Just when you thought all the microadventures had slowly wound up at the end of the last lockdown, they’ve made a reappearance! Here in Dublin, with our 5km limits, we’re realising that we’ll no sooner be out of our lockdown than we’ll be back into it again in January. So here’s another fun idea for families, couples, housemates or bubbles.
Tuesday night adventures
Or Tuesday night something-or-others. We still debate the meaning of what an adventure is (and thus what a micro-adventure could be allowed to be), but the bit we’re more sure of is that these happen on Tuesday nights. Of course if you choose to adopt such activities, they needn’t occur on Tuesdays, which means the continuity between you taking these ideas and us doing them, is simply that you’ve read this blog post and thought “I haven’t a clue what this Irish guy is wittering on about, but we might try something similar”.
They came about because we often work all day at our desk inside and soon realise that it’s past sunset (16.15 here at the moment) and we haven’t got outside or moved all day. Our motivation to leave into the dark, cold and wet is not often abounding, and so we figured we might need something to help us.
And so last Tuesday, just before I finished my Zoom call, I heard someone at the door and got up to investigate. I was too late to find anyone there, but did indeed find a letter from a local resident, Mr On. A strange name, I must confess, and one from whom I’d never received any personal correspondence before. Mr On was a well known character in the area, although sometimes considered a wandering nomad, far from home. Far from home, not because of his German roots (for which we should really call him Herr On, out of respect) but because he was nowhere near his normal abode.
But although far from home, he seemed to know how to write a good letter more than most young people do these days (a great travesty, if you ask me). I attach his charming address below:
And so the stage was set for what would soon be known as the first ever Tuesday Adventure. Of course, somewhere in the world (perhaps even my world) before, there had indeed been an adventure which had happened on a Tuesday, but for these purposes we ask that you allow us some generosity as we recount the great feat of that first Tuesday.
And off we went on the first of our 10-step adventure, all to be completed in a mere 90 minutes, without ever straying out of our 5km lockdown limit.
It was fear-invoking, outrageous acts like this that for me, were the reason that this was definitely an adventure. Just seconds before this photo was taken in fact, I was mere seconds away from being run over by a passing van, who for some reason did not understand that I was not crossing the road, but was obeying orders to stand in the round-a-bout in the middle of the road. (Perhaps this is why the US was so slow to adopt such madness as the modern-day roundabout.)
But this was not even the most challenging act of the evening. A request to get a photo of a dog being walked in the area was a challenge more suitable to an adventurous man like myself.
Forgetting all the controversy of the definition of a cul-de-sac and leaving it behind me, I set off for Eamonn Ceannt Park, in the dark! For even considering such acts of bravery, I hoped I would soon be rewarded by exactly what I was after.
Sadly it appears that during lockdown, not many people are venturing out of their houses at around 10.45pm on a Tuesday evening to walk around the streets. One kilometre in, and my hopes were raised by a person in shorts, moving from west to east across Clonmacnoise circle. The only moving target in many minutes. Desperate as I was to return to my warm bed, preferably having completed my adventure, it did seem a little ambitious to ask said shorted runner to find for me a dog in the local area and run back to me with it so that I could have a photo. So I moved on. And much to my delight, before even crossing the road to get to the dark park, I found what I was after!
My recent learning via the Photography Ethics Centre meant that I was uneasy with taking photos of people (and their dog) without their permission and posting it online on what might become a viral blog post (I always dream).
And so I was left with a dilemma. Here was indeed my one opportunity in perhaps the whole night (for who walks their dog after 11pm??). My options were limited.
And so, determined to do the ethical thing, I approached the man with the dog. He was the type of man, who, if I’d been someone prone to making stereotypes (which of course I’m not), I would have said he was a rough drug addict, just out of jail and walking home (you can tell by the look in their eyes). And so I didn’t feel as bad about what I was about to do.
In what would be later described by a local paper as an act of extreme gentrification, I subtly walked towards the man (and his dog), looking simply like I was off to take part in an adventure that a local heron had given me. The man suspected nothing.
In a flash, without him realising, I had his dog and had disposed of the owner. I turned, realising I now had what I needed. A way of getting my photo of a dog walker, without needing to ask for permission, by becoming the very thing I needed. Moreover, the dog I had commandeered (or shall we say, offered to walk), was none but a local German Shepherd dog. Herr On would indeed be impressed.
And so, our grand Tuesday night adventure was completed for week one. Little did I know the traditions that would come about following such an adventure.
Inspiring? I would say so.
But please don’t all go out on Tuesday night for your Tuesday-night-adventure. Lest it all get a bit much on the streets and I get questioned by the Gards for the craze.
It was a scary enough evening, that in all honesty, I had no intention of putting pen to paper to tell anyone about it on here. But as several friends later said to me – “Peter, sharing such a story may help an awful lot of people who are similarly ignorant as you.“
Ah friends, eh?! They know how to keep me humble. And so I write this for those who are willing to admit to being as ignorant as me, or for those who are more enlightened but still want a chuckle at just one of the times I’ve been involved with the emergency services in the past few weeks (don’t ask about the other ones).
Finally before we begin, I should probably give some form of minor trigger warning, for those erm, who’ve had bad experiences in nighttime in the woods. You might be better reading some other blog posts instead.
I’ve recently moved to Dublin or the “big schmoke” as I liked to call it. The biggest city I’ve ever lived in and the biggest in Ireland by about 10 times. Still, since I’ve moved here I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how much green space exists everywhere and how close the Dublin hills are to the city.
In fact, I won’t lie, I didn’t even know there were Dublin hills, before moving to Dublin. And so as a mountain runner, I was thrilled. The perfect type of hills to play around in on an average weekend – big enough to gain respect but gentle enough slopes to be at least able to pretend to run up without stopping for ‘photo opportunities’ every few minutes.
And so week by week I’ve been venturing further to explore, as well as running with my weekly running club gatherings which happily have survived all but the latest (most strict) lockdown regulations. Not only does Dublin have the local hills and the Dublin Mountain Way, but they connect across the border into Wicklow to proper mountains and the more famous Wicklow Way – a well established trail with 131km of good paths and moderately good signposting.
I say moderately good signposting because it was that night that I found myself lost on the Wicklow Way, alone in the dark. (Since then, I’ve been told that the Wicklow Way actually has really good signposts everywhere, and that it was just not meant to be run alone in the dark without a map or any awareness of the route. But as I was alone in the dark without a map, I can assure you that this standard of measurement for defining whether somewhere is well signposted or not, was not useful to me. But I digress…)
It wasn’t the fact that I was lost that particularly bothered me. I knew the route back to the car, up 3km of winding trails through forests, along a few kilometres of relatively flat paths in the forests, and then down the other side for a few more kilometres into the valley and along the river to a bridge where my car was safely tucked up waiting for me, as the only car that hadn’t found a farmyard lane to park itself in, for miles around. It was the route I’d just traversed (in reverse) to get to where I was now (wherever that was). I also had all the supplies I could ever need – extra food and water; my (rather old) phone with GPS; another ‘brick’ mobile in case my other battery died; a headlight; a compass; extra clothing and also the knowledge that I’d told someone exactly where I was going (well, as exactly as I knew, which given how lost I was, was not very exact at all).
