Friday, 29 January 2010

Our Lady of the Far Horizon

When the way is long
When we doubt our resources
When we need to make a move
When the path is lonely
When our vision falters
When night closes around us
When the next step becomes necessary
When we confess we have got completely lost
When we forget where we were going anyway
When we get side-tracked and distracted
Our Lady of the Far Horizon, please pray for us.

Our Lady of the Great Big Cloths

When we have lost our identity
When we are dominated by others
When we are constrained by religion
When we are second-class citizens
When we are invisible
When we are controlled by violence
When we cannot move freely
Our Lady of the Great Big Cloths, please pray for us.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Our Lady of the Small Window

When we have lost hope
When there are no opportunities for us
When there is no escape
When life closes in around us
When we are imprisoned
When we long to be free
Our Lady of the Small Window, please pray for us

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Our Lady of the Pot-Hooks

When we are useful but lowly and unremarked
When we can do so much but nobody sees our value
When we are thrown to the bottom of the heap
When we are lost and forgotten in dark corners
When we are stuck in one place
When we are assigned tedious duties
When we carry precious burdens
When we have weighty responsibilities
Our Lady of the Pot-Hooks, please pray for us

MUG by Hebe Wilcock

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Another bend in the road

The path I travel seems to loop round in a spiral.

Over and over the same ground I go, yet the way does progress and the ground my feet traverse is never exactly the same.

This week, back to oh-so-familiar themes of pruning out belongings, establishing priorities, simplifying, refining – all the usual things.

Some who read this blog will know what I’ve recently been up to, others won’t; so I’ll explain.

Badger and I have moved from our house in Aylesbury to Hastings on the south coast of England, where all my daughters live.

This has partly been just to be near the people we love (Badger’s daughter No 2 lives not far away from here as well), but is also part of the journey into simplicity.

Hastings is an extraordinary place. It is characterized by poverty, eccentricity and beauty. A high ridge of land curves around it, and beyond that a hinterland of marsh. Its other boundary is the ocean. These geographical features separated it, making it the last place where a big firm would open a branch, and the first place where they would close it. So small family firms flourish here. It resists pretentiousness and luxury, but fosters creativity and imagination. Because of its poverty, only the shops that offer realistically priced goods tend to survive: so the town naturally attracts artists, pilgrims, healers, poets, musicians, philosophers and others who subsist on the margins of regular society. The people are in the main resourceful, tough and fairly unusual. It is a tolerant place, in a gritty sort of way. Shabby and weird pass unnoticed here. It has an unusually large amount of common land, so that the people who live here can share for free what is normally fenced and guarded as the possession of the rich. Fire festivals, the beach, wild hills and woods, terraces of tall thin houses clinging improbably to its steep hillsides, more trees than most towns – I love Hastings.

What we have done is to join forces with three of my daughters in a shared house. This is not them coming home to live with mother – it’s five adults each choosing to live on an equal basis; contributing according to means, supported according to need.

The choice has an element of financial common sense: one council tax, one TV licence, one lot of logs for the stove etc. To live together like this means we can each pursue our chosen path rather than having to give our lives away in exchange for money. We do all work to earn the money we need – but we do what we enjoy, and we protect the spaciousness that all makers need. I like it that there is sound financial reasoning motivating us: this gives what we are doing a practical, realistic character.

But it’s not all about money. We have come to believe that ours is an intentional family, not just an accidental family. In Richard Bach’s book The Reluctant Messiah, he writes ‘Not all members of one family grow up under the same roof'. Wise words. In our case though, we recognize a spiritual kinship as well as a blood relation, and feel that when we stay close to each other we can offer something deeper and more whole than when we are scattered.

So on November 16th 2009 the house was purchased, and Badger and I moved in. The house is shabby and a bit decrepit, though in the right location and basically sound. By early January, the rooms for the other three were ready. Snow held up their move by a few days, but by mid-January they were in.

So once more the process of sifting through possessions has begun: responsibly disposing of surplus – selling to second-hand dealers, and giving away to family and friends or through Freecycle.

As always, the first instinct is to keep the biggest and most; then reflection reminds us that the simplest and smallest is often a wiser, more comfortable and spacious way.

