Saturday, 29 June 2013

"God Loves You, Tom!"

Now I didn't know she was going to be there, did I?  Even had I looked at the visitors' book and seen her name, I wouldn't have recognised it.  After all, I had never met her before. In any event it is certain I would have attended anyway, regardless of her presence.  Yes, I know, I would have been 'being silly to myself ', but one has to take a risk or two.  Where did all this take place?  In a retreat house run by a lovely group of Roman Catholic nuns.  The woman who so freely vocalises in this tale was later described by the Sister in charge as a pain in the backside, that being after the woman had left with a full refund of her fee, having decided to retreat no further.  I say this only so that you will not get the impression that I was alone in my opinion of my fellow retreatee. One thing I did discover about her was that she was very, and I mean very, Welsh Chapel.  No, I have nothing against the Welsh Chapel, so long as the evangelical types stay on their side of Offa's Dyke, and leave me an escape route and a running head start.

The theme of the retreat was St. Mark's Gospel and included some related practical art in whatever medium, or mixed media, we chose.  

Resurrection - Rebirth

The man who led the retreat was a certain Reverend B.  He had retired from the ministry to concentrate on retreats and religious workshops.  He was a free-thinking Christian working within the confines of the Church of England.  In private talks with him later, I discovered he was unorthodox, electrifying and intellectually invigorating.  Yes, I liked him a great deal.  In a sense those conversations gave me permission to explore my own puzzling ideas about matters spiritual and religious.  Needless to say, there was one particular woman in the group who disagreed with him.....about almost everything he said.

There must have been somewhere around fifty or sixty of us perhaps, strung out in a double arc in the large room where the Rev. B was talking to us, about how Jesus was seen from St. Mark the evangelist's point of view.  We needed to imagine ourselves following Jesus as he travelled around the Lake of Galilee. We all settled comfortably and waited expectantly for the Rev. B to take us on the journey.

"God loves you, Tom!"

What the hell! I thought.  It's an odd feeling when someone suddenly says your name out of appropriate context.  My ears took on a new state of awareness, like receiving a mild, aural electric shock.  It was as if the whole of sentient creation had focused its omnipotent attention on this single piece of quivering, bewildered humanity that just happened to have my name attached. And I was certain that everyone in the room was looking at me, as if I were guilty of some heinous sin, but about which I could recollect nothing. Who had said that?  I saw who it was in a jiffy.  The people on either side of her were looking steadfastly away from her, which was an interesting way of focusing right on her. I looked at Rev. B, shrugged my shoulders, and he continued with his talk. He said that in St. Mark's Gospel, one only ever seemed to see Jesus from behind, as he hurried on his way.  In my mind's eye I began to see Him hurrying away from me in the distance.  I could still hear Rev. B talking but my attention was in old Palestine.

"God loves you, Tom!"

Oh lord, not again!  This was getting embarrassing, and Rev. B had paused.  One or two people were looking concerned, others appeared to be uncertain as to whether they should frown, or simply pass  the time with a fit of the giggles.  Some even found things of surpassing interest on the perfectly plain ceiling to study.  Anyway, Jesus was gradually increasing his distance from us, so off we went again.

..........As I chased the elusive figure ahead of me, I found that my progress was constantly hampered by fishing nets hung out to dry. Other nets were in the process of being mended, but laid out in a manner that seemed to be designed to catch my feet.  Gradually Jesus was increasing the distance between me and him.  The more I tried to hurry, the further away he became..........

"God loves you, Tom!"

This was becoming too much.  She was beginning to irritate me beyond measure.  Why had the woman picked on my soul to save?  Perhaps it was just that I have one of those souls that is eminently save-worthy;  I'm sure we could all agree on that, couldn't we?  Well soul saving is important;  my father was into that in a big way. 

Now I was sitting at one end of the arc, and the woman so intent on assuring me of divine feelings-support about halfway along the arc, a position directly in front of the Rev. B.  At the far end of the arc was a group of Church of England ministers.  Now those gentlemen of the cloth, to whom I had taken an instant dislike - which is unusual for me - were very far from being amused, but to my relief they said nothing.  They never appeared to have, or desire, any contact with the rest of the group, but each to his own I suppose.  They simply fixed their gaze on Rev. B.  I also noticed at this stage of the proceedings, that one or two people had begun to develop a particularly nervous kind of cough, or had suddenly found the gardens outside the floor-to-ceiling windows of particular and pressing interest, all of which disappeared as Rev. B, after a eyebrow raised and a wink in my direction, and receiving my almost imperceptible nod of assent, continued with his talk.

