‘He hath made every thing beautiful in his time’

A couple of months ago, I had a brilliant conversation with a friend. It started with a discussion of different kinds of evangelism. We both came fairly quickly to the conclusion that ‘explicit’ evangelism, that of engaging in direct conversation for the sole purpose of trying to convert someone, is mostly ineffective. This style of proselytising often promotes the wrong things: first and foremost, it tends to push the idea that accepting a very particular set of dicta is akin to being essentially ‘fixed’, the only alternative being eternal condemnation decreed by a supposedly loving God.

Evangelism isn’t, and shouldn’t be, its own programme. It should instead arise naturally from one’s deeply personal and individual faith, the faith which both requires and compels us to live the most Christlike life possible, the faith which, above all else, asks us simply to love. Most importantly, it’s about developing and learning to express a real and a deep love for God’s creation, the pure emanation of God’s love: us. The full spectrum of humanity and the natural world. To appreciate the world around us is to appreciate the divine. To quote the fantastical musical version of Les Miserables, ‘to love another person is to see the face of God’.

The expression of this love, hard as it can be, is how we must introduce others to God. If we can really live out our lives in the spirit which Jesus calls us to, no explicit evangelism is necessary. The experience of this love is often seen as the result of successful conversion, a sanctioned conduit to understanding the nature of the divine, but I disagree. This love, and this tenderness, is the divine. It is God, and it is Jesus.

While I was talking to my friend, she mentioned an experience she had a few years prior. She was watching her parents sitting at the kitchen table, talking and laughing. In that moment, my friend saw her parents’ faces transfigured into what they described as the personification of perfect beauty and love. In their laughter, and in their smiles, she felt that she was truly seeing God. What greater evangelism, and what greater testament to God, than to be love and beauty in the world? To be the loving kindness of God? To be the harmony and peace which Jesus has given to us?

Far from needing to have God explained in cold and necessarily inadequate terms before feeling this peace and love, the peace and love is itself the essence of faith. Thomas a Kempis, talking about the superfluity of ‘lofty discourse’ on the nature of God, says that he would ‘far rather feel contrition than be able to define it’, and I feel the same about the topic at hand. It’s of infinitely more importance to feel God than it is to understand God, more important to feel than it is to be able to define the cause of that feeling, and that experience.

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‘A twitch upon the thread’

Since making the decision a few weeks ago to leave university, I’ve been able to look back and see just how stressed and miserable my degree was making me. That’s not to say that literature isn’t a fascinating, rewarding and worthwhile subject, but my mental health was making it near impossible to study, and that was in turn making me feel awful about myself and my inadequacies. Now that I’ve been freed from all the self-doubt and meticulous introspection that comes with essay-writing, I find myself with a lot of time on my hands. This free time feels like a privilege, and I can think of no better way to use it than to delve more deeply into my faith, something which I’ve more or less neglected over the past year due to being so ill and stressed all the time.

The name of this blog, ‘Twitch the Thread’, originally comes from a GK Chesterton story, but I found the quote in Brideshead Revisited:

“I caught him, with an unseen hook and an invisible line which is long enough to let him wander to the ends of the world, and still to bring him back with a twitch upon the thread.”

I first read Brideshead when I was a 13 year old atheist, and this quote went entirely over my head. For a long time, the best I could do was to see it as a comment on Lady Marchmain’s incorrigible grasp on Sebastian. I should add that, at this time, the overtly religious themes within the book largely passed me by – either I was too ignorant a reader to notice it, or was too ardent an atheist to accept it – so it’s no wonder that this was a mystery to me too. Over time, though, this quote and notion has become especially precious to me.

Coming to know the grace of God is something which is often talked of as an internal process – we make an active choice to come to know God and accept his grace. I definitely think that’s a part of faith, to a greater or lesser extent. It’s certainly how I figured my conversion to Christianity for a very long time: I thought long and hard about it, and finally chose to believe in Christ. It didn’t make for a great testimony, and I always felt quite embarrassed when people asked me to share, but it felt better than the truth: I honestly had no idea what happened to suddenly make me care about God, care enough to develop a personal faith.

A few months ago, I found a tiny little diary which I kept when I was 7 or 8 years old. Along with a lot of very boring school stories and blow-by-blow accounts of my pets’ deaths, there was one page entitled ‘List of things I have to do in my life’. There were only 2 things on said list: become a vegetarian and become a Christian. The first was achieved when I was 13, so we can put that to one side. Looking back, my wording of the second point struck me as quite odd. ‘Become a Christian’. Like it was some obstacle I had to face, or something I had to work at, like learning French or learning to drive. It also seems odd that I felt it such a priority at the time, given my intensely secular upbringing, but I thought a surprising amount about God when I was younger. I would pray at night in the way that small children do, and I suppose I did believe in God as much as I could without ever having been to church or really been exposed to religion at all.

The fact that I wrote it down as one of the most important things I could do with my life at 7, cared so much, and didn’t reconsider the issue until 12 years later, feels quite amazing to me. I was caught, left to wander and make so, so many mistakes and live in my own arrogant world, and then, when I was 19, for no apparent reason, abandoned my ardent atheism and allowed God’s grace and love into my life. I was never abandoned, never given up on, and never condemned for all the awful things I said, thought and did during that time, but was simply ‘twitched’ back when I was ready to accept God.

I can’t think of a better testimony to God’s grace and forgiveness than that.