Sunday, May 19, 2019

God is in the (mathematical) detail

We met for our May gathering at Andrew's Mare, a beautiful spot just near Minstead.

Our theme was the awe-inspiring beauty and intricate patterns to be found in even the tiniest parts of creation - like a bracken frond uncurling to reveal all the smaller leaves within it. On the day, though, the mathematical patterns were what we talked about, this being one way in which God's fingerprints are revealed.

We started off passing round a basket of pine cones and permanent markers. The challenge was to observe and draw in the spiral patterns we could find in the patterns of the scales. We mostly counted 8 or 13 spirals, but the number 21 was also found.

Looking at these numbers some people recognised them as belonging to the Fibonacci sequence, which starts 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21... Each number in the sequence is generated by adding the two previous numbers in the sequence together. These special numbers pop up in the natural world everywhere, in petals, leaves, branches and pine cones! These numbers also draw a very nice spiral as you can see from one of the photos. The result of dividing adjacent Fibonacci numbers converges on an irrational number called the Golden Ratio that begins 1.61803398875 and this number is deliberately used in art, architecture and design as the proportions are very pleasing.

We discussed how beautiful these patterns (of form and number) are, and how for some of us finding out about these patterns turns our hearts towards worship of our Creator God. Romans 1:20 says "God’s eternal power and character cannot be seen. But from the beginning of creation, God has shown what these are like by all he has made."

It seemed to strike a chord with quite a few people, that “Mathematics is the language in which God has written the universe”, to quote Galileo Galilei, the Italian astronomer and physicist. We then spent time either looking for patterns in the leaves, bracken and flowers to be found or studying the tadpoles which were teeming in the nearby "mare" (pond). The weather was glorious so we were in no hurry to return back to the car park for refreshments!

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

The Bigger Picture

For the April gathering we looked at the concept of 'the bigger picture', or a higher perspective, in the context of our lives and the Greater Divine Plan.

We each took two pieces of the New Forest Forest Church jigsaw (see pictures) and equated one piece to the moment in which we find ourselves in life at this moment. With the things which are in the forefront of our minds, the joys or sorrows which flood our being at this present moment in our life journey. The second piece of jigsaw which we each held in our hands we equated to how we, as individuals, fit into the greater whole of any body we belong to, whether that be family, friends, church, nation, or simply humanity. We contemplated how each piece is different, yet all fit together to be one whole picture.

Then we spent time wandering a part of the New Forest where we could see vast scenes of hills and heath, and a great big sky. We looked at a small section of the natural world as we past it, and then looked at it in its larger setting.

So often we can get caught up in the single moment that we find ourselves in at this present moment in our lives, and forget that there is a bigger picture. That this moment is just one moment in all our moments which make up our life.

We can also very easily forget that we are not alone, but part of a collective, that we have an innate sense of belonging because we are designed, like a single piece of jigsaw, to be part of something bigger together with others.

In the midst of the Babylonian exile God spoke to the Israelites through the prophet Jeremiah saying "I know the plans I have for you, plans to give you a hope and a future" (29v11), reminding them that God has the bigger picture in his sight.



Friday, March 15, 2019

Events and Rhythms, marks in the landscape


We gathered around the Rufus Stone, just off the A31 near Minstead. The first things to say is that its not a stone. It begin as a tree , then a stone was placed, defaced and replaced by a solid triangle of green early Victorian metal in 1841 . The monument records the death of William II , 'William Rufus', by an arrow in a hunting accident. One Walter Tyrrell, pub nearby sporting his name shot the arrow at a stag, but instead hit a tree and it apparently 'glanced off the tree' and hit William and killed him outright. There are other views on this, carried no doubt, by a historical biography ( Barlow, F (2000) that describes William as:
'A rumbustious , devil-may-car soldier, without natural dignity or social graces, with no cultivated tastes and little show of conventional religious piety or morality - indeed, according to his critics ,addicted to every kind of vice.'

William Tyrell  fled to France . Discuss.

But equally Barlow records that William was known for 'his chivalrous virtues and achievements ... maintaining god order and  satisfactory justice in England and restored good peace to Normandy.'

So who knows ? What we do know is that he was killed by an arrow and a monument of some sort has been maintained ever since on this spot - tree, stone or iron work. 

What we discovered also was that the monument not only remembered the famous and the noted, but also those 'just passing' : 'one Purkis', who had a cart.



