29 July 2020

A Moment to Reflect -74


For the next few days, I’m going to return to reflecting on the theme ‘between the mountains the seas.’  The Psalmist declares that God is the Creator of mountain, sea and the space between.

For the Lord is the great God,
    the great King above all gods.
In his hand are the depths of the earth,
    and the mountain peaks belong to him.
The sea is his, for he made it,
    and his hands formed the dry land.

“Beaches are God’s poetry.”  Steve Maraboli

I’m not the kind of person who likes to lie on a beach all day long absorbing radiation from our nearest star. All the same, normally at this time of year my wife and I would be enjoying the bright and dependable sunshine of southern Spain, perhaps sipping a cool beer or a warm coffee at one of our favourite beach-side restaurants and looking out lazily on the Mediterranean, drinking in the soothing sound of waves lapping (or crashing) on the shore.

It’s been said that “a change is as good as a holiday.” So, for a change, we’re sitting at home looking out on a cold, windswept, rain-drenched garden and reflecting on the possibility that not every change is ‘as good as a holiday.’ (At least the coffee’s still quite tasty in our house. And, if I close my eyes, maybe I can pretend that the noise of the wind ripping through the trees is actually the sound of waves caressing the Mediterranean shore. …no …wait a minute… even with my eyes closed that just isn’t working!)

I really do feel sorry for those UK holidaymakers who went to Spain in the last few days eager to experience the sun, sand and sea of Spain only to discover that the surcharge they would have to pay on their return would be 14 days of unplanned-for quarantine. (I make one small exception in my feelings of sympathy in the case of the Transport minister, Grant Shapps, who flew out with his family to Spain already knowing that the very next day the Government would announce this new restriction. That was just bizarre.)

Though sunbathing is definitely not my thing, “I do love to be beside the seaside” whatever the weather!

Every shoreline is a space between two worlds, a line of transition between the firm and familiar well-trodden paths of dry land and the fearful but exhilarating uncertainties of the uncharted, always-changing open sea.

And I think that is exactly where we all are at the moment during this pandemic. 

We are between the familiar world of our old routines—those well-trodden paths of our everyday lives, our patterns of work, and worship, of celebrating and socialising that are beginning now to seem like a distant memory—and a quite unknown future that is being reassuringly described as “the new normal” even though there is very little about it that is likely to be normal. Indeed, there is very little about the future that we can be sure of at all. It’s like we’re standing on the shoreline, knowing that we can’t go back, but wondering where we’ll end up if we move out into the water. 

Until now, we’ve only dipped our toes into the edge of a sea whose boundaries we cannot see or measure. It is both scary and exciting.

I suspect that, in spite of our delusions of ‘normality,’ life has always been like that to some extent —the familiar past, the unknown future. 

As Winnie the Pooh might have said, “I must go forward where I have never been instead of backwards where I have” ― A A Milne

Given that we can’t actually go back what will drive us forward? Fear or hope?

28 July 2020

A Moment to Reflect – 73

“We look forward to the time when the Power of Love will replace the Love of Power. Then will our world know the blessings of peace.”—William Ewart Gladstone

During my short stay at St Deiniol’s Library, I came across this interesting stone in the churchyard of St. Deiniol’s Church, next door to the library. 

When I first saw it I actually mis-read it as “The Place of God.”

It seemed to me to be a fairly accurate summary of what many people nowadays think and feel. God’s place is consigned to the graveyard!

It can be true in two different senses: firstly in the sense that the only time some people think about God at all is when they are confronted by the end of their own life or the life of someone they care about, and secondly (and perhaps even more common) is the notion that God himself is dead and faith in God is nothing but a foolish delusion. Many people are happy therefore to wish that God will “Rest in Peace” and that those who still go on talking about God will give it a rest. (“Gie us peace!” being their watchword.)

I think for me part of the problem lies in the way that the words “peace” and “quiet” have become associated with each other.

We need a much more robust and lively understanding of what peace is. 

It is not just the absence of war, or conflict, or even of hassle. 

It is not just about having some space or time out of the busyness of living. 

In other words, it is not the peace of the graveyard.

I much prefer the Biblical/Hebrew concept of “shalom” which (brilliantly) can be used as a noun, as a verb or as an adjective, as well as being the means of saying ‘hello’ or goodbye.’ 

Peace is something you do, as well as something you can have and a quality that can permeate anything.

This is a positive, muscular, heavy-duty kind of peace that is life-affirming and life-enhancing. It is about things not being broken or wounded or incomplete but being mended, healed and made good and whole. It’s about fulfilment and engagement: not escape. I wish you all the Peace of God.