Sunday, 11 April 2021

Ichi go ichi e — The Campfire Church ministry of the word for today.

[Our reading was Luke, Chapter 24, verses 13-36]

There’s a Japanese phrase, ichi-go ichi-e, which means something like “one encounter, one chance”. It encapsulates a concept similar to the New Testament Greek word “kairos” — which you’ll recall means both time and action, something like an actor’s cue. The other Greek word for time, “chronos”, is the one-darned-thing-after-another time, the regular round of events. The kairos is the moment that stands out as a fleeting opportunity.

It’s a bit like that thing Shakespeare said in Julius Caesar:

“There is a tide in the affairs of men,

Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;

Omitted, all the voyage of their life

Is bound in shallows and in miseries.

On such a full sea are we now afloat,

And we must take the current when it serves,

Or lose our ventures.”

Ichi-go ichi-e — one encounter, one chance. What comes to meet us is there only fleetingly. If we are not present to the moment, the opportunity will pass by, for this here and now will never come again. Of course, sometimes that can be a relief — “this too shall pass” — but it’s as well to be in a position to make the choice whether to carpe diem or be heartily glad to see the sun go down on it.

In connection with this, I find it interesting that the resurrection narratives recorded in the gospels are all full of groups of people chatting, with time to spare. The disciples are out fishing, or mending their nets, or meeting together to break bread and pray, or just hanging out together wondering what to do next, or (as in the case of this morning’s reading) walking along the road to Emmaus discussing recent events and trying to make sense of it all.

 As the Christian church and Western culture have developed, the cult of busy has picked up speed. “Never be idle,” said John Wesley. “Fill the unforgiving minute with 60 seconds’ worth of distance run,” said Kipling.

The lovely Jimmy Carter, who is a man of faith and surely an example of service to us all, said, “I have one life and one chance to make it count for something . . . My faith demands that I do whatever I can, wherever I am, for as long as I can, with whatever I have, to try to make a difference.”

And while my soul salutes him, I find myself wanting to say, “Yes. But . . .”

One of the best ministers of religion I ever met in my entire life was the Reverend Derek Brice — and he had a reputation for being lazy. This was entirely undeserved and arose from people addicted to busyness not knowing what they were looking at. Because Derek was *available*, not lazy.

He had the wisdom to make sure he left enough space in his life to help, to visit, to be around to answer the phone when it rang.

I remember Derek reminiscing about an occasion early in his ministry when he’d been doing his pastoral visits, and went to the house of a man with young children whose wife was ill in hospital. The man was trying to juggle kiddies’ bath-time with preparing supper, not forgetting to do the laundry, put the hoover round, visit his wife in hospital and hold down his regular job. When Derek pitched up, this guy looked tired and harassed. So while the man told his children a bedtime story, Derek did the washing up. 

When my previous husband Bernard was terminally ill in hospital, it was Derek who came and found us and Derek who contacted the Superintendent Minister and Chair of District to tell them I should be given compassionate leave because I was worn out.

And when, for All Saints Day, I wanted to talk to the congregation at Three Oaks about the life stories of those of their number who had died, it was Derek I phoned — and yes, he could tell me all about all of their lives immediately.

Derek wasn’t lazy, not one bit. He left space in his life to hold and treasure each one-encounter-one-chance as it flowed by in the river of days.

He was like Jesus. As Martin Baddeley said — Martin was the principal of the ordination course on which I studied — with reference to the time Jesus healed the daughter of the woman who followed him, calling out for mercy,

“Jesus walked and he stopped — what is the speed of love?”

This beautiful availability which is the heart of ministry and the soul of reflection, the well-spring of inspiration, comes from another thing the Japanese have coined a word for — they call it “Ma”. 

“Ma” is the space around things that allows them to be appreciated, that makes them beautiful and harmonious, that allows their characteristics to emerge in our surroundings and be seen. Without “Ma” all you get is a jumble of stuff. And it’s the same with the moments that make up our time. 

The path of a disciple includes learning to take responsibility for so ordering our days that we have the necessary space to listen, to consider, to see, to respond, to reflect.

That implies resisting the cult of busyness, *not* filling the unforgiving minute with 60 seconds’ worth of distance run, *not* being never idle, leaving a margin of possibility in our days.

