Saturday, 31 December 2011

Made I larf

The people were urged as a religious duty to give funds for the mending of "Wikked Wayes".  

Peter Ackroyd The History of England vol.I: Foundation.

By 'the mending of wikked wayes', is meant repairing the roads! 


For 2012

 I start thinking about New Year resolutions around mid-November.  A new year offers an opportunity to re-calibrate – take stock of my current situation, reflect on how things stand at present, and think about where I’d like to head next; what it would help to drop or de-emphasise and what it would help to strengthen and focus on.

I went to see the new Sherlock Holmes movie (A Game of Shadows, did not enjoy) at the cinema, and was grateful for the habit recently copied from my friend Kath of taking with me at all times a small notebook in which to jot down absolutely anything – a kind of external hard-drive to augment my own memory.  In the dark cinema I wrote blind in consequently strange, but legible, writing the words spoken by one of the characters: 
“Tomorrow the sun will rise and set.  The rest is up for grabs.”

I really liked that as an expression of the opportunity that waits for us in every new day, highlighted by standing on the threshold of a new year.

In the words of Diana Lorence (of the Innermost House): To simplify does not mean to step down or to accept less, it means to begin again.

In beginning 2012 it seems to me that the priority both most urgent and most important is the Earth agenda, what Vandana Shiva calls Earth Democracy.  The Earth is our context, it is the place that allowed Jesus to make Love visible, the university of our soul development, the means by which we taste and hear and touch and see something of the greater glory of God.  No matter how religious we are, how focussed on heaven or how eagerly straining for the coming of Jesus in glory, without the Earth we lose the context in which God chose to play out the purposes of His sacred and beautiful will, His plan of salvation, the pattern of redemption, the vision of the Peaceable Kingdom.   Never more desperately have our brothers and sisters in every species needed to have us stand with them, choosing God over Mammon, justice over greed, what is natural over what is profitable, what is right over what is expedient.  The slime mould of Mammon is incorporating more and more of the human race, and the indifference of the religious right to the wellbeing of creation is advancing not hindering the spread of the Mammon-sprawl.

So in 2012, my first priority is to hold Earth Democracy at the forefront of my decision-making, and that my Resolution#1

Resolution#2 is to look for the Human.  I find it disturbing to reflect upon the disenfranchisement of increasing numbers of members of the human community by the increase of automation made possible by technological advance.  Driven by the unquestioned imperative of profit, people are made redundant by adoption of mechanisation – even forced to work towards their own redundancy by training the punters to use self-service machines.  In 2012 I resolve to actively seek - even where it is to my financial disadvantage and personal inconvenience - shops, restaurants and public services where human beings rather than machines still determine what is done and provide the interface with the business and the customer – small family businesses, local enterprises, and firms whose practice, as well as their product and publicity, celebrates community.   

Resolution#3 is to give myself permission to be me.  This year I will take with both hands the opportunity life has offered me to live a simple life, what William Penn called a ‘retired’ life – quiet and reclusive; because I want to.  This year I will refuse the guilt I feel at not joining in, and the compulsion I feel to attend events where I sense an expectation of my supporting presence.  I will go if it feels right and comfortable.  I might go if it just feels right.  If it doesn’t feel either right or comfortable they can do it without me.

Resolutions#4,5 & 6 are inter-connected, and should be made more possible by #3:

#4 To stop arguing

#5 To stop criticising

#6 To stop complaining

because arguing, criticising and complaining achieve nothing, leave a bitter taste behind, erode friendship and goodwill, and are destructive and depressing.

As I am considerably addicted to arguing, criticising and complaining, part of my plan in implementing this resolution is to have a nice time: to do lots of things that I like, spend more time by myself, and not to ask too much of myself, so that I have enough reserves to conduct myself positively and cheerfully.  I will be limiting my commitments wherever reasonably possible to one event per day, the rest of the time being given to housework, writing, thinking, reading, learning, cooking, gardening, walking etc.  By ‘event’ I mean mainly things with people in – visiting individuals, fulfilling family duties, attending church worship and business meetings, etc.

I shall take the advice of William Penn: Have but little to do, and do it thy self: and do to others as thou wouldst have them do to thee; so thou cast not fail of temporal felicity: and, Avoid company where it is not profitable or necessary; and in those occasions speak little and last.  Ha!  If I manage to stick to this, my family will not recognise me!!

Finally, Resolution #7 is to sow the seeds of kindness and understanding.

I’ll let you know how I get on.

Bathroom window

Oh wow!  Oh glory!  Oh total gobsmacking amazement!  Just look at the stained glass our Alice has made for our internal bathroom window!    Oh golly gosh I am so blessed to share a home with these geniuses!!!!!!!!!!!!

Friday, 30 December 2011

Various shopping expeditions and a Christmas rose

It’s not that I’m naturally quarrelsome, on the contrary I hate confrontation, but I have this addiction to being right.

Let me give you an example.

On November 26th (I remember the date exactly because of the sequence of events) the Badger and I went to Wyevale plant nursery where I spent an inordinate amount of money on some houseplants and a beautiful wind-chime to hang in our entrance hall at home.   I noticed that their Christmas roses were exceptionally good, but exercised strength of mind as I already have several hellebores in the garden, and didn’t buy one.  I got a couple of beautiful cyclamen though.

The reason I wanted these houseplants was because on that day we had Guests for Dinner and I thought the house ought to look beautiful.  We got some cut flowers too.  We don’t normally have guests for dinner, you see – in fact I can’t remember the last time we did, and I felt very nervous about it and was trying to make everything perfect.

