Tag Archives: Van Morrison

Here comes the knight

So, Van the Man is now Van the Knight. Van Morrison was reported as being ‘exhilarated’ and ‘delighted’ at being made a ‘Sir’ at Buckingham Palace this week.

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“For 53 years I’ve been in the business – that’s not bad for a blue-eyed soul singer from east Belfast,” said Van to Prince Charles.

I’m delighted for him, too. Regular readers of this blog will know that I’m a bit of a fan of the Man: his particular mix of poetry, music and spirituality.

So, as a tribute to Sir Van, here again are my top 5 posts from the last couple of years that made reference to his songs:

5. In Mindfulness: more than fringe benefits I reflected on the blessings of mindfulness, especially when practised in relationship with the eternal One. Of course, a reference to the song When will I ever learn to live in God? had to creep into this post.

 

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4. Answering a tricky question looked at the difficulties I’d encountered in explaining to a friend what I believe about the death of Jesus. The song title And the healing has begun formed part of the answer in terms of what the cross means for me personally.
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3. I wrote And it stoned me about the exhilaration I sometimes feel in the presence of nature, sensing the pleasure of the creative One who crafted the wonders of nature, much like the experience that led Van Morrison to write the song And it stoned me:
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2. A sense of wonder is one of my favourite blog posts, again celebrating not only the wonder of nature, but the sense of divine in the faces of ragged people in our streets. The song A sense of wonder, one of my favourite Van tracks, has been known to reduce me to tears of wonder:
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1. Last but not least is this post, ‘Here comes the Knight’. This play on the words of one of his most famous songs, Here comes the night, performed way back in 1965 with the band Them, was irresistible, as I rejoice with Van and all his fans in his new honour.

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Rave on, Van Morrison, rave on.

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(Wondering what this blog is all about, and who A Child of Grace is? Please read my About page.

Thanks! Roger N)

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And it stoned me

You know those smugly healthy, outdoor types? Well, he was one of those – a seasoned hiker with all the outdoor gear, that I’d got chatting with.

I was staying for a night in a travellers’ hostel in Flagstaff, Arizona, before hitch-hiking over to the Grand Canyon – one of the last things I did before leaving the USA in 1987 (see My Life’s Soundtrack for the whole story).

“Fresh air’s the only high I need,” retorted the hiker in the hostel, smugly, after I revealed that I liked getting stoned in picturesque, away-from-it-all places.

I’d become a Christian (just), but it would be another two years of on-off cannabis use and at least one seriously bad mushroom trip before I finally discovered that I no longer needed any illegal substances. That there was a higher high. A purer high.

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I sent this postcard to my Dad on Halloween 1987, after a night in the Canyon – probably my first ever written acknowledgement of God

I sent this postcard to my Dad on Halloween 1987, after a night in the Canyon – probably my first ever written acknowledgement of God

An experience of the Holy Spirit in 1989 replaced my need for THC with a fulfilment and joy in the love and forgiveness of my Father. For a time I was elated. The elation didn’t last forever, but the contentment and completeness in God did.

Now, stresses and disappointments creep in, and I struggle with the same day-to-day trials as everyone else. Prayer, reflection and expressions of creativity are some of the things that help to bring me back in touch with the Father’s love – which doesn’t change, but sometimes slips into the periphery of my vision.

‘Expressions of creativity’ include the art and poetry and music of others, the appreciation of which seems to link me back into the aesthetic heart of the Creator God, who makes all things beautiful in their time. They renew in me a sense of timeless wonder at the world, myself and God. And I’m centred back into Love’s envelopment.

Likewise, my own attempts at creativity, whether photography or writing, help to unlock those hidden expressions of my unique identity – who I essentially am – embraced within the tender acceptance of the one who is – Yahweh (‘I Am’) – and who made me in his image. They bring me back to me, to the joy of being my Father’s beloved child.

God speaks to us in many different kinds of ways,” writes Shaun Lambert, the “Benedictine Baptist”, in A Book of Sparks: A Study in Christian MindFullness (in a chapter titled A real relationship with our creativity). “He is the creative Creator and utilises our creativity in His dialogue with us.”

That’s certainly been my experience.

And nature, nature….that supreme expression of creativity…

This time of year….the aesthetic hand of the ageless Ancient of Days, still sloshing annual explosions of colour across our streets and woodlands; wondrous shades of autumn warming the cooler days, virtually ignited by the deep, low sun of our evenings and mornings.

Autumn leaves, 2015, Yorkshire, where I visited recently

Autumn leaves, 2015, Yorkshire, where I visited recently

 

No Spring, nor Summer Beauty hath such grace,

As I have seen in one Autumnall face

(John Donne)

And I…sometimes, when I stop…and stop….and stop, and absorb the golden sights and sounds (and silence) and smells of autumn…

…or of some other amazing time and place of nature, bathing in the Creator’s brushstrokes, my soul gets re-awakened to his presence, and a smirk sometimes spreads across my face… a smile even, and occasionally a laugh springs up from those wells of the Spirit deep within, and I feel a little high in the Love that created these wonders around me, and my spirit is refreshed once again.

And now perhaps I understand a bit of what Van Morrison meant when he wrote:

And it stoned me

And it stoned me to my soul

Oh, the water

Let it run all over me

Please have a listen…

I know, I’m always banging on about Van Morrison – in fact, this is my second blog post using one of his song titles. I’m sure you don’t mind.

The song And it stoned me describes a time in Van’s childhood when an everyday experience of drinking fresh water from a mountain stream near Ballystockart in Ireland took on an extraordinary, even mystical, quality, a bit like….being stoned.

How wonderful to experience that as a 12-year-old child! No wonder Van Morrison expresses in his songs a nostalgic yearning for the enchanting simplicity of the rural Irish life he remembers so fondly.

For many of us adults, that kind of experience develops when we willingly allow ourselves to be embraced by the Father’s love. Not striving to be religious or even spiritual, but being still, trusting, resting in Yahweh (I Am), who is Love.

Perhaps in childhood innocence, we experienced that without even realising it. Jesus certainly suggested (in fact, definitively asserted!) that we must become like little children to perceive the spiritual dimension of God.

Jesus also claimed to be the only way to this kind of relationship with God. Not religion or Christianity, but him – Jesus. That leaves all kinds of questions and quandaries because it means it’s no longer about following the right religion but about following all that Jesus embodies.

I digress a little, because I know (or hope) that not everyone reading this would call themselves a Christian, and yet may have enjoyed similar revelations of God through their encounters with nature or stillness – of course, it’s not up to me to either dismiss or explain these; I would simply affirm that God (Yahweh) is bigger than any religion or faith, infusing nature and our own souls with his life and breath.

For me, though, my faith in Jesus opened the way to elating encounters with nature. And then again, it was partly encounters with awe-inspiring nature that opened my heart to God in the first place.

In my present journey through faith and life, I’m beginning to find that a more contemplative, reflective approach opens my spirit to be more receptive to His Spirit in the context of creativity and creation.

So it’s now been 26 years since I last tried cannabis or any other illicit substance, and I’m enjoying getting a little high on the incredible gifts of nature and the outdoors that we’ve been given – or, rather, on the Holy Spirit, via nature.

Hope that may be true for you, too, and that I haven’t become one of those smugly healthy, outdoors types…

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(Wondering what this blog is all about, and who A Child of Grace is? Please read my About page.

Thanks! Roger N)

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Mindfulness: More Than Fringe Benefits

“I love your new haircut, by the way, Mum.”

”Oh really? I wasn’t too sure about the fringe.”

No, I think the fringe really suits you.”

The brief exchange between mother and daughter caught my nosy ear as I passed them by on the railway bridge the other day. On reflection, it was the genuine love, kindness, fondness, closeness between the two ladies (who were strangers to me) that ignited the eyes of my heart.

When we’re being mindful, absorbing the sights and sounds around us, and when we’re attuned to the people we meet (or pass by on railway bridges), listening attentively and empathically to their inner thoughts and emotions, we become aware of God in this world.

You might not call it God or see it as God. Maybe, though, you too perceive the love and beauty and dignity of people’s souls and their relationships / connections with others, even amidst the brokenness and destructiveness of their / our own lives and social environment.

In the same spirit of mindful optimism, Louis Armstrong, after describing the “ordinary” things around him, like friends shaking hands, concludes: “What a wonderful world!”

I wonder what you call this? Humanity? The Universe? Or just instinctive, biological, neurological impulses?

Me, I see reflections and expressions of God in the people around me. Where there is love, there is God.

After the progress of Jewish theology about the nature of God through the course of the Old Testament, Jesus arrives and shows us exactly what God is like, through his life, death and resurrection. So much so, that in one of the very last books of the New Testament, Jesus’ closest friend John boldly settles the issue once and for all with 3 magic words: “God is love”!

