I got lost this morning. Caught in a trivial domestic maze accidentally constructed from a long list of tasks, a poorly child, the background dull thrum of the endless news cycle whenever I came within earshot of the radio, or glanced at a screen, and a house too busy and messy to allow me to focus… I was lost.
Every small thing became too large, and in that moment they all became entirely unnavigable. My maze of trivialities grew high and deep, and I found myself unable to judge the best way forward into the otherwise unremarkable day. So I stood there, heart beating a little too hard in my chest, breath coming a little too fast, a little too shallow. I stood there, lost and overwhelmed.
If ever there is a good time to pause for breath, it’s when those moments of overwhelm hit. And of course those moments are the ones in which everything within us fights against the very idea of pausing:
“No, there’s so much to do, I need to keep going.”
“Everyone’s going through this, I just need to push on.”
“I coped fine last week, I can’t think why this is so hard today.”
“Everything will spin out of control if I stop now.”
And underneath all of those internal narratives is the more insidious one, the one that whispers and hisses about failure and letting people down and not being enough…
Yet right now I feel a little better. Better because I did stop for a moment. I did notice the escalation of unhelpful thoughts, and the spiralling of my own sense of insufficiency. I’m glad I did.
I stopped long enough to make a cup of coffee, to savour it on a cold and wet autumn morning. I bent down to examine some houseplant cuttings and seedlings which I’ve been nurturing in a warm spot, and I noticed their flourishing. I looked out of the living room window at the bushes and trees being tossed from side to side in the wild weather, and I thought about the hedgehog who emerges from those bushes at night. I took some deep breaths, a moment camping in the wilderness of a small disaster of a day, and waited.
In the pause and in the waiting I found myself thinking about Muddy Pearl’s latest publication, Living For Eternity, written by Kate Patterson. Eternity felt far off, God felt so very far off; somewhere in that space I was ready for mustard seed words about eternity to take root and grow.
Kate’s beautiful new book is a profound meditation on eternity, God, the nature of life, and the passage through grief she has been on in the last few years since the sudden death of her husband Trevor. It captures the very moment we are living in and names all of those daily and existential challenges we each face, as well as inviting us to contemplate those realities with an eternal perspective. She explores the character of God with the gentle certainty of one who has been through the fire and still knows God to be faithful and true.
As a poet I place a high value on writing which is able to use deeply individual experiences to connect to truths we all can recognise, which is able to hold out a hand to my heart and captivate it with surprising imagery that expresses the otherwise inexpressible. Kate does this over and over, but Chapter Three offers a tender treasure which met me in a way I really needed. Her raw grief-poem ‘The Wall’ is a wrestle with loss and longing, as well as a psalm-like recognition of who she knows God is even within that place of grief:
“If I batter the stony wall, I bleed and break
frantically, I run and call for you.
The wall stands cold, unyielding
and you are silent too….
…I find not all is lost
across this great divide
for you are with my God
and my God is here with me
on my side of the wall…”
Later Kate goes on to explore one of the names given to God in the old testament, El Roi, which means ‘the God who sees me’. Do you hear the invitation here? My scattered thoughts and unsettled mind, spiralling and whirlpooling, are all seen by God. My small everyday worries, my list of tasks, my heavy heart – all known, all held. God is not a dispassionate observer but the one who is always running to us, always weeping with us, always taking our hand and guiding us through the storm.
It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking this is all just so much navel-gazing. Why would the God of eternity share in our distress, our momentary troubles when he knows the big picture – when, in fact, he MADE the big picture? Does he not just think we’re being self-indulgent? The divine invitation here is for us to remember we are beloved. Kate recollects the story of Jesus weeping over the death of his dear friend Lazarus, even though he already knows that he is going to resurrect him. Jesus knew exactly what would happen next in Lazarus’story, and yet he was still caught up in the grief of his dear friend’s illness and death, still caught up in the profound distress and sorrow of being separated from those we love, still mourning with his broken-hearted family. The God who sees is also Emmanuel, God with us.
The story-arc of scripture tells us that eternity is not such a vast expanse that we are rendered inconsequential in it. Perhaps God conceived of eternity because his creative work – humanity, nature, the universe, time – needed such a vastness to be framed by. We do not get lost in eternity, nor swamped by it. To God we’re not each tiny pixels on some random screen image of his devising, or unseen atoms in some greater, more vital structure. To God we are each, in our entirety, beloved and delighted over. To God we are each entirely essential.
Beloved. Delighted over. Beloved. Essential. Beloved, beloved, beloved.
These are the words I breathe in and out today. The news cycle continues to unfold unwelcome litanies that cause my soul to despair, but as I hear it I also hear God’s own sorrow and distress. He is not far off, he is present now.
Our poorly boy lays in a floppy heap on the sofa, playing quiet games and watching tv, calling for drinks, snacks, entertainment, and as I sigh and go to him for the twentieth time I also feel God’s compassion causing my own to grow, even if my impatience has not yet subsided. He is not far off, he is present now.
My work list is almost undiminished in a day of muddle and tiny disruptions, yet I also experience a degree of acceptance and take this as a gift of grace. Our God is not far off, he is present now.
The house is a little messier, and at least as noisy and busy as earlier, and God nudges me in the ribs and reminds me of the good things he’s given me – a home, a family, fulfilling work, so very many good good things. God is not far off, he is present now – and always.
About the Author
Vicky Allen is a poet and artist living in Scotland. She also works for HopScotch Children’s Charity and as a creative community engagement project worker for Discovery Church Dunbar. Vicky is the author of Broken Things and other tales (Hedgehog Poetry Press, 2020).