At that time we’d done some work to the garden, and in the afternoon of that day (it was a Saturday), the badger went across to Battle to take my darling Mama out to purchase a new vacuum cleaner, hers having bitten the dust, then on to our place for a cup of tea and a glimpse of the garden (mud, principally, but restructured mud) before returning her home because the Guests were coming.  I hasten to add she was invited to stay for supper but one of the Guests was a bishop so Mama felt nervous as I did, and opted to go home.   Anyway, while gadding about the world with Mama, the Badger took it into his head to call into Wyevale plant nursery with her, because she likes plants too.  Accordingly, when they fetched up at the old homestead for a cup of tea, Mama arrived bearing a gift of a beautiful ivory-and-yellow orchid – another variety of plant I’d exercised strength of mind over and firmly put back.  Beautiful.  She had also bought herself a Christmas rose.

In the evening one of the Guests brought us a huge and glorious white cyclamen, also beautiful, so our house was resplendent by the time we’d all finished!  And we had a good time over dinner, and that was all fine.

The following day (Sunday), talking on the phone to darling Mama to check she was still alive and well over there in her apartment, I learned that she wished she’d bought a second Christmas rose so they could sit looking symmetrical on her balcony.  She said she thought she’d get one at Blackbrooks nursery next time she passed on her way to Sainsburys for her grocery shopping.  Mama is intrepid enough to have learned the car routes to Sainsburys and Tesco, the two big food shops, but hasn’t got the route to Wyevale nailed yet.   She thought the hellebores at Blackbrooks inferior to those at Wyevale, but hey.

On Monday the Badger had to go back to Aylesbury where he lives during the week close to his job in Oxford, so that Sunday, 29th, was the last chance for him to get the Christmas tree – that being the beginning of Advent.  As some of our household totally love Christmas trees and sparkly decorations, we put ours up at the earliest opportunity, Advent 1.   After some discussion (tedious, another story, won’t go into it), it was decided that the Badger would return to Wyevale as they had tree stands there as well as the actual trees, and our last year’s one had broken.  So I asked him if he’d pick up a Christmas  rose for Mama, to which he responded, “No, she got one.” 

“I know,” said I, “but she wants a second one, to be symmetrical on the balcony.”  So he got one when he fetched the tree (jolly good tree, Nordic fir, excellent shape and very firry)

The next day, Monday, I phoned Mama to check she was still with us and in good shape, and she mentioned that she’d got another Christmas rose.
“Darn!” thought I – having the superior version sat on my porch waiting to make its way to her; but I said nothing about it, not wanting to share around my (albeit minor) annoyance and frustration at her trigger-happy flower-purchasing.  And there it still sits to this day – it is flourishing.

Fast-forward (are you still awake?) to yesterday.  The Badger and I took Mama to the tip to get rid of the old dead vacuum cleaner, which had been sitting in her garage all this time, then to Poppinghole Farm Shop where I cleaned out the Badger’s bank account in a foolish surge of thinking global and acting all too local.

While the Badger was getting the vacuum cleaner and other junk items out of the garage, Mama wanted to show me a hellebore in a pot, that she’d just retrieved from the balcony.  Hellebores are hard to kill, but this one was surely on its way out, and she wanted another.  I mentioned I had one at home, that I’d got for her from Wyevale after she’d bought one and wanted another.

No!” she exclaimed. “I didn’t get it at Wyevale, I got it at the plant stall on the market.

You did not, you silly old woman, thought I.  You got it from Wyevale, I remember it all perfectly clearly.  And if it’s the second Christmas rose, you got it from Blackbrooks.   However, having resolved NO ARGUING (oh, dear, I haven’t explained about that, have I – tell you what, I’ll leave that explanation until tomorrow) I didn’t say anything.  Meanwhile she had headed off into the adjacent room and was saying “I got it, but it wouldn’t hang on the door.”

Starting to feel a little bewildered I asked her why she had said that when we were talking about potted hellebores, and followed to discover her clutching an artificial Christmas wreath.

“You thought I got the Christmas rose at Wyevale,” said she: “but this is what I got at Wyevale, to hang on the door. But the surface of the door is uneven and I couldn’t put a nail in because . . .” 

“Because it’s glass?” I suggested helpfully.

“Yes!  Because it’s glass.  So I stuck it up with loads of . . . er . . .”


“Yes! Blutak!  But it fell off . . .”

“Because it was too heavy.”

“Yes.  So I couldn’t put it up.  But I do like it.”

And all of me wanted to explain that she had got a Christmas rose from Wyevale, and unfold the whole sequence of events that proved irrefutably by invincible logic and my perfect memory why that hellebore most certainly came from Wyevale – but the still small voice said something along the lines of “Shut up.”  Well, to be fair, more like “Leave it.”  So I did.

I just said, “Well, I got you another one and you can have it when you come over on Sunday;” and she was pleased.

Early this morning lying in the dark, feeling relieved to hear the buses at the depot along the road starting up, because that means day has come at last and I can get up and make porridge and stop worrying about the logistics of cramming in to this morning the multiple co-ordinating events and people jostling over its horizon, I mentally revisited this conversation, and you know what?  The pot she had that dying hellebore in is not the same as Wyevale’s pots, so she didn’t get it there (it must be the second one).  And thinking about it, I'm not 100% sure she ever said she went to Blackbrooks (though it’s like their pots), she just said she intended to go there.  So maybe she did get it from the market stall after all.

Anyway I’m regaling you with this (seemingly but not actually endless, rest assured) story because I meant to tell you about my New Year’s Resolutions, of which the first is STOP ARGUING, because I am terrible at arguing.  It’s this addiction to being right.  It just annoys me intensely when something seems incorrect, so that I am unwilling to leave it, let it go.  And in 2012, I’m going to learn the art of letting go, and stop arguing.  But I’ll tell you about my New Year’s resolutions tomorrow.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Mouths and gatherings

I have found a most helpful marker to enable me to distinguish between the gatherings I can manage gracefully and the ones where my stamina is likely to give out and I might 
a) behave badly 
b) feel the need to leave, urgently and fast  
c) be so drained that I then behave badly all the rest of the day.

