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An old school friend

Friends are important, we humans are fundamentally social beings

At my sister’s recent book launch, I was delighted to meet an old friend from school days, Nick Henderson. Although he looks older – as, of course, I do too – his personality is entirely as I remember from the mid 1960s. We agreed to meet again this morning at the Golden Cross in Cirencester, and it was a delight.

Nick and I last met when we were both living at home and very probably still at school. For a year or two we used to hang out quite a bit. I remember going with Nick to see a local band called The Corals during a record-breaking attempt at playing non-stop without repeating any songs; the drummer, one Colin Flooks, another lad from our school year, later became famous as Cozy Powell. And yes, they did break that record – in fact they smashed it by playing for 11½ hours.

TheCorals
The Corals during their record-breaking session, photo from The Wilts and Glos.

Nick and I talked about many things, catching up on our personal journeys over the last half century, recalling the cross-country runs that were compulsory on Wednesday afternoons at school, and thinking about Daglingworth Brook, the River Churn and how the water is channelled in and around the town. The drainage courses have changed over the years, altered for many reasons, beginning in Roman times when the town was young, and continuing right down to the present.

Friends are important, we humans are fundamentally social beings; renewing a connection after such a long gap has been a very special thing for me. More so than I had expected or imagined.

For more about Nick, take a look at his website and/or a site he edits, Anglicanism.org .

Going out on a limb?

I’m looking forward to seeing the book in due course

This is a ‘must post’, I think.

The History Girls blog
The History Girls blog

My sister, Cynthia Jefferies, has been a successful children’s author for some time; now, heading in a slightly different direction, she is about to publish her first book for adults. It’s an historical novel, The Outrageous Fortune of Abel Morgan, set in the period after the Civil War. Cindy provides some background  in a post on The History Girls blog – you might like to swing by and read what she has to say.

I’m looking forward to seeing the book in due course, meanwhile I wish her every success with the launch.

And ‘going out on a limb’? You’ll need to check out those History Girls to find out what that refers to.

Part of the Grand Canyon is in Australia

Way back  a thousand million years ago when the super-continent Rodinia existed

Well, OK, it’s not that the canyon itself is partly in Australia, but the rock formations through which the canyon was formed are partly in Australia.

How do we know? Many of those rock layers with their very distinctive and unique sequences and chemical compositions have also now been found in Tasmania, the large island just south of the Australian state of New South Wales. It’s the oldest rocks of the Grand Canyon series that have been discovered in Tasmania. The rocks have always seemed unrelated to other rocks in the same part of the island, but they look like the oldest canyon rocks in many of their details and make-up.

Rodinia
Rodina, a super-continent with Australia adjoining Laurentia.

The solution to this puzzle can only be that part of Australia was once a single piece of continental crust with the rocks of the Grand Canyon. That would have been way back  a thousand million years ago when the super-continent Rodinia existed. Since then, the continents have broken apart, moved around, run into one another, and broken apart again. The breakup of Rodinia separated the early rock grouping into pieces that became part of modern North America and Australia.

This is not a new theme in the history of the continents. In a much more recent episode (the opening of the Atlantic Ocean) an ancient mountain chain was torn in two; the parts now form the Appalachians in North America and the Scottish Highlands on the edge of Europe.

But this new discovery helps scientists put more detail into the very early story of continental crustal movement and break up. Thanks to Jack Mulder and others for publishing the discovery and New Scientist for sharing the story more widely.

Early steps towards life

Imagine an RNA molecule that can replicate … this is already quite life-like.

I have a really exciting story for you today, especially if you are interested in the origin of life and evolution.

RNA
A section of double-stranded RNA

A recent article in the magazine Science reports that Thomas Carell, a chemist at Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, Germany, has outlined a process that can generate all four of the building blocks of RNA from compounds and conditions present on the pre-biotic Earth.

Why is this significant?

To understand, we need to grasp the importance of RNA. Its cousin, DNA, is the molecule used by most living things on Earth to store the genetic information that controls their form and function. RNA is also capable of storing genetic information, and some viruses use it in exactly this way. RNA is also essential in all living forms because it acts as a go between in the production of proteins from the DNA genetic material. RNA is less stable than DNA and copying errors are more likely. For this reason, DNA is a better long-term genetic store than RNA, but RNA is more dynamic. Think in terms of DNA as a library of printed recipe books, while RNA is like hand-copied notes on scraps of paper that enable the recipes to be taken to the kitchen.

But RNA has additional tricks up its sleeve. No only can this molecule store genetic information, it can also catalyse biochemical reactions, including the synthesis of simple proteins. RNA is a bit of an all-rounder, and it’s not so hard to imagine that quite soon after being randomly synthesised by Carell’s process, RNA molecules might be formed as the dissolved RNA bases came into contact with tiny rock templates that could act to stabilise the process.

RNA also has the potential to self-replicate. Imagine an RNA molecule that can replicate (albeit with occasional errors). This is already quite life-like. Now image the population growing in places where the Carell process was providing reliable supplies of the four bases. Some of those RNA molecules will have errors, sooner or later an error, or a combination of errors will provide a version that replicates more efficiently, or gets trapped inside a lipid membrane that protects it from breakdown, or catalyses the production of a protein that makes the RNA more efficient in some way. If all of those things happen you have something that might be regarded as an early living form – an enclosed lipid membrane with a self-replicating genetic system that can mutate and evolve. Nothing more that that would be needed to kick of an expanding array of related forms.

