Friday, 22 May 2015

Thoughts while waiting


This morning I was waiting for our grocery delivery. We don’t always order our groceries online, and even with free delivery, for no reason I can understand, our money doesn’t seem to go as far when we do. But this week some of us wanted cat food available only from the place we get our groceries when we shop online. So we did that. The delivery slot was 11 – 1 pm, so I waited, and sure enough it came in about the middle of the slot.

Now it’s the afternoon, and I’m waiting for the meat order from Eversfield Farm. That’s the only place I know to get pasture-fed (as opposed to grass-fed) meat. Their delivery slot is the your-guess-is-as-good-as-mine variety. It’s meant to get here by 6pm – or any time earlier in the day – and mostly it does. Though once it just didn’t turn up, they put it in a fridge somewhere, and the slot relocated to the next day. So I spent two days waiting for that particular meat delivery.

We get most of our shopping online – clothes, books, birthday presents. Though there’s usually a postage charge, that’s a lot less than a train or bus fare. And if we go to some town with good shops, looking for purchases takes a while, so generally we want something to eat while we’re out. And of course, if we don’t find what we want, a lot of money has been spent of the train fare and eating out, with no result on the desired thing. So we buy things online, and that involves waiting in for deliveries. What sort of things? A scarf, a tree, a beanbag chair, a hairbrush, a sweater, trousers, funeral shoes – those were some of the recent things different ones of us bought mail order.

This last week has had moments in it so stressful and difficult that it’s sent my mind off track and no good for writing. I’ll come back to that next week. I’d like to go for a walk, or . . . no . . . I can’t think of an ‘or’. Everything apart from going for a walk costs money.

I’ve read some interesting articles online – about gender variety, if you were wondering. I’ve done the puzzles in the Radio Times. I’ll watch Pointless when it comes on the telly. I’ll feed the crows and the seagulls, the badgers and the foxes. I’ll read more of Sam Harris’s book Lying when I’ve finished writing this. Meanwhile, I’m just waiting. Waiting and eating strawberries. Waiting and drinking tea. Six o’clock is not for another two hours and twenty minutes.

However, all this waiting and not-writing and reading about Lying and gender-bending has brought my mind into a kind of point of resolve.

The last few months have been mind-bogglingly expensive. Everything costs more than it did, and the money just seems to flow through my hands like water. I do know where it goes because I keep track, and in any case it all goes to the same place: Away.

So here is what my one-pointed mind is about to erupt into, like a rocket or a boil or something. I am sick sick sick of waiting. To be paid, for the deliveries, for people on indeterminate time schedules to turn up, for it to be time to get up without waking everyone, for things to end and things to begin, for it to be time to set off and time to go home, for the sermon to finish and it be time to sing again. And, I’m sick sick sick of spending money – with all the associated worrying and guilt and failed striving after frugality, and anxiety over the shared finance implicit in marriage.

So, once this pasture-fed meat has finally materialized, that’s it. No more. I am not going to buy things, not going to wait for things. I’ll cut my own hair and clean my teeth with salt and eat whatever’s in the fridge. I’ll go out when I want and stay out forever, by the sea, in the woods, in Komorebi. I’ll work on my book and stop stopping to fulfill errands and expectations.

When I was a student at York University, a friend of my boyfriend (who later became my first husband) saw me standing in the foyer of Vanbrugh College, and asked me, ‘What are you doing?’ And I said, ‘Waiting for Rog’ (my boyfriend). And the mutual friend said something like, ‘That’s what you’re always doing.’ And how right he was.

My childhood had a lot of waiting in it. Afternoon rests, waiting to be allowed to get up. Bedtime in the summer, listening to flies buzzing and the lawn being mowed outside, waiting for elusive sleep. Waiting for the school day to end, for it to be time to go home. Waiting for the bus. Even waiting to pee – ‘Just hang on a bit longer, we’re nearly home, only another five miles’ – sometimes unsuccessfully.

And then the early adult years. The childbearing decade. Waiting for a toddler to fall asleep, walking at the pace of little children, waiting for their father to come home, waiting for an adult to visit.

There has been so much waiting, and it has also been associated with spending money. Being an introverted hypersensitive anxious depressive with permanent low blood pressure dizziness – Geez, nothing like it for keeping you indoors! And the discipline of solitude for writing, keeping at it to the point of feeling physically ill, gutted tired, keeping on. Writing, writing, writing. In the interstices, for the cheerfulness, exploring alter egos and interesting things, the number of online purchases I’ve made! It embarrasses me to even think of it! Eating, shopping, Facebooking, makes pegging away half bearable.