I can tell if it’s likely to work out by whether the people’s mouths are open or closed.

The kind of gathering where people have their mouth open is the sort where I am likely not to cope.  I mean the kind of event where people look like this.   If they are looking like this or this, I’ll probably be OK. 

If the socialising is taken a stage further and as well as showing their teeth and red glistening bits of their mouths and standing too close they are also smacking their lips over food, or eating with their mouths open in demonstration of how delicious something is, or making loud wet kissing noises in greeting each other, I definitely shouldn’t be there because it freaks me out even when it’s only on telly.

I have found it very helpful to arrive at this discovery because it helps me sort things out.  At our church, the 10.30 service is the variety where people have their mouths open a lot – at the peace they come towards you with that look, and there is a significant amount of socialising where people look like this.  At the 8.00am service, on the other hand, though the people are still friendly they mostly look like this (only with bigger spaces between them), and I know it’ll be OK. 

I miss Quaker meeting, where their mouths are mostly shut tight all the time unless they have something purposeful to say, which I found very soothing to the spirit.  But I still think I was right to decide to worship in the place my family can feel comfortable – I just have to identify which events to be at, and checking how the people do their mouths is a good rule of thumb.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

A gift of God

When it’s Christmas or my birthday, I ask God for a present.  One year I asked Him for long hair.  He said OK but I’d have to take a while unwrapping it. 

This year I felt fraught and frazzled on Christmas Day.  I have discovered that I cannot cope with days when a lot happens – I disintegrate into bad behaviour – so I recently started the strategy of one-event-days.  Each day I permit only one of the events that wash away my topsoil, and let the rest of the time be for quiet, thoughtful occupations – housework, gardening, cooking, reading, sewing, laundry etc.  Basically it’s social interaction that I can’t do for long, and Christmas Day had a great deal of that in it, so that when I finally retired I felt a bit harrowed.

Consequently, I asked God for a present – if I might please have something like a cool drink for my soul, a restorative for my inner condition.  Then I went online and mooched around for a bit googling on subjects like ‘living simply +house’, ‘simple living +kitchen’ etc: I wanted some images of peaceful domestic interiors, plain and light-filled.

In so doing I came across The Innermost House; and that was my Christmas present from God, the restorative for my soul, with the ability to re-orientate me towards my right north star, the direction my life is headed.

I looked up every link I could find to discover as much as I could - here . . . and here . . . and here . . . and have allowed my soul to marinade in the beauty and serenity, the discipline and spirituality of Diana Lorence’s home and approach to daily life.

On the actual Innermost House website, the most fruitful parts to read are the ones headed In Diana’s Words I and In Diana’s WordsII.  If you click on those, you then have a series of essays to choose from.

The images of the house are just amazing.

I like the way we live here, and for our household a large house with a vegetable garden is the right way to go.  I don’t choose to emulate Diana Lorence’s tiny house in a woodland setting, even though I am totally in love with it.  But though our homes are different, I feel we are sufficiently on the same track for me to learn an immense amount from her – the disciplined simplicity of environment, the discernment and choice of the real, rejecting the synthetic and artificial, the attraction of the natural with its healing and comforting power, the necessity of silence, the nourishment of starlight, firelight, moonlight, sunlight and half-light; the importance of slowness, quietness, space and peace; starting with the inner life and allowing that to work outwards so that home becomes and expression of meaning . . .


Just beautiful.

Monday, 26 December 2011


It occurred to me today - if every day in 2012 I find one thing to move out of my life, by the end of the year I'd have 365 fewer things.

I like that idea.  I might try it.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Christmas Day

May he who by his Incarnation gathered into one things earthly and heavenly, grant you the fullness of inward peace and goodwill; and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, be upon you and remain with you always.

Divine order - nature, religion and the being of God. She is puzzled.

What is God like?

Bewilderment often impels me to ask this.

I listen to the teaching and preaching of the church, and noting (amid its well-meaning and good-hearted reverence) the signs of superstition and narrow muddled thinking, inconsistency and vested interested, I turn aside discontented from its packaged doctrines and odd specific implementations of general morality.

I believe God created everything that is, that the one-song (uni-verse) poured forth from the Spirit’s life urge in a tumbling cornucopia of myriad self-expression.  I believe tsunamis and ticks, sunsets and scabs, Pacific waves and putrid waste all tell me something about the divine economy and what one might call the 360o point of view of the Living God.  But every now and then something makes me stop and think, “Yikes!  God!  What are you like?” 

This happened yesterday morning when we were discussing over breakfast the necessity of implementing the cats’ next flea treatment.  Casually observing to my beloved spouse the connection between fleas and tapeworm – that fleas carry tapeworm eggs and, being small and streamlined, can crawl freely in and out of an animal’s anus and deliver tapeworm to its gut by depositing the eggs in its rectum – once more I found myself lost in the old question, contemplating the ways of mty Creator, asking “God . . . what are You like?”

The church is quick to offer me answers, but I find most of them are like carrying water in a paper bag – they don’t take you very far. 

Over the last several weeks I have followed on television a series about British teenagers having a taster of Amish life.  At the same time I have been reading Joe Mackall’s Plain Secrets.  Both the TV series and the book puzzled me deeply.  I think of a community prepared to take a human being brought up separate from ‘the world’, having no ID papers allowing him to make his way alone, lacking the social skills to swim easily in the mainstream, not even a social security number or a home, and condemn him to excommunication and shunning, forbid his family to speak to him, insist not only he but also his parents will surely be damned by God to hell – because he prefers to drive a tractor . . . because he prefers the common-sense option of a car on the freeway rather than the impossibly vulnerable buggy to transport his children . . . because he wants to use a cell-phone . . .

