Signs of Hope

I blogged about arid land back in April, which I had found on a walk near my house and been somewhat captivated by.

Aridity

I have walked through this field on countless occasions during lockdown, and semi lockdown, and been surprised when I saw something beginning to grow…this field has reminded me of hope in times of real struggle and pain through pandemic life….

Signs of hope

I am reminded of God’s presence, provision and abundance….

Abundance

I am also aware that sometimes God works through us in order to provide for those in need. How is God calling you to be God’s agent of hope this week?

A weary spirit…

Willing but weak…

I took a long weekend off last weekend, just to spend at home as we remain in local lockdown. I had not realised how weary I have become…a weariness which does not seem to be cured by sleep, or even with a change of activity or (brief) change of scene. It seems little wonder that this is the case though: we have been living through a pandemic! Of course we are all experiencing this in different ways, but there is so much that we used to take for granted. Whilst masks, hand-washing, and limiting our travel have become common-place, they are not normalised.

The emotional energy it takes to get ready to go out, especially still in lockdown, is huge. COVID-19 had dealt each of us a significant shock to the system. I have spoken to a number of people who feel weary of this new normal – which is quite far from ‘normal normal!’ Navigating life within it, whilst also being aware of what can be gained from living more simply, and indeed the great costs that have come hand in hand with it, is exhausting. I have become aware over the last months that much of what I seem to do, or think about, relates to the future. At present, I feel quite immobilised; it seems impossible to think too far ahead! Just as we began to, we found ourselves plunged into local lockdown, in a way which hit harder because we dared to begin to move forward.

I have been truly inspired today by this article on Wild Church which seeks to encourage spirituality outdoors. Green, wild, spaces have been so sacred to me during lockdown…it has been much more difficult since those spaces have not been available, as they are outside the boundary. My heart has found God in the wild, wide open spaces over the last months, and I yearn to return!

In the meantime though, I recognise the need for each of us to be kind to ourselves as life fails to feel nearly normal, and navigation of the new normal continues to use too much of our reserves. I love that the photograph of this watering can shows both age and something of its failings as a watering can, whilst also showing that water continues to flow out of it – even in the face of challenge, it still has something to offer!

Sanctuary in Nature

“In those dark days I found some support in the steady progress unchanged of the beauty of the seasons. Every year, as spring came back unfailing and unfaltering, the leaves came out with the same tender green, the birds sang, the flowers came up and opened, and I felt that a great power of Nature for beauty was not affected by the war. It was like a great a great sanctuary into which we could go and find refuge.”

Sir Edward Grey, Foreign Secretary at the outbreak of the First World War, from ‘Recreation’, speech to Harvard University, 1919
The sanctuary of nature

I love the quote above, which is how I have come to appreciate the seasons – especially this year. The last few days have been dark and dreary indeed, unceasing rain and all of the emotional feelings around living in a city still in lockdown. Yet, there is still hope to be found; the beans are growing, the birds continue to sing, and regardless of the weather, the heather will soon break out! I commend Lucy Jone’s Losing Eden which demonstrates beautifully and in a timely way, how we need wild spaces to maintain our emotional wellbeing. Where do you find your hope?

Under the Branches

I found myself visualising something the other day, around trees bearing witness to the absences caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. I tried to put it to words, but am probably still playing with it. Still, it remains a piece which acknowledges the huge loss which has resulted from the pandemic….

“…yet we see we know we ache”

Spreading our wings

Patterns of nature

I have been really struck by the simplicity of the natural world as I have watched ducklings, goslings and now cygnets venture out on the water not long after hatching. They soon follow the lead of their parents in feeding and cleaning themselves. It is truly lovely to watch. I have been struck by the resonances between young birds venturing out and us venturing out as aspects of lockdown have been lifted. The latest announcements have led to much planning and preparation as people seek to bring more familiar aspects of our society out of hibernation; it can be really reassuring to see more signs of ‘normality’ returning to our communities.

On the other hand, in Leicester, we seem to be seeing an increase in cases; this has led to talks of a local ‘lockdown’. I have not found significant media speculation very helpful over the last number of months, but this comes as a stark reminder of the threat that continues to loom. One thing which seems ever apparent is that it is difficult to have any sense of certainty about anything in these times…I have found certainty however, in nature.