I expect you are familiar with the word “saunter” and you probably know that it derives originally from “saint-terre”, which is French for “holy ground”. The word grew up in the Middle Ages from the spiritual practice of making pilgrimage. 

Pilgrims walk slowly. They are reflecting and praying, they are deepening their faith. They aren’t just in a hurry to get this done and tick this box. A pilgrimage isn’t a chore or an achievement. Pilgrims saunter along the holy path of life. They take their time. They step out of all the hustle and bustle, the rush and tear.

Jesus walked, and he stopped. What is the speed of love?

And I put it to you that, just as the people of Israel spent 40 years traversing a distance they could have covered in half a day in a bus, so none of this that we heard about in our gospel reading this morning would have happened if those two disciples had gone to Emmaus in a car. They’d have whizzed straight past Jesus and left him in a cloud of dust.

When I was a Circuit minister in the Methodist Church, I came to the realisation that if I went everywhere in a car I would never encounter anything new. I went in my hermetically sealed bubble from my own manse to one church meeting after another, speeding past all the ichi-go ichi-e on the way without even knowing it was there.

So I started travelling through the world by bus and by bicycle, and I got into so many unexpected conversations sitting at the bus stop wearing a dog collar.

Just as the natural world relies on us urban folk leaving a wildlife corridor, some verges and hedges and places where weeds can grow, so our spiritual eco-system flourishes if we leave margins for the unexpected, for life and encounter.

Jesus joined them as they sauntered along the road to Emmaus, and when they got to the place they were staying they invited him in for supper. Only when he broke the bread as they sat down together did they recognise him.

Ichi-go ichi-e. I bet they were glad they didn’t miss that.

730 things — Day 31 of 365

 Today's two things sort of belong together.

I gave away on Freegle this very nice skirt.

It was a good length for me (30 inches), coming to about mid-calf, so at the time I got it I also found some natural colour tights to go with it.

My legs are a bit wrecked, not features of beauty, really, so when I wore tights they'd almost invariably be black. But in a bold and confident moment I got those natural colour ones to go with that skirt. As I never wore either of them, ever, they can both go.

I got them, like most of my clothes, second-hand on eBay. As not only my mind but also my body changes a lot, it's advisable to keep down the expense, besides which I like to think the money I do spend goes into the informal economy of people working casually and from home. I'd rather that than support factories with lines and lines of tired people working all day at machines. And it reduces waste if we have just one thing, and keep sending it down the line, looking after it carefully so it stays in nice condition, passing it from stranger to stranger through the arcane medium of internet marketplaces. That way a whole string of people get to make a modest living but mass production is slowed down which does the Earth a favour.

My goal (one of my goals, anyway) is to reach a place of contentment and self-acceptance in my mind and health in my body, such that I stop restlessly seeking something that will work, and am just happy with my clothes and feel comfortable in them. For now (I say this from bitter experience) I have reached that position. I'm much helped in this by two things; my mother, who never held back in commenting on my appearance, has gone to glory (may she rest in peace), so I no longer dress to try and please her, and I no longer have any role to play that involves people looking at me. For several decades I've done a lot of public speaking and preaching and officiating at funerals, but that's now come to an end.  So these days, my appearance attracts neither expectation nor comment; I can wear what I like.

There's another thing, too. Clothing is a social signal, a badge of the tribe you belong to. I know that when I see a way of being in the world I find attractive, I feel drawn to align my appearance with it. 

There's a kind of traditional Englishwoman, best exemplified by Miss Marple, that resonates with my soul. I've passed through phases of identifying with Miss Marple and aligning my wardrobe with hers. 

I love the aesthetic of Amish life — the quietness and simplicity, the stillness and rustic plain. The Amish remind me of the paintings of Vermeer. Some years back I aligned my wardrobe with Plain dress, because I found it so peaceful and beautiful. I still do; I think it's lovely. But I get on better with stretchy clothes than woven cotton, I don't like ironing (nowadays I iron only handkerchiefs), and I am uneasy with the authoritarian aspect of Amish ideology — the shunning and the gender roles and so on. It's not me.

