As I was sitting last night contemplating the little lantern on my windowsill, this was happening beyond my curtained windows, just across the Bay in Cumbria:
Which expresses perfectly the dilemma I fell asleep wondering how to begin to try to articulate last night. I think I want to call it "Sure Hope, Fragile Hope."
I claim no credit for the fact that Sure Hope is such a felt certainty for me that - as yet - I haven't detected even a hairsbreadth's crack in its surface. It is a gift for which I am profoundly grateful. People might describe it as 'My Faith'. But that's a phrase that I think is fraught with potential misunderstanding, and I'd like to try to unpack it a bit. So I hope you'll bear with me for a minute.
My life has been shaped and motivated by two things. The first is an overwhelming love for and fascination with the story and person of Jesus of Nazareth, and the whole vast world of the Spirit which pursuing him and the life of what he called 'the Kingdom of God' has opened up before me. The second is a gruellingly love / hate relationship with the whole panoply of 'Christianity' and 'The Institutional Church,' which is the very imperfect vessel through which his story and his person have been communicated to us. And as soon as I hear that phrase "My Faith", it immediately sets off alarm bells that somehow I'm being unquestioningly identified with that label, that Institution. I want to do what I can to silence those bells before they start ringing.
So here's what "My Faith" is not, for a start. It's not membership of an exclusive club that sets me apart from anyone else. It's not something that puts me in one camp and leaves my friends who do not share my allegiances, belief systems or opinions in another. It's not a security blanket which promises me heavenly returns for backing a particular horse in some sort of stable of alternative Gods and Prophets. It's not an asset, a thing I can pop in my wallet along with my debit card and my driving license to help me deal with the real business of having a happy and successful life. And - please God this will not come as a surprise to anyone reading this - it does not oblige me to think I have the right to think or talk about any group of people as defined by their sexuality,their race, their gender, their religious affiliation or lack of religious affiliation, or anything else for that matter, as a 'them' about whom I should have 'views' or 'opinions'. Such things are anathema to the Jesus I know and love. Always have been.
So if that's what "My Faith" is not, what is it? Well, let me try to unpack this phrase "Sure Hope" which has planted itself in my mind this morning. Sure Hope is the unassailable sense that I, and not just I but the entire universe, am in a safe place, a good place, in spite of a lot of bewildering evidence to the contrary. Sure Hope is a laugh of pure joy that always has the last word. Sure Hope is the amazing connectedness of things, constantly surprising me into realising there's so much more going on than we know. Sure Hope is being surprised by moments of revelation, when the sky suddenly rolls up and reveals the light that never goes out, holding our tiny little paltry lives in a vast tapestry, and immersing them in dignity and significance. (If you've never watched "Ashes to Ashes", they certainly got that bit right. There's a boxed set to invest in. Only if you can cope with seriously non - pc humour and language, though.) Sure Hope is what I see endlessly in Jesus, and is what keeps me in pursuit of him. But it is not the exclusive gift of Christians, far from it, Just as he is not the exclusive property of Christians. Sure Hope is the gift, I think, of Love - which He exemplifies, and the seeds of which are in every creature, every particle of existence.
This Sure Hope - of which all of you who have loved or prayed or sent positive thoughts are a part - is carrying me, more than carrying me, as we embark on whatever this journey is going to be about, to wherever it's going to take us. I have no fear about it at all.
And yet, last night, I realised - not for the first time but in a very particular way - that more is required of me than simply to be carried in my Sure Hope. Because my life, as well as being eternal, is also particular, and mortal, and fragile. And living its fragility, and facing the pain of its mortality, is a necessary part of being fully and properly human. Saying I'm not afraid of dying - which is, actually true, and I'm so grateful it is - is an enormous gift. But the real challenge is allowing myself to feel just how much I want to live. Just how much I want to keep on this side of death for every precious moment I can. Not just for me, but for the people who love me too.
So - I rest in the Sure Hope. But I dare to ask for the Fragile Hope. And I accept the risk of disappointment.