Thursday, 14 June 2018

Beyond words

Every now and then I like to go back to York to check in with my old friends — the Minster and Betty's CafĂ©, my places of pilgrimage.

York Minster gives me the oddest feeling. It is the friendliest building I've ever known. From the first time I set foot in it (forty two years ago) and still today, it has felt like a large animal that likes me. And I like it right back. It makes my heart glad.

Minster evensong is a variable experience, which has been travelling downhill for me along with a lot of other spiritual connections, during the last few years. But this week set it right again, and restored my joy. It was the turn of the girl choristers to sing, and they were spectacularly good. They also had a new (since I was last there) counter-tenor whose voice was just superb, absolutely inhabiting the note dead-centre. Simply beautiful. They sang a cappella the day I was there; soul food extraordinaire.

And I love the Book of Common Prayer. Objectively evaluated, my  life has been sheltered and uneventful, but — believe me — it's had its storms and terrors. I have not lived with the horrors Thomas Cranmer knew, with his prison room overlooking the yard where his friends were burned alive, knowing his own end would be the same ghastly and cruel agony. No twists and turns made in fear could get him out of it, and his courage at the end was magnificent.

Even though my paths have been sunny and secure by comparison, nonetheless his prayers resonate with my soul like no one else's. When he begs of God that we may pass our time in rest and quietness, my "amen" is fervent. When he confesses that without God's help, "nothing is strong, nothing is holy," my spirit witnesses to it as truth indeed.

When  the words of his prayer roll forth to start the Eucharist — "Almighty God, unto whom all hearts be open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid: cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy name . . ." — it is exactly and completely what I want to say.

Same with the collects at Evening Prayer:
For peace: "O God, from whom all holy desires, all good counsels, and all just works do proceed; Give unto thy servants that peace which the world cannot give; that our hearts may be set to obey thy commandments, and also that by thee, we, being defended from the fear of our enemies, may pass our time in rest and quietness; through the merits of Jesus Christ our Saviour. Amen."

For help: "Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord; and by thy great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night; for the love of thy only Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen."

And intercessions for all conditions of humankind: "O God, the Creator and Preserver of all mankind, we humbly beseech thee for all sorts and conditions of men; that thou wouldest be pleased to make thy ways known unto them, thy saving health unto all nations. Grant to all in authority wisdom and strength to know and to do thy will. Fill them with the love of truth and righteousness; and make them ever mindful of their calling to serve the people in thy fear."

"Yes," my heart says; "Yes."  Makes a change from its habitual teeth-clenched mutterings of "No" that public worship so often draws forth.

So the visit to the Minster proved to be restoring of peace and hope. 

And Betty's, in a different way, also feeds my soul — because of the excellence, the attention to detail, the kindness. Betty's is worth a visit. Worth coming to England for all by itself. In my lifetime, Betty's has survived three recessions completely unscathed, and if you've been there you'll understand why. Built on the rock, is Betty's. Integrity, wholesome goodness, cheerfulness, commitment to the highest standards.

On the way to York, passing through Kings Cross Station, I met this dinosaur (I am the one in front; the dinosaur is behind me). 

I'm glad we got this photo, because a railway station is no place for wild animals and they had all legged it when we passed through on our way home the following day.

Then on the last weary stretch of the journey home, by which time I was very tired and uncomfortable, I overheard a conversation that arrested my attention entirely (cell phones have more obliterated than blurred the distinction between private and public, have they not!)

The woman in the seat behind me interrupted her conversation with a friend to take a call.

"Hello," said she, in a hard and somewhat impatient tone of voice: "What can I do for you?" An unwelcome business call, it seemed.

She listened a moment then reiterated, "So what can I do for you? Can you name a figure?"

She listened further. "But what figure do you have in mind?" She sounded cold and irritable now.

She then began to wind up the conversation in a manner that sounded as if she was overriding the person on the other end of the line, suggesting they get their facts in order and call her when they had a better handle on the situation.

