Thursday, 27 January 2011

Serendipitous synchronicity; a kairos moment

Just the oddest thing happened today.

I’m a reclusive type and don’t go out much.  Through this winter with its rain wind snow ice cold, I’ve near hibernated and been out very little.  Yesterday I decided I needed more exercise – and Fi said well why not walk down to the masonry with Hebe in the mornings.  Aha yes! I thought – I meant to do that!  I can work a split shift – writing and correspondence from the early hour when I wake, then get up for breakfast bath walk and all the active jobs – ironing and preparing meals and doing what Magdalena calls ‘gadding about’  :0)  Then back to writing in the evening.
So for the first time in a long time I walked down to the sea’s edge, where the masonry is, with Hebe today.  We went our usual route, through the park, crossing the busy road that bisects Bohemia, then down the road where Rosie lives, along the alley, then various little backstreets down to the sea.
On Bohemia, the side of the road with the baker and pharmacy and grocer’s store is busy.  The other side with the fishbait shop, the dry-cleaner and the double-glazing showroom is not.
Hebe and I came up from the park ready to cross the road at Bohemia.  I saw a chance to cross, nothing coming but a little red car going quite slowly, and went for it.  Hebe opted for caution and waited.  Then a wave of traffic came from nowhere, so we both waited: she waited to cross and I waited for her.  So it came about that, after a winter of going out hardly at all, on a route that consisted mainly of alleys, backstreets and the park, I stood doing nothing by a busy road on the side of the street where I was more visible, for a minute or so.
There is an odd thing about me: nobody recognises me.  Sometimes they don’t even see me at all.  Even people I’ve known for years.  They will pass me inches away and not see me.  Even my family.  I can go into a small shop and stand browsing beside a woman who counts herself a dear friend, safe in the knowledge that she won’t breach the peace of my solitude because she won’t see me.  But all that’s changed.  Now I wear Plain dress (well, I call it Plain - quaint and old-fashioned, with headcovering), everybody recognises me – because no one else dresses like this.
This winter a friend from Quaker meeting asked if anyone wanted to share a subscription to The Friend – I gladly put my hand up for that.  We agreed that she would take out the subscription, I’d pay half, she’d get the journals then pass them on to me.  Only she sometimes forgets.  I don’t mind at all because I don’t get round to reading them right away – I just like to have them by for when there’s a quiet moment (Ha!  A what?).  Anyway she’d accumulated a pile of three or four that she kept forgetting to bring to meeting, so this morning she set out to find me.  She had my address but didn’t know where my house was – unfamiliar neighbourhood.  So she came up from the sea driving slowly along Bohemia while her husband followed the map.  And they saw me just standing there.
A couple of minutes before I’d been down in the park out of sight of any driver.  A minute before I’d been on the busy side of the road, divided also by a stream of traffic from the direction my friend was taking in her car.  A minute later I’d be round the corner in Rosie’s road. Just for that brief while out of the whole of this winter I was standing there alone on that less crowded side of the street, wearing highly recognisable Plain dress, doing nothing in particular; in the same minute as my friends drove by looking for me.
They saw me, they waved, they managed to pull up to the edge of the road, and they were able to hand me the copies of The Friend and then drive away.  Meanwhile Hebe had crossed Bohemia, so we were ready to duck down the next little road out of sight.
How weird is all of that?!

Monday, 24 January 2011

Want to see how we while away a quiet afternoon?

Mikey was fast asleep in his stroller in the passage, so for once his mother was free to play the piano without young Beethoven on her lap joining in.

Grace playing, Alice standing, Hebe crouching on the floor to stop the hymn book falling off the piano, me making masterly video:
 .

If you want to sing along, these are the words:

Sinners Jesus will receive;
Sound this word of grace to all
Who the heavenly pathway leave,
All who linger, all who fall.

    Sing it o'er and o'er again;
    Christ receiveth sinful men;
    Make the message clear and plain:
    Christ receiveth sinful men.

Come, and He will give you rest;
Trust Him for His word is plain;
He will take the sinfulest;
Christ receiveth sinful men.

Now my heart condemns me not,
Pure before the law I stand;
He who cleansed me from all spot,
Satisfied its last demand.

Christ receiveth sinful men,
Even me with all my sin;
Purged from every spot and stain,
Glory I shall enter in.

