It seemed to me to have all the usual feminist unfair bias towards women and incapacity to perceive the plain facts of what lies before us that I have come to associate with the world of psycho-tinkering.
The writer of the article quotes a letter from Wesley to his appalling wife in which he says:
‘Know me and know yourself. Suspect me no more, asperse me no more, provoke me no more: do not any longer contend for mastery…be content to be a private insignificant person, known and loved by God and me.’
The article describes these words as hostile and scathing.
Scathing? Hostile? Is it? To go on steadily telling someone that you love them and that God loves them too, even when they have done their utmost to ruin your reputation and even behaved violently towards you? Why?
It reads to me like a simple, humble plea. True he speaks plain, and maybe a person would have to understand plain speech to see where he's coming from. But what a man! I honour him.
The article describes with sympathy Molly's cause for disgruntlement:
At first Molly accompanied him but his travel schedule (by any standard through all church history) was relentless, and she, as a newly married 40 year old woman, was clearly hoping for some normal domestic joys.
But, did she not pause to consider whom she would be marrying? Did she not realise that Christ was his first love and deepest passion? What did she imagine marriage to John Wesley would be like?
The writer describes the Wesleys' home life as very unhappy, saying that Molly left home on more than one occasion, and John Wesley begged her repeatedly to return - in spite of her violence towards him; the article cites a diarist of the time who entered their home to find Molly dragging John across the floor by his hair.
He did his best. The article says that when Molly finally walked out on him, John recorded in his diary - 'wryly' the article says, I don't know why:
‘I did not forsake her, I did not dismiss her, I will not recall her.’
But what enveloped me in red mist was the paragraph in which the writer concludes:
He should have consulted with Charles. He should have asked for the wisdom of other leaders. He should have been prepared for marriage. He should have considered his wife’s needs more than his own.
And his wife? Oh yes, poor lamb! She should have had everything exactly her own way and it was all John's fault, of course!
At the end of this piece, the writer suggests that if we, too are experiencing difficulties in our marriage we might like to apply to Holy Trinity Church Marriage Course to be further immersed in more of the same.
You can see it now, can't you... a whole classroom full of whingeing disaffected violent women whose lives are SO unfair because unlike John Wesley their husbands had the temerity to get a haircut and can't be dragged anywhere.
You know what? I would have married him. I would have been PROUD to be married to a man who loved the Lord as much as John Wesley did, even if he was just the tiniest bit bonkers.
Thursday, 31 March 2011
John Wesley, who inspired, founded and led the people called Methodists, preached a very practical word and lived a very practical Gospel. In one of his sermons he goes in detail into his own experiments in maximising the time available to him for the work of God by decreasing his allotment of sleep to the least he could bear and still function – “redeeming the time,” as he said. John Wesley took his responsibilities as steward of life's blessing with absolute seriousness. During one patch of his life he tried a mono-diet (I think he went for bread) to decrease the amount of time, thought and expense he spent on food. Samuel… er… was it Johnson or Pepys… Johnson, I think – it was the one who did the dictionary, the accurist who, when his wife came in and found him doing that which he ought not with the maid and exclaimed in reproach “Sir! I am surprised at you!” replied in the interests of clear definition: “No, madam. I am surprised – you are astonished.” Anyway, him – one of you will know which one I mean – must have been Samuel Johnson: he complained that John Wesley was no fun as a dinner guest because he would never stay to relax and chat – it was just eat the food, bid a courteous goodnight; then boot, saddle, to horse and away on the good works of the Lord. He had work to do indeed. Beau Brummel didn’t have much time for him as you can imagine (it was mutual), but historians looking back on the social impact of the preaching of John Wesley and the movement he founded are of the opinion that what he did in the power of the Gospel saved England from civil war as bloody as the revolution they lived through in France. He showed a better way to take command of one’s own life and rise out of poverty, and God bless him for it.
John Wesley wrote pamphlets about the kingdom of God and the power of the Gospel, and these pamphlets sold very well – so well in fact that without really meaning to he accumulated quite a stash.
