Last Wednesday, I went to Glenalmond to join the Provincial Youth Network for the day. The Glen is much praised in the church, as one of the things the SEC is most proud of. And now I know why.
The visitor’s day coincides with the ‘amble’ — a walk through the woods with various team building challenges along the way. This was a good and easy thing to join in with (especially on a warm sunny day), but as we encountered vampires and ghouls, spider webs to climb through, and mummies to rescue, there were times one might have been forgiven for wondering in what way the focus was on God. But as I wondered what they did on other days, and walked and talked with the kids, it became more and more clear that God was very much in evidence here.
I was with a young group of kids — most of whom were there for the first time; few of whom knew each other; a couple of whom were noticeably more mature and would have rather been with their friends in the other group. In many ways it was an ill matched, somewhat unfortunate grouping of kids. But that’s where the wonder of it was revealed. For all day, through any number of silly tasks, this disparate teenagers treated each other with unfailing kindness and tolerance. The loner was encouraged to take her turn. The girl who could so easy have cast her self in the role of princess did no such thing, and proved herself remarkably adept at defeating the ‘undead’ (she also joined me in the bat-protection league). The two who walked most clearly to the beat of their own drum were allowed to be — there was gentle laughter and wonder at them, but nothing unkind.
Then when all was said and done, they prepared worship for the evening, based on the story of Barimaeus.
Throughout the afternoon, one girl was more detached from the others. She joined in with the tasks, she occasionally broke silence to ask perceptive questions. But she spent most of the day walking alone, with her broken shoe flopping around her foot, ignoring everyone’s pleas that she do something about it (though she did occasionally respond by taking the shoe off and digging her socked-toes deeper into the mud). She walked alone and in front of us, apparently immune to pain or discomfort, with a remarkable ability to enjoy the muddy mess that would have left most of us sobbing.
And then during worship, there she was again on the roadside, cast as Bartimaes. She sat staring into middle distance, saying:
It used to be all right. I was happy, I had a normal life. But then I lost my sight; I went blind. Now I sit here, and no one will pay attention to me. No one will listen to me, or notice that I’m here. Lord, have mercy.
The words don’t really tell you a thing — and they are not quite right. The power was in her voice, in the fine balencing of loss and anticipation. She expressed perfectly the lonliness, the longing to be heard, the hope that Jesus would save. And she seemed more truly herself as Bartimaeus than she had all day.
One of the group (cast as Jesus) took her hand, and raised her up, and she skipped along in the middle of the pack for the rest of the service. Joy unbound. Salvation plain to see.