Colouring in – I had resisted for several years. My gift is writing, not colouring in. It’s childish. Pointless. But I decided it wasn’t any less pointless than social media or surfing the internet. So I gave in, purchased twenty-four triangular colouring pencils and a tiny book to play with.
A few weeks later I am finding pleasure in occasional play. Side by side, colours nurture and challenge each other. But I’m also learning to dare to colour over what I had already done, to blend tones and contrasts, depth and shading… I’m now feeling less constrained by the lines. They serve to give structure and shape, to create challenges and forms on the page, but they are there to encourage juxtaposing of contrasts and complements rather than to define and limit each individual block.
The lines, like the law of God, help us to give shape and purpose to our lives, to enter into the process of dealing with conflict and contrast, with complementarity and commonality, even to discover our part, within God’s image, as co-creators of God’s communion within the Trinity and between God and humans, amongst humans and with the whole of creation.
I’ve been thinking about the interaction between the absolute values we hold as Christians and the way these play out in different lives and messy situations. In particular, I’ve been reflecting on the high view of the human being, from conception, and how at times, holding rigidly to that view may obscure or efface the value that Jesus Christ gives us for women and for people who are, by societal norm, dispossessed or disempowered. It is counter-intuitive, but frequently true, that where women are given freedom to choose whether or not to proceed with an unplanned pregnancy, the rate of abortion tends to be lower than in places where the absolute value of the child excludes any possibility of the woman exercising her judgment in the situation which she faces (often including caring responsibilities for other children, and for older relatives).
It appears that where women in Northern Ireland are choosing to travel across to GB for pregnancy termination, they are more likely to be over 35. Perhaps women at this age can afford to pay for the travel, and perhaps they also have a lot more to lose by risking pregnancy, childbirth and (additional) parenthood responsibilities at this stage of their lives. And perhaps, if this could be discussed openly and without pre-judgment, women would find ways and support mechanisms to make faith-filled, loving choices in community rather than alone. Perhaps, we in the churches might ask ourselves, “Why can we hear the absolute monochrome of the right of the as yet unborn, unviable, unknown person, and yet not make room to really listen to the nuanced and shaded experiences of mainly mature women?”
Many reading this will assume that I am in favour of abortion. They will assume that I have abandoned the fundamental belief that every human being is made in God’s image, and the Bible’s radical siding particularly with those who are unable to defend themselves. On the contrary, I want to protect unborn babies. I continue to cherish the babies when they grow into men and women, facing the very complex situations that they face. But I want every one to know the love and compassion of the Living God. I do not want half the population to feel that the Church of God has ganged up against them making it impossible to speak of the choices they have made, or feel they have to make.
Prohibition and criminal sanction against her mother is not the best way to protect the unborn child. Grace births physical and spiritual life, where penalty and guilt breeds rebellion. Sometimes decisions are impossible because the “right” answer is too hard. Blended shades are more beautiful than monochromes, and more true to the life of the God who created all colours. It is time for the churches to discover – and reinvent – ways to talk about the unspeakable. Maybe using the simple tools of child’s play.
Cheryl Meban is Presbyterian Chaplain University of Ulster and is passionate about the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.