I guess lockdown has given all of us a chance to slow down and become more aware, not only of the world around us, but of our own thoughts and feelings. One of the things I have been doing is to have a go at telling the story of my life from the books that have been important to me, or even life changing. Retiring from Sarum meant reducing my library by about 80% and every time I have moved there have been a few books that have had to come with me. It has been a fascinating project.
Two books in particular come to mind. The first is Mental Space, by Robert Young (1994). In this book Young, a psychotherapist, gives a great description of what is therapy. He talks about creating a safe space. There are two aspects to this. The first is a space safe enough for me to be honest and let my defenses go, and know that it will not be the end of me. It is furiously difficult and requires training and supervision. The critical thing is that you listen to and hold these things for me and detoxify them and in good time give them back to me so that I can no longer be fearful, and can weave them more openly into the story I tell of my life, and no longer have to keep them hidden. What is essential for me is that these painful things are not taken away but given back to me in a way that I can own them and be accountable for them. I am not saved from them as they are given back rather than taken away.
The other book picks up these ideas and plays them into Church life. It is Only Connect by Robin Green (1987). He takes up in his own way this idea of containing – holding a space and keeping the boundaries safe. Not only does a therapist do this but a priest does it also when hearing confession, or responding to a pastoral need, or presiding at the Eucharist. In these spaces God is present and therefore eternal love is present. In absolution our sins are not taken away, rather we discover that their poison can be transformed because they cannot get in the way of God’s love for us. As in therapy my hidden fears and regrets lose their potency and I can live with them as part of me and my story. That is one of the reasons that presiding at the Eucharist is so important for me. It is not some cheery sing along, or intense intellectual exercise, but rather it is holding the space, containing the worst that life can throw at us in this broken world and allowing the ritual to hold us and God’s love restore us.
I look forward to the time when the liturgy can be available to us all again.
A reflection from Keith Lamdin, former Principal at Sarum College. He was Principal from December 2008 to July 2015
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