To Drown is to Breathe (My Journal VII.)

As I began the last page in this journal volume, I was walking down the Lisburn Road in Belfast.  I passed a glass & steel 1980s BT telephone box near the City Hospital and like being sucked through a vacuum tube, surged abruptly into surreality. Images, visions, dreams of the past swirled together with the present on this misty Belfast street. I took out my phone and dialled it's number 028 9023 2471, holding my breath waiting for the green amber screen to illuminate and for it to ring.

In 2008 I stood inside this same phone box. Little has changed, a single cobweb occupies one corner of the ceiling, the warm yellow lamp picks out the diamond textured aluminium pannelling. There was a light drizzle as a quiet and certain voice speaking inside me stopped me at the door and beckoned me inside. 

Moments later I could hear the first crackle of a storm as the heavens opened. For the next hour I stood in this shelter, considering everything. I marvelled at this strange room, a godsend in the middle of a footpath in the middle of a storm. It's strange to even consider a phone box as a room, a structure, a house but it had electricity, walls, windows and a door. At it's centre is the object that gives it it's nominal purpose and name - a coin operated telephone, above which sits a born again christian tract and an ad for a prostitution service. In this strange place, I saw my reflection in colour in the rain and I called myself an artist, a visual composer and songwriter, for the first time.

Back home after the storm I began to distil and compose that moment into my journal and from there into three self-portraits that I've discussed in my journal before (follow the links on the right). Approaching a blank page with a pen is foreboding, but the second stroke is thrilling as the vision begins to pour out and fill the paper. Here the canvas was already full with these layers of raindrops - heavy and fine, reflecting light and shadow in a million tiny lenses. The experience of being in the phonebox began to compose itself into slivers, biopsies, cuts of this moment, and so that's what I drew onto the paper as I composed my first visual and physical song.

Arriving at this fusion of moments, there's no cathartic pain to resolve, there is in its place an episode of utter clarity and euphoria as every planet in the universe aligns anew, and there's a certainty of purpose that was always there but was never clearer. That day eight years ago had felt like we were strolling about in the moving eye of a Hurricane, and this day in 2015 felt like being airborne as I let go of the shelter and embrace the storm.

Over the past eight years I've spent a lot of time in Belfast, between weaving my heirlooms, developing embroidery, meetings, adventures with friends and stays at the Culloden hotel, it's something I used to relish, and crossing over the Boyne railway viaduct felt like coming up for air. Arriving, I was always fascinated and ready to explore, from murals and walls, Samson and Goliath, shipyards and alleys, museums and relics and remnants of a titanic industry, and to a thousand scenes of stunning beauty beyond - Tollymore Forest Park, Dark Hedges, the Glens of Antrim and the edge of the world, the Giants Causeway.

I've been called to new eyes, to the beginning of everything, and in this moment now I can see clearly around me, and I see the storm, I see those seeking shelter, those warning of its imminent coming, and those frozen in panic, but I also see those who see God in the storm. Every page of my journal is visible at once, and I realise there's three or four pages left in this story of 'at the edge of the world' 'drowning in enough' 'broken breaking waves' and 'silver shore'. But what's left is what's ugly, and yet what's just as true, what if we don't trust God when he says he is there in the storm, what if we clench dust and ash. Our health is affected by both - dust inflames asthma and ash is caustic and alkaline. I arrive at a desert about to be conquered by a flood. God promised not to destroy the world a second time after the flood in which he spared Noah, but he promised to flood the world with living water, and it's there, if only we'd start to drown. 

Surrender calls, but in this storm I saw a man, many men, many soap boxes, many placards, on many streets, petrified by time and resilience to surrender and change, they will not give in, they will hold out, they will cling to whatever remains of whatever they stand for, they will be staunch and they will be stoic, and by the power of their will, they will be turned to stone. 

If you've read the past pages of my notebook, which I will share again as one continuous and unannotated page, it's that man at the waterfall at the edge of the world holding a dead tree stump like a baby in his arms. 

In surrendering not to time nor our inability to conquer it, but to something greater, to a God who inhabits and commands the storm, that remains in both the calmness of the eye that we so often confuse for the absence of the storm, that's what all these notebooks have been about, in one word, surrender, and its boundless consequences. 

And yet, in Belfast, two words have defined the city over a hundred years.

No Surrender

What does that really mean? What does that look like. That is death, and the clinging to of dead things, sadly, by living people. In politics and religion there shall be no surrender. The old cling, and the young emigrate, getting out while they still know the taste of fresh breath. 

To be drenched is to breathe, if we're called to dance, we're called to dance in the rain, to live on purpose rather than to suffocate under it, to be covered, to be drenched in love and to be alive and in colour. If true peace exists, it's got to be not just in the harbour, but in the throes of the storm, and in refusing to leave the safe places where we can find our way in the dark, we refuse to consider the question of whether what we believe is still true when we stop clinging so tightly to it that we can't ever know. The thing about drowning is that your fingers yield to it and we don't have the strength to hold on to anything.

This is where I make my statement. 

To say 'no surrender' is to miss all of what Jesus has ever said. Repentance is a pattern, not a placard, and if you believe that life is found here, it isn't. Answer the call to new eyes, let dry bones grow flesh and let go of everything. God exists, is real and is ready for you.

These are the last pages in this moment in my journal, I do want to draw more of them, but more than that, I want to take these that I have and distil them into the woven shawls.