I’ve found it! I’ve found it! The perfect prayer for me.

Praying for yourself can get a bit tangled, can’t it? Desire versus submission, trying to avoid a shopping list but churning one out anyway…. lamely saying ‘But in spite of all I’m asking for, Lord, your will be done’. The words are easy enough but meaning it in your bones is another thing entirely. And anyway, looking at our complicated lives, where do we start and where do we end? Where is the balance between being responsible and yet accepting that God is in charge? I struggle with that. I’m happy to sit back and leave it all to God.

This is the prayer I found this morning in Proverbs, 30:7-9 and it just made me say aloud “That’s it! That’s blinkin’ well it!” and then I turned to the Message version and it seemed even clearer, so here it is,

God, I’m asking for two things
    before I die; don’t refuse me—
Banish lies from my lips
    and liars from my presence.
Give me enough food to live on,
    neither too much nor too little.
If I’m too full, I might get independent,
    saying, ‘God? Who needs him?’
If I’m poor, I might steal
    and dishonor the name of my God.

Isn’t that great? It’s fabulous! It’s a prayer of balance. Just two things while I’m still on the Earth; let me live honestly with honest people, and please let me live simply. And I realised as I offered it up in some sort of Eureka! excitement, that this is exactly what God has already done in my life – I have neither too much nor too little, and I have good friends and fellowship. Balance. Wow. More good things than I deserve and less bad things than I deserve. Perfect! Even I can remember to ask for two things.

I’ve been thinking about balance these last few days, and I don’t want to be simplistic about it, but isn’t balance the secret to a happy life? And isn’t balance something that we all struggle with? I lack balance. I very rarely worry. I think it might even be accurate to say that I never worry. That’s not good, it’s unbalanced. It’s a sort of emotional laziness, a shedding of responsibility. If we never worry about the future do we really care about it? Many years ago I gave an interview and was asked how I would describe my character and I said ‘cow like’. and I really do think that’s true. I wander along, chew the cud, look up at the sky, chew a bit more cud…. placid old me. I don’t see anything as a catastrophe, and very little as a crisis. I have a default position of contentment-no-matter-what. It’s not a good balance, because I’m not Paul of Tarsus in his prison cell who was content in spite of all his difficulties, who spread the word anyway, who reached out beyond his prison cell in letters and care and teaching, who was a shining example of Christ’s love, who was filled with the power of the Spirit. He had balance in his contentment. Me? What would my contentment look like if I was in his position? It would look as if I was sitting in my cell and dreaming a bit, sleeping a bit, doodling in the dust, wondering what’s for dinner, spinning a story in my head to pass the time. There is a balance to be struck between contentment and passivity. I haven’t found it yet. Another thing to pray for, then!

I know someone who has the opposite problem – she worries about everything. I do mean ‘everything’. Her thoughts are exhausting, a treadmill of possible consequences leading to possible disasters, and she recounts them all, her throat tight, her voice pinched and her hands fidgetty, seeming to bristle as each new worry hits her, as if the worries are pushing at every cell of her body, trying to break free. Will the council tax go up? From that simple moment of a single worry come a hundred more; and if it does, will she have to use the winter heating allowance to pay it? and if that happens will she be able to put the heating on at all? and if she can’t keep warm will she become ill? and if she becomes ill will her son look after her? and if he does how will he manage to work? will he move in with her? and if he does what will happen to his own home when he’s not there to look after it? his water pipes might burst in the cold and he wouldn’t know and the place would get flooded and he might not be covered by his insurance and…. and so it goes on. There is barely a pause in the flow of what-ifs to inject a word of reason. Balance. I need a tiny bit of her racing mind, and she needs a tiny bit of my placidity.

In our community two much loved people have died in a house fire and somehow we have gone, as a community, off-kilter. Unbalanced. There’s a pall of depression and a sense that ‘God has it in for us’. Even those who don’t believe in God are blaming him, which seems perverse. As we meet in the street or the shop there’s just one topic of conversation, the sadness, the loss, the apparent waste and random nature of the tragedy, the possible causes of the fire. It’s understandable, the blackened ruins of the house stand like an ugly scar in the very centre of our winter-white village. The sadness is there in everyone’s mind, but there’s only so much we can say to each other before we start to wallow or speculate or, well, gossip. The danger is that it becomes all about us, and how we feel and how we react and what we saw and what we think…. There is balance to be found between saying yet more empty words and holding each other up with encouragement and support. This morning as I walked on the beach I saw a friend approaching and my heart sank, knowing before she opened her mouth that there would be a re-telling of the event of that awful night, details we both knew already, as if repeating them would somehow help. It doesn’t. There comes a time when talking about the events of that night just feeds the sadness. It seems that we have forgotten that along with the deaths there have been births in the village, and recuperations, people returning home from hospital after months away, and an outpouring of care for each other, carol services arranged, hot meals provided for those in need, the sweet alongside the bitter. Balance. It seems that we can’t see the beautiful tension between the wonderful world we have been given, the years of life we have had, and – of course – our mortality. A beautiful tension or balance that means life is so good, so rewarding, such an undeserved gift, that we mourn its passing.

There were other things to talk about and wonder at, and celebrate this morning: Above us was God’s great blue canopy, the sea sparkled, mist was rising from the waves, the air was crisp and pure, the icy sand crunched beneath our feet, the knitted baubles on the Poppit Christmas tree twisted and danced in the breeze, and we had all this. All this, alongside our sadness. Balance

He spreads out the northern skies over empty space;
    he suspends the earth over nothing.
He wraps up the waters in his clouds,
    yet the clouds do not burst under their weight.
He covers the face of the full moon,
    spreading his clouds over it.
He marks out the horizon on the face of the waters
    for a boundary between light and darkness.
The pillars of the heavens quake,
    aghast at his rebuke.
By his power he churned up the sea;
    by his wisdom he cut Rahab to pieces.
By his breath the skies became fair;
    his hand pierced the gliding serpent.
And these are but the outer fringe of his works;
    how faint the whisper we hear of him!
    Who then can understand the thunder of his power?”

Job 26:7-14

Snowy showy Christmas.

