A Winged Messenger

I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die.”

These were some of the reassuring words read out at the funeral I attended of a young man today. A service at which I was filled with sadness.

On the way there I stopped at the Old St Helen’s Church ruins for a few minutes’ contemplative prayer.

As I entered the grounds I saw my first butterfly of the year – a Red Admiral brought out of hibernation by the Spring-like weather. What a wonderful divine reminder of the resurrection hope and eternal life that so many of us believe in. 🦋

(Just a phone pic on this occasion)

When Life Brings Storms…

…pick up the flowers.

Seaspray in 60mph+ winds at Hastings Pier

Last Friday, when Storm Eunice hit, they advised to avoid the seafront here in Hastings, where I live.

Horizontal waves at Harbour Arm, Hastings

Well, that was an invitation for some photography if ever I heard one!

Harbour Arm, Hastings

I had to get down there with my camera.

It was definitely a walk on the wild side, but so worth it!

Not only was I pleased with these results, but our local press used some of the pics as well.

Wave being whipped up vertically, then horizontally, by the wind
Gulls somehow managing to fly against the wind

Like a lot of people, we suffered some storm damage at home. Nothing too dramatic – our next door neighbour’s cherry tree fell on our fence. That is, one major bough toppled on to a fence that was already in need of some repair.

My neighbour and I chopped and sawed the fallen tree, and we’re getting the fence fixed. No lasting harm done.

(I didn’t think to get a picture of the tree first. Sorry for that missing bit of the story!)

Not one to waste an opportunity to delight in the gifts that Nature brings my way, I picked up a few of the snowy blossom-laden twigs to brighten up the kitchen.

Janine and I have enjoyed their presence the last few days as they’ve slowly shed their tiny, white petals over the worktop.

I started this post with my own version of the old “When life gives you lemons…” platitude*:

When Life brings storms, pick up the flowers.”

I’m not much of a fan of far-too-easy platitudes, but sometimes they do resonate.

I’ve experienced a storm of stress and anxiety with physical symptoms recently, which is all calming down now, and I’m beginning to glean some bright fragments of blessing from the debris: things I’ve learned that will carry me through into a better future.

The Divine often has a way of speaking to us through Nature.

Whatever the weather, whatever the season, there’s always something to be received, to connect with, to draw us closer to Divine Reality and therefore closer also to ourselves and others.

—–

(All photos mine, but I’m not precious about copyright, so feel free to use any of them if you wish, with my blessing.)

*For an “alternative”, less platitudinous version of “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade”, check out Kaitlin Shetler’s version. It’s brilliant.

The Magic of Nature

Everywhere we look, the complex magic of nature blazes before our eyes”, according to Vincent van Gogh in the Doctor Who episode, Vincent and the Doctor.

Dragonfly in Newgate Woods, where I walk my dog, Gorka, most mornings

A wealth of artists, from poets and singers such as Van Morrison[1], Mary Oliver and The Unthanks[2], to writers Richard Mabey[3], Brian McLaren[4] and Mackenzie Crook[5], to the genius Vincent van Gogh himself, have helped and inspired me to delve further into the ‘magic of nature’ – to dive deeper into its divine depths.

Combe Valley

Maybe it’s me but I feel that both science and theology sometimes reduce the world around us to a utilitarian thing. An ‘it’. Call me picky (and I have been known to be picky about words), but the religious use of the word ‘creation’ for ‘Nature’ slightly jars with me….

…like Nature is seen as an inanimate object – there simply to ‘give glory to God’….

….rather than being a living, breathing entity given to us, to enjoy and love for her own sake, in her own right….

… to dance with, sing with….

enjoy being a part of.

Be family with.

My daughter with an exquisite male Orange-tip butterfly

I think this delights God’s heart.

Like tree-hugging: an exchange of vital gases, of complementary textures. A sharing of lives, of life. Of the Love that flows through all things.

Religion can sometimes be so intent on trying to worship God that it misses the wood for the trees – literally.

