Sunday, 30 September 2018

The whole trouble with e-books

So I'm trying to read John Le Carré's A Delicate Truth on Kindle.

His writing is almost impeccable. I do question the consistency of the chap at the beginning, who is described as 'agile' and hikes up the mountain like a good 'un, also falling out with his mattress because it upsets his bad back. No, that would be two quite different backs in the same man. Editor should have questioned it.

But my problem is this. Here I am, 24% of the way through the book, so my Kindle tells me. At this point, Jay Crispin is moving prominently into the foreground of the story. Now, I know Jay Crispin was mentioned nearer the beginning, in connection with the chap with the two backs, whose name I've now forgotten, I only remember his alias was Paul Anderson.  But I can't remember now what rôle Jay Crispin had at that point in the story.

If I have a paper book, that's easy. Even in a complicated story written in sophisticatedly cryptic sentences oozing cleverness like this one is, I can keep a thumb in the page I'm on and riffle through until I find the original mention of Jay Crispin. And though I can't remember what was said about him, I'll remember how much of a wodge of pages into the book he wafted through, and find him quick enough, then flip back to the bit I'm on now. Simple.

But in a Kindle? Can you keep your thumb in the page? Is that what 'bookmarks' do? I suspect not, but I don't actually know. And it isn't easy to riffle through near the beginning. You just have to keep turning pages — of which there are many because I read with fairly big print. And not only that but if I do something electronically imprecise then I get thrown onto this or that page or start going in the wrong direction and it all becomes unbearably tedious.

So because I just can't be bothered trying to stumble around in the electronic darkness trying to locate Jay Crispin by feel, I am just wandering on through the story resigning myself to bewilderment, and telling myself to be content at least to enjoy le Carré's excellent prose.

It's a bit like if I try to watch a tense political or crime drama on telly. I can only make out about a third of what the actors are saying to each other and have to rely on body language and the predictability of cultural convention to work out what's happening. As in, I have no idea what that man and woman just said to one another but she is sneering and he looks rebuffed; that'll have to be enough to go on. The man fires an angry remark at her, but as the camera is focused on the back of his head it could be anything. Hey-ho.

What worries me in A Delicate Truth is that eventually the man who isn't Paul Anderson is bound to resurface in the story, and whatever it was he knew about Jay Crispin — which I think should be illuminating my understanding of what's going on at the moment if only I hadn't forgotten it — will become of crucial importance.

I wish I'd bought a paperback.


Living here

Gosh, living in this house is quite something. Our artists have spent the afternoon transforming a rather boring wooden lectern into a completely convincing appearance of marble, at the request of a priest who wants it to match his altar.

Outside a crow, a fox and a seagull are arriving for their supper.

Down in the shed the Badger is quickly putting together a set of shelves.

And now, in the room below me someone is practising the French horn, while in the room next door to her someone else is playing fast scales on the trombone. It's all . . . sort of . . . marvellous . . .


Friday, 28 September 2018

Grey areas and spurious choices.

Hello.




I have two favourite thinking times. Well, I suppose it's three really.

When I'm falling asleep at night, when I'm waking up in the morning, and when I'm in the bath.

The bath one has an extra dimension. Sometimes I think or pray, which is the same as the falling asleep and waking up times, but sometimes I listen to music — which I never do either side of sleeping, because I share a bed and can't be faffed with earbuds.

Today in the bath I thought I'd listen to some music, and went looking on YouTube for the glorious Willie Nelson. I have two particular favourites, When we all get to heaven, and Revive us again. So I listened to those, and then thought I really ought to expand my horizons and try one I hadn't heard before instead of always re-running my favourites in my usual way. From the YouTube list I picked out I'd rather have Jesus, which I thought sounded nice.

I love a good hymn tune, but I also listen with a scrutinising ear to the words, asking myself what I think of the theology, where it all leads and weighing up how true is what I'm hearing.

So here is Verse One of I'd Rather Have Jesus:


  1. I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold;
    I’d rather be His than have riches untold;
    I’d rather have Jesus than houses or lands;
    I’d rather be led by His nail-pierced hand
    • Refrain:
      Than to be the king of a vast domain
      Or be held in sin’s dread sway;
      I’d rather have Jesus than anything
      This world affords today.

Verse Two continues in much the same vein:
  1. I’d rather have Jesus than men’s applause;
    I’d rather be faithful to His dear cause;
    I’d rather have Jesus than worldwide fame;
    I’d rather be true to His holy name

And Verse Three adds nothing in particular but just summarises everything nicely.

Well, now.

A couple of things came to mind on listening to this song. The first was, doesn't Willie Nelson make his living as a singer? I wondered if he accepts royalties for his performance of these hymns — as he certainly deserves to do. I thought about the ethics of taking a payment for singing "I'd rather have Jesus than silver or gold", and thought on balance it's better to be paid for that than for singing some creepy number involving just waiting for a girl to turn sixteen . . .

But it struck me as a grey area nonetheless.

And then there's the business of spurious choices. Willie Nelson, singing he'd rather have Jesus than silver or gold — but isn't he getting both? Isn't singing the hymns of the faith, to and for the faithful, a nice little earner? Maybe it's not, I don't know, in his case. But I've often paused to boggle over the singer-songwriters who have actually copyrighted and take royalties from songs with words lifted straight from the Bible! So I wasn't sure that Willie Nelson was being asked to choose between Jesus and riches/houses/lands/men's applause, in this instance.