I think I won’t do this any more. In a week or two this book will be done and sent in.

The groceries have come, the meat has arrived, enough enough. No more waiting. From right now, things are going to change. I’m not going to wait any more. But I think . . . I’m not sure . . . how do you do it? What is there to do but wait and write and spend money on groceries and secondhand clothes and books? How does a person, who feels chronically tired and dizzy when she stands up, live? I don’t know, I don’t know. How does a person who can offend other people without even trying, survive outside her own home? How does someone who hasn’t even the stamina for a church service, sits gripping the pew edge willing it to be the end, succeed in joining in with anything? I don’t know, I don’t know. But I think the time is coming to go and see.

I will take a book. I will walk to the sea. I will sit down there. And that will not cost any money, and be somewhere else.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Making connections

I love the connection the internet has brought me, but inevitably it leaves me feeling brow-beaten at times.

My friends are a very moral, ideology-driven bunch – that’s why I love them – and many of the sites and groups I have ferreted out are dedicated to living simply and responsibly, following a humble path of faith and kindness. This is all fab and beautiful.

Sometimes, though, I do feel a bit backs-to-the-wall.

There have been some wars and earthquakes. A hyper-passionate blogger has been to visit women and kids fleeing in terror from ISIS in Iraq. Some personal friends have been in trouble. All these situations can do with financial help. I don’t do much, but I believe if we all chip in our little bit we can make a difference, so I do what I can.

Meanwhile at home, the media tell me food prices have dropped. Say again? Whose?

Then, my frugal, simple-living, ecologically responsible gang of good friends often post about living on little money (or none!) and buying nothing new. Clothes from Goodwill, food from dumpsters, books from the library.

And my various connections also get in touch asking me to sponsor their walks for charity, or give what I can for the trees, for the badgers, for the persecuted, for the food banks, for clean water in Africa, for individuals to keep the home they may be losing or to adopt a child in dire need or to feed homeless people.

I love the love.

BUT (isn’t there always . . .)

I feel moved to say a word about closing the loop.

Some of the lovely people I’ve met online make modest dresses for a living – beautifully. They work from home, caring for their families, promoting ethical lifestyle. No sweatshop, happy working conditions, the freedom to care for their own children but earn a living at the same time. Likewise, some make headcoverings – for those who wear such for religious reasons or because they are graceful, and for those left bald by chemotherapy.  The women who make these dresses and headcoverings are loving, responsible types – the sort who will give sacrificially of their income to rescue and support others.

Sooooo . . . if I buy nothing new, what about their business? How will they feed their families? What will happen to their charitable giving? Uh-oh.

And then, here am I writing books and my husband working as hard and fast as he can every single day to get Christian books into the world. The publishing firm he works for does a grand job, but publishers work with narrow margins – er . . . I mean, financially. We put our money to helping along a number of individuals who struggle, among them a family in Africa. My husband supported Claudine in Africa through school, then through university, and now he helps support her new-born son. She called her son after my husband, with her husband’s blessing. Without the money my husband sent, you see, she – like her classmates – would have had to supplement her income by prostitution to get through college.

If we buy nothing new, if when we want to read a book we get it from the library – just the one copy, that one reader after another can pass around, what do you think will happen? Where will the new books come from, that the library gets in? What writer or publisher will stay in business selling a copy per library? What will happen to Claudine and her new-born son if we sell no books?

It’s not realistic to buy nothing new, live as cheaply as you can, and at the same time hope that the people whose goods you didn’t buy will go on giving to support your good cause. Can’t be done.

As Jesus so succinctly put it, ‘The poor, you will always have with you.’ Quite so. For one reason and another, I know rather a lot of poor people. I don’t know if they are unusual in this (I suspect not), but though I don’t always agree with their personal choices, I notice that every single one of them always does her or his best, gives life all they’ve got, tries their darnedest to survive and keep paying the bills. I am always glad to help those friends out when I can, and I regard their strategies of frugality as inspiring and heroic.

But, if you are one of those who can and does earn a good income, if you have enough for those you love and a bit left over, then I beg you, for God’s sake, don’t just keep it in the bank, don’t just give it to charity, and don’t stop buying new. Please don’t dam the river we all depend on; keep it flowing.

