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Radio and TV

Thought for the Day – BBC Radio Bristol

Text of this morning’s thought, which you can listen to here, at 1:50:45

Yesterday an English Oak was planted in Bristol’s Leigh Woods to commemorate the centenary of its ownership by the National Trust. 100 years may be longer than most people’s lives, but it’s barely middle aged for the oldest trees in the Avon Gorge.

Woodlands have a wonderful way of changing our perception of time, making us think of the longer run. In that respect, they have something in common with churches and temples, which have the capacity to fill us with wonder, and encourage us to see things through the eye of eternity.

However, for me, forests do those jobs better than religious buildings. For one thing, for all the awe they may inspire, churches are clearly human constructions. Woodlands, in contrast, may be managed by us, but they are not fundamentally our work. They show the natural as it is, not the supernatural as we imagine it to be.

But more importantly, woodlands do no not present us with an illusion of permanence. Churches, with their stone walls, are reassuringly solid and unchanging. Woodlands, however, are constantly changing, from season to season, from year to year, from decade to decade. They remind us that human lives are just a blink of an eye to nature, but also that everything that grows is also subject to decay.

This, I think, is more truthful and more life-affirming than the idea of life everlasting. When I breathe in the air and look at the beauty around me, realising that the moment cannot be captured, I value being alive much more than I would if I thought I had forever to repeat the experience. That’s why for me a walk in Leigh Woods is not a religious experience: it’s better than that.

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