Then my thinking spread beyond Willie Nelson to all the rest of us who might have sung this song, in earnest faith, in church. And I wondered, in my sceptical way, if this wasn't a whole set of spurious choices. Nobody has ever offered me riches untold or land in quantity — certainly not worldwide fame or men's applause. It's easy to say I'd rather have Jesus than something I'm not being offered in the first place.

Then I wondered, would I rather have Jesus than say the rude thing about my next door neighbour's creeper that's choking the life out of our plants? Would I rather have Jesus than express my irritation at some small thing inadvertently done by my kind and patient spouse? Would I rather have Jesus than duck out of attending the Local Preacher's Meeting? On balance, I have to admit, the evidence is all against me.

Then I got out of the bath.


Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Changes in perspective

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. (1 Corinthians 13.11 KJV)

A university tutor I knew said in a seminar that we should welcome disillusionment: because who in their right mind wants to live in the light of an illusion? I found that observation helpful.

There’s a certain no-going-back quality to growing up. I’m not convinced that older always means wiser. All of us know some bigoted, snobbish, obtuse old people — and we may even all unawares exactly fit that category ourselves. Wisdom? Perhaps. But there is a kind of familiarity with the ways of the world that does accrue. It sometimes takes the shine off things.

This has been true for me in the sphere of politics. As a young woman I was a passionate socialist, and swallowed whole the ideology held (in the main) by my fellow Methodists, that poverty is a random accident which can strike any person at any time — there but for the grace of God go I; it’s a lottery.

My mother (hers is a Conservative vote; mine remains socialist, with reservations) thought otherwise. She used to recall her childhood growing up on a large farm. The horsemen were hired annually at a labour fair, and made their lodgings in the outbuildings, but there were cottages housing some of the men who worked the farm, with little gardens. These men came out to the fields each day with a packed lunch made by their wives. They all had the same pay, but my mother observed that some of the men had meat with their bread while others had only “pepper-and-salt-sandwiches”. It wasn’t just a matter of wages, then, but of the skills to make the money go round. Rudyard Kipling was his household’s principal source of income, but he used to call his wife “the Committee of Ways and Means.” Absolutely.

“Thrift” is a wonderful noun, of Norse origins; the same rootstock produced the verb “thrive”. So a “spendthrift” is a person who scatters and disperses the stores meant for our necessity, that would have ensured the household could thrive.

I have known quite a number of people who fit into the category of people in poverty, and they managed it very differently.

I especially remember one dear Christian soul who was poor from the day she was born to the day she died. She spent her childhood in the workhouse. She married a young man who went to war as a soldier, came home broken in body and spirit, and was hers to nurse and comfort until he died. He occupied her attention, so she did not work outside the home. They lived on his military pension; it was not much. After his death, in her old age she had a state pension; that also is not large. She never had much, and she populated her wardrobe from judicious buys in charity shops. But she took a taxi to chapel once old age made the distance too far to walk — not only to worship but also to arrange the sanctuary flowers. She had her hair set and colour-rinsed regularly (her special luxury). And she set enough money aside to give me, every now and then, ten pounds to send a man in prison, so he could buy himself some cigarettes. He was inside for burglary, and she never smoked in her life: if that’s not selfless charity, I don’t know what is.

That same young man in the prison was a bit of a rascal (that's why he was there). He prided himself on never paying a utility bill of any kind. He lived in accommodation found him by kind people. He went straight to the pub with his social security payments and drank the lot in one evening. He shop-lifted what essentials he needed. When his gas or electricity bill came in he ignored it. When the debts accumulated and he was fined, he’d opt for a prison term instead, and “go and lie down for a month”, as he put it. He was proud of it, it amused him — he saw it as himself outwitting the big, faceless system. That reminds me of Malvina Reynolds song about the mouse. I used to think it was so funny, when I was a younger woman — us against the system. But I see it more as sawing off the branch you're sitting on, now. The farmer in the song would be as badly hit by the failure of his bank as the failure of his crops, at least in the short term. It's still a good song, for sure, but . . .

Anyway, they both were poor, that old lady and that young man I knew. Each of them did as they thought best according to their view of life. Who am I to judge? But I knew them both, and they coloured my attitudes. I won’t keep you here all day with tales of people in poverty I’ve known, but I’m sure you get the drift. The opportunity to observe how people live has rubbed a lot of the varnish off the ideology I held as a young woman.

Then there’s preaching. When I was young, I embraced what I heard wholeheartedly; now, not so much.

Here’s an example. In the 1980s we had a Mission (I think it deserves a capital M) here in Hastings. A young evangelist with a strong sense of himself as a Church Leader (capital C L for sure) was spearheading the event as main speaker. Possibly even Main Speaker (do you detect how cynical I have grown with the passing years?)

We had a Preparatory Meeting in readiness for the Mission. All of us from participating churches around the town came to be briefed and fired with enthusiasm by our Leader.