My name is Purkis
And I was just passing

I remember this place before the Forest
The hamlets and families that lived here
We come back now to harvest the fruit from the forest
Nuts, mushrooms, firewood,
A bit of poaching.
Although this is getting more difficult
With it becoming such a place for the Royal Hunt.

This one day , a hot one , in late summer
A right rumpus -  horses and men and shouting
Rushing around -voices raised – some even laughing
And a dead man lying with an arrow in him, next to the oak.

Didn’t look good. I tried to rumble past, but you can’t hide an old  cart
Pulled by an old horse.

‘Hey – you man, come here..’
‘What’s your name?’
‘Purkis’ 
‘You saw nothing , right?’
‘Right’ I said
Registering that this was the right answer
‘Good man Purkis’
You won’t mind a trip to Winchester will you ?
I looked at the men stood around – all gentlemen of
Fine standing, powerful men , their horses
Liveried with fine tack
And their dogs sharp and fierce.
I was not I a position to refuse.


I looked at the dead man; equally fine
I caught a glimpse of a red beard.
They hauled him onto my cart and within a few paces we had
Formed a solemn procession
Me and my nag at its centre
Taking the dead King to Winchester.

My name is Purkis
And I was just passing.

Purkis may have been 'just passing' - like the rush of the A31 that we could hear, we are caught up in this rush. Stepping out of it , even for an hour to stand in the company of ancient history and slow growing trees is a challenge to us and reminds us , as RS Thomas puts it:

'Life is not hurrying on to a receding future,
not hankering after an imagined past'

Events mark changes in our lives - no doubt Purkis had a few stories to tell after his part in the events, and of course it was a big change for William Rufus . Events mark changes in our lives, but the rhythms of or lives are where we mostly live.

Marking the events is what we understand - we know our monuments in the UK - Spinaker Tower, Nelson's Column, The Angel of the North, countless spires and towers, statues and edifices - we remembered the long held tradition from way back : 

'Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebeneezer, saying, 'Thus far the Lord has helped us'
1 Samuel 7.v12
 But conversely Jesus , responding to the disciples enthusiasm about the Temple in Jerusalem says:
'Do you see all these things?' Truly I tell you , not one stone here will be left on another.' Matthew 24.v 2
Not a big vote for the practice of monument-making. As in many areas of our lives there is compromise. We recognised, in the presence of the Rufus Stone that making marks on the landscape is part of us and we do it in many ways to remind us that we exist and that things happen. 

Living by events risks a diary led existence of consuming time and experiences , our rhythms are deeper . As Alistair reminded us at the last Forest Church - we are tidal, we are rhythmic, so how can we allow those rhythms to be at least noticed and 'lived in' ?
As a group we spent time having a wander in  and out of the surrounding woods and glades holding this tension of 'event and rhythm' , mindful of our need to make a mark , mindful of our part of that in which we wandered.

Gathering back we heard of the reflections of people - of the branch found that illustrated the dead hard heart wood and the thin layer of cambian where the living happened in the wood; of the glade surrounded by holly that suggested growth will continue , whatever our pressing decisions and concerns, and of one good lady Winifred who lived a long and faithful life around whom others could find stability.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Ashlett Creek session - hidden influences

We were delighted to be joined by our friends from Balham - Des, Sue and their lovely congregation as well as some newcomers from Southampton and Salisbury area - so, alongside the normal regulars, we were a big group. 
This helped. It was cold and windy on the quay so we huddled like penguins while people pulled elements from the tidal story out of a pot and then told the story in 13 short instalments. Here they are. They're based on Southampton Water, where we were standing.


1) At low tide the sea in Southampton Water covers 27 million square metres. 
2) The average tide raises water level by 4 metres.
3) The tide comes in twice a day. flooding an extra 10 million square metres of estuary.
4) At high tide the sea in Southampton Water covers 37 million square metres. It has increased the volume of the estuary by 126 million cubic metres.
5) A cubic metre of water weighs a ton. Southampton Water increases and decreases weight by 126 million tons a day. Twice a day.
6) The main influence on the tide is the Moon - 240,000 miles away.
7) The Sun has a smaller influence (about 44% of the Moon’s tidal pull on the ocean).
8) The sun is 93 million miles away.
9) The coastal landscape round Britain changes dramatically on a daily basis due to influences that lie between 240,000 and 93 million miles away.
10) The pull of these invisible influences affects more than the sea. They also affect the land.
11) Within 2 hours of the Moon being overhead (or under our feet on the other side of the world) the land will have risen around 40 cm. Every hill, valley, forest, city, pylon, tower block, sewage pipe rises and falls every day as we spin beneath the moon. 
12) We are walking on waves. Sensitive instruments called seismometers measure them. Many volcanic eruptions and earthquakes are triggered by the earth-tide coming in.  
13) American poet Walt Whitman, visiting American Civil War hospitals in 19th century, felt that the seriously wounded in them, became calmer, “and died ‘easier’”, in harmony with the tides.