I love the aesthetic of India, in some respects. Gandhi in his ashram, ahimsa, Ravi Shankar playing ragas to the dawn, cows wandering in the streets, the Gayatri mantra, Vandana Shiva, the Golden Temple at Amritsar and the Sikhs of the Punjab. Hook line and sinker I fell in love with India, when I first read Herman Hesse's Siddhartha at the age of seventeen. For a while, before the Plain dress, I aligned my wardrobe with India, and wore saris every day. 

The saris and the Plain dress drew endless stares and comment of course, and I didn't like that. But I was taken aback to discover how warmly actual Indian and Pakistani people responded to a Western woman wearing Indian dress. Very humbling, and sad in a way. I remember a man with tears in his eyes at a Northumbria community (I think it was them) gathering I went to, wanting to thank me because I was wearing a sari from Puna, where his family were rooted. 

I did love the saris. I was surprised that they were warm enough with a shawl added, even in winter. They packed down small and neat so I only needed one underbed drawer to store all my clothes. I think, of all the things I've worn, the saris are the best.

I've had phases of aligning my appearance with the Bront√ęs of Haworth. My family is (very) Yorkshire, and that's the place in the world that feels like home to me. I like the full skirts and the dark, small prints of Victorian workaday dress — in greys and browns and dark blue.

Sometimes — here's an example —

— I think I've been channeling troll or forest dweller or something.

And I've often wanted to align my clothing with monastic ways of dressing, so serviceable and humble and quiet and plain.

I've been a lot of things, in the explorations and rambling of my imagination. I don't, looking back, see it all as pointless or silly or wasteful. What we wear both expresses and deepens our ideology, and it's been part of my spiritual odyssey I think. It also came from the same place inside me as the part of myself that wrote stories and kept companionship with people who were dying.

But at this present stage of my life, my endeavour is to go down to a small, flexible kit of belongings that will transpose to any setting I might be in, and clothing that is as comfortable as possible and doesn't add a challenge of its own to my state of being.

From time to time I like to post again this beautiful chant that Hebe wrote fifteen years ago:

Seeing yourself – a chant on perception

When you see your face in the mirror,
Don’t be dissatisfied with what you see.
For your face is only one part of you.
There are parts of you that you cannot see.
There are parts of you that you will never know;
You cannot know how beautiful you are to others.

There is also a part of you
That others can never know;
The part of you that is only for you to see,
And it is beautiful in its mystery.

I believe there is a God,
And he knows all of you and me.
He knows the things that I cannot know – 
The parts that only you can see.

But he also knows what I know,
And the parts you can never see,
God can see the whole of us – 
Even that which is a mystery.

When you look at your face and your body,
Don’t be dissatisfied with what you see; 
For beauty is not only in that which is visible,
But also in parts that are not seen.

And do not think that any part of you is ugly,
Even the inside part of you:
For part of the beauty that is you
Is when every part of you is together.

A body is far more beautiful alive than when it is dead;
But, when all is said and done,
We cannot know how beautiful we are
’Til we see what God sees.

And do not be afraid when you are changing –
Your face or the inside of you; 
For that’s what it is to be alive.

If you ever feel misunderstood,
Ugly, or even invisible,
Know that, because I have seen you and known a part of you,
There is a part of you that is a part of me.

Can you see that we are a part of each other, then?
So what you see in the mirror is not all of you:
Don’t be trapped by feelings of inadequacy;
Let it be a mystery, and let it set you free.

So do not be unhappy with your body – 
Love it, for it is part of your wholeness;
And if you cannot do that,
Love it because it is part of mine.

(Words of chant © Hebe Wilcock 2006)

Saturday, 10 April 2021

730 things — Day 30 of 365

 I don't know about you, but I find it very hard to determine at what point something should really be thrown away.

Today I am disposing of this bundle of three pairs of tights.

I do still have a skirt, so I have kept one pair of tights for those rare formal occasions when a skirt is called for. Mostly I have transitioned to trousers because they fold up and don't need ironing and don't need hangers — but mostly because they don't need tights which these days hurt my feet. 

But I hesitated a long time about disposing of these pairs of tights I no longer wear. Tights that have been worn are not welcome in charity shops, and these ones wouldn't be even if they were in general. They didn't have holes but they are badly pilled and fairly ancient. They did look very well worn indeed. 

