Yet…You see me.

Lord, I can’t see You; yet You see me – help me to remember that.

Hugh Barney, 2015, Celtic Daily Prayer Book 2.

I am so pleased to see April! I hear you already … “but you can’t ‘see’ a month”. Oh, but you can! April comes from the Latin Aprillis – meaning to open, to blossom. Everywhere I see flowers and leaves opening, unfurling, blossoming.

I take my steaming mug of tea, wrap myself up in my thick, woollen cardigan and walk to the corner of my garden. Here a neighbour’s white cherry tree overhangs my summer swinging chair. No cushions now, but I lie on the empty chair and smile at the bountiful, clustering, fresh white faces above me. The little apple tree in my garden has leaves, as does the small red cherry tree. In a few days they will burst into a blush of pink.

My favourite tree to see at this time of year is the magnolia – especially the ‘Soulangeana’. Each year it is crowned with white and pink, tulip like blossoms. You have to be quick. They last so briefly. But the sight will last in your memory all year. My Mum and Dad in Law have a wonderful magnolia. I missed it last year due to lockdown, but saw it last week.

I also missed the magnolias in my local country park last year. As I walk the dogs in the parkland, I see the towering Cedar of Lebanon over the walled gardens. Last March I could see the buds on the tops of the magnolias – just peeping over the top of the walls. I planned a visit inside the gardens the next weekend – but lock down happened. The parklands and gardens were closed.

Though I could not visit, I knew they were blossoming. I imagined what they would be like. I described them to myself, like Mary Lennox describing the garden to poorly Colin in ‘The Secret Garden’. Through all of April I kept thinking of them, knowing they would be opening and blossoming. I saw them in my mind, if not with my eyes.

Sometimes I can lose sight of where I am in life. Sometimes there seems no rhyme or reason to my day or stage of life. There can be whispers of insignificance, overlooked, forgotten. Does anyone ‘see’ me?

Continue reading “Yet…You see me.”

The best Guide…

I will instruct you and guide you along the best pathway for your life;

I will advise you and watch you progress.

Psalm 32 verse 8 Living Bible

Last May I saw some swans and their new brood of 9 signets, making their way up the local water way. I was amazed at how the parents watched and called to their little ones as they all navigated through an overhanging tree. They were so tended and gentle, yet caring and clear in their guidance.

Last April my Dad died. Lost my Mum over a decade ago. For at time after each losss I have felt a bit more adrift in this little boat called life. The anchors to my childhood are gone. The ones who knew me, raised me, loved me, just for being me and not for any other reason, are gone. I am in my little boat and drifting around. Sometimes in a world of so many competing ideas and suggestions, the road forward can be difficult to navigate. I’m a few decades in and still I sometimes need a steer, from someone who knows me and has my best interests at heart.

Last week I was thinking of El Roi, the God who sees. It is good to know that when I cannot see Him, He sees me. But I need more. I need not a watch from a distance God, but someone who cares enough to look me in the eye and guide me. Like the Swan parents, leading the way, gently guiding, giving instructions, guidance. I could see them leading and guiding their brood forward; I could hear the little ones peeping back and see them following.

This week I read Psalm 32 and was reminded me so beautifully my Heavenly Father does this. He watches and if I will let Him, He will guide me. And not just at the beginning of my life, but all through it my life. And not just a few handy tips and then backing off to do something else, but He sticks around to watch my progress, all of my life. It’s good to know He’s got me. He’s got you too.

I will instruct you and guide you along the best pathway for your life;

I will advise you and watch you progress.

Added little video of them swimming to my fb page 🙂

Noticing

I have seen the sun break through

to illuminate a small field

for a while, and gone my way

and forgotten it. But that was the pearl

of great price, the one field that had

the treasure in it.

extract from ‘The Bright Field’ by R.S. Thomas (Laboratories of the Spirit, MacMillan, 1975)

I am surrounded by endless information, comment, chatter. Look at this! What do you think of this? Do you want this? You should see, read, watch this! I can multi-task, eat and walk at the same time, drive and listen to music, help with homework whilst doing a shopping list. I can bounce into people, pop into shops, click onto social media. My head is so full and yet my soul is can be so empty, starved of nourishment. “A dry and weary land, where there is no water” Psalm 63 v1.

A few years ago I felt my soul was withering. The endless rota of life was exhausting. I was dashing through life, but running on empty. I made a few changes that were good for my soul. One was picking up a camera. When I look through a lens and compose a photo it is like I gain new sight. I see with ‘fresh’ eyes. The common and everyday that surround me take on a new interest and glow. I slow myself and redirect my gaze. I want to know what I am looking at and not just assume that I can ‘see’ it. I slow down, I notice.

