Monday, 11 February 2019

This blue day

Oh, my goodness — the cherry tree outside my window on this blue day!



This was the same tree just a few months ago —


And now — I don't know if you can tell from the photographs — its twigs have the sticky-out-bits of new buds almost ready to break! Be encouraged, friends shivering in chilly America, Spring is coming, it really is!

This morning I have turned my attention to the task for this quarter, writing a book under contract for submission in early summer. One of the big challenges of any book is writing the opening section. If that isn't interesting, you've lost your reader from the start. I often set the opening section aside to be written at some later stage when I've thought how to succinctly express introductory thoughts, but this morning in the bath I knew how I wanted to put it, and rushed into my room to get it all down before the ideas evaporated like so much bathroom steam. Nothing worse than lost words trickling mournfully down the window pane.

Nailed it! We're off! 

So now it's a thousand words a day with gaps here and there for preparing Sunday worship and whatnot.  I already made very full notes to support my original proposal to the publisher, so everything's in place. This is non-fiction, so what I want to say is not something elusive that will wander off like a bored cat if I take my attention out of it for five minutes. It's firmly grounded, rooted in the Bible and expressed in the daily practice of discipleship. No doubt it will have its challenges — it never pays to get too cocky about any writing endeavour! But for once I'm looking forward to it instead of feeling utterly daunted. It doesn't have the capriciousness and easily frightened-off quality of fiction, where you have to stalk it with such silent patience and the slightest interruption can alarm and scatter it.

Even so, I'll get up early to write, and put the Engaged sign on my door, because the Muse is a shy wee beastie and you do have to focus.

But today's portion is written, so hooray.


Thursday, 7 February 2019

Stat crux dum volvitur orbis

The summer is ending and the fall beginning for Lynda by the river,  while here in England the world is turning, turning into the light.

Everywhere in the garden are signs of new life.

Snowdrops.




Polyanthus tucked in against the wall out of the wind's way.


The wild daffodils coming into bud —


— and the regular ones rising strong.


The fruit trees and the roses sending out the first signs of new buds —

— I read somewhere they go that red colour as a defence against insect predation while the leaves aren't properly out yet.

The moss and the ferns are as verdant as ever, and this very low-growing mint we have mingled in with the moss.


There's this silvery thing that one of us put in —



And the beautiful hellebores, of course.


The aconites are coming through —


— and the lemon balm just beginning to sprout again.


Even the front door is feeling the call of Spring —


— though it still has a chilly attitude.


Oh, look — just to the left of the front door — the first piece of letter-cutting Hebe ever did. That must be a decade ago!


People stop in the street to look at it, which makes me happy.

The Winter has nearly gone. Just as well. We are using up our firewood very fast!


Meanwhile, indoors, the sunlight falls as clear and sharp as lemon juice, on old projects like this casual scrap of iridescent glass with a snowflake painted on it —


— and new ones like this tabernacle. Tony has made the cross for the top (the original one had got broken off and lost), and now it's all waiting to be painted.



A design is roughed out —


— waiting for customer approval.

Up on the workbench, Our Lady of Grace has had some initial surgery to her layers of accumulated paint —


— but I trust those ill-advised stick-on stars will be going; that's the Earth she's standing on, not the firmament of heaven. And her hands look a bit meaty. Don't worry. She'll be transformed . . . The work goes on . . . Soon I'll be in writing purdah for a book that's under contract to be in for midsummer. By then the snowdrops will be past, the violets that have not yet flowered now will be fading then, and the rose on the fence in full bloom and the cherry fruiting.

It'll be Christmas again before we know it . . .


Monday, 4 February 2019

Alice's window at Pett Chapel

I thought it would be good to move on from photographing veins . . .  Interesting but only marginally after all, and not almighty edifying.

So here, for a change, something beautiful and holy and not utterly self-absorbed. Yesterday Buzzfloyd took a couple of pictures of the east window in the sanctuary at Pett Chapel, just as they were beginning morning worship. Her sister Alice (who is part our household here) designed and made the window.


It's not always easy to capture the colours when the sun's streaming through, but I think Buzz did well.



Conceptually it blends the twin locations in which our life is rooted — our place on earth and our place in the unfolding gospel of our lives.

