Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow… must be lockdown

Yesterday’s walk.
A bit duck-like? Well, that’s how I roll, my friends.

When I have my quiet time I often take photos of the sky and dream of where one day I might be. In eternity. Yesterday I looked back and to the ground to see where I’d been, to see if my walk had left any impression at all in the sand. I felt a tiny surge of satisfaction to see those perfect imprints (for once not scampered over by dogs). So! That’s what the last moment of my life had been… a solitary amble by the sea. Luce was ‘ere.

I don’t know why I feel a need to capture daily images on my iPhone or why they are so often of the rising sun and cloudscapes. I certainly don’t imagine the sky as ‘where God is’, nor do I think of eternity as a place or a time or a knowable concept; I don’t imagine myself angelic and on a cloud, or floating serenely between the planets, or purposefully soaring heavenward with muscular wings…. nor do I imagine being all too human up there in the thin, thin air, fighting for oxygen as I plummet earthward to certain death (screaming). I just gaze and wonder, wordless, revelling in the enormous miracle of existence, and then, inevitably, in the ephemeral and trivial nature of my life. My grand and important life.

But I liked the image of those footprints. Half an hour later as I walked back along the sea’s edge, all my perfect footprints had gone. As if I never was. ‘My grand and important life’ ?

Nothing.

When I opened my Bible this morning, heading towards the Gospels, it fell open at Isaiah (I wonder why?) and I skimmed the first few verses of Chapter 66. Then I read them properly. And then I looked them up in The Passion Translation. Wow. They’re good. I mean, ‘seriously gooooood.

The heavens are my throne
    and the earth is my footstool.
    Where is the house you will build for me?
    Where is the place where I will rest?
My hand made these things so they all belong to me,” declares Yahweh.
    “But there is one my eyes are drawn to:
    the humble one, the tender one, the trembling one
    who lives in awe of all I say.

It reminds me of another verse, in Psalm 51

My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart
    you, God, will not despise.

What great good news that is! What fabulous news. When we are feeling our at our smallest, most inconsequential and feeble, well, hang on… here’s how the Passion Translation puts that last thought:

You will not despise my tenderness
as I humbly bow down at your feet.

Why is it good news? It’s good news because it means that we can be honest, that God really does take us as we are, where we are, warts and all.

When I look at the sand washed clean, as if I had never been that way, that’s when I know who I am and who God is. When I really know.

I’ve found this lockdown time horribly and surprisingly difficult. You would think that someone who has lived alone for 28 years and worked mostly from home, someone who is not by nature a crowd loving, party going extrovert, who doesn’t easily unbend for hugs and emotion, who had a loveless youth, would find lockdown a doddle. Not so. Really, really not so.

There have been days when I felt so alienated from the world, so full of loneliness, so sure that my friends were not my friends any more, that my church was insincere and pharisaical (forgive me, church!), that everything was nonsense, that life itself was futile and everything I knew and trusted was… hang on, Shakespeare’s Macbeth put it much better than I ever could:

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Days when I could barely drag myself from one moment to the next. And lockdown really does ‘creep in this petty pace from day to day’, doesn’t it? Days when the pain was so much I would have done anything for respite – sell my soul, gouge my eyes out, anything. But I knew that there was no peace in any of that.

What? That’s not what you were expecting from someone who calls herself Christian and has the Christian tag on her blog?

I think we have to be honest. If we are to reach out to each other and say “You’re my sister, you’re my brother, we feel the same sorrows and joys” then we have to be honest, and share them. Own them. I have an advantage over many in that I’ve not been in the church a whole long lifetime, I’m a Johnny-come-lately and for most of my life I’ve been a half-hearted follower of Jesus, or not followed him at all. So, you’re not getting an expert here. Why is that an advantage in this instance? Because it means that I can look at the spiritual footprints of my life and see that they’re shallow, and they’re not beautiful, and they have had no lasting effect on the Kingdom of God. I have a contrite heart because I have a whole load to be contrite about.

We don’t have to hide that from God or from each other. I think sometimes we are ashamed of our contrition, but we shouldn’t be. A contrite heart pleases God, not because he wants us grovelling in the dust but because when we are contrite we are turning to him, loving him, seeing ourselves and him as we really are. Reality. We are never closer to God than when we have the deep deep joy of contrition. I want to own it.

Honesty is important. If we present a smooth untroubled face to those around us, we are not just deceiving and hiding, we’re also holding them at arm’s length. Not letting them in. If we aren’t honest about the struggles we have (a fine balance between honesty and dragging everyone down, I know) then how can we expect our sisters and brothers to turn to us when they need help? If we say to the world that we never need help, then the world will never understand that we have help to give.

This is the time, more than ever before, when we need to turn to each other, talk and listen to each other, care for each other. And take responsibility for encouraging each other. This is a time for listening, keeping each other going. Unbending.

