I met Lorraine Nicholson a couple of weeks ago in Perth. As we chatted over a coffee she told me about her work as an artist, and explained how instinctive art is to her.
‘It’s like a language,’ she said. Art, she feels, was her first language – she remembers expressing herself through art as a very young child before she learned to speak.
I saw the truth of this. Language is about communication, self-disclosure, creative expression. Art is all these things.
I’d known of Lorraine before, having read her book The Journey Home in which she uses her gifts for art and language to chronicle her voyage through depression.
Last week, in an interview in the BBC Radio Scotland series The Day I changed my life Lorraine described her experiences of severe depression over the last 30 years and her journey, by way of four major depressive episodes to a better place.
‘Now,’ Lorraine says, ‘’I’m able to really feel life and live life to the full.’ She has grown ‘into the person I was born to be.’ Now, at the age of 51, she’s an Art College student and a passionate voice speaking both to and on behalf of those who are depressed.
There was not one day of change for Lorraine, but many. ‘It’s lots of tiny little steps that have got me to where I am now.’ She pays tribute to the help of professionals and friends, people who ‘believed in me,’ who ‘held the hope.’ But her own persistent courage and willingness to take the next step is also evident.
Now she sails the ship of her life on the open seas of possibility, relishing the winds of challenge, knowing that there are harbours at hand should she need them. ‘Fill your sails,’ she urges us, ‘and journey with the wind.’
Although Lorraine made no mention of God, what I sensed powerfully as I listened to the interview was that God was in the story of this voyage to wholeness.
I thought of the many, many journeys to wholeness taking place in individual lives and communities. Is God only active when the name of God is mentioned, or is God at work, anonymously, in every story of healing, every story where hope triumphs over despair?
Is there simply a God-given principle of healing which we tap into when we make right choices, but from which God stands distant? Or is God present with all of us who face the choice between good and evil, light and darkness, hope and despair, urging us to make the right choice, strengthening us, giving us hope, whether or not we acknowledge God?
When we dive into ourselves and find inner resources we didn’t know we possessed, are these in fact a self-expression of the God who meets us at the core of our being?
Jesus spoke of a God who is passionately engaged in creation, aware of each bird, each flower, each petal. This is not a distant God, but an engaged God. It would not be at all surprising if this God were with us always, perpetually active, hidden in plain sight, God’s work so commonplace that we are blind to the divine involvement.
The problem with this is that the more you emphasise the presence of God, the more tragedy and pain present a problem. If God is with us so intimately, then why the darkness?
This is one reason why we need to know the Story behind the inner prompting to wholeness. People in different cultures and different times have told their own stories. Christians believe that the deepest and most authentic story is centred in Jesus Christ who came and died, entering with us into the darkness and conquering that darkness.
In Jesus, God suffered with us, to bring the human race back to authenticity, to the liberated life it was born to live, to launch humanity free on life’s ocean, at once harboured and on the high seas, sails filled with the wind of God’s Spirit.
We tend to think God speaks only in words – words in the Bible, words whispered in our hearts. Words are necessary if we are to catch the drift of the Story with any accuracy. But God speaks in a myriad of languages, communicating, self-revealing, revelling in creativity.
God speaks in music and colour, in the sensation of wind on bare skin. God is adept at the language of silence. God is heard in beauty, in poetry, in a friend’s hug, in acts of self-giving love.
At the birth of the church, the apostles spoke, and everyone in their cosmopolitan audience heard what was said in their own language. God speaks the language closest to our hearts and as we listen we are healed.
(Christian Viewpoint column from the Highland News dated 25th July 2013)