The tenor of the call was reluctance verging on hostility.

But it was the way she ended it that jolted my attention:
"Love you. Bye."

What? "Love you"? Seriously?

And it started me thinking about words.

There are words, like the ones written down here, for which you have to supply your own tone of voice; and when you do that, you import and impose a level of meaning that may or may not be here.

It occurred to me that the words in the Bible are like that. When the Bible, with its insistence on love and kindness, is used to hurt and exclude, used as a weapon, used to make oneself right and others wrong, then faith becomes incongruous and its meaning ebbs away.

That woman on the train — her words said "I love you" but her tone of voice and the whole of the rest of her conversation said "No I don't."

I think she must have been talking to a close family member, and the love between them must have gradually fossilised into duty as time went by.

So much of my life has been about words; but of course words are absolutely nothing if that's all they are. If you see what I mean.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Problems with comments

Hello friends — I've had a heads-up to the effect that comments left here are not getting through to me; which is why the last few posts had no comments on them.

I just tested the most recent post (with a Willie Nelson song), and I've been able to leave a comment on it okay, so it's working for me.

If you could try leaving a comment on this post, I'd be grateful. If your comment isn't picked up and posted within 24 hours, and if you are in email contact with me, could you let me know?

Thank you!!

P.S. Oh my! I've just poked around a bit in the Comments settings thingummy on this blog and found so many unpublished comments! Jeepers! Sorry! I haven't been ignoring you on purpose!  


It seems like the problem is that the comments are showing up here but not getting through to my email. So in future I'll check here each day at the same time I check my emails.


Friday, 1 June 2018

O the triumph

Now, I am going to write about my room. I know that I have written many times about my room here and you probably feel that you know it very well already, but hey. This morning I achieved a minor triumph with it and I wanted to share that with you.

As you walk along the passage in the gloom of the very early morning, here is my door, with my coat and hat and umbrella and shopping bag hanging on it ready. My laundry was on the line all day yesterday but it rained a lot in the morning, so it's hooked up for its final airing in the doorway to the right and on the radiator to the left.

Then you go inside.

As you see, I have this chair.

It is very large, because I like to curl up when I'm sitting otherwise my legs go wrong.

That's fine, but the thing is, then I can't really have my bed out — because it fills up all the floor that's left. I did have the chair in someone else's room so I had space for my bed, but I took it back recently because a) it wasn't fair on her and b) I wanted to sit on it. In actual fact one or other of the cats is usually asleep on it most of the day so I still have to find and alternative — but sitting on it is my intention anyway.

I have a nifty reading lamp behind my chair. 

You can have it very bright or dim, and it folds absolutely flat if you want to put it away on a shelf (I do sometimes).

But mostly I keep it like this, where it's very unobtrusive on the windowsill.

If you turn it on when it's folded down like that, it emits just enough light for if you like quiet ambient light. You only have to tap the base to turn it on, and touch it to dim or brighten it.

Both my lamps are cordless (USB charging) and they are that kind of bulb I've momentarily forgotten the name of — the sort that uses very little energy.

Here's my wardrobe, and my other coat hanging on this side of the door.

Next to my wardrobe is my bookcase, then the table with my lamp and my mug of nettle tea and whatnot.

The other side of the door I have a wall decal of Buddha — a cunning plan to save space. I have in the past had a buddha larger that that in this room, but sadly Big Buddha had to find another home because this is only a tiny room, about 9' by 6'6".

Some Christian people are uncomfortable with the spiritual representations of other faith paths (I'm choosing my words carefully because buddhism is not a religion and Buddha is not a god), but I like them. 

I have a dancing Ganesh, who speaks of divine playfulness, humour and imagination, and Shiva, who reminds us of God dancing in creation.

I also have a large picture of Jesus. I was going to say I have it close by where I can see it — but that's true of everything in this room. He, my ascended master, reaches through from where he is to where I am, to lift me into his presence.

