Friday, 31 August 2012

A boat called Joyful

I am grumpy, God. 

Just had a horrible bedtime with my two girls who were so worked up and hysterical that it all went wrong and they ended up in bed early with no story. I've been up and tucked them in and we're finally all friends again but I feel like a chewed piece of string. 

That noise was the sound of a glass of wine being poured. I'm hoping it'll help. 

I'm going to think about other things. I'm going to tell you about that day last week.  You know the one I meant. The one with the sea and the boats and the seals and the crabs and the sunshine. That one. Are you smiling?

I woke up that morning when Bryan brought me a cup of coffee in bed. That automatically gets the day off to a decent start, but what clinched it was that while I drank the coffee, I had time to read a couple of devotional posts on my email and also to write in my journal. I have noticed such a vast, enormous difference in my day when I can meet with you first thing, before I have to encounter anyone (especially the children) and before I have to start on the daily round of things-that-drive-me-crazy. Life doesn't necessarily work like that, mind you, but when it does, it's precious. 

I remember that I chatted with you for a while that morning, Lord. It was the last day of our holiday and I was anxious that it went well. I have an over-developed sense of responsibility for stuff like that and I was a bit on edge feeling that it was all down to me to make sure that the sun shone and everything should go tickety-boo and everyone should be happy. I was pleased to have a chance to spend some time with you at the start of the day. 

This is what I wrote:
'Lord - it's your day. You made it. Help me to see all the things that you put in it. Today, Father, I want to notice you. To really see you, and give you my thanks and praise. For you are my Lord and my God.'
You know what?  You answered my prayer. Father I have no idea how many more gifts you left in my path that day that I missed but I saw enough of them to marvel at your mercy and to praise you for your generosity to me.

We went to a seaside village up the coast from where we were staying and we went on a boat trip to see some seals. Our timing was perfect in terms of not having to queue on the jetty when we got to the landing stage for the boat, but in terms of picking good seats, it wasn't so good. We were just in time, and the last people onto the boat. Now, as you know, and  for the life of me I don't know why you made me this way, but I get anxious about things like this. We got the last spaces. To begin with we weren't even sitting together at all and needed to do some seat-exchanging with another family as we left the dock, and then the children couldn't see, so some more jiggery pokery was required, and finally, I ended up in the middle of the boat sitting on a cross-piece rather than a seat, with a rivet right underneath me, my view obstructed by the girls' heads. 

Grr. 

Now, what would be the thing to do in such circumstances?  Ideally, not notice that I was in such a duff position, because my girls were happy, the sun was shining, we'd managed to get on a boat in the first place and we were heading off on a little adventure. And I've seen seals before, after all. Of course that would be the thing to do. After all, I'm a grown up. Aren't I?

Ahem. 

I wasn't very happy. I wanted to take photographs not only of the seals, but also of the light on the waves, the other boats, the sky, the horizon, whatever came up. I wanted to bring back some shots to enlarge and perhaps put on the wall. I sat and scowled. I told the children to sit down, not to speak as loudly, not to lean out of the boat, to stop complaining. 

As we made our way to the island where the seals were basking, I chilled out a bit. Bryan took my hand. The girls were laughing as we whizzed along. The sun was shining down on us, the water was sparkling and the wind in my hair was massaging the grumpiness out of me. I started to enjoy myself. I was hoping to take some pictures of the beautiful sailing boats in the marina to one side but realised that we were on the wrong side of the boat. I decided that it didn't matter, since we'd be coming back the same way. 

We saw seals. We saw a lone seal pup on a sandy beach and we all enthusiastically took photographs of him, before rounding a bend and seeing a million seals of all shapes and sizes on another beach including huge bull seals and tiny babies. They swam close to our boat, they popped their heads up to say hello and they waved their flippers at us from the shore. It was lovely. I managed my photos without incident and even steadied the camera for long range shots by leaning on Lizzie's shoulder. So it was quite helpful to sit behind her after all. I thought of you and thanked you for the glimpse of wildlife so rarely seen and for the opportunity to ride in a boat and feel the sun and wind on our faces as we sailed. I saw your creativity and inspiration and the wonder and variety of your handiwork. 

We to-ed and fro-ed for a while to make sure everyone had their fill of the seals and we set off back. 

The sun was dancing on the waves and they sparkled like diamonds. Now and again the boat kicked up spray and we laughed with exhilaration. 

As we approached the marina, with all the beautifully photogenic boats with sails billowing in the breeze, beautiful little white caps on the waves, blue sea, blue sky... the sun went in. And as everyone knows, the pictures aren't anywhere near as nice without the sun. I put the lens cap on. 

I was just lowering the camera after replacing the lens cap, feeling disappointed and a bit cheesed off when we passed by a lovely little white boat with a bright red sail. Painted on the front of the boat was its name. 

Joyful. 

A boat called Joyful. 

Lord God, I saw you face to face at that moment. You caught my mood in your hands as it sank and you buoyed it up again.  You said, 'No. Don't do that. Don't do what you're doing. This is no time for dissatisfaction. Look at my world. And look at the gifts I give you.'
'...yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Saviour.'Habbakkuk 3:18
Too late to take a picture of the boat called Joyful. Moments after, while I was still craning my neck to look at the little red and white boat as it receded into the distance, the sun came back out. I got some pictures. Nothing breathtaking, but some photos that capture the sparkle and shine of that morning. But the one I remember is the picture I didn't take. 

Joyful. 
'...but may the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; may they be happy and joyful.'
Psalm 68:3
So much to rejoice about. In that few minutes, the vastness and power of the sea, the beauty of the sunlight on waves, the exhilaration of spray on my face as we danced along in a boat, the laughter of the children, the privilege of seeing the seals close up, the skill of those sailing boats in and out of buoys, sails billowing in the breeze, the deep blue of the sky, the seabirds wheeling around above and diving for fish, the fact that the God of Heaven reached down and communicated with me.
'...and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his people in the kingdom of light.'Colossians 1:12
The Kingdom of Light! Oh my goodness. I spend my holiday marvelling at the special sort of light by the sea and trying to take the perfect photograph that will somehow capture forever the essence of the seaside and I find that one day beyond this life I will find myself with you in your Kingdom of Light? 

Joyful. 

That wasn't all, Father, was it?  I wonder how many blessings I missed that day, but I know there were more. The joy on my girls' faces when they caught lots of crabs and the wonderful pride on little Kate's face when she managed to land the largest crustacean of them all that morning. The finest bacon sandwich in the world sitting on a bench watching them with their crablines and soaking up the sun, camera cradled in my lap. 

Later on that afternoon we were at the beach, strolling along in the surf, and towards us came a man wearing a T-shirt that said, 'Keep Psalm and Carry On'.  At the moment that old 1939 Government Poster seems to be incredibly popular with no end of spin-offs but I've never seen this before. We passed by on the beach and exchanged greetings but my smile was wide because I know that my unknown brother there was carrying a message from you, for me. You were there. 
'Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.'Psalm 100:2
Lord, I was glad. Every holiday I make sure that I find a pebble with a smile on it - I bring it home and draw on eyes and a nose and mark it with the year and destination of our holiday and that afternoon I found the perfect pebble. A broad smile. 