Highwoods

Likewise, science can be known to scrutinise, compartmentalise, to explain away in binary detail, until all awe and wonder have evaporated in the heat of cold analysis (I do like a paradox!).

Of course, it needn’t be – and isn’t always – like this. We need science and religion, both of which have the potential to lead us into the sheer, incredulous amazement that our souls were born for. Brian McLaren’s book, God Unbound: Theology in the Wild, is a great example of this.

As for me, my ever-deepening immersion into Nature, and my habit of talking to birds and trees, has led me to question whether I’m straying from my Christian faith into something more pagan. Fearing that my love for the created world exceeds my love for her Creator.

It’s good and healthy to question ourselves, and my self-query led to self-reassurance.

I find myself walking in the steps of St Francis, who acknowledged the consciousness and unique personality of each wild animal and addressed them as ‘brother’ and ‘sister’.

…St Francis, who in turn walked in the steps of Jesus, who in turn followed the pattern of thousands of years of wisdom teachers and prophets, who walked in and with Nature, learned and taught from Nature, found God in the everyday and not-so-everyday miracles of the wild.

My dog, Gorka, bedraggled and yellow-spangled, after running through a rape field!

And, as one of Jesus’ own best friends, John, made clear, our love for other human beings – and by extension all our fellow creatures – is a good barometer of our love for God.[6]

Rather than drawing us away from God, our deepening love for people and Nature is in fact an accurate expression of our love for God. And this is true even for those who profess no religious faith!

Our Western society and, sadly, Christendom, have a poor record of respect for the Earth, preferring largely to conquer rather than acknowledge and celebrate our oneness with her.

And the more industrialised, commercialised and technologised we become, the more we lose touch with Nature, with the Earth – and in the process lose something of ourselves and our experience of the God who lives and shines humbly and vulnerably from the natural world: incarnate through every creature, as well as in the infant Jesus.

Little Egret, at Cuckmere Haven

As we desperately try and reverse our tragic destruction of our home planet (and therefore our self-destruction), it’s surely more vital than ever that we as a human race recapture our oneness with Nature.

I rather like this quote that I recently came across: “Prayer is the act of resacralizing the desacralized world.”[7] I think that a prayerful approach to any situation enables us and those around us to (re)discover the inherent sacredness of anything and everything.

And I realised that when I enjoy my contemplative walks through woods and wilderness, I’m simply enjoying the sacredness, the magic, the holy wonder of Nature (of Creation, if you like!).

Trees – the Earth’s ‘lungs’

Although I do sometimes pray with words during these walks, I often try and avoid using words, even in thought, because words can be so superficial, so one-sided, and a hindrance to the experience of God in the presence of stillness, silence and songs of Nature.

My wife and daughter on Bulverhythe beach

Photos all mine and taken in glorious East Sussex.


[1] E.g. Sense of Wonder; In the Garden.

[2] Folk group featured in Detectorists and Worzel Gummidge

[3] Author of Nature Cure

[4] Author of God Unbound: Theology in the Wild

[5] Writer and star of Detectorists and Worzel Gummidge

[6] 1 John 4:20

[7] Andy Squyres

A Natural Creed

Like anything that is lovingly nurtured (whether by man, God or Nature),

our philosophy, faith or ideology

is likely to grow and evolve over the years,

if we care deeply about what we believe.

Metamorphosing from larval limitations…

Elephant Hawk-moth caterpillar

…..to the flightful freedom of winged wonders,

Elephant Hawk-moth adult

the beliefs we hold dear may take on a freer quality as our thinking matures.

My own Christian faith, born in 1987 (as you can read about in my book Coming Home for Good)…

…has been evolving over the years into an increasingly authentic and personal spirituality, that I love more than ever – less swayed by ecclesiastical pressure.

However, with its transitioning nature, I’ve found it more difficult in recent conversations to clearly express that faith.

So, to help articulate my theology, I’ve composed my own personal Creed, which I can adapt and add to as time goes on.

