One Day More

Day Total (so far): 20 feet, clean teeth, kettle on
Overall Total: 534.25 miles, 462 locks

As I woke this morning a song was ringing through my mind, and I knew today of all days would have two blogs.

The song?

This song marks the end of Act 1 of Les Miserables, which we saw (a lifetime ago it seems) during the Easter holidays in London.  It is one of my favourite songs in Les Mis (and I have several!)  It marks the point at which all the story strands come together ready for the confrontation at the barricades the following day.  Each group in the cast sings a different set of lyrics and a different tune each expressing how they are feeling about the oncoming storm and just before the end of the act they ALL sing their piece at the same time.  It is a musical masterpiece.

Valjean – the Hero – imprisoned for stealing bread to save his nephew and redeemed by a gracious Bishop sings…

One day more!
Another day, another destiny.
This never-ending road to Calvary;
These men who seem to know my crime
Will surely come a second time.
One day more!

The newly met lovers Marius and Cosette sing…

Tomorrow you’ll be worlds away
And yet with you, my world has started!
Will we ever meet again?

Eponine (Epp-o-neen) , a young lady who loves Marius in vain sings…

One more day all on my own.
One more day with him not caring.
What a life I might have known.
But he never saw me there!

Enjolras (En-yole-ras) – the leader of the student revolutionaries sings…

One more day before the storm!
At the barricades of freedom.
When our ranks begin to form
Will you take your place with me?

[ALL]
The time is now, the day is here

The police inspector Javert (Sha-fair) – a man of impeccable, pharisaical righteousness but not a gram of grace is intending to join the students as an undercover spy – and sings…

One day more to revolution,
We will nip it in the bud!
We’ll be ready for these schoolboys,
They will wet themselves with blood!

And the hideous Thenardiers (tay-nard-ee-ays) – a rather unsavoury couple renowned for scavenging, especially after battles or fights, sing…

Watch ’em run amuck,
Catch ’em as they fall,
Never know your luck
When there’s a free for all,
Here’s a little ‘dip’
There a little ‘touch’
Most of them are goners
So they won’t miss much!

And as the music rises with all the characters overlapping…

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Suddenly there is a moment of clarity as first Valjean and then the whole cast sing together…

[VALJEAN]
Tomorrow we’ll be far away,
Tomorrow is the judgement day

[ALL]
Tomorrow we’ll discover
What our God in Heaven has in store!
One more dawn
One more day
One day more!

I have tears in my eyes as I hear those words in my head.  It would be a worthy song to end the whole show, yet it is only the end of the first act.  It is a most incredible climax and yet the story goes on.

Now perhaps you see why this song is in my mind today.

One day more!

Tomorrow we’ll be far away!!!

Tomorrow we’ll discover what our God in heaven has in store….

One more dawn….

One more day…..

One Day More!

<Curtain>

And what will Act 2 hold?

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Perspective

Day Total (on foot): 5.5 miles, coffee, A very deep lock, 6 hours
Overall Total: 534.25 miles, 462 locks

Before I start today I owe a mention to our lovely Swing Bridge family.  So thank you again to Steve, Carly, James, Alex and Charlie Wickham for their help with the bridges on Sunday afternoon!  (Carly is out of shot taking her own photo of the hero helpers!)

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So today’s early start was off to the supermarket for some cleaning materials ready for tomorrow’s big boat clean.

After breakfast, however, we headed off to explore Bath, and headed first for the Royal Crescent.

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I was particularly keen to see this as I watched an episode of Time Team a few weeks ago where they had excavated the ground in front of the Crescent several years ago and found a Roman Road.

It was amazing – and my photos will pop up later!

Down into Bath and to St Michael’s Without (as in Without a city wall – as in outside!)

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This beautiful Communion Table with a rift down the middle is an amazing image of our brokenness meeting God’s grace and mercy.

After some shopping and a coffee and a trip to Screwfix to get some ironmongery to sort the front fender we went to Bath Abbey.

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The Abbey has also rediscovered its roots.  Well, the Anglo Saxon pillars which it found in the North Aisle (on the left of the main altar as you look towards it.)  This picture is taken through a grating in the floor.

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It is very easy to spot when a Church is alive and following Jesus.  Bath Abbey and St Michael’s Without are clearly such Churches!

As part of their development project they used these words…

“With little or no change, the Abbey will remain inhospitable to new, more open forms of worship, continue to be impractical for its busy programme of events and becomes increasingly inaccessible to the community.

Bath Abbey Footprints Programme

Here is a Church planning for the future!!!

Back via the River Avon footpath and the locks that we won’t be doing after all including the Bath Deep Lock, which at 19 feet 5 inches is the second deepest lock in Britain, beaten by 3.5 inches by a lock in Rochdale.