I read of the Swartzentruber Amishman taking his injured child streaming with blood from English house to English house for someone who could give them a lift to the hospital and, finding no-one home, resorting to taking her to the vet to be stitched up (the vet did a good job).  Very resourceful under the circumstances, and no doubt the Amish are steadfast, admirable, faithful and courageous, with much to teach us who have been trapped and infected by the Mammon-tangle – but to say the Ordnung originates with God?  Can I believe that?  I don’t think I can.

In the case of a number of other lifestyle issues, I watch with bemusement the stockpiling of proof texts and tortuous application of biblical literalism necessary to arrive at predetermined evangelical points of view, and I ask myself - can I believe that?  More to the point, does it take me any closer to the God who created fleas creeping in and out of anuses and hermaphrodite snails and volcanoes that will freeze a living city in death in the blink of an eye?  Does the God who made the shark who stripped the flesh from the terrified swimmer care how he wore his braces or how short she cut her hair?

There are people who will, with kindness, courtesy and restraint, explain to me exactly why it matters that a menstruating women must not be allowed past the man-made rail that separates this patch of ground from that patch of ground lest she contaminate by her approach this wood/stone/concrete man-made table where the consecration takes place of the wafers they call ‘bread’ that were made far away in a press by other menstruating women set aside from the world in enclosed convents . . . 

I listened as the Amish-woman on the TV said that it freaked out her children to see her British visitors hug each other goodnight (because that included hugging people of the opposite gender).  She cautioned the girls over how they should bend down when they were picking tomatoes in the field, lest inadvertently, despite the modest dress they had been given to wear, men might see their breasts or legs or whatever it was that she was bothered about men possibly seeing.

The Bible says that God looked at everything that He had made, and pronounced it good.  Everything.  Breasts and legs, hermaphrodites and homosexuals and heterosexuals, volcanoes and quicksands and tsunamis, carbuncles and the ebola virus, grief and death and sorrow, fear and pain: God made everything, and said that it is good.  Laughter and singing, the smell of rain on summer dust, the terror and splendour of sheet lightning, those seriously weird fish that live right down at the bottom of the sea. Hydrothermal vents and giant tube worms.

God pronounced good the octopus that found the crevice in the corner of the tank in the sea-life centre through which it escaped by night into the neighbouring tank to eat the fish that God had also made before creeping back into its own tank again before morning.

What are You like?  God, what are You like?  You are like something that is not adequately addressed by kapps and aprons, by monastic Rules, by the Athanasian creed or the Ordnung.

And human beings, in enshrining the holy, comprehensively get in the way.

I almost (this is a long story) ended up co-ordinating the flower rota at church.  God, seeing this, acted swiftly and mercifully to prevent its occurrence because, you see, God knows me.  But when I thought I was going to be the flower lady, I bought a book about arranging church flowers; and there, near the front, was a paragraph explaining to all would-be flower arrangers that they must charge the congregation all that they could for their expenses – car parking fees, petrol, foam block – anything and everything, because (this made me blink and read it again to check I’d got it right) the more they charged the church the more the church would benefit.   Only a natural theologian could come up with so perfectly opaque a piece of reasoning.   At first I put the book on a high shelf where I could hardly see it.  But it still made me feel physically ill to know it was there, so I took it to the charity shop.

But puzzling about what God is like, bewildered by the perceptions and assertions of religious people, I glanced out at the woodpile, built against the garden wall.  The seasoned logs, provident and neatly stacked, representative of forward thinking and orderly life, and the wall beautifully re-pointed by Joe and Kevin to last another hundred years, spoke to me of shelter and peace.  And here I see the meeting point of the Amish Ordnung and the monastic tradition, mother Church and her dogma, holy ecology and the Divine mind.   The ways of Mammon are essentially chaotic – even where they are systematic they tend towards chaos.  The ways of God exhibit divine order – the bee lives for the flower as the flower lives for the bee, and each unfolds the inherent nature of what it was called to be.  Order and peace are interconnected – mutually proceeding from each other.

And I know from personal experience, by the touch of His Spirit upon my life, that the presence of God is peace.

Therefore I have discovered at least this: that inasmuch as it strive towards order, religion with all its blindness and cruelty shows truly a yearning and twisting of the soul growing up toward the light. 

If I work to put (and hold) in place order and peace in my life, then there will be some small thing thing in resonance with the one-song, the still small voice, the eternal Word.  I think.  I hope.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Sowing the seeds of peace

Here is my grandson (the blue blanket is from his mother's own childhood), dreaming and thinking and wondering.

He will be three in May.

His parents are raising him in an unusual way.  They are taking the approach of treating him with complete respect – the same respect they would show an adult.  They listen to him, and take him seriously, and they always have, from Day 1.  As a tiny baby, when his father was in love with him but somewhat overawed by his smallness, his mother entered willingly her responsibility to listen to him.  Even when he was silent she listened to what his soul was saying.  She put her considerable intellect to work observing, making connections, noticing links and patterns, to get to the place where she could work out what this or that noise, this cry or that cry, meant.  My grandson’s parents would no more dream of hitting him (call it spanking, call it slapping, call it smacking, call it any euphemism you like, they don’t do it) than they would think of slapping the face of the archbishop of Canterbury.

I do not know any other child raised like this, and I am finding it an education and a fascinating delight to see the results of it unfold.  At times I have felt impatient with it.  The child-in-me is always tempted to force things, hit them if they don’t go the way I want.  My daughter’s approach requires a person to behave like an adult to make space for the actual child to behave like a child.   The approach of the average parent is that the parent takes the role of the child – demanding, shouting, insisting, impetuous – while the child takes the role of the adult; watchful, responsive, second-guessing what is needed to make everything go right.

