I almost said no

Fallow deer

To think, I almost said no.

My wife and daughter were off to a local park in order to take some photos of deer for my daughter’s art project.

Was I coming?

And I almost said no.

And the thing is, there really was nothing else that I had to do.

A few months ago, at the start of the summer, I left my job in the City. I felt it was time move on, so I decided to take a step back – and some time out – and make some space – to consider my next move.

So I really didn’t need to be anywhere in particular or do anything in particular for anyone other than myself.

Yet, I almost said no:

No to spending some time with my wife and daughter.

No to being outside in the fresh air and autumn sunshine.

No to seeing the deer and other wildlife.

No to appreciating the turning colours of the trees.

No to experiences much richer than if I’d stayed home alone.

So why? Why did I almost say no?

Habit, I think.

Since I left work my weekdays have fallen into something of a routine: cleaning, shopping, cooking, and looking for my next role.  And having taken a weekend break, I was all set to begin again.

A trip to the park just wasn’t on the agenda.

Few of us, I think, intentionally ignore such unexpected opportunities. We’re just so focused on what we’re doing – and what we plan to do – that we don’t even give a second thought to any alternatives that might arise.

But how much are we missing through this blinkered approach to life?

The are, of course, many times when we are constrained by obligations and responsibilities – but not, perhaps, nearly so often as we might suppose.

So let us be less bound by our adult agenda, and instead have a childlike openness to these ‘unexpected interruptions’ and a childlike eagerness follow the ‘diversions’ that they offer.

Who knows what we might find?

Seeing Space

Looking up into the canopy of a London Plane tree.
Looking up into the canopy of a London Plane tree.

Does your life feel so full of ‘things that need to be done’ that there is just no time or space to do them all – let alone find a little time for yourself and for the things that are less pressing but often more valuable?

My life certainly does.

Last week I took part in an urban prayer walk, organised by St. Paul’s Learning and led by Brian Draper.

At the start of the walk Brian led us to a group of London Plane trees, whose trunks and arching branches he likened to the columns and vaulted ceilings of St. Paul’s Cathedral, the destination for our walk.

Brian encouraged us to look up into the canopy – but to look not at the branches and twigs and leaves, but for the spaces between them.

And this I did – gazing up at the gaps where the sky could be seen …

Yet after gazing upwards for just a short while it was no longer these little gaps that I was aware of.

It was the much greater space enclosed and held by the branches.

Not small two-dimensional areas of sky but large three-dimensional volumes of space – wide and long and high and deep.

Space that was there all along – ‘hidden’ and unnoticed between the overlapping layers that had made the tree seem so crowded.

There was so much more space in that tree than appeared at first glance. 

And as with the tree, so with my life.

There is so much more space in my life than appears at first glance.

Space within the busyness, enclosed by the busyness, held by the busyness …

Space before me, space behind me, space beneath me, space above me …

Space that is wide and long and high and deep …

If only I would stop focusing on all the things that seem to crowd my life …

Stop searching, even, for gaps between all these things that I ‘have’ to do …

And simply stop …

and become aware …

of all the space …

that is there.

St. Paul’s Learning
Brian Draper

Word Clouds

As a Child (book)
As a Child (book)

If you’re interested in knowing what As a Child: God’s Call to Littleness is all about, take a look at these word clouds. These give an at-a-glance summary of the content of the whole book (as shown here), and also each individual chapter. And if the word clouds take your interest, please do read the book itself.

Quiet Spaces

Extract from "As a Child" in "Quiet Spaces"I am honoured and excited that BRF have chosen to include an extract from As a Child in the new-look Quiet Spaces (May – August 2013 edition available now).

Published three times a year, each issue of Quiet Spaces provides four months’ worth of inspiration for your quiet times. presented in fortnightly sections. This material can be used in daily portions throughout the week or all in one sitting as a Quiet Day, perhaps at the weekend. Within each section there are twelve elements comprising reflections inspired by different traditions, creative activities, liturgy, Bible reading and ideas for meditation.

For more information see the Quiet Spaces website and the BRF Online shop.

Reflections

Reflection of trees in water (Some rights reserved by Dendroica cerulea)

In late November last year I went on a day’s Advent retreat led by Brian Draper at St. Mark’s College, Saffron Walden, in the Essex countryside.

In the hour or so before lunch Brian encouraged us all to spend some quiet time alone, ideally outside (despite the chill Autumn weather!)

I took a short walk outside the grounds and found myself a spot beside a stream. There, as directed, I closed my eyes and focused my attention on the sounds around me: the breeze in the trees, a bird tweeting, an aeroplane overhead, distant traffic, the rustle of my coat, my breathing …

Having begun to still my mind and spirit I opened my eyes and slowly looked around me. I gazed up at the sky and into the treetops; I peered into the bushes at the water’s edge and into the shallow depths of the water itself; I examined the detail of the twigs and leaves dangling in front of my eyes.

