Blanky is on the blink.
The fine woollen blanket that has played the role of my son’s comfort thing for the past four years is unravelling with vigour.
I see you parents nodding your heads as I describe the grimy rag that he totes from bedroom to lounge to kitchen to bathroom. It hasn’t been washed in… well… if I’m honest, I can’t remember when it was last prised from little blondie’s hands to take a whirl in the front-loader.
He likes it spread a certain way across his torso when his head hits the pillow each evening. And then his chipolata fingers fiddle with the loose yarn at the edges, weaving in and out of the knit. He finds a strange comfort in the texture, the ritual and rhythm of holding Blanky in his fingers, close to his face, as his breathing slows and his eyelids droop.
I have retrieved marooned pieces of poor, falling-apart Blanky and wondered how my darling is going to cope when the tatters of his comfort rug are diminished to a few lonely threads.
I see the same level of devotion in adults who attach themselves to certain routines and rituals to bring comfort in the midst of life’s turmoil. I do it myself. On cold, grey days I pull out the slow-cooker and brew a soup or a hearty beef stew to at least provide some tummy comfort.
Chocolate has a similar effect when I’m miserable. (Come to think of it, many of my comforts are food…)
But the tatters of my son’s Blanky reminded me that so often we run to the tangible comforts around us, which provide fleeting solace at best, rather than running to The Comforter himself.
Religion walks this tightrope of providing ways for people to easily connect with God. Sadly, sometimes people only take comfort from the ‘ways’ rather than The Way.
Oh, like, everything associated with faith, church and Christianity. Worship songs, reciting scripture, getting on your knees to pray, raising your hands to God, spending time daily reading the Bible and setting Sunday apart as a holy day.
Liturgies and sacraments and communion.
Prayer beads and crucifixes and Bible verse fridge magnets.
All are wonderful if they help us draw near to God but not if they replace Him as our comforter and friend.
You might be familiar with these lines from Psalm 23, verse 4:
“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
The rod and staff are the tools of a shepherd and, in this analogy, the shepherd is God, a frequent illustration in the Bible. Just as we find comfort in tangibles, the flock finds comfort in the guidance and authority symbolised in the rod and staff. Without the Shepherd’s hand – his gentle leading and directing, the rod and staff are impotent; sticks lying on the ground.
Wouldn’t it be foolish to let the Shepherd walk by while we cosy up with the tools of his trade, trying to find comfort there?
It’s pretty woolly outside today. The slow cooker’s cranked, the fire’s roaring and precisely 15 minutes before bedtime, the electric blanket will be switched on. As we battle to stay warm in Tassie’s notorious wintry weather, I’m also conscious of drawing near to the great Comforter in all of life’s seasons.
Because the comfort of the cross is not in the thing we can hang from our neck or rub repetitively between our thumb and index finger. Jesus is the comfort – his sacrifice and the resulting hope and promise of salvation.
Pious outbursts, thumping hefty leather Bibles and saying your “Hail Marys” – these things devoid of God will ultimately bring comfort no more effective than an umbrella in a cyclone.
First published in The Examiner Newspaper for Keeping the Faith column on Monday June 22, 2015.