Friday, 2 June 2017

The self is a lovely place

I’ve been enjoying taking Mollie the dog for walks through the Culduthel and Lochardil woods. I’ve never been a country person, but I’m discovering for the first time the joy (on my calmer days) of pausing to look, listen, touch. Fingering the crumbly bark on an old tree; hearing the cooing of woodpigeons; watching the unborn buds, sheathed still in brown. One day soon, they will explode in tiny eruptions of fresh, vivid green, for we are on the cusp of spring.

It's Easter, when Christians remember Jesus’ journey through death into life. It’s a journey we see nature take each year, and a journey which is reflected in our own experiences.

I’ve been reading a novel by C. S. Lewis, Till we have faces. It’s a re-telling an old myth: the thing which struck me most about it was its title.  An old Queen, on a long quest for truth and justice, realises that for most of her life there have been things, the truest, deep in her heart things, which she has never fully acknowledged or expressed. She realises why the gods have been silent, for in seeking answers from them she has taken refuge behind many masks. And ‘how can they (the gods) meet us face to face till we have faces?’

This Queen thought she was living well and wisely, but in fact her possessiveness was destroying those close to her. Her journey to discovering her true face, her true identity lay through the death experience of facing up to the damage she had done.
In our journeys, there will be ‘death experiences’: times when we feel low, battered and broken, guilty, at an end of ourselves. And it’s only by facing up to these experiences, and acknowledging that we are not so good, or competent, or in control as we had thought that in our brokenness we feel God’s healing smile. ‘Yes!’ we say.  ‘This is the real me, for better or for worse, and I am loved!’

 During these winter of our pain we connect for the first time with who we truly are. Spring comes as we learn to linger under the trees; take time to feel for the first time the texture of the bark. We discover that, perhaps contrary to everything we’d expected, the self is a lovely place.

Some words dropped into my heart this week with healing power. Fiona Smith, the minister at Ness Bank Church in Inverness sent an email advertising that the church will be open each day this week (21st-25th March) between 11am and 3pm. ‘Do you need a space to stop, a time to see beauty, a place to be uplifted?’ asks the flyer. ‘Come for a gentle stroll in a place of serenity. There you will find nourishment for your soul.’ There will be pictures, poems, music, a labyrinth. And ‘a tree to leave your troubles.’

I love these words, which remind us of the graciousness of God who calls us through winter into spring, and speaks to us in all our senses.

I guess that the tree where you can leave your troubles is a symbol of the cross where Jesus died.  We can bring to the tree our troubles, our darkness, our pain. Some we can lay down, knowing that we will never have to carry them again. Others, we still must bear, but they will be lighter now because of the hope we find at the tree. We do not carry them alone.

Because it’s not simply that Jesus’ journey through death into life is an example of our similar journeys.  No, because Christians believe there is an enabling connection between his death and resurrection and our own journeys through darkness into a fuller life. It is because Jesus took that journey that we can find rebirth in a springtime of the soul, and discover the face God has given us.

But is it true that we can only encounter God when we ‘have faces,’ and acknowledge who we are? Well, it’s partly true, for only as our true face becomes known us – as a reflection in a pool gradually comes into focus as the ripples diminish – that we see the Face of God with greater clarity.

But no, God does not wait until we know who we truly are before God will look at us. God is with us through the darkness of our winters. God hands us the mirror of forgiveness in which we see for the first time how lovely we are.

And then, down in the wood of life, we find a tree which must always have been there, but which somehow we hadn’t seen before: tall, with long branches and luxuriant foliage. Beneath his shade, in joy, we take shelter.

(Christian Viewpoint column from the Highland News dated 24th March 2016)

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