Blessings #196 – A Full Notebook

Most mornings I wake, struggle out of bed, put some clothes on and make my way downstairs.

I turn right at the bottom of the stairs and pick up a couple of things from the study. Crossing the hallway I make my way into the lounge where I sit in an armchair.

Once in the armchair I’ll open up a book or use an application on my phone to focus my thoughts.

I’ll then place the book or my phone onto the windowsill and pick up a black moleskine notebook and pen. Feeling for the marker ribbon I’ll open the notebook to the point where I left it the day before.

My normal routine is to write the date in one corner and to copy something out of the book, or from the application, into the notebook. This is be followed by some of my thoughts and prayers.

Most days I’ll  only use a single page of the notebook; on some days I’ll have more to say. Having captured my thought and prayers I’ll sometimes read through them. Reaching for the marker ribbon I’ll replace it into the completed pages and close the notebook.

The routine is then to sit for a bit longer and ponder with the notebook on my lap. Sometimes I listen to a spoken prayer or some quiet music.

I call this time my 15 minutes in a chair because that’s my aim, to stop at the beginning of each day, for 15 minutes.

Picking up the notebook and the other things around me I return them to the study and get on with the rest of my day.

This week, though, I did something different. This week was a milestone. This week I closed the notebook, thanked it for its service, and returned it to the shelf. It’s accompaniment on my journey was over. It had served its purpose and now it was time for another to take its place. All of the pages were used, each had been written upon, each had captured my daily thoughts and my prayers. It’s two years of service were over and it was time for a new notebook to take it’s place.

One of my Christmas presents had been a voucher which I’d used to purchase a new black ruled moleskine notebook. This young upstart was sitting waiting patiently on the shelf ready to serve. I unwrapped it, said “see you tomorrow” and placed it back on the shelf next to its predecessor.

The new notebook still feels new, but soon it will know my ways and open naturally in my hand ready to capture more thought and prayers. It will be my accompaniment on the journey.

Who is more important, the one who sits at the table or the one who serves? The one who sits at the table, of course. But not here! For I am among you as one who serves.

Luke 22:27

Blessings #195 – Photography Books

I have a number of larger books on my bookshelf and they are nearly all photography books. They’re not books about the mechanics of taking pictures, they are books full of photographs that people have taken, there are some words, but the reason I own them is for the pictures.

They are predominantly nature photographs of one type or another. One is black-and-white and predominantly abstract.  Another contains photographs taken from space showing the most amazing places from a perspective that very few of us will ever experience. There are books that focus on different parts of the beautiful British Isles and some which cover different part of the world. I’m particularly susceptible to photographs of hills and lakes.

Beauty is the best way to describe these pictures that I could think of. Whether they are showing the macro or the micro; whether they are clear and brilliant, or abstract and blurred each one is speaking beauty.

The photographs capture the beauty that is already there, they don’t manufacture it. They encapsulate and frame an honest natural elegance. One of the reasons I don’t like heavily manipulated pictures is because they have lost their honesty.

At one level a picture is just a set of different coloured tiny dot, but that’s the mystery of a picture. The tiny dots come together into patterns that communicate a meaning to us and meaning communicates emotion.

A low resolution picture that is 1024 pixels by 768 pixels showing only 256 colours has over 200 million different combinations of dots available to it. The 8 megapixel camera in my phone can create at least 133 trillion different combinations of coloured dots. That’s a lot of pictures, so many that the human eye wouldn’t be able to perceive the difference between some of them because our eyes aren’t that sensitive.

The dots themselves don’t have a meaning, the meaning comes from the patterns in the dots and what those patterns communicate.

Like all art the photographs communicate all sorts of emotions because of their diverse perspectives and my diverse experiences. The way that I respond to these pictures will likely be different to the way that you respond because my experiences are different. Sometimes, though, we will respond in a similar way because the pictures reflect a shared experience.

These photographs are like miniature stories in a single image. I love sitting looking through these books and experiencing the stories that they tell me, it’s a privilege to participate in the blessings that they bring.

