The Curious Incident in the Woods at Nighttime

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.

Bohernabreena on the Dublin Mountain Way

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…)

The sky as I set off at the start of my run, with the lights starting to emerge in the towns on the coast.

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.

(Image taken from: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Wicklow_Way_Waymarker.jpg under Creative Commons License)

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.

A supporter on a previous run in the Wicklow mountains

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.

The darkening night sky after sunset. This was one of the few sections of the route that didn’t have thick forest on either side.

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.

Photo from our Irish Mountain Cardio Club – quite often found running at night in the hills.

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?

Our group before our run.

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!

Addicted to travel?

No-one ever admits they’re addicted to things. Just the way that no-one ever publicly admits to being lonely. Socially we don’t do that. I remember once confessing the fact that my heart was sometimes a little racist in some of my reactions in life. There was uproar at such a thought! There appear to be some things we are not allowed to admit. The ultimate sins of the age.

And then there are the things everyone is addicted to, so we don’t even call it addiction. Checking our phone notifications or social media (probably many times per hour for those with iPhones/androids). Sadly for our culture, even watching porn probably comes into this category – many we know in our society would struggle to stop.

But how can we tell if we’re addicted to travel? How do we know if it has gripped our hearts more than Jesus? I was caused to think through this questions by a recent article I read online:

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2020/oct/12/cabin-fever-tickets-for-meal-aboard-singapore-parked-plane-sell-out

People not only paying for flights that don’t go anywhere (return to the same destination as they leave), but paying to eat aeroplane food, on a stationary aeroplane! Now given the fact that most aeroplane food is atrocious, and some might want to pay to not receive it, this bizarre phenomenon must be explained by other reasons. Why would people pay sums of money to eat on a stationary plane?

Well obviously because they miss that aeroplane experience. They are so used to flying, or dreaming of what the conitation of flying evokes in their memories and desires, that being back within the shell of a plane, even if it doesn’t go anywhere, is worth the cost of the food alone. No one pays large sums for plane food by choice. People pay for what their hearts crave for – the feeling of freedom that travel gives – the longing for the ‘normal’ to return.

Now admittedly, in these weird times, one could pay for the novelty of such things, even when one has no attachment to travel at all, but it is unlikely. So is anyone who steps on that plane addicted to travel?

Our trouble with this is that we can justify away anything. Our hearts are fantastic at the “justification game” – making up excuses to justify our behaviour and claim that it is acceptable, even moral. And on the other hand, we also love to point at other people and declare them to be at fault (in this case, addicted to travel) based on our preconceived and cultural notions of what is healthy and what is not.

So I’d want to be careful in my broad brush-stroking everyone who does a certain thing, with an assumed heart motive. But at the same time it got me thinking. What would signify that my heart was addicted to travel?

MONEY

  • when I spend more money on pleasure travel than I give to world mission in a year?
  • when I go into debt or borrow to finance my travels?
  • when I can’t give to some sustainable project in a place I’m visiting because I’ve budgeted every last bit of money to suit my travels/needs?

TIME

  • when my bucket list dominates how I spend my annual leave or my free time?
  • when my friends say they don’t see me much because I’m away travelling all the time?
  • when I turn down helping on a Saturday night rota or Sunday in church because I am hoping to be away weekends?

PERSPECTIVE

  • when my social media feed causes me to long for travel more than praise the God who made travel?
  • when I’m more aware of the travel destinations or tourist attractions in a country than I am aware of the state of God’s people (the Church) in that country, or the great needs of the country?
  • when I seek to justify my travels by using mission, visiting people or short-term volunteer projects as an excuse?

LOVING OTHERS

  • when I don’t act to counter the ethical affects that my travels have on the environment and on the most impoverished in the countries I visit?
  • when I don’t have the energy or heart to regularly serve a local community of believers in some ways each week? (whether formally or informally)
  • when I don’t have the energy or heart to regularly reach out to local unbelieving community each week?

COVID

  • when I think of this period as the ‘waiting time’ before real life returns?
  • when I relish saving lots of money over this period (from not eating out, not travelling, not spending much) because it means I can travel far more for my own pleasure in future?
  • when I long for travel to return more than I long for Jesus’ return?

OTHER

  • when I start paying for meals on stationary planes?!

Now don’t get me wrong. This is not an exhaustive list, nor is it a perfect list. You may object to some of my questions and may do so rightly (though I’d be interested to hear from you which ones). You may also think I haven’t touched on some areas which we could ask questions about (please do send your heart-revealing questions in!). But even for those who have started working in the travel industry (as travel bloggers or otherwise), I hope these questions are still fair ones to ask.

This also is not primarily meant to be a list to spiritually beat you up, make you feel bad about your faith and demand you do more good stuff to make up for it. But if you feel really bad, or even feel a bit angry at me writing such a list, I might suggest that perhaps it has touched a sore point in our hearts where we realise we may fall short on an awful lot of these suggested things! We don’t need to be addicted to travel, for us to feel the increasing tug of it on our hearts day by day. Could this be a time to take stock and re-orientate our hearts towards the God who made travel?

The good news, is that the response is better than simply taking a pledge to abstinence. You are not required to sign up to a Travel-holics Anonymous class. You don’t have to bathe in shame for the foreseeable future either.

“If we confess our sin, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

(1 John 1:9)

In coming to Jesus as creator of travel and asking him to help us glimpse the his goodness and the One who is transforming it all under His good rule and reign towards a new heavens and earth one day, our hearts can be captured by infinitely better dreams than anything travel could give us.