And maybe it’ll help others to reflect on their own spirituality too.

Here it is…

A NATURAL CREED

I believe in Yahweh – I Am– as God self-identified from a miracle of nature – the ‘burning bush’ – to Moses, way, way back…

I believe God is therefore Presence,

The Reality, the Present, the ‘Ground of Being’, the Now.

And that Yahweh is encountered in the Nowness of the moment whenever people – whether religious or spiritual or neither – engage lovingly and mindfully with the present.


I believe Yahweh just is.

I believe Yahweh is Trinity, Three-in-One,

And is therefore inherently Relationship – or Love;

That Yahweh is experienced in loving connections between people, and between people and things.

And that when people – whether religious or spiritual or neither – pursue reconciliation,

when they reach out to ‘the other’, or give selfless love,

they participate in the Love of Yahweh.

I believe that Trinity is Mother/Father, Son and Holy Spirit:

together the Source of all life and all things.

Hummingbird Hawk-moth


I believe that science gives us wonderful insight into the origins and progression of the Universe and Life;

that the Biblical accounts of Creation are deeply inspired, allegorical myths that reveal much about the Source of the Universe and Life – and about human nature,

but that there may also be elements of literal truth in those ancient texts;

that we would do well to listen to science and religion and philosophy in order to best understand our place in the Universe;  

but that the origins of the Universe and Life remain a mystery and are probably weirder than any scientist or theologian can imagine!

The weird and wonderful Cockchafer!


I believe that in Jesus, Yahweh stepped into human space and time,

That his life and teaching showed us what Love looks like,

emphasising the importance of the outsider and the underdog;

That his death and physical resurrection demonstrated the power of nonviolence to break cycles of violence, guilt, shame, addiction and even death itself.

I believe that when we align ourselves with Jesus,

We share in this love, life, and resurrection power.

Little Egret


I believe that some who profess no Christian faith have found the life and love of Jesus by another name (or no name),

While some who say they follow Jesus are following a religious system.

That Jesus and Christianity are not always synonymous.


I believe in the creative Holy Spirit,

Who awakens people of all faiths and none to Reality, to Love, to Yahweh;

Ferns awakening

Who mends our brokenness,

Inspiring us to be more fully ourselves,

So we can contribute the qualities of our unique personhood to our communities, our world.

I believe the Spirit continually energises Nature to unstoppably re-create and renew herself into new life.

Painted Ladies on lavender

I believe in the sanctity of all things – but particularly of living things;

That Nature is a beautiful and powerful expression of the wild love of Yahweh,

Continually revealing wisdom, love and truth, day after day to those who stop and take notice.

Love is in the air!


I believe that many of the thoughts, stories and faces of those who are poor or marginalised, or have experienced great suffering,

are rich expressions of Yahweh’s truth for those who will look and listen,

but that the rich and powerful and privileged are often blind and deaf to them.

I believe there is an undercurrent of Love in every situation,

even the very worst of circumstances:

a spring of compassion and mercy running through the fibre of the universe (the presence of Yahweh),

from which we can draw strength when our own resources run dry.

And that, therefore, those who have suffered the most often love the most.


I believe not just in “the communion of saints”, but in the very real oneness of humanity,

still being revealed and worked out in practice by those committed to community, unity, equality and inclusion.

I believe that the beginning and end of all things is Love,

Leading to ultimate reconciliation between all people and God.

Six-spot Burnet moths


I believe that what we do is more important than what we believe,

but that more important than both are the motives, attitudes and intentions of our hearts,

behind the actions.

And that our hearts have the capacity to change – to make a brand new start,

even to miraculously metamorphose into a whole new person

Metamorphosis: Small Tortoiseshell hatching

– and that faith is key to this: faith in Yahweh, through Jesus, by whatever name.


I believe that we all have the capacity to practise forgiveness and compassion,

expressing the heart of Yahweh.

I believe in the fundamental goodness of humanity

And that there is hope for everyone.

