Sutton Coldfield to Lichfield
One of my favourite books of the bible is the book of Job. It isn’t a true story. It starts with the Hebrew equivalent of ‘once upon a time’ but it is packed with wisdom and savage insights into life that still hold true today. As we walked rapidly to meet up with Howard Drake, kindly opening the church for us at 06:30 on a Sunday morning, for no known reason it was top of mind. I’d thought about the cowardly attack in New Zealand a lot and that certainly epitomises evil. As the story of Job kicks off, the devil floats into view, having been drifting about on earth up to no good. It was quite clear that evil was at work in New Zealand and it may be that is why I had it in mind, but maybe not. It was a glorious sunny morning, with few people about, as we rushed to get to Holy Trinity church on time. Staying over a mile and a half away from our set off point was probably not wise given we were on foot, thus extending our total walking distance, but it was the best option available. We retrieved the cross and were soon off, heading towards Lichfield with a slight possibility of making the 09:30 Sunday service. As we walked there was a sense of civic pride evident, which had been missing from many of the roads we had walked so far. It also felt calm and gentile, a far cry from some other areas, it felt safe. Job felt safe, he was a success story, the Bill Gates of his day with a huge amount of wealth. Like Mr Gates he was also a good person, seeking to do good by others and, given it is a religious text, Job believes in God. It was in this safety that things went wrong and whilst God himself never harms Job, he certainly doesn’t intervene in tragedy after tragedy which sees Job nearly destroyed. Everyone turns on him, including so called friends and even his wife is blaming him. How many of us have gone through terrible times, Job like times, to find no happiness, no light and if religious, an apparent lack of divine help as well? Yet Job keeps the faith and stoically marches on through disaster and disgrace, shaking his fist at his creator but never doubting him. I know that feeling well, my fist has been rubbed hard against the sky, at God, an unrelenting tyrant but like Job, despite everything, ‘I know my redeemer lives’.
“But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds of the air, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish of the sea inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this? In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.” Job Chapter 12:7-10.
In this extract from Job it is quite clear that God created everything but also it is a highly personal type of creation. This isn’t a Richard Dawkins series of amazingly incredible happy accidents but more the crafting of something good. Indeed early on in the bible God sits back on his hypothetical backside and admires his work, patting himself on the back for how good it actually is. Anybody who had every built something or created something knows that feeling, that point of satisfaction for a job well done. Having done this God then places the stewardship or caring of this finished creation in the hands of humankind to look after. That handing over of stewardship represents a huge amount of trust and as with other things we get told, humans tend to mess this up repeatedly. As we have walked towards each objective, no matter how beautiful this has been, it has been marred by humans messing things up. Our road verges are crammed with discarded cigarette ends, plastic beer can rings, bits of a huge variety of stuff that will not dissolve away and of course the detritus of a variety of accidents which allows for a guessing game over where on a car that came from. Then of course there are those folk who stop, too lazy to find a bin or a tip, who empty a variety of stuff into shared green space and then drive off. Others contribute by throwing things out of car windows regardless of who might be walking by. Our roadsides are a mess and it is quite clear that old devil is flitting about them, each piece of rubbish killing off an animal or a bird or helping to create squalor and a lack of love for what we have.
We finally made Christchurch, Lichfield but didn’t quite make it in time for the 09:30 service starting so had to creep in at the back. In a way this was ideal as no-one really knew who we were and we got to enjoy a very spiritual and Celtic style service, led ably by Emma.
Lichfield emanates a quiet, confident, spirituality that I recognise from Lindisfarne and Iona. This is a special place, a thin place and there is the quiet calm associated with this, a place where Heaven and Earth feels tangibly closer. Peter, pictured above, kindly gave us a fairly comprehensive insight into the churches history and also St Chad. It turns out that the four figures on the altar are associated with Iona, Lindisfarne, Mercia and the Celtic saints. More mere chance to an Atheist and more God guiding us to ourselves, personally the latter appears more likely!
Many thanks to everyone at Christchurch, Lichfield, for making us so warmly welcomed.