Remember not the former things, nor consider of the things of old
Thus says the prophet Isaiah as he prepares the way for the one who is to come and make all things new. But for those of us coming to the end of the church year, with the new one starting tomorrow with the first Sunday in Advent, it is hard not to remember the former things. Advent is a time of preparation, and part of that, for me, is grounding myself.
For all of us this has been a year of struggle, and struggle in a way none of us could have anticipated only a year ago. The very idea that we would have been wearing face masks to go into a shop would have been laughed out of court; now you could find yourself in court for not doing it.
A year ago I was still not sure if I would write here, or anywhere else, ever again. As some of you know, I had what is often referred to as a “breakdown”. It was more of a “burn out”. I had left nothing undone, which was part of the problem, sometimes your body needs a break, even if your mind is saying otherwise. I have always lived more in my mind and paid it more attention than I have given to my body. The spirit has always been willing, it turned out that it and the flesh disagreed, and the latter has its own way of making its view felt if it feels ignored. But, with rest, and help, about this time last year, I began to emerge from the darkness, a darkness so black that it has helped me cope with the current darkness. At least now I see a light – and know it is not the oncoming train.
I am one of those fortunate people who has never doubted that God exists and is with me. I have often doubted the version of him that is sometimes served up to me. What I have experienced by way of love and mercy does not cohere with the view of a Father who would condemn many of his children to eternal torment. That’s not a doctrinal claim for universalism, it’s more an inability to believe that the God who has been with me through the very darkest times is the same God as preached in some quarters. As I recently commented to one of our longest and loveliest commentators, Paul was right – we see now through a glass darkly – but one day we shall see clearly.
And that is what looking back at this juncture tells me as I sit in the silence of my room with just my Rosary for company. Breaking down is a way to building back up, and building better. Making time to be with God every day, recognising that assuming he is there is fine, and right, but the only person in this relationship who suffers if I don’t make time for him is me.
Prayer is a habit, and by ensuring that I pray Morning and Evening Prayer, and Compline last thing, and my Rosary between times, I have found something which I probably ought to have known, but didn’t. When I started it felt like me addressing God, thanking him for his mercies to me and putting my petitions for others before him (I have real trouble praying for myself, but am getting there), but as I have gone on it feels different. It feels like tuning into something that is ongoing all the time – and during this period between All Saints’ and Advent, I really have felt as though I was accompanied by a great cloud of witnesses.
The lectionary readings too, are well-chosen. Through this last few weeks we have been following Isaiah and the writer of Revelation. The darkness through which Israel passed has been vivid in my mind, and the horror of the vision of John has, at times, been disquieting and even disturbing. But the Collects and the Prayers of Thanksgiving have carried me along. I have come to love the Blessing of Light that I use in place of the preparation for Evening Prayer, and as the last contribution here before Advent starts, I shall leave you with it:
Blessed are you, Lord God, creator of day and night:
to you be praise and glory for ever.
As darkness falls you renew your promise
to reveal among us the light of your presence.
By the light of Christ, your living Word,
dispel the darkness of our hearts
that we may walk as children of light
and sing your praise throughout the world.
Blessed be God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit