Sunday, 31 July 2011

Writing and praying

Hello my friends,

I am trying a new experiment - a bit along the same lines as a 'staycation'.

I am writing a novel that is about two-thirds done and needs another 20,000 words to complete it.  So I've put all other tasks to bed and am taking August to complete the writing, having undertaken to submit the manuscript to my publisher for their approval in September.

I'm pleased with what I've done on it so far, and want to really concentrate on getting this last third of the book right.

I will be so grateful if you have the time to pray for me in the writing of this book.

Most especially, if you are able to pray for me, what I need is the following:

1) Inspiration.  I know where I am going with the book - it's not ideas I need - but inspiration in the divine sense, so that what I write will be a channel of God's grace and goodness, capable of touching people's hearts lightly in a way that turns their lives to blessing.

2) Discernment, both in my writing and in my life choices.  Though I can put in place firm barriers between myself and most of the world, I always stop and pay attention when my family needs me.  Sometimes it is not clear to me when something needs my attention and when it does not.  The books I write are not for entertainment only, they are spiritual and therefore active - live - in terms of Holy Spirit ministry.  This means that I can guarantee that the minute I begin to really focus on writing, some new thing that wasn't even on the horizon before, and that I don't see how I can possibly get out of responding to, will come up and DEMAND my attention.  True to form, this is happening already.  Today is the 31st July.  I had worked as hard and fast as I know how to get everything necessary sorted and seen to by today, so that from August 1st I am absolutely clear to focus on writing.  And guess what?  This evening, something that was not even a whisper on the wind yesterday has cropped up in my family, urgently clamouring for my attention, that will involve me significantly, is requiring a couple of hours out of tomorrow, and will continue to do so for the next few weeks.   The problem is not so much the hours it will take up, as that writing fiction needs total concentration, and these random things that arise shatter my concentration completely, so that I can't write well if at all.  I will be grateful if you can pray for discernment in knowing how to turn down these interruptions without causing hurt and offence, as well as recognising them for what they are, and if you can also pray a forcefield around me to keep them from invading my ability to concentrate.

Thank you so much, friends.  May be in touch through August - if not; see you in September.

If anyone has read my new book The Hardest Thing To Do, I would be so grateful if you could spare the time to review it on Amazon.

xxx Pen

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Does the name Erspamer mean anything to you?

OK - I know - I know - it's a tad early to be thinking about Christmas!  But bear with me; I can explain everything!

A few months ago I was given the honour and privilege of being allowed to become our church's Parochial Church Council secretary.  What does this mean?  Can you guess?  Right first time! Lots and lots and LOTS of paperwork.  Do I like paperwork?  That depends.  I do if it's pretty and it's fun - which it is if it has pictures.

So the minute I had been let loose on the unsuspecting Church Council, the name Erspamer came to mind.  Well, that's not strictly true.  I thought "Wait a minute... who's that guy... the one with the amazing clipart for every season of the church's year... the guy whose clipart Real Live Preacher always had on his website...?"

So I Googled and reminded myself of the artist's name - Steve Erspamer - then I Googled in earnest to find out where I could get his clipart.

I was a bit horrified to discover that it was going for the price of hens' teeth on Amazon, on account of apparently having gone out of print.  Steve Erspamer's clipart is sold in three volumes: Clipart for Year A, Clipart for Year B and Clipart for Year C, following the Scripture readings and the traditional feasts and fasts of the Catholic three-year lectionary cycle.

I managed to get Clipart for Year A at a reasonable price from an Amazon second-hand retailer, then found the Year B and Year C books for sale at Borders - again at a reasonable price.  Each book gives pictures of all the clipart, and a CD-ROM for use with PC and MAC so the clipart can be used for parish handouts etc - or, in my case, for the agendas and minutes of the PCC and the Standing Committee, being the limit so far of my playground.

Then guess what?  Borders went out of business.  Before they had a chance to process my order.  Oh no!  Back to the drawing board. At least I had the Year A book though, and as it actually is Year A at the moment, that was OK.

