We have just celebrated Candlemas – the Feast of the Presentation, which turned up as a crossword clue in the Times last weekend and for once, I knew the answer. My husband sits over his granola on a Saturday morning, pen in hand, deliberating, and occasionally throwing a clue out as bread upon the waters to see if I know the answer. And I did know that one. The Presentation (twelve letters.) Candlemas.
And then on Sunday we sang the jaunty hymn, ‘When candles are lighted on Candlemas Day,’ and I was acolyting and felt the thrill of my flickering candle, cheering the light and chasing the dark. This hymn has twelve verses which the little choirboys had been alerted to so they were not caught unawares. We bounced through them at a pace...
They pass through temptation, through failure, through death.
When darkness descends they plod onward in faith.
I like that. ‘Plod onward’ because that’s how I feel sometimes about faith. I grew up to believe that it was all prophecies and strange tongues and answered prayer and miraculous events and once and for all conversions. Now I know that sometimes it’s a steady walk along a winding road in the company of all the saints on their plodding walk too. And we may glimpse the promise of a light or hear the whisper of our name being called, and some, yes some, may experience a Damascene moment, but not all. And that’s okay.
Now as a novice in the Third Order, I am required to think about certain things. And in my first set of notes, I’m asked to consider when I have failed in my endeavours. And to reflect that Jesus did as well. And to ponder where I can see God’s hand in the end result.
So where do I start?
I was saved when I was five by kneeling at the side of my bed and asking Jesus to come into my heart. I think he came but I couldn’t feel he had. Maybe he crept in very quietly and didn’t bang the door so I didn’t know he was there. Failure #1.
I decided as a teenager that I would really nail this being a Christian thingy and gave my heart again. I threw myself into a charismatic church complete with singing in tongues and crashing dramatically backwards onto the floor when someone laid hands on me. I was desperately trying to feel something, but couldn’t. I so wanted to fit in and made all the right moves but was never one of the gang. Failure#2.
I then married a priest although he wasn’t a priest when I married him which gave me a chance to get my head around the idea. But – hey! I’d be the perfect vicar’s wife and to prove it I visited parishioners, ate my bodyweight in mince pies, drew the raffle at the Mother’s Union tea and sat under the table and sobbed when I was by myself. Failure#3.
No worries – I would create the perfect family. Our vicarage family would be a beacon for all to follow – a shining light of togetherness, shiny scrubbed obedient children sitting around the dinner table while Daddy said grace and we all said ‘Amen.’ But then daddy got very sick and died which rather scuppered that plan and although I prayed really really hard that wouldn’t happen, it did, so that showed just how useful my prayers were. Failure#4.
But maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t failing but not recognising the God who loves me?
Gradually, like the beginning of spring, a thaw began to set in and I’m no nature writer, but think hairline cracks in the ice, snow thawing and dripping from the branches of trees, the first crocuses poking through the damp earth with tiny green shoots and fragile purple flowers. I found people who knew an entirely different God and were really happy to introduce me. And I found a place to worship where I could approach this God with reverence and with awe, relishing the beauty of ritual and colour and solemnity, as well as intimacy with my Creator.
So now all of us are at the transition point, the pivotal time when we turn from Christmas to Easter, when we set our faces away from the crib and towards the Cross. Jesus suffered failure too. As do we all.
But with the help of my God and my fellow companions I will ‘plod onward in faith’, rejoicing in a God who embraces me and loves me however much I fail.
And you know what? It finally feels like I’ve now had my Presentation in the temple. And I’m ready to go ahead, grow up and mature into my own real faith.
Thank you God.