Archive for November 2009
These horse chestnut leaves were so new, they were still a little moist. It was a raw cold April morning when this photograph was taken, with left-over snow lying about in patches. It felt as if the earth had been thoroughly rinsed. I loved the way the leaf ‘hands’ were still hanging down, in clusters of five.
I find spring has an innocence about it that is very pleasing.
It’s the infant of the seasons, and the mood is often upbeat, full of expectation. The earth begins to be clothed in foliage, and hibernating animals wake up. The whole of nature begins its annual cycle once again.
If winter is an old man, then spring is a small child. People often talk about spring in terms of how unpredictable it is. The March wind can be playful and mischievous, like a little boy.
Innocence can have to do with immaturity, or naiveté, or just inexperience. And of course ‘innocent’ can mean ‘not guilty’. But there is another side to innocence - a kind of blend of being innocent (not guilty), and a holy childlikeness.
If innocence isn’t just a stage in life, then this gives me hope that in Heaven, we will experience the youthful joy we get a taste of every year in spring. I love this description of spring by nature writer Adam Nicolson: ‘gratitude married to amazement’.
I think in Heaven, people will have the zest for life and energy of youth, together with the wisdom of maturity. And perhaps the atmosphere of the place will reflect that, in ways that can be felt. I wonder if it will feel like spring in some ways, and like autumn in others.
Another spring-related thought - should our own personal spring happen only once in a lifetime? Perhaps whenever we venture into something new, or begin a project that excites us, we can each enjoy our own mini-spring. That’s a heart-warming notion, just now, when even the thought of spring is very welcome, and almost exotic!
Jesus spoke of innocence as a lifelong quality we should cultivate. (‘Be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves’ – Matthew 10:16.) This is connected with meaning no harm, and some versions translate ‘innocent’ here as ‘harmless’. However, other versions have ‘simple’. This takes us back to a childlike quality of not-knowing – it’s a trust in one’s spirit, meaning one is content not to know certain things. The Apostle Paul, writing to the Romans, said: ‘I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.’ [Chapter 16, verse 19]. (The King James Version says ‘simple concerning evil’.) We all know people who are just a little bit too knowing.
Yellow. Apparently it’s the first colour a newborn baby can recognise. It speaks to me of straightforward happiness, and joy.
These flowers were growing in the walled garden at Carisbrooke Castle, on the Isle of Wight. It was one of those bright, sunny days, with big contrasts between light and shade. As we sat drinking coffee, a ladybird appeared on my right shoulder. It was a startling sight flying through the air – a flurry of wings. When I gently tried to get rid of it, it didn’t seem to want to leave – roaming from one hand to the other, tickling my skin in the process. It seemed to be enjoying my company. For some reason I found this very touching.
A little later, high up on the walls, we found a Red Admiral butterfly, basking in the sunshine. Every time I felt it must fly off, because I was bending so near to it, and less than a foot away – and was not staying all that still – it stayed put. Just opening and closing its wings drowsily.
‘Are we in the Garden of Eden?’ somebody asked, half joking. Everything felt so lovely and harmonious. Nature and man not frightened of one another. And being in the castle buildings, or walking on the walls, was a protecting kind of experience in itself. (I always feel secure in a castle, even though I know the whole reason for them has to do with warfare.)
The castle has a donkey well, manned by a donkey treading a wheel. As we admired some of the donkeys who were off-duty, someone pointed out the markings on their backs. Two long lines, in the form of a cross.
When Jesus rode a donkey in triumphal procession, on the first Palm Sunday, I’m sure he didn’t spoil the atmosphere by looking downcast, or having a pained expression. Instead, he obviously approved of what the crowds were doing. (‘If they keep quiet, the stones will cry out’!) I’m really struck that he was able to enter into the spirit of the occasion. Even though he must have known that very soon, he would be crucified.
Happy days like the one at the castle are great to look back upon. Isn’t it humbling to think that one of the reasons Jesus went to the cross, was so we could have memories like this to treasure?