Spring crocuses

————

(All photos mine)

As always, Comments are very welcome…

A bird in hand

Wisdom teaches us to meditate on Nature and learn from her. Last Sunday, at HTH (Holy Trinity Hastings) church, the speaker gave us a classic example…

Jesus pointed to the birds and meadows, reminding his listeners to trust the Father who clothes and feeds the world around them, rather than worry about their day-to-day needs. He advised them to seek higher things like compassion, mercy and social justice (“God’s kingdom”), and let the rest take care of itself [1].

After the service, a strange thing happened. My young daughter called me over to look at a crumpled ball of feathers on the mat just inside the church’s main doorway (which is currently out of use while some building work is going on).

The crumpled ball turned out to be a very young bird, not yet fledged. Almost certainly a baby pigeon dislodged from a nest in the walls by the building work.

At first we were sure it was dead, but soon realised to our surprise that it was breathing. Wow! Now we had to do something. But what?

After a few phone calls for advice, we wrapped it in a builders’ cloth lying nearby and jumped in the car, my wife cradling the young bird in her hands to keep it warm.

We whisked it up to Mallydams, our local RSPCA centre, where they gladly received it but said it looked pretty ill and injured, and weren’t sure it would survive.

Well, we thought, at least we tried. And maybe it will survive (we’re still waiting to hear).

We also thought, what a weird thing to find this poor creature inside the church after a talk about looking to birds for inspiration.

What kind of divine message could there possibly be for us here?

I think that, while trusting God and not worrying about our mundane needs, God was also reminding us that very often there are others around us who do lack basics like food or clothing, and that we’re called to care for each other’s needs. The idea of a global family is central to Jesus’ teaching. Yes, God may provide, but God does so through us.

Just the day before that church service, about 50 migrants arrived in a tiny dinghy on the beach just down the road from us – people seeking asylum from desperate situations.

I can’t help but feel there is a prophetic link between these events at the weekend. Jesus said that we humans are far more valuable to our heavenly Father than the birds. Some might argue that all life is equally precious.

Either way, most would agree that the lives of both vulnerable people and animals call for our care and attention and love.

A local group, Hastings Supports Refugees, is welcoming supplies – food and clothing – to support these sisters and brothers of ours. As I write, my family and I are gathering together some donations.

If you’re local to Hastings, you might consider supporting them too. Look them up on Facebook.

If not, who are your (global) neighbours, brothers, sisters, that God / The Universe may be calling you to provide with food and clothing?



[1] Matthew 6:25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? 28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

The Moths of Brixham 2021

The seeming value or dignity of an object doesn’t matter; it is the dignity of your relationship to the thing that matters. For a true contemplative, a gratuitously falling leaf will awaken awe and wonder just as much as a golden tabernacle in a cathedral.” Richard Rohr.

I’m very grateful to be able to affirm genuinely that I have this kind of relationship with Nature – always. I never tire of her wonders, which help to re-connect me to their Source.

To my Source.

And to myself.

I often like to photograph moths (like this Elephant Hawk-moth) from the light trap, on my hand – to have that direct contact – before releasing them.

Spending the last ten days in Brixham, Devon, enjoying seeing dolphins, seals, a plethora of birds, moths and butterflies, and incredible coastal landscapes, has been tonic for this soul that had been worn down by the wearisome stresses of work.

Coronet moth

Nature (as well as rest and family time) is a true healer of mind and spirit – a conduit of balm from the Creator of life.

We stayed here last year as well, near the wildlife haven that is Berry Head, and delighted in the moths that came to the light trap I set up in the garden – which I wrote about in The Moths of Brixham.

I also love to photograph moths head-on, for an alternative view. This Elephant Hawk-moth’s eyes and furry head appear almost rodent-like.

This year (2021), during a very similar period – 31st July to 4th Aug (actually about a week earlier than last year), the trap turned up some of the same species as in 2020.

