God breaks through

02 November 2006

Andrew Procter describes his arrival to spend a month in a L’Arche community in France — with hundreds of flies

The foyer (community house) looked gorgeous from the outside. My room was the oratoire (prayer room), converted to a bedroom for my stay. All the colours were subdued. I felt it was going to be a place of seclusion and peace. My heart lifted when I saw it.

In fact, I was to have a difficult time in that foyer. It wasn’t as clean as it looked. The showers worked only if you held the shower rose over your own head, and then not very well. The attractive-looking wooden settles in the lounge were abominable to sit on.

And the flies! I got a shock after coming in from my first long, hard day in the vine fields. I opened my door, and immediately set a-buzzing some hundreds of flies. My clothes were covered, too. All through my stay I was to do battle with them. I took to avoiding that otherwise lovely room. I never could get comfortable somehow in that place.

After a fortnight, I was ready to come home. I remember telling Elizabeth so one night, and sensing her groan inwardly at yet another volte-face from her mercurial husband. But something happened to save me. The night before I was due to leave for a quick visit home for my daughter’s graduation was 14 July — a big night in the French year.

I had been out, and got back to find the place deserted, except for someone I had not met before. Everybody else was at a fireworks party. She was Audrey. She was about 30. And we had a good conversation. It was as simple as that. We sat on those settles and talked. About important things.

It was so pleasant to be doing what I do best — listening to people talk out their troubles, and supporting them. I realised with a shock that I had been comfortable. Not just in my body, but in my spirit. I had somehow arrived. It felt warm and soothing. I knew then that I would return and complete my month.

The following morning was brightly sunny. I found myself sat on the bench outside surrounded by a laughing group who now seemed friends. I smoked a cigar, and drank in the ambience of belonging. Something difficult had been overcome. Some process had been gone through which had been worth the discomfort.

Thought for the day
Think over your experience to date. Can you spot any breakthroughs similar to mine? Has God taken you to the wire before you made it to the other side of something? Have there been times when a moment of despair about something has proved also to be the moment of release or victory? This could be in matters small like mine, or matters great, such as overcoming an illness.

If you can relate to times like these, then value them. They reflect a pattern frequently found in the scriptures. And, of course, the greatest despairing cry of all, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?", came just before the greatest breakthrough of all.

If you are in such a time of difficulty that you cannot feel this message of hope, then, I suggest, simply hold on to what you do have, even if it is bitter — and help will come.

O God, I am such a shallow creature. I soon despair. I am like a child who throws aside a task at the first hurdle. And I whine. I decide now to endure. I remember your words from St Mark’s Gospel, that whoever "stands firm to the end will be saved". I thank you for the fearful symmetry of suffering, endurance, and then character. I am awed by the pattern of crucifixion then resurrection. I am frightened to be involved in it. But I accept it. And I dare, foolishly, I know, to ask you to etch your death and resurrection more deeply into my life. Amen.

Bible passages
Hagar (Genesis 16), Moses (Exodus 5.22-23), and Paul (Acts 18.5-11) all have times when they wanted to give up. In each case, it led to breakthrough and blessing.

For meditation
"When my spirit grows faint within me, it is you who know my way" (Psalm 142.3).

This is an edited extract from A Month Among the Vines: Daily devotions based on time shared with a L’Arche community in France by Andrew Procter (Redemptorist, £7.95 (CT Bookshop £7.20); 0-85231-309-8.


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