In my family this last month has been marked by the excitement generated by the UK hosting the Rugby World Cup. In the build up to the tournament I kept hearing the phrase the ‘Road to Victory’, (in definite capital letters) and the hype that the English team needed only to win 7 progressive matches to lift the Cup. As I sat in a stadium of over 80,000 fans I could feel the hope of the fans as their songs resonated in my breastbone: the English supporters adopting the old negro spiritual
Swing lo sweet chariot
Comin’ for to carry me home
and the Welsh supporters producing all the harmonies of their eighteenth century hymn
Guide me, O thou great Redeemer,
Pilgrim through this barren land;
I am weak, but thou art mighty;
Hold me with thy powerful hand:
Bread of heaven, bread of heaven
Feed me till I want no more.
Feed me till I want no more.
These songs reminded me of snatches of other old hymns and spirituals that are part of our faith heritage which tell stories about victory being our goal and that ‘home’ is the victory, and this caused me to pause. I suddenly wondered if I really had any clue about what ‘victory’ looks or sounds like in terms of my own Christian faith journey.
Is it just that I don’t have the certain faith of my forebears? Have my experience of years of depression and chronic ill health cut me off, prevented me from having the hope necessary to use these military and sporting metaphors which speak of such fundamental certainty and finality as the word ‘victory’ implies?
I do have hope. And I am certain that all is being, and will be, redeemed in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit working in us. I am certain that the God of all Holiness is my ‘home’, in whom I will be able to be the true self I was created to be.
I just don’t feel victorious.
And I am equally certain it is not a linear ‘road’ to find this ‘home’, whether I think of it as being ‘at home’ to myself and the world around me on a daily basis as I join in Kingdom building here on earth; or as arriving at a final destination after death, becoming a part of the Kingdom of heaven.
What is my end goal? It is the same as my goal for this minute – union with God. Foretastes, glimpses, glances through glasses darkly mean this union can only be temporary and partial now. My enduring prayer chimes with that great Welsh hymn
Let the fiery, cloudy pillar
Lead me all my journey through
so that my union then will be complete.
In this light, I don’t even know if the sporting metaphor of tournament and triumphs applies at all to the faith journey. Many times I wish it was that straightforward: if you defeat this tribe, collect these points, at these times, challenge those people at those times, then you will be certain to reach x marks the spot and lift the trophy and call yourself a champion.
Yet only sometimes do I wish there were straightforward written instructions that covered the whole journey A to Z , so that one could live with this kind of innocent assurance one was doing it ‘right’. Instead I follow a guide book full of histories, visions and stories, poetry and laws, letters and prayers. And it is full of muddy and messy intentions, contradictions, and out of control emotions. None the less, out of this collection has emerged the thin running thread of an outlined route through to reconnecting to our God. Wherever I find myself in the labyrinth there is something in this collated Word that applies to the minutiae of everyday life, if only I will still myself long enough to listen. There is a signpost: this way lies Life and Love in abundance….
In thinking about all this I rediscovered Baptist song called ‘Victory in Jesus’ (hear it here)
I heard about His healing,
Of His cleansing pow’r revealing.
How He made the lame to walk again
And caused the blind to see;
And then I cried, “Dear Jesus,
Come and heal my broken spirit,”
And somehow Jesus came and bro’t
To me the victory.
That word ‘somehow’ is so crucial.
E.M. Bartlett’s 1939 hymn based on 1 Corinthians 15.57 speaks of the eternal truth at the heart of the metaphors of Victory: enduring hope. The hope that is set before us is that through Christ ‘we will all be changed’, that death has no sting, and so we are freed from our minute preoccupations:
Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
Most of the time we do not have the vision to see or to cope with the reality that pain, suffering, inequality and seemingly unanswered prayers are not the only thing ; that these cannot be the full story; that even death itself is not an end. We cannot grasp what victory over these things world look like. And yet, regardless of how we feel, we choose to trust that all our work to build the Kingdom of Heaven on earth, here, now, however puny our attempts or contributions, none and nothing are wasted, all are redeemed by Christ.
Believing this, I just take the next step. Some days with a ringing confidence, others with cringing uncertainty. I just keep walking, because I think I understand that my Creator asks me to walk in obedience and trust, and that is all I can do.
None the less, the sports image of the ‘Road to Victory’ does bring with it one significant truth. I do not travel this road alone. Indeed, I cannot or I will ‘get’ nowhere and be no one if I even try to travel alone. ‘Victory’ and ‘home’ are communal places where I am the woman God has created to me to be, and I join with you as you are created to be, and you, and you, and you…
… and we walk, wheel, limp, run, dance together side by side as People of the Way.
Kate Kennington Steer is a writer and photographer with a deep abiding passion for contemplative photography and spirituality. She writes about these things on her shot at ten paces blog. Currently she is also posting a daily iphone image as a ‘daily act of seeing’ on her Facebook page. Join in with gentle ambling conversations about contemplative photography by becoming a friend.