Let me take you with me on a fishing trip down by the Ashton Under Lyne canal near my childhood home. It’s the end of the 60’s, and I am 8 years old. I have my fishing net and jam jar with string around the top to make carrying it easier. It’s a hot summer’s day in the long school holidays, and I don’t think twice about going down to the canal on my own. These were the days when no one thought that a child being out alone was a problem. (Although let’s not forget , not too long before Myra Hindley and Ian Brady were collecting kids from my doorstep and who were never seen again!). Nevertheless, I still enjoyed the freedom to wander off alone and make my way down to the canal in search of “tiddlers”. Sticklebacks were more common than anything, but sometime I would catch a leach or a snail, or some other little fish that I had no idea they were called, so tiddlers was the generic name for anything that went in the Jam Jar.
This particular day there was little human activity on the canal. A few kids throwing stones further up stream from where I was, that was about it. I found my spot and sat on the dirty ground under the road bridge and started to look for my first catch. There were two ways to go about fishing for tidders. One was leaving the net in the water and waiting patiently, the second was waiting for them to appear and then scooping very quickly, making a big splash. Both techniques required sitting very quietly and very still, and both had a measure of success and failure. I liked to sit on the bank with my feet in the water but because of the leaches this was forbidden by my mother! This day I decided to abide by this seemingly ridiculous rule and sit on the bank with my legs to one side.
It was hot and very pleasant sat there; well it was if you didn’t mind the smell of the canal. As I got older I liked that particular smell less and less. I had already filled my jam jar with canal water, and soon I had my first stickleback, leech and a few other small things. I stared at the water intently looking for my next victim, when suddenly I was distracted by a figure that seemed to just appear on the other side of the water. As I looked up I saw a human figure reclining under the bridge. He/she was very bright, and was watching me closely, smiling. I was quite startled by this strange presence and yet I became transfixed on the image in front of me. My heart was beating faster, and I suddenly felt like I was in the presence of an angel. I tried to stand up quickly but my leg had gone dead underneath me, and in the attempt to get up I knocked my jam jar into the water, releasing today’s catch back into the wild. As I stood and looked over the water the image began to fade; a few blinks and I was totally alone again.
The urge to fish had now vanished and I just climbed up the stairs of the bridge and ran home as fast as I could, with my fishing net in my hand, leaving the jam jar at the bottom on the canal. When I got home no one was there, so I sat on the swing in the back garden and gently swung backwards and forwards singing my heart out with a real sense of happiness.
The adult Alison has remembered that moment often, and tried to explain it away. Maybe it was simply the reflection of the Sun on the water under the bridge that day. Maybe this was just like a rainbow of colour that I had seen often, but was suddenly more intense because I was tired and had been staring at the water for a long time. Maybe it was nothing at all, just the imagination of a silly little girl bored during the long summer holidays. Although, after saying all that, deep within my heart over 40 years later I still remember my encounter with God as he sent his angel to watch over me there.
Thank You Father, for your angels are watching over us day and night whether we are aware of them or now. That you care for us so much, and that you are always at hand to guide and protect.
Jesus – during this Lenten season – remind me again that your amazing love for me is the same yesterday, today and forever.
Lord hear us – Lord graciously hear us!