God spoke to me quite powerfully recently. In the college chapel of all places. I say of all places because it’s not the place you’d choose really to have one of those charismatic meltdown moments, those moments where one minute you’re minding your own business and then the next God comes in unexpectedly, reducing you to a wet, shaking mess.
I will say this for him: he waited until the end of the service by which time most people had gone. Thank him for small mercies, I suppose. Shame that he had not also pre-warned me to wear the waterproof make-up I keep for seasons of tears in church. So there I was, a make-up streaked, shaking heap but not, fortunately, with an audience. God is good.
At first I didn’t know what he was doing. It’s something l experience sometimes without always understanding the why or the how: an intensity of passion, frustration even, which explodes out of me both physically and emotionally. It’s been with me since the Cambridge days when I first consciously experienced the Spirit as almost tangible presence, some seasons more prevalent than others. The Britishness, the customary reserve, it all somehow evaporates in the face of a longing for him, a desperation that will not be held back. An almost physical ache, like my heart is exploding with the need for more of my Lord, a desire almost to escape my body because it somehow seems to be so limited for expressing my worship… Words break down, I have no language for this. This, which I have known from time to time in my walk with him.
And so some days, when it happens seemingly without purpose, I attribute it to me, a function of my personality. Frustration woven with longing for more, the fulfilment of promise, that one day I should see him face to face. I see it as purely the physical and emotional manifestation of that, an overflow of passion that bypasses the clinical rational of me, perhaps not so much of him as of me in the end. But for it to happen in chapel? Well, it’s not exactly number one on my shortlist of places to end up in a shaking, tear-stained heap, mascara runnels across my face.
I definitely did not choose it that day.
But I did surrender to it. He had asked me during worship if I wanted more of him, you see. And, like the crazy girl I am, I’d said yes. If I’d known he meant the whole wet heap thing, I might well have said no but, hey, gloriously naive as ever! Yet as he closed in – not theologically, of course, just from my skewed perspective – I still didn’t know what this was about. Yes, more of him. Yes, another one of these shaking manifestations. In chapel – yes, don’t forget the horrors of that small detail, Lord! But still no idea why. Until two undergraduates came quietly alongside to pray and prophesy. The girl simply spoke the word ‘release’ over and over again. I confess that it meant nothing to me at first save that it took me back to the first time this happened in a Pentecostal church where I was not known and a lady tried to pray several demons out of me and ended up on her knees with me worshipping God. I don’t remember much about how she changed her mind about the demons but I always smile when people assume the intensity of emotion must signify something not of God. So, I guess I thought this girl might be making a similar assumption. I also figured that it didn’t really matter too much; I just needed to wait this one out and see what God might do.
Yet, as time passed, indeed much time – it later transpired that thirty minutes had vanished – the girl spoke more specifically of a yoke across my shoulders needing to be broken. And as she spoke, I knew God was confirming what he had begun to whisper to me in the six weeks previous. I had let the church become a yoke to me, taken responsibilities which I, and sometimes others, had been only too happy for me to take, burdens which he never laid upon me. I had held myself to the task of building the church instead of simply making disciples and I had long and often, in the quiet of my heart, questioned the value of my efforts and berated myself for what seemed like failures.
I had willingly taken this yoke and now the struggle to maintain both these self-imposed expectations in relation to leading this church and also to respond to the increasing call to give myself to academic study, writing and teaching, was beginning to become a strain too far. I know that I am somehow to stand as A&P, academic and practitioner, that in a way as yet beyond my ability to comprehend it I am to hope to sit at both tables, to bring the two together. Yet over the last six months I have struggled increasingly with how to be both. I have felt that I am failing as a church leader, a bit of a fraud as a researcher, able to be good enough at neither and, increasingly, scrabbling just to keep up with both.
And then he turned up. Why it had to be in a public setting like chapel, I don’t know! But he turned up. He showed me that, in the words of that day’s preach, ‘the zeal of the Lord will accomplish this’, both subjective and objective* genitive. I am not to fashion for myself a yoke which he never laid upon me.
I am not to do what I see other practitioners doing.
Or academics, for that matter.
I am to do only what he lays upon me. Because I am not full-time church leader. I am not full-time academic researcher, writer and teacher. I am A&P; his sweet spot for me is somewhere in the middle of the ‘and’. And though I don’t yet know what that means, I know it’s better that way. I know that not knowing means I will have to depend on him, that I cannot any longer fashion my own yoke based on what I think a successful practitioner or academic is doing, indeed not even based on all that I see you doing.
Instead, I have to watch for the genius of the ‘and’, the unique collision space between academia and practice for which he has long been preparing me. And, above all, I am to remain confident that ‘the zeal of the Lord will accomplish this’. May it prove so.
* A subjective genitive would mean that it is the Lord’s zeal which will accomplish this; an objective genitive means that it is my zeal for him which will accomplish what he purposes. (You see, being a Greek geek means you can do fun things with language! Not sure my husband is convinced that this justifies geekdom, though – but it makes me happy.)