A joyful smile. 

Lord, I want to thank you for the sun and the waves, for the man on the beach and his T-shirt. 

For crabs and crab-lines and bacon butties. 

For weathered wood on the beach, for the sound of waves breaking on the shoreline and for family and holding hands and clifftop cottages and fresh air. 

For the way that the standing on the promenade looking down at my children on the beach I noticed the breakwater was in the form of a cross. 

And when I looked at my feet, there was another one, in the stone of the path. 

Thanks too for a boat called Joyful. Bless all who sail in her. I pray that they see what I saw.

Most of all, for being my Lord and my Saviour and my Friend who answers prayers. Teach me to see you more and more. Each day that I live may I miss less of your open-handed goodness and capture more of it in my heart. Don't let the moments slip through my fingers because I see the clouds. 
'They celebrate your abundant goodness and joyfully sing of your righteousness.'Psalm 145:7
Oh yes. You are good. You are good in ways beyond my imagination. You are righteous and I want to sing a song that people will hear. 

Lord God, thankyou for answering my prayer. 

Thursday, 30 August 2012

The things of the earth...

Evening, Lord.

I don't have much to say tonight, Father, but I read this verse from a hymn the other day and it's been in my head:

'Turn your eyes upon Jesus, 
look full in His wonderful face;
and the things of earth will grow strangely dim
in the light of His glory and grace.'

Words and music by Helen H Lemmel,  a while ago in 1922.  I love it when words resonate long, long after they were written. I mean, your words resonate for all eternity but so many of our own just fade and dribble away, but now and again something inspired (by you, I imagine) keeps living. It's light burns on through the ages.  This lady wrote wonderful words so long ago and the other day, across the years,  my soul reached for them.

'Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in His wonderful face'

Oh, Lord Jesus, will there come a day when I look full in your face? I can sort of imagine the day when I arrive there in front of you and fall to the ground. I can't imagine meeting your eyes. I can't imagine standing and staring. Is there a day when I can stop and look and look and just be in your presence? When I see you - I see your face and look into your eyes and feel the warmth and light of your glory?  I guess so because that's what it says in the Bible. I am a daughter of God. I am not a servant, but an heir. When I come to heaven I will be coming home. I will have a place there. I will be welcome. I will be there to praise you for eternity, yes, but I will gaze at your beauty with awe and wonder indeed.

One day.

But now? Can I see your face? How can I wrap myself in your wonder right now? When life closes in and I need to find a way out from under the stuff that crushes me how can I find that glory and grace then?

'and the things of the earth will grow strangely dim 
in the light of His glory and grace.'

I know what this means. I do. On occasion I've had a glimpse of what this means. There have been times when I've realised how an eternity spent at your feet will be an eternity of joy and wonder and I feel as if I can't wait. Much as I love my life I realise that there is so much more to come, so much better. That the place we are now is sad and imperfect and will never be without compromise and hurt and frustration.

Sometimes I'm in church and the music has somehow touched my heart and it feels as if the angels are singing with us. It feels as if our ordinary voices are transformed into something unnaturally beautiful and the place is filled with your presence. I feel different; I feel lifted up. I feel focused and full of joy and I am at home. I'm at home because I've had a glimpse of what it's like to be with you. And at those times, yes, the things of this world do grow strangely dim. My worries subside. Anxieties evaporate, if only temporarily. The things of day to day life seem trivial. It's a glimpse - a brief encounter, but it seems as if Helen Lemmel knew those moments too. One Helen saluting another ninety years apart. You know how I like symmetry; thank you, Father. 

And it's not just in church. Sometimes those moments are not in the company of my church family. I can be all on my own and it's something that I see or hear stops me in my tracks and there I am with you. The way light refracts through a window and throws a miniature rainbow on the table in front of me as I drink coffee with a friend.  A last bud on a plant that has finished flowering for the winter. A single bird high in a tree, singing its heart out. A sleepy 'I love you, Mummy' when I kiss my daughter goodnight. A bright moon illuminating a frosty garden. 

You are in all those things. The noise of troubles and rubbish that surrounds me just recedes for a moment. I see a glimpse of your Kingdom. 

'and the things of the earth will grow strangely dim 
in the light of His glory and grace.'

The earth has it's beauties and glories and I know that it's not just people who know you that can appreciate them. I know that an amazing sunset is an amazing sunset whether you see the Creator's hand in it or not, but the difference is that an amazing sunset, for me, shows me your face. And when I see the face of my Saviour, it makes me want to worship. It brings me joy. It takes my mind off the unimportant. 

And what is important except you? 

I just wish that I could live that way all the time instead of needing those gift moments, those lifts. I wish I could, by act of will, focus on your face all the time. I wish I could live each day in the light of your glory. I haven't found a way, yet. I keep forgetting, I keep turning away, I keep closing my eyes when I should be looking for you.

'Let us fix our eyes on Jesus.'
Hebrews 12:2

Amen. Because if my eyes are on you then I am bathed in your light and your compassion and your courage and strength and glory and grace. And then I would be unable to wallow in the difficulties and darkness of this place we live. 

Father, show me how to fix my eyes upon you. I love those moments where you give me a gift of a glimpse of you. I love the thunderstorms that teach me of your power, the butterfly that shows me your beauty, the times that you reach down from Heaven and touch my little life and show me how much you love me. 

Teach me to live my life with my eyes fixed on you. Not just when you've had to attract my attention. Teach me to be there, in reflection of your glory, and live life that way. How different life looks from that vantage point. How different would I be? How much more the person you want me to be? 

Lord, I want to see your face. 


Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Knocking on the door

Afternoon, Lord God. 

I was reading something the other day and it made me think. Let me run this past you. 

You know when Peter was miraculously released from prison? I know it in terms of Acts 12 in the Bible, but I imagine you remember it as if it were yesterday. For me it's a story that I believe is true but can't quite get into the reality of; for you it's a fond memory.

Peter was in prison and then it got all dramatic; an angel appeared, chains fell off, doors opened by themselves and he walked free. I know he was pretty confused because it tells us so. At first he thought it wasn't actually happening to him, but just a vision, and then as the angel left we hear that Peter is standing in the street gaping. Well, that's how I imagine it. It says that '...when he came to himself...'(Acts 12:10) he makes his way to where he knew his mates were hiding. I wonder what he was thinking. Amazed, scared, awestruck, confused, overjoyed, excited? I'm quite sure that he couldn't wait to find his friends and tell them what had happened. Then maybe a glass of wine or two?

So he knocks on the door and Rhoda answers it. 

'Peter! Wow! We thought you were in prison! It's a miracle! Come in and tell us all about it.'

Nope. 

