A Pillar of Cloud by Day

I parked by Buckenham Station in the depth of winter. You could come by train! The potholed road leads south across the marshes to the River Yare. Birds are everywhere ! On either side of the road thousand upon thousands of widgeon. Some grazing, others overhead, filled the air with their whistling cries. Like shoals of fish on a reef, they swooped, wheeled, parted and merged an intricate, carefully choreographed dance.

I‘d come on St. Nicholas’ day – 6th December – not just to see the Widgeon, nor the rare Bean Geese, nor yet the wildlife spectacular when tens of thousands of Rooks and Jackdaws gather at twilight before roosting in the trees. I’d come to pray. I find it easier to be mindful of the Creator in the midst of the Creation.

Perhaps it was a coincidence that the church I could glimpse through the trees belonged to St. Nicholas, Buckenham. St. Nicholas is patron saint of sailors, churches bearing his name often doubled as navigation marks. In days gone by, when the river was wider, before the marsh was drained, did they place a guiding light atop the tower? “A pillar of fire by night”?! As I remembered the words of the Exodus story I was surprised to catch sight of “a pillar of cloud by day”! It was issuing from Cantley’s sugar beet factory chimney! In the wilderness the presence of God had been signalled by pillars of fire and cloud. Of course God was there! Always had been but I sensed myself to be on holy ground!

At the fag end of the year, I was trying to get my bearings and see my way ahead to Christmas and beyond. Where was I on my pilgrimage in life? Dare I allow myself to be led and fed by God as in the Exodus? Or to follow the steps of saints who shine like beacons in a dark and sometimes stormy world?

I remembered that Nicholas, patron of children as well as sailors, had by his own generosity saved three young women from a life of prostitution. Would any of my Christmas giving do anything as positive for the Kingdom of God? I hoped so!

Buckenham Marshes are a R.S.P.B. nature reserve adjacent to Stumshaw Fen ( see www.rspb.org.uk) Buckenham Church is in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust a key is available from a neighbouring house.

©Richard Woodham 2007

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