I have forgotten everything he said except one story. We sang the hymn All for Jesus, and he spoke to us about financial giving. He spoke about tithing. He parodied the hymn we’d just sung as “One tenth for Jesus”. He described his experience of giving and tithing. He said that when he offered God one tenth, God instead took ninety per cent and said, “Here, you can have the tenth.” Then (yes, you guessed right) he invited us to dig deep into our pockets to resource the Mission.

At the time, in my early twenties, I thought that was wonderful. So trusting, so visionary, so wholehearted and generous, so committed. It spoke to me of Charles de Foucauld’s “abandonment to divine providence”, giving all to Jesus and trusting him for the way ahead.

I came across a snippet of information about C.S.Lewis that said he started out giving ten per cent of all he had, and increased the percentage as his income rose until in the end he gave ninety per cent and kept back ten. I can’t remember where I read that and don’t know if it’s true.

I see things through a different lens now. I had no idea, back in the early 80s, what a vast amount of money it costs to maintain and repair the fabric of buildings. I never imagined the increase in property prices would so massively outstrip the rise in incomes that most of my children would not stand a chance of buying their own homes. I didn't expect to get divorced and remarried and add another two offspring to the quiver. I didn’t understand how much the world would change and how exponentially the slime mould of Mammon would grow. I hadn’t factored in that you have to apply a different rationale as you grow old — once you lose earning capacity you have what you’ve saved and nowt else. I hadn’t expected that the UK government would become so focused on shrinking and distancing old age pensions. I didn't grasp that a day would come when my income would have diminished but bills with three noughts on the end would come my way. There were so many things I didn’t know in my early twenties.

I count nothing as my own. I am Christ’s property and all I have is to be shared. I’ve tried to set the example of giving the most and choosing the least. I live simply. 

I also believe in paying our way and not looking to others to foot the bill. So when, recently, at a church council meeting we discussed how to meet the cost of property repairs, mine was the voice for giving and fund-raising, not the voice for seeking grants and assistance from other churches. The path I favour is the one where you take responsibility for meeting your own needs and generate a bit extra to give away — not the one where you look round to see whose resources you can beg or borrow. So I agree with the 1980s Leader that if we wanted a Mission we should have given a little thought to financing it.

But preaching that relies heavily on guilt-tripping people into parting with their money no longer strikes me as wonderful. Making people who came eagerly, to see how they could help, feel ashamed and inadequate because everything they have is already committed to housing, feeding and clothing their families, no longer looks like spiritual vision to me. Nowadays I like things done quietly, frugally and on a planned basis. No grand gestures.

I think I can pinpoint the time my illusions fell away. It was with the birth of my fifth child.

After our twins (Child 3 and Child 4) were born, and we had a houseful and four kids still in nappies at night, I felt I’d had enough babies. Then, through Christian circles to which we belonged, began to come a trickle of words and prophecies. I started to feel that, against all my inclinations, we were being called to make room for another child. I felt it very strongly. So I said “yes”, and our family increased. 

I remember the week before Child Five was born. We had houseguests — another family of parents and children. We had a lodger. All in our modestly-sized three-bedroomed Victorian semi. There was a day when I stood in the town centre carrying so many bags of groceries my arms ached, and thought, “I think I’m too tired to do this.” But there is no going back from nine months pregnant!

Five children is a lot more than four, if you think of packet size, sofa sizes, sets of chairs/glasses/plates, bunk beds etc. 
I and my children’s father slept, at various times, on the living room floor, on the boarded joists of the attic (got mighty nifty at shinning up and down a step ladder), in the box room, in a garden shed. Every penny he earned was turned straight over to me to budget, and it lasted three weeks of the month — which was a good thing, because it taught our children the power of prayer.

After that, though, I had a chat with the Lord, in which I humbly offered him the opinion that if he wanted me to have any more children, the way he might let me know it would be by sending along the big house and increased income first.

Not all my illusions and disillusionment have been to do with money, but it serves to illustrate what I mean. The view from where I stand today looks different from the vista forty years ago. Scepticism has replaced hope and eagerness. Wariness has ousted trust. Sometimes it seems sad, in a way; life is flatter, less joyous, somewhat grittier. But then, as my tutor said all those years ago (and he, then, so much older than me) who in their right mind wants to live in the light of an illusion?

God still provides. He always provides. There are still the sweet miracles and happy surprises of his unexpected rescues. But I accept that much of the time our self-discipline, self-denial, careful thrift, willingness to live simply and advance planning make up the channel of his provision. 




Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Marie?

From years ago — perhaps ten years back — I remember a plain-dressing Catholic American blogger called Marie. She had very young twins, toddlers. I think she may have had another child too. She lived on a Scottish island, where she and her husband were farming. Such an interesting person. Forthright! I've lost touch with her now, and was wondering today what twists and turns have happened in her life, where she is today and how things have gone for her. Does anyone know who I mean? Anyone kept in touch and know if she's still blogging? I don't remember the name of her blog.

And Isabel Penraeth (of Quaker Jane renown). Does anyone know how she is? She's still online on Twitter, and on Quaker Quaker I think, but she has a scintillating intellect and I'm a bit dull for the trail she blazes now. But she's such a lovely person, very clear and bright in her witness, and I just wondered how she is and how things are going with her. Her little Tabitha must be a big girl now.

