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 vindication of the giraffe

This is  a follow-up to my last note on the Safari:

It is, to an extent, the opposing viewpoint.  But I think it’s important to hold the two in balance.

For in fact, the giraffe was right, and the cheetah was bang out of order.

You see, for anyone who’s ever had a giraffe’s nose through their car window, you’ll know these things are big.  And I’m not talking about the kind of big you think when you see a horse up close and suddenly notice how fortunate it is that they only eat grass.  I’m talking scale that up by a substantial factor, stick it on legs longer than I am tall (and appearing capable of comfortably kicking through the skin of our  car, should the mood take them).  Then stick it on a neck so tall that it can actually bend back down to the ground to drink out of whatever it happens to be drinking from today.  And with all that, the huge and muscly torso somehow manages to look small and insignificant in comparison.

Make no mistake:  you are not about to confuse one of these things for a marmoset or a koala.

And there’s the point.  It doesn’t have to DO anything to be a giraffe.  It doesn’t have to run like a cheetah at 70mph, or join the wolf-pack in tearing your spare tyre to shreds.  It just IS, looming benignly over every other single creature.

And while it’s right that I should heed the cheetah’s wise words and do something useful about all the issues it kindly reminded me of, I should do so remembering this: That irrespective of what I do or don’t do, God has re-created me, valuing me and adoring me and putting his stamp on me as unmistakably as a giraffe.

© 2009 Paul Brownnutt

[Originally Published 24th August 2009]