Over the hill – Part Two

Adam stopped and sat down on a boulder next to the path. He drank deeply from his water bottle. Over to his right, he thought he could see his son, Ben. Yes, his son was scaling a rock face, ropes tied to his waist and his partner guiding him from above. No, hold on, who was that? He recognized himself on the ledge above, recollected the exhilaration of watching Ben make his way up. The day was one of sun-drenched perfection, wasn’t it? Yes, there they were enjoying the view out towards the mountains.

Adam placed his hand over his eyes and peered down towards the ocean, far far away. It seemed to undulate like a vast blue blanket buffetted by the breeze. He started walking and walked all afternoon. However, when he took a rest, he discovered he was no closer to his destination. The last scene he remembered was from yesterday. He’d helped a couple move into their new house. A whole crowd from church had been there, carrying wardrobes and tables and beds. All working together in a shared act of love.

And then it struck Adam. There would be no more scenes from his life because he had yet to live them. Before coming over the hill, he knew about the ocean, but thought little about it. Now he felt himself drawn towards the vast expanse that lay ahead. Not because he was eager to die, but because he had come to understand the value of every step of the journey. And because he felt deeply inside the truth that those steps were finite. One day, they would end. Which meant that each one was priceless, gifts held out to him by a loving Father. And yet when he contemplated the ocean far far away, he felt no fear. Only gratitude. And as he walked, he began to hum one of his favourite songs,

Teach us to count the days
Teach us to make the days count
Lead us in better ways
That somehow our souls forgot
Life means so much.

Over the hill – Part One

I wrote this for a sermon I preached on 1 Corinthians 15. Death and Resurrection very much on my mind right now.

This is Part One.

OVER THE HILL

Adam was walking steadily uphill, the day bright, the breeze rustling the grasses which lined the path. As he passed a field on his right, he stopped short. Not far off, near a school building, a game of football was taking place. He watched as the boys flowed back and forth up and down the pitch. The strip one of the teams was wearing seemed familiar. And then it dawned on him that he was watching his team from when he was 12 years old. Yes, there he was, dancing round a fullback and sending a shot just past the post. And then in an instant, the players, the goals, the supporters who stood on the touchlines . . . they were all gone.

Adam continued on his way and came upon a busy street full of people. The scene was immediately familiar to him – yes, there was the watch shop where he’d taken his first job. Mr. Judd, the owner, hair wild and disheveled, crouched over the counter, peering down at several timepieces, a monocle squeezed into one eye. Adam moved on, but as he walked, his surroundings began to take on the appearance of a pencil drawing. Slowly, they faded away. He rubbed his eyes and was heartened to discover that the world was still there.

He found himself in a park, where families strolled and fed the ducks. The sun was setting and off in the far corner, he noticed a couple sitting together. His heart warmed as he watched the woman. She was so beautiful back then. The man knelt down and pulled a small box out of his pocket. Adam could hardly bear to watch. He could see beads of sweat forming on the young man’s forehead and when the woman peered down at the open box, she immediately tilted back and howled with laughter. In his rush, he’d left the ring at home and his belovéd, Jane, couldn’t hide her amusement, much to his embarrassment. It was a long time ago, but the memory still stung a little inside.

And so Adam walked, the gradient becoming steeper as he progressed further uphill. His first job, his promotion, his holidays, first house, the time when he’d come home distraught at being fired, he watched each scene and his heart and mind, well, he remembered it all as though it was yesterday.

And then he reached the top of the hill. When he looked back, he remembered well the many things for which he was grateful and all those things which had hurt and wounded him. His life was a mixture of joy and sadness, pain and exhilaration.

Adam knelt and gave thanks for it all. From the top of the hill.

And then he began the descent down the other side. Ahead of him the land was covered in a thin grey mist. He couldn’t see what lay ahead at all. Yet all of a sudden the mist cleared and before him in the far, far distance, an ocean stretched out all the way to the horizon. As he came down the path and strained to see, he made out two people, one his great-aunt, Doris, the other her best friend, Ethel, whom he’d come to know in the care home where she and Doris both lived.

He pulled out some binoculars. Yes, there they were, walking along a cliff arm in arm. Adam had to strain to see them but it wasn’t hard to work out what happened next. One moment they were there, the next they had disappeared over the edge. And then the scene became clearer. Dozens and dozens of elderly people reached the cliff and were taken from sight. On occasion, Adam saw young men and women running down the slope and throwing themselves over the cliff. Such a sight filled him with great sorrow, for such things should never happen.