I’m so glad that we have had this time. It’s bludgeoned me, humbled me. Wrecked me. Cleared a film from my eyes. It’s hard and horrible and I hate it. It’s killing me. And I am so grateful for it.

Weird, eh? And yet, God loves me. And however you are feeling right now, however weak and lost and flawed and quite-like-Luce you are, God loves you, accepts you, will do great things in you.

Oh! Oh! Oh! Listen!

Yesterday I went to England, and I remembered what I’d forgotten, or forgotten to remember;  how green that lovely country is, how the hills fold and dip, how the hedgerows are different from Welsh hedgerows, bigger, older, the trees fatter somehow. Remembered that there are places where hares still dance, where farmers leave land unseeded around every field for flowers to grow and wildlife to thrive, remembered lark song (why are there no larks here in West Wales? Do the kites and buzzards get them all?) Man,  it was good being back there, even so briefly. Early as usual, I parked the car and sat in the gateway to a wheat field….

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Does that seem no big shakes to you? Probably not. But now I live where the hillsides are pasture for sheep and cows, and there are very few fields full of barley or corn or wheat,  shimmering in sunshine, dancing in the breeze. And no hares. Positively no hares! I sat there for a long long time, just thanking God for that day, for that special hour, the sunshine and the healing warmth.

This morning, back in Wales, the dogs are still in kennels so early routine is different, and I have a holiday feeling! No demanding furry creatures desperate to get down to the beach… so I made a second cup of coffee, and padded bare-footed to the table to open my Bible. Nowt odd in that. All over the world thousands of people are doing the same thing, but now the idea grabbed me, thrilled me, the image of a thousand people doing that very same thing, maybe more… a million? Too much? The consciousness of people all over the world doing the very same thing at the very same time, turning to God in praise and expectation  filled my senses with delight, brought tears prickling to my eyes. Tears of gratitude.  Two thousand years after Christ,  half a world away … a world that’s hardly recognisable to the one He lived in… and yet here we are. Here we are, ready and listening, and drinking in His every word.

And then I opened the book, and look where the ribbon was:

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TWO whole pages of red letter words. Two pages of Jesus Christ talking to me down all the centuries across the lands and seas and rivers, mountain and cities and every culture…. a journey of immense distance, unimaginable time…. and here He is. His word. To little old me, bare footed, scruffy,  once lost and now found, sipping coffee, lost in wonder, awe and praise.

The words of God! Savoured, recorded, translated, guarded, remembered, passed down, to nourish and instruct, guide and comfort, govern and delight.

I mean COME ONNNNNN! If that doesn’t excite you and challenge you…. pinch yourself. Check you’re still alive.

So exciting!

There’s one word in the Bible that no one is absolutely sure how to interpret. ‘Selah’. It’s found in the Psalms and it’s generally taken to mean ‘Pause and think’ or ‘Reflect on this.’ I love that word. That command. Every time I come across it, it’s as if a dear and trusted friend, maybe God Himself , is saying ‘Hang on, Luce. Slow down. Think on this.’ And I’m learning how to do just that.

But sometimes words explode into my life, and fill my whole day with delight, so that I can’t slow down. So that my mind is racing. Have you ever read a couple of sentences and been really really excited by them? It might be something to do with the frame of mind you were in at the time, or a question you’d been brewing that was suddenly answered, or maybe the words were so beautiful, so poetic that they grabbed your heart? My heart was grabbed today. Really really GRABBED. The words I read aren’t unusual, each one quite everyday-ordinary, and the sentiment isn’t poetic, and it’s certainly not a word of wisdom the world has never heard before, but today, in a busy church, as people took their places and friends were greeted, and there was laughter… I read these words and my heart just sang.

On the back of our church diary, which is handed out every month, there’s a piece of writing, usually from our Pastor, an encouragement, something to think about, take to heart and remember. Today I looked at the diary and my heart went ‘zing!’. Oh, yes, Zing!  ZING and WOWSER and YEAH!!!!!

If I could have clambered onto the pew and shouted everyone to shut up while I read it aloud to them, I would have. I had to send an email to three people, right there and then, in all the noise and chatter, saying ‘Look! Listen!”

“The most important thing about your life is that you love the Father. Let that sink in.”

I don’t know what I loved most about those two sentences – their truth, simplicity, certainty or that command…. ‘Let that sink in’.

I LOVE commands. I do. Weird, eh? Not all commands, obviously. This is me and I’m a raggedy difficult soul at the best of times. I don’t like commands about speed (20 miles an hour? Can a car go that slow?) or paperwork (I don’t do numbers) or diet (a cream cake a day keeps the doctor away) or… well, just about any man-made order really. But if we’re talking about eternal things, oh, boy, I love commands. Commands and verbs.

