Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Needles and stuff to get through

I feel slightly in awe of the amount of stuff I have to do today.

I stand respectfully at the bottom of the mountain gazing up at its peak disappearing majestically into the clouds.

It makes Mount Fuji look like a pimple.

Therefore despite your inevitably bitter disappointment all I shall be doing today is telling you about needles.

See below.


365 366 Day 60 February 29th
 (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, see here)

I don’t know how this came about but I have acquired quite a quantity of needles over the passing years.

I think a surge in needle uptake occurred when I married Bernard.  His house at that time was like a shrine to his deceased wife Anne.  All her stuff was still there just as it always had been.  He spent a considerable proportion of the short while he and I were together before his death coming to terms with the end of the era of Anne and the beginning of the era of me, and sorting through her things.  This was good news for me because at first all I had was two drawers and half a cupboard, as Anne’s possessions occupied the rest of the space Bernard’s stuff left over.

As well as being a prolific artist, Annie made all her own clothes and had a work basket full of handy implements – a leather punch, a darning mushroom, a skein of sock yarn, a huge curved needle for stitching leather, a metal thing for determining the size of unmarked knitting needles; all kind of useful items.  And she had a lot of cottons and needles.

It was hard for Bernard to just get rid of anything that had belonged to his Annie, and easier to entrust it to me.  Nobody who knows my living habits would bother entrusting me with any heirloom, but occasionally people use me as a kind of alternative recycling bin – the soft version of throwing something away.

I think these needles are the last of Annie’s.  And I think the ones in the red card may have been given to me on one of the occasions when I officiated at a Chinese funeral. That was interesting.

A few years ago I came across a Japanese prayer to/for needles no longer wanted/useable and now to be laid to rest.  I found the prayer online but the person who put it there found it at a Shinto shrine.  It originates from a special Shinto festival that includes a memorial service for old needles (someone has blogged about this here).  I suppose this is disrespectful of me, so if you are into Shinto please forgive me, but it made me laugh a lot (despite its obviously considerable insight), because to my English mind it is so alien and unexpected.  It went like this:
Japanese Song of Gratitude to Needles
Hari kuy­õ, hari kuyõ
Thanks to you, O needles
We can lead a happy life
Thank you needles.
Let us all pray to the needles forever
Needles, needles, needles

You have to admit, there is something in it!  Where would we be without them?  So in parting from these needles that served both me and Annie well, I bow in reverence.  I wave to Annie on her Further Shore reunited with Bernard, and I send these needles on down the river of life as if they were a votive candle on the Ganges.  Cheerio!


Regarding the image of Mount Fuji at the top of this page:
The copyright holder of this file, Adam Cuerden, allows anyone to use it for any purpose provided that the copyright holder is properly attributed.  Redistribution, derivative work, commercial use and all other use is permitted.  Attribution: Adam Cuerden.


Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Simple complex life in its wholeness

Simplicity and holiness are bound up with one another, because “holiness” also means “wholeness” also means “integrity” also means “unity”.

“Universe” means “one-song”.

Sin is a fracturing, fragmenting or scattering of the pattern God is weaving, the web God is spinning, the mandala of creation.

The cross of Christ sits at the heart of creation reconciling all things to God and in/through God to each other, restoring the broken pattern, the torn web, re-making the scattered mandala.

This is the meaning of Christ’s words at the Feeding of the Five Thousand: “Gather up the fragments that are left, so that nothing may be lost.

In its oneness, life exhibits ultimate simplicity – it does not grasp, does not divi up God’s creation as spoils.

So all who come into connection with the Christ at the heart of creation become simple because they are given back their innocence and made whole.  Do I mean that?  I mean at least, they are healed.  Maybe their wisdom is the same thing as their scars: we never lose what has happened to us or what we have done, though through God’s grace and loving-kindness it may be integrated, healed forgiven.

Simplicity is the Quiet Eye, the ability to focus, what one might call single-mindedness; as Jesus said, "When the eye is single the whole body is full of light" (Luke 11:34).  When we lose our simplicity/integrity/holiness/Quiet Eye, fracturing and scattering begins, complication and accumulation.  And, as Toinette Lippe pointed out, all illness is a manifestation of some kind of accumulation, because "problems arise when things accumulate".