Here in the UK we have cold weather for only a few weeks every year. We have snow in the North and on high ground but here on the coast it’s rare. So, when we get a cold snap we tend to catastrophise a little bit. Over dramatise. I daresay that those of you who live where there is real snow, crunchy stubborn deep stuff, think that we manage to both over-react and under-prepare. Two faults which don’t, sadly, cancel each other out. When I lived in Canada for a few months I left before the real winter set in but I was already impressed by the talk of snow tyres and chains, and the little electric point outside the front door to heat the car and stop it icing up. I could have done with that electric socket today because last night I turned the car around so that I don’t have to go up the glassy hill in the morning. OK, it’s not exactly preparing for an outing to the North Pole but it’s my version of Laura Engels in The Little House On The Prairie, taking in the hens, shutting up the barn and hunkering down against a blizzard. Unfortunately, as if to mock my amazing cleverness, pointing the car that way meant that the driver’s door was exposed to the worst of the cold and this morning I couldn’t get into it at all. Two kettles of boiling water later, the driver’s door was still stuck but now the road all around the car was an icing rink, so I put some salt down. Still couldn’t open the door, and a passing neighbour had a go. Nothing happened. He helpfully suggested hot water so I pointed to the once-hot water now-ice. ‘Ah’ he said. He had another go. I said ‘Let’s leave it. I’ll go down later when the sun’s out.’ but he’s a man and men don’t like to admit defeat. He yanked and groaned and braced and yanked some more. Bright idea! He managed to open the passenger door, clambered in, crawled across to the driver’s seat and …. got stuck. Properly stuck. Eventually he unfolded himself and put both his feet against the driver’s door and pushed, and then kicked. It opened. Phew!

It had taken only 35 minutes to get in the car. Now all I had to do was wait for the screen to clear.

But of course, this is 2022 and we’re not totally unprepared – there’s a box of rock salt at the top of the hill and…. erm…. well, that’s about it. The gritting lorry trundles on the main road into the village but it doesn’t go on the lanes and it stops even before the bus route ends.

Laura Engels and the blizzards of the Canadian prairies probably popped into my head because I’m enjoying a lot of Canadian fiction at the moment. It’s strange how so many of my favourite writers come from either America or Canada – poetry from Wendell Berry, Mary Oliver and (most of all) Billy Collins, and novels by Anne Tyler, Elizabeth Strout, and Mary Lawson, and while we’re at it, why are the best short stories so often either American or Canadian? We have a few good short-form writers of our own, I suppose, like Saki and D.H.Lawrence, but America is knee deep in them. I don’t think you could go for a coffee in the States without finding a writer at the next table, observing wryly, and quietly making notes. You might even end up sitting next to Bill Bryson, that gentle American Anglophile. Wouldn’t that be something?

Anyway, that’s a segue. What I wanted to talk about is snow. Sort of. I have a couple of little tableaux in my windows, in one window there’s the angel and the shepherds, and in the other there’s the wise men and a couple of camels, and the holy family.

Yesterday, as I was clearing the ice off the car, a mum walked by with her three little lads. They paused to look at the angel window, and stood there in silence. Then the youngest wandered off down the hill, past my front door and found the second window “Look” he called, interested now, “Camels!” The others caught up with him. Again a short silence, as they took in the scene. The mum said “That’s lovely, isn’t it?” The boys nodded. Then the middle one said “But where’s the snow?”

That made me laugh (and I’m not going to go all po-faced about it) but there’s no denying that we’ve created such a load of myth and nonsense and false imagery around the greatest story ever told that somehow we are losing sight of it. We’ve hidden the truth under a great mound of rubbish. This little lad, probably about 9 or 10, has seen cartoons and adverts and imagery about snow and snowmen and penguins and reindeer galloping across the arctic wastes, and he thinks this is Christmas. Is it any wonder that some adults sneeringly refer to Christianity as a ‘fairy tale’? We’ve allowed the world to turn it into one. Christmas is a tree loaded with lights and baubles, with a fairy at the top and chocolate hidden in the boughs. Christmas is sentimental films and TV specials. The stable is a pretty little wooden shack, the wise men are magnificent, Mary is beautiful and the …… Oh, hang on….. my little statues in the windows are a part of it, all twinkly lights and ….. oh, dear. I seem to be the pot, calling the kettle black. We’ve all bought in, at one level or another, to the marketing hype and nonsense.

Listen, I’m not Scrooge, all ‘Bah humbug!’ and misery. I love Christmas and I do hope for a little dusting of snow but it struck me, as those three little lads walked on to school, that when we forget the true, harsh reality of Christmas we miss the wonder of it too.

The birth of Jesus was a hard harsh time, a cruel bewildering time for a young teenage girl, a poor couple, in an occupied land, with the most basic conditions – dirt floors, a bed of straw, the company of animals, the smell of dung, lantern light, rats, the sudden cold of the night after the dry heat of the day, aching feet, weary bodies and fear. Mary didn’t have her mother nearby to comfort her and see her through labour, Joseph didn’t have the menfolk to sit with, waiting for the cry of his son, they were in effect homeless, stranded in a village they were simply passing through, without any of the familiar customs of childbirth.

But God. Into this, Emmanuel.

Why? Why? That’s the question. Into the dust and dirt of the Middle East, why? Into the shame of a pregnant teenager, into all that poverty and distress, into a country ruled by tyranny and savagery, came the creator of all things. Why?

Because love. Staggering. Love beyond our undertsanding. It’s the moment that all of history looked forward to and now it’s the moment that all of history looks back to. The pivotal moment of existance. Planned from the beginning of time.

Isn’t that a billion times more exciting, dramatic and radical than any man-made, sanitised Disney version? Doesn’t that make us pause and think, forgetting the tinsel? How much God loves us. I mean, how much God loves us. That’s the true wonder of Christmas.


This morning we woke up to thick mist and very thick ice. There had been hail in the night and it had frozen hard, so the pavements and road were like glass and it took half an hour to de-ice the car (I sat inside listening to three chapters of my audio book while we waited). It was a hair raising journey to the beach, especially when, halfway up a steep hill the car travelled sideways and the wheels spun. Remembering the mantras of my police training I went through the list; low, light, gentle. Low revs, light braking, gentle steering, take control. No panic. Easy. But it wasn’t at all easy and by the time I got to the beach my jaw was fused, my heart was racing and some nagging inner voice was shouting at me “Are you a total bleedin’ idiot, woman?” The answer was “Yes”.

The beach was, of course, completely abandoned because I was the only fool rash enough to drive on sheets of ice (no choice – I have no garden and the dogs need to get out). But listen, it was lovely. It was! Misty, cold as hell on a very cold hellish cold day, and silent and magical. And cold. Did I say that?

Percy loved it. “At last” he seemed to say as he strutted up to the dunes and trotted through the waves, “My very own private beach.”

We walked and walked, soaking up the mystery and the peace.

Then Percy stood stock still, listening. If he had been a pointer he couldn’t have been clearer – something was out there in the waves. Where? On the sea or in the shallows? I couldn’t see or hear anything at all but he stood there, quivering. And then Pico did the same. I stood still, straining to hear, and then through the waves of fog, I caught a brief glimpse of a light, and then it was gone. A strange white light reflected on the wall of fog. Had I imagined it? Now the magic was becoming just a tiny bit worrying. The waves seemed slow and heavy, barely whispering. There’s a dead sheep on the water line and it’s been there for weeks, moving up and down with the tide, only its rib cage and one strangely red hoof still recognisable, in a tangle of grey sinew. It all felt gothic and unsettling. I became aware that if someone was walking towards us, we wouldn’t see them until they were right there, on top of us. But no one else was down there, were they? Well, I didn’t think so, but I was becoming less certain with every passing breath. And now, wouldn’t you know, Percy began to growl. To growl! I think it’s what they call be being spooked and I was right there with him.

