Have you ever studied chimneys? Not the mechanics of how they work, or how they are cleaned, but how they look. Given that they spend the entire time on the roofline, not being looked at, many are incredibly intricate. Of course, there are others that are just straight chimney pots. Something I love about Norwich is the intricacy and variety of its’ architecture. Okay, so a brief wander around the city centre may well give the impression of shops that look (and in some cases are the same brand as) everywhere else. But if you look up, up beyond the shop windows, you could see anything, from decorated buildings, to the mid-twentieth century: City Hall, then on to the old Debenhams building from the 1950s to the 60s architecture of St Stephen’s street (which is what it is). But look, too, at the upper levels of Marks and Spencer, or Barclays Bank, or Jarrolds. There’s the more modern buildings of the shopping centres and the Forum, then right back to medieval times with the Guildhall, the Cathedral and the many medieval churches.
Walk up Elm Hill, and you could almost be in a different time. Norwich has continued to grow and change, and its’ architecture has followed that pattern. When there’s time and space, I love to look up as I walk the streets, and drink in the different buildings (in between wondering exactly how people can put graffiti up so high; on second thoughts, maybe I don’t want to know). There is a soundscape too. On early mornings, I am sometimes lucky enough to hear the birds sing, something that is unlikely later in the day as crowds and traffic build. The crying of the seagulls can cut through this noise; although early mornings sometimes brings me the sight of the gulls tearing into bin bags left out for collection and scattering the rubbish in hope of food. Thankfully, we have a very effective team of people who keep the streets clean – I often see them early in the mornings too. Going through the city at 7am on a Sunday morning, there is a quietness that is not there on any other day.
When I was still at Ditchingham, I always went for an early morning walk before Morning Prayer, usually the same route: partly because I could time how far I could go before I needed to go back, and partly because it involved a hill. That, too, had its’ differences, but much more the difference of the country, with a wooded hill one side, and arable farmland the other. There, too, I could hear the birds sing, but often see them as well: Lapwings performing their acrobatics in the Spring, and sometimes a lucky glimpse of a Barn Owl, always reported to Sr Sheila afterwards. The farmland changed according to the seasons, and the crop, and in winter sometimes a flock of sheep was imported. Come wind, come weather, out I would go. There were many beautiful days, and many equally wet ones. Occasionally I had to get back in time to change a soaked habit before Morning Prayer. There were exhilarating walks on new fallen snow, and more careful ones when the snow had turned to ice. A couple of very wet weeks led to a change in routine, as the stream at the bottom of our road was flooded and I couldn’t get through. Finally, there was a – very rare – glimpse of a Kingfisher winging away from me.
A walk along the river here happens less often, as it means going through the city first. But I’ve come across the snowdrops this year, and a swathe of daffodils. There are Swans and Egyptian Geese and many dogs (usually with their owners). Chapelfield Gardens, much nearer me, is a joy with its Crocuses, and the blossom on the trees. Even from my flat, where the bird life is mainly limited to pigeons, seagulls and the occasional pied wagtail, there are sights to be seen. Pigeons have a bad press, but when a flock of them flies together, it is worth seeing; plus they seem to enjoy walking round and round the chimneys …At this time of year, there is the gradual greening of the trees, and the sky is full of wonders, always changing. Well, I say always … some weeks have been universally grey, and this week has been universally blue. I am even lucky enough to have some Victorian architecture to look out on (including said chimneys). There are times when a rainbow arches over the roof, and one morning, walking through the city centre, the rainbow seemed to be encircling the city with a promise of hope.
For in times like these, it is important to remember hope. There is much to drag us down at the moment: war in Ukraine, the rising cost of living, the case of Child Q (and the implicated racism, not just in the police but in our wider society), people traffickers …. These are serious issues, and must be devastating for those involved. Price rises alone will affect us all, and have serious consequences for those who live on a limited income. The implications of what happened to Child Q, especially now safeguarding is taken so much more seriously, are deeply concerning, to say nothing of how it must have felt for the child herself. Sometimes these issues seem overwhelming, and I am sure that the pain of these issues is reflected in the heart of God. At times there may be action we can take, at others we may only be able to pray. Yet still we should remember that there is hope …That in God there is hope, for we worship a God of Love, whose heart can only be torn by the wrongs, devastations and evils of our world. Yet God is also a God of life, of resurrection, of creation … and one day there will be a new heaven and a new earth, and there will no longer be crying, or pain, and God will be our light and salvation.
Actually, God IS our light and our salvation. Underneath all the pain and wounds of our world, yet there is God, our light, our salvation and our hope; and I understand that if you’ve been abused, or if you’re struggling to feed your family, and keep them warm, then the idea of a God of love and hope can seem very far away (after all, it’s not helping you feed and clothe your family). But yet … still there is God, and in God there is hope.