“To the complaint, ‘There are no people in these photographs,’ I respond, There are always two people: the photographer and the viewer.”

Ansel Adams

“A great photograph is one that fully expresses what one feels, in the deepest sense, about what is being photographed.”

Ansel Adams

Top for 2013: Blessings

It’s been a quiet year for writing on the Blessings blog. I’m not apologising for that, it’s just an observations.

Latrigg

I tend to write these posts when I’m inspired to do so rather than having a schedule that I write to. This results in posts being more likely to be written while I’m on holiday.

  1. #183 – Counting the thing I have that money can’t buy
  2. #120 – Short Stories
  3. #176 – Hovis Digestives
  4. #189 – Travelling a New Path
  5. #193 – The Smell of Summer Rain
  6. #188 – Reminiscing
  7. #190 – Ink
  8. #192 – Sand Martins and Swallows
  9. #117 – Warm Socks
  10. #191 – The Seagull Call

Blessings #194 – Chronos

In English we use the word time to mean a number of different things. We use it to mean the passage of seconds and minutes – “what time are we having coffee”. We also use it to describe those moments of significance – “the time has come to get a new job”.

the storm and the shells

In Greek they have two different words for time – Chronos and Kairos these are the words used in the New Testament of the Bible, both translated as time.

Chronos is the word that reflects the passage of time. In my culture we are generally taught that this type of time is an enemy to be overcome. We are given the image of Father Time who walks around with a scythe in one hand and an hourglass in the other. The scythe represent the cruel passage of time, cutting us all off at the end, some earlier than others.

I heard a phrase recently, but I can’t remember where (it was probably from Gretchen Rubin):

The days are long but the years are short

It rings true in my experience, we perceive time with a kind of reverse Doppler effect. When we look at time in the now we convince ourselves that we have all the time in the world then we look back at the years and see how short it’s been.

C.S. Lewis said:

The future is something which everyone reaches at the rate of 60 minutes an hour, whatever he does, whoever he is.

We know this is true, but it’s not the way we behave, or the way we experience it.

I’ve had some time off sick this year because of stress related issues. One of the reasons for this is that I got all mixed up in my head about the difference between urgent, immediate, time-scales, scheduled, action lists, priorities and the like, this lead to all sorts of worries. On top of that I became anxious about the inevitable family changes that come from children growing up and the effects of ageing process on the rest of us.

To put it another way, I stopped (as the famous Serenity Prayer tells us): “Living one day at a time, Enjoying one moment at a time”.

Through the later half of this year I’ve been trying to reverse my image of time and embrace a new gratitude in the day-to-day and the minute-to-minute. Rather than seeing time as an enemy stealing time from us, and looking to cut us off, I’ve tried to see it as a set of moments to be enjoyed. Each moments contains its own value and blessing.

For years I’ve known that the bible tells me not to be anxious, but I missed the antidote to that anxiety that followed straight afterwards:

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.

Philippians 4:6

Blessings #193 – The Smell of Summer Rain

We’ve had wonderful summer weather this year in the UK.

Borrowdale Sun RaysIn some parts of the world you can  guarantee what the weather is going to be like from week to week, year to year. In the UK there is nothing predictable about the weather. Some years it’s not even clear whether we’ve had a summer.

This year’s weather has been an ideal summer. We’ve had lots of sunshine and also a nice amount of rain. We don’t really like to go for too long without a bit of a downpour, we’re just not used to it. As an example, I was talking to our window-cleaner this evening and he said that he’d gone to the Lake District camping for a few days, but come back after only two nights because it was just too hot. A few days of sunshine followed by a cloudburst or two is what we regard as perfect.

This flow of warm and rain gives us lush countryside which we find delightful.

It also gives us lots of opportunities to experience that wonderful scent as the first rain descends from the skies after a period of drying sunshine.

It’s an aroma of refreshment. It’s a fragrance of cooling. It’s a perfume of clear air.