And then I heard it, the steady chug of an engine. A murmur of voices in the grey. I think it was probably Len, the fisherman, returning from a night’s work. I still couldn’t see the boat, but the sound of the engine was familiar and – in that moment – it was melodic and sweet.

Percy was still there, muscles quivering, staring into nothingness. So I started to sing. I bet you think it was a hymn, don’t you? Well, it wasn’t. It was the first thing that came into my head – River Deep, Mountain High by Ike and Tina Turner. Remember it? Fantastic song! And it did the trick, broke the spell, and when we turned around the mist was lifting.

So, it’s been a strange day. The mist has lingered, fading and then returning, and the atmosphere has been subdued. For all the world as if the mist was a garment of mourning. Strange silent day. And then… listen…. I heard that during the night two people died in a house fire, just down the road, in the middle of the village, so maybe that’s exactly what the mist is, a shroud of sadness.

The day has reminded me just how vulnerable we are, how fragile life is, how powerless we are, how we stride from one day to the next not understanding that all this can change in a heart beat, in a missed heart beat, and that we are not the masters of our world.

But we know who is. This morning, when I got back to the car I read today’s Psalm, sitting in that deserted car park, cloaked in the mist:

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.

Come, let us bow down in worship,
    let us kneel before the Lord our Maker;
for he is our God
    and we are the people of his pasture,
    the flock under his care.

Please pray for all those who knew the people who died, for the emergency workers, and everyone involved.

The Saga of Harry and Meghan

It’s going to run and run for years to come. Oh, dear.

It’s too easy to take sides, to either castigate the royal institution or to sneer at this youngish married couple, because disapproval is always easier than trying to understand the issues, and so our default positions becomes a part of who we are, part of our ‘rightness’.

Royalist or Meghanist, iconoclast or conservative, stout defender or indignant accuser. Which are you? Either?

It’s not surprising that many feel a pull of the heart towards either the dewey eyed love story, or the wounded father who doggedly keeps the door open to his son, or the woman subjected to thinly veiled racism, or maybe to the family that’s been betrayed and traduced, or the older brother who has been discarded. Others may feel less empathy for everyone involved but more judgmentalism – judging both sides for the lives they lead, the money earned from Netflix, the apparent coldness of the Royal machine, the events Meghan has ‘mis-remembered’, the misleading trailers, the spin so clumsily applied, the tears and artistic shots of grief…. going on and on and on. Whether we take sides or sniffily stand aside from the debate in our imagined superiority, it’s interesting to look at our attitudes and wonder about our inborn bias.

But, really, what has this personal tumult got to do with any of us? How is it relevant to the rest of the world, struggling to recover from a pandemic, to a continent ravaged by war, to inequal societies and to the many dictatorships worldwide? What relevance does it have when a large swathe of our communities rely on food banks, and can’t afford their heating bills, when the NHS is on its knees in this country and social care has imploded in the States, when Africa is starving, millions are without fresh water, and freedoms are denied everywhere?

Well, it’s relevant because we are part of the world and this story is all over every media outlet. It’s relevant because how we react to the side-taking reveals who we are. It’s relevant because of that familiar question, ‘What would Jesus do?’

Do we ignore it or do we try to engage and bring some sanity into play, maybe even a drop of love (!) and understanding? Today I’ve been surprised and humbled – I’ve just watched the first few minutes of the Harry and Meghan series on Netflix, and my response is entirely – and I do mean entirely – emotional. I don’t know the ins and outs of this family rift, and I don’t want to know them. Not for me to judge and I won’t be watching any more, because the first twenty minutes were all I needed to assess the sort of programme they’ve made. It’s an OK series as far as I could see, well produced, well lit, cleverly filmed, smoothly edited, narrating a coherent story. So far, just as expected. Just one side of the story, of course, unverified, and artfully presented by a huge team of marketing people and producers, all with their own agendas. What has surprised me is that after just twenty minutes or so, I now understand what has made Harry into the man he has become. Or more so than I did before. I begin to translate the bowed head now, the sidelong glance, the reticence, the loneliness. I start to grasp the unbearable tension of his childhood and adolescence, lived in the gaze of the world, observed by a hundred long lens cameras wherever he goes, whoever he is with, whatever he is doing. I get it. I have some small insight now, maybe deep in the bones of me, how this life long intrusion and awareness of the world looking on, has shaped this man, how it distorted his teenage years, and how it hurts him when he remembers those same pressures breaking into his mother’s life and into her death. And I begin to get a glimmer of understanding about his own damage and the damage he’s done to the people he loves over the last four years. I think I knew all this before, but now I have some deeper understanding of it. And that’s what happens when a story is told well.

Good story-telling draws us into other lives. Brings us closer to people we have never met and will never meet. It unifies and humanises even enemies. It allows us to feel compassion for the person who a moment ago was a strange alien.

There is a wonderful passage in Isaiah, one that I’ve banged on about before but here I go again – and yeah, yeah, yeah, you can get all po-faced and say that these words were directed to a peoples, and by extension to Christians, but whether you’re Christian or not, they’re great words. Great thoughts. Great promises. And they are so liberating, universal, they are a truth about new beginnings and new days, and walking away from old hurts….

“Forget the former things;
    do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland.”

Isaiah 43: 18&19

If I had Harry and Meghan here, what would I say to them? Just that. Exactly that.

And then I’d ask them to look at these two photos, taken the same morning, the same beach, maybe 100 yards apart…. behind me the lowering threatening storm, and in front of me the new day full of light and promise.

Which way will you look, Harry? What will you walk towards, Meghan?

Come on, kids, you have so much. Forgive those who have done you wrong, just like you want to be forgiven. Just like I want to be forgiven, and have been.

Only, Jesus said it better. ‘Forgive us, as we forgive others.’ I knew a pastor who used to say ‘Jesus is brilliant – he says the words our hearts need to hear.’ and I think that today Meghan and William and Harry each need to hear the word ‘forgive’.

Forgiving and stepping out into a new day is the key to a happy and contented life. Forgive. Move on. Go and see your Dad, Harry. He ain’t perfect and neither are you.

Forgiveness is freedom.

Wait! Wait! It’s coming….

Today I’m 74.

That’s old. That’s quite old. Don’t tell me it’s not, and don’t tell me that age is just a number or that you’re only as old as you feel. I’m 74. My ribs know it, my back knows it, my left hip knows it, and now you know it.

And I like being 74. I do. I wouldn’t swop it for 64 or 84. This is as far as I’ve got and it’ll do me nicely.

So there.

