Saturday, 19 January 2019

Writing tip — Wednesdays

In case anyone who reads here is involved/interested in professional writing, or just in honing creative writing skills generally, for what it's worth I thought I'd share with you something I've noticed and found personally helpful.

When I'm editing people's novels, I often come across a problem I've experienced in my own writing of fiction, which is what I think of as a Wednesday.

Let me explain.

As a schoolgirl (I hated school), I found Wednesday the most difficult day of the week. I'd already lived through Monday and Tuesday, but we weren't nearly through — there was still Thursday and Friday to go before we reached the weekend. Wednesday was the week's nadir.

When you write a novel (or for that matter a non-fiction book, even a chapter or an article), if you just start at the beginning and work through to the end, you almost inevitably create a Wednesday — a slow, heavy, boring bit in the middle. Like the middle of a Yorkshire pudding, or a cake that sinks. 

The way to avoid this — I apologise if this seems so obvious to you you wonder why I'm even saying it — is to structure the piece you are writing into very small sections.

For example, recently I had to write a medium length article about a rather complicated thing. To stop it bogging down into a Wednesday as I lost my way and sank in the morass of information, I categorised it into three main sub-headings, then also allocated a short word length for an introduction and for a conclusion. That way, I was able to create a rhythm of rise and fall throughout the piece. It also kept the informational focus sharp, because I wasn't trying to write about all the elements all the way through.

It's like stashing your grocery shopping in bags, instead of trying to pick up the whole pile of loose items in your arms to carry them home.

If I'm writing a novel of, say, 65,000 words, I leave 1000 for a margin to expand into. Then I divi up the 64,000 into 8 chapters of 8,000 words each. I take the trajectory of the narrative and divide it into sections, with one important episode allocated to each chapter — something with emotional intensity and personal encounter. I write each central episode separately, so that each chapter has a mountain instead of a valley as its emotional structure. Then, to give readers a rest and create a rhythm in the book, I write the edges that join the mountains together — and these include contextual detail (that creates interest but without intensity), and humour (that rests people from emotional intensity).

By structuring the book in this way, it is possible to completely avoid falling into a Wednesday — there simply isn't one, because the book is structured section by section instead of as a whole; and the sections don't have Wednesdays either, because they're shaped as mountains, not as valleys.

I commend it to you as a useful way of making it less tiring and less daunting to write a novel, and to create a rise and fall like breathing that carries your reader through.

I hope you find this helpful, not boring or superfluous.


Thursday, 17 January 2019

A lovely day

It has been such a lovely day.

When I blogged about Pearl yesterday, so many friends blessed me, and said they were praying for me; it's been like spiritual sun-bathing!

Here in the edge of England, after a night of rain, the sky cleared and the sun came out this morning, shining through myriad raindrops like a humungous chandelier. So beautiful. 

And I made myself a sensible lunch that came out really successful — I had some gravy in the freezer to defrost, and my potatoes were cooked just right, and the Brussels sprouts were delicious and I had a bit of orange juice left over and some ice cubes to make it just right. 

And some work had come in that wasn't eye-crossingly difficult but something I knew about and could easily do. So I was neither bored nor terrified. I just felt happy.

Then another writer has given me a copy of a book she's written that was on my Amazon wish list — and I'm so looking forward to reading it by the fire while everyone else here is out at their choir this evening.

And for my supper I have some really good bread from the whole food co-operative in Hastings, with some cream cheese that has smoked salmon in to go on it.

Really, life couldn't be more utterly perfect. 

Er . . . I hope your day has been okay too, and I haven't made you want to go out and shoot yourself now . . .

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

The histories we carry.

As the saying goes, "you can't turn the clock back".

When I think of myself in my teens and twenties, I had such a different perspective. Passionate and idealistic, full of faith. I listened so eagerly to preachers then, and thought they were wonderful.

So much has happened, and most of it has worked disillusionment until disappointment has ceased to be a feature of my world view, and I am surprised more by integrity and conscientiousness.