How many times do I pass a ‘bright field’ and not really ‘see’ what is there. Not notice the treasure right in front of me? Yet I am surrounded by pearls of great price everyday. The opening of a yellow and purple crocuses, the chatter of hidden sparrows in a nearby hedge, the sight of a wiggling worm munching through soft spring earth. The smell of warm bread, hot coffee, zesty tangerines. The heart sharing of a friend, the smile of a neighbour, the sigh of my dog as he snuggles on my lap. A simple walk back to my car that is slowed by me having to turn and wave to my delighted grandchildren; after each step they shout “Bye Nanny” and so I turn and wave and shout “Bye” back to them.

This was a glorious Spring weekend. I drove to the local coast. It’s not a tourist spot but just us locals and dog walkers who go there. Not white sands and blue waters, but the muddy brown flats of the Severn Estuary. But as I gazed out to sea, the sunlight dancing on the far off water and making the sand banks glisten, I knew it was a pearl of great price, and it nourished my soul.

Welcome

Today is February!! Farewell dark and dismal, January. Janus , two faced month of resolution and reflection – locked down into dark days and cold nights. Welcome February – februum – Roman month of cleansing. Washing away the languor of lockdown. Revealing signs of hope.

Today, the first of February is special in Ireland. It is the first day of Spring and also Saint Brigid’s Day: “Now it’s St Brigid’s Day and the first snowdrop/ In County Wicklow,” (Seamus Heaney, On St Brigid’s Day). Saint Brigid was a welcomer. She was renowned for her hospitality and generosity. She gave her father’s sword to a poor beggar; a friend’s store of food to strangers. She asked Bishop Mel to pray for some women and as he did so he saw the Holy Spirit fall on her and anointed her a Bishop … in the 5th century!

I think her welcoming spirit got heaven’s attention. I discover the word ‘welcome’ comes from an old English word – ‘wilcuma’. It is a noun meaning ‘a desired guest’. Oh how Spring is a desired guest! A much longed for guest. It has been a long, hard, dark, lockdown winter and I can hardly wait for the arrival of Spring.

From my kitchen window I watch the passers by with my dog Max. He has keen eyesight and loves watching too. Some days I pick him up and we look together at the empty street. Lockdown has limited the number of people out and about, but it is cheering to watch people going by, going about their lives.

For Max, he is looking for a desired guest. He gets so excited. He whines in anticipation. Maybe someone will go by? Oh the joy and barking when someone does – especially if they are walking their dog. He barks so loud they can hear him in the kitchen!

We watch the pavement. I look through our border of withered summer lavender. Searching for anyone, anything. And then I see them. Tiny lime green crocus shoots, rising up around the bare hawthorn tree where they have been buried all. You are the smallest flowers in the hedgerow, I see you. Your tiny arms outstretched to welcome the warmer air, the lighter days. Ah, little flowers, you teach me. You may be small, but your welcoming heart and generous spirit has got my attention.

Now

Today there was snow. It was promised yesterday, but we get so little that I hardly dared to believe. I always wait for it to arrive.

Something woke me at 4am. Nothing sudden, but a strange pre – dawn light shone through my bedroom curtains. I had to looked. Snow! Silently, gently, endlessly it was falling. It rested on trees, bushes, roofs, gardens. I gazed in wonder at the muffled wonderland.

When I got up later I could hear chatter and giggles in the street outside. Children shrieked as they were pulled on toboggans, dogs snuffled and yapped, snowballs thudded. The snow had brought light, laughter, and a welcome lilt to the usual monotony of Sunday lockdown.

I headed to the local park. It was mid morning and the clouds were parting to reveal a clear azure sky. Acres of grassland were tinted with icy blue. The larch, the redwood, the fir were all dressed in smooth ermine, elegant and magical, like Jane Austen ladies arriving at a winter ball. It was breath taking, ethereal. People were dotted everywhere: walking, running, sliding, falling; standing and watching.

As I looked closer I noticed that so many were taking photos. So was I. It was a moment I wanted to capture and look back on. The light and sights were so unique. I needed some sure memories for later. Keats talked of ‘slow time’ on the Grecian Urn and a photograph is a modern attempt to slow and preserve time, to manage it. Tomorrow this glittering world would be gone; it would vanish as silently as it came. Water droplets were already trickling off branches; fields of snow were being ripened by midday sun. They evaporated into a dazzling mist before our eyes.

I am old enough to have seen a fair few snowy days! The snow was as it ever was: built into snowmen, kicked in the air, thrown as snowballs. It was cold and sparkly, dazzling and mysterious, gentle and beautiful. It was as I have experienced before. I have photos from other snowy days, just as special. I could have avoided the cold and stayed home with my photo books, my memories of other snowy days.

But… I would have missed today’s magic. Thoughts were shared, sights were seen, sounds were heard that were unique to today. No matter how hard I try, it will never be today again. And today I relished all the immediate delights of now, here, this. Now is the miracle that I am living in.

