I have visited many churches and sometimes been inspired by the preaching, sometimes moved by the worship, sometimes touched by the sense of community but I have never quite felt at home. I have always had a slight sense of isolation as I sit in my seat and the service unfolds. I start wondering about the person next to me and wonder what their life is like and how they are touched and moved by God but when the service closes and we speak, it is only of surface things and the depths within both of us remain untouched.
someone has wanted to know what bought me to their church and when I have said
God told me to come, they have given me a puzzled look and said “You mean you
felt you should come.” And I repeat “No, God told me to come!” And I wonder but
stop myself from saying “Doesn’t God speak to you too?” On other occasions people have asked me
directly “Are you a Christian?” Oh how I
hate labels! Of course the person wants to know whether I recognised myself as
a sinner and asked God to help me with my life on a specific day at a specific
time. Well, as it happened I did but
there was so much more. On that day I opened myself to the great mystery that
me and God are indeed one. Since that
day we have walked and talked and laughed and cried together as I have walked
the twisty turny journey of my life. To
reply to the question “Are you a Christian?” I would incur the same pain as if
someone asked me “Are you a wife?” or “Are you a mother?” How deeply impersonal and how wounding to my
different sort of church people don’t seem bothered at all by such matters. In
fact the minute the service closes it is as if we haven’t been in church at
all. The conversation is only of how well you timed your roast dinner to be
ready and who is making teas at the village fete. The word ‘community’ is used a lot and there
is much ‘doing’ and organising. But, I
think to myself – I am hungry deep down in my sprit – hungry for some touch of
another soul, hungry for connection, a moment of realness. I want someone to hear me, I want someone to
see me but I feel invisible. I want to
hear and see another but there is no chink of vulnerability big enough for me
to crawl through. I shake the vicar’s
hand, respond to the comment about how my son has grown and pass down the
church steps, unnoticed and unknown. I
had so many thoughts, feelings, ideas, gifts and talents that I wanted to bring
but there is no room for such things here.
I came to meet others on their amazing journey of faith but I wasn’t met.
I go now? Like many of us, the answer is
‘nowhere’. On a Sunday morning I will
stay home in the warmth and intimacy of my family. I will go walking in the hills and fields near
our home and watch the flocks of sparrows chattering in the hedges. I will make
junk model dinosaurs with my son and listen to him giggling with glee when we
can’t seem to make the head stick on the body. I will do anything to make life
flow through my body, interest my mind, light up my emotions but I will not go
to church where I feel no life and my soul simply goes to sleep.
Many years ago I found myself on a course to become a Shiatsu Practitioner. I’d been suffering with chronic fatigue and became fascinated with energy work as a way to understand my illness and healing. I was a long way from full recovery but just about found the strength to drive the 70 miles from Somerset to Totnes in Devon every few weekends to attend my course. Having arrived there I then had to find the strength to learn something new that challenged me physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually!
The biggest challenge for me was spiritual. Within the philosophy of Shiatsu there didn’t
seem to be any room for a relationship with a personal God. I found myself floundering and lost within a
belief system that saw God as more of a cosmic force and us as metaphysical
beings. The most significant thing to me
was the absence of grace as I was told I had to work at my connectedness. It
seemed that God couldn’t simply flow in me and through me to heal others. I had to do energy exercises, breathing
exercises and meditation to work up the chi.
I was insensed, enraged by this challenge to everything that I had found
so dear, so beautiful and so meaningful.
Why couldn’t I just work with the connection I already had – permanent
I struggled to understand this new philosophy and to try to
reconcile it with my own experience for 2 years. I even created my own approach to Shiatsu
that I called Shiaki based on a more Christian philosophy. I found myself speaking up for Christianity –
the wonder of relationship with God and the gift of grace – at every twist and
turn of my course. I was utterly amazed
by my zeal and conviction as I had no idea that I would go out on a limb like
this in a situation where no-one else shared my experience or beliefs. It was as if God had lit a fire in my heart
and nothing could quench it.
Today I still feel the Christian message. If people try to discuss doctrine with me I
feel my energy sink and become almost troubled.
I don’t have all the answers and some days I don’t know exactly what I
believe but as I live my life I become more and more aware that the message of
Christianity is written in my heart
The best way to illustrate how I hear God’s
voice is by giving some examples of the journeys that I go on with God – funny
little journeys with big out-comes.