What bothered me, was what had happened just a few minutes before I realised I was lost. It was dusk, and darkness was falling quicker than lockdowns were being anounced in the city. The autumnal evening was getting cooler as the sun had long since set across the city. As I came down the winding trail through the forest, my legs still feeling relatively fresh after the seven kilometres of up and down across the rocky terrain, though I realised that for every step I took, I’d to take another back in the other direction. My goal was still a few kilometres away – the next section of the Wicklow Way that I hadn’t yet done – eminently doable on a pleasant evening. And a pleasant evening it was. However it was a goal I was sadly not going to reach that evening after all.
It was still light enough that I hadn’t yet turned on my headtorch to see the uneven trail infront of me, but with the forest encroaching on both sides and snuffling out the sight of any starry skies or the moon overhead, it was certainly getting towards the level of dark it would soon be needed. And so, quietly padding my way through the forest trail, the only thing that could be heard was the steady rhythm of my breath breathing in the sharp, cold air of the autumn night – in through my nose, out through my mouth – and the occasional tumbling rock, shifting underneath my weight as I moved further up and further along the path.
Although I had not seen anyone for over an hour, amidst the incredible feeling of freedom and of being alive, I also had become aware that I had some running partners in the woods alongside me. More nimble and lightfooted than me, they barely made any noise as they darted through the trees, sometimes in view, sometimes not, and waited further up the trail for me to catch up. Wild deer. Occasionally and gracefully gliding over the trail path at unexpected moments, barely touching the path before propelling themselves upwards back into the forest on the other side of the trail. They were my mentors in running. My support team on the night. If only I could bound over the mountains with the ease of the Stag before me. If only I could navigate the twists and surfaces of the terrain as nimbly as their feet could, without any perceived worry at all. I ran on with joy in my heart, eventually losing them (or perhaps they, losing me) but still caught up in the joy of their presence with me for the few kilometres they had been alongside.
It was much later though while still in such higher planes of ecstasy (that only those well versed in hill-running will know well), not shackled by any time I (or Strava) ought to be somewhere, that the presence of something else in the woods caught my attention quite abruptly.
Three shrieks rang out from the forest – as if someone (most likely a female from the voice) was under great duress.
I kept running, mentally doing gymnastics to try and figure what could be happening off to my left, deep in the woods. My breathing got heavier.
Perhaps I was closer to civilisation than I realised, and this was some teenagers fooling around in the woods?
Perhaps the spirit-worshipping witches and other such people were out in these parts of the Wicklows, just as they were on the Dublin hills, which have long had a history of witchcraft and dark spiritual forces?
I wasn’t sure, but most likely it was nothing, I supposed, and so I kept on running, in a slightly more disturbed mental state, not able to shrug off the thought of it, even as I found open wide, downhill slopes to enjoy as the path wound down towards a (very) minor road – one of the many in Ireland that are classified as two way roads, but perceivably couldn’t have anything more than motorbikes passing both directions.
At least the road gave me the idea that perhaps the deep woods were more accessible from another side – where whoever or whatever it was, had entered. One car sat parked at the side of the road, lights out, the bonnet not completely cold to touch, although it felt like whoever had parked there had been gone a fair while.
Although the shrieks haunted my mind, a more prominent problem emerged from the woods. I didn’t know where The Wicklow Way continued. I hadn’t seen any signposts for over a kilometre, and although I was fairly certain I took the main trail down the hill, there had been several cross-roads and paths that left it at various points. Hitting a minor road did not give me confidence, nor did the fact that this “car park” (not that you could really call it that) which had an information board at it, had nothing that mentioned the Wicklow Way, nor any arrows to point me onwards. Resigned that I may have missed an arrow in the dark further up the trail, I turned round to retrace my steps.
Taking a left further up, I hit a well worn grass trail and ran for another kilometre, passing the remnants of a camping spot and fire pit used by others before me, before turning left downhill into some more woods and soon coming to a dead end, fenced off by some private property of someone who doubtless lived on the minor track I had previously hit. There was nothing I could do apart from go back. And so I did.
Now not knowing whether or where I had missed the Wicklow Way markers, and still slightly unsure about what I had heard just 20 minutes before, I decided to just go back, finding myself on the main trail, which looked surprisingly different under the light of my headlamp, and surprisingly longer than I had remembered when running downhill the other way.
Coming back up the hill, my headlight bobbing with every step I padded, the shrieks came again loud and clear out of the depths of the forest for the second time. Three cries, again from the voice of a female.
Surely this was in response to seeing my headlight through the woods? Was it a cry for help? Should I phone the Gardai (Irish Police)?
I took stock of where I was. I was alone. In dark woods, miles from my car. I did not know the area well. I kept running, more for my own comfort of knowing I had energy aplenty to expend and to get beyond any immediate danger. I checked my phone – no reception. Should I have been confident enough to deem the situation an emergency, I probably should have risked my voice cutting through the silence of the forest as I phoned the emergency services (something you can sometimes do even with no signal – on another mobile network’s signal). Instead I ran on, unsure on what I was experiencing, and not willing to stop to take time to think.
Back through the flat of the forest trail I ran, with now no sign of my support team anywhere near me. Down into the valley, heart pounding at irregular speeds as I pushed onwards. And finally round the corner in to sight of farmyard lights in the distance, and into view of my little Volkswagen Up, tucked into the cleft of the bank by the river.
After a quick glance around me to check I was still alone, I got into the car, locking myself inside and forgetting to stretch. Safe at last. Irrationally still perturbed despite no evidence for miles now of anyone around me or anything wrong.
Winding round tight bends up country roads, soon I hit the main road and the lights of the city glowing overhead. In 30 minutes I was home.
But after recounting the story to my wife, she was alarmed. “Did you not ring the Gards yet?”
Still not 100% convinced on what I had just experienced, and aware it was now coming on over an hour and a half later, I phoned the Police station closest to where the incident occurred. Such stations I was to find out, are only open a few hours each day, and so I phoned the regional headquarters another half hour away.
Their response was remarkable. Believing my story to be of utmost importance, within minutes they had cars scrambled up to the minor track I had stumbled upon. But more than that, a heat-seeking helicopter unit was soon circling overhead above the woods (seen by friends who live at the end of the Wicklow Way), trying to see what was going on, if it wasn’t too late already. The search was on.
Forty-five minutes later, they called again to re-check some details of where on the trail I had heard the noises, and assured me that they had everyone out. That was the last I heard, as I left my phone on loudspeaker overnight incase they called again.
In the morning I kept an eye on the news to see if anything would be reported. But no, nothing at all.
In fact, it was another two days before I unexpectedly learnt more about the curious incident in the woods at nighttime. Given how disturbing such a story might be to people, in an otherwise very safe area, I decided to tell very few people. But my intrigue did lead my to quietly ask 3 people. And I’m very glad I did.
