In his epic poem “The Great Hunger”, the Irish poet Patrick Kavanagh talks about God being in the bits and pieces of every day, and I have no doubt that’s true. We don’t need to experience God in spectacular events, we just need to be attuned to God’s presence in the ordinariness of everyday life.
I was writing last week about my experience on retreat at Kinnoul in Perth. When I left Kinnoul, I went on to spend a week in North Berwick, and there were a few bits and pieces there where, even without being on retreat, God, I’m sure, was present in very ordinary events. The first was when I ascended North Berwick Law, an extinct volcano, many thousands of years’ old; taking the easier route that winds around the Law, rather than the quicker, but more difficult route, that demands a very steep climb. Even the easy route had me gasping for breath at the top, but the view, on a blessedly clear and sunny day, made it worth the while. I looked out over the Firth of Forth, with the Bass Rock, the Lamb, the Isle of May and Craiglieth in the distance, and God was present in his creation.
The next day, after a walk along the beach, I decided to go for lunch in the Lobster Shack, which is a very pleasant outdoor eatery down by the harbour. I put my order in for Scottish squid – eating lobster is too much like hard work – and I found a bench to sit at while my squid was being cooked. Suddenly I looked up and I could see someone at another table staring curiously at me. As I stared curiously back I realised it was someone whom I hadn’t seen for nearly 20 years. She was there with her husband and their son who had just returned home on holiday from America. They had decided to come to North Berwick for the day and took a notion to go to the Lobster Shack for lunch. I joined them at the table as they wrestled with a huge lobster that seemed intent on fighting back, and not giving up its meat too easily, and we had a great old laugh and chat, and a catch up about many things. The word for such an unexpected but happy encounter is serendipity, and God is always present in serendipity.
Off and on during the week I walked sections of the John Muir Way, John Muir being that extraordinary Scot who is revered in America as the founding father of national parks and conservationism and much more besides. He was born in Dunbar and, for the centenary of his death back in 2014, a walk from Helensburgh to Dunbar was created in his honour. The walk goes through the John Muir National Park in which is situated the Bridge to Nowhere. At low tide, it’s possible to walk over this bridge, crossing the Biel Waters and onto the sands at Belhaven Bay. But when the tide comes in, the bridge gets submerged and appears to be stranded in the middle of the sea, coming from nowhere and going nowhere. It comes as a bit of a surprise to see this, and God, of course, is the God of Surprises.
Today I have been looking through the many petitions that people have sent in for our Novena to Our Lady of Sorrows which is running from the 7th to 15th September. Reading these petitions is a poignant way of touching into people’s stories, and of being reminded that sufferings, sorrows and struggles are in the bits and pieces of every day as well. Heart rending as most of these petitions are, I have no doubt that God is in these bits and pieces too. Here is a beautiful prayer by Joyce Rupp, to the Mother of Sorrows at the foot of the cross.
Mary, you have been there before me, weary and worn out from the long vigil; saddened by the pain of your loved one, heartbroken over what you could not change. Your valiant stance beneath the cross tells me of your unceasing love. Long years of unfailing faith upheld you. Kind friends by your side sustained you. I too am standing with a loved one who hangs upon the cross of suffering. I too am powerless to help. Woman of Compassion; Mother of Sorrows, I draw inspiration from your journey. I too can move through the pain of my present situation. Your faith and courage lead me to my own.