He preached on more than one occasion about money. Wesley’s oft-quoted phrase, “Earn all you can, save all you can, give all you can,” comes from one of his sermons, and has been hi-jacked in error by more than one economically focused individual who doesn’t understand eighteen-century English. They take it as the hallowing of the principle of hoarding, but it ain’t. When Wesley said “save all you can”, he didn’t mean “store up as much as you can”, he meant “do without all you can”. “Save” in this context is an injunction to restraint, frugality, thrift. In an age when the fashion was for a man to keep his hair cropped and wear a wig, John Wesley grew his own hair and encouraged his friends to do the same. Wigs were an extravagance he frowned upon; so were ribbons and bows and lace and abundant ruffles, and all such unseemly feminine frippery in the women of his congregation – as he let them know from the pulpit in no uncertain terms!
As a young man bounding down the stairs from his lodgings one frosty morning, Wesley encountered the chamber maid starving (as they say in Yorkshire where “starving” means not hungry but cold) and shivering in a thin cotton dress, and he urged her to add a warm coat, or at least wear a warmer dress. Though he was himself one of a large family where they were put to it to make the money go round and his father spent some portion of his life in the debtors’ prison, Wesley was nonetheless both shocked and upset to learn that the girl was wearing the only dress she had. Wesley’s mother, Susanna Wesley, would have seen to it that her own offspring were warmly clad, I think; this practical man came of a practical mother. Anyway, his automatic response was to reach into his pocket to give her some money for a shawl, only to find it empty and realise with a pang of shame that he’d spent the last of what he had on books for himself, and was consequently without the means of charity for another’s need – and of this he was deeply ashamed. And he preached about it: “Earn all you can, save all you can, give all you can” – earn the money, refrain from spending it, give it away – that was John Wesley.
But because he wrote these excellent pamphlets that sold so well, his critics thought they had something to fasten onto – Mr Wesley, advising frugality in others while raking in the dosh very nicely himself. So in one of his sermons on the use of money he feels moved to give account of his own management of earnings. This makes very interesting reading, but when I first came across it some twenty years ago I stopped at his phrase in defense of his financial habits: “I endeavour to wind my bottom round the year.” What?
I asked here and there among clergy friends what this might mean, and nobody seemed to know. Oddly it was my second husband Bernard – wild woodsman who hated the church but loved Jesus and His Gospel, and refused to let the Methodist clergy meet in his cottage – who solved the mystery for me one day when he was ruminating about the etymology of the words “dignity” and “gravity”. I wish I could remember what he said now – probably something he had dug up in the writings of Patrick O’Brien or Robert Louis Stevenson or Rudyard Kipling or other well-travelled and informative mind. But the connection suddenly clicked into place for me between gravitas, dignitas, substance and bottom. These were all terms expressive of wealth or influence. Actually dignitas in its Roman origins was descriptive of non-material substance: I come across it in a modern context when I hear Quakers describe a venerable and venerated member of the Society as “a seasoned and weighty Friend” – a soul of dignitas, gravitas, substance.
So the word “bottom” implies substance – what you’ve got at the back of you, what you’ve got behind or underneath you (hence its migration to the slang usage of “what you’re sitting on”).
When Wesley said “I endeavour to wind my bottom round the year”, he meant that he did his best to eke out his financial means so that he didn’t incur any kind of debt. It also (I think) can carry an implication of fundamental provision (hence “fundament”, like “bottom”, expressing “lowest place” then “posterior/sit-upon”) rather than abundance. So it’s a well-chose word for a sermon on money, heard by the poor and the wealthy alike. The wealthy man might be considered a man of considerable bottom (substance, got a lot behind him), but the poor man might be down to his bottom dollar – his having reduced to very little. To both alike the example of “endeavouring to wind my bottom round the year” will speak: to the wealthy man it recommends prudence and thrift, to the poor man it recommends avoidance of debt where at all possible. Wesley had a keen personal awareness of what it meant to struggle financially, and his advice is heartfelt as well as shrewd.
It's a good pointer to a sensible way of financial simplicity, because it's provident in the widest sense. The Buddhists say all people are selfish but there are two kinds of selfishness: there are foolish selfish people who only look out for themselves and there are wise selfish people who look out for others as well - because we all belong to one another, so if the umbrella of provision shelters everyone it inevitable shelters thee too.