If you like this hymn and want to learn it, you can find it here at a more sedate speed, words with music to sing along to  :0O   :0D
And then we sang another hymn.  This time Hebe, even more masterly than I am, made the film.  To get us all in shot she held the camera the other way.  She forgot to turn it off at the end, so it went sideways in the last bit.  We all thought this was hilarious and decided not to edit it out.  Now, unfortunately, when Grace loaded it to YouTube, it proved impossible to get it to load both the right way up and with the music in sync with the film.  She had to choose.  So she loaded it in sync - sideways.  Those of you with laptops, you can turn your puters sideays to watch it.  Those of you with desktop puters will have to turn your heads sideways! Or... I suppose you may decide to give it a miss...

It's only more Burdens Are Lifted At Calvary.  Anyway, here we are!  :0)



If you're wondering why Grace has a pair of underpants on the front of her top (!), well that's her "say pants to poverty" t-shirt...

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Dahn the plug'ole!

Well, I just came in from meeting. Not straight in and to the puta – I stopped on the way for a little snackerel or two, and I have a delish cup of camomile tea here with me – food helps thoughts to formulate… possibly…


Anyway, Quaker First Day meeting; that’s where I’ve been.

Back in the early 80’s I belonged to a group called the Ashburnham Stable Family, started by John Bickersteth, who was 150% God’s man – a privilege to have known him. I won’t tell thee much about that except only this one thing: there was a rule about coming to meeting. The rule was this: every person who came participated; no bystanders, no observers, no sitting on the fence. During the week each of us was to listen to God with an expectant heart, waiting to hear what God’s word was for us regarding the Stable Family Thursday meeting. We had to have heard by Tuesday, so we could phone Joe or Susie or Edmund or Tim and say, “I believe we should be singing this song,” or “We’ve practiced a dance,” or “I think the Lord wants me to bring a prophecy, so I’ve put it in the post for you to check,” or “I’ve composed a saxophone piece to play,” or “I think I will be required to bring an interpretation for a prayer in tongues;” and so on and so on.

After studying the chapters on public worship in 1 Corinthians, our teachers had reached the understanding that the meeting should be ordered – not a spontaneous free-for-all, but ordered; but each one should come prepared, as the apostle teaches in chapter 14. So we came with hearts and minds prepared, and sometimes what we were prepared to bring was simply our presence and our silence – and that was ministry too.

So from those days I got used to the idea that if something is tugging at my soul all week and won’t go away, it’s probably meant for ministry for the meeting. And that happened to me this week. ALL WEEK I have had this song on my mind, but insistently!

When I came into meeting this morning, I’d forgotten about it. And then it started up again. Now, because it had been in my mind all week and I’d been singing it over and over, by the time I got to meeting, I actually knew the words (well two verses anyway, which was the most I could manage without passing out from sheer terror anyway). At the beginning of the week I knew only the tune.

I had a sense that it was for people who were labouring, people oppressed with sorrow and care. Otherwise I might have ignored it. Our meeting seems to me to be a liberal meeting, with what you might call a broad theology, and I felt not at all sure they would receive so evangelical a ditty with thanksgiving. But if the Lord had sent it for people struggling and in sorrow, I couldn’t sit on it, could I? So I sang it to them. And like the good Quakers they are, they received it with humility and kindness.

We also had a few other ministries, delightful – one in particular being an understanding of the transfiguration as Jesus’s meeting for clearness, Moses and Elijah supporting him [in choosing the revolutionary direction of suffering and self-sacrifice that altered beyond recognition the understanding of the Messiah]. The bit in square brackets is my own gloss.

I was rather scared of bringing that song, and prefaced the singing of it by explaining how times when we are in darkest sorrow and struggle, we are walking, sometimes unawares, shoulder to shoulder with the divine principle of suffering love that takes upon itself the sum of human sorrow and even redeems the world. I guess I thought that sounded a bit more Quakerly than just smacking folk between the eyes with an evangelical hymn, even if at the prompting of the Spirit. And I said that I thought it might not sit right well with the theology of the meeting, so begged the people, if it was not their idiom, to receive it in the spirit of diversity not controversy. And so they did, God bless them.

But this thing of ministry, of ‘I’m gonna sing when the Spirit says sing, and obey the Spirit of the Lord,’ well it feels a bit at times like I’m walking right along there but then I discover that keeping company with the living God is somewhat like getting the hem of my coat caught in the door of a moving vehicle – “Uh-oh! Whoa! Here we go!!” He doesn’t always travel at my speed.

I’ve come to terms with headcovering and Plain dress – which did take some doing and determination – but NOW I can feel the tug-tug-tug all over again: this time with regard to Quaker Plain speech. You know? “Thee” and “Thy”.

