I’ve just realised that in my spiritual spring-cleaning, I’m so busy chucking out the beliefs I don’t want anymore that I’m in real danger of dumping some good stuff as well. I’m so alert to the negative images of God which I absorbed growing up, almost by osmosis, that I’ve neglected to realise the real God was there all the time.
It’s time to give this good God a chance.
Because the risk is that in discarding so much, I might just toss some chunks of gold. Just little twinkling nuggets which could get buried amidst all the dross. And if I ransack without thinking, or looking or considering, I’ll miss them.
It reminds me of when my son was a teenager and I handed him a big black binbag and told him to clear up his bedroom as the floor had disappeared. He was downstairs in double quick time, handed me a bulging sack and hotfooted it out of the door. I prudently sifted through his junk to find his current passport in amongst the debris.
See what I mean?
This hit me right between the eyes in church last Sunday morning. As you know, we can’t sing hymns which is a bit of a trial, but we must all follow the rules and socially distance and sanitise and shut up. The last hymn sung so beautifully by the choir was ‘O Jesus I have promised,’ and it took me straight back to being seven years old and hollering it at the top of my lungs in our little wooden hut of a church. And then to my posh grammar school where we sang a hymn every day from our own hymn book and hung onto it grimly as the penalty was several lost house points if you mislaid it. One of the favourite tricks of naughty girls was to push a hymn book along the floor with feet as we stood in the prayers and you could only watch helplessly as it went down the line. And then if the class bully pinched it, you would be in big trouble with your form mistress. That was unthinkable to me for whom being in any sort of trouble equated to outer darkness.
But the memory of singing hymns in church last Sunday was good. I loved singing. I poured my heart and soul into hymns and still do. And that thread of joy as I sang, weaving both melody and harmony into belonging, and connection has stayed with me throughout my life.
I’ve just ordered a book on Amazon (I’m detoxing from Amazon but it’s taking time) called ‘Born again and again – surprising gifts of a fundamentalist childhood’ by Jon Sweeney. That phrase sounds very much like an oxymoron to me, but I’m willing to give it a go.
Baby and bathwater springs to mind...
And my head is now whirring with all these musical jewels from the past. Jewels which shone brightly in a chilly drab little hut with little adornment, hard uncomfortable wooden chairs, and a coke fire which was only lit when ice formed inside the windows. And where I learned to be frightened of God.
But I now realise that hymns warmed me and held me and soothed me deep down where the sun doesn’t shine. ‘Guide me O thou great Jehovah’, ‘Just as I am,’ ‘O the deep deep love of Jesus,’ ‘Thine be the glory,’ O for a thousand tongues to sing’. Words which bore deep into my soul, and took root, holding me through life when I almost drowned in a sea of self-loathing, wanting to crawl into a corner with a blanket over my head whenever I encountered zealous righteous Christians.
But those hymns always saved me, always threw me a lifeline, and pulled me back to shore.
It’s quite a revelation to consider there may be some nuggets amongst the dross if I manage to just look and start panning. As Richard Rohr says many times in many ways – ‘Everything belongs.’ Even fundamentalist childhoods.
I’ll let you know how I get on with ‘Born and born again.’ I’m open to being opened.
I may find more gold.