Monday, 26 January 2015

Subtle bile

I spent two-thirds of 2014 de-toxing my liver. This process will, I think, never be ended – because the liver filters toxins from the blood, and even with good diet and a disciplined life, the inflow of toxins from environmental pollution and psychological stress can never be absent from a person’s life.

In this cleansing journey, most of all I was impressed and surprised by the indivisible conjoining of body and mind. With the detoxification came such profound peace. When I asked myself if it was my body or soul that felt at peace, I couldn’t tell. It reminded me of babyhood – the peace of an infant resting. How do I remember that? Not by recall in the normal sense, but my body recognized and identified it, somehow.

This detoxification may have created peace, but it also rocked the boat. It made me aware of what my body/mind/soul needed for well-being; it made clear to me what situations and relationships didn’t do me good.

I began to understand the physical effect on my being of psychological input – that there were some people and situations from which I had to be healed after encounter. Not that they were of themselves toxic – but they were not doing me good. Nuts are not bad, they’re tasty and delicious and an excellent food: but if you have a nut allergy they’ll kill you. So for me with some environments, some relationships. As I repeated again and again the de-toxing, getting used to the peace and restfulness of clearing, I began to notice what stimuli and inputs didn’t sit well with me.

In de-toxing the liver, the gall bladder plays an important part. Back in the days of Shakespeare (and before that, with Hippocrates, and later, in the anthroposophical system of Rudolf Steiner), people’s temperaments were said to be governed by four humours. I won’t go into detail, or you’ll be reading this forever, but you can look up about it here or here, if you’re interested.

A problem that has beset me since childhood – despite being a compliant child and in general a quiet person – is rage. Upwelling. So it intrigued me to read that in Hippocrates’ system of humours, rage associated with yellow bile – from the gall bladder. There was also a black bile from the spleen, but that tended towards melancholy (indeed “melancholy” means “black bile”).

But yellow bile was known as choler, and its excess encourages a choleric temperament; irritable, volatile, inclined to anger. That’s me. I find it hard to own this, because I know I am a quiet, peaceable person; and how can you be both? I don’t like it because I depart from my true self in entering a choleric state. But the humours (as they were understood in that ancient system of medicine) are meant to be in balance. It’s when they are out of kilter that disharmony is created, and rage or melancholy (or whichever humour comes to the fore) predominates.

Bile is bitter. Remember the Christmas carol – “The holly bears a berry as bitter as any gall”? Rage is bitter. Fury. It burns.

I thought about the composition of the human being. It’s not like Russian nesting dolls, one inside the other – the mind inside the body, the soul inside the mind, the spirit inside the soul. Rather, the different aspects, what are called the “subtle” aspects, which is to say the intangible, non-physical aspects, all occupy the same space simultaneously. Indeed, if anything, the body is smaller than the “subtle bodies”; its boundaries do not extend so far. That’s why you can feel a person’s vibe as they approach, or (in some cases) see their aura. The subtle bodies are like light shining. Soul-light.

And I wondered, can you have subtle bile? Is this what the letter to the Hebrews described as the “root of bitterness”?

In the KJV it’s put like this (Hebrews 12.15): “…looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness spring up to trouble you, and thereby many be defiled

It’s seen there as a person within a community. But perhaps it can be a phenomenon within an individual? Bitterness, gall, upwelling in imbalance, like a spreading stain – rage gradually seeping through; toxic, overwhelming.

I’m not quite sure how you de-tox the subtle body. I know what is recommended in the religions – in some cases meditation, fasting; in others confession, eucharist; bringing to the foot of the cross one’s burdens, troubles and sins. I take note, but I’ve also seen plenty of bitter, furious souls who were steeped in religion, saturated with it.

So I think there are two things that apply to the soothing and rebalancing to keep subtle bile in its right proportion. One is de-toxing the body – because the physical body and the subtle bodies are linked, and I have found for myself that deep peace arises from physical detoxification. The second is giving permission to transformation. Remember how the letter to the Romans (12:2 KJV) says: “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God”?

That suggests it is possible for something new and healthy to grow through. Like a snake emerging from a shed skin. Like the liver which renews itself every 300-500 days. It suggests that a person doesn’t have to stay fixed, stuck, in the patterns of toxic rage and resentment that build up poison in the body until one becomes quite ill. It’s possible to shed, it, to de-tox, to emerge – transformed and renewed.

A puzzle for me arises from certain relationships and circumstances which, for good reason, I cannot excise, but which tend towards re-toxing not de-toxing. My hope is that my spirit can become so strengthened that I can, as it were, turn the flow – become the influencer instead of the influenced. That I can cease to be malleable (“conformed to this world”) and instead grow into the I Am of God, by a steady process both physical and spiritual, of de-toxification, transforming and renewing.

