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Creative Lent #6: Gilded

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.

 

 

 

Creative Lent #2: The Rucksack

My second reflection for Lent is around the theme of repentance, and nothing says ‘repentance’ like Yoda and a rucksack.

Not convinced? I’ll explain…

My children have been enjoying some videos on YouTube by a group called ‘Bad Lip Reading’ and I must admit, it is very clever and quite funny (for the first 2-3 times at least…) One of the videos focuses on a conversation between Luke Skywalker and Yoda whilst in training on Dagoba on the subject of Seagulls.  During this exchange Luke says “you owe me an apology” and it got me thinking: why?

Why should anyone *owe* anyone else an apology? 

We talk about owing someone money which we’ve borrowed, or owing someone a favour, if they’ve done something for us, but how does that work with an apology? If we don’t admit to something, how can it belong to us?

Whilst this was ruminating in my brain for a few days, my daily Bible readings were taking an interesting turn. For a few days we had Psalm 32, which looks like this:

Psalm 32
Of David. A maskil.[a]

1 Blessed is the one
whose transgressions are forgiven,
whose sins are covered.
2 Blessed is the one
whose sin the Lord does not count against them
and in whose spirit is no deceit.


3 When I kept silent,
my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
4 For day and night
your hand was heavy on me;
my strength was sapped
as in the heat of summer.[b]


5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you
and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, “I will confess
my transgressions to the Lord.”
And you forgave
the guilt of my sin.

That part in the middle, verses 3 & 4 is very interesting and I wondered for a while what it meant: “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away…your hand was heavy on me, my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer…” And then I realised, that heaviness, the weight described, is guilt or conviction.

Guilt or conviction is the internal acknowledgement which we hold when we know something is wrong or out of balance. It fidgets within us, restless and unsettled, all the while that the issue which caused it is unresolved. And the longer we ignore it, the stronger the feeling gets. In fact it becomes so strong that it takes more and more effort to ignore it.

It’s like wearing a heavy rucksack on your back, which you can’t see, but which you feel and carry with you. The rucksack is behind you; it bears down on your neck and shoulders and all the while it’s unresolved it gets heavier and heavier. Sometimes it’s been there so long, we actually get used to it, and we struggle to remember a time when it wasn’t there…

But why do we carry such a weight if we don’t have to?

I wonder if the fear of facing or resolving such an issue is what compels us to avoid it? We’re frightened of admitting the wrong-doing in the first place, and the longer we leave it, the harder it is to face and the weightier the issue becomes. Eventually perhaps, we start behaving differently, walking with a limp as it were, because we’ve become so accustomed to this extra weight, we’ve learnt to compensate for it. Maybe we feel it’s taken so long to resolve the original issue that in fact we ought to be bearing this additional burden, as some kind of punishment or penance for not having resolved the issue originally…

But here’s the thing: until we own the guilt, we can’t be free of it.

Until we can acknowledge to ourselves and God, and maybe our loved ones, whatever it is that has burdened us – until we can own and accept our mistake, we can’t let it go.  We can’t be set free from something which we don’t own. I can’t pay back money I don’t owe, or repay a favour which no-one did for me first. And I can’t be forgiven for something which I haven’t yet confessed.

It’s not until we admit to ourselves the guilt we’ve been carrying – the rucksack on our back – than we can take it off and be free of it.

And that takes courage – to admit to ourselves and others about the guilt which burdens us. But the words in the Psalm remind us about what awaits when we do:
5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you
and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, “I will confess
my transgressions to the Lord.”
And you forgave
the guilt of my sin.


6 Therefore let all the faithful pray to you
while you may be found;
surely the rising of the mighty waters
will not reach them.
7 You are my hiding place;

you will protect me from trouble
and surround me with songs of deliverance.

We don’t have to carry that weight around. We are not destined or fated to be burdened in that way. The ‘rising waters’ need not reach us. God doesn’t want to punish us for all eternity, in some cold, hard-hearted way. In fact the opposite is true: he sets himself to be our ‘hiding place and protector’. But until we acknowledge and accept our own wrong-doing and lay it down (admit it to ourselves and others) how can God forgive us and release us from it? We can’t yet be forgiven for something we haven’t admitted to. The equation doesn’t balance out.

And so this is my Creative Lent piece #2: a watercolour illustration of a rucksack, with a name label: “mine”. There is time, there is always time and space for all of us to acknowledge our mistakes and be freed from them. We are not destined to carry that guilt forever, and God who knows and loves you, doesn’t want that for you.

May we all find the courage to admit to our mistakes and take that step of faith which leads us to laying these things down, in the hope and trust that we can be forgiven and set free.

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