by Will Fletcher.
I write this piece as I begin my sabbatical. Due to the current restrictions and ongoing uncertainty about what the next few months might hold, I have had to scrap part of the plan to travel round the country visiting various cathedrals. Instead, I have broadened the other part of the plan to spend as much time outdoors as possible. This maybe feels a bit of a cliché after countless stories over the last year about the benefit of the outdoors, but after spending so much of this year in front of a computer screen, I’m certainly ready for it.
There are a number of things I hope to do, from walking and gardening, to developing birdwatching skills. However, one of the things I love most in the outdoors is looking at insects and other invertebrates. Maybe it is the little boy within me still wanting to get out and dig in the mud. Maybe there is something about taking time to stop and pay close attention to something that would be so easy to miss. I find them and their often-overlooked world fascinating. In all these activities, what I hope for the most is to make space to be far more attentive to the world as I am living it at this moment, and, in that frame of mind, to be more attentive to God with me.
One of the challenges I find as a minister (though I’m sure this experience isn’t limited to ministers) is that I rarely feel able to live in the present, always thinking of what will be coming up in the future. I get to the autumn and I have to start thinking about Christmas; before the Christmas decorations are down, the thought of Lents studies begins; as I try and journey through Holy Week, I’m also preparing worship for Easter Day – Jesus isn’t crucified yet, but in my mind, he is already raised to new life!
It feels like this last year has sometimes been like that – as a nation (and, indeed, a world) we are always looking ahead. This has been particularly the case since the beginning of the vaccine rollout. We’ve all been starting to wonder when life might start to include some of those aspects we have been longing for. The various roadmaps from the four nations of the UK have come out, and dates start getting put in the diary. Plans begin to be made for May, June, maybe August.
After the horrendous events of the last year, I don’t begrudge anyone looking ahead to a brighter future which involves those people and activities that we have had to do without for so long. However, the danger can be that we spend so much time looking ahead, that we miss life now, miss seeing and experiencing the things that are here for us now, miss encountering God, even.
As the psalmist faced a world in uproar and change, they were encouraged by God to ‘Be still and know that I am God!’ It appears for them that it was in stopping, maybe in being attentive to their present moment, that they could realise that ‘The LORD of hosts is with us.’ (Ps 46:10-11). Equally, when he was addressing the crowd who were clearly worried about their future, Jesus encouraged them to, ‘look at the birds of the air’ and, ‘consider the lilies of the field.’ (Matthew 6:26, 28) It seems that long before the scientists of today, the ability for nature to give us a different perspective on life had been realised.
Therefore, my hope and prayer for us all as we look to move out of lockdowns and restrictions, and as we make plans for what our summer may hold, is that we don’t end up missing the potential for experiencing the joy, life, and presence of God in the here and now.