Aled Jones introduces hymns and stories inspired by a subject everyone talks about. With performances by Tessera and choristers from St Mary's Music School in Edinburgh.
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MUSIC: Theme From A Summer Place
Gorgeous day, isn't it?
Yes, it's lovely.
# Ain't no sunshine when she's gone... #
Spoke too soon, didn't I?
This bank holiday weekend, we explore
our favourite topic of conversation - the weather!
We sing hymns that cite the elements
and we ask if God's to blame for all this unpredictable weather!
The weather can sometimes catch us by surprise and, here in the UK,
it can be more changeable in one day
than, it seems, anywhere else on Earth.
Maybe that's why we talk about it so much!
Even the hymn writers were inspired by the weather,
with hymn books and the Bible peppered with references to the elements and their power.
Despite the unpredictability of the weather,
our faith encourages us to trust in God whatever we may face.
With the weather being such a British obsession,
it's no wonder that in our folklore,
we find many a saying predicting rain or shine.
Have you ever heard of these?
March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb.
Oak before ash, we're in for a splash.
Ash before oak, we're in for a soak.
That's folklore, but the Bible too refers frequently to the elements,
from Noah's flood, to drought, storms,
and even fair weather illustrating God's power and judgement.
You're bound to have heard of this one.
It was said by somebody very famous once.
Red sky at night, shepherd's delight.
Red sky in the morning, sailor's warning.
Jesus answered and he said unto them,
When it is evening, ye say, it will be fair weather for the sky is red.
"And in the morning, it will be foul weather today
"for the sky is red and lowring."
According to the meteorologists, there's some truth in that one,
unlike some of the other weather sayings.
So next time you see a red sky, you can trust that God and the science have helped you predict the weather!
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills.
Poets, painters, we all look up to the skies for divine inspiration,
and clouds can seem heaven sent.
But they are also nature's weather map.
Every cloud in the sky can be identified.
They give us clues about the weather ahead.
The Bible reveals nothing about the science of why clouds are formed
and until one devout Christian man gazed up to the heavens himself,
we knew little about the weather of clouds.
Luke Howard is my great-great-great-grandfather.
He had a great hobby, which was to study the clouds.
He watched them closely as a boy
and as a young man growing up in different parts of the country.
He wanted to be able to make sense of them.
Up to that time, people just referred to them by what they looked like.
A giraffe, an elephant, a cauliflower.
But that was not good enough. He had an enquiring mind.
In the early 1800s,
he wrote an academic paper
describing the different
sort of clouds and their shapes.
For the first time ever, clouds had individual names,
and the system he invented has stuck right through to the present day.
Luke Howard forged the language of the skies
and inspired many of his contemporaries of the time.
He influenced, for instance, John Constable
who did a lot of work studying clouds and painting them on Hampstead Heath.
He learned a great deal from that.
How important was his Quaker faith to him?
I think it underlays everything.
The clouds permeated everything he thought and wrote
and I think we can only assume that he saw the cloud
as part of God's creation and, therefore, something to be understood and loved.
Why is this place important to the Luke Howard story?
Basically, because he is buried here. Though the location of his grave was known,
the gravestone itself got lost,
so we have had it recarved and recreated
and we had a gathering of family and meteorologists
and other historians interested in Luke to celebrate.
At the ceremony was founder of the Cloud Appreciation Society
Gavin Prettor-Pinney - a consummate cloud spotter and Luke Howard fan.
He certainly awakened people's interest in the clouds.
He was the father of modern meteorology.
-He sounds like a remarkable man.
-Remarkable man. Yes.
He came up with the terms cumulus -
cumulus are those puffy, clumpy ones,
the fair-weather cloud you see on a sunny day.
He came up with stratus, the layer of cloud
which is rather featureless. He also came up with cirrus,
cirrus being the high, beautiful, wispy ones.
They're cascades of ice crystals.