For example, we opted to keep our large larder fridge and separate under-counter freezer from Aylesbury, and our super-duper micro-wave/oven/grill. Time to reflect allowed us to notice that we don’t need the microwave at all (and most of us in this household are deeply suspicious of microwaving anyway, relieved to eliminate it); that living near the shops and bus routes as we do, there is little need to refrigerate a mountain of fresh produce; that running one cooling appliance instead of two is good news for the Earth and for our budget – so we have changed our minds and chosen instead the fridge-freezer from the house the other three lived in, and will sell the appliances that came with us from Aylesbury.
Some health problems I have been experiencing I recently tracked down to be a dairy allergy – and two of the other ladies of our household are quite badly dairy allergic; so we have opted for an almost-vegan household (with a small amount of fish on occasion). Knowing sugar was also a problem for me, I started to explore macrobiotics as a viable way, and my health has improved radically as a result.

Because we eat most main meals together, what we now have is a mainly-vegan-strongly-informed-by-macrobiotic-principles household. We are all feeling ever so much brighter and fitter as a result.

Macrobiotic food is beautifully simple (though mighty complex to learn and understand!!) and, without meat and dairy, frees up a lot of fridge and freezer space, so the downsizing from 2 appliances to 1 was very straight-forward.

It’s been a time of learning and releasing, with a multi-level sense of homecoming. This house feels more like home than anywhere I have ever lived. Living with or close to my family has healed the terrible sense of grief at being apart from them. The way I am eating and living from day-to day is bringing me home to myself; it feels peaceful and free.

In the set-up process, the sale of our home in Aylesbury and the sale of the other little house in Hastings allows us to effect necessary repairs and redecoration, and install a woodstove at the new house; and will also clear the mortgage, so that debt-bondage will be dissolved. That done, our entire housekeeping costs – food, household essential, utilities, Council Tax, TV licence, home insurances, logs for the woodstove; everything except transport and personal purchases – all amount to no more than £200.00 per person per month (US readers not that the cost of both food and accommodation is way higher this side of the pond). Until the little house is sold, we are each paying £250.00 a month, to cover the overheads there.

We chose the road we live in with great care. Badger needs a car for his work, and is a car-person anyway. The rest of us would prefer to be car–free (though we are grateful to have one car in the household for the extra possibilities it open up for us): so it was essential to live in the Silverhill area, because all the local bus routes cross in Silverhill, giving much better public transport access than from most locations apart from Hastings town centre. Our road is a quiet cul-de-sac, set back a little from the main road. Five minutes walk takes us to all the shops we need, yet the road is peaceful and sheltered from the sounds of traffic that are so loud just 200 yards away. Behind the house the hillside drops down into the park that runs down the centre of the town to the sea. When the original town of Hastings developed the addition of St Leonards-on-Sea, the rivers running down to the ocean made it impossible to build on the steep ravine of the Ghyll that runs down from the Ridge to the sea: so it was turned into a public gardens instead, Alexandra Park, now full of a variety of mature trees as well as a rose garden, a peace garden, a boating lake, 2 reservoirs, wild areas, a bowling green, a bandstand, a war memorial, and wide open grassy places for people to relax.

So it is that in our road backing onto the park, the fragrance of trees and plants fragrances the air: five minutes’ walk away, the air suffers from dust and traffic fumes; though all the Hastings air is cleansed and purified by the ocean.

We are about half-an-hour’s walk from the sea, and our other two family households are also just a short walk away.

In Silverhill (the area of Hastings and St Leonards where we live), are all the shops we need for everyday things. Down the hill in Hastings town centre is a wholefood co-operative that sells what our shops just nearby don’t stock.

We have no need of large superstores at all, and though the prices are higher in our small local shops, and we use the pricier ecological household cleaning agents, the simplicity of our diet is such that £300 a month is plenty to cover the food and household needs for all five of us.

Over the last week, as we begin to organize ourselves, sorting, pruning, winnowing, discarding, I have sensed the road looping round again. I know this territory so well: but it doesn’t just feel like the same old thing; it feels like real, satisfying progress.