And to give you a sense of scale here is someone else’s picture with boats in the bottom of the lock.  Look at the people at the back of the red and green boat for reference.

79d - Bath deep lock with boats

However, these pale into insignificance compared with this lock in the Republic of Ireland.

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Ardnacrusha lock is made up of two locks – one of 42 feet and this one at 60 feet.  They were built to take boats to the top of a hydroelectric power scheme.

My response to this picture is simple….

“Whimper!”

Anyway – back to the boat for a game of Machi Koro, which we first played at Thirsty Meeples in Oxford, and then to the blog.

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So, today’s picture?  Well, it’s pictures to be precise.  Several different pictures of the Royal Crescent – most of which I took playing with the Panoramic setting on my phone and one taken by someone else. So, as a reminder, this is the Crescent.

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This panorama was taken from outside the middle house, at the side of the road.  The Crescent becomes a strange double curve.

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This panorama was taken from the “Ha Ha” – a hidden dip marked by the yellow line in the top picture.  i.e. from the geometric centre of the circle of the Crescent.  It is now a straight line!

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This picture is a 360° panorama turned into a “Tiny Planet” using the app on my phone.

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And then this picture, which isn’t mine, where the photographer has used a technique called “tilt” to change the depth of focus of the image.  This has the effect of making the subject of the photo look like a toy or a scale model village.  (As an aside I LOVE this effect!)

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All of these pictures are of the same subject.  What has changed each time is the Perspective – the way we look at the image – the way we understand it and interpret it with the camera and our eyes.

How we see something depends on how we look!

If we look at something with a closed mind or preconceived ideas, we will generally find plenty of evidence to back up our position without ever seeing the whole picture.  Both sides on the current Brexit referendum are doing just that!

The prophet Isaiah was told to tell God’s people…

‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding;
    be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’

Isaiah Chapter 6 verse 9

This wasn’t a curse from God as much as a parent saying “Go ahead!  I’m not stopping you!” and then saying quietly to themselves, “And I’ll be here when it all goes wrong!”

Many people accuse me of being irrational for believing that Jesus is who he said he was – God, and that the Bible is true.  Yet, I see so much evidence for the action of God in this world; in creation, in the history of His people; in my life; and in the lives of the people who walk this road with me.

So often I come across people who profess no faith whose perspective is such that they will not accept any evidence that cuts across their preconceived worldview.  (I accept that there are many Christians who behave in very much the same way!)

Yet the photos from today remind me that I haven’t necessarily seen the whole picture.  That to assume that I know everything that there is to know about Father God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit is arrogant in the extreme.  These photos show me that MY perception of this world is distorted – by sin, by my own preconceptions, and by the fact that I am a bear of very little brain and long words bother me!

The next time you look at God – just remember my pictures of the Royal Crescent and remind yourself that you might not be seeing the whole picture, or it might not be quite as you think it looks!

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A Bridge Too Far

Day Total (crew): 9 miles, no locks, 3 hours 18 minutes
Overall Total: 534.25 miles, 462 locks
Distance to Bath: 0 miles, 0 locks

So we are here, three months, over 500 miles and 462 locks and NB Essence and her intrepid crew have reached the City of Bath.

We’re not quite at our final destination – there are a few miles still to do later in the week, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

We started the day lazily as we had done the lion’s share of the journey in the beautiful weather of the last three days. (Very glad we did now as it’s raining as I write this today!)

I meandered back into the centre of Bradford-on-Avon to get some supplies from the supermarket and got a better look at these buildings.

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I thought I had stumbled into Diagon Alley from Harry Potter!!!!

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On the way back to the boat I took a slight detour and found the Medieval Tithe Barn.  Medieval in this case means built between 1334 and 1379 and a Tithe barn was where the 10% of crops owed as land rent to the local Monastery were collected.

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It was an amazing space – they have theatre here – but not any time we are around sadly.  The precision of the date comes from the oak timbers in the roof.  Dendrochronologists (aka People who date things by looking at tree rings) looked at the rings in the trees and from the pattern of rings were able to set that date range.  A very old building!

I got back to the boat all excited about taking the family to see the barn (it was less than 5 minutes walk from the boat) when I spotted Jacquie, with the net, “fishing” between the boat and the bank.

Not a Good Sign!  In fact a VERY, VERY BAD sign!  A sign that Jacquie’s phone had fallen out of the hatch on the side (don’t ask – well, don’t ask me!)

After a few minutes of fruitless searching (apart from finding a 3 inch long freshwater mussel) I decided to do what Jacquie had been threatening and after divesting myself (carefully) of all electronics, I lowered myself barefoot into the gap between the boat and the bank, whilst Jacquie held the boat away from the bank.

Sadly my feet were unable to locate the phone (which was almost certainly beyond help at this stage and it remains at the bottom of the canal…

“until that day when the sea shall give up her dead.”

from Liturgy for a Burial at Sea

… along with my Smartwatch so I can’t really complain (except replacing my smartwatch was rather less expensive than replacing a phone – we’ll check with our insurance later!)

I had a “Lee Abbey Shower” – where you climb into the shower dressed and slowly get undressed as the layers get warmer – Lee Abbey would take too long to explain for anyone that wasn’t there – I may elaborate another day!

We then headed off to the Tithe barn and then back to the boat for the final push to Bath.  Lots of moored boats so another painfully slow journey.  The bonus is that the landscape is fantastic.

Just like on the Llangollen Canal on the borders of Wales the Kennet & Avon Canal follows the contours of the land all the way from Bradford-on-Avon through to the northern edge of Bath.  This means riding high above the River Avon itself as the canal winds round the edges of the hills, and then at two points the canal crosses the River itself on impressive aqueducts – but more about that later!

On our way into Bath we spotted a really useful mooring by Bathampton Primary School which looks an ideal candidate for loading and unloading the car on Friday.  There is a water point just before and winding point just beyond the mooring so it’s ideal to head back a little way to reach it!  Looking ahead of us there is a boatyard, again at a winding hole, where we can top up the diesel, and empty the toilet cassettes and then head away from Bath on Thursday ready for changeover day on Friday.

What that means is that we won’t be going through any of the Bath locks, so the lock at Bradford-on-Avon that we went through just before mooring last night was our 462nd and last lock of the journey.

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Moored at the northern edge of Bath we decided to head down into the city for a brief preliminary explore and to get Jacquie to a “Three” shop to get a SIM for an old phone we have with us.

These are some of the beautiful sandstone houses…

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And this was an art installation on one of the main streets…

Joshua said it looked like a “Mary Poppins Memorial”.

Back to the boat and tea and blog.

So my picture today?  Well it is the Dundas Aqueduct that took us across the valley towards Bath.

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And this is the Avoncliff aqueduct (a little closer to Bradford-on-Avon).

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They are immensely impressive pieces of Engineering.  Like the great Pontcysyllte Aqueduct on the Llangollen Canal they are designed to cross seemingly insurmountable barriers.

Pontcysyllte Aquaduct
Llangollen Canal
North
Aerial
Canals
Water
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(By the way we have done the Pontcysylte twice each way on previous holidays, and no, there is no rail or towpath on the left hand side!!!  Just hope that dog didn’t see a rabbit!)

And, surprise, surprise a verse from John’s Gospel came into my mind…

Jesus said, ‘Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.’

John chapter 5 verse 24

The Bible teaches us that the things we do that wound, inflict pain and do damage to those around us and which also wound and cause pain to God get in the way of us knowing Him fully.  The age old story of Adam and Eve (no I’m not going to get into a discussion here about literal or historical or mythological – it’s not the time nor the place – suffice to say the first few chapters of the Bible tells us WHY humans live separated from God, not necessarily the scientific details of HOW it came about.) – so the age old story of Adam and Eve says that their sin led to them being separated from God – hiding from Him when they used to be eager to see Him.  So too with the things we do wrong – they separate us from God – like the Avon Gorge or the Dee Valley at Pontcysylte separates the canal one side from another.

Like the engineers of old we build hugely complex systems of religion to try and bridge the gap – the theological equivalent of the Caen Hill Flight yesterday, yet when we try we find the gap is too wide to be bridged by our solutions.  We would need too many locks and the river would be impossible to cross at the bottom anyway.

See this video of a Narrowboat on the River Medway in Kent for proof that some journeys should not be attempted!

So it is with the gap between us and God.  It is unbridgeable from our side and with our means.  How then can we cross over – what is the equivalent of the Aqueduct – who is the Thomas Telford who will make a way for us to cross over from Death to Life?

The answer is, of course, Jesus.

Somehow, by his dying on the Cross, by His taking of a punishment that I had brought on myself, by standing in my place and enduring the separation from His Father that I deserved, somehow he reconnects me with God, and the gorge is bridged.  There is a way – narrow as the Pontcysylte, some are afraid of that Way – just like the aqueduct.  But it is there and it is, like Avoncliff and Dundas, magnificent.

Which is why, even now, those who have been saved – who have crossed over from death to life – who have been rescued by Jesus – sing these words written by Isaac Watts in 1707…

When I survey the wondrous cross
on which the Prince of glory died,
my richest gain I count but loss,
and pour contempt on all my pride.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast
save in the death of Christ, my God!
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them through his blood.

See, from his head, his hands, his feet,
sorrow and love flow mingled down.
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
or thorns compose so rich a crown?