If you don’t approve of cutting down trees to make paper books, buy e-books. If you don’t approve of growing cotton, buy up-cycled clothing. If you don’t approve of commodities, buy the services of someone to clean your house or work in your yard. But buy something, if and when you can. There will always be more dignity, and more people helped, by trade than by aid.

Sunday, 17 May 2015


It’s Ascensiontide. Some of you will already know that, to others it may come as a complete surprise.

In July I will have a new book out that tracks the round of the church year, as well as exploring other themes of life and faith.

It’s in the format of scenarios involving Sid and Rosie, a couple in late middle age – their conversations and life together.

I thought you might enjoy to read the chapter for Ascensiontide (Chapter 18), seeing as that’s where we are right now. It has a reading part, then a questions to play with part, then a prayer.

18 – Living the Ascension

“The Ascension – ” Sid swirls his wine thoughtfully in his glass, gazing moodily into its dark ruby depths – “Jeepers! I mean, what are we meant to do with it? Where do we go with that?”

“What?” Rosie, sitting beside him on the garden bench, her feet up on its matching table, eats another olive from the glazed terracotta bowl on the tray between them. “D’you mean, what use is the concept for practical purposes?”

She turns her head to see his reaction, squinting against the rays of the low evening sun. Sid nods. “Yes,” he says. He hears the eagerness steal into her body, her voice, her mind, as she starts, “Oh! Well – ”

Her enthusiasm brings a smile into his eyes.

“Ascension is ever so practical! It’s just the best thing!” Sid knows he has the dish of olives all to himself for now.

“One of the most destructive things in life is, surely, clinging,” she says. “If we cling to what’s tried and true it feels safe, but we miss so much – it stops us growing and changing, developing. If we cling to the past in nostalgia we become discontented and ill-adjusted, unable to embrace the here and now. Goodness me, the number of churches I’ve had to do with that simply could not let go of the past! Not useful things of the past, I mean, like wisdom heritage – a fine preaching tradition or a body of theological scholarship – no, just types of seating or old buildings past their use-by date, or old artefacts of indifferent quality. Nostalgia – oh, it’s a killer! Like the cobwebs that tangle the unwary butterfly.

“Of course, it’s just as easy to get mired in bad memories of the past – like Aunt Ada Doom[1] and her ‘I saw something nasty in the woodshed’; making things that befell us long ago our excuse for settling for less ever afterward.

“Life only becomes possible in any real sense if we’re willing to move on. And that can cost everything. Think of a caterpillar. It has to dissolve – actually become liquid inside the chrysalis if it ever wants to become a butterfly. You have to let go of the past, of what you know, of the comfortable familiar. It’s the only way.

“If you want to make any progress in any kind of spiritual discipline whatsoever, you also have to let go of physical stuff – what you own and even your body. All of us get sick, all of us will die one day – and so will everyone we love. Clinging is pointless, because impermanence is part of the human condition. We have to learn to let go.

“And things – our possessions – people think they’re inert, lifeless, but it isn’t so. I kid you not, every mortal thing you own, it has an agenda, needs, it calls to you, claims you. The only way truly to be free is to get rid of it – cut free, travel light, walk through life like a pilgrim. Clutter, memorabilia – all our hoards; they are not neutral, they interfere with our freedom, weigh us down. I promise you, this is true.

“Some of our clutter can’t be itemized materially – it’s status, achievement, snobbery; or a cluttered schedule, a crammed diary. These are all forms of clinging, Sid. Neediness gone mad.

“And then there’s clinging relationships – whether that’s in terms of manipulation or toxic codependency or bearing grudges or just being unwilling to move on. Situations where people drained of love trudge resentfully along together, unwilling to do the soul work to get to understanding and tenderness, or forgive and cut loose.

“God is Spirit, and in his presence is fullness of joy. Where his reign begins, it brings liberty – lightness. Clinging is probably the closest thing to Hell imaginable.

“So, there you have Jesus, fresh out of the tomb, recently crucified. Betrayed and abandoned by his friends and fellow Israelites, let down by his government, tortured. What’s not to resent? Blame, recrimination, offended hurt, would seem to be the order of the day. And it was no light thing, that suffering. It passed into his very identity. Even in his risen body, the scars of the nails and spear became his badge, what made him recognizable. But he left that behind, somehow; he knew how to let it go. He didn’t come back snarling, all ready for red-hot revenge; he was able to move on.

