Wednesday, 17 June 2009

The squeeze

the squeeze on side pike 2lingmoor fell and side pike mapHaving read about 'the squeeze' in a fellwalking guide to the Lake District, I just had to see it for myself. You have to pass this way to get from Side Pike onto Lingmoor Fell if you want to avoid having to backtrack almost to the road. The precipitous sides of the crag offer no other direct alternative to the path you see in the photo, which is viewed looking back to 'the squeeze' itself. This narrow passage on a small rock shelf is at best only about a foot wide. If you didn't know that it was just around the corner it would come as a very unwelcome surprise. I wonder how many unsuspecting folk have come this way over the years only to find that 'the squeeze' is impassable? Just imagine how frustrating it would be to have to turn back and retrace your steps all the way back to the road, when your goal is in sight. 

Is 'the squeeze' an unsettling visual corollary to the way that the side pike squeezeChristian faith is commonly perceived? You can look at it and think that this is all about what you must not be in order to get through. In other words it is a judgemental negative cipher for how one achieves godliness, a brutal and blunt filter which is about exclusion and denial, rather than inclusion and affirmation.  You have to put stuff down, take stuff off, become a 'lesser' person, to get through.

And if we turn to the Bible this does indeed seem to be the sense we get. Matthew 7:13-14 uses 'squeeze' imagery to get the point across and seems to leave little room for interpretative doubt.

Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it

But looking again we see that the narrow gate leads to life and is not a checkpoint at which we will be included or excluded from the Christian faith. If the spiritual starting point is the question of where on the spectrum of life in its fullness or emptiness we find ourselves, then the image of 'the squeeze' begins to have real pastoral potency. The point of the journey is that it is a pilgrimage in godliness, in becoming Christ-like. You do not need to be able to squeeze through the narrow one-size-only-if-you-are-to-fit filter in order to journey with Jesus. He does not wait on the other side of the squeeze as though it were a religious turnstile. That is not what the Bible is saying.

'The squeeze' reminds me that the life that I long to lead and the wholeness and fulfilment for which I yearn are not gained easily or without a struggle. There are attitudes, inner scripts, bits of baggage from the past, stubborn ingrained selfishnessess and behavioural blind-spots that I would do well to set down and leave behind. Such soul-work is demanding, often painful, seldom less than draining. The Bible is really honest about this: the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life. And it is on this road that Jesus companions us. 'The squeeze' on Side Pike is a check and a question mark for this particular part of my journey as a disciple. And of course it's also a recurrent challenge and reminder, not a one-off point of passage.

I will have to leave behind nothing essential to my wellbeing . Far from it. The wonder and the joy is that getting through 'the squeeze' is about being more fully human, not less. It is not about squeezing out our joie de vivre and diminishing our capacity to relish life and make the most of it, the very opposite is true; it is about increasing these essential qualities as the shape of our living becomes more godly.



    Look where the Locomotive is David!

  2. Oh no - it looks like rail enthusiasts are destined for hell! Some mistake, surely?