But the triumph aspect of all this lies within the wardrobe, where I managed to so organise everything that I could put my bed away in the daytime and so have both the chair and the bed in my tiny room.

I was so pleased with myself. It all fits in just perfectly, with my stationery box and my shopping basket tucked away beside my chair.

It's not unknown for a reader to chide me for my frivolous preoccupations, especially if he or she has a very difficult life — as many of you do. People have some tough struggles to cope with, and my ramblings about my room and my clothes can seem trivial.

But you should always remember the room inside my head is bigger than the one I physically occupy, the landscape of my daily life also has its mountains and thorns and dark gorges that you don't know about, and there are reasons for my choices concerning what to talk about and what to keep wrapped in silence.

Never jump to conclusions when you don't know someone all that well (even if you think you do).

Monday, 28 May 2018


I spend quite a bit of time on eBay in order to snag beautiful clothes at affordable prices — er, cheap; very cheap —  like this lovely (soft, heavy linen) skirt from East I got for 99p. 

Apart from anything else the typos, misspellings and autocorrect phenomena on eBay are a source of mirth.

"Warn once," a woman proclaims ominously of her skirt. And "Pulled threadworm" says another. What? Oh, I see. Drawn threadwork.

A source of frustration recurring with tedious frequency is the unwillingness of many vendors to add the measurements of the garments they are selling. "Ankle length on me." Really? So what? "My friend is a size 16 and it fits her perfectly." Sigh.

I like natural fabrics (I do not warm to the word "faux") — linen, cotton and cashmere for the most part; and my socks are alpaca and my winter tights are merino. I look out for Anokhi, Toast, Nila Rubia, East (who sadly stopped trading last year), or handmade things in soft linen and Indian cotton.

I used to have mostly greys and blues, all quiet colours, but recently I coloured my life in, to therapise my soul when something bad happened, so now my things are rather rainbowesque.

I wear very little jewellery, only earrings, and most of those are pearls.

Though I do have these beauties made by the cunning hands of our in-house craftswomen, God bless them.

And these made of coral and carnelian.

When I sold some work a little while ago, I achieved a long cherished ambition and bought silk underwear from Patra, and shirts from Chandni Chowk. I've bought their things on eBay before, but I wanted to buy something new, because they are handmade in India using traditional hand-block techniques and vegetable dyes, and fairly traded. Expensive, then (and very, very beautiful). Glorious.

But I'm getting sidetracked, because what I wanted to say to you is — why do people want their clothes to be crisp?

I keep seeing these garments, mostly blouses and nightdresses, advertised as "crisp cotton". As if that were a virtue. What? Crisp? Who the heck wants their blouse or nightie to feel crisp?

It might be a feature of my autistic tendencies, but I absolutely have to wear the softest, lightest, most pliable attire on God's earth. First thing I do when I buy a new top is take the label out (with extreme care), otherwise I can feel it and that drives me wild.

Recently I saw a Flax shirt for sale on eBay — very low price (£4.00) because the woman selling it said she had worn and washed it so often it had gone all floppy. I bought it immediately. She was quite right, and hallelujah. 

Imagine apologising because a shirt is no longer crisp! It does indeed take years to get them as lovely as this one is.

In case you were wondering, it's the colour in the photo of me wearing it, not the close-up.

But what about you? Do you go searching for crisp clothes? Aren't they uncomfortable? Or are you basically searching for fabric marshmallow, like me?

Saturday, 26 May 2018

Balm for the anxious mind

I recently permanently deleted my Facebook accounts — both the one I kept for closest friends and family, and the only slightly larger one that included a wider circle of acquaintance.

Facebook is a wonderful phenomenon; I love the friendships made there, the intriguing and informative articles, the humour, the pictures and so much more. But in the end the antagonism, the drama, the rudeness and the sense of too much information became a strain; unhealthy and destructive of peace.