I’ve recently read Losing Eden by Lucy Jones which I highly recommend. The core thread running through it is that our minds need connection with wild, natural, world to be well – this connection brings clarity and a sense of something bigger – perspective. I have really noticed that when I have been able to walk or to sit in the garden, to listen to the birdsong, to feel the sun on my face, I have found comfort and refreshment, even amidst uncertainty and unfamiliar circumstances. This is one revelation from being in lockdown that I do not want to lose – what are your signs of hope during lockdown that you wish to hold on to?

Time to tread water…

Water off a duck’s back…

I’ve not blogged for a few weeks as I had a writing week (for my MA dissertation research), then a week of leave to rest and recharge. Amidst the rest I met this lovely duck as the sun went down one evening. She was swimming with her 11 ducklings, and yet she had such a sense of calm around her as she trod water, and stayed visible as her ducklings zoomed around excitedly. She seemed to feel the smile of God shining down on her; so assured of herself and her focus in the sacrament of this moment. It made me question, is it any wonder that I so often feel overwhelmed with so much going on in my head, rather than focusing on this moment, this sacred space and just deal with what that presents…? Is it possible to live within this simplicity and the sacrament of now, whilst also managing to achieve all that needs to be achieved?

Marking the spot!

I met with God here…

Part of my theological reflection over the last few weeks has been around buildings, and how they came to be so important as ‘God encounter’ spaces. That has taken me to conversations about tents (as ‘Tent of meeting’) and stones. The Old Testament practice seemed to encourage people to mark a place where they had encountered God in some way…it’s strange and lovely that I was reminded of just that as I was out walking over the weekend, and powerfully and wonderfully met with, and walked with, God – amazing that there was a stone placed already for me to ‘mark the spot!’

Signs of ‘normality’

New life

I have loved walking in our local area each day over the last few months, and watching spring bloom before our very eyes. These young Canada geese, swimming so close to their mother, reminded me of the huge dependence we have on others – especially in infancy and childhood. We tend to think that in adulthood this ‘dependency’ disappears.

What I am seeing from our lives in lockdown is that a sense of ‘dependency’ within our communities and close relationships very much remains – but the shape of it changes. I’ve spoken with many people recently about us as ‘relational beings’, very much mirroring the image of God in this, and thriving best when we are able to share things with others.

My hope and my prayer is that we do not lose sight of this need for community, for different types of relationship, as life begins to take over once again.

Community Snake

Signs of hope and building community

We were quite intrigued to hear that a snake had been put in the wood where we regularly walk…I almost tried to find somewhere else to walk, as for a few seconds I wasn’t quite sure whether it was real and alive! When we came across Samson the snake, though, it seemed to be such a message of hope and solidarity. That was even more keenly felt as we passed a young boy with his mum, clutching a newly painted stone, and excited to add this to the snake.

I had meant to post about this yesterday, after we had found the snake, but we were both saddened to hear that the beautiful head of the snake and some other stones had been taken away. The original artist had been very quick to create another ‘head’ and this evening that was again found to be missing, with other stones strewn around. Samson has now been moved to another, less prominent, location, where I hope that he will remain for others’ enjoyment for longer.

It is difficult not to feel jaded about these unpleasant developments, but to avoid losing heart, I want to focus on the thought that inspired, and the spirit that perseveres in, building community and bringing shared joy. Long live Samson; in spirit, if not in body!

Simplicity

Simplicity of life…

In a meeting today I became aware of the importance of simplicity. These are difficult times and many of us are expected, or expecting of ourselves, to be operating at full capacity; that ‘self-actualisation’ as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Need terms it. A colleague reminded me though, that we are seeking to survive a pandemic, and actually, rather than even trying to meet our self-fulfilment needs, we should really only be focusing on our basic needs: food, water, warmth, rest, security and safety. Many of the people I have spoken to, and I myself, have been struggling with ‘rest’ out of all of these. A phrase often repeated to me through theological college keeps coming back; “be kind to yourself.” It doesn’t always feel possible, especially with multiple competing pressures, and yet it feels important to try….