In January of this year my husband and I nearly drowned off a beautiful beach while on holiday with the family. Ironically, I had spent most of that day sitting on the beach watching the rest of my family running between the waves on one side and the still, calm lagoon on the other. But as the day passed, I grew bored of fighting the sand and the sun instead of enjoying them. Time to live a little. So I announced to my startled husband that I wanted to go into the sea. And in we went. It was all very beautiful, vital, elemental, I felt refreshed, excited. And of course the waves got bigger as we went forward. Then the ground beneath our feet fell away suddenly. The next couple of waves took us further and further out. We span ourselves around, frantic to get back to the shore, but not before an immense wall of water engulfed us, flipping us over. I gripped my husband’s hand, fighting to force breath into my closing lungs. I thought of our kids on the beach, the foolishness of my decision. I think I tried to pray. I am not a strong swimmer, which I am told since worked in my favour, so I didn’t even try. And after some slow, intense moments the enormous wave finally carried us in towards the beach and set us down on the sand. I was still choking and spluttering at the water’s edge when a man walking his dog came by and said, ‘nice swim?’
I was in a state of shock for weeks afterwards, dreaming of the wave I thought would be the last thing I’d ever see. I made all sorts of foolish promises to myself, the kind you make when you feel like you’ve been given a second chance. But, scarily, even that feeling passed (all feelings pass if you sit still long enough, I find). Months went by. Until a few days ago when a mistaken text message bumped me out of my rut. God’s work. Think He doesn’t use text messages? He’ll use whatever it takes to get me to take notice, I find. So here I am. About to speak up.
The title of this post comes from a recent conversation with a friend describing her experience of joining a gospel choir. New members were told that if they were offended by singing the name Jesus they should instead just sing cheesus. Interesting, I thought. And faintly mad. Surely such people wouldn’t join a gospel choir in the first place. The clue’s in the name, surely. Now it so happened that I too wanted to join a gospel choir and did so shortly afterwards. It was a glorious and beautiful experience not because I’m a fabulous singer ( competent and occasionally pretty good is as far as I’ll go) but because the combination of profound words with music that really moves me was pretty much as close as I had come to ideal for a long time.
So I reported smugly to my friend later that there’d be no cheesus in this choir. I had found the real deal. The following week we were given the words to a new song which describes how Jesus is worth more than silver or gold, and told to ignore those words and to meditate on something really meaningful to us as individuals. Fair enough, I thought. This choir is a community choir, not a church one. But I was uneasy. and this uneasiness grew over the following couple of weeks, especially after meeting a lovely couple who were delighted to be in the choir ‘especially now that the religion’s gone out of it’. Out with religion, I say, for I associate religion with pointless tradition and human attempts to reach and manipulate God. But I’m not sure how they meant it. Enthusiastic atheists, they were very comfortable singing the songs without any belief whatsoever. And I, excited by the whole thing, was more or less reconciling myself to being a quiet worshipper in the middle of this wonderful sound week after week. And then I had to face facts. A song by Kirk Franklin called ‘He loves me’, was introduced to us with instructions to not think of the love in question as ‘just Christian love’ but ‘something more profound’. Sorry, mate. Not possible. Not for this girl, anyway. So I left.
Because there is no love more profound than the love Jesus has for me. It is the shocking, amazing truth at the heart of my faith. It’s not about rules, it’s not about trying to avoid punishment, it’s about love. An infinite God who loves me individually and specifically. I know that there is no person on earth who loves me like He does. I wasn’t brave enough to heckle the choir leader with this view. I elected instead to leave. And feel much better for it.
I am something of an expert in time-wasting (some might say this is my finest example yet but I frankly don’t care). I have spent hours thinking about how to speak about my faith, craft some clever quirky way to reach people, and at the same time protect myself. I have always been moved to tears by the sight of people giving their all to something they believe in, whatever it is, partly I suspect because I never have. But I know that time is running, running fast, running out. I have become so set in my procrastinating ways that even a close shave with death only briefly pushed me off my mental couch. I guess I’ve always thought there’ll be time, or a great opportunity, some platform that I’ll be able to use. But that is not true. I don’t have youth on my side any more. I am watching my body age, recover more slowly from the abuse of overeating and undersleeping, creak, complain and begin to change in perhaps unrecoverable ways. More than that, I realise that I cannot reach out without making myself vulnerable. So I must rely on God to be my protection. So I need to grow up before I grow too old. Say what I need to say while I’m still here to say it.
If you are offended by explicit belief-heavy references to Jesus Christ, centre of the life of millions on this planet and this writer, this blog is not for you. If you would rather eat your own arm than entertain the idea that God exists, knows or cares about you then there’s plenty of stimulating writing out there that won’t rattle your cage. If the idea that an intelligent educated person could believe in God infuriates you, then spare yourself the distress and don’t bother reading on. I’m just one Christian who needs to record what I know about God.