It's quiet. I can hear the clock ticking, some birds chirping in the garden, the sound of my fingers on the keys and the odd sniff as my nose is runny today.
I had some music on earlier while I did some baking but I've turned it off. The kettle is uncharacteristically silent as I have a fresh cup of coffee in front of me and the washing machine has finished it's load and the washing is hanging on the line thanks to my Mum, who is always much more efficient than I am first thing in a morning, and she has now gone out.
It's just me and you.
I want to tell you about something special. Last night I was reading more of 'The Call To Intimacy: Finding rest in the love of God' by Tony Horsfall. I was sleepy and a bit ragged after several calls from the children who were both afflicted with colds and so unable to settle without various medications, vapours to inhale, cuddly toys that required locating, stories on CD players and much reassurance. I wanted five minutes of peace before I nodded off so that the day wouldn't end with the grinding of teeth.
And there you were. Words on the page leapt out at me.
'The reflective life makes us aware of the sacred that surrounds us, but which we often do not see. In order to live more reflectively, we need to slow down. To truly benefit from what God is saying to us, or doing in our lives, we need to stop and pause. Only then will we recognise and respond to those God-given moments that come to each of us in the course of our daily lives.'
For ages I have wittered on about You around me. About seeing you in blackbirds, in flowers, in the weather, in the sea, the stars, in my relationship with my girls, in the quiet and the music. Lots of times I've looked at something and thought of you, even been led to look something up in the Bible, or gone off on a tangent thinking about a parallel with life; wondering how my seedlings will fare planted out in the wild of the Big Garden or the way that the sun comes out around a purply-black cloud after a storm. I see it, I go off on one and then I come and tell you about it in detail and then, on occasion, I wonder if I'm being silly.
I have, in the past, told people about something like this and seen the indulgent scepticism on their faces. The way that I can see you, but they see a co-incidence. I see you and they see the commonplace. But last night, the gentleman who wrote that lovely book reassured me that I am right - you are there. All around, everywhere. And you love to speak to us in that way. Those moments are indeed God-given. That I can no more see the beauty and majesty of you in the sunrise by myself, by some feat of imagination, than I can bring the sun over the horizon myself. It is a gift from the Creator to get an insight into creation. A gift from you.
It's given me a new confidence that you do speak to me in the things and people that are around me. In a line from a book, the song of my little blackbird (we think he's back, with some new feathers. He's only Partially Streaky now), or in a song on a CD in the car. Lord, you are here. You are right here with me and constantly interacting. Waiting for us to notice.
Sometimes I wish so very much that I could hear your voice as I hear human voices. I wish that you would write on the sky in large letters and then point at them with a neon finger, 'HELEN, THIS IS GOD. HERE IS THE ANSWER TO YOUR DILEMMA...' and I still believe that you could do that if you wanted to, but, hey, there is another way. I thought there was, and then I doubted myself, and now I know.
Tony Horsfall says, 'Nature is full of parables if only we are aware what is there.'
For my birthday in September, Mum gave me a beautiful giant cyclamen which lives on the windowsill right in front of the sink. It has large red flowers that are like butterflies and luxuriant dark green variegated foliage. Every day I gently lift its leaves and water it, trying not to drown it but keep the soil moist. It hasn't stopped flowering. At no point since it arrived on 15 September has it had less then four or five luxuriant flowers on it. Since my track record with houseplants is far from illustrious, it can only be that it likes it's position and I'm meeting its needs. I turn it every other day so that it doesn't grow to the light too much, I keep it watered. I trim off the fading flowers. It keeps giving me more.
It's made me think of you and me. I give you so little; a drop of water now and again, and you reward me with flowers. On the occasions where I am more faithful with my quiet time and prayer the flowers multiply to produce something lovely. I give you so little and you give me back so very much. A drop of water and a bit of attention and this beautiful, graceful, allegorical thing happens in my kitchen.
It goes further than that, though. It's happening in the hall too. I realise that because I water my cyclamen, I remember to water the peace lily in the hall. Now, that plant has a tale to tell. It was given me a few years ago and despite periods of complete neglect and woeful mistakes made in its care (it looked a bit sorry for itself so I put it in the greenhouse for some TLC, not knowing that peace lilies don't like bright sunlight. It nearly passed away) it's still with me. And since the arrival of it's showier friend the cyclamen, it's looking better than ever. Might even flower again one day, who knows? That faithful little plant has carried on despite me, not because of me. I walk past it many times every day and often don't notice it but it does it's thing. Just like you. I often walk on by and I don't give you a glance but you don't give up on me. You wait for me, you do your thing. You are unchanging and faithful and consistent. Lately I am rewarded with brighter, larger new leaves because it's being watered more regularly and not allowed to get so that it's drooping over the bookcase before I come to its rescue. I give you so little but in exchange you shower me with blessings.
Enough about houseplants.
Mr Horsfall quotes Ken Gire, in his book, 'The Reflective Life':
'Gire speaks of what he calls three 'habits of the heart' which help us to nurture a reflective life and heighten our awareness of the sacred:
- Reading the moment - using what is going on around us.
- Reflecting on the moment - engaging our mind to look beneath the surface, and to consider its significance.
- Responding to the moment - allowing what we have seen or felt to have a place in our heart, and allowing it to grow there, upward to God and outward towards other people.
Using these three simple steps, we can benefit from any God-given moment that occurs in our life - whether it be a chance conversation with another person, something that catches our attention in a book....God is continually planting the seeds of his Word into our lives in countless different ways every day.'
This has just been wonderful for me, Lord. I've been doing this for so long and yet doubting whether it was you I heard, or just a fanciful version of me. I want to notice things, to mark them so that I don't forget, to lift them to you with wonder and awe and thanks and to show them to other people for the miracles and messages that they are.
Some time ago I was asked to write a mission statement for my life and it's been the hardest thing to do. The truth is that I'm still floundering a bit with this, but I have made progress. The latest thing I wrote down was only a week or two ago, before I read this book:
- I want to notice and appreciate God in my life - in people, in situations, and in the world around me.
- I want to grow in wisdom and deepen my relationship with God by learning to listen and hear your voice.
- I want to express what God is doing for me and in me and share my experiences with others to inspire and encourage.
I give you a little and you give me back such a lot.
Yes, I could be so much better at sitting in your presence, at being still, at listening. I certainly need to pray more, be more consistent. I need to be more disciplined in worship, in confession, in thanksgiving and intercession. But one thing that I can see that you have given me is to begin to see what I'm looking at. It's like a bud that's beginning to flower. The petals are still furled but it's there and it's opening and it's going to be beautiful. I know that I don't always get it because there is so much more to see than the glimpses that I can take in, but I know you are there, open handed, and I am so longing for more.