I live in building that was once a church vestry. It’s not quaint or pretty or even particularly old, built in 1926 on the side of a big chapel, a utilitarian building really, bare bones to serve the congregation. It amuses me that before they built the vestry they had to knock down a pub! Strange neighbours, eh? I wonder if there was ever a time when both the pub and the chapel were active? When the fishermen and labourers, wending their drunken way home in the wee small hours, crossed paths with the church deacons who were opening up for a day of worship? I like to think so, and I hope that sometimes the doughty church men might have paused in their Sunday chores to lead any lost sheep safely home.
I do like my once-vestry. It’s just two bedrooms, a bathroom and the living room, which is an open plan kitchen and sitting room. The high ceiling gives a great sense of space in what is really a small home. There’s no garden, no drive, no views – the front door opens onto the pavement on the busy main street of my village, so there are lorries and vans and cars, bikes, people, dogs…. life. It’s been a comfortable home and I know that when I move I will miss the sense of air and light and space.
We’ve been happy enough here, me and my dogs, a few wood lice and some spiders. Some really big spiders. I like spiders. I don’t understand why most people don’t – they’re usually harmless, always quiet and unobtrusive, they do their job without complaining, and you don’t have to feed or insure them. Or take them to be groomed. What’s not to like? But at this time of year they’re busy catching flies and although I don’t like breaking entire webs, if they’re old and broken, clearly abandoned, I do try to clear them. I have an extending feather duster but it doesn’t reach quite far enough, and no matter how much I rax to my fullest extent I simply can’t get anywhere near them. Even my granddaughter, standing on the worktop, stretching as high as she can…. no way. I’m adept at deliberately forgetting things that would otherwise clutter up my head, and I have happily forgotten these webs for quite a few months but I thought of them again today, as I drove to the beach in the early morning. In the early sunshine I was sharply aware that all around me, all around me, seen and unseen, there was abundant, vibrant life, and I was thankful for it, for all those scurrying, hurrying, peaceful, restful, feathered, fanged, claw and beak lives.
Come with me? The lane to the beach is narrow, and just after dawn the road is alive with birds, squirrels and rabbits. I drive with more care than is usual for me, slowly and guiltily, aware that I’m disturbing the peace, and trying not to harm any of them. Once I saw a fox and once a badger, the fox standing stock still in the dappled light where trees overhang the road, and the badger trundling, scurrying fatly, up a farm track. In the last stretch of road, past the mouth of the estuary there are flocks of Canadian Geese, a few swans, little fat ducks. In the dunes there are unseen adders, voles, mice, and rats. On the beach the gulls wheel and the swallows dart, gannets dive out at sea, little flocks of chirpy things (I’m no ornithologist) skim across the breaking waves, sending Pip into a frenzy. As she races to and fro, hopelessly chasing these tiny murmurations, I paddle at the sea’s edge, past all the different kinds of jellyfish washed up on the high tide mark. We crunch – the dogs and me – through the discarded shells of crabs (and, once, a lobster) Two or three times a year curious seals pop up to stare, and sometimes to shadow us, as we walk from one side of the sands to the other. A few times I’ve seen dolphins. Under our feet are the tracks of pea crabs, and worm casts and leaping sandflies. Under the sand, ominously, there may be weever fish, unthinkingly toxic.
This is my world. Dogs and spiders, fish, fowl and rodents. On a day like this I think of Genesis 1:
And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.” So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.”
On a day like this it is as if my skin is alive and electric, my eyes peeled, every sense raw. The miracle of life is too much to grasp, that all this should have come from nothing… from nothing. That I exist, and have thought, and have had life, and known so much joy and so much grief, and lived so fully and so long….and all of this a gift. From nothing. We are bacteria, we are virus, we are cell, and fibre, bone and iron, we are pulse and breath and thought and fear and love. Everything we are, we are because it has been given to us. Freely given.
We are loved and precious, and claimed. On a day like this I know it to be true. God loves me. God loves you. We live because he loves us, we are created because he is love.
On a day like this, I know God’s love.
On a day like this, I listen for his voice. There he is. In the birdsong and the waves, there he is. In the wind, in the silence, there he is.