When love catches you unawares

I’ve been watching Call the Midwife. For some reason my brain has been craving a sweet drama that is about simpler times and where nice things happen to good people and nasty people always get their comeuppance. The TV show is based on a memoir of Jennifer (Jenny) Worth who was a midwife in the east end of London in the 1950s. A small group of midwives live and work from a convent, with half the midwives being the nuns, run by the beatific Sister Julienne (played by the beatific Jenny Agutter). The midwives are young and carefree and exploring a world of new freedoms for women – all the while, serving women in the most appalling and gut-wrenching poverty.

Source: BBC at https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01b2w74

So obsessed did I become with dipping my legs in the warm sea that is BBC period dramas, that I started reading the book that the TV was based on. I couldn’t put it down. I read on holiday, after work, tucked up in bed. It is wonderful and surprising. One of the threads going through the book is Jenny’s faith. Jenny is young and finds the nun’s religion odd and faintly ridiculous. And then…..

It came to a head on Christmas Eve when I returned late from my evening visits. Sister Julienne was around, and said to me, “Come with me to the Chapel, Jennifer, we put up the crib today.” Not wishing to be rude by saying I would rather not, I followed her. The chapel was unlit, except for two candles placed by the crib. Sister Julienne kneeled at the altar rail to pray. Then she said to me, “Our blessed Saviour was born on this day.” I remember looking at the small plaster figures and the straw and things, and thinking, how on earth can an intelligent and well-informed woman take all this seriously? Is she trying to be funny? I think I murmured something polite about it being very peaceful, and we parted. However, I was not at peace within myself. Something was nagging at me that I was trying to resist. Was it then or was it later that the thought came to me: if God really does exist, and is not just a myth, it must have consequence for the whole of life. It was not a comfortable thought.

I remember that feeling in my faith journey. Something nagging at me. Not being at peace with myself. I remember feeling emotionally agitated and not knowing why. I felt like I was trying to remember something that I’d forgotten, but I didn’t know what. I just couldn’t put my finger on it.

I spent about 6 months in that state. I put it down to stress from work, but I knew that something inside was unravelling.

Nothing shifted until I walked into a church and heard the gospel for the first time. It was not what I was looking for and it was not what I was expecting but I knew it was the missing piece. Everything fell into place.

“Now and then in life, love catches you unawares, illuminating the dark corners of your mind, and filling them with radiance. Once in a while you are faced with a beauty and a joy that takes your soul, all unprepared, by assault…Was it perhaps – and I nearly fell off my bike with shock – could it be the love of God?

Suddenly it became clear. It was a revelation – acceptance. It filled me with joy. Accept life, the world, Spirit, God, call it what you will, and all else will follow. I had been groping for years to understand, or at least to come to terms with the meaning of life. These three small words, “Go with God”, were for me the beginning of faith. That evening, I started to read the Gospels.”

This is how the book ends. And yet it is just a beginning. As it was for me. I read the gospels. I read church history. I talked to people. I asked questions. All the while knowing that I had found God who had been patiently waiting for me. All the while knowing that thing that had been nagging at me was finally pinpointed. It was like a swinging compass had suddenly found its true north.

We are nearing Easter, the time when we remember Jesus’ perfect sacrifice for all our sins and celebrate his resurrection – the proof that he was indeed God’s son, God himself in the flesh. Any time – but particularly now – is a good time to pick up a gospel. You can start reading the gospel of Mark here (which is the shortest and commonly believed to be the first written gospel), or start reading the gospel of Luke here.

Dip your toe in the water. This might be the piece that has been missing. You never know when love will catch you unawares.

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