'Peter knocked at the outer entrance, and a servant named Rhoda came to answer the door. When she recognised Peter's voice, she was so overjoyed she ran back without opening it and exclaimed, 'Peter is at the door!'
Acts 12:14

The disciples and Rhoda debate this for a while. Surely not. Peter is in prison. He's not at the door. Maybe it's his angel? (Seems to me that the disciples at this point were much more used to angels than we are these days. Why is that? If I'd been there I'd have suggested that it wasn't Peter at all but perhaps someone who sounded like him, but no, his angel. What about that?) 

Anyway, Peter's still at the door. Ahem. Knock, knock. 

It is Peter. It isn't Peter. Yes it is. No, it can't be. And so on. 

Knock, knock.

'But Peter kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished.'

Acts 12:18

When they eventually open the door, Peter can get in. I'd love to have been there. 

'Of course it's me, you halfwits. I've been out there twenty minutes!'

Acts 12:18b (my version).

How wonderful, the tale he tells. A miracle indeed. Saved from Herod and secure in the knowledge that God Almighty is watching out for him and has a job for him to do. I bet the wine flowed and they talked into the night, even after Peter left (it says, '... for another place.' Where? That sort of thing intrigues me. Where did he go?) 

Anyway. It was a night to remember indeed.  I bet songs of praise were sung. I bet your name was lifted high that night. 

The thing that made me think was this: the disciples had been praying and praying for Peter. 

'So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.'

Acts 12: 5 NIV

They prayed earnestly. They prayed, presumably, that he would be alright, that he wasn't having too nasty a time, and that he might soon get out of prison.  

So they pray that he might be released, and he is. And yet, when he arrives at the door, they don't believe it. To the extent that Rhoda leaves the poor bemused man standing in the street knocking and knocking and looking over his shoulder for prison guards while she gets a bit high pitched in the living room with the disciples. 

They prayed fervently and their prayers were answered. And yet they were astonished. 

Nothing changes, does it? How incredibly reassuring that the disciples were taken aback and disbelieving when their prayers were answered just like I am. 

I pray about something (how often can I actually say I pray 'earnestly'? Feeling a bit uncomfortable about that) and then, sometimes, I am aware that you have answered my prayer. Of course, I suspect that you answer them much more often than I realise, but on the occasions where I see it and recognise it, what do I do? I run about like Rhoda telling people, 'You'll never guess what's happened! It's amazing!'

So I pray in faith, and yet I don't expect an answer. I'm sorry. The faith part is a bit thin, hey? 

Is it a sign of spiritual maturity when answered prayer, even the dramatic type, doesn't send me into a flat spin? When I'm not 'astonished' as the disciples? When I can say, 'Of course God answered my prayer. I'm not surprised; I knew he would'. Hmm. Is that faith, then? 

I think so.

'"Jesus replied, 'Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt...you can say to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and it will be done."'

Matthew 21:21

Ah. It's about the measure of faith, then. Is it possible for me to have a faith that can move mountains? I pray and I think I'm not doubting... but I'm wavery and wondering and I can't honestly say that I'm particularly earnest, much of the time. I'm in good company, because the disciples (who clearly did a better line in earnest) were astonished and doubtful when it came to answered prayer. Thankyou for them, Lord God. Thankyou that I you comfort me with their humanity. They were the very foundations of the Church and yet were reassuringly slow on the uptake.

I would like to ask, though; is it not always a breathtaking, awe-inspiring wonder that the God of the universe would listen to me and answer a prayer in my little life? I can't imagine taking it in my stride, or being unimpressed, because it's amazing to me that you hear me at all. 

I'm sure there's middle ground. I'm sure that I haven't got to the bottom of this; for now I'll go on trying to practice enough to pray earnestly and I shall be on the lookout for an answer. I shall try to expect one. Help me to notice more of the answered prayers that I know are heaped up all around me. Help me to be more sensitive to your hand in my life, Father. Show me how to pray with expectation, not just on the offchance. 

Give me more faith. More and more, Lord. I want to be faithful. I want to be what a friend of mine calls a 'Power Pray-er'. I want to hear from you so often that your voice becomes familiar to me. I want to chat. I want to listen. I want to pray in such a way that your will is done, here on earth, as it is in heaven. I want to bring a little bit of your Kingdom right here. I want to make a difference. 

I don't want to leave Peter knocking in the street. I want to see him stumbling down the road towards me with a startled expression because I was waiting for him to arrive. I was expecting him to arrive.

I just can't guarantee that if - no, when it happens I won't dash off excitedly to tell the world about it. I shall shout it from the rooftops. 

My God is good. He answers prayers. 










Sunday, 26 August 2012

The God who sees

I've had a moment. 

Ah, hello God. 

I've had a moment. Just wanted to tell you. Not that you don't know already, because I'm pretty sure that you were behind it. Did you smile indulgently as the penny dropped? 

It was one of those lightbulb moments where two seemingly unrelated things suddenly link up and I get to make the connection. 

Just out of shot was a huge crowd.
The camera doesn't always
tell the truth...
There I was, sitting on a bench at the harbour in a little seaside village last week on holiday. The sun was shining and Bryan and the girls were crabbing. I had the camera slung around my neck and I'd been taking photos of the boats moored along the jetty, the light on the water and the joy on my girls' faces as they carefully landed the crabs. It was a special few minutes. Quiet, the sun warm on my face, everyone happy and a chance to sit on my own with my eyes closed. Mmm. 

I was thinking about the photographs. The previous night I'd loaded onto my Facebook page a handful of holiday snaps taken earlier on in the week and I was planning to add a few more from this day. We'd been out in a boat, seen seals on a sandbank and sailing boats sending up sparkling spray as they splooshed past. Should be some decent pictures, I thought. 

Anyone looking at my Facebook page would think that it had been the perfect holiday. The perfect family on a perfect holiday having a perfect time. Never a cross word, never a tantrum, never a duff moment, no rain, no clouds, no seaweed, no jarring notes.

The best photos get posted, with captions pointing out the exciting things we're doing and all the fun we're having. I 'check in' at lovely places and share the endearing things that the children say. I post my best pictures; the shiniest, sparkliest, most beautiful photographs. Perfect. 

It struck me that I post the pride things. The boast things. The I'm doing great things. I joked about it with a good friend; we might send a text to each other saying, 'Help! I'm having a nightmare!' and post on Facebook 'What a wonderful day at the beach!'  

The photographs made the point for me, though. Only the best make the cut. Not the shaky ones, or the ones showing that the lens had a mark on it, or the ones that are out of focus, or even the ones where the sun was behind a cloud, if I can help it.  I don't post the ones that show things in an unflattering light, even if that's how they were. They don't make good photos. Wait till the sun comes out, and show people those shots. The others are private.
The times when I feel crabby

Why would I? Look, people, this is how disorganised I am! This is how depressing today was! Hmm.

I don't post the photo of all of us scowling because we got to a place and found it closed, and then had a collective tantrum. I don't post the one of me taken from an unflattering angle sprawling on the sofa, looking enormous with an open mouth and a furrowed brow, concentrating on a text message. That one got deleted straight away. Sometimes we even tweak the photographs with image-enhancing software to add more light if it was a bit dark, or to airbrush out a blemish, adjust a wobbly horizon or even crop them to cut out of the shot the things we don't want. All so that we can present to the world the perfect picture. 

