LOOK UP, LOOK DOWN

How observant are you?

Last week the harvest moon rose in early evening to dominate the sky in its luminosity and largeness. Before its appearance the October dusk darkened daylight’s objects, to reveal slowly but steadily the things of night. At first the stars were tiny pinpricks of light then, as darkness progressed, they were revealed as an apparently random scattering of bright lights flung by an invisible hand into the space above earth. I stood outside, head tilted back and gazed in awe. Then the moon rose and the stars became less bright against the backdrop of the massive moon.

When my head eventually returned to its normal position I continued my moonlight walk, but then had to bend my head downwards to avoid tripping over tree roots and… a random hedgehog. Yes, a hedgehog! I hadn’t seen one for years – not alive, anyway. I stood and watched it snuffle its way across a patch of grass in search of supper.

The immensity of the universe – moon, stars… And the minutiae of tiny creatures – hedgehogs, worms, ants… Life is out there to see and wonder at, day and night – if we look. W H Davies wrote, “What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare.” Let’s make time to look and be thankful.

PS ‘Berry Nice’ photos are on the Photo Gallery of the website.

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PIGS, COWS AND LIONS

It’s pannage time in the New Forest. Hundreds of pigs are let loose to hoover up acorns, doing a favour to ponies and cattle whose stomachs can’t cope with such delicacies. It’s fun to see pigs out and about in their couple of months of freedom.

The dong of cow bells rang out over green pastures below snow-capped mountains – a thrilling introduction to the beauty of Switzerland on my first visit to Europe many decades ago. The cows have freedom – but within certain boundaries. Thanks to the bells worn round their necks, farmers can locate their animals.

Lions in captivity are kept – one would like to think – out of human reach and their muscly power and handsome looks may be admired from a safe distance.

In each of these happy scenarios, however, there is a caveat. Beware! Yesterday’s newspaper revealed that a pig bit a man in the Forest, a handful of people complained about the noise of cowbells, and a rugby player who decided to try and stroke a lion, got more than he bargained for.

Life is lived within certain bounds for pigs, cows, lions – and people. Human beings like to be free but tend to function most effectively within certain boundaries. Who sets those boundaries? “All the animals in the forest are mine and the cattle on thousands of hills,” said God. He wants people to enjoy, respect and care for his world. Just try to avoid being bitten.

 

 

HALF AND HALF

Half and half. My computer screen is split down the middle: info on the left, this post on the right. Neat. Tidy. Satisfactory. Like the Autumn Equinox. The science of the sun and its position over the equator at the equinoxes is complex; Google it if you wish… but as far as ordinary punters are concerned it means we have approximately 12 hours of day and 12 hours of night. Half and half.

Last Wednesday there was a new moon. It was a clear night and the stars were spectacular – visible across all parts of the sky, bright and beautiful and totally awe-inspiring. I stood in the garden, head tilted back, and pondered the wonder of the created universe, recalling the Bible verse that always makes me chuckle thanks to its spectacular understatement: “He also made the stars.”

The next day the sun came up with a mixture of blue sky and puffy white fine-weather clouds. The stars had gone. But of course they hadn’t. They were still there; just invisible. Looking up at the sky it was hard to imagine their existence. My focus was on what I could see, rather on what I couldn’t see.  Day and night – two halves of the whole.

The presence of God, the Creator of the rolling spheres, isn’t a half-hearted phenomenon. The heavens, the Bible says, declare his glory – day and night. He is ever-present – trust me. Or rather, trust him.

QUESTION TIME

Who? Why? What? When? Where? How? Six questions posed by journalists, children, and every other ponderer of life.

Who is in charge of life? Why is the universe so huge and an ant so small? What is the purpose of a stinging nettle? When will there be an end to suffering and evil? Where can I find inner strength? How does God fit into the picture of life, if at all? All sorts of subjects and subsequent questions arise – simply from being a human being on a beautiful but troubled planet that spins through space as a tiny speck in an immeasurable universe.