So nothing deterred I went and searched again.  And this time I found McCrimmons.  Oh, happy day!!  I searched their site for Erspamer and ta-da!  All three books cheaper than anywhere else!  Proper new copies, so no anxieties like you get with buying secondhand in case they've lost the CD or the presbytery puppy has chewed up the first 25 pages.

But that wasn't all I found under 'Erspamer' at McCrimmons.  I found Something Else.  They had this Advent calendar that he has made, wondrous and beautiful and amazing.  It is eighteen inches high (or you can get a shorter twelve-inch one), and folds into three vertically with a sticky tab to fix it, so that it stands up like a triangular house.  I am not describing this well.  Do you know what I mean?  Look:

And it doesn't have only twenty-four doors to open, because it's for Christmas-tide - the whole Christmas story of the coming of Jesus - not just Advent.  So it has forty doors to open!

In the triangular column you create by fixing it together and standing it up (though if you want you could just fold it out flat and fix it up against a window), you could stand candles (better the electric sort so you don't inadvertently reduce it to ashes halfway through the first week of Advent).  As you open each door, the beautiful pictures revealed are on paper like greaseproof paper, so they are like stained glass windows.  Here's one:

Can you see the writing revealed on the inside of the doors as you open them?  The right-hand one is a quotation from the Gospel of Luke, and the left-hand one is a quotation from Deuteronomy.  It's for Day 16.
From Luke 2:5-6
Joseph went up to Bethlehem to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child.  While they were there the time came for her to deliver her child.

What I really like about that is that it says child.  Because it will be a child who is opening the doors - so, 'a child - like me!'

And from Deuteronomy 10:18-19:
The Lord loves the stranger, providing them with food and clothing. You shall love the stranger, for you yourself were once strangers in the land of Egypt. 

I haven't peeped into the other doors, because I want them to stay closed for a surprise when Advent comes - I just wanted to show you one, so you'd know what the calendar is like.

But wait - that's not all!  There's this as well:

A booklet of readings and prayers by Craig M.Mueller to use with Steve Erspamer's calendar, so the opening of each door becomes a short devotional ceremony.

The booklet starts with an explanatory introduction covering issues like different traditions in different churches.
Then there's a Note to Parents with some suggestions for enriching and extending the calendar devotions with candles, and Advent wreath etc.
Then there's a page headed 'Daily Prayer' which gives a very short liturgy to make a daily framework into which the prayers and readings will fit.
After that come the readings and prayers.

Here are the ones for December 16th:
Think of some trips you have taken.  How long did you travel?  Did you go in a train, car or airplane, or by some other way?  Did it take a long time to get there?
Before Jesus was born, Mary and Joseph had to travel to Bethlehem.  When they got to Bethlehem, there was no place for them to stay.
Advent is a time to make room.  We pray that this Christmas there would be room in our hearts for Jesus to be born.

Let us pray.
Loving God,
prepare our hearts for the coming of Jesus.
In our busy lives
help us to make room for your love.
In Jesus' name we pray.  Amen.

If you have a manger scene, put it up today.  Put out the animals and the manger.  Put the shepherds nearby, in the field watching their flocks.  Between now and Christmas Eve have Mary and Joseph travel closer each day to the manger.

Some days just have prayers and readings, and the opening of the calendar door. Other days have additional activities suggested.

Here is a close-up picture of part of the calendar:

And another:

Now - how fab is that?!!!

Oh - and my order from McCrimmons not only came really really quick, it was the best wrapped parcel I have ever had through the post - bar none!  And as the Royal Mail do a sterling job at mashing the corners of books sometimes, I felt very grateful to McCrimmons for that.

One thing I should tell you.  Because this is a Catholic publication, extreme Protestants who find Marian feasts offensive may not like everything in the clipart or the calendar devotions.  But you can choose and improvise, in such case.

Here's Joseph in his many-coloured coat from the Year B clipart:

All the clipart is free to copy without acknowledgement if you want to use it for a parish or school or similar.  But you have to write away for the publisher's permission if it's going to be used on something you will be selling.
The introduction to the clipart book says: Liturgical images can educate as well as illustrate.  They teach without words.  They tell stories, evoke moods, and remind us of things we almost forgot.  The images in this book do even more: they can lead us into the lectionary, into the scriptures and psalms and even the spirit of the liturgy.  They can lead us into mystery.

