There are visitors and visitors. Some you look forward to seeing but their visit disappoints; others you steel yourself to welcome and they surprise you by their affability.
There’s a bunch of visitors who always come in a group, chatter incessantly but are highly entertaining and very amusing. They’re long-tailed tits. Then there are the greedy gang of greenfinches who come together – usually five or six – and take their positions at the feeding station, dropping food onto the floor in their haste to guzzle as much as possible in the shortest time. Timid visitors, and this year reluctant to come at all, are blue tits. Are they afraid of their bigger cousins, or is the winter just too cold to venture out?
Yesterday a great crowd of varied visitors all upped and left without so much as a ‘thank you for having me.’ They’d spotted an incoming visitor whose company they abhorred. Sad though I was to see the little ‘uns go, I was delighted to see the new arrival who sat motionless on the apple tree – long enough for me to get my camera and take a picture of her. She was a sparrowhawk. What a beautiful bird! But a dangerous one. Her beady eye and fiercesome beak are enough to make anyone fly a mile.
Yes, there are visitors and visitors. The sparrowhawk went on her way, her visit short but special. The good thing is the others have all come back. They know, metaphorically, which side their bread is buttered.
What is a black box? A flight recorder – though it’s really orange. Maybe you have a black box for the car that records your driving. A useful device – if you like that sort of thing. Households round here have a black box for recycling paper, tin and glass. The box is sturdy-ish with a somewhat less sturdy lid. One such lid was spotted in the snow this week, a small child using it as a makeshift sledge to whiz down a short steep hill. She squealed with delight at the thrill of it all. Ah, the ingenuity of people who find new uses for ordinary objects!
Snowmen, it seems, are outmoded, though it may just have been the ‘wrong kind of snow.’ One enterprising family, however, managed to sculpt an astonishingly life-like female figure out of the snow in their front garden. Mum was the sculptor. Dad was the shoveller – only suitable for hard labour, he told me. Elsewhere, igloo builders, with remarkable engineering skills, pressed snow into blocks to create cosy snow holes.
There is now a thaw. The white world is being stained black as the tarmac of roads reappears. Soon the white will have disappeared altogether. The world we inhabit is a place of metaphorical darkness and light. Evil and goodness exist side by side. But life isn’t just black and white; it is a kaleidoscope of colour. Purple crocuses and yellow daffodils, emerging unscathed after being buried by snow, demonstrate the continuous cycle of seasons and remind us that, ultimately, goodness, light and purity will prevail.
Wales lost again – in the Six Nations on Saturday. It was an edge-of-the-seat match and could have gone either way. Ireland prevailed. As did Scotland who beat England at Murrayfield in front of thousands of excited supporters.
Who remembers these grand sporting occasions twenty, forty, a hundred years on? A world-renowned cricketer, at his best in the 1980s, recalled in minute detail, some of his Ashes successes. He certainly remembered! Top tennis players can describe matches they played years ago. Some of the great Welshmen who played rugby way back – Gareth Edwards, JPR Williams… remember with delight their successful seasons.
What about other great stadium events? American evangelist, Billy Graham, who recently died aged 99, filled stadiums around the world. What motivated people to attend? Curiosity, hunger for meaning in life, the buzz of huge crowds, a personal invitation? Who will remember Billy Graham and those meetings in future decades? In the UK, people who were at Harringay in the 1950s, Earls Court in the 1960s, Wembley in the 1980s, will remember. They weren’t present to watch sport but to hear about Jesus – something of far greater significance than a ball game.
Billy Graham wanted to share some good news – THE good news – that could impact life not just for the length of the meeting or even for a few years, but for eternity. However remarkable the sports individuals and teams, however renowned the evangelists and preachers, however forthright the politicians and media, the good news from God outlives them all.
Is it necessary, desirable or edifying to keep being reminded – via newspapers, TV, digital media – of the scandalous events, behaviour and opinion that are prevalent in current culture?
Paul, writing to Christians in the first century, said, “Fill your minds with those things that are good and that deserve praise: things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely and honourable.” He wasn’t pretending the nasty stuff didn’t exist. This former persecutor of Christians exposed the amoral and immoral culture of his time – which wasn’t so different from our own culture today – but then pointed to an alternative lifestyle based on Jesus who was the epitome of truth, nobility, purity, loveliness and honour. Paul was himself persecuted on many occasions and imprisoned for standing up for what he believed.
