You’ll often see me out and about with Eliot … he’s a big black and white dog of the breed known as a sprollie – a spaniel/collie mix. Eliot came to me from Assisi at just a year old. By now, nine years later, he knows me very well and understands that his life consists of hours of patient waiting.
If he’s in the car then you’ll spot him sitting in the driving seat, scanning every person who passes and anything that moves.
At home he has a commanding position on a small landing near the bottom of the stairs. (It seems that the dog next door, Sooty, has exactly the same habit and occupies an identical position). From this landing Eliot surveys the entire house and listens for the slightest movement inside or out.
I can’t budge without him knowing about it. So far it has been impossible to creep up on him … even to get a photograph of him from the top of the stairs is a challenge. His ears are sensitive to the smallest sound and so he makes the perfect guard dog.
Maybe he’s a little too enthusiastic at times … a car that slows down on the road opposite the house, or someone who is talking as he or she walks past the gate, will send him into a short barking frenzy. That’s even more exaggerated if an advertising leaflet is pushed through the door or the post arrives in the outside mail box.
Being constantly on guard is what Eliot does and he can sit for hours and hours … just patiently waiting and watching.
Over the Christmas season his patience was sometimes stretched to the limit when I tried to take photographs of him with various Santa hats, ear muffs and reindeer antlers … His tolerance is remarkable.
It has, I think, something to do with trust. He trusts me.
Food will be put in his dish …
I will return to the car …
The patient waiting on the landing will be rewarded with a game when his owner appears at the top of the stairs … or comes back home at the end of a day.
Over the years Eliot has watched me and knows just about every move that I am going to make … and he has learned that I intend only those things that are good for him ... he knows my voice and comes when I call.
There’s a lot to be learned about trusting God from Eliot’s attitude to me … a flawed (and besotted) dog owner!
An American poet, Langston Hughes, wrote:
Hold fast to dreams
for if dreams die
life is a broken-winged bird
that cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
for when dreams go
life is a barren field
frozen with snow.
Reading those verses yesterday made me consider what it is for which I dream this year. We’re not long into 2012: while some New Year resolutions may be forgotten … there’s still time to dream! There is always time to dream!
Most of my American friends had Monday off work this week …
For some, it was a chance to catch up with housework or bake cookies!
Others spent it with family or friends and went shopping.
Only a few of them mentioned why they had a three-day weekend!
The third Monday in January is, since 1986, celebrated as Martin Luther King Jr. Day – it is a federal holiday in the United States. He was born on 15th January, 1929 and assassinated when he was just thirty nine years old. Martin Luther King inspired generations with his oratory and non-violent protests.
His “I have a dream” speech (delivered from the steps of the Washington Monument) is filled the Biblical teaching. He quoted the prophet who wrote that justice must be equal for all people; and found comfort in the Psalms where he read that weeping lasts for the night but joy comes in the morning.
Eight times he used the phrase, “I have a dream.” And movingly he spoke: “… I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.”
There’s a good chance that today almost all of us will come across prejudice and discrimination of one kind or another. We may even see it in our own attitudes to certain groups or individuals.
However, it is possible to change. That’s the theme for this year’s “Week of Prayer for Christian Unity” (which began yesterday).
As we pray for, and work for, the unity of the church we will be changed … transformed … we will become more like Jesus Christ who prayed that his followers would be united. This was the remarkable characteristic of the early church … but it was a unity that was soon to suffer from personalities and prejudices … dare we dream that the church in the twenty first century could once again become a place that is welcoming to all and united in Jesus Christ? I have a dream …
Three or four days ago I got a skelf!
I had been trying to rearrange some furniture and was moving an old school desk from one room to another. It was a piece from the typing room in school where our class has spent many happy (though sometimes frustrating) hours doing :
A – S – D – F – semi-colon – L – K – J.
The word “skelf” hasn’t been in my vocabulary for years … but suddenly, when a splinter of the wood stuck into the palm of my hand the word popped into my mind! It’s funny how one’s memory brings back just the right expression when you need it!
And a nasty wee skelf it was!
No amount of poking with a needle, searching with tweezers or nearly chewing my hand off, would shift that insignificant bit of oak. A quarter inch of wood was imbedded, apparently for ever, in my hand.
Then you realize just what a difference some small irritation can make! Overnight the area around it became red and tender. How could something so trivial take on such huge proportions?
I made the problem worse by poking around and pushing it further in. The sensible thing would have been to go to a friend or neighbour and let them use both hands …
But asking for help isn’t always the easiest thing to do; so another day passed, and the palm of my hand became even more sensitive and sore.
I wonder why it is so hard to hand over control to someone else?
In the case of the skelf, it might well have something to do with trusting the person to poke around with a needle. But that’s unreasonable! It seems to me that most adults will have removed more than one splinter from their own hands, or from those of their children. They know what they’re doing.
Letting God be in charge of our lives perhaps seems to be just a little scary. No doubt there’ll be the odd “splinter” that needs to be removed; a “skelf” that is doing us harm … but we’re safe in God’s hands.
Jesus calls us to follow him and promises that we will have a peace that the people around us won’t understand. This peace keeps our hearts and minds free from anxieties … because we know that God is in control.
And what about my “skelf” - I got help on the third day! What a senseless delay! What needless pain!
My first camera was a Box Brownie …
Each photograph was framed carefully and a film might remain in the camera for months, waiting for that finishing shot when the spool could be wound to the end and taken to the chemists for processing. A week later you’d collect the black and white prints with their neat borders and you could hardly wait to see what had been in the camera.