Well!  Is that all fab?  Is the Pope a Catholic?

The calendar is called the Fling Wide The Doors Calendar:

The copyright of all materials is with Liturgy Training Publications of the Archdiocese of Chicago.

Monday, 25 July 2011

"You whose day it is, make it beautiful"

The title of this blog post is a quotation, said to be Navaho, that I came across I can't remember where or when - only that I loved it; and I have always remembered it.

This day, my daughter Alice gave me a beautiful thing she made for me - calligraphy by Alice on paper made by Alice.  How fab is that?

The calligraphy is a quotation from a song called It Couldn't Be Better by the Ozark Mountain Daredevils, whose music we love.  My children grew up with an album of theirs that we had - on vinyl disc in those days of course.  When they were little, they used to write and draw on the wall sometimes, and that was not surprising because so did I.

I took a big marker pen and wrote on the chimney breast in the kitchen, over the woodstove there, a quotation from that Ozark Mountain Daredevils album:
There's a fire in the stove
Keeping out the cold
Warming wine and winters and babies and home.
(song here)

Seems the habit runs in the family :0D

God bless you, Alice.  It's so beautiful.

And here on the south coast of England, it's a beautiful day.

Yesterday had something beautiful in it too.  The Badger's grandson, his daughter's child, has just arrived, a little further north in Kent, and we were able to visit him yesterday, just two days old.  May he walk in blessing all his days on this earth, may Christ walk with him, the Lord watch over him, and angels guard his way.  May he be happy in life, and may he be free.  May his home be full of love and full of laughter.  May peace reign in his heart, strength and wisdom in his soul, integrity in his spirit and shalom in his body.  Go, little baby!  The earth hath need of thee.

You, whose day it is - make it beautiful.



Thursday, 21 July 2011

House Names

I wish we had a name for our house.

In Aylesbury I called our house Hagia Sofia (Greek.  Means 'holy wisdom'), though the name never really stuck with the Badger, so we mostly called it 27 Tindal Road.

When I lived in a tiny 2-roomed apartment in Hastings I called it Gezellig, because that's what my friend Carien, visiting from the Netherlands, said it was.  Gezellig, she said, means comfortable, but also like a place that has soul.  It used to be an Old English word too - going back into and before the Dark Ages now -  where its form was gesaelig, meaning ensouled, overtones of the holy.  'Saelig' morphed into 'silly', which meant innocent back then.  It came to mean foolish and lightheaded because people born with learning disability were seen as holy innocents - silly - soul-people.

When I sold my apartment I bought a lovely little house - cosy and homely and friendly.  The perfect house, I thought (still do).  At the time our Fi was working down in Dorset in a retreat house, and to get there we had to drive along Godsblessing Lane.  I loved that name.  So I called the new house Godsblessing House.  Grace lives there now (sounds appropriate!).

Then we came to this house.  I've had various ideas for its name, but it isn't just my house, and all my suggestions have been received with indifference at best. Hmm.

We were talking about this yesterday over supper, when I said High Dudgeon would be a good name for a house.  In fact there could be a whole street. Ivory Tower could be next door.  Hebe thought one of the houses might be called Coventry. Alice named one of them Side Partings .  I think one of them might be called The Sticks - or, for the classically trained and pretentious, The Styx.  And I suppose there'd inevitably be some nouveau riche honeymoon couple move in who would lower the tone of the whole street by calling their house Kenbarbie.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Eating For Victory

Now then, food!  What do I eat, someone asked.

I learned a lot from macrobiotics, but basically it was too complicated for me, and had too many of the tiresome characteristics of a fully-fledged religion, enough to bring on terminal hardening of the oughteries.  So I stashed its basic principles in a spare set of brain cells along with a note-to-self about miso soup, scallions and seaweed – all of which I, unaccountably, find delicious; and then kind of morphed off from macrobiotics and left it in the Admirable But Hard pile.

