Swimming between the flags

Summer Lovin' 249

Australian beaches are renowned for their deadly rips.  From an early age you are taught to swim between the flags to avoid getting into trouble. It is a part of our collective memory and consciousness as a country – ‘swim between the flags’, ‘never try to swim against a rip’, ‘stay calm if you get caught’.  It is hard to spot a rip, they are hidden, running deep and fast under the surface.

For most of my life, by some Great Orchestrating Hand, I have found myself surrounded by people who’s understanding of women has reflected the impartiality of God’s grace.  Churches that honour the gifting planted, birthed and nurtured in and by both men and women have been my home.

I have swum between the flags.

Mostly.

As an eager and naive 19 year old I set off to fulfil my ‘calling’ to study theology. I was determined to make my mark and to become a diligent student. I was little prepared for the rip tides I would get caught in.

Because of my gender here were those who believed that I was sinning by committing my life to studying the word of God, men who told me I was going to hell for assuming to teach and I was told that I was dishonouring God for having my ears pierced.

I wish I was joking.

This was not a conservative college, not by any measure.

It was a gathering of people who were all attempting to understand God and his words more. But for some their starting place, and eventually their conclusions, were so vastly different to mine. Some had found their home deep in the words of the Old Testament, others in their deeply rooted church traditions.

There were times when it felt like unsafe water to be swimming in.

But home was always between the flags amongst God’s people who knew that God’s Kingdom was wide and generous. They would call me back into the safe place of truth and speak words of life over me. Men and women who were certain of their standing before God and who whispered to me to lift my eyes and my head, who told me to hold my head straight and keep my heart true.  I have been one of the ‘lucky’ ones. Despite the rip tides that attempted to drag me under and suffocate truth, there have always been people to guide me back to safe waters.

In many ways I have not had to do the hard work of working out a theology of gender. God’s people have worked it out for me, in front of me, guiding my and gently showing me the way.  By their words and their simple declaration that ‘everyone gets to play’ they have taught me that God’s grace has no prejudice and that God’s justice is extended to me, as it is to all the men and women who have doubted my ability, motive and heart.

I am grateful that I have ‘swum between the flags’ for the most part. And I am grateful for the men and women in my life who have guided me through dangerous seas.

God’s Kingdom is wide and generous. And we all get to play.

(Celebrating the lovely Sarah Bessey and the release of ‘Jesus Feminist’ with a little synchroblog action)

Enough grace

 

Picking up dirty socks from the floor, exasperated at their presence

Tiredness exaggerates my movements

The heart of a mama beats

Wash, dry, sort, fold, put away

 

Mountainous laundry stares me down

Tedium reigns

The rhythm of repetition

Breathe in, breathe out

Wash, dry, sort, fold, put away

 

The grace of repetition?

The grace of everyday

 

Hands submerged in oily dishwater

 

My skin wrinkles

Before its time

 

Hers will not

 

Cleaning dishes becomes grace

The chance to

The ability to

The choice to

 

 

There is enough grace here

Enough to rant and rage against

Sill there are glimmers of light sneaking through

 

The Old Songs

Last week we found out that my sister in law was seriously ill and had been moved into palliative care.  We are in shock and still coming to terms with the reality of this.

The 31 Day Challenge quickly fell to the wayside.

I have had no words for days.

We have been surrounded by people whose goodness is lighting the way.

And God’s grace has broken down doors and bombarded us.

These last few days I’ve learnt to sing the old songs.

Songs heavy in ancient truth.

The simple songs our ancestors chanted as they wandered the wastelands.  Songs that echo through history and into eternity, flowing back and forth to us and over us.

The songs of all consuming mercy and love.  Songs of declaration and bowing down.

I have chosen to sit here with these songs.

There is layer upon layer of questions and sadness, and pale glimpses of joy. I know God has cushioned us amongst people who are praying the words we can’t and whose ready hands are being splattered by our tears. We are being loved well.

There are those who understand this better than I. Those who trust that mourning will be turned to dancing, sorrow into joy. That there is peace unfathomable waiting.

I am leaning heavily into God’s goodness. I know He is faithful.

Grief is distorting the quiet moments into something graceless. I am restless. Daily I have to choose to let the old songs wash over me and seep in.  To let their words go deep into the hairline cracks of grief and to wash away the shards of pain.

It is a long road ahead.

There is sadness to be felt, hands to be held and tears to fall.

But there are people willing to walk with us and to sing the old songs when we cannot.

Day 31/21 – NT Wright and the senior cousins

31 days

I am still struggling to get over this flu. It has really done me in. So much so that I took myself off to the Dr this morning – a very rare event. She suggested rest. I laughed out loud.

So today I am resorting to one of the greats to walk me through this pursuit of wedded beauty. NT Wright is one who I would happily follow through any theological minefield.  What has rung most true on this journey is this idea that beauty, in it’s pure form of revealing the living God, sits closely and comfortably next to love and truth.   One enhances and echoes the other.  I love that Wright calls truth and love the ‘senior cousins’. Like they are the protective older cousins watching over beauty, ensuring its safety and purpose. And the way that beauty adoringly reflects truth and love, if you have the eyes to it.  This is bursting with holy light and life.

I am starting to sink into this idea.  To wiggle around in it and get comfortable. Trying to find my place and my way. It is good.

 

…After all, if new creation has begun, if beauty has awoken afresh in the new Temple, the living home of the living God, as he awakens from the tomb, and if beauty is now let loose in all the world, it will rightly generate new forms, new possibilities, new delights. It will come closer and closer to its two senior cousins, Love and Truth, showing with them how to avoid the other false polarization, a brittle objectivity and a collapsing subjectivity, because it will be kept in place by the work of image-bearing, Spirit-filled human beings as they reflect the glory of God into the world and the glory of the world back to God. NT Wright.