People make a contrast between online and 'real' relationships, forgetting that the folk we meet online are also real, as are the friendships we forge. Some people I've only ever known online are closer and dearer to me than many I know in what Buzzfloyd calls 'meatspace' (!) And that's not because in those relationships I can create a self-image to hide in. Those friendships are honest and our interactions sometimes dig deep.

I started this blog at a time when I was lonely and had moved far from home, after a decade of serial disruption that had torn my life to shreds. Finding friends online was a cornerstone of rebuilding happiness, and those relationships are a treasure to me.

I always used to put a photo of myself into my blog posts, not posing as anything, just me, not to promote an image but so that we could have really met, you and me, when you read the post — if you see what I mean. Then one day, horrified by the myriad images of myself I'd created in cyberspace, I went through and deleted as many as I could find. 

But recently I started putting photos in again, because I know how much I love to see the photos of you when I read your blog posts. I like the pictures of what you've made and are reading, the countryside where you go for walks, the flowers and sunrises you rejoice in — and yes, even what you're having for supper! But I specially like to see the photos of you, and I look at them for a long time, saying hello to dear you.




An inspirational quote that came into my email inbox from a British druid circle this week:
'As I looked down, I saw a large river meandering slowly along for miles, passing from one country to another without stopping. I also saw huge forests, extending along several borders. And I watched the extent of one ocean touch the shores of separate continents. Two words leaped to mind as I looked down on all this: commonality and interdependence. We are one world.' 
              ~ John-David Bartoe 

Friday, 21 September 2018

Intriguing eBay

I often come across eBay listings that make me pause in a search and look at them with a kind of boggling wonder.

Like this outfit.



"Casual party" the accompanying legend describes it, and yes — as parties go it does look as though it would be on the casual end of the spectrum. Deconstructed to the max. 

And then there are some people in Jaipur who have chosen an unusual mannequin to display their wares. Here she is.


Goodness me!

It's always helpful to see how a kurta will look look when it's on, but even so I think there are times when simply laying it out on the floor would be advisable.

They clearly don't share my view, but prefer to press on with their mannequin.


Her face has a hurt, stoical, enduring expression that says it all.  And the kurta? That, too . . .

Well, I expect they did their best.




Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Shalom

In my collection of music, I have a playlist called "Devotion" and another one called "Devotion Main".

The first has several favourite songs for worship and for upbuilding my spirit. The second has the spiritual songs that always feed my soul, and are guaranteed to steady and encourage me, restore me to peace.

This is one of them.





After my post yesterday, reading comments about friends' health struggles, I was reminded of something I once heard Tom Cruise say on the Graham Norton show, about an injury to his ankle that happened during a risky film stunt. Oh, look, there's a little YouTube video of exactly the interview I'm talking about here.

What particularly arrested my attention was something he said right at the beginning of that clip, when Graham Norton asked him how he was, following the accident. Tom Cruise replies, "I am well. The ankle's still broken, but I am well."

Tom Cruise has been a Scientologist for some years (though I read that he may leave the organisation because of the family difficulties caused by belonging to it; don't know if that's true).  His spiritual path will condition his outlook, of course, and I wondered if that underlay his interesting comment — making a distinction between his essential intrinsic wellness persisting despite physical illness or damage.

I stored his remark away as a helpful and interesting way of looking at the challenges of ageing, illness and difficult life conditions (whether neurological, psychiatric, social, relational, financial, political, or whatever). 

"I am well. My ****** is broken, but I am well."

And it seemed to me to accord with that lovely song, It is well with my soul — "Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say it is well, it is well, with my soul."

This approach can be a bit confusing to people, of course. I've had to limit my preaching for health reasons, and stop leading retreats and taking funerals, and withdraw from a spectrum of relationships and interactions for the same reasons. I have to apply very disciplined caution in what I take on and take in, to keep functioning.  And then when people courteously ask me, "How are you?" I will always say, "I'm very well, thank you." Not merely as a conversational convention, but because even though I do have some ongoing health problems, and have to take good care of myself, still I am indeed well. If you see what I mean.

I think Tom Cruise was on the right track, there, and the song helps foster the mindset he's describing.


Nine hundred and ninety

I've been reading an excellent book, With the End in Mind: Dying, Death and Wisdom in an Age of Denial, by Kathryn Mannix. 




I wholeheartedly recommend it provided you don't mind some memorably graphic descriptions of death that are likely to linger in your memory.

In particular I love her description of natural death as progressing over years, energy declining and need for rest and sleep increasing, until sleep gives way to unconsciousness and then to death.

This put me in mind of the natural life of an oak tree, which takes 300 years to grow, then rests for 300 years, then takes 300 years to die. It occurred to me there is a correlation with human longevity here. A human who lives into old age without being overtaken by a fatal disease, might expect to live to be ninety years old. Perhaps, like the oak tree (losing a nought for the corresponding human life span) they might grow and mature for 30 years, then maintain a level of vigour for another 30 years, then begin a 30-year decline to death. So death would begin at 60, but not be completed until 90. That makes sense to me.

I have seen numerous well-managed deaths (and a handful of markedly less well-managed deaths), but the most natural deaths I've had the chance to observe have been in animals.

