The hope that is in me
This last week I had one of those crazy-assed moments that let me know, without doubt, that my life has turned upside-down. No – this is not a reference to seven years spent Down Under, as moving from South Africa isn’t a hemispheric shift. Nor is it a reference to the general chaos of living – five of us – on my nurse’s salary and minus a car since the accident in February. Instead it’s a matter of how I live.
One of my nursing colleagues, a very dear soul, wanted to know if I was a Christian. I told her no, not any more, and explained why. As we chatted it became clear that the reason she asked was due to what she knows of my circumstances and her experience of working with me. I was reminded of a Bible verse: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” 1 Peter 3:15. (NIV)
I asked my colleague directly, “is it because you think I could only live this way if I were a Christian?”
And she answered simply: “yes.”
In all my years as a Christian, twenty-five of them, deeply committed, steeped in prayer, no-one ever asked me to explain the “hope that is in me”.
So I told her how leaving the church wasn’t easy, because I knew it would hurt the folk there who loved me, and I loved them. I told her how, if I continued to follow the Christian way of thinking, believing that my own dear father would be condemned to hell wasn’t something I could maintain. If I were God, I wouldn’t condemn him. How could I be more merciful than God? And I explained that I didn’t believe it was just to deny two people who love each other the right to express that because they were the same gender. God, if this God exists, ought to know better than anyone, why it is that they love each other. With much deep pondering and searching, yes, and prayer, my conscience would no longer allow me to be a Christian, and so I left.
And in leaving, I searched my soul long and hard and found that my values left with me. I kept them all. In leaving, I flung wide the gates to let the rest of the world into my life (no longer “them”, the non-Christians and “us”, the Christians) and I began to truly live.
Now I will give an account of the hope that is in me: I have choices to make. Every moment of the day, every situation that arises, I can choose whether I want to walk as someone overwhelmed and victimised or walk as the hero of my story. There are so many other heroes out there. Some we hear of, many we don’t.
Viktor Frankl said, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” (Man’s Search for Meaning)
I do this my way, as an imaginative person. I have long puzzled over the way in which I consistently identify with particular character types in fantasy stories. So I live my life out on two levels: the here-and-now concrete reality that everyone can see and the mythological parallel that I can see – and perhaps those who understand story.
Much of my life has been the journey of the young initiate to the place of learning – the college or temple that trains the archetypes – the wizards, the warriors, the healers, the intellectuals and so forth. That path alone has a series of crises to be contended with, lessons to learn, so by the time the initiate arrives at the place of learning there is already a healthy body of practical knowledge to be organised and shaped. However, in no good story does the student ever get to remain at the wondrous place of learning for long. Instead, the trainee is bundled out into the wild again for challenges greater than ever before. To you it might look like I have a tight budget or an ill family member, or an aching back, but to me I have monsters to fight, folk to rescue, defend or heal, and I might acquire battle wounds on the way.
And that, my friends, is the hope that is in me. I am a hero on a journey. The challenges demand ever more of me, and I learn and grow from them. The more I remember who I am in my mythical world – the sort of warrior-druid I want to be – the more I am able to bring that aspect of myself into my daily life and live the reality. It is an incredibly powerful life force magic I wield.