Think of all the things I can do now that I’m 74, and not just ‘do’ them but savour them, enjoy them; I can enjoy falling asleep in front of a football match that I had been looking forward to all week because when I wake up I can rewind and play it again. And I can enjoy waking up with my rib cage aching because if I just move a couple of inches one way, and stretch a bit, and take a deep breath, the pain goes and it’s such a lovely feeling to be suddenly pain-free (a bit like the old joke “Why do you keep banging your head against the wall?” …. “Because it’s so lovely when I stop”) And I like pulling a face at my iPhone when it tells me that my walking is unsteady, and I tell it “Pah! I’m the only one on the beach in a raging gale and I’m doing damn well to remain upright in all this horizontal rain, never mind walking.” And I enjoy sitting at lunch with three good friends and being just a bit too deaf to follow the conversation closely, so that it washes over me, and sometimes I find myself vaguely wondering “Who are we talking about now? And do I know them?” And I don’t even mind when the tinnitus wakes me at night with an imaginary door slam or dog bark, because it means that then I can lie awake and remember God and snuggle down again, listening to Percy’s soft slumber, happy that there are hours and hours to go before morning. Extra special unscheduled prayer time. Bonus. And doze time.

Life is not all beer and skittles. But that’s a thought for another day, not today. Sometimes we can pause, ‘selah’ (pause and think) and be glad for all we have. We don’t have to have money in the bank, or success, or a mansion, or a partner, or even good health. We can make the decision, wherever we are, whatever our circumstances, to be joyful and thankful and to savour the day.

Today I look at my circumstances and I thank God. At 74 I love the Word, grandchildren, audio books, writing, fresh ideas, new projects, skypes and zooms, pals and dogs, emails and jigsaws, jaw-jaw around the table, silly jokes, huge skies, ferns uncurling, curlews calling, birthday cards and flowers, old uncle Tom Cobbley and all. I love that at 74 I get asked to write daft ditties, and that I can spend all day on them if that’s the mood I’m in. I love… well, you get the idea.

I am grateful. This is a blog of thanks. It’s a blog of thanks to God, and to you lot, and to everyone and everything (without being pantheistic) in my life.

If you’re not 74 yet, don’t worry. It’s worth waiting for.

A small snarl up

Between our village and the nearby town there’s a narrow road on a small but steep hill, and towards the bottom of the hill there’s a road off, leading to an industrial estate, full of warehouses and car sales and the like. The turn from the narrow main road to the even narrower estate road is tight, and when you add into the scene the cars that are parked on both roads, there are times when we get a cluttered knot of traffic. People hereabouts are, for the most part, patient. We wait for each other, wave each other on, nod and smile and acknowledge, but there are exceptions. There are some who make driving a pain – who charge down narrow lanes as if they are motorways, their engines roaring “Here I come! Look out! It’s me! Me! Me! Me!”

So we are always ready for them.

As I came down that hill today I could see a small car, coming the other way, nervously poking its little nose around a parked van, and carrying on regardless of the fact that we had right of way, not him. But the car in front of me waited patiently, and I sat behind in no rush at all. The driver of the little car coming towards us was tiny, a tiny old man with a West Walian cloth cap on his wrinkled head, the sure sign of an ageing farmer. He was so small that he seemed to be looking through the steering wheel, not over it. And then a large lorry started to pull out of the road from the industrial estate and onto our road – and I do mean a LARGE lorry. One of those long high things with wheels in the middle as well as at both ends. Of course the turn was too tight for a one-try turn, and the lorry stopped, reversed a bit, and lumbered forward again, correcting its course. The little old farmer panicked. The lorry driver had seen him and was waiting for him to pass, but manouvering while he waited. There was loads of room for the farmer to nip past but that bloke wasn’t going to nip anywhere, any time soon. Panic doesn’t see what the rest of us see and the little car stopped dead, in the middle of the road. There he sat, waiting for… what? When you see a battered old Fiat 500, with a battered old driver, you know he’s not going to get from 0 to 60 in 8 seconds and all you can do is wish him well and wait.

The lorry driver beckoned, the car in front of me beckoned, the driver of the parked van waved an apology to everyone as he clambered back into his cab, and still the little car sat there. It seemed that the driver was as stalled as his car. Paralysed. Now there were two cars waiting behind him and another car behind me, and goodness knows how many vans waiting to come off the industrial estate. We waited. We could hear the grinding of gears and the little car seemed to lurch but somehow the wheels didn’t turn. What was he doing? Time passed. And then the driver of the huge pantechnicon monster opened his door and clambered out, jumping down the last few feet. A big strong man, he strode over to the little old banger and opened the driver’s door. The old man shrank, his hands fluttering. My heart was in my throat. What was going to happen? Should I jump out ready to pull this horribe bully of a man away? Could I do that without falling over? And then I saw that the lorry driver was laughing, shrugging, shaking his head… and finally the old man smiled…. I don’t know what they both said but after a minute the small car started up again, the lorry driver slammed the door and stood back, and the old man slowly crept through… the lorry driver gave him a wave, someone tooted, so I tooted, and the lorry driver clambered back into his cab. Everyone was smiling.

Ain’t that lovely? That old farmer will have tootled on home, a bit abashed maybe, but I’m sure he was smiling too. It could have been so different if impatience or anger had ruled the day and I sent a silent ‘thank you’ to the lorry man.

I’d just read an article about a chef who used to have a daily struggle with anger, or maybe I should call it fury. He would shout and scream at his juniors, and now admits that he had become a bully and was even ‘a little physical’ in the kitchen, but every night he would go home full of self-loathing and regret, perplexed about his rage, wondering where this well-spring of fury came from. He believes that it stemmed from his childhood, and maybe he’s right, but for me some of the explanation came in the next paragraph as he described his life, back in those days of anger; he worked an 80 hour week, in a busy kitchen, striving always to be better, to present one perfect plate of food after another, with a ten year plan in his head, and a family at home who had to manage – mostly- without him. No wonder he was angry – at himself for failing to reach the heights of success, at the food for not being always amazing, at his colleagues for not being everything he needed them to be, at clients for not appreciating him, at his body for being exhausted, at his mind for racing, for time racing past…. maybe even at his family for needing him. Wow. What a punishing life we create for ourselves when we think that we are right and the world is wrong, that we are entitled and noble and that everyone else is less. And what a different world it is when, like that lorry driver, we simply make room and time for each other.

Oh. Sorry. I’m slipping into Little House On The Prairie mode. Hang on, I’ll reset.

But that chef, and then that small traffic snarl-up made me think about anger. I grew up in an angry house and I know the harm it does but sometimes, if we’re deep in the forest, we can’t see the wood for the trees. The chef said “I would tell myself: ‘Tomorrow, I’m not going to do it’. And then I’d go back, and within an hour I would be furious. Those are some of the worst times of my life.” The good news is that now, after ‘many many hours of therapy’ he has lost his anger, and found peace and a balance in his life.