It's like when you learn to drive, and can never really relax as a passenger again; or when you become a writer and every book you read for evermore you now read with an editing mind ("that's a repetition; that's not what you said on p.106"); or when you become a preacher and every sermon you hear, you critique for excellence ("don't start off by telling us you preached this at your brother's ordination, man, nor that when you sat down in your study to prepare this you couldn't think what to say — just cut to the chase and give us some theology").

I've just got so used to lies and evasion, jealousies and resentments, self-deception and vain clutching at self-image. 

I count myself utterly blessed that I share a home with the truest, humblest, kindest, wisest people on God's earth. I can go to them for good counsel, and count on them for honesty.

And today, we lay the body of my friend Pearl to rest. You could not have found a soul more gentle and brave and loving. Such sweetness of manner and attitude. Unfailingly encouraging, she thought the best of everyone.

You would have thought, would you not, that the church would have been her natural home, but it was not so. 

Christmas was Pearl's favourite time of year. She'd lived through long stretches of poverty in her childhood, and she said her best Christmas of all was the one where they had no money whatsoever for presents. Her mother, who was a Wise Woman and a healer, sat Pearl down (she was seven years old, I think) to explain this. Together they drew up a list of the presents Pearl would have really, really loved. They spared no cost and made the best list ever. And then her mother made it come real in Pearl's imagination — the beautiful doll, the puppy, everything she wanted — and those imagined gifts exceeded all material expectations, remaining for all time the best presents Pearl ever had.

Pearl's mother influenced her deeply. Pearl never forgot the time they had just one sixpence left on the mantelpiece to buy a loaf of bread; but her mother saw a ragged tramp passing by, and made Pearl take that sixpence and run after him with it as a gift, because he had nothing and they at least had a home.

And Pearl's mother instigated in their home a practice of thank you notes. She kept a little box on the mantelpiece, and all through the week wrote notes on scraps of paper giving thanks for life's blessings. Pearl and her father joined in, and once a week they all  sat down at the kitchen table together, to open the box and read them out and say "thank you". 

Pearl was their only child, and she became a (much beloved) teacher when she grew up. She paid for their home with her salary, and she began with her school pupils her mother's practice of the "thank you" notes — it caught on right through the school. She also cared for her mother in her last illness and was with her when she died — when she said the room filled with a wonderful fragrance.

She cared for her father too, in his old age — he had a stroke and was a long while disabled — so he could stay in their own home until he died. She would come home in the school dinner hour to give him his lunch, back again at the end of the day to make his supper and wash him and put him to bed, up early to get him ready for the day before she set off for school, where she became the deputy head.

Pearl loved Christmas so much, and every year used to watch her video of It's A Wonderful Life (her favourite, alongside the one she had of the life of St Francis). Then, every New Year's Eve she kept watch until midnight. She lived alone in her cottage in her old age, and had no visitors at New Year, but as the old year passed away and the new year began, on the stroke of midnight she would open the cottage door. She had a treasured picture of Jesus, and she would carry it in through her door from the midnight garden, to give him the first footing into her home.

Like her mother, Pearl was a healer, and had a particular place in her home (in front of the hearth) where the confluence of energies brought strength and peace. She laid her hands on animals and humans alike, and brought healing and blessing and peace.

She loved the living earth and made a small outdoor chapel in her garden where she sat to allow God's love to enfold her. She loved the birds that flocked to her bird table, and she loved her trees. She had a statue of St Francis, who was one of her heroes.

But her main hero in life was Peter Goldman, whom she held at her heart's core with a deep, true, abiding love. He taught her about the healing frequencies of colour and sound, and she incorporated these into her own healing practice. She found her faith community at White Lodge, which he taught and led. There she was loved and honoured.

The church, not so much. Pearl loved any place that revered the name of Jesus, and over the years she came and went at churches local to her neighbourhood. But they hurt her. On one occasion, she went to help decorate the parish church for Christmas Eve, and the vicar's wife asked if Pearl would be attending Midnight Mass. But Pearl explained she could not go, because her disabled father needed her with him through the night. She was his carer. The vicar's wife told Pearl she could not be a proper Christian, then, if she was not going to be in church on Christmas Eve — and this rejection went through Pearl's heart like a knife. She never forgot it.

