I don’t have lots of hobbies. I’m not big into football and I’ve never really supported a particular team. Most of the free time that I have I tend to spend with the family and close friends. But there is one activity that, given the time, I would love to do more of, and that’s gliding. I first went gliding when I was at College back in the early ‘90’s. It was great fun, but quite an expensive hobby when I was living off a Student Grant!
Since then I’ve been up a few times, but I’ve never been able to progress it beyond the initial introductory stages. For my birthday this year, my family bought me a voucher for a trial lesson at the East Sussex Gliding Club at Ringmer. What an amazing setting! The downs are beautiful enough from the ground, but wow what a difference when you see them from the air!
I was lucky enough to have a fine day for my trial lesson, but sadly not many thermals around to keep us up in the air for very long. As we took off, being towed behind a powered aircraft, so the sheer beauty of the Sussex countryside revealed itself below me. We climbed gently to about 2,500 feet, and as we did so, familiar landmarks such as Glyndebourne Opera House, Barcombe Reservoir, and Firle Beacon came into view. Within the space of a few minutes, I had moved from being able to appreciate the lovely view of a small part of the Downs from the airfield, to the stunning beauty of a large part of East Sussex from the air.
By changing my position, my view of things around me changed dramatically. From 2,500 feet, my perspective of the landscape around me had changed enormously.
You may have heard the rather annoying management term, “Let’s take a helicopter view of this”. Well, apart from being a bit cheesy, it does express quite well the idea of sometimes needing to take an overall view of a situation. So often in life our vision, our understanding of a situation or an event, is restricted by the narrowness of our field of vision. It isn’t until we are able to see beyond the boundaries of our own normal day to day lives, that the ‘bigger picture’ looms into view.
We need to remember that we are very rarely in possession of the whole picture, of all the facts. We make our judgements and decisions based on the relatively limited information we have and our previous experiences. But just as the view of the landscape changes dramatically as we take off in an aeroplane or glider, so too our understanding of things can change dramatically if we change our perspective; if we step back from a situation and try to see the wider landscape.
In John’s gospel, we are given the account of the woman who has been caught in adultery, being brought to Jesus by the Pharisees who are looking for her to be stoned to death, in accordance with their law. It is a trap into which the Pharisees hope Jesus will fall, and give them a charge on which to arrest him. We all know his response was to invite anyone who was without sin to cast the first stone, and we know that one by one, those who had brought the woman to Jesus left, recognising their own sins and inadequacies, leaving the woman alone with Jesus who refused to condemn her, but forgave her and sent her on her way.
But there is one part of the story that I particularly like. It is a small and apparently insignificant aspect of the story, but no less important in my view for that. It is the immediate response of Jesus when he is presented with the woman by the Pharisees; rather than jumping to immediate conclusions, or leaping straight in with an answer, he bends down and writes with his finger in the ground, only straightening up to respond after persistent questioning by the Pharisees.
It is a very enigmatic response to a challenging situation. We don’t know what Jesus wrote in the sand; we don’t even really know why he responded in that way. But in doing so, he put a gap between the heat of the situation and his response; in doing so, he gave himself time to consider how best to respond, perhaps even time to pray. And when eventually his response does come, it takes everyone by surprise, and the focus is shifted from the accused woman onto the gathered crowd.
It is an important lesson for all of us. There are many difficult and potentially painful situations that we have to face in our lives, and very often we rush to respond based on our own frame of reference, on our own experiences, and on the basis of the information we have to hand. But remember that image of the landscape changing below as the glider soars up into the air; of how when we give ourselves the opportunity to see things from a different angle or a different perspective, we are able to see things so much more clearly and in context.
We too, when faced with challenging or difficult situations, need to take the time to metaphorically bend down and write in the sand; to consider our response; to look at the situation from a different perspective. If we can do that, our response will be always be more rational, more considered, and better informed.