Now I’m thinking of an angry young man I know. He doesn’t seem angry at all – he smiles and calls a cheerful greeting, and he laughs a lot, but he is consumed with anger and frustration that his life and the world is not what he thinks they should be. He’s clever and confident, but he uses his life and energy to post diatribes on facebook and on media platforms and it doesn’t stop online – his anger spills over into his personal life and involves his neighbours. So what if he distresses people, he’s in the right, isn’t he? As I read about the chef I thought about his words ‘Those are some of the worst times of my life.” and I wonder if my young friend is living through the worst times of his life. And if so, who will help him? Will there be a friendly lorry driver for him?

Anger seems to be caused by others, but anger is always a part of self. Me. You. Anger springs from a sense that we are right, that we know best and should be heard, that we should be in control and if we were the world would be a better place, that we have a right to this place, or this time, or this outcome, that my schedule is most important, that you are the one who should reverse down the narrow lane, not me. That you should apologise to validate my rage. Anger is about my right to tell you that you are wrong and to tell you in such a way that you will conform. What’s the word I’m looking for? That’s it – anger is, at heart, simply a bully.

And anger is – wait for it – a sin.

The idea of sin is regarded with suspicion these days. It’s an archaic concept to some people, arbitrary rules that wash all the fun out of life. But the Ten Commandments aren’t there to punish us. They’re there to guide us away from the cliff edge, to save us from the mess we make when we follow our first thoughts, looking for instant unthinking gratification. If you think I’m wrong about sin, imagine a world where all the Ten Commandments are met – no one will betray you, steal from you, attack you and yours, no one will scheme against you because they are jealous, no boss will be unfair and no employee dishonest. Instead you will love and be loved, when you are in need you will be cared for and you will care for others, you will be honoured, you will have shelter and peace, and most of all you will know God.

That’s what a lorry driver, someone I will never meet, brought to my mind today.

And here’s some advice from the Bible, something I learned a long time ago through hard experience:

Do not make friends with a hot-tempered person,
    do not associate with one easily angered

Proverbs 22:24

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.
James 1:19-20

And the next, and the next…..

Back in the 80’s (no, not the 1880’s, pack it in!) George and I had some very good friends – I’ll call them Neil and Jill, whose son was the same age as our daughter, and we often met up, spending a lot of time together at weekends. Jill was a great baker and cook and she would be chef while I would peel and clear up, her assistant, and the men would do whatever latest job needed doing in their huge renovation home. Then there were long leisurely evenings as our reward, good wine and the relaxed talk of old friends.

One year we hired a canal boat together and spent a very happy week tootling through the English countryside at a maximum of 8mph. But no, it would be more accurate to call it a very pleasant week …. the ‘happy’ word is a bit of an overstatement. If you’ve never had a canal holiday, I do recommend it. We set off from Swarkestone, near Derby, and headed towards Birmingham, a large dense post-industrial city, famous for its grime.

Most of the journey was through a beautiful landscape, pastoral England at its best.

The weather was kind, the boat was long (70 feet) and very comfortable, the children were fully occupied running on the tow path, charging ahead to happily work the locks, while the adults sat on the deck watching the wildlife, the dappled water, enjoying the idyllic weather. Lovely. (the photo is from the web, it’s not us) Time took on a new rhythm, small fat dogs waddling along the tow path overtook us, the world was languid.

So, you may be asking, why did I qualify just how happy the experience was? Well, here’s the thing – Jill was a very organised woman. She had firm views about things and usually got her own way. Her husband was a bumbling, kindly guy, who invariably did as he was told, my husband was a quiet man who didn’t like a fuss, and I am not by nature an organiser and planner. So, we all ended up doing what Jill thought was best.

Unfortunately, she had a lot of thoughts about what was best, and they mostly involved never stopping the boat, getting through each lock as quickly as we could, and ignoring the many opportunities to stop for a nice relaxed pub lunch. One of us would be looking at the map and say “Hey – we’re coming up to a village and there’s a pub. Look – it’s a five minute walk from the canal and it’s recommended for lunches.” We would all look to Jill, hopefully, but the answer was always the same “Oh, it’s too early/late for lunch/dinner, let’s press on to the next one.”

We spent all week pressing on to the next one. By the time we reached each ‘next one’ it was invariably (according to Jill) too early/late for whatever meal we had been hoping for. I’m not saying that we suffered, there was plenty of good food and wine on board after all, but as the week slipped by the idea of a pub lunch became more and more attractive as the available diet became less varied.

Then we came to Birmingham, where the canals are fascinating, surprising, passing under huge buildings, roads and motorways, parks, and even the infamous Spaghetti Junction.

There’s a canal under all that.

With Jill in charge we missed it all. We didn’t once get off the boat, wander along the streets, sit outside the pubs – we didn’t even have a coffee and a Birmingham bun. Nevertheless we did have a great time – the children loved the tunnels, lying flat on the deck, or crouched low, making ghostly sounds, trying to frighten each other, imagining life back in Victorian times when the barges were ‘legged through’ these narrow lengthy tunnels, by the bargees lying on the deck, ‘walking’ along like this;

Even Jill didn’t make us do that.

An earlier version of George and Luce

As the week drew to its end and we were again gliding through lush fields, past reed beds and herons, catching a fleeting glimpse of electriuc blue kingfishers, it dawned on us that we hadn’t had a single relaxed and catered meal, none of us had managed to get a break from the others, and it seemed that we were on a sort of relentless voyage with a Captain Bligh and increasingly short rations. But by then it was too late to say anything. Even the gentlest and kindest and most gracious comment on our pitiless progress would have upset Jill and seem like a reproach. No one wanted that, Jill was Jill and she couldn’t help organising us any more than we could help obeying her. No one’s fault. So we pottered on, until we were back at the canal basin, where we unpacked our gear, said our goodbyes, hugs and laughter, got into our separate cars and set off home. I don’t know about Jill and Neil but we stopped at the first pub we came to.

I think that’s a pretty good metaphor for 2022. We are so busy pressing on to the next event, the next day, landmark, achievement, ‘must-do’, that we can miss so much of the good stuff on the way. The stuff that sustains and encourages and reminds us how great God is, how wonderful his creation. It’s not that we’re thankless, or unappreciative, or even blinkered. We may even thank God daily for our lives, but maybe, just maybe, we don’t pause long enough to savour what we have. Really savour. We say the right words in our prayers, and when we say them we do mean them, but then we charge ahead with plans and schedules and hopes and all that stuff, and God is put on the back burner until the next time… the next time… and sometimes the next time doesn’t come, and we don’t even notice it.

