A Moment to Reflect

29 August 2020

A Moment to Reflect -94

Oslo Opera House

The other day I mentioned the Opera House in Oslo. It is a marvellous building, designed perhaps to look somewhere between a small iceberg floating in the Oslo Fjord and a ski jump ramp. But the best thing about it is that it is designed so that you can walk up the roof, as you can see from the photograph. 

It’s a fairly leisurely stroll and at the top you get a great view of the harbour. 

Not all roofs are so easy to access.

I know …from personal experience… 

It was several years ago. To be precise it was the year 1974.

I was a student then. I had just completed an Arts degree and was about to begin my Theology degree. I needed a summer job, especially as my father had died the year before, but work of all kinds was in short supply that year.
In the end the only employment I could get for the summer was with a “roofing” company. (The inverted commas are necessary to indicate that this “company” was of the Western variety. i.e. they were pretty much cowboy builders!!)
Now, I think it’s worth observing that at that time I was extremely scared of heights. So it seemed to me to be a rather a cruel irony that this was the only job open to me for the summer. It’s amazing what you’ll do for a wee bit of cash, mind you.
It is also worth pointing out, to those who may not know about these things, that “The Health and Safety Executive” (or whatever it might be called now) had not even come into being at the time. I have no doubt that it was precisely because of the kind of work practices that I enjoyed (sorry… endured) that the HSE was invented.

The particular event I’m about to describe happened early on in my roofing ‘career.’ 

Anyway, we arrived at the site of our first assignment— a set of factory roofs in East Kilbride. These were called ‘nest factories’ but this description had nothing to do with any avian housebuilding activities. I think it had something to do with most of the companies being ‘fledgling’ companies, but maybe I’m making that one up too.

At any rate the one good thing about this being our first job was that the roofs of these particular factories were not too high. A mere 30 feet or so. (Just over 9 metres.) A good place for an acrophobic* student to begin. [*look it up if you don’t know what it means]

There was one drawback, however. Although the roofs were only about 30 feet off the ground… the ladder we used to access it was a bit less than that. It meant that to get on to the roof you had to climb to the second top rung of the ladder then reach up to grab the flashing on the wall-head and pull yourself up the last three or four feet. When I saw one of the existing workers engaging in this particular acrobatic feat while simultaneously holding a large propane gas cylinder on his shoulder, I began to contemplate taking a vow of poverty for the summer. But I couldn’t escape very easily and soon it was my turn to attempt to get onto the roof. It felt as if my stomach got up there before the rest of me but by concentrating hard, and not looking down, I managed it.

Well, this was to become a several-times-a-day routine over the next couple of weeks and eventually (to my own amazement) I too could be seen quickly shinning up that wall-head from the top of the ladder while carrying all sorts of objects, like buckets and brushes and compressor hoses… and, yes, even a propane gas cylinder. But I didn’t ever dare look down.

Now, the ‘regular’ workers knew that we were all students but, as far as I was aware, they had no idea what subjects any of us were studying. (For a lot of the time neither had we, but that’s another story!) 

We were a diverse foursome in this respect. Electronics. Chemistry. Law… and, of course, in my case… Theology. But nobody knew… I thought.

Then, one day, the foreman (a rough, red-faced Glaswegian by the name of Ronnie) was holding the foot of the ladder on which I was climbing. His job was to make sure the ladder did not slip. I was carrying something in my hand at the time. I think it was a bucket.

I was almost at the top of the ladder and therefore reaching up to take hold of the wall-head with my free hand when suddenly the ladder started to fall back away from the wall into a vertical position. Involuntarily, I looked down!! Almost 30 feet below me Ronnie was pulling the ladder backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards, while I clung desperately to the top of it like some sort of performing monkey.

And from down below I heard Ronnie’s voice bellow out in mocking Glaswegian tones, “Aw right then, Reverend, let’s hear ye saying yer prayers noo!! Ha! Ha!”

He didn’t hear me saying my prayers… 

…that doesn’t mean I wasn’t praying.

I think it’s sad that so many people assume that prayer is only for emergencies.

Henri Nouwen, on the other hand, has a much more profound, and more practical, understanding of prayer. He writes, “Prayer is the centre of the Christian life. It is the only necessary thing. It is living with God in the here and now.”And also, “A prayerful life is not a life in which we say many prayers, but a life in which nothing, absolutely nothing, is done, said, or understood independently of him who is the origin and purpose of our existence.”—Henri Nouwen.