Now that my grandson can speak fluently, we are starting to see his responses to the world and the situations he encounters day by day.  Playing with his granddad (his mother’s father) about a month ago, he had been interested in some kitchen tongs for picking up hot food.  Seeing his interest, his granddad took hold of the tongs to personify them for a game, calling them Mr Nipper and Mr Grabber coming to get the child.  My grandson (his name is Michael, by the way) was intrigued, delighted and terrified all at the same time, engaged by the game but running away screaming to the other side of the kitchen out of the range of Mr Nipper and Mr Grabber.  Seeing genuine apprehension, his granddad laid the tongs aside.  Then a moment later, Michael demanded that he get "Mr Crab" back. He stood a safe distance away when Granddad pretended to get him, and he said said, "I not afraid of you, Mr Crab." Then he walked up and said, "Hello, Mr Crab," in a friendly manner, and waved. Then he started pointing out a few items of interest around the room.

His mother says this seems to be his tactic - to make friends with anything that scares him, and he does this with other children at the groups they attend. If another child upsets him or behaves in a way that worries him, he'll retreat to his mother and they talk about it, then he'll get a toy to give the other child and go up to make friends.

More recently at their home, Mikey was watching with his dad the powerful, moving, beautiful film Koyaanisqatsi, which contains stock footage of nuclear bomb tests. The scene of the bomb with its mushroom cloud is sombre and profound, and Michael was sensitive to the momentous nature of what he was seeing.   He wasn't upset exactly, but picking up on the gravity of it all, he felt concerned about the bomb.  He asked about it, and his dad told him what it was, and he said, "I want to talk to bomb, Daddy." When his father asked what he would say, Michael replied, "Don't worry, bomb. I give you some soup, bomb."

Way to go.

Underlying all aggression is fear.

I like the way my grandson is being brought up.  This is how to make love not war.  This addresses the seeds of war in the human community.  This is how wars stop.

As a young mother I held in my heart the hope/dream of the day coming when instead of teaching my children about the world, I would come to the spring of wisdom native to the country of their own souls, and learn from them.  It has happened.  My dream came true.  My children have all grown up into gurus, and by the beautiful wisdom in her my daughter Grace (good name, eh?) is raising a holy man.

There’s a whole raft of stories about the inimitable (Islamic) Mulla Nasrudin, wisdom fables.   One of the stories in particular stayed in my mind – of an occasion when a seeker came to the village where the wise man lived hoping for audience with him, but the wise man remained incognito, preferring privacy, so the stranger remained unaware he was actually talking with him.  And the stranger’s opening gambit was to say that he understood many famous men had been born in that village (hoping to compliment the villager, assuming he would take pride in fame attached to his village, I guess).  But the wise man replied that as far as he was aware, only babies had been born in his village.

I love that story, love it.  It makes my soul smile.  It does just what a story should do, which is contain a whole related series of truths nesting compactly inside nutshell of its exterior.  So much truth that I can’t be bothered to unpack them all and I’m just assuming you can see how big a story it is for yourself.

Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6 KJV)

I have been away from blogging for a while, working, thinking, thinking, working, feeling and hearing the whisper of the Spirit calling me along new-old paths, figuring out what I have to do and have in place, how to align myself and where the stepping stones may be to place my feet where the Way is calling now.  And I have thoughts and questions tumbling around to share with you.  How’s your Advent going?

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Indigo and silver

Today has been like the left hand of beauty.

Sun-up this morning lightened into a wild and moody sky full of tempest.

The rain came pouring off the roof so hard down the spout it hit a couple of leaves and bits of moss in the drain and bounced right back up the grey-water pipe gurgling into the shower drain in the bathroom.  Five minutes with a table fork lifting the choking debris out of the way fixed that, but in that short time my sweater was so sodden wet through I had no choice but to take it off and start again with a clean one.

Laying up the woodstove fire later on in the morning ready for lighting in the afternoon, the raindrops in the stove pipe fell musically, like diffident windchimes who’d never had much practice at singing.  Listening to the tinny small voice of the rain, I thought of the colours of storm – indigo and silver, and that wonderful dark purple-grey.  In my mind’s eye the picture lingered (still does) of that clear purposeful water gushing down the spout.  The autumn rain that (so the psalmist says) clothes the earth with blessings.

And my, so it does!  A couple of weeks back, weeding and  moving plants around the garden, I marvelled at how dry the ground had become.  It looked moist on the surface – the earth dark and damp and the weeds flourishing: but that was all from low-lying cloud and morning mists, just damp enough to give the plants the moisture they needed now fruiting was over.  Deeper, round the roots, when we lifted the plants the earth fell away almost like powder.

This soaking drenching, deluging rain clothes the land with blessings.  Just what we need.

I went out around tea-time for an armful of logs from the woodstore to keep the stove in through the evening.    Fast asleep in the dry nook between the top of the stacked wood and the roof, a neighbourhood cat had curled up out of the wind and rain.  A real bruiser of a cat - we know him, he creeps in and sneaks our cats' food when he thinks nobody’s looking.

This indigo silver day, storm-tossed and cool and clear, clothing the land with blessing: the left hand of beauty.  Like evening incense the thanks of my heart ascend to Thee, O mystery most high.

And I found this today.  Very inspiring, I thought.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011


Our Hebe is a calligrapher, letter-cutter in stone and general jobbing artist.  The masonry where she does much of her letter-cutting is attached to A.C. Towner funeral directors.   

Ed Towner is a lay reader at St Matthews Anglican church just along the road from where we live, and at Christmas time Towners has a crib scene filling the whole window.  

