Fogo Island

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Earlier this week I watched a television documentary about an exclusive, Canadian hotel situated on the very edge of Newfoundland on Canada’s Atlantic coast. The Fogo Island Inn is an unusual but attractive, white, ultra-modern building built on the rocky foreshore of Fogo Island. Twenty-nine suites are available for guests, who enjoy stunning, uninterrupted views of the North Atlantic Ocean.

The whole atmosphere of the hotel is light and airy, yet relaxing and homely. Spotlessly clean, white is the predominant colour, inside as well as out, setting-off the colourful individually designed furnishings, making it a home from home for guests. Facilities include an art gallery, library and sauna, but for me at least, the main attraction would be the peace and tranquility of an unspoilt haven, seemingly on the edge of the world. One night’s stay for two begins at approximately $1,500 CAD.

As a creative type, I was personally fascinated, as I’ve written above, by the stunning whiteness of the building, enhanced as it was by the beautifully made furniture, the colourful hand-made quilts and cushions, the natural wood floors and the unique wallpapers. Then I was suddenly brought back to reality as I watched the maintenance manager washing the windows with a brush on the end of an incredibly tall pole. Because the hotel is built literally on the rocks, just yards from the water’s edge, the salt in the air needs to be regularly washed from the windows. – No matter how beautiful the building, the windows still need to be cleaned.

On a human level, skin cleansing products are big business, removing the impurities, so that our skin can breathe again; and though we may not realise it, our need for spiritual cleansing is just as great. The more we experience of life in this world, the more of this world clings to us. The noise, the brashness, the selfishness of the world around us leaves its mark. No wonder some people choose to holiday by relaxing on palm-fringed beaches or trek through mountains far from civilisation.

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Such holidays are short-lived. We need a more accessible source of spiritual refreshment, and that is where prayer comes in. When we come to our Creator in prayer, we arrive at the source of spiritual purity. Out of His love for us, our Creator calls us to Himself. He offers us forgiveness and cleansing as a free gift – forgiveness, because who hasn’t done something they regret, and which of us has lived a perfect life and has nothing on their conscience? – a free gift, because Jesus Himself paid the price for our cleansing, so our spiritual focus can be restored and we can enjoy purity and peace as, with His help, we make a new start and dedicate our life to following Him.

“So then, let us purify ourselves from everything that makes body or soul unclean, and let us be completely holy by living in awe of God.”

2 Corinthians 7:1 (GNT)

The Ugly Duckling

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Record Store Day is an annual event, which began in the United States and now takes place on every continent except Antarctica. This year’s Record Store Day takes place later this month on Saturday 22nd April. It celebrates the unique atmosphere of local record stores, which are once again growing in popularity thanks to the resurgence of interest in music on vinyl. If you are, or were, a frequenter of record stores, the appeal isn’t difficult to understand. Take this comment from John Stark of Flagstaff, Arizona: “Record shops totally fascinate me. I can dawdle and browse for hours, discover long sought after rarities and gems, feel at home, spend more than anticipated. It’s in my genes.”, or this one from Howard Hart, the guitarist from San Diego: “When I walk into an old, indie-owned record shop, I’m transported back to a truly happy place.”

I myself have happy memories from my teenage years of hours spent browsing in Kath Jones’ record shop here in the UK. It was basically a large, wooden hut filled with rows of tables, groaning under the weight of cardboard boxes stuffed with singles and LP’s of every musical genre. But today as I write, my thoughts go back to my childhood, to one of my first ever discs; it was the soundtrack of the family film “Hans Christian Andersen” starring Danny Kaye. For me, one of its most memorable tracks was “The Ugly Duckling“; just one of the many tales written by the real Hans Christian Andersen, the Danish author and storyteller of the Nineteenth Century.

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The Ugly Duckling” is a story with a message. It tells of a duckling, the largest, ugliest and last to hatch of all its siblings. Ridiculed and bullied by the rest of the farmyard because it was different, it flew away. “They are afraid of me because I am ugly,” he said. So he closed his eyes, and flew still farther,” During the next few months, the duckling encountered much hostility and misunderstanding. A pompous hen advised him to conform and be like “half the world” if he wanted to be accepted. Then one spring day, paddling down a stream, he met a group of three magnificent swans. Compared with his ugliness, their beauty made him more unhappy than ever. He had endured so much that he didn’t care what the swans reaction to him would be. So he sailed up to them, prepared for the worst. Hanging his head, he suddenly noticed his reflection in the water and was amazed at what he saw, “no longer a dark, grey bird, ugly and disagreeable to look at, but a graceful and beautiful swan.” The other swans swum around him in welcome. “He had been persecuted and despised for his ugliness, and now he heard them say he was the most beautiful of all the birds.”

I hope you will understand if I say that many of us are ugly ducklings. We are criticised and pushed about by others, expected to conform if we are to get anywhere in life, and we fail to recognise that we are of infinite worth, and have a unique set of talents. We are the pinnacle of our Creator’s work, called to a relationship with Him, and here to reflect His love to a broken world. Each one of us is unique. Yes, we fail and mess-up from time to time, but we all have an in-built capacity to love and to care, to protect and provide. We are truly beautiful.

Some people base their self-worth on their looks, their talents, their social status or their financial position, but these things are fleeting. Neither should we value ourselves by the negative opinions of others, but instead we can recognise that we are loved by the One who made us. As the ancient scriptures say:

“The Lord your God … is always with you. He celebrates and sings because of you, and he will refresh your life with His love.”

Zephaniah 3:17 (CEV)

“You’re a very fine swan indeed!”

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