“Not everyone felt the same. Mary, wanting to cling to the man she loved, in the garden; Thomas wanting to put his fingers into the nail-prints, the spear-scar. They had no vision for anything bigger – they just longed for the same old same old; our Jesus, back again just like before.

“But he said, don’t cling to me – I am not yet ascended to the Father. I doubt they could make much sense of that, and nor can most people who don’t appreciate the lethal drug of clinging, that deadens the spirit and binds us into the material realm.

“When he left, when he ascended, you’d have thought that was simply the end. Finito, Benito; gone. Turned out, it was just the beginning. It showed what he meant about the seed falling into the ground and dying to allow the harvest to come. That wasn’t about his physical death and resurrection only, it included letting go of everything – relationships, the concentration of the Spirit in his own person, the whole lot. As it turned out, the incarnation of God in Jesus was a stage in an unfolding process, the creation of an open way linking earth to heaven for all time.

“The Ascension must have seemed like a loss, a disaster – a second whammy after they lost him at the crucifixion. How could they have predicted it would open the floodgates for Pentecost, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on humankind once way had been opened?

“And what is true of Jesus is always true of us too, because he was as human as we are. If we can find courage and love and hope – just like he did – to let the old stuff go; everything, the relationships, the achievements, the loves and the wounds, the betrayals and the friendships, all the ground we gained, even life itself – then way opens to blessings unimagined. We make space for the Spirit to pour through.

“I mean, how can anyone say that isn’t practical? Living the Ascension is the most useful, realistic, life-affirming path it is possible for anyone to take. Plus it cultivates trust, in life and in God; it says ‘I believe’, unwaveringly, through whatever circumstances conspire to throw at you.”

Sid looks at the last olive in the dish, hesitates, then pops it in his mouth. He sets his emptied wine glass down on the tray. “I thought you’d know, if I asked,” he says, glad he married this rather odd but very articulate woman.

He gets to his feet slowly, conscious of being more creaky than once he was.

“I’ll put the pasta on,” he says, looking down at her, loving her. “The sauce is all ready. We can eat out here.”

He moves to go, then pauses, thinking. “This business of living the Ascension,” he says: “it’s not all for the ultimate and the life hereafter, is it? If you can let go of all the clutter and clinging, let go of the past – well, it makes space for life and loving here and now, too, doesn’t it? It makes room for today.”

“Well, I’ve always thought so,” she says. “Bring some more olives out with the pasta, would you, my darling?”

For sharing and wondering

  • Do you enjoy eating outdoors? Or does the sun get in your eyes, the sand in your sandwiches and every mosquito in the neighbourhood try to join in?
  • Make a list of your possessions that you regard as essential, and a list of reasons why you keep the things that are not.
  • What things – happy or sad, physical or invisible – might it be time for you to let go of now, after carrying them with you a long time?

Into the Mystery

Help us to travel light on this pilgrimage with you, walking Jesus, ascending Jesus. You were born under a star, you slept many a night under the stars, and you ascended to the stars in the end. May the freedom and mystery of the cosmic scale on which you live illuminate the ordinary fabric of our day-to-day detail of our lives.

[1] From Stella Gibbons 1932 comedic novel, Cold Comfort Farm.

Friday, 15 May 2015


It’s time to finish the novel I’m writing: it’s almost done.

Working through, section by section, each afternoon>evening>night I plan the next day’s work. Each morning, early, I write what I planned in the hours before.

Last night I planned what I would write today. This morning, as I did the first-thing chores, I got it ready.

Except today, I have no power. I can’t put it there, outside me and onto the page.

I have a modest output target: a thousand words. What I have planned will be around that.

The space between the worlds I keep at my visceral centre has flatlined, leaving only something peevish and ineffectual.

I can’t even read.

I have lit the fire. The flames are lifegiving. The house is quiet. The silence is lifegiving, too.

I am hoping later on I will find that immense stand-in-the-whirlwind thingummy that brings the words.

I read, sometimes, professional writers saying that waiting for the muse is nonsense; that if you want to do this for a job, there’s only one way – begin. Actually, I’ve said it myself. But today I can’t even begin; only wait. Into the peace, if I make it broad enough, wise enough, I do believe words will come forth like woodland animals as the night falls. I must make a dusk of myself, and then the words will come out.

Ah, wait! There is a feeling in me, that today – like a subterranean stream, a current of intense yearning, I need the company of someone who understands me. You know, with writing fiction, that can be a good place to begin. I will start there. A thousand words for the hunger inside me that all of humanity shares too.