It was 10.30am on Saturday morning, just when the rest of Dublin is starting to awake from its slumber, but when some of us hill-runners had just finished our second run of the morning. Standing around in the car park afterwards (socially-distanced of course), contentedly tired, we were chatting as we stretched and enjoyed the fact that the rest of the weekend was still to come. Realising I was in a small circle of local people, all more experienced in the hills, I dared briefly recount what had happened to me on the Thursday before. Had they ever heard of the woods being misused by people up to no good? Is it safe? Could the two sets of skrieks just be coincidence as I passed the same point, or teenagers messing around miles from their home?
The circle went silent.
“Have you ever heard deer mating calls or a vixen?“
The simple question had me thinking.
No, no I hadn’t.
“Just go home and search the internet and see if it’s anything like you heard.”
And so commenced one of the strangest searches I have ever typed into my keyboard. But sure enough, a few searches yielded the unexpected results:
A vixen can sound very like a human screaming.
In fact, so much so that some other local young woman I’ve since recounted my story to, had called the Gards on something moving in her back garden which screamed too! And again, they had responded in force, keen to check that it wasn’t something horrific.
And so, I believe my curious incident in the woods at nighttime to have been solved. A sense of shame hangs over my head at the wasted resources of a Gardai helicopter search and the wild goose chase (or rather fox chase) that the officers will have been on that night. Goodness knows what came up on their heat-seeking equipment.
But a sense of pride also comes from knowing that our Police force in Ireland are willing to believe reports and act on danger, even at great cost. If it had been a human in danger (and there, to my knowledge has rarely if ever been any major incidents of such varieties along the Wicklow Way of such, despite many people running, walking and camping along the trails in the dark), they were well prepared to respond, for which I am exceedingly thankful.
So there it is. A curious incident in the woods at nighttime.
May we all know for next time you hear a human-like shriek in an unexpected place. Particularly for those of us who have foxes living in or near our garden like we do!
The lockdown period has been different for everyone. Even different for the same person on different days. How easy it is to know that the gospel should give us perspective in all of this. Yet how hard to bear that in mind when our world collapses in on itself and we feel stuck in a rut.
Some days I’ve felt capable to try new things, to imaginatively create new patterns of life and to grow in godliness. Other days one is satisfied if a half-day of work has been done and one is able to fall asleep trusting a sovereign God, looking forward to better days!
But there are opportunities to look outwards and upwards, that may help us as well as grieving what we have lost. The road ahead could be hard for churches – social distancing will make things hard, and even when we have social distancing, it still appears we may not be able to have congregational singing for a while, if our recommendations are anything like other nations. The volume of air projected out of us when singing is bound to be different to when we’re sitting quietly apart from each other. For those longing to get back to congregational singing, this will be a painful realisation.
But its been encouraging to hear of one church in Italy who are seeing opportunity in this adversity. An adversity, I must add, that is not unique to this season for the worldwide Church – many settings will not be able to belt out Christian anthems together, due to fear of being reported by Police (secret or otherwise).
Rather than campaign for us to be allowed our rights far quicker (which may be questionable health-wise), or having people focus on the vacuum that is left by not singing (or for that matter, disobeying potential guidelines and singing anyway), this church have decided to do something positive:
Learn a new language
What?! How is that replacing singing? And why on earth would one expect a whole congregation to learn a new language? Isn’t that a bit unrealistic?
Well, a church near Turin have decided that they can sing congregationally, if they use sign language! Perhaps “learning a new language” is a bit of an over-statement. I’m guessing it’s learning some basic words from a simple song or two, or perhaps a chorus that can be repeated. And before anyone tells us that they could never do that, let me suggest that we learn plenty of similarly big things as whole churches, without batting an eyelid. What a humbling thing that brings parent, child and single person onto an even footing as we learn things together – in fact, I would fancy the chances of the young ones being far better at this than we are! What joy!
Here’s 3 other ways I think they’re on to something!
We can raise awareness of some of the neediest communities in the world for the gospel. You see, although the Church is gradually awakening to the great needs of the gospel amongst Unengaged People Groups and God’s heart for the outsider – the least reached – the population of said groups is growing fast enough that it’s a hard task to ever make a dent into the numbers. And then in most of those people groups, one has subsets like deaf peoples, who sometimes (depending on culture) are dis-connected from the dominating culture of those around them (given they don’t share a common language). It means many like the Joshua Project, count them as separate peoples.
But what are the chances of them being reached? Well even if the main predominant culture within that demographic is eventually reached with the gospel (which we’re still far behind on), the chance of a small sub-section of that community (one that tends to be quite insular, for obvious reasons) being reached, in this different language, is hard to imagine in many places. So many of the deaf communities fall high up on the least reached lists. They may not be the most strategic numerically, but then again, when was Christ’s Kingdom ever primarily shaped by reaching the most people, as quick as possible? King Jesus has a very different outlook on life, which by many of our models, seems weak, ill-advised and utterly frustrating.
What a great way to engage or to make ourselves aware of the deaf communities on our own doorstep too. Who are they? Where do they meet? Do any churches in the local area provide sign language interpretation or assistance? One small church in Carrigaline, County Cork has been giving their devotionals on Facebook with an intrepretation too (they’re uniquely equipped to do so, but have shaped lots of life round being able to serve the deaf community as well).
In learning some basic words about the gospel in another language, you’ll often find yourself thinking afresh about the meaning of it, and how best to communicate such. Could we be brought to marvel at the gospel again, by being children and struggling to learn some basics in another language like this? For those that wouldn’t be keen on this taking place in service, I suggest we teach other new forms of language and communication to people already, in our services, and expect them to pick it up and learn. Taking it slowly shouldn’t disrupt the tone of the service.
But wherever you are, and whatever your congregation may be able to manage or not manage, can I encourage us to look outwards and upwards, and to perhaps in doing so, start to see opportunity, amidst the adversity and loss.
In the meantime, let’s not forget what we lose: it is massive.
May this international collective warm our hearts as we reflect:
PS: Thanks Kim for flying the Irish flag in Sydney!
This is part of a microadventure series during lockdown that you can find here. I apologise for the dire lack of speed to finish the series. Lockdown has taken its toll on desiring to spend free-time on a screen blogging! Like many of these posts, I’ve strayed far away from mere physical adventures. This one takes us on a journey of political imagination, in a very un-political way. What on earth did the government mean when they suggested socially distant nightclubs opening in August? Perhaps we should find out…
Lockdown ended! Or so it felt. What is a return to normality? Well, the first night out of course. The good aul’ rhythms of pre-lash and getting ready were underway. Music pumping. Nails done. Mascara on. G&T half-drunk on the table beside me. It had been so long since the last night out that I’d nearly forgotten the usual way to get ready – was this it?
The motivation was both there and not there at the same time. There because….
And not there, because I was fairly paralysed by the very thought of meeting other humans in any quantity whatsoever. Could I cope after so long being away from humanity?
But gulping down the rest of my G&T (did I used to drink this during pre-lash or was this my many nights of isolation dictating my rhythms?!), I pushed that thought to the back of my mind and continued to instead be shaped by the rhythms of the music blaring out from Alexa across the room, where my poor housemate was trying to watch another Netflix show. I could think of nothing worse after the last few months.
“I can’t believe you’re going out. Like, do you realise that everywhere will be social distancing?” she called out to me as I headed towards the door, feeling the pulsating of my phone in my dress pocket as my taxi pulled up outside.
