I’m thinking that if anyone attempts to write a blog post like this, they probably won’t be in the middle of the darkest time. I know my perspective is easier at the moment and I’m asking you to bear with me if anything I write jars with your more difficult circumstances. Do comment or come back to me if you want to offer a different point of view. I preached a sermon yesterday which touched on the issue of unanswered prayer and times when it seems like God is silent or absent. In it I mentioned several times in my life where I had felt like God was not with me or interested in engaging with me and how sometimes my reaction has been to stop talking to him.
Just before our love got lost you said
“I am as constant as the Northern star” and I said
“Constantly in the darkness, where’s that at?
If you want me I’ll be in the bar”.
Although I wasn’t spending a lot of time in bars in those years, I did pretty much stop going to church. My involvement with the Ship website was an attempt to stay connected with some of the faith issues which were bothering me and to meet some Christians and others on the fringes who might have some wisdom or solidarity to share. It was a place where otherwise unacceptable views seemed welcome and at times I used it to rant at God. I asked a bunch of questions about whether a personal relationship with God was a myth, and whether humanity was just a science experiment gone wrong.
The existence of stars and whether we’re looking at something that has already disappeared is also explored in Karine Polwart’s song, ‘Terminal Star’. I find it both beautiful and melancholy,
You’re a beautiful trace
Across time and space
You’re a thing that once shone
And you still shine bright
In the darkest night
Though you’re already gone
In the bigness of the universe it is hard to fathom how far away things are that we can still see, and the amount of time that light has taken to reach us. Imagining a relationship with the one who made the stars seems even more far-fetched to many. Seeing metaphors and meanings in everything over my dramatherapy training made me rather sceptical that any thought occurring to me could be from God, rather than my own messed-up subconscious.
But I was really moved to read a passage on a similar topic recently by Pete Greig, reluctant progenitor of the current 24-7 Prayer movement and a speaker who really impressed me at the Worship Central training I went to in June. In his heartfelt and brilliant book, ‘God on mute – Engaging the silence of unanswered prayer’, he writes:
How can [God] be present yet absent? Perhaps it is like a distant star, flickering faintly in the darkness, whose light we see, without knowing for sure whether the source itself is still there. Has the star died, or is it still burning brighter than the sun? We remember times when God seemed to speak to us, or to use us, or to answer our prayer and we determine to stay true to those moments of uncertainty even though the actuality is so alien to our current experience. And thus, by the distant light of past encounters we may navigate the darkness, like a mariner steering by long-extinguished stars when every other point of reference has disappeared. (p265)
Thinking like this, and being in a period of time where God seems closer and to be speaking to me and using me makes me want to identify some stars to hold on to in the future. Maybe to help the darkness not seem so dark next time, or to help others find their way. The experiences I described a few weeks ago where God gave me such clear directions to people and confirmations that neither circumstance could be pure coincidence were real gifts and something one friend suggested was worth framing. That’s a star for me – not a ‘well done’ gold star but something I want to navigate by in the future. I’m also holding on to the friend who I prayed for when she was struggling to get pregnant, who now has the two boys she longed for. That’s not a small thing. There are other friends I have prayed for over the years including friends of my sister and a university friend who have had very troubled pregnancies but now have healthy children. You are all my stars.
There are other things I have depended on over the years which I have blogged about before, including a list of faith things that don’t change no matter how I’m feeling. I know God is my rock and that when I’ve felt like I’ve reached the bottom before, there is something solid there that I can’t give up on. Most of the time I also recognise the benefit of being part of the church, flawed though it is. We can be light for each other, as well as for the world. Another precious piece of prose which captures some of this for me comes from Adrian Plass’s diary aged 45 ¾, where the lovely minister Edwin explains to a doubting friend:
“I am very proud… to own and share the good and the bad, the sense and the silliness in you, Leonard, my dear brother. I want you to know that your fights and victories are my fights and victories. Your failures are my failures. I hope that you can share the good and the bad in me as well – much more bad than you think I’m afraid. But I do believe in God – this week anyway – so, I tell you what, since we are brothers, and parts of the same body, I’ll hold your unbelief and you can hold my faith.” He smiled. “That’ll confuse God so much that he’ll put up with both of us. I think that’s the kind of confusion he likes. Jesus so wanted us to love each other”. (p211)
So can I encourage you to share the light you have – your stars, for the people around you who desperately need a bit of encouragement right now. And if you feel it’s just too dark, and you’ve given up on God or the church and can’t see anything shiny in your horizon, please find someone else whose little boat has room for you too, and trust the navigating to them for a while. There are lots of different churches, and there’s even a Ship of Fools. There are plenty more of us stumbling around but wanting to share the light we’ve found. There is a hope.