In fact, right from the start, God’s unveiling of himself is building up to this final word.

At the beginning of the second book of the Hebrew scriptures (Exodus), God discloses his ‘name’ to Moses: YHWH or Yahweh, often translated as I Am.

Whenever I think about that, I’m completely blown away. By revealing himself as I Am, God is unfolding his true nature as self-existent, without beginning or end, and the source of all life, of all things. That he is unchanging, transcendent, mysterious, beyond human labels, denominations and religions. I sometimes think that Christians miss the enormity of this name, the implications of such a thunderous whisper to his people through the prophet Moses. Perhaps the Jews understood – maybe that’s why they were so loath to speak the name YHWH, and instead used names like ‘The Lord’ or substituted his name for the word ‘heaven’.

I believe that Yahweh, I Am, is everywhere. He is love and the source of all love. The Universe, all its electrons and quarks, I believe, are held together by him, by Love.

So it’s not surprising that if we have ears to hear and eyes to see, we will find God shining through the cracks of a sometimes dark world – in both surprising and unsurprising places (as I described previously in The Source). Surprised?

Mindfulness, for some, is developing that awareness of the extraordinariness of God in the ordinariness of life – part of the longing expressed by Van Morrison in a song that many of us can relate to: “When Will I Ever Learn To Live In God?”

[Here’s one of my favourite great kids’ worship songs, that’s about living in God….

…and contains the line “Waves of mercy, waves of grace, everywhere I look I see your face”…..]

But if we walk and live mindfully, doesn’t that mean that as well as being more observant of beauty and love, we’ll also become more aware of all the anguish, animosity and ugliness around us?

I don’t think so, because we’re already so conditioned to find fault. It’s second nature to notice negativity. I gave an interview recently to a broadcast media student. After I’d spoken for ages about my life story, from homeless traveller to nurse co-ordinating a homeless service, the student quizzed me about any more traumatic experiences I might have had before my life turned around. She wanted to highlight these because “people relate to misery”, as she put it. The news media understand this, bombarding us as they do with bad news 24/7 from around the globe.

And don’t get me started on the rather British penchant for moaning.….

We readily pick up on the negative stuff of our world, without any practice or effort.

But when we stop or slow down enough to observe the things we don’t otherwise perceive through the everyday lenses of busyness, it’s the positive things that catch our eyes, ears and hearts – and which inspire us towards hope and faith in the midst of obvious suffering, whether our own or of others.

No wonder, then, that mindfulness is at least as effective as medication for depression, according to one recent study reported in The Guardian.

Good news in a world where the over-prescribing of, and over-reliance on, anti-depressants is often criticised and their efficacy questioned.

Slowing down to take stock not only of our own thoughts and emotions, but also of the everyday silent wonders that surround us, will inevitably make us happier people.

Perhaps, just as Moses experienced when he was minding his own business on the mountain, a mindful approach might even start to reveal transcendence and love – even through simple conversations about such mundane things as haircuts.

Now that, to me, sounds like a whole lot more than just fringe benefits.

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A Sense of Wonder

 

“WOW! WHAT’S THAT?”!

…was my 2½ year old daughter Hannah’s instinctive response when she saw this honeysuckle picture on my laptop screen, with its intricate display of extraterrestrial tentacles.

Honeysuckle, Hastings Country Park, July 2014

Honeysuckle, Hastings Country Park, July 2014

 

If only we could retain that childlike incredulity at the world around us! No wonder Jesus said we must become like little children to see or enter the kingdom of heaven.

And if Jesus said we need to do that, then I guess we can!

I pray that my kids never lose that sense of wonder.

And that I too – and you, dear reader – would always be astounded at this universe we’re privileged to participate in.

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“Didn’t I come to bring you a sense of wonder

Didn’t I come to lift your fiery vision bright

Didn’t I come to bring you a sense of wonder in the flame”

Van Morrison

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Do you look at the world around you, awestruck?

When did beauty last drive you to tears?

What sights and sounds and sensations unleash the sense of aesthetic in your soul?

Are you bewildered at the existence of existence?

Does this universe fill you with questions of eternity and purpose?

Do the discoveries of science amaze you, at the same time as leaving you convinced that there will always be more to this universe than human reasoning can fathom?

