Thursday, 7 October 2010

Here I stand

My first venture to a church service following my diagnosis was on Sunday 12 September.

This proved to be quite tricky: exposure to a larger group of people, some of whom know me very well; the urge to share personal news with people who needed to know; the danger on the other hand of spreading myself too thin.

Sat next to me was a dear friend who lost his own wife to a blood disease bravely borne in the power of faith and with great openness. I had had the great honour of playing drums at her funeral in 2005. To have him by my side gave me heart and courage for the sense of vulnerability that I had on this particular day.

It was the hymns and songs that presented the greatest challenge. So many of the words, I quickly realised, were proclamations that our lives are shot through with value and meaning in the context of eternity and in the power of Christ’s death and resurrection. The challenge to me very directly was whether I actually held to this or not. Did I really believe in these moments, more than ever conscious of the insecurities of mortal existence, that death would not be the end? I struggled to affirm what I have believed for many years since childhood and through many different circumstances, some very unhappy indeed, though none quite such as I now faced.

We sang “in Christ Alone”, a fine modern hymn of which I am particularly fond, written to a brave rolling Celtic rhythm and melody:

“No guilt in life, no fear in death
This is the power of Christ in me
From a life’s first cry to final breath
Jesus commands my destiny

No power of hell, no scheme of man
Could ever pluck me from His hand
‘til He returns or calls me home
Here in the power of Christ I stand”

My whole life in His hands? Yes, I could sing it, just as we had at my father’s funeral, also to a drum accompaniment, also in 2005—what a year that was! Many, some of them of course the usual suspects, would regard all this as self-delusion, a denial of the obvious smack-in-the-face facts of our human existence. Would it not be braver to stand alongside Bertrand Russell, facing with a proper pride the ultimate impersonal emptiness of a godless universe? I come back to the observation that faith and the hunger for meaning is a natural element of our humanity, wired into our very fabric and makeup. So much of what we rail and kick against are the trappings of religious practice, sometimes gaudy, often tired and tawdry, rather than the gift of God himself and His love poured out for us in the identification of Christ with our frail humanity. It is this that enables us to transcend circumstance, to experience it as bathed in the light of eternal significance. So, my dear readers, I was able to stand in that moment, felt once more at peace and was grateful.

I spoke to a number of people after the service, somewhat apologetic to have to detain them with my news. Our vicar and his wife, in post for just over a year, listened with care and attention, a truly pastoral concern. I knew I would have the support and prayers of the staff team and was very heartened by this, rejoicing to be part of this fellowship of care.

The weather was again kind and so we went for another stroll by the river, still tidal near us and this time rising above its banks. We watched its inexorable progress, striking up conversations with others who were intrigued by the behaviour of these suburban waters.

In real time, some weeks after these events, I am going to my bed to rest for tomorrow, which is to be a day of challenge. You will read about it here in due course…

Where I go on Sundays

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