Every picture tells a story. Just not the whole story.

Everybody does it. Even if we don't take photographs, we airbrush and crop and tint our public bits so that the best is on show and the worst lies on the floor of the cutting room.  Aha. The camera can lie...

And while I'm having a moan, those Facebook posts are full of annoying exclamation marks. As you know, I'm not a fan of the exclamation mark and believe that they should be used sparingly but over and over again I read posts where people use them, consciously or unconsciously to indicate a high level of triumph and excitement and happiness. 

'Having a wonderful time!'

'This was so funny!!'

 'An amazing thing has happened to me!!!'

I'm just as bad. I may be wary of the exclamation mark but I'm definitely guilty of airbrushing. I hide so much from everyone - those close to me and those that I don't know so well. I don't want people to know that I lose my temper so often, or that I sulk when I don't get to do what I want to do, or that I'm snappy and mean when I should be kind and thoughtful. Crop. Airbrush. Delete. Smile, and post that. 

Select the best. Discard the rest. 

The strange thing is that while I fully recognise what I'm doing, and common sense and experience tells me that other people are doing it too, I fall for everyone else's publicity every time. What wonderful lives these people are living. How happy they seem. What a harmonious family. What well-behaved children. When these people go somewhere, it's open when they get there (actually, they were canny and booked in advance thus avoiding the queue, of course). When they look for somewhere to have lunch, the perfect cafe materialises immediately; they didn't spend an hour traipsing around with bad grace for an affordable place that wasn't too busy and a menu that contained things that the children would eat... no, that only happens to me. And I don't make it public.

If I'm busy airbrushing out my imperfections, why don't I assume that they are doing it too? Only posting the highlights? Why do I allow myself to be intimidated? 

Why do I compare my worst bits with their best bits? 

Don't get me wrong, I like to see people's holiday pictures. I like to hear about their successes and I know that we all do get moments where it all comes together; the opportunity, the subject matter, the light, the lens and the smile, and those moments should be celebrated. And shared. We should all join in the delight. If there are six people in a photo and all of them have their eyes open and a smile on their face, post the picture on Facebook! Let's enjoy it!  But I should bear in mind that there were probably half a dozen where the sun had gone in, or a child refused to smile, or everyone had their heads cut off. 

I need to remember that beneath the pinnacle of wonderful perfection there is a mountain of trial and failure and imperfection and blemish. 

Let's be honest. It's not just me. 

Is it? 

The punchline really isn't the realisation that I should stop comparing myself with other people and realise that what I see isn't necessarily the truth, or the whole truth - the most important thing that came to me the other day on that bench by the sea was that you see me. 

You are El Roi; the God who sees me. You see the triumph and the disaster. You see the happy and the sad. You see the bits I try to airbrush and the bits I crop and the bits I don't post on Facebook for the world to see. You see everything there is to see - and you love me anyway. I don't have to try to edit myself or my life to impress you; I couldn't if I tried. You see it all. You know my words before I speak them and my hopes and dreams and fears and failures. And you love me anyway. 

Lord, thankyou that you see me. I can be me. I can give you the blurred edges and accidents and out of focus moments. I can lay it all in front of you. Thankyou for that immense, all consuming love that paid the price for me even when I was far, far away. 

Thankyou for this moment. Thankyou for showing me. 

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Seeing the sea

It's very beautiful here, Lord.

I have a cup of coffee and a bourbon cream biscuit (alright, two) and I am sitting looking out at the sea. It's warm and still with high clouds and the sea is silver and the horizon blurs where the shimmering ocean meets the bright white of the clouds. It's very, very quiet. Wonderfully, beautifully, relaxingly, smilingly quiet.

The children are at the park with Daddy. 

That'll be why it's so peaceful. Absence of noise. I lay in bed last night and listened to the sea against the seawall on the beach down below our cottage but then the tide was high and right now it's on its way out so there's no splashing. The beach is sandy so there's no shhhhh sound of the shingle as the sea sucks it down the beach.  It's so calm out there that there are no white tipped waves on the sea - it undulates gently, swelling and subsiding. 

Last night we walked for a couple of miles along the cliff top in search of the sunset and I discovered several things.
  • The cliff path is, in places, perilously close to the cliff edge.
  • There are places along this coast that I remember from holidays of my childhood that are Not There Any More.
  • There are buildings along the clifftop that soon Might Not Be There Any More if the coastal erosion continues at the same rate.
I felt a strange mixture of feelings when I worked out that the reason that the caravan site where we used to come decades ago didn't look quite right was that there were whole rows of caravans missing. Nostalgia, regret, awe. The whole place was much nearer the edge of the cliff.  The drive wasn't so long. The place where our family caravan had stood long ago was gone completely. 

Fallen into the sea. Crash, splash. Space.

The sea really is inexorable, isn't it?  Unstoppable. A constant, irresistible force. Day in, day out, year in, year out, wave after wave. Storm or calm, it is. There's no controlling it. Wild or still. Even on a peaceful day like today it is constantly in motion. The surge and swell speaks of power even if there are no crashing waves. It is always there. Intensely beautiful but with the potential to destroy.

Last night I read on the news that a four year old boy was swept into the sea at another seaside resort in our country.  He fell from a slipway into water only two metres deep and immediately his Mummy and Daddy jumped in to retrieve him, but he never surfaced. Powerful currents in that area must have swept him under and away in a matter of seconds.  His parents looked for him desperately but they were also  swept away from the causeway rapidly and needed rescuing. The little boy hasn't been seen since. The coastguard organised a thorough search for a night and a day but... 

My goodness. I sat and pondered how different that family's day was from ours.  We ate ice cream on the pier, we walked along the seafront, we bought souvenirs, we sat on the beach and swam in the sea. We came home, had tea and tucked the children safely up in bed. We had a glass of wine and we found out that somewhere around the coast another mummy and daddy were wild with grief for the little boy they lost. They went on holiday by the seaside and he died. They too packed their buckets and spades and tried to think of endless entertainment on the car journey to the beach and soon they'll be making their way back home again without their precious son.

Oh, God. 

What a nightmare. I can't begin to understand why. Why their boy and not my girl? Oh, please, Lord, it makes me go cold. Keep us safe. Hold that family in the palm of your hand, Lord. Soothe them, comfort them, numb them from the pain they must be in. Why didn't you help the little boy pop to the surface, God? Why did you allow him to be taken by the sea? Why couldn't it have been a near miss, where his Mummy caught his arm as he stumbled and then told him off for being too close to the edge?

It makes my heart hurt. 

I'm sure the sea where they were looked as innocuous as it did here as we watched a family run along the lower promenade path challenging the high tide to splash them as it crashed against the stone wall. The small boys hooted and shouted with glee and their parents watched them and smiled. Earlier on that day we sat on the smooth sand with our backs against the stone and so I knew the water was only about two metres deep. If it were a swimming pool that's nothing; you could see the bottom. Touch the bottom with fingertips out of water, but the sea is a different creature altogether. It lives. It never stops. It does its thing regardless. 