This same church participated in a mission, with the name "Walk of 1000 Men". And some of the fine Christian men in question came knocking on Pearl's door. With her usual loving hospitality, she invited them in and served them tea and cookies. While she made their pot of tea, they sat in her living room waiting, and wanted to know when she brought in the tea, what was the small colour wheel on the table nearby. So she explained about the use of colour frequencies in her healing work (it really does help people get better). And these men then started on at her about how she and her healing work belonged to the devil. They were the only people I ever knew Pearl to throw out of her house. Courteously, yes, and respectfully; but she asked them to leave.

It was her dearest wish that her funeral would be jointly conducted by her beloved Peter and me. Because she was a woman of faith, her executors understandably chose the parish church as the location that seemed obvious to them for her funeral. And wouldn't you know it, the clergyman with oversight of this church (they are temporarily without a vicar), though he permitted Peter to give a eulogy (thank goodness) would not allow me to conduct the service there — though he very graciously did say I could read some prayers or give a reading or address; he did not shut me out, but I declined his offer, kind though it was. They showed me some of the prayers to be included in the service, and I think what they have chosen is just right; it will be beautiful. 

I have a history of my own with that church. In past years, when I was pastor of the Methodist Church in that place, the incumbent at the parish church refused to participate in an ecumenical mission if I had anything to do with it! I didn't want the mission to be spoiled, so I withdrew. But back to today — the committal of Pearl's body will be not there but at the crematorium, which is an open space over which the clergy have limited domination (though in my years of taking funerals there, I have seen the church of England clergy make a power grab, taking from the funeral directors to themselves jurisdiction over all funerals where the deceased had no particular religious affiliation).  So I have been left the precious honour of there laying my dear friend to rest.

And this day, I have so many mixed feelings. Of the gradual disillusionment wrought by decades of association with the church, of gratitude for the many Church of England clergy who, over the years, have graciously bent their rules to make space for me to officiate at funerals in their churches, of gratitude that this space and opportunity has been given to me to bless my Pearly queen as her little boat docks on the further shore, of thankfulness for souls good and true, whose work is for healing and peace and spiritual mastery, and — I confess it — of contempt for the efforts of those who take the name of Jesus and try to make of it a platform for their own advancement and empire-building, who try by exclusion and rejection to gain a monopoly on the goodness and truth which shine with such a dim and grubby glow in their own witness.

Think of us today, if you will, friends, as we lay this beloved, unusual, holy woman to rest. The Force was strong with this one, and that's the truth!!

Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Laughter and the green fleece.

I am conscious when I look in the mirror or at photographs of myself, that there is a sort of madness in my eyes. It isn't surprising, there's a lot of it in my family, and I try to limit the problems it can create by padding about softly and mingling in society as little as possible. I dislike conflict or other forms of personally directed attention, and where I see signs of it brewing I sink into the margins, lying low like a flatfish just as our Hebe said I should.

I wear quiet colours, most of the time — greys and blues, the colour of shadows and in-between times.

I like this colour palette I saw online — very pleasing; it was called The Druid's Tea Party, and I liked that too.

Several of those are in my wardrobe, also dark blue and deep red. I like the colour palette of this painting Hebe made —

The colours of the landscape, of the moor and the forest and the seashore.

But sometimes another consideration intervenes. About a year ago, when I had a deep emotional shock, I applied colour for healing, surrounding myself with all the strength of the rainbow, the jewel colours of India. They comforted and restored me. And then, I buy most of my clothes second-hand on eBay, or at the tail-end of the sales when prices are reduced right down. So there often is little choice, and if the cut and fit and fabric are right, the colour may not be.

When my children (I have five daughters) were small, they wore party dresses almost the whole of the time. That was because you can get dresses second-hand easily, whereas practical trousers and sweaters tend to get worn out by their first occupant. In the same way, it is easy to buy clothes in hot pink, safety orange, lime green and winter white, and of course you can always get black. But soft greys and muted blues and greens (in the right cut, fit and fabric) present a greater challenge.

