ARTICLE FOR WOMAN ALIVE (the Shadow Doctor)
MAKING ENDS MEET
Christianity is full of shapes. Some are strange, alien figures that seem to make little sense. Others are mere fragments of a single line, hopefully waiting to be continued when the time is precisely right. Triangles abound. Rightly so. There are three sides to everything.
Right now I want to talk about circles.
There are many circles in the Bible. Naomi’s story in the book of Ruth begins with a baby son on her knee and circles slowly through loss and devastation to a place where, once again, she holds a little one in her arms and thanks God for the sweet rain of that blessing on her embittered soul. Peter and Jesus make that same curving journey from the moment when loyalty is sworn, through betrayal and despair, to a quiet morning on the beach of the Sea of Galilee, where three promises forge a completed shape that will endure for ever.
We see it happening to people in this age. Some months ago I watched someone go beneath the waters of the muddy River Jordan in an act of obedience that should have happened years previously.
It has happened to me. I became a Christian when I was sixteen. That circle has yet to be completed - probably never will be on this side of the grave. My new book is a heartfelt attempt to accelerate this process, or at least to understand the point I am at. Those who write regularly will not be surprised to hear that I was a third of the way through the book before the dawn rose on this perception.
The Shadow Doctor tells the story of a rather mysterious man in his sixties, who lives in a cottage in the wilds of Sussex. ‘Doc’, as he calls himself, occupies his time by offering assistance to people who are oppressed by shadows, present or past. These include blackmail, suicidal intentions, loss of faith and, extraordinarily, a fear of explosion. The Shadow Doctor’s methods are, to say the least, unusual, and occasionally quite bizarre.
An elderly, widowed lady describes the moment when she revealed to him that her loneliness had become so profound that suicide was preferable to ongoing misery:
He tucked his elbows in against his ribs, and raised and lowered his hands in parallel with each other, as though he was balancing an argument.
‘Of the two options you mentioned, that¹s definitely the one I would go for. Living the rest of your life in misery, or taking one simple step to make it all go away - well, there¹s no contest, is there? That¹s what I think.’
We sat without speaking for a few moments after that. I felt as if something had ended badly. Coldly. Just one comfortable platitude, surely? Doc broke the silence.
‘Alice, there is one other alternative that you may not have considered.’
Back on track. I breathed in through my nose with relief, preparing myself to be kind but dismissive.
‘And what is that?’
Conscious that he has become solitary and unaccountable, The Shadow Doctor invites a young man called Jack to join him in his work, but provides scant clues as to what that might actually mean or involve. Jack has developed a habit of cobbling together solutions to other people’s problems, mainly as a means of filling the inner spiritual vacuum that is bringing him close to despair. Why on earth would a man as deep and multi-layered as Doc be interested in an empty vessel of a human being, one that is on the edge of cracking altogether?
‘Do you want to move in full time and work with me, Jack? I’m afraid it would be very unpredictable and odd, but you and I have been living on very lonely little islands. Perhaps we shall be able to move towards each other until we can meet at a place where both of us are more or less authentic and safe. Not safe in any way that anyone else is likely to understand, and certainly not authentic in the sense that we’ll know exactly what to say or do. God forbid. He certainly will…’
Jack agrees to move in on a trial basis, but there are many mysteries to be solved, and many bizarre adventures to be had before a final commitment can be made. Bono famously sang ‘I still haven’t found what I’m looking for…’ That is not an expression of faithlessness, but a reflection of the fact that, at the end of every light there is a tunnel, and at the end of that tunnel, an even greater light.
That is what this book is about, and I believe it is a dominant and creative issue for all of us who truly want to follow Jesus.