Tag: Tarn Hows

Big in the eyes of God

Photo of Tarn Hows and surrounding hills by Gill Henwood

Today, December 14th, is a special day. It’s the day the Church keeps the feast of St. John of the Cross.

Some years ago, towards the end of a visit to Spain, we arrived at Ubeda. It was a wet Sunday afternoon and the town was all but deserted. The one eating and drinking place was the only crowded place. I had gone there, however to see something very important.

We had started the Spanish journey by travelling from Madrid to Avila. There, my companion and I visited the shrine of St. Teresa of Avila. She has been a favourite saint of mine for a long time and I have tried to dig deep into her spirituality. There is something profoundly mystical about her and yet, also, an accessible ordinariness. Teresa tells it as it is! She also tells God what’s on her mind!

Her legacy, for which she was honoured as a Doctor (Teacher) of the Faith, is her teaching on prayer. Yet her writing, done usually on the hoof, had to be encouraged. She was busy at the time reforming the Carmelite order and founding new convents of what became known as the discalced (barefoot) order of the contemplative Carmelites. (when she wasn’t actually shouting at popes, nobles and, at times God!)

In all this activity she had a series of mentors, confessors and encouragers. The chief amonst these, and her very special friend was St John of the Cross. His friendship did so much to help her in guiding others and in leaving us the great spiritual treasure we still have today.

St. John of the Cross was, himself, a man of deep spirituality. His writings and, especially his spiritual poems, established him as a mystic who walked close to God and for whom God’s love was deeply personal. The power of God’s love to touch ALL hearts is expressed by John in something he truly believed. He said, Where there is no love put love in and you will find love. In people and in situations where love is lacking, put the love of God in and you will draw love out. John of the Cross saw this as one of the most important witnesses we can make for God.

Often misunderstood and persecuted, even imprisoned, he found strength from his deep relationship with God. He also found a spiritual home in Teresa’s discalced Carmelites which he joined.

Amongst his writings is ‘The Dark Night of the Soul’, ‘The Ascent of Mount Carmel’ and ‘Spiritual Canticle’. A good introduction to his life and spirituality is by E Allison Peers, available still from good bookshops.

Like Teresa he was made a Doctor of the Church.

That rainy afternoon in Ubeda, our knocking on the door of the museum/monastery was rewarded at precisely 4pm! (When siesta was over). We were led by a quiet but welcoming monk to the shrine of St. John of the Cross. A wonderfully profound moment at the end of our joureying in Spain. In my heart was the link between the beginning of that journey and its end, not least because these two saints, in so many ways, had hearts for God that beat as one. Teresa said of John: “I cannot be in the presence of John without being lifted up into the presence of God.” In each other, they found God’s friendship and company.

But let Teresa have the last word about him on this, his feast day. She said of him, ‘Though he is small in stature, he is Big in God’s eyes.’ What better thing could be said of anyone!

[Mr. G]

Hailstorm above Tarn Hows

A reflection by my friend Gill Henwood inspired by the area around her home in the Lake District. The reflection is illustrated by a poem she has written which is quoted here in sections. The photos are by Gill.

All around us the heavens have given us dark blue grey clouds bringing rain, hail and mists. The natural world is entering the winter, ripping leaves from the golden, bronze trees. Creation is showering a bumper harvest of acorns in Crag Wood, the mossy carpet peppered with plump seeds. All life is sensing shorter days, darkness growing. Sunlight spotlights the bracken fells. Mists scatter sun into rainbows.
In a hailstorm high up on the fells, a poet* reflects:

How fleeting is a rainbow
fractured hues
dazzling sunlight
breaks through rain.
Cloud edges
scatter laser white
arcing colours ‘compass
all life beneath.