Voila!

The story as I describe it here is not complete and likely incorrect in many ways. I accept that. But though it’s a simplistic view, it’s also likely to be broadly correct as a bare outline. Over the next few years and decades I expect much more detail will become clear, especially detail about what is or is not possible. And I expect to see many of the steps to be experimentally demonstrated. Watch this space…

Gentleness takes courage and strength

You are precious to me, every single one of you. So live as if you believe that you are precious! Stand tall in the world. The things I want to see grow in you are not hard or complicated.

RiverOuse
River Ouse, St Neots

Last Sunday morning I was sitting in a lobby area in the community centre in Eaton Ford, part of the market town of St Neots between Bedford and Cambridge. River Church meets here and I was visiting, staying with a friend who plays in the church’s worship band. The band was setting up and getting themselves ready for the meeting, so I had half an hour to spare before people would be arriving. I sat, stilled my mind, and spent some time listening to what the Holy Spirit might say to me.

And this is what I received:

Speak out, but look up. Look out and speak up. See with your eyes, hear with your ears, speak with your mouth, but always let the Spirit live in your heart.

Welcome my Spirit and bear fruit in your lives; are you not my people? Let my love, joy and peace rise up. Don’t follow one another, but follow me. Don’t follow convention, but follow Truth. Don’t follow directions but follow the Way. You are precious to me, every single one of you. So live as if you believe that you are precious! Stand tall in the world. The things I want to see grow in you are not hard or complicated, they are the simplest of things – gentleness towards the people in your lives – peace in your hearts – gracious and loving attitudes – a deep hope rooted in my presence, not in your circumstances – a humbleness that shuns position and fame – joyful hearts dancing freely in my presence – relentless patience – kindness that looks for no reward – innocent hearts.

Become empty of what you are and do and I will inhabit you. Haven’t you heard me knocking? I don’t want your abilities – I want you!

Thinking about this afterwards, I was intrigued that what had started out feeling like a word to me alone had, very quickly, become something spoken to others too. I wondered if these were words I should share during the meeting. I have many friends at River Church and some of them might need to hear this message. And as people began to arrive for the meeting and greet one another and find their seats I carried that idea with me as I joined them. But though I was ready and willing to share, and there were opportunities, it didn’t seem the right time.

So I’ve come to the conclusion that these words are for all my friends, near and far. That I should share them here and those that need to see them will  be guided to read them. So that’s what I’m doing.

If these words bless you in some way that would be great. But I think there is also a challenge in the words. I believe Papa is calling me to move ever more gently through this world; and perhaps he’s calling you to do that too. Don’t be misled into thinking that gentle is the same as weak: it is not! Sometimes it takes enormous courage and strength to be gentle. Sometimes the only way to reach a person is through gentleness, humility, and patience.

But if you have read as far as this, please ask yourself how you should respond. Is the Spirit speaking to you also through the words he gave me?

Watch the video below to see how Jorge Pina ‘operates from a place of rest’ in meeting people. There’s real wisdom here.

Walking the Swiss bisses

We were constantly surprised by the next unexpected vista

Every summer we go away somewhere different for a week – Donna and me along with two daughters, their husbands, and our four grandchildren. This year we stayed in a ski chalet in Haute-Nendaz in western Switzerland, just over the border from France.

Although prices are high in Switzerland, there are many wonderful compensations in terms of mountain scenery, clean streets and clean air, friendly people, and the walks. I had expected walks with big and tiring changes in elevation – and we certainly did our share of walks of that sort. But the bisses: what a wonderful experience!

Looking at a bisse
Looking at a bisse

I must admit, I had no idea what a bisse was when we drove from Geneva Airport, around Lake Geneva, and then south-west to Nendaz. I hadn’t even come across the word ‘bisse’. But we soon found a leaflet of local walks and discovered that several of them followed the local bisses. A bisse is an irrigation stream running gently downhill, almost following the contours of the mountains and hills. As a result the bisse paths are gentle and easy walking for the most part, and they wind around the slopes through woodland and meadow. The views of the mountains and valleys are spectacular; following the path through woodland and then coming out into the open again we were constantly surprised by the next unexpected vista.

The view from a bisse
The view from a bisse

All the way, the path is accompanied by the sparkling water hurrying  down its channel, sometimes shallow, sometimes deep, and sometimes disappearing into a large pipe and reappearing beside the path again a little further on. Some of these paths follow one bisse gently uphill and then pick up a different one for the return, making a lovely, circular tour through the countryside.

Further reading

A bowl of cacti

She gave me a beautifully arranged little bowl with a variety of colourful, healthy-looking cacti in it.

CactiLast time I saw my sister, Ruth, she surprised me with an early birthday present. She gave me a beautifully arranged little bowl with a variety of colourful, healthy-looking cacti in it. Lovely!

So – did she grow them painstakingly from seed? Or did she buy them fully grown and re-pot them in this beautiful arrangement? Or perhaps she bought the little earthenware pot already planted up.

To see what she did, scroll down for a larger picture…

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Down some more…

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Here is the answer…
Cacti
She crocheted them, pot and all! How clever! How unexpected! And what fun. Thank you, Ruth!