Learning to carry the light

Here I am, signed up to the novitiate in the Third Order of Franciscans, and I know that I have this blueprint in my head of what a good Franciscan should be doing. Or, come to that, what a good Christian should be doing. I don’t want to post myself into a little box which says, ‘Trying to be worthy’ but I’m posting myself anyway. Comes with a heavy-handed Protestant upbringing.


So, if the cynical, despairing part of me which has always put herself on the outside of the city wall was asked to list some of the ways she fell short of being a good Christian (woman), this is what she would say...


· I hate committees.

· I’ve only just discovered there is such a thing as the great outdoors but I still won’t go into a field if there are cows in it.

· I’m scared of dogs.

· I’m no baker. I like eating cakes but not baking them.

· I can’t stop swearing at politicians on the telly.

· I’m hopeless at silence. I like a bit of noise around me because it tells me I’m here.

· If someone gives me a bunch of flowers, I’ll just lop a couple of inches off the ends and stick them in a vase.

· I’m no good at crafts. I’ve tried and I always fall out with whatever it is I’m supposed to be making.

· I know contemplation is how lots of people meet God and I have the beanbag, the icon and everything but I can’t sit still.


Falling short on pretty much all the ticky boxes for a solid, contemplative, middle-aged, middle-class Christian wouldn’t you say?


Bear with. As I said, that is the shouty, hurt part of me talking.


But yesterday, I found a still small place of quietness. A place where I could zone out, zone in and just be. Where my obsessive, fretful thoughts just took a hike for a while and let me stand there in my own space unmolested.


I was asked a while back by my cathedral church if I’d like to join the server’s team. And I said yes – mainly because I like the word. Serving. Jesus came as a servant, didn’t he? So I couldn’t go far wrong in wanting to serve. Okay, I know that cynics may say I could serve better in a soup kitchen or a food bank but it doesn’t stop me doing those things as well. There are many words in our stretchy English language which have lots of different meanings and serving is one of them. Also, my church experiences had never put me in the way of servers before and I wanted to travel around a bit on my spiritual journey.


I was kitted out with a white alb (about a foot lopped off the bottom because I’m somewhat vertically challenged), shown how to arrange my amice like some medieval monk (it goes round your neck) and tie my girdle, although this was a challenge and I had to practice with YouTube for a few days before I got my knot right. Amazing what you can find on YouTube. (By the way I’d never heard of an amice either. Nothing to do with rodents).


Then I was let loose on the procession on the Feast of Christ the King yesterday.


Now we are back to full choreography at the cathedral post-pandemic and the servers have to work a bit harder for their keep. I had all on keeping hold of my candle, negotiating steps and not getting in anyone’s way. There's a lot of steps around our altar. Although at one point, I took a wrong turn and collided with the bloke carrying the cross who was very nice about it and didn’t even mention his crushed toes afterwards.


But what I found, was a still small place of peace whilst around me people were doing things. During the Eucharistic prayer, I had to stand in front of my candle and lift it up during the final exhortation at the end. And it didn’t feel showy-offy or as though I had a bit part on the stage at the Old Vic. It felt as if I was truly praising and glorifying God with my light. Alleluia!


And as I stood there during the prayer, I felt completely still. It was as though there was a kernel of peace deep inside of me which I’d not been able to access before, but which, in the absence of doing anything else, was available to me.


And then I stood around the altar with my other mates in the serving team and the clergy whilst we said the prayers around the table. And again, I felt a calmness and a serenity, healed by just being and receiving.


The cynical part of me can kick and scream all she likes, but I know that I have that place within, where I can touch the peace of God.


And ask her to hold my hand as I negotiate the steps with my candle as I’m still a bit of a rookie in my newly minted-serving role.

She’ll keep me safe.






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