It was all very pleasant and peaceful but, to be honest, nothing more. No word. No whisper. No thought. No sensation. Nothing.

And then, suddenly – materialising before my eyes as if by magic – there appeared the reflection of the trees on the surface of the water, bright and crisp and clear. Indeed, I could see so much more in the reflection than I’d been able to see when looking directly at my surroundings – not just clearer, but wider and higher too.

And it occurred to me that perhaps there are times when the truth of our faith, and the reality of God, and the length and breadth and height and depth of his love, is to be found not by peering into the heavens or gazing into the depths or examining the detail, but rather reflected on the surface of our lives and of our world.

Paul told the church in Corinth that “now we see but a poor reflection” (1 Corinthians 13:12). But perhaps such reflections – poor as they might be – might be the best way for us to see?

As someone struggling with questions and difficulties and doubts, this was certainly an encouragement to me. Perhaps it might also be an encouragement to you?

 

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Image of Trees some rights reserved by Dendroica cerulea.

Welcoming littleness

Adoration of the Magi (1304-06) by Giotto.

Today (6th January) is the Feast of Epiphany, when the Western Church celebrates the visit of the Magi (wise men or kings) to the infant Jesus. As such, it seemed a good time to reproduce this short extract from As a Child: God’s Call to Littleness on the subject of Welcome:

 

When we meet and speak with a little child we will often bend down or crouch down or get down on our knees – and with a baby we will even lie down flat on the floor. We do this in order to place ourselves at their level, to meet them where they are.

We tend to think of kneeling or prostrating ourselves before God as being an act of submission and respect to the One who is immeasurably greater than we are – and this is right, of course.

But perhaps there is also a sense in which we are bringing ourselves down to God’s level; to the level of the One who has chosen to make himself small, who revealed himself as a helpless baby, and who even as a fully grown man constrained the fullness of his divinity within the limits of humanity.

Just as the Magi bowed down to worship the infant Jesus, so must we. When God makes himself small, we have little choice but to make ourselves smaller still.

 

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Image of Adoration of the Magi (1304-06) by Giotto available via WikiPaintings.

New Year’s resolutions

New Year's resolutions list

Are you one of those people who make New Year’s resolutions? That moment, when the old year draws to a close and the new year stands open before us, can seem a particularly appropriate time to take stock of our lives, and resolve that things will be different from now on.

Many, feeling the effects of the Festive Season, resolve that they will lose weight and get fit: diet programmes are embarked upon; fitness equipment is purchased; health club membership soars. Others aim to improve their health by giving up smoking or by drinking less or by trying to reduce the stress in their lives. Some decide that they will improve their work and financial situation: by getting a better job or by saving some money or by paying off debts. Others want to expand their horizons by travelling or by learning something new; and still more resolve to spend more time with family and friends, and perhaps even find true love. For many the aim is simply to enjoy life more.

Whether or not we make New Year’s resolutions, we all of us have a desire for change. Even the most contented will allow that their lives are not everything that they would want them to be – and most of us will surely accept that we are not the person that we want ourselves to be, nor the person that God wants us to be either. We know that we mess up and need to repent and receive forgiveness and allow ourselves to be transformed by God’s Holy Spirit.

But how many of us have ever resolved that “this year, I will become more like a little child”? And how many of us, when we’ve allowed ourselves to acknowledge the fact that we’re not the person we ought to be, have recognised that our biggest need might be to become more childlike? And yet this is exactly what Jesus says to us:

“I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3)

Jesus underlines the importance of his message by introducing it with the words, “I tell you the truth”. Whenever he uses this expression we know it is a sign that we really need to sit up and take note. What he is about to say is not simply true – after all, Jesus never spoke anything but the truth – but is a Truth, with a capital “T”. It is something fundamental about the workings of the kingdom of heaven.

The word Jesus uses when he speaks of our need to change means “to turn around, to change direction”. The implication is that if we are not becoming more and more childlike, then our lives are headed the wrong way. We might think that we are meant to grow up and become more adult; Jesus tells us that, on the contrary, we need in many ways to “grow down” and become more like little children.

Taken from the chapter Change my book in As a Child: God’s Call to Littleness.

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Image by Photos public domain.com [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

A Childlike Heart

I’ve just finished reading A Childlike Heart by Alan D Wright. I have to say I’m rather pleased that I didn’t read it earlier, as if I had I might never have written my book!

When Jesus speaks of the need for us to become like little children there is, I think, a tendency for us to understand his words as simply an illustration, a metaphor of the need to have a childlike faith and a childlike trust in God.

