I live in a red light district. No… not that sort. From my house I can see the red light that tops the cathedral spire. It’s there to warn aircraft of the spire’s presence poking up into the sky. Every so often the light bulb has to be checked – and changed. What a task! Daunting, but essential.
There’s something comforting about the sight of that red light. In this season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, the light is sometimes obscured by mist – but we still know it’s there.
Sometimes it seems that comforting lights are hidden from us in our life situations. Depression, grief, uncertainty, redundancy, an unwelcome diagnosis, floods, poverty… can hang like heavy cloud cover over us. The light that brings a sense of well-being, safety and security, disappears – like the sun that is hidden behind a blanket of cloud, or like a red light hidden by fog.
When all seems lost, obscure and uneasy, we have to try and remember that the sun still exists above the cloud, that lights come back on after power cuts, that a torch will work with fresh batteries, that a dead light bulb may be changed, and that stars shine – in darkness.
I’m not trying to make light (pardon the pun) of the reality of difficult circumstances, but to present some hope: Jesus is described in John’s gospel as the Light. “The Light shines in the darkness and the darkness has never put it out.”
Harvest is often celebrated on this, the first Sunday of October, though the UK grain harvest began early this year following the heatwave of June and July. How do you celebrate harvest?
I recall, as a child, having harvest festival at school and at church. A vast and colourful display of fruit and vegetables would be arranged beautifully at the front of the school hall or church sanctuary. A loaf of bread in the shape of a sheaf of wheat would take pride of place in the centre. When my children were small, we would rub apples from the garden until their skins shone, and take them to the harvest festival, thankful for God’s provision.
‘Harvest’ is good for making different words from its letters. And some of them have harvest connotations: tea, eats, have, share, earth… All very positive. But the word ‘starve’ is also there. For those of us who have plenty, it does well, in our thankfulness, to also remember the estimated 815,000,000 people worldwide who are malnourished.
God created a magnificent world of landscapes, plants and creatures and appointed human beings to be stewards of his world. When we’re tempted to think that planet earth is our world, we do well to remember whose it really is – God’s – and to honour him by taking seriously the privilege and responsibility he has given us. How good are we at sharing what we have and working for the good of all for God’s sake?
This morning’s autumn treat was to see a gaggle of geese flying overhead in a V-formation, chuntering away to each other as they flew.
I don’t claim to know as much about aerodynamics as geese appear to. It seems that they take turns at being the leader. When a leader gets tired, someone else takes over. And so on, during their flight. The chat is simply to keep in touch with one another.
Their behaviour, based on science and common sense, seems so logical, so almost human. Or maybe geese are actually more savvy than we are. How good are we at team work? How good are our communication skills? How much do we help each other when the going gets tough?
Moses had great leadership qualities but when it came to public speaking, he was unsure of himself. So his brother, Aaron, was appointed by God to be by Moses’ side and speak on his behalf. Years later, Moses was helped by others as he stood on top of a hill, holding up a stick. As long as he held up the stick, the people for whom he had responsibility, did well when under attack. When Moses’ arms got tired things didn’t go so well. So what happened? Aaron and another man came to help out. They found a stone for Moses to sit on, stood beside him and held up his arms. That’s team work. That’s commitment. That’s empathy.
Maybe this week we can learn from the geese and from Moses’ experience and work with others for the benefit of all.
Wellies or flip flops, that is the question. This morning it was definitely wellies – to venture out into a grey day where torrential rain, wind and cold, mocked any desire to cling on to summer at the end of September. To add to the morning’s gloom, the rain had the effrontery to deposit itself inside our supposedly watertight sun room. Out came a bucket to catch the flow, a mop for the floor, and a sigh and a huff at the nuisance factor.
This afternoon, however, the wind blew away the rain, the sun emerged and blue skies contrasted with the reddening leaves on the cherry tree. Is summer back? Could it be time to retrieve the flip flops from the cupboard? No. At some point we have to face the seasonal facts of life – that what medieval serfs may have sung centuries ago in April or May: “Sumer Is Icumen In” won’t apply here again for another seven or eight months.
Oh, how British I am – talking about the weather, the nation’s favourite conversation topic. Why do we do it? It’s what we all have in common and the weather’s changeability means there’s always something to say about it.
How good are we at talking about the things that really matter? Life, death, the universe, our world view, what our purpose is – collectively and individually – on planet earth? To avoid such deep and challenging questions, do we press the metaphorical channel change button? And revert to talking about the weather? The flippancy of flip flops rather than the solid soles of wellies?
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.