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
that were a present far too small.
Love so amazing, so divine,
demands my soul, my life, my all.

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A bridge too far?  Not for Jesus!

 

 

I will send you the Helper

Day Total (tired crew): 12 miles, 35 locks (dowwwwwwwn hill), 9 hours 57 minutes
Overall Total: 525.25 miles, 462 locks
Distance to Bath: 10 miles, 6 locks

First here are some photos from last night – birdies!!

And a tree – or two….

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So today was the Caen Hill Flight –   But as I opened the rear hatch this family wanted to say hello!

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This was our first look at the flight…

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And this is us at the bottom – 16 locks later.P5300867.JPG

P5300871.JPGI was wrong – the Caen hill locks are a flight (separate locks with a small gap called a pound between them) not a staircase (where the top gate of one lock is the bottom gate of the next).  It was still fun!!  The side pounds are to help with water storage through the flight.

This picture came from a Daily Mail article.  I know some of my friends don’t read the Daily Mail but this is worth a giggle.  Some thieves decided to make a getaway on a stolen cabin cruiser, and headed straight  for the Caen hill flight where they gave up!!!!!!!

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Lots of travel, and a few delays and we are in Bradford Upon Avon.

Actually in the Swan Hotel because we had no signal on the boat (A pint of Old Speckled Hen for those who are interested!)

I’m going to be brief today as power is running low and drinks are running out.

Today’s photo?

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This family were cycling down the towpath as we were heading from the bottom of the flight towards Bradford-on-Avon.  There are a few locks beyond the flight but lots of swing bridges which are a bit of pain as you have to stop, swing, travel through, then wait to pick up.  As we got to the first bridge the Mum and son asked if they could help – and they did, allowing us and the boat behind us to sail on.  Just before we got to the next bridge they passed us and before we knew it Mum was undoing the safety chain and the children had shot across the bridge ready to open it for us.  By the third bridge my camera was ready and we took this shot of our amazing helpers.

I know they were looking for the blog as we left and I hope they are reading this now.

THANK YOU!!  Your help was wonderfully unexpected and made a real difference to our journey.  It also made us smile.

One of the names we are told for the Holy Spirit is the “helper”.   In the Bible names matter.  Helping is part of God’s nature – it IS who He IS.

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth…

John chapter 14 verse 16 and 17

So today I was reminded of the power of helping people.  Our cycling friends have taught their children a wonderful lesson – helping people is actually fun!!

That must be why God does it so much!

Do you need His help today?  Ask Him!  Are you struggling with something?  Ask for help – not just from God but from those around you.  They may be stood ready to help and not know how to offer.

Pride stops us asking for help.  That is a really stupid reason to struggle!  We weren’t meant to try and get through this life on our own.

Go on – tomorrow why not copy our cycling friends and help someone.  You never know  it might actually be fun!

Oh, and if the cycling family are reading this and would like a name check in tomorrow’s blog – please add a comment.  Thank you again!

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P.S. Thank you too to the wonderful lock keeper who helped us down the flight!!  Volunteer lock keepers are amazing people.

Watershed

Day Total (crew): 21 miles, 16 locks (uphill and down dale), 11 hours 10 minutes
Overall Total: 513.25 miles, 425 locks
Distance to Bath: 22 miles, 43 locks

THAT was a very long day!  This is the first time my planner has not been right.  We made excellent time from Great Bedwyn climbing up the Crofton Locks to the summit level and our last tunnel of the trip (502 yards so compared to the Harecastle – which was our first tunnel – it was basically a long bridge!)

Joshua made a new friend…

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We went through some beautiful countryside…

And saw some more of the old gun emplacements from when this canal was a line of defence should the Nazis have invaded Britain in the Second World War.  We have seen a lot of these all the way along the Kennet and Avon Canal.

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And finally we ended up in Devizes!

This was rather further than we intended but there were no spaces on the moorings and then we misread a sign saying moorings had been suspended between the top locks of Devizes and were trying to find somewhere we could moor.  The blue “zipper” to the west of us is the famous Caen Hill Flight and we will be travelling that way tomorrow so more of that tomorrow!

Timings were out because between Pewsey and Devizes there were lots of moored boats which you have to go past slowly; a broad beam boat that was travelling exceptionally slowly and didn’t let us go past for 45 minutes; and a very low section where the boat was moving through watery mud rather than canal!

But we made it – and tomorrow morning we get the prize – Caen Hill Locks.

So – today’s picture?  Well – we crossed a line today…. This line…

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It is a watershed line – the line that divides the direction that water runs down rivers.  A bit of geography…

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A watershed is the line which marks the area where water flows into a particular river system and then to the sea.  The River Don (in Doncaster) is part of the Humber Watershed, which drains the Trent and the Ouse amongst others.