The stable was made by Duncan Brown  (one of the funeral directors who also makes beautiful sacred objets d'art) and Stephen Groves a one-time Anglo-Catholic priest, now a Roman Catholic.  Hebe painted and gilded the 'Puer natus est pro nobis' ('For us a child is born') on the front edge of the nativity, and the little holly leaves on either side of the lettering.

Then this year she was asked to paint a backdrop to stand behind it.  She has painted the town of Bethlehem just before sunrise.  The exposure of the picture means you get the impression the sky is pale blue: in fact it is dawn colours of luminous rose and gold as well as soft blues deepening into mystery, and in the sky can be seen the stars that would have been visible at dawn on the day Jesus was born, including the constellation of the Southern Cross which she has painted over the stable.

I'll see if we can get a photo that shows the sky better, and add it on.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Man Traps

So I have been listening to beautiful songs on YouTube . . . songs that move me . . . this . . . and this . . . and this . . .

Can you tell (?), I do like a quiet furry voice, a thinking mind, and a certain quality of almost painful gentleness - er . . . tenderness I guess it's called.

But, oh, glory! With the songs come (sigh) the adverts.  One that comes up repeatedly for a site that promises to teach women how to catch and keep men.  Promises to show them the ten things they are doing wrong that make men want to pull away, and how to modify their behaviour so they can (presumably) trap the men and keep them prisoner forever.

Why would you want to do that?  What is love, if it is not free?  I like men.  I love the man I am married to.  But I have no desire to keep him in a cage, tied to me by promises, manipulation and fascination.  Even the thought makes me tired.  What he is, I love.  What I am, I am.   

Something I read years ago . . . when I was about 18 . . . I jotted it down somewhere . . . from Anthony Padovano’s book Free To Be Faithful . . . just a minute . . . Yes, here it is:
The woman who abides at the side of her husband because everywhere else she is homeless is a woman who has given not compliance but freedom.

Same applies to men.  At a time when many followers began to fall away disillusioned (a lot of people prefer illusions), Jesus said to his friends “Would you like to go too?”  Peter (I love his candour.  Not a flatterer!) answered Jesus: “Lord – to whom should we go?”  This happens, I have felt it for myself; it is as if there were no other place in the whole universe to be but this.  Well, not ‘as if’, even: there actually is nowhere but this place, this person, this situation: God’s gift to us of the present moment has about it a kind of imperative, which once we recognise it makes contentment possible in the most surprising of circumstances.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Just saying

I love this song.

It is full of kindness and comfort and hope.

It re-starts my kinetic melody - the connections that keep my nervous system trucking and re-integrate my mood. I mean it does, actually, fix me.  How curious.

It has taken me all day to try and recover my head from the inherent trauma of (yes, I know it's hard to believe this) asking our decorators if they wouldn't mind adding a coat of grey on top of the white now we'd found the paint.  Hebe and I went together to ask.  We didn't succeed really because both of our consciousnesses spiralled so far out of the here and now under stress of making the request that we lost coherence completely.  At the end of the conversation we said we'd paint it ourselves.  HSP.  Sigh.  It's not always easy.  That was at about 10.30.  It's now 14.27.  I've been striving all day just to get my head back.  And then I thought to listen to that song.  And now I'm OK again.  We'll still have to paint it ourselves, but that's OK, we can do that.

This morning early (this is a bit more interesting), while it was yet dark, I went downstairs to measure the windows and make a cup of nettle tea, and found Edwin (thinking inside the box in the previous post's photos) skittering wildly about. Uh oh.  What had he got?  A moth?  No. The person that ran terrified across my foot was larger than a moth.  I put the bathroom light on so it would shine through without waking up the household.  Oh, right.  Someone small and dark with a long tail.  I grabbed a towel off the bannisters and flung it over the person, to immobilise it and protect it from Edwin.  "Alice!" I hissed, in a sort of hoarse undertone to avoid waking Hebe, "Alice! Wake up!"

Because I am useless at catching mice.  I like the mice but their darty speed unnerves me and I am never quick enough.  I always panic and miss them.  Alice is fast and fearless and grabs them quick.  She emerged.  I shut Edwin in the bathroom.   Slowly we patted the towel and rolled it back to expose the Person.  Ha!  It tried to run but Alice was too quick for it.   We went down to the front garden (yard) which is very small but we have landscaped it like a miniature woodland dell, so all kind of creatures take refuge there.  Alice opened her hand and for a short while the mouse sat up and looked at us.  Unharmed.  That sends out a ripple of well-being and gratitude.  It was OK.  Then it ran away into the ferns and rocks and morning darkness.

I'm going back to listen to that song again.  Gradually my soul is coming back to peace.  I'm all right as long as I don't have to speak to anybody.    The sun is shining.   Through the window I can see a seagull chilling out on the chimney stack.  Blue sky, white clouds.    I can hear the song in my mind. '...lights will guide you home...'  That makes me feel both very peaceful and intensely hungry in my soul.  Do you like the song too?

The house is very quiet.  I think the men have gone.  It will be OK to go downstairs now.

Thinking inside the box

Monday, 14 November 2011

Wandering off

Walk away
from the middle of things
don’t be afraid
right out of the middle of things to walk away.

Stuff accumulates
Stress accumulates
Stuff accumulates stress accumulates stuff.

Shove it.  Blow it.  Leave it. Laugh at it.

It doesn’t really matter very much.

Whatever it is (that accumulating stuff accumulating stress)
Bills . . . possessions . . . fat . . . ailments . . . hassle . . . appointments . . . glory . . . status . . . money . . . worries (funny that, how ‘money’ and ‘worries’ go together) . . .
. . . well, all of that – it isn’t what you came here for.