We were standing on the Quay at 16:20. Second high tide was due at 16:28, after which 126 M tonnes of water would slip silently away due to the hidden influences of bodies vast distances away and often invisible (cloudy days/nights).

Then we considered three scriptures that hinted at the invisible influences in our spiritual lives:


“Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there. If I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,’ even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.” Psalm 139: 7-12

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11Put on the full armour of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.  Ephesians 6.

The angel of the Lord encamps all around those who fear Him, and delivers them. Psalm 34.7

We then had about 20 mins to wander, to watch the tide tip from flood to ebb and to simple watch and listen. It was too cold to share when we gathered together again so we reassembed at Fairwinds for food and drink and a chance for people to share their thoughts and reflections. As usual, it was a privilege to hear people share. I won't attempt to summarise their reflections - they could do it better in the comments below if they read this but thankyou to all who came. Looking forward to seeing people in March one at the Rufus Stone near Stoney Cross in the New Forest where Mike and Julie will be leading. 

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Map and mud warning...

Meet at 16:00 outside the Jolly Sailor pub at Ashlett Creek.
We're exploring the invisible influences around us. There will be mud so avoid high heeled shoes or sandals...

We will be meeting this coming Sunday for our monthly NFFC gathering. Invisible Influences is our theme.
In our January gathering we had an open storytelling time. We first spent a short time outside in the trees and garden being inspired by the natural surroundings, then came back in and read and told the nature based stories and folk lore that we had each brought with us. 

One of the stories I told was taken from Margaret Silf's collection of wisdom stories about a stream which was happy and glorious running down the mountains, until it reached the desert, where it couldn't get across as a stream. The desert suggested that it gave up its self identity to the power of the wind, allow the wind to lift it into the clouds, get carried across and dropped again on the other side as a new formed stream. This idea of giving up its self identity didn't sit well with the stream, but it decided that that was the only way it was going to progress in its life, so it did it, and became a different glorious stream the other side of the desert. 

There is so much in so many stories that we can learn and share about the natural world and how we as people can learn to be better people from it. 
Tell the stories, tell your story, and inspire and be inspired!

Monday, January 7, 2019

January Gathering.

In January we will be gathering together to tell nature based stories, true or fictional, which have meant a lot to us, or which have moved us to do more for the environment, or which have enabled us to encounter or become more aware of the Divine presence in the natural world around us.

Come along and join us around a cosy log burner and tell stories, or just listen to the other stories being told.

Friday, December 21, 2018

December 2018

The New Forest Forest-Church has been going for many years now, and the Facebook page is a good way of communicating future events (provided you are on Facebook!). However, it seemed a good idea to also have a way of

  • recording events after they take place,
  • capture some of the insights shared in the discussions afterwards and
  • provide opportunities for people to comment and develop themes and reflections even further.
So here goes.

December - light and darkness


In December we meet at Alistair and Terry's house. It's not the same as the New Forest but the woodland behind the garden makes it seem 'foresty'. More importantly, the short distance from the garden to the woodburning stove makes it seem less wintry. Alistair had chosen an appropriate theme for December - darkness and light. 


The key verses to start us thinking were Genesis 1: 3-19; John 1: 1 - 5; John 8: 12 - 14 and Luke 11: 33 - 35. But the key activity to turn head-thought to heart-thought was the candle walk. 

It was a typical December twilight; grey, dark and windy. There were 7 candles stationed about the garden in very different locations; some tucked away, some out in the open. The task was to carry a candle of your own in your bare hands and to visit every candle-station with your own candle. It was a role play in which your sputtering, vulnerable candle flame represented you; your faith. But you, the candle shield and protector, leading the candle from one light to another, represented God.

It was a surprisingly moving experience and we grew very protective and nurturing towards the frustrating, fickle, failing candles in our hands. When we returned indoors and shared our experiences the discussion went on for a long time. But when Terry's mince pies and chocolate brownies came out the discussion subsided as people... chewed things over.

Alistair McNaught