Here’s the text for the 29 November 2022 “Pause for Thought” I offered on the Breakfast Show with Zoe Ball on BBC Radio 2. Listen here.
Earlier this month, my husband and I had a week on the Norfolk coast, in a cottage tucked into the dunes. Our front garden was miles of misty fields; our back garden was the sea.
I’m a city boy, but as I get older, my soul craves big skies and swirling clouds of birds and waves that wash away my self-centred-ness. I need the medicine of the horizon to remind me how small I am – and to give me hope that Something Else is on its way.
Basically, I fantasize about living my life in the peaceful parts of a David Attenborough nature series.
One morning in Norfolk I got up early to run along the dunes. My only torch was the pre-dawn sun. After the run, I decided to get into the ocean. I stripped off my shirt, waded into the surf, and swam out towards the skyline. For ten minutes, I let the cold do its spiritual work. My body numbed, my soul got still, and I watched the horizon – like prayer.
Just as I was gonna swim back to the beach, someone else surfaced in the water next to me, about three meters away. I saw his face out of the corner of my eye and turned to discover a huge grey seal. He yawned a whiskery yawn, blinked like he was still waking up, and looked right into my eyes.
We held each other’s gaze, and I felt like I was being seen by a monk, like he was asking me: “Who are you?” I asked him: “Who are you?”. No answer, except for a minute of silence between us – a moment of encounter. Then he dipped beneath the waves and was gone. I paddled to shore, surging with awe, a bit of panic, and a massive dose of holiness.
There’s a nature-loving monk from 700 years ago called Meister Eckhardt – sort of a 13th-century David Attenborough. He said: “Every single creature is full of God, is a book about God. If I spent enough time with the tiniest creature, even a caterpillar, I’d never have to write a sermon, so full of God is every creature”.
In this festive season, I think many people who believe in God and many people who don’t are searching the horizon for a star, a sign, a seal of some sort – some encounter full of hope. As a Christian, I believe that mysterious-something-else we long for is most certainly on its way – and will show up closer to us than we ever expected.