This time of year is tough for me. I’ve struggled today and I’ve been thinking about what it is I needed to ‘take hold’ of. I thought about this time last year and remembered my certainty of the presence of God in the brokeness of life. So I am sharing with you extracts from a talk I gave on the 15th November last year, about life in the unexpected places. Today I’m taking hold of God’s presence with us.
‘There are cracks in my world
I noticed them one day and now they are everywhere:
Sinister hairline cracks that start and finish out of sight
cracks that grow and gape and laugh at my certainties
My world has been declared unsafe
I have tried to paper them over, paint them out, move the furniture to hide them, but they always return,
cracks that hang like question marks in my mind.…’
part of a poem by Dave Bookless
Do you identify with it? I heard this poem last year when I was on a retreat and as it was read I couldn’t move. I was rooted to the spot. It described so perfectly my then reality. My life was full of cracks and I felt terrified within that unsafe space.
Maybe life has been as you hoped this far – I would love it if that was your experience, but I know that for many it won’t have been. I expect like me, you’ve realised that it’s not about whether cracks will appear but when will they come. When will life take a turn that you didn’t expect, couldn’t foresee and you find yourself thrown into a place that is entirely unfamiliar and for which you are utterly unprepared. A place where the questions come thick and fast and the answers don’t exist at all.
Why has it turned out like this? Was it something I did? Was it something I didn’t do? Who am I if I’m not who I thought I was?
The readings we heard tell this story too. Joseph who was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers, and the woman at the well, the village outcast because of her many relationships. I will come back to them later, but I want to share a little of my own story of life in the unexpected places. I’ll tell you now, there is no neat happy ending, at least not in a conventional sense, but I do believe there’s hope.
About two years ago I reached a point I’d describe as rock bottom. Our marriage was holding together by the thinnest thread. My depression returned and I once again faced all the questions about myself and my weakness.
All the things I thought I knew about myself seemed to be false. The identity I’d owned was in pieces. I had thought myself to be a logical person, and hadn’t noticed the seething mass of emotions I was pushing down on an hourly basis, and when they finally came out, it broke apart all that I’d thought I’d understood about myself. Surely I was a coper, an analyst, a survivor? Not an emotional, distraught person whose only solace came from writing. I described it to someone as my life being on a table top, and someone had removed a leg of the table, so the whole thing was tilted and everything was sliding off and I had no way of stopping it. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how to go on with a life that seemed to bear little resemblance to life as I expected it to be. I didn’t know how I could still call myself a Christian when I’d done things which were as far from Jesus’s command to love one another as was possible. I wasn’t sure I could bear the pain of watching those closest to me suffer with ill health.
My faith had always been of importance to me, but at that rock bottom point I told God that He/ She had to be everything to me. I believed I had nothing and I was nothing. I can only tell you about my own experience of faith but what I found was that somehow, because of God’s grace and acceptance of me, I began to recognise the broken person as myself. I accepted that my life was full of the cracks that came about because of difficult circumstances and the cracks that came into being when I’d taken a hammer to the walls myself.
I realised that I, like you, like every human, am a beautiful creation of smooth walls and broken pieces. I realised that no one was condemning me, except for myself. I realised that the pain was real and fierce but that I was also alive. I realised that I was loved by God in all of my cracked, messy, painful life.
I can’t help but see the parallels in the lives of the characters we heard about in the bible readings earlier. Joseph certainly wasn’t living the life he expected. His ability to interpret dreams and liking garish clothing drove his jealous and angry brothers to sell him into slavery. He wasn’t expecting that. He spent years in service to an Egyptian before going to prison for a crime he didn’t commit. He wasn’t expecting that either. But it was in prison that he used his dream interpretation once again and it saved his life and subsequently the lives of a region. He found life in the unexpected places.
The woman in the second reading wasn’t living the life she had expected either. She was collecting her water from the well at the hottest time of day – the time that nobody went to the well, because she didn’t want to have to face anyone. Her life was full of cracks and brokenness. We hear that she’d had five husbands. Whether she’d been married to them we don’t know but she had had multiple relationships with men, causing her to be shamed and ostracized by her community. And it was there that Jesus met her. He knew everything about her and he accepted her exactly as she was. And because of that acceptance she talked with him and experienced what for her became life giving faith and redemption.
The poem I read earlier ends with these lines:
Do you believe in cracks?
Because I keep searching for God in the room and find He is hiding in the cracks.
I can only speak from my own experience but I have found that when all is well I don’t look for God. I try to manage alone. It’s when life is broken that I look for God and I have found God in the cracks. It doesn’t mean he caused them or wants them, but he’s there.
I’m learning to accept all the parts of me including those that don’t fit my own expectations. I believe now that I was created with intent and my unique personhood is a gift. My life doesn’t make sense. How can pain and loss and illness ever make sense, but I am learning to live the life I have, not the life I wish I had. My faith isn’t about everything being good and lovely in my world, or in the wider world, but it is about knowing that I am fully known, loved and accepted right now as I am.
You are never just one thing. You are never just your academic ability or your sexuality or your past. You are the smooth walls and the broken pieces too.
And I believe that you will find that there is life in the unexpected places.
And so I leave you with a blessing for the living, by Beth Morey from her book Night Cycles.
may you know that courage
is a choice, that fearlessness is
not the stage of breathing-being-fear-less but tasting the metallic tang of panic on the tongue and
breathing dancing stretching
leaping limping walking
painting panting giving
telling loving love-making
hoping healing asking
flying falling forgetting
forgiving recalling knowing
craving crying hungering
laughing howling hurting
eating entering learning
wanting waning hunting
claiming clamoring embracing
up this graying world with all
your glorious, gleaming you-ness