I went for an hour’s walk in my local park this morning. It’s something I’ve been used to doing every day since July for my first waking hour. Life has changed somewhat now and I only get to have such quality times at weekends. This park is the place I got to pray and meditate and talk to the Big Guy upstairs.
How come I had space to do this every day for three months that I don’t have now? Three months ago I handed in my notice to leave a job I’ve been doing for the last twenty years with no replacement job to go to and no idea in what direction to head next or what lay ahead. I’m in my early fifties and I jacked in all I had known in the workplace over the last two decades. A brave and courageous decision to some of my friends; foolishness to others. Of course if one has made such a decision and one believes in the power of prayer, one had better jolly well get praying, yet it was prayer that caused me to make such a decision in the first place.
My early morning walks around the park started in the height of Summer under clear blue skies and warm sunshine on my shoulders. My resignation “reluctantly” accepted, my former employers gave me their blessing to work my three months statutory notice at home on what is called ‘gardening leave’. They could have asked me to work those three months in the office but I asked them to give me the best fighting chance to try to find a new career in a job market that had changed beyond all recognition since the last time I peered into it and to their credit they did. So my early morning walks and talks with the Big Guy as early as six in the morning became an imperative part of my life as it soon dawned on me how quickly the three months would pass and how far I was from having any idea of what life had in store next.
I could write a book on the adventure the three months from July to September has been, filled with a mix of release, uncertainty, hope, inexplicable peace, thankfulness and times of doubt, fear and tears. My journey to the point of handing in my notice was not sudden but had started in October last year but it was not until March of this year that I my mind was made up.
I took myself away to Nice, France for a long weekend of soul-searching in a place I’d never been before alone and away from all familiar. There along the beach promenade I walked and talked with the Big Guy as a fresh, light north Mediterranean fine drizzle fell. As I was praying I saw in my mind’s eye and in the distance a very large image of a Roman soldier, stood to attention fully armed and poised like a Puma waiting to pounce. He was of gigantic proportions. As I write, I can still see his steely blue eyes beneath his bronze helmet. He was not looking at me but back past me as if at some Commander who had his full attention I could not see. I’m praying about my job, I thought to myself so why am I seeing Roman soldiers? Friends who know me – both who share my faith and don’t – are by now, I hope, used to me talking about my faith from time to time honestly and as it happens. I’ve shared extraordinary encounters I’ve had before too. That day in Nice was just one of those.
No sooner had I pondered over the soldier while still praying when in my head I heard these words. OK I know – Ian-Luke hears voices na na nana na. Well, no not every time. Occasionally I do ‘hear’ thoughts outside of me when I pray. Only on two occasions to date have I heard an actual, audible voice but that is a whole other story. “You have not because you ask not”, the voice said. I stopped in my tracks and went very still inside and considered: all I’d ever done was whine at the Big Guy but I’d never actually asked Him for the way forward or even anything specifically about the way forward – just heaps of frustration and fear. It struck me that maybe I should put my faith on the line and ask for something specific and tangible. I turned around 180 degrees and started back along the promenade as the sun broke through the rain and Nice started to sizzle. “I want you to report in to me every morning”. Without wanting to go too ‘Field of Dreams’ that is what I heard inside again and to be honest you could have slapped me around the face with a wet Kipper and extracted the same sense of a wake up call I had then. Only then did the picture of the Roman soldier make any sense. The Big Guys was basically asking me to submit and trust. I came home from Nice and decided I would ask. I would ask and be specific, sort of. I couldn’t be specific about anything other than that I wanted and needed to be in a new place – whatever that was – “before the leaves fall” – in those specific words. That was in March. Back home the leaves were only just preparing to open. I don’t know why by I often ask God for things and use images of nature and I’ve done that ever since I was a child.
So my times in the park over the Summer and into Autumn became times of asking and specifically but also less and less about me and my job and future. The asking widened to include others: friends, neighbours, people I knew who were sick, lonely and bereaved and for so many things not connected to my life. My prayer life changed and apart from very rare occasions I kept my morning appointment of reporting in with the Big Guy in the park.
Today is the first day of Winter. I’ve never ‘heard‘ winter arrive so gently as I did this morning and this is what prompted me to write this post. I’ve felt and seen Winter’s arrival before with drops in temperature, hard rain on windows and howling wind but never like this. As I walked through the park today with iPad in hand, which I sometimes do, I found I couldn’t pray. The reason I can now only find such quality time to be there at weekends is because I am in that new place I couldn’t see three months ago doing a job I never imagined before but which I had been praying for on and off since last October. As I walked through the park I was of course taken by the visual beauty of this moment as Autumn passes the baton to Winter but I became transfixed by a certain sound. OK, no, not more voices but a distinct pitter-patter that sounded like it could be rain falling on leaves only it wasn’t.
There was no wind, not even the slightest of breeze on this dense foggy morning, yet all around me I kept hearing this pitter-patter coming from above. If you are thinking Squirrels make a pitter-patter sound then they don’t. Trust me – I’ve walked with them too for three months. No, the pitter-patter was the leaves themselves as all around me they just started to fall. No, of course this wasn’t the first day they started doing that just because I was there. There were leaves on the ground all around and the ”fall’ process had started weeks ago. I just never heard it before. Not just me, but as I chatted to other walkers they too commented on the sound of the leaves they also noticed all over the park as they walked their dogs.
My time in the park today was taken more with watching, observing and listening than any prayer at all. I wondered why and I also felt a little sad seeing the leaves that had flown high above me during my Summer of uncertainty, hope, learning, trusting and fear now lying beneath my feet and making their voluntary and gentle departures from the branches and twigs that had held them with no wild weather forcibly ripping them away. As I headed toward the exit a thought came to mind. The falling of the leaves had played a major part in my asking of the unknown way back in March and my prayer had been answered in that time. This Summer’s leaves had been witness to my prayers and hopes and tears and the things I had prayed for under them to the Big Guy upstairs had now been accomplished. One season in my life has closed and another opened. Next Spring those same trees that were shedding their leaves today will open new ones and I know for sure that I will be talking and leaning on the Big Guy when those leaves open because my journey is not over yet.