Gems and faded gems of meadow and heath

So my menfolk are now officially both into the school holidays! Fortunately this has arrived just after the new vicar has started to get his ‘feet’ under the parochial table, and I feel a slight sense of pressure lifting. But in some ways the balancing act of family and ministry gets more difficult – I want to increase the time I spend with the family, but I still have responsibilities to things like preaching. But that’s next week!

One of the things I really appreciate is walking our favourite routes regularly again with my husband, which means lots of time crouched over tussocks of grass, heather and the like, watching and photographing insects – especially (but not solely) butterflies. [The vicar has already spotted the blog and my thing about insects – I hope eventually I become memorable for other things as well :-)]

Six-spot burnet

First, and update on the Burnet moths which I noted on 29th June were almost non-existent. Well not a lot has changed. Just this last week, we’ve started to see the occasional one, but despite there being loads of trefoil (the main foodplant of the lava) they are still incredibly scarce this year compared to the previous two.

I really miss them as they’re such a delight, with their stuttering flight across the heath, and so vivid in their green/black and scarlet livery.

The number of ringlets in the tussocky field we frequent did eventually pick up, peaking about the 2nd July. Now though, they are almost all gone, though we did find a faded one yesterday. The contrast in the density of ‘chocolate’ colouring between early July and now, just 4 weeks later is really noticable!

Ringlet 2nd July 2011
Ringlet 29th July 2011

There are still a few Common Blue’s out on the heath, but the noticeable newcomer for me has been the Grayling. Not as startling in colour, it’s actually proved really tricky to photograph: you see it in flight, registering it as ‘different’, only to lose sight of it on landing – it’s camouflage is incredibly good, especially if it lands on a stoney footpath. I was fortunate that this one settled on some ling but even there it’s still fairly well hidden!

Common Blue
Grayling on ling (what we think of as 'heather')
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The watcher and the watched – a prayer reflection on Exodus 3:1-14

I ended up writing a sort of prayer reflection to use after my sermon at this morning’s mid-week service at which I was using Exodus 3:1-14, the story of Moses and the Burning Bush.

Knowing that God is watching my every move, and has appeared in my very own “burning bushes” is quite important to me right now.

A reflection on Exodus 3:1-14

First year wildflower meadow - my father's garden

Almighty, God,
controller of the universe,
but manipulator of none,
giver of freedom
through the Redeemer Son.

You Lord,
who I welcome and worship,
watch my every move,
your gaze holding me in focus.

Not in the iris of the camera’s eye,
nor recording movements to be replayed
that my sins might be remembered;
But watching me
with a father’s concern,
hovering expectantly around
each new-learned step I take.

Help me Father,
to reflect your concentration.
Let me be curious to know your will,
my eyes eager to glimpse
each revelation of your holiness;
my ears alert to your every word,
heart open to receive your love,
and eager to obey.

RH 27th July 2011

Exodus 3:1-14 Moses and the burning bush – the watcher that was watched!

Fallow deer - Image copyright Mike Clarke
Young male Fallow Deer in velvet: The watched, watching! New Forest July 2011 (my father's photo)

Have you got the feeling you are being watched?

I grew up in the New Forest, the daughter of a wildlife manager. I regularly had the opportunity to go out with my father to watch the wildlife of the woods and heaths, as I accompanied him in his work. Now he’s well retired, nothing much has changed – except I have a family who join us on our expeditions.

Theoretically, we are the ones doing the watching – eager to catch a glimpse of perhaps a deer, a bird of prey or a badger, or perhaps an insect like a butterfly or dragonfly, going about their normal routines. They will be hunting, or drinking, or feeding… or moving purposefully towards some distant place for a reason we may not be able to discern.

Often though, it is the animal itself, that is the most watchful… frequently by the time we are aware of its presence, it is watching us. Deer and badgers in particular I’ve noticed, are curious. Deer are curious largely because of their survival instincts. Where are the dangers in the world around them? Dangers that include both humans and fire! The curiosity of a badger seems to be more inspired by hunger, and the constant question of whether something they encounter is edible – whether it’s a passing beetle, or a deliberately placed peanut (which is the more likely case in my father’s garden)! In both cases, one wrong, noisy or noticeable move on our part and the animal is off and away. The watchers have become the watched.

