Highland Hills

So many hills I trod the miles, each steady grassy climb,
where each horizon seemed to be eternity in time.
Somewhere the unseen peak beyond each skyline drew me on,
on grassy tussocks, turf or scree,
on steady rise, on tired knee,
in cloud-mist, faded sun.

Each heavy, crossed horizon shows another up ahead:
another lessened slope that grows more stonily instead,
and weary limbs and counted steps attack the boulder field
which levels to the cairn at last
where, triumph gained and labour past,
the whole world lies revealed.

And is there fairer yet than this that our world has to show?
when trial and beauty seem as one,
and clouds that used to veil the sun
drift slowly, down below?

God’s Daydream

Last September I posted a scientific parallel of Genesis. Here it is again as a children’s story:

Some of God’s days are longer than others and some much shorter. Some are made up of lots and lots of our days. Peter, a very good friend of Jesus, said one of our days could be like a thousand years for God, and a thousand of our years could be like just one day for Him. He really doesn’t mind.

This story is about God’s days, his first special ones.

God’s First Day – Let there be light.

It is a story before all stories, the story of a daydream. It wasn’t a dream in the night because there was no night yet, and it wasn’t a dream in the day because there was no day yet. It was a daydream about a day that hadn’t happened. There was nothing, an emptiness with no people, no animals and no places for them to be. But the emptiness shimmered with little almost-waves like the surface of a calm sea just before the wind comes, but these were not almost-waves of water, they were almost-waves of light.

God knew His day needed light so he blew on the almost-waves and said ‘Let’s have light.’ They shimmered and shimmered until suddenly there it was, beautiful and dazzling and a little bit frightening. Well, actually, much more than a little bit – it was very frightening.  That is it would have been if we had been there to be frightened but luckily for us we weren’t and God liked it and there was no longer nothing. There were great, glorious waves of light.

It was the first day and it went by in a flash, which was quite long enough for God.

God’s Second Day – space.

The dancing light waves pushed and pressed at each other like children fighting for sweets. ‘All that light with nothing to do and nowhere to go.’ thought God. ‘I think there should be some order here.’

So he made a rule: some waves could not be in the same place at the same time but other than that they could do what they liked (actually he made some other rules we call the initial conditions but I don’t want to bore you with that).

The waves did as they were told. They flew here and there (which was of course the first ‘here and there’ – before that there was nowhere). As they flew they changed. They became red and green and blue, and strong and weak, and big and small – all the colours of the rainbow and many more things you and I could hardly understand and the space between them became bigger and bigger. It was the second day.

God’s Third Day – the Earth forms with land, seas and early life.

God said, ‘If they carry on like this they will fly away and disappear again. Let’s have a little bit of gravity here.’

And the waves came together in space and, wherever they did, they behaved as though they were tiny specks, smaller than the smallest piece of dust, but so many that they made galaxies and stars and planets and moons and all sorts of places – and one of them was our own home, Earth.

In the Earth, and other places too for all I know, some of them got together and made tiny almost-plants like the first almost-waves and these made more and more until they got together and began to build real plants. Each new plant could make more, bigger and bigger and bigger ones.

It was the third day, a very long one. For us it would have been millions of millions of years but to God it was just another day.

God’s Fourth Day – the seasons of the sun and moon, life in seas and land.

God said ‘Let’s have a few changes here.’

Now, if you remember, everything was made of waves of light, so the plants needed light to grow and change and they got most of it from the Sun and the Moon and the stars. The Moon is big like a small planet although it is not as big as our Earth. We are like two planets turning round and round each other as we go round the Sun together. This makes summer when it is brighter and hotter, and winter when it is colder and dimmer, and the in-between times, spring and autumn. It makes the sea tides rise and fall, and gives us bright days and dark nights.

All these changes caused changes in the plants. After millions of our years some of them changed a lot but to God it was just another day. The fourth one.

God’s Fifth Day – the spread of mammals.

God’s fifth day was even longer. Slowly the changing seasons and tides, and days and nights, and all the changes that the plants had to make to keep up, made the seas swarm with plant life and some of them became almost-animals. God liked that.

‘Let’s have more.’ He said.

So just as the almost-waves had become light, and the almost-plants became real plants, so the almost-animals became real animals. It took a very long time, fifty million of our years, until the seas became the home of millions of tiny creatures. Fifty million years is a very long time but it took a hundred million years before a very different animal grew called Trigonotarbids. It was different because it lived out of the water. It was the first land animal.

Have you been counting? I have. So far God’s fifth day has been a hundred and fifty million of our years but it wasn’t over yet! It was another two hundred million years before much larger animals grew. You will have heard of these, they were Dinosaurs.

