'I began to realise a Christian faith was plausible after all'

Mark’s story | Poetry and the divine love of God

Trigger warning: This article discusses suicide.

“When I was ten years old, our teacher asked us to write a poem. The words, the images, flowed from me. I was in the zone. From then on, I wanted to be a poet. But our family life was traumatic. I was up and down, prone to episodes of depression, anxiety.

In May 2008, it all got on top of me.

After finishing school I studied acting and was semi-employed – washing dishes, making pizzas. Later, I moved to Fremantle and studied English literature. I was always at my desk, reading, writing poetry, in and out of low-level jobs, often unemployed, living in converted sheds. For ten years I was a hospital worker. I kept telling myself that I was doing it so I could write poetry.

In May 2008, back in NSW, it all got on top of me – the financial stress, a relationship breakdown, isolation from my daughter. I was at rock bottom, for the umpteenth time. I had some success with poetry, but my life still felt like a train wreck. At 4am one morning, I rode my bicycle to the bridge. I knew that it might not be high enough in itself, but I am a poor swimmer. I wore my overcoat, jumper, trackies, Blundstone boots. I stood on the bridge for a while and watched the occasional car go by. There was a bloke cycling up the path. He looked at me. I let him pass, and then I went over.

It felt like such a long way down. I so deeply submerged. But there was a strange feeling, almost elastic, pulling me up out of the water. I never thought I would be so buoyant!

I was floundering in the middle of the river. I couldn’t make myself sink and I couldn’t swim to the shore. After a while, I became aware of voices. There was a police car and an ambulance on the shore. I thought, ‘Oh f***, I’m being rescued’. Later I found out that the bloke on the bicycle was a copper on his way to work. He jumped in, grabbed me by the scruff of my overcoat and swam me to shore.

They were an example of living Christian faith, and their profound care for me made faith seem a reality.

I was taken to hospital – hypothermia and a fractured vertebrae. I was sectioned, admitted to a locked psychiatric ward and diagnosed with type 2 bipolar disorder. I was there for six weeks or so, turning 50 in the meantime. I was heavily medicated for the next two years.

I had already been thinking about God. I had been reading some spiritualist books, some Buddhism, even some Bible. I was dabbling. But I also had two friends, a couple, who were Christians. I’d known Jill since high school. When I was in the psych ward they would come down to visit me, an entire day’s trip for them. Jill gave me a hand-made quilt. She said hospital beds are terrible, I needed something cuddly. It was extraordinary. They were an example of living Christian faith, and their profound care for me made faith seem a reality.

After I was out of hospital, they took me to hear John Dickson [Australian author, clergyman and historian]. It was a door-opener. Later, Jill gave me some of his books, which I read, along with CS Lewis’s Surprised by Joy. The obstacles began to clear.

I needed to satisfy my intellect as well as my heart. I began to realise that a Christian faith was plausible after all. I also read the popular atheists and was not dissuaded. I knew I couldn’t ignore the transcendent anymore and that I couldn’t splash around in the shallows. I kept reading, praying, and over time had a breakthrough – the inability to know is a beginning rather than an end. That’s where I started.

It’s been up and down since then, but I trust in God’s divine love. It always comes down to that. Faith does not ‘solve’ my problems, it enables me to deal with them, to live through them. There is still the poetry. Next year my sixth book will be published. All my work I offer to Him. I could go on and on about the complexities of faith (and I do!) but at the simplest level, I am sure of God’s love.

When the scribes challenged Christ over what was the greatest commandment, he replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. The second is like it: love your neighbour as yourself.’ (Matthew 22:37-39)

To live perfectly by that imperative is, of course, beyond me, beyond us all. But I try. I fail, and I try again. Every day I trust in the divine love of God. I say the Lord’s Prayer: ‘Give us this day …’”

Mark’s story is part of Eternity’s Faith Stories series, compiled by Naomi Reed. Click here for more Faith Stories.

If any material in this story has disturbed you or relates to someone you know, please consider:

If you are in an emergency, or at immediate risk of harm to yourself or others, Please contact Emergency Services on 000.

Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636 is a trusted source of information and support on suicide prevention. It provides information to people at risk of suicide or who have attempted to take their life with support options, and gives practical advice for people worried about someone they think might be suicidal on how to help.

Lifeline: 131 114 provides 24/7 crisis support and suicide prevention services.

Suicide callback service: 1300 659 467 provides free counselling for suicide prevention and mental health via telephone, online and video for anyone affected by suicidal thoughts, 24/7.

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