The Weather Songs of Praise


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The Weather

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

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Gorgeous day, isn't it?

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Yes, it's lovely.

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THUNDER CRASHES

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# Ain't no sunshine when she's gone... #

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Spoke too soon, didn't I?

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This bank holiday weekend, we explore

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our favourite topic of conversation - the weather!

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We sing hymns that cite the elements

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and we ask if God's to blame for all this unpredictable weather!

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The weather can sometimes catch us by surprise and, here in the UK,

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it can be more changeable in one day

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than, it seems, anywhere else on Earth.

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Maybe that's why we talk about it so much!

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Even the hymn writers were inspired by the weather,

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with hymn books and the Bible peppered with references to the elements and their power.

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Despite the unpredictability of the weather,

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our faith encourages us to trust in God whatever we may face.

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With the weather being such a British obsession,

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it's no wonder that in our folklore,

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we find many a saying predicting rain or shine.

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Have you ever heard of these?

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March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb.

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Oak before ash, we're in for a splash.

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Ash before oak, we're in for a soak.

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That's folklore, but the Bible too refers frequently to the elements,

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from Noah's flood, to drought, storms,

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and even fair weather illustrating God's power and judgement.

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You're bound to have heard of this one.

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It was said by somebody very famous once.

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Red sky at night, shepherd's delight.

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Red sky in the morning, sailor's warning.

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Jesus answered and he said unto them,

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When it is evening, ye say, it will be fair weather for the sky is red.

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"And in the morning, it will be foul weather today

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"for the sky is red and lowring."

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According to the meteorologists, there's some truth in that one,

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unlike some of the other weather sayings.

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So next time you see a red sky, you can trust that God and the science have helped you predict the weather!

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I wandered lonely as a cloud

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That floats on high o'er vales and hills.

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Poets, painters, we all look up to the skies for divine inspiration,

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and clouds can seem heaven sent.

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But they are also nature's weather map.

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Every cloud in the sky can be identified.

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They give us clues about the weather ahead.

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The Bible reveals nothing about the science of why clouds are formed

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and until one devout Christian man gazed up to the heavens himself,

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we knew little about the weather of clouds.

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Luke Howard is my great-great-great-grandfather.

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He had a great hobby, which was to study the clouds.

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He watched them closely as a boy

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and as a young man growing up in different parts of the country.

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He wanted to be able to make sense of them.

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Up to that time, people just referred to them by what they looked like.

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A giraffe, an elephant, a cauliflower.

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But that was not good enough. He had an enquiring mind.

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In the early 1800s,

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he wrote an academic paper

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describing the different

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sort of clouds and their shapes.

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For the first time ever, clouds had individual names,

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and the system he invented has stuck right through to the present day.

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Luke Howard forged the language of the skies

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and inspired many of his contemporaries of the time.

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He influenced, for instance, John Constable

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who did a lot of work studying clouds and painting them on Hampstead Heath.

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He learned a great deal from that.

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How important was his Quaker faith to him?

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I think it underlays everything.

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The clouds permeated everything he thought and wrote

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and I think we can only assume that he saw the cloud

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as part of God's creation and, therefore, something to be understood and loved.

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Why is this place important to the Luke Howard story?

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Basically, because he is buried here. Though the location of his grave was known,

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the gravestone itself got lost,

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so we have had it recarved and recreated

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and we had a gathering of family and meteorologists

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and other historians interested in Luke to celebrate.

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At the ceremony was founder of the Cloud Appreciation Society

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Gavin Prettor-Pinney - a consummate cloud spotter and Luke Howard fan.

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He certainly awakened people's interest in the clouds.

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He was the father of modern meteorology.

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-He sounds like a remarkable man.

-Remarkable man. Yes.

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He came up with the terms cumulus -

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cumulus are those puffy, clumpy ones,

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the fair-weather cloud you see on a sunny day.

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He came up with stratus, the layer of cloud

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which is rather featureless. He also came up with cirrus,

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cirrus being the high, beautiful, wispy ones.

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They're cascades of ice crystals.

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And also nimbus for a rain cloud.