I wonder, when were we each last aware of God watching us? As we wait on God and worship him, are we watching him for what he might be doing? Are we curious to see God revealed in what is going on about us? Are we aware that we are in some sense the watchers, being watched? God is watching our every move!

After forty years of shepherding for his father-in-law, I don’t suppose that Moses had stopped being watchful. I’m sure he had a very keen sense of where the predators were most likely to pose a threat to the flock. Like a deer, he would have been alert to every movement among the rocks and prickly thickets of the region – curious to know if that movement denoted a threat.

Equally in a barren and desolate country Moses would have watched the seasons, the weather, and the cloud formations, knowing that through them he would sense where the best grazing would be and when it would be worthwhile moving the flock to new, fresh pastures. The fresh pasture was vital to the survival of both the flock, and of Moses himself – the nomadic herders lived by their flocks, and often their only source of food and drink were the meat and milk of the animals in their care.

But I wonder as he tended the flocks, whether Moses realised just how carefully God was watching him, and had already had a hand in his life? I’m not sure that he was that acutely aware of God, but God was watching his every move, and was able to make good use of Moses’ own curiosity and watchfulness.

Fire could have presented a threat. A threat to the flock, and even a threat to himself. Even in a rocky desolate terrain where there was nothing much to burn, if what pasture or forage there was became burnt, it could lead to starvation for the flock and the need to move on.

But the fire that Moses encountered was no threat to the flock. Nor to Moses. As it sparked his curiosity (if you’ll excuse the pun) it showed itself to be something inexplicable, defying the laws of nature; a revelation of the fact that Moses the watcher, was in fact the watched.

The fire that revealed God’s presence, was as unique and distinctive as the God it made manifest: an active force, it needed no external fuel to feed it, and therefore burnt without consuming that which it embraced. God needed to make himself known to the watchful and curious Moses, and made good use of those natural instincts in revealing himself to Moses.

Many of us will be quite familiar with this story, and know that through that burning bush, God revealed his holiness, and inspired in Moses the actions of a humble servant, willing to obediently remove his sandals in the presence of his living God, so that he might receive a commission of immense proportions and acknowledge the power that God had to direct his life.

But today I wanted to focus our attention on the fact that God is watching us.

As we move through life, God’s unique and distinctive presence in the world, is personal. Unlike a deer or a badger, he watches us not because he is wary of the dangers of the world, or hungry for a juicy morsel. God is watching us, because he has a purpose for us. But will we be in the right place to notice it, and will we be curious enough to recognise it?

We might feel worn out, and in something of a barren, desert wasteland. We might have served forty years, continually watching out for the dangers that might befall those we care for, or care about, constantly carrying out the same basic tasks. We might feel the same way about our worship, the worth we attach to God’s role in our lives, having faithfully served him for many, many years.

But are we still looking for the best pastures for ourselves and for those we care about – whether that is our earthly family, or our Christian fellowship? Are we still curious to see God, in all his holy uniqueness, revealed to us in all that surrounds us?

Each one of us needs to reach the far side of any wilderness we feel we may be in, and find the pasture that will feed not only us, but those around us, those for whom we care. Where are the rich pastures that will sustain us, and in which God will be able to reveal himself to us?

The rich pasture that we need to seek, will suit our character and our habits. None of us today are herding sheep and goats in a barren desert! Instead we might be caring for our friends and neighbours, or sharing our talents in some way that benefits or supports others. We might be feeding them, and ourselves, through what we read, the music we hear or play, the prayers we share, or little acts of kindness. Among all these acts, as Christians we are probably watching for God, looking for him to be doing things in the lives of those we meet. Among all the daily, repetitive acts that we have carried out for years, do we still have the curiosity to spot the burning bush that reveals God’s presence and some new command to us?

The ever watchful Moses saw a living flame, that revealed the holiness of God, and through his curiosity as to its source, was commanded to take a simple action and undertake a mammoth task. Ultimately Jesus was also that living flame, a symbol of God’s unique holiness, the one for whom so many watched, and who inspired such curiosity. Unlike deer and badgers, Jesus doesn’t run away when we make a wrong, or noisy move – but remains a constant witness to God’s watchfulness over us.

One of the many challenges that I think this reading presents us with is the need to keep watch and stay curious. As we move through our daily tasks we need to be aware that God is watching us, looking to see where we are, keen to catch our attention. He has a plan for us that isn’t finished yet. Somewhere, just in front of us, is a living flame, something that God wants to grab our attention with, something that will reveal Jesus and something else he wants us to do with our lives.