"Creation" by Hebe Wilcock

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

By Christ's grace may I bring, for the Ark adrift on the death and uncertainty of the Flood, a sprig of hope.

Drawing by erm.... now... either Alice or Hebe Wilcock. I'll check!!

"Binbag" by Alice Wilcock

Monday, 18 January 2010

All the way home

Today is a very special day for me.

I have five daughters, all born within six years. Bringing them up was definitely hard work – we were not rich, we lived in small houses, and our chosen way of life was not really mainstream. In the days when natural childbirth, continuum concept, compassionate farming, vegetarianism, home education, organic wholefood, Steiner education and alternative therapies were still all on the wild side of eccentric, that was the way we chose. Our next-door-but-one neighbours used to line up kitchen stools outside their back door for their grandchildren visiting on the weekend to watch the weird Wilcocks with our goats and chickens in the garden of our tiny Victorian terraced house in this funny old town by the sea.

Those years I had a long struggle with depression, and found being a young mother, in a town I knew not very well, incredibly hard and lonely. Babies seem to me both amazing and terrifying. Their buddha-nature shines so clear, their clarity, purity and immediacy are awe-inspiring: but they scream and they tire you out; they want more than you can understand, and sometimes you feel battered to exhaustion just keeping going.

Power and control have never greatly appealed to me, and what I most looked forward to was the time when their personalities, choices and self-power had fully unfurled, and they were in their mid-to-late teens – all still at home, but old enough for discussion and inspiration – old enough to be my teachers as I had once been theirs.

Then, ten years ago, just as we reached that stage, my life began to collapse. In the most dreadful circumstances my marriage to my children’s father ended, leaving me at my wits’ end with five daughters still only part-fledged, no job, no family home; just a two-roomed leased apartment.

That was a hard and frightening time. It was then that I chose the name ‘Ember’ for myself. I felt as though my soul had died, and I found myself responsible for the care and upkeep of a meaningless undead body. Ember; rake among the ashes, and underneath the drifting grey lies sometimes the surprise of a quiet red glow – the choice of name expressed a choice still to hope.

I married again, a dear and delightful man who lived in a tiny cottage in the country. I’d thought to encourage my girls to see that new beginnings could always be possible: but it was not a good choice. It was too soon, they were still shell-shocked, I spent most of my time in the car, flying around between that little cottage in the woods and my scattered family and the professional commitments I had begun to rebuild. That time was brief though, because my second husband died of a hideous and terrifying illness that blocked his windpipe and gullet as it inexorably progressed. We cared for him at home, and he died with dignity, beauty and peace, in the place he wanted to be. Then it was back to my tiny apartment, and throwing myself into working all hours to keep our fractured family trucking.

Then I married again, and of necessity moved right away from my dear family up to Aylesbury, for my husband’s work is Oxford-based. For three years we lived there – and made good friends, planted a garden.

But the splinter of grief lodged in the middle of my heart was always the disintegration of my family – and that the chance had been lost to be with them once they had grown up and developed their own ideas and way in the world.

My dear husband is a very, very good life partner. He sees and understands what matters to me. And so it came about that he was willing to change his work pattern to four days in the office, three at home, keeping a berth in Aylesbury but returning to Hastings for our home base.

We found this shabby old house, in need of much repair, but in the right place. A quiet road, looking out over trees, surrounded by birdsong and wild creatures, but only five minutes walk from the central bus stop to catch a ride to anywhere in our locality. A walk through the beautiful park with its majestic trees to chapel, to town, to my oldest daughter’s home. A walled garden (something I have always wanted).

And, best of all, making common cause in a shared household with three of my daughters, and the one who is married with a young child calling in several times a week.

Last night, after the upheaval of moving, then days of torrential rain that exposed all the leaks in our rickety old roof, then Christmas, then several days of snow – at last we had achieved the house move from their small shared home into this bigger house. Today, for the first time in a decade, we are back under one roof. Nothing ever stopped us being family – but today we are one household again. It has been a long, long journey; but at last we are home.

And I give thanks.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Hebe's Chant On Perception

I've posted this before in my blog on St Pixels, but it's so on-the-nail true and strikes me afresh each time I read it - so here it is again. May it bless you as it does me.

Seeing yourselfa 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)