Now to help us see this, and to help us see Jesus’ good news for our lives as “an easy yoke” and “a light burden”, you may still find it easier to grab a close friend in church and chat through your struggles or questions with them, and let them help you establish perspectives and patterns in your life which help re-orientate your heart to an infinitely bigger and better gospel than the gospel of travel (alone) can ever provide.

And why not do it now, while we have time to think during Covid and when we realise how unsatisfying living for travel is, during this season?

It’s why we need to talk about travel, at the time it seems most silly to talk about travel – when no travel can happen.

Why do you run? #RunOnEmotion

Whether you’re a ParkRun fanatic, a Couch-to-5k starter, a pavement pounder or a trail-runner, we all run for a reason. Much as it may be rumoured that I run off jelly-babies, for me as a trail-runner here’s my story why I think joy is the best fuel for running, and what gives me that fuel.

Fuel yourself with joy
Running at its best ought to be inherently joyful. ‘Why would you get up from the sofa and put yourself through the pain of exercise?‘ many ask. For the joy that comes from it and through it, would be my reply.

Many will testify that guilt is a bad motivator (Paul O’Connell’s rugby biography being one) and fear too (as rock-climber Alex Honnold discusses with psychologists here). But there’s an endorphin rush you experience deep inside you after you’ve finished that gives you a ‘bounce’ for the rest of the day (even if you’re tired). There’s a delight in the achievement of what you have just done. The thrill of feeling free as you arrive at the peak of a mountain ridge, or stick in the earphones to run and forget the day’s worries. But what about when we feel more drudgery than joy? When we see the next unbearable slope ahead, or after the brief moment of elation on the podium has passed?


Our trouble often is that we think that habit or duty is the antithesis of joy. So as soon as we don’t feel like something, or think it’s too hard work, we give up. Those first few weeks of starting running. Those weeks you seem to be plateauing and not going anywhere. Those days you look at the weather outside and just couldn’t be bothered.

But joy is more than a feeling we get when we muster up a good performance or work hard for all to see on Strava. Such joy would be very short-lived and not a good fuel for running, let alone the rest of life.

Could there be a more deep-seated joy within us that gives us energy even in injury, mental doubts and hard times?

Listen to your body
It’s what has turned many to find greater purposes to generate joy within themselves. Are you running to get away from the problems and worries of work or to escape for a few hours from a relationship going through a rough patch? Are you running to prove to yourself that you can reach the goals that you aim for? Are you running to keep your body or mind in shape?

Many internal reasons motivate many of us, as we search for the joy to run inside of ourselves. And as we do so, the phrase “listen to your body” becomes a repeated mantra in many circles. Physically and mentally this can be liberating advice. Instead of being chained to training regimes, this gives the freedom to realise when we need to slow down, or when we can push ourselves more. Instead of choosing to try to push our body beyond actual pain in training, we can stop and think why we’re feeling pain and how to combat it.

But like many things in life, “listen to your body” alone won’t get you anywhere. We often deceive ourselves to what we are capable of (either not pushing hard enough or pushing too hard), we don’t understand our body to the extent we think we do, we don’t have the time to be an expert in everything in order to flourish as a runner, or quite simply, we don’t have motivation within ourselves at many times in life. True joy can still escape us.

Running unites
And for when looking inside and listening to our body doesn’t do the job, many of us have turned to running communities to help us. ParkRun (local 5k runs once a week in a local park, run by the community, for the community) has exploded across many areas to the extent that there are more people wanting to do it than some parks can host!

Others join running clubs that cater for all standards. Many of these have been able to keep meeting, even with tighter Covid restrictions. What better than to have a weekly rhythm to motivate you and give you people to provide some kind of accountability and support? What about people with huge experience in running alongside you to help when niggles start, or someone who knows what you’re going through mentally, to spur you on?

I find that running unites me with people who I never would have thought about hanging out with before. Something about persevering in hard miles together, side by side, is the perfect way to see each other as fellow humans and to help each other out, even if you have radically different backgrounds or thoughts about life and politics.

Someone could be your enemy at work 9 til 5, but when met out in the mountains, they become a fellow runner. We’ve even seen it in the Refugee Team at the Olympics. Running can unite.

And it can unite us even to the extent many runners realise how it even mimics religious communities. #sundaychurch is a hashtag not altogether uncommon around those who head out for their long run on Sunday mornings, or #parkrunfamily for those who embrace the ParkRun community week by week. It’s a beautiful joy, that the lone runner (although accessing more freedom and flexibility) will struggle to ever replicate in any meaningful way.

The trail is unknown

But ultimately the unity brought by running communities and the wisdom of listening to our bodies is still not where joy can be truly found to fuel us for our running. I myself have learnt the hard way but many others have had similar hard lessons.

I was up running in the Dublin hills not so long ago, and found myself taking a “wrong” turn and losing track of the lead group. I slowed down to see if anyone was following close behind, and sure enough one runner soon caught up with me. As we ran for the next hour together, sometimes in silence (going up the hard slopes!) and sometimes chattering away about everything in life, it soon became evident that our stories overlapped to some small amount, even if he was a 50 year old Dad, and I was only just 30.

There was a day he feared, when the track would run out, and the community would die. A day when listening to his body would do no good. He told it in two ways.