Pett is in a country village just up the hill from the sea at Pett Level. So the window shows the pointy sails of little boats, the water's edge and the sandy shore, the rolling hills of Sussex — if you look at it one way. But (if you look at it another way) it also shows the outpouring of the Spirit, streams of grace flowing down to us from the cross, the gold of Christ's kingly glory, the shards of his pain and his blood shed for us.

The shapes are sufficiently abstract that they don't obtrude too assertively into one's own prayers with prescriptive ideas. It is just beautiful and uplifting, the colours well-chosen to work with eastern light (you need different tones for a west or south window).

We used to have one made of blocks of clear greenish glass, which were okay but a bit industrial; then a few years ago the chapel council commissioned Alice to design a window that would speak of the countryside, the sea, and the love of God. In the east end of the chapel in the sanctuary, it illuminates and illustrates our eucharists, speaking of the Christ's shed blood and outpoured Spirit in the context of our everyday lives.  I really love that window. 


Saturday, 2 February 2019

Photographing veins

So I came across this rather marvellous picture on Pinterest that shows you how to tell if you are warm or cool on the colour spectrum. Here it is (thanks so much to whoever put it online):



I peered at my veins and — oh, no!! — they looked green. Just as I'd embraced my inner chill and all.

But it was night time and our lamplight is yellow.

So I tried holding my wrist under a white (presumably neutral) light and photographing it. This is what it looked like.




That's blue . . . I think . . .

And now it's morning — here are my veins in the clear (snowy) light of day:



Jeepers. Have I even got any veins? They don't look powerful like the ones in the photo from Pinterest.

Maybe I shouldn't be wearing any clothes at all. Maybe it doesn't matter. I can feel myself ceasing to care. Maybe I should be thinking about World Peace and concentrating on doing some housework.

I could show you my varicose veins. Or . . . maybe not.

Oh, but — wait — you have to have your hand dangling down not held up, don't you? So the blood all falls down and the vein shows up. Let me try that . . . there!


Is that green or blue? I haven't got the faintest idea. Oh, bugger it, I'll wear what I like.



Friday, 1 February 2019

Gratitude

It rained hard yesterday, before going on to snow as evening fell. Tony caught a train at lunchtime, to meet some publishing friends in Oxford, Alice and Hebe spent the morning cutting letters at the stone masonry, and we needed groceries from a supermarket a mile or two up the road later in the day.

And I felt so grateful that we have a car — it meant I could take Alice and Hebe to work, nip across town to collect some things I needed, take Tony to the railway station, collect Alice and Hebe again, and go with them for the grocery run.

I'm grateful not only that we have a car at all, but for our particular car.

My husband Tony, like most men, enjoys large, fast, sophisticated cars. I don't. My idea of a car is as close to an automated Amish buggy as I can possibly achieve. So this is our car:



We did have a different one. Tony chose it to be suitable for me to drive (a compromise between his preferences and mine) but somehow I just couldn't. It felt too modern, too insulated from the world . . . I never could make myself drive it even once. So we sold it (the new owner comes to pick it up today), and got this little blue one instead.

The thing is, while I am so grateful to have a car I feel able to drive, and we can do everything that makes life convenient and easy so we have the energy (and access) for all our tasks and commitments, I'm also grateful we have only one car. I don't think I'd be twice as grateful if we had two cars. Or three times as grateful if we added a third.

It's the same with money. I don't have enough to buy everything I would like, or go on holidays and so forth — but I am so grateful for that. It means that if a bit extra comes in (like if I sell some writing or do some editing), then I can buy a thing I've been wanting for ages and couldn't afford, or go out for a meal, or even go on an overnight trip to York or Cambridge. And that feels so exciting — such a treat. But if I had more money than I knew what to do with, what would my treats be? A yacht? Diamond earrings? 

It reminds me of when my children were small and my husband had a pay increase. It meant we could now afford to buy fizzy drinks and ice cream on a regular basis, not just for birthdays. At first I did — which was not good for our nutritional status but I didn't know so much about that back then; we ate white bread every day). Then I thought, "Wait a minute — what will we do for treats when it's someone's birthday?" I realised the treats would have to be bigger and more expensive.

Having five children, I've always been cautious about the treats. Even when we started to have more money, I used to bear in mind that life could broadside us at some point (and guess what; it did) so that we would suddenly no longer be able to afford luxuries, and then birthdays and Christmas could become great big festivals of Disappointment. So even when we were (relatively) well off, living in a large manse paid for by the church with two incomes and all that, I ensured we maintained low expectations when it came to family celebrations — ordinary food, small presents, maybe a quiz and hanging out together. Nothing mega.