However Tom Monte’s book Unexpected Recoveries has a most brilliant section on eating for health.  If you ever see that book going at a reasonable price on the internet, oh buy it buy it buy it!  It is just the best.  His advice on food is full of macrobiotic wisdom, but like a bird regurgitating worms for its chicks because they’re too young to handle them in full-on wriggly format, so Tom Monte has processed the diet info we need to know and dished it up in a form the Normal Human Bean can understand.  He gives you the low-down on everything you need to know about eating to stay well – and the bottom line of that is, fruit, veg, whole-grains and beans.

Next I came across The China Study, which sings the same tune.  Colin Campbell recommends (in The China Study) what he describes as a ‘plant-based diet’, which for some reason I find easier to conceptualise than ‘vegan’ – possibly because ‘vegan’ has all kind of guilt-trip associations for me for reasons I’ll go into some other time or we’ll be here all night.  Asked wistfully by some enquirer if eating fish is OK, Colin Campbell says w-e-l-l…. not r-e-a-l-l-y… because fish is more like meat than it is like plants, and eating plants is what keeps you well.  However Tom Monte says a bit of fish is OK if you don’t go mad with it (standard macrobiotic advice).  I find this immensely helpful for eating out, because rare indeed is the restaurant that will dish up vegan wholefood, but fish and seasonal vegetables, or fish salad, or fish on wholegrain bread, are relatively easy to come by.  

I used to drink fruit juices quite a bit until I saw Robert Lustig’s YouTube video about fructose, that spells out unforgettably exactly why and how the body metabolises fructose like fat – so soda and fruit juice are contributing massively to the obesity epidemic of present times.  I haven’t had a glass of fruit juice or soda since I saw it.

So what do I eat?

I start the day with a cup of nettle tea if my long-suffering Badger is home to make it for me.  If he isn’t (and sometimes even if he is) I get up and do my WiiFit exercises, then have a glass of water and 4 Spirulina tablets (steer clear of the gag-worthy ghastly powder form of it) and do whatever needs doing before my body has chilled out again from the exercise and I feel like breakfast.  The Spirulina is g-r-r-reat!  Without it I get low and fretful and start wanting to eat meat and fish.  With it I hum along cheerfully with lots of energy and no cravings.   It has protein – as in, loadsa protein.  It laughs in derision at T-bone steak.

Breakfast – home-made muesli with a chopped banana and unsweetened soya milk.  I make my own muesli rather than getting a branded mix, because they mostly have wheat in.  I don’t want too much wheat because it swells up body tissues.  On the plus side, it does make you feel full.  But also oat grain is soothing in its personality, good for the nerves and calming all-round.  So I make muesli from 2 bags of what I call ‘horse oats’ (the chunky, uncompromising ones not the fluffy ones), one bag of best mixed nuts, one bag of mixed fruit and nuts, a couple of handfuls of sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds – and, if I think to get any, some cacao nibs and some ground almonds.  It’s DELICIOUS!!!  

Lunch, I have a salad sandwich.  That’s medium sliced wholemeal bread, with the thinnest imaginable scraping of vegan marg, then some (but not loads of) houmous on top of that (on both slices of bread), then bits of tomato, radish, pepper, cucumber and lettuce.  Clamp it all together and nom nom nom…

Mid-afternoon my teeth get bored, but there is good news!  Nairns oatbiscuits are made of whole-grain oats and are small and not too sweet, and have only about 45 calories.  So I can have two, then, right?  With a cup of nettle or dandelion tea.  If I’ve eaten all the oat biscuits I raid the bag of dried fruit and nut from the stash ready for making muesli – but only a handful, mind!  Or I might have an orange or some cherries.

Then supper is something cooked.  Maybe a bean curry with brown rice, or steamed veggies with soya sausages in onion gravy, or wholewheat pasta with vegetables in a rich tomato sauce.  Something like that.  I never cook from recipe books because I can’t be bothered and probably don’t have the ingredients.


Marigold Bouillon mix is fab and tasty and good for you.  It’s our basic flavouring dooberry.