I’m working on it.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Pitfalls of growing old

Here’s a question for you. What is it reasonable to require of old people?

Let’s agree from the outset – old people are people as well as old; so that means each one is an individual, and one cannot just lump them together.

But one makes allowances for children. When the boundaries are pushed and the millionth question asked, when the defiance grates and the melt-downs become wearisome, when night after night at three in the morning the bringer of unwelcome tidings appears in the moonlight to announce a wet bed – the mother reminds herself, this is only a child. Don’t pick up a rolling pin and batter it to death. Try to be understanding.

In the same way, one can listen to the interminable sanctimonious utterances on the subject of “When I was young …”, “When I grew up …”, “My generation …”, “During the war …”, “In my day …”  - and all the other yawn-worthy stuff – with a mental note to retain the pinned-on smile, refrain from slumping in an attitude of death staring at the clock and wondering if it has . . . actually . . . stopped.

Do you watch TV dramas?

Most of them explore the familiar landscape of human reality, touching on experiences that most of us share.

One of these is the Bolshy Teenager – the flouncing out, the rude remark flung over the shoulder, the coldness and rudeness, the unreasonable tantrums and general refusal to co-operate. But, I kid you not, none of that ever happened to me. Not once that I can recall. Oh, my children were argumentative at times – but never unreasonably so. They stood up for their point of view – insisted on it, even; but why not? I cannot recall one single occasion when they spoke disrespectfully to me, or even unkindly. Well, there was that occasion when one of them described my hair as looking like a used mop; still, she was having a bad day; and she was right.

But another stereotype from the TV dramas is the Surly Old Parent. The sour, critical mother, finding fault. The cantankerous old father, contemptuous and cruel.

There are things to take into consideration. Old people often feel unwell, and tired. Some of them – my father came into this category – deal with this by quietness and withdrawal. My father, in the last couple of years of his life, slept a lot. He went out once a week to see the other old men at the pub. He drove to the supermarket every day and ate lunch in the cafĂ© there. Apart from that, he stayed at home. He stopped attending family gatherings – even funerals. He enjoyed feeding the birds, watching Country File, and reading the paper. And he dozed. His manner was kind. He never said a lot. He and I rarely saw one another, never wrote except at Christmas, and hardly ever spoke on the phone. That was not new, really. In the whole of my life he showed little interest in me, never read my books – certainly never bought one copy of anything I wrote. He lived and died without knowing me. I mean, he would possibly have recognized me in the street, though I can’t be entirely sure of that because a lot of people don’t. I’m a bit vague and foggy; not all that present, somehow.

But he and I, we were alike: the default mode for both of us, “Withdraw. Wander off.”

But these old people caricatured in TV dramas – they are, it’s true, evident in abundance. Dismissively belittling their children, rude and thoughtless, critical of everyone they know. Comparing one sibling against another, scornfully. Unrelenting contempt. So unkind.

What is it? Is it an accumulation of poison from bad diet and lack of exercise? Is it that thing of synapses in the brain disabling the inner editor? Is it habit set hard? Is it a sense of increasing powerlessness? Are they just world-weary – tired and achey and defeated?

And what is it reasonable – and realistic – to expect? Is it (perish the thought) inevitable? A sort of sclerosis?

I think of a friend whose mother developed Alzheimers in old age. My friend found herself in the unwelcome role of inspector, checking the fridge for bad food and the closet for soiled clothes, much to her mother’s outrage. Their relationship worsened. Eventually, her mother arrived at the state of health leaving no other viable option than residential nursing care; and then things began to improve between the two of them. My friend became the welcome visitor instead of the impertinent busy-body.

Might it be the case, then, that instead of the greater intimacy which (at first look) increasing vulnerability seems to require, maintaining a certain distance is the way to maintain respect and courtesy?

What do you think?

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

One Thing

Different occupations suit different personalities (obviously).

I could not bear the idea of going in to work day by day – in an office or school or hospital. Even when I had a salaried position, I needed to work in a role where I could create my own schedule and operate in a variety of locations.

I’m okay in a team if I have my own specifically delineated contribution – I’m spectacularly bad at sharing a task. Are you doing it or am I? Whose responsibility is this?

The key to my present occupation as a self-employed writer (Oh cripes – that reminds me – I must have a magazine deadline coming up. Yikes!) is what my beautiful mama always referred to as “being a self-starter”. Some people left to manage their own day will procrastinate and lose heart, getting lonely and discouraged.