Now with a digital camera you see the results instantly and it is easy to take dozens of snaps, and get rid of all but the best.
Photography is one of my hobbies and I’ve joined an international group where members put one picture on an internet site every day. It’s my second year into the project and our pictures can be of anything: my dog Eliot, places of interest, food items, bits and pieces found around the house ... the variety is endless.
One recent picture gave rise to much speculation and many questions from those who looked at it.
I’d taken a close-up of a vase.
By holding it against a cloudless sky I cut out external clues – all you could see was the top of a decorated blue and white vase. People wondered how big it is – the shape is that of a Grecian Urn, so some came to the conclusion that it must be a huge garden ornament.
In fact it would be suitable only for a little bunch of snowdrops!
By holding the camera so close, all sense of proportion was lost. Some other snaps showed it in relation to surrounding objects when its true size was revealed. It is only about four inches high and sits very comfortably on the mantelpiece.
Getting things out of proportion is all too easy. We are sometimes so close to situations or problems that all we can see is a giant, blocking out the light. That’s when we need to step back a wee bit.
Failing an exam can feel like the end of the world … but in five years from now … it will hardly even be a memory. A wee scratch on a new car is a disaster … but in a year’s time will it even be noticed?
Nearly every day we face the choice of looking just at our problems, or trying to see them against a bigger picture. When I take a photograph of a small object on its own, the viewer has no other reference point, so a small vase can appear to be massive.
If I remember that my life is lived in the light of eternity, then daily frustrations and problems don’t crush me, or block out God’s light.
And if my hand is in God’s hand - that keeps everything in proper proportion.
Said the Robin to the Sparrow
“I should really like to know
why these anxious human beings
rush about and worry so.”
Said the Sparrow to the Robin
“Friend I think that it must be
that they have no Heavenly Father
such as cares for you and me.”
I imagine that already this morning many of us have had a key, or a bunch of keys, in our hands. Keys to our home, a padlock, the car … we have keys to all sorts of things … as a teenager I even owned a diary with a key! (I wonder do such things still exist?)
On my ring there are three keys that look very similar – all gold coloured, all well worn but each one gives access to only one door.
When it comes to keys – one size certainly doesn’t fit all locks.
That’s true in working with people as well.
Anyone who has children knows that every child is different – the key to making one happy is different from the key that works with another – even twins don’t react in identical ways.
Those who face classrooms of young people know that pupils are unique individuals. Teachers have a great challenge. To discover the key that helps each child to learn most effectively is a skill that takes a lot of reflection, time and patience.
In other professions, huge numbers of people care for those who are ill, anxious, or in some kind of trouble. Often a smile, the tone of voice, or unspoken body language is the key to helping someone. If we can begin to see things from another person’s point of view, we’ll have the key to understanding who they are. How might I feel if I were in “so-and-so’s” shoes?
To find fault with people is very easy – to look beyond their failings, to see the person whom Jesus loves, is more of a challenge.
To criticise is a simple matter – to find ways to encourage and support is harder.
To see things from a human perspective is normal – to find another angle is more of a challenge.
With folk being so different one from the other what we need is a master key. School buildings, factories and halls of residence have these – there is one key that will open every door.
“How does Jesus see this person?” or “What would Jesus do in this situation?” are useful questions that unlock many doors.
If we try to see people as Jesus does: then we use the key of compassion to encourage and support all whom we meet.
If our aim is to do what Jesus would do: then this key of selfless love enables us to show in practical ways that we are his disciples.
It was a dull, wet afternoon. Penetrating drizzle crept in under umbrellas and darkness seemed to settle very quickly over the city. At five o’clock the buses were already full. I’m sure that I wasn’t the only person with sore feet and wishing that I were home already.
Shoppers with large bags were crammed in with workers from city centre offices; school children carrying heavy bags and musical instruments squeezed in beside mums with pushchairs.
The bus was warm and crowded … the windows were steamed up and the floor was wet. Conversations were going on in a couple of different languages, there were mobile phones ringing and you could hear the usual messages, “I’m on the bus now ... I’ll be home in half an hour …”
I’d got onto the bus at an earlier stop when it was still relatively empty. But sitting watching all this I noticed that no one was grumpy, or impatient, as we made our way through very slow evening traffic.
Automatically people gave up seats if someone older got on. Young mums were urged to sit down by gentlemen who looked as if they could be doing with the seat themselves. People smiled at each other and commented on the wetness of the day or the coldness of the evening.
What was it that made us all so cheerful on an afternoon that had nothing to commend it?
I think it was the influence of one young girl in a pink raincoat.
Apart from her year old brother, and another wee baby, she was the smallest person on the bus. But boy did she make a difference!
Every time she caught someone’s eye she smiled … and people smiled back. It was like switching on a light in a dark room.
Totally unselfconsciously she greeted everybody who got on. The older couple sitting next to her were treated like much loved relatives as she told them of her day at school.
When her little brother became restless, she’d dance over and sing a line or two from “Twinkle, twinkle little star…” Her clear voice filled the bus … the wee lad settled and everybody smiled again at the happy little girl in the pink raincoat.
In a dark room you notice the light of even a tiny candle … on a gloomy afternoon you’ll be cheered by a child singing a nursery rhyme … we can all make a difference where we are.
Jesus told us to go out as lights into the world. We can brighten up today for someone – and wear a pink raincoat if you’ve got one!