« 6 - The Queen's Bays | Main | Kristallnacht »

Letter From America: God Moves In Mysterious Ways

...When as child I asked what all the noise was during a thunderstorm, I was told, "It’s God moving his furniture"...

When the lightning flashes and the thunder crashes you will find Ronnie Bray at the window of his home, watching the Greatest Show on Earth.

For more of Ronnie's choice columns please click on Letter From America in the menu on this page.

The night has been filled with not-too-distant crashes of thunder, flashes of bright lightning, and accompanying rain. The rain is always welcome in the desert, and I don’t mind the thunder and lightning, in fact they delight me. I have stood for hours in the rain watching fierce electrical storms burst around me when I was too young to know anything about arthritis except by anecdotes and the complaints of the aged.

Now, in my superannuated years, arthritis and I are on intimate terms, still, contrary to received wisdom, I look out of windows to watch the bangings and crashings of the Greatest Show on Earth as the air is seared by shafts, forks, and sheets of high voltage phenomena looking for things to destroy, and thrill to the sound of thunderclaps that shake our pantiled roof, seemingly threatening its destruction.

As I watch, enchanted by the atmospheric display of Son et Lumière, I am faintly conscious that the window could shatter and run me through with shards of glass driven into my flesh with lethal force. That was what I was instructed in infancy when window gazing during violent thunderstorms. So far so good!

Not everyone in our little family takes the broad view of celestial pyrotechnics. Belle, our super-smart Groenendael, assumes an air of philosophic interest. Her attention is focused on who or what is causing the commotion, and whether they pose a threat to those she has been qualified by nature to guard with her life. She sits up like a don and pays close attention to everything that transpires. Only when she has determined that we are in no immediate threat of extinction does she throw her considerable body to the floor and fall immediately asleep.

Her older sister, Frankie, our beloved Border Collie, finds the whole thing terrifying. She is a Montana girl, and she could have been frightened by gunfire at an early age. When we embraced Frankie into our family at a year old, she had many issues related to her puppyhood, but one by one, we have seen them melt away as we have loved and protected her. But her dread of loud noises has not diminished.

When lightning flashes and thunder crashes she cowers like a whipped cur and slinks to a place of safety where it can’t get to her. She has some favourite safe places such as under the corner table in our Celestial Room, or in one of the bathrooms, or in the utility room, but her favourite place is on the bed between Gay and me where she lies tight against us trembling with fear. We both stroke her and speak soothing words of comfort and assurance, before her shaking stops and she goes to sleep until morning comes and the storm is gone.

Somewhere to the east of the dog park is a factory that uses explosives for something or other. Whenever one goes ‘boom!’ Frankie tells me we have to leave and head for the safety of home, even if we have only just arrived. When she pleads with her beautiful brown eyes, my heart melts, and I take her home, knowing that she would do no less for me if our roles were reversed. Although she has the powerful urge to herd day and night, apart from sleep, I doubt that she would have enjoyed being a working dog, because working dogs have to be out in all weathers bringing the sheep safely home, and if a storm blew up with any hint of a peal of thunder, she would head for home and leave her charges where they were.

All young animals, including our own human babies, are frightened by unexpected loud noises. This lessens to some degree when infancy yields to toddlerhood, although it is necessary to continue comfort and reassurance to calm fears that something nasty is about to happen to the precious little ones.

When my boy Matt was three, he developed aeronausiphobia, and would run indoors terrified whenever an aeroplane flew overhead. Hugs, kisses, and reassurance did nothing to reduce his anxiety. Fortunately, not too many aircraft flew over Longwood in the nineteen-sixties. When they did they generated strong fear reactions in my usually cheerful and smiling boy.

During one episode I asked him why he was afraid. His trembling answer pulled me up short. He was afraid, he said, because the Devil was in them! Where he could have got that idea from still puzzles me forty years later. Matt was no stranger to religion, but our faith is not one that trots out Satan or his Demons at every verse end to explain the bad things in life, nor does it promote fear of Satan as a way of establishing virtue, nor does it seek to modify behaviour through dread of divine disfavour, so his take on that threw me for a loop.

Yet, laying to one side the aetiology of his fear, he still had the fear and that needed taking care of. Aeroplanes, like Satan, did not figure prominently in our lives during that period, and so it is probable that Matt’s naturally inquisitive mind sought an explanation for the source and character of flying objects, that tended to be rather noisy as they traversed the sky, and he could have had assistance from the college he attended at that time, Milnsbridge Day Nursery, where he picked up a more extensive vocabulary than three-years olds are wont to do from watching Bill and Ben The Flower Pot Men, or Thomas the Tank Engine and His Friends.

The source of his misinformation I never did discover, but his fears were assuaged once and for all when I explained that aeroplanes were like motor cars, one of his childhood passions, and that inside each one was a man driving it, just as there was in a motor car. He internalised that information and went on his way rejoicing, his smile restored, and his fear of immediate destruction banished. It was a moment that every parent cherishes.

Heavenly spectacles never scared me as a child. This was most likely connected with a certain Reichchansellor’s aerial delivery of unsolicited surprise packages in the War years. Having been several times disturbed during sleep by the air raid siren that wailed from the top of the drill hall further down Fitzwilliam Street, and marshalled along with the rest of the household, numbering around sixteen souls counting family and lodgers, to try to sleep with the hum of sotto voce conversations centred on doom and gloom, I requested to be allowed to stay in my attic bedroom during subsequent alarums. My request was granted, and I slept through the War, the bombs, and the siren, although there were not many bombs dropped on Huddersfield, but one bomb will do if it lands where you are stood standing.

When as child I asked what all the noise was during a thunderstorm, I was told, "It’s God moving his furniture." That explanation I absorbed without impact as a matter-of-fact that was of no real consequence. God was not otherwise spoken of at home, and ‘devils’ were always people who were ‘silly’ in ways that brought more misfortune to themselves than they did to others, but who were not silly enough to be called ‘buggers,’ a term reserved for the stupidly silly that spread grief and disorder like cholera carriers spread disease.

Matt is still at ease with aeroplanes, Belle remains philosophical during thunderstorms, Frankie continues to be terrified but consolable, and I no longer believe that overhead hullabaloo is God moving His furniture, for I have learned from a reliable source that He is, in fact, playing skittles! The lingering question is "Why does He only do it when it’s raining?" God does indeed, move – or skittle – in mysterious ways.

Copyright © 2006 – Ronnie Bray


Other stories at:

If your mind goes blank - how do you know?


Creative Commons License
This website is licensed under a Creative Commons License.