So it came about that I bought two second-hand Lands End fleeces on eBay at a very low price; in a fuchsia pink and a strong shade of green.

This was the green one —

— and yes, I gave up trying to grow out my fringe.

These two fleeces were a bit big for me, but looked okay over a full skirt. 

However, I went to a church meeting one evening with my husband. I didn't really look at him as we left the house. It was very cold, and we were both wrapped up warm in fleeces and gilets and cosy winter trousers.

Only when we arrived at the meeting and were greeted by gales of laughter and cries of "Oh, bless!" and comments to the effect that we were dressed the same, did I look at him properly, and register that he also was wearing a fleece in a strong shade of green (he wears it most of the time), teamed with navy blue cord trousers and a black gilet (I had on a pair of navy fleece trousers and a dark blue gilet).

I was so startled and taken aback by being suddenly noticed (I rarely am) and by finding myself the centre of attention, that as soon as I returned home I put both that and the strong pink fleece out for donation. I really can't be doing with that level of visibility.

In the morning, having spent a while in my pyjamas, thinking about the weather and wondering what clothes to put on —

— remembering the cries of "Oh, bless!" —

— and accepting that I have no idea what my husband is wearing— 

— and don't want to spend time checking, I just think, "What the hey"— 

— and put on whatever I was wearing yesterday. 

I'm better off without that green fleece, and a lot less visible.

Saturday, 12 January 2019


I believe in housework, but I do not enjoy an excess of it.

From my teens onward, monastic thought influenced and shaped my life — also buddhist and taoist thought.

There's a wonderful story (buddhist? taoist?) of two monks walking along a mountain path that goes past a humble stone dwelling alongside a clear stream. 
As they approach the little house, the first monk says to the second, "A sage lives there, a holy man." 
Then they notice a lettuce leaf bobbing on the water of the stream.
The second monk remarks: "He can't be either holy or wise, or he wouldn't be polluting the stream and wasting that lettuce leaf."
The words are scarcely out of his mouth when a skinny old man with a long beard, dressed in an ancient and tatty (but clean) robe, comes tearing out of the door, and runs at top speed to the stream to retrieve his lettuce leaf.

In monastic thought of every religion, cleanliness and frugality are prized.

"Cleanliness is next to godliness," as John Wesley said. 

The monks I lived with in my teens had a little booklet setting out their rule of life: it included the observation, "The priory should reflect the peace and order of heaven."

Cleanliness and order belong to the kingdom of God, because they promote God's shalom. Where there is clutter, dirt, bacteria and mould proliferate, and insects and rodents take refuge. In their wake comes disease — respiratory tract problems (asthma and infections), gut infections, skin infections, all sorts. Our discipleship requires us to extend the reach of Christ — the kingdom of God, the spread of God's shalom; and cleanliness and order are part of this.

It is important that we undertake it ourselves, not personally be the source of dirt and clutter while passing onto others (paid or unpaid) the responsibility for clearing it all up.

As a teenager, I remember reading about the spiritual formation of Carmelite nuns. They are contemplatives, their work is prayer and art and writing. They don't teach or do social work. They are enclosed. So you might expect that their formation focused on spiritual and intellectual exercises. It made a strong impression on me that for their first year (postulancy and novitiate) they are required to do no intellectual labour but housework and gardening and cooking — manual work, which is an essential component of our spiritual formation. Scrubbing floors develops the soul.

This ongoing responsibility is an exacting requirement, but the task is made immensely more daunting if we have many possessions. 

You don't have to be a minimalist to live simply, but it is much easier to live simply if you are a minimalist. The practice of simplicity requires you to be mindful about all the threads and connections of your life. The garments you wear, the groceries you buy, the fuel that lights and heats your home, all the myriad daily choices — the simplicity of faithfulness lays upon you the discipline and responsibility of becoming aware of the sources of these connections with the wider world, ensuring that so far as it is possible your end of the engagement promotes compassion, honesty, social justice and the wellbeing of creation. It is an enormous task. The less we have to think about, the easier it is to carry it out faithfully.

