It would have been early, 5 am or thereabouts, when our sleep was interrupted by a long, loud blast on a ship’s horn. My other half was not impressed, saying it was a bit antisocial. It blasted again a few times more and then stopped. Later when we got up we couldn’t see the water or the bank opposite. It looked as though a cloud had parked in front of us. The blast was probably a cruise liner or cargo ship moving out along a stretch of river also used by small boats and rowers. So the foghorn may have woken the folks along the shore, but those on the water needed it.

One of the more ridiculous lies I have wrapped my scaredy-cat self in over the years goes like this: offence is worse than warning. So the best thing to do is to say nothing and hope that by being a really super-nice person others might be intrigued enough to give me opportunities to share the hope I have in Jesus. If I was really serious about that I should have got myself one of those badges pyramid sellers used to wear. ‘I’m a Christian. Ask me how.’

But I didn’t. Because for one thing, I was not nice enough consistently enough to arouse much curiosity. Truth. For another, I didn’t really have much to tell people in response to any question they might ask me. Thinking about talking to anyone about my faith made my palms sweaty. Still does at times. But I saw a cartoon that gave me pause. It showed the devil leading a man off to hell and an angel leading another off to heaven. The condemned man is looking at the other with disbelief. The caption reads: Bob! You never told me you were a Christian!

If you’re in the dark and you’re in danger you need someone to warn you. If you choose not to believe them that’s your choice. If I see the danger but am too shy/scared to tell you, that makes me not at all nice. That makes me something else entirely. As Penn Jillette, not shy about his atheism, puts it so well here.

Sorry? That’s it?

Imagine for a moment you’ve got it wrong. Wrong place, or timing, or words, or ideas. Wrong attitude or clothes or expression or tone of voice. Too much information. Or not enough. This may only be me, of course. But from time to time, three or four or all of the above apply.

This past Sunday morning, after a difficult night, I was in church with a strong sense of wrongness. As usual at the beginning of the service, we were invited to think back over the last week. I didn’t really want to think back, I wanted to just keep my head down and get through the service so I could go back to wallowing. But, given the events of the night before it seemed that God wasn’t about to let me. As it’s still holiday season in this neck of the woods, regulars were thin on the ground and I was asked to help serve communion. It’s a sacred ritual dating back to the last supper where Jesus asks the disciples to eat bread and drink wine symbolising his body and his blood, which would be given up for them in his death.

So there I was, wanting to have my own pity party at the back but being asked to come up the front and participate in a ceremony which leaves no room for that. For me, communion is the time to do serious business with God, to hand over all the stuff I like to hold close and torment myself with, and accept His help. As I and my co-server had to take the bread and the wine before everyone else, I had no time to do anything other than simply give up all that good pity I was planning to feast on afterwards. You see, if he forgives me, then there’s nothing to party with. I am forced to move on, get on with it. Get over myself.

I can tell myself it’s too easy to accept forgiveness, especially when I haven’t forgiven myself, thinking it pious, when in fact it is simply proud. The truth is I prefer to give, not to receive. It is much easier, it makes me feel good, it puts me in control. I like to be the strong one dispensing help, not the weak one needing it. When I have to admit that I am wrong I manage this otherwise uncomfortable situation by showing how abjectly miserable my mistake or foolishness has made me, and how much I can punish myself for it. (Yes of course it’s nuts). I get away with it in most situations, but not in communion. Since my childhood, it has carried the weight of the truly sacred. It is the moment in the service where I feel most vulnerable, most naked before God. Illogical, obviously, because he sees us all the time. But communion brings me face to face with Jesus, as it were, across the table, holding out the wine, saying drink this, this is my blood, given for you. Remember that I have cleared your personal slate once and for all, backwards and forwards in time.

If I really believe that my slate is cleared, once and for all, backwards and forwards in time, by God himself, it follows that all I have to do is to be and to say sorry when I mess up, and receive his forgiveness. Of course where I’ve hurt others I need to put things right with them, but essentially it comes down to sorry. That’s it. Too easy, as they say here in Australia. But is it almost too easy. I have no work to do to deserve this forgiveness, no way of earning it. Which is entirely the point. My part is not to try to deserve this mysterious wonderful gift but to receive and believe it, not just at the communion rail on a Sunday but throughout the rest of the week as well.


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.