The soothing peacefulness of an English autumn; the beautiful Christ Church Meadows of Oxford. There was I with my camera and my beloved, but now abandoned, pipe. I strolled along without a care in the world. I had no thought of returning with anything memorable to report.
All the same I'm a somewhat adventurous photographer -eager for the unusual, something that would be a conversation-piece, something worth bragging about. The tame squirrels in the Meadows seemed to be promising. They would take food from our hands and would even jump upon us. If I could catch such a shot it wouldn't be a bad start. But I wanted to do better than that!
So I found an acorn and stuffed it into the bowl of my pipe, which I then placed on the ground in front of me. Having baited my pipe I waited eagerly with my camera. But not for long. A squirrel darted from behind me, grabbed my pipe and leaped up the nearest oak tree. Seated on a branch it then removed the acorn. It even had the courtesy to throw my pipe back to me!
What a unique set of hilarious pictures that would have made! But no. The squirrel had ambushed me. It had taken me off my guard. It had moved so quickly that the whole episode was over in a matter of seconds. And I was so transfixed with laughter that I took no pictures. ..a wonderful opportunity missed! Obviously if I'd had more sophisticated camera equipment and had been in better control of my emotions I would have got my pictures.
But then, if I'd had the situation under control I would have missed the wonder of the unexpected. By no stretch of the imagination could I have dreamt up what the squirrel would do. My thoughts were earth-bound and went no further than hoping that I would get a picture of the squirrel remaining on the ground while it held my pipe and removed the acorn. That would have delighted me. It never occurred to me that the little I had to offer would prompt the squirrel to dash onto the scene, leap upwards with my pipe into the tree, and then, after it had taken its snack, return my pipe. This squirrel had transformed an obvious non-event into an amazing incident.
My squirrel has given new meaning to the adage, "While man proposes, God disposes!"
In this case God was exposing me to a new, exciting, unforeseen, unplanned experience. Could it be that He might be suggesting that we take a lesson from my squirrel and leap off, upwards, in unforeseen directions? The squirrel certainly had not expected to find an acorn in my pipe, still less to carry it up an oak tree. And when I set out with my camera that wasn't what I had planned. But as the squirrel seized my acorn-filled pipe it has provided my friends and me with many a laugh, even over sixty years after the event. That has enriched our lives in a way I had not expected.
And I have found that to be true of the more serious twists and turns in my life. My mother would not have been born if her mother had not broken of her engagement to a non-cricket-loving fiance and married someone who did enjoy the game. And our parents had debated whether we lads would be safer risking the blitz of World War II or running the gauntlet of "U" boats if we were sent to relatives in S. Africa. If we had gone there Peter and I would probably not have met and joined the Dominicans. And if illness had not forced me to leave the W. Indies I would not have had my crazy encounter with the squirrel. Nor would I have worked in a conference centre where I was able to hear famous lecturers explaining what the Vatican Council was all about. That has proved an enduring asset when giving retreats, conferences and sermons.
These unforeseen twists and turns in my life have taken me where I had not expected to go. If I'd remained wedded to my own plans I would have ended up disappointed and frustrated. Instead, the unanticipated has opened up new horizons for me. And If I'm sensitive I will realize God has always been with me, leading me into the unknown. That's exciting, and, at times, frightening. But in that unknown I will enter the wondrous mystery of God Himself.
I like to think that just as the squirrel got an unexpected bonus in finding an acorn in my pipe, so it has provided me with a humorous incident, which has thrown new light on the mysterious workings of divine providence. I can't make up my mind which of us was the craziest -the squirrel or me. I'm sure you have already decided!
In a fortnight Peter will reflect on Meeting God by 'Getting Real'