When it comes to housework, up to a point I enjoy it. There is an interest and pleasure in, for example, hand washing pyjamas and hanging them on the line to dry (as I did this morning), or carefully cleaning the accumulated grime from the touch of many fingers from the edge of a door or drawer or from a banister rail. It's pleasing. But if there is clutter everywhere, more than you can possibly deal with, it becomes merely overwhelming and one is discouraged from even making a start.

So keeping ones possessions strictly limited to a small number promotes the likelihood of keeping one's home tidy and clean. When I say it, that sounds like stating the obvious, doesn't it? But it's surprising how many people don't get it. I've had people say to me that they don't want to tackle their accumulation of possessions and dirt because they don't like housework; I say it's essential to keep it all under control for the very same reason. A minimalist lifestyle is brilliant for a lazy person.

Friday is meant to be cleaning day in our house, but the time got filled up with other duties, so we set about it today — Saturday — instead. We three women who live here full-time each give an hour to cleaning on the same day at the same time, and three hours is all that's needed to keep things in good shape. There's also a man who lives here and he also cleans, but on his own schedule because his patterns of responsibility are different.

So today, my job was vacuuming and dusting through the common ways, and cleaning my room. I want to show you what I had to clean.

The lower stairs to the attic (above that is the responsibility of the person who lives up there, and she isn't here at the moment) —

The landing (upstairs hall) —

The main stairs —

The downstairs passage (hall) and the front sitting room —

I swept the kitchen too, but the one of us who had the task of cleaning the kitchen pulled out the cooker and freezer to clean behind them —

The back sitting room —

— including the hearth —

— and all surfaces —

— and then the floor and surfaces —

— in my own room —

What I want you to see is how phenomenally easy it is. There is one hurdle to overcome — only one; getting rid of possessions, bringing the number of items one owns down to a minimal level. After that it's a breeze forever — and the older I get, the less energy I have and the more I appreciate it. In the years left to me on this earth I want to enjoy being by the sea and in the garden, to look at sunsets and smell roses and sit by the fire — not sift through mountains of clutter trying to find my tweezers!

Friday, 11 January 2019

Time, space, money and things

A thing, surely, is as big as it is. It takes up the space it does and that's all there is to it. 

In the same way, a person has a certain level of income and capital, and a certain level of financial commitment — and either they have enough money to pay their bills or they don't, and that's the end of it.

On the face of it, those are self-evident truths. 

Raising a large family, on a modest budget in a small-to-medium sized house, caused me to look very deeply into the challenges posed by the economies of storage and money. I like puzzles, and managing a home is very similar to an unending game of strategy, a puzzle.

Something I learned that goes on surprising me even though it is by now a very familiar phenomenon, is that how you store something affects the space it takes up, and when you spend money affects how much you need.

Time and again I've looked at my budget and had to concede it simply doesn't work — there isn't enough money — only to find, if I went on looking and thinking, and thinking and looking, I would eventually see a way to make it work by timing. I would set money aside to pay the various different bills we incurred, and there'd be a shortfall. But I discovered I had to look at it like a dance or a piece of music. I had to take the timing into account. If I took some money from over here and put it over there (borrowing from Peter to pay Paul, as they used to say), then there'd be enough money to pay the bill as it came in. Then when a payment for some work done came in, it would be in time to ensure the account from which I'd borrowed was topped up. It's crucial, and it never ceases to surprise me. There is almost always a way if you factor in timing as well as income and capital. For most of my life I haven't had enough money to do the things I've done; you don't need as much as you think you do — it's all about managing the flow.

And the same applies to managing the space, in setting a house in order. When I sit on my bed and look at my clothes, now I've put them away KonMari-style, I find it hard to believe how little room they take up.

My wardrobe (closet) is about four foot wide (slightly less). My aim was to have ten clothes hangers, but in reality I used to have between twelve and fifteen. On each hanger I had approximately three garments — a t-shirt, a cardigan and a skirt; or a pair of trousers, a t-shirt and a fleece. Some had more, because I hung them in outfits. So there might have been a pair of trousers, a t-shirt, a sweater and a cardigan. And my wardrobe looked rather full.

