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‘God has always been with me, even when I did not recognise him’

A reverend with a penchant for painting shares how this therapeutic practice allowed her to confront her struggles with faith

I am not an artist but sometimes I dabble with paint, especially when there are no words to express how I feel. A while ago, I was wordless before God. Confused about what he was supposed to be doing and struggling to work through some tough stuff.

I was neck-deep in a quagmire, that place where doubts and fears swirl. I’d lost my usual route map back to any place of peace, and all I could do was hang on by my fingernails.

A classic situation that prompts painting. My painting rarely leads to anything worth keeping, but the process can be cathartic. On that particular day, it was as though God was so close; inspiring and guiding the imagery as I started to squeeze acrylics onto the palette.

I started painting the bottom left corner; a dark and miry swamp of unknowing with weeds of doubt. But as I painted I noticed a post in the swamp. The kind of post found on causeways where an island is joined to the mainland. The kind of post that sticks in the mud and at high tide pokes above the incoming sea to mark the hidden route.

This rough wooden post was in my swamp - it spoke of the truth I could hold on to, the absolute truth that I do believe in God. Whoever, however he might be. God who has always been with me, even when I did not recognise him.  God who belies my understanding yet so real. And if I could just hang onto that truth, then the currents of doubt couldn’t sweep away my faith.

From that place, I realised another post was coming into view, almost close enough to reach. A post of truth about the reality of Jesus. The God who walked this earth and made himself known to me so often; how could I forget those times! If I could just remember and hang on to that second post in my swamp, then I might not drown.

I hung on for dear life, reminded of the real historical wooden cross, stuck into real ground in a real place in Jerusalem. That truth launched me more towards a third post appearing through the gloom. I did believe with both my head and heart that the cross and resurrection actually happened. I knew that I knew it; that his love and sacrifice was not wasted on me.

It was easier to reach for the fourth post. The post of truth that God’s Holy Spirit was real and personal. He had encouraged and empowered me before so would not stop now. Remembering that brought new posts into view, they were much closer and led me through the quagmire towards a dawning warmth.

Post by post, I made my way. Yes, God has called me into his family. Yes, he promised to never leave or forsake me. Truth by truth… to a place where the mud cleared and I could see how those posts were stuck deep into solid bedrock.

Circumstances had not actually changed, but I’d rediscovered the bigger picture and recalibrated my reality into God’s perspective. Each post offered the truth through those fears and distractions that had threatened to swamp me. I could remember who I was, because of who God always is.

The picture won’t win any prize, it evolved through heartache as a visual parable and will always remind me that those posts of truth are set into a solid bedrock of faith, my faith, forever.

Bryony is a priest in the Church of England and currently on sabbatical. Previously she worked in marketing and communications and was a freelance writer, radio producer and presenter. Read more from Bryony Wood here

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