Every Good Gift

Before life pitched one of its unforeseen curve-balls, I was a keen amateur writer. I wrote fiction, non-fiction, screenplays – pretty much whatever took my fancy. Monetary gain was never a priority … sure, it was good to get paid, but for me that was always ‘the cherry on top’. The pleasure of writing was its own profit.

Prior to putting words to paper, or onto a screen, I’d ask myself two basic questions:

  • Who am I writing for?
  • What do I want to say?

In the case of this blog post, the first question is an easy one.

My ideal reader will be one who’s possibly received the gospel – either as a child or later in life. Someone who’s taken the view that it isn’t for them – life has been ticking along okay, and all that ‘religion’ is for other people. But now, in 2020, life has pitched the mother of all curve-balls, and nothing is so certain any more.

I’m writing to someone who no longer has any idea what the future holds for them and who may be afraid for themselves and their loved ones; someone looking for assurance in an uncertain world.

That’s the first question answered.

The second question is one I can’t yet answer. By the time I’ve finished this draft, things may be a bit clearer, but not right now. I felt a need to get things down and I’ve not yet sorted the finer details. Moving on.

I, like many other people, have been sensing an increasingly oppressive mood descending on not just my local community but on the nation as a whole. I don’t need to sketch out the nuts and bolts of this. We all see the inescapable insanity only too clearly each and every day. Further analysis is just what we don’t need.

Sickened by so much gloom and hostility in the media and on social media, too, I recently felt compelled to retreat into nature and enjoy God’s gift of creation. I knew this would lift my spirits. I knew it would re-align my focus onto things beautiful, and away from the grubby absurdity of global politics.

I hauled my bike from under its dusty cover in my shed, pumped up my tires and propelled myself out onto the country lanes that surround my village.

It was then, with a fresh breeze sweeping away the last shreds of gloom and the sunlight glinting off my handlebars that the idea of writing about this day in a future blog post occurred to me. I figured that, if the ride could lift my spirits so immediately and so easily, it could – with a few carefully chosen words and phrases – do the same for my readers.

But … that still hasn’t answered the question of what exactly I want to say – the message I wish to convey.

I’ve found that the only thing to do under such circumstances is to keep bashing the keyboard and to write as the spirit takes me. Here goes.

The title of this piece suggests that, at some point, I’d write about a gift. Perhaps this shouldn’t be too surprising as, despite everything we see, hear and experience in the unfolding madness of 2020, there are an abundance of gifts to be found. All we need to do is to look. Personally, I always try to find them as early in the day as possible.

We know from our familiarity of Christmas mornings and birthdays, too, that to begin the day with a gift is heartwarming and adds an abiding joy. The daily gifts I receive and which add richness to my life are often to be found in the wide, uncomplicated outdoors.

I begin each day by walking our Border Terrier, Freyja.

We’re blessed to live in a rural location and our walks often take us onto narrow lanes, farm tracks and bridleways. It’s here I often find the wealth of creation and it’s here I feel closest to God.

It’s little wonder. His handiwork is visible in every blade of grass and every oak tree. It can be heard in the warbling of a songbird, and can be felt as a breeze on the skin or a drop of rain on the face. When enjoying the outdoors I’m reminded of a verse found in the Book of Psalms:

“This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvellous in our eyes.”

On the morning of my ride for example – in fact it was this event that prompted me to dust off my bike and take to the open road – my early morning gift was a wonderful view of a small Egret.

Egrets are now a native of Britain but it’s a breed of bird I rarely see.

My walk with Freyja had taken us onto a bridge that spans a fast-flowing beck, known locally as ‘The Skitter’. It was here I saw the snowy-white bird as it launched itself from the beck and into the air on slow, laboured wing beats. It was a joy to see, and like many such sights, is a memory that will endure.

Later that morning, my ride through the quiet back-roads of neighbouring parishes followed a regularly-used circuit. The sun shone, there was little wind and traffic was almost non-existent – aside from the occasional tractor. This was to be expected. After all, the harvest was now in full swing.

Here is a pictorial account of my journey.

The lure of the open road

Thornton Abbey – Inspiration for my children’s novel ‘The Door to Caellfyon’

I had begun the day blessed with the sight of one beautiful bird, and ended it having been showered with an abundance of gifts – the sights sounds and smells from a simple ride in the countryside.

Cycling the tranquil lanes between their wide verges and hedgerows so lifted my spirits, I’m sure at one point I heard the sound of applause:

“For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.”

Isaiah 55.12

To bring this piece to a close, allow me to share a further gift. This time it’s one from this morning’s walk.

This modest dandelion flower was growing along a field edge. It was a solitary thing of colour that drew my attention and prompted me to take this picture.

It wasn’t long, however, before I realised that today’s gift was to be one of two parts.

As I resumed my walk, a large flock of sparrows flew out of the hedgerow to my left, so close that one or two almost brushed my face with their wings. I’d been given a flower, then sparrows. I immediately understood the significance.

Today’s gift was a clear message.

It was a reminder that the Bible tells us that neither the flowers of the field nor the birds of the air need fret about what to wear or what to eat, for God arrays them in beauty and provides for their every need. In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus expands on this assurance by saying:

“Fear not, therefore, you are of more value than many sparrows.”

Today, I was being told in no uncertain terms that, whatever befalls in the coming weeks and months, I need have no fear.

You need have no fear.

And that assurance is a gift to treasure.

The First Ten Words

Genesis 1:1 – From a Writer’s Perspective

Christians, perhaps more than most, know well the power of words.

‘Remember the word to Your servant,

Upon which You have caused me to hope.

This is my comfort in my affliction,

For Your word has given me life.’

Psalm 119:49-50

The Psalmist tells us then that a word has the power to give life. A later confirmation of this may be found in the New Testament Gospels, in which John stated:

‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’

John 1:1

Here of course ‘the Word’ refers to Jesus Christ himself – who, as we know, declared himself as ‘The way, and the truth and the life.’ So once again we’re told, ‘Your word has given me life.’

Proverbs has several examples of a word’s potential:

  • A good word makes the heart of man glad.
  • A harsh word stirs up anger.
  • How good is a word spoken in due season.

My own favourite is Proverb 25:11:

‘A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold

In settings of silver.’

I love to see well-written text. I have done since long before I knew such gems could be found in the bible. This makes me a slow reader as, when I see a particularly well-crafted phrase or sentence I tend to read it a second or third time – as though I’m savouring its flavour.

When I was in my early teens I wanted to be a writer.

I’d been a keen reader for years and was amazed at the writer’s gift of transporting readers from an ordinary world to an extraordinary one of excitement and adventure.

When I began work I’d use my bus journey from Immingham to Grimsby to read and to be transported elsewhere. In the case of my Wilbur Smith novels, this was usually Africa. So entranced would I become that I would often literally be transported beyond my destination.

So, instead of getting off at my required stop I’d sail on several stops further and have to catch another bus to return to where I should be.

Years later, when I began to learn the writer’s craft, hoping to one day produce my own masterpiece, I quickly learned the importance of engaging the reader’s attention very early on.

This is especially important when submitting work to a publisher or editor. Most works submitted to busy editors are not even read. They remain on what is cruelly known as ‘The Slush Pile’.

Of those that are picked up, most of these are not read beyond the first paragraph. For if the editor is not immediately captivated, the precious manuscript is tossed into the bin.

It’s the same with books in a bookshop. If the prospective buyer isn’t quickly enthralled or their curiosity aroused, the work is returned to the shelf. It should therefore come as no surprise that the opening to a work of literature is referred to as ‘The Hook’.

Like fish on a line, readers must be hooked to prevent them escaping.

The opening needs to arouse curiosity if the work is to be read further. It must raise questions in the reader’s mind. Questions that simply have to be answered.

It’s perhaps easy to see that a question mark looks like a hook.

When I self published my children’s novel through Amazon in 2015, I opted for the simple ‘Question-type Hook’ to engage my 9-11 year-old target audience. I figured that if you ask a nine year old a sufficiently interesting question, he or she will usually hang around for the answer. Or in this case, will continue reading.

Here’s how I opened:

‘Is there anything that’s puzzled you? Something you’ve

never been able to find an answer for?’

It was a simple question but an unexpected one and Levi

frowned and glanced up at his uncle Seymour while he

considered a reply.

He would later come to reflect that it was on this day,

and with this question that his childhood truly died.’

‘The Door to Caellfyon’

So, whilst I began with a straight forward question, some authors open with a statement , worded in such a way that questions are raised.

Take Daphne du Maurier’s ‘Rebecca’ for example:

‘Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.’

Here, we have a statement that raises not one question but several:

  • Who dreamt the dream?
  • Where are they now? Not in Manderley … the phrase states ‘Went to’.
  • What happened in Manderley? Something did. Something significant enough to warrant dreaming about it. That much is clear.

This opening is not just a classic but has been highly successful. Sales of ‘Rebecca’ between 1938 & 1965 are estimated at almost three million copies.

Another book, familiar to all of us, opens with a statement that not only tells us a great deal, but engages us with a vital question.

Its sales have been vastly greater than, not only ‘Rebecca’, but every other literary work in human history. By far. No other work comes close in terms of copies published.

Whilst we must accept that not every reader will read this particular book cover-to-cover, all will read the opening sentence – or, in this case, verse. Therefore, the following ten words form the most widely-read sentence ever to have been printed.

‘In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.’

Genesis 1:1

This leads me to another piece of advice I was given while learning the writer’s craft, and that is, a well-rounded piece of work ought to include five basic ingredients:

Who, What, When, How & Why.

With the help of the Holy Spirit, Moses managed to encompass MOST of these in his ten-word opener.

That would be God. ‘In the beginning God …’

Creation. ‘…God created…’

‘In the beginning …’

God. This is explanation enough but the fact is validated repeatedly throughout the Bible.
In Matthew 19:26 Jesus tells his disciples:

‘… with God all things are possible.’

Also, whilst authorship of the letter to the Hebrews is uncertain, whether it was Paul, Barnabas or Apollos, the writer confidently stated in Chapter 11 verse 3:

‘By faith we understand that the universe was created
by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made
out of things that are visible.’

There can be no greater example of the power in words. In this case one word from God created all that is seen. Furthermore, in Psalm 33:6 we are told:

‘By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and
all the host of them by the breath of His mouth.’

So, in the ten words comprising Genesis 1:1 we have the Who, What, When & How of creation. Four of the required five.

That leaves us with why.

And that is the hook, right there in the Bible’s opening verse.


Why did God create Heaven and Earth?

This must be the most profound question faced by Mankind. And to answer that one, readers have no choice … but to read on.