Earthworks at the beach

Bank holidays

Among the many fascinating features of living in Britain, one of the most spectacular is the weather.  And I mean this most sincerely.

Take bank-holidays for example.  Every year, we have a few precious days of “extra” holiday built into the national calendar.

Most of these are cleverly placed at times of the year when you’d expect to have fair weather.  And yet despite the statistical odds that we must have at least some chance of escaping to the beach on these days, the reality is that the weather conspires with the calendar-makers to deliver what is invariably the coldest, or the wettest, or the foggiest, or the snowiest August weekend on record.  Or something like that.

You can’t tell me that such an alignment of our weather with the national holidays with freak weather isn’t spectacular.

Beach activities

But just occasionally the insidious British weather shows a chink in its armour, and we are greeted by an unexpectedly bright, clear and warm day.  Beach weather.  And Mónica and I will take our wildly excited little ones to chase each other through the waves, explore rock pools and collect shells.

Eventually, however, the hard work must begin.  I refer, of course, to the building of sandcastles.  I’m sure other dads will identify with me when I say that a self respecting sandcastle should have lots of turrets.  And a moat.  And a canal to the nearest water supply.  And a few tunnels.  And – most importantly of all – a giant earthwork fortification to protect this masterpiece from the incoming tide.

Of course, by the time we get to the fortifications, the children have given up digging out bits of the moat that have fallen in, and are watching me with a sense of morbid fascination.  Writ clear upon their faces are the words “Daddy, what on earth are you doing?”.

But at this point I don’t care.  It’s one man against the forces of nature.  It’s the showdown.

Oddly, I always lose.  I always end up watching in dismay as the tide sweeps away defences which I thought were impenetrable.  And my loving children dance around, whooping with glee, as I frantically try to re-build critical parts.  And as the last remains of my efforts sink into the sea, they laugh, and run off to splash some more.


“Other” toddlers

At this point I owe you an apology, because I don’t think I’m the first person in history to use sandcastles being swept away as an analogy.  If you are in any way unhappy with this, let me know, and I’ll arrange a full refund.

But the whole thing is great for some gentle reassurance for God’s toddlers.  Because we worry.  Strangely, we often worry about God’s other toddlers.  We look at another group and say things like “The way they do things doesn’t really allow God to get on with what he wants to do.  I just know God has such great plans, but people like that hold him back.”

And we say it because we really care.  We say it because – as I mentioned when talking about black pepper – we’ve learned something, and God’s “other” toddlers haven’t.  And we think they’ll hold God back.

At a guess, they think the same about us.

So, for those who worry, the sandcastles are a marvellously refreshing reminder.  Yes, we (and others) can put up rules, structures and ways of thinking to defend our sandcastles – to keep things the way we like them, or the way we’re used to them.  But if God has other plans, we can no more hold back his spirit than my laughable earthworks can hold back the sea.

What can we do?  We can dig our heels in and fortify the defences.  Or we can imitate little children, stand back and watch him sweep away the barriers.  And we can whoop with glee and delight as the tide comes in and we get stuck in to whatever he brings next…

…then, in us, through us, 
and – if need be – despite us, 
let your kingdom come. 

The Iona Community

© 2012 Paul Brownnutt (Except quote from The Iona Community)

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Being God's Toddler by Paul Brownnutt is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


The beautiful flower of God, and the Wendy house

The Wilderness

Estate agents are famed for their creativity when advertising a house.  “Within walking distance of shops” assumes your name is Ranulph Fiennes. “Purpose built” reminds you that yes, the apartment is part of a lifeless block of identical shoeboxes.

And when I eventually come to sell this house the estate agents will, with a similar level of creativity,  describe it has having a “well-proportioned garden”.  This is because they are not used to including the words “wilderness” or “jungle” in their advertisements.

When to care about crocuses

God's beautiful flower

The beautiful flower of God

Now, Oliver recently ventured into the “wilderness” I refer to, carrying a spade.  Presently he returned to show us a flower-bulb he had found.  You may already know that I cannot tell a daffodil bulb from a crocus bulb from a daisy bulb.  OK, I actually do know that daisies don’t come from bulbs, but that’s about as far as my expertise goes.

So I asked Oliver what flower it was.  With a simplicity I could never hope to replicate, he replied: “It’s the beautiful flower of God”.  Which made me realise what an idiot I had been to care whether it was a daffodil, a crocus or a daisy.  It was beautiful, and it was God’s.


Off trudged the intrepid Oliver into the wilderness once more, and for about twenty minutes I caught occasional glimpses of planks of wood being dragged to and fro.  Eventually he came back in and announced that “The beautiful flower of God” was safe.

Closer inspection revealed that the wood had been used to fortify what was originally a Wendy house of sorts, with the beautiful flower of God inside. Each door, each window and (for good measure) the roof had been carefully covered with a series of planks of wood.

Now the invading barbarian hordes would never harm the beautiful flower of God inside.

“That’s a shame Oliver,” I commented. “Now nobody can see how beautiful it is.”


If you believe popular culture, you’d think God’s toddlers see it as our mission in life to erect similar barricades to seeing the pure, unalloyed beauty of  God.

I don’t think this is genuinely the mission for most of us, but whether it’s my mission in life, I know I struggle allowing God to stick up for himself.  I can cling to the layers of interpretation that the church has built up over two tedious millennia of theology – valuable though some of it may be – rather than risk approaching God (and his word) directly.  I can insist on explaining a sanitised version of God to friends, rather than risking them trampling my flimsy assumptions about him.

A comparison to Oliver’s defences is imperfect, as God isn’t as delicate as either a daffodil or a crocus (or, if you must, a daisy).  Protecting God is more like protecting a rosebush.  Or perhaps a man-eating lion.

But the point remains that in allowing myself (and others) to risk questioning assumptions about God; to discover him directly and let go of the barricades we treasure, I stand more of a chance of discovering the beauty behind the rotten planks of wood.


© 2012 Paul Brownnutt

Creative Commons License
Being God's Toddler by Paul Brownnutt is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.