What you came here for – excuse me – let me not presume – what I came here for at least, was to walk in freedom.

I came here to taste being human one more time.  Stand beside the ocean.  Walk in the gold of falling leaves.  Love the dark trees spiky in the soft fog.  Feel the warmth of the sun and the fireside.  Whatever else, I came here to see the stars.  And I think I came here to pray, and discover something about how to love, and the choices that allow peace to come through.

Sometimes it seems necessary to be what feels distinctly irresponsible.  Sometimes I end up feeling deeply apologetic.  Because sometimes the only way to stop the clinging accumulation of stuff and stress is to drop it or walk off and leave it.

How dare you?  A voice says.

How dare I not?  Life is short.

What I mean is, who cares if they paint the room white or cream, or use the duvet cover for a dust sheet?  Is it irresponsible to walk away from these decisions?  Yes, I guess.  But they don’t hold my attention.  My mind wanders away.  It’s difficult even to remember that it’s Monday. 

What I do remember, though, is that my dear friend has come through her surgery OK, and she is feeling better now, and this afternoon is a chance to go and see her, drink tea with her, and enjoy being the happiest people in the world.  

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Endless Knot Endless Story

About three years ago, I decided the Badger and I needed a new kingsize winter duvet, 13.5 tog to be warm and snuggly in the snowy weather.  I went hunting on eBay, and sure enough I found one at a very low price indeed and duly bought it.  How happy I was to have exercised frugality in this way and made a purchase, not from a big store that would ultimately impoverish the local economy to fill the coffers of powerful people far away, but a small independent UK trader working from home.

The duvet arrived, still new and sealed in its packaging, 13.5 tog.  I unwrapped it, and only then in preparing to put it in the duvet cover and settle it on the bed did I espy the label stitched into the side of the duvet: 10.0 tog.  Oh.

It had been sent me in good faith, by a trader who had evidently been pleased to get hold of a job lot of duvets, not realising why they were so cheap.  I wrote to her; she, mortified and full of apologies, offered to refund my money.  But I said it was OK – 10.0 tog would do.  And in our centrally heated house in Aylesbury with a long radiator right by the bed, all was fine.

Then we moved down to Hastings and took up residence in our garret, which (at our own request) has no central heating; we like to experience the seasons, and central heating dries out my eyes and nose and all my skin.  In the summer, the garret gets mighty hot and we open the great skylight windows to let in the breezes from the sea.  But in the winter it gets ffrrrreezing!  Last winter we piled on three blankets, wore our socks, added a couple of hot water bottles and clung to each other, and we were OK.

My mother has recently moved to live in a village just five miles away from us, downsizing a third time – from a big country house to a medium town house to a small town house and now to a small apartment.  Careful and thrifty like all her generation, there have been things she has hesitated to get rid of, and a week or so back she did another winnow of stored possessions.  She managed to find new homes for everything that came out of the boxes – except for a kingsize 13.5 tog quilt: had we any use for it?  Oh, well – as it happens . . .

So the quilt came home with us, just as the cold weather is returning and nights with the 10.0 tog had begun to feel a little challenging.  How wonderful!

But with the journey into autumn have come rain, mist, cold, fog and drizzle.  And we are in process of a massive re-think of the garden – everywhere is mud and plants dug up and trellis/fences/rose-arches/posts/trees/etc half in and unfinished.   So the washing line is out of commission and even if it were not the idea of trying to dry anything in this weather is merely laughable.  So there is a huge pile of laundry in our bedroom because the indoor drying space is already in use by someone else.  I have three sets of pyjamas and now two are in the wash and if I don’t overcome the laundry conundrum I shall be chilly at night indeed.  So this was not the best evening to change the bedding and add a second pile of laundry to the one we already had. 


In addition to the clothes and the bedding needing washing, the 10.0 tog kingsize quilt will have to be washed and dried before it can go into store for use next summer.  This means it will have to go to the laundrette, as our washing machine is too small for it, we have no drier, and it will never dry out of doors in this weather.  But the laundrette requires pound coins (of which I have none), and because we need to use the extra big washing machine it will need an extra lot of pound coins – probably about eight in all to get the quilt washed and dried.  The Badger has some in his loose change pot, but only about three, cos I checked.

Further more

I have given away my car now, and a kingsize quilt is a mighty big thing to lug ¾ of a mile down the road to the laundrette.  And back.

All of which goes to show that in the ending of every story a new story begins.  Every resolution carries an embryonic challenge.  Heaven and Hell belong to one another.  Every situation turns into its opposite.  The lily is in the compost and the compost is in the lily.  There is no case for complacency and no need to worry.

This is the second time in only a few days that life has reached over my shoulder to direct my attention to the Endless Knot.

I think I can afford to relax.  Surely the lesson is that in solving this one the triumph I achieve will bear the seeds of the next moment’s downfall.  Energy moves in circles.   The secret is to stop thinking about destinations and concentrate instead upon the journey.  Namaste.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Poem for today

What have you done?
The work is unfinished
and vanished
the sun.
Wild wind from the ocean
is bringing the rain;
and we have no notion
when work on the garden
can start
or continue
be feasible
set s l o w l y in motion

This was only a poem.  To be fair, it's a jolly nice day and our garden is holding its breath in good hope of work continuing to completion.  Oh . . . no . . . wait . . . that's a very big very black cloud . . .  If he can just get those fence posts set in so we can dig the new beds and put the plants we dug up back out of their buckets into the earth.  Such a small window - it's November already - the season has a tension about it like someone with a sneeze that won't come - the cold is on its way but  w h e n . . . . come the time it lets go I think we may see snow and rain clear through to February.  Why am I saying this?  I have no idea at all.  But - quick, Joe!  Get the posts in before the rain, and the wall pointed before the frosts!  Joe is an excellent workman.  Our house now has a patchy being - two parts Victorian villa to one part essence of Joe.  It is held up by the wisdom of his hands.  My, that wind is gusting!  Hurry, Joe!

