"The LORD bless you, and keep you;
The LORD make his face to shine on you
and be gracious to you;
the LORD turn his face toward you,
and give you peace." (Numbers 6:24-26)
Many months ago, on one particularly cold morning, I cycled out to Crosby. Cycling to the beach is one of my favourite things to do. It has been one of my greatest joys in moving north to live so close to the sea. The ocean never fails to calm me. It never fails to put whatever worries and stresses and tensions I am carrying in perspective. It never fails to remind me of the vast unfathomable depths of God and my own relative littleness and insignificance.
On this particular morning, I had not really dressed appropriately for the weather. The cyclists amongst you (or which I am not particularly!) will know that there is nothing worse than cold sweat and that, once the initial cycle adrenaline has worn off, you are usually left feeling pretty chilly. I hadn't remembered to pack an extra jumper so once I'd got off my bike and started walking down the beach, I realised that I was in fact, rather cold. Freezing in fact. And, increasingly, grumpy. I am not good in the cold. I hate it. And, once I'm cold, I find it really very difficult to maintain any kind of good grace.
I was even grumpier because this was meant to be my break. This was meant to be my time off the kids, my time to connect with God. And instead of relishing it, I was sulking my way through it. After about 20 minutes of walking in a strop I decided to give up and walk back to my bike and cycle to a coffee shop instead. In the instant that I turned around to walk back down the sand, I realised that the sun had escaped from behind the sullen clouds and it was pounding down on the beach. It had been soaking on my back but, as I turned round, it was so bright and so unexpected that I was momentarily blinded. I could not look the sun, but I could feel it beating down upon my face. I could feel the beauty of its warmth, and I remember tipping my head up towards it and walking, eyes closed, head lifted back, along the beach.
I must have looked pretty strange, but in that moment I was so happy. And in that moment, God reminded me of the words from this blessing: "The LORD make his face to shine on you." May God pour out his radiance, and his goodness and his glory straight from his face and onto your own so that you can feel it. And that's what it did feel like: as though God's goodness was being poured out onto my upturned face.
I have been humming Kari Jobe's song for days, and have thought again of that day on Crosby beach where, for much of my time, I had been completely oblivious to the nearness of God's goodness, to the truth of his face turned towards mine waiting to bestow light and favour. I had walked along in ignorance, unaware of the presence of God.
And that, I think, is how I (we?) go through most days. Unaware. Preferring to sulk in our own thoughts instead of focusing on the face of God, ever turned towards us in his son, Jesus.
And my prayer for this beautifully sunny Bank Holiday, when it is easier to remember God's goodness than in the dreary rain of February, is that we would turn our faces to meet his, that we would soak a little while in the sunshine, and feel the warmth of his peace.