Listening for the still small voice

Still the weary folk are pining
For the hour that brings release,
And the city’s crowded clangour
Cries aloud for sin to cease;
And the homesteads and the woodlands
Plead in silence for their peace.

Henry Scott Holland’s hymn JUDGE ETERNAL, composed in 1906 was a favourite, often sung in St Lawrence, Bidborough when I was growing up here.  The industrial North-East surrounding Durham university where I grew up a bit more, gave the hymn more meaning as I experienced urban life for the first time.  Parish ministry in inner-city Newcastle, in a mining community, in Muscat and then in London, as the world population moves increasingly into cities, gives the hymn extra meaning still.

Now I live again, among the homesteads and the woodlands.  Caleb the dog gets longer walks than he used to, in all weathers; on a very misty day recently, we managed to get lost only a few miles from home, struggling through waterlogged fields.  But more time for listening to God, living in a relatively quiet place (15 miles from Gatwick, with aircraft noise only some of the time).  Yesterday Stephen Hills the team vicar here, at a midweek service that Hilary and I went to (with good coffee and croissant served), urged us all to listen more, as Elijah did after a great storm, in the quiet.

This week Claire should have been here, sorting out her wedding plans, but is helping instead the disaster relief agency Medair, sort out its response to the devastation after the worst recorded storm in human history, in the Philippines.  The gale forecast for Southern England two weeks ago, hardly materialised, but I think I cracked some ribs walking inadvertently into one of my storm precautions – did Hilary really need to call me, distracting my attention from where I was walking?  Two situations, the second silly compared with the seriousness of the first, but both illustrating the need to be listening to God, rather than the noise around us.  Sometimes, maybe usually distractions, whether of sound, pain or whatever, can be deafening.  All the more reason to look for the quiet times when we have the space….