The River Kennet heads to the Thames (that’s the way I came) and heads out of the Thames Estuary.

However, the canal water we are now on will not go to the Thames but to the Severn.  As we passed through the Bruce Tunnel we crossed a line – a watershed.  (And for my Scottish friends here is the same line continued across the border)

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At some point today we stopped going against the flow and started going with it.  A “Watershed” is what we call that line, but the word is also used to mark a turning point in a situation.

That is what happens when we decide to follow Jesus.  We cross a watershed.  The stream of our life starts to flow in a different direction.  For some people that can be as dramatic as a waterfall – for others as barely noticeable as crossing the canal summit.

What about you?  Which direction is the flow of your life?  Away from Jesus, or towards Him?

Maybe today is the day you respond to his invitation.  The day you say “Yes” to a God who has always loved you, and always will.

Let today be YOUR watershed.

Peace and Blessings.

 

Moving on

Day Total (crew): 14 miles, 21 locks (139 feet uphill), 8 hours 33 minutes
Overall Total: 492.25 miles, 411 locks
Distance to Bath: 43 miles, 57 locks

So it was time – after a brief trip for some bread rolls for breakfast it was away from Newbury and a strange experience.  It was the first time that Jacquie or I had boated along the canal in Newbury.  Actually travelling along a stretch that we knew so well from the bank was wonderful.

What was more wonderful was that our friend Bertram was rather insistent on us calling him before we left so he could help us through the locks at Newbury.  Julie had come for a walk and had a ride between the last two locks on the outskirts of Newbury.  He was having such a good time that Julie stayed on board and Bertram worked locks all the way to Kintbury.  The canal there runs next to the Railway Station, so they caught the train home.  It was lovely to spend the morning with them – and totally unexpected!

Travelling on through the most beautiful countryside.

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Lots of locks and lots of mile later, and with sight of Deer, Kingfishers, Red Kites, Goslings, Ducklings and lots more we arrived at our planned destination – Great Bedwyn.  Today was the longest travelling time since my Birthday.  All went well apart from a slight mishap on a lock ladder that didn’t end with me falling in but means I’ve pulled a few muscles in my chest. Ow!

It is a beautiful little English village.

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This wonderful stone tablet was outside the old Post Office.  Read it carefully – I love the first line!!!

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And today’s picture?

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These are representations of the Pillars of Cloud and Fire.  In the book of Exodus when Moses is leading God’s people out of slavery in Egypt towards the promised land the Bible tells us that…

21 By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. 22 Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.

Exodus chapter 13 verses 21 and 22

and

15 On the day the tabernacle, the tent of the covenant law, was set up, the cloud covered it. From evening till morning the cloud above the tabernacle looked like fire. 16 That is how it continued to be; the cloud covered it, and at night it looked like fire. 17 Whenever the cloud lifted from above the tent, the Israelites set out; wherever the cloud settled, the Israelites set up camp. 18 At the Lord’s command the Israelites set out, and at his command they set up camp. As long as the cloud stayed over the tabernacle, they remained in camp. 

Numbers chapter 9 verses 15 to 18

The people of Israel only moved when the Pillar of Cloud and Fire moved.

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Over the years many people have asked Jacquie and I how long we are planning to stay at All Saints Church.  Some have joked recently that Vicars often move on after a Sabbatical.

My response to that question is the same one we have given since we arrived….

We… don’t… know!

God called us to Woodlands and Highfields and until he calls us elsewhere we aren’t moving.

Today, on the boat, it was clear that we needed to move.  The temptation to stay in Newbury was very strong – just one more day – there’s so much I wanted to show Jacquie and Joshua – but if we were to complete our journey on NB Essence – if we were to finish the challenge we had set ourselves, then we had to move on.

What about you?  Are you travelling where God is calling you?  Is He calling you to stop or you to move on?  Work? Home? Church?

What is God calling you to do?

Sometimes obedience is really hard – sometimes it is easier.  But in the end it comes down to two questions.

Do YOU trust God and are you listening?

Because if you do trust Him, then following Him where he leads makes sense.  And if you are listening then you’ll know what to do?

Time to move?  Ask Him!

 

 

If Music be the food of love, play on!

Day Total (crew): 4 heavy bags of shopping
Overall Total: 478.5 miles, 390 locks
Distance to Bath: 57 miles, 78 locks

Today is a bittersweet day.  My last full day in Newbury – we will be leaving early tomorrow morning to start the final leg of this epic voyage – and I find myself curiously torn.