I have two problems with this.

1) It’s one more thing that’s weird, eccentric, non-mainstream – and frankly I don’t need any help in that direction.

2) The Quaker application of it is – I don’t know why; why did they do that? – non-grammatical. They don’t say “thou think’st”, they say “thee thinks” WHICH IS WRONG!!!! But Quakerly.

So I have to grit my teeth and get over English language structures and the purgatory of Sounding Weird, if I am to go with this leading – which of course I am. “Thee gonna look stupid when the Spirit says look stupid, and obey the Spirit of the Lord.”

These leadings, they hardly even admit of any discussion. It feels like the calm flowing river along which one was peacefully punting suddenly gathered speed as all unsuspecting one found oneself sucked towards the weir. Uh-oh, here we go – Daaaaahn the plug’ole!

Friday, 14 January 2011

Pointless, but hey.


I thank God for the friends on Facebook who prayed with me and for me when I had to do the telephone interview with the radio people on Friday.  They made it so special, like they were right there with me.  I thank God for the internet that has woven our lives together and made friendships that would never have been blossom into something beautiful and real.

I thank God for friends who have encouraged me as a writer and bought my books and said lovely things about what I have written, and can have no idea of the hope and happiness their kindness brings.  Otherwise it would be lonely ad disappointing, but they make all the hard work worthwhile.

I thank God for my daughters in these last few days when my mother has been moving house to live just nearby, helping with cooking supper and being welcoming and kind and sorting out her new place and making our home tidy and pretty and clean and looking after me when I get tired.

I thank God for my dear husband, and the kindness in his face and when I wake up in the night and he is there beside me; and he is faithful and cheerful and hardworking - and generally everything you always hope a husband will be, really.

I thank God in these winter days that we have a brand-new highly efficient furnace and a woodstove that makes our house friendly and toasty warm and an open fire in the other room as well to be beautiful and make the house smell like incense.

I thank God for the bright happy colours of the crocheted blanket on our bed that chases away the gloom and makes our bedroom look homely and happy.

I thank God for the prettiest ever dress with little purple flowers that Daina at The Kings Daughters made me, which is the nicest garment I have ever had.   And for the warm soft flannel nightgown she made me which is just the thing for these January nights and has to come back from the wash as quick as ever possible so I can wear it again.

I thank God that despite the usual whirlwhind of familiness and all-purpose life I have managed to get a new novel started and will make twenty thousand words by the end of the weekend and it is taking shape okay and looking like it might work out as I hoped.

I thank God for my grandson Mikey who makes me laugh.  His mother shows him his darling fluffy teddy-bear and he lets rip with a terrible snarl because Mikey Knows About Bears. 

I thank God that in a world where people are hungry and cold and  homeless and lost and hate each other even to war and bombs, we have a pantry full of food and a fire in the stove and a calm and loving home all dry and clean and welcoming.  And I thank God for the Lord Jesus who walks every day with me so wise and patient and loving, and blesses every silence with the warmth of His grace.

I thank God for the Hastings Quakers, darling motley crew, whose silence is full of kindness and whose ministry is plain and honest.

I have so much to thank God for I could go on all night... but mainly I just want Him to know that I have noticed all this love and blessing that cascades around me like golden light and blesses my life, blesses my home, blesses my days, blesses my heart.  There are things to pray for, troubled and frightened and tired souls to lift into the Light, of course there are.  There is work to be done and the usual mountains to climb, of course there are.  And God keep them, God hold them, God receive them.  But most of all, my Father,  I thank Thee, oh I thank Thee, for the outpouring extravagance of Thine all-surpassing love, which lifts me up and carries me and shines on me, from the hearts and eyes and lives of my friends and family, and from the circumstances of every single ordinary day.

Monday, 10 January 2011

Thoughts about good and evil


When I’m writing, I’ll be going along fine, and then I get stuck and need to mentally change gear for a little while.  So while I write I also have Facebook open, and pop across to see what friends are doing and saying.

I love to look at people’s photos – especially the photos of Plain-dressing friends.  It’s always a ‘whoopee!’ moment when Katie Troyer has posted some more pics from Pinecraft.  I am so enjoying Sarah Burrell’s v-log.  I love Anna Cory’s cheerful and positive spirit – her posts are good to read.  My friend Elizabeth Bullock-Rest always leaves kind and reflective make-me-think posts. Quaker Jane never speaks up unless she has something wise and sane and kind to say – and there are many more whose thoughts bless and cheer me.

