That moment when you tell God that He owes you an apology. It’s where St Teresa of Avila found herself in the depths of despond, St John of The Cross’s ‘dark night of the soul’, and how Kara Root felt as her sure faith fractured. Her famous father pastor, beloved dad and trusted hero had retreated and withdrawn in silence until the horrible secrets stored in his computer were exposed and ultimately, he and his wife, Kara’s parents, divorced.
Kara felt betrayed by those she loved and trusted. She became very angry and angst-ridden and had her understanding and beliefs dismantled and reassembled into fresh fragile form; her ebullient sure-fire faith shrunk to rise in humility, vulnerability, and a deeper sense of belonging to God and the rag-tag group of people she called her church.
Comfort and a mood-map were found in Christ’s sufferings on The Cross, reaching the crescendo of Jesus’ scream, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me!” Jesus led her through the darkness and desolation of burying faith to rise with Christ into newness of life and purpose. ‘The Deepest Belonging’ is Kara’s account of this journey, which I read recently. Kara is a wife, young mum, and pastor to a small Presbyterian church in America. At the heart of Kara’s reframed faith is the blessed realisation and appreciation that our core identity is ‘beloved children of God’, that we are truly ‘God’s Delight’!
And so, Kara is able to come alongside Marty, a middle-aged man who is terminally ill, to help him allow God’s love to drive out fear and help Marty to, not just to die well, but to live with fresh purpose and power. Marty takes on a ‘ministry of the dying’ committed to being honest and forthright in describing his doubts, frustrations, fears, comfort and courage. Counter to cultural tendencies to keep quiet about terminal illness this church fellowship and wider community are helped by Marty to openly talk with, and about, Marty’s journey towards death and life beyond. It frees a lady Jo’ to have a small informal ‘au revoir’ service as she approaches death, where family and friends gather, together with Jo’, to share how much Jo’ means to them: to laugh, cry and eat together. So, when Marty’s death approaches, a year longer than anticipated, they have a similar evening of storytelling, to express their gratitude and love for Marty.
Such a ministry of the dying and ceremonies to celebrate life before death require particular courage and character, but what I find most inspiring about Kara’s book is the power of Love to process fear and provide positive ways forward, even in the face of ‘death’. God’s Love for you, I, and us, gives us permission to tell God exactly what we think of our situation. God loves us exactly where we are and loves us too much to leave us where we are. Whether it be in your family, work, unemployment, debt, school, neighbourhood, church, community, personal life, whatever your source of stress and fear there is a way through which God’s Love can light up and lead you through. This is the kind of loving, courageous, and creative community I aim to grow and be a part of. A winsome and winning result of Marty’s ministry and storytelling night was how, as well as the church congregation, it brought together estranged family, pub pals, friends, and colleagues from previous interests and work. The ripples of God’s Love reached far and near.
”God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry on Judgment Day—our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s. There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love. (1 John 4:17-18 / MSG)