Yes, yes I did. But with the alternative another night in, doing the same things I’d done every night before, the allure of being free sounded too good to be true. I mean, it wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy the Netflix shows I watched, the friends I chatted to, or the meals I’d cooked. The walks along the coast and the sunsets I’d seen. In fact, if it were not forced upon me, I would quite happily be doing exactly those things time and time again for months on end, by choice. But the very hand on my shoulder, controlling my movements, constraining my choice was enough to feel like this oppressive figure looming over me had to be shaken off. And tonight was the night.
Getting into the quiet taxi, no other voices greeted me. And with no-one else there to laugh our way into town and build up the vibes to a great night, already had it feeling quite flat. But a call to one of the girls doing similar was enough to end that – we’d all be there soon. The Savoy was open again – our favourite spot.
Dropped off around the corner, I was very glad to have got tickets in advance – the queue was right the way around the block, though admittedly that was just because of the social distancing. Though something about the suspense of a cold wait, after so long away, actually seemed appealing right now too. Passing the hordes of nervous revelers, I caught sight of Lizzie beaming like a kid at Christmas. 3 months had been too long. Wanting to pick her up and squeeze her so tightly for as long as I could, I looked around to see who was watching. Everyone.
And so we headed to the top of the queue and flashed our tickets at the bouncer, who stopped us long enough to give us the instructions for the evening:
“Social distancing in place ladies. 2 metres apart at all times from anyone you don’t live with. Bar is closed, but they’ll come round taking drinks orders and taking contactless payments through the night – all you need to do is signal. Toilets are one-in, one-out and maximum of 5 people in there at any time. Enjoy your night girls! Welcome back.”
What we entered was surreal. This wasn’t our buzzing Savoy. It was 12.30, and the eerie, early hours where clubs normally lie as empty echo chambers while party-goers swarm towards town and then suddenly appear en-masse, were well past. Why was the dance floor still so empty, yet the queues so long? Small clumps of people in 2s and 3s danced in circles, dotted about the floor. We weren’t convinced.
Heading straight for the toilets, we caught them before the usual stench of sweat, urine and vomit had taken over. I pretended to do my make-up, waiting for Lizzie to be allowed in as the fifth one in there. Finally! We embraced for the first time. 3 flipping months! Ridiculous. The door swung open again, fresh air coming in with the next girl to enter. A glare from the security guard on the door said it all – she knew and she was watching. I took Lizzie’s hand and we went towards the disabled toilet, locking it behind us.
Relief. Finally we could express ourselves.
Being so tactile a person, the last few months had been a hell-ish existence, unable to simply feel the touch of friends and family. No hugs. No affirming touches. No crying on each other’s shoulders. Telling my nephew off for clinging to my leg. If this is what dis-embodied existence was like, I sure hope those religious folks who go on about life on the clouds forever know what they’re getting themselves in for.
Her arms were already round me, embracing me tightly and holding me in a firm embrace that I hadn’t experienced in so long. Secure.
We stayed like that for minutes, until the tears welled in my eyes, rolling down my cheek, smudging my mascara on the way as I tried to wipe my eyes without undoing all my handiwork earlier that evening.
“I’ve missed you” she whispered into my ear.
Silence. Beautiful silence. Time rolled on.
“Come’on, let’s dance.”
Squeezing me one more time so hard it nearly winded me, she reached for the door lock, and turned it, nervously glancing out. There was just one other girl at the sinks who thankfully didn’t seem to blink at the sight of two girls coming out of the same cubicle. Wanting to compose ourselves, we joined her at the sinks, one either side of her while we attempted to clear the lines from our cheeks.
Never had a hug felt so illicit.
Our irrational blushes hidden as we left the light-filled facilities, trying to avoid the gaze of security on the toilet door as we headed onto the dance floor, and sought to teach ourselves how to act in this weird new world. There weren’t many more people there than when we first came in – perhaps a third of the dancefloor was filled? Many stood round the edges swaying and gently jiving while cradling a drink in one hand and attempting to make the surveying of the situation, as non-meercat-like as possible.
Only the centre of the dancefloor, normally not visible at all from where we had positioned ourselves, had what could nearly constitute a mass of people. But they still moved in small groups, and a careful observer would still denote that any mingling shortly resolved back into the same groups they first started in.
Others clearly couldn’t care. Their’s was freedom, and they were to enjoy themselves like any other night out before. Moving from one group to another, they got quickly shut out from some circles, scowling at them, while others embraced their courage with a space in their dance circle. But while publicly under scrutiny, were not to allow the next advance of the courageous individual. One thing to dance. Quite another to share more intimate space. Not tonight.
The man with a ridiculous flourescent pool-noodle-hat on, interrupted our survey, and was not missing out on the fact the bar was not open for us to visit. Flashing around the dancefloor we’d already seen him and his colleagues smoothly glide between the dancers, working the room to try and cover their wages that were normally covered in the first hour of the night, as dancers usually crowded the bar. A final year law student, a few drinks in, took his chance, and the flourescent hat was gone, flying like a plane across the dancefloor to the cheers of those watching, pretending to dance. Irritated and out of usual habitat, the barman continued taking our order.
“Sorry, what did you say, I was distracted? They took erm….my uniform.”
And soon he was back, drinks in hand, and contactless card machine at the ready. That tap must have been the first voluntary payment from my account in months. Asides from Netflix of course, but that doesn’t count.
The DJ was part of this new social experiment too, of course, and seemed to be desperately trying to sense the mood of the room, slightly perturbed by the number of eyes that joined his, in scanning the space, examining the species present. Classic hit after classic hit rained out, trying to gather momentum and ease some of the fringe into disobeying the rules in the centre – because that’s what had to happen surely? The pack resisted. For now anyway. But all we reckoned it would take, would be a few drinks.
A few drinks later, we weren’t so sure. A few weeks maybe?
The beats continued. The night rolled on. Everyone there seemed to be waiting for when the support act would stop playing and the night would start. Only it never did develop.
“Where’s your housemate?” Lizzie yelled in my ear, across the thumping tunes.
“At home – didn’t want to come – said it’d be crap because of all this.”
“I know. Can’t believe it. What’s she gonna do – stay in there all year?“
She rolled her eyes and focused back on the beat.
'Dancing at the disco, bumper to bumper - wait a minute, where's me jumper? Where's me jumper?' . . . Perhaps it's ok to say things will get better'
Regardless whether you’re a clubber, or not, I try and relay some advantages of socially distant clubbing. And if you can’t feel them, at least agree with me and the Sultans of Ping, that at the very least with these regulations, you’ll go home clothed and your mother will not be so, so angry. Nor your brother. Or girlfriend. Or dog for that matter.
This is part of our microadventure in lockdown series throughout April. You can find the rest of them here. Do keep letting us know what you’re up to during this time!
“You’re just recording whatever you do in your day – these aren’t microadventures!“
Several of you have joked this with me recently, and I must confess, that in my desire to create achievable microadventures that could be done by most people in lockdown, they may have come out as quite basic at times. Particularly the broadening of #microadventures away from purely physical activity. But none-the-less I’ve been heartened by all of you who’ve sent in pictures and stories of you doing similar adventures, I stand by the definition given and now present to you what I think a millenial adventurer may find the hardest microadventure yet. But please excuse the forray through Twitter, into the Judeo-Christian worldview to get there. The Zombies will come on stage later.