Like this Jersey Tiger…

…this Swallow Prominent:

…and this Ruby Tiger:

But also many new ones, like these:

Herald Moth
Small Emerald
Four-spotted Footman (male)
Bird-cherry Ermine
Elderberry Pearl
Riband Wave
Yellow-tail

Of equal delight to the nocturnal visitors have been the moths we found out and about in the daytime, around Berry Head, including Jersey Tigers (again),

these gorgeous Magpie moths…

loads of Six-spot Burnets….

Six-spot Burnet moth

and this exquisite Carrot Seed moth:

The Carrot Seed moth (Sitochroa palealis) is one of the larger micro-moths, but still pretty tiny, as you can probably see from its relative size to the umbellifer in this picture. It’s been quite a rare species in the UK but, from what I’ve gathered, seems to have become fairly well established in the south-west in recent years.

Always so encouraging to hear of any insect species on the rise.

Six-spot Burnet at Berry Head

The following are most of the species attracted to the trap this time round (there were others unidentified):

  1. Bird-cherry Ermine
  2. Blood-vein
  3. Bright-line Brown-eye
  4. Brimstone
  5. Buff Ermine
  6. Common Footman
  7. Common Rustic
  8. Coronet
  9. Elephant Hawk-moth
  10. Four-spotted Footman
  11. Heart and Dart
  12. Herald
  13. Jersey Tiger
  14. July Highflyer
  15. Large Yellow Underwing
  16. Lunar Yellow Underwing
  17. Poplar Hawk-moth
  18. Riband Wave
  19. Ruby Tiger
  20. Shuttle-shaped dart
  21. Silver Y
  22. Small Emerald
  23. Swallow Prominent
  24. Yellow-tail

I leave you with a final pic of a Poplar Hawk….

….and a final quote, this time from the naturalist and conservationist John Muir, by way of a reminder of our therapeutic need to engage our senses with Nature:

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike.”


(All photos taken by me, but not copyright – i.e. feel free to use them, with my blessing!)

Metamorphosis Meditation

It was quite a serious conversation I’d just embarked on with a friend at a socially-distanced gathering in Alexandra Park (Hastings) on Thursday 2nd July, when my attention was grabbed by a HUMONGOUS, hairy, brown caterpillar stretched out across the trunk of a gorgeous copper beech tree.

Gypsy larva
Just a poor phone pic (unusually, I didn’t have my camera with me!)

“Excuse me,” I blurted in a rush of excitement as I abandoned my friend, to take a closer look. I apologised later on.

I’m only slightly obsessed with moths and butterflies (ask my wife if you want an honest opinion).

I was going to leave the caterpillar in situ but there was a little boy present at the gathering who seemed intent on poking it with a stick – and also I fancied the idea of bringing the caterpillar home to watch it pupate and then hatch into…some kind of moth.

Which I discovered, when I got home and looked it up, was a Gypsy moth. And, from the size of it, not just any old Gypsy moth caterpillar but a female.

IMG_8509

Although winged, female Gypsy moths are flightless and attract males from long distances through the emission of a potent pheromone. This meant that, when hatched, we could put the moth outside and watch male Gypsy moths congregate from miles around to our female. A fantastic nature-watching opportunity.

On the other hand…Gypsy moths are considered a pest, responsible for entire defoliation of some areas in the world, and many would say breeding of this species is not to be encouraged!

So a dilemma formed as we waited for our caterpillar to pupate.

She sat for several days in her cage, doing absolutely nothing. We thought she had died. Then, all of a sudden, on Tues 7th July, she finally pupated – into a crazily big chrysalis attached by a flimsy web to the side of the cage.

IMG_8594

On Sunday 12th July, while the miracle of metamorphosis was slowly taking place in the inner darkness of the pupa, our vicar, Simon, spoke in an online service about this verse in 2 Corinthians 3:

And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”

He pointed out that the original (Greek) word for “transformed” is μεταμορφούμεθα. In other words, metamorphosed.

Contemplation on the divine, through worship, prayer, or meditation on the nature that’s all around us, catalyses our own transformation, or metamorphosis, step by step, instar by instar, into the people we were always destined to be. Reflecting the Spirit, who is Love.