This particular journey took place a few years ago when I saw a picture in my head of a reservoir about 5 miles from where I live. I had only visited it once and it hadn’t become a favourite place. However on that day I felt this strange pull to visit it again so I dragged my husband, Richard and my 4 year old son out for a walk! On arriving, what first occurred to me was that it was a good place for thinking. Simply following the marked paths and feeling the calm of the water was quite therapeutic especially as I had some big thoughts going on in my head that I wanted to share with Richard. As our walk continued we came to a sort of jetty that was like a narrow closed-in walk-way leading to a hide out by the water’s edge. I don’t like tunnels or motion but felt drawn through this tunnel to the small square box-like hide sitting over the water. It wasn’t really moving but as I looked out over the reservoir and saw the water rippling by, I really felt like I was on a boat. Finding myself doing something strange but feeling I had to be there, I put my antennae up and talked to God. Our conversation went something like this:-
“OK, God what I am doing here?”
“Facing a fear.”
“What of . . . motion, boats . . ?“
need to face your fear of movement. You
get so scared when you have a dream, something big and you see it unfolding
before you, expanding, and then you don’t want to move. Jennie I want you to
move, to run with your dream. I want you to face your fear of losing
control. I want you to let go.”
Hearing these words made me curious about my
fear. I tried looking out at the
rippling water from different sides of the hide. I looked at the information on the walls
about the birds we might see and then my eye caught sight of something big
moving in the water. It was the biggest
fish I’ve ever seen actually swimming and it was going surprisingly fast, heading
straight for the hide. Part of me became
entranced by this fish but just in a corner of my mind was my fear, and the
thought that watching it was making me feel slightly dizzy and I didn’t like
it. Quite suddenly I decided that enough
was enough and I wanted to go now. I moved quickly through the tunnel and back
onto what I thought was dry land! I was
happy again but I was changed. A little
bit of the fear had gone.
Yesterday I met a friend – someone I hadn’t seen in a long time. We had our first child at the same time and met at a post-natal group. We both shared our love of babies and everything newborn. We both wanted more children but we still only have one chick in our nest whilst she has 3. I was envious, desperate to have more children in our family too. We tried to adopt but it didn’t work out.
What was it I wanted I had to keep wondering. Did I want to look out of the window and see three children on their bikes or in the paddling pool? Did I want to do the school run and proudly drop my 3 little cherubs at the school gate? Did I want the sports days, parents evenings, dance classes and football matches? Did I want the big family Christmases and holidays?
I really thought I did want these things but even the school run with one little chick and parents evenings, sports days, paddling pools and holidays was too much for me! I wanted them to give me this ‘full, complete’ feeling but all they did was seem to take away from my energy and leave me feeling empty. I couldn’t find anyone to talk to in the playground when I collected my son from school, I picked up everyone’s strained stressed tired energy at parent’s evenings, the paddling pool could feel overstimulating on bright light days of summer and holidays, well – I just like the daily small things and my routine best!
When I met my friend yesterday she told me how her busy full life had developed. She was working, running a business, taking her children here, there and everywhere but I didn’t hear the passion in her voice, the excitement I would expect of someone with a full life. She seemed tired. Then all I could say about our life is that my son is home mostly playing computer games with friends, we have doves now and like hover-boarding. But in that moment I didn’t mind that my life may not have sounded full because the one thing that is very full is my heart. And at the end of the day, surely that is what counts.
Today is May 9th – my Birthday. Now I guess May 9th may have no special ring to you but of course it does to me.
I am not a celebration person though and have had many grumpy Birthdays! I could never work out why. Did I feel people were not treating me right? Did I have too few cards? Did someone important forget? Well – the answer was often all of the above! However in another way the answer was something completely different.
Today I remembered how May 9th was special for me as a child (just the date) and also how I used to pray that the sun would shine on my Birthday. I literally did that every year and to my surprise, God did seem to answer my prayers! I can remember many a sunny Birthday.
Well, this year I kept looking at the weather forecast and I could see drizzle and a north east wind forecasted. So . . .what is God up to this year, I wondered! I had decided to go to my son’s favourite place for the morning as his happiness is everything to me and his visual processing gives him few choices to be happy when out. So we went to see our friend Vic and her lovely alpacas. We also took our hover-boards because I remembered Vic had a particularly promising looking new drive for a hover-boarding ride.
When we left in the car it was sunny. I noticed the old familiar cow parsley that is always out for my Birthday (and my Mum remembers from the day I was born.) The bluebells were still out (flowering late this year) and dotted in the hedgerow was the flash of red campion. The yellow was very strong in the green of the leaves – in fact so strong I had to shut my eyes when we went through leafy tunnels. And I thought to myself “Yes, it feels like my Birthday. All my special wild flowers are out.”
I haven’t had any presents because you try buying a present for a colour sensitive person! I haven’t suffered the sound or the pattern of wrapping paper. And I asked not to have cards.
The most memorable thing of my Birthday will be the trip in the car and all the colours of the spring flowers dancing together in unison for me! It seems that I was born at a time when the light feels best for me. And I must have known from very young just how much I needed the sunlight to really make the colours dance.
Did you pray for things that felt important to you as a child? I would love to hear your stories.