When my clothes develop holes I usually darn or patch them, and I don't mind wearing shabby and mended old clothes at all — I rather like the wabi-sari character they develop. But it's not easy to know at what point exactly to call time on them and finally lay them to rest. I might have gone on owning these pairs of tights for several years more if my health changes hadn't begun to make them painful and prompted me to swap from skirts to trousers.

I find it all too easy to tuck away things I have stopped using and don't really want any more, into the odd corners of the shelves where I keep my clothes or the boxes where I keep my scarves and hats and gloves, and my spare set of bedding. I think, "I'll just put that here and decide about it later." And I do, but probably five years later, by which time I'd forgotten this thing I never use even existed, and I discover it again as a complete surprise.

Sorting though everything, with a view to finding two things a day to move on, has been a very good way of dislodging these limpets of belonging that cling with such close determination to the rock of my life.

Friday, 9 April 2021

730 things — Day 29 of 365

 The things I'm moving on today are part of my personal history. They've been sitting for a long time in the big box where I keep my files.

Back in the early 1990s I did quite a bit of work on inclusive liturgy, at a time when I was preaching and teaching a fair bit on the topic of "everybody's church".

At this time we kept open house, with all sorts of people living with us on a semi-permanent basis, or dropping in as they passed by, or staying a couple of nights. I was training for ordained ministry and working every day at the hospice, and we were every week at the prison fellowship, inmates calling in to see us when they were released or had their weekends out prior to release. AIDS became very high profile at that time, and (initially via the hospice) my circle of friends expanded to add in a number of gay men, who taught me so much about  inclusion and creating intentional family. In the midst of it all, our church pastor retired early, traumatised by the raging row that erupted over discussions concerning the inclusion (or exclusion) of Christians with a homosexual orientation within the church family. I rather unexpectedly stepped into the pastorate as there was no-one else to fill the gap at very short notice, and we next began to work on what inclusion would look like for the physically and cognitively disabled people attending our chapel. It took six months of preaching and persuading, but eventually we won through to a place where even those who could not speak were welcomed into membership, with their key workers to advocate for them.

During those days I created an inclusive eucharistic liturgy called "Supper With Jesus", originally held with friends round our supper table at home. It was so crafted that everyone present had a part to play, even the youngest child who could not yet read.

In the twenty years that have passed since then, "Supper With Jesus" had several outings to conferences and regular Sunday Methodist worship, and one last moment in the sun for a eucharist with The Campfire Church online during this Covid year. And now I think it's done.

I'll keep the electronic files in case we ever need to play that song one more time, Sam — but I think the booklets I made for it can go in the fire now.

In similar wise, I had a bundle of biros always ready to hand because I used to conduct retreats and teach workshops and lead theology groups and house groups — occasions where people would be writing down their thoughts to share. And now those days are gone the bundle of pens was just lying forgotten at the bottom of the box, so I cleared them out.

Remembrances of times past, eh? It was worthwhile, and it was so much fun, and I'm glad I did those things, and I hope it made a difference somewhere along the way.

Thursday, 8 April 2021

730 things — Day 28 of 365

 The things I'm moving on today have nothing to do with each other, except that I have kept both of them for a long time thinking "But surely I must want this" — for a different reason in each case.

The first is an anthology of poetry about animals, compiled by Leila Berg.

I have the most immense respect for Leila Berg's writing and perspective on life. She was one of the teachers at Summerhill, the school run in the 1960s by A.S.Neill, whose philosophy of education — along with John Holt's (who wrote How Children Learn, How Children Fail and Teach Your Own) — massively influenced the way I brought up my own children. 

In my own childhood I had a book of her Little Pete stories, which are just excellent, and I think most highly of her writing. 

So I pounced eagerly on this anthology when I saw it secondhand on Amazon. 

What I hadn't taken into account is that poetry about animals usually makes me feel deeply sad; so much of it is inevitably about suffering, and human mistreatment of other species. 

Like most people, I haven't found the last year easy, and I am tired and a bit low and not all that well. At the present time I seek out, with great determination, reading matter that will cheer me and strengthen me, something uplifting or at least entertaining — and this anthology turned out to be not that. I suppose I could put it by for another time, but I've already been doing so for several months; I think I can let this one go.

The second thing on its way today is a duvet — large, warm, still in the bag in which I bought it (again, many months ago). It was from an eBay shop that sells slight seconds of high quality bedding at knock-down prices.

