I’ve been wrestling for some time now with the idea of God, the idea of Church, the idea of salvation, the idea of eternal life – what it all means, if it is true, if it is even worth pursuing. My search has taken my soul through some dark, dark nights, and through some broad, sweeping apathies.
Recently, things have begun to change. After a particularly difficult June I decided that I need to look after myself a bit more – enjoy life, not worry too much. Stop over-thinking all this ‘faith stuff’ and just try being myself and relaxing for a bit. I booked a holiday, I’ve decided to get the car I’ve wanted since I was 14 (Yes, it’s a VW camper). I’ve made sure to make a couple of pilgrimages to my favourite ‘thin’ place, the beach.
It was on one of these trips to Dunraven Bay in South Wales (known locally as Southerndown beach) that I began to sense a change in my faith journey. I have been reading, over a prolonged period of time, “Naked Spirituality” by Brian McLaren. It is a wonderful book where Brian takes us through the various stages of faith, and I have just finished the chapter on ‘Perplexity’ – a stage I would certainly identify with in recent months. In it, he says this:
“For all its angst, there’s beauty in perplexity, the autumn blaze of colour between green an gone. There’s the strength of ruthless honest, the courage of dogged endurance, the companionship of the disillusioned, the determination of the long-distance runner who won’t give up even though he’s exhausted. In that act of not giving up, there is faith too, and hope, perhaps the most vibrant faith and hope of all”.
This is so true! But the best bit is the paragraph that follows…
“There’s a special catalytic moment that comes late in the season of perplexity. Having practised critical thinking about the thoughts of others, thinkers turn their critical eye on their own thinking. They become skeptical about their skepticism and cynical about their cynicism. And in so doing, they begin to push themselves beyond perplexity. But it’s a long, hard road between here and there.”
When I read that my heart simultaneously sank and jumped with excitement. How had I missed this? It is so glaringly obvious! I can be the worlds biggest cynic – but a true cynic would not even cope with their own cynicism. It is an utterly self-defeating concept (not that it is not a necessary stage to go through) and in being so is something sublime.
I recently caught up with a friend, who returned to me two of my favourite books. One of them is “The Jubilee Manifesto” – a book by a collection of authors on what was once my favourite topic – the idea of bringing Biblical Jubilee values to modern society. There was a voice in the back of my mind that seemed to suggest that I should note the timing of its return to me. Being the good skeptic/cynic I duly ignored the voice and carried on with my day.
It was only late last night that I realised that God really does bring things together rather well. You may have seen in the news the Archbishop of Cantebury’s declaration of war against Wonga. Yet it is a war bent not on outright conflict but instead on subversion. If you’ve read my older blog posts you’ll know how much I love the idea of subversive gospel. Of course, a church that has a Credit Union in every branch – a church that you can bank at – that’s near as damn it the early church. Ok, so it’s quite different – but my goodness is it exciting! Here is the body of Christ acknowledging the financial inequality of our society and loudly proclaiming ‘NO MORE’. Amazing. For all its flaws and failures, the Anglican church is still finding itself in step with the whispers of the divine.
So late last night I was explaining this to a friend, and I experience what I feel right now, writing this down – a spine-tingling sense of awe, anticipation, wonder, joy, hope and the very real sense of the presence of something else. Something I cannot explain. But something I can, for the fist time in a very long time, say that I know as God.