Today, beset with some kind of ear-nose-throat infection (a 'common cold' or 'manflu', some might say), I avoided going to church. Part of me wished not to pass it on to any of my older Christian friends at the local Methodist church, some of whom are in their nineties, and part of me simply craved a bit of solace. This need for solace was perhaps borne out of simply feeling washed out but also, I think, due to the various looming deadlines I have on my shoulders relating to the dayjob.
Having made this decision, I journeyed with my wife into the Peak District for the second day in a row. I am a Yorkshireman born and bred - albeit now living in Stockport (o'er wrong side o' pennines) - but growing up on the western fringe of Sheffield meant that Derbyshire was always my playground. And so it remains, as an adult.
Yesterday we undeetook a short twilight walk around the Derwent Valley, taking in the Howden Dam wall which in winter becomes a huge waterfall.
From there we also took in the 'Ladybower Plughole' which I find even now, in my mid-thirties, to be a fascinating piece of engineering.
Today we journeyed back in a similar direction but this time to more civilised, quainter parts. We journeyed out this time to Ashford-in-the-Water, paying a short visit to Holy Trinity Parish Church. The church was rebuilt in the 1800s but is still very much of Norman style. The church is one of those ancient places, hallowed by ordinary people's prayers for centuries, where you can almost smell the spirituality.
Inside I found a small stall and bought a bookmark with the following words inscribed on it:
I shall pass through
this world but once.
Any good therefore
that I can do or
any kindness that I
can show to any
human being, let
me do it now.
Let me not defer or
neglect it, for I
shall not pass this
The words I have since learned, via the power of Google, are those of Quaker missionary Stephen Grellet. I also bought another small bookmark of a favourite image of Jesus, introduced to me by my Unitarian friend Bob Pounder - the highly symbolic 'The Light of the World':
On the back of the bookmark is the line which inspired William Holman Hunt's painting - "Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me." (Revelation 3:20)
On leaving the church, I quietly thought, "all I need now is a book to put them in..." (although I have dozens at home as yet unread!). As it happened, we left sleepy Ashford and made our way down the notoriously steep 'Cat and Fiddle' road to the market town of Bakewell.
In a bookshop on one of the high streets, I happened to stumble upon a small portion of shelf dedicated to Bakewell's very own Christian mystic, John Butler. I had never heard of him before but was taken in straight away at the thought of a local farmer turned mystic - as such I bought myself a small booklet titled 'On Meditation, Prayer and Infinite Resources'.
On the back of one of his other books - 'Wonders of Spiritual Unfoldment' - I also found myself lingering on the following verse:
The sun within
It is obvious enough when one looks a the sky
That the sun is obscured when clouds pass by,
With the natural fact I’ll endeavour to show
How the problems of life can diminish and go
For problems arise when we take by mistake
Changing scenes for our permanent state
Within each of us shines a similar sun
Dependent on nothing, beholden to none,
In all things sufficient, with freedom and bliss,
It’s there from our birth, and it’s what a man is.
Now that you may query, but look and you’ll find.
How your sun gets hidden by clouds of the mind.
What does this all mean? Nothing right now, I would say, but sometimes I do think God speaks in fragments, in whispers and nudges. I have become aware my prayer life has been somewhat lacking recently and I just wonder if these are signposts forward.