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  • Susan Bowden-Pickstock

Building on Firm Foundations (May 2021)

This year I noticed an extraordinary thing. The riverbank at the bottom of the garden is carpeted with snowdrops, but this year the river flooded into the field behind and came right to the top of the bank. Rather tentatively I went to view the snowdrops’ fate, only to discover, on the coldest day of the year that there, underneath a surface layer of ice, were the snowdrops happily blooming underwater.

This year as a family we celebrate an unusual anniversary. Twenty years ago we were living on the edge of Cambridge, when our house flooded. It was not the River Cam, but a faulty valve on our water tank. We were blissfully unaware, it was the summer holidays and our four small children and I were at Wimpole Hall and out to tea. When we came home and I opened the back door, things were definitely not right. ‘Ooh mummy’, said the children gleefully, ‘it’s raining indoors!’ and they danced excitedly in puddles on the carpets. The walls were like streams, the ceilings were all down and I realised, in the space of just a few minutes, that we were homeless.

As I look back on this last year of pandemic, I realise how suddenly our whole world has changed. It reminds me of a poem by Claire Bialock.

I built my house by the sea.

Not on sand, mind you.

Not on the shifting sand.

And I built it of rock.

A strong house.

By a strong sea.

And we got well-acquainted, the sea and I.

Good neighbours.

The poem goes on to describe life going on nicely with the sea several hundred metres away over the sand until:

….one day

(I still don't know how it happened),

but the sea came.

Without warning.

Without welcome, even.

And the author realised that there was nothing else for it:

I knew, then, there was neither flight nor

death nor drowning.

That when the sea comes calling you stop

being good neighbours,

Well-acquainted, friendly-from-a-distance


And you give your house for a coral castle,

And you learn to breathe under water.

And now we come to Easter again, and as Christian people we remind ourselves that God in Jesus allowed Godself to be utterly overwhelmed, in order to bring new life to all of us, the other side.

As communities we have spent our year learning how to accommodate ourselves to the new conditions in which we have found ourselves. It has been overwhelming, but we have learnt how to cope, sometimes we have even bloomed, underwater. As communities, we must now gradually dry out, and figure out what sort of house to build together.

Bless you


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