“Go out and stand before me on the mountain,” the Lord told him. And as Elijah stood there, the Lord passed by, and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain. It was such a terrible blast that the rocks were torn loose, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper.” 1 Kings 19: 11-12 New Living Translation.
In these sorrow-filled days, right in amongst the pain and challenges of COVID-19, are beautiful glimpses of tiny green shoots emerging out of the ashes.
New expressions of kindness, new opportunities to stop and appreciate and, for many, an unexpected new pace to life. A pace that enables us to dwell longer, look closer, be deeply thankful and allow (as John Mark Comer says) “our souls to catch up with our bodies”. For our family ‘hour of exercise’ today we went for a sunny walk down our road. As we wandered slowly, I was reminded of a little reflection I wrote at the end of last summer, but in light of recent world events, those words have since taken on a whole different meaning,..
The word slug sounds like it feels – slow, slimy and disgusting. Say it a couple of times out loud. When was the last time you heard that word said without being accompanied by other words such as “ugh” or “disgusting” or “I just trod on a”? When was the last time you heard someone say a slug was breathtakingly beautiful? When was the last time you chose to stroke one and marvel at the slime (mucus) that enables them to slide as well as stick to the surface as they move. When was the last time you praised God for his slugs?
Our 6 year old twins are early risers. It was a beautiful misty morning. At 6:15am Jack and Emily had their wellies on and they were ready to start the day. We went out into the garden, whispering so that we didn’t wake our very patient neighbours (the kind of excited whispers that are actually louder than normal talking). I wandered behind them sleepily, they led. It’s always interesting when children lead. I wasn’t hurrying them into a car, or making them stand still in a checkout queue, I was just following them. They went first to the plum tree. A few had ripened nicely so we all picked one. The soft velvety skin felt cold and fresh, covered in morning dew. Succulent and sweet, the juice dripped off our chins. So good, God’s design. Next we pinched lavender between our thumbs and forefingers, releasing the intoxicating fragrance. Jack and Emily sniffed deeply, getting as much into their nostrils as possible… and then they were on to the next thing. A big black slug. Slow, slimy and disgusting. Or so I thought. My daughter crouched down and stared in amazement as it stretched out in all its glory, tentacles fully raised, sliding across the path to its daytime cover.
“Can I touch it, dad?”.
“Errr, well, umm [no reason at all]… Yes, but be gentle”.
I watched as Emily gently ran her finger down its back and marvelled at the sticky texture. We watched as it recoiled to protect itself. Beautiful. Glistening. Designed.
They kept walking. I followed. What else would we notice? The next door neighbour’s cat had a tiny feather caught in its whiskers. We could hear the rumble of a distant aeroplane and the screeching sound of a juvenile buzzard calling for its mum. The fluffy thistle seeds felt so soft between our fingers. Next were the cobwebs, glistening in the morning dew. My son has a visual impairment, so I bent the tall cow parsley over towards him so he could see really close. Beautiful strings of minuscule diamonds illuminated by the rising sun. A terrifying net trapping loads of tiny meals. Breathtaking artistry that I walk past every day. If I lived right next door to the National Gallery, it would seem crazy never even to pop inside to at least take a quick look – yet we do that every day with the natural world. We walk straight past.
We prayed as we walked, thanking God for all of the things we had seen and heard and touched and tasted and smelled.
Children help us to think afresh. Children show us how to use all our long-forgotten senses to understand and appreciate God’s creation. The sweetness of a plum. The deep fragrance of lavender. The beauty of a cobweb. Even the feel of slug slime.
What will you see today if you look close enough? What will you hear if you listen really, really carefully?
With his enormous ears, Roald Dahl’s Big Friendly Giant could hear “all the secret whisperings of the world” such as “the footsteps of a ladybird as she goes walking across a leaf”. For Elijah (1 Kings 18 & 19) the silence of the cave must have felt a world away from the dramatic noise of the crackling fire and shrieking prophets on top of Mount Carmel. Only then, in the cave, could he hear God’s “gentle whisper”, unfathomable power contained in the gentlest sound. In these coming days, as we hide inside our caves, what might God be gently whispering to us?
Later that day a wasp landed on the back of my hand. Wasps are even more maligned than slugs, their public reputation is not good – picnic enemy number one. For the first time ever I didn’t wave it away, I just stared at it. For five whole seconds before it flew away I marvelled at its beauty. The vivid colour, the angular shape, the power and agility and speed packed into such a tiny creature. Then it was off, to feed on delicious nectar, and pollinate plants, so that I could eat my lunch. Incredible, breathtaking design.
So next time you have an opportunity to get outside, dwell a little longer, look a little closer and listen for God’s gentle whisper.
Thank you God for wasps (and slugs).
This reflection was written by Chad Chadwick for the Wild Christian email, ‘Nature and Health’. Chad is the Diocese of Peterborough’s Children & Youth Missioner and leads a Missional Community in Rushden (Northamptonshire) www.gen2team.com / www.wearethewell.co.uk