Like the Deer (20-11-20)
As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me all day long,“ Where is your God?” These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go to the house of God under the protection of the Mighty One with shouts of joy and praise among the festive throng. (Psalm 42. 1 - 3)
Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Saviour. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he enables me to tread on the heights. (Habakkuk 3. 17 - 19)
One of my favourite places for a good walk is Bradgate Park on the edge of Charnwood Forest, especially in the Autumn. Bradgate is Leicestershire’s only Medieval Deer Park, home to herds of both red and fallow deer, who wander freely throughout the 830 acres of parkland. It is close to where I grew up and I have been going there regularly ever since I was a child.
At this time of year, the stags are roaring and vying for supremacy, as they gradually round up their harem of does. The sights and the sounds are amazing and some of the older stags are truly majestic with impressive sets of battle-scarred antlers. Once authority and dominance is established, a stag will often gather his does and lead them to pasture down beside the river that runs through the park. The lower terrain provides some shelter against the wind as well as providing plenty of drinking water.
Since moving to Walgrave, I have enjoyed walking down beside the organic deer farm on the outskirts of Hannington. By contrast, this is a commercial enterprise rather than a tourist attraction, but the deer are still beautiful creatures to watch.
Deer appear in the Bible too. There are actually thirteen references to deer altogether, the first four are with reference to food (see Deuteronomy 12 - 15). I was surprised to discover that venison was clearly on the menu for the early Israelites! However, the other references are linked to our walk with God and God’s faithfulness in difficult times. The opening verses of Psalm 42 seem particularly apt at present when we cannot go to church and we are unable to join in congregational worship and singing in the usual way. The age-old question of ‘where is God?’ is a very real one in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. The psalmist encourages us to thirst after God in the same way that the deer thirsts for a running stream. He knows this will sustain us through difficult times.
Three other references to deer include this phrase: “He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he causes me to stand on the heights.” (2 Samuel 22.34; Psalm 18.33 and Habakkuk 3.19) When Covid cases continue to rise and vaccines are still a hope for the future, when the economy is struggling and there is a real threat to businesses and jobs, this is the time to consciously choose to trust in God. And then we will indeed find renewed strength and the courage to face the days ahead whatever they bring.
“Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Saviour. The Sovereign Lord is my strength.”
May I always trust in him, the faithful God. Amen.
Song: “As the deer pants for the water”