The sunshine is a blessing, but so is the deluge that follows it.

Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating; there is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather.

John Ruskin

Blessings #192 – Sand Martins and Swallows

Yesterday morning I set out on a bike ride. There’s a lovely route which starts near my house and after a short while drops down through some woods into a nature reserve and then along the banks of the River Ribble.

Brockholes SunsetThis stretch of the river is still in the countryside, winding its way through farmland. The river is wide, meandering through a broad valley with woods on either side.

In the nature reserve they’ve recently erected a Sand Martin nesting wall hoping for some seasonal visitors. I stopped off to see if anyone had taken up residence, but there was no-one home. I left wondering whether it was still too early in the year for them to be nesting.

A little way along the river I had the answer to my pondering. I’d noticed a set of holes in a sandy mud bank on a bend in the river on a previous trip. Today it was a mass of teaming activity, the travellers had arrived from there southern wanderings.

Sand Martin’s were swooping along inches above the river.

Some were chasing each other from bank to bank before one of them would climb steeply up into the sky eventually plunging down again to join the chase.

Others were congregated around the nest holes sojourning from one to another as if it was an open day at university halls of residence.

Wings of dark brown feathers danced through the air using each flap to propel the Sand Martin with absolute precision.

Each bird danced with the others in close acrobatics without collision or clash.

The air was their play area and their play was an integrate dance.

After standing and taking in the gymnastics for a while I pressed my feet back onto the peddles and continued on my way.

A little further along the cycle track cuts the corner off one of the Ribble’s meanders and makes its way through fields of grazing cattle. Above the cattle another dance was under-way, this time it was the turn of the Swallows to show their talents.

The Swallows’ dance is different to the Sand Martins’.

Where the Sand Martins dance in close intricate acrobatics, the Swallows prefer a more swooping arching movement.

The Swallows can fill a sky chasing insect delights.

I watched as one Swallow travelled from one end of the field to another no more than a wingspan away from the ground, swooping left and back right along the way. Another Swallow criss-crossed in the opposite rhythm not far behind.

As they reached the end of the field they both flicked a wing and shot high into the sky to join the dance higher up.

They were followed by others creating reversing patterns in the air as they went.

There was no set design to their dance and yet there was a form, there was an artistry to their movement.

I’ve spent most of my life in a Christina tradition that has, for the most part, regarded dancing with something of a suspicious eye.

In recent months I have become convinced that God wants to be so intimate with us that he wants to dance with us. He doesn’t want to be distant or stand-offish, he wants to hold our hands and swing us around. He wants to look us in the eye and smile at us as He leads us in the next movement.

I was recently at a meeting where I saw a picture in my mind’s eye of a spotlight shining down into the middle of the assembled crowd. In the middle of the crown was someone dressed in traditional Jewish clothing that I took to be Jesus. He reached his hand out to someone and gently swung them around, he then reached his hand out to another and drew them into the dance. A full on ceilidh was taking place with Jesus right at the centre of the action orchestrating the steps.

I’m not sure what it means to dance with Jesus, but it sounds like a fun thing to do. More than that though, it sounds like an intimate thing to do. You can’t ceilidh with someone at a distance.

Blessings #191 – The Seagull Call

The other morning while I was out on my regular morning walk, in the relative quiet as the sun started to rise, a screeching noise broke through the peace.

Fish and Chips on the Beach in Oban

Where I live is only a few miles from the coast but we don’t see many gulls nearby. They prefer to stay around the local marina (or docks as they used to be) preying on the remains of takeaways from MacDonald’s.

There was a group of four of them rising up into the sky probably retreating from some mischievous exploits.

Before I had even seen them the noise took me to another place and another time. It wasn’t anywhere specific; it was the combination of a number of different memories.

There were days walking amongst the chalk caves and pools of Flamborough Head. It’s a place of cliffs, clear seas and stories of pirates.

There were days walking along the tops of the cliffs a bit further up the coast at Bempton where the Gannets and Fulmars add to the song.

