18.9.08

My journey...



I was brought up in a Christian home but it was all pretty regular. I was a 1970s kid and I think middle-class families still believed in traditional family Sundays - you know - Church, Sunday lunch, visit the grandparents... that sort of thing. I think I was aware it was 'for real', though, in the sense that my family lived the message and didn't just hang their hats on it. My grandpa was a lay minister (Reader), and according to my mum, I used to go and offer him a polo mint when he was in the middle of a sermon (just in case he got thirsty), so I must have felt pretty comfortable in a church.

My next memory of God's presence is all bound up with brownies. I would attend church, attired in brown, bobble hat secured over belt, fingernails washed and hair combed on the first Sunday of the month, with Brown Owl et al, and I knew that I was taking part in something pretty wonderful and mysterious. I can remember vaguely, feelings of being a little shocked at the brazen behaviour of fellow brownies who used to whisper to each other during the service. Of course, my mind drifted, like that of any 8 year old in a traditional service, but I always sat almost paralysed and somehow transported by the words 'not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs from under your table' . I would clasp my hands together in penitence, and squeeze, as I contemplated my own unworthiness. I imagined myself like some poor and hungry puppy-dog, in amongst the table legs and those of Jesus and the disciples, no doubt. In my imagination, I was sniffing and licking up crumbs from the bread He was sharing with them. I was 8 and I was conscious of this God; this Jesus, who must be so incredibly mighty, if it rendered me a hungry, humble mongrel.

I remember too having very little concept of the Holy Spirit as a girl, (something which I'm trying to set right with my own children) only that the word 'ghost' troubled me somewhat and probably because of this, the comforting, mysterious and beautiful person of the trinity was quite left out of mine and my sister's bedtime routine. We shared a room, and being a somewhat needy child, I always wanted her to share my bed; now this wouldn't have been a problem; we were both tiny (still are - under 5ft 2) and we were only perhaps 7 and 5 or 8 and 6 years of age at the time: it's just there were 4 people in that bed, not two! We always decided to leave room for Jesus and God in the middle! I'd squish up next to the wall with my sister as close to the edge without falling out as possible and then we'd quite happily go off to sleep. It was just the best way to doze off, I have to say!

The time I actually told God quite openly that I believed in Him, and I was sorry, without being in a church context, was when I was about 7 years old. My friend across the road, older than me and proud owner of a Binatone computer game, with big trendy sisters to boot, so highly idealised, declared a set of beliefs for joining the gang: favourite football team - Man U, favourite colour - red and belief in God - none! Well, it must have all made sense at the time - for it seemed quite reasonable. Anyway, as members, we had to keep repeating the formula and it meant that each time I did it, I'd have to sneak away afterwards and speak to God - 'so sorry God, I don't mean it, I do sooo believe in you...' until on about the third or fourth time of having to confess in this way, I suddenly felt a bursting of joy - a kind of gut-churning awareness ' wow - I really believe in you, I mean I really do, I'm speaking to you, Oh my goodness, you're real!' - and it felt fantastic.

At Junior school, I loved singing the hymns but paid little attention to anything else in assemblies, apart from seeing what the biggest number was that I could count up to before it finished, not helpful when they asked me questions about the story afterwards, and that perhaps serves as a metaphor for the type of Christian I was during my childhood. I loved the singing and perhaps picked up important Christian doctrines here but I was not biblically very well informed reaching for Roald Dahl and CS Lewis instead of the Bible (thankfully today, resources for children have really improved). I was rather baffled by the strange language, you see, and the difficult geography and only really knew the stories with which every Sunday school pupil becomes familiar, I certainly didn't understand the Bible as something missiological or as a text about salvation through Christ Jesus.

I was eleven when, with a sharp inhalation of breath and a sense of shock and a little horror, I think, it first actually became clear to me that the cross was not just something symbolic in the context of religious architecture or indeed something one hung around one's neck as a denotation of alliegience. That Christ had died for the sins of the world and in such a horrific way made a real impact upon me- why had no-one properly explained it to me, had they wanted to protect me...? You know...from the blood or what? I think I felt a bit let down. I was confirmed and quite compliantly. I was beginning to grasp what this Jesus meant to me. I experienced no supernatural feelings at confirmation but I was pleased that I could now partake fully in communion and be spared that heavy hand pressing down upon my head - and cool - I'd get to sip wine!

And so to the teenage years... (that will take another post)

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