But to limit their meaning in this way is, I believe, to diminish the all-embracing, life-changing scope of what Jesus is actually asking of us. For the call to be childlike is one that has significance for each and every aspect of our daily lives.

In A Childlike Heart Alan Wright explores the all-embracing nature of this call to childlikeness: Humility, Neediness, Simplicity, Failure, Identity, Trust, Carefreeness, Wonder, Astonishment, Transparency, Candor, Imagination, Forgiveness, Compassion, Celebration, Praise, Priorities (Time & Money), Work, Obedience, Sabbath, and Homesickness.

With a lightness of touch he illustrates the childlike characteristics of key Biblical teachings with tales of little children and opens out just what it means to live as a child of God.

If you have a desire to become more childlike (or even if, as yet, you don’t) I would strongly encourage you to get hold of a copy of A Childlike Heart (you can find suppliers and compare prices with BookButler).

And for all that A Childlike Heart has to offer, I also believe that As a Child has much to add, so please do consider getting hold of a copy of this too. Many thanks.

 

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Colours

Jessica toddled up to me and proudly passed me her picture. To be quite honest, I wasn’t at all sure what it was supposed to be – it looked nothing more than a scribble – but I readied myself to make suitably enthusiastic and encouraging noises.

“Red!” said Jessica, pointing happily to one of the scribbled lines. “Yellow!” she said, pointing to another. “Orange” said her mum, pointing to a third. “Orange!” echoed Jessica.

How wrong I’d been. Jessica’s picture wasn’t meant to be anything at all. It was simply a celebration of colour.

Most of us take colour for granted. Not always, of course. Who does not marvel at a sunset, pure colour painted across the sky from an ever-changing palette as the sun dips down to the horizon? But mostly colour is just there, such an integral, fundamental part of the world around us that we barely notice it and rarely feel any need to remark upon it.

Yet why should there even be such a thing as “colour”, and why should we be able to perceive it as we do? There’s no essential reason for things to be this way. Just imagine for a moment a world without colour, a life lived out in black and white and shades of grey.

Yes, colour is remarkable. Colour should be celebrated! But most of us, I suspect, need first to train ourselves truly to notice colour. Not simply see it, but take note of it. Then, perhaps, we’ll begin to appreciate and enjoy colour as little children do.

But how to do this? Here’s one idea. Simply choose a colour and then actively look out for it in the world around you. Like a child, point it out wherever you see it (to yourself, I mean – others might be less keen to hear your observations!) You might look out for a different colour each day, working through the rainbow during the course of the week.

After a while you may begin to notice not just these basic colours, but  an increasing range of tints and shades and tones and hues. Perhaps you might even find the time to observe these variations within individual objects, identifying them as a still-life painter would.

Okay, I admit, it’s probably a rubbish idea. But why not give it a try and let me know how you get on? Or perhaps you might have a better suggestion for how to recapture a childlike appreciation and enjoyment of colour?

For as we learn to recognise and rejoice in such simple, everyday aspects of the world around us, so, I believe, will we grow in the childlike spirit that similarly recognises and rejoices in the “simple” and “everyday” aspects of our faith.

 

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Colouring pencils image by Michael Maggs, available under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license, via Wikimedia Commons

Dot-to-Dot (revisited)

The Greatest Dot-to-Dot Super Challenge Book 5, by David KalvitisAs I mentioned in my previous post, I have bought myself a dot-to-dot book (read the post to find out why!) At the start of the book there is the following advice:

When connecting dots that seem a vast distance apart, try this helpful hint.
1. Put your writing implement on the starting dot.
2. Focus your eyes on the “target” dot to which you are heading.
3. Keeping your eyes fixed on the “target” dot, drag your pen along the paper until you reach the dot. You should end up with a fairly straight line.

And it works! The temptation is to follow the moving point of the pen, but if you do this the line tends to go off course. Instead, you need to keep looking at the target, and then you’ll find that the pen heads naturally towards it.

And there’s a lesson here for those of us who seek to move on in our faith.

Often we can feel very far from where we know we are meant to be and where we desire to be. But in seeking to move forward we can only start from where we are, from whatever point we’ve reached, not from where we’d like to be or might pretend to be.

Then, in trying to ensure that we stay on track, there can be a strong temptation to keep looking at ourselves, constantly judging how we are doing and where we are going. But in fact, if we do this, it’s more likely that we’ll stray off course. Instead, we need to focus on the goal of our faith, the One whom we seek to follow, and then we’ll find that we head naturally towards him.

Which is, of course, just what the writer of the book of Hebrews tells us:

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2, NIV)

 

For more about dot-to-dot puzzles that you might enjoy, see the Monkeying Around website.

 

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