I have thoroughly enjoyed my three week Sabbatical “Sabbatical” in Newbury.  It feels hard to believe that when I arrived here 20 days ago I was barely a third of the way through my report and only 2/3 of the way through my Sabbatical.  Now as I come to leave it feels right – I do not live here any more – I have moved on and so has Newbury.  My home lies 147 miles to the North, as near due north as makes no odds, and I am desperate to return.  Family –  biological, adopted and Church await and I need to reconnect.  God called us to Woodlands and Highfields and that call is still as strong as it ever was.  My heart has been allowed to enjoy this time away, but now as the time ticks away it is restless because it is not home!

aerial photograph of Newbury Berkshire  England UK

aerial photograph of Newbury Berkshire England UK

So fare well Newbury – it’s been good!

And I leave with music in my heart and a bass guitar in my hand!  A little bit of Newbury is coming with me, as every time I play Amazing “Grace” the Five String Bass, I will be reminded of this Sabbatical Sabbath in a town I loved and still love.

Music.  I love Music.  So today’s picture is not so much visual as audible.

Here is one of my favourite pieces of music and an image to go with it.  It is part of the soundtrack from The Empire Strikes Back and it comes from the scene where the Millennium Falcon is trying to escape from Darth Vader by heading into an asteroid field – a rather dangerous route, and the sound of the swooping, soaring music evokes that image.

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John Williams is a master of film scores.  He writes iconic themes for different characters and weaves them into the score.  This piece starts with Darth Vader’s Imperial Theme familiar to Star Wars fans and anyone who has heard my ringtone.

Sometimes it feels as if my life is a series of musical themes – and today the “Newbury theme”, which resurfaced in the soundtrack of my life three weeks ago is beginning to give way to the “Family” theme and in the background the strains of the “All Saints” theme are beginning to emerge again to prominence, as the “Sabbatical” theme draws to its final notes.

I wrote this poem a few years back now – which sees my life as a musical composition, and Jesus as composer and conductor.  As you read it ponder what theme is playing over your life now – tragic, hopeful, joyful, despairing.

Whatever it might be offer your theme to His hand, and hear him play it, harmonised with the music of His love for you.

The music of my life

What score could record the notes of my three score years and ten?
What notes could tell the tale of a life lived in many ways?

It would begin with one exultant chord of love and then fall almost into silence…

a single note,

becoming two then four
a growing tune, simple and unadorned
played in quiet stillness and refuge.

Then the tune is heard by others and plays aloud
to the delight of those who hear it play.
It runs fast and high, leaping and jumping around the stave –
barely resting –
exploring tone and tune,
rhythm and rest
growing in depth
more notes joining and being played.

The tune matures and grows and
I begin to add notes and scales and harmonies of my own.
At times I play alone…
His hands withdraw to let me play as He has taught,
At times I play alone for I have pushed Him aside.
Each discordant note I play stands out
and grieves the One who hears,
Yet when His hands again pick out His notes,
my own are drawn into His melody and transformed, redeemed.

What different moods and tunes and notes could tell each moment of my life?

A slow sad minor chord will tell of pain and sadness,
sometimes the music will fall almost into silence,
one note repeated out of desperate longing
and taken up at last in an expanding theme of hope.

The joyful joining of two melodies in one great theme
and then two simple melodies join and grow,
adding their own themes to my tune
as I also become a part of theirs

And through all the notes which tell of hope and pain,
of joy and desolation
there is a theme which runs
and binds all others into one great sweeping theme.
The tune which speaks of love and hope and heaven

And then I know my tune will fade and quiet,
the other tunes will leave and take up music of their own
and the music of my life will end with one soft concluding chord

But one day I know that all the themes of my life will be will be played aright by him who heard each melody I sang and made each one a part of his great theme.

And I shall sing with Him forever.

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Wonderful news!

Day Total (crew): 0.25 miles, 0 locks
Overall Total: 478.5 miles, 390 locks
Distance to Bath: 57 miles, 78 locks

Before I tell you anything else about today I have some wonderful news.  After nearly three months of Sabbatical I am sure that family, friends, Church family and fellow clergy will be over the moon to hear my news today!

I’ve found Jesus!

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Yes, he’s on top of the Catholic Church on London Road.  I can see him from the boat!

Sorry couldn’t resist!  It also gives me a chance to show you one of my favourite cartoons, but more of that later.

This morning the plan was to move the boat up to Greenham Marina and empty the cassettes, fill the water and top off the diesel before heading west (where the price will almost certainly go up!).  All accomplished in blazing sunshine but we didn’t turn around and head back to my moorings at Greenham Mill – We have moved, finally after nearly three weeks.

Only a quarter of a mile, but it is VERY strange to be somewhere else.  We are actually moored at the edge of Victoria Park and it’s lovely!

After lunch Joel and I went for a wander through the West Berkshire museum which is only small but very well curated (organised and signposted) and very interesting!