Meanwhile I also had a set of shelves to accommodate everything that wasn't clothes-on-hangers — so, underwear, toiletries, books, glasses, etc., etc..

But when I folded my clothes up like Marie Kondo shows you, they take such a startling amount less space that I could put not only the clothes but also the shelves away in the wardrobe.

It really surprised me. The clothes had been hung up very neatly, more than one garment to every hanger — how could it possibly be that they take up so very much less space when you store them in a different way? 

It's the same phenomenon as the money thing — the impact on your life of what you have, is determined by how you manage it.

And I think that isn't obvious, or necessarily what you'd expect.

Of course if you simply live beyond your means or keep adding items into your home without taking any out, then it will all go horribly wrong. A house is only a box of a certain size, and even cleverly managed money can only go so far. But there is a kind of astonishing magic in the management of space and flow, that never ceases to evoke in me a sense of childish delight — when something should be impossible, but somehow it's not.

And to me, it's part of the duty and delight of loving — it makes even really very modest resources stretch a long, long way. Suddenly you have enough to share.

I remember my mother making a somewhat acid remark to my sister — this was decades ago: "I think Penelope must have a private income." It made me smile, because it felt like that to me, too — like Mary Poppins' bag. But really it was just a matter of understanding space and timing. It's not the what, it's the how.

Thursday, 10 January 2019

More domestic detail

I wanted to show you a few other bits and pieces from my pared-down life.

In the modern world (have you noticed?) we have electronics. These bring great blessing. Because of the internet, I can work from home, and live the secluded and quiet life I longed for, and I am grateful for it. I can also connect with people all over the world, whose friendship brings me joy and delight, and I am grateful for that, too. I love that my camera, my torch, my files, my music collection and my book collection all fit tidily into a smart phone, a Kindle and a small lightweight laptop that even with my floppy wrists I can lift in one hand, easily. I love that my bedroom lamps are cordless, so I can charge them from the solar panels during the day, and carry them wherever I need them in the dark hours — which means I need only two lamps, an angled one for close work and a general-purpose lantern. The blessings of electronics are manifold and I am profoundly grateful. However, I dislike the sight of trailing cables.

So I keep my charging station —

— down at the foot of the bed, out of sight.

I don't even like the sight of wall sockets —

— so our Tony kindly make me a little cover to hide them.

That writing there is in the language of Tibet — Buddhist words to keep Sticky Buddha company: Om Mani Padme Hum (I think; I don't really know, because I don't speak that language, but I do think the culture of Buddhist thought is beautiful. Ladakh, Tibet, especially). Sticky Buddha is also in charge of my oil diffuser — its a really good one that I got from NHR Oils in Brighton.

And I have a small folder to keep my earplugs and all my household, personal and professional files tucked away.

I really love my lantern —

— and look, you can see my rosary reflected in the mirror! That rosary was made by the Carmelite nuns in Notting Hill, and has a little picture of Teresa of Avila on it.

The lantern is by TaoTronics, which makes me happy. They have a little logo of the Tao on the things they make and sell. I love the Tao Te Ching, which has influenced and shaped my thinking over four decades, and I like to have the mark of it there on my lantern.

On my shelf there by the lantern and the mirror is my comb. It's a really special one, very beautiful. It's made of pear wood.

The Sikhs — who surely know all about long hair — say a wooden comb is best; it protects the hair against damage. I don't know for sure if this is so, but I respect their judgement.

By the lantern and the comb I keep this tiny jug (Judith Rowe's work) and bowl —

— which I use when I Hopi-candle my ears, or fetch water to top up the oil diffuser.

I wanted to show you my hankies too —

— because I am a firm believer in bathroom cloths and coffee-straining cloths and washing/drying-up cloths and nose blowing cloths that are not the disposable sort but the washable sort. The years of menses have long since ceased for me, thank the Lord, but the younger women in my house have washable, not disposable sanitary cloths. They do that because they love the Earth and they love trees, and want to honour that love.

I have an altar in my room, up on the wall —

I have some permanent intentions on it, and then sometimes if I have a formal request to make of the Ancient of Days, I add them on.