Fresh herbs are culinary salvation and grace.  We grow LOADS.  Tasty tasty yum yum.

The reason many people hate vegetables is because they buy the wrong ones.  They get the cheapest sort available in the supermarket.  Organic, home-grown, or farmers’ market veggies are a whole different ball game – they are of the most swoon-worthy delicion.  Yum yum with bells on.

A pressure cooker is good, especially for cooking the pulses in double-quick time.  The modern ones no longer come with inbuilt terror.

Sometimes a special luxury sinful treat is called for.  Here’s one.  Get the blender out (as is smoothie-maker type of thing).  Hoof into it a good big lump of vegan ice-cream (we have Swedish Glace because it’s delicious and the others are disgusterous), a slug of maple syrup, and a heaped teaspoonful of instant coffee granules dissolved in as little boiling water as it takes to do it.  Glug on some of your unsweetened soy milk.  Then whizz it all up together for about a minute.  Et voilĂ !  The world’s best coffee milk-shake.  But do not be seduced into drinking this every day!  Remember what Robert Lustig says about sugar, and tremble.

Drink a lot.  Sometimes when your body is whingeing at you, it means thirsty not hungry.  Eat a lot of soup and juicy stuff.

I don’t understand the body chemistry rational for this (the liver releasing glycogen?  The nervous system releasing endorphins?  I just don’t know), but I have found that a ten-minute run does the same as a snack; stops me feeling hungry, makes me feel energised and cheerful.  Why?  Dunno.  But it does.

OK I spec you’re bored now, so I’ll stop.

PS - I do know I mentioned The China Study, Unexpected Recoveries & Robert Lustig's video before - but they are pearls of great price to me and to you - worth reiterating!  xxx

Tuesday, 19 July 2011


I cannot tell you how difficult it is making the title graphic for this blog.  I am only semi-computer-literate.  Drat.  That's not very good.  Getting the sizing right and fiddling about with images, word files, converting to PDFs, copying into Paint, saving as a jpeg - finding it's too small really but I can't resize or the lettering looks awful.  Aargh... I wanted to make something that looks less wintry, and shows the cover of the new edition of The Hawk & the Dove trilogy.  Hmm. Once we have a cover pic for Remember Me, I can make a graphic using all 4 volumes in the series with an author pic in the middle, and that will fill the space properly.  Oh well.  That will have to do for now.  Cos it's 11pm and I'm TIRED.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Running away

Running round the WiiFit island feels good in my body, but sometimes gets a bit boring in my mind. 

So while I'm running sometimes I take the opportunity for pray for friends who need the Lord’s help especially just now.  Sometimes I mull things over, think through a piece of writing I need to do, or consider how to approach a section of editorial work for someone else’s book.

And if all else fails, I look at the track on the screen and listen to my feet padding along, and remind myself where I’m running to and what I’m running away from.

Running away from fluid retention… from obesity… from diabetes… from fibromyalgia… from worsening varicose veins… from depression… from flab (quick! faster!)… from fatigue… from osteoporosis… from muscle loss…

Running towards vascular health… mental alertness… cheerfulness… strength… muscle tone… lymphatic health… bone health… extended independence in old age…

Over breakfast ths morning I sat chatting with Fi my youngest daughter about muscles – ‘I love muscles,’ she said: ‘they’re amazing!’

Specifically, we were thinking about the bag/net/cradle of muscle that wraps around the pelvis – abdomen, perineum, lower back muscles – creating a core of strength and stability that protects against getting bad backs, prolapses and incontinence, and is the source of strength for moving and lifting.  The spine is a willowy thing, designed for bending and flexing, not for carrying loads.  When the muscles that weave around it are allowed to atrophy, the spine and skeleton are asked to perform tasks God never meant them for, and they go wonky and out of kilter – and then the body starts screaming ‘Uh oh! Life-you-are-doing-it-wrong alert! Alert! Alert!’

The Badger says the thing with exercise that people often forget to mention is the time lag.  From when you start to where it begins to feel good is about a fortnight.  He thinks if more people knew that, fewer people would give up.

