Michaela took these pictures in Stirling the other day.
I like them as they tell some kind of story.
Or at least it was today.
We have had a busy weekend- yesterday we took William to play in the finals of a Gaelic school football competition in Fort William. This involved a 2-3 hour drive through Argyll and into the big mountains. It was a wet day yesterday, and the clouds boiling around the high rock walls of Glen Coe were stunning. Will’s side did OK, but football is not his sport really.
Today we spent the morning in the garden, the afternoon playing cricket and the evening walking the beach. Mmmmm.
But back to the time thing- Michaela and I were talking about all the busyness that we are in the middle of- creating a new income, keeping all the family things going and planning new things with Aoradh. Practically speaking, there is far too much to do.
We hear it everywhere- busy busy busy. This is partly because in our society everything does go so fast- we are conditioned to run hard on the hamster wheel. However I think it is also because we are caught in the trap of believing that the only valuable time involves stress. This is revealed in the fact that it is almost a thing of shame to admit we are NOT busy. All this frenetic activity in the service of- what?
There is no life without stress. But there is much stress without purpose.
I have this theory about time- less about physics, more to do with the human condition. I am convinced that time can be stretched into the shape of what you really love. There are of course limits to the elasticity – eventually the break may come – but on the whole we always have time to chose to do those things that we love.
And there is no shame in learning how to be a human be-ing.
This weekend we had planned to travel down south to attend a baptism service at our old Church near Preston. The people getting baptised are young folk we have known all their lives, and sharing in this service would have been great. However, Michaela has not been well, so we had to call off last night. She is OK- an infection that is on the mend.
So I am sat at home thinking of my friends- missing them, but also feeling strangely grateful for the space, free from long car journeys and weekend busyness.
I love being at home, with no agenda- no pressure, no deadlines. It always feels like such an indulgence because of course there are many things that I could be doing- in fact many things that I should be doing.
But for now, they will wait…
Perhaps I am getting old- but if so, this is fine, at least for today.
Rehearsing old age
Today we rehearsed old age
And it was lovely
Our bones went soft
And our muscles ceased their strain
There is a storm on the old river
And kind grey light makes
Our faces take on
You on the sofa
And me in my chair
Today we rehearsed old age
And it was lovely
Lewisian Gneiss is the oldest exposed rock in the British Isles.
2000 million years ago, massive forces twisted and melted this rocks into the crystalline shapes that became these islands.
It was another 1200 million years before multi cellular life forms crawled across the rocks.
Another 5oo million years passed, and along came the dinosaurs.
Mammals took another 430 million years.
And as for us, we humans- well we just got here yesterday. Well, around 6,000 years ago we found our way to these parts, and made a life on these rocks.
I took a walk today that kind of brought this home to me. We humans live lives as if we are important. As if we are significant. As if the world was made for us and owes us something.
But we walk in others footsteps… which like ours, are quickly fading…
Most of us have a folk memory of the scattering of people from these places during the clearances. All around the Highlands are the remains of old dwellings- the Blackhouses– built from the rock and earth, and slowly returning to the same.
People left these houses around the turn of the 19th Century. Those who stayed- those who did not sail away to Canada or Australia- moved with the modern times into ‘modern’ houses. With fireplaces, and windows and solid floors.
But there is a new and unfolding diaspora from these islands.
As much as Highland culture and communities are being celebrated- they are still fragile. Traditional industries of crofting and fishing are all but gone. Young people still leave if they want to get ahead.
Old people, who still hold the old times in their stories and their songs. They too will soon be gone…
Time for some schoolbook philosophy!
I read something recently about the philosopher Rene Descartes – who was fascinated by what it meant to be, what it was possible to know and what could be described as truth?
Descartes decided to begin by doubting everything he possibly could – to see if he could reduce the knowable to an essential core. He found he could doubt everything – God, the existence of the world about us (which could be an elaborate deceit placed on our consciousness by some demon – a kind of precursor to The Matrix), the rules of science and gravity – all these were dependent on our perception, and perception was ultimately unreliable and subjective.
This led him to his ultimate point of truth – his own ability to ask these very questions – it was not possible to doubt this, as in order to doubt, then this too involved thought. Hence, his famous phrase, “I think, therefore, I am.”
Descartes then turned his mind back to time. We live our lives in the passing of time – in a finite space. We have our beginning, and our ending, and find our existence in between. He was convinced that God was infinite – outside our understanding of time. However much we might think we know of God, we must equally realise that there is so much more. He concluded that as our experience is formed in our finite world, then the very fact that we could imagine the infinite must be proof in itself of the very existence of God – for no finite being could, of itself, think of the infinite.
Descartes thinking influenced an age. Whether or not you agree with his conclusions, the very questions he asked have dominated modernity. They are perhaps being asked again as we stand on the brink of a new age.
What am I?
What can I know, and how do I know it is true?
Perhaps for we Christians, there remains another set of questions – perhaps the greatest ones of all;
Who is God?
Can God be known?
Can God ever know me, in the vastness of this apparently infinite universe?
If so, what should be my response?
Are we all heading home anyway, one way or another?
Or is there a responsibility that we are called to – a way of life that is more vital, more blessed, more beautiful?
In the Bible, we read of generations of people of faith – from the nomadic wanderings of the people of Abraham, to the subjects of the mighty (but ultimately fragile) Roman Empire – asking these questions.
The amazing thing about all these stories was that apparently, God, as well as existing in infinite space, was also always there.
There he was, moving across the face of the waters when all was formless and void.
Walking in the garden in the quiet of the evening.
Speaking out of burning bushes (and resting on people with tongues of fire later.)
Even being willing to dwell inside a tent, or an unwanted temple building.
Ultimately, coming himself, in fragile human form. Walking amongst us, revealing something of his heart – inviting participation in a new way of being.
Then promising that the eternal will dwell within us.
That we would become temples of his Spirit – capsules containing something uncontainable, immeasurable, unfathomable.
Kind of amazing, ain’t it?
A few weeks ago, we took the canoes out to Loch Striven, round the other side of the Cowal peninsular. We paddled for a while out along the loch, until we found a landing spot next to a raised beach of soft stones. A perfect spot for a picnic.
As with all our coast line, the tide had left its usual selection of plastic, old rope and broken fish boxes on the beach- but I do not think anyone had been there for years.
William and I saw what looked like some old walls in the distance, and went off exploring.
what we found used to be someone’s house. A crofter perhaps, or a fisherman- now long gone.
Much of our small crowded planet can no longer be regarded as true wilderness. As you walk to the hills, you will almost certainly walk over a landscape marked everywhere by man.
Fields and field boundaries – some new, some ancient, shaping the subsequent developments.
Hedgerows and dry stone walls.
Old signs of settlement, perhaps still in use, perhaps now redundant, abandoned, remaining only as a growth of bracken and nettles, rising in ground fertilised by the nitrates left behind in the passing.
The very paths we walk upon have been made by the passing of other feet walking their own walk, into their own unknown uncertain futures, now past and gone.
We humans have transformed the planet in the last few thousand years of our ascendancy. Forests gone, rivers diverted. Roads made straight across mountain and valley. Many of these marks are irreversible, at least in the foreseeable future. The land may clothe them in green, but the marks will remain for thousands of years to come.
As I write, the debate about how our patterns of living might have contributed to accelerating climate change continues to rage.
Humans have been of significant influence on my islands for a mere 5000 years or so. In some parts of the world, they can trace the mark of man further, in many, much less. What a legacy we inherit from our forebears – both great, and fearful.
Our lives have been shaped by this legacy too. We stand on the shoulders of those who gave the land its present shape.
Others will stand on ours.