In particular I remember the last year of our dog Mary, who lived to a good age. On her last summer we took her camping with us as usual. I'd noticed that in recent months she seemed especially content, but keen to really savour life, stopping for every interesting smell on her walks, enjoying being out in the garden.  Granddad was a Boys Brigade officer and though all our children were girls, we used to go with the BB to their camp every year. That year I was struck by how happily Mary entered into it, more than usual, making me conclude that a dog could have a holiday as much as a human. She loved that time away in the countryside.

On our return, I and my husband and children had to go away again, this time to a big Christian conference where we would be so highly participative that it seemed unwise to take Mary along (we were again under canvas, this time on a huge site, and the events were not appropriate for her). So she stayed with my husband's parents. She and my father-in-law Norman really loved each other.

On our return home, it was instantly apparent that she should not be moved again. She had been slowing down for some time, and was now spending her time just sleeping on a blanket in the sunny warmth of the conservatory. So we didn't make her get up and get into the car, we just let her stay there through that week, dozing.

At the end of her life, Norman was with her. He bent down to stroke her, and she lifted her head to greet him, wagged her tail, and that was the end.

In my own life, now I am in my 60s, I am noticing the downturn of strength and energy. It's come quicker and more insistently than I imagined from what I've known others say. I still have the drive and commitment to see through what I really care about and believe in, but I have to husband my strength judiciously; I can no longer cope with draining relationships or high-stress situations and longer walks are tiring now. I can't multi-task any more (I used to be able to run a large household and write a novel; I don't think I could do either now — certainly not both). I can no longer eat just anything, as I once could — I quickly get significantly ill if I stray from the path of good nutrition. For instance, if I had a sandwich today and a pizza tomorrow I'd enjoy them but it would take me about three weeks to get better; and I can drink tea (I love tea) provided I don't mind the tearing gut pains that follow, along with the swollen tongue and ankles so full of fluid it's hard to walk upstairs! The old girl ain't what she used to be, but if I live and eat carefully I am really very well.

It is the beginning of dying, that may continue its leisurely pace for as much as 30 years if no specific disease process accelerates it in the meantime. It's interesting and peaceful and it doesn't trouble me. I have no fear of death, but I feel the importance of preparing well and of supporting my body systems appropriately. Complementary therapies, inner healing, herbal remedies, essential oils and naturopathic pathways have all proved valuable for the various health problems I've encountered. 

My fervent prayer is to keep my hair, teeth, continence, hearing, eyesight, mental faculties (such as they are) and self-possession to the end, to live with an absolute minimum of medical interference, and to die quietly, unexceptionally and alone when the time comes, leaving nothing untidy or distressing for anyone to find; a quick, neat, unheralded and unremarked death, in my own room. That's what I'd like. And I don't mind when it is. Ha ha, in your dreams, you may think — but actually I've known quite a few old people who lived and died that way. So I have high (and determined) hopes.

Monday, 17 September 2018

What Ted did

This cat —




— this clever, clever little cat, came into our lives as a rescue kitten. As time has gone on he has increasingly attached himself to Hebe; she, more than the rest of us is his human.

But something interesting happened when Hebe and Alice went away to their letter-cutting weekend, leaving the rest of us in charge. During those days, that coincided with the Badger moving down from his attach to the main floor of the house, Ted (this cat) formed an increased attachment to the Badger and me. He enlarged the place of his tent, as it were, to include us in.

Ever since then, he has spent a significant proportion of each day in the  Badger's new room, where he has adopted the armchair as particularly his own, and the bed as an acceptable secondary lounging area.



But that's not all.

He has also taken upon himself new secretarial duties. Now, whenever the Badger (who is a publisher) takes a phone call from an important author, Ted comes to help, rolling on the computer keyboard and kicking all the papers off the desk while the Badger is on the phone. 

This morning, the Badger came into my room looking somewhat wild-eyed to ask if my internet connection was okay (yes, it was). His was not.

He knew Ted had been standing on his keyboard — the H in particular, so that his emails began Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh . . .
but he hadn't discerned Ted's extra contribution. He'd managed not only to throw him offline but also to reconfigure the Badger's work internet settings and change his identity, so that the Badger was now locked out of his email. This brought an eerie respite from the usual influx of communication. The Badger eventually began to suspect the cause of the problem, and reconnection opened the floodgates to fifty plus new emails.

But what a clever, clever little cat, don't you think?



Flow

In our household we have a lot of breakfast-time conversations about health and Spirit.

The old Celtic people of the British Isles (like the Hebrew people) believed a day started at sundown — so the night and its dreams are seen as part of the preparation for the day to come, processing the experiences of the day past into useful material for what lies ahead. A bit like composting the scraps of past meal preparation into good fodder for growing future food. 

It certainly works like that for us. We wake up full of ideas to take us on to the next stage in our life pilgrimage, and breakfast time is when they get shared and discussed.

So it came about that this morning our Hebe made the point that the essential criterion of health is flow. Ping! That was like a lightbulb moment for me, connecting a variety of disparate things I've often considered in the past. She is so right! Flow is what characterises health in any system you care to consider — human physiology, human psychology, spirituality, ecology, finance, politics — any system.