The first was of a friend of his, one of the fittest people he knew. Jumping in the waves on a beach in Wexford with his daughter, he felt his leg snap when he landed on the soft sands of the beach. Somehow, he’d developed brittle bones, and his femur had just snapped. Brittle bones which would plague him for the rest of his life and make even the simplest of things hard. The running community would gather round him to help for his time in hospital and for many weeks, but after the news grew old, he was left alone, no longer fitting into the club that were once his family.

Dramatic as that sounds, this story was echoed in the man’s own life. During Covid, as fit as a fiddle, but suddenly developing a bad case of gout, becoming bedridden and unable to perform many functions in normal family life for weeks on end. The loneliness and lack of purpose was palpable for him.

This story, was also previously mine (with a different condition) which had me in Intensive Care in hospital for several days, having only just come from enjoying a few days running in the Mourne Mountains before that.

Ultimately listening to our bodies in any of these instances wouldn’t have helped – we either couldn’t have told what lay ahead or didn’t recognise the signs. Ultimately the running community could only do so much, before we were left outside the weekly gatherings. Ultimately, joy again would be snatched from us, if we had placed it within ourselves or within our communities.

Could there yet be a runner’s paradise from where could flow a joy that would transcend even these fairly unalterable problems? Or are we as runners just on a lottery, investing our joy like eggs in many baskets, in the hope they won’t all be snatched from us?

It’s something scary to most people, that they don’t want to think about. But for me, I want to find a fountain for my joy that will not run dry during hard times, even when the tears come. A joy that is more durable than most surface-level emotions. A joy that will fuel me when no mountain ridges are mine to run along, when no friends are there to support me, and when nothing inside of me (whether self-knowledge or self-motivation) could keep me going.

And that logically for me, could only be found in the transcendent – outside of this world. A joy given to us by something or someone outside of ourselves.

For me, I’ve met One who claims to have made us to enjoy running, and also has made our playground of the mountains to explore. One who removes guilt and fear, and helps us respond in joy to all He has done for us. One who would give us more self-knowledge than we could ever muster ourselves alone. One who gives us a united community (Church) more inclusive than any running club. And one who knows every turn of the track, and can be there with us and for us even in the moments that ought not to happen – the tragedies of this world. Knowing and experiencing Him, is a fountain of joy that fuels all other things in life, running included.

Wishful thinking? Perhaps. But before you dismiss it, do explore the short historical eyewitness accounts of Jesus’ life for yourself as an adult. You might be surprised to encounter joy on those pages, and to find His name is Jesus.

You make known to me the path of life;
    you will fill me with joy in your presence,
    with eternal pleasures at your right hand.
(Psalm 16:11)
I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.
Jesus (John 15:11)

God is on the move (even when we’re stuck)

[Please excuse the break in blogging for the last month – I’ve been taking a hiatus from time online, partly as I settle into a new city/country/marriage/church, and partly as we’ve no WiFi yet at home. Reflections from the last month, on the last 8 years in Ireland are to follow. However I’m delighted to keep connecting with others who have a passion for Jesus, who have found themselves travelling His world and loving every second of it. Here Hannah Rasmussen (Kenya) shares a some reflections flowing from her studies of bi-cultural characters in the Bible:]


We often think of travel as a choice expressing independence. Gap years. Young adults on backpacking adventures. Exotic beach vacations. Travel has been idealized as a coming-of-age experience or luxury for those who can afford it.

But what about when travel is forced? Whether moving as a child, facing closed borders, or fleeing armed conflicts, there are many times travel can be outside our control. What about when you feel stuck where you don’t want to be instead of free to go where you’d rather be?

What about when you feel stuck where you don’t want to be instead of free to go where you’d rather be?

This has become the reality for many people during the COVID pandemic. People were stranded en route to their destination or locked down where they didn’t know anyone. Refugees’ and immigrants’ visas were stalled. International students wondered where they would live. Family members wondered when they would be reunited.

Travel was often forced in the Bible, too. Joseph was a trafficking victim. Moses ran away from Egypt as a fugitive. Daniel was taken into Babylonian captivity. Paul’s travel plans changed due to shipwreck, persecution, and imprisonment. Jesus’s first trips were in utero for a census decreed by one ruler and then fleeing another ruler’s massacre.

Where is God in the “bad” travel?

These characters might well have asked that question. I doubt they ever truly felt at home where they were (Hebrews 11:13-16). They weren’t readily accepted; Joseph and Moses were neither Hebrew nor Egyptian. Daniel was trying to be devout serving a government who wanted to erase his identity and replace it with a culture infamous for sorcery. Paul was a diaspora Jew, Roman citizen, and Gentile-loving former Pharisee. And Jesus must have been lonely knowing his home was with a Father no one could see (Luke 2:49, John 14:8-10).

13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

Hebrews 11:13-16

But these biblical characters believed, as we must, that God is right where we are, wherever we are. As Psalm 139 reminds us, even when we feel out of place or abandoned, there is nowhere we can go from his Spirit, whether in outer space or undersea, east to the sunrise or on the far side of the ocean. Nothing can separate us from God’s love (Romans 8:38-39).

Instead of bemoaning their ill fate, these biblical examples trusted God. They chose to learn about and adapt to the place they found themselves, without losing their identity or faith. They all experienced rejection, but they kept identifying with “those people” anyway. They followed the advice Jeremiah gave the exiles when they found themselves in a place they didn’t want to be: to settle in, pray for, and “seek the peace and prosperity” of Babylon (Jeremiah 29:4-7). They didn’t realize it, but by doing so they positioned themselves to be used by God right where they were.

