I’ve updated my rogues’ gallery and five smiling faces beam down on me as I sit at my cluttered desk. Despite having a reasonably tidy and fairly minimalist house, when it comes to my study, there’s a lot of stuff about the place. You know what it’s like: you tidy, then can’t find anything.
My famous five grandchildren are very good at tidying. Toys and games are put away at the end of their visit, bedrooms left looking as if nobody has been in them and, apart from the odd bit of Lego or a marble or dice that may be found under a sofa (days or even weeks later), plus a near empty fridge, there’s little evidence of the children having been here.
Anyway, they grin at me from the photo frames and their pictures remind me of how precious they are – to each other, to their parents, to their aunties and uncles, to their grandparents, and to God. I marvel at the innocent joy of childhood and the simple pleasures of life: finding huge sticks to walk with (our front garden has quite a collection); opening a spiky shell and marvelling at the shiny brown conker inside; hanging over a bridge playing Pooh sticks… I look at the photos and pray for the children as I ponder their lives at school, in their homes, in their interests, and the fact that they’re all growing up very fast.
And when I’ve finished pondering and praying, I’ll follow their example and do some tidying… Yes. Right now. Without moaning tomorrow that I can’t find stuff.
How daring are you? I’m full of admiration for those who are more daring than I am. If you wish to jump off the side of a mountain on a hang-glider, or do a ski-jump, or tie yourself to ropes to cross a crevasse, I wish you well. Just leave me, wimp that I am, on the ground. I’m not good at getting out of my comfort zone.
I like to feel solid ground beneath my feet – or at least to know that the transport I’m on is connected directly to terra firma. So it was a surprise that I managed to get on a cable car last week and swing in the air. Admittedly I had white knuckles as I clung onto the side of the 2-person cabin, and I looked straight ahead rather than around at the views.
Life is never going to be totally comfortable. And I suppose that would be pretty boring anyway. At the start of this new academic year – which often seems more like the start of a new year than the 1st of January does – let’s be ready for adventure, to face each new day as a gift and be prepared to face challenges with faith not fear, with hope not horror, with gratitude not glumness. Don’t be ground into the ground. Be grounded with the peace that passes all human understanding – God’s peace.
On my first holiday to northwest Wales, the cloud was so low across Cardigan Bay that I didn’t realise that, completely hidden behind and above Harlech Castle, there was a mountain range. The following year we had a pleasant surprise when the Rhinogs were there to be seen in all their splendour.
We all experience metaphorical low cloud days – or weeks, months, even years. Life is inexplicably tough at times and there seems to be no way through the dark oppressive cloud cover. I was reminded of this in the somewhat antiquated but relevant words of a hymn by Timothy Rees:
“God is love: and he enfoldeth all the world in one embrace;
with unfailing grasp he holdeth every child of every race.
And when human hearts are breaking under sorrow’s iron rod,
then they find that selfsame aching deep within the heart of God.”
If you’re a believer, you’ll be living by faith and not by sight. We can’t see the sun through the cloud yet we know that it’s still up there in the sky. We can’t always understand why tough stuff happens in our lives and God may seem distant. Yet, by faith, we believe he’s still there. The Bible teaches that darkness, low cloud, sorrow, death… never have the last word. All darkness will, one day, be obliterated forever by the light of Christ. Meanwhile we carry on, armed with God’s strength, love and peace. If you like poems take a look at OUT OF A LISTLESS SKY and GOD’S IN HIS HEAVEN? – on the Poems page of my website.
The fruit and veg market trader’s hands are rough and mud-ingrained. But when it comes to handling a pile of peaches, his hands treat them with gentle care. Soft hands.
Sports commentators remark about a player’s soft hands. It doesn’t mean the player is forever treating his hands with moisture cream – though he may do, I suppose – but that when, with his strength and skill, he wields a racket or bat to hit the ball, his hands are relaxed enough to produce deft and delightful shots.
In the song, “Dem bones” we learn how the bones of the body are joined together. It’s based on a bit from Ezekiel in the Bible: “The bones began to join together. While I watched, the bones were covered with sinews and muscles, and then with skin…” Whole body connections.