I love the loose, easy feeling of running.   I love the sound of my feet on the floor like an African drummer’s bush message of health and cheerfulness.  I love it that I can see bones in my feet, that I haven’t seen for years because of fluid retention.  I love it that, because of the way I eat and the running, all the awful pain I though I was stuck with forever has gone – the fibromyalgia pain in my legs, the chest pains, the excruciating acid reflux, the sore, swollen tongue (how long have you got?)  Gone, gone, gone.  Not to mention the tonsilloleths and the candida and the awful fatigue that felt like my life draining away.  Gone.  I ran away from them and ate them away.

I feel so well these days.  Plant-based, whole-food eating.  Running running running.  I feel good.  The Badger did point out to me that it’s much harder running actually outside in the streets and the park instead of padding along an off-cut of carpet.  Stored away for future reference, when my body gets nifty and speedy and strong  :0)    

Friday, 15 July 2011

Cleaning the Temple

Prince Philip had a special BBC review of his life to mark his 90th birthday.  His interviewer Alan Titchmarsh asked him at one point about his relationship with Prince Charles, and Prince Philip replied:

“He's a romantic - and I'm a pragmatist. That means we do see things differently. Sometimes a romantic thinks that a pragmatist is unfeeling.”

I found that really interesting and helpful, because I had never considered that contrast – and hearing it I immediately recognised myself as one of the pragmatists.  It’s not that I have no feelings and no vision, but that I always have questions about who’s paying, whether a proposition is realistic, how much time it will take, who is responsible for what – not to mention the condition of the drains, the roof, the bank balance and the store cupboard.

So when I think about cleaning the temple, by which I mean dusting off this mortal house in which the Spirit of the Lord oddly deigns to dwell, I am focussing not so much on repentance, forgiveness, sanctification and redemption as diet and exercise.

I regard my body as the temple of the Lord, and I am its household staff charged with keeping it in the best order it is in my power to achieve, everything pretty and clean and polished.  As to diet, everything a person needs to know for the normal body is in The China Study here, this YouTube video on fructose here, and Tom Monte’s book Unexpected Recoveries here.  If you follow the advice from those three sources, you’ll have that nailed.

I am not so good on exercise.  I have never been into formal concepts of ‘exercise’ – sport, the gym, stretches, yoga, Pilates – aaaagh no!  Most of my life I have been a fairly whizzing about person though, so it hasn’t really mattered.  But now, as a middle-aged writer with over developed button-pressing muscles, I have to think about it.  And Wii Fit is my salvation.  Sticking at it is the difficult thing.

But then something happened that hooked into my psyche and so far it seems to be holding good.

There are some people to whom I give my absolute trust, and when that happens an uncanny openness comes about to their words and opinions.  An example of this happened when I learned to drive about twenty years ago.  At that time I was still in my first marriage, and as I bowled merrily along the seafront with my then husband in the passenger seat, he said: ‘You need to get into the left-hand lane.’  Without thinking, without questioning, without looking, I did. At least I tried to.  The blasting horn of the car already occupying the space saved me from disaster.  My driving instructor said he had learned from bitter experience to say to his pupils not, ‘Go straight ahead at the junction,’ but, ‘At the next junction, stop, and if all is clear go ahead.’  Because his pupils trusted him implicitly.  Whatever he said, that was what they did.

And something similar happened a while ago about exercise.  I was whingeing pitifully about how hard it is to keep up any regular program of exercise, and the Badger stopped what he was doing, sat down, looked at me thoughtfully, and said: ‘You have to do it every day, devotionally, as to the Lord.’

D’you think he hypnotised me?  Because ever since he said that, I have.  Any day I haven’t felt in the mood for exercise, and been inclined to slope off and do something else, the words come back to me, and I can see him saying them: ‘You have to do it every day, devotionally, as to the Lord.’  And I do it.  Just as well, because I’m supposed to be two stones lighter than I am, and so far I’ve been practically living on veg and running like a rabbit every morning for nearly three weeks and all I’ve lost is ONE MEASLY POUND!  That’s middle age for you.