After some shopping and some refreshment (and some baby geese on the way!)  it was a good time to watch a film together and then tea and our lovely friends Bertram and Julie came to visit the boat.  A nice end to a lovely day.

So – back to my rather awful joke and one of my favourite cartoons.

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Hint: If the cartoon makes no sense you haven’t spotted who is hiding behind the curtains!

Christians often talk about “finding Jesus”.  It’s shorthand for what happens when we finally realise that Jesus actually is who he said he was and that life changing moment can be an incredibly special memory.  But sometimes we talk about him as if he was the TV remote control.   “He’s here!  I’ve found him.  Someone stuffed him down the back of the settee!”

What is interesting is that the Bible often talks not about us finding Jesus but about him finding us.

Luke’s Gospel chapter 15 has three lost stories.  Click on the picture to read them.

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A sheep that is lost so the shepherd leaves 99 others to go and find it.
A precious coin that leads to a diligent search.
A lost son – in fact two lost sons – and a Father who desperately wants them back.

So many times Jesus tells stories about God seeking us.

There is one parable (story that Jesus told) that you can read differently.  It’s this one.

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44 ‘The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.

45 ‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46 When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.

Matthew Chapter 13 verses 44 to 46

The way I was always taught this parable was that I was the man finding a great treasure (Jesus/faith/forgiveness) in a field and I was to give all I had to possess it, or that I was the merchant who finds faith of such great value that I would sell everything I have to own it.

For a long time that as how I thought of these parables.  That faith in Jesus was so precious that I should give up everything to pursue Him.

It’s true!  It is!  I still remember the day when faith became real to me.  God was no longer distant, but present and caring and I have chosen to follow wherever he has led me – to Southampton, to Newbury, to Nottingham, Rotherham and Doncaster (and for the last three weeks back to Newbury again!)  Nothing was worth more to me that following Him.

But a couple of years ago this parable did something wonderful in my head.  It flipped.  Just like the famous picture of a vase that suddenly becomes two faces.

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And suddenly Jesus is the man who buys the field to gain the treasure and He is the merchant looking for pearls and finds a special one.

And the wonderful truth is that “I” am the treasure and the pearls.  It is Jesus who gives up EVERYTHING he has, for the sake of saving you and ME!

Have I found Jesus?  Only because he came looking for me first; only because he gave up all the riches of heaven to live a human life and die so that my wrongdoing – my sin – could be forgiven.

Have I found Jesus?  Only because he took me at my word one dark night in a valley on the western edge of Sheffield when I said that I needed help and he came and found me.  Only because when I forget about Him he never forgets about me.

Yes, we do have to seek and search and pursue.  That is all part of the way we encounter Jesus, but to find him?

He found me!

I am the wretch the song refers to!

It is all about Him, not about me!

Are you feeling worthless or unvalued today?  Are you feeling that the world would be a better place if you had never existed?  Or are you just feeling like everybody else’s opinion seems to matter but not yours?

Remember this.  To Jesus, you are a pearl of great price and He will give up everything for you to be close to Him forever.  To Jesus, you are a precious part of His flock and if you wander away he will come and find you and bring you home.  To Jesus, you are a precious child and whatever you do, and wherever you go, He will always throw his arms around you and welcome you home.

I have NEVER regretted saying “Yes” when Jesus offered me His hand.  I am convinced that you would never regret it either.

Have I found Jesus?

No!  He… Found… Me!

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Friends

Day Total (on foot and scooter): to town and back, twice
Overall Total: 478.25 miles, 390 locks

Today was another quieter morning – breakfast together whilst watching some science on YouTube and then some work to add some of the Simple Words work to the Sabbatical Report.

Before lunch we headed into town for the 12:30pm prayers.  The festival stage had gone so here are the obligatory Church shots.

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We had a treat of lunch from the Panousha Baguette shop.  Still as good as 16 years ago and still run by the same people.  Back to the boat and whilst Joel chilled I washed the nearside of the boat and some of the roof.  NB Essence looks a little less disreputable than she had become (the birds and blossom fall from the tree I first moored under here in Newbury had not done her any favours!).

Into town for some cards and then on to Will & Gill’s for tea and a fantastic conversation.  It is a real blessing to find people on a journey who feel like you have known them longer than a scant three weeks!

Today’s picture – well – some background first.

On my journey, since leaving Middlewich what seems like half a lifetime ago, I have listened to a lot of talking books.  In that time amongst other things I’ve listened again to Stephen Fry reading the Harry Potter books.

72a - Luna Lovegood.jpgOne character in the books is called “Luna Lovegood”.  She is odd, strange and slightly otherworldly.  She doesn’t fit in – her father writes a strange magazine called The Quibbler and she and he believe in all sorts of odd things (that even other Wizards and Witches think are odd.)  In our world they would be the sort of people who believe in the Loch Ness Monster, UFOs and Fairies.