Wesley's way, with its huge impact on the whole of society, created a framework of stability and responsibility that served his country well in offering a good political base in a time of considerable unrest and inequality, and served his Lord well in the effective communication of an honest and practical preaching of the Gospel and the faithful example of a converted and sanctified daily life
That’s all; just happened to be thinking about it and thought thee might be interested.
Thursday, 24 March 2011
Oh living Lord Jesus
I am not doing so well on this journey.
Please may I travel with Thee instead, and go the way Thee is going? Take me with Thee, dearest of Friends.
Where I would run on ahead, warn me of dangers and be ready to help me up – for Thee knows how I fail to see the rabbit hole, the bramble and the treacherous ice on the road.
Where I am afraid to follow Thee, talk to me gently – reason with me, explain to me, hold my hand. If necessary pick me up and carry me, only for God’s sake do not leave me or let me stray from Thee, for without Thee I have not the smallest atom of hope at all. Without Thee I am lost and I shall never make it home. I need Thee. It is as simple as that.
When I am bored and discontented, be patient with me; call me beyond myself. Point out to me the beauties of the journey, the flowers and the animals, the glories of the sky and the great trees, the wonders of the landscape. Please may we go by the places where I can see the sparkle of light on the ocean, and the geese taking flight from the lake, and the tumble of the beck high in the lovely spring woods. Please may we see these things together, and take delight in them as we go, Thee and I.
When we sit down to eat, oh Lord Jesus remember Thee is wiser than I am. Teach me, open my eyes, help me to learn what will feed and strengthen my body, and even give stability and serenity to my soul. Remind me that what we have in our lunch pack is sourced from the whole world, and help me to choose from what there is a selection that will bring blessing to its source as well as to the one who enjoys the fruit.
I would say “When I am lonely”, but I shall not be lonely with Thee. Still, when there are pastimes and gatherings Thee and I must pass by, for they are not on our Way, remind me where we are going and who we are, so that I harbour neither blame nor regret.
When I am tired, please, please don’t go on without me. Curl up and rest with me and wake me when it is time we were moving on.
When the Way gets too difficult, too frightening, and I cannot even see the path when Thee points it out to me, oh Lord Jesus then I beg Thee to pick me up and carry me – just do not leave me, whatever betide.
Talk to me as we go, and will Thee also sing to me? I love the songs of heaven, and the words are harder to remember without the music.
I have asked Thee for so much, and maybe Thee has noticed I have promised Thee nothing. Maybe Thee was hoping that I might offer something constructive in return for all Thy patient love and faithful Friendship. I feel ashamed to say it, but there is no point. My promises are like soap bubbles that last until they hit a thorn and then are forgotten. I’ve known two-year-olds with more resolve than I. Even my imagination writhes and screams and runs when I think about the cross, the lions, the torture chamber; may I never have to know what I would do faced with the real thing. No, I have nothing to offer Thee except myself, all of myself – my need of Thee, my longing for Thee, and my certain knowledge that without Thy hand holding mine I am entirely desolate.
Let me go with Thee, oh Lord Jesus, not today only but every day. Fit Thy pace to mine except when Thee carries me. Hush me when I prattle and when I complain. Thee has heard me before; I think Thee knows what I mean. Oh – and I am hoping Thee knows some good jokes, and some more stories as well as the ones I have heard. The old ones are good too. Tell me them again. They sound different when I hear them in Thy voice.
When we come to the gates of Heaven, I think Thee might find they will not be straining their eyes looking out for me in great excitement. I am no hero and no saint, and am not even the kind of sinner that people find interesting. I am lazy and I complain a lot, and am very inclined to criticise. And I can be cruel. That’s not the kind of person they will be looking out for, is it? I have not been a credit to Thee, and if Thee had not come searching and found me, I should never have managed to get there by myself at all. I am pinning my hopes on them opening the gate for Thee, and that they will let me in because I am with Thee.
I have no idea what Heaven is really like. What people have told me sounds terrible. I am hoping there might still be grass and trees and flowers, mountains and birds, rocks with moss on them, watermelon and mango and oranges. And grapes. I am hoping that I might be able to play with the animals in Heaven – not own them there, or take them about on leads, neutered and separated from their own kind and trained to obey us like they were here – just play with them. I am hoping there will be guitars and campfires to go with all the singing.
