I intimated in Tuesday's post that there was a personal element to my longing to see Christians working together. I'll try and encapsulate it a bit here - but please remember this is my personal experience. You are welcome to take it or leave it. Neither is this my Christian testimony about my coming to faith in God, but it does talk a bit about how I have interacted with his people - his church.
As a child I attended an Anglican church - it was a very 'low' kind of Anglicanism, not that I knew much about the differences at the time. Years later I discovered certain kinds of incense made me cough and splutter, so perhaps it was just as well! I went to church with my parents, and for reasons I won't go into here, also spent a couple of years in a Pentecostal Assemblies of God congregation, and then another charismatic Anglican church before returning, for the majority of my teens, to the original Anglican church where I had begun.
We've touched on the fact I'm not keen on labels (see here), and as a teenager I was very prickly about denominationalism. I would quite firmly say 'I am a Christian,' beyond that, I was determined not to be boxed. I knew there were aspects of Anglican tradition that didn't match my own slowly forming theology, nevertheless I loved the people within - and the church is the people, after all - and I wanted to be where God put me. I also wanted to ditch the labels.
All this makes me sound very firm in my opinions, but I should explain a little more about teenage Lucy-ness. I stumbled through my teens on a tide of feeling - feeling that I did not know how to express, and longing to know and understand more and more. But I struggled to put myself into words, and when I sincerely tried, my contemporaries looked at me somewhat oddly - who thinks that much about life?! I suffered from an innate shyness which coupled with this desperation to express and understand generally left me muddled and exhausted. It was nobody's fault. I was just becoming me, in my own teenage way.
As I became more anxious about sharing my heart, so full of feeling, I began to hide behind a mask of a manically overdone version of my natural silly streak. I consider my silly streak a very healthy and necessary thing, but at this time, it was something I hid behind, because I did not know how to contribute to conversation. I did not know how to be me, because I did not know then who on earth 'me' was. This mask wasn't always appropriate, so sometimes I would simply remain quiet, at one point reduced to nauseating panic attacks - coping with sheer depth of feeling and self-consciousness and tiredness. My body, frustratingly, would not keep itself distinct from my emotions, and thus when I was a nervous wreck, I really was a nervous wreck. (Of course this is a generalisation. I did have my sane moments!)
Only relatively recently have I been able to look back at that other me and smile benignly, no longer clutched by scorching embarrassment. She's still with me - not all of it was hormones - but blended in with later experiences and, well, growing up. Anyway, you get the picture. I felt things very deeply indeed - and not just for myself; I could be assailed with chokingly powerful compassion, which alas was so powerful I was yet again rendered speechless and unable to show it to the person concerned.
Within my passionate nature, I had a longing for God. I was incredibly sincere in my faith and thrived on seeking understanding. I also had a passion for Christian unity. I looked at division and it hurt. Once, the young people were holding a service as an alternative to Hallowe'en. The idea was that it was open to other churches in the area and I took this very seriously indeed. One of my most vivid memories is of lying in my bed praying furiously for this service. And lying back, rendered mute, an image flashed into to my mind.
I can still recall my feeling of astonishment. This is not a way that God often speaks to me, so to suddenly have a 'picture' come out of nowhere was startling. And perplexing.
It was a broken sword. I don't mean a sword merely seared in two but splintered, fragments of it lying about - big, small, shiny, rusty. Baffled, I asked immediately: 'what does it mean?'
The answer came back, startlingly clear and swift. 'This is my church.'
(Now. Some of you will say 'it was all in your head'. Some of you won't like the image of weaponry. I understand that. I'm just telling the story.)
Gradually, the threads of meaning layered in my mind. A shattered sword is no good for its purpose. It is ineffectual. What good is a sword that lies in pieces? But put those pieces back together and what do you have? A powerful weapon. One that can stand against injustice. One that can defend the weak and poor. One that can make a difference.
It's an analogy. It's an analogy that went straight to my heart.
To be continued...