Like the inner sanctum of the chrysalis where caterpillar cells miraculously rearrange into moth or butterfly, time spent in quiet contemplation, away from life’s bustle, is the secret place we desperately need for our own inner revolution and spiritual emergence.

On Weds 22nd July my daughter excitedly told me that the chrysalis had hatched. A fat-bodied, egg-laden female Gypsy moth, just as expected.

IMG_8778
All scrunched-up like a newborn babe

We enjoyed watching her wings gradually unfurl.

IMG_8781

Our answer to the dilemma, in the end, was to place the moth outside for the first two nights, but still inside her cage, so we could watch the males swarm to her female fragrance, while not actually allowing mating to take place.

IMG_8786

However, there was no swarm. In fact, not a single male Gypsy moth appeared, as far as we saw.

So, on the third night, when the pheromones are supposed to be starting to wear off, we placed our female Gypsy on a fence in the garden (which she promptly crawled underneath), taking the risk that she might mate and give rise to the defoliation of Hastings.

IMG_8796

But, after a further two nights, now taking us into 27th July, still no male Gypsies to be seen.

Then….on the evening of 27th July, my daughter noticed something strange: a small brown mass just below the abdomen of our female Gypsy. An egg sac.

Now, at this point, I don’t know whether she’s had a male visitor in the night while we’ve all been sleeping. Or whether female Gypsy moths, who emerge already egg-laden, simply discharge their eggs anyway, fertilised or not.

So now we have a new dilemma – what to do with this mass of eggs, which carry the potential to perpetuate a beautiful species of moth, yet also to strip acres of trees…? Destroy them, just in case?

What would you do? Please feel free to reply in the Comments….

 

 

 

Into the peace of wild things

Today I took time out from the hustle and bustle and escaped – in the words of Wendell Berry – “into the peace of wild things”.

Lapwing

I walked, with dog and camera, in one of my favourite nature hotspots: Rye Harbour Nature Reserve, and the adjoining Winchelsea Beach. A thriving area for wildlife – with its unique shingly habitat and expansive pools of water, on the South-east coast of England.

Greylag geese

Unfortunately I didn’t have the luxury of being able to take a whole day out, just a couple of hours, but I do understand what naturalist John Muir meant when he wrote….

I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.”

For many of us, the busy world of work, internet and town can be like a daunting foreign country in which we are merely travellers, pilgrims, aliens, while nature is a home where we can retreat into the familiar comfort of eternal arms.

Love is in the air!

Muir, who had a profound sense of the divine shining through every natural thing, also wrote this…

Oystercatchers

The scenery of the ocean, however sublime in vast expanse, seems far less beautiful to us dry-shod animals than that of the land seen only in comparatively small patches; but when we contemplate the whole globe as one great dewdrop, striped and dotted with continents and islands, flying through space with other stars all singing and shining together as one, the whole universe appears as an infinite storm of beauty.”

Stonechat

Connecting ourselves and others with nature – even in small doses – nurtures appreciation of, and care for, the wider planet, the cosmos even, and (here’s the brilliant thing) helps us to see our fellow human beings as precious parts of that treasured universe.

Flock of lapwings

In fact one teacher, some 2000 years ago, frequently employed this method, encouraging his listeners to follow his example of meditating on nature (“Look at the birds…”, “Consider the lilies…”) in order to grasp deep in their hearts the value of themselves and those around them.

May we continue to follow in this way of wisdom.

Kestrel, keeping a beady eye on me!

(All photos taken by me today, but not copyright – i.e. feel free to use them, with my blessing!)

Peace Like a…River?

Does ‘Stillness’ exist?

Stillness is one of the elements of contemplative prayer, as described by the Desert Mothers and Fathers of the third Century, modern mystics such as Henri Nouwen and Thomas Merton, and no doubt multitudes of other meditative writers[1].

