Liz Dipple and a mountain of foodbank donations at Rising Brook.
This is a picture of Liz, being overwhelmed by a large donation of food at Rising Brook Church this week.
These kind of overwhelmings are exhilarating; the physical senses overloaded and beneath that, the realisation that there is a generosity of spirit from local people, even in this restricted time. Kindness can be very overwhelming, as can praise and appreciation. Our knowledge of God is the overwhelming loving kindness he has for us; Jesus being crushed and torn apart so that we might be lifted up and included in the biggest prize and inheritance there is.
There are other overwhelmings in our present day, too. The footage of doctors, nurses and carers looking after so many people who are dying in hospitals and nursing homes as a direct or indirect result of the Covid pandemic. The overwhelming nature of school at home, constant screentime, no physical interaction; studies showing that a quarter of school children are experiencing mental health problems. The sea of masks. The empty motorways. The closed hairdressers. The furloughed friends. It is overwhelming to constantly face bureaucratic systems where people are working from home and so cannot easily attend to your challenge. It is overwhelming to have to wait for so many weeks before benefits kick in, to try to work out if there is enough food or even electricity for the week ahead. It can be overwhelming to have the opposite of sensory overload and have very little sensory input at all for days on end.
I read an excellent book by David Ford a few years ago, The Shape of Living. In it he writes about how we face multiple overwhelmings through life (and as we are seeing, even more so in this covid season) so our challenge is to work out a theology and a way of living that not only faces and copes with these but also finds Christ within them and therefore his holy route through them. Over the last few weeks I have been looking at the first few chapters of Mark’s gospel. I have been reminded of Ford’s words: Jesus Christ is an embodiment of multiple overwhelmings. He was immersed in the River Jordan and then driven by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted. He announced the kingdom of God as something worth everything else, a pearl beyond price, a welcome beyond anything we could deserve, a feast beyond our wildest desires. At the climax of his life he agonized in prayer in Gethsemane, he was betrayed, deserted, tortured, and crucified, and he died crying ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ Then came the resurrection, the most disorienting and transformative overwhelming of all. [The Shape of Living, p. 46.]
Jesus knew what it was to face huge crowds with massive needs. His disciples just wanted to escape. He knew what it was to be isolated, frail in his humanity. He knew grief, sickness and death. But his message is one of overwhelming hope and faith. Feeding everyone, with more than enough left over. Raising people even from death. Hearing the loving voice of the Father as heaven is torn open over him. Being exalted by God, lifted up from death on a cross, to a place where his name is now above every name – now that’s overwhelming!
Ford writes that we can do three things in the face of overwhelming.
We can name it. Confess what it is and how it makes us feel. Not hide it or be ashamed by it. Naming it reduces its power over us. It can helpful to confess our grief, or our worry about a particular event, or simply to say what we see is happening.
We can describe it – use language, shape it with our imagination, understand it with our soul and not just our fear. This is mostly done in conversation and relationship with other people. But it can be helpful to listen to a song, to read poetry, to watch dance, look at fine art – all the ways that other people have creatively managed, and in some ways, tamed their overwhelmings, by describing them.
We can attend to the shape of living. Do the one necessary thing. Not try to work out everything all at once – it’s too complex – but work out the next step, the first problem, the important activity or state of mind. To live simply in a complex world (Jesus walking on the beach in Capernaum, was his step towards redeeming the whole of creation)
Be still and know that I am God.
Martin J Young