The sun came out to play in what has turned out to be a smashing day in Belfast & I felt that it was time for a long overdue trek up our featured mound... Cave Hill. Sitting on the edge of our wee city, Cave Hill (Binn Unamha in Irish) overlooks Belfast Lough & is distinguished by its famous ‘Napoleon’s Nose’ feature which some claim to have inspired Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels.
I decided to take the moderately challenging circular route to the top which lends itself to spectacular views over Belfast (making it look like a matchbox town) & on such a clear day it was easy to spot Scrabo Tower, the beautiful mountains of Mourne & even a man in a kilt drinking Iron Bru on the tip of Scotland. As I was a failed member of the YOC in my childhood I couldn’t tell the difference between the kestrels, peregrines & buzzards flying over head, but they looked pretty majestic gliding through the air.
It was supposed to be a leisurely stroll to give my head a bit of breathing space & spend some time thinking with God about some of the things that have been happening in my life recently. However, about 45mins into my journey I noticed that I was “bombing it up.” The sweat was lashing off me, my breathing was heavy, my legs were getting tired and I’d already passed several of the wonderful look-out spots without pausing to admire the fantastic scenes on display. The guide had suggested 2hours for the journey, but was body was keen to finish as quickly as possible.
It was then that I felt something inside me (present, but not physical) put the brakes on. Something within my spirit was telling me to slow down & pay attention. Our spirit can be hard to define & get our heads around, but it is the place within us that God so often communicates. It felt as if God was whispering, “woo... slow down, enjoy the view, experience my artistry, be still for a moment & appreciate my work, it’s a gift for you.”
In that moment I realised that this walk up Cave Hill was like an analogy of how I tend to live my life, especially within youth ministry. I often find myself so focused on the multiple tasks to be completed or the goals to be achieved, that I miss out on important experiences along the way. I concentrate so hard on reaching the final destination that I lose the wonder & enjoyment of the journey. I become so focused on the finishing line, that I get fatigued, anxious & hurried trying to cross it & in doing so become blinkered to the soothing, joyful & reassuring voice of life’s great Travel Guide.
This autumn my congregation has given me the gift of Sabbatical – a chance to rest & reflect & listen for the gentle whisper of God. It is my hope that this gift will help me to better hear His instruction & find a more sustainable rhythm to life & ministry. To walk slower, but still with purpose so that I can prolong the journey, reach that finish line walking rather than crawling & stop off to enjoy the process along the way.
So next time you spot a kestrel on Cave Hill, perhaps spare a thought to what pace your life is moving at – and whether it is helping or hindering you from hearing from your Travelling Companion.