One of my favourite sayings of all time, from Toinette Lippe's wonderful book Nothing Left Over, is "Problems arise where things accumulate." True without exception. As, according to Jesus, God said to the man who hoarded up more and more stuff into bigger and bigger barns: "Thou fool."

The heath of the human body is utterly dependent on flow — the vascular system, the lymph system, the endocrine system, the lumen of the gut, the excretory function of the kidneys and bladder, the exchange of nutrients and waste across spaces between vessels and tissues — all of it, all of it.

Earlier this year a previously undetected organ of the body was discovered — the interstitium. Again, vitally, its role is the promotion and maintenance of flow. 

When flow is blocked, health breaks down.

But you can see this in society too: our modern society is grievously labouring under the ambition of the wealthy to dam resources, hoping to control, acquire and divert into their own lives the good things of the earth. It doesn't work like that, though. As the Buddhists say, all people are selfish but there is foolish or wise selfishness. Foolish selfish people try to grab and keep good things for themselves alone: under this system society breaks down, and they find they have sawn off the branch they were sitting on. Wise selfish people know that by sharing and distributing the good things of life, the society that supports them is maintained and strengthened. Flow enhances life.

It's the same with currency. In our family, we say that you have to create a vacuum for prosperity to flow into! So even though our income is apparently low, we don't worry about scrimping and saving because we know the universe holds more than enough for our needs.

Life flows. That's why minimalism is so potent — you let stuff flow out liberally, let it go. Don't worry about inflow, there's always plenty of that — oh my goodness, is there not!!

In our homes, health is dependent on flow. It's important to open the curtains, open the windows, to let the sunlight and air in, preventing stagnation. It promotes wellbeing and harmony to limit, organise and arrange furniture and other possessions to allow easy handling, let you find things, let the family move comfortably around each other in the space: that's what the roots of feng shui actually are.

And in relationships, flow is essential: give and take, breathing space and connection, blessing toxic people on their way, letting things develop but also letting them leave.

This is why trees are so holy and wonderful — they manage flow and so promote health. They manage the movement of water through the landscape, protecting against both drought and flood. They manage the flow of water between the air and the earth, keeping us cool on the hottest day.

And flow is of the essence of spiritual work, as the Holy Spirit like a fountain wells up within us to eternal life.


Tuesday, 11 September 2018

East Sussex friends — for this Sunday — service of healing


Hello friends

Just letting those of you know who read here and are close by, this coming Sunday (16th September) we have a service of healing at Pett Chapel.

We'll be thinking about what kinds of things we might need healing from, what are the channels of healing in our lives, and some basic New Testament principles of healing ministry. We'll be praying and singing and looking into the scriptures, and then laying on hands for healing if anyone there would welcome that.

If you're in the area and would like to join us, we'll be delighted to see you. This week our regular musician has other commitments so Buzzfloyd will be accompanying our singing on keyboard or guitar — whichever she feels is right for the song.

Friday, 7 September 2018

For East Sussex friends


Commodities

I knew a woman who used to dress according to the preference of other people (her long deceased parents, I believe).

"Because they," (the others), she would say with a certain flourish of triumph, "have to look at me!"

Oh, yes. So they do.

If someone else wore clothing she identified as not in accord with the preferences of those other dead people she always sought to please when she got dressed, she had no hesitation in denigrating their appearance with the most withering disapproval.

I suspect that woman is not in a minority. I was brought up singing the same tune. Until I earned my own money, my mother chose my clothes — according to her preference, not mine. Once, when I was away from home, my mother and sister raided my wardrobe and sent some of my clothes to a jumble sale, because they didn't like them (and couldn't discern any problem with that course of action).

I have been know to arrange my entire wardrobe in a vain effort to win my mother's approval of my appearance. I invariably modified what I planned to wear when I visited her. 

This never produced the results I hoped for. 

As I entered the room and took a seat, she'd cast a glance in my direction. "That's very gloomy," she'd say. Or, "That's very bright."

Visiting my home, she'd say to her friend, "That looks very severe, doesn't it!" And the friend would loyally acquiesce. The two of them would stand back, looking me up and down, expressing their dislike of my clothes.

My father never stood a chance. I've seen him bring a shirt he liked across a store to show my mother. One quick glance: "No, Steve. That's very loud." And without a murmur he returned it to the rail.

I caught myself out in the same kind of mental process twice recently.

The first time was when I wrote a post here about necklines in clothing for the older woman — expressing my views on what does and doesn't look good. I published it, then thought: "Wait a minute! What business of mine is it what people choose to wear? Am I the arbiter of their taste? Mind your own business, for heaven's sake!" So I deleted the post.

The second time was when I sat idly looking out of the window onto the street as a neighbour in a wheelchair was being helped from a car after a trip out. The person helping him was a young woman. I wondered if she was a carer, or a friend, or a member of his family, or his partner. She was wearing snug-fitting blue denim jeans and a leather jacket. As I watched her, I noticed myself thinking how much more positively I'd respond to her appearance if she wore Amish dress. I realised that I'd actually reassess her character if she dressed differently. Not that I wear Amish dress, and not that she was dressed inappropriately or immodestly; it's just that I knew I would want to believe she was a really nice woman if she wore a long frock and a head covering! 

