A first version of "Beyond the Borderlands of Faith" was published at the Blogster.com website on the 5th of September 2006 as "Beyond the Borderlands". In September 2007, a slightly altered version was published at Faithwriters with the new title.
Healing and the Atonment
Physical healing is in my view part of the Atonement, which is to say God’s saving work for humanity through Christ’s life, death and resurrection, but it seems to me that no newly saved Christian should automatically expect it. It is surely God’s will who He heals and who He doesn’t, and if He does choose to heal, when, and to what degree. While delivered from the worst effects of years of alcohol abuse, I nonetheless briefly paid for my pre-Christian excesses in the early part of 1993 in the shape of panic attacks which could strike at any time after leaving the sanctuary of my residence. Thankfully, these only lasted a short period of time at their most debilitating, although I suffered on and off from them from several months, and they have recurred at rare occasions since. I controlled my panic syndrome with the help of the anxiolytic drug Diazepam whose most famous brand name is Valium, and which induced relaxation of body and mind, but to nowhere near the same degree as alcohol had done.
Another Close Call
In the initial days of my sobriety, I continued with my Post Graduate Certificate in Education partly at the University of Greenwich, and partly at Richmond College in the leafy west London suburb of Richmond, Surrey. I did so while rehearsing for the play “Simples of the Moon” by Rosalind Scanlon, based on the life of James Joyce’s troubled daughter Lucia. It premiered at the Lyric Studio, Hammersmith on the 4th of February 1993. At the same time, I regularly attended drugs and alcohol counselling sessions in Greenwich, my counsellor Elaine being a warm, down to earth woman with a strong London accent and the gentlest eyes of pale baby blue. She manifested total unflappability, which I suppose was an essential part of her calling. The only time I ever knew her to lose her cool was when I announced to her over the telephone that a matter of hours after deciding of my own volition to stop taking diazepam, I'd defected to the powerful sedative Chlormethiazole (Heminevrin). I'd used heminevrin on prescription for a week or so in the early 1990s as a means of controlling my drinking. What I was not aware of at the time was that when used in conjunction with diazepam, or indeed alcohol, Heminevrin can be fatal. However, a sufficient number of hours had lapsed between my ingesting a single capsule of the drug and calling Elaine for my imminent death not to be an issue. I can recall her literally laughing with relief at this realisation.
Prayers of Repentance
As well as Elaine I owe a great debt to the friends I briefly made through Alcoholics Anonymous, and particularly my genial sponsor Don. During my worst days, he'd regularly phoned me to monitor my progress, and yet I chose to attend only a handful of meetings before ceasing to do so altogether. The reason for this was that only days after coming to faith, and immediately following an AA meeting unless I'm mistaken, I received a phone call from a man called Spencer N. working for an organisation based in south London known as Contact for Christ. Spencer had got in touch in consequence of my having cursorily filled in a form that had come into my possession while I was still drinking. I may have done so on a British Rail train, perhaps the previous summer, while travelling one evening to Waterloo with the sun setting over south London, and ecstatic with alcoholic anticipation. As I recall, he phoned back within a few days, keen to arrange a meeting with me. I might even have tried to put him off, but eventually he turned up at my parents' house where I was staying at the time, a small, slim, dark, handsome man in late middle age with gently penetrating coffee coloured eyes and a magnificent salt and pepper moustache. We prayed together, and he effectively became my spiritual mentor, remaining so for almost two years.
Some time after our initial meeting I visited him and his wife Grace at his large and elegant house in that part of Surrey where suburb meets country, some distance beyond the Greater London border. Surrey is the wealthiest county in the UK, which is not to say that there is no depravation, because there certainly is, in Surrey-in-London of course, but also in parts of Surrey proper. This is especially true of urban areas such as Staines, Woking, Redhill, Addlestone and Camberley. The latter for example has a large London overspill estate on its outskirts known as the Old Dean. Spencer's large and elegant house, however, was in a safe and affluent part of the county, and we prayed together there over areas of my pre-Christian existence that he felt required deep repentance, after having made an extensive list of these. My continuing use of diazepam and my longstanding addiction to cigarettes were two of the areas addressed, and while it may have been coincidental, soon after gradually cutting my diazepam intake down to zero, I altogether lost a taste for tobacco. Admittedly, I continued smoking on and off for some four years after quitting valium, but I never really enjoyed a cigarette again. In fact, even as early as 1994, a single draw of a cigarette was enough to inhibit my breathing for the rest of the day, and rob me of a good night’s sleep.
By September 1994, I'd been happily established within Cornerstone Bible Church, a Charismatic Evangelical church affiliated to the Word Faith movement for over a year. My panic attacks had ceased, and I was celibate, non-smoking, teetotal, and wholly committed to being worthy of the name Christian, to the walk to which I had been called by God. If in late 1992 I was growing impatient with what remained of my conscience, and how the latter inhibited my demented hedonistic lifestyle, within less than two years I had been transformed not just beyond all recognition but all belief, that is, without taking into account the miraculous changes that God can bring to bear on the life of one such as I, because God alone can bring about such miracles.
Image: 1993. Photo by Jane Whitton.