On the Innermost House Facebook page this morning is a wonderful post.  Here's an extract:

I got hold of Michael and he made a suggestion. When we first started this page he suggested that we look everything important up in the dictionary. He said that there is an "aboriginal wisdom" buried beneath the surface of words.
So this time he says to look up two words--Simple and Complex--and ask how one thing can be both at the same time.
We've already looked up simple, and that was useful because it helped us understand that it basically means "single"--as in the One thing as opposed to Many things. Remember that . . .  post Pen wrote on her own site about the Many and the Less and the One.
Complex was interesting. The first thing it says is: "composed of many interconnected parts; compound; composite: a complex highway system." Well that sounds somewhat like the mess we're in trying to figure this out. It also sounds a little like my underwear drawer.
But then I read about the history of the word and it starts to make a different sense. It says it means "composed of parts" alright--as in Many parts--but then it says it comes from an older word that means "surrounding, encompassing," and "to encircle, embrace," even "to comprehend." So complex it turns out isn't so much like my underwear drawer as it's like an ecosystem! (If my drawer ever becomes an ecosystem then I really will have problems).
But wait a minute I already know that. The question is how can something be simple AND complex. So I ask again, and this time he explains it more. He says that "the reason simplicity eludes us today is because it belongs to the condition of the beginning. And all the forces of history and modern life move away from the beginning. From where we stand we cannot go back, and we dare not go forward. We can only seek the wholeness that lies within us."
WHOLENESS, not Simplicity. Or anyway not just simplicity. That's a COMPLETELY new thought. A week or two ago one of us . . . said that Oneness had to do with Wholeness, so that the Simple Life was like the Whole Life. Complexity is a kind of wholeness, like an ecosystem is complex and whole.
Wow. This really is a startling conclusion. What if IH isn't really simple, or not just simple. What if it's more like an ecosystem, more like ONE...COMPLEX...WHOLE? Wouldn't that be both simple and complex at the same time?
Simple and complex and whole. Like an ecosystem. Like life. I've been saying I want simplicity. But maybe what I really want is Life.

I love that.

Innermost House Facebook page


365 366 Day 59 February 28th
 (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, see here)

Two things you can freeze to keep stuff cool in transit.  So eminently useful.  And I so never use them   

Monday, 27 February 2012

Zero zero zero zero zero and scissors

Well I have spent more time than seems reasonable trying to contact the Inland Revenue today.

Having experienced such spectacular lack of success trying to contact them by phone and as they hadn’t answered my letter, I walked the mile-and-a-half down the hill to the sea to their office in Ocean House to speak to the Sheriff of Nottingham in person.

The receptionist at Ocean House said I couldn’t do that because it was neither Wednesday nor Friday.  So I went home and called them on the phone again, this time getting through.

And when I made this phone call I had cause to bless God for our tenant Tracey who lived with us in our home in Aylesbury for a while.

There were many good things about Tracey, but the one that I have carried with me down the track long after our ways parted was something she taught me about phoning faceless organisations.  I don’t know if this works in the US.

Tracey (a social worker who knew all about faceless organisations) told me that when you have to phone a F.O., if the robot answering the phone starts a spiel giving you “press this, press that” options, you can cut the whole rigmarole short by repeatedly pressing zero.

Last week when I phoned the Revenue, I had to sit through an extended yadayada about all kinds of things from a robot before they bounced me offline.

So today when I called them and the robot picked up, as soon as she launched into her speech I pressed 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0

There was a silence.

Then she said: “Okay.  Please hold while you are connected to an operator.”


There.  Isn’t that a secret worth knowing?

I spoke to Ian, a reasonable kind of Yorkshireman who agreed that yes indeed I had paid my taxes, and consented to pass on to the Faceless Bureaucrats my opinion that sending letters threatening bailiffs and unlimited fines might not be the wisest manner of opening a correspondence. 

Ian thought that if enough of us expressed this opinion – and he said I was not the first – the Revenue might even deem it churlish not to consider modifying its tone.


365 366 Day 58 February 27th
 (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, see here)

For some reason we had a chronic scissor shortage in the family where I grew up.

We had an ancient pair of kitchen scissors, completely blunt and somewhat given to coming apart.  I believe my mother had some nail scissors.  Later, during my teens, she acquired a pair of scissors with massive handles and teeny blades that she thought looked elegant, and had a large ball of string to go with them.  That was it.

I used the power of adulthood to equip myself more effectively in this area. 
Recently it got beyond a joke.  I had two pairs of nail scissors, two pairs of craft scissors, the five pairs of scissors that came free with the sewing machine, three pairs of kitchen scissors, plus the Badger had two pairs of scissors on his desk.

The ropier of the kitchen scissors were despatched to the Shed to become garden twine cutting implements.  The sewing scissors have gone to the sewing station, leaving one pair behind in the Garret to be General Scissors.  One of my pairs of nail scissors fell in half and I binned it.

This pair of craft scissors went with one of the children’s craft kits I made up for Freecycle.

We have to get over these areas of childhood deprivation somehow, don’t we; even in matters that cut as deeply as scissors.  

Sunday 26th February :0)

 Yesterday was the blur Sunday so often is.  Our church service is long, I like to be reasonably clean and tidy to attend public worship, then afterwards the Badger and I have taken to eating lunch (only on Sundays!) at the supermarket café until our kitchen remerges from its primeval soup.  We picked up the groceries the small local shops don’t have – fancy teas like nettle and sweet fennel, nettle and peppermint, nettle by itself; and cat food our aristocats can bear to eat. 