Why? There are nice Plain people and not-nice ones, just like everyone else. The only indication of character is how people treat other beings, how responsibly and gently they live in this world; not whether they wear jeans or voluminous skirts! And I know that. But even so, I wistfully long for a world that reflects my sartorial preferences.

This, I think, is a learned tendency to commodify other people; to think they are in the world to live up to my expectations, rather than to express the person they truly are.

It's a dangerous tendency. You see it at its worst in rape culture — the assumption that other people are commodities for a man to use or reject, that a woman dressed a certain way is there to be selected and taken, while the man is free to revile others dressed differently, and mock or ignore or reject them. 

I suppose at its root it's also partly biological — a herd pattern of display behaviour or something.

Perhaps the saddest part of it is that we miss so much if we are taken in by this kind of thinking. How a person dresses should be like their own melody, their own story, their own real-life painting. It should intrigue us and interest us because we learn about them from it. Assessing the clothes of other people according to whether they meet our own standards and tastes makes for a lonely life, because all we look for is an echo and reflection of what we already know and are and believe. An ever-narrowing horizon, boring and repressive.

Nowadays I wear what I like because if I don't I'll have lost the chance to do so for ever. It has been known for the senior steward of a church I pastored to show up at my home and complain that the congregation disliked the way I dress, the way I preach and the way I lead Bible study. I worried about it for a long time — long after I moved on from being their minister. I wondered what it was they objected to; I'd thought my clothes were okay (and the other things). When I went to their church to lead worship, I felt so stressed I had trouble breathing. I take a different approach now. I just don't preach there. I don't want to upset anybody or displease anyone; but I do want to wear the clothes I like. I keep one outfit that I regard as Very Normal, for emergencies like visiting my mother. The rest of the time, like Frank Sinatra, I do it my way.

And I must remember that everyone else in the world has the right to do the same. Even if they want to walk down the road stark naked. Because it isn't true, is it, that I have to look at them? And even if it is, so what?




Thursday, 6 September 2018

Shocks

I learned so much from my friend Margery, an accomplished artist with, I suspect, undiagnosed Aspergers, and a lifetime's experience of Christian healing ministry. My prayer partner, she died more than a decade ago but still comes so often to mind as the wisdom she shared with me continues to speak with relevance into everyday circumstances.

Something she often used to say to me, when I arrived at her apartment and she brewed up a big dark brown pot of Lapsang Souchong tea, was how many shocks she'd had that week. She was always very precise about this, identifying and enumerating the shocks.

At the time, when she was in her 70s and I in my late 30s, I privately found these observations somewhat amusing. Margery and her shocks. They could be quite small things — some bad news about a relative, an unwelcome change at church, a financial setback — but they affected her adversely and she used to make them a focus for healing prayer.

Now, in my 60s, I understand better the significance of shocks; even small ones — the hurtful email, the colleague who lets you down, the loss of something familiar.

I have become aware that these shocks accrue into an aggregate of grief — a sort of ganglion of effects — that take up residence in my spirit. They develop into a cumulative grief that can be debilitating over time. They don't dissipate; they accumulate. And as Toinette Lippe pointed out in her wonderful book Nothing Left Over, "problems arise where things accumulate". Shocks leave a residue of lumpy scar tissue occluding the flow of peace.

Here's an example. Over time (not all at once) I've experienced in my life some deep hurts, disappointments, humiliations and discouragements. I can't go into specifics because they arise from the interface between my life and other people's, so telling my story involves betraying theirs. But in my church we have some souls of beautiful encouragement — people of real deep-rooted kindness and understanding. There's one couple who consistently (more than they are aware, I think) encourage me; and in so doing they are gradually salving and healing some of the hurts of the past. They say to me some of the kind and affirming things I longed for others to say, who never did. Then recently, the wife of that couple had an accident — just something at home, not huge or life-threatening, but bad enough to need an ambulance. And when I heard what had happened, it gave me such a shock. It reminded me forcibly that all of us are vulnerable, that something can happen to anyone at any time — and suddenly they are gone or impaired, lost to you. If my first thought was concern for her well-being, my close second thought was for my own, I confess. The thought of managing without this friend (even though she wasn't dreadfully ill or anything) made such an impact on me, and shot me into a state of grief that actually belonged to previous hurts that she was gently healing. That's the kind of thing I mean; where a little incident evidently is all tangled up with an accumulation of previous experience. Like the person who stoically soldiers on through the death of a child, a parent, a husband, a friend — then is completely undone by the death of a TV personality or of a bird who flew into a closed window.

I've found a few ways of addressing this matter of shocks; and you may know of more.


  1. Brought up to make light of adversity, my instinct is to ignore and dismiss the impact of shocks, but I've found this is unwise. Even though my shocks may be small fry compared with those experienced by people forced to live in refugee camps or theatres of war, I am learning to bring each one to God and ask his help with them. He is generous with his help, but waits to be asked. Jesus used to say to people in need of healing, "What would you like me to do for you?" So I say to him now, "I feel so shocked by this [minor event]. Please will you help me with it?"
  2. Living simply is very helpful. A minimalist life, by virtue of not having much in it (things, relationships, commitments, events) allow one to perceive and identify shocks as they happen. In a cluttered life one can be quite broadsided and fail to notice, because there's so much going on — like those bruises sustained in the hectic business of moving furniture, that you don't even notice until you get in the bath the next day. If you live simply, you can attend to the shocks when they are small, before they get the chance to clump. Once they accumulate, they can form a quite potent nexus of pain, which adversely affects future interactions in all one's relationships. One becomes touchy.
  3. Rest after a shock is helpful. A warm drink, a comforting place to sit, a cheerful book or television programme — I mean like a cookery show or something, not a nail-biting violent thriller.
Recovering from a shock, in a snuggly shawl.



