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.

Day 40. Meeting The Elephant

I’ve been feeling a lot better since I put the fork down last week. Chronic self-criticism has been a fantastic distraction with years of life in it. A gift that keeps on giving, if you let it. I’ve used it to avoid all kinds of ventures, opportunities and challenges thus far. But it has been most useful in keeping my gaze averted from the so-called elephant in the room, the greatest complaint in my life (and possibly I’m not alone), which is against God himself. For not letting me have my way. For letting bad things happen to good people. For letting good things happen to bad people. For rain when I want my washing to dry. For sunshine when I’m sick in bed. For not letting me be in charge, basically. For being God. Sometimes I wonder if all people who identify as atheists really don’t believe in God, or whether they just don’t like him and would rather he wasn’t there. If I’m honest, and I might as well be, sometimes a small part of me wishes he wasn’t. Or would at least go on holiday from time to time so I could indulge whatever foolishness I had in mind, out of sight.

However. God is, and I know it. And the truth is that he does not have to do things my way. He doesn’t need my permission to act, or not act. And that is the major complaint I have recognised during this Lent discipline. When I started this I hoped to become more aware of my blessings, and expected to be writing about them. It’s impossible to ignore the good stuff when you’re censoring out the negatives. But I have been surprised by the turn this exercise has taken. It has led me into some dark places. I am grateful, though. At different times in my journey with God I have needed to see what’s really operating at my core, what drives my responses and my aspirations, not what I think is there, or should be there. And it is always the case that at the same time as seeing the sometimes ugly truth, I see more clearly the beauty of God’s grace, kindness and patience towards me.

The classic Biblical personality related to complaining, or with apparently every right to do so, is Job. He was a respected man in his community, did everything right as far as devotion to God was concerned and was prosperous. And to prove a point, God let Satan take it all away, his wealth, his family and his health. Job’s initial reaction is amazing. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, Blessed be the name of the Lord, he says. Then his three mates get into some theologising and theorising on the possible causes of his sudden and stark misfortune. Job’s answers to them reveal a strong sense of his own righteousness. Not pride so much as confusion about what’s happening to his life because he’s always done the right thing. This reaction flows freely with his mates. But faced with God, he dries up. I am unworthy – how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth, he says.

My problems are strictly first-world. A broken fingernail in comparison with what Job endured back then, and billions of others deal with every day. It’s interesting to notice that I don’t question the blessings when they come along, only the things I perceive as negative. With this in mind, and still quiet inside since Lent started, I note that I am accountable to the same almighty God as Job. Who has the power to give and take away. So I think I need to continue to watch my mouth. Or rather, my heart, as Jesus said that the mouth speaks out of the overflow of our hearts.

So watching over my heart, I look forward to remembering and re-assembling for myself the events commemorated in the coming week, culminating in God’s greatest act of love towards me and all humanity on the cross.




In many Anglican churches, and the one I grew up in, there is a part spoken by the congregation which goes like this:

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. I didn’t know when I was a kid that it came straight out of Scripture. I thought it was some clever formula dreamt up by a dusty cleric in a monastery somewhere. I since learned it comes from one of John’s letters in the New Testament, to be precise (1 John 1 v 8 – 9). It goes on to say in v 10 ‘if we say we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.’

Forgiveness is an incredibly difficult thing to do. We all have a problem forgiving people who have hurt us, and any public demonstration of this is remarkable enough to be newsworthy. The man who forgave the Lockerbie bombers whose actions killed his daughter and the Amish community who forgave the man who lined up their children and shot them in their schoolhouse, are two good examples. Forgiveness like this seems to bypass punishment or retribution. It is weird, out-of-sync with the world we live in, and even viewed as a dangerously lenient response to obvious wrongdoing.

But in the Christian world, justice is delivered by God, not by people. And the wrong that is done to people is done to God, who created them. The wrong done to people is done by people, whom God made. Tricky. In the prayer taught by Jesus to his disciples we are told to ask God to forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us. For me, that means that my being forgiven is connected to my forgiveness of others. It all sounds so simple, but we know it isn’t in reality. A member of the Amish community which drew public acclaim for its forgiveness of the shooter and support for the shooter’s family immediately after the tragedy, tells a writer that it was almost easier for the community to forgive that huge evil than it was for them on a daily basis to forgive the smaller, everyday events that we can all get wound up about.

I know I need forgiveness because I mess up. Hurt others. Act, speak and think selfishly. Without God’s forgiveness I wouldn’t have a hope. But the words that I learnt as a child speak great hope. That if I confess my sins, God is faithful and just to forgive my sins and cleanse me from all unrighteousness. And why is that a good thing for me? Because it makes it easier for me to be forgiving towards myself and others when necessary. Forgiveness stops me repeating the same old scene, leaves the scab alone so that it can heal. Forgiveness saves me from becoming bitter and resentful, moves me forward. Forgiveness disentangles me from an unhealthy clinch with the person who hurt me, neutralises their power over my present, my emotions, my potential. Forgiveness releases the other to change.

Forgiveness is central to my experience of God. His offer of forgiveness is my guarantee of finding my way back when I wander off and want to return, when I’ve messed up and need to get sorted out again. The forgiveness of God is the open door at the end of the journey, the open arms.

I am adding to this post because where I originally stopped, at the end of the last paragraph, felt incomplete. I’m not aiming to make all my posts the last word on their subjects, far from it. But this one was lacking and it’s taken me a few days to find the missing piece.

I have realised in the last few weeks that a wound I received from people close to me a couple of years ago runs much deeper than I thought. I know this because I have noticed a bitterness in my tone and attitude towards them which has refused to lift or disperse, despite all my attempts to think well of them and remember all the good things I know about them. It seems to me that I have simply failed to forgive them fully. I think that I was too proud to believe that the hurt was significant. I was also too proud to let the matter drop; there is a certain satisfaction in picking at wounds, pressing the bruises to feel the pain over and over again.

And the incapacitated are limited. The wounded limp. And it’s a great excuse to blame the one who wounded you for your limp, instead of doing what you can or what you must, to sort it out.