Brian Cox (the actor, not the scientist) is perplexed and angered by the rich/poor divide in the world, and his concern has prompted him to make a programme for TV. I watched the first section this week. We’ve worked together, Brian and me, he was my lead in a radio play a few years ago, and he’s a kind and interesting man but that’s not why I watched the programme. Like Brian I’m fascinated that some people are happy to be wealthy, filthy rich, obscenely rich, to have 16 bathrooms and five houses, and gold leaf where gold leaf is just plain tawdry (the loo? Really?), when they know full well that half the world is starving. Every day I read The Times on line and last week there were recommendations for Christmas presents – a knitted poncho costing nearly £4000 pounds (four thousand!), a baseball cap £605, a pet bed £5710 (five thousand smackers for a small lump of wood and upholstery). Insanity. These billionaires in their opulent mansions and yachts are, like Jill, forever pressing on to the next. The next take-over, the next acquisition, the next holiday, the next investment, the next supercar, the next… the next… the next…. and in doing so, forever pressing on to tomorrow, they miss out on the small and precious joys of today. Jesus said that man cannot serve two masters. While we serve our desire for progress and possessions, power and success, we are mastered by these things. Enslaved by them.

We sometimes refer to ‘our 3 mile an hour God’ and it’s good to remember that Jesus travelled on foot. Three miles an hour. Because he wasn’t rushing by in a limo he saw the little man climb a tree, he felt the woman touching the hem of his robe, he spoke with the Samaritan woman, he understood the seasons, the crops, the herds, the people.

When we got off the narrow boat (at last!) after just one week of chugging along, everything seemed so fast! The traffic was frantic. We were amused and surprised by our reaction to our own speed; unlike me George was a sedate driver but we seemed to be hurtling along. But here’s the thing – although we thought we had been travelling slowly, appreciating every moment, the desire to press on had still been our master and we had still managed to miss some of the experience. I think that maybe we do that in our spiritual walk. We think that we are walking with our 3 miles an hour God, but we are still pressing on in our busy lives to the next, the next, the next. And then, with the best of intentions, we miss the simple truth that where we are right now, this plot of land, this lump of sky, this day, is ours to savour, not to rush through. It means making a decision to check ourselves, to slow down, foot off the throttle. It takes a tiny bit of discipline.

My house is called ‘Selah’, usually translated as ‘pause and think’. Sometimes I’m so busy doing the latter that I forget to do the former.


I think about a friend who lives by the prayer “Your will, your way, your time.” and I think that’s a prayer I may just have to nick from him.

Absurd me.

Some time after my husband died I was in Sainsburys (oh, how I miss Sainsburys, here in the sticks) and reaching into a low freezer cabinet I glimpsed, in a strip of metal, the reflection of a sour, grey and positively frightening face. Startling! Who could it be? Who could be so obviously fierce? You guessed it – it was me! Seeing my reflection like that was a revelation. At 43 years old I realised that the grief and shock of the last few weeks, the upheaval to life, my concern for our daughter, worrying about work and mortgage, alone and adrift, had become etched in my face and in my attitude, turning me into someone older, and colder. That’s what people saw when they saw me, this stranger. That morning was such a good lesson and I’ve tried to remember, since then, that when we see someone who seems unfriendly or even hostile, we don’t know what’s going on in their lives. We don’t know what grief or turmoil they’re trying to cope with at that moment.

How do others see us? What vibes do we give out, unknowingly? My resting face is glum. Time and gravity have done their wicked work and I’m a sour faced old ratbag when I’m not actually making the effort to smile. I hope I’m not a sour faced old ratbag inside but to all intents and purposes… outside…..

Appearances can be deceptive. The person who looks angry may be broken, the person who looks confident may be quaking, the extrovert wreathed in the trappings of success is just as flawed and messy as you and me underneath it all. In fact, the more success and confidence we show to the world, the more effort we have to put in to maintain the illusion. That must be exhausting and, of course, it’s futile. It won’t fool anyone, or ourselves, for long. Robbie Burns saw a louse (nit) on a very grand lady’s hat when he was in church one day and that prompted him to write this:

O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
It wad frae mony a blunder free us,
An’ foolish notion:
What airs in dress an’ gait wad lea’e us,
An’ ev’n devotion!

In other words, says Robbie (my rough translation) ‘If God would give us the gift of seeing ourselves as others see us, we might not be so full of airs and graces and so pleased with ourselves.’

Certainly that day in Sainsburys pulled me up short and I became aware that I needed to change, to make an effort to rejoin the world, to step away from grief. So, that realisation was a gift. It was. But sometimes seeing ourselves as others do, well, it’s not something to lighten our step and bring a merry whistle to our lips. My neighbour took a photo of me on the beach yesterday. And when I looked at it my immediate thought was “Well, what a fat auld, miserable auld, biddy. Ridiculous. The state of her!”

So this next photo comes with a warning – it’s not a pretty sight – it’s the opposite of Ozymandius; in my case it’s “Look on my lack of wonder, ye mighty, and despair.”

Who is that? It’s surely not wonderful and amazing me? Why is it making me laugh?

And you know what takes us through all these moments, these revelations, and helps us to face the next day? You know what keeps us going when we catch a sight of the real us, when we look down at our hands and see how wrinkled they are, how many age spots we have (just read this morning that the late Queen hated to see her hands in a photo)? What keep us going is the knowledge that even as we are gradually falling apart, we are all still full of life and love and silliness and absurdity. I love our absurdity. I mean, look at that absurd woman on that rain drenched beach, carrying a bag of dog waste (the dogs are out of shot). Isn’t she absurd? She is. She’s ended up in a house with no garden, and now she has to get down to that rain drenched windy beach come hell or high water, every damn morning, Covid or no Covid. Isn’t she absurd?

Here’s something I know for sure – life never unfolds as we have planned it. How boring it would be if it did. We may have the expectation that one day we will be old and surrounded by a loving and caring family, maybe basking on a sunsoaked beach, drinking crisp cold wine while the waves sigh and murmur, but life is not likely to follow suit. Chances are it will unfold in another way entirely. Who’s to know? Who’s to decide? Only time will tell.

And if I could retrospectively plan my life, what would I change now, looking back? Not a single day. Not a single hour. Every minute of my life, the good and the painful, have brought me to this moment, and however ridiculous I am, however absurd, however grey the day, it’s brought me to the knowledge of God, and a meeting with Christ. How could I wish to change a single second? I’ve never, it turns out, been an accidental tourist. I was always guided along the way. When I was toppling off a mountain top, somersaulting to the bottom, yelling all the way, a soft landing had already been arranged. It just took a few knocks to get there.

I just love that all my life there has been happenstance. Things have happened that have set me staggering off one path and onto another. Some were happy happenstances and some not so happy. But I’ve come through them all, just as you are coming through all the messiness and doubts of your lives. We’ve reached this moment for a reason. There is more ahead. So what if there’s the occasional nit in your hair? You can get rid of it. So what if you’re standing in the pouring rain? You are water proof. So what if you are far less than perfect? You are wonderfully, miraculously, amazingly human. And God loves you.