Dear Margery. She knew what she was talking about; more than I understood at the time. I guess these things loom larger as one gets older.



Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Yorkshire Pudding

Stanley Holloway's monologue about Yorkshire Pudding.



Just because it always make me smile.



Circle of light



In the comment thread developing from the previous post — about winter woolies — Lynda and I were each speaking from the seasons on opposite sides of the planet. Pause to think what amazing friendship opportunities the internet has given us — such blessing!

Over there in Australia she is in early spring, still chilly. Here in England we are leaving summer behind and coming into autumn — beginning to get chilly. The earth turning, orbiting, circling in the seasons of the light.

The old religion of these isles was rooted in agricultural rhythms. As the Tao expresses it,
Man follows Earth.
Earth follows Heaven.
Heaven follows the Tao.
The Tao follows what is natural.

So the rhythms of Earth and the seasons teach us wisdom and allow us to glimpse eternal truth.

Here in the islands where this sequence of festivals was shaped, we're in harvest time.

Harvest begins at Lammas, with the barley harvest, when the sickle is first put in, at the beginning of August — the cross-quarter day, half-way between the summer solstice and the autumn equinox.

The harvest concludes at Michaelmas, at the end of September, with the feast of St Michael and all angels, when all is safely gathered in.

There's an exterior agricultural rhythm to this, but also an inner wisdom rhythm.

Look — here are the archetypes of the light cycle:



 The colours show you the seasons of the light. On the left there is the pregnant woman, who sits at the season of Easter (from Oestre — think 'oeuf', the French for egg, and the word oestrogen), when Christ's new life was incubated in the tomb and emerged into the dawn as salvation. Easter sits (more or less) at the spring equinox; that's why the figurine of the pregnant woman is grey, half light half dark.

At the front sits the figure of John the Baptist, whose feast is set at the xenith of the light, in high summer, near the solstice. The Celtic Christian monks who set these feasts placed them adjacent to the old religion's existing feasts, to show the connections, rather than antagonising anybody by challenging and ousting them. They were wise missionaries, respectful.

The figurine of John the Baptist is white, to show his feast is when the light is brightest and strongest. But you'll see his gaze is towards the little dark babe.  John the Baptist is the herald who points towards the coming Christ. He stands at the xenith of the year directing our gaze towards the infant light, the birth of truth.

Then comes the figure of St Michael. St John had a staff and the archangel Michael carried a sword in this set of figurines, but sadly both they and the replacements got broken, so you'll just have to imagine them. 

St Michael stands at the equinox, as the light and darkness balance (expressed in the colouration of the figurine), and he is there to call us urgently to get ready, for dark days are coming.

Then comes the little dark baby, the infant light born into the days when darkness is deepest, the world is cold and the nights are long, and hope, life, seem to be gone. This is Christmas, the feast of the Incarnation, the arrival of hope into our darkest hour, at the winter solstice. So the coming of the Christchild brings the dawn of life-giving light, and inaugurates the dawn of new hope.

We were thinking about this in our household this morning, because we were getting ready for the coming winter.

We've filled up our wood store, out beyond the potato patch there:



And we have a stash in the house here, under the Celtic cross that echoes the old glyph of the sacred Earth, and reminds us of the cross that stands while the world turns.



As we were bringing the wood in, one of us reflected that only this last fortnight we've been thinking about preparing for old age, the late autumn and winter of our lives and the going down into the earth.

Some of us who live here are middle-aged and some are growing old, and we've been discussing what we can put in place for the years that are coming, getting our house as well in order as it is within our power to do. The Badger and me moving down to an easier location, to make use of these "good old days" before age comes to claim our strength. In his new room he will build a wardrobe and bookshelves, both very strong and physical tasks, because this is the time to do it — while he is still fit and strong.



We've also talked about how we will make financial provision for our old age — for both the older ones and the middle-aged ones, because there are no children in this household. 

So we are in the period of our lives that we might see as the season between Lammas (cross-quarter midway between the summer solstice and the autumn equinox) and Michaelmas (the equinox by which time all must be safely gathered in). It's no good starting to harvest at Michaelmas. St Michael looks down the days of winter cold. By his feast, the barns must be stocked. And my children are at Lammas, and my husband and I are at Michaelmas, and these spiritual festivals are our gracious reminder to get ready, both in body and in soul.

Later comes Martinmas and Advent, and now I'm on a roll and want to write all about that but I'd better stop or I'll be sending you off to sleep! Because they too (as all the feasts do) hold wise instruction for how to conduct our lives. They knew a thing or two, those Celtic monks of olden days!

Blessed be you, in this season of preparation that reminds you body and soul, to get ready.