Note: This photo is ‘stretched’ lengthwise. I was going to fix it, but then I realised, it ties in well with the theme of this post! Unreality….
It seems to me, the more stressful and difficult our lives are, the more intensely we dream. At least that has been my experience! It’s as if our minds cannot stand too much reality – and escapist night-time dreams become more vivid, the more we cannot cope well with our ordinary lives.
At one extreme, drugs bring a short holiday from reality. The need to find a way out of everyday pressures leads to an alternative reality being sought. Pain is numbed and the world of the ‘drugs high’ becomes the person’s reality, for a short time. Later a horrendous price is paid.
God communicates to people in dreams, from time to time – for instance, in the Bible, we read about how God told Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus, that Mary was not pregnant by another man, but with the Son of God. He told him the next step in his life (and his family’s). I’ve also heard of people hearing from God in dreams, in contemporary times – receiving something like a vision or a ‘word of knowledge’, but in the form of a night-time dream. In countries that are closed to the Gospel, people have had dreams about Jesus, which have prompted them to give their lives to the Lord. This was the first they had heard of Christianity.
Then there’s the dreams for our own futures that we form in our minds, consciously – ‘castles in the air’, these used to be called. ‘I have a dream’ is probably the most famous speech ever made – Martin Luther King’s vision of a future of racial harmony.
I often wonder how much reality we are meant to take on board, on a daily basis. If we saw what we were really like inside, as God sees us, I don’t think we would survive. As light grows in our lives, as we grow in God, sometimes the view in the mirror can be difficult for our pride to swallow.
But keeping pace with this less-and-less rose-tinted view of ourselves, should be an increasing grasp of how deeply God loves and accepts us. That way, as our perception of reality grows ever sharper, we are stronger and better able to live with it.
I think there is a place for occasional escapism – eg light-hearted films, TV and novels – as long as these things are a ‘safety valve’ rather than the main channel of the flow of our lives. And even although God’s light brings reality to us, thankfully God does not reveal the same things to all of us. There are things we will never know about ourselves, possibly, and certainly about other people and situations. I’m very thankful that God is so selective about the things He reveals to me!
I am never quite sure how much reality I am supposed to walk in, at any one time. Looking back, I am grateful for some of the illusions God allowed me to walk in – for a season. Perhaps Heaven will be a place where people and reality will be a perfect match – reality in all its aspects will be something we can embrace fully, without flaws and sinfulness causing us to flinch, or to escape into a dream.
This photo doesn’t really illustrate the theme of this post – which is lack of fruit, when we were hoping for fruit. But perhaps it does convey that disappointment indirectly - ie the disappointment you feel when you are looking for something, and it isn’t there. Ie this geranium leaf would look nicer (I feel) with a bright flower beside it – but instead there is just the green of the leaf, and the drops resting on it after a shower.
The theme of these posts is poignancy and loss, and perhaps there’s no more wearing loss than the continual ‘drip, drip’ of fruitlessness. A childless couple who never experience conception. The promotion that never happens, or the finances that never get sorted. Hopes dwindling and the spark of life threatening to die completely.
I won’t speak from experience about hope rising in the midst of darkness. I don’t have a particularly powerful testimony about that happening. But I would say that thankfulness has proved a very helpful antidote to feelings of uselessness and futility. I picture it as like an umbrella, covering me and protecting me from the dark rain of envy, despair, bitterness and fear. I was encouraged, yesterday, reading from Psalm 65, where it says in the Amplified version, ‘the hills gird themselves with joy’. Often we cannot do anything to produce the fruit we desire, but we can choose to ‘gird ourselves’ with joy and thankfulness.
‘Why did the bulrush?’ ‘Because he saw the cowslip’.
As a child, I loved this joke, with its image of a gallant bull, which I enjoyed picturing hastening through mud to rescue a clumsy cow, and perhaps ending up flat on his back there, too.
Hearing about cowslips used to be bound up with nostalgia for me, as in the 1970s and 1980s, my mother described a time just after the War, when cowslips were a common sight. Now this nostalgia is itself a thing of the past. The cowslip has made a comeback (pulled herself out of the mud perhaps?!) Though the ones we see tend to be the cross-bred kind, half primula, half cowslip, and brighter than the truly wild ones.
