Keep safe. Be kind. Enjoy
Keep Safe. Be Kind. Enjoy.
Many of you followed my almost daily post on Facebook, entitled “Walk in The Secret Place.” Now I have wrestled myself free from social media, I thought you might like a weekly post with photographs I have taken during the last week. Enjoy.
Keep safe. Be Kind. Enjoy
Winter as a child was fun! Living on a farm had advantages, we would often get snowed in for days at a time, which meant no school.
Winter as an adult is not quite so much fun. Living on the south coast we hardly get any snow and when we do it is invariably gone within twenty-four hours.
I don’t mind the cold, but I do mind the bare trees, the decomposing leaves, the rain.
Until this year. It is as if the whole year has been winter. A cancer scare, mum passing away, saying goodbye to our last foster placement in difficult circumstances, writing the car off. Depression and now, this week, shingles! And all that in a year when a deadly virus has visited every nation, and wreaked havoc in our communities and our economies. Hours alone, no hugs – not even with our children, rising anxieties about the virus, about the financial fallout, wondering how long it will be. Surely a whole year of winter, the winter of the soul? I wasn’t sure I liked winter at all. Until recently.
Winter – a time of quiet, of hibernation, of bareness. Everything hidden. And therein lies the secret. In nature, everything seems to die, but in reality everything is growing where it can’t be seen, putting roots down deeper, getting ready for the emergence of spring, and the new life that erupts to our senses. In the winter of the soul, the same is true.
Two prolonged lockdowns have been, for me, a time of quiet, of hibernation, of bareness. Everything has been hidden. Much has died – the pain of loss, of failure and disappointment; the legacy of rigid, stiff religious beliefs that were drilled into me as a child. Now gone. The blindness that refuses to see the wonder of the universe and the work of My Great Papa in ALL things. Gone. My stubborn hanging on to forms of lifestyle, relationships, church, etc. Vanishing before my eyes.
And emotional and psychological roots pushing deeper into the richness of My God, who knows me as I am and still loves me, as I am and not as I should be, because I will never be as I should be. When the spring of the soul appears, slowly, imperceptibly, new life will appear, enriched by the soil that my roots have grabbed hold of. And my nakedness will be covered by vibrant leaves and blossom and flowers will brighten the day, and fruit will emerge to satisfy the hungry heart. New life – new lifestyle, new beliefs, new eyes to see the beauty and glory of My Great Papa in all things. And maybe new church – shaped and formed by the relentless, outrageous waters of The Love that ebb and flow through the very fibre of the universe.
The “normal” that follows winter is never the same two years in a row. “Normal” is fresh and vibrant and untouched. Because there is no such thing as normal in this life, not anymore. Especially after 2020, The Year of the Pandemic. That has, hopefully, changed us – people, communities and nations – forever, and for the better.
Psalms 91.1: He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.
I am writing this at the start of the third week of the COVID19 lockdown here in the UK. For most of us, we are confined to quarters, only allowed out of our homes for essential purposes. And for most of us, we are struggling, finding it hard to socially distance and slow down. I hope this helps:
As I walked out the door, down the path and through the gate, I spoke to the God of the Christian faith, who was yet to become My Great Papa: “What the hell are you doing this time?” Words spoken with more than a hint of pain, of anger and venom. I had just been abandoned, rejected and shut down by somebody I had trusted, because I should have been able to trust them.
The walk home that day was difficult. Emotions were running high, ebbing and flowing faster than usual, my mind spinning so fast I was quickly losing all sense of balance and equilibrium. And words refused to form, my inability to speak protecting me from expressing the poison of my heart and mind.
That day is forever etched, even seared in my memory as one of the key turning points of my life. I withdrew, especially from church which was now no longer safe, but a minefield littered with explosives; but also from friends, people I had trusted before, but now not sure that I could. I started to walk most days, even in the rain. In fact, the autumnal showers, the clouds, the almost naked trees, the cold wind seemed to suit my mood. The same route as I do today, thirteen years on.
These walks became one of my very few safe places. Nothing to prove, nothing to justify or explain; no performance to act out, no right or wrong, no expectations or demands. Just me, floundering around in my own pain and darkness. And in the darkness slowly discovering the hand that was outstretched, not forced but offered. And slowly but surely, over the years and still today, the discovery that the God of the Christian faith, had not instigated the pain, but was certainly creating a work of art, a thing of beauty and grace… Me!
Four months later, I found myself on the hills of Northumbria, still in pain, desperately trying to force my God into taking away the pain and banishing the darkness. And on that bitterly cold, but bright day, stood beside a pile of cow manure, overlooking the rolling hills, I discovered that the God of the Christian faith was actually and simply is, My Great Papa!
Twelve years have passed; I am more healed than I thought possible, and more loved by My Great Papa than I deserved or imagined. I still walk most days in The Secret Place. It is a daily form of discipline, a withdrawal, a seclusion, a kind of retirement, into a place of rest and safety. It is a place forbidden to others, a place of exclusive connection between me and the God I am now obsessed with. He is My Secret Place.