The other children at Hogwarts – the school they all go to – call her “Loony Lovegood” and make fun of her – treating her VERY badly.  However, in the midst of a very difficult year she becomes part of a group of students who band together to resist some of the evil they see around them – and ends up fighting with Harry, and the other main characters, against the evil Lord Voldemort – the baddie in the books.

In the last book Harry, Ron and Hermione – the three “heroes” of the books – visit Luna’s house.  She isn’t there but Harry ends up seeing her room and this is how J.K. Rowling describes it…

“Luna had decorated her bedroom ceiling with five beautifully painted faces: Harry, Ron, Hermione, Ginny, and Neville. They were not moving as the portraits at Hogwarts moved, but there was a certain magic about them all the same; Harry thought they breathed. What appeared to be fine golden chains wove around the pictures, linking them together, but after examining them for a minute or so, Harry realised that the chains were actually one word, repeated a thousand times in golden ink: friends…friends…friends…friends… Harry felt a great rush of affection for Luna.”

from “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” by J.K. Rowling

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Friends.  Such a simple word.  Such an undervalued word.

We say “were just friends” as if that was little thing, less than special.

And yet what I have learned these last few weeks is that friends are very special – Friends here in Newbury like the Lovely Laundry Fairy, Bertram and Julie, Nic and Sarah – and all the others who will be upset I haven’t mentioned them, friends on Facebook who have stayed in touch over these three months away, friends praying for me and thinking of me until I return – and what are exquisitely special are people that you didn’t realise were friends until you met them.   Will and Gill, who welcomed me from day one and who, I hope, we will see again.

On the night before he was crucified Jesus said this to his disciples…

15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit – fruit that will last – and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: love each other.

John chapter 15 verses 15 to 17

“You are my friends…”  What an amazing privilege – not to be servants, but to be friends with Jesus.  How amazing to find in a world where we sometimes feel like the oddballs, to discover that in Jesus’ heart is our picture, and just like on Luna’s ceiling, the golden chain around our faces is the word “Friends….  Friends…. Friends….”

And the others we meet who are His friends too, become ours…. And more than that – Family.

Do you feel, like Luna did, that you are alone?  Ask Jesus to be your friend.  Find someone who is His friend and ask them how.

You might always be an oddball  – some of us will never quite be “normal”, (which I reckon is overrated but hey!) but Jesus took a group of oddballs and made them His friends.

Do you fit in, or do you stand out?  It matters not.  What matters is whether you are His friend.  Because if you are, there are millions of other friends we haven’t met yet – people who, like us, know this One, Amazing Friend who can take our lives and weave them into his great music.

But more about music tomorrow!

What was the God-Man?

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What was The God-Man?

One of the God-man’s friends, one of his special friends, wrote a book about the God-Man’s life.  It started like this…

“At the Beginning of everything, someone called “The Word” was there, and he was with God, and he was God.”

And a little later the God-Man’s friend wrote…

“And ‘The Word’ became a human person and lived where we live.”

The God-Man’s friends began to work out that the God-Man was God, but also that the God-Man was human as well.  But it wasn’t always as simple as that!

Some of the People of the Way (for that is what the God-Man’s friends had come to be called) began to think very hard about the God-Man and what and who he was.

Some of them decided that the God-Man was God, and that he only looked like he was a man.
Some of them decided that the God-Man was a man, but that God had given him an extra helping of God-Helper.
Some of them decided that the God-Man was half God and half Man, like a picture with one half black and one half white.
Some of them decided that the God-Man was half God and half Man, but the picture was all grey.
Some of them decided that the God-Man was born a man, but became part of God when he came back to life again.

The People who led the People of the Way had another of their big meetings and it decided:

1) That the God-Man was both God and human, brought together in one person
2) That the God-Man was God – and had always been God and was the same as God
3) That the God-Man was human, just like you and me except he never did anything bad.
4) That the two different sides of the God-Man were not confused – you could tell that he was both
5) That the two different sides of the God-Man were not changed in the joining – God was completely God, Man was completely Man, something different wasn’t made from the two halves.
6) That the two different sides of the God-Man were not like a drawing where one part was painted red, for God, and one part painted blue, for Man.  You could not see different bits that were just God or just Man.
7) That the two different sides of the God-Man could not be “taken from together.”*  Once they were joined they were joined for ever and ever.
8) Everything that God could do, the God-Man could choose to do; everything that Man could do, the God-Man could choose to do.

They called this idea of God becoming the God-Man by a long word that sort of means “made into a human”.

*as my Mother’s mother used to say!

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It is strange that when you try to search for a picture using the long word, all you get is pictures of the God-Man as a baby!!!