“Bloom where you’re planted” may sound cliché. But if we believe in a God sovereign over our botched visas and cancelled conferences, he may have a reason for planting us just where we are.

Exploring places closer to my (Peter’s) new home each week – Cruagh Woods, Dublin

In fact, God may be planting us there for a harvest. These biblical examples each ended up playing huge roles in God’s mission. Because they had adapted to their new contexts without letting go of their original culture or faith, they ended up communicating between parties as mediators. Joseph revealed God’s plan to Pharaoh and saved Israel from starvation. Through Moses traveling back to Egypt and then through a wilderness, God displayed his power to all nations and led Israel to create a new culture in a new land. Still in exile, Daniel’s interpretation ended up in empire-wide proclamation of God’s reign. Through both Paul’s persecuted travels and his restricted movement in prison, he communicated the inclusion of the Gentiles to both them and to Jewish Christians. And Jesus traversed great barriers, first of incarnation and then of death and hell, to reconcile God and humanity.

None of these people could have achieved their mission in God’s kingdom if they had not been forced out of their comfort zone. To be effective, they had to keep identifying with their captors, their betrayers, and their persecuted minority groups. Not only did they go, they also stayed faithful and stayed long enough to become a bridge.

How does this apply to us?

You may not have time to learn a new language or marry into a local family where you’re stuck at the moment. I certainly hope you won’t be in exile or separated from family for years.

But perhaps being stuck is the time to ask ourselves if there’s anything we’re trying to escape when we travel: our own destructive habits, our unkept promises, the relationships we’d rather run from than reconcile. Moses accepted his calling by travelling back to messy relationships and his worst insecurities. Paul and Jesus walked into persecution knowingly. If our travel is motivated by fear, we’re not following in their footsteps. If we crave an adventurous escapade, maybe we can bravely confront what’s got us spiritually stuck.

Or perhaps we might think of small ways we can be present where we’re placed. Instead of spending all our time reconnecting with faraway friends via Zoom calls, perhaps it’s time to go on a walk with the neighbour. Perhaps we read up on the history of our town or find out who is stranded far from home in our city.

If we believe God is always on the move, this dislocation may just be part of his mission for the nations.


Hannah Rasmussen is the author of Good News about Gender: A Bible Study for Young Adults. She grew up as a third-culture-kid in Tanzania and just finished her MDiv in Kenya. She edits Christian books by African authors and blogs at hannahras.wordpress.com

A time to reflect on travel

For those of you who regularly follow along on here, you’ll perhaps be surprised to hear that there’s still very few people talking about faith and travel. Although we’ve had the rise of the Christian Travelers’ Network from the States, the River Communities worldwide, and other smaller groups across the globe, the conversation as it stands, hasn’t progressed a huge amount yet.

With Covid19, does it really matter?

That’s a question I’ve been given a few times in rhetorical form recently, with people stating that travel does not matter at all, and that such pandemics focus us on what really matters. But with all due respect to those ‘asking the question’, I want to propose that it does indeed matter. And it matters a lot.

Yes, Covid19 would take away travel for a few months, but already countries have opened up their borders again, yearning for economic freedom via tourism. Already, thousands have been counting down the days til they could book flights again (days which have now past, with many having booked their first trips already). And already, measures to circumnavigate the Covid restrictions, have been thought about ten times over. Travel is not disappearing for now, even if many travel companies and airlines, went under. New ones will soon pop up to replace them.

In fact, until collective responsibility for things like the environment, sing sweeter songs than the freedom of individualism, I could imagine that the dream of travel will always remain with us. What a 3 month break did, was allow the traveller some time to regroup, reflect on past travel experiences, and tweak the plan for the journey ahead. For if Alain de Botton is to be believed, part of the travel experience is heightened, by the suspense of the build-up to it, not to mention the kindling of the fond memories of past trips, reminiscing of great days.

The traveller’s delight is not just in feeling the warm rays hitting our skin as we lie in pools of Caribbean sun, but in finding ourselves again loitering in such places, long after we have left, still seemingly enjoying the same rays conjured up by nothing more than the longing heart resting again on an Instagram photo, a firmly lodged memory or a sensual experience brought back up from deep within us where we hide our pleasurable moments we don’t want to release.

So it was with great joy that I found two Australians realising that this is precisely the time we must talk about travel, while we are in a time of reflection, analysing and planning. In fact, there is no better time, before our travel pulses start to beat at an uncontrollable rate, leading us to take off again across borders and boundaries.

“This is precisely the time we must talk about travel”

And in most situations that I’m heavily invested, most topics which my emotions are aroused and most times in life when I’m going through something evocative, I’m not in a good place to take a step back and see things through an accurate lens of whether it is doing me any good, or whether I indeed am falling far short of what I was called to be or do. I’m too invested in certain outcomes.

And so despite the yearnings for travel of this Covid season, and despite the warm fondness in which I scroll Instagram, I still think it is this season that will allow us talk about travel in a far more constructive way than before.

  • How will we re-build the travel industry in healthier forms?
  • How can we make countries less dependent on our (somewhat colonial) travel?
  • How can we make the most of travel, in God’s eyes?
  • Are there sweeter songs we can dance to, than the travel songbook can provide alone?
  • Are there patterns of life or of our hearts, that the last 3 months have challenged or revealed?