I took this photo on the Isle of Wight, at Ventnor Botanic Gardens, captivated by this flower’s near perfect shape and the fact it was bright orange. Though it’s probably at the more tasteful end of the orange spectrum!
For me, this flower has a half-shy, half-open look. The petals at the centre form a tight bundle, each one pressed closely against its neighbour, a picture of self-protection. By contrast, the surrounding petals are fully open, radiating out like the beams a child draws around the sun.
It reminds me of how small children are. They’re either present with you, showing every emotion, or not at all (trying to hide behind a parent’s legs, for instance!)
For a small child, it’s impossible not to be ‘all or nothing’. Someone once defined childhood and adulthood in this way: an adult is capable of controlling the expressions on his face, whereas a child is not. Adults do this so as not to reveal everything about themselves. (I think realistically speaking, this is essential in a fallen world.) So an adult can be ‘half-open’, showing certain emotions but concealing the rest. Whereas children are open books.
‘Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame’. (Psalm 34:5, the Old Testament.)
When we draw near to God, we start to change in His light. But God’s ‘radiance’ shining in our faces won’t make us suddenly like naïve children, displaying all that’s going on inside. (It might restore some of our childlike innocence, though. And ‘renew our youth’ – but that’s another story!) While shame means we are always hiding, God’s radiance means we can fully accept ourselves.
Yes, we’ll still need to be pragmatic, and conceal some things. But we’ll be able to trust that God is filtering His light through our personality, sin no longer a barrier.
Well, it’s my first ‘rainbow-world’ post, and of course that means the colour theme is red!
What does a red rose speak of? To me, it speaks of love and passionate commitment. (I’ve got a dried-up red rose on my windowsill [pictured], that I received at a church event where all the women attending got a red rose. It was handed out as a symbol of God’s love.) As I write, I’m listening to such a poignant song, Bonnie Raitt singing ‘I can’t make you love me if you don’t.’ One of those sad songs you can totally wallow in.
It begins ‘Turn down the lights’ (how I love these four descending notes) and the mood is a ‘turned down’ one, as well. Only when you get to the chorus does the emotion soar – the songwriter has realised she can’t change how the other person feels. ‘I can’t make you love me if you don’t. You can’t make your heart feel something it won’t’. It’s sad but there’s dignity in the way this truth is stated. We don’t need any details – these two lines say it all.
I wonder if that’s how God feels sometimes. Resignation. Of a very reluctant kind. You simply cannot force someone to love you. (We all know that, but how hard to really take it on board sometimes!) Otherwise, it wouldn’t be love at all.
The most intense part of this song is where she sings ‘I will lay down my heart, and I’ll feel the power – but you won’t. No, you won’t!’
I feel that is very much how God feels. He has laid down His heart for us, and He feels the power – the possibilities, the excitement, the passion, of all He could do in and through us - but so often, we don’t.
I like the way there are all sorts of conflicting emotions in this song. It’s not just about self-pity – you could see it as a turning-point for the better in the songwriter’s life. Giving up on something that will never work. A step forward, which she sums up as ‘I will give up this fight’.
But most of all, I just like the way the songwriter has spilled her heart out, and shared something she feels at a very weak point in her life. I think of the gentleness of Jesus – there’s a vulnerability there, in a way. ‘His eyes are like doves beside brooks of water’ (Song of Songs 5:12, the Old Testament).
Mmm, does this mean the Lover in the Song of Songs has eyes that look like birds? Well, no, I think we’re meant to think about how doves make us feel. One summer, I saw a pair of collared doves, sitting on a twig, their beaks entwined, affectionately. And later, almost as moving was the behaviour of the pair I saw on my parents’ patio – you could almost see the thread of loyalty between them. There was just something about their submissive, gentle character that came across. Looking at them, you would say ‘they could do no harm’. For me, this speaks of the gentleness of Jesus, that His expression towards us is as gentle as the nature of a dove.
If you want to listen to the song, the Youtube link is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eQgDnZQogDM.