 

I am also excited to delve into some new books and words over the next little while. Books that I am fairly certain that will be beauty-filled and push me further towards life and truth. ‘A Thousand Mornings’ by Mary Oliver, ‘Writing down the bones’ by Natalie Goldberg and ‘The Goldfinch’ by Donna Tartt. So many good words!

 

(All the posts from this series can be found here. Thanks for reading along.)

Day 31/20 – Beatuy via SMS

31 days

My Thor loving friend* sent me this message the other night…

‘God passes through the thicket of the world, and wherever His glance falls He turns all things to beauty’. St John of the Cross

‘Worship, then, at every level, always means God and the priority of God; however thick the veils through which He is apprehended, and however grotesque the disguise He may seem to wear….But the mighty Object of our worship stands beyond and over against all this in His utter freedom and distinctness. ‘Can’ and ‘cannot’, ‘is and ‘is not’ must not be predicated of Him, without a virtual remembrance that these words merely refer to our limited experience and not to God as He is in Himself‘. Evelyn Underhill

‘…however thick the veils through which He is apprehended, and however grotesque the disguise He may seem to wear….’. I don’t really have words for the possibility and hope that is wrapped up in this statement. It is heavy with mercy and deep grace.

But mostly I am overwhelmed that my friend read this, thought of me, and took the time to message me. That right there is beautiful and life giving in its generosity and willingness to walk alongside. And that is quite enough for now.

(‘Thor loving friend’ does not do justice to this dear friend. But few words would.)

(All the posts from this series can be found here. Thanks for reading along.)

Day 31/19 – Where there is no beauty

31 days

I’ve circled around this for a long time.  I am no expert.   I only have my own story and my own battered heart.  It is a story I do not enjoy telling.  It still resonates too deeply.

When our daughter was 4 weeks old she became really ill. Life threateningly ill. We watched her be resuscitated over and over. Wordless prayers and suffocating fear blanketed us as we watched her struggle.

A week later I walked away from the hospital forever changed. My faith damaged, fear tucked up under my arm and my fragile daughter in my arms.

Our darling girl fought and she recovered and continues to recover. She is delightful and sweet, witty and clever.  My gratefulness for her is beyond measure or words.

I wish I could tell you that my unwavering faith held firm and sure in the weeks after, but it did not. I was ravished with uncertainty and fear. It sent me reeling down a path cloaked in shadows and confusion.  It is has been a long few years.

In the months that followed our daughter’s illness we were plagued by people’s well-meaning declarations of God’s ever present love and His ‘working towards good’.  I had people ask me if I prayed ‘enough’, read the Bible ‘enough’ and trusted in God’s goodness ‘enough’.  And each time I bit my tongue, smiled, walked away and raged at a silent God.  I questioned His sovereignty, His goodness, His Lordship and love.  The great irony was that in the midst of this I was also trying to finish my post-grad in Missiology. My nights were spent studying the Word and the words of the great missiologists Bosch, Kraft, Newbigin and Winter. I was swimming in words rich in the wonder of God’s salvation story for the world while I questioned His very presence in my life.

The collision of the Words and my doubt did not bring me peace. It bought more questions and more uncertainty. And it has taken me a long time to accept that sometimes the answers will remain unknown.

I had to work out the theology of our daughter being ill. I knew that if I didn’t commit to working it out there would always be a whisper of doubt in my heart.  I had to find the meeting place between her being sick and God.  And the meeting place was not in a question, it was in a statement. I had to be sure that Jesus was Lord.  And after years of raging and study and tears and fear I know that Jesus in indeed, simply, and terrifyingly, Lord.

I believe that the Lordship of Christ is constantly moving and yet ever static. It twists and dances its way to meet us in the joy and in the grief. It is also still and deeply rooted in the ancient truths of YAWEH.

And now, in stiller moments, there is a gentle peace that encroaches on my heart. Where once there was only fear and doubt, there is now a glimmer of grace.

I still have moments of confusion over those days and I still don’t like talking about it. But now my heart is certain that Christ is Lord. He is Lord now and he was Lord when our girl was sick.

I am yet to find beauty in the midst of this long struggle. But in the centre of the storm there has always been the quiet and grace-filled beauty of our daughter. And that is where my heart finds its rest and home.

(This is part of my 31 Day Challenge to write on Wedded Beauty. You can see the post that kicked it all off here)

Day 31/18 – I am curious and I am learning

31 days

I have hinted here before that pursing beauty as a way of discovering more of God’s truth and life is new to me. I have been skeptical of the possibility. And I have long been enveloped by the pursuit of God through study and fighting for God in the midst of doubt and fear. God and I have struggled through the last few years. It has rarely been easy.  I feel like this new season of God revealing himself is a gift. I am curious as to what this season will teach me.  I am curious to start thinking about God creating us to crave beauty as a way of revealing himself. I see Him wedded to beauty in ways that I did not expect or imagine.  There is a depth and grace to the way God created the world that evokes more than just beauty for beauty’s sake.   His great salvation story can be seen stretched across the sky and in the tiny yellow wattle blossom.

I am sitting with these verses again today. Breathing them in, tasting their goodness, swimming in the possibility of them.

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. Romans 1:20

Psalm 19:1-4

The heavens declare the glory of God;
    the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

Day after day they pour forth speech;
    night after night they reveal knowledge.

They have no speech, they use no words;
    no sound is heard from them.

Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
    their words to the ends of the world.

(All the posts from this series can be found here. Thanks for reading along. x)