Things I’ve done with gin

I have two liquid passions: one is tea, the other is gin.

I think my Mother’s Godmother introduced me to gin, probably before I was in my teens. She was a Shropshire farmer’s wife and about 4’10” high, wiry and the best cook of my youth (even accounting for the fact that my Mum was a trained chef!) Gin was something that was drunk in small quantities before dinner. Not a bad way to be brought up 🙂

Whilst at university in Aberystwyth, gin (and it had to be Gordon’s) was the only alcohol I kept in my room initially. (It was later augmented by a selection of malt whisky, but that’s another story). This eventually contributed to a piece of history – ‘hacker’ history.

Early on in my uni life I had met a group of computer science and/or maths students, who er, did strange things on computers in darkened rooms, often late at night, or… well, more early morning really.

It was 1987/8… strange things were about to happen on something called the internet. In the meantime people who knew about this stuff used things like ‘Bullet’ and multi-user dungeon games, like Aber-MUD. I, didn’t have a clue about this stuff (still don’t). But to this day some of the people involved with creating these parts of computer history remain my friends.

The second part of the original ‘Bullet’ party of Feb ’88 was, at least in part, held in my room at Plynlimon Hall, Aberystwyth. Late at night, the ‘cocktail’ of choice (something called a “Mile’s End”) was in need of additional experimentation. The only alcohol to hand was mine – and therefore it was Gordon’s gin that was added, to create something called “The Master Blaster”. This substance is highly drinkable, because it’s tastes totally harmless. But it is also lethal! The details of how to mix both links, with Alec Muffett’s additional memories can be found here Miles End – Master Blaster

I hasten to add, that I barely had more than a sip (honest) but was therefore the one making the strong coffee late next morning when the human wreckage that resulted returned to ‘life’!

In the years that passed, I stuck to my supplies of Gordon’s gin, regularly augmented by gifts from friends. Then I started training for ministry.

I’m not sure why that changed my gin drinking habits, but it did. First, a friend introduced me to Bombay Sapphire, and then to Tanquery. In fact I was presented with a bottle of Tanquery as a licensing present, and I’ve now discovered it’s the gin of choice among some of the funeral directors with whom I work on occasion!

Sloe's, sugar and gin!

But I still had rather a lot of Gordon’s stockpiled. So early last autumn (probably the end of August in fact) we went and picked some sloes. I much preferred the Bombay Sapphire and the Tanquery, so after labouriously pricking holes in the sloes, we added sugar, and then drowned the lot in the remains of my Gordon’s Gin. (Very approximately it was 1lb sloes to 4oz castor sugar, and 75cl of gin.) We then placed the jam jars in the cupboard in the shed for 3 months.

At Christmas, I had a rather fab liqueur which I then gently worked my way through in the early weeks of this year. It was good, but not as good as the stuff my father had made, but he picked riper sloes well into September.

Since then, in conversation with Fr Timothy at Alton Abbey (on St David’s Day, which was why we could talk at meal times) I have discovered that his preferred method of making Sloe Gin, is to pick and freeze the ripe sloes in Sept/October, and then make the Sloe Gin at a later date… without the need for fiddly pricking of sloe skins with a darning needle, as the process of freezing breaks the skins. So that’s what I’m going to try and do this year (though I need to buy some Gordon’s to do so!)

So there you go. If you were even faintly interested, and have read this far, that is the story of things I’ve done with gin.

So far!

Contraception as an aspect of God’s mercy

I’m catching up on myself today, and also catching up with my family – including reading my husbands blog posts! He’s a secondary school biology teacher and doesn’t blog often because of his workload. When he does, he tends to talk a lot of sense (but then I’m biased).

I was particularly struck by his latest offering, and wanted to give it a (marginally) wider audience. In it he talks about contraception (a subject that he had to teach 5 times in one day during his schools’ Year 8 Relationships Day, and has taught regularly in this format for years). In his blog post he states that

Contraception is one aspect of the mercy of God to help people not take on more responsibility than they can stand, to ensure that children are conceived within stable relationships, and to prevent the deaths of the unborn.

This is actually part of his conclusion, based on both scientific and Biblical ideas, but he (like me) is actually in favour of chastity and abstinence if at all possible – it’s just we realise that in wider society this isn’t that common.

Have a read, and do let one of us know what you think.