Updated: Feb 12, 2021
For much of my life I have regarded myself as some sort of spiritual cripple. You know, the one who sits in the corner with her crutches, unable to get to her feet without a hefty slug of co-codamol and a couple of willing hands to pull her off the couch.
I didn’t know how to be healthy.
And yet the gospels are all about how Jesus, the miracle worker, healed those who were so sick that no one had any real confidence in their ability to ever be well. The blind man’s sight restored. Tick! The deaf made to hear. Tick! The lame running down the road. Tick! He even raised the dead for goodness sake and you can’t go much further than that.
I felt the equivalent of spiritually dead. But I couldn’t raise myself, and Jesus hadn’t got round to doing it because I was such a loser at being a Christian.
Although, if I’m honest (always best I find), as I’ve said before, deep deep down where the sun doesn’t shine, I’d always felt a stirring of longing for God. I would take it out occasionally and polish it with my mental duster in the hope I could get it to shine just a bit brighter, but it never glowed brilliantly enough and I didn’t know who to show it to anyway, so I just put it back and waited.
Sometimes waiting is the only thing you can do.
And then – as you know, I met some Franciscans on my journey and they didn’t verbally beat me up for my lack of faith and my failure to do things properly, but sat with me and told me that it was okay, and that I was loved. Sometimes God sends other people because to appear himself might be just a tiny bit terrifying, and you would either find yourself being interviewed on ‘The One Show’ or carted away by men in white coats with a section order slammed on your head.
So, people. Ordinary people. Fallible people who talked about how God loved me whatever I did or thought or said, because God can’t do anything else. And I began to feel connected.
You see, you can’t get to know God unless you feel connected. And sometimes that connection has to start with flesh and blood and hands that hold rather than liturgy and Quiet Times and the inside of a church. Those things can come later, but you need to put the horse before the cart.
It was drummed into me very early that there were necessities for everyone who wanted to be a Christian and if you fell down on these most essential of requirements, then you were a hopeless disappointment as a believer. ‘Read your Bible, pray every day’ was a catchy little number which we sang in church most Sundays, and I would cross my fingers and toes in contrition as I knew I didn’t do it. I beat myself up completely for not working my way effectively into God’s Kingdom when all the time God was standing there with the door wide open and a big invitation to just walk right on in.
Now, as a fledging Franciscan I have written a basic Rule of Life. I didn’t know what a Rule of Life was until about a year ago - but basically, it’s a framework to help you in all sorts of ways - spiritually, emotionally, physically. I like that. It’s a sort of trellis that I can hold on to as I grow. The cynical out there might say it’s no different to that chorus I hollered as a child, ‘Read your Bible, pray every day’ but I’m not threated now with eternal damnation if I don’t do it. The relief feels a bit like stepping from the dock with a death sentence commuted.
I have a tendency to be hard on myself. It comes with the territory of a fundamentalist upbringing which was hard on you until you learned to do it for yourself. So, I had to tread carefully with writing my Rule otherwise I could find myself frozen immobile with my OCD running rampant thinking all its birthdays and Christmases had come at once. I was told, make it general, make it simple, make it easy.
But you see, when you are connected to that Source of Life, it doesn’t feel like a big foot coming down to squash you if you get it wrong. It doesn’t feel like a leaden weight on your back that you have to carry every single day. It doesn’t feel like the end of the world if you slip up, or feel tired or arsey or want to fall out with God and everyone else because life is just so dammed hard at the moment. There is always room to come back. There is always another chance.
And one thing I have put in my Rule is to pray every day and read a bit of the Bible. And – you know what? I’m enjoying it. I light my candle, I sit on my beanbag, I play my music and I read a psalm. (they’re cracking by the way - I’ve just discovered them properly). And then I sit back and talk to God about the things which are so important to me – my family, my dear friend who has just had a major operation, the people I know who are living lives of quiet desperation on their own in this pandemic, mates who are struggling with impossible domestic situations, my brothers and sisters in the Third Order especially those on the prayer list for today who I don’t yet know, our country and our world as we inch our way towards some kind of deliverance, and myself that I will be healed.
And I sit back and just let myself be connected. Because it’s all about connection. To God, to others, to myself.
And I’m struggling to my feet, I’ve ditched the crutches and I’m able to walk. Soon, I hope, I’ll be dancing.