And also nimbus for a rain cloud.
What is all this about a cloud appreciation society?
-Surely there isn't one?
-There certainly is. I know - I started it!
Why did you start it?
It started as a joke, to be honest. Then one thing led to another,
-now there are 26,500 members.
No. In 88 countries.
You talk about the sublime, divine kind of feeling from the sky.
Certainly, when you have clouds like this,
the sunlight coming down through, you can see those rays,
like the fingers of God.
It is arresting enough for you to stop what you are doing and go, "Wow."
We Brits are obsessed with the weather forecast.
The BBC transmits 120 of them every day alone!
Behind the predictions are the people of the Met Office in Exeter.
From here, they supply crucial weather analysis,
not just for the UK, but worldwide. They also seem to be
as weather-obsessed as the rest of us!
From the age of about ten, I was interested in the weather.
I set up my own little weather station,
the usual kind of things - thermometers, rain gauges,
wind vanes - and took observations all through my childhood.
That led me on to make decisions as to the career path that I took.
I see God in many aspects of the weather.
Much of my work is actually involved in trying to simulate the weather in computer models.
I find it quite awe-inspiring that the physical laws
and the processes that we try to represent in computer models
are an indication to me of the kind of ordered mind of God.
And as a Met Office man, he now predicts global weather events
that can be a matter of life or death.
My work, specifically, is focused on the Tropics.
I deal mainly with looking at forecasts for tropical cyclones -
hurricanes and typhoons in various parts of the world.
Our role in that is really to provide information to the people
who may be in the way of the hurricane or the typhoon as it approaches.
I think it is natural to question why certain things happen.
In terms of my faith,
we do not always understand why God allows these things to happen,
but what we do know is his heart,
and his heart is a heart of compassion.
In these kind of instances, rather than shaking our fist at God
and saying, "Why have you let this happen?"
maybe we should ask, "How can we show something of God's heart
"and compassion to those that are affected by such disasters?"
Weather was the top news story when Australia was rocked by floods.
The worst seen for a generation.
At the time, there was intense debate
over whether climate change was behind the devastation.
Mike Edwards has come up with a quirky way
to raise awareness of this vital issue.
He's one of the world's top didgeridoo players, but he also works
in the heart of London for the Christian charity CAFOD,
advising them on environmental issues.
I used to use traditional PowerPoint presentations
and realised that, actually,
that is not going to change people's hearts and minds.
And that is what this is about - talking to people's hearts,
changing their minds.
And that is when this thing started to come into use. I started to realise
that there are certain things
in the way you play the instrument which are real powerful metaphors
for the way I think we have to change the way we live. For a start,
we have to simplify our lives, it is too complex.
The simplest instrument is a hollow piece of wood,
so that was a nice way of getting that over.
Then sufficiency. If you blow it too hard...
..it sounds awful.
So I was thinking that is another nice metaphor
for not using up too many resources.
Again, we are not very good in modern Western society
-of knowing when enough is enough.
-We want more and more.
Anyway, give it a go.
You will see... Just buzz your lips.
This is the weirdest thing I've done today.
But I'm willing to try anything once.
HE PLAYS A NOTE
I almost got it there.
You did. That little buzz sound.
See, this is the...
-Shall I stick to the singing?
-I think you probably should.
Tell us exactly, what is climate change?
We all experience weather on a day-to-day basis - sometimes it's cold, sometimes it's hot.
What we are worried about climate change is longer timeframes.
The weather is becoming a little bit uncertain and we are seeing
what appears to be an increasing incidence of really extreme events.
One thing about being in London,
if the heavens open and we do get a big hailstorm, we can shelter.
We can escape from that.
In many other countries we work in, that is simply not possible.
People are vulnerable and, so, these extreme weather events have such a huge impact on them.
-It is life and death.
-It really is life and death.
-So do you think that climate change is a spiritual issue?
At the moment, I think we have a real violent relationship with nature.