But before any of that, I know there is my Judgement. Lord Jesus, when that comes, will Thee still hold my hand? There are things I have done in this life I cannot bear to think about, that haunt me still. Things I am so ashamed of, even though Thee has forgiven me. I guess there must be lots of other things too, of which I was cheerfully oblivious until we get to that Judgement Day. Without Thee beside me, I shall not be able to bear it Lord Jesus. I don’t care what Thee knows about me, what Thee sees that I have done, just don’t leave me is all I ask.
Anyway, we’re not there yet. Today is just beginning. When I woke up this morning, I found Thee here with me still. Let’s make a start then, on this day. If Thee’s not already wishing I’d shut up finally, there’s about a million things I want to thank Thee for . . .
Friday, 18 March 2011
Today is cold and grey. Relentless rain. Dismal. Praise the Lord (that’s what we have to do, innit)! Cold days make a person hungry, so by half an hour past noon I was feeling peckish and went down from my garret, where I was checking the proofs for The Hardest Thing To Do, to see what we had in the fridge.
Now, when I cook I don’t start with a recipe. I start with what there is.
We had some cold cooked quinoa from yesterday. We had some mushrooms that needed using. We had some oil left from a pot of artichoke hearts marinaded in sunflower oil infused with garlic and thyme. A few bits of artichoke still there. So far so good.
We have a frying pan but I don’t cook with that because it’s Teflon coated and I like Teflon scrapings left right outside of my body. I have a sweet little iron wok but the leftovers were too big for that. So I took the lid from the blue enamelled cast-iron pot. It can double as a frying pan.
I put in the oil with the last 3 or 4 bits of artichoke heart, and broke the mushrooms up into it – lovely big open field mushrooms, firm and hearty. Yum. I fried them gently in the oil for a while, then added the cold quinoa. The mushrooms had soaked up most of the oil and weren’t giving off any liquid (that pan is very open, so the frying is drier), so I stir-fried the mixture around for a bit, but it was sticking, so I added a little water. No more oil. Oil and I are antagonistic companions. A little is plenty for me – too much and I have agonising heartburn and a bilious white-coated tongue. Noooo!
Something else was needed now to make this tasty, so I chopped a scallion in and a handful of slivers cut from a ripe red bell pepper I found in the fridge. I mixed in some concentrated tomato paste from one of those squirty tubes like toothpaste, and to finally make it tasty enough to eat I added a few shakes of tamari. Done. Delicious.
As I sat down to eat it, I noticed how substantial and hearty it both looked and tasted. The mushrooms were as beefy as meat, the colour was deep and inviting and the flavour was savoury and had a good blend. It had the same feeling to it as eating steak pie.
I’ve met people who puzzled me by saying they disliked vegetables because veggies are so bland and watery and tasteless. What? Tasteless? But then I discovered that what they meant by a carrot was not the same as what I meant by a carrot. I meant a vegetable that had grown in someone’s garden or on an organic farm. They meant the budget range from the supermarket. When I ate their vegetables, I could see what they meant at once. And their mushrooms looked like cunning fake fungi made from spongy polystyrene.
Tell it not in Gath, but my grandson (the Wretched Wretch) eats mud. As he roves around the garden at the back of his family’s little cottage, he nibbles the grass and the herbs, and the mud. This is not because he is a mineral-deprived starving vegan. Don’t confuse their household with ours, please! His daddy grew up in Georgia and knows how to cook! It has taken all the might of the Wretched Wretch’s mummy applying her English brakes to slow him down from eating not one type of meat in a casserole but two or three. The Wretched Wretch snacks on sausages and no block of cheese is safe with his mother. Vegan they ain’t. But he still eats mud.
However, before puckering thy face in horror and saying “Ewww!” let me point out we all eat mud. Mud is the tastiness in vegetables. If we grow vegetables in sterilised compost or water with chemicals added; then, by gum, that’s what they’ll taste of. Thee can tell this in Gath, because the Philistines need to know it: mud is what makes veggies tasty – organic mud that the worms and beetles have mixed and enriched, mud that has had plenty of well-rotted poo dug in. The potatoes and carrots and lettuce that grow in that, loved by sunshine and blessed by rain, are firm and full of flavour, with a good dense texture.