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

More good sense from Leo Babauta

Here at Zen Habits.  This man is on a roll !  What brilliant posts he has put up lately!

Leonardo da Vinci's Salvator Mundi: guest post by Hebe

Not sure if folks overseas can catch up on the BBC programme we saw about this painting, but it's here on i-player for those who have access.

I am also not sure what pictures I am allowed to post on my blog from among those online, but to stay on the right side of copyright law, I will not display but link to a picture so you can see what we're talking about.  The one closest to the picture we saw in the programme is this one.

And, UK peeps, don't miss out on this!!

Okay - here follow Hebe's thoughts on da Vinci's Salvator Mundi (which means 'Saviour of the World')

Salvator Mundi

We were excited to watch the programme on BBC 1 on Sunday, with Fiona Bruce, on the painting which it is believed could be the lost ‘Salvator Mundi’ by Leonardo da Vinci. 
It was an insightful programme about Da Vinci although somewhat dominated by many shots of Bruce wandering around, but we felt it could have had more analysis of the painting itself.  So here are some thoughts, and feel free to add some of your own.

First of all, we are inclined to think it is by him, and I’m going by that assumption.
The first thing I thought when I first saw the painting (in the Radio Times) was how blue the robes are.  In fact, after googling later, I discovered that Jesus (at least as Salvator Mundi) seems more generally to be depicted with red robe and blue blanket (I think it is like a priest’s stole, but Jesus nearly always seems to have his handy blanket draped over a shoulder).  The gold braid also drew my attention.  I could be reading a lot into this, but it looks like the symbols of the chi rho [abbreviation to mean 'Christ'. Ember] sideways on (PX). 
Compare these to the Christ in da Vinci’s Last Supper.  There he is more of a man, I think, yet to undergo full realisation into Christhood.  Here he has become fully the Christ – he wears the colour of heaven, no longer red, the colour of Adam.  And what was a simple jewel on his collar has become the name of Christ.
I am interested in the jewels, and wonder if they have any significance.  I read somewhere on the internet that the 8 sided star (look carefully at the bottom jewel, it is set in an embroidered star) is the symbol for resurrection, and the gold threads are also 8 stranded.
Apart from my initial response to his great outfit, I was surprised by the muted, undefined face.  The beard is not as strongly painted as I’m used to seeing in standard depictions of Jesus, indeed the facial hair could almost be mistaken for shadows.  The whole face has an androgynous quality, and his chest has the lightest suggestion of a bosom. 
The more we considered it, the more this Christ looked as though it was supposed to represent male and female.
After seeing the documentary on BBC 1, we thought this painting also bore a strong resemblance to self-portraits by da Vinci.  The pose is very like a self-portrait, the direct eyes like the view we have of ourselves in the mirror.
We think that da Vinci might be trying to show that the eternal resurrected Christ lives in everyone, every man, every woman, in me.

In the documentary one of the experts described da Vinci’s painting technique as layering ‘glazes’, or building up washes is how I’d put it, of colour over a white background.  The gives a luminosity, as if the light comes from within the skin, rather than overpainted white highlights reflecting off a surface.  The face in this painting is very subtle, it’s possible that it has lost paint over the years, especially since it was painted over.  But I also wonder if it is meant to be painted so delicately to give the face of Christ maximum luminosity, emerging from the dark background.  Like the Light of the World; like the ‘light shining in the darkness’ in the opening of John’s gospel.

His hair has a reddish tint, which Sr. Julia tells me is typical of medieval Florentine art (I don’t know if that is true of elsewhere, but it seems there is a strong tradition of depicting Jesus with red hair)  Fair to red hair and green eyes were considered beautiful and indicated purity.
Da Vinci is known (according to the documentary) for giving angels and the holy family these light delicate curls highlighted with gold and copper.  I find them oddly thin, the strands too insubstantial to be realistic.  Ember suggested that they are not so much representation of hair as a representation of light, radiating, glinting, like a halo.
As far as I can tell, and it may be to do with the quality of images I’ve seen, but here the eyes seem amber, golden brown rather than green.  I can’t think of any meaning for this, but there is quite a captivating quality to his eyes.  I find myself trying to read the expression in them, they draw you in with their faint ambiguity yet disarmingly direct gaze.
The other detail that draws attention is the globe (or crystal ball, I like to think!)  Later depictions of the Salvator Mundi also have a crystal globe, but they seem to be mimicking this original.  I don’t know if any earlier paintings have a crystal globe or if da Vinci set the ball rolling…
It looks to me, and this is entirely subjective of course, like he painted an object he physically had.  The detail of the internal flaws suggest he had studied and I guess become fascinated by the way light passes through polished crystal. [And maybe, because it is a flawed world?  And maybe a crystal ball because Christ can look into it, ‘read’ it.  And I love that he holds it in his hand. Ember]
I wonder why he showed the world as a clear ball.  Is it a new world, made new, restored by Christ?  Is its clarity a representation of purity?  If so, I wonder if the flaws have any other significance.  Maybe they are not so much flaws as effervescent bubbles, simply joyful.
 The detail of three dots of light please me, a reference to the Trinity I like to think. 
The globe brings to mind the quote from 1 Corinthians 13, “for now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face.”
This also resonates with the indistinct but emerging sense of the face.  The restorer of the painting said that Leonardo da Vinci said that dusk was the best time to paint for the light, and that she found the painting became more alive at that time of day. 

Anyway, those are some of mine, Ember’s and Alice’s thoughts on the painting, I expect there’s more to say and discover.  But how about you?  let us know what you think too.