Philosophers, theologians, politicians try to come up with answers – often trite, sometimes helpful. I like Albert Einstein’s words: “Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.”  The Bible’s Psalms are full of questions: “Why are you so far away, O Lord?” is typical. Christians believe that God is in control of his universe. Which poses another question: “Really?” Sometimes even believers query whether God has gone AWOL.

With the gift of each new day we move forward, balancing questions with faith, fear with courage, despair with hope. In the Bible there’s a long lament with little sparkles of hope: “The Lord’s unfailing love and mercy still continue, fresh as the morning, as sure as the sunrise. The Lord is all I have, and so I put my hope in him.”

 

HOW MANY PEOPLE CAN YOU GET ON A SEESAW?

How many people can you get on a seesaw? No, this isn’t a groan-inducing riddle but a happy reality. Answer? 11. Six adults and five children. This spontaneous scene was turned into a fun group photo.  The picture, now set as wallpaper on my laptop screen (because the 11 are members of my family,) shows an adult at each end of the seesaw, and then assorted big and little people filling up the rest of it. The tiniest two are being held tightly by Responsible Persons, the rest have taken pot luck in the precariousness stakes.

Sometimes the ‘seesaw’ of life is horizontal – steady, balanced, ordinary… Other times something happens to plummet us down with a bump – bereavement, divorce, illness… Sometimes we rise to heights of joy and happiness – with the birth of a child, a walk in sunshine, watching a butterfly…

When you’re at your most vulnerable, you may feel like a tiny tot who needs a Responsible Person – family member or friend – to put their arms round you and hold you in your unease. It’s good to be able to share each other’s sorrows – and joys. There’s strength in mutual love and care. We were made for companionship. The best relationship any of us can have is with God himself – who’s reliable, constant, and eager to share the ups and downs of a seesaw life with us .

 

 

POWER AND PEACE

“10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1….” The countdown is perfectly timed as the Red Arrows zoom from inland and appear just above the Bournemouth cliffs before flying out over the sea with a roar of power and acceleration. What a sight! What a sound! The display of the Royal Air Force jets thrills the thousands of people watching from the beach, promenade, cliff tops and from little boats on the sparkling sea.

The commentary during the display of aerobatics emphasises the role of the RAF. For all the jets’ power and the daring and skill of the pilots, the RAF’s work is to defend UK interests, make the world a safer place – and keep the peace. The Red Arrows’ aerobatics display demonstrates power in a peaceful setting.

There is power in peace. A love of power can result in conflict and violence, but the power of love can lead to peace.

If you’re a new mum you may long for a bit of peace as you wonder at the power of your baby’s lungs! My new book, “HELP! I’M A NEW MUM!” is a gift book of 3-minute prayers for new mums. Do have a look at the Books page on this website to read all about it!

KEEP CALM AND ENJOY SUNFLOWERS

Bird food has great qualities. Delicious, nutritious, blooming lovely. I benefit from it enormously – though I don’t eat it…

Greenfinches guzzle greedily. They drop bits from the feeders onto the grass below, where wood pigeons plod along to eat the left-overs. Feasting done, the finches flit off, and the rotund pigeons waddle to the pond where one does a belly-flop into the water. The other – more sensible – watches from the edge as its mate, with much flapping and splashing, struggles for lift-off.

What great entertainment – and all due to the humble seeds of the common British sunflower. Thanks to the birds’ somewhat clumsy eating habits, tiny seedlings pushed their way up through the grass. Now a mini-forest of sunflowers blooms happily, each flower turning its head to the sun throughout the day.

A nearby farmer edged his wheat field with sunflowers, a sight that put smiles on the faces of  bus passengers travelling through the harvest countryside.

In a world that was rife with fear and uncertainty, Jesus told his anxious listeners to, “Look at the birds…” and “Look at the flowers…” And went on to say, “Don’t worry…” Today, the bright and amusing aspects of nature can be as welcome and calming an influence as in Jesus’ time. In today’s jargon: “Keep calm and enjoy sunflowers.”