And still God’s fifth day was not over!

The Dinosaurs roamed the Earth for another hundred and seventy million years. There were lots of them: small ones, large ones, very, very large ones, even some that could fly, but eventually they came to an end and the only ones left were some of the ones that could fly. They became birds. I expect you guessed that. And that was the end of God’s fifth day.

If you have been counting it took five hundred and twenty million of our years, and if you weren’t counting it still took five hundred and twenty million.

God’s Sixth Day – the coming of Mankind.

Once the big dinosaurs were gone the world was safer for smaller animals. God’s dream was getting better and better.

‘I like them.’ Said God, ‘Let’s have some more.’

So monkeys and pigs and songbirds and horses and camels and little shrews and all sorts of creatures spread far and wide but God’s daydream was still not finished.

God said, ‘There’s no-one else here quite like me. I want someone to share it with.’

He didn’t mind what they looked like because he had made many different creatures, but he wanted someone who would be pleased with this world and love it like he did – friends who could look after it all. Once the animals had spread all over the Earth, which took nearly sixty million of our years, God breathed his spirit into one of the creatures and it loved the world he had made. After many more millions of our years it became us. That was the end of God’s sixth day.

God’s Seventh Day – He rests.

So the heavens and the earth were finished and everything in them, and on the seventh day of God’s daydream he blessed it because it was the day that he rested from all the work that he had done. The seventh day went by in a flash just like the first.

Then the serious work began.

Depth

You say I think too deeply while the sun is on the sand
and sparkles in the shallows and spreads across the land,
and little fish come darting and nibble at our toes.

You say I think too deeply, but here out in the bay
the sea shelves blue and deeper, and larger fishes play,
and sun comes thin and slanting, and darkens as it goes.

How can I think too deeply when all around is deep?
and echoes as though Heaven is waking after sleep;
or like the night-bird, chanting to incarnadine the rose.

Are the stars still shining faintly in these shadowed ocean deeps,
where the sea as dark as wine has been given for a sign
of the deep that calls to deep in the human and Divine?

Does the wave-sound filtered finely from the sunlight and the foam
carry echoes touched with starlight and a distant call of home?
Though clouded with a doubt is there yet an Avalon
that calls across the waters and forever draws me on?

Are the sunlight in the shallows,
.      and the sand between our toes,
.and the sunlight faintly filtered
.       that darkens as it goes,
and the chanting nightingale
.       with the rose thorn at his breast
at one with all who labour that shall be given rest?

There is a tale that once all roses were white until, one night, a nightingale fell in love with a rose and, singing his love but getting no response, sang ever more sweetly, closer and closer, until, pressing his heart against her stem, he died upon a thorn, staining her with his own spilled blood; since when, all roses of love have been red.

 

The Bow Shall be Seen in the Cloud…

Once I saw the most remarkable rainbow of any I can remember. It was not double – I have seen double rainbows, and they are certainly a wonderful sight. No, this was a single, ordinary rainbow, if anything as wonderful as a rainbow can be called ordinary. It was complete, bold and beautiful in colour, spread across a broad, dramatic peakland sky, extending over the far tree-lined drystone wall of a sheep meadow which in turn I viewed over another drystone wall.

The bow shone against a backdrop of grey and white clouds amply interspersed with blue sky. The sheep field shone green in the sun and two sheep wandered along the far wall. A fine cloud-mist cooled my face.

I was walking with Kate, a small west highland white terrier, and was brought to a halt by the spectacle. Kate, with the poor colour-sense of all dogs, ignored it and nosed along in the long grass getting slowly covered in goose-grass burrs while I stood transfixed. I paid for it later when I had to pick them off.

It is hard to describe my feelings as I stood for over ten minutes watching the changing moods of the sky and fields. At times the entire bow was seen against a backdrop of clouds except where its earthbound ends dipped to the trees and wall. Occasionally it stood out in places against blue sky which shone through it although the spectral bands could still be clearly seen. Sometimes the field below darkened with cloud shadows and yet the rainbow persisted above. There were no great drops of rain, just the fine cloud-mist against my face from a large irregular cloud that was passing over me. Any moment I expected the greater flurry of rain that often comes at the tail of a cloud, but it did not come. Only the fine refreshing cloud-damp blowing through my hair and lightly in my face.

Behind me a low morning sun gleamed through the silver-gold lining of a grey cloud, that seemed almost stationary compared to the wracks passing overhead. In front, the tail of cloud moved, oh so slowly, toward me. The rainbow was fixed, bright and constant. The sheep ambled to and fro then moving off to my left passed through the rainbow’s end by the wall.

