Surprising wonders are often preceded by the darkest of nights. Yesterday I heard children’s voices in our front yard and my heart started to beat a little faster as I hurried toward the front door, wondering whether it was a good friend of ours (and her children) who had finally arrived for a much-anticipated stay. But I didn’t even make it to the door, they were already inside, greeting and hugging my wife and the rest of my family, and warmth and joy were flowing freely.
This was not the script that was being written for her when she was eight years old. Back then the nightmare of childhood trauma had invaded her innocence and she was being rewired for despair. She was supposed to lose her nerve and many would have cliched-her-away into the box of psychological possibilities without any thought that there might be such things as spiritual possibilities and even the ‘moving of mountains’.
Not that psychology is unimportant, in fact, the help of a well-trained counsellor has been a crucial part of her healing journey. But the idea that this was to be all about her getting to a point of reasonable health and usefulness and then getting a job and going from there to being a well- adjusted member of a dysfunctional society, was not enough as far as she was concerned. Consequently, by the time she was a young adult she was thoroughly caught up in the love of God and of neighbour, thanks to the influence of Jesus of Nazareth: the ‘Son of Man’* as he called himself.
Since then she has given herself to building communities where this Son of Man is worshipped and where his practical, thinking-of-others love is a normal way of life and is understood to be what life is really about. As a result she has led, supported and trained small communities of young adults for many years in a country town where jaded locals who were over having anything to do with organised religion, came to respect and even to love her, her team members, and even this saviour of theirs from Bethlehem. Just one example of such love and appreciation is the great respect she earned as a chaplain at a local school, to the extent that she was asked to consider fostering the two children she is now a mother to: both of whom have a background of serious childhood trauma.
One outcome of those years is that many of her former community members have taken the things they learned about growing a community of grace and begun to do the same in places as far away as China, Zimbabwe and the US; and as close to home as Newcastle University, Melbourne and Dubbo. You don’t have to look far in the gospels to see where this is coming from.
If such a revolution of grace can happen in the life of one of us, what’s stopping it from happening in all of us? It’s actually happened many times before in history where that same-old-same-old dark poison was crushing one individual and then somehow this sweet life of grace got going in them and spread to their family, their neighbourhood, their town, then their city and then their nation.
For example, one such dark night was unfolding in Britain in the seventeenth century. Charles 1st was making a dog’s breakfast of his reign and dragging his country into endless little wars and and all the brutalisation, loss of life and ruin of family, culture and hope that goes with that. But having embraced the idea that the king was not above the rule of law, the parliament put together a brief for the prosecution of the king and went looking for a lawyer who would prosecute him for acting as if he were above the law.
By the time the brief was prepared most of the lawyers and barristers who lived in that part of London—where you would be easily available to the parliament for the taking of briefs—had fled to the country, terrified at the prospect of being handed a brief that at best could mean being reviled and hated, or at worst, assassination. But John Cooke, a courageous Puritan lawyer, deliberately stayed back and made himself available in case the brief came his way. It did and he accepted it as an opportunity to serve God and love his neighbours.
Then, in 1649, the great day came in a court-room that had been reconstructed so that the public would be able to see all the proceedings, with John Cooke and Charles actually seated next to one another—separated by a low barrier. Early in the proceedings, while Cooke was reading the indictment, Charles tapped him on the shoulder several times, telling him to ‘Hold!’ Then the king hit him on the shoulder with his cane and an ornate silver tip broke off and fell onto the wooden floor. Accustomed as he was to being waited upon, he clearly expected Cooke to bend down and pick it up for him, but the lawyer stood his ground and—before the eyes of thousands of people— the King bent down and picked it up himself.
You can read the rest of the story in a well-researched and magnificently written account by Geoffrey Robertson 1, which includes a detailed account of the prosecution and execution of Charles I and then a recounting of the ensuing period of democracy and—after the restoration of the monarchy—the hanging, drawing and quartering of John Cooke in 1660. Having had their dark night followed by the surprise of a truly democratic court case during which a king was prosecuted according to the due process of law, the miracle of sanity evaporated, the monarchy was restored to the king’s son—Charles II—who had been living a playboy life in Europe, and another, even darker night proceeded to envelope Britain. A great loss of nerve followed and the people abandoned all hope of redemption, but another, much deeper wonder was on its way.
[see Dark Nights and Wonders: Part II]
1 Robertson G. The Tyrannicide Brief: The Story of the Man Who Sent Charles I to the Scaffold. Chatto & Windus 2005
* Mark’s Gospel Ch10: 45 ‘For the Son of Man also came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.’