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.
Thomas Hardy wrote many short stories, some of which were put into a volume called ‘Life’s Little Ironies.’ He was brilliant at capturing the essence of rural Wessex and its residents’ dependence on the land for their livelihood. The vagaries of the weather were crucial. What would Hardy have made of climate change and the current heatwave that is affecting so much of the globe?
An irony of the last few days involves two umbrellas. On Thursday I sweltered in hot sunshine under a bright pink umbrella, designed to keep the powerful rays off my blonde locks and bare arms. Today I was done up in a cagoule and wellies with a large dark blue umbrella to keep the rain off my hooded head and covered arms. I was in danger of doing a Mary Poppins with the umbrella as gusts of wind threatened to take me off my feet to join the buffeted birds in the sky.
Weather has always been a topic of British conversation and will continue to be so as promised sunshine returns after the weekend’s rain blip. Spare a prayer for farmers; their livelihood is just as much in the balance as it was in Hardy’s day; perhaps even more so…
The best umbrella story ever, was told to me by a 2 year old. We were at an animal park, admiring the different patterns, shapes, sizes, and colours of the natural world. A male peacock, resplendent in iridescence, decided to display for our benefit. “Look!” the child said, “The peacock’s put up his umbrella!”
Life is a curious thing. We’re born, we live, we die. A Bible prophet said, “People are no more enduring than grass. Yes, grass withers and flowers fade.” Well, in the present UK heatwave we have visual evidence of grass withering.
We humans will indeed wither and die but, while alive, we need water for survival – as did a lonely hedgehog I met one evening. Instead of giving it a drink of water, I tried to take a photo. The camera’s noise made the hedgehog scuttle under the hedge, never to be seen again. I failed to get my picture, he failed to get a drink. A Bible poet, troubled and lonely, wrote, “Just as a deer longs for a stream of cool water, so I long for you, O God. I thirst for you, the living God.”
After writing about the grass, the prophet continued, “But the word of the Lord remains forever.” Though the body withers and fades, death need not be the end. A friend told me, “I’m ready for the Lord to take me.” A few days later she died, but she firmly believed that her last breath on earth would be her first in heaven. Shortly before that move, all she could drink were tiny sips of water and milk – “just like a baby” she said. Peter, one of Christ’s apostles, urged people to, “Be like newborn babies, always thirsty for the pure spiritual milk.” It is God who provides everlasting nourishment to give hope now and assurance for the future.
Maybe it’s because I’m a… Well, what am I? A tennis aficionado, cricket fan, doting grandma, natural-wonders-of-the-world enthusiast or… “Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner” that an A-Z map of London 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle provided an irresistible challenge.
The west half of the puzzle was marginally easier than the east for my husband and I to tackle as, in our youth, I’d worked in Paddington and he was at Imperial College in Kensington. Half a century on and we managed to complete that part of the puzzle with its royal parks. Next came the blue loop of the Thames, and then main roads in yellow were put in place. But we were left with myriads of tiny white bits with random lettering for all the little roads. Tricky. After many days of putting in a few pieces every time we passed the table, the job was done.
The jigsaw made me realise that there’s a lot of London I’ve never penetrated. These days I occasionally go through London below ground en route elsewhere, but last Wednesday, on a rare visit above ground, I met my youngest daughter and her three year old for a picnic lunch in St James’s Park. We topped off our visit with ice creams in Embankment Gardens, watching Roger Federer on a big screen. At that point he was winning; by the time I was home, back in the countryside of the southwest, he’d lost. I may no longer be a true Londoner but I’ll always be a tennis aficionado.