It's like it says in the Bible (Proverbs 30.7-9 NIVUK):
‘Two things I ask of you, Lord;
    do not refuse me before I die:
keep falsehood and lies far from me;
    give me neither poverty nor riches,
    but give me only my daily bread.
Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
    and say, “Who is the Lord?”
Or I may become poor and steal,
    
     and so dishonour the name of my God. 

And I am so very grateful for what I have, which is so much more than many, many people around the world have, but still is not so much that I become dissatisfied.

I'm sure I've shared some of these thoughts here before — about the ice cream and fizzy drinks as treats, and very recently the quotation from Proverbs — but still, I was thinking about it again. Some things just go on applying and being true. Anyway, I apologise for becoming a repetitive old lady, I'll try not to do it too often.

Returning to dust.

I don't bother tagging things I write about here, because I'm just thinking aloud and chatting with you, not Creating an Online Presence. So although I'm sure I wrote about Ash Wednesday somewhere, I can't find it now. But I know what I will have said because I thought it for a very long time. [Oh, look. Here it is]

To recap. My feeling about Ash Wednesday was a visceral rejection of the words said at the imposition of ashes: "Dust thou art and to dust thou shalt return." It's from the Bible of course, what God said to Adam when everything went wrong and he had to leave the garden. It's meant to recall us to humility and penitence, and give us a due sense of our insignificance in the flow of time and in the face of eternity, and all that. And so it does. But my objection was that — going to the same book of Genesis — the beginning of life is the admixture of divine spirit with stardust. So the thing that makes a living being is the fusion of spirit and dust, and to say someone is dust is only half the story. I think God's point was that if Spirit is withdrawn, all that's left is dust. But then, the mercy and grace of God is such that life continues, otherwise we'd all be dead, wouldn't we? So that's the problem I had with Ash Wednesday.

But an unlikely epiphany has come slanting sideways into my life through the most embarrassingly frivolous gateway. And now I am entirely comfortable with returning to dust. I'm pleased about this, because I have been thinking a lot about the process of growing old and how to get from here into death with the most grace and the least terror, and coming to terms with being dust feels promising.

But this is what happened (by 'this' I mean what I'm about to tell you).

Have you ever 'had your colours done'? It's known as different things, but here in the UK Colour Me Beautiful is one of the outfits offering the opportunity to figure out which 'season' suits you and what colour palette you consequently need in order to look marvellous the whole of the time.

Going back a long way, as a youngish woman my prayer partner was Margery, a stained glass artist with a commitment to Holy Spirit healing. I loved her very much and we were good friends. She had an excellent eye for colour, and pronounced that my season was Autumn. Because it was Margery, I accepted her evaluation without question, and labelled myself 'Autumn' ever since. 

A few years ago another dear friend trained to be a Colour Me Beautiful consultant, and offered me a freebie session while she was learning, which I delightedly accepted — but said firmly I knew I was an Autumn because Margery (now dead but we both knew her) had said so. Unsurprisingly I turned out to be an Autumn, and tried hard to make the colours work. 

My problem with it was the Autumn colours — rich and strong — tired me. As a person I am insubstantial, easily exhausted, somewhat faint, easy to overlook and forget, semi-invisible. I am like smoke, like a net curtain drying on a laundry line on a grey day. I am cool and detached, tired most of the time. I have trouble standing up for any length of time and I find relationship and human interaction very difficult. The Autumn colours, bursting with spicy life and energy, just . . . didn't . . . feel . . .  like . . . me.

Then I got a new view on it. My skin doesn't erupt but it's soft and damages easily, so I often get sores and scratches I want to cover up. I was looking for a concealer/foundation. After a certain amount of experimentation with samples from eBay, I found one that vanished into my skin. It's called Cool Bone. I've linked that, not to advertise it (because I don't like advertising) but to acknowledge it.

That got me thinking. Autumn is essentially WARM writ large; and this colour that vanishes into my skin is cool.

So I did a bit of investigating and looked at colour palettes online, and for the first time came across the Soft/Dark/Deep modification of seasonal palettes. I examined all the ones I could find. There was one that stood out from all the others — it had all the colours I absolutely know suit me best.





Soft, dark, deep summer. I felt childishly excited about this because I was born in summer and I love the summer.

