"Nothing is quite the same”, or some such words, are commonly on the lips of people one meets at the moment, whether it is how our families friends or neighbours are faring, or that things are being noticed more because of the absence of people or cars in places where they are expected to be, such as birdsong and the hum of the bees.
Yesterday, around 6.00 p.m. Helen and I took a walk to Peveril Point. The sea was calm and clear, with barely a ripple to disturb the view of seaweed and stones through the water. The seagulls, with the chip shops either closed, or open just for pre-ordered food, were on meagre rations, and rather than their usual stance, eyeing someone sitting in the sun eating fish and chips beside the ‘don’t feed the gulls’ sign, were reverting to disembowelling crabs, that they were catching without much effort all along the shoreline.
The Exodus readings at Morning Prayer have now reached Mount Sinai and the giving of the Ten Commandments to Moses on the mountain. I have an old book that I picked up at a library sale in Belfast some years ago, entitled, “God’s Wilderness - Discoveries in Sinai” (first English edition, from the original Hebrew, 1961). It is a most unusual book, with large and fabulous black and white photographs of the Sinai region. The text is written from a religious standpoint and the whole volume is quite atmospheric, taking Helen and I back to our visit to the region of St Catherine’s Monastery and Mount Sinai in 2012. Let me give you a flavour of the book with a few words:
“The awe-inspiring granite peaks at the southern tip of the Sinai peninsular seem to form a gigantic clenched fist of God proclaiming: Here!
“The ever-changing, ever-deepening colours of the mountains in this part of Sinai ….. invest this indescribably beautiful region with an aura of sanctity, and one can well believe that here God appeared to Moses.”
But there is mystery in all of this region too; mystery and awe combined. The last verse of this morning’s reading (Exodus 20: 1-21) captures the mood precisely:
“And the people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.”
When Helen and I climbed Mount Sinai with a few others of our party (on Sunday 22nd April 2012) it was bright and sunny. We were amongst the last to go up, as we had arrived very late the previous night, and so were not amongst those who went up in the dark to be on the summit for sunrise, so we passed many people coming down, mostly Russian Orthodox Christians. We were on our own when we traversed the final 750 steps to the top. There in awe-inspiring beauty we contemplated the place where Moses met with God, received the commandments and descended to the waiting people.
We broke and shared Kendal Mint Cake. Ten pieces went and we had just one each - though there were only nine of us there …..