At the beginning of the pandemic, I became anxious over the possibility of family members falling ill. I worried in case my daughter Grace and her husband caught the virus and an emergency might arise where their children needed to stay with us. Thankfully their family has been super-vigilant and cautious in their health precautions, and continue to be so as infection rates drop and their turn for vaccination is on the horizon (one of them has had the first jab so far). But I'd bought some extra bedding, and indeed an extra futon bed, just in case.

Happily it has not been required, and we already have as much bedding as we need for our usual occasional family members passing through, so this duvet has been welcomed into another home, via Freegle.

Wednesday, 7 April 2021

730 things — Day 27 of 365

There's a category of Thing that it may be helpful to look at – things you love, but whose departure would nevertheless be helpful.

Beloved Marie Kondo, who has revolutionised the homes and daily lives of more people than she will ever meet or know, gave us a most valuable key to whether we should keep something: does it spark joy? It's so important to her approach that she wrote a whole book about it (ignore the reviewers who say it adds nothing to her first book; it does, and it's worth reading).

She said (you probably know this) to take the time to go through all of your possessions, taking each one singly and separately into your hands, asking your interior self the crucial question, "Does this spark joy?" If it doesn't, you thank it for all it has taught you and done for you, bless it on its way to new service, and out it goes; if it does spark joy, you keep it. What a brilliant system, and one that has changed many lives, helping countless people get back in touch with the soul of their homes and belongings.

I venture to suggest that there are specific occasions when this doesn't go far enough. Three, that I can think of.

The first is if you are one of those people who lives in a small house shared with others (your family probably) who are all happily accumulating possessions (as you are yourself) and all of them spark joy for all the people but now the house is too full. The things spark joy but the living environment does not. If this is you then there's a mythical animal designated as your patron saint; the dragon. Its lair is filled with a huge sliding mound of treasure — and it knows and loves and jealously guards every single one of its things, because all of them spark joy for a dragon. That's okay as far as it goes but I put it to you that quality of life rises sharply if one chips away at the situation.

The second occasion when sparking joy doesn't go all the way is when you have a specific goal in mind. Perhaps you are redecorating your home, or maybe you want to create a capsule wardrobe in which all the garments go with each other so choosing what bottoms to wear with which top and accessories becomes easy. For such a capsule wardrobe you'd likely want to reduce or eliminate patterned garments and select a particular range of neutrals and accent colours. You might have quite a pile of garments that spark joy but would make attaining your objective impossible. So you either have to abandon your plan or bless on their way some clothes that most certainly spark joy. Maybe, even, you don't enjoy housework and are sick of dusting and long for a space where a quick swoosh round will do the job. So you might choose to digitise your photos standing all around in frames, even though their physical presence sparks joy. You might send some of your ornamental additions to Freegle or Goodwill so they can spark joy somewhere else. That kind of thing. Streamlining.

And the third scenario is if you are aiming for minimalism, a word that has as many definitions as it has practitioners, it seems. Personally I think minimalism is all in the word itself — as little as possible, it means. To me, the practice of minimalism is owning as little as you reasonably and practically can. Obviously this looks different for different people. For instance, I can conceive of a minimalist family of a mother with three children, all of whom have toast for breakfast; so their form of minimalism might have few gadgets but a toaster could be one. In my house we eat any form of bread but rarely, so the toaster was Freegled long ago. 

At this stage of my life (I am growing old and find my growing collection of health issues increasingly harder to shift) I am also thinking about the idea of death-cleaning that came to us from Sweden. It's the concept of cleaning down the decks now, while you still can, so that when you reach the end your family will be left with only a modest collection of stuff in good order, to sort out and disperse.

I am also greatly attracted by the life and philosophy of this man. This was a re-visit to his life. Kirsten Dirksen (do you know her Youtube channel? Wonderful) made a video about him before. I find both videos very inspiring.

