Last night I dreamt I was in prison again.
No, this is not another confessional blog. I am not about to reveal a criminal past. I used to work in a prison as a prison chaplain and last night I was on D wing again. I heard the gates clanging, felt the weight of the keys in the pouch at my waist, adjusted the belt and tucked in the long chain with the whistle.
It was such a vivid dream; the smell of the place came back even though I couldn’t describe it. I heard my own feet clipping along the corridor.
I know why I had this dream. A week ago I was told my security clearance had lapsed and asked did I want to renew it? With my current parish/college training routine, there is no way I could fit in prison work as well so reluctantly and with more than one backward glance I have had to let it lapse.
It’s hard letting things go. I’m no longer a member of the professional body for teachers, my ‘career’ for most of my working life. Once in the dim and distant past I was fluent in Spanish, that’s mostly all gone now as well.
I’m not just being nostalgic. I’ve been thinking about lapses, and how God feels about us if we have ‘lapsed’. Does he move on and say ‘Oh well, they don’t show up much any more, I’ll hang out with the ‘keenies’ now’ or does he wait nearby hoping we’ll change our mind?
Let’s just be clear: by ‘lapsed Christians’ I don’t mean the ‘Oops, I haven’t read my Bible today’ lapses which are more like self-righteous slip ups. I mean the wistful ‘I grew up with all this and I just grew out of it somehow’ or the painful ‘I used to believe but then my Dad died’ or the simple ‘I used to go to church but it’s just been so long I don’t think I could go back’ these are the kind of lapsed Christians I mean.
Has God given up on them and moved on? Is there some great rigmarole, a bit like my security clearance, that they would have to go through in order to get back to God?
The answer is no. I believe God remains much closer than we realise. I have two reasons for this belief. Firstly the Bible says as much ‘The Lord is near to all who call on him’ (Psalm 145:18) and is especially near to those who have a broken heart (Psalm 34:18) ‘Draw near to God and he will draw near to you’ is a promise from the New Testament. My second reason is that I see and hear of this happening all the time. Many people who feel they have left God far behind are suprised that when they turn and look for him, they realise that he hadn’t actually moved that far away. He hadn’t given them up as a bad job quite the reverse he could be said to still be seeking them.
If you’ve been watching The Big Silence (Fridays 7pm BBC 2 or on iplayer) you will have seen 5 people (one ‘believer’ and four ‘unbelievers’) volunteer for an eight day silent retreat. What is amazing is that in the silence, in the waiting and in the turning God has ‘turned’ up in some quite remarkable ways. The series isn’t over yet and I suspect that for some participants , particularly those carrying alot of personal pain the silence may become too intense, amplifying the pain to point of not being able to ‘hear’ anything else. (Not for nothing is solitary confinement a form of torture, we were are not meant to live in isolation for long periods). For those people it is more often the connection to another human being or to a loving community that can be the bridge into the presence of God.
Not everyone finds prolonged silence easy or helpful but there is still something to be said for ‘Being still’ . The psalms remind us to ‘Be still and know that I am God’, whenever and however we find a way to simply sit and be, we create the space we need to look over our shoulder. In doing so we might just realise God is much closer than we imagined.
‘If you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart’ Deuteronomy 4: 29
‘Everyone who seeks, finds’ Jesus in Matthew 7:7
For more info: