Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Bigger Picture

In ‘Rain Upon Godshill’ J B Priestley describes a dream. He is standing at the top of a very big tower, looking down on a vast river of birds, all flying together in the same direction. The sight moves him deeply. Then time is accelerated and dream becomes nightmare as he is forced to watch bird become generation of bird, watch each bird hatch, flutter into life, soar away, grow weak, falter, then die. He watches as wings grow and crumble, bodies swell then shrivel. Everywhere is death, striking at every second. He watches and can perceive in all he sees before him - all the striving to live and keep on living, only an immense futility. He watches and becomes sick at heart.

Time is speeded up even more, and the flow of birds becomes “like an enormous plain sown with feathers”; but now, “along this plain, flickering through the bodies themselves, there passed a sort of white flame, trembling, dancing, then hurrying on,” and as soon as he sees this, he knows the flame to be “life itself, the very essence of being”.

This is one of a small number of the texts I've collected that I turn to for reassurance in those times when I just can’t see any truth in the idea of a God with a Grand Plan. There are moments, sometimes via dreams, when I catch a glimpse of what might be 'design' happening in my life, but these are rare. I endeavour, yet my daily struggles seem to achieve very little. Often, I find myself looking ‘heavenward’ and asking: “Why?”

I’ve had a ‘Why?’ moment this week. I like animals and I’m involved with several animal welfare movements. There are storms in various parts of France at present and I had news earlier in the week of a dog refuge. It's in a place called ‘Muy’. It had been hit by a 4 metre high wave and as a result, some of the dogs had died. I despaired to think how those poor creatures had been born only to be ill-used, abandoned to starvation and when 'saved', to die by drowning. Countless numbers of children around the world suffer similar fates on a daily basis. I just can’t see a Grand Plan in all of this. And yet, if I didn’t believe that there was meaning to life, I know I would have chosen to stop breathing years ago!

I just can’t see ... Priestley’s dream reminds me, in a beautiful and poignant way, that my vision and understanding of existence is that of a minute fractal of an immense whole, the greater part of which lies entirely outside the possibility of my perception. Even beyond my wildest imaginings. It encourages me to carry on and to hold and trust in the dream.

(English novelist and dramatist, Priestley is perhaps best-known in the UK for his daily radio broadcasts at the BBC during World War II, which drew audiences of up to 19 million. Rain Upon Godshill is sub-titled ‘A Further Excursion into Autobiography’. Godshill is on the Isle of Wight).

And if you’re wondering about the image at the top, it’s an example of my current excursions into visual art. I’m trying to develop some digital art prints on silk. The sample ‘patchwork quilt’ (it's a trial on paper) is based on the dead oak leaf to its left. The ‘quilt’ (I'm NOT a quilter by the way) is so far removed from the original oak leaf that I thought it illustrated the idea of ‘fractal vision’- here, only I know the story of the transformation of dead leaf to quilt. I'm playing God ...

I was amused to receive, just as I settled down to write this article, a newsletter headed: ‘Could a Quilt Hold the Answer to a 100-Year-Old Family Mystery? Find out when you order the new Guideposts Original series, Patchwork Mysteries. These exciting whodunit stories are set in Maple Hill, Massachusetts, a community built on its faith in God’. Something like this has come along every time I write a blog for ICFW.


Rain Upon Godshill, J B Priestley (1894-1984) Pub: Heinemann, 1939
Patchwork Mysteries:
I’d like to know: what texts (or quotes) draw you out into ‘The Bigger Picture’?


  1. Beautiful imagery, Ann. My touchstones tend to be more prosaic. I turn to the hymns. As a youth I thought "abide with me" one of the most boring 4 minutes inflicted on any church service. As I grow older the words "Change and decay in all around I see/O Thou who changest not/ Abide with me." bring peace to my heart. I cannot know where our crazy world is headed, but abide in the knowledge that God has not changed and has not abandoned His creation.

  2. Thanks for sharing that Alice. I'll add that to my collection. I might be able to put a book or ebook together on the theme, of words and images if I get enough contributions!

  3. Some years ago, I stood and watched as three weavers worked together on an immense medieval tapestry. They would only see the final result when the work of art was unrolled, some three years later. Until then, they had to work in faith that it would turn into something beautiful - as it did. For a picture and a devotion on this, see

  4. When I was a teenager I had the privilege of flying in a two seater plane. On the ground I couldn't see over the next hill or around the next bend etc, but once I was in the sky I could see the paths of the roads, what was on the other side of the mountain. . .

    At that time I realized that I could not see the patterns in my life or what was ahead of me while I was living here on earth, but God could see these things and He was in control.

    I've read Shirl's devotion (see previous comment) and find that very helpful too.

  5. Thanks for sending the link Shirl. I really enjoyed reading 'Life's Tapestry'. I like the Thought For The Day at the bottom:

    "Dark threads are an essential part of any picture. Without them, the full picture would not show up".

    I'll definitely keep this. (The picture of the tapestry is beautiful, too).


  6. Thanks for your story Ruth. It's interesting in that 'insights' seem to come when one is out of one's everyday circumstances, which is probably behind the idea of 'going on retreat'. In your case, you were on retreat in the air!