Quinoa, artichokes, mushrooms, peppers, scallions – one might say those are just the middle-men. What I ate really was rainclouds and sunbeams and a hefty spadeful of good earth. It was delicious.
The way earth grows veggies is clever as clever;
I think I’ll stay vegan for ever and ever.
With apologies to A.A.Milne, God rest him.
Thursday, 17 March 2011
It would seem . . .
. . . that after adjustments and some months living with headcovering and Plainish dress, I have settled down into a way of doing it that also feels like me.
But the thing is . . .
. . . it would also seem that others
. . . have been there before me . . .
I really liked this entry that Nonna Jennifer-Anne Buckley posted on her blog today.
Though this is not normally a "Let's show each other our tattoos" blog (!) I thought I'd show y'all the tatto that I have on my left arm.
This tattoo is not decoration, it's a kind of luggage label. When I had it done, I was thinking of Paddington Bear, the small brown spectacled bear who was discovered at Paddington Station with his suitcase of marmalade sandwiches and his label put round his neck by his auntie saying "Please look after this bear".
Back at the end of the 1990s a series of terrible events was set in motion in my life. It has taken us until this year to repair finally and completely the damage that was done in my life and the lives of my children as a result; but now God has restored the years the locust has eaten.
At one time, I guess around March 2002, I reached absolute rock bottom. I was very suicidal, and only one thing kept me going - the sure knowledge that if I committed suicide the person who would find my body would be the daughter who lived with me - we were all scattered, because we had lost our home.
At that time, living hand to mouth, working nights as a care assistant with a nurse who wouldn't speak to me because I was not the (young, handsome, male) staff member she had hoped to be teamed with, I descended into a sort of nightmare of exhaustion and semi-illness. I am not able to describe the events that happened to us, because that would involve giving inappropriate information about the lives of others; but I lost our family home, my job, and my marriage. Had my mother not given me the money to buy a tiny 2-roomed apartment and take care of our girls (still at school) while I got back on my feet, I don't know what would have become of us. My marriage and family had been immensely precious to me, and the loss of all this dealt me such a blow that I felt I, myself, had in fact died, and all that was left was a body with a destroyed soul.
It was then that I took the name Ember. My soul felt like a crater of ashes, everything completely gone. 'Ember' meant the hope that, as I raked through the ashes, eventually I might come across some core of life on which God's breath could blow, and something new and living could begin - which indeed proved to be the case. Today, a bit like Job, I am married to the most wonderful man in the world, and live in a house that can accommodate all our family - two of my girls are settled in their own homes with their own good men, but if they had not been, there would be room for them here.
Anyway, during the crater-of-ashes time, a number of people asked me about my faith, marvelling that all I had been through had not shaken my faith in God. But, why would it? Nothing had changed as far as I knew about God - only my life circumstances had changed. My faith was founded on Him, not on me.
But I did have a fear that I would fail or deny him. I loved Elie Wiesel's prayer (from The Town Beyond The Wall): "O God, be with me when I have need of you, but above all else do not leave me when I deny you."
And so I decided to attach to myself a kind of lost-luggage label - so that if I lost my reason or my faith, nonetheless, indelibly upon my body would be inscribed that I am the property of the living God.
I prayed often at that time Cecil Frances Alexander's version of the Prayer of St Patrick, that is called St Patrick's Breastplate:
I bind this day to me for ever,
I bind unto myself today
the strong Name of the Trinity,
by invocation of the same,
the Three in One, and One in Three.
the strong Name of the Trinity,
by invocation of the same,
the Three in One, and One in Three.
by power of faith, Christ's Incarnation;
his baptism in Jordan river;
his death on cross for my salvation;
his bursting from the spicèd tomb;
his riding up the heavenly way;
his coming at the day of doom:
I bind unto myself today.
I bind unto myself the power
of the great love of cherubim;
the sweet "Well done" in judgment hour;
the service of the seraphim;
confessors' faith, apostles' word,
the patriarchs' prayers, the prophets' scrolls;
all good deeds done unto the Lord,
and purity of virgin souls.