Nostalgia is a very intense emotion, a lot like homesickness - but a homesickness for the past. It’s an emotion that is full of contradictions – for instance, it’s an ache in the heart, yet we seem to rather enjoy it, and often do things to deliberately provoke it. It’s called up by old things, frequently, yet its pleasure is that it makes us feel younger, by taking us into our past. I have to admit that, in common with many people, I’m very prone to nostalgia, my favourite TV programme being ‘Lark Rise to Candleford’. And I can get nostalgic about things that happened eighteen months ago, let alone in the days of my youth and childhood.
When you feel nostalgic, remembered events take on a heightened significance, and even people and places you actively disliked at the time, are bathed in a golden glow in retrospect. All is forgiven – and we forget what it was actually like, back then.
It’s a very natural thing, to look back with fondness. We tend to remember only the good things. The past is a place where we feel secure, because it’s ‘done and dusted’. There is no element of uncertainty, because we know what happened next.
Ecclesiastes 7 verse 10 (Old Testament) says ‘Do not say, “Why were the old days better than these?” For it is not wise to ask such questions.’ The writer isn’t saying that things aren’t getting worse, just stating that there is no point in hankering after a past that has gone for ever.
It’s a deceiving emotion, really, in that we don’t realize that our attachment to something can be…100% nostalgia.
I’m sure we could feel nostalgia for just about anything, so long as it belonged to a bygone age. As a child, I worshipped the idea of the past. I didn’t realise ‘The Olden Days’ was just a phrase, I thought it was a definite period of history! A noble yet difficult-to-live-in era, that ended with the outbreak of World War One. If the Post Office had phased out postcodes in the 1970s – instead of phasing them in, at that time – well, imagine how much regret would have been expressed at their passing. There would have been comments made like. ‘How brusque and abrupt-looking modern addresses look, without the lovely old postcodes.’
But I don’t want to be too cynical – it must be terrible never to feel this way. I’m thankful that there are things in my past to feel nostalgic about.
I think if we rid the human psyche of nostalgia, we would definitely miss it (although of course we couldn’t feel nostalgic about it).
‘Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be’ - have you ever heard that joke? I must admit, it never makes me laugh (but then it’s one of those ‘cerebral’ kinds of jokes, not really a laugh-out-loud one.) When I first heard that joke, I began wondering whether it is true – are we more obsessed with the past than we used to be? I am fascinated by the relationship of previous generations to the generations that came before them.
For instance, until quite recently I didn’t appreciate that Bible characters were separated from each other by hundreds of years. In the Old Testament Book of Ruth, Naomi’s neighbours refer to ‘Rachel and Leah, who together built the house of Israel’. Or rather, I didn’t realise what this meant: that to Naomi, Rachel and Leah would have been just two names that she had to flesh out with her imagination – just as they are for us. Characters from the dim and distant past. She would have had no clue what they looked like, although living in Israel, she would have been able to picture the practical details of their lives, and perhaps would have heard local folklore about them and other Israelites of the past.
There’s been so much more to say about nostalgia than I realised when I started. I’ve appreciated, afresh, how amazing it is that we can look back and remember things that have happened to us. Painful memories have to be dealt with – but to have this faculty of recollection at all, is an amazing gift from God.
The human brain is still a mystery to mankind, and man’s memory even more so. As Psalm 139 says, ‘Such knowledge is too wonderful for me’. And as another verse of that psalm says, ‘I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made’.
One sunlit frosty morning towards the end of December, I spotted this flame-coloured rose in a front garden near my home. There was snow on the ground – and at first I took the rose’s unusual covering to be snow.
But afterwards, looking at the photo, I wondered if this was a particularly heavy frost rather than snow.
Two seasons seem to have collided here. The vibrant, orange rose, left over from the summer, and the wintry ice crystals. (This made me think of the poignant song, ‘It’s a long way from May to December’. But here, May and December seem to be happening at the same time!)
Looking at this photograph, I’m finding that this marriage of something of life, with something of death, feels very familiar. Yet it is also arresting and paradoxical. So often we witness tragedy and pain colliding with vibrant, happy human lives.
I couldn’t help being reminded of the ‘Proverbs 31 woman’, in the Old Testament – the verse ‘She fears not the snow’.
This rose seems folded in on itself, but that’s probably only because the petals have become limp, due to repeated frosts. Instead of appearing crushed in any way, the rose retains its dignity and beauty – in fact it seems all the more beautiful for the heavy burden it is carrying.
The second “rainbow-world” rainbow was rather light-hearted (home-made riddles…) Well, there’s no danger of that, with this next one – I’ve settled on a theme of “Poignancy and Loss”.
