I forget what day we are now on. It’s the second week anyway. The second week of trying to navigate this new normal, to process the changes taking places in our society and world. To find new patterns of living as a family, new ways to connect to each other as friends and, for us, new ways to live as church together.
There has been a whole lot of new. Which is exhausting. A whole lot of change. Which is exhausting. A whole lot of grief as future plans are laid to the side. Which again is exhausting. It is no wonder that most people I talk to are tired, finding it hard to concentrate, experiencing their emotions much nearer to the surface. Change on this level takes a long time to slowly adjust to.
This week I met with my small group from my Spiritual Direction course over Zoom (how else do we do anything these days..?) we talked about what we were noticing in our bodies, our prayer lives, our experience each day and where we might be finding God at the moment. It was such a helpful time to remember and focus in again on the unseen realities of this world. I was reminded that there is more going on than my immediate emotions and felt the desire again to sit with my Maker and remember the ground underneath my feet.
Mainly what I am noticing this week is a deep return to my childhood and the things I experienced around the age of 8 to 11. I have found more and more as I have hit my 40s that I am returning to threads and themes which have stuck with me throughout the path life has taken me on. One of these threads is a strong love of nature. I remember deeply loving the outdoors, searching out the names of the natural world around me, craving a pond to find newts in and spending lots of time outside.
Across the road from the house I grew up in was a patch of wasteland. When we first moved in this land was covered in brambles but held hidden delights for a 8 year old. There was an old shed containing various random rusty tools, a fallen down tree which became a spaceship or army tank depending on what games we played on it with the boys from up the road. There was a stream running through it and best of all, around a corner, an old orchard (rather glamorous name for a patch of land with some fruit trees on it). I can still remember it now, the green grass, the apple tree we climbed in and the secret path through to another part of our cul-de-sac road. I spent lots of time over in that land, knowing it, exploring, becoming familiar with its landscape.
And then the developers came and flattened it, tore up the trees, put the stream in a pipe and eventually built houses on it. I was fairly devastated. Our playground had gone. I ached for its return.
Back to the present: In these last couple of weeks we have spent part of each day walking up to the woods at the top of the estate we live in. These woods are little more than a narrow patch of trees between a main road into Brighton and the start of the housing but they contain untold delights for us. The trees are budding, the floor is carpeted in green with some kind of vegetation which name I have yet to discover, primroses and wood anemones splash colour all around. We walk through the woods to a clearing at the end, put our picnic blanket down by an old den we want to improve and I read to the boys. This rhythm connects me deeply with a world I grew up in. Going to the same place day in and day out is doing something deep in our souls. Son1 said that he knew every inch of the woods yesterday. I’m not sure he does yet but both of them are discovering the geography of where they live in a fascinating way.
This week we finished reading The Tanglewoods Secret by Patricia St John. This was written in 1948 and has taken us back in time to a place where children did play in woods all day long. It’s a book I remember loving as a child, a gentle book with lots of very low key normal references to Jesus. It’s fairly moralistic at times, as you might expect from a 1940s book with lots of talk of how naughty the main character feels and her longings to be ‘good’. (I definitely over identified with her as a child.) But it’s a book that also oozes the grace and love of Jesus our Shepherd coming for us, seeking us out and loving us whatever we are like. Reading it again brought me back to some of the simple bedrock realities of faith in Jesus and how Jesus can make a difference in our day to day choices in life. I was in tears for lots of it as I sensed again my Shepherd holding me and my boys in these confusing troubling times. It was also a lovely reminder for the boys that Jesus can be their Shepherd too and loves them deeply. It was a book which has led me to pray more, to ask for forgiveness when I notice my ego getting in the way of life and to remember that there is more to this world which can transform the immediate circumstances of the day.
However odd, unsettling, exhausting and confusing these times are (and it’s good to acknowledge that they are) I am also deeply grateful for this time to slow and pay attention to where we live. I am grateful for these gentle rhythms to our days. It gives me hope that in this world, where I mooch around with my 7 and 5 year old boys all day, they too might find depth and meaning in this simple strangeness we now inhabit.