However absurd we are, God loves us. Died for us. Amazing God. 

See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these.  If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you – you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?”  For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Matthew 6:28-33

Is this what you’d call a rant?

I’ve just read a newspaper report that confirms something I’ve been wondering about for a few weeks…. and I now realise that I’ve entered an alternative world, fallen down a rabbit hole, slipped from one time continuum into another and lost myself. The report is all about the founder of FTX who has filed for bankruptcy. What is FTX? That’s the first question. The answer is ‘FTX is a crypto currency entity.’ Now I ask ‘What is a crypto currency?’ and then add ‘What do you mean by the word entity?’ Apparently the speed of this bankruptcy has sent shock waves through the whole digital assets market. What’s a digital asset? The crisis began on November 2 when a crypto news website (whatever that is) reported the extent to which the business was exposed to FFT, a token issued by FTX…. FTT? FTX? Token? Is that a token of a token? In addition, Bitcoin has lost 20% of its value.. hang on, what’s Bitcoin? I’ve heard of it but never understood it. How can something that doesn’t exist lose 20% of its value – and how can something that is merely a stroke on a screen have any value to start with?

Apparently crypto currencies don’t come into the scope of any financial laws, being totally unregulated, a bit like the Wild West but slicker. The founder of this floundering ‘entity’ is 32 years old and at its peak his personal fortune was 26 BILLION dollars, but this week that’s been wiped out by people scrambling to withdraw their funds. From what? A bank that doesn’t exist? What funds? Pretend money? A 32 year old has no business having 26,000 dollars, let alone 26 million, let alone 26 billion.

Half the world is starving, you foolish empty man.

Total madness. This rabbit hole is deep and dark and steep and I’m ricocheting from side to side, bouncing off the tunnel walls, blind and deaf and utterly confused.

Confusion isn’t new to me. I should be getting used to it. Only today I was reflecting on the fact that here in Wales if a loving parent smacks a child they’ve commited a criminal offence and will be taken to court, the family will be assessed and the child may even be taken away. I find that confusing.

Yesterday I heard an otherwise sane adult, on TV, give an example of child abuse as ‘a child being called by the wrong pronoun’.

A young woman was asked what she does for a living and she said she’s an influencer. Who does she influence? What is her purpose, her beliefs, her ideals? What are her skills, how has she trained, in what way does she make life better, who does she help, what does she make, what is the point of what she does?

Any moment now I expect to find a Cheshire cat grinning at me, and a dormouse asleep in a teapot, and a Queen playing croquet with a flamingo as a mallet.

But then, at lunchtime, I met with two pals and we watched the last in a series of videos on the Book of Genesis and then we had a nice lunch. Not exactly theologically taxing. But, what we lacked in scholarly application we made up for in our discussion (alright ‘chat’) afterwards. And this is what occured to me – you know how the Bible tells us that we were made in God’s image? Well, that’s always puzzled me. I mean, here we are intensely physical, mostly water with a mix of bone and blood, nerves and fat…. that’s not everso like God. And we are full of wrong doing and self and bad decisions, again not everso like God. The things we do are not God-like, from crypto currency to vapid influencing. So, in what way are we made in God’s image? In the videos we’ve been watching Markus Lloyd points out that we are unlike any other animal. No other animal builds skyscrapers, develops anti-biotics, builds jet engines, attempts to reach the moon etc. Seems pretty obvious but as I thought about that, the penny dropped for me.

This may not be right, it’s just what I think, but see if you agree: no other animal is creative. They are problem solving, yes – they take what is available and they weave it into a nest, or they drop a snail from a height onto a rock and so in a sense fashion a tool, they build dams to harvest fish, but they do not reach out beyond themselves and their needs, they do not imagine, they can only react to their environment. They react. Only man creates. Only man makes something from nothing – put a man in a bare cell with nothing, no tools at all, and he will spin stories, remember, sing songs, dream dreams, make plans, compose poems, draw in the dust. Making something from nothing. My husband designed refineries and sometimes a machine would be designed, as he lay in bed at night, staring into the dark. I am a writer and whole film plots would come to me as I walked by Carsington Water, or sat in the garden. It’s not just our ability to create things – songs or statues or machines – it’s our ability to create ideas, to think beyond what we see or know or have experienced.

I know that not everyone is consciously creative. You may feel that you never make anything. But creativity is more than just making things. It’s thinking, understanding, having empathy, reaching out, seeing the needs of others. It’s the young Mum who dreams of a future for her children and so creates opportunties for them. It’s the neighbour who sees a need and steps in to fill it. It’s the Pastor who yearns to share what he knows of God – that’s creative. This is what separates us from the animal kingdom. This is the part of us that is the image of God, the creator. God created man and his very essence, his creativity is in us.

And now I realise that those examples, the mother, the neighbour and the Pastor, are all showing love. Maybe creativity is another word for love. The painter who loves what he sees and longs to recreate it, the writer who delights in the richness of characters and wants to weave them, the musician whose love for music tumbles out of him. Maybe that’s the part of us that is in the image of God. That makes sense, doesn’t it? God is love and we are made in his image, and because we love we reach out and when we reach out we pass his love to others, and so the creation continues.

Man is wonderful, because God is wonderful. God makes us beautiful. Then we come along and bugger it up. We create nonsense currencies that implode, influencers who are empty and meaningless, we create millionaires while children starve, we take the Ten Commandments and decide which ones suit us, we are just so foolish. Are we more foolish now than we used to be, or am I just getting old?

It’s a jolly good job that God loves us anyway, with his eternal unchanging unconditional love. I struggle to love the crypto billionaire while God loves him totally, immersively, unendingly. Amazing God. He loves the rich and foolish young man of the Gospels, and the thief on the cross, and – wow, listen! – he loves you and he loves me.

I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:17-18

History, dead and alive

My aunty Nelly,
she had a wooden belly,
And every time she walked,
it wobbled like a jelly.

That’s what I woke up thinking this morning. It’s a skipping rhyme. That’s what my mind does, left to its own devices. I’d been dreaming about life in Lancashire in the 1950s, back when I had several Aunty Nellys; There was Aunty Nelly Bourne my mum’s sister, and Aunty Nelly Simcock my Dad’s sister (married a Simcock), and Aunty Nelly Gannon, who had married my Uncle Hugh, and Aunty Nelly Shufflebottom (true) who wasn’t an Aunty at all but was adopted as one. Oh, and there was Aunty Nelly Grimshaw who … no, I can’t remember where she came into the story, but I do remember her wrap-around pinny, her apologetic hand-wringing mildness, the wide wide reach of her forehead … hang on… she had that forehead. Us Gannons all have huge foreheads. Maybe she was originally a Gannon before she met a Grimshaw…. and then there was Aunty Nelly Arnold. She was made of much sterner stuff than anyone else I have ever known. Really. Formidable woman. She had no children, her husband was long dead, she had little conversation, and we saw her only on a Saturday afternoon when we were coal collecting on the slag heap.