Today – cold, grey, gloomily clouded – I just don’t feel like working. In such circumstances I require of myself One Thing (actually One Thing After Another, but I pretend that’s not so, leading my reluctant psyche slowly through a series of tasks).

One Thing to do for the household – taking six bags of clutter to the charity shop.

One Thing towards the evening meal – get the mince out of the freezer.

One Thing to further work already in hand – check Amazon copy, contact publisher to get it corrected, download photo file in preparation for forthcoming blog post.

One Thing towards a project undertaken – in this case, writing one Bible study towards a series promised to the Bible Reading Foundation’s New Daylight.

One thing to firm up a piece of work taken on locally – today, a home visit to someone who has lost a loved one, to talk through what they would like for the family funeral.

One thing towards the next novel planned  some preparatory reading.

Self-employment requires that a person have the determination and perseverance to keep on doing one thing; putting one foot in front of the other regardless of mood or inclination. To work faithfully and well in solitude, remembering deadlines and crafting something workmanlike and beautiful for the glory of God and because others have placed their trust in me.

A journey of 1000 miles begins with one step. In the end, there could be no greater prize imaginable than to hear Jesus say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” This, above all, is my heart’s desire.

Monday, 19 January 2015

The Hawk and the Dove new edition.

The Hawk and the Dove was the first book I ever wrote; a novel.

It explores the theme of God’s power being made known in human weakness, and marks the creation of an imaginary community of monks in the (fictional) medieval St Alcuin’s Abbey on England’s North York Moors.

In writing that first novel I carried in mind two famous medieval texts – Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and the delightful Fioretti of St Francis – a candid, endearing, often funny set of tales about his first followers. The Canterbury Tales is structured as a frame-tale; a device holding a series of different stories together by presenting them within one common setting – in this case the frame-tale is the story of a group of pilgrims on the road together, providing the structure linking the stories they each tell.

Because my novel also has a medieval setting, I took the device of the frame-tale, and The Hawk and the Dove is structured as a series of stories about the medieval monastery, linked by and embedded in the modern setting of a mother telling stories to her daughter. This also allowed the balancing of a masculine community with a feminine one.

A sequel, The Wounds of God, swiftly followed, in 1991, again shaped by the same frame tale structure.

The third book in the series broke away from this structure, which seemed inappropriate for the subject matter of that third novel, The Long Fall. This time the story was a close-up, slow, somber sketch of a man struggling with illness and disability. It deals with intensely personal relationship, helplessness, infirmity, and the narrowing down of a person’s life as it draws to a close. For this, a pared-down, simple structure seemed a better fit.

The books were first published in the UK, and in the US Crossway took them on. Christian fiction struggled to be taken seriously in the UK – in those early days, when I was a Local Preachers’ tutor in the Methodist Church, the Methodist Recorder refused to review them on the grounds that they were fiction so had no serious theological content. They flared and died in the UK, but in the US it was a different story. There they sold steadily for twenty years, becoming gradually widely known and loved.

After they’d been twenty years in print, the thought occurred to me to write another novel in the series. Crossway were pleased with this idea, and so I wrote The Hardest Thing To Do, quickly followed by The Hour Before Dawn and Remember Me.

These also have been well received, but in the years since the first books were written Crossway had run down their fiction department, and The Hawk and the Dove series had become something of an anomaly in their list, and so it was that they decided to take no further volumes, and the seventh – The Breath of Peace – was self-published. It, too, has been well received.

But natural changes in Crossway staff meant it was time to prune and re-organise the list, and so it came about that the whole series was offered to my UK publisher, nowadays Lion Hudson.

They have taken it on, creating a new set of cover designs for this new edition of the series.

The first three books – The Hawk and the Dove, The Wounds of God and The Long Fall – will be available next month. The next three books – The Hardest Thing To Do, The Hour Before Dawn and Remember Me will follow in a few months, and The Breath of Peace comes out next year in this new format.   

During this year I will be working on an eighth book, The Beautiful Thread, which will be added to the series next year.

In these hand-over months I guess their availability will be a bit patchy. The cover for The Breath of Peace in the new edition hasn’t yet been done, and the pre-order for that book is not up yet, so in the meantime it’ll still be available in its original form. The Crossway editions are now available only through second-hand bookshops (I think), and The Breath of Peace will be withdrawn from sale in its present form as the time for the new edition draws near.

For those of you who don’t know these books at all, I’ll tell you a bit more about them in future posts, but I think that’s enough for now – just keeping you up to date. I’ll be changing the graphics and links here on the blog to show the new cover designs, which I hope you like.