Danger is everywhere. How can you allow a child to be a child and not wrap them up in cotton wool and diminish the possibilities of their lives and yet at the same time limit the risk-taking? The sea deserves infinite respect, but it is also there for swimming and paddling and standing in the splash from the breaking waves. Did that family take an unnecessary risk? Did the people we saw on the promenade last night? Did we, when we let Lizzie swim out of her depth, Bryan always the seaward side of her? Had she disappeared under the sea we couldn't have seen where she was...

I don't know what it's all about, Father God. You don't love that little boy less than you love my daughters. You don't love that broken Mummy any less than you love me. It's hard not to walk in fear when you see how swiftly and easily a life can be smashed completely, and yet you ask us to trust. Trust without understanding. 

All I can do is hold it out to you with my eyes filled up with tears. I love the sea, and I love my girls. That Mummy loved her boy. 

I don't understand how I am so blessed with my seaside experience and yet elsewhere tragedy is so close. I can only be thankful. I am so grateful that my children splash and play in the sun and surf and they are enjoying the sea so much. They're not afraid, and yet we're trying to teach them respect for the ocean, with it's immense power and capacity for deception and destruction.

Getting on for two thousand years ago a few fishermen were in a boat on another sea, and a storm blew up. They were afraid. They were seasoned fishermen, so they knew the waters. They knew how to handle a boat and they were used to going out day after day whatever the weather to bring home the bacon. Fish. A little squall wouldn't have fazed them as it would me, but this was something different. It was a Storm. A big one. 

You are Lord of the Storm. You control the uncontrollable. You are greater than the mighty sea and stronger than the wildest gale. You not only calmed the storm but you walked on the water while it was foaming and crashing. The same sea that gives life and takes it away, the sea that is smooth and silvery today and yet elsewhere yesterday was brutal and unforgiving - it bows to you and no-one else. 
"'The men were amazed and asked, 'What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!'"
Matthew 8:27

I can't think of anything more powerful than the sea. Vast and impersonal and fathomless. Yesterday I saw the effects of the sea on the cliffs, on buildings and on my memories and emotions and I read about a family ripped apart by a random wave. I gazed out at the new landscape and the silvery, benign looking sea with a new respect.

And yet - a word from you and the storm was still. You are almighty and all-powerful. You are in control of the elements. You are in control, full-stop. Nothing is beyond you.

Lord God, thankyou for the sea and for the wonder and inspiration it gives and for the way it makes my soul sing to be near it. I feel close to you by the sea and I suppose that it's fitting that I can see it's power and relentlessness as well as its elegance and beauty.

You are Lord of all. And you're my friend. However much I hold onto you and snuggle up to you and joke with you and shout at you, it's worth remembering that you are the all-powerful Creator God.  The God who calms the storm and stills the ocean with a word. So this vast majestic expanse of silver in front of me that brings fun and anticipation and laughter and happiness and yet can erode and destroy and bring fear and horror and grief - it's subject to you.  It's strong; but you are stronger.

You are great. You are God. I am in awe. 
'Let heaven and earth praise him, the seas and all that move in them.'
Psalm 69:34
Amen.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Sun, sea, sand ... and seaweed

Evening, God.

From where I'm sitting, I can see a very special part of your handiwork.  I can look out of the window of the cottage that we're renting for the week and I can see the sea. Silvery, calm, shimmering - tide in at the moment so the sandy beach where we sat earlier is lost beneath the gentle waves splashing on the breakwater. 

I love the sea.
It's very beautiful. I love the sea. I think I've said that several times before, but I know you don't mind. I'll keep going on about it. 

Something inside me expands when I get to spend time at the seaside. I love the sound of the sea, the way the sunlight sparkles when it catches the waves, the rhythm of it; the way sometimes you can count the waves and predict which one will be the big one when the tide is coming in.  

I love rock pools and the little treasures that my husband can unearth for the children and I love that he can spend hours stooped over little pools and turning over rocks to reveal hidden creatures. 

I love the way the timber of the breakwaters have weathered in the relentless sun and wind and sea. I love the way that there are stones jammed between them so tightly that they can't be dislodged, but the might of the sea threw them there carelessly. 

I love pebbles and the sshhh of shingle and the way that I sink in the fine sand and become off balance when I stand in the surf and watch a wave receding. 

I love the excitement on my daughters' faces when they see the sea for the first time and their impatience to get down to the beach. I love that this year they are fearless and happy to wade into the sea until they can barely touch the bottom and then swim instead of just hopping over the breakers as they have in previous years. 

Off to the beach!
I love that, because it's something that I can't do. 

I love almost everything about the sea. 

I love the sea very much, but I've never been in it. At least, I've never been deeper than my knees, and then, being British and only ever having been in the sea around our shores, it's with great trepidation. 

I'm afraid of seaweed. 

Don't laugh. 

I know you weren't laughing. Does it upset you, that I hate seaweed? That I can paddle in the shallows with my trouser-legs rolled up but I need to be watchful about where I tread in case some of the wretched stuff ends up on my foot? Today there was lovely clear sea about ten feet beyond the shoreline, but alas, I couldn't reach it because there was an inordinate amount of fine, bright green, frondy seaweed between me and it. Not even the thick bladderwrack stuff that coats the groynes and the legs of the pier but the fine, fluffy stuff - I hate all of it. The stray bits that are carried about on the tide are the worst. They might wrap themselves around me. 

Ugh.
I have no idea where this phobia came from, but it is a phobia. My heart beats faster, I feel panicky. I can't tell if I've always been afraid of seaweed or whether there was a point at which it all went wrong. Can you? 

Was there an incident that traumatised me? I'm quite sure that my brother waved it at me when I was small, but whose brother didn't? Why would that leave me so terrified of it?  I envied the girls today as they swam and splashed and laughed and I envied their Daddy his opportunity to share the joy with them. 

I sat high up on the beach and doled out drinks and towels and collected pebbles. 

I had a dream when I was much younger. It's not exactly a recurrent dream, but one that I've had a few times with the odd modification over the years. I'm in a series of caves at the seaside. Each one has steep sides and leads into another. Each cave is about thigh deep with water, and there are three in a row, then beautiful open sea. I can see the sunshine sparkling off the waves and the sea is clear and pure and I'm longing to swim there. The only way there is through these three caves.  I step barefoot into the water in the first cave. 

It's full of fish. So full that the water is dark and heaving with them. It's dark with flashing scales and I have to force my legs through them. It's really horrid to walk through all these fish slithering against me and I keep stumbling as I tread on one and then I'm afraid because I don't want to fall over. I manage to get to the end of the cave and there's the next one. This cave is full of muddy water. It stinks. It's like a swamp. Under the surface of the mud there are who knows what kind of creatures crawling and biting and stinging, and the mud smells terrible. Mosquitoes are buzzing round and there are strange unexplained ripples that frighten me. I wade as fast as I can to the end of the cave and climb with great relief onto the rocks that divide this cave from the last. 