..........More nets were being thrown across my path.  The actions had about them a greater sense of intent, as if I had to be slowed and stopped.  The shore of Galilee suddenly threw up a crop of large rocks surrounded by broad layer of very sharp seashells.  That not only slowed me even further, it also made me lose sight momentarily of the man I was chasing.  And the fishing boats being drawn up out of the water by Jesus' disciples didn't help.  Finally, I called out to the now very distant, fleeing Jesus, asking him to stop.  He called back that this was his Way;  it wasn't mine..........

"God loves you, Tom!"

I did, I must freely confess, make a rather indignant (or was that a tart?) reply.  Well what would you have done?  No, I wasn't rude to her, although I doubt that anything I could have said would have penetrated her psychological armour.  But one has one's pride.  Well I did then; but I'm much nicer now. No, I really am! Now, one neither wished to appear to be too abashed, nor to be seen to be goaded into action either.  Above all, I had no desire to belittle myself in front of those rather haughty-looking churchmen facing me across the room.  Anyone would think it was all my fault, for heaven's sake!.  Anyway, as I have said, one has one's pride, one's dignity.  Yes, dignity, that position of last resort on which one sniffily stands when a suitable quip refuses to come to mind.

At this point the Rev. B decided it was a very good time to break for coffee and biscuits, a suggestion with which we all, or nearly all, concurred.  You can guess who did not concur.  She probably saw my soul slipping beyond her reach on its inevitable path down into the spiritual nether regions.  After the break we returned, minus one.  I also noticed that Sister A, who had been listening in at the morning's session, had not returned either.  I never did get another chance to try to catch up with the fast disappearing Jesus, on the shore of Lake Galilee.  I was left to ponder his words to me for many a year thereafter.  Have I at last understood what he was trying to tell me?  I don't know.     

Finally, the other activity of the week was to meditate on St. Mark's Gospel and produce a piece of artwork that reflected our understanding of "Rebirth" or "Resurrection".  My offering appears above. I was to develop that initial piece into a much larger work that was unintentionally a psychological self-portrait in oils. 

Footnote:    It is only now, many years after that retreat and in the light of subsequent work, that I am beginning to see the significance of the chase along the western shore of  Lake Galilee, and why the disciples were so intent on stopping me from reaching their master.  It all has to do with my changing views of Jesus and who he might really have been, and nothing whatsoever to do with how he was portrayed in the New Testament Gospels by his disciples.  However, that is material for future posts.  


  1. I hope that you will write for as long as I'll be alive, Tom.
    Did you need to hear what she said?

  2. Ellena; I certainly did not need to hear what she said. In fact, if memory serves, that was the essence of my rather tart reply.

  3. Your Rev. B sounds like the spiritual advisor/challenger I have long hoped to meet.

    What so many seem to want from 'religion' is safety.

    I suspect that you, Rev. B and a few of us want to explore the nature of the leap into the unknown that stories of the life of Jesus hints at.

    To me, the learned and cautious gentlemen of the cloth and those obstructing disciples too represent the static Jesus of the eucharist; boring and safe.

    As Ellena suggests, please keep the stimulating writing coming. Love the image too Tom, one I will copy to my desktop to study and meditate upon.

  4. What first catches my eye as I scroll down the list of blogs I follow is whatever image or photo might be attached to the post.

    Before I put my glasses on to read your post this morning, I thought your art was an abstract or a surrealist painting of the magician's hat in Disney's Sorcerer's Apprentice. Hmmm, I thought; God the Magician. Does that make us the apprentices?

    Then I read your post and went down another path all together.

    What was that tart remark?

  5. Halle; I quite agree with religion as a possible source of safety. I have to say however, that people like the Rev. B and others do not perhaps see it in that light. The advantage of religion, as far as I'm concerned at least, is that it is a huge source of spiritual data that can be put to wise use, if fundamentalism can be avoided.

    On the matter of the Rebirth - Resurrection image - I trust it will help you in your meditations.

  6. Martha; The magician's hat allusion is rather amusing. One person looking at it at the retreat thought the part of the image from which the crystal arises, was a wire basket! I'm sure everyone reading this post would have instantly recognised it as a spacetime gravity well into the unconscious mind. No? Ah well!

