‘Back in the Moment’
Every morning before I get up, I read the new day’s page of The Upper Room. A Bible quotation is followed by a reader’s account of an occasion when those words had special meaning for him/her.
Last week an Australian woman had chosen Luke 5: 1-11 because such vibrant reports of how Jesus spoke to people can ‘put us back in the moment’. She described a conversation with a friend who intended to travel across Australia, as she had once done, to see a wonderful display of wildflowers. “Talking with my friend,” she wrote, “brought back some of the joy I had experienced. It put me back in the moment.” That immediately struck a chord with me, for I too had recently been “put back in the moment” – a moment of joy!
Between my bed and the dressing table on which I keep my Bible and The Upper Room there is a newspaper rack in which I store books of current interest. After Christmas, as I arranged my new books in it, I decided to place a tea towel on top of them to keep them dust-free. I pulled one out from its drawer, completely at random, and was surprised to see that it showed a map of Western Scotland. I had forgotten its existence! I carefully folded the cloth in two and fitted it over the collection of new books.
That night, as I settled down in bed, I looked more closely at the cloth map. There, at the bottom of the fold, was Iona beside the isle of Mull … and yes! … there was Bunessan! Immediately I was “put back” to the amazing moment of incredulous joy which Bob and I experienced there over 35 years ago, and which has had a profound effect on me ever since.
This is what happened. Totally exhausted, physically, mentally and spiritually, we had decided to make a little pilgrimage to Iona where (we had read) Heaven seems especially close, in a mystical way. Both teachers, we had just finished our end-of-term reports; Bob’s frail mother needed constant attention; our three children all needed ferrying to and fro – the two girls to rehearsals for their school’s production of a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, HMS Pinafore. All that had been tiring – but also over us hung the perpetual dark cloud of Bob’s recurrent bladder cancer, for which he had needed an operation every three months. Our future was uncertain…
Before we left home, I prayed, “Please, God, give us your support – and make us aware of it. Please send us your Holy Spirit to guide us.”
Using the Tourist Board’s Book-a-Bed-Ahead service, I had booked our accommodation for the first night in Helensburgh. From there I would book a B&B for our next stop, in Oban, then would ask someone at the Oban Tourist Board to help us find a guest-house on Mull. (We knew that Iona was unlikely to have spare places at such short notice.) The only place we knew of on Mull was Tobermory, but our Helensburgh host advised us to try Bunessan, which is much nearer the Iona ferry. We had never even heard the name of that village!
Arriving on Mull, we decided to take the long way round the island to Bunessan. We had lunch in Tobermory, where the main road stopped. Thereafter it was a single-track road, with freely wandering sheep. There were some scary moments when we were forced by an oncoming vehicle to reverse to a passing-place on top of cliffs! When at last we reached Bunessan, a policeman informed us that our B&B was a mile out of the village, standing alone, overlooking Loch Scridain.
Our host was waiting for us under a big bright golfing umbrella beside the gate. He led us into the guest bedroom. I noticed a framed photograph on the bedside cabinet – and stopped in amazement! It showed the cast of HMS Pinafore, with our two daughters, Sally and Linda, smiling out at us!
The powerful effect of this ’coincidence’ was so overwhelming that we could only stand there in awe and wonder, sensing the presence of some invisible power that had led us to this place. The information that our host’s daughter had spent the summer term at Ayr Academy teaching art did nothing to reduce our amazement. It simply added one more element to the way in which we had been guided to this experience, after complete strangers had found rooms for us in guest-houses totally unknown to us.
Even today, all these years later, the memory of that moment of astonished recognition still brings me strength and joy, renewing my faith in the ever-present Holy Spirit, which Jesus promised would be our Advocate and Comforter. How glad I am that during this trying Covid-19 time of separation from loved ones, of grief, anxiety and frightening statistics, I have that little cloth map, as a visible, tangible reminder of God’s loving care. (Coincidentally, beside my bed - just as that special photograph was!)
If you have a similar symbolic souvenir which puts you back in a moment of joy when your faith was deepened, now is the time to look it out again and ponder over it! Remember John Newton’s well-loved hymn which begins:
Amazing grace! How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me! I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see.