Leslie under the Stars

"For my part I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream." - Vincent Van Gogh

Once upon a time, I met a woman called Leslie. It was a brief, baffling yet quite profound encounter which changed my life. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

It was a cold October night, almost a year ago now. I had retreated to a favourite spot of mine where I could stand beneath the stars and gaze across the glowing vista of St Andrews' Old Course and the Eden Estuary behind, feeling incredibly ponder-some and dramatic. I would stand up on a little mini-wall to get the best view; it felt wonderful, though I'm sure I looked ridiculous to any passers by who didn't share an enthusiasm for mounting themselves upon local scenery under the cover of night, like a poor man's Batman. But each to his own. 

I stood and wondered under those stars, probably assaulting myself with the common feelings of despair and anguish that confront you in your last year of university. 

But then I was interrupted by a voice behind me. A Scottish voice no less. 

I paused: "God, is that you?" 

Actually I just turned around, and behold: It was not God, but a Scottish lady, approximately middle-aged; I can't precisely remember her introduction but it involved the usual conventions like 'good evening' and 'my name is Leslie'. She had a dry and somewhat world-weary persona, nonetheless accompanied by a warm, Scottish charm. We chatted about things. It turns out she had been a schoolgirl in St Andrews many moons ago, and remarked that the steps above which I stood had been known as 'Jacob's ladder', in reference to the heavenly stairway which Jacob encounters in Genesis 28. Who knew. 

She remarks dryly: "A theologian standing at Jacob's ladder? It's almost too twee isn't it." 

I like Leslie. And let's just remember that this encounter is special if only because two British strangers are actually talking to each other. The conversation goes on. Talking about my studies, she tells me that she likes theology, but that "religion has a lot to answer for." I agree. 

She never told me the details of her life but I sense this is a woman who has learned important things in her time. Difficult, painful things. She knows the world well. She looks out at the sky above and remarks of the starry canvas, how it looks still yet is constantly in flux: "We want to stay in one place, but everything's changing, isn't it? The stars are all moving, everything is moving." 

She shares her feelings of being somewhat daunted by the weight of this ever changing world, so vast and perplexing, both wonderful and terrible at once. And then:

"I guess we just have to trust that someone out there is doing little things and making little steps and that ultimately something will come out of it.

And sometimes we just have to look up and say, 'God help us.'" 


Wow Leslie, I think you just summed up life better than I've ever heard before. Because Sometimes it's good and sometimes it's bad and sometimes we just have to trust that something good is happening perhaps beyond what we can see. 'That someone out there is doing little things and making little steps...' I think we have to believe that the 'someone' can be us in our lives. Doing good in the little things. But I believe that it's also God. A God hidden from the world's grand stage of war and celebrity yet who makes himself known in the humble and the lowly, in quiet deeds of kindness and love. Gently speaking to us all. So that when we say God help us because we feel we have no hope and nothing left to give, we know that he will, because he is already with us. 

But back to Leslie, who has one closing thought: 

"At the end of the day, it's all bios and theos isn't it?"

She's using the Greek words for Life and God, because come on, this is Leslie we're talking about. Personally, I think she nailed it. Great philosophers and theologians have spilled much ink making much the same point.

At the end of the day...Life and God. The things we see around us, and that which is just beyond us. Something known and something unknown. Something earthly, something heavenly. I'm not being a dualist here: putting heaven above against earth below, I affirm the goodness of both I'm just saying that life is often a strange combination of the two. There's us, and then there's God. And the spectacular paradox of Christianity is that once there was a man who was God. A God who became man. Someone who was bringing heaven and earth together again. There's something to write home about. But back to Leslie.

The encounter draws to a close. She hopes that something good will come from my dissertation, she wishes me well and good night. We both part ways, and she disappears to I've no idea where. 

I don't know who Leslie was or is. Maybe she was an angel. Maybe she was drunk. Maybe she was both. But for a brief moment she spoke to a stranger in the dark; she shared the confusion and the questions, but she pointed to something beyond it all. She encouraged and she gave me hope. So I wrote down some of what she said and I hope that it can be an encouragement to you too.

Since she told me that story about the spot known as 'Jacob's Ladder', I finally went and looked up that story. Jacob has this dream of a stairway where for a moment, heaven and earth are united. He sees God and hears his promise to be with Jacob and to watch over him, and that through this man the whole world would be blessed. And then the dream is over. Jacob wakes up, and says:

"Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it."

Surely. Surely? Could it be? What if God was with us and watching over us and was for us...but we never even knew? 

I said at the beginning that Leslie changed my life. Actually I think that every moment of my life has changed my life. Those little things, that give something good, or something bad, or something in between. Leslie added something good. In one moment of time she changed my life and reminded me to expect the unexpected. Expect a chance encounter with a Scottish Lady of Wisdom. Because like she said, everything is changing.

We think it's static, or we wish it was, but we know it's not. Its all moving all the time!

So what will you do about it? Despair? Perhaps for a moment. But then wait...

"Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it."


bios and theos. together. 

"I guess we just have to trust that someone out there is doing little things and making little steps and that ultimately something will come out of it. And sometimes we just have to look up and say: 'God help us.'"

Amen, Leslie. 


Popular Posts