Enjoying the ride

Enjoying the ride

My last post was about living small, taking away the unnecessary clutter and keeping it really simple. In a funny way this is what I want to do with Christmas. Make it smaller, simpler, less so it can mean more. By now, like me you may already be strapped into that roller coaster called Christmas. In my house, with my kids, it looks and sounds a little like this.

‘…No you can’t put up the decorations til after your sister’s birthday at the beginning of the month and then we can start thinking about it. No we won’t get a real tree because remember the last one shed all over the place and your sister was allergic. Yes by all means write a Christmas list but remember it’s for guidance only. Maybe you will get (insert whatever it is everyone allegedly has already) but not if you keep pestering me. I don’t know how Santa will get down our blocked chimney. Your work Christmas drinks is tonight? No I don’t know what exactly we’ll be having for dinner on Christmas day. Your Christmas concert is WHEN? And you need antlers for your play? No I did not give Santa a spare key. What school breakfast? You forgot to give me the letter…?’

For me Christmas is easily the most pressured and stressful season. But this year I have had to get involved with the church nativity play. Gulp. All the usual suspects have somehow dodged this task and it has fallen to three of us not-so-usual ones to round up those children not absent due to sickness or overcommitment elsewhere. I was less than thrilled about it until I saw an article in Christianity today called Christmas Scandals which gives fascinating context to the spare biblical account in Luke Chapter 2. It was just what I needed to get fired up again. ( I tried linking to it but it didn’t work, so if you’re interested, go to http://www.premierchristianity.com/Past-Issues/2014/December-2014/Christmas-Scandals)

God himself chose to enter his own creation. Not on a flaming chariot (that’s how I might have done it), but from a womb. Down a birth canal. Into the fetid air of a stable. Amongst animals, into the immediate care of a teenage girl and her brave, brave husband.

I want to give God the respect due, not least for being willing to humble himself in ways we would find unimaginable. I want to make space to contemplate that. I want to find positive ways to escape the tidal wave of nonsense that threatens to inundate us in the lead up to Christmas. I haven’t been sure how to do this but ironically, it seems to have started with this nativity play. The project that was more or less forced into my hands has made me think again about what an extraordinary event it was.

Swivelhead

That’s a nickname given a character in a book I’ve been reading about a pious little girl from a strict religious community. Whenever her sister said something outrageously sinful her head would swivel towards her mother for reassurance. It never came. Her mother was staging her own form of mutiny, as it turned out.

I have been too of late. Tuning into other voices, clever words that have chipped at my foundations, causing me to stop and blink at what I thought I knew and assumed I believed. I haven’t even bothered swivelling my head for reassurance, just listened and wondered and listened some more. It has been compelling in its own hypnotic way, of course, and at times strangely beautiful. But this soundtrack has led me back to a sad, damp and narrow place I used to know well called Deep Rest. (Also known as Deep Ression).

Devil’s advocate is interesting for a while. But dangerous. Like playing too close to the railway line. Or the riverbank. I remember my mother telling me to be careful around water. You can drown in just a few inches of it, she used to say.

Another book I read as a youngish teenager came to mind this last week. A ghost story about a pair of young lovers who made a suicide pact at a remote beauty spot, it featured a haunting refrain from a poem, internalised by a young girl visiting centuries later. This young girl is drawn into the old love story and ultimately tempted to jump to her own death. That story has hung around in my mind for years. How easy, compelling and attractive it seemed to simply step off the edge.

In my mind I’ve revisited that cliff top, peered over the edge and inched forward, imagining a tide of oblivion carrying away painful memories, disappointments with myself present past and future. Picturing how it could all be washed away by the suck and roar of white water. Yep. That’s where I’ve been. Terrified and drawn at the same time. And then I remembered something else I had read years ago.

Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. ( 2 Corinthians 7 v 10)

In context, Paul is writing to a church he’s had to discipline, pleased that they’ve taken his words to heart, changed course and are sorting themselves out. He’s relieved that his strongly-worded rebuke has been received in the right spirit.

We don’t live in a time that honours correction. We hate it. I know I do. But I know I need it. Those words jarred when I heard them. They didn’t allow for my picturesque misery. I could no longer lose myself in my perceived unhappiness after recalling those words because I knew where that would lead. I had to choose between salvation, or healing, and death.

I realised I had forgotten, again, who God is. The one who first loved me, who experienced life here just as I do, who was tempted in every way as I am but did not give in. Perhaps he was even tempted by the delicious pain of melancholy. A staggering thought which itself snapped me out of my own nonsense and revealed how shallow the water really was down there in my pretty image. White water is where the rocks are close to the surface. Not to mention the fact that the thing I was being drawn to, the closing of the painful chapters of my life, has already been done. I have, through my faith in Jesus Christ, already died. I have already been separated from the mistakes and disappointments and all the rest because in Christ I am a new creation.

Slow, yes. But learning.

He is risen. Indeed.

A lot can happen in 7 days. (Okay, 8, since I’m a day late). It’s just over a week since Good Friday, the annual remembrance of Jesus’ death. After this the biblical account of Jesus’ life becomes bizarre and improbable, reporting that the so very publicly executed young rabbi has been seen alive, and convincingly enough to transform his frightened followers into bold public preachers willing to face arrest.

I would like to say that my belief in the events of this week in history has been similarly life-changing, but the truth is more banal and frightening. I am still not the fired-up evangelist I imagine I should be. I haven’t, for example, given away my possessions and become a missionary in some inhospitable part of the world that hasn’t heard of Jesus.

I suspect that the years I’ve spent hand-wringing about this may be a cover for the fact that my mission field lies somewhat closer to home, in a culture where Jesus Christ is unknown, superseded by the knit-your-own-if-you-must approach to matters of faith. It would be easier for me to assume a mask of piety as a stranger in a foreign land than to keep the show on the road and show some ongoing integrity with my peers.

A week ago, as I re-imagined the horror of the disciples at the sudden, shocking death of Jesus, I felt a new edge to my sadness, a different kind of despair I suppose about the effects and scope of damage and pain caused by sin, by our rejection of God. But then three days after this bleak disappointment came the commemoration of Easter Sunday with its apparently ridiculous reports of resurrection. The gospels report that Jesus appeared a number of times to those first followers. Sorrow became joy. Fear became courage. A new religion was born.

There are times when contemplating the suffering, dying Christ has a certain passive nobility which fixes us in the agony at the expense of the glory. It can be easier to deal with the suffering since we are all familiar with that to some degree in our own lives. But it all goes a bit quiet for most of us after Easter morning. Once the chocolate’s been eaten and church goes back to normal, we get on with our lives, finding it easier to forget that He is still living His. It’s uncomfortable to deal with the living Christ because he doesn’t lie still and keep quiet, like some illicit lover hiding under the bed; he requires us to declare his presence, tip out all other competitors for our devotion, and allow him free reign over our lives. Dead deities are easier.

As the apostle Paul writes to the early church, I am, like all Christians, an ambassador for the Kingdom of God. A kingdom whose ruler is very much alive, well and active in the lives of his subjects. At this stage, a great part of my mission may simply be to live free of the anxieties, hang-ups and neuroses that have dogged me since I was a child, to embrace my life and my Source without fear. That may be groundbreaking in its own way, as the power which is enabling me to do what I cannot do for myself is the same power which raised Christ from death and proved that all things are indeed possible.