Most people don’t particularly like admitting weakness, but Church Leaders are possibly worse at it than anyone.
This fact is depressing, since our priestly role model felt frustrated, tired, wept and finally was strung up to die on a cross, so not much outward show of strength there, at least not in the generally accepted model of strength, i.e. survival of the fittest.
Our ‘strong and stable’ PM this week coughed her way through a Tory Party Conference Speech during which a prankster handed her a resignation slip and a letter fell off the background slogan, so that it read ‘Building a country that works or everyone’ instead of ‘for everyone’.
Maybe ‘Building a country that works, or everyone will just give up’ would have been fitting…
The way the media fell upon her ‘disastrous’ speech shows that we are uncomfortable with public (or any) displays of weakness and that we still look to our Messiahs and leaders to be outwardly strong and whip us up into feelings of strength we otherwise might not have.
In a week of feeling unwell, I’ve experienced shame at not meeting deadlines, missing meetings and letting people down. It runs deep to be a ‘strong priest’, much as I hate to admit it.
A priest who decided to tell her own story of weakness, showed immense bravery this week: the Revd. Sonya Doragh, vicar of Christ Church Ecclestone, told the Mail Online how she’d decided to tell her congregation that she’d been twice, at age 17, a victim of rape, and had been unable since to naturally conceive, saying ‘in church we don’t discuss our dark valleys enough and that’s wrong’.
My enforced week indoors has been accompanied by an internal soundtrack of Suzanne Vega songs, having recently seen the New York singer in concert. She admitted in a candid Guardian interview in 2016 that ‘I’m jealous of other people’s success, their acclaim, their recognition’, and that ‘it’s taken me a while to say ‘you are what you are, and that’s fine”.
In Night Vision she sings ‘By day give thanks/by night beware/half the world in sweetness/the other in fear’ and it’s aways in the night one gets to thinking thoughts that by day disappear as ridiculous or unrealistic (e.g. me: ‘I have tummy ache again: I must be terminally ill, etc.)
In the song Vega counsels her partner that ‘when the darkness takes you/with her hand across your face/don’t give in too quickly/find the thing she’s erased/find the line/find the shape/through the grain/find the outline and things will tell you their name’.
‘Night vision’, the ability to be honest about difficulties, fears and weakness, might mean the difference between pretending everything’s fine, and admitting we need help.
At least I had good book: Anne Tyler’s 20th novel, A Spool of Blue Thread traces the lives of four generations of a Baltimore family living in a sprawling house and falling in and out of love with each other, as families do.
In the final scene, the prodigal son figure, Denny, hitherto repressed and denying his life is a mess, finally decides to commit to what has been an on and off romantic relationship. He hurriedly leaves the parental home, where he has been living a kind of half life, and to everyone’s surprise takes a train back to his rental as a hurricane is brewing.
As the rain pours down the window, a teenage boy on the opposite seat is crying – ‘he wasn’t just teary, he was shaking with sobs, his mouth stretched wide in agony, his hands convulsively clutching his kneecaps’.
Denny doesn’t know what to do – remembering from childhood his adopted sibling’s night time sobs (that he would routinely ignore) and that he himself used to cry at boarding school (hoping no one would notice) he does nothing.
The boy seems to represent all his own stored up sadnesses. But in this moment perhaps he realises that if he had admitted he needed help, or had shown it to others, his life might have turned out better sooner.
Admitting weakness shows us our humanity, helps others to embrace theirs and ultimately reminds us that we are mortal. No wonder we avoid it like the plague.