another “What! You too? I thought that I was the only one.” And dare I suggest that for many of us that moment came not man to man but reader to writer? We found shelter in what we read.

Commentators are saying that blogging is dead, that the internet is straining under the weight of amateur writers over sharing their half-baked thoughts. I accept that as a caution but I want to use my words to create moment when a reader can say “What! You too?” especially of humanity, faith and matters of the soul.

Shelter is a good place to begin, to find and make shelter and offer it here through my words.