This is the main theme of my altar —

This calligraphy was made for me a couple of decades ago by our Rosie, and has travelled with me everywhere. It's the second verse of Charles Wesley's hymn Captain of Israel's host

When John Wesley died, on his death bed he told his friends over and over how much he loved them, and bade them farewell, but his very last words were, "The best of all is, God is with us." These words that dominate my altar express that view.

Next to it is this little druidic prayer —

The honest truth is that I put it there because I tore the wallpaper taking down a redundant plastic stick-on hook badly. But I do love the prayer.

Then, actually on my altar are these things —

— I'll tell you what they are. The sign at the back left is a prayer protecting the Earth against the evil of fracking. The one on the right is the sign of God-rays, the Light of the holy Trinity that protects and empowers us, the Light of God's countenance shining down on us.

Near the front is my wedding ring. I don't wear it because my fingers swell and shrink easily, and I lose rings in the frozen food compartment in the supermarket and then they get unbearably tight on hot days. But it's my way of lifting my marriage into the light of God.

On the left there is a lovely bangle. It is made of three metals and has Sanskrit words on it — Om Namaha Shivaya — which is an ancient Hindu prayer expressing the manifestation of, and immersion into, devotion to the Absolute Reality from which all life emerges. 

That particular bangle was given me by our Fi when she was about seven. We went to the Big Green Gathering in the West Country, and gave each of our children ten pounds (which did not buy much even back then, about twenty-five years ago) to buy whatever they wanted on the lovely stalls. On one stall I saw these bangles, and loved them because I love the Om Namaha Shivaya mantra; and our little Fi immediately spent nearly all her money (the bangle cost about seven pounds) buying one as a gift for me. I have not kept many things in my life, but I keep this as the treasured memory of a little girl who gave everything she had as a gift of love to her mother. It stands for what is precious in this world, and that's why I have it on my altar — a symbol of generous, unhesitating, lavish, childlike love.

Sitting inside the bangle is a tiny brass Ganesh that our Alice gave me — a Hindu expression of the creativity, playfulness and inspiration of God, the part of God that is expressed in art and poetry and writing. Ganesh sits on my altar as a prayer to the Ancient of days that through me the creativity of the Spirit may be manifested, making Jesus known and loved in the hearts of everyone who reads my work.

There's a purse on my altar, expressing my belief in flow — as Jesus said, "Freely you have received, freely give." It has a little money in it, not much but some, because of the words in the book of Proverbs (30.7-9, GNT): I ask you, God, to let me have two things before I die: keep me from lying, and let me be neither rich nor poor. So give me only as much food as I need. If I have more, I might say that I do not need you. But if I am poor, I might steal and bring disgrace upon my God.

Only this last year, I parted company from a publisher who required that I suppress truth, and this was a very serious thing, because I was writing about the Scriptures. So without hesitation I parted at once from that source of income. It is God, not the commercial forces of Mammon, who supplies my need and is my master. The purse on my altar keeps my financial priority in mind, and respectfully reminds my Lord of my daily need for his sustaining.

And the last thing on my altar is a frog. The thing about frogs is that they always come home. I keep it on my altar for my tribe, my kindred, that we will always find each other in this wide world, and also for my soul, that it will safely return to the God who made me, the Christ to whom I belong.

So that's my altar. And one last thing I wanted to show you today is my curtain —

I used to have white, gauzy curtains  . . . er . . . these (that photo was taken in the summer. That's Cyan; he's out on loan) —

— but I keep my window open most of the year, and my window looks out on the street and we live by a bus depot, so the air can be grimy despite the best efforts of the sea and the trees to keep it clean. So my curtains got grubby and I am not enthusiastic about housework. So I took them down and washed them, then used them to swaddle the Christmas-time baby Jesus (I must show you him at some point). So I didn't have any curtains but, as my room is small, when I get undressed I am very visible from the street. Therefore I hung up this lovely shawl Buzzfloyd gave me for my birthday, to be a cheerful curtain lending privacy, and easy to take down and wash.

So — waving from Hastings in England's East Sussex. Be blessed today. xx