And so to 2020. We have had many other challenges over the years, situations where pain, darkness, fear and doubt attempt to batter down the door into my inner world. As each threat passes, I realise that it has become easier to shed the pain and feel my way through the thick fog, and then to move on, learning the lessons, understanding myself better, and still up for the journey that unveils before me.
When the government announced the rules of lockdown, the introvert within leapt for joy! Now my walk is compulsory – it is my daily dose of exercise, but it is so much more than that. I still wake at 04.00, the legacy of fostering little ones whose ability to sleep was seriously affected by their start in life. I am out of the house at around 05.00. On a bad day I might bump into five other insomniacs, out walking their dog, running, or feeding foxes! Usually it is two or three. My phone is silent. And in those early hours, I go into The Secret Place, isolate myself and rest in the company of My Great Papa. I am learning new depths of silence, solitude, withdrawal, seclusion and rest.
And there I am safe; not just from COVID19 or even the fear of this wretched virus. But safe, sheltering in the shadow of My Great Papa. Sometimes, shadows are good. As I recovered from the pain and darkness, I spent a lot of time in the shadows, protecting myself from further hurt. Now I spend time in The Shadow of My Great Papa. It is a great place to hide, to rest, to restore, to recharge my batteries; ready to emerge into the world in which I now find myself and ready to make a difference by being Papa to The Next One.
This lockdown is strange, something nothing could prepare us for. But it is also an opportunity, whatever your faith or religion, values or belief systems. It is a time to slow down, to withdraw into silence, stillness and rest; it is a time to reflect and meditate – all those things we have all neglected over the years and will, most likely, neglect in the future. Lockdown = The Secret Place. If my story is anything to go by, I promise you it will change you forever, especially if there you discover the ultimate beauty and love of My Great Papa.
It’s 4.45 in the morning. I’m already up. My sleep patterns are shot to pieces. I get a text from upstairs; the little one is awake and not going back to sleep. That’s not unusual. He is what we affectionately call our latest “drugs baby.” No one response works more than a couple of times, so I have to quickly decide what to do.
Fifteen minutes later and he is asleep in my arms and I am sat in my IKEA rocking chair. I am frustrated: I can’t reach my once hot, now lukewarm coffee; I can’t reach my iPad; I can’t reach my book; I can’t even reach the TV controls – bad planning.
I intermittently hum and “shh” the little one, while gently rocking in my chair. The very slight creak warns me I need to tighten the bolt, top left hand side, but for now it is part of the symphony. He then adds the gentle snoring sound to the rhythm that starts to emerge. And as I sit there, Papa emerges in the darkness. I sense he strokes the little one’s hair and then squeezes my shoulder. And then I get it. The power of rhythm.
Matthew 11:28-30 (MSG)
28 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. 29 Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. 30 Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
And as I continue the rhythm that soothes the little one, offering him safety, security and love, the words of Yeshua the Christ come to mind. I love that phrase “the unforced rhythms of grace,” and on this morning, in the darkness, I discover the power of them all over again.
You will find rhythm wherever you go – the sea washing up on the shore, the gentle breeze rustling the leaves on the trees, the drone of the plane or the car. Little ones love the white noise of the washing machine or the hoover – there is a built-in rhythm that soothes their fractious hearts.
In the next forty-five minutes I enjoyed the stillness and the gentle rhythm along with the quiet joy of loving this little one back to life. But more than that, I enjoyed listening to the heartbeat and the gentle breathing in and out of my God, who knows me better than I know myself, and who knows that I flourish and live and love when I am living in the unforced rhythms of his grace.
It is part of the The Great Adventure that I find myself facing, a journey of discovering the vastness of my God’s heart and the endless oceans of his love for me. It is not what I expected; no, it is much better than that and learning to rest and settle into the rhythms that he provides for me is part of keeping myself mentally and emotionally safe while at the same time giving me more than enough to share with the next one.
I am a son, a husband, a father, a friend. I am, a recently retired, local authority foster carer, a member of a crazy, creative, frustration and joyous “church” family. I am a pilgrim, a traveller, an explorer, an avid reader and novice writer.
And I am wounded and scarred, broken and damaged. And yet healed and loved beyond recognition. On a good day, I am Papa’s Little Boy and Papa to “the next one.”
On a bad day… I am self-righteous, self-absorbed, religious, judgmental, critical, negative, determined to be right and let you know that I am right, at all costs. On these days, my scars have been prodded and poked enough for them to hurt all over again. And when I hurt… here comes another bad day.
Why am I writing?
I have always dreamed of writing. So, when somebody prays that past dreams be fulfilled, including writing, and then somebody comments on my writing skills, it felt like a nudge, a heavenly elbow in the ribs.
I am certainly not trying to persuade, convince, convict or put right. I have had more than enough of that in my life, both as a giver and a receiver. Neither am I claiming some superior revelation and experience; it is my journey and my story, not yours.
I do want to explore and discover, provoke and stimulate, encourage and support… fellow travellers and storytellers. I am not looking to force our paths together, but if we should bump into each other? Well, let’s walk and explore together for a while and see where it takes us.