[These two other Christians in Australia who I mentioned, joined in engaging with the topic of travel during these days. They too, saw no better time than the present to open up our hearts and see what we’re missing out on. Catch Michael Jensen (Anglican) and Megan Powell Du Toit (Baptist) on the “With All due Respect” podcast here, interviewing SMBC lecturer Stephen Liggins about the topic here.]

Fancy using these next months to think about travel?

As someone who has travelled into a different culture on a gap year, I can really relate to the book. It would have been helpful to have read it before going to Uganda and I would recommend it for anyone going on a similar trip.

Oscar, recent graduate from Ireland

Why not check out ‘Travel: in tandem with God’s Heart‘? And if you want to have a chance of getting a free copy soon, follow me on Twitter or Instagram or IVP Books on Facebook where I’ll have a give-away soon. You can also see an interview with me on IVP’s page on July 29th, as we celebrate the opening of Ireland to travel, following on from the virus season.

Travelling to find Transcendence

What are the memories you look back to with fondness? The times you replay over and over in your head on the day winter days. The places you forever have in your mind as incredible, due to some moment that happened there that took you to another plane, despite there perhaps being nothing notable about that place to anyone else who would arrive on a later date.

I remember a trip I once was on, hiking on the west coast of Ireland. Arriving at some cliffs during the golden hour, we sat down to enjoy the stunning moments of last light at the sun set over the water, with the waves crashing on the deserted beach at the foot of the cliffs beneath us. Sitting in silence in long grass, we were captivated.

“So I suppose this is where you thank God, is it?” came the voice from my secular friend beside me.

“Why do you say that?” I whispered back, not wanting to spoil the serenity of the scene in front of us, as if the moment would be taken away if it heard our voices.

“I dunno. Just feels like one of those moments”.


Having just read James KA Smith’s “How Not to Be Secular“, I rather despaired. Short as it is, it took me a while to get through for the rather complex language he chooses to use. But as its a commentary to go alongside the more complex (?) “A Secular Age” by Charles Taylor (which I confess to not having yet read), I suppose I can’t shoot the messenger.

It appeared to me he takes a full book to simply outline the basic structures and worldview of where we’ve arrived at, from the last centuries of thought. Of course Smith would resolutely groan at me saying this, given that he’s adamant that this is not just a book about theoretical thought, but outworkings and practice in every area of life, which are far more complex. It’s a radical dismantling of a whole framework. Still, I stand by my motto that experts should be able to translate the complexities of their subject to common people, in accessible ways, if they are worth their weight in gold. But perhaps I’m part of a generation that enjoys being spoon-fed too much. Hey-ho.

None-the-less, the exercise, taxing as it may been at points, was worth it for many reasons, one of which I was reminded of as I read Emily Thomas’ The Meaning of Travel and the appearance of transcendence at many points in it. Smith says:

“The result [of the post-modern way of life, exampled by taking art, decontextualising it and redisplaying it,] is an immanent space to try and satisfy a lost longing for transcendence; in short, this creates a ‘place to go for modern unbelief’ without having to settle for the utterly flattened world of mechanism or utilitarianism – but also without having to return to religion proper. And so we get the new sacred spaces of modernity: the concert hall as temple; the museum as chapel; tourism as the new pilgrimage.”

(page 76)

In other words, when we rob ourselves of any transcendent being, or absolute standards, we resort to having a mechanical world (no immaterial realm or anything but cold, random chance) or a utilitarian one (where we decide things in order to get the greatest good for the greatest number). In an effort to unflatten this world (bringing back the depth of what we just lost from shaping our world round higher meanings, absolutes etc.), we try and find such depth in new created ways.

Unflattening the box

Each of the three illustrations (concert hall, museum and tourism) could easily be expanded upon, but from my last post (of a return to normality, signified by the return of the woman and her friend to the nightclub), you may have glimpsed how the weekly clamour for the night out mimics something of religious worship that went before, not to mention the less regular attendance of gigs for similar (yet different) ends.

As the [liberal] church dies in the west as it accommodates post-modern, liberal theories within its very walls, and forgets to be shaped by the only thing it has different to the world around it (the transcendent, made immanent in the person of Jesus and His words in the scriptures), the walls of those churches do not just lose their transcendent feel, but literally become museums more and more in Ireland and the west.

Just one of many churches in Ireland which has given up the gospel and become a museum instead.

Whether it still is Biblical writings on the walls, or other ancient artifacts of museums, the visitor would feel little different, if the Biblical texts were to be held out and simply critiqued as one piece of history amongst many. (Of course in one sense they are, but in another, the Transcendant speaks through loud and clear in ways that are unique to the text’s claim that these are also the very words of God). The feeling walking around such museums, whether in ecclesial buildings or otherwise, is the feeling that much old ecclesial architecture would have given – a grand awareness of how insignificant one is, amidst the majestic yet intricate universe towering over us.

Which brings us on to Smith’s (and Taylor’s) third sphere of created transcendence, as he envisages tourism as the new pilgrimage. The traveller goes off on their holiday, ‘gap year’, career break or retirement to ‘find themselves’, religiously ticking off the bucket list items that they must cover in order to have declared that one has been to that location.

