It’s drizzling here today, that fine, misty rain that soaks everything it touches. Droplets of water cling to every available branch and twig. Clouds of steam from the heating pipes drift upward past my bedroom window. The sky is a grey, off-white colour, blank, indecipherable. The sun is nowhere to be seen. I think about Andrew Peterson’s song lyric: I keep calling and calling, but the rain just keeps falling and falling.
It’s rained every day for weeks now and the ground is saturated and sodden. What we refer to as grass in another season is presently a muddy swamp. I wrap up and pull on my wellies to tramp around the park in this weather that suits my mood. I love these dark blue boots of mine. They are sturdy and comfortable. They’re sleek yet unpretentious. They don’t mind getting dirty and come caked in the residue of previous adventures to prove it. I squelch and slide along the muddy paths, trying to avoid falling over as I wend my way around the lake.
One of my favourite children’s stories is Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury’s We’re Going on a Bear Hunt.
We’re going on a bear hunt, we’re going to catch a big one!
What a beautiful day, we’re not scared!
The rhythm and repetition in the text give the narrative a musical quality, capturing children’s attention, enticing them to join in and become part of the story. It’s exactly what they need.
Maybe it’s exactly what we all need. After all, isn’t that why we write poetry and stories and songs? Isn’t that why we cook and sew and garden? Isn’t that why we take pictures and create pottery and make art? We are captured by the beauty we see around us, and we want to participate in it. We find comfort in the repeating cycles of our times and seasons. We order our lives around the rhythm of the church calendar. We long to participate in a story that is bigger than ourselves.
As they continue on their bear hunt, the family in the story faces a series of obstacles. They swish through grass, squelch through mud, wade through a river, face a swirling snowstorm and enter a dark cave. Each time, they utter the same refrain: We can’t go over it, we can’t go under it. Oh no! We’ve got to go through it!
In John’s Gospel, Jesus says he comes to bring us ‘life and life to the full’ (John 10:10). Some translations render the word full as abundant – bountiful, rich, generous, plentiful, ample, more than enough – and we often have our own ideas about what this kind of life should entail. Maybe we expect a life filled with miracles: healing, provision, breakthrough. Or perhaps Jesus is promising us a life full of emotional well-being: serenity, happiness, love. Or maybe we’re being invited to imagine a life full of adventure, excitement and purpose.
The thing is, this kind of life doesn’t always materialise, at least not all the time, and not always in the ways we want it to. So what happens then? Has God failed to be faithful? Have we?
As I write today, I’m wondering what kind of turmoil you might be facing. I wonder what kind of dark cave you’re entering, or how you’re remaining upright while navigating the mud. I’m thinking about the deep waters you might have to negotiate, or the swirling snowstorm that shrouds everything in the mystery of the unknown. I’m wondering how you’re coping with our current collective troubles coupled with your own personal pain.
I think again about those words, life to the full. Perhaps what Jesus brings us is the freedom to experience everything it means to be human. Perhaps a full life is one in which we don’t have to avoid, numb or close ourselves off to the full range of emotions -joy, sorrow, pain, celebration. Perhaps a full life allows us to sit with what is, rather than living in denial or fake optimism, or the pretense that we are really in control of anything except our own attitude.
Jonathan Martin wrote that the reason Jesus can tell us not to fear is that He still bears the marks of death on His body. ‘Jesus didn’t deny the grave, He entered it and rose from it. He didn’t tell us the worst thing would not happen to us – the worst thing already happened when God died, it just wasn’t the last thing that would ever happen.
Resurrection is hard-edged hope, not denial.
As we live life to the full, we discover that there are many things we can’t get around, many things we can’t jump over, or duck under. We just have to go through them. But they aren’t the places we stay. There is life on the other side of the chaos and the darkness, the mud and the mystery. And there is our Beloved Saviour and friend, Emmanuel, God with us, who has shown us that the worst doesn’t get to have the last word.
In the kind and tender hands of God, everything we experience can yet be transformed into beauty. I think about Yo-Yo Ma, who offers us comfort through his music. I think about the cellist of Sarajevo, who, during the Bosnian war played his cello outside every day, in spite of the snipers, in defiance of death and destruction. I think about you, cultivating goodness in your garden and your kitchen. I think of you at your desk or your piano, writing stories and songs to inspire and encourage. I think of you as you capture beauty with your camera or create it with your very own hands. I think of you as you search diligently for truth with the words you speak and write and sing.
This is metamorphosis at its finest. It is an ongoing act of co-creation with the Holy Spirit. By cultivating goodness, beauty and truth in all its myriad forms, we create spaces characterised by comfort and compassion. We take our stand against devastation and destruction. And we offer the hard-won, hard-edged hope of resurrection to those who so desperately need it.
Jesus said, ‘In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world’ (John 16:33)
Take heart, dear one. Take your heart, and your courage, take your insight and your compassion, take your talent and your discipline and offer us what you create, so all our days may be beautiful.
The featured image is courtesy of Julie Jablonski and used with her generous permission for Cultivating and The Cultivating Project.
Abby King is a teacher, writer, avid reader and tea-drinker. In the classroom, she loves helping shape little minds, and is passionate about introducing children to great books. When she’s not teaching, Abby spends her time shaping words on the page, writing towards hope in the midst of hard things. Although she finds nature beautiful and inspiring, Abby is most definitely a city girl and makes her home in Birmingham, England. Creative and curious, Abby is a life-long learner who holds degrees in English and Theology, alongside gaining her teaching qualification from the University of Cambridge. In her spare moments, Abby plays flute, piano and cello and spends time with her nephews and nieces, whom she adores.
A Field Guide to Cultivating ~ Essentials to Cultivating a Whole Life, Rooted in Christ, and Flourishing in Fellowship
Enjoy our gift to you as our Welcome to Cultivating! Discover the purpose of The Cultivating Project, and how you might find a "What, you too?" experience here with this fellowship of makers!