Sometimes when the news is devastating and I wake up in the morning with a pit of crushing dread in my stomach, signs and symbols can help when words are plain inadequate. It’s like we are living in a catastrophe of Biblical proportions – plague, planet destruction, poverty, war. And on a personal level, a very dear friend is grappling with the cruelty and randomness of a truly scary cancer diagnosis which just makes me want to scream at God and ask him what on earth he thinks he’s playing at.
We are so human and so fragile and so vulnerable.
And then I walk into my cathedral church and I see over eight thousand paper doves hanging peacefully from the ceiling, each one decorated with a message of hope. Here they are....
And they are whatever you want them to be. There is a steady stream of visitors through the doors to look, wander, sit, and pray beneath them, each bringing their own pain, helplessness, hopelessness, requests, demands, pleadings, wonder, adoration, questions, doubts, distress, despair.
There is something here for everyone.
As you may have noticed (or maybe not – that’s my ego talking), I’ve been off radar for a while. Even over Easter when any self-respecting blogger would be pumping it out over the airwaves posting encouraging and meaningful thoughts, I’ve been metaphorically sitting in the corner with a blanket over my head trying to make sense of the Easter story.
I thought I had it all sewn up, but there you go.
When you decide to walk away from the belief system you grew up with, it would be kind of nice to replace it with something else. But until then, there can be this hiatus, this limbo-land, this vast expanse of empty plain where you have an (almost) blank slate and you can write on it what you will. I tell you – it’s frightening- and there’s a big temptation to hightail it back to the old and familiar even though I know it doesn’t work for me and just makes me want to go back into the corner.
I listened to a very wise elderly bishop over Holy Week talking about the Cross. He said that the Church doesn’t have a doctrine of the Cross, only theories. Frustratingly he didn’t share his theory with us. I was itching to know. But he did tell a story about a little boy who wouldn’t bring his friends home to play because his mum had such scary deformed hands. That was until he explained to them that his mum got those hands by rescuing him from a fire when he was a baby. ‘Look at the hands’ the bishop said. ‘Look at the hands.’
And then he said – whatever theory of the Cross works for you, works for you.
So, whether I am sitting beneath the peace doves in my cathedral church or sitting beneath the Cross, I am touched and held where I most need to be touched and held, right in the heart where theories don’t matter and all that remains is Love.
My priest-friend told me a story this week about the great theologian Karl Barth. You may have heard it, but bear with. She said he was once asked how he would sum up his life’s work of theology in a single sentence and he replied, ‘Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.’
Now I’ve been off radar for a while because I’ve been trying to find answers to questions when sometimes it’s best to just live with the mystery and the not-knowing. I’ve been like a swan (or maybe a mallard duck) paddling gracefully across the lake whilst underneath, its webbed feet are pumping fast and furious. And when I decide to let go and float, that’s when I begin to settle into knowing it’s okay to just be held and trust.
I have no answers but I want to stop looking. And as I grapple with the atrocities of Ukraine, the terrors of climate change, the despair of families unable to put food on the table, my dear dear friend’s cancer, I sit beneath the doves and I sit beneath the Cross and somehow, I know that God is suffering in every part of that and will resurrect it all through the Cross.
‘Jesus loves me, this I know.’
Look at the hands.
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