I've found in recent years the anxiety that has dogged my life growing to problematic levels; stopping me working, snagging at every happiness, sapping vitality. Setting boundaries and pruning connections, observing the discipline of a plain diet and a quiet life have become essential; Facebook had to go.

But a few days ago I can across a book as welcome as a pint glass of chilled spring water in a hot desert.


I so recommend it to you.

I feel such admiration for the life out of which it was written — calm, sane, careful, disciplined, meticulous, kind, brave, adventurous, intelligent and compassionate.

It is about the imperative of establishing facts rather than succumbing to the allure of a dramatic world view.

It is informative and restorative. It re-establishes a sane perspective in a somewhat hysterical world. 

Written with humour, forbearance and humility, without blaming or attacking, with both gentleness and authority, Hans Rosling's beautiful book brings balm to the fevered mind. I am so glad he wrote it, the last — posthumously published —work of a life dedicated to clarity and compassion.

The picture of the cover above is linked to Amazon UK — so far the book is only on pre-order in paperback, but you can buy it in hard-back or read it on Kindle now.

US Amazon has a slightly different cover, but it appears to be the same book and out now in hardback and Kindle. I've linkified this image too.

Monday, 7 May 2018

Green pastures and still waters

The times we live in leave me struggling. 

The two aspects that most deeply disturb me are war and lies. Both of these spit in the face of God — and as George Herbert posted out, "Who spitteth against Heaven, it falls in his face." There is no just war. There are no justified lies. I see both war and lies proliferating, and I see the proliferation of war justified by a proliferation of lies, and it grieves not only me but the Spirit who dwells in me. I see the reach of Mammon growing exponentially, and I feel deep foreboding about it.

There is so little I can do. Only uproot the seeds of war from my own garden, and turn away from dishonesty, embrace authenticity, speak the truth. Though — heheh — sometimes speaking the truth can start a war, can it not!

Recently — in the last year — I've had a feeling of lagging further and further behind. It is as though the world no longer has a place for me. I've felt a kind of pervasive, spreading despair. Where can I be? Where do I belong? Where is peace?

When will you ever, Peace, wild wood dove, shy wings shut,
Your round me roaming end, and under be my boughs?
When, when, Peace, will you, Peace? I'll not play hypocrite
To own my heart: I yield you do come sometimes; but
That piecemeal peace is poor peace. What pure peace allows
Alarms of wars, the daunting wars, the death of it?
(Gerard Manley Hopkins)

We went out to Alfriston just before the hot weather came, at the end of the wild days of wind and rain, on a cold and breezy spring day of clear sunshine, to visit the clergy house by the village church. They have lots of photos of it here.

I hadn't been there for forty years or more, but it was vivid in my memory.

I loved it, and looked at it all over, then went out to sit in the garden. 

It is built just by the river, full from the spring rains so that the branches dip down to the water.

The last person who lived there was Harriet in the nineteenth century, and the vegetable garden is laid out as a traditional cottage vegetable patch would be. 

The formal garden nearer the house itself is created from clipped hedges and trees of box and yew, with beds of old English herbs — pinks and lavender and rosemary and so many more. Herbs that I have known from gardens I have loved my whole life long.

Do you know the song King Jesus hath a garden? The words of it are here, and here is the choir of Kings College Cambridge singing it. The garden at the Clergy House at Alfriston reminded me of that song.

What struck me particularly as I sat in that garden was its restraint — the green simplicity of it. The orderly vegetable beds and formal hedges, the herbs and old English plants.

It was full of peace. A retreat from the urgency and clamour of the modern world. A place where the spirit could thrive and be restored. It had such a strong feeling of happiness, as though it was a person as well as a place. If there is such a thing as happy ghosts, they were there. Somebody had dearly loved that place, and been happy there.

It showed me how to live, made a way in.

I am so glad it is there.