The main workings of the mine stopped at mid-day on Saturday, leaving just a skeleton team to keep the shafts ventilated and drained. That meant that there were no gangs of men on the waste heaps and we could scavange for our families. It sounds like child labour now but it was a raucous game back then – a competition to fill prams and carts and wheelbarrows, and to see who could get the most. Everyone on the slag heap was under the age of 15, apart from Aunty Nelly Arnold. She must have been about 60, I think, and scrambled up the sliding, skittering heap without our speed or agility, but with silent determination and great big feet in great big boots, her elbows jutting out like sails on a boat, keeping her upright when the coal beneath her feet began to slide. We played and whooped and skidded around her, fashioning slides from sheets of iron, but she was single minded.

She didn’t hang around on the lower slopes, either – she was up at the top with the big lads, with the daredevils and the tomboys. We filled our prams and carts with the coal, but she had a sack around her neck, dangling in front of her, until there was no room for another nugget, another pebble. Then she would lower it to the ground, turn her back to it, put the handles around her forehead and walk home, bandy legged, with enough coal to keep her fire going for a couple of days.

She would have carried far far more than this, but you get the idea.

I don’t know what her family name was, but she was called Arnold because she had come to Lancashire from Arnold, near Nottingham, as a young bride, a lace maker, dumped down in a town where there was no call for her skills. It was hard to imagine her huge rough hands – caked in coal dust whenever we saw her – making delicate lace, her broad shoulders bent over a dancing wave of nimble bobbins, delicate white thread weaving into magical patterns. But that’s who she had been and what she had known, once. If she could have known that one day she would be scaling a slag heap for coal waste, would that young woman still have walked down the aisle to say “I do”?

I wonder if there was a deep abiding love in the marriage, maybe that’s why she stayed a widow. I hope she knew love. I hope that’s what kept her going in the long lonely years.

Every week she would ask after our Aunty Nelly Bourne (who we lived with) and every week as we returned home Aunty Nelly would ask after her. As the only Protestant in our family she didn’t go to Mass, and no one had telephones to keep in touch so this small contact was important. I used to think that this exchange and this outing, was the only one she had all week but that must be nonsense – she must have gone to the shop for bread and milk, she must have had neighbours who knew her in those dense terraced streets. Maybe she had a great life – maybe I misunderstood. Maybe she had a hundred friends, long nights of laughter and beer. Maybe she just didn’t have much patience with a crowd of dirty urchins. Maybe the writer in me, even then, imagined a far more tragic life than the one she really led. I hope so. I don’t know what happened to Aunty Nelly Arnold, or any of the other aunties who – for a few years – loomed so large in my life. All dead now, of course.

If we were to meet now… “Look, Aunty Nelly, this is a blog, this is a computer, this is a mobile phone, this is a colour television, outside is my car, that’s a gas fire, this is a washing machine, that’s a toaster, that’s a microwave…. this funny thing here is called Alexa….. and listen, there is no coal in the house, none.” Maybe that’s the bit that would really intrigue her. No coal! No coal when her whole life revolved around coal. Coal kept her warm, heated the water to wash her clothes, cooked her food, coal powered the factories, trains and shipping, coal brought in the weekly wage, coal was everything. Black gold. And coal killed her husband. Now there aren’t even any working mines left. I wonder if she could have begun to understand that. No more slag heaps, because they are all planted out or bulldozed flat. Her world is gone.

The world changes as it turns. I think I may be the last person to remember Aunty Nelly Arnold. And now you know about her. A fragile link to the past, from me to you.

Do you ever think about life when Jesus walked the Earth? I don’t mean his life, I mean the lives of people like you and me, living where we are now. If you didn’t know about children collecting waste coal just 60 years ago, think how much more we don’t know about life a couple of thousand years ago. There’s not a deal we know about the daily round of the British Isles in Christ’s day, and it’s probably the same for most places (this blog reaches 36 countries and I’m sure many will have the same wooolly past). The Romans didn’t start arriving until about 40 years after the Crucifixion, and they came with their advanced government, their legions and engineers, while us natives were still a rabble of warring tribes and small kingdoms, an agricultural iron-age society. Historical fact about our way of life then is sparse, to say the least – for example, the Celts who occupied most of Wales (where I am living now) didn’t have a written language, relying on story telling and rituals to preserve their history. Yet we have such a clear picture of life in the Middle East, the seat of learning and civilisation, we know where Jesus lived, how he spoke, who he met. Who he was and is.

It amazes me that we can be so familiar with the life of Jesus, even listening in to his conversations, and his interactions with a hundred people we will never meet. The rest of us slip away into history, forgotten in a couple of generations, but in the New Testament – quite a short book – we meet with Jesus Christ, man and God, and two thousand years later, in staggeringly different societies, in our own language, we become truly familiar with his world, his life, his teaching. I think that’s just amazing. I have a friend who says, when he talks of the Bible, ‘This is the living word’ and his voice is filled with conviction and passion and delight. He’s right. The living Word is in the living word. Living now. Open the pages of the bible and we meet with God himself. That’s staggering. The world changes, but the Word remains. Accessible, clear, so that we can meet with God. You and me. Isn’t that wonderful? Listen to this piece of Jesus’ life, from Luke 7, imagine this scene, marvel at how much we know about the God who made us:

One of the Pharisees asked him over for a meal. He went to the Pharisee’s house and sat down at the dinner table. Just then a woman of the village, the town harlot, having learned that Jesus was a guest in the home of the Pharisee, came with a bottle of very expensive perfume and stood at his feet, weeping, raining tears on his feet. Letting down her hair, she dried his feet, kissed them, and anointed them with the perfume. When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man was the prophet I thought he was, he would have known what kind of woman this is who is falling all over him.”
Jesus said to him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”
“Oh? Tell me.”
“Two men were in debt to a banker. One owed five hundred silver pieces, the other fifty. Neither of them could pay up, and so the banker canceled both debts. Which of the two would be more grateful?”
Simon answered, “I suppose the one who was forgiven the most.”
“That’s right,” said Jesus. Then turning to the woman, but speaking to Simon, he said, “Do you see this woman? I came to your home; you provided no water for my feet, but she rained tears on my feet and dried them with her hair. You gave me no greeting, but from the time I arrived she hasn’t quit kissing my feet. You provided nothing for freshening up, but she has soothed my feet with perfume. Impressive, isn’t it? She was forgiven many, many sins, and so she is very, very grateful. If the forgiveness is minimal, the gratitude is minimal.”

What could be clearer? Kind, compassionate, egalitarian, patient, wise…. Open the Bible and meet this man. Living history. Like Aunty Nelly Arnold, we will all slip away from this world, and soon be forgotten, but the Word will last for ever.