What a change a few weeks brings about. This photo shows what has happened to my amaryllis plant, pictured previously in here. Gone are the pillar-box red petals – now they’re a more serene mulberry colour. Losing their tautness, the petals are displaying visible lines. Their flesh now feels like raw silk, the kind with rough threads running through it. The pollen – still very plentiful, scattering over my window sill – is a softer, lemon shade rather than sulphur yellow. Clearly it has succumbed to the dying process.
I love these beautiful changes, as the amaryllis gradually curls up and dies. But this morning – a couple of weeks after this photo was taken – I noticed white markings on the petals. It’s probably some kind of mould. Now that really is a visible sign of death…and suddenly there is nothing poetic to be said about my amaryllis, any more. When death comes for real, pleasurable melancholy goes out the window!
With a natural process of change, there are still things to be mourned. [Although I love the amaryllis in this interesting phase, I would also love to see it 'in its youth' again!] There are good things, virtues that belong to every stage of a normal life. Even the happiest, most successful life involves a certain amount of looking back, and mourning that something has been lost. A parent thinking about the childhood of his teenage daughter feels pangs of nostalgia, while also being delighted (and relieved) that she is nearly grown up. Life (in this world, anyway) seems always to be a bitter-sweet kind of thing.
Light shining through willow-herb. The petals with the strong sun behind them looking like deep pink stained glass. The pistils: small white crosses, a bit like the crosses you see on hot cross buns that are available in the shops now (already!)
Simple scene though this is, it is speaking to me of the grace of God. Simply by being, these petals are beautiful, and by allowing the sun to pour through them, they’re becoming even more beautiful.
God’s grace is a great stress-reliever. It means we are not the final judge of our own conduct (amongst other things – it would take a lifetime to understand everything grace means to mankind). Sometimes we are judge and jury of our day-to-day behaviour and thought-life. Although we’re meant to ‘examine ourselves’ at times, I don’t think we should be taking a minute-to-minute audit of our lives’ progress. That way madness would lie!
Grace means that sin has been judged – but Jesus has taken the place of that sin. (Jesus was willing to become identified with sin – our sin – not just take the punishment for it). But once we have accepted that grace, we are not judged any more.
I love the exuberance of this flower. Although it’s officially a weed, I’ve heard several people say they have a special affection for it. Seed-time, in late September, is an equally attractive time. Then the leaves turn a variety of colours, displaying on one single stem, green, beige, sunset yellow, and apricot orange. (And russet red sometimes, too.) And above the leaves, there is a mass of fluffy seed in the place of the flowers.
Weeds that are really beautiful flowers. What does that remind me of? Perhaps ‘the stone the builders rejected..’?
I return to my birthplace
when it’s time to reproduce.
I love to jump
out of one element
and into another,
then back again.
Though I have no feet (or even legs)
a ladder was built for my use.
[If you would like to know the answer – or have your guess confirmed as the right answer! – email me on firstname.lastname@example.org.]
[In case you're wondering why there's a pink post, when there is no pink in the rainbow - I'm alternating between pink and white for Post No 7 each time. Indigo and violet are being combined for Post No 6.]
A few years ago, browsing in a second-hand ‘Language of Flowers’ book, I learnt that pansy means ‘a thought’. Then the penny dropped. It must be from the name – ‘thought’ in French is ‘pensee’. I wondered why the French gave this flower that meaningful name. Maybe (I was thinking, today) it’s because the flowers look like little faces - each one wearing a pensive expression. Just now I had a fresh look at this photo (above) with this in mind – and concluded that they certainly don’t seem to be smiling!
Sometimes a smile is what we need. Other times, knowing that we are in someone’s thoughts, in a prolonged sort of way, is more valuable. Come to think of it, generally speaking I would rather be thought about, than be smiled at by someone, if I had to choose. (A smile can be just a quick flash of someone’s good intent towards you! Or it can just reflect their passing state of mind!) And perhaps there’s nothing people desire more than that others should take an interest in their thoughts. Psalm 139 (in the Old Testament) says ‘You understand my thought afar off’ (verse 2). My pastor has suggested that our quiet times go well when we allow the Holy Spirit to walk among our thoughts.
I’m so glad God places such a high value on our thoughts. The downside is that we can fall into sin just by thinking something. But the upside is that we can please God and give Him great delight, through the way we direct the flow of thoughts inside our heads – a pattern we create unique to each one of us, and unique to each ‘thinking occasion’.
Indigo & Violet Riddle
At summer’s end, I clothe the land,
Sometimes my roughness tears your hasty hand,
I am not water, yet you wade in me,
I ripple in the wild wind – yet I am not the sea.
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