• Stephen Hill


Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls…” - JEREMIAH 6:16

Last week I went with two friends on a retreat to a wilderness place on the West coast of New Zealand. It was a 4-day retreat from the normal routine in order to ‘advance’ in the health of spirit, soul and body.

The place we went to was a very special place; a place where the river meets the sea. Tidal surges push upstream to meet the current of the river flowing downstream. The spine of the New Zealand Alps forms a stunning backdrop. Directly south of us we could see the snow-capped Aoraki (Mount Cook).

The beach, pummelled by crashing waves from the Tasman Sea, offers a lot of driftwood. Dolphins can be seen regularly surfing the waves.

At night, the star-canopy overhead is stunning. No light pollution. The Southern Cross, four sparkling diamonds on the blue-black velvet setting of the night sky.

All week we cook our food over an open fire. I love open fires! Nothing on earth tastes like food cooked on an open fire. Maybe it’s a man thing, but I relish the smell of the smoke on my clothes. The joyous flames of driftwood burning on the fire.

Nature is God’s television. Watching a flock of Canadian geese flying in formation, hearing them constantly honk encouragement to each other as they fly overhead. After the ‘watershed’ (sundown) we tune into the evening and night-time programmes on heavenly TV. We stargaze. We watch the naked flames of our fire leaping and dancing around the driftwood fuel gathered from the beach each day. Then we sleep the deep, rejuvenating sleep of the satisfied.

A life like this (I only had four days) necessitates a rhythm. You need to develop routines of practice to sustain life and comfort. One indispensable routine is the gathering of firewood to burn, storing it, rotating the supply in the woodshed, keeping it dry.

In this place you are inextricably connected to nature, the land and the weather. You must consult them because they are your patrons, your overseer, your provider, your ‘boss.’ If you respect them they will treat you well; if not, life will become increasingly difficult.

In a place like this, without Netflix, Youtube and Facebook, you focus again on your friend beside you. You observe them and they observe you. Stories are told around the fire. We laugh a lot more; tears come more readily. Veneers of personality break down and we become known to others. The ordinary becomes extraordinary.

In this place there is a flimsy veil between the natural and the spiritual. I can see why it was a lot easier for ancient and indigenous peoples to believe in the spirit world. Angels seem to inhabit nature in a more obvious way than the tower blocks of the city.

As I leave, I am rowed across the river in a rising tide. The current is strong and the waves are surging. I feel the presence of something very close. Another world (which the Hebrews, the Celts and the aboriginal peoples of the world would have been familiar with) is close at hand. The world of spirit is hovering over and surging underneath the natural elements. Spirit infiltrating nature. Angels dancing upon the waves and moving with the wind. Is that eddy in the water a spiritual messenger? Is that puff of wind an angelic being? How can you even differentiate between them?

It’s not realistic for me to actually do this, but I wonder what would happen if I lived in a place like this for three months? What creativity would flow from it! What revelations would flow! What folds of memory would unravel to uncover the hidden treasures of my life!

I pray we don’t lose sight of the ancient paths. I’m all for technological advance. I love the Internet, Youtube, Netflix… BUT…somehow they create white noise in the mind and in the imagination. Somehow they stifle my creativity. And that is my dilemma.

I need to pay attention to this...

I need to take time to reduce the noise so that the sound can be heard…

I need to remember the ancient paths where the good way is.

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