The art of soft hands currently eludes the slip catchers in the England cricket team. Is it lack of concentration? Yes, the mind may well be elsewhere… Nerves? Yes, the more you fail, the more you think you might fail again. Physical tension? Yes, more than likely. You can’t have soft hands if your shoulders are tense. Try it! Relax your shoulders and the chances are your hands will relax too. And the opposite is true, because everything is connected.
England’s cricketers face the 4th test with India this week, and the US Open tennis gets underway in New York. Let’s hope that soft hands prevail to produce scintillating sport. And if you’re listening or viewing, maybe it’s time to relax those shoulders…
The allotment; Conway castle; birds; advertising posters… What do these have in common? Well, they’re all the subjects of jigsaw puzzles that I’ve done. 1000 pieces is my limit and it’s hard work fitting the bits together. I often start with the edge. First you have to find the edge pieces from the heap of multi-coloured shapes in the box. You fit them together in what you think is the right order, only to find that the next row doesn’t quite slot in correctly. You unpick the edge and try again. Little by little the picture takes shape. Some pieces you have to twist and turn to work out which way they go, others have to be peered at – and give few clues as to their correct position. The whole thing is a confusing muddle.
Life evolves like a jigsaw puzzle. At times it seems a muddle, other times it’s difficult, testing, challenging and disheartening. Sometimes a few pieces slot together and you experience a sense of relief or happiness. And then it’s time for the next section which may prove tricky again. The picture of my life won’t be completed until I’ve finished my years on planet earth. And, as a believer in the afterlife, my earthly life will only make sense in the light of heaven.
So what do we do with jigsaw puzzles? And life? We persevere, we receive – and give – encouragement, we face up to challenges, we seek help when we need it, and we cling to the hope that, in the end, all will be well.
What is soft, malleable and brown? Copper. And melting chocolate. Mmm… Is there anything more mouth-watering than a swirling bowl of luscious chocolate being gently melted before being shaped into something delectable for the taste buds?
The copper baptismal font in Norwich Cathedral was, in a past life and in a different location, used to melt chocolate. How many infants or young children might have relished the thought of being baptised with chocolate instead of water…?
Said cauldron became redundant and was moved – empty of chocolate I presume – from its local factory into the cathedral, and is now filled with water. To remember their own baptism or to reflect on God’s interest in the lives of all people, visitors are invited to dip their hands into the water. Now if the font was filled with chocolate…
Delicious though chocolate is, water is vital to life. Unsurprisingly, chocolate isn’t mentioned in the Bible, but water features frequently – in the natural world, as a thirst quencher, as a cleanser and, in baptism, as a symbol of new life.
Chocolate provides melting moments, as has the heat of recent weeks. But this weekend there’s rain. The water of life; and water in the Norwich font reminds us of what Jesus said: “Those who drink the water that I will give them will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give them will become in them a spring which will provide them with life-giving water and give them eternal life.” Something chocolate could never do.
Combine harvesters have been busy, farmers taking advantage of the heatwave. The fields are dotted with old-fashioned high-piled oblong haystacks and with golden roly poly swirls – surprisingly heavy and impossible to roll (yes, I’ve tried.)
Wet summers spell concern for arable farmers; drought conditions present different problems. Both scenarios can trigger dismay, even despair. Yet the Bible urges people – of all eras – to celebrate whatever harvest is gathered in. So I celebrate a dozen runner beans (poor thirsty things haven’t done well), some tasty beetroot (good for grating and for dyeing hands), a few extraordinarily shaped carrots (no supermarket would look twice at them), and a few feeble spuds.
The best produce in the garden has been the result of scattering some insignificant-looking tiny mixed seeds. They’ve produced a profusion of flowers of all colours, shapes, sizes and forms.
“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant,” said Robert Louis Stevenson.
True of my garden but also true of life. Despite potential disappointment and an apparent lack of fruitfulness, let’s continue to sow seeds – of love, compassion, kindness, gentleness, generosity… You never know what may materialise. “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” wrote Paul in the Bible. We may never see the results of our life’s sowing but, one day, someone somewhere may blossom and flourish: a fruitful harvest – thanks to your sowing seeds of care.