Last week the world was full of Easter joy.
Whether you watched rockets knock stars from the sky as the Paschal candle banished the darkness from our hearts and minds or rose with the dawn to hear the resurrection greeted in the sound of joyful bird song - I hope and pray that for a while at least the uncertainties, questions and grey areas of faith were banished by the confident truth
"Christ is risen! He is risen indeed"
A week on, though, we're back with our own familiar realities...in a world where fear locks us in, behind closed doors - and where doubts and insecurities are part of the fabric of life.
It seems so unfair that nobody talks about Peter the Turncoat or - despite their evident ambition - James & John the Wannabe twins - but Thomas - oh, he's Thomas the Doubter for all time - and as such, surely, the patron of pretty much everyone I have ever known.
He hears the excited testimony of his friends "We have SEEN the Lord" - and is not satisfied.
He wants firm, tangible evidence...nothing that could be based on mass hysteria (can 10 be a mass?) or the power of suggestion.
He wants incontravertable proof that Jesus is alive.
Don't we all?
Seeing is believing!
So - here's my own story of doubts and faith and proof and wonder...Are you sitting comfortably?
During ordination training, I found myself on a weekend exploring Franciscan spirituality, and was told to go out on a walk without watch, phone or any agenda except attending to what God wanted to show me. At the time a special friend was in hospital, so separating myself from the phone was a huge challenge in itself, and I was concerned that I would be so bothered at being out of touch with her that I'd be quite unable to hear anything from God at all.
However, I obediently set off down the drive, taking time to look and listen as I very rarely did. Having suffered all my days from a fair degree of short- sightedness, I tend not to be a very visual person, and it was good for me to learn to gaze without hurrying on to the next thing.
Normally, of course, I would never have met the spider.
As it was, I nearly missed him, as he span his line around an ivied tree. He had one of those mottled grey-brown bodies that was very much at home amid the layers of autumnal leaf-mould. I watched him scurrying along the bridge he was building from his own body, hardly breathing for fear that I might damage the fragile work of engineering that was before me. But then the rain started…large, heavy drops, which shook the dying leaves around his workplace. The spider froze, midway between one twig and the next, stopped dead in the very midst, the very moment of creation. Perfectly camouflaged amid the dead twigs and bark, suspended on his own silken way, stretched, elongated, he looked nothing like a spider at all.. I waited.
As time passed, I became desperate for him to move. I began to doubt my own memory. Had there ever really been a spider at all, or had my eyes been playing tricks? I longed to shake the branch again, to prompt him to move, to reveal himself. I knew deep down that I had seen him, that what I now gazed at, willing him to move, to prove the truth of my experience, had only paused upon its delicate and dedicated course. I knew, but still I longed for confirmation, for fresh evidence of a reality that should need no proof.
Then I heard God laughing.
“Kathryn” he said “You’re doing it again. Don’t you realise that you do this with me, again and again and again? We spend time together. I fill you with a sense of joy and awe at my presence, and you focus completely on me. Then the time comes for you to leave the mountain, and even as you head homewards the doubts crowd in. “Was it really God?” you ask. “Perhaps I just felt happy because it was a beautiful place and a special day. Perhaps I was bouyed up by the presence of loving friends.” You will the moment to repeat itself, to confirm its truth.
That spider is a spider, even though its intricate work appears to halt, even though it seems to vanish, and merge into its own small world. And I am God. You may lose sight of me too, may wonder if you ever really glimpsed me here…but I have the whole created world in which to hide or show myself. You need not doubt the evidence of your eyes”
Remember that, as you engage with the world this week.
God is here - as surely as the risen Christ encountered Thomas in the upper room. Just open your eyes and you'll see.