Category Archives: Advent

The fringe of the real

We are shocked when we hear of the woman who had been living with haemorrhages for twelve years (Mark 5, Luke 8), the impact on her life surely physically and socially devastating. But ‘She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, ‘If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.’’

In desperate times the sum total of our energy might be only just enough to reach out to whatever it is that soothes us (hopefully something healing and not harmful): music, wise words, other people and, if we still have faith, God.

The hem of Christ’s cloak is there, whether or not we can see it. The response is there, whether or not we can feel it. ‘Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my clothes?’’

Who touched them? Who didn’t? Who doesn’t need to reach out? And if we reach out in the difficult times then perhaps we’ll learn more instinctively to connect with God when things are easier. When we’re feeling confident and happy, on a roll, in the flow – and perhaps in danger of forgetting our interdependence with others and our dependence on God.

Evelyn Underhill, 20th century writer and mystic, has a lovely phrase for what it is that we’re reaching for: she calls it ‘the fringe of the real’.

I’m wrestling with Underhill’s Mysticism this week (in a good way, as Jacob wrestled with the angel). And I’ve learned that the Christian mystics throughout history have sought God in two places at the same time: in the created world, Life within life, immanent and eternally Becoming; and in the unchanging Absolute Reality which unites all things, transcending, filling and sustaining everything. At the same time.

What enabled them – and now us – to knit together these two experiences of God is the presence of the Spirit in the warp and weft of our own being. What is truest and most real in us recognises what is always True and Real. And so our awareness of eternity comes to us as ‘light through a coloured window, grace through a sacrament’.

Whether this Advent, for us, is marked by poised expectation or what feels like unstoppable haemorrhage, may we reach out for the hem of his cloak. And in the act of reaching may we know that we are touched by the Real, who comes among us, alongside us, in all things.