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What is all this about a cloud appreciation society?

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-Surely there isn't one?

-There certainly is. I know - I started it!

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Why did you start it?

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It started as a joke, to be honest. Then one thing led to another,

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-now there are 26,500 members.

-You're joking!

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No. In 88 countries.

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You talk about the sublime, divine kind of feeling from the sky.

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Certainly, when you have clouds like this,

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the sunlight coming down through, you can see those rays,

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like the fingers of God.

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It is arresting enough for you to stop what you are doing and go, "Wow."

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We Brits are obsessed with the weather forecast.

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The BBC transmits 120 of them every day alone!

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Behind the predictions are the people of the Met Office in Exeter.

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From here, they supply crucial weather analysis,

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not just for the UK, but worldwide. They also seem to be

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as weather-obsessed as the rest of us!

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From the age of about ten, I was interested in the weather.

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I set up my own little weather station,

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the usual kind of things - thermometers, rain gauges,

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wind vanes - and took observations all through my childhood.

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That led me on to make decisions as to the career path that I took.

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I see God in many aspects of the weather.

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Much of my work is actually involved in trying to simulate the weather in computer models.

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I find it quite awe-inspiring that the physical laws

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and the processes that we try to represent in computer models

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are an indication to me of the kind of ordered mind of God.

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And as a Met Office man, he now predicts global weather events

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that can be a matter of life or death.

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My work, specifically, is focused on the Tropics.

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I deal mainly with looking at forecasts for tropical cyclones -

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hurricanes and typhoons in various parts of the world.

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Our role in that is really to provide information to the people

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who may be in the way of the hurricane or the typhoon as it approaches.

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I think it is natural to question why certain things happen.

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In terms of my faith,

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we do not always understand why God allows these things to happen,

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but what we do know is his heart,

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and his heart is a heart of compassion.

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In these kind of instances, rather than shaking our fist at God

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and saying, "Why have you let this happen?"

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maybe we should ask, "How can we show something of God's heart

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"and compassion to those that are affected by such disasters?"

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Weather was the top news story when Australia was rocked by floods.

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The worst seen for a generation.

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At the time, there was intense debate

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over whether climate change was behind the devastation.

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Mike Edwards has come up with a quirky way

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to raise awareness of this vital issue.

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He's one of the world's top didgeridoo players, but he also works

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in the heart of London for the Christian charity CAFOD,

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advising them on environmental issues.

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I used to use traditional PowerPoint presentations

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and realised that, actually,

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that is not going to change people's hearts and minds.

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And that is what this is about - talking to people's hearts,

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changing their minds.

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And that is when this thing started to come into use. I started to realise

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that there are certain things

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in the way you play the instrument which are real powerful metaphors

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for the way I think we have to change the way we live. For a start,

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we have to simplify our lives, it is too complex.

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The simplest instrument is a hollow piece of wood,

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so that was a nice way of getting that over.

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Then sufficiency. If you blow it too hard...

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..it sounds awful.

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So I was thinking that is another nice metaphor

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for not using up too many resources.

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Again, we are not very good in modern Western society

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-of knowing when enough is enough.

-We want more and more.

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Anyway, give it a go.

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You will see... Just buzz your lips.

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This is the weirdest thing I've done today.

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But I'm willing to try anything once.

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HE PLAYS A NOTE

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I almost got it there.

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You did. That little buzz sound.

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Perfect.

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See, this is the...

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-Shall I stick to the singing?

-I think you probably should.

-OK.

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Tell us exactly, what is climate change?

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We all experience weather on a day-to-day basis - sometimes it's cold, sometimes it's hot.

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What we are worried about climate change is longer timeframes.

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The weather is becoming a little bit uncertain and we are seeing

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what appears to be an increasing incidence of really extreme events.

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One thing about being in London,

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if the heavens open and we do get a big hailstorm, we can shelter.

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We can escape from that.

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In many other countries we work in, that is simply not possible.

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People are vulnerable and, so, these extreme weather events have such a huge impact on them.

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-It is life and death.

-It really is life and death.

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-So do you think that climate change is a spiritual issue?

