Be Still In The Presence of the Lord- Lent

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Feeling the tug at his elbow, he moved forward. His heart pounding hard, he stood there, hesitating on the threshold of the cathedral sanctuary.

“Come on!” Looking up to see where the voice came from, he caught a glimpse of a figure darting through the doorway opposite him.

He closed his eyes and leaped forwards,  plunging into the darkness. Eyes squeezed tight shut, he could smell the tang of sea air. Gentle fingers of breeze eased their way across his forehead. Counting to ten, he opened his eyes and gasped. It was the most beautiful sight to behold. Inches before his eyes a shimmering wall of water danced its way downwards, light sparkling and gleaming like bright jewels in the sun. Stepping sideways from behind the cascading wall of water, he climbed down and onto the hot sand. Eyes darting to and fro, he thought he heard the sound of laughter and singing. Or was that the waterfall? Then silence.

“Who are you?” he asked. No response. After wandering around for what seemed like an age, a tingle of fear crackled down his spine. The view was stunning and the breeze welcoming. But he realised that there was no sound. It was though the world was mute; he was mute. Rocks that should be home to puffins, herons, ducks, geese- all were empty. No birds sang from the trees or bushes. No music being played by the wind.

“Who are you?” He called out again into the shimmering horizon. “Why have you lead me here?” Silence.

Sitting on the edge of a steep cliff, he put his head into his hands. Without warning, thoughts and memories trickled into his mind, slowly at first, then faster and faster, beginning like snowflakes; building into an avalanche of the past. The weight of it was unbearable. Looking around him, there was nothing but the silence.

Then it came to him. That soft and gentle voice, caressing and soothing.

“Be patient, my beloved. Do not be afraid, for I am with you. Be patient.”

The young man shivered uncontrollably in the hot sunshine. He could wait. He must wait.

And he began to pray.

I will lift my eyes …

The pathway up out of Glencoe  isn’t  called ‘the devils staircase’ for nothing.  The series of winding hairpin bends makes for a long plod.    My companion walks fast, keeping up a steady pace.  I walk in carefully measured sections, from bend to bend, zigzagging to avoid the steepness of the climb.

Then I stop.  I wait and look.   Looking down shows where the patterns lie, criss crossed paths, rough mounds, all levelled by the height.  The pathway winds from Bridge of Orchy, appears smooth and easy but yesterday it was a tough and rough old drove road.  The rough paths, taken at a distance, become smooth and are given pattern.

Sometimes the patterns make sense; often they don’t but I carry on looking anyway because there’s beauty and weaving and simplicity as I look down from a distance.  Where before there was only confusion and lack of conviction because of ridges, corners and a mysterious future not yet in sight, now there is clarity of a kind.  As time weaves and winds, yesterday’s future slowly blends into tomorrow’s past.

The river and the road wind endlessly out of sight.  The fields are patchwork.  Buachaille Etive Mor rises in awesome majesty, overlooking all.   I hold the weaving and patchwork patterns but plod on, up the staircase, breathless, to see what’s over the hill.    My companion is always waiting……

Always, my companion waits….

I will follow

My heart is hammering like a piston as I stand still, the grey cloud swirling around me. Silent white wraiths are blocking my vision, the fine mist forming dancing banshees, confusing me and disorienting my sense of direction. I started the day in good spirits. I waved goodbye to my friends full of laughter and excitement. I had been looking forward to wandering the plateau of this distant mountain tucked away in the remote west Highlands.

But here I am, where I thought I wanted to be- but the memory of this morning’s confident conversation and laughter is now so faint. It is nearly dark now. I look all around me. No horizon. No outlines. I feel dizzy and nauseous, as though I’ve danced an Orkney Strip the Willow with a blindfold. I know there are cliffs all around me, frozen jaws displaying razor sharp teeth. They wait for me patiently, hiding behind the swirling, dancing clouds. Waiting for the final embrace. The ridge is narrow and I am lost.