Scrolling the infinite feeds of Twitter
Twitter is not the place I usually turn to in order to see where public opinion lies, but occasionally I get drawn in to the rabbit warren of threads and replies on random topics. This one was a local councilor who was campaigning to open the centre of Belfast (shops etc) on Sunday mornings for tourists and others who may want that. One comment beneath was telling, though quite representative of the main thrust of comments (and I paraphrase):
“I used to think those religious nuts who campaigned to lock up swings and shut everything on Sunday were hilarious. I still do. But some of what they campaigned for, I actually see as really helpful now. Keeping shops shut on Sundays gives the worker a chance to take a break from the incessant work expectations. It gives family-run businesses and start-ups a chance to have a break, so that they can compete with the bigger chains in the long-run. It gives the individual worker the chance to say no, when their big company pressures them into working Sundays, despite technically saying they ‘don’t have to‘.”
Christians have embittered some societies in the past with a high emphasis on rules and regulations of what one can or can’t do on a Sunday. The focus was that “God says…” and then the specifics of what they did, made it sound to the rest of society like “God says….lock up the parks” or “God says…you can’t do your gardening”. The untold effects of legalism (going beyond what God actually said) on this issue and many others will continue to ripple in our society today, as the picture of God that is portrayed is a false one.
Even within Christian homes, many have been turned off views of Sabbath, by needless over-extension of authority on the issue – I still remember when a tennis ball was confiscated from two teenagers at a church camp, because the minister did not approve of it being thrown between two people on a Sunday. At the same time many wives (normally) were made prepare “Sunday lunch” which often had them working several hours to get the feast of the week ready. This, for whatever reason, was considered not only acceptable, but in some households, necessary.
Fighting for Sabbath
Such strict or inconsistent interpretation of “resting all that day from our work and recreations, and spending the whole time in public and private worship, except the time spent in works of necessity and mercy” (Westminster Shorter Catechism Question 60), with no freedom of conscience within these things, is bound to draw the ire of even those who agree that the Sabbath day of rest is a creation ordinance, set up for all time, even before the law was given on Sinai, flowing from when God rested in his work of creation. One of the better accounts of this view is given here.
An increasing body of other Christians, follow D.A.Carson’s lead that the Sabbath is no longer compulsory for God’s people in the same way it used to be.
Lockdown re-teaching Sabbath?
But what all these believers hold in common is that ‘Sabbath’ rests, whether literal or categorical, are still useful for the world, no matter what we believe. A day off in the week has been acknowledged by many societies in the world to be a necessary thing, despite attempts to re-shape the week in other ways (like 10 days weeks). As many millennial drive themselves with such purposeful (often brilliant) work, 24-7, and struggle to stop, it would be a useful tool in our travel bags to have, if we could remember to stop. Ironically, studies would show that we end up being more productive by doing so, rather than less. I’m so glad my parents helped me to pattern life this way, even from early days in studying for school exams and the intensity of sport and music training 6 days a week for competitions.
And similarly for us in lockdown, where all days melt into one. Would re-establishing concrete patterns of work and rest, not be helpful for many us who mentally or physically struggle during these days?
But rhythms of Sabbath (that have always been more than the weekly Sabbath, in Jewish society), have helpful consequences far beyond a day of rest. How can I protect myself from constant “screen fatigue” or becoming a “Zoom”bie as some have said?!
One useful commentator suggested:
“If one works with one’s hands, take a sabbath by resting with one’s mind. If one works with one’s mind, take a sabbath by resting with one’s hands.“
And certainly the latter has always helped me. Spending an afternoon in prayer while doing something physical, is sheer bliss, to free my mind from worry and over-thinking and analysing things that draw me back to feeling like work.
“If one works with one’s hands, take a sabbath by resting with one’s mind. If one works with one’s mind, take a sabbath by resting with one’s hands.“
Rabbi Abraham Heschel
The tricky thing about working on Zoom (or other online video-call applications), is that if one has friends that one wants to connect with in one’s free-time, it is very hard to avoid yet more hours on Zoom! And so despite changing modes (work to rest), I still end up feeling exhausted at the end of the day, having spent it all in one posture. This therefore involves careful planning, and I’ve increasingly decided, intentional time away from screens.
There are many challenges to this, given I read a fair bit on Kindle (on my laptop), and I call family and friends at regular times each day. But without being legalistic, I decided to try for a 24 hour Sabbath from screens.
One day fighting
Given my phone is what wakes me up in the morning, the temptation is already there, to turn it on and browse messages sent in the small hours of night, by those I think are far more productive than me. But today, I must resist, turn my alarm off, and leave my phone on my bedside table.
Somehow, after enjoying my usual coffee during a devotional time with God in the morning (which I would not normally have my phone on anyway), by breakfast, I already found myself with my phone back in my pocket. Still turned off, but in my pocket none-the-less. Weirdly, it felt right to have it there.
Several times that morning, I took it out of my pocket simply to give myself distraction from what I was doing. Distraction because I wanted time away from my book I was reading. Distraction because I wanted somebody to tell me that they’re missing my online presence in these few hours, simply by viewing the “like-count” of a social media account. It’s blank “off” screen always disappointed.
Fighting something deeper than screens
Perhaps this little experiment away from screens was telling me something far greater about my heart, character and reality of my life.
The trickiest thing was that this was a day off. So there was 14-16 hours to spend without screens. One can only read so many books. And all my music was largely screen based these days too. I’d been for a run, but in lockdown that was not going to take hours of time.
Several times during my reading, I tried to persuade myself that I actually would be better off, if I understood the text I was reading better, by checking a reference on Google. My finger loitered over the “on” button.
Perhaps hardest was persuading myself that I could draw my housemate into this mad game, by offering to end our binge watching another series on Netflix, and instead play a game on the table or something else.
However, at the end of a day (where I was all too happy to go to bed at a reasonable hour in the evening), I looked back with fondness with all the things this day had taught me. Had a learnt far more today, than any other day I had access to Google and online educational materials? Would I be able to regularly discipline myself to stop reaching for my phone to scroll at any slight opportunity of boredom or discontent?
The Fight continues…
Perhaps this should become a regular Sabbath for me. And perhaps, just maybe, Sabbath could start being good news for the world – something that the Christian tradition can start to hold out with confidence again.
A few resources that may help convince us of the need of wider Sabbath rhythms, and help you in life:
Fight Hustle, End Hurry Podcast by John Mark Comer and Jefferson Bethke (yes, the man who did that one-hit-wonder video back in the day). They both have similar books out on the topic, which, you guessed it….I was too busy to sit down and read.
The Common Rule: habits of purpose in an age of distraction – this book is a lifestory of an American missionary entrepreuneur in China, for whom all of life was rosy. Until small distractions, became bigger issues, and bigger issues started to kill him, mentally, physically, spiritually. In his life story, every millennial I’ve met who has read it, has tended to say “that’s me” to some degree. Well worth reading – I’ll write a longer review soon.
