It was a beautiful late summer day so we packed some sandwiches and drove to a nearby village. We were aiming to walk along the track of a disused railway line in the area. We discovered the line of the track as embankments and ‘cuttings’ which could easily be seen across the countryside. However, as we walked, we found other items, sometimes overgrown like brick-built bridges going no-where an old signal box, forlorn in the wasteland of old shunting yards. Each little hamlet had its own station, now long-since converted into rural retreats but identifiable as one-time centers of life near to the village school and the parish church.
Upon reflection, we had become aware once again that rural communities were for centuries isolated and alone until the coming of the railway. Suddenly, their world changed. Ordinary folk could travel from hamlet to market town, from countryside to seaside and the age of travel had arrived. The coming of the railway for rural Britain was the first step on the road to travelling the world. It changed perspectives from a world with a fifteen-mile radius to eventually the concept of a ‘global village’. It was the first stage of a journey which was to change life and perspectives of living.
Today, our world is truly global. We can communicate in seconds, we can travel around the world in hours and we can see from beyond the skies, our world in relation to the universe.
Yet, in the present situation we have begun to see life in a ‘village context’ where travel has been suspended and the obtaining of basic necessities a preoccupation.
It is probably good for us to re-visit an earlier time, the rural world, not in an idealistic way, seeing such life as idyllic and free from stress because it wasn’t, it was a time of hardship and poverty. But in such a world there was a greater awareness of the divine in daily life. To walk in the country is to see and hear the natural world, to hear the song of the birds, to smell the new mown hay, to see the berries in the hedgerow and the flowers in the wasteland. However, it is more than just seeing and hearing, it is the perception that these things have a timelessness about them, that they speak of a world before technology, a world which speaks of divine things.
It is obvious when we read the Bible that many of its writers saw God in everything they did and in everything they saw. To them God was a power with personality who was extremely close to their everyday experience of life. God was their friend and guide. He was the bringer of disaster and the creator of triumph. All things were seen to be as a result of God working in their lives and although we do not often see life in such terms there is a sense in which we can appreciate the work of a divine being by an awareness of nature.
As the Psalmist said;
“When I consider the heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place. What is man that you are mindful of him?”
The awareness of a natural beautiful world which we do not control. Nor did we bring into being, brings us to a perception of our own powerlessness and our own fragility. When all is said and done, each of us has little influence on our mortality, when we are gone, we will have made little impact upon our world.
Even the aggregate of human endeavor in the great powers of the world will leave only fading memories and actions of doubtful significance.
Parable of Greenham Common
Let me illustrate by reference to a modern parable, the parable of Greenham Common;
Greenham Common was a military base, a clear demonstration of human endeavor. Only a few years ago it was the centre of world news, countless millions of dollars had been spent, thousands were employed and the nuclear threat was on everybody’s mind. Greenham Common was the location of Cruise Missiles targeted on the Soviet Union.
Today, most of the site where once silos and warplanes stood, has been taken over once more by trees, plants, insects, birds and animals. When things we build are gone, life grows and blossoms. The air is filled with the sound of birds, the scent of flowers telling us how persistent life really is. How God’s world is really all pervasive and man is here just for a short time.
This is really a parable of human strife and its futility… God re-creates and re-clothes the world of chaos. The smell of flowers will always overcome the smell of fear.
The bird-call will always give pleasure and happiness where the roar of jet engines brought fear and uncertainty. The fragrance and the peace of the words of Jesus will ultimately overcome all things.
This is a vision of the New World –
“Behold I make all things new”
says the Lord, The message of these random thoughts which began with ‘A walk in the Country’ is to pause in our busy lives to consider ‘the larger picture’, to stand still and consider the Divine in the midst of the human. The ultimate in the midst of the immediate.