The astute among you will have noticed that Lent has finished.
In point of fact, not only has Lent passed, but Holy Week and Easter weekend as well!
It’s fair to say, therefore, that this post is a tiny bit late…however, better late than never 🙂
For those of you who have just joined us, I have been writing a series of posts over the last few weeks, as part of my personal reflection during Lent. I don’t normally write things which are quite so overtly Christian, but hopefully this hasn’t created a barrier for you as the reader.
The themes I was focussing on during this period were: Restoration, Repentance and Rest and I set myself the challenge of creating something new each week, which responded to one of these three themes. This is the final piece and although it’s a couple of weeks late, I hope you’ll still find it interesting and useful.
Having already done two pieces on Restoration and Repentance, I decided to revisit Rest for my final piece, and I must admit it was a tricky one for a while. I just couldn’t figure out what I wanted to do, or what God might be saying to me…
During this period of pondering, I happened to be on my way to Portsmouth College for one of my weekly Chaplaincy visits. I’m part of a small project in Portsmouth Deanery, called the Youth Chaplaincy project and I use creative practice to engage staff and students in discussion about all sorts of themes including spirituality, mental health, equality, terrorism, communication, gender…basically anything!
My route takes me through various neighbourhoods in Portsmouth, including Baffins which has a beautiful pond with waterfowl. Normally the swans, geese and ducks stay within the confines of the pond boundary but on the day I was driving through, a pair of swans decided to find somewhere else to have a nap…
It was a very pleasant Spring day, with wonderful sunshine and the swans had wandered away from the pond to find a patch of grass on which to sleep. As you can see from the photo, they were right up alongside the path and people were strolling fairly close by and walking their dogs.
Dog walkers detoured around them and people walking by were respectful of the swans and kept their distance, although a fair number of us did pause to watch them for a while and take photos!
The swans never moved. They didn’t raise their heads to watch us. They were happy resting. They weren’t alarmed, edgy or nervous; they were confident that the place they had chosen was safe and secure and that no harm would come to them.
The swans felt confident and safe enough to rest just where they were.
Something about that really spoke to me: something about them feeling safe, secure and at ease, in a space which could have made them feel vulnerable and in danger. There were no fences, nothing to stop anyone coming right up to them, or a stray ball hitting them. They felt confident and safe.
How often do we feel like that? Can we list the places or people with whom we feel safe? Safe enough to let down our guard? To allow ourselves to be vulnerable, to cry? To shout out the rage and grief which burns within, without fear of rebuke?
This notion of being at peace, of being able to rest in safety and confidence, without feeling vulnerable, rolled around in my head for a few days after that, and it occurred to me that for us as humans, the feeling of safety often coincides with trust and the sense of ‘being known’. With our life partner, very close family or friends, we feel like we can tell them things which really matter because they know us. They are trusted and safe.
I have a habit of falling asleep when riding in someone else’s car. Not always, but fairly often. I apologised to my friend once, having drifted off while he was driving. But he responded by saying it was a real compliment, because I’d obviously felt safe enough to completely let down my guard and fall asleep, trusting him to keep me safe.
Rest means allowing ourselves to become vulnerable.
Which brings us to the sixth and final piece I have created for this Lent reflection. It is called Gilded and it’s a mixed media piece involving embroidery, beadwork and paint.
In the picture you can see five vertical coloured bands, descending the paper, each with their own corresponding embroidery and beads. The bands might represent different people in your life, or perhaps different seasons – childhood, adolescence, adulthood and so on.
Each band of colour has beads sewn into it, and these are the things which I want to give particular attention to because these represent our flaws, mistakes and foibles. These are the hiccups in life; the failures and mistakes. The things we regret or failed to do. And these things can feel like huge lumps, like boulders in our lives; things we carry and can never quite be rid of.
These are the things which mark our lives.
They’re the kind of things which perhaps only a few people ever know about. The kind of thing where you look at the stranger standing in front of you and think ‘Oh, if you only knew what I’m really like…”
But here’s the really amazing part: as Christian I believe that God sees and knows all these things. Every bead, every knot, every mistake, every mis-spoken word which can’t be taken back. He sees and knows all of them.
Across the whole piece are black splodges -things which marr and spoil the overall affect. These also represent things which we can’t undo.
But instead of punishing us, instead of pushing us away and saying that we’re not worthy, God does something quite remarkable and completely undeserved.
He gilds our sins and makes them beautiful.
By his grace, made possible through the events of Easter and Jesus’ death and resurrection, God makes the ugly things beautiful and the broken things whole. He takes our mistakes and blemishes and paints them with gold.
You are redeemed. You are beautiful. You are loved. You are precious. You are accepted. You are whole. You are mine.
What this means is that we can rest: we can let down our guard and allow ourselves to become vulnerable, just like the swans did, because we are safe. We can relax and know that God already knows everything about us – and he still loves us. We can rest, knowing that he sees all our flaws and achievements and he still likes us. No extra effort required. No pretending that it’s all ok, when it isn’t really.
Rest is allowing yourself to be truly honest and vulnerable, because you truly believe and know that you’re safe.
This may feel like a lot to take on board, and in the interests of honesty, I will admit to you that I personally don’t find this concept particularly easy. That’s not to say I don’t think it’s true for you: I have no difficulty believing that God feels this way about each and every person I meet. I just struggle sometimes to believe it for myself.
So maybe rest takes practice. Maybe we don’t have to throw down all our walls at once – maybe we can do it gradually, slowly, bit by bit and piece by piece until eventually we feel the same sense of security which those swans felt.
May you come to know rest in God, as a place of peace and safety. Of being known and accepted. Understood and cherished. May you know the comfort and peace from knowing you’ve been Gilded.