look, listen: remember your creator in the days of your youth

Waking up after a longer-than-expected lie-in is a truly marvellous feeling. I sleepily stretch out and feel refreshed, well-rested, and so grateful for a comfortable, warm bed and all the time in the world.

It is so good to lay back and breathe slow, to let thoughts ramble and tumble over one another in no particular order.

That sentence is particularly poignant after the last four days spent studying Descartes’ Meditations. Reading that text is anything but relaxing – an hour in his words makes me feel like my brain has turned into a muscle that’s flexing and tensing with every new Cartesian word. At least I don’t have to read him in his original Latin!

Don’t get me wrong – hard thinking is good and learning is most definitely fun. But sometimes, I feel, to stop reading for a moment and instead look and listen to God is just the best thing.

Look. I sat at a window-desk in the English Faculty Library on Thursday afternoon, gazing hard down at the Meditations. At the end of an especially gruelling part on the doctrine of error, I paused, looked up for a moment, gazed out of the window…

…and just look at that tree out there, its winter-bare branches golden and green in low sunlight, outlined with clarity against the infinite blue of God’s sky. That infinite blue expanse, that vast sapphire sky stretches farther than the eye can see before it melts into blackness, the inky starscape of space. There’s all of this wonder and splendour: God, you have set your glory in the heavens and it is wonderfully so good. (Psalm 8; Psalm 19)

Listen. As I listen to my Clare friends’ exquisite music on Friday evening thoughts stir and shift and God’s a pearl of infinite precious price. He’s the treasure and the meaning and the golden light of hearing truly, in each tremulous second and smooth movement of the conductor’s hand. My eyes are tired and my head is tired too, from all the muscular thinking and striving to understand this world.

So give me rest in this moment, and passion too, like this music expanding and filling the space of a concert hall, making the air swell and pulse with the tension and emotion i can hear in the bow across violin strings and in the clarinettists’ deep inhalation before they sound short notes to punctuate the music. You frame this sound and this moment as you do all others.

To tie this all together, a note on Ecclesiastes. ‘Meaningless!’ cries the Teacher – all is vapour, a chasing after the wind. This life is foggy and hard to pin down: we see but we don’t always understand; we live but we don’t always grasp tight hold of why.

So what can we do? One: ‘remember your Creator in the days of your youth’. Enjoy the moments and gifts he gives, and be ready to hear his voice and follow whenever he calls. Remember your Creator in the days of your youth: look, listen.

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wings and love

Feathers stir, tense, as they cut through cold air. Tension and nothingness hold those bird-bones up, and it’s a surprising miracle – how creatures can move through air, collections of feathers and bones and muscle held up by nothing. This stunning feat is happening many feet up in the January sky and I watch from below, seeing the outline of a solitary winged creature that’s enjoying a completely different perspective from my own.

The same cold air that upholds its bird-bones fills my lungs as I inhale deeply, eyes momently closed. I breathe in and hold this pure moment as I lean on old stone, the weathered stone of an ancient Cambridge bridge that feels like memory and home. I open my eyes and see it is a testament to time’s flowing waters and every tremulous second anyone’s ever stood here gazing out at the Cam.

As I look, the same cold air that fills my lungs and upholds those bird-bones ruffles the river’s surface, blending clear reflections into waved colours. Brown speckled geese nonchalantly graze on the bank, ceaselessly tearing and chewing soft green blades, waddling occasionally to the river’s edge to dip their beaks in and taste the water.

One intrepid goose dips more than a beak; it slides gracelessly into the water, its inelegant body causing a small shiver of silver drops to bounce up from the surface. They catch the sun and glint with concentrated light before gathering on the goose’s oily feathers, sliding back noiselessly to join the river’s anonymous flow.

A large blurred smudge of blue-grey slices across my focused vision as if a palette knife is swiping paint across the Cam and its goose. It’s far too fast for my eyes to make out what it really is until it comes to land on the bank, and – no way. It’s a heron and it’s stately and perfect and breathtaking, and it is all of these things because it’s so unexpected.

It’s unexpected in the busyness of this week, in the quiet working through of days and essays and thoughts. As I dragged myself out of bed early to go and pray with people, no way did I expect to see such a beautiful moment of God’s creation right in my path, my eyeline.

And isn’t that always the way? We work through the days and the hours, moving on and on through rhythms and patterns and paths with our eyes shut and unaware of the great beauty that’s manifest in this world. We want our own wings to cut through cold air and take us to somewhere new and restful and home and away from all this busy (Psalm 55:6-8) and we are so surprised when God gently reminds us, through the wings of a heron or a moment, that even in this life, he holds us.

We may greatly desire wings to carry us away many feet up in the January sky, but instead of giving us those wings, God comes down to the ancient bridge and weathered stone and reminds us that he walks with us through this. He whispers love and gives us strength through a moment cherished and seen; his arms encircle us as he draws us close with his everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3).