Eckhart Tolle said “If there is no joy, ease, or lightness in what you are doing, it does not necessarily mean that you need to change what you are doing. It may be sufficient to change the how.….Give your fullest attention to whatever the moment presents” (The Power of Now, 1999,p 56)

The people of the Exodus 16 were told to gather manna for one day. They had no supermarkets, cupboards or fridges. God sent them bread, unique bread from heaven – manna. It fell from the sky each day – like snow. The people took what they needed for that day. Thanked God for it. Trusted He’d provide more tomorrow. Enjoyed today. If they tried to take too much, to same some for tomorrow, it would go mouldy.

The miracle of snow today reminded me that now is the most important moment of my life. To look about me and see the wonders of this day. Like the snow, it does not last forever. There is indeed a time for ‘was’ and for ‘will be’, but often they crowd out ‘is’. What is in front of me now? Who is next to me? What sound is filling my ears. What is that smell? What can I reach and touch and notice … right now. This moment is a miraculous gift…it is the present.

Winter Growing

It’s January.  I walk in the park.  It seems the trees were sleeping.  Their bare arms are frozen.  They are shrouded in ivy, cocooned in sleep, waiting for warmer times.  I imagine the blossoms of spring: the surfacing crocuses of purple and yellow, the white snowdrops, the trumpeting daffodils.  I imagine life re-emerging, like a blasting firework, all will come to life again.

But, I look closer.  The shoots are already showing.  The new growth buds are emerging.  The early catkins are gently waving at me.  Nothing in fact is dead.  Nothing has stopped.  It is still growing, cell by cell, line upon line, precept upon precept.  As inevitable as day follow night, these living things grow.  They don’t stop.  They may rest.  They may grow in a different and new way.  Growth is not something one day they will do.  They are growing now, all the time.

As we turn the year I hear resolutions trip of the tongues of those around me.   Plans for change, courses of action for self improvement.  Lists, plans, goals.  All noble and admirable.  Some may be a success.  Afterall, if we do not aim for something, we’ll hit anything.  If we read more, serve more, study more, we can be happier, pull God closer to us.  Then how pleased he will be with us and how pleased we will be with ourselves.  We wish so hard on a future star, desperately dragging the future toward us, wishing like Dorothy with all of our might ‘ I wish I was home, I wish I was there’.

But I have found I am not there, I am here.  Wishing to be there makes the here a sad and unfulfilled place.  I cannot summon the future to today, no matter how amazing by goals may be.  I can only live in this day. This day is after all the only place I can be.  Today …I will hear His voice.  For me this means that today I will notice.  The trees had not stopped growing.  They are growing now.  I am growing now, today.  I was so busy thinking about a future spring, I did not see the growth and wonder of today.

Sometimes we don’t see for looking.  That’s when we need to stop straining to see into the future and just look about us now.  For me it is a simple inner relax of my outward gaze; I relax and still my mind, refocus what I am looking for.  I stop rushing along in ‘in a minute’ time and focus on this second.  Then something happens.  Something so simple and wonderful, and miraculous and ordinary.  I look around me and start to see what really is there.  Like seeing the new growth on winter trees, right in front of my eyes.  I see Him. He is right there, all the time: at my elbow as I write, next to me as I sip coffee, kneeling with me as I put on my shoes, walking with me through winter parks.  Today is a significant day, now is a precious moment. 

Resting to grow

Come aside and rest for a while – Mark 6 v 31

It is winter. The days are short; the light is low. Frosty mornings, foggy evenings. On clear nights the moon and stars seem frozen in a sapphire lake – they hardly move. The garden is bare. Trees are empty of leaves. Colours are muted. No bees or butterflies, just a robin or wren searching for food in the cold earth. All looks dead.

But what are looks? I rely too much on sight to see if things are going well. Just below the ground, under the decaying leaves, hidden in cool earth, are roots and bulbs are sleeping. After a busy season of fruitfulness and giving out and growing, it is time to rest. To replenish.

The world of the light bulb is 24/7. The world of wifi has a yearly calendar of 365days. But endless activity is not fruitfulness. It is burnout and overload and a wondering of what is life about.

My life is hidden in Christ in God (Col 3 v 5). All seasons are from Him. Fruitful summer; still winter. He has made them all to help me grow. After a busy year, a chaotic year, stressful times, He smiles at me and says, ‘Come aside and rest, awhile”. Slow down, rest with Me. See this is winter. It is good for your soul. Like the trees, rest. No need to be busy growing leaves. Gather in energy for the journey. Sit here, stop and stare. Care and share. Replenish your soul. Let’s dream together…

The Gardener knows me

Psalm 139

Oh Lord you have searched and know meYou hem me in behind and before

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me

Some guests come to my garden and just love hanging out in the sunshine.  Tea, cake, chatter and laughter.  This is all they remember; all they want to do. 