The majesty of the Cathedral museum is replaced by the far more diverse Cathedral as we pilgrimage round the world, with ever-increasing boundaries towards our universe and beyond. The mystery remains similarly there, with unfathomable possibilities to explore, delve into and enjoy. Though whether the modern pilgrimage is any less overbearing on the traveller than the perceived smaller cathedral was, inflicting guilt on those who don’t obey the code, or learn the right liturgies as they travel, is another question entirely.

But it brings us full circle back to that cliff edge on the west coast of Ireland. The hunt for “one of those moments” is still the pilgrimage of many travellers in this world. The transcendent found once again, not too far from any one of us. But seemingly out of our grasp for most of our days.

The question that Taylor would ask us is:

Is this a vestige from a genuine transcendent being, still present in this world in some bizarre way? Or is this just a haunting of something society once wished upon, and now leaves us with an annoying desire to do things which appear to be chasing after its likeness?

And the answer he thinks is obvious enough that he has the courage not to express it, and simply says “Try this on for size. Does it make sense of something you’ve felt?

In all honesty, if we stopped fearing the answer had to be a horrid religious fundamentalism on one hand, or the New Atheist fundamentalism on the other, we might be able to answer more authentically.

The Meaning of Travel (Emily Thomas, OUP, 2020)

Not often do I find a book that combines two of things that I love the most – thinking philosophically, and travel! So when I found out about this one on Twitter one day, I had it downloaded to my Kindle with a single click, and despite not having read it, thought it might be a good one to discuss with others – light enough philosophically to please the traveller but thought-provoking enough to engage the philosopher?

And to my delight, a bunch of others expressed interest and sought to join together on Saturdays each week for 6 weeks. One bravely getting up at 5am in the USA, one staying up later in Australia, one in the Middle East, and two of us in Europe – a diverse bunch in some ways.

Emily, an associate professor of philosophy at Durham University (England), takes us through 11 interesting philosophical ideas, conundrums or thoughts, posed by travel. Loosely shaping her thoughts round a trip to Alaska, the book is packed full of those who’ve travelled the planet before her, both philosophically and otherwise!

It opens with a lovely chapter on why we travel, including a later admission that what will follow is largely flowing from western philosophy of the last few centuries. Curiously, the book irked me a little by claiming that there were no other books on the philosophy of travel, no lectures and no conferences. But I was reminded of thoughts that I’d similarly had when I started writing a theology of travel, thinking that there was very little out there. Her constant referencing to philosophical and travel-related works, showed me that whatever Emily means by this, it’s not because she hasn’t come across other western works. This is indeed a field which needs more writing and thought.

(The following section is a more detailed look at each chapter. If you just want a paragraph summary – feel free to jump to the end!)


Flowing from the first chapter, are largely stand-alone nuggets on various topics, which to the philosophically astute are more connected that might first appear. The second chapter on a philosophy of maps, and how maps shape our reality and how we understand the world, can really help us see differently and realise the lenses we wear. The landscape architect amongst us was captivated, through the rest of us took a bit longer to flesh out what this was really like. Twitter accounts like this one below, put some flesh on the chapter, for those not willing to sit down and digest larger works like this recent bestseller.

Chapter 3 was to outline a relationship between philosophy, science and travel, through the life of Francis Bacon and others. So much of travel has been driven by a quest to find out more about the world whether through philosophical thinking or scientific experiment, and more-often than not, both! Understanding this chapter, might significantly help us all to not fall into the same trap as Bacon was said to have done – thinking scientific thought will progress us so much until the utterance of an apocalypse.

Such belief about human progression can be found both amongst the religious (eschatologically thinking the world is getting better and better until a Second Coming of Christ), but also amongst the fervently secular (thinking education will be the solution to all our woes, progressing us to nearly some point of enlightenment). These discussions raised by this chapter are foundational.

Chapter 4, brought me back into my first year at university for my core module that started off with Descartes and moved on to Locke. For the others in the group, the framing of their teaching through the travels they embarked on, did not make their teaching any easier to engage with!

Does travel suggest that innate ideas about God (that are thought to rescue us from the infamous ‘brain in a vat’ scenario), cannot be true because all peoples don’t believe in a god (or a particular god)? Philosophically, I could imagine I come to very different conclusions than the author on some of the related questions, but none-the-less, the travel conclusion – that travel can broaden our horizons and help us to learn from those with differing opinions – is one of the foundational reasons many will travel.

Standing on the edge of Europe, taking a diverse group round Ireland’s coast.

The fifth chapter brought relief to those not wanting more philosophy, considering the history of ‘The Grand Tour’ of Europe for education (and other on-the-side benefits). Travel can help us grow in all sorts of ways, though often it can also be abused and doesn’t necessitate growth!

The sixth chapter continued to display a rich education of varied things – this time would please anyone who enjoys fantasy and fictional literature – what is the boundary between truth and falsehood, reality and fictional worlds? Could such fantastical worlds, be just as real as the world we inhabit? For the traveller who perhaps enjoys intertwining travel tails with a modicum of exaggeration for entertainment, the chapter will be thought provoking. And for many of us who wrestle with what place imagination has to play in our thinking, lives and logic, it also raised many a question!

The seventh chapter I was looking forward to the most, given the topic of space is the one to which Emily specialises. Why did mountains appear fearful things? Why was there a change in terms used to describe previously fearful things? Emily tells us one reason is because of a change in how people viewed space – once an atomless existence – later thought to be an extension of the infinite divine (sharing many of ‘his’ properties). I’d love to see to what extent this change in language also correlates with humanity’s exploration and perceived ability to control nature?

