An alternative

I’m thinking about the notion of fearing God. I ran away from this for years, choosing instead an indecent embrace with just about every other fear possible. It has been a dangerous, dirty dance which left me empty and ashamed, so to speak, feeling like I had nothing to offer and no right to offer it anyway. I believed mistakenly that to fear God was to walk with a stoop, mentally always cowering before a terrifying and capricious God instead of standing tall with my own wisdom to organise my life. I wrote the following years ago as an exercise looking at a famous Psalm, 23, where God is described as a shepherd, a title Jesus uses of himself. It seemed a good idea to include it here, as a description of the alternative shepherd I had chosen to follow.


Fear does 23

I have chosen Fear for my shepherd

I shall never want for worry.

It makes me lie down on a bed of anxieties

It leads me beside dangerous, impassable rivers

It churns up angst in the pit of my stomach

It leads me in paths of safety for my own frayed nerves’ sake.

Even when I’m walking along a wide and peaceful road,

I am no less intimidated; Fear’s prod and danger signs

Keep me on track.

Fear spreads a feast of what ifs and if onlys

In the presence of those who would be allies

And binds my mind with endless questions.

My cup of sorrow is bottomless.

Surely bitterness and ill-feeling will pursue me

As long as I live

and I will be homeless forever.


(No, I don’t feel like this any more.)




When I was a kid, I tried to look at the sun. I couldn’t, of course. No-one can. The normal human eye can only take so much light at a time before it begins to hurt. Before we have to look away. Holiness can be like that. Blinding like the moment of discovering God; painful like the exposure of things concealed. Either way, we shy away. When I was a kid, I tried to fit in. Belong to some group. I didn’t, though. Like many, I found myself outside, pretending not to care.

Holiness means being set apart, separate, not belonging to the group. Dedicated for a specific purpose. It wasn’t a state I would naturally embrace, not even after becoming a Christian.

And God is holy. He lives in unapproachable light, according to Paul in his first letter to an early church leader called Timothy (1 Tim 6:16). And Christians are meant to live as children of the light. But what does that look like? Being good? Gliding past the unholy with a raised eyebrow even though their hearts are no doubt purer and their caring less self-satisfied than mine? Does it mean putting on a pious face and refusing fun, flavour and friendship in the name of God?

I take comfort, great comfort, in Jesus. Who was holy and human. The ultimate paradox. He hung out with the ungodly, the socially and the morally dubious. But he was not tainted by his contact with the world. He touched people who his pious contemporaries found contemptible. Literally and figuratively.

Holiness often means haughtiness when it should mean the opposite. To be holy is to be aware of God, living in that awareness. What could be more humbling? In Isaiah God says ‘I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit.’ He tells us he is up there, out there, beyond our own reach but also down here within our grasp. Within hearing of our sighs and our cries.

Holiness is linked in origin to wholeness, which makes Jesus make sense. Dedicated for a specific purpose, to serving God and presenting him as Father to the Jewish community he was born into, Jesus was whole. Complete. He didn’t need the drug of popularity; he didn’t whip the crowds into a frenzy; he knew when to rest, when to withdraw to spend time alone with God. And as a follower of Jesus I too have the capacity (though not always the desire) to be whole as he was, because in some mysterious way, He lives on in me. He is teaching me how not to run after popularity, how to stay focused, how to take rest when I need to. How to withdraw and pray.

Holiness is about separation for a sacred purpose. Holiness is about being whole. And it is about belonging. Not to my family, or my work, or the news cycle,  or to my ambition, or my blog, or to facebook, or to fashion, (there’s a relief) or my husband, or even myself. But belonging to God. Dedicated to Him. Answering ultimately only to Him. To the one who, though far beyond, comes close even as his light exposes the ugly truths about me and transforms me from the child on the edge of the crowd to the one embraced and understood by her Father.