Inspirational: The experience of becoming a parent and of
breastfeeding through the night led the Revd Dr Alexandra Clarke (above, with
her son) to meditate afresh on the parenthood of God and encounter a much
deeper sense of God’s love
A YEAR into my training for ministry, my husband and I had our first
baby. I think I’ve learnt more about God from that experience than from all my
lectures put together.
I saw every sunrise during the summer of our baby’s first year, as I crawled
out of bed for the third feed of the night. In the still, eerie light of 4
a.m., with a brain only half-engaged and the most precious gift in the world
sucking at my breast, I sometimes found myself wondering about the parenthood
I knew my child to be so perfect, so full of potential, so valuable and so,
so vulnerable, that I yearned to be able to protect and nourish him far from
the evils and pains of the world. And I wondered if this is the feeling we
attribute to God, when we describe him as a loving father who knows each of us
intimately. If so, the experience of being a mother has changed for me the
Christian idea of God’s love from an abstract idea to a painful, physical
But the questioning continued. The fragility of my baby made me aware of my
own vulnerability, my fallibility, my inadequacies: how could I ever possibly
give to this unspoilt child of God what he truly deserves? And I wonder, does
God know that anxiety too?
I’ve always assumed that the experiences of Christ demonstrate that God
knows each and every feeling we might have. But what about the fear of simply
not being good enough? We look to God the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit for
support, inspiration, understanding, courage, and other positive examples. But
would we ever consider that Jesus might have felt that he simply wasn’t good
enough for the task required of him?
I find that sleepless nights do strange things to a person’s mind! It’s not
very orthodox to question God’s competence, but I think my understanding and
appreciation of God — and other people, too — is the richer for having
entertained the thought.
Meanwhile, nearly 18 months on, our son doesn’t seem to have suffered from
his mother’s doctrinal wobbles. He’s happily found his own niche in the church,
having discovered that warm tea-cosies make very comfortable mitres. Which is
apt, really, because we named him Theodore, meaning "gift of God".
Life and death issue: a simple act
of love and relationship in the face of the death of his grandmother reminded
the Revd James Theodosius (left, with his son) of the eternal power of love,
especially the love of Christ
‘THE other night my 2½-year-old son told me that he wanted to touch the
moon, to hold it in his hands, and, as he spoke, he reached out in a real
attempt to pluck it from the sky. We are physical beings comforted and
cautioned by what we touch, and it is our very physicality which yearns for
union with God, aware that in reaching out we are risking rejection.
I was taught the riches of risk, of reaching out, two years ago, when I took
my wife and my then five- month-old son to visit my grandma, who was dying in
hospital. In the hospital, we joined other members of my family around the bed.
I felt deeply insecure. I felt that as a grandson, son, and father and, worse
still, as an ordinand, I must be strong and clear in the way I acted and spoke,
and yet I felt stupid and small — immobile — in the face of death.
I was not prepared to let the situation touch me, to hold out my hand
without knowing what I would receive in return. I thought it safer to shelter
in pre-prepared thoughts and prayers, and in so doing I experienced the
futility of words — words which strain to be right and formed and useful, and
which end up being none of those things.
I was surrounded by hospital heat that dries one’s skin, and mouth, and
words, and breath, and all, and I felt sterile, as if clasped between life and
death. And yet I was aware of the gentle assurance and steely strength of
nurses and doctors in role. And I was able to marvel at the warmth and ease of
familial conversation, of people simply being there, of smiles and hugs and
In between these extremes of feeling, and having said a prayer, which
strangled my throat with its foolish formality, I heard my grandma’s voice:
"Can I kiss the child?" she said. I reached out, holding my son before me, and
it was so freeing. I saw my grandma’s lips touch his face. There, in that
embrace, is no death, but eternal love.
When my grandma reached out, her faithful exertion and my response to her
free gesture met in love. It was a love that did not wholly belong to either of
us. Rather, love arose from our communion — her lips touching the cheeks of her
great-grandson held before her by the stretching arms of her grandson.
Love requires more than the individual can offer; it requires others:
family, neighbours, strangers. It is risky. Love reveals to us that we belong
to an eternal mystery beyond our own personal control, but within our
individual grasp; it empowers and transcends our life and death because it is
within and beyond us.
In Jesus Christ, God reached out to touch, risked being God, holding before
us his Son that we might be touched by his love. In response, like my grandma,
we are able to reach out to touch one another and so live and die and rise
again in eternal love.’
Joyful: 40 days of prayer and practical tasks led to an experience
of intense joy for the Revd David Evans. It reminded him of David dancing
‘IN 1997 I spent Lent in solitude, living in a hermitage in the grounds of a
monastery in Sussex. Those 40 days were some of the richest of my life, and
have given me plenty to ponder.
I prayed a lot, and that was delicious as well as difficult. But I couldn’t
spend the whole time praying: I knew I had to do some manual work; otherwise
I’d flip my lid. So I spent the mornings cutting down rhododendrons, heroically
hacking them away from the trees and saplings they had engulfed.
And then sometimes, in the afternoon, I used to dance. I didn’t have any
music, but that didn’t seem to matter. I danced because that was the only way I
could express the joy I was feeling, a God-given joy that seemed to animate my
whole body, a joy that I couldn’t contain.
In the years since then I’ve danced off and on at parties; and sometimes,
when the music’s right and the people are smiling, I can reconnect with that
joy. And I think of the Bible’s description of King David dancing before the
Lord with all his might, and I think: "Yeah, I can relate to that."’