Monday, 27 June 2011


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!

Isidore O.P.

In a fortnight Peter will reflect on Meeting God by 'Getting Real'

Thursday, 16 June 2011


It was getting to 'Wind-down' time in the evening. I was quietly relaxing before going to bed. My cell-phone rang. Surprise! Surprise! A sprightly young voice burst forth upon me like a tidal wave with, "Congratulations! Congratulations! Congratulations! You've won fifteen millions dollars in the National Lottery. Congratulations! Congratulations! Do you want it in cash or to be paid into your bank account?"

I had to halt this girl's avalanche of words. "Cool it! Cool it! Slow down!" I interjected. She was getting my poor head confused with her rapid-fire enthusiasm. "Tell me your name," I asked. "Penny!" she replied. "For heaven's sake!" I thought. "A girl call, 'Penny' was telling me I had won millions, no, billions, of pennies in the National Lottery."

I then calmly suggested, "Penny, tell me slowly what's all this is about -my winning a fortune in the National Lottery. And then give me a phone number so that I can reach you tomorrow." When I'd written all this down, I bid her, "Good night," and then composed myself for going to bed.

What a night I had! I threw caution to the wind! I let my imagination run wild. Not for me the sour caution of only believing in my good fortune once I'd seen the mountain of cash with my own eyes or when I was certain it had been safely lodged in my bank account. I pictured myself making it possible to pay off substantial debts on church buildings, or establishing bursaries for needy students, or assisting worthwhile charities.

With all this money flowing in my direction I expected at least to be allowed to make a celebratory cruise around the world. I put it this way because for over fifty years I have been a Dominican living under the vow of poverty. I'd been required to will to the Dominican Order any cash that came my way -earned, gifted, inherited or won by gambling. When I took my vows and when the Order accepted them neither side anticipated we'd be dealing with more than peanuts. I was not expected to be a financial asset to anybody.

I had mused on whether I would become bloated with pride at having become the Great Benefactor of the Order, the one who had plucked fifteen million dollars out of the air by winning the National Lottery. Would I be just the same person; would life go on just as usual?

Come the morning, I was brought back to the real world. No evidence could be found of my having made such a win in any lottery. The cheerful herald of my good fortune could not be traced through the cell phone. If her intention had been to rip me off through my bank account she must have rightly concluded I was not worth the trouble.

To tell the truth, the pickings and plucking in my life have come through hard others and by me. By the mercy of God and the industry and generosity of others I've never known extreme need. For that matter, I've never been in a position to fritter away a mountain of riches. After deep consideration I believe I shall be most contented and fulfilled if I am able to make my own this prayer in the Book of Proverbs,

"Two things I beg of you, do not grudge me them before I die: keep falsehood and lies far from me, give me neither poverty nor riches, grant me only my share of food, for fear that, surrounded by plenty, I should fall away and say, 'Yahweh -who is Yahweh? or else, in destitution, take to stealing and profane the name of my God," (Prov. 30. 7).

Quite honestly, I don't think God wants me to win fifteen million dollars. I've never had much luck with raffles and bingos - nor with lotteries. It's not God's way of blessing me, nor my way for serving Him. But I'll tell you, God has given me His very self. What more than that could I want? And if I owned the whole world and did not have God in my life I'd be as poor as a church mouse. Come to think of it, never in my life have I bought a lottery ticket!

Peter Clarke O.P.

In a fortnight Isidore will reflect on meeting God in being "Taken by Surprise"