This might seem strange if church isn't your thing, but in my life, I can't remember a time when I didn't go to church on a regular basis. Maybe not weekly, but certainly two or three times a month with a few, brief exceptions for things like backpacking or being hospitalised. To be fair, I went to boarding school for ten years and church was a thrice-weekly affair, plus I was an active member of my school's Christian Union so had a weekly meeting also, plus holiday camps, plus plus plus... Gap year and university holidays at Christ Church, Fulham; university churching at St. Aldate's with the dynamic Simon Ponsonby as our student pastor; nine years at Hope Chapel in Bristol with Annie and Silas Crawley, two of the most marvellous people I know; then, after a few mis-fires, the best part of my Jerusalem years at the Nazarene Church. In all of those places I found community and friends and faith. Church has always been a constant in my life.
Havana has plenty of Spanish-speaking churches though my Spanish is still pretty rudimentary, so I haven't tried them. As far as I'm aware, there's only one English-language church, which I attended a few times but which didn't really ring my bell. I know that church is a choice sometimes, not just a place to feel happy, but I couldn't quite make the choice to attend a place that didn't feel like home in the way the other churches did. So I basically haven't been attending church for three years and I only realise every now and again just how big a hole that is in my life.
As I stood there, this morning, crying and reconnecting with faith in that formalised capacity, I was strongly reminded of my recent diving trip to Playa Giron. Forgive the slightly hammy analogy that is to follow. We'd done a reef dive (beautiful) and then drove off down a dusty road to a hole in the ground, which turned out to be the opening to a cenote, a flooded cave. After a precarious climb down a rusty ladder into the water (I refused to jump, I hate heights) we floated for a while as the instructor laid out the plan. We were going to descend slowly; we each had torches attached to our arms that would be on at all times; we would go through fresh water to salt (which messes with your vision, btw, something no one bothered to tell me before) and then once we were used to it just swim around until we were all ready to come back up, probably around a thirty minute dive. And then we sank.
It was like nothing I've ever done before and utterly amazing. As you descend, you go through a thermocline where the water temperature drops, causing the water to seem like wrinkled glass - something to do with the 'altered refractive index' (thank you Wikipedia) of light coming through the different water temperatures. The cave is about 46 metres deep - I went down to 26, if you're asking, I don't need to prove anything to anyone about deep dives - and the light from that small opening penetrates to the very bottom. Swim away from the light and you swim into complete darkness. At one point, we swam back towards the centre of the cave where we had descended and I turned my face up to the surface and the source of the light. You can see that in this photo, taken by my friend Jeremy when I wasn't paying attention otherwise I would have done some cheesy kind of thumbs-up.
We had to do a safety stop at five metres and just mooched, floating, staring up at the light. We weren't going up just yet, but I knew where the light was and how to get there. And then up we went again, hitting the surface where the light flooded the cave and our splashing made the resident bats chitter and I took a deep breath of the air up there. To be fair, we didn't then sink back down below, but can you see how this is a hammy analogy about light and dark and surfacing?
That's what I thought of this morning, as I stood crying during worship. I try to listen to worship music in the mornings; I try to read my bible as often as I can (thank goodness for the Bible In One Year app); and I try to make sure I talk to God every day, even if it feels sometimes like I'm just talking underwater and I can't hear an answer. Coming into church this morning was like coming up to the surface, when I hadn't even realised just how far from the light I've been. I will never give up my faith; as I've said before, it's the thread that binds my life together. But whilst I strongly believe that living in Havana was and is the right choice for me - it's been amazing in so many ways - being without church is hard as f*ck. Diving in the dark, getting the occasional glance up to the light at the surface. Trusting that the light is still there even when you can't see it. If my last blog on this subject was about how faith is not a straight line, I guess this one is about how a life of faith has times when you are far below the surface and only occasionally rise up into the light. It's the moments when you surface that refresh the soul. I'm grateful for that moment this morning, and looking forward to the next one, whenever it may come. Happy Easter, my lovelies. Christ is risen!
And to end, a photo of Bandit sleeping. Wouldn't it be great to be this chilled all the time?