I’ve just come back from a wonderfully restful holiday on the outskirts of Rothbury, Northumberland. Rothbury is most famously associated with the great industrialist, inventor and philanthropist, Lord William Armstrong. His spectacular home at Cragside was the first in the world to use electric lightbulbs and to be powered by hydroelectricity. Signs of Armstrong’s generosity can be seen all over the North East of England: he donated money to build the Royal Victoria Infirmary where my daughter was born, he founded Newcastle University where I teach in journalism, he donated acres of parkland around Jesmond Dene in the middle of the city where I walk my dogs, and was the benefactor of dozens of charities.
But Armstrong made most of his fortune from the manufacture of armaments (my dad got his first job at the Vickers Armstrong plant that builds tanks). Like most men of his time, he never saw any contradiction in this and his charitable work. To the modern eye, Armstrong was a contradiction. But Rothbury itself is a place of contradictions.
More recently, the country town has been in the news as the site of the last stand of the infamous gunman killer Raoul Moat, who died on the banks of the river Coquet where previously I had walked with my daughter and fed the ducks.
This was the first time I’d visited Rothbury since that manhunt 18 months ago. I couldn’t help thinking of the terror that must have gripped the people there as their whole town was cordoned off by police. Yet, ironically, Moat chose Rothbury because it was the place he felt most at peace.
I was thinking about this tension between war and peace and life and death as I worked on a devotional booklet for CWR called Inspiring Women Every Day. I have been commissioned to write a series on the book of Ecclesiastes. While in Rothbury, I was thinking about the famous passage in chapter three that was immortalised as a protest song by The Byrds in the 60s – Turn, Turn, Turn. (This is a 1990s version by an all-star band, including David Crosby and Roger MGuinn).
The tension between life and death, war and peace and the cycles of nature are found in much of my writing. My literary thriller, The Peace Garden, is a good example.
My thoughts on Ecclesiastes will only be published next spring, but for now, here is a taster:
Reading: Ecc 3:1-8
“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.” (Ecc 3:1)
I am writing this in a rented country cottage. There are baby rabbits and lambs in the fields. There are blue tits and robins building their nests and a male pheasant impressing his lady friend. Spring flowers are everywhere; the world is full of hope. The last time I was here was it was the end of autumn and birds were fewer and rabbits scarcer. A fox wandered by but didn’t stop, hurrying home before the winter snow set in.
Nature has its seasons. There is a time to be born and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to uproot. We also have patterns in our lives: we are born, we grow up; we die. In between we might get married and have children; we learn; we work; we retire. Each season has its own challenges.
Spiritually too there are seasons. There is a period of awakening to the whispers of the Holy Spirit; then the moment of immense relief when we ask God to inhabit our hearts. There is the season of rapid growth as we devour the Word and enter into discipleship. There is excitement when we glimpse a potential future and the lull of disappointment when we never seem to reach it. There are the dark nights when God cannot be felt, the spring mornings when hope is renewed, the summery days when we are comfortable in his companionship and the approach of autumn when we start preparing for meeting Him face to face.
Recognising your spiritual season allows you to have grace for your soul. Do not be frustrated if you are no longer busy doing things for God when He has called you to a time of preparation or withdrawal. But learn too to recognise when He is stirring you again to enter a new season of growth.
Father, help me to recognise the spiritual season of my life and grace to embrace all you have for me within it. Amen.