This post comes as part of our microadventure series – keep sending me your microadventures and I’d love to hear what you’re all up to in the madness of the lockdown!
Chatting to my sister in Chad, I become appreciative of things in the world I’ve not been thankful for recently. The greenery on the trees from a different climate, the water in the taps and other such things. Weeks could easily pass in some countries, without seeing vibrant green grass, not to mention the diversity of colours splashed over the petals of flowers. All these things open my eyes to the world around me, even in lockdown, and open my heart to sing and be thankful.
And so as I went about my life today, I was determined to appreciate colour, and particularly that of the plants around me. The plants of course, that I normally speed past at 100 miles an hour on a regular day, and never notice because they don’t move, and through my ignorance, are never a cause for me to stop and wonder.
For me, who knows so little about plants, I have to confess it’s quite daunting to even start to think through a whole new world, and to get any sort of enjoyment out of exploring that (other than simply taking in the sights and smells of them). But I’m reliably informed that the Picture This app is a wonderful way forward, that will expand our horizons and make such a project a little less daunting.
But one thing I have still enjoyed today, even in my ignorance, is simply thinking about who made all of this (if indeed, like me, you think it was made). Whoever it was believed in something that was more than functional. Whoever it was, believed in diversity. Whoever it was, had utter imagination and creativity.
And it leaves me mourning how so many religious peoples in the world seem to funnel everything in life towards an eternal functionality (where sharp divides are made between physical and spiritual), seem to live so uniformly, seem to care so little about the world around us and our environment, and seem to lack the infinite imagination of their maker. Robbing the cosmos of colour.
Sadly, I weep at these things in my own heart so often too, as I mistakenly choose to believe (and consequently live out) wrong things about my Maker and live in false reality of blacks, whites and greys.
Finally, in considering the flowers at such an uncertain time, I can’t help but think of how else we’re called to live, in light of such actions:
27 ‘Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. 28 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you – you of little faith! 29 And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. 30 For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.
May our stopping to delight in flowers, be a sign of our utter trust in the One who made them – an act of spiritual worship, as we also serve the needs of the world around us.
PS: Perhaps I should care more about aesthetics, and changing out of the same clothes I’ve worn these last weeks in lockdown (as nobody is around to see)!
This is part 9 of our series on Microadventures. Why not start your own microadventures and let me know? Or take some ideas from here!
Never did I think I’d have such competition for my microadventure! Every time I moved within 30 metres of the dainty wader (a Redshank, I believe), its friend, the black-headed gull, would give it a little call to let it know that a predator was nearby. And off it flew, a further 100m down the stretch of coast. This game was repeated often until the ‘predator’ was one who gave up. Armed only with my phone camera, it never did bode well for getting good shots of birds.
And that was my exploration for the day. Trying to open my eyes to something I’d been brought up to do by my mother, but had miserably failed since.
While Dad and I used to march on walks on high speeds, Mum would open our eyes by stopping us, putting a finger to her lips, and pointing to something moving that we never would have noticed otherwise.
And it’s something that anyone can do, particularly if you’ve a garden, but even if not, you can keep your eyes open even in the hub of cities for unexpected wildlife:
To help you identify things, if you don’t happen to have someone at your side to educate you, a guide like this one might be handy (though I was given the ’79 edition of Collins ‘Birds of Britain and Europe’, which is fantastic and pock-sized):
And in seasons like this, you may get the thrills of seeing darting swallows, playing around, having migrated thousands of miles into our island. Or alternatively, as you wait to see birds, you may get surprised by other friends (or foe) too:
So did I get any pictures of birds at all on my adventures?!
Well…not really! Perhaps you can make out a few birds in the last one?!
This comes as part 8 of our series on Microadventures in the lockdown. Due to my lack of energy to write them all up, I’m afraid we’re only going at about one every two days. Perhaps they’ll do us for May too!
Have an idea? Why not let me know!
I’ve written quite a bit elsewhere (particularly in ‘Travel’), about our culture’s aversion to sleep. So often we pretend we are too busy for it (with important things, you’ll understand), don’t really need so much of it, or are simply distracted and don’t realise the time. To be purposely productive is the idol of many, including myself (sadly) at many times. The world is too enjoyable to sleep – there’s too much to explore! We’re definitely no longer a culture that wakes with the sun and goes to sleep with the darkness.
And that’s particularly true for the backpacker – we come in to places in the evening and still want to explore. We get woken up in the hostel at night by others in the dorm. We sleep on busses or trains or wherever we can find cheaply, but perhaps don’t quite get an uninterrupted 8 hours for many of those nights! For many of us, we think we can survive longterm living like that. Sleep experts would strongly disagree (see review 1).
But for these few days, I am attempting to get back to waking up when the sun rises (or just before) and going to sleep earlier, just to see what being in rhythm with the natural patterns of the world is like. Luckily for me, the hours suit well at this time of year where I am. If they don’t suit where you are, then perhaps just rise earlier in the morning to see sunrise and go to bed at a suitable hour.
So today was day 1 of this episode.
The alarm went at 6am, and I stumbled out of bed about 20 minutes later, already struggling and wondering why on earth I thought of doing this!
But 5 minutes afterwards, and my first reward was obvious.
A stunning sunrise over the water, with no-one else within miles to see it, apart from the odd cyclist, whizzing past on their way to work or their next target.
The stillness and quietness of the morning overtook me, as I stood, watching the majesty unfold. The day’s tasks rested far ahead of me and out of my mind as I watched the carefree oyster catchers and gulls fly over the still waters and come to land near me on the beach, wary of this strange species that had turned up amongst them.
The world may be in a panic and uncertain, but for my feathered friends in front of me, it was business as usual. And the only worry was what to eat that morning. The dining table for them, spread out with panoramic views.
My heart sang a short reflection of thanks to God.
And the rest of the day was set with a foundation of joy. Walking back home for coffee, I turned to some more immovable sustenance of joy as I opened God’s words to us, recorded in history for us (in the Bible). And then onto breakfast before the day sped up and reality hit.
But just in case you think it’s all very well for me – having a nice sunrise to watch, I guess my post is less about chasing sunrises (which are of course, still a ‘brucey bonus’) and more about connecting with natural rhythms, stilling your heart before madness hits, and meditating on the bigger picture.
And much as I do think sunlight and other such daily rhythms do indeed have an affect on us, I do wonder whether we also have quite some cultural prejudice towards times of day in some circles of society. Today, I sent an email at 8am, and got heralded for my ‘godliness’ of being up early. Previously I’ve sent emails at 2am and got berated for how immature and out of control I was! Neither need be necessarily true at all though, depending on the circumstance or patterns of life we are living.
But for now, let me simply encourage you to join me on a dawn microadventure, and see what you find!
This is the seventh post in our microadventure during [Coronavirus] lockdown series. You can find the others here.
Murphy’s Law! It’s what we call it in Ireland when anything that could go wrong, does go wrong. Like when we are have to isolate indoors, and the weather blazes the best sunshine we’ve seen all year. Similar to exam season for children – when it occurs, and they must stay indoors revising, we suddenly get good weather too. And so it’s happened.