My father travelled the world, and he kept all his clothes ready to go in plastic bags. He owned very little, and he was always leaving. Perhaps it was from him that I inherited a component to my nature that feels the need to be ready, at any moment with no warning, to leave. In any situation in life, of this I am sure — I want whether I stay or whether I go to be determined by other considerations than the stuff I own. And if I stay, I find owning very few possessions has always contributed helpfully to the overall wellbeing of the household. Put simply, someone has to live in the little box room, right? Why should it be someone else? And of course many times my situation had the inbuilt assumption I'd be sharing a room with another person, thus halving the available space at a stroke. Sometimes I haven't had any kind of room to call "my own" or "our own". Master bedroom? Noooo. We slept (comfortably and happily) on the living room floor or on boards on the attic joists. No problem. 

So, with one thing and another, life made the possibilities offered by minimalism very apparent to me.

All this means that asking "Does this spark joy?", while being an excellent and apposite question, may not take you all the way — if you are a dragon, if you have a specific objective, or if you are going for minimalism. In any of those three scenarios, some of what sparks joy will have to go.

Today I want to show you two items I had that sparked joy, which was why I had them.

One was this yellow t-shirt.

The other was this Wedgewood teacup.

I gave the yellow t-shirt to someone for whom all things yellow spark joy. The teacup is waiting for the charity shops to re-open.

Absolutely they sparked joy. I loved them. But the colours I dress in have changed (I might tell you a bit about that at some point) and to be honest I drink out of mugs. So away they go.

Tuesday, 6 April 2021

Being Different and Not Caring | Youheum on Heal Your Living (on YouTube)

730 things — Day 26 of 365

 For me, as for most people I guess, among the top benefits of moving things out of my life is the physical space reclaimed in my living accommodation.

There's a Japanese word (isn't there always!), "Ma", meaning the space between or around things that allows us to appreciate them. I've written about it before here. That's what I get back when my stash of belongings subsides and my room can breathe again.

As my personal living space is 6'6" by 9', I have to be judicious in my choices of what to put in it and when to stop.

As the tides of time deposit a certain amount of flotsam and jetsam on the shores of my life, I acquire storage solution which themselves occupy space, never mind how shrewdly selected they may be.

So today I am sending on their way this set of shelves —

— and this one, too.

As my heap of things has reduced, I have no more need of the storage. The result is that I can move more freely in my room, which in turn makes me more inclined to make my bed and to put things away in the right place, and to get less irritable about the process of getting to the thing I next need to use. Everything becomes easier, and I can actually notice stress diminish. I like it.

Monday, 5 April 2021

730 things — Day 25 of 365

 Hello friends.

One of the possibilities for what we're moving on is re-purposing, and that's what's happened to the two items I'm blessing on their way today.

I had these two very beautiful scarves.

The green one is an old friend of about two decades, made of soft Indian cotton rendered even softer by much use, and the pink one is a fairly recent acquisition — silk.

I love shell pink, and from time to time (I must endeavour to remember this) I make the error of an impulse purchase in that colour. But soft though it be, it is a remarkably assertive shade, and has the same effect of overwhelm on me as does bright red (a colour I also love). So the pink silk scarf was the desire of my heart right up the the point of realisation that it doesn't suit me and I won't wear it.

I touted these items around my family, because they're so good, even though I don't want them. They were not wanted as garments, but two of us have some lovely silver eating implements that have to be protected from abrasion. A soft cotton scarf and a silk scarf offer the absolutely ideal protection, it turns out. So that's where they've gone, their loveliness still available to be admired in someone else's life, setting off the equal loveliness of antique silver spoons.

Sunday, 4 April 2021

730 things — Day 24 of 365

 Today is Easter Sunday.  

Later on (it's early morning just now) we'll be in online church, and after that I plan to walk fifteen minutes along the road to my daughter's house with some chocolate rabbits for that family.

I'm also taking with me two books for the children — and those are my 2 items of 730 for today.

I cannot emphasise too much, you should never pass on any items to your family, friends, neighbours, church (or anyone else) without first checking — in such a way that they can be honest with you — that they do actually want these things. Otherwise you would just be tipping into their back yard a problem you don't want in your own.

Also when you give anything to anyone, it should be on the clear understanding that they don't have to keep it and you will not be offended or upset if after a short while they choose to give it away (or sell it).

I have checked with their mother that my grandchildren would like these books and don't already have them. They have an extensive network of friends, many of them home-educating, and I think it more than likely that after they have enjoyed the stories they will decide to pass the books on. If they don't, think how full their house will be by the time they reach adulthood.

A happy and blessed Easter to you and yours.