Touches of Lightness

I find the pithy sayings of G K Chesterton striking. His book ‘Orthodoxy’ is a defence of Christianity and his journey of faith. It is right up to date in addressing the problems of our age. This despite being written over 100 years ago.

The main point of Christianity was this: that Nature is not our mother: Nature is our sister. We can be proud of her beauty, since we have the same father; but she has no authority over us; we have to admire, but not to imitate. This gives to the typically Christian pleasure in this earth a strange touch of lightness that is almost frivolity……. To St. Francis, Nature is a sister, and even a younger sister: a little, dancing sister, to be laughed at as well as loved.”

GK Chesterton

Available to many of us are the simple sights and sounds of nature. Enjoying them can feel guilty when contrasted with the current news of war and pestilence. However these pleasures can be balm to the soul in dark times. So I will indulge you in the following ‘touches of lightness’ that have been a blessing to me in recent winter weeks. You can adapt if you live in Southern Hemisphere!

After months of long, grey days experiencing late winter clear skies has been very refreshing. The light is not as strong as spring or summer. There is a sweet, almost delicate tinge to everywhere the sunlight bathes. Now this may simply be because of many dark days and my eyes not used to brighter light. Whatever the reason it is special and different.

Sunlight is felt as well as observed. There is something gentle on a cold day to have one side of your face being warmed, albeit with a weak sun.

Wakening in the middle of the night to birdsong. When the worries of the world seem to threaten mind and heart their music is balm to the soul. I am no bird expert but listening to this pre-dawn chorus is healing. Naively I have always thought that birds waken later in winter, a bit like myself. It’s only this year I’ve heard them so early. Maybe God wakens them to get up and sing for me!

Country walks punctuated by the gurgling of water. Streams transporting melting ice seem especially joyous and playful. That may just be my imagination. Of course water also rushes and roars with tremendous strength and destruction. However this seems the season for gentle, murmuring waters.

The seemingly random and chaotic patterns of deciduous tree branches in winter. There are scientific descriptions for these patterns in nature (‘fractals’). For some years I find observing them is soothing to the brain. Recently I read that there is apparently scientific evidence for this. Not that I need any. Gazing at the seemingly random patterns of branches against a blue sky is like a brain massage.

The many sounds of different terrain.

The cushioning thud of feet on a dry forest floor.
The scrunching of dry ice underfoot.

The ending of most pandemic rules in UK has also awakened other dormant experiences. One such has been the comforting murmur of multiple conversations when in a large room or hall. Groups of people talking to each other seemed unremarkable and mundane before pandemic times. Such a hubbub of noise makes no sense. With other eyes it shows something of the glory of being human.

You can no doubt add to this list. Wherever you live on this globe there are plenty ‘natural’ soothing ointments for frazzled, fearful and tired souls.

Savour the end of a clear winter’s day. Slower and more nuanced than a summer sunset.

The Man and a Mystery

The way, You shall follow it.

Success, You shall forget it.

The cup, You shall empty it.

The pain, You shall conceal it.

The answer, You shall learn it.

The end, You shall endure it. 

Dag Hammarskjöld ‘Markings’

I have found the journal writings of Dag Hammarskjöld* a rich source of comfort and help. A Swede, he was the second UN Secretary General from 1953-61. President Kennedy called him the greatest statesman of the century. Here is the late Kofi Annan, another Sect. General…

“His wisdom and his modesty, his unimpeachable integrity and his single-minded devotion to duty, have set a standard for all servants of the international community — and especially, of course for his successors — which is simply impossible to live up to”.

“Dag Hammarskjöld and the 21st Century” – Lecture. K. Annan, 6 Sept 2001.

With such high praise what lay behind this man?

He died whilst in office in Sept 1961 when his plane crashed in Ndola, Zambia on a peacekeeping mission to the newly independent Congo. What actually happened remains an enduring mystery and has generated conspiracy theories even to this day, almost 50 years later. 

After his death a diplomat friend published Hammarskjöld’s private Swedish journal ‘Vägmarken’ (‘Way Marks’). They were found in his New York apartment along with an undated letter saying: 

“If you find these notations worth publishing, you have my permission to do so – … concerning my negotiations with myself – and with God”.

Translated to English as ‘Markings’ they are available with a reader’s guide here. His generally short, stand-alone entries make no direct references to the backdrop of his office and the high stakes ‘peacekeeping’ during the Cold War and negotiations with the great powers of the day. The guide remarks do give some helpful background to geopolitical and personal events surrounding these private journal entries. The journal reveals a man grappling with his commitment to follow Jesus, the sacrifice that involves and the desire to serve his fellow man. There is profound joy, intense loneliness and deep honesty as to his failings. Also wistful longing for his homeland and his passion for the simple pleasures of nature and hill walking in Lapland. Much more I could recommend. Given what happened to him reading the journal you could be forgiven for thinking some of what he said was prescient. As a journal the daily entries are short and stand alone but if this is not for you you can browse some of his quotes.

However if you don’t want words dwell for a moment on the picture above. I took it when visiting DH’s retreat** in Backåkra, Sweden some years ago. A peaceful setting with a farmhouse and gentle, rolling fields down to the coast. Here dwelt one who visibly strode the world stage yet like an iceberg there was a hidden depth and solidity.

We may not choose the parameters of our destiny. But we give it its content. The one who wills the adventure shall also experience it — according to the measure of his courage. The one who wills the sacrifice shall be sacrificed — according to the measure of his purity. 

Dag Hammarskjöld ‘Markings’

*If you are not Swedish then you are probably sounding Hammarskjöld in your head wrong! 

** It was the venue for the current Secretary-General Guterres’s Security Council Retreat in Apr. 2018. 

Thank you to those who have signed up to ‘Follow’ my blog so far. I am encouraged! 

What’s In a Name?

Last Autumn on one of many walks in 2020 I came across the above scene. It was a chilly yet sunny morning with a clear, blue sky. Also atmospheric with the sun’s heat burning off the dew as a mist that hung in the air. 

For some time now I have been interested in trees. They have nearly always been a part of the landscape in most places I’ve lived. Yet most of the time I am  largely unaware of their presence. After reading Wohlleben’s book ‘The Hidden Life of Trees’ it prompted me to buy a guide book on identifying them. Most of the time it has lain on the bedside table. Have not had much success with identifying factors such as the kind of bark, type of leaves, the fruit and the flowers. The process challenges me to observe more, something I sense I have lost over time. 

As a child I was an avid astronomer. I used to spend many hours under the stars using my telescope to identify stars and constellations. There was a thrill in naming things that you saw along with a sense of wonder at the immensity of the distances and time scales involved. A friend and I would hand write laboriously in little notebooks our observations and any new knowledge. I still have one of these and for some reason it seemed important to me to write down the height, weight, hobbies and colours of hair/ eyes of NASA astronauts!

Older now but less aware of more down to earth things like whether I am looking at a birch or an oak.

Maybe it’s time to dust off that book from the bedside. 

As this is my first blog post a word of explanation.  ‘Run with endurance’ comes from Hebrews 12 verse 1 in the Bible and encapsulates my aspirations for this site. If you wish to know more click the ‘About’ menu tab or to know a bit more about me then check out ‘Bio’.