This morning I was feeling sad. Cross and sad. Hard done to. Unappreciated. You know the sort of thing. It was all people stuff. Hurt feelings and so on. It might all have been trivial but it was painful and I was sad. It felt very bad at the time.
I lay on my bed and had a little cry. I tried to read some of my devotional book but I wasn't really paying attention and had to keep starting the paragraph again. I was just feeling worse and worse. I decided to go off by myself for a little while.
I thought I'd find somewhere out in the countryside on my own and sit down and see if I could find you. As I drove off I wasn't sure where I was going and I had tears streaming down my face. I couldn't go anywhere in civilisation. I turned the worship music off because I didn't want to hear anything upbeat.
Got where I was going. Parked the car. Bought a drink from the ice-cream van because I didn't have any change for the car park machine. Wondered if it was worth it as I only had half an hour. Placed ticket in window of car, locked up, trudged along path to find a place away from the myriad of hikers.
Tear-stained and sniffly. Red-eyed and red-nosed, clutching a handkerchief. Everyone else there seemed to be kitted out with hiking boots and gaiters, rucksacks and walking poles. Those little transparent pockets with maps in. All organised and purposeful.
|Rock of ages, cleft for me|
My favourite place. I left the path and began to meander among the rocks on the Edge. I kept stopping and looking about me for the right spot. I asked you to find me a place. It didn't take long.
It was a hollow. A little rocky, grassy niche between a few mammoth boulders strewn there for centuries. I could sit on a smooth rock with my back against another and a few feet away more enormous stones sheltered me from the breeze and from anyone else.
I could have been the only person in the world.
I felt as if I was protected. Tucked away. Hidden. Surrounded on three sides. Enveloped. And not by rocks but by you.
You know what came to mind?
'Rock of ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in thee.'
I hid myself in you. It wasn't for very long, because I had to get back, but for a short space of time this morning I left my little world and sat with you in yours. Apart from some hikers miles away in the valley there was no-one in sight but I was not alone. You were all around me. All around me, just as you always are, but I was aware of your presence in a wonderful way. You were with me. You showed things to me. You were tapping my shoulder and pointing and saying, 'Look. Use your imagination.'
I could hear the birds. Countless voices, different calls. I must find out about birdsong so that I know whose voice is whose. Sweet twittering and chirruping and the low call of the wood-pigeon. Swifts swooped and danced in the air. A kestrel hovered. A couple of bees buzzed in front of me. The wind whispered in long grass. A bird flew past level with the rocky edge and I could hear its whistling wing-beats. Another came to land close to me but was surprised to find me there and took off in a flutter of feathers. A dog barked and I heard its owner's whistle.
|So beautiful but so easy to miss.|
The rock I was leaning against had horizontal striations which might tell a geologist something about its history. Not me; it just said to me that it had been around an awful long time. Millstone Grit. Different shades of sandstones in layer upon layer.
Roses of lichen in a palette of grey and white flowered across the surface and soft green moss on the sides in the damp and shade. Rabbit pellets by my feet, heather in white, brown, cream and the palest of pink. A tiny spider made its way across the rock face.
Down in the valley where the road curled round and back on itself the odd car went past. The irregular shaped fields, marked out with Derbyshire dry stone walls, were home sheep or cows, or horses, or crops. I was high enough looking down that huge oak and beech trees seemed small, dwarfed by the landscape of ridge and rocks. In the distance a forest of birch.
Occasionally there was a small break in the clouds and sunshine played on the greenness for a moment or two until it disappeared again.
Immediately to my right was a deep crevice in the rock. Dark enough for me to prevent me from seeing how far it went back into the hillside. At such an angle that the light was dim. In this crack in the rock was growing a fern. A small plant, sturdy and healthy-looking, growing in a most inhospitable spot. Damp and hidden from view unless you were sitting exactly where I was sitting. I would never have noticed it if I were just walking past. You knew it was there. You showed it to me.
Look, in the darkest places, life. Not just surviving, but flourishing.
The fern was thriving in the darkness of it's little crevice. Unfurling it's fronds in the space it had taken root.
'Rock of ages, cleft for me.Let me hide myself in thee.'
As I leaned back the rock was hard behind me and cold underneath me. Each side of me there was rock. In front of me opened out a vista to gaze at for hours. Openness and space. Unyielding stone behind and yet in front, a vision of your glory.
When my back is against the wall, there you are in front of me. With beauty and majesty and glory spread out to breathe new life into my soul.
When I was suffocating, there you were with fresh air.
A safe place. A few moments of stillness. Solitude. A space where my lungs could fill. I thought I was finding a place to have a cry and lick my wounds; maybe tell you all about my hurt feelings and upset, but instead you took my hand and led me to a place where you could soothe me. A spacious place.
'You brought me out into a spacious place...'2 Samuel 22:20
Rock of ages. From the beginning of time you have been unchanging. All else fades or evolves or shifts. I know that the seemingly permanent landscape of the countryside that I love so much would alter unrecognisably before you will change even a tiny bit. You are firm and solid, reliable and faithful. Everlasting. Eternal. A safe harbour. A place to run to.
'Oh Lord, my strength and my fortressJeremiah 16:19
my refuge in times of distress.'
My rocky fortress indeed. Hidden from view.
I was distressed and you took me away to a place I could breathe. You held my hand and showed me your treasures and you smiled on me. My refuge indeed.
I may have missed church this morning but I still visited your sanctuary. I met you and we sat together a while. It was a holy place where I could worship.
Thankyou, my God.
On the way home I turned up the worship music and sang.