Glimpses and fragments of wonder

glimpses and fragments of wonderA photo of light reflected in a river. Like stars on a dark night. Glimpses and fragments of wonder.


Glimpses and fragments of wonder. This is the phrase that’s wandering round my mind this arvo. I’ve just binged on Brian Draper’s daily advent reflection emails which have been accumulating in my inbox. Better late than never, I suppose. Glimpses and fragments of wonder was a phrase which stuck. The whole exercise has lifted me back to the (emotional and spiritual) place in which I found myself at 8.30pm last Sunday.

Earlier that evening, they’d stood up and told us about their life and work at There Is Hope Malawi. Brief words which spoke of a personal journey of pain and loss. The death of a child who had been fleetingly given. Yet hope. Refugee camps. Displacement. Hunger. Education. There is Hope. This is the language I speak and the thing I shout about. There is peace as my worlds collide.

And then there was Graham Tomlin’s advent message, which was spot on. I was needing a message of hope after a week of mirey rubbishness: fractured relationships and frustrating arguments; miscommunications exacerbated by different personality types; stupid chemotherapy; one conversation too many with young asylum seekers, laden with hopelessness; one too many nights of insomnia; self-imposed stress about my imminent masters grade; the perpetual battering of Afghanistan. Etc. Etc. Same old stuff, just all at once. Heaven on earth, we need it now. Sick of all of this hanging around. Impatient. Tired. Give me back my joy.

He spoke into the reality of restless frustration in a world that seems just a little bit broken. Hope of liberation. Renewal. Recreation. The promise from one who keeps promises. Signs, tastes and pledges. An extra dimension of reality; occasionally touched and seen. Glimpses and fragments of wonder. First fruits. Continuous but new. The first daffodil which says that spring is on its way.

No fear of death. The process of dying, maybe, but not death? Does that make chemotherapy less rubbish? No and yes. Yes and no. We can be patient, because it comes good in the end. And we can work for that future, investing in the building site of a scarred world, caring for what is there, until this whole world, worn and tired, torn and old, will be set alight, a new kingdom made on top of the ashes from the finest gold.  My depleted store of resources and vision is topped up again for the week.

At 8.30pm, I headed home on a high with renewed confidence in the new order of things and feeling upheld in my determination to make the world, in the least cheesy sense possible, a better place. Bring it on. Come, LJ, come. But within two minutes of being back that optimism had evaporated. I saw again the consequences of chemo. An unresolved disagreement pulled me down. I missed friends. I got into bed and, yet again, did not really sleep.

Walking to work the next day, I tried the whole worship-music-on-my-ipod thing, but the best I could manage was Walk On. A morning psalm. I paused on the bridge over the canal and looked out across the railway. One of my favourite places to stand, with the sound and smells of the next door garage, the busy road behind where lorries rumble past, the enormous graveyard to the left, the rubbish that so often clutters the waterway and its dodgy towpath. Yet the view of the London skyline rose up in the distance and lifted my heart. That morning, the scene was frosty, glinting in the morning sun. I could see my breath and feel my icy fingers through my gloves. I picked away at the flakey, rusty, paint as I rested against the bridge and entwined myself in the scene. It was going to be, I determined, a beautiful day.  

Later that morning, the girl I’d met on Sunday from There Is Hope requested my Facebook friendship. I accepted and wrote on her wall. Sarah in Australia got all excited from afar that the two of us had connected. It turned out they’d never actually met but, she wrote, “I feel like I have in some small way…rideforrefugees supported the team in Malawi over the last few rides…and helped churches give to buy maize for the refugees in the camp who are on v limited food rations.” Another randomly connected friend joined in the conversation. Faraway felt close again and I got all inspired by that sense of family and the knowledge that we’re all investing in the already and the not yet in our different corners of the world.

The same thing happened later on, when my newsfeed pointed me to a conversation between two friends who I’d last seen in, I think, Bishkek ; one was currently in Kathmandu, the other in Brazil. I made a comment about loving Kathmandu and remembered the time when we’d got lost-ish there, trying to map-read our way home in the setting sun before realising that most streets had no names. The one currently in Brazil responded: “I love the world! At the same time I long for the day and place when the streets will have no names as there is only ONE name. Am on holiday (for a change), visiting two very dear brothers here.”

I smiled because I couldn’t have put it better myself. Because I love the world too and because I would also be excited if I was on holiday (for a change); lapping up unfamiliar places and cultures, meeting random people, trying out new things, travelling, glimpsing wonder, spending time with top-notch people who are normally out of reach but who, for a short precious time, are once again in the same room; physically, really and tangibly present. At the same time, I smiled because I resonate with the sense of longing for the something and the somewhere else to which all this stuff points.  

Where the dust-cloud disappears.

Light on our faces.



And love is not the easy thing
The only baggage you can bring…
And love is not the easy thing….
The only baggage you can bring
Is all that you can’t leave behind

And if the darkness is to keep us apart
And if the daylight feels like it’s a long way off
And if your glass heart should crack
And for a second you turn back
Oh no, be strong

Walk on, walk on
What you got they can’t steal it
No they can’t even feel it
Walk on, walk on…
Stay safe tonight

You’re packing a suitcase for a place none of us has been
A place that has to be believed to be seen
You could have flown away
A singing bird in an open cage
Who will only fly, only fly for freedom

Walk on, walk on
What you’ve got they can’t deny it
Can’t sell it, can’t buy it
Walk on, walk on
Stay safe tonight

And I know it aches
And your heart it breaks
And you can only take so much
Walk on, walk on

Home, hard to know what it is if you’ve never had one
Home, I can’t say where it is but I know I’m going home
That’s where the hurt is

I know it aches
How your heart it breaks
And you can only take so much
Walk on, walk on

Leave it behind
You’ve got to leave it behind
All that you fashion
All that you make
All that you build
All that you break
All that you measure
All that you steal
All this you can leave behind
All that you reason
All that you sense
All that you speak
All you dress up
All that you scheme…

 (Walk On, U2)


One thought on “Glimpses and fragments of wonder

  1. What a great piece of honesty, rooted, earthy spirituality! Thanks for sharing. I think its important to be real and honest and also be open to seeing those fragments, those shards of light and to live in that tension. I to have been journeying with Brian Draper’s advent series and its been brilliant. I Love ‘Walk on’ as it encapsulates so much and is such a heart cry and also calls us to keep walking, even in the midst of all that we face! Thanks, This is a profound and brilliant piece of honest writing.

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