It was the noise of family holidays relaxing between bouts of body-boarding on Whitecross Bay on Cornwall.

There were memories of long beach walks on the nearby Lytham coastline.

Then there the recollections of fish and chips on the beach just outside Oban watching the CalMac make its evening rounds.

To many the seagull is a bit of a pest and I must admit that I can understand that point of view. The other morning though they brought a pleasurable cascade of memories, memories that are treasured blessings.

Blessings #190 – Ink

I’m currently sat at my desk in a small study that we are privileged to have at our home.

LindisfarneTo the side of me is a bookcase which is full of books of all shapes and sizes. There are technical books, books about fasting, books of stories, books with new words and books with ancient words.

In front of me there is a magazine full of colourful pictures, it even has a pull-out section with the picture of a huge tree on it. There are men climbing the tree who look like small dolls compared to the enormous trunk.

Next to the magazine is a pile of paper that is demanding my attention, on the top there is a letter from the bank.

On the other side of the magazine is a box with some medication in it, the instructions on the side tell me the safe way to take it. The printing on the silver coating inside tells me what it is.

Behind the magazine at the far edge of the desk is a black cup-shaped receptacle in it are pens of all sorts of shapes, sizes and colours.

I’m expecting that soon a man in a red uniform will pass the window of my study followed soon after by a rattling of the letterbox as he deposits today’s delivery.

All this is made possible by ink.

Next to my laptop is a printer, all I have to do is to click a few times and it will whir into action delivering sheets of words and diagrams.

In my pocket is a wallet which contains a bank note

For thousands of years people have processed different materials from plant, minerals and even animals to enable them to make a lasting mark on a surface. There’s a long list of wonderfully sounding substances; alizarin, indigo, pokeberries, cadmium, cochineal, carmine, sepia, vermillion, saffron and many more.

When I was young I used to hate ink. I’m left handed and being from a culture that writes from left to right that meant my hands were constantly scrubbing the yet to dry marks that I had just made. I remember one particular maths teacher who insisted that everyone use a fountain pen, but he was also a stickler for neatness, I found it impossible to put these two things together. Even though I loved maths, I detested the lessons. It wasn’t until my second year of secondary school that a teacher spent some time with me showing me how to hold my hand in such a way that it didn’t constantly smudge my work.

Lord Byron wrote these words:

But words are things, and a small drop of ink,
Falling like dew, upon a thought, produces
That which makes thousands, perhaps millions, think;

Most mornings I take some time to sit with a bible and a notebook. From one I read the dew drops of ancient wisdom passed down through millennia of ink. Into the other I write a portion of that wisdom in my own hand and contribute to it some meagre thoughts of my own. My aim is to change my thinking by taking that ancient and yet wholly relevant wisdom and making it my own. Similar practice will be followed by millions of people around the world today.

Something happens when we write things out, they become solidified. I think that’s what the writer of the Proverbs meant when they said:

Dear friend, do what I tell you;
treasure my careful instructions.
Do what I say and you’ll live well.
My teaching is as precious as your eyesight—guard it!
Write it out on the back of your hands;
etch it on the chambers of your heart
.

Proverbs 7:1-4

Blessings #189 – Travelling a New Path

A path can be viewed as being a way of getting from one destination to another, but that would be missing the journey in between.

The path between the two destination has a value all of its own.

Brockholes

I particularly like travelling on paths that I’ve never travelled on before. There are all sorts of routes near our house and I think I’ve journeyed on most of them. I’ve written before about my morning walks; I mix and match these walks around the various paths. As I do this there is a part of me that looking for a new route to take, a new destination to explore.

It’s been a special year in Preston, as part of the celebrations a new path has been created around the city – it’s known as the Guild Wheel. In many places this new route is a joining together of existing paths but in others it’s completely new pathway. One of the paths near to my house has been widened and tarmacked as part of the project.

