Today is a special day for me. There will be no party, no cards in the mail, no “HBD!” posts on Facebook and no rights to claim “but it’s my special day!” when it’s time to take the bins out or change a crappy nappy.
Because today isn’t an actual birthday, but maybe the anniversary of the next most significant moment in my life (after being unceremoniously torn out of my poor mother and having my heart re-started back in ’83).
18 years ago in a quiet little chapel in the Buckinghamshire countryside, with one of the worst hangovers I’ve ever had, the immanence of God exploded into my consciousness and turned my world upside down forever. I can’t really explain it, I definitely can’t find a formula to repeat it, and I’ve certainly doubted it, but it happened.
Unlike my friends in 12 step meetings, I don’t get to go up to the front and pick up a nifty new keyring today, there will be no cake and no round of applause. Today will be another day, with essays to write, services to organise, people to meet and nappies to change, but for me at least, it feels a little special.
The last 18 years has been one hell of a roller coaster. Unlike my mates picking up their next big ‘chip’, I haven’t stayed “clean” all this time – in fact I may have done some of the most destructive and selfish things since that day (I was only 16, and despite my best efforts I hadn’t managed to do anything really naughty yet, apart from that one time I got wrongfully arrested for a firearms offence at school). It’s not all been plain sailing, there’s been relationship breakdown, over reliance on alcohol (amongst other things), moments of deep existential angst, I’ve lost close mates and family members, I’ve caused other people pain. But a thread runs through this time, looking a little more thin and frayed at some points, but that little golden thread is the gracious love of the God who keeps having me back despite my brazen unfaithfulness to him. Who keeps calling me to a better way to live, despite my categorical failure to maintain it.
I was pondering all this in my bed last night, and I realised that maybe to mark this day is not right anyway. Because if I look hard enough, I see that thread stretching back farther than my moment of epiphany in the chapel. The time as teenager when I fervently prayed to the God I didn’t know that a friend (who happened to be a lesbian and a white witch) who had found a lump would be ok (and she was, so maybe God doesn’t have favourites after all…), the Bible stories read to me by my mother (even though she censored out the juicy bits), the fact that my heart and hers started beating again after a traumatic birth. And back beyond that too.
So what does today really mean for me? What really happened when I “accepted Jesus into my heart” 18 years ago (that weird phrase feels a little bit too much like something from an Alien movie to me). All I know is that over the last 18 years I’ve seen things I can’t explain, I’ve had prayers that seemed to go unanswered, I’ve had moments where God’s love felt so real that I could reach out and take hold of it, and there have been dark nights of the soul where all seemed lost and hopeless. I’ve seen mates and family members come to know that same love in their own way, and I’ve seen others reject it entirely – due to tragedy, unanswered prayers or just the fact that the Bible seems nuts and the Church is full of arseholes.
A few years ago sitting at a bike rally with a couple of mates, we were talking about all this stuff. And I was reminded of the story of the time that Jesus healed a dude who was born blind. I think he spat in his eyes or rubbed mud on him or something weird. Anywho, the religious types were very bent out of shape by all this, and decided to theologically cross-examine the dude about who this unauthorised faith-healer called Jesus was, and what the hell he was up to. The dude simply replied, “I don’t know about all that, all I do know, is that I used to be blind, and now I can see”.
For me, I don’t know about a lot of the contentious stuff around Church and religion and theology, (although I am working towards a BA in it). What I do know, is that without a doubt, through the years of tramping around on the road after that crazy carpenter-prophet we call Jesus, I feel like I’m starting to see things a little more clearly.
If you’re feeling blind and lost today, I pray you are blessed with sight.
“Is it true what I heard about the Son of God?
Did he come to save? Did he come at all?
And if I dried his feet, with my dirty hair,
would he make me clean again?”
Bright Eyes, ‘Don’t Know When But A Day is Gonna Come’