Oh ye of little faith ~ Doubting Thomasina faces immense changes

Oh ye of little faith ~ Doubting Thomasina faces immense changes.

My favourite of Jesus’s main men was Thomas. He and I have a lot in common.

Doubt, for one thing.

I have shockingly little faith, really. I can’t get on board this “The Universe will provide” kind of stuff. The Universe is probably sublimely unaware of my sorry existence. More than that, the concept that somehow the very fabric of space and time will shift to bring me what I want is outrageous. As for God, well, I have trouble accepting that he/she loves me, let alone cares what happens to me. That’s my problem, probably not God’s. It’s lack of self-worth, in all likelihood, and a very clear understanding of just how very small I am in the grand scheme of things.

Thomas and I need evidence. He needed to touch Jesus to accept he was truly there, alive and yet pierced with wounds that were mortal and dreadful. I need to feel as though, small cog in a grand old Galaxy as I am, I actually have a place, that I am not one of those odd bits of metal that you find,and stick in a drawer somewhere because you daren’t throw it away in case it is something crucial for something. It’s a mark of this aspect of my psyche that means I collect these stray bits and pieces, and store them just in case. My plan is one day to gather them and turn them into a work of art.

So I live in a state of constant existential conflict: the need to believe I have a place, at odds with the fear that I probably do not.

I think Thomas and I would have been good pals. I’d like to find a icon of him, or a statue, to position at the entrance to my new house.

Oh sorry, that’s the news. I’m moving. Not till September probably, but after a couple of weeks of uncertainty about whether saying yes to the change was a good idea, it appears that the die is cast. Thunderbirds are GO!

This is not just moving house, which is hellish enough. The distance from our current location means my teaching job will end. I’m ambivalent about my job anyway, for various reasons, but generally the actual teaching and tour-guiding I enjoyed a lot. It gave me a slightly greater sense of self-worth and a small addition to the family finances. And after the massively reduced summer school in August, there will be no more work till March 2013.

After almost six years working as a scientist in a secular job, my husband is returning to full-time ministry and we as a family are returning to living in a rectory. When we left our last one, in October 2006, I had found a measure of peace with the pressures and aggravations of that life. If you have read my novel Away With The Fairies, the scenes from Isobel and Mickey’s rectory life are no exaggerations. I chose not to include any of the more extreme scenarios we experienced of being spied upon, pestered, phoned in the middle of the night, or any of the breathtaking liberties people took assuming that we were public property and our home equally public. It had taken me since my husband was first ordained in 1994 to learn to cope with it. Ironic that just at that point, the diocese we lived in made decisions that made it impossible conscience-wise for my husband to continue working there and we left. We carved out a new life, here on the coast, and despite the fears of being both homeless and penniless, we achieved a great deal. House, jobs, and a totally new way of life for me.

I’m six years older now. Six years older. That makes it that bit harder for me to find employment. I’m flexible and adaptable, maybe more so than people half my age. But my age is something that goes against me because of simple, unconscious prejudice. I don’t want to do nothing outside the home. I NEED to work. Not merely for the money but for the other benefits of bringing new experience to my life, of meeting other people, of exploring the world outside my window. My travel job will continue, as that is not location dependent, I am thankful for that. But it is intermittent and sporadic and I cannot make any financial decisions based upon it.

During the five and a half years we’ve lived in this house, I’ve found it desperately hard to write. Non fiction has come much more easily than fiction. The room I have as a study is a small, rather cramped room that doubles as a guest room. I cannot look out of the window as I work. The new house is much larger and lighter and I am hoping that my writing mojo will come home properly. It only visits for short spells, like a fickle lover. In all honesty, now would be a wonderful time for the wild magic of a book going viral to occur for me. It would give me some sense of a future for me. The last two months, I have seen exciting growth and a significant rise in sales of my books that gives me hope that I might just make it as a writer. But even successful writers need their day-jobs, for more than just the money.

Now when it comes to belief, I do not believe in anything to do with the law of attraction. It’s a nonsense. My thoughts do not create reality; my wishes and desires do not draw their fulfilment to me. Thinking positively is a good idea, because it makes you look for opportunities and helps you stay cheerful and optimistic, but it does not make things happen. That’s both illogical and egotistical.

Right now, when I try and look into the future, I can’t see anything. Perhaps blind panic is obscuring my inner vision. Perhaps, as the future is not fixed, things are still in motion. Perhaps, and this scares me most, I don’t have a future at all.

That’s where Thomas comes back to comfort me. I’ve stood in this position a good few times, standing on the edge of a dark abyss where nothing is settled or certain, and things could go horribly wrong. I stood there almost six years ago today, when it became clear to us that our position was untenable and we’d have to make a leap of faith into the unknown, and just hope that it would work out.

I’m forty six. I’ve leapt into the unknown more times than many in my life so far. And so far, it has worked out.

Thomas demanded evidence. When I demand evidence, I am directed to look at the past and review it. Each and every time I’ve made that leap, I have survived. In some cases, I have even thrived and made huge strides forwards as a person. I know the next few months are going to be so stressful I’d like to go to sleep and wake up in mid September with it all over bar the shouting. But Thomas tells me that if I cannot believe in the future, I can believe in the past and let that be my guide.

Oh and if you’re a praying kind of person, I’d appreciate a few on my behalf. Thank you.

Epiphany Sermon-the baptism of Christ

Another “guest post” from my husband.  By the way, he’s not twisting my arm to post these, it’s more the other way round; I feel they need to be read by more people than the average congregation holds.    

