Just my imagination? Well, yes and no. When someone asked Joan of Arc if the interactions with God were just her imagination she said, 'Of course. How else would he talk to me?' I had driven past a reservoir on the way to this prayer meeting so perhaps it came from there, but I am convinced that God used the tools in my head to tell me something that I needed to hear.
I had just said, 'My word for this year is 'Alive' and I am anything but.' The lady praying with me suggested we asked Jesus why I don't feel alive.
This is his answer:
I am cold. I don't know why I'm cold, but I am cold. I don't feel properly alive, and I say so. I feel stifled, suffocated. I long to breathe deeply but I can't.
I ask Jesus why I am so cold.
I realise I'm at the bottom of a lake. Not drowning, just sitting. The water is cold and murky, and the lake-bed is sandy and stony. There are a few wisps of weed and particles floating but there isn't much to see. Everything is grey and brown, bare and barren. Only a little light penetrates to where I'm sitting, knees drawn up to my chest. I sit. My feet are covered in sand.
I'm not afraid, just inert. I am not awake, not asleep. It's a half-life.
I realise that Jesus is there with me. I discern a light near me and I realise that it's him. He tells me that I can move if I want to. I show him that my feet and ankles are buried and I say that I can't.
Jesus gently replies that I can, but I am afraid to push off.
Jesus sits down next to me until I'm ready to try to move. He is patient and does not hurry me. In time, with his encouragement, I make a big effort and I push off from the stony bottom of the lake and swim through the grey murk to the daylight above.
As my head breaks the surface I take in huge lungfuls of air. I gasp and cough and laugh with the exhilaration of breathing again after so long underwater. I breathe deeply, sculling with my arms and kicking my legs to keep afloat. Looking round I realise that I am in the middle of a large lake high up in some mountains. The lake is surrounded by hills covered in heather and bracken. The sun is not shining; there are heavy clouds, although it's not raining. There is little to see, barely any colours other than grey, brown, dark purply undergrowth. The only sounds are the splashes I make.
I become aware that I am still cold. The water is cold and the air is cold. A wind blows. I move to float on my back and I laugh again as I breathe the fresh air but my laughter is a little forced. I look at Jesus, treading water next to me, and he smiles at me. He understands my confusion. I am happy to be able to breathe but I am still not at ease. I smile and turn away and look up at the grey sky.
Is this all there is?
Jesus quietly tells me that when I'm ready, there's more to see.
I'm not ready. This is so much better than the place in the darkness under the water. There's air to breathe and I can lie back and see the sky and so perhaps I should stay here. Better than before is enough, isn't it? I splash about in the lake and Jesus stays with me, waiting. After a while he begins to swim towards the head of the lake, beckoning me to follow.
I am reluctant to leave my spot in the middle of the expanse of water, even though I'm cold. I don't want to be rude, so I swim slowly after him, wishing he would stop.
We get to the top of the lake. There's a gap between the bottom of two mountains rising above us and water is flowing down into our lake over a cascade of boulders from a source higher up. Jesus holds onto one of the rocks and turns to me.
He wants me to follow him up the waterfall.
It's only a trickle, not a torrent of water. There are plenty of rocks to hold onto and easy footholds, but I shake my head. I don't want to leave the lake. I know this lake. It might be cold and murky and dull but now that I have come up from the depths and I can breathe, it's so much better than what I had before that my impulse is to stay here. It feels safe.
Jesus says there's another lake at the top of the waterfall, and it's so much better.
I look doubtful. He says there's no hurry.
Jesus takes a few steps up the waterfall and turns to me. Follow me, he says.
I really do not want to. I am familiar with the lake I'm in and afraid to leave it behind for the unknown. I do trust Jesus but.. but...
I climb after him. It's not a difficult climb, although I'm trembling. He does not get too far ahead and he is encouraging me step by step. I am slow and anxious but he is patient.
Jesus gets to the top of the waterfall and he is standing on the last rock, which is broad and level. As I approach, tiny step by step, he crouches down to take my hand. One more step, he says, and I will be able to peer over the top of the waterfall. I take another faltering step, clinging onto the rock with my right hand and Jesus with my left. My eyes are level with the water and as I straighten, I see a beautiful scene in front of me.
It's another lake, but so, so different from the one behind me. This lake is clear and reflecting the blue of the sky ahead. The sun is shining and the water is full of silver sparkles. Around this lake are still mountains but instead of the featureless brush and bracken there are flowers of all colours and meadows of lush grass. There are birds and butterflies. A warm breeze stirs the leaves of trees and carries a wonderful fragrance that makes me inhale deeply.
I am astonished. Jesus laughs at my wonder and pulls me to stand on the rock with him. We gaze around for a time and then he asks me if I'd like to swim. He puts his toe in the water and then he is swimming for the middle of the lake on his back, telling me to come on in. I want to catch up with him.
I dive into this new lake without hesitating. The water is pleasant and as clear as crystal; I can see all the way to pretty pebbles on the bottom. It tastes sweet and pure, not like the brackish water of the lake that I have left. As I surface in a mass of sparkling bubbles I feel the sun warm on my head and back. Out in the middle of the lake we stop and float, enjoying the sunshine, the beautiful blue sky, the sound of birds singing, the fragrance of blossom. I don't ever want to go back to the other lake.
And yet I'd have been happy to stay. I didn't want to be left under the water, but breathing again was so much better than before that I'd have settled for staying the first lake. I was content with greyness, coldness, colourlessness. I was reluctant to follow Jesus even though I knew he could be trusted. I resisted and hung back.
Jesus tells me that this is what trust is, sometimes. It might not be dramatic and daring or even decisive. It might be incremental, cautious, even fearful. I did climb the waterfall, step by step, without knowing what lay at the top. I may have been hesitant and doubtful but eventually I did follow him. it's not always easy, and he doesn't expect me to be enthusiastic all the time. He is patient. He will hold my hand.
I was stuck in sand, blind and lost deep, deep down under the water, dark and cold. Jesus came to find me, brought me light and helped me to surface, but he had so much more for me than that. I would have missed out on so much if I'd stayed in the lower lake. I would have lived and breathed but that was all. I would not have experienced the beauty and vibrancy of the upper lake.
He doesn't want me just to be alive.
'The thief comes to only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come so that they might have life, and have it to the full.'
John 10:10 NI
I sense that there is yet more to see, but this is where Jesus has brought me.
He is here with me still, as I laugh and splash and swim and explore to my heart's content. The sun is warm on my face and I am relaxed and happy.
Light and water DSCF0268.JPG by Ryudei2442 from Morgefile.com with permission
Sun and sky my own photograph.