Then, there are some posts that chill and depress me.  I am no fan of the satan-spotters – people who have more to say about the devil than they say about the Spirit of God.

John Martyn, a folk singer from Hastings where I live, wrote a beautiful song that said: “I don’t want to know about evil, I only want to know about love.”  And I second that.  I am not interested in satan.  I see no value in thinking about satan.   We had a chorus that was very popular when I was a new Christian:
Towards Jesus is where the eyes of my soul should be focused.  When I get it together to do a little exercise with the Wii Fit, I love the balance games.  What I’ve noticed is that good balance is led by my eyes.  It’s where and how I’m looking that makes me keep or lose my balance.  Same applies in my spiritual walk.  If I keep my focus on what is beautiful, kind and generous, that’s how I’ll walk.

I also get a bad feeling from friends who post against things – whether it’s hate posts about people who have done something wrong, or posts denigrating political leaders, or posts criticising the celebration of Christmas and Easter, or posts making judgements about the private lives of other people – or any other Christians-Against-Everything misery posts; that turns me off.  What my old Badger described so well as ‘Plainly Wrong’ posts!  :0D

To create good in the world begins with a kind and encouraging attitude.  It is nurtured by fixing the eyes of the spirit on what is holy and pure and loving.  It’s also encouraged by doing as Max Ehrmann said in his poem Desiderata: ‘beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself’.  For you, too, are made by God to flourish in the sunshine of kindness and the dew of mercy.

Today and yesterday I had the pleasure and delight of several hours of the company of my grandson Mikey and his mother, my daughter Grace.  Grace and Clay (her husband) and Mikey do not always find life easy, but they practice a daily discipline of gentleness. Their home is a place of kindness and hospitality.  They try always to be understanding.  At Christmas time, a favourite among Mikey’s gifts was the little brightly-coloured plastic whirligig his aunties gave him.  What was a joy to me was to watch him rushing happily round the room making sure every single person had a turn at blowing his whirligig – everyone included, nobody left out.  At eighteen months old, ‘thank you!’ ‘you’re welcome!’ and ‘here you go!’ are among the first phrases he has learned to say.

On Sunday as we sat down together to eat, for the first time in his high chair he had reached the stage where, instead of squidging the food on his plate, he carefully ate everything with his little fork, taking trouble to do exactly as we were all doing.  He wanted to be like us, to do what we did, to be the same as us, to be one of us.   Grace and Clay have exercised immense patience in bringing Mikey up to know gentleness and understanding, reassurance and kindness.  No smacking.  No harsh words.  No leaving him to cry.  No mocking or belittling his mistakes.  Just encouragement and love.  As a result, already they have a little boy who delights in loving others, who is cheerful and trusting and confident.

Grace told me today of something that Clay had said, which I thought so wise I wanted to pass it on to you:

“If you want to create evil in the world, Step 1 is to pick on a little kid.  There is no Step 2.”

Thinking of all the clinical research that has been done on anti-social and cruel, psycho-pathic behaviour, I would say the evidence is with him all the way.

Building the Peaceable Kingdom begins with unconditional love of the children we know and the children who, whatever age we may be, we still are.

Cheerfulness, patience, gentleness, loving-kindness, encouragement, understanding, forgiveness, and a sense of humour.  If we keep busy with these, and focus on the loving heart of God, we shall not go wrong, we shall find our way home.


Saturday, 8 January 2011

The Road of Blessing


I am cautiously excited about this book.  It comes out around now, in the UK, and in a few weeks overseas.  It's on pre-order at the US Amazon, where they also have a search-inside function so you can have a riffle through and see if you like it.  It's on (presumably quicker) pre-order at UK Amazon, where they haven't yet got the search-inside set up (though my publisher has chivvied them, so it should be coming soon.

I was brought up in the Christian faith, and went to church in my childhood.  I have always not only believed in God but felt close to me the presence of the Holy in everyday life.  Even so, I do believe that when Jesus says "Behold, I stand at the door and knock", the idea is to open it and invite Him in, not leave it and hope if it's really Him he will materialise through it somehow.

So, when I was fifteen I made the believer's prayer for myself, asking Jesus to be the Lord of my life; and I became His property that day, to dispose of as He wishes - though I have to say He does need to remind me of that at times, because you wouldn't all the time know from what I am and choose and do and say that I belong to Him.

I will be fifty-four next birthday.  That means I will have walked with Him for nearly forty years.  During that time, the main focus of my life has been to learn about what I have come to call 'the road of blessing', by which I mean finding the path of holiness.  I made a new friend on Facebook yesterday who says on her profile that an activity she enjoys is 'walking in a good way'.  That's the kind of thing I mean.  Making life choices and creating habits that flow with the current of God's grace, and can attract His blessing.