Isaiah 42:1-9 ¶ Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. 2 He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; 3 a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. 4 He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his teaching.

5 ¶ Thus says God, the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it: 6 I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, 7 to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. 8 I am the LORD, that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to idols. 9 See, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth, I tell you of them.

Acts 10.34-43 34 ¶ Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36 You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. 37 That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39 We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; 40 but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, 41 not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Matthew 3:13 ¶ Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16 And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

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Do you remember your baptism? I don’t and I suspect most of you won’t. You were probably a baby at the time. But whether or not you remember the water, the effects are with you now. The power of baptism is eternal. It’s batteries never run out. It never needs re-charging or re-doing.

This was a big thing when I was at college training for the priesthood. Some of my fellow students wanted to remember their baptism like those who are baptised as adults can. They also wanted the experience of full immersion baptism.  

The college though was against this. The previous principle had even promised to expel anyone that had themselves re-baptised. 

You see this isn’t an issue about a good spiritual experience. Something to strengthen the faith. This is about trusting in God’s promises and in His eternal power. 

By being re-baptised they were in effect saying that their first baptism hadn’t worked. That God’s action was somehow deficient because they were not aware of what was going on at the time. It was about a lack of trust in God and a complete lack of faith in His Church. 

But that leads to the question of why so much fuss over a bit of water or a quick dip in a swimming pool?

Well by our baptism we are full members of God’s church. All of God’s promises are claimed by us, or for us if we are a little baby. From that moment onwards God is with us, working in us. We are part of the Church everywhere. And not just the Church of England, the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches also accept your baptism. Sadly, that can sometimes be one of the few things we end up agreeing on! 

In baptism you are spiritually joined to Jesus. You share in his baptism, crucifixion and resurrection. 

So God is in you and with you; a part of you. But let’s get back to those fellow students of mine at theological college, good people, that wanted an experience. They were wrong – but I can sympathise. 

They were committing their lives, and those of their immediate family, to the service of God’s church. They had given up their jobs, careers, home and familiar church family. They were in a strange college. They had faith but they were weak, like all of us and like me. They were also anxious, and in need of reassurance. They wanted some sign or at least some experience that would calm their nerves. A powerful spiritual experience that would help see them through the years to come. 

They, like me and I suspect like you, had faith but also like each of us, they probably had doubts, sleepless nights and worries about the future.  

I know this is true for me, all of the time. I have faith, I trust but I also have doubts and fears. And the more important the situation the greater my temptation to doubt. 

I believe, (Lord) help my unbelief”! This should be my motto! It is the words of the father of a sick child to Jesus, recorded in Mark 9:23: “I believe, (Lord) help my unbelief”!  

This is what the experience of the Christian faith is about. What it is really about. It is a struggle between belief and unbelief. Sometimes it is easy to believe, things may be going well. Church is good, people are getting along and life feels good. 

Then without warning our belief seems less solid. We are tempted to stop our illogical belief. This is particularly strong when things go wrong. When we are ill, lose someone close to us, or our job… the list goes on and on. We are knocked off balance. All our sure belief seems to vanish like a mirage. But God is there. Like with baptism, He is eternal, all powerful and he never gives up, even with us; even with me! 

Now this is not to say that doubt is a bad thing. I think it is essential for the growth of a healthy faith. But that is for a different sermon on another day, perhaps the Feast of St. Thomas.  

Doubt may not be wrong but unbelief, the feeling of our faith crumbling, can be destructive. It can destroy us. Particularly when we pretend to ourselves that it isn’t happening. That is why that cry to God, “I believe, help my unbelief!” is so important. We admit our weakness. And turn to God for strength. We turn to him even when it seems as though he is not there at all.  

When I resigned my living 4 ½ years ago. I left because I was disgusted by the way the church organisation was treating people. I had given my life to the church but I could no longer continue to serve it. It was a dark time. But facing my unbelief in God’s ability to work through an, Oh so fallible church, was a first step to seeing how I may be able to serve again. I may be coming out the other side again.  

And you are part of that. Bishop Graham, bishop Richard, Fr. Roger, the people at Corton and you here in this Church, have all helped. You were one of God’s answers to my cry, “I believe, help my unbelief”. 

That simple cry is one small step out of our unbelief, our fear and our doubts.  

So, “I believe, (Lord) help my unbelief”.

 

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Amen.

What if?

What if I am wrong about everything? About every thing that makes my own life meaningful and productive? About every single “given” I’ve always believed in, that my parents love me, that I’m an intelligent woman, that God(whatever you name him) exists and cares about us as a species and me as an individual? That all the events of my life have combined to shape me as the person I am today and that no experience however unhappy is actually wasted?

What if I am wrong about everything?

I’ve been here before, poised on this brink of the vast cravass of unknowing, peering into the darkness and finding the darkness has eyes that look back at me, that the darkness is the Smoking Mirror that reflects first what exists and then shows what may.

I’ve been here before, aghast at the prospect of a life spent without meaning.

So have others, many others.

“One word, Ma’am,” he said, coming back from the fire; limping because of the pain. “One word. All you’ve been saying is quite right I shouldn’t wonder. I’m a chap who always liked to know the worst and then put the best face I can on it. So I won’t deny any of what you said. But there’s one thing more to be said, even so. Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things- trees and grass and sun and Moon and stars and Aslan himself, Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem  a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours IS the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there inst any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia. So thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we’re leaving your court at once and settting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that’s a small loss if the world’s as dull a place as you say.”  

Puddleglum the Marshwiggle, from The Silver Chair by CS Lewis.

Wherever you are today on your journey, rest assured, some one else has probably been here before you.