And yet, isn’t it astonishing that the human mind can fathom our world at all?

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Brimstone

One of the best and most beautiful nature photos I’ve ever taken.

A Brimstone butterfly, snapped quickly, opportunistically, a few years ago at New Wine, the Christian conference/festival in Somerset we enjoy every year.

Is it a coincidence that this moment of nature’s beauty was captured at an event where all eyes, all focus, is on the Creator and Saviour of all, where God is worshipped and adored? Maybe. Maybe not.

Perhaps there’s greater significance in the exact location it was taken: right at the edge of a car park, on the very outskirts of the event.

The wonder of God’s presence may be found at the centre of the festival celebration, in the midst of united worship…and yet also here on the outskirts, in the translucent wings of a butterfly.

In our society splendour is often associated with those who seem to be at the centre of everything. The celebrities. The limelight.

Yet another kind of magnificence is to be found on the outlying places of society, in the souls and faces of ordinary people.

Are you just as awed by the wise and wicked humour of that wizened lady in the queue at Tesco?

Do you spot the transcendence in people like the ragged guy I spoke to a few minutes ago in the street, who asked me if I could spare a pound?

Do they, too, fill you with wonder?

Do you see a reflection of the divine in their eyes?

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“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;

Your works are wonderful, I know that full well”.

Psalm 139

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“The basic intuition of the psalms of praise, as one Old Testament scholar points out, is a sense of wonder, awe and admiration, characteristic of every authentic spiritual life. It is translated into an enthusiasm for Yahweh, his power, goodness and love.

These psalms are pure adoration, the Amen of the community in response to God’s revelation”.

Brennan Manning

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Hannah, on her first day in this world

Hannah, on her first day in this world

 

My Dad, in his agnostic/atheist days, would question his faithlessness at the sight of a newborn baby. How could he not believe in God when faced with such a mind-blowing miracle?

Sadly, he died a few years before Hannah was born. But he enjoyed his other grandchildren, who no doubt helped to re-awaken his faith in his Creator.

How easy it is, though, to marvel at the phenomenon of a small child and go all gooey at its cuteness. And how easy it is, sometimes, to see the beauty in others, but to miss it in ourselves!

You are a perfect miracle, a bespoke gift from the Creator to himself and to those who love you.

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When did you last stand in wonder of yourself?

Take a look in the mirror. Forget society’s expectations and your own insecurities, and behold the divine designer construction that you are. Your body (yes, yours!), your own particular personality and dreams.

Stand in awe of yourself!

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And how about the divine becoming human? How about the self-giving sacrifice of God’s son for us, again demonstrating how awesome we are to him – in spite of everything horrible about humanity?

No wonder Christians have such a sense of self-worth. No wonder we have such a sense of wonder.

OK, maybe you don’t feel this way or believe what I do. I respect that. But for me….I stand awestruck time after time at the changes he’s brought about in my life since the time I started to believe that Jesus really is the Way.

 

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My heart beats to the same rhythm as countless others who live and breathe in awe of the one whose forgiveness and transformative power have shaped our lives.

And when I’m singing, whether at home, at church or in the car (yes, that’s me you’ve seen crooning away as I’ve been driving down the road), my voice joins with millions of others throughout the ages in adoration of our Saviour.

 

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IMG_1861aWhat have you stopped to take notice of recently?

What have you taken time to admire?

Have you paused recently to appreciate a colleague’s dedication to her work?

Or stopped to feel the breath ebb and flow in and out of your lungs?

Doing these things is good for our mental and emotional health. God has made it this way. Those who follow a reflective or meditative faith have known this for countless millennia.  Now NHS bodies have incorporated this idea into their evidence-based Five Ways to Wellbeing. (Go on, Google it – it’s actually very good).

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In recent years Van Gogh, Brennan Manning and Van Morrison have all played a part in unlocking my own internal sense of wonder; have helped me to appreciate the aesthetic, to stand in awe of my Creator and, I’m not ashamed to say, to cry in the presence of beauty.

In my busy, goal-oriented, task-centred life, it’s been a much-needed, revitalising awakening of my inner being.

Like a re-balancing of my soul.

Let me finish by leaving you with a masterpiece by Van the Man (Morrison, not Gogh). If, like me, you appreciate the poetry, music and spirituality of Van Morrison, then you’ll probably love this. I think it’s pretty wonder-full.

 

(The photos in this post are all mine, but not the video).

 

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