In the forty years (nearly) I've been doing this, I may not have learned a lot, but I've learned enough about a few things to be sure of them.  I have practiced some principles of living to the extent that I know I can rely on them.  No doubt I can be shaken, but I am sure beyond doubting that the things I have written about in this book cannot be shaken.

The Road of Blessing sets out the principles I have learned from the Bible that I have lived for almost forty years and can promise you can trust.

If you enjoy reading this blog, well then I guess you'll enjoy the book too.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

I have these spoons

My friend Margery was a Christian artist, working mainly in stained glass.  She also designed and made beautiful banners for churches, for which she used her own lettering alphabet that she had designed herself. She was a teacher too - of art - for many years.

Margery was a person of deep faith.  Her whole life was founded on prayer and lived in the flow and current of the movement of the Holy Spirit.  I loved her very much, and she was a dear friend.  She died about seven years ago, in her mid 80s.

I have various things that belonged to her.  It is not my practice to hold on to possessions, even when they have special associations, otherwise before I know it the possessions start holding onto me, and you get the Sorcerer's Apprentice effect going on.  I don't like my life and options to be dictated by the proliferation and requirements of inanimate objects!  "Problems arise where things accumulate" (Toinette Lippe).

I have two stained glass panels that Margery made.  They are really beautiful works of art.  I have not yet found the right home for them, because they are spiritual work not worldly, and they are wonderfully wrought, not shoddy work.  For now I keep them with me, and one day I will find the right place for them.  I don't hang then in my own windows because I have such a hunger for light that I want all the light all the time from all the windows.  But they are beautiful.  I had a nude that she painted - which she stipulated must never be hung in a living room where men might see it, it must always be hung in a bedroom.  It is such a graceful, lovely picture.  That has gone to my friend Rosanna.  I have a portrait of a dignified old lady that Margery painted.  That fits in any room really well, so it hangs in our living room over the fireplace.

Then I also have these spoons.  Margery used them for measuring out glazes and powder paints when she was teaching art.  They are old and battered (which I personally feels adds to their delightfulness), because they are very vintage!  Now, I don't really measure anything.  My cooking is of the 'some of this, some of that' school, and  I just heave in a bit from a jar, no spoon comes ito it.

I am clearing out things at home at the present time, going through streamlining and sorting and house-calming.  We have several large bags to go to the charity shop, but I don't want to send these spoons to a charity shop, because they would be thought worthless as they are old and battered.  But they aren't worthless, they would be really excellent for anyone who needs to measure out powders or drizzle liquids carefully.  And they belonged to Margery, so for decades they were the tools of hands dedicated to prayer and praise and healing ministry.

What I want to know is, would one of you like these spoons?

If so, check the comments section to make sure no-one else has already put up their hand for them, and I wll send them to you.  You are safe to send me your address in a comment, because it will come to me by email for moderation.  I will not publish it with your address it, I will publish a comment saying 'The spoons have been claimed by Sister (or Brother!) X', instead, and send the spoons off to you.

If you have them, please treasure them.  Margery and I spent countless hours together, talking about life and the things of God, praying and laughing and drinking Lapsang Souchong tea.  She was a woman of pure heart, a soul of real integrity; and, though her income was tiny, her wants were so few that she always had money to put by so that she could respond to the nudgings of the Lord Jesus and help people who were in need.  She liked to give to people and situations that didn't come under the wing of any charity or welfare benefit.  She used to send money to a black African pastor who lived in a South African township in the days before apartheid ended, to keep him and his family going and his work for God as well.  She used to listen quietly and notice when young couples were struggling and hadn't enough for rent and food or special projects, and she'd help them.  Every time she gave, she asked God a) whether to give and b) how much.  Margery believed that money is a very potent force that can do as much harm as good, and that it must be used strictly under God's direction to bring blessing.  Out of God's direction it becomes a curse.

Here is a picture of the spoons so you can see their form and size.  You will see they are very ordinary and shabby looking - wabi-sabi spoons!  Their specialness is that they carry with them women chatting and prayig quietly in the afternoon sunlight, drinking tea together, and art students learning under the tutelage of a person of pure soul and unusual grace.  They bring with them a murmur of something beautiful, a memory of friendship.








It may be that nobody here wants them at all!  If that's the case, I shan't mind.  I'll just keep them until the right person comes along.