Ever craved watching the Northern Lights, or stood overlooking a sight that takes your breath away? The eighth chapter is on Burkean ideas of the ‘sublime’ and the difference between that and beauty. What is it that we’re feeling in light of some of these sights? Is there a difference between fear and awe? Can human creations evoke such things? What about the catastrophe’s we have caused – why do we flock to such sites with such similar feelings?

Are mountains fearful? If so, why?

Closely connected to what had gone before, the next chapter (9) considers wilderness and connection to humans and why we have a strange fascination with escape to wild places. It had us all googling our favourite cabins and wild places to go and sharing them! Although fascinating and one of the chapters enjoyed most by lots of us, I’m not sure any of us followed her reasoning that because we are part of the world around us, we should care for it! Without knowing it, the Humean “ought” could not be found here. All the readers had vastly other motivation for caring for our environment and some thought the current drive to save our world was hard to philosophically ground.

https://www.topoftherock.ie/

The tenth chapter, I let someone else take the lead in discussing, given I was the only male in the group, and chapter was on whether travel was a male concept! Being brought up with Dervla Murphy being the archetypal traveller in Ireland, and having an adventurous, travelling sister (and similar female, ultra-running friends), I’ve never really found the history of travel being more male dominated (as many things were) to be a thing that has stopped many around me. And nor did my fellow book readers.

It was helpful to be reminded of society’s old gender roles, and saddened by some of the unwanted remnants of that. But I struggled with this chapter because I know that guilt is a bad motivator. So making me feel guilty of my being a male, because of past generations gender constraints, is not going to motivate me to act better. It might in the short-run, but not in the long-run. Guilt, I believe, does not drive action in a healthy way.

But it is also difficult for the female to travel in many places because of current gender roles in some cultures and societies. Should the west colonise these places and enforce their gender norms on others by with-holding aid and trade agreements? Or what is the objective standard of equality that we refer to that ought to transcend culture? It was a chapter that left me with more questions, from quite a simplistic take on the topic.

The penultimate chapter (11) was on ‘Doom Tourism’ and very helpfully lined up the chief problem that the travel industry worldwide will face in the coming years – climate change. The desperation of people to get to sites which will soon disappear (ice caps, coral reef, limited resources, small islands etc) may well cause further danger to those sites.

In fact, in a step further than Emily wrote, if the NPCC and others are right about climate change, flying anywhere for our own pleasure alone may not be the wisest thing for the climate. The credibility of pointing fingers at the structures in society, without doing anything ourselves in our personal lives, is a bit too easy for my liking. Far more questions could be asked that perhaps some publishers may not like adding to travel books, for fear of losing an audience. Perhaps in a theology book (like mine) or a philosophy book (like this one) isn’t the best place to debate science, but we do need to create space somewhere!

A recommended, fun starter book on carbon footprint and climate change.

The last chapter is a reflection on space travel and whether we (humans) have significance or not. Again, I found the philosophical arguments here to be interesting but not greatly rigorous and too easy to object to. Bertrand Russel arguing that size does not make for significance – thus the size of space should not be bewildering or make it significant. And Guy Kahane arguing that life is more valuable than non-life because a world with life seems to be preferable to a world of craters. Both philosophers I’m sure may make sense in context, but were far too quickly passed over to follow what their logic is, and how it stands to quite simple objections. Still, it was enough to raise my curiosity to go off and explore the arguments more.


This review may make the book appear deeper and harder to engage with than it is, as I find it easiest to engage with some of the philosophical content that the author helps us understand. May the travel-hungry reader be assured that there’s much in the travel narrative to enjoy and discuss, even if the philosophy is harder for the novice to grapple with. However, “I’m glad I read this book with friends – I don’t think I would have done otherwise” was the response of at least two of our group for this reason.

But for me, I’ve loved engaging with it, and will happily recommend such helpful thinking to everyone, as I lead discussions in universities and community spaces wherever I travel in future. I dearly hope that it will get further discussion going especially in Coronavirus days (of limited travel), about the philosophical underpinnings and relevance of travel to the world to come. Because how each of us live and travel, whether we realise it or not, is deeply influenced by the philosophy we hold to. And each of us, whether we realise it or not, is deeply affecting many others in this world by those views we hold too as well.

Given the great dearth of books and material on the topic, does this mean that this book is greatly significant?!! I’ll let you read the book and see.


More info about the book can be found on the publisher’s website here.

Microadventure day 11: fighting zoombies

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‘.”

Fighting Legalism

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?

Originally at  https://www.flickr.com/photos/60216816@N00/79201360 and available under CC license

Fighting Zoombies

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

Fighting Screens

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.

A colleague in another “Zoom” meeting

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.

Suggestions from Justin Earley in his book, The Common Rule (see below)

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.
  • 12 ways your phone is changing you – this book shines a light on things we struggle to acknowledge but gives hope for us all.

Kiss the Wave: embracing God in your trials (Furman, 2018, Crossway)

I was given this as a free review copy by the Evangelical Bookshop Belfast. You can buy it from them here, with free UK postage. (Postage to Ireland is normally cheaper than Amazon too.) This in no way meant I had to give a positive review of the book.


