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JOHN DEMPSTER: Milestone brings with it a moment of reflection

By John Dempster

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John at Cullen this year.
John at Cullen this year.

Just before 6.50am every morning, as a young teenager, I’d wake and tune the radio by my bedside to the BBC Home Service.

At first, only the crackle and hiss of static as the station was off-air; then, unannounced, the brisk beauty of the Air from Handel’s Water Music filled my ears.

Thursday was my 70th birthday. I feel some reflection is called for.

That chaos of static suddenly giving way to the uplift of melody reminds me of experiences throughout my life when I have struggled with doubt, fear and mental health issues. In the end, days of chaos resolve in glorious moments when beauty shines through everything, and I know all is well, and I am grateful to God for every good thing.

I remember my commitment, despite all my questions, to the Christian faith, not simply as a tradition I have aligned myself with, but as a response to my conviction that something unique happened that first Easter. I remember the glad discovery that I am loved and accepted, totally and unconditionally by God, invited to a feast at which the hands of the one who serves are marked by the wounding of nails.

A week ago there was sadness. Was reaching 70 the beginning of the end?

Then something happened as I was reading. It was as though in woodland there was a mysterious rustling through the branches which, when it passed, fell still again, leaving you trembling in anticipation.

Having a mental health diagnosis – “chronic anxiety and neurotic depression” – has been helpful, but I saw in that moment the danger of defining myself by the diagnosis, thus limiting my expectations. The danger of allowing myself to be restrained in the prison of my fears when the key of hope is in my hand, and the great, welcoming Love is with me.

And I resolved in my 70s to remain true to the melody of joy which summons me to life.

This is not to deny the reality of death. And I accept that my Christian beliefs may be mistaken. Death, after all, may be the end. But I have a quiet hope that I will find myself among those for whom we pray “let light perpetual shine upon them”, those who beyond the chaos of body and brain powering down find an uplift of unimagined loveliness.

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