For me, spiritual connection is about love and compassion.
It is about holding on to something which is greater than we are.
And I think that is a deeply spiritual issue.
-For me, that is what drives me.
-Is there one thing we can do?
There are the practical things that we can all do.
But the big thing for me is really to slow down,
take a breath and work out your values.
Build in your life those values which allow that connection to occur.
I think we will move then from a state of denial,
because we are denying what we're doing, to a state of acceptance.
Through acceptance, we become powerful agents for change.
John Fleetwood is a fell runner and he's out almost every day, come rain or shine.
But his favourite weather to run in isn't what most of us would call ideal for a walk in the hills.
Snow and ice now. You see the snow, it is going pretty horizontal.
"I search out the beginnings of the ridge, but can see nothing.
"I mean nothing, nothing at all.
"Up is down and down is up.
"Mist is snow and snow is mist.
"Each step is one of faith into the unknown.
"Suddenly, I sense danger and, for the first time ever,
"I am utterly, completely and very seriously lost."
I was always interested in the mountains.
Right from the age of six, I remember seeing a mountain and I just thought,
"I want to climb that."
Last December, I had a trip to the Cairngorms,
and this was a challenge over 75 miles,
and 18,000 feet of ascent.
I did it in the middle of the winter.
That's the time, of course, when it's most challenging.
And to actually be out in those sorts of conditions,
um, reminds you of the power of God.
In the 56 hours John was trekking,
he saw every type of weather imaginable.
After a bright, sunny beginning, the weather changed.
John knew he was in for a battle with the elements.
My feet are just freezing. So, I better get up that hill.
'I've got freezing rain driving in on a 40-mile-an-hour wind.
'And when that rain hit me, it was super cold so it froze on everything.
'The complete jacket was encased in a coating of ice.
'And I had a 3cm icicle from my torch.'
Weather is an absolutely integral part of the challenge,
because you don't know what's going to happen.
Weather can cause you to fail.
It's pretty miserable now, isn't it?
'I guess some people would think I'm crazy to do this sort of thing.
'But I think one of the attractions is that it's a raw challenge,
'where there is no back-up, and I think there's an appeal in that.
'I think what sustains me is feeling God really close in every moment.'
In fact, I feel God closer at those times than at any other.
My wife Alison thinks I'm nuts.
She prays a lot for me, so that's maybe why I'm still here. And my mum and dad do, too.
"During the ten hours of wandering,
"an inner voice has kept me on track,
"instructing me what to do.
"And not one person, but two -
"me and my guide.
"He tells me to keep going.
"He's always there."
Gracious God, Creator of all that is good
We thank you for the wonder of the world
Help us to respect the earth, sea and sky
Come rain or shine
May we live in the knowledge of your love and goodness
Here's yet another one from the Songs Of Praise hymnbook
that brings to life the power of the weather
and praises our God behind it all.
Next week, as we look ahead to harvest,
I'm in Worcestershire, one of the biggest
food-growing areas of the country. I meet the couple
living the good life, and visit Pershore as it turns purple
to celebrates the humble plum. Plus, hymns for harvest
from the town's spectacular abbey.
And I hope you can be with us in London next month
for our 50th birthday celebration at Alexandra Palace.
We'll be singing some wonderful hymns, of course.
And our special guests include the one and only Andrea Bocelli,
gospel diva Beverley Knight,
voice of an angel Katherine Jenkins,
and international country music legend LeAnn Rimes.
If you'd like to be part of the audience, tickets cost £12 each.
There's a charge of £1.50 per transaction.
If you haven't got a ticket yet, here's the number to call...
Standard geographic charges apply.
Calls from mobiles may be higher.
Or you can apply online.
I can't wait. See you on the 25th.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]
Aled Jones introduces hymns and stories inspired by a subject everyone talks about. There are also performances by Tessera and choristers from St Mary's Music School in Edinburgh.