When I was growing up, my mother had a book in her bookcase entitled The Scent of Water by Elizabeth Goudge. The title always intruiged me and when I was listening to a programme recently and learned that there is a restaurant in Los Angeles, Ray's & Stark Bar, that has created a 25-page water menu consisting of 20 different kinds of bottled water ranging in price from $8 to $16, I was drawn to think about that book again. Therefore when I was approached by Reading Between the Lines to take part in the tour for the new book, Scent of Water: Words of Comfort in Times of Grief by Penelope Swithinbank and published by Sarah Grace Publishing, I was thrilled. below, the author has supplied a gripping extract from the book.
When Penelope Swithinbank's mother died tragically and suddenly as she watched the out-of-control car sweep her away, she plunged into deep depression. She found nothing that reached her dark soul of the night, nothing that helped her know that God was still with her. She was numbed by grief, frozen into solitude and nothing and no one seemed to be able to penetrate her protective walls. She found it very difficult to pray or to read the Bible. She couldn't concentrate, nothing seemed to help, and she wished there was a specific daily devotional to help her to connect with the Lord in and through the grief. For a full two years she was there. When hugs rubbed her raw and consoling, well-meant clichés did not ring true. When God seemed far away. She was far away. She couldn't read. Anything, let alone the Bible. When the depression and the blackness were all-consuming and life was barely worth living. Eventually, out of that experience, she wrote a daily devotional to help others going through the first six months of bereavement. Those who found it on her website and either used it themselves, or passed it on to others who were grieving the loss of a loved one, kept asking her to publish it so that it could be easily given to those who mourn. Maybe as a gift in their time of need. So here is A Scent of Water. Penelope hopes it will help others in times of bereavement and grief. Just a verse and a few thoughts for the times when mourning and grief mean that anything longer, anything deeper, is impossible.
WHERE IS GOD WHEN IT HURTS?
the God who sees
Sometimes bereavement, loss, grief, stems from the death of a loved one; sometimes it is a result of other losses – work, home, culture, for example. Someone who knew that kind of grief was a woman who lost her home, her work, her security; thrown out by an unkind, unrelenting boss, forced to leave and feeling like a failure, feeling inadequate and rejected, wondering if she could have acted differently – and wondering whether God had any idea of what had happened and where she was. Did God care? Did God see?
You are the God who sees me . . . Genesis 16:13 (NIV)
Hagar, used and misused by those who employed and owned her, at the end of her tether because she had run away to escape the misery at home, is pregnant, destitute and alone. But God saw; God saw her situation and God sent an angel to help her. Then Hagar called God El Roi – the God who sees me.
El Roi, help me to know that you see – you see me in my grief and desolation.
Have I also (or have I not also) looked after him that seeth me?
The literal translation implies that Hagar was looking for the Lord – she had looked after him in the sense of looking for. In her misery, in her grief, she wondered whether God was near, whether God knew. Thinking of him, looking for him, revealed him to her. She discovered that he sees her.
El Roi, I look for you – please see me in my despair.
The angel of the Lord found Hagar . . .
Where is God when it hurts? When it seems he doesn’t know, doesn’t care? Are his eyes shut, is he asleep? Because that’s how it feels.
Actually, God was looking for Hagar and sent an angel to her. He knew; he cared; he saw.
El Roi, I need an angel from you today, maybe a friend who understands and cares, or an email, or a note, or a phone call. Or, maybe just a sense of your nearness to me and my dearness to you.
Genesis 16:7 (NIV)
Where is God When it Hurts?: the God who sees
You are to name him Ishmael . . . Genesis 16:11 (NLT)
Ishmael, the child Hagar was carrying deep within her. Ishmael, whose names means God hears. Hagar had experienced God knowing her, God seeing her, God HEARING her cry for help.
El Roi, hear my crying, my sorrow, my need for you as I call out to you. Thank you that you promise to hear when I cry to you.
The Lord has heard your cry of distress.
Genesis 16:11 (NLT)
Forever after, both Hagar and Ishmael would be reminded that God hears, because of the name of the boy, and then the man he became. God hears. ‘The Lord has heard.’
El Roi, you see me and you hear me. Thank you. May I be constantly reminded of that today.
Truly here I have seen him who looks after me.
Genesis 16:13 (ESV)
The result of God’s comforting words was that Hagar knew without a shadow of doubt that the Lord was looking at her – looking out for her – looking after her.
El Roi, may I know the truth of your looking today – and tomorrow, and always.
Penelope is an avid walker and spends a lot of her time stomping in the hills and valleys near her home outside Bath. She is a chaplain at Bath Abbey and a spiritual therapist and counsellor for clergy (and some normal people too).
Since becoming a vicar nearly 20 years ago, she has worked in churches in the UK and the USA, and has led pilgrimages in the UK and in Europe. She and her husband Kim have been married for more than 40 years and have three children and six grandchildren. Penelope rarely sits down, loathes gardening and relaxes by reading, going to the theatre or playing the piano. She is the author of two books, Women by Design and Walking Back to Happiness and is currently working on her third, due out in 2020: Scent of Water, a devotional for times of spiritual bewilderment and grief.
Linkedin: Penelope Swithinbank