The last cave is the only thing that separates me from the beautiful, crystal clear ocean beyond. There are white waves breaking onto a pale sandy beach and wonderful coral formations with brightly coloured fish. It looks so inviting. 

The last cave is full of seaweed. All kinds.  Squelchy stuff, frondy stuff, mossy stuff and slimy stuff.  It's a long pool full of seawater and seaweed. 

I just can't do it. 

I managed the other caves full of slimy fish and all manner of creepy crawlies, but I can't do seaweed.  The wonders of the clean, tropical ocean beyond are not for me. I'm defeated. 

I turn back. 

Looking for a smiley pebble.
This dream stayed with me. I have no idea if it means anything (other than a demonstration of the horrors my childish imagination could come up with and the limits of my courage) but it is as clear in my head now in my forties as it was then, when I was just a child. 

I live in Derbyshire. Of all parts of the UK, Derbyshire is probably the best place to be if one has a seaweed phobia. Derbyshire is furthest inland of all counties in Britain. It's not a particularly large island, as islands go, but if you wanted to get as far as possible away from the sea, Derbyshire's the place. I don't come across seaweed that often, though at our old house we inherited a pond which regularly became overgrown with weed; my husband dealt with all that. Oh yes. Not me. If I had a phobia about open spaces, or closed-in spaces, or spiders, or trees or something it would impact my life much more and I'd have to do something about it, but seaweed?  Fairly easy to live with.  Easy to avoid.

There are echoes, sometimes. For instance, if anyone has dropped a tissue in the wet area of the changing rooms at the swimming pool, then I am anxious about going near. I would absolutely hate to tread on it. If it became fastened round my foot I would be beside myself. I hate putting my hand into washing up water with lots of floaty bits of food in it. I have to steel myself to clear out the drain in the shower if it gets clogged and have been known to throw up after doing it. 

I cannot make papier mache. Oh no. Wet bits of paper stuck to me? No thanks. 

My brave Elizabeth.
So, I hate seaweed, I live inland, but I love the sea. I love it with a passion. It recharges my batteries and I live off the experience for a long time afterwards. I have set as my aim that I will make the effort to see the sea at least once every year, because I feel especially close to you at the seaside. I gaze at the ocean and I see you. 

I see your power, your vastness, your unchanging nature. I see your majesty, your beauty, your relentlessness.  You cannot be contained. You have many faces; still, tame, calm, soothing - or fierce, thundering, awe-inspiring. I love to see the fishing boats, I love to spend time on the beach, I love to take photos. 

Swimming? No thanks. I'll watch. 

There are other reasons I don't go in the sea. The usual ones about being too self conscious in a swimsuit or even shorts. I didn't even pack any shorts for me this holiday, let alone a swimsuit. Elizabeth looked at me quizzically and asked why I wasn't coming for a swim and I didn't know what to say as I don't want to introduce the ridiculous idea that someone might be afraid of seaweed, and nor do I want to admit that I am so crippled by my body image that I couldn't bring myself to get my legs out in front of strangers. Dilemma. The moment passed. She swam and sang with joy. I paddled gingerly in the foam at the waters' edge and took photographs. 

Wel, Lord, when I started this I had no idea that I was going to get all that off my chest. My seaweed phobia is just an inbuilt part of me. I reckon that if I needed to wade through it to save one of my girls' lives, I wouldn't just stand there wistfully looking at the open water beyond; or at least I hope I wouldn't. It's just one of the many flies in the ointment of life for me. I adore the sea, but I can't go in it. 

How beautiful is that?
I don't know where I'm heading with this. I wouldn't dare to ask you for healing in case you need me to do something brave to conquer my fear. I don't want to have to be brave. I'd quite like to understand where the fear came from, but not if it requires me to face it in any dramatic way. I'd quite like to be out there laughing and swimming with my family but I can't do it so I'll let my husband have this special thing with the girls. Let it go, hey.

I didn't mean to get all maudlin. I am loving our holiday by the sea. While I've been here chatting to you it's gone dark and the sea is now an inky black invisibleness with a myriad of lights where there are ships out there. I can hear the waves on the breakwater and I can see the lighthouse winking far up the coast. Tomorrow we're off to the beach again and I'll make a good sandcastle and I'll lie on the rug and dig my toes in the sand and then go and walk carefully along the shoreline in the shallow water. I'll take lots of photos of my girls as they grow up because in the blink of an eye they won't want buckets and spades any more. I'll have to bring them for me. 

I'm going to find a pebble with a smile. Every year I find a pebble with a smile and when I get home I add eyes and a nose and I label it with the date and location of our holiday. My pebbles cheer me up all year round.

I want to make the most of this holiday. I'm needing a top-up. 

A top-up of sun, sand, sea - and you, Lord God, who made it all. 

Even the seaweed. Though I can't for the life of me understand why...


Wednesday, 15 August 2012

With butterfly wings

Evening, God.

It's been a while, hasn't it? Busy busy busy, you know; school holidays, packing for trips, the odd tummy bug. I'm wanting to catch up. 

Today we went to a Butterfly Centre. We went in bright sunshine, came home in torrential rain and picnicked in a howling gale, but we had a wonderful time. 

Butterfly
What a fantastic place. 

Birds of prey, fabulous peacocks, ancient tortoises, snakes and spiders and butterflies. Amazing, delicate, extravagantly beautiful butterflies. They lived in a recreation of a tropical rainforest complete with pools and tropical flowers, creepy crawlies, bats and birds. Everywhere things scuttled and crept and fluttered and slithered. The air was hot and humid and the sun shone through the transparent roof and transported us to another place. A large scaly lizard like thing as long as my arm perched up in the roof and a display of tiny, jewel-like poison dart frogs kept Katy occupied for ages. Elizabeth was mesmerised by a large snake slowly consuming a white rat and I was transfixed by the beauty of the butterflies. 

In our garden we often get butterflies. We have buddleia and cornflowers and marigolds and lots of (ahem) 'wilderness' areas and we're used to seeing what I've always thought of as cabbage whites and something that looks a bit like a red admiral (but probably isn't, I realise). I don't know much about butterflies and I confess that even today I was more interested in gazing at them and trying to take a decent photograph than I was in reading the educational material available. 

Fragile, but strong enough to do what it's meant to do.
Stunning colours, so fragile. Amazingly detailed; some of the butterflies looked as if they'd been coloured by hand. Elusive - they landed on a leaf at eye level but before I'd raised my camera they were off again, flitting between luscious blooms from petal to petal, weightless. They've been described as 'living flowers' and I like that. 

Apparently the average lifespan of a butterfly is about a month. They don't live very long, but while they live they are spectacular. They are pupae, then caterpillars, then they snuggle into their chrysalis for a while and then they hatch into gorgeous creatures that flutter and dance and sit on flowers waiting to have their picture taken, if any huge and clumsy human being stumbles near. 

Each of these tiny insects is unique. You made each one different. You chose their colours, the design on their wings, their size and shape and habits and flight pattern. You watch over each chrysalis as they sleep and you count very wing beat. What a Creator you are, to take such joy in the tiny and helpless. Even the fleeting life of a butterfly has meaning in the fragile eco-system of the rainforest, just as it does in my back garden. 