I like running round the WiiFit island, following the dogs not the trainer, because the dogs go to groovier places – they frolic in the waves and leap off dangerous cliffs and whatnot.  But even that gets tedious sometimes, and then it helps to have some music to run to.  But as you know if you’ve ever tried running to music, it has to have a regular beat.  My top favourites so far for running to are T Rex singing I love to boogie, and a CD I bought on Julie’s recommendation of Bear Tunes for Kids (hear one here).  I slightly alarmed my family with this last week.  I felt like an extra run before bed, and nipped downstairs to the living room.  I didn’t put the light on because I don’t want the neighbours to be able to see me running.  It transpired later that my family had been standing outside enquiring of each other if anyone knew why mum was listening to children's bear songs in the dark… 

Sunday, 10 July 2011

"Where can I fit in?"

This morning, at church with the Wretched Wretch and his mummy, I felt intrigued to observe his modus operandi - if it’s possible to call it that when he’s only had two years in the world in total!

His regular church is a small country chapel with only a few people, where everyone knows each other and he can potter about as he pleases – and during the sermon and intercessions there’s a Sunday School he enjoys going to with his mummy and Wendy.

Our church is much bigger, and though we have several small children and folks with learning disabilities, the worship is more formal, and children are not expected to wander about at the front.

Most of the time church was on, the Wretched Wretch spent playing out in the garden with his mummy and me, but before we decided this to be the wisest course of action, a few differences of opinion took place that she and I tried to keep as quiet as possible in a big echo-y building where every sound carries!  “Ssh, darling, tell Mummy what you want -  did you want some food?  Or some mummy-milk? Or to go downstairs with the other children?” she whispered.   No! No mummy-milk!  Yes, some food – that meant creeping stealthily round behind the worshippers to retrieve the bag of snacks daddy had packed into the stroller.  Mummy opened the bag of dried apple crisps as quietly as she could.  The Wretched Wretch had two, and then became restless and unhappy again.  Basically, nothing on offer was what he wanted to do, and if he couldn't do what he wanted he started to cry, and we couldn't let him cry in a large resonant building in a gathering for worship!  We wraithed as noiselessly as we could round the church, showing him the candles and the pictures in the stained glass windows, and the Baby Jesus in the big painting and the toys – but his bones and muscles are growing and his body just has to run – so in the end “Shall we go outside?” “YES!” he said in great relief; and we did.

We came back in when the great bell in the tower tolled for the elevation of the host, and it was time to make our communion with Jesus.

Reflecting on it as we played on the grass and the steps and under the trees, I thought about how, at two years old, the questions the Wretched Wretch’s being asks are: “How do I feel?” and “What do I want?” 

I think that’s fine – when you’re only two.

But I can’t help noticing that many people take those questions with them  into adulthood – maybe because, unlike the Wretched Wretch’s mummy, their mummies never let them live those questions to the fullest extent, and the needs that demanded to be satisfied got repressed out of sight still clamouring, to surface again once the power of adulthood made that possible.  Many adults still approach their encounters and experiences asking, “How do I feel?” and “What do I want?”

As I thought about it, I asked myself: in an ideal world, what is the question we might be aiming to bring to our relationships with others and the experiences and gatherings we share?  

I decided on the question: “Where can I fit in?”

I chose that, because I think we might like to aim for a balance of what is right for me and what is right for others.  Asking, what can I contribute?  What benefit will I receive?  What do I have to offer?  How can I be authentically me and at the same time respect the individuality, vocation and preferences of others?

I hope that, as he is listened to and loved, as the Wretched Wretch grows up he will gradually, without really noticing it happen, enlarge the circle of his thinking beyond “How do I feel?” and “What do I want?” to include the feelings and happiness of the others around him, changing his question to: “Where can I fit in?”  His happiness will always matter, will always be worthy of consideration, his whole life long – but the trick is to extend the circle to include the happiness of others.

His mummy is very patient.  She has the wonderful gift of putting someone else’s happiness first.  And as a result, the Wretched Wretch is already learning kindness, learning co-operation, learning to love.