I’m a little hesitant about when I go out on such days. My local walking path (just 200m away) is sometimes teeming with people who’ve driven in from elsewhere, and so I try and go when the crowds die down.
But as I stepped out of my front door to stretch before my run, it wasn’t just the area that was teeming with people. The air was teeming too.
The crafty little things that loitered in the shadows, stealing the cool, shady areas of my driveway, and popping out at the sight of human flesh, to take a nibble and enjoy the crazy attempts of a human trying to swat and clap and do ANYTHING to get rid of them. Entertainment at its finest, for a midge-sized-eye.
But I put up with them for a short while, knowing that I’d soon be out plodding the pavements, quicker than any of them could catch up with me, or so I thought.
Today was the day I decided to go for a long run – to push the boundaries of what I’d been doing recently. I was used to doing ultra-runs over the past couple of years, but I was a little out of shape this winter, given how much I tend to consider myself a fair weather runner. Today, for our microadventure, would you join me?
For many reasons.
For one, it gives the day shape. Somehow I find that slotting a run into my day, shapes the rest of my day. On running days, I’m more likely to have a good time alone with God too. On running days, I’m more disciplined in my work routines. Running seems to do something to me, which puts everything else in order.
But much as I could go on, I’ll come back to more reasons for running, later in our run!
Today’s challenge was to go push myself further than I’d gone recently, which for me would be over an hour of running. And it was a beautiful day for it – blue skies, sun beating down.
My route would be the coastal path along Belfast Lough, which sadly turns away from the coast and goes through endless industrial estates at a point not too far from my house, and leads to the city centre, and then out the other side along the river (or alternatively, along the rest of the shore path to Bangor). Today though, I was grateful for the industrial estates, because they lessen the crowds and give some shade.
And we’re off
And so I set off, glad to get away from the swarm of biting friends, and head in the opposite direction to where most of them hang out, by the water’s edge.
I love running, but particularly by the water’s edge, or through beautiful regions. It’s partly what made me take up ultra-running – to remove the concrete from under my feet and remove the constant glancing at my watch from my runs. Not that I don’t care about time anymore, but its not what drives me. The joy of running drives me onwards.
And it gives me a mental release from over-thinking. I’m a person who thinks alot. I replay situations in my head, I mull over problems that aren’t even my own problems, I am always engaging intellectually with something. But running is the chance to lose myself (in the music, the moment….you only get one shot etc etc – sorry a little sidetracked) and think about nothing apart from the path ahead, the beauty around me, and the nothing-ness of the moment.
And so there I was, delighted to be free of worry, until a mile further on, as I passed a shady wooded area, dappled in sunlight trickling through the branches, I was slightly alarmed to find them again. I pushed on through the infested cloud of indiscernable bites, in the hope I could outrun them still. My legs felt fresh enough to give them a run for their money today.
On I plodded, knowing that I didn’t have to keep going. The danger with setting a time on running, rather than a distance, or setting joy as your driver, rather than set distance targets, is that I find it easier to turn round at nearly any point or to be reduced down to a snail’s pace (if time is my goal). I mean, technically you could do this, no matter what motivates you. And some days, one does really need to dig deeper, even when you don’t feel like it. Even when joy is not there in your mind. Even when your mind groans at the thought of the miles ahead.
No pain no gain?
Let me differentiate though between your body painfully groaning at the miles ahead, and your body mentally groaning. Yes, there is sometimes deep connection between the two, and it’s not quite as simple as I might make out here. But my mind will often complain at the journey ahead. But my body will only complain in pain if I’ve been pushing it too hard for its own good, if I’ve picked up niggling injuries or if I haven’t been sleeping well or physically doing ok in the recent days. The two are very different things. And it’s essential to listen to your body. To put your ego of your training routine or targets behind you, and listen well to your body, and not just your lazy mind (that will perhaps rarely choose to run any decent distance at times).
This, in today’s world is a counter-intuitive thing for anyone to do – to not listen to the loudest voice in your mind. For the mantra of the modern age is “be true to yourself”. But for the runner, if one was to listen to this internal voice, you would never leave the sofa. For the good of one’s self, one must not listen to oneself (which raises big questions for other areas of life…but I digress).
Choosing a goal
I say this, as I lay down the gauntlet of our microadventure today being to run farther than you’ve done before. Can I suggest pushing yourself just one or two steps further, rather than trying to break land records for running? Perhaps it’s only me, but my teenage self would often just take a whim to do some stupidly mad long distances on a nice day. To take off, and never return. And that was normally on top of a physically gruelling training schedule. The day after, I’d always suffer. In fact, often the whole week after, it’d put my other training into reverse. My ego would have tried to persuade my body that this was fitness. Instead, it was normally just pride.
I must never run so hard, that my body feels damaged by my actions (with perhaps a few exceptions of escaping danger or occasionally when I push myself in a competition – but still, I would be foolish to do this without knowing what will result). Because I partly run, to keep myself in shape. I sleep better when I run. My body feels fitter, when I run. And the endorphin release after running is the only drug I need for the day. There’s something about the elation and buzz of coming back from completing a run that leaves me buzzing for the rest of the day. I don’t know all the science behind it, but it feels good!
So if you’re choosing a distance to push yourself this week, perhaps consider your current level of fitness and go just beyond it. If you’re used to running 2km, run 2.5km. If you normally do 10km, do 13km. Or run the same distance at slightly faster speed or on a more hilly route. The “couch to 5k” challenge is beautiful for this reason – it sets reasonable targets over weeks, that won’t break you beyond what your body is capable of.
But as I ran on, I came to the depressing part of my route – the industrial estates. Thankfully they were quite quiet, given the nature of the times we live in, though they must still be ok to traverse at other times, given the main cycle route to the northside of the city goes through this route, giving a perfect path to run.
Here, I smiled. I had outrun my fellow competitors. Nothing moved for several miles around me, apart from two cyclists, whizzing past at high speed.
At the 35 minute mark, I turned, stuffed a few more jelly babies in my mouth (I’m a type 1 diabetic, so need constant sugar supply) and turned to run the same path back again.
It was 10 minutes in to my run back again that I sensed a cheater in our ranks. Had the race adjudicators not noticed? I was once again being bitten by my friendly rivals. But they’d not been anywhere near the distance I had traversed? Angrily, I pushed onwards, sure that even with less of my body in tact from their incessant biting, I could still outpace even cheaters like these.
And so I was still confident as I hit the sign for one mile to go – and it was all along coast now, with a gentle breeze off the shore, and stunning views of the Cave Hill to my other side. A flock of geese forming a “v” shape in the sky, flew by, effortlessly flapping their wings and gliding close to the water. Stunning!
Passing a walker, they dived into the bushes, sensing my deep breathing might smite them with undesirable viruses, as I ran past. But on I ran, keen to keep going.
One hour 10 minutes struck. And I was back within a few hundred metres of home. Time to slow down to a walk, for the last bit to allow my body a chance to recover before I spent the rest of the day indoors.