As life’s routine has changed over recent months I’ve taken to getting my bike out on a Saturday morning. Over recent weeks I’ve really enjoyed dropping down onto the Guild Wheel near my house and going out for an explore. The Guild Wheel is over 20 miles in its totality and I’ve not been sure that I’d be able to complete the whole circuit so I’ve been easing myself in a bit. It makes sense to me, from where I set off, to journey the wheel in a clockwise direction. This means that I quickly drop down into the Brockholes Nature Reserve which is especially beautiful in the morning. When I started off, on a recent Saturday, I hadn’t done it with the intention of travelling the full route, but as I got into Avenham Park in the centre of Preston I was enjoying myself and decided to carry on. Once I had got to Preston Docks it dawned on me that I was already more than half way around so it seemed foolish not to complete the task at hand.

While I was intending to complete a journey I was especially enjoying the discovery of new paths and new places. Having lived in Preston for over 25 years it was wonderful to realise that there were things that I had never seen.

The Gospels in the Bible are full of all sorts of references to Jesus travelling from this place to another place. At one level we could regard them as simple facts that document the destinations that he travelled to, but if you choose to investigate the information that the Gospels are communicating you will realise that they are telling us that Jesus was travelling to all sorts of unusual places for someone of his background and ethnicity. John tells us about Jesus visiting Sychar, a Samaritan village where he met a woman by a well – Jews didn’t travel into Samaria, but Jesus did. Jesus travelled to new and unusual places.

Life itself is a journey, we can choose to walk the same path over and over again, or we can choose to explore new paths, different paths. We can walk or we can journey.

Blessings #188 – Reminiscing

This evening we were watching a video that was recorded in the early 1990’s.

The Forbidden CornerIt was wonderful to see the changing fashions on show.

Did people really where such large glasses?

Lots more ties worn back then, interesting patterns too.

Nice haircut, even nicer moustaches.

There was a scene set in a church, there was someone stood at the front with an overhead projector and acetates. The screen was the size of postage stamp.

The man holding the acetates reminded me of the times that I had the same role. He was stood there like a panther ready to pounce, the last thing you ever wanted to do was to miss a change of verse. At the same time though there was a certain pressure to look like you were worshipping, you were at the front after all.

On a later scene in a different church it was a smartly dressed young girl looking delighted to be taking part. I quite enjoyed being in control of the acetates. There were times when everything seemed to go wrong, but on the whole it was a pleasurable experience. The technology has all changed but I still enjoy serving people in worship.

Reminiscing: Indulge in enjoyable recollection of past events.

Reminiscing is a good type of looking back. There are times in most of our lives that we can look back on that are far from enjoyable recollections. For some people there are unpleasant things in there past that loom so large it makes seeing the enjoyable thing almost impossible. For most of us it’s a mixture of good and not-so-good.

I wonder what the apostles felt as they looked back at their time with Jesus?

In John’s gospel there are a number of times when a phrase similar to "One of the disciples, the one Jesus loved dearly" is used. Is commonly understood that John is trying humbly talk about himself. What a reminiscence to have?

Blessings #187 – Sunsets

This evening I’m away from home on business.

It was 5:00am when I left the house this morning and I’ve been inside the car and various offices for the last 15 hours. Years of experience have taught me that the best way to get a good night’s sleep in these strange circumstances is to take in some air by going for a walk.

Castle Stalker BayThis evening’s location is Farnham in Surrey. I’ve been here many times before, too many to count. I like it here, it’s a nice place with parks and places to stroll.

After marvelling at the antics of a bunch of young men trying to catch crayfish in the river I headed out of town, past the train station and out of town on Waverley Lane. I was heading east and my attention was taken with the architecture. This area of town contains the type of English housing that is every stereotype of the type of houses we English are supposed to live in. Unfortunately most of us are never going to be able to afford a flat in one of these house let alone the whole house.

Eventually it was time to turn around and head back for something to eat. It was time to head west. My attention was no longer taken by architecture, my gaze was fixed on the majesty and beauty above. The sun was starting to set and the sky had become a picture of yellow, orange, gold, cadmium, copper, brass, pink, purple, scarlet, russet and cerise all set of with a wash of sky-blue.

