The Name that is a Place (Ros' Blog)
I have just returned from a ministry trip to India. It was an enjoyable but moving trip, staying in a home for girls rescued from trafficking, and having lots of opportunities to speak both within a church and to other groups in the city. Perhaps the highlight of the trip was being given the privilege of speaking to a group of Indian and Swedish businesswomen about why we should honour and value people whose learning disabilities are so profound that they will never be able to work or make an economic contribution to society, what we can learn from them and why we should not overlook the other kinds of contributions they make to our communities. I could tell it was an eye-opener for some of the people present; one lady said I had made her see something she had never thought about before, and asked if I would come and speak to them again if I come back to India in future.
But for me the overall impression which I bring back from my trip is of how easy I found it to connect with God while I was there. It felt like what the old Christian mystics would have called a “thin” place – somewhere where the veil between heaven and earth seems so diaphanous, you feel as if you can reach through it and touch God. For sure it was partly to do with the atmosphere in the girls’ home – the continual laughter, dance and song seem to belie the trauma of the girls’ past life, and speak of a God who truly heals. But I think it came most of all from the absence of distractions.
At home I have a radio beside the bed, and I wake up and flick the switch to hear the news. I sometimes work late, sitting up in bed, and go to sleep with my laptop beside me so it’s there for me to check my emails when I wake up. If I get in, tired, from work, I can flop in front of the TV while I summon the energy to prepare dinner. In India I had no bedside radio, and my phone stopped working on the second day, so I couldn’t call or text anyone or check emails on my phone. The TV is not connected to any network, and is only used for the girls to watch movies on DVD or online on a Friday evening. So none of the usual distractions were present.
On my second morning, I woke up humming “How sweet the name of Jesus sounds”, and for the rest of the trip I couldn’t get it out of my head. I fell asleep each night with it running through my mind, I woke up humming it every morning, and on the days when I was alone at home preparing for meetings while the girls were out at their morning lessons, I let rip with all 6 verses, as there was no one there to hear me! It’s my most abiding memory of the trip, meditating more and more deeply on the words of that hymn as the days went on. I know that in the hymn books of my childhood the fourth verse begins, “Jesus, my Shepherd, Brother, Friend” but I once read that John Newton originally wrote, “Jesus, my Shepherd, Husband, Friend” and the compilers of our hymn books baulked at such intimate language being used to describe the relationship with Jesus. But as a woman who no longer has an earthly husband, I find strength and comfort in the thought of Jesus filling that role.
I recalled the Scripture that says, “The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run into it and are safe”, and I came to realise that the name of Jesus is not merely a proper noun of 5 letters or a phrase we attach to our prayers, it is a place. And in that place we encounter our Shepherd, our Husband, our Friend, the Rock on which we build, our Shield and our Hiding Place and all the other wonderful pictures which that hymn paints.
And the really joyous thing about this is that this place which is the Name of Jesus is accessible to all of us. No wheelchair ramp is needed to get inside; no sensory impairment is a disability (in fact by reducing the distractions around it may even make entering that place easier for some people); no intellectual impairment is a disqualification, since this is a place where deep calls to deep in the realm of the Spirit, and intelligence plays no part.
So I have decided to be much more intentional about ridding myself of the distractions that keep me out of this place. I am not switching on my radio when I wake up. I am banning my laptop from the bedroom so I’m not tempted to check emails as soon as I wake up. I’m switching the TV on when there’s something worth watching, but not just as a matter of habit or boredom. I’m driving around without the radio on, and finding God in the silence. This morning, when a traffic hold-up doubled my journey time into work, it wasn’t an irksome commute, it was an extended worship time.
I’m looking forward to making a third visit to the girls’ home in India some time next year, but in the meantime, I want to do all I can to make sure that I hold on to what I discovered of God while I was there, and not allow the distractions of our western lifestyle to draw me out of the place that is His Name.