Overtaken at the final hurdle
But sadly it was that decision (which was a good one, I must add) to slow down, that cost me the race that day. Just in those last few hundred metres, my fellow competitors caught up with me for one final time, and gloated over me as I headed towards my finish, continuing to bite at any possible juicy morsels they could find on my body. Too tired to swat or dance away from them like I did at the start, I resigned myself to defeat. How had they run faster than me on such an occasion? I slammed the door, hopeful that they’d remain outside of my isolation bubble and at last, I could have some peace for the rest of the day.
It’s over to you
So, at the end of our little microadventure for today, could I encourage you to get out there and use your one exercise per day to push yourself just a little bit harder, faster, wiser, (and erm stronger?) in the days ahead.
PS: What if you’re only allowed 2km away from home by government isolation?
Don’t worry, there’s always running round your garden a billion times:
Or doing many lengths of your seven metre balcony, in order to run similar distances:
This post comes as the sixth in our Microadventure series found here. Those who have been with us on all our adventures so far, will realise that we’re looking to go away on both physical microadventures, but also mental and perhaps even spiritual ones too. Partly because adventure is not just a physical hobby, but something which embraces our whole humanity – some of the most intense experiences we have are not purely physical activities. And partly because I hope these can be for everyone, regardless of age, ability, culture, or whether you’re stuck indoors during isolation or not! I hope today’s #microadventure may help explain more.
I still remember the day our neighbour sprinted out of the house next door to me, yelling:
“STOP! STOP! STOP!”
This was not characteristic of the old man, who normally spoke beneath his breath, and I don’t think I’d ever seen run in my entire time of living there.
It wasn’t as if I was doing anything mad! Just getting into my car, like I did every other day of the year, and in fact, like I’d done only an hour before. What was his problem?!
“Don’t start the engine!” he cried, arriving beside my open door, and finding me one leg in, one leg out of the driver’s seat. He took an extra two steps over to the bonnet of the car and tapped it twice with the palm of his hand crying as he did so.
I waited a few seconds to see what this dark magic was to produce.
“That’s fine now” he said, walking back to the open door he had sprinted out from, and disappearing without explanation.
It was only later that I found out from him over a cup of tea, that his last cat has sadly died, trapped while enjoying the warmth of a previously used car engine, when it had been started again, and had driven off with the startled cat still in the bonnet. Soon, frightened cat became fried cat.
And so I can imagine the phrase “curiosity killed the cat” might have some merit. Cats do sometimes have an intrigue that leads them into interesting situations. The fact that no-one seems to know where the phrase came from, and that it seems to actually have been something more like “worry killed the cat” to start with, may send us off in a different direction.
Why on earth are we talking about cats and curiosity?
Why on earth are we talking about cats, curiosity and a random incident that wasn’t an incident at all? Well partly because seven cats have just walked past my window today – some several times. But moreso because of one thing I tell every microadventurer (and adventurer) to pack! When interviewed on the Christian Travelers’ Network, I was asked:
“What is the one thing that you always pack when you travel?”
To which I replied:
“Curiosity. And my old tennis ball – it’s travelled more miles than I ever have!”
Curiosity about the world, and about life is a spring-board to many things. It is infinite in its measure – one can be curious about anything in life. It means one can be alone, isolated in a room for months, but perhaps never get bored. It frees one from the virus of never being content with smaller things, by giving us a curiosity about lots of things in life – yet not just the major thrills of travelling far-flung destinations for the perfect ‘Insta pic’.
Yes, curiosity can still be a killer (for our cats, or even for us – if we invest it too heavily in the wrong places or things), but for me, it’s an essential ingredient to adventure, and leaves me happy with #microadventures, not feeling I’ve been robbed with the current circumstances, nor leaving me lacking desire to get out again to see the world.
When curiosity can’t be found
Sadly some days, I enter it rushed, consumed by the tasks I think I need to do, driving home from work listening to the same 10 latest pop songs played over and over again on the radio, and finding myself scrolling the evening away [on my phone], never investing my curiosity in anything deeply, and dulling my senses with a pint (or two), a Netflix episode (or four) or suitable other releases from the daily grind.
Sometimes curiosity is hard to find. All too evasive in a busy world, which rushes by seeking such purpose, yet never travelling slow enough to see it in any of the places it’s found, before distraction carries us off again.
For my secular friends, some said to me their curiosity is motivated by their sense of awe at the world – how small they are in the world, and how much there is to marvel at, if we should stop and get a big picture. Perspective is everything. And getting distracted by religious narratives, for many of them, only takes away from the time we could be curious about more things, and helping others. In fact some religious narratives, they’d claim, take away from this awe-inspiring big picture of our small-ness within the universe, instead having us front and centre of the narrative.
For some of my Muslim friends, their passion to achieve eternal reward, is enough to make them keen to do well on this earth and for our humanity, regardless of what subject or field that may be in – thus generating curiosity about a wide variety of things. The Prophet (PBUH), Qu’ran and Hadiths helpfully sharpen their curiosity away from just general nice things, to what really matters in life – spiritual things, helping the least in society, and obedience to the way of Allah.
Where I find curiosity
For me, it’s been gradually found by meeting and experiencing the One who claims to have made all things. Because He has made such a diverse and wonderful world, and calls us to enjoy it, look after it and to develop it, I find myself gradually growing my interest outside of the small bubble that I grew up in. I find He gives me strength within to empower curiosity that serves.
Where I used to only care about my own hobbies, I find myself taking interest in other peoples’ hobbies. My poor mother, who had to endure endless chat about football, if she ever took me on a walk when I was younger! Now put me in a room with someone doing a PhD in molecular biology, a fan of Love Island (does that still exist on TV?) or other niche things, and I would at least attempt to delve into questions and interest, as much as my limited abilities allowed me to.
Where I used to only care about places of the world I had been to, or wanted to go to, now I find myself curious about all sorts of places – out of fascination for the world, though also because of the worldwide Church.
Where I would have otherwise given up on a friendship or getting to know someone, because of their wildly different opinions, lifestyle or otherwise, now I find I try to have a patience to shape my whole life deliberately alongside diverse others who are not like me, to walk a mile in their shoes (where appropriate) and to ask good questions.
A shared experience?
Quite a few of these things just grow in every human to some extent as we grow older. Yet some curiosity dies, as we grow older and reach a point we think we know everything, or certainly everything we desire to know at that moment (even if we would never say this). So much will need to be intentionally developed.
And so feel free to leave a comment below:
How does your worldview allow for curiosity?
And how does what you believe motivate you to act on this curiosity?
How does your worldview allow for curiosity? And how does what you believe motivate you to act on this curiosity?
And if you’re not sure how what you think and believe affects how you act, why not start by reading something which helps you understand your own worldview more? I recommend a book used at the start of some university courses on philosophy, but it’s not too deep – don’t worry!
[It’s written by a professor who happens to be a Christian (and who is very open about that in the introduction), but I’ve never met anyone who thought that it is an unfair account of other worldviews – he is generous and doesn’t “straw-man” other beliefs. It can be found on the link below, or you can ask me to post a second hand copy to you, if you’re quick.]
I hope as we #microadventure onwards together that curiosity will overflow from our pockets and our hearts. But delightfully, that despite its abundance, it won’t take up any luggage allowance at all for us, but will make for epic adventures ahead!