You made them beautiful just because you could. Your attention to detail never fails to amaze me. You could just have made a red one and a blue one and a yellow one, but the intricacy and detail are breathtaking. Today we even saw transparent butterflies. How cool is that? 

You know what captured my imagination today, though? It was when I came to the cabinet where the butterflies emerge fully formed from a chrysalis spun by a crawling caterpillar.  Ranks of chrysalises (is that the plural of chrysalis?) hung in rows - bright green, dark green, yellow, red, russet, even shiny gold. Some butterflies were in process of struggling slowly out of their cocoon and this is where it got to me. 

A butterfly has to battle to leave the chrysalis. It's not easy. It works hard to tear its way out and it has to fight, then rest. 

Fight, then rest. 

It is in the action of pushing its way into the world that the butterfly gains enough strength in its brand new and breathtakingly beautiful wings to fly. If I were to help a butterfly out of it's chrysalis, it would die. It would never fly. It would never become what it was meant to become, because it had never built up its muscles. If butterflies have muscles. I'm not sure about that, but you get the drift. 

Wow. 

Maybe I'm like a butterfly. I know that I live longer, but that's nonsense really because I know that my lifespan is only a tiny wingbeat in eternity. A blink. I know that I'm not as wonderfully beautiful as a butterfly, but then you tell me in the Bible that I am just those things; wonderful and beautiful. As I peered at those tiny insects today, feeling enormous and substantial in contrast with their delicate fragility, it made me think of the way you look at me. I am as vulnerable and ephemeral as a butterfly. 

I am nothing without you, my Creator.

Struggle, then rest, then struggle...
I too have a purpose, and I need muscles to fulfil it. If you helped me out of my chrysalis every time I tired and moaned and cried out to you to do it for me, then maybe I would never fly. 

So often I don't like how life is hard. I don't like that it takes so much effort and that even the good things, even the blessings, are hard work. We went to the Olympics last week and we visited family and we did wonderful things that are good gifts from you, opportunities that are rare and to be cherished, and yet I found myself exhausted simply with the daily job of negotiating life with two small energetic children who are programmed to get up early, stay up late and make much noise in between. 

I keep asking you, Father, why is it so hard? Is it just me? The generations before me just got on with things, why do I struggle so much? I want you to take the difficulty away and give me a break. But maybe, I wonder, if you did, then I might never have the strength to fly.

'Mummy, it's you with butterfly wings.'
Is that it? Do I need to push my way out, struggle, rest, struggle, rest, until I emerge into the light and open out my beautiful wings? Only then I'll be strong enough to take off and do what I was made to do. Fulfil my purpose in life. 

A few days ago my little girl, Lizzie, gave me a picture she'd drawn on a bit of notepaper. She handed it to me as a present. 

She said, 'Mummy, it's you. It's you with butterfly wings.'

Ah. 

So here it is. 

I'm as unique and beautiful as a butterfly, and my life is just as fleeting.

If you created and painted the butterflies with such painstaking love, then what a work of art am I?

A butterfly is just a tiny insect but has a vital, God-given role to play in the world, and so do I... 

Fragile as they are, they need strength to do what they were created to do. They struggle, and rest, and then one day they spread their beautiful wings and fly.

And you smile.

That's good enough for me. 




Saturday, 4 August 2012

Bright shining as the sun

Hello, God.

It happened again today.  

We went to the Science Museum in London today as part of our holiday down here in the capital, between our trips to see family and Olympic events.  It's an amazing experience, the Science Museum. Even for someone like me, who is pretty much technologically challenged, it's fascinating.  It's fascinating in a different way for my husband, who is a scientist, so he understands the inner workings of everything from steam engines and space rockets and MRI machines and aeroplanes and transistors and computers and all things technical. I, on the other hand, tend to marvel at the cleverness of such things and then stroll on to the next exhibit. And when I get to the coffee shop, I'm quite interested in the things there too.

Clever people indeed. Not as clever as you.
Each to their own. I love the floor devoted to the human body. Everything physical, developmental, emotional, intellectual. 

Spiritual? Not so much. 

I love what we know about ourselves and I love reading between the lines; what we don't know. What we can't know; we'll never find out, because we're not meant to. I like to look at the exhibits and read the explanations with you in mind; your creativity, your power, your sense of humour. 

In 1953 Crick and Watson worked out that the DNA took the form of a double helix, and we started talking about the building blocks of life. The plaque on the floor said 'DNA Double Helix: changed the future in 1953'. We can scan brains. We can play with stem cells. We can cure diseases that killed millions a generation ago, but the building blocks of life? Can we stay alive indefinitely? Can we somehow bring life back when it's gone?  Only you can do that. 

Only you did exactly that.

We are so proud of what we know. There are so many incredibly clever people out there who have worked hard and investigated more thoroughly and to whom you've given moments of insight. I like that you reveal bits and pieces here and there so that our eyes open wide with the marvellousness of it all. I just wished that now and again, attention could be drawn to the Author of it all. 

Nowhere that I could see in that monumental museum were you mentioned. There was a gallery of great scientists: Newton, Einstein, Galileo, Faraday, good old Darwin; they were pictured next to their invention, or discovery, or theory. The bookshop was full of volumes detailing their thoughts and ideas.  We are in awe of such thinkers.  There was an impressive array of volumes by Richard Dawkins with his particular brand of aggressive atheism and the ideas he promotes that this is all there is; I couldn't see anything about Creation. Nothing that might acknowledge that everything we have and everything we have found out is because you have allowed it.  The museum is an impressive shrine to the power of the human mind.

It's widely thought that science and faith are mutually exclusive but I don't see why that should be. Einstein didn't think that science had disproved you, and yet so many people these days think that you can subscribe to either one or the other, but not both. I wonder why, when there are so many unanswered questions. We all believe in something. If you were to go for a wander in the Science Museum, you'd think we only believe in ourselves.

Anyway. 

We had a nice time. We looked around, we had tea and a cake and we sprinted through the shop as fast as we could before the children demanded souvenirs. And then we emerged, blinking, into the sunshine. 

Music. 

Coming from a balcony of the Victoria and Albert museum opposite, a brass quartet was playing music.  The strains of something familiar. 

'Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now I'm found,
Was blind, but now I see.'

Oh my goodness. 

It was beautiful. The musicians had jazzed it up a bit so it took a moment or two to work out the central 
tune, but once I had it, it was unmistakeable. 

Another Newton (1725-1807) but a man who saw things as they were. He saw beyond himself to what really matters.


The Lord has promised good to me.
His word my hope secures.
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.


We invented the television and the computer and we broke codes at Bletchley Park and we sent rockets into space and put satellites in orbit, but you alone are God. You're the only One who sees beyond our myopic vision. We celebrate our insights and intellect but you must smile a wry smile at our spectacular limitations. We reach for the sky, but you made it. I saw an exhibit about the sun: we know that its surface temperature is about 6000deg C and we know that it's 150,000,000km from earth, and we know that it's necessary for life ... but you moulded it and made it shine.