It also made sense of my eye and hair colour. My eyes are the colour of the North Sea on a rainy day. My hair is the colour of drying hay.

I love those colours. No. I LOVE those colours. I feel comfortable in them, I feel like me in them, and my very favourite clothes fit right in.



The important thing is that every single colour has a hefty ladling of grey added in. The red of the very last embers amid the charcoal and ashes of a dying fire. The brown of dead tree bark. The yellow of sand churned up in the waves of a rough sea. The purple of brooding storm clouds. The green of the English Channel. The most inhospitable shade of pink you can possibly imagine. Lavender leaves and oak moss, sage and cloud and fog. The colours of veins and clover petals. Damsons and sloes and overripe plums starting to go mouldy. Seakale and squid ink and driftwood. Olives and bruises and mustard and rocks. Twilight and sea-clay and the fallen petals from dying Ena Harkness roses, and the bricks they make in Cambridgeshire.

Everything with a lavish slew of dust kicked over it. Dust thou art, and to dust thou shalt return.

This kind of make-up.



This shade of blue.


Dark blue greens.


Ash grey and darkest crimson.


Charcoal and ink (ooh — look — my fringe has grown).


Smoked crimson lake.



And I've bought a top on eBay in a charnel house white, the colour of very old bones.


This makes sense of my choices of shoe colours, too.


If I choke or die of a heart attack, nobody will suspect a thing. They'll think I merely overdid my make-up.

Here I am, lying in bed in the morning, thinking about returning to dust and feeling very happy.


I'm looking forward to Ash Wednesday now. They'll say DUST THOU ART AND TO DUST THOU SHALT RETURN in their sombre, forbidding way, and I'll think "Thank you — yes, I'll take that," and feel very peaceful with the quiet settling of ashes into my semi-extinguished and rather objectionably charcoal-y personality. Soft, dark, deep. I feel at home with that.

I realise Ash Wednesday is meant to be all about repenting of sin and interior reflection and Jesus in the wilderness and whatnot — so I apologise for making it about colour and me and I hope you are not offended. I thought it worth noting, by what surprising and unlikely avenues our accommodation, to who we are and what is happening to us, arrives. This — oddly — makes me feel more peaceful about growing old, about the church always insisting we are bad and lost and in the wrong, about my insignificance and chronic failure and inability to make myself heard. I don't mind now — I can see it all there in my colours. Smoky, dusty, soft dark deep. Yes, that feels comfortable.

*       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *


I went into our Hebe's bedroom where some of her clothes were draped over her chair, and look — the same colours!


Tuesday, 29 January 2019

Spiritual Care book

For those of you who are interested in and enjoy my writing, I just wanted to flag up the now limited availability of a book of mine going out of print (I've linked the image to Amazon UK, where you can read what reviewers say, though there's no Look-Inside for this book).



There are two reasons you might want to read it.

Firstly, it's very useful if you are in any kind of Christian ministry. It's a practical guide to, and exploration of, what it says on the front — spiritual care of dying and bereaved people, looking at various different facets of loss including other reasons than death (eg job redundancy, loss of integrity, divorce, etc). It also includes a chapter in which I've given detailed advice for the officiant at a funeral. I've given templates for funeral prayers and committals covering the different religious backgrounds (atheist, agnostic, New Age and low-key Christian) that you may have to work with because they have no obvious designated officiant of their own.

Sometimes people write to me saying how helpful they have found it, especially if they become involved in hospice chaplaincy.

Secondly, you might want to read it if you are curious about me as a person, because it has more autobiographical detail in it than anything else I've written anywhere.

The publisher contacted me the other day to say sales have slowed so they are now letting it go out of print. They have 84 copies left, which they are selling off in the next few weeks, after which any left over will just be trashed I suppose.

The publisher only made paperback copies, not e-books, and currently does not offer it on print-on-demand, so once it's gone, it's gone.

I guess from time to time second-hand copies will be around, but I have no copies myself and I don't think a huge amount were ever printed — it's a bit of a specialist book.

So I'm just letting you know, because I do think it's worth reading, especially seeing as we all die at some point and so does everyone else we know.

I hope you don't mind the publicity: I usually prefer to stick to conversation and thinking here, but once in a while . . . This is not me making money, because even if they sell every copy they still have in stock, it won't take it past the (small) royalty advance they paid me. This book just didn't sell very well, but the people who read it were glad they did.