Long ago, in a time of devastation, the sign of the rainbow was God’s promise to Noah and his family that the world would be renewed. The rainbow brought hope in the darkness of the storm. Courage to endure, perseverance to wait, solace to trust. The gift of the rainbow came in the darkest storm. Yet, the poet reflects:

How fleeting is a hailstorm
stinging ice
freezing crystals
melt dis/appear.
Cloud mists
soften warm renew
dancing waters re/fresh
all life beneath

The story of the flood, of Noah’s family and the animals shut up in the ark, is so long ago. Yet now a new storm rages around us in the coronavirus pandemic, rumbling around the whole world. We are within another hailstorm, seeking shelter from the stinging ice; seeking protection from disease, from isolation, from hardship.

We too long for hope, for renewal, for the world to find a safe future.
People around our world long to ‘come out of the great ordeal’ – this crisis we encounter in our lives, as described in the book of Revelation 7:9-17. The hailstorm is sharp, acute, real, sending us fleeing into shelter. We are in the midst of another month’s lockdown under the storm of the pandemic. Yet the psalms tell us storms will pass. The scriptures give us psalms of lament from those in times of trouble long ago, such as  Psalm 34.

‘I sought the Lord and he answered me/ and delivered me out of all my terror… I called in my affliction and the Lord heard me/ and saved me from all my troubles’ (v 4,6).

In this time,  we can turn to the Bible and re-read the story of Noah. We can pray the psalms of lament and sing in our hearts the psalms of thanksgiving for God’s promise of hope and renewal. Jesus and his disciples knew these scriptures, heard and prayed and sang them in their times of crisis.

Jesus gives us the sign of the rainbow as he teaches the crowds about God’s blessing. He is up the mountain, atop a fell, with his followers and the curious crowd about him. As the rainbow gives us hope in the storm , when light breaks through and kisses the rains into glorious colours, Jesus gives us hope in God’s promise of blessing.

All who are suffering and struggling are called into God’s shelter, the safety of heavenly love and care. Jesus’s good news brings God’s care for all his children into our crisis too. When we turn to him, we hear God’s promise of comfort, of provision for our needs, of mercy, peace and justice. When we turn to Jesus we see him living God’s way through the crises of our lives, even through suffering and death, as he endures. Jesus trusts God the Father, the creator, source of life and love, to deliver him from evil. He gives his followers the prayer we call ‘the Lord’s Prayer’ – we too pray, ‘deliver us from evil’, deliver us from the crises of our lives, from this crisis.

‘I sought the Lord and he answered me/ and delivered me out of all my terror… I called in my affliction and the Lord heard me/ and saved me from all my troubles’ (v 4,6).

As we share holy communion , we join Noah and his family who trusted God, who received the sign of the rainbow, the gift of God’s promise to save us. We join the psalmist and all who have lamented in poem and song. In the quiet of our hearts we sing hymns of hope in God our creator, in thanksgiving for Jesus our saviour, in trust that God’s Holy Spirit is with us now. We join the saints throughout time, praying, ‘thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven.’

Let us trust in God today, during lockdown and beyond. Let us turn to the story of Noah, to the psalms, to the gospels of Jesus’ good news of God’s love and protection. Let us find God’s shelter in our hearts as well as in our daily lives, and support one another as God guides and prompts us day by day. Let us be open to God’s Holy Spirit, inspiring us and empowering us to endure.

Once more from the felltop a sudden rainbow dazzled, and the poet reflected.

How fleeting is God’s Presence
glimpsed sensed
surging power
jolts wakes calls.
Cloud hides

God’s revealed
rainbow Spirit,
all life beneath.

We may only sense God’s presence as fleeting, but the rainbow /and the gospel Jesus brings us / are signs that God is always with us, Emmanuel, dwelling among us, the Spirit hovering to bless us.
In this time, let us turn anew to find solace in the scriptures. As we, our nation and our world lament, let us turn anew to God for comfort, for shelter, for hope, / for Jesus saves us in our crisis/ as we answer his call and turn to God’s love. As we, day by day, seek God’s love, may the Holy Spirit warm our hearts and give us inner calm, to endure, to give hope to others around us, and to aid any who we encounter who are in need.
God is present with us, throughout time, every moment.
May we turn anew to him in our hearts today.

*Gill Henwood 1 Nov 20