The vast international readership of this blog may not quite appreciate the emotional and physical sense of well-being that impacts Irish people when that elusive yellow orb shows itself unhidden for a few days.
Last Friday was one such day – the end of a beautiful week. After a couple of day’s work up North, I was driving down the MI from Belfast to Dublin on a glorious Irish summer’s evening. Fields of rape seed would come into view, their incandescent yellow blazing incongruously alongside modest green pastureland.
As I passed the sign for Monasterboice, I felt prompted to turn off and go visit the monastic site sitting within view a half mile west of the road. It didn’t make sense. It was getting late, I had a way to go, I was tired.
I could see the broken top of the Round Tower poking up out of verdant chestnut trees, surrounded by a carpet of yellow. There was no-one around. Tourists had long since departed to their hotels. I climbed over the stone steps in the wall and wondered into the deserted graveyard.
Suddenly, now out of my comfortable isolated capsule of a car (and upbeat Springsteen anthems), I could feel the warmth of the setting sun, hear the mournful croaking calls of the rooks in the trees, smell the scented clean air, and, most of all, hear the gloriously peaceful silence of a sacred place.
The sun was setting, casting its longitudinal rays over the surrounding fields and onto the crucifixion scene on the extraordinarily tall and elegant 10th century West Cross. Nearby, Muiredach’s Cross (also 10th century) stood in the gathering shade; perfect, enigmatic, imposing – stories captured in stone. Also at the centre of its West face, a crucifixion panel – the cross in the middle of the cross. But the cross was not the end of the story – resurrection and future judgement are etched on the other side. Those Christian artists knew their stuff.
I had to wait about twenty minutes for shadow slowly to clear from the West Cross as the sun moved clear of the Round Tower to shine unimpeded on to its face.
Time, a short period beforehand, had seemed so compressed, urgent. Now, it didn’t seem to matter at all.
As I waited, sitting on the stone steps of the Round Tower, I heard a fluttering of wings, not once but twice. I could only have heard it when still and quiet. A pair of blue tits were zooming in and out of a tiny hole in the mortar of the monument, often perching on a handy gravestone with food in their mouths, before dashing straight into the crack, almost too fast to see. Then they would poke their heads out before pelting for the cover of a yew tree.
After numerous attempts, I caught one of them on camera doing his/her emergency exit – instinctively not wanting to draw any unnecessary attention to the nest within the 1000 year old tower.
I wondered back to the car, noticing as I did so, how the sun was shining a spotlight on the foot of Muiredach’s Cross. I thought of Issac Watts’ surveying of the wondrous cross – the only right response being one of thankful worship and celebration at its foot. This was what God was calling me that evening.
I drove home in no rush, Bruce stayed on mute; I felt calmer, peaceful, more aware of the spectacular glory of the Irish countryside in full bloom and more aware of the presence of God the creator.
Those magnificent ancient crosses had continued to do what they have been doing for centuries – silently telling, to anyone who has eyes to see and ears to hear, the story that changes all other stories. A story that puts everything in perspective and makes our self-important agendas and schedules seem, if not unimportant or trivial, somehow less about us fitting him into our lives and more about us understanding our place in God’s story.
I didn’t plan or ‘go looking’ for an encounter with God that Friday evening; but with a little silence, attention, reflection, listening and prayer, I believe that he came and graciously met me.
How about you ? Where has God ‘turned up’ in unexpected places at unexpected times and in unexpected ways?