Encountering God: Part One


I nearly didn’t stay to chapel at college last Saturday. I didn’t really want to but something inside me said, “Come on– a bit of personal worship will do you good.” So we went in and sat on the back row: where I didn’t feel looked at and could opt out if I wanted to.

The day before I had written:

“The other day, for a moment, I grasped it. I saw what has always been there…freedom. What did it feel like?  No condemnation and no subtitles; a place where I make goals as an affirmation that I am fully interested in living life to the full; somewhere I’m not scared to fail; a place where I have changed my beliefs about how I deserve to be treated. It’s getting clearer. I’m not quite sure what it feels like to stand firm on it yet but I can see it! I’ve caught a glimpse. And one day I’m going to stand on it and in it and the ground beneath my feet will feel a whole lot firmer. It’s no longer fantasy or wishful thinking. I can see it.”

That day as I was writing, I realised that much of my mental recovery from all I have experienced was coming to a natural conclusion (perhaps a pause?) Faithful companions on the journey (dare I say prophets?) had started to say, “Caroline, look at your present. It’s so full of hope. God has redeemed so much for you. When your future is this bright, why look at the past?”

Oh I wanted to, believe me I did, and I had done everything in my power to get me there. And that’s probably the point. The last leap wasn’t really down to me. It wasn’t something I could study for or go through a twelve step plan for (although those sorts of things had massively helped me get to where I was.) This was different.  It was something I needed to grasp and accept into my heart but I just didn’t seem able to. It was like having a pair of sunglasses on: I knew there was hope ahead but I couldn’t see it quite as clearly as they all did…until that moment in chapel.

And when it happened, it came out of the blue; totally unexpected.  Something happened in that worship time; something mysterious and beyond my capability to manufacture.

A song I had learnt in the depths of my depressive teenage years and had continued to sing at church through the ups and downs of the years since, suddenly took on a new meaning. Oh I knew those words so well; but never had they opened up to such depth of meaning as they did that day. Suddenly I understood what it felt like to know this stuff in the depth of my being not just my head. The dark glasses were lifted off. Something like scales fell from the eyes of my heart, and I could see!

We were there, maybe half an hour, singing, listening to readings and joining in prayers. And I revelled in it! Ephesians 3 was one of the readings that day and it sums up my time in chapel really well:

My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength—that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights!”              (Ephesians 3:14-19 The Message)

God was no longer someone I admired, quoted or followed, He was someone I’d encountered!


Prototype: Chapter 1 Part 2 – Gentleness

music machine

The other day I woke up with a song in my head that I haven’t thought about for years. ‘Gentleness’ was part of the musical, ‘Music Machine’ that I took part in when I was at Primary school. I must have been about nine or ten years old at the time; a similar age to when I was dancing to Madonna songs around Janet’s garden swing.

If I remember correctly (which I may not!) it was some kind of joint project between St Mary’s Church, Old Harlow and the attached C of E School Churchgate St Primary. I remember looking up in awe as an older girl, Annie, sang ‘Gentleness’ as a solo. When you’re nine or ten the older girls are really cool and you want to be them or at least be like them. And I remember how soothing I found the song. I remember how at peace I felt as Annie sang,

“Gentle breeze, gentle breeze blowing through the trees,
And the meadow filled with flowers
Showing me Your gentleness
How I love You

In the still of the night when you draw me near
Just to whisper how you care
Showing me Your gentleness
How I love You

Written by Georgian Banov & Winnie Banov ©Copyright 1977 Sparrow Song

I used to look forward to that song every time we rehearsed or performed it. Now I think I’d call those ‘boy on the bike’ moments for me. Somehow they gave me overwhelming feelings of peace, love and affirmation

The song means even more now. I’ve really known God’s gentleness these last few months. In this time of exhaustion and depression I’ve perhaps been more aware than ever before of him whispering how He cares. I know He always has done; but now I really believe it.

So thank you Churchgate school teachers and St Mary’s people of 1986 or 1987. The little things you give to children matter and they stay with us into adulthood. And God uses them to whisper His love to us again years later.

If you would like to listen to ‘Gentleness’ you can find it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EbRp2_MV5jo