Saturday, 19 July 2014

O ye Lightnings and Clouds, bless ye the Lord: praise him and magnify him for ever

So says the Benedicite, appointed an alternative canticle to be read at Morning Prayer in the old Prayerbook, and in some versions especially advocated for Lent. This is because it is very long, and even more tedious than the Te Deum, and therefore suitably penitential for that season of repentance.

But it is thorough. It looks at all of God's world and finds wonder in it, and not just that, but connexion, too. We have had our little share of lightnings and clouds, and thunder and downpour as well, these last few days, and I have to say, I love it. Few things could touch our sense of wonder more than that rumbling in the sky, which we know is only the sky, but which we half hope is where God lives, and where our friends go when they die. And who cannot have wondered whether that tremendous rumble is a sign of the divine displeasure with human failure, the lightning a sign of divine might in the face of human hubris?

Thursday night was our treat. We had dealt with dinner for ourselves and the cats, and His Lordship was in bed, and the telly was boring, so I was at the computer, and I heard the distant rolling. At first I thought it might be aeroplanes. There are airports around here, and RAF bases, and I live in fear that our idiot rulers will start yet another war that they send other people's children to die in. But no, it got louder, and closer, and then the lightning happened. Just a quick flash at first, like a pervert on the underground, but then more persistently, and then the rain. Like the other two signs, it was slow and gentle at first, a drizzle, a stream, then a downpour. It was getting on for two in the morning. Cat Major was uninterested, she knows she is immortal, Cat Minor was fretting a little, because unusual things happening can disrupt the food supply. I was at the window, agog, as I have been at many windows since childhood, at the wonder of it all.

At first the raindrops struck the dry road and bounced up, creating a mist, visible in the lightning, several feet high. Then it got heavier, and the raindrops joined forces, and made a stream across the road, three yards across. And the thunder roared,and thumped, and crashed, like divine beings, having taken much drink, losing at cards and behaving badly afterwards, and the lightning was as electrifying as it truly is - lighting up the whole street with a light as light as day which surely no camera can catch, and was gone in that scintillating flash.

After maybe three quarters of an hour it was over. Glorious, mysterious, numinous, power from the sky.

We have one again now, milder, and in daylight, as I type. I followed two small boys back from the shops a little while ago. Well, I wasn't following them, they happened to be in the way of where I was going. "Thunder" sad the big fat one to the small skinhead one, "Run, Logan, run" (isn't there a film called that?). They managed about three and half car lengths. Then telephoned their mother, who was, I later saw, about 300 yards away.

And that's the magic of thunder and lightning - they weren't just bothered about getting wet, there was awe and wonder in their voices. Just now, we have torrent and hail, and Cat Minor refused my invitation to come in, when I got back from the shops. What a soggy little moggy she's going to be! Alas, she has no sense of wonder, only a sense of ham.

Richard Haggis
Barton-upon-Bayswater, Oxford
July 2014

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