Suddenly a thin cloud crossed the sun and the bow dimmed only to brighten again as the sun penetrated more strongly. Steadily the tail of the cloud moved toward me. The blue sky grew in its wake. The wind tossed leaves through the air and ripples through the grass. Kate lay down, thought better of it and nosed off after some fascinating scent. The clear sky grew until the whole bow was spread out against the blue vault of the heavens – something I had never seen before. Then, very slowly over several minutes, rain and bow faded together leaving a brilliant morning sky.

I pondered that a rainbow can fade in two ways: because the sun is dimmed or because the rain clears, and that I could be struck by beauty while my colour-blind companion saw nothing at all.

I stayed a few moments looking at the scene, then turned to go. To my amazement the rainbow colours returned in a flash. There was no rain, just the sun shining in the drops in my hair and lashes. I carried the rainbow with me.

Great and Small Wonders

 
Can you discern the true seat of your soul?
Or say of what your true self is composed?
Give reason for your life? or know the way
In which the essence that is you arose?
Though close confined in flesh and bones, your eyes
Observe the turning world and endless skies.

Enclosed, your soul in seeming prison lies,
Restrained by flesh, particular, within
God’s infinite, eternal universe.
Our boundaries (self stops where else begins)

Show only what our senses will let pass.
Until you know what links your soul to sense
Make no decision as to here or hence.

A boy catches the Sun in a burning-glass. Its image dazzles his eyes blackening a paper sheet; smoke wisps curl, a tiny spot takes fire. A burning glass of photons, tiny portions of the Sun’s heat, so many they dazzle his eyes and light the paper. There are more photons in a burning-glassful of Sun than there are glassfuls of Sun’s rays shining on Earth.

At night; the boy lies in bed gazing out at the sky. Photons, filtered by the clouds, the atmosphere, his window and his eyes, focus in his eyes. He sees small wonders.

He is a marvellous harmony with the photons. Each photon is a harmonic of the whole cosmos and deep calls unto deep. The clouds break. He sees stars, planets, galaxies, the Milky Way. Photons are distorted, focussed and refocused by the gravitational pull of stars, galaxies and galactic clusters, by dark and light matter and the Cosmos itself.

Like a violin string producing harmonics and sub-harmonics, the music of the Cosmos is filled with waveforms and sub-forms. We call them fundamental particles but particles are just our name for the focal points of these very faint, weak waveforms. Although weak, the extent of each wave is as vast as the Cosmos itself. A photon is a fundamental harmonic, one of the smallest notes in the cosmic harmony. The Cosmos is a waveform with many interplaying themes. The burning-glass and the boy are unique and special themes; symphonies on the cosmic scale. It does not matter how many or complex the harmonies may be.

The boy, the burning-glass, the Sun and the farthest star, his body and brain, every cell, sinew and neuron, are part of that harmony. The workings of the mind, emotions, logic, faith, hope, love, may all be explained by analysis of the brain. Not because the brain is all there is but because it is a network of harmonies played on the greatest scale imaginable. Some say that the Cosmos can be examined solely on its own terms; others that it is a wonderful dream in the mind of God. Both may be right. Half a picture may seem complete in itself but it is still half the picture.

Lying on his bed the boy breathes deeply; fascinated by the stars. He listens to his breath. There are more atoms in a lungful of air than there are lungfuls of air in the atmosphere. Every breath since men walked on Earth disperses throughout the atmosphere. Any later breath will include some atoms from it: the dying words of Julius Caesar, the Beatitudes and Hitler’s wartime speeches; the breath of kings and commons, saints and sinners, old, young, hale and dying.

Plants take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen. They fix nitrogen and other elements necessary to life. The same distribution goes on in soil and growing things as his breath in the atmosphere.

He takes part of every living thing and person from the beginning of life on Earth with every breath and every mouthful. He is involved in mankind from his birth and in every moment of living.

Earth is older than men. The boy lives in the presence of immense antiquity. No breath of his, of kings or commons, Moses, Abraham or Mahomet went into the Earth’s making. Men have raised up its stone at their most sacred sites, worked it, used it and admired it. But they are not part of it. It is part of them. The constituents of the boy’s body, like those of the Earth, were not formed on Earth but in stars and supernovae at remote times and distances. We are made of the ashes of dead stars.

A picture may seem complete and yet be part of a greater one. Why is there something rather than nothing? Why are men so passionate about the way the world is if it means nothing? Should we listen to those who quote Macbeth: Life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing? Or to a still, small voice that tells us: ‘All things were made by Him, and without Him was nothing made that was made.’?

‘Before Abraham was, I AM.’