Trumps and Bumps
The Pilgrim's progress on earth is punctuated by a succession of Trumps and Bumps.
Trumps and Bumps are feelings. Because our faith is incarnational, engaging spirit and flesh, Trumps and Bumps have a significant part to play in our spiritual life.
Trumps (=Triumphs) are cards, which are temporarily promoted to a rank higher than other cards. Imagine you're the Two of Clubs. You’re the humblest card in the pack, but just think how it would feel to be momentarily promoted above the lofty Ace of Spades. One of those moments-of-a-lifetime when you become important and extraordinary.
Most people have Trump-Experiences: getting married, giving birth, being confirmed or ordained, passing an exam, winning a race, gaining promotion. Any of these makes us feel ‘uplifted’ in a way for which words are inadequate. We're on top of the world and there seems no reason why it shouldn't last for ever. Being creatures of spirit as well as flesh we may even suppose that we have progressed spiritually as a result.
But then comes the aftermath: a Bump always follows a Trump. We fall abruptly down to earth again. A bereavement, an illness, a disappointment, an anxiety and suchlike adversities cause Bumps.
Unless we're prepared, a Bump is a painful experience indeed – so painful, in fact, that we may easily forget the Trump that preceded it. The bottom falls out of our world. We're ashamed of the purposelessness surrounding our devotions. We may even wonder if the Trump ever really happened in the first place.
Nowadays everyone pays great attention to their feelings – and to very little else besides. So let's consider how to deal with Trumps and Bumps: for feelings are what Trumps and Bumps are. No more and no less. Here, then, are some facts about feelings.
Feelings are grounded in our animal nature. If we didn’t have feelings like hunger, thirst, fear, and tiredness, which prompt us to do something (for example, eat, drink, or to go to bed), we should die. So we ought to respect our feelings and pay them such attention as they deserve – no more and no less.
However, feelings, by themselves, are an unreliable guide to what we should do in a given situation. Take panic, for example. Panic grows out of fear. But whilst fear is a natural and wholesome response to danger, and one we should never ignore, if we allow panic to dictate what we do in an emergency the result will be disastrous.
The same is true of moral choices. If our moral decisions are based solely on our feelings they will inevitably lead to wrong choices, tears and sorrow.
God incarnate had feelings like ours. He was hungry, thirsty, sad, joyful, angry and tender. He was, as Hebrews says, ‘tempted like us at all points, yet without sin.’ St Paul says ‘God did not spare his own Son but delivered him up for us all, [so] how shall he not with him also give us freely all things?’ All things includes both the Bumps (Gethsemane, Betrayal, Denial, Trials, Flogging, the Road to Calvary, the Crucifixion and Burial) as well as the Trumps (his Baptism, Transfiguration, Resurrection and Ascension). As Christ's Body on earth, we may expect both Bumps and Trumps.
With hindsight, we learn more about God from Bumps than from Trumps. Bumps are like the months of training making victory possible. Trumps are the reward. We learn more from our training than from our rewards.
The Christian Life is a Pilgrimage, demanding constant progress. Trumps, like beauty-spots, require us to pause to enjoy them. Standing still does no harm – but ‘resting on our laurels’ does!
Now let's go back to the example of the Two of Clubs. Its moment of Trump owes nothing to itself. It's a gift, a grace if you like. It soon reverts to being the humblest card in a pack. Down with a Bump!
Likewise God promotes us – for an instant, or perhaps just a little longer – to an importance we have never dreamt of, let alone deserved. All-seeing, he detects some ability which he decides to use – something of whose importance, or even existence, we may be completely unaware. It may even be some dis-ability. After all it was a man's blindness which Jesus chose to manifest the works of God.
So next time you meet a Trump or a Bump remember:
Every Trump has its Bump;
Treat all Trumps and Bumps as gifts from God;
The Trump will die away; of Bumps the Psalmist said, ‘Heaviness may endure for a night but joy cometh in the morning.’;
Progress is the result of hard slog, not of getting more Trumps. The prize may inspire us but it's the slog that enables us to win it;
Treat feelings as servants, not masters.
Above all, look to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith’, sharing our joys as well as our sorrows (for he experienced both) – in whose Life of Trumps we too shall share once this Life of Bumps is over.
Francis Gardom is Hon Priest at St Stephen’s, Lewisham.
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