Memories of the puddle return at the end of each August.
The puddle was across the road from our house at the edge of a little Somerset village. Cars and tractors would swing wide to turn into or out of the lane that ran beside our garden and as they did so would cut into the verge opposite the house. The big agricultural tyres would cut deep into the soil, leaving a hard packed rut. When heavy rain came, as it always did, there would be a deep puddle, the width of a tractor tyre and stretching for two or three yards.
It was a puddle sufficiently deep to command the interest of small boys. I remember standing there one Sunday evening, feeling sick in the pit of my stomach. The school summer holidays, that had promised to last forever, were over; how could six weeks pass so quickly? Nothing could pull me from the slough of despond in which I stood, facing the bleakness of returning to school. There would be desperate childish hopes that perhaps the school would burn down, or that a mysterious illness would force its closure; they never materialised.
Memories of the puddle remained so vivid that when in England one summer three years ago, I walked across the road to check: the puddle had gone. No future generations of boys could walk ankle deep through its dirty water.
For years that puddle had the power to evoke feelings of fear. No matter how old I was, I could be pulled back to the thoughts of a lonely nine year old standing in the mud at a country roadside. It was hard even to articulate what the fear was, once school began, it wasn’t so bad; it was just a sense of a loss of time and freedom and feelings hard to bring into the imagination, let alone express in words.
There was a lecturer at theological college who talked about the world as sacramental – there were things and experiences that we encountered in the course of everyday that were signs, symbols and sacraments of the presence of God in his world.
Perhaps the world was sacramental, but there were plenty of other symbols that were not so reassuring, and perhaps knowing God’s presence was as much about being able to cope with the things that frightened, as it was in contemplating the things that inspired.
Like a nine year old, who ate first the bits he didn’t like of the school dinner, in order that he could save the best bits to last, I need a God who can help me firstly cope with the puddles, then I can enjoy all the good stuff.