    Tart remark Martha? What tart remark? :)

  7. Just found these notes in my little book of notes under "R":
    -it is the essence of religion to pour new wine into old skins, reading one's current insights into ancient beliefs- Walter Kaufmann and
    Religion put claws on Aunt Sally and gave her a post to whet them on "she had out-argued, out-fought and out-lived her entire generation" - Katherine Anne Porter

  8. I don't get how she knew you enough to do that. She already knew your name? Hmmm. This is a story... I have been in someone's sights like this before...

  9. Christopher; At some earlier stage of the proceedings I imagine we would have introduced ourselves to each other. That I cannot remember her name is a result of my bad memory for names, although I can still see her face in my mind's eye. No, please, I refuse to describe her. My nerves wouldn't stand it!

  10. Ellena; In skipping over your second comment, I am not ignoring it. It is ringing a distant bell that I would like time to pursue.

  11. Tom, another fascinating post. First of all I love the painting, in which I read all sorts of meanings, perhaps ones you didn't intend. To me, the flower is the soul before rebirth, seeking to emerge from constraints that are both personal (the tightly wrapped stem) and universal (the cosmic geometry that both sustains and immobilises it). The starry sky and the haloed mountain-top symbolise freedom allied with wisdom - the resurrected state - which the flower struggles to reach. The painting seems to be asking a question: how is she going to do that?
    I may be way off the mark, but that's how I see it.
    As for the insistent lady, I wonder what became of her, why she was there at all, and why she singled you out for this kind of spiritual (??) stalking. Maybe she really wanted to declare love but was too repressed so she said it was God who loves you?

  12. The painting: Loosely in the sky with a diamond??

    Yeah, probably not.

  13. I wonder what on earth possessed that lady to attend the retreat in the first place? I tend to think she had an agenda and you were the unlucky recipient of her planned disruption.

    Your painting reminded me of the Diamond Sutra, a very long and somewhat opaque teaching of the Buddha that ends with a version of these lines:

    "Like a falling star, like a bubble in a stream,
    Like a flame in the wind, like frost in the sun,
    Like a flash of lightning or a passing dream --
    So should you understand the world of the ego.”

    I'm personally very far from being able to contemplate such a state, never mind attain it. Thanks for an excellent story.

  14. Okay People; Rather than trying to continue to address you individually, draw up your armchairs and let's chat. Yes I should leave one or two spaces for the others yet to come.

    As far as the painting is concerned, it took about three or four days before the final image appeared. I see it as follows:-
    1. The three stars represent the Trinity, but also the Qabalistic Crown, Wisdom and Understanding. Placed above the mountain top, they are the highest point of our inner being. That point where we may have a peak experience. 2. The structure out of which the flowers and diamond emerge is a representation of the abyss (a spacetime gravity well) that reaches into the very depths of the unconscious. 3. The diamond, resurrected or in a state of reflowering, has long puzzled me. For a long time I assumed it represented my undeveloped potential. That may still be the case, but if Fr. Richard Rohr is correct, it may represent (also) my Higher Self. Regardless of all that I shall consider your comments on the picture further.

    I don't know what became of the lady who stopped at nothing to reassure me of God's love. I must confess I have never felt any urge to find out. Spiritual stalking? Now there's a thought, one to horrendous to contemplate in depth. Surely you jest, Natalie. Please tell me you are. Mind you, being very naive in these matters, an innocent abroad, I was surprised that some people go on these retreats for matters more carnal than spiritual. I remember on one occasion...... But no, we won't go into that.

    I do love the verse quoted from the Diamond Sutra. Wonderful! Almost as wonderful as the image of a diamond (loosely speaking) floating in the sky. :)

    Thank you all.

  15. What a fascinating episode!
    My goodness...such a strange experience, to be singled out like that, by a person like "that"!
    How different it might have been, if the same message had been delivered quietly, by a different soul...

    the painting is beautiful, and i appreciate your describing it for us.

  16. Zephyr; In a way the continual interruptions stood in stark contrast with the truly inspiring experience of the rest of the week's retreat. I suppose in its own way it compared all that I detest about shallow, in-your-face, evangelism - particularly of the religious variety - with the glorious, spiritual depths/heights I love to explore.

    Indeed, how different it might have been. Thank you for your comment on the painting; much appreciated.