Love one another. Submit to one another. Be still and know that I am God. Love the Lord your God with your whole heart. Pray without ceasing. Be steadfast.

These are my anchors. And when a simple, clean, honest, Godly command hits my ears, it’s all I can do not to chortle aloud, so the lead-in to this month’s diary piece just twanged the strings of my heart and my soul leapt in response. ‘The most important thing about your life is that you love the Father. Let that sink in.’

Maybe I’d have slid over the first sentence, hardly noticing it, but for the second, ‘Let that sink in.’ and it will. I know that it will. I’m already thinking about the most important thing in my life, examining and questioning it, and just jolly well revelling in it.

You know what I’ve thought so far (it’s not been long)? I think that if loving God really is the most important thing in my life, all other considerations and anxieties are tiny by comparison. If loving God is my priority and my over-riding desire, I won’t take my eyes off Him, I will be guided by Him, and I will live with and for Him. When you’re in love with someone, you just can’t get enough of them.

Thank you, Lord, thank you, thank you for these moments of clarity and delight.

And then, blow me down with a feather, the very last words of the diary piece did the same bloomin’ thing!   “God loves you. Tell Him today that you love Him too.”

So I have. I’ve told Him. I’m telling Him now. And I’m telling you.

Sometimes a simple word of truth is all we need to touch the edge of eternity.

 

When Peter popped up at Poppit

Can you bear to hear about another morning of paddling? If not, look away now.

Some things are just perfect. I’m at my scruffy old desk in a silent house, and by my right hand is a large mug of coffee. The mug is fine bone china, and the coffee is strong, my favourite blend, but today as a treat (it’s Saturday!) there’s also a generous dollop of hot milk. The foam is creamy and golden, oh, here – see for yourself.

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And, yes, that’s Captain Kirk keeping guard.

This is a perfect moment, in the middle of a perfect morning, at the start of what is going to be a really really challenging day. (Come onnn! This is me! You knew it couldn’t last) But the day so far has made me think of perfection, or maybe peace, or it could be joy, or happiness, or all of the above.

I’ve just returned from two fabulous hours on the beach, the dogs are fed and already dozing, and now I have a half hour to talk to you, my chitterlings. A fabulous start to any day.

The sky was cloudy but the air was warm and on the shore the world seemed wrapped in calm.   After some time paddling with only the sighing sea and the distant cry of gulls to break the silence, as Percy chased the foam and Pip careened off after a flock of sandpipers, I listened to David Suchet reading Philippians. I’ve heard it so often in the last couple of months that you’d really expect me to know it off by heart by now, but I don’t. Then we sploshed along the beach to the estuary, where we sat on a log, in the hopes that the dogs would dry and the wet sand would fall off. Some hope!

That’s when I met with Peter, the apostle. I love Peter! I think he’s the sort of bloke you could have a good amble with, chatting and discussing and arguing. I think he’d enjoy paddling and then a milky coffee and maybe even a piece of bara brith and a laugh. I think if you sat next to him in church you might both get the giggles (you reading this, Lisa?) So, I like Peter. I went to the church website and clicked on a sermon on John 21, and there he was, talking to Jesus. Or to be more accurate, Jesus was talking to him. And I sat on a log in 2019 in West Wales and really, really, there he was, Peter, and there He was, Jesus, and the morning was PERFECT.

In that sermon we were invited to imagine… how was Peter feeling… what he had experienced… what he knew about Jesus after his three years with him… what did he remember….. And I always love being invited to imagine. Being ‘given permission’ to let the imagination roll out. I love that the sparse details we have of Peter are so revealing, that we know him so well even after 2000 years, that we feel we understand him, that we see ourselves in him, and that through him we meet Jesus. I love that, in hearing how Jesus spoke to Peter, we learn more about Jesus.

The Bible, what can I say about the Bible without gushing? I can’t. I really can’t. Whenever I talk about the Bible I feel a gush coming on! In the Bible we meet them all. Lovely Peter, knowledgeable instructive Paul (I don’t ever want to be stuck in a lift with Paul), loving John, poor lost Judas….Moses, and my fave Isaiah …. Oh, and Job (he’s another great person to meet) … a cast of thousands. And the Man Himself, Jesus. To sit on the beach, on my log, and look from Peter to Jesus… like someone at Wimbledon watching the most exciting match in history. Peter… Jesus… Peter… Jesus…. PERFECTION

Ahhh, flip me, folks. My half hour with you is up. The day is transitioning and I have to go.

Thank you for staying with me for these minutes, for being part of my perfect morning.

As I drove home something was nagging at me, about joy, and I had a vague feeling it was from Peter’s writing, so I’ve just looked it up.  “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy….”

Peter, mate! You’re not wrong. An inexpressible and glorious joy.