So, this morning the Synod Moderator preached to us. In fractious state, looking to a tumultuous, demanding week ahead (because I have yet to be able simply to worry about the moment ahead, as instructed), I sat and crocheted furiously; trying to disguise my agitation.
Crocheting in services, though good for hiding nerves, is a double-edged sword. As doodling in meetings has been shown to improve concentration upon the agenda items, when I crochet, I am better able to listen and focus on what is said. The service was about relationships. Our relationship to God. Not some highfalutin piece about the theology of the Trinity, but about familiarity. About how Jesus called God ‘Abba’ in prayer – translated “daddy”* .
Thus, as we use pet names with those we love, to wrap them round our fingers (ahem) so we can refer to God, in this familiar way. We are, after all, part of God’s family. What is important, the Moderator argued, was not that we intellectually understand this relationship, but that we feel it.
That we feel it. There was the crunch. In my skills group at the moment, we are learning about something called mentalizing. To cut a long story short, this is the ability to (a) know that others have minds that think / feel differently from yours, (b) to make helpful (multiple) inferences about what other people may be thinking or feeling about a given situation, and (c) to make helpful (multiple) inferences about the way in which your actions and reactions to a given situation might be thought / felt about by others.
Developing skills in this area, for me, will mean not jumping auto-style to the worst possible things that others could be thinking or feeling. In other words, not assuming from ambiguous actions or facial expressions that I am unwanted, unloved, and have a special gift for making others angry, upset and disgusted with me.
Which brings me back to God. Because assuming that others are angry with me is especially true when it comes to God. I am very ready to assume God’s anger when I fail (yet again) because the paradox of my emotional reactions to things is that whilst they are largely overwhelming and feel outwith my control, I feel utterly responsible for them. Mea culpa. I feel that God is angry with me for these reactions, that I don’t belong to God’s family; that God wants me nowhere near.
And I know this is ridiculous. I have been told many times that mental illness is not my fault, even though taking responsibility for facing it is; that God is not angry with me; if angry at all, God is angry with the circumstances that led to me being ill. That no one deserves to be near God per se. That God loves me. Sometimes, I catch glimpses of the enormity of this truth. One day, I will deeply feel it, too.
*I have it on very good authority that Abba was originally a non-gendered term, but cannot find a source for this translation.