A ride on a country bus yesterday reminded me that, while acknowledging the nastier parts of human nature and behaviour, we can balance that with glimpses of God through nature’s wonders: Snowdrops nestled beneath hedges that had had their winter haircut. Pale grass hosted twisted trees that stretched ungloved fingers skywards. Sheep, cows and horses grazed on gently rounded hills, squat-towered churches dotted the landscape and a buzzard rode the air currents in a blue sky.
Side by side we see beauty and brokenness, wealth and poverty, morality and amorality, wisdom and folly, selflessness and ego… What we fill our minds with will impact our attitude, affect our personal behaviour, and maybe prompt us to share goodness, truth and loveliness.
PS ‘Out of a listless sky’ has been added to the Poems page.
Should I be flattered? I received a letter yesterday to say I’d been ‘randomly selected’ to complete a survey. I suppose it might have been more flattering had I been selected because I was deemed to be super-important or highly efficient or extremely wise. The ‘randomly’ suggests that I’m any old Tom, Dick or Harry – or the female equivalent.
Any thought of flattery swiftly plummeted as I read on. The survey is for ‘older adults.’ Am I as old as I feel – which varies from day to day – or does the fact that I’m nearing my three score years and ten make me an ‘older adult’? Well, yes; otherwise I wouldn’t have been randomly selected. But with my parents both alive – and more than twenty years older than me – doesn’t that make me middle-aged rather than old? Wishful thinking!
The questions in the survey made me think that I’m doing pretty well for an ‘older person.’ But as I’ll receive the same survey each year for the next five, things might change. The good news is that the research findings from this survey may help to provide better care, and enhance the well-being, of older people (when they reach that undefined stage.)
Each individual person is of value and loved by God whatever their age, ability, health or status. His example of love is one to follow, so that we learn to regard people as he does – with honour and respect.
Last Wednesday’s blue moon was magnificent. At 11.30 pm I was walking downhill along a normally busy – but at that time, quiet – country road, with just the brilliant moon and stars for company. The moon was behind me and, though walking fast because it was a cold night, I felt obliged to stop and turn to look up at the moon. It made me smile with delight.
This morning I was out early and watched the sun rise behind a line of bare beech trees. The awesome orb cast shafts of golden light through the dark branches. I turned 180 degrees and there was the moon, not in its pristine circle of last week but still big and beautiful. As the sun came up, the moon began to fade.
“Angels, help us to adore him, ye behold him face to face. Sun and moon bow down before him, dwellers all in time and space.” I hummed that song about God as I twizzled my head from side to side, looking first at the sun, then at the moon. How I love the sky! It was particularly good to see it this morning in all its glory after a grim day of rain and gloom yesterday.
Life, like the sky, can be oppressive and grey sometimes, expansive and exciting other times. Which is preferable? Well, that’s a no-brainer! But the sun, moon and stars are there, even when hidden by cloud. Just as God is there, even when he appears to be hiding.
New ‘Sun and Moon’ pictures are in the Photo Gallery.
Here we are again! He’s done it – a 20th Grand Slam title for Roger Federer. And a 6th Australian Open, to equal Roy Emerson’s record. Emmo was another of my sporting heroes. He won the Wimbledon Championships in 1964 and 1965 and then, during the 1966 quarter final, crashed into the umpire’s chair and injured himself – and that was the end of a possible trio of consecutive titles in SW19.
How can watching a fuzzy yellow (or white in the olden days) tennis ball be so engrossing? Well, it wouldn’t be if it were me hitting it. But when the ball is tossed into the air and hit by an expert it becomes a thing of beauty to behold. It’s the same with other ball sports. Watch JPR Williams or Gareth Edwards with a rugby ball, George Best or Bobby Charlton with a football, Ronnie O’Sullivan with a snooker ball, Jeff Thomson or James Anderson with a cricket ball.
When a ball is in the hands of someone who is skilled and has a passion for what they’re doing, expect something special to happen. We marvel at Roger Federer. He works hard and enjoys what he does. But in the end it’s only a game and his prowess, sad to say, really won’t last forever. Far more awesome are the ‘hands’ that shaped the universe. If you believe in God, you’ll marvel at his skill, passion, ingenuity and love – and not a fuzzy ball in sight.