And then he saw his parents. One after the other, they disappeared from sight and Adam wept for a loss too great to contemplate.

When he looked back, he realized that he could no longer see the gentle slopes of his earlier life. He was over the hill and could no longer see them as he had before. Instead, his attention was captured by the vastness of the ocean before him. It was endless and he began to turn his attention to the space between his footsteps and the cliff which drew him relentlessly towards his fate.

To be continued . . .

Love and Death

I wrote this piece quite a few years ago when I lived in Southern California, when my son, Luke, was a small boy. Now he’s the second tallest in our family. I think I have two years left – maybe – before he takes my top spot! Anyway, here are some reflections on love and death. A book could be written on the connection between love and death, of course, but here’s a start.

Sentimental? Well, okay . . . perhaps. So for those of you with tender hearts, enjoy.

~~~~~~~~~

LOVE AND DEATH

My son smiles at me from the photograph pinned to my computer screen. He has an impish grin on his face. Mischief is on his mind. It’s a look that tells me he anticipates with relish all that life has to offer. He is five years old. He has his whole life ahead of him.

I love my son . . . so much it hurts. I cherish him. He is dear to me beyond description. Such emotion has the power to overwhelm, engulf and finally suck the life out of me. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the tenderness I feel sometimes affects my ability to breathe. It’s as though love is starting to kill me.

Love and death. Irrevocably linked. “I would die for you.” “I love her to death.” If we’re human, we have either heard or said something similar. John Keats, the romantic poet wrote,

I have been astonished that men could die martyrs for their religion –
I have shudder’d at it.
I shudder no more.
I could be martyr’d for my religion
Love is my religion
And I could die for that.
I could die for you.

And we connect with the sentiment. After all, it is axiomatic in Scripture that true love leads to death. It is called the gospel of Jesus Christ.

My son sits on my lap and struggles with his reading lesson. He’s twisting and turning and complaining that he’s tired. I’m also tired. It’s been a long day, and it’s a little late to be working out words like “little” and “getting.” Especially when you’re only just five. But we’re here and we’re committed. Except that we’ve been on Lesson 57 for quite a while now.

We sit down for dinner. All five of us. Within minutes, my son has crawled onto my lap. He’s too big to be doing this, but he hasn’t seen his father all day, and he wants me to hug him. I push him off a few times, run out of patience, and then hug him. Satisfied, he returns to his food. Two minutes later, he’s back on my lap. It’s hard to eat with a five-year old wrapped around your neck.

I run into the hospital room where my son is lying clutching his finger. The top came off in a door at the YMCA and, on hearing the news, I have not just broken the speed limit, but almost burnt out my car’s engine on my drive to see him. He tries to be brave for daddy, but he can’t help dissolving into tears when he sees me. I hold him close and the world stops. It’s not moving at all. I’m sure of it. Love has met eternity. Right there in that little room.

Love stops time; exists for us within time, yet is above and beyond it. “He is not a lover who does not love forever,” wrote Euripides thousands of years ago. Shakespeare echoes the sentiment when he writes,

My bounty is as boundless as the sea.

My love as deep, the more I give to thee,

The more I have, for both are infinite.

Love draws us to the eternal, and while infinity may contain the same connotations, it is not the same. Infinity speaks of something that never ends, but the biblical meaning of eternity has to do with relationship, not time. When the Bible talks of eternity, it has in view something qualitative, best expressed in John’s gospel. “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”

That they may know you. To know and be known. Isn’t that the essence of love? To hold and be held by our God. I have a photograph at work in which my son sits on my lap and looks up at me, smiling. He was three when it was taken. He adores me in that photograph. And I look down at him in love. For me, it is a picture of eternity.

“Can we do hiding, daddy?” Luke runs into our bedroom, jumps on the bed, and hides under the covers. I delay a minute or so, until I hear him calling “Come and find me!” whereupon I come into the room declaring loudly, “Where’s Luke? I wonder where he can be?” The covers start moving and muffled giggles can be heard, especially when I wriggle my hand underneath and start tickling. “There he is!” I gather him to myself and hug him. His joy at being found is only equaled by my joy at finding and then holding him.

I have eternity in my arms.

© Richard Collins 2014