Suddenly, the mist in front of me parts. It is cleaved in two by a man. Grasping his crozier he strides past me, smiling to acknowledge my presence as he descends the steep hillside to hearth and home in the glen below. I glimpse the twinkling lights in the glen far below. I hear the sound of dogs barking as the sheep sweep by me on all sides, down towards the figure even before he is swallowed up in the gathering gloom. The mist closes in as quickly as it parted.

My heart leaps for the love of life. Eagerly, I follow.

The Way Home

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The myriad of dancing colours begins to fade as the young woman falls back against her pillows, exhausted by the exertion of sitting upright. Her own smile is fading and the figure standing over her leans forward. Staring into those eternal eyes, she sees his lips move and finds a distant memory, locked in the darkest recesses of her mind, as his words fill her being.

The time that my journey takes is long and the way of it long.

I came out on the chariot of the first gleam of light, and pursued my voyage through the wildernesses of worlds leaving my track on many a star and planet.

It is the most distant course that comes nearest to thyself, and that training is the most intricate which leads to the utter simplicity of a tune.

The traveller has to knock at every alien door to come to his own, and one has to wander through all the outer worlds to reach the innermost shrine at the end.

My eyes strayed far and wide before I shut them and said `Here art thou!’

The question and the cry `Oh, where?’ melt into tears of a thousand streams and deluge the world with the flood of the assurance `I am!’

Journey Home by Rabindranath Tagore

Darkness is circling her; the young woman is gripping the edge of the bed. Three rosy faced children peer out from the photograph on the bedside cabinet, their bright smiles projecting hopefully and unsuspectingly into the future. The figure, blazing light as through a summer cloud, is greatly troubled in spirit and deeply moved. Slowly, he holds out his hand to her. She is reaching out to him, fingers outstretched, quivering, and she sees the silent tears flowing from those blazing, eternal eyes.

Photographer: Matt Levin

Journey Into Stillness

The curmudgeonly old man from Jericho sat by the busy, dusty roadside leading from that great city. Sounds were magnified as women, men, children and animals bustled by him. Scratching life from begging, unable to see since birth, he was as blind to them as they were to him. He swore under his breath at the noise, the heat and the dirt, and cursed loudly at the mocking children. He had been shouting out the name of that crazy carpenter from the north (he had no idea why), only to be mocked and told to shut up by the crowd around him. The noise was unbearable and the heat more oppressive than he could remember it ever being.

Then it happened. The world fell silent. Crouching in the dirt, he trembled in fear at the sudden silence that pressed in on him. A cool, refreshing breeze swept over him. He heard a muffled voice and a name. An old, familiar name. “Son of Timaeus, what do you want from me?”  The old man opened his eyes. As he scrambled to his feet he saw the silhouette of a man, behind whom and from whom radiant colours blazed in hues of the brightest, rain washed rainbow. As the carpenter spoke, the old man saw the glory in those infinite eyes, brighter than the sun. He stared as Jesus carried on along his way, down towards Jerusalem. To Jerusalem, where the scent from the gardens of olive groves embraces the fragrance of the Madonna lilies of Old Jaffa before they waft out over the Great Sea…

Net curtains billow into the hushed room, flapping wildly. Her breathing is quick and rasping. Through the open window she can hear the distant sound of children playing and laughing in the street. The sweet scent of lilies wafts in from the garden. She cannot open her eyes. Even if she is able to, the bright, blue sky outside and the golden light caressing her wrinkled face will be enveloped in the grey, swirling mists of her blindness. The extent of her physical world is here, in this room.

Not long now. The doctors have left. An angel has arrived, bearing a silver bottle. As the lid is removed, the room is filled with the scent of olive oil. She smiles. She hears the rustling of thousands of feathers, and can feel the caress of a cool breeze on her face. Urgent, tender fingers touch this young woman’s brow. Be calm; be still. The oil is calming. Eyelids flicker open, the dark and the grey give way to the light. The figure appears to her as through a bright, summer cloud. The face staring at her is glowing like the sun itself. A myriad of colours dance and weave around them both. She laughs with joy, with peace.

In our busyness, in our quiet, in our illness and in our health, in our fear and in our joy; where is God in our lives? Do we listen or do we block?

Be still for the presence of the Lord.