Some come and they notice the golden yellow climbing rose,  the damask sweet pea, the scent of jasmine in June, the high lemon gladioli.  They like the games on the lawn, watch newts in the pond, lounge on cushioned chairs.  They comment, compare, digress.  Tell me of their garden.  Enjoy for a while.

But I am the gardener and designer.  I arranged all this.  I planted all this, way back when.  And I watch over it each day and notice.  I know where the hidden bluebells are, the single raspberry cane amongst the roses.  I know that the little path to the pond is made by the toad as he waddles to the pond each night.  I know that when the large white clematis dies back, the little lavender climber will raise her head and weave herself around the faded leaves.  I wait for it each year.  I know where she is, and look after her while she grows in autumn, and tend her while she sleeps the rest of the year  

Sometimes we can feel overlooked, overgrown, not planted anywhere in particular in this world.  Our past is confusing, our future foggy, our present doesn’t make sense.  We feel the “sense that in this universe we are treated as strangers” (CSLewis).  But feelings, though needed, don’t always tell the truth.  The truth that the Gardener knows us and our unique and individual traits and ways.  The ways and traits he designed.  He is interested in us.  He always turns aside and notices us.  Even when we don’t know it, He is always watching over us.  He accepts, acknowledges and welcomes us.  I also thing that is WONDER FULL.

  • Read over Psalm 139.  
  • Write out verses 1 – 6 on a card
  • Replace the words “I” and “me” with our name
  • Now read it again every day… He knows you

Oh…. the wonder of you!

Psalm 139 v 14

I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; 

Marvellous are Your works, 

And that my soul knows very well.

Roses love full sun, daffodils love damp, rich ground, clematis loves to climb but hate hot roots, camellia loves evening sun. They know what is best for them and grow well when they find that ‘sweet spot’.  

In Alice in Wonderland, Alice visits a Garden of flowers.  There are roses, tulips, chrysanthemums to name a few.  They sing her a song (Golden Afternoon) and afterwards the delighted Alice applauds the flowers.  This catches their attention and they ask Alice ‘What type of flower are you?’, since they all what flower they are themselves.

I wonder, how well do I know myself?  I trust God to look after me, but how much have I reflected on who I am, who He has created me to be?  Life is busy and it easier to DO what I have to do, than take time to slow and find out WHO I AM.

The psalmist in 139 seems to have taken some time to do this.  The full Psalm reveals how they are so aware of their own uniqueness: individually knitted together by God with each living day prepared in advancw. In verse 4 they declare that they are wonderfully made.

There is a further result for them too.  They praise God and have a contented soul:  ‘That my soul knows very well’.  Taking some time to discover who I am and who I am made to be will help me to stop trying to fit into someone else’s mould.  I guess it will also help me to love others more, because if I know and love myself, I will love others too.  

Try out some of the following and note your discoveries in a journal.

  • Put some time aside to think about you.  What do you like?  Dislike?  What are your hopes and dreams?
  • Try out some free personality profiles online to find out more about you.  Myers Briggs, Birkman, DISC are just a few that you can tap into for free online. 
  • Share your thoughts and discoveries about you with the Lord in prayer and with a trusted praying friend.  

Grow where He plants you and you will thrive

Genesis 2 v 8

And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there He put the man whom He had formed

My garden has lots of different plants.  Some were here when I moved here a while ago, like the burnished orange crocosmia that bloom every August.  Some I brought from the garden in my old house, like the climbing Jasmine cutting I transplanted here.  Some I planted new since living here – too many to mention!  One thing I have always found is that for a plant to thrive, it needs to be in the place that is best FOR THEM.

When I moved here there were a few fruit trees at the back.  One day I was looking around by the trees and discovered a little rose.  She was drooping, not flowering, looking very sad.  I looked around the garden for a better place, somewhere in full sun that roses love, somewhere with space to grow and stretch out.  Somewhere to thrive.  I prepared a place, gently moved her, and let her grow.  I have lived here for 16 years and she has grown into a stunning standard rose.  Taller than me and full of blushing, pink flowers.  She needs little support, the occasional prune and feed.  Otherwise, she just gets on with growing, supporting a host of bees and bugs and looking glorious.

Sometimes, we are so keen to grow and produce fruit that we don’t think about where we are planting ourselves.  We just run around like mad chickens trying to do everything.  Maybe doing something that we are not gifted to do.  Maybe doing too many ‘somethings’.  Sometimes we need to realise we are not best placed. My little rose was in the right garden, but in the wrong place for her.

God formed Adam, prepared a garden for Him and then planted Him there.  The key to thriving in God’s garden is to grow where He has planted YOU.  This may be in a certain place where you serve, in your job,  in your school or college,  where you volunteer.  Return to the Gardener.  Put yourself in His hands.  Ask Him where He wants you to be.  Ask Him where it is that you will thrive.