I bind unto myself today
the virtues of the starlit heaven
the glorious sun's life-giving ray,
the whiteness of the moon at even,
the flashing of the lightning free,
the whirling wind's tempestuous shocks,
the stable earth, the deep salt sea,
around the old eternal rocks.
I bind unto myself today
the power of God to hold and lead,
his eye to watch, his might to stay,
his ear to hearken, to my need;
the wisdom of my God to teach,
his hand to guide, his shield to ward;
the word of God to give me speech,
his heavenly host to be my guard.
Christ be with me,
Christ within me,
Christ behind me,
Christ before me,
Christ beside me,
Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort
and restore me.
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ in quiet,
Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of
all that love me,
Christ in mouth of
friend and stranger.
I bind unto myself today
the strong Name of the Trinity,
by invocation of the same,
the Three in One, and One in Three.
Of whom all nature hath creation,
eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
praise to the Lord of my salvation,
salvation is of Christ the Lord.
And so, on St Patrick's Day 2002, I was tattooed with this sign that, whatever I think or don't think, believe or don't believe, whether I am a credit or an embarrassment to Him, under all circumstances of life and even in death, I am the property of Jesus Christ, Son of the Most High God. And it will always be so.
So. Peggy, who put her hand up first for the Sockwas, has sent a picture to show that they arrived safely and here they are on her feet! Peggy likes going barefoot on the Earth, and I hope that the Sockwas will allow her to do that more comprehensively!
Thanks, Peggy :0)
Wednesday, 16 March 2011
When I am at Quaker meeting, I experience a kind of flow form in the dynamic of the silence.
When I rest my head on my beloved’s tummy, I can hear all the surprising internal churnings and gurglings, and the Quaker silence feels a bit like that. Digestion.
It feels like a negotiation or a processing, like water working out a way to flow through. And as the worship hour progresses, the silence goes through different moods and stages. It’s like travelling in a train through a changing landscape, perceiving new hills rising and sudden surprising valleys opening up, sudden glimpses of a herd of deer on an open field, or a glimpse of a lake cuddled in the hills or a stand of bare trees with the sun shafting through or frost persisting in a shadowed hollow. It usually begins with a certain feeling of milling about, as though souls are sorting themselves out and getting comfortable. About a third or half way through there comes a sense of descent – down… down… down… into a very deep gorge where silence flows as a cold river at the valley bottom. The way up from the depths seems idiosyncratic and is a challenge – questioning the soul, confronting weaknesses unknown before. But some people rise up easy, if their being is clear and light and they know this territory.
It’s not a frightening thing, and it is very loving and companionable, this silence.
Toward the end it plateaus out and there is the sense of folk gathering, sharing the treasures on the silence often in ministry in the last ten or fifteen minutes.
But always at the end, as the Friends emerge from the profound and active, living silence, there is this sense of triumph – to use D.H.Lawrence’s words: “Look! We have come through!”
The smiles on Friends faces, as they take each other’s hands then, are raw and honest; like the smiles of children or nuns or people close to death – they mean it. Some of the silence clings to their souls as they turn from its contemplation to greet one another – and that clinging silence is momentous.
“Look! We have come through!”
Some while ago now I was reminded by seekingmylord, who comments here sometimes, of the immense value of fasting. So I have gone back to a lapsed practice of a 24hr fast once a week. I go from breakfast to breakfast; so, about or 10am on one day to the same time the next day – on a non-fasting day I always anyway eat supper early (aim at about 6pm) and breakfast late (aim at about 9.30-10am) to give my gut a rest from input.
When I took up the fasting again, I found as I have in the past that it has a wrestling quality about it, a sea swell, the sense of the inner me heaving up (as in my soul and like the sea not my stomach and like being sick!!) its preoccupations and coming to a new accommodation in my internal world.
But what struck me was how very much it resembled the experience of the Quaker silence – just the same sense of plateaux and mountains and precipices and chasms and cliffs, austerely arid places and turbulent streams. And then, the long quiet flat-lining peace of the end, and the quiet sense of triumph, satisfaction – “Look! We have come through.”
And both the silence and the fasting seem to overhaul and service the rhythms of soul and mood in me, nourishing peace and nurturing the capacity for honest reflection.