I watched and walked as a jet crossed the scene, it’s trails illuminated.

It was then that a thought came: "When a man is tired of a sunset, he is tired of life." For those of you who haven’t already realised it’s mostly a quotation from Samuel Johnson who said: "When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life".

If you look through my Flickr photos you’ll find numerous sunsets. I love taking pictures of the sun’s descendence.

Sunsets are fabulous, each one is marvellously unique in its intricacy.

Sunsets mark the end of one thing and the start of another. It’s interesting to note that in a few places in the Bible it was at sunset that people bought sick people to Jesus. This has a similar significance, people come at sunset at the end of the Sabbath because sunset marks the end of the day. They wouldn’t come during the Sabbath because there were limitation on what they could do. I quite like the thought that Jesus was giving people hope through healing under a glorious sunset.

It’s a mystery why I haven’t written a post about the blessing of a sunset before. I listed as one of the things that I have that money can’t buy, but it never occurred to me that it hadn’t been a blessing in its own right. I’ve corrected that now.

Here’s a selection of sunsets I have enjoyed:

Silverdale and Morecombe Bay

Longridge Sunset

The Big One Sunset

Sunset (before the rain)

Castle Stalker Bay

Blessings #186 – Anticipation

A few weeks ago Emily and I got up early on a Saturday morning and headed down to our friend Dave’s house (Sue was away). Waiting for the Olympic TorchThere we met with others and walked around the corner to join the growing crowd. There, on a normally busy crossroads, the police were stopping vehicles from passing through. They couldn’t have passed through anyway, there were too many people.

People lined both sides of the road, sometimes many people deep. Other people were hanging out of upstairs windows or sitting on top of bay windows. There were others who were sat on top of shop fronts.

We found a place for our small party to stand and were eventually joined by others that we knew. We waved at some other people across the road that we knew and joined the general hubbub.

Olympic TorchBeing early on a Saturday morning some people had just put a coat on top of their pyjamas, others looked like they’d already been up for hours. There were people of every generation, older people and families with small children.

Everyone was waiting in anticipation of an arrival at this time and at this place.

We were lining the streets keeping the road clear.

Something was going to be passing by.

Olympic TorchEventually a group of police motorcycle riders came slowly down either side of the road making sure that everyone was off the road. There way of doing this was quite fun as they high-fived all of the children as they drove down.

The motorcycles were followed by police cars and then by various other vehicles.

It was then time for main event.

It was a l lady who was running holding the Olympic torch.

Everyone applauded as she passed by.

Olympic TorchThe lady was moving at quite a pace and passed by in no time at all.

In no time at all people dispersed back from where they had come. We meandered back to Dave’s house for some breakfast chattering about what we had seen.

We’d been there and seen it, this was a once in a lifetime event.

In the Bible there was a similar event, but this was once for all time:

28 After telling this story, Jesus went on toward Jerusalem, walking ahead of his disciples. 29 As he came to the towns of Bethphage and Bethany on the Mount of Olives, he sent two disciples ahead. 30 “Go into that village over there,” he told them. “As you enter it, you will see a young donkey tied there that no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks, ‘Why are you untying that colt?’ just say, ‘The Lord needs it.’”

32 So they went and found the colt, just as Jesus had said. 33 And sure enough, as they were untying it, the owners asked them, “Why are you untying that colt?”

34 And the disciples simply replied, “The Lord needs it.” 35 So they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their garments over it for him to ride on.

36 As he rode along, the crowds spread out their garments on the road ahead of him. 37 When he reached the place where the road started down the Mount of Olives, all of his followers began to shout and sing as they walked along, praising God for all the wonderful miracles they had seen.

38 “Blessings on the King who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven, and glory in highest heaven!”[c]

39 But some of the Pharisees among the crowd said, “Teacher, rebuke your followers for saying things like that!”

40 He replied, “If they kept quiet, the stones along the road would burst into cheers!”

Luke 19