As I’ve said before, I’ve been using this lockdown period to explore more why as a western individual, I struggle so much with suffering in my worldview. Despite following a suffering Saviour for years, every time I experience suffering or talk to those who suffer, I feel not only the fact that this suffering ought not to be in general, but I feel grieved that this has happened to me personally. I deserve better! (Or so I think.) The response of my fellow believers in Africa stuns me. And teaches me a lot.

Dave Furman is a church planter in Dubai (United Arab Emirates). And although his story (see the video above) appears at several key points in the book, it does not dominate the book. This book is centrally focused on helping us grapple with the God of the gospel more, so that Dave’s story, can be our story – of being sustained and even finding deep-rooted joy in the midst of horrific pain, that never seems to cease, and which leads to emotional and relational distress. In fact, I nearly at times lost sight of Dave while reading the book, which in my eyes, was not actually the most helpful. None-the-less, the book is an absolute delight, refreshing, simple and a treasure to ponder, even for someone who reads an awful lot.

We came to the village intending to change the world for Jesus, but I couldn’t even change my jeans without help.”

Dave’s writing feels like a powerful collection of quotations of many ‘greats’ of recent Christian writing, combined with huge chunks of Biblical wisdom and comfort and finely honed into a soothing package of goodness. It is easy to pick up and read in one go, or perhaps better, taken chapter by chapter and processed over two weeks of devotions.

Quoting Keller in the introduction, it is for everyone, because even if you’re not suffering right now:

“No matter what precautions we take, no matter how well we have put together a good life, no matter how hard we have worked to be healthy, wealthy, comfortable, with friends and family, and successful with our career — inevitably something will ruin it.”

Keller, Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering

Each chapter starts with a short story from someone Dave knows who has deeply suffered, followed by a connected meditation on some of the most beautiful and encouraging truths of scripture. Because of Dave’s own story, you know these are not just glib comforts trying to stick a plaster over a gaping wound, but treasures that will help sustain you and shape your perspective even in the darkest of times.

One quotation from the book which particularly resonated with me as I work in a graduate context and with many Irish students who’ve considered going or have gone to Dubai:

“I often tell those in our church’s membership class my prayer for each of them. I don’t pray that they would ultimately get promotions, make more money, and be successful in the marketplace (though those aren’t necessarily bad things). I pray they would love Jesus more when they leave Dubai (nonce of us is allowed to retire here, so we all must leave at some point) than they do at that moment. I pray the same for all of us in our trials.”

But putting aside Dubai, I think of my prayers during Coronavirus season. Simplified, they could perhaps be summarised often as:

“God bless me. May I not suffer. May no-one I know suffer. May everyone have their jobs. Would you make clear the future?”

Reading this book, I am forced to abandon the centrality of myself and my will in my prayer life, and replace it with something oh-so-much better.

Camping in the Sahara!

One final glimpse from the book that I enjoyed but found utterly frustrating as someone who loves to go camping! I must disagree with him plenty here, but love his comparison, speaking about 2 Corinthians 5:1-5!

“It’s not surprising that Paul, a tentmaker by trade, compares our earthly bodies to tents. I don’t own a tent, but I used one on a couple of camping trips as a child. I think the worst thing about camping may be the tent itself. I easily get claustrophobic. When the rain falls, you can hear it hitting the tent just inches from your face. And the worst thing is the buzzing of the buzzing of mosquitoes next to your face, making you feel like they are feasting on your flesh all night long. That’s because they probably are! As you can see, sleeping on a hard floor inside a shabby tent isn’t too compelling for me. A tent is a temporary dwelling place, not a permanent residence. In 2 Corinthians Paul paints a picture of the better, more glorious body as a house in comparison to a tent. Today, Paul says we live in a tent, but a day is coming when our bodies will be more like a house. Tents break and often need to be replaced. They hardly protect you from high and low temperatures or from precipitation. … In this life, our bodies face disease and decay. Paul says, “For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our Heavenly dwelling” (2 Cor 5:2)”.

As someone who laughs at such shoddy dismissals of camping, and who perhaps rather longs to decrease the emphasis in my life on materialistic dwellings, it took me a little minute to get over it in order to appreciate the Biblical truth behind the passage he was speaking on.

For the wandering Cain, for Abraham (and descendants), for those in the dessert in Numbers, for exiled Israel, for Christ with no place to lay his head, for persecuted ‘strangers and exiles’ across the Greco-Roman world and beyond – temporary dwellings were things very real. Other dwellings were longed for. Camping was not the ultimate reality. These bodies are not our homes. And like Christ, raised in a physical body, so shall we look forward to the day our tents will be replaced, in earthy new ones. What a glorious new reality awaits!

To finish, I must say that although I come from the author’s theological perspective (a reformed one), I am very glad that he (perhaps unlike some reformed authors) at the end does acknowledge that amidst his ultimate trust that God is sovereign over all suffering and uses it for His glory and our good, that it is the devil who is responsible for such evil, which is a glimpse of hell-ish things to come. Those words in the final chapter were very necessary ones, which make it easier for us to approach this God, knowing He is not going to cruelly delight in suffering, pain and endless tears.

This book has helped turned my eyes from thinking I ought not suffer, and praying for my own comfort, to refocusing my heart and mind of the good God of the gospel. I pray it will do like-wise for many.

You can find out more about the Furman’s life in the video below. But before you do, consider buying the book (cheapest here – only the price of two coffees or your work commute for 2 days!), and reading it in lockdown – you won’t be disappointed!

Microadventure day 10: finding colour

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.
(Luke 12)

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)!