When I retreat to the woods or fields to pray and relish the relinquishing of rush and endless requests, I stop and breathe in the relative Silence, the joyful relief of Solitude, and the restful sense of Stillness. Until…

I become aware of the sound of a flowing stream behind me.

Dolgoch Falls, Wales

The movements of nature all around.

The swaying of branches in the breeze.

A flitting wren. Or, if I’m lucky and in the right place, the vertical take-off of a skylark.

Skylark, Firle Beacon

And I start to wonder whether Stillness is actually a thing.

My awareness turns to my beating pulse. Signs of life flowing through my body. No stillness there (thank goodness!).

And, within all things, the crazy careering patterns of subatomic particles, which even quantum physicists are barely beginning to comprehend.

My thoughts then turn in the opposite direction, to the ever-expanding edges of the Universe.

And I realise that nothing, nothing, stands still.

And so I begin to understand why that ancient prophet, Isaiah, described the promise of ‘peace like a river’. Peace isn’t motionlessness, like a millpond. Peace flows.

Perhaps the peace or stillness we seek in contemplation and meditation is not always about a lack of movement, even of our wandering thoughts, but about accepting and even appreciating the rhythms of life in the relative stillness around and within us, and being prepared to go with that flow.

Maybe then, by carrying that acceptance within us, we will find renewed courage and strength to flow with the endless manic movements we face on return from contemplation to our busy worlds.

Dolgoch Falls, Wales

(All photos taken by me, but not copyright – feel free to use!)


[1] For further reading see, for example: Henri Nouwen’s Way of the Heart: The Spirituality of the Desert Fathers and Mothers

A Day on the Downs

About once a year, in the summer, I take a day off just for myself, away from work and family – some time alone to pray, walk and enjoy nature. A solitary retreat, to take stock, connect with God and nature, and enjoy what I love.

For some, church worship or other spiritual practices are the gateway to blessing.
For me, solitude in nature is a gateway to heaven.

For this introvert/contemplative/Christian/nature-lover with a normally busy schedule, it’s a perfect combination. Today was no exception.

Near Jevington

Actually, today I wasn’t alone – I took Gorka. And spent the first part of the day worrying that I was taking him out for too long in the heat!

Gorka

We were out walking for 5 hours on the South Downs, from Wannock, over Butts Brow, through Jevington, to Lullington Heath, and back.

Whitethroat, at Butts Brow

About 9 miles in all. But he was fine.

We took a few respite breaks in the shade, including a stop at the Eight Bells, just for Gorka’s sake of course….

But, mmm, that Harvey’s Best was DE-licious!

Small Tortoiseshell (now unfortunately scarce), at Lullington Heath

When I lived nearer the Downs many years ago, I didn’t take it for granted. But I sure appreciate it a whole lot more now. Its flowery meadows, inhabited by swirls of butterflies and filled with the sweet aroma of wild marjoram and the call of skylarks, are the kind of thing normally only talked about in hushed tones of fond nostalgia these days.

Viper’s Bugloss

Here on the Downs those meadows, as you can see from the above photos, still exist!

Marbled White: one of the delights of the South Downs.
They were abundant here today.

I counted at least 16 species of butterfly in the small area I covered today, not to mention the incredible array of other flora and fauna, including wild orchids and a few interesting moths.

Today was the first day this year that I’ve seen Burnet moths. Their metallic sheen and their tendency to stay for some periods of time on thistles and other flowers made them a prime target for my camera….

Six-spot Burnet

…not that they were always all sitting ducks, and I quite like these in-flight shots, showing off the red hind wings:

Of some excitement to me, though, was seeing another member of the Burnet family for the first time ever: the Forester, of which there were quite a number at Butts Brow:

Forester moth on wild marjoram

This Brown Argus butterfly was also a rare treat:

But perhaps the greatest delight of all was seeing and capturing on camera one of those butterflies seen only on chalk hills: the aptly named Chalkhill Blue, which seems, for me, to perfectly symbolise the rare beauty of the South Downs.

Chalkhill Blue