When we've been here ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun.
We've no less days to sing God's praise
Than when we've first begun.

Oh, Lord God. We are so pleased with ourselves, but our achievements are nothing in comparison to you. It made me smile to see the crowd stop and listen, some singing along, and to hear the applause for the musicians when they finished and took a bow. They played beautifully and the tune was one that it amongst the most special hymns that we have, but the words? Inspired by you. The subject matter? You. 
Bright shining as the sun

Everybody clapped as the music finished.  The stream of people exiting the Science Museum into the sunshine cheered and offered their approval to the musicians. It was indeed a lovely moment. A warm Saturday afternoon in central London with a street market and entertainers and a brass quartet on the balcony of a historic building. 

Thankyou. 

I clapped too, but my praise was for you. It always will be. 

Lord God, Creator of the heavens and the earth and everything in them, when I've been here ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun, I'll have no less days to sing your praise than when I've first begun. 

Amen. 





Thursday, 2 August 2012

Faster, higher, stronger - and more beautiful

Evening, God.

Thankyou for today. It has been a day to remember; I've been at the Olympics.  They say it's a once in a lifetime experience to visit the Olympic Games in my home country and so I've been looking forward to it for so long. We saw the best swimmers in the world doing their thing today and we spent a few hours exploring the wonderful Olympic Park. 

London 2012
There were thousands and thousands of people there - and it felt as if every last one of them was in the aquatic centre shouting at the top of their voices when Rebecca Adlington or Michael Phelps appeared. The atmosphere was wonderful. The children had a rare opportunity to scream as loudly as they liked with total impunity (indeed, approval) and we were all there waving flags, eating wine gums and getting a little bit hoarse. 

The aquatic centre is an amazing feat of  engineering and the main stadium is beautifully photogenic close up. There are sculptures, bridges and different sporting arenas that are elegant and graceful and a monument to man's architectural achievement. Highly appropriate, really, in this sporting tournament to end all tournaments. I'm writing this watching a medal ceremony on the television and the commentator is speaking of honour and pride and the playing of a national anthem as a tribute to an athlete's prowess.

You know what? I loved it. I loved it all. The happy atmosphere, the marshals high-fiving the children on the way in, the beauty of the Park, the excellence of the athletes. But something caught my eye and it made me stop completely and look at things differently.

The planners of the Olympic Park knew what they were doing with the landscaping. Lots of green and lots of trees. A feeling of space and cleanliness and openness. And lots of flowers. 

Beautiful. 
What flowers. Someone had spent a fortune on wildflower seeds and used them liberally. A masterstroke of gardening; banks of wonderful colour that require no intricate tending and, presumably, will come up again next year. Orange and blue and purple and red and yellow and white stretching into the distance and enveloping the spectacular buildings... it was a breathtaking display. People were stopping to gaze and take photographs. It was by no means just me. 

But I noticed something and I have no earthly idea how many other people noticed it as well. Maybe some did. Within and beyond this monument to man was a monument to you. A greater one by far. This one is an achievement that man can't manage no matter how fast, or how high, or how strong. We sow a seed, we water it, but we need you to shine on it and make it grow. It's only you. Amid the world records and Olympic champions and the medals and multi-billion pound developments are growing beautiful wild flowers and that's something that we can't do. No matter how hard we train or how big our budget or how determined we are. 

I know it's only small. I know those flowers were so subtle. Dramatic in display, but individually tiny, but subtle is your thing. You never clobber us in the face with your glory; it's up to us to see it. It will be that way right up until that day when the heavens split open and every last one of us will kneel whether we want to or not. Subtle, gentle and beautiful.

You were there.
Once I'd seen it I saw so many other things. I looked up and saw the sun emerging from behind the clouds with wonderful effect. I saw the children dancing on the multi-coloured pavement with joy in their faces. I saw people holding hands and people laughing and it struck me how privileged we were to be there at all. How there can be no spectacle, and no joy, and no excitement or love without you.

You were there too, weren't you? You were watching the swimmers and the cyclists and the gymnasts and the boxers and the sailors and everyone.  You are not bound by the strange and idiosyncratic rules of ticket acquisition. You don't need a VISA card and you don't need to be ridiculously quick off the mark with a mouse when a ticket or two become available. You were watching them all. What did you make of it? 

More medals than most.
Did any one of those athletes pause to thank you for the miracle of their body? To give you the glory for the wonder of their sporting prowess? Did any of them bow down sometime in private and say, 'Lord, it's all from you - it's all for you?

I bet some did. I bet most didn't.  I bet most of them gloried in their muscled and streamlined bodies and felt overwhelming pride when they won. If they have any grace they thank their families, their trainers, their fans. 

Lord, not one of us would be here without you. Not one swimmer, runner, archer or fighter. No-one with exceptional lung capacity or stamina or suppleness or steadiness of hand. No-one a little bit overweight, or riding on a mobility scooter, or queuing for MacDonalds. Not a flower blooms if you don't will it. 

Lord God, thankyou. Thankyou for the spectacle and the skills you have given to these people who dedicate their lives to sporting excellence. Don't get me wrong - I love it. If I could get my hands on more tickets there are so many more events that I'd like to see. I take my hat off to Michael Phelps. All those gold medals? But you taught him to swim. It was you that gave him what he needs to win those medals. I love to watch these people who have worked so hard to create perfect form and peak physical fitness in the body that you gifted to them but I know that you don't love them any more than you love me, with my post-baby tummy and hefty thighs. I move more slowly and with so much less elegance, but you still think that I'm great. 

Champions of the future.
It's a demonstration of your power. Your creativity, that people come in all shapes and sizes. Some of them can win medal after medal and be the fastest or the best in the world in their arena and some have other gifts. Nobody gets a gold medal in your Kingdom except those of us who run the race without giving up and eventually cross the finish line. 

You know what? When I stand on the podium I want it to be in Heaven and because you're proud of me. My country is never going to watch me on the telly and cheer when I beat the best in the world at some sport or other, but if my God cheers me past that finish post and hands me a crown when I arrive, out of breath and wide-eyed, then I'll have done ok. 

I so want my children to see this for what it is. Yes, if they devote their lives to excellence in a field they might or might not find themselves on a podium somewhere while the national anthem plays, but it's more than sport. It's about knowing who they are as princesses in your kingdom. It's about understanding that the gifts that they have are priceless whether they're measurable in world records or in smiles or in pages written or people entering the Kingdom. It's about seeing things for what they really are.

It's about standing in the middle of the multi-billion pound Olympic complex and noticing the flowers.

Thankyou for showing me. I might have missed it, and I would have missed the point and maybe thought that the Olympics are about athletes or national pride or commerce or something.

Thankyou for showing me the flowers and trees and the clouds and the looks on people's faces and the wonder in my daughters' eyes as they revelled in the occasion. 

You are God Almighty. It's all because of you. You're the fastest and the highest and the strongest. Even if not everyone realises it, today was a celebration of you. 






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