-Yes.

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At the moment, I think we have a real violent relationship with nature.

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For me, spiritual connection is about love and compassion.

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It is about holding on to something which is greater than we are.

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And I think that is a deeply spiritual issue.

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-For me, that is what drives me.

-Is there one thing we can do?

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There are the practical things that we can all do.

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But the big thing for me is really to slow down,

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take a breath and work out your values.

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Build in your life those values which allow that connection to occur.

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I think we will move then from a state of denial,

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because we are denying what we're doing, to a state of acceptance.

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Through acceptance, we become powerful agents for change.

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John Fleetwood is a fell runner and he's out almost every day, come rain or shine.

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But his favourite weather to run in isn't what most of us would call ideal for a walk in the hills.

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Snow and ice now. You see the snow, it is going pretty horizontal.

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"I search out the beginnings of the ridge, but can see nothing.

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"I mean nothing, nothing at all.

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"Up is down and down is up.

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"Mist is snow and snow is mist.

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"Each step is one of faith into the unknown.

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"Suddenly, I sense danger and, for the first time ever,

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"I am utterly, completely and very seriously lost."

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I was always interested in the mountains.

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Right from the age of six, I remember seeing a mountain and I just thought,

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"I want to climb that."

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Last December, I had a trip to the Cairngorms,

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and this was a challenge over 75 miles,

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and 18,000 feet of ascent.

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I did it in the middle of the winter.

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That's the time, of course, when it's most challenging.

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And to actually be out in those sorts of conditions,

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um, reminds you of the power of God.

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In the 56 hours John was trekking,

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he saw every type of weather imaginable.

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After a bright, sunny beginning, the weather changed.

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John knew he was in for a battle with the elements.

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My feet are just freezing. So, I better get up that hill.

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'I've got freezing rain driving in on a 40-mile-an-hour wind.

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'And when that rain hit me, it was super cold so it froze on everything.

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'The complete jacket was encased in a coating of ice.

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'And I had a 3cm icicle from my torch.'

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Weather is an absolutely integral part of the challenge,

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because you don't know what's going to happen.

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Weather can cause you to fail.

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Yuck!

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It's pretty miserable now, isn't it?

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'I guess some people would think I'm crazy to do this sort of thing.

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'But I think one of the attractions is that it's a raw challenge,

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'where there is no back-up, and I think there's an appeal in that.

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'I think what sustains me is feeling God really close in every moment.'

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In fact, I feel God closer at those times than at any other.

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My wife Alison thinks I'm nuts.

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She prays a lot for me, so that's maybe why I'm still here. And my mum and dad do, too.

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"During the ten hours of wandering,

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"an inner voice has kept me on track,

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"instructing me what to do.

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"And not one person, but two -

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"me and my guide.

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"He tells me to keep going.

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"He's always there."

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Gracious God, Creator of all that is good

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We thank you for the wonder of the world

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Help us to respect the earth, sea and sky

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Come rain or shine

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May we live in the knowledge of your love and goodness

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Amen.

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Here's yet another one from the Songs Of Praise hymnbook

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that brings to life the power of the weather

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and praises our God behind it all.

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Next week, as we look ahead to harvest,

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I'm in Worcestershire, one of the biggest

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food-growing areas of the country. I meet the couple

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living the good life, and visit Pershore as it turns purple

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to celebrates the humble plum. Plus, hymns for harvest

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from the town's spectacular abbey.

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And I hope you can be with us in London next month

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for our 50th birthday celebration at Alexandra Palace.

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We'll be singing some wonderful hymns, of course.

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And our special guests include the one and only Andrea Bocelli,

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gospel diva Beverley Knight,

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voice of an angel Katherine Jenkins,

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and international country music legend LeAnn Rimes.

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If you'd like to be part of the audience, tickets cost £12 each.

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There's a charge of £1.50 per transaction.

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If you haven't got a ticket yet, here's the number to call...

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Standard geographic charges apply.

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Calls from mobiles may be higher.

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Or you can apply online.

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I can't wait. See you on the 25th.

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Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

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E-mail [email protected]

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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.