Then on to the garden centre to enquire about water-butts (failed quest) and pick up some low-growing herbs to interplant the stones under the arch that prevent a swamp developing at that point in the path. 

Briefly home, planted said plants, added more grass seed and covering compost to the ploughed field that will one day be our serene and beautiful lawned conversation space (have I told you about that?  The Buckingham Palace lawn?), subsided for an hour or two with a cup of tea and a book, then out to visit dear friends not seen in an age for supper.  

I realised that those outings are unusual now for me.  I visit my mother, and occasionally another old lady, but I no longer really socialise.  I see my immediate family, but I don’t go out much.  Our church is very community-minded, but I just go to worship and to the meetings of which I am the secretary, few other events.  Two hours is my absolute limit of social intercourse before I begin to feel so exhausted I feel almost frantic.  So it’s very rare for me to go out for a meal with friends now.  But they are dear to me.

So, that was yesterday and I didn’t post my 365.  However, because Blogger thinks the entire world is in the United Staes of America, I think this post will handily bear yesterday’s date (from the English time of day), so maybe I can think of something better worth reading than this tedious resumé of my day to post later on for today’s post (if you see what I meant). 


365 366 Day 57 February 26th (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, see here)

 Sewing cottons.  When we got our new sewing machine a year or so ago, it came with a freebie of a complete set of sewing cottons in every colour under the rainbow, 5 boxes of ’em!  And a set of sewing scissors, several different sizes.  So this collection of cottons became redundant and was accordingly Freecycled.
Excitingly, Alice and Hebe have decided to include a Sewing Station in their studio and relocate the stone bench (not a bench made of stone, the bench for stone-cutting).  This means there will be a permanent textiles corner with all the threads and the sewing machine and shelves for fabric bits and buttons etc, which will be BRILLIANT and hugely increase the likelihood of things getting done.  I’ll take a photo and show you :0)

Saturday, 25 February 2012


Hey, that's impressive.  Even since that photo was taken we Freecycled the filter jug and the clock!  And used up the hand-soap and stopped buying it in plastic bottles like that, transferring to unpackaged natural soap from the wholefood co-op.  And can you see that small pale green oblong next to the filter jug?  That's a nylon scouring pad, not biodegradable and we used to get through quite a lot of them in fairly short order.  We scour with bicarbonate of soda instead now, with better results.

Anyway, welcome to the madhouse with its usual ailments and muddle.  Buzz’s iritis has been flaring up badly, the Wretched Wretch has a broken arm and the Badger has gout in his knee, not to mention a rattling cough.

Kitchenman, having taken the entire week to paint and fit 2 kitchen units (he was delayed, yes my friends, by cutting the worktop too short), promised faithfully to paint diligently in his caravan all yesterday (Friday), then spend the weekend fitting units in our kitchen.  Have we seen him?  Have we heck!

However, his presence in our home was not without impact.  When I came to put the old juicer on Freecycle I found to my surprise that the plug had been cut off.  Turned out Kitchenman didn’t want to spoil the nice units he’d made with the intrusion of a hole cut to pass through the plug for the washing machine so we can actually plug it in.  Since washing machines come with a sealed join uniting flex and plug, he couldn’t take it off.  No problem.  He simply cut it off.  And sourced a replacement from the juicer I'd earmarked for Freecycle.


Oh, and I had a letter from the Inland Revenue (God bless ‘em) during the week.  A pretty red letter, signed by Nobody, covered with Final Demands, threatening to send in the bailiffs, levy a penalty fine, charge interest on the amount outstanding, and demanding £2.5k this living instant.  Well, that would be entirely reasonable if I hadn’t paid them promptly on receipt of their initial demand 2 months ago.  I did try to phone them but there was nobody home to answer any of the three numbers I tried – no sir, not even when I waited 45 minutes listening to tuneless electronic “music”.

Anything else to tell you?

Well, the new issue of Resurgence has a beautiful cover, but I’m scared to open it and read it.  Abattoirs . . . factory farms . . .  How the term “inhumanity” came to be coined I shall never understand, I should think “humanity” covered it pretty well.

However, spring is here in Sussex – the kind of light misting rain that is exactly what the new grass seed on our ploughed up garden needs.  For the first time this year a couple of mornings back it was warm enough to have the window open and listen to the birds sing in the new day.  And I am reading a jolly good book called Countryside & Cloister written by Sister Marie Therese of Thicket Priory Carmelite Monastery in Thorganby.    And I enjoyed watching Goodnight Mr Tom (good film, even better book) on the telly this evening, even if the film-makers' idea of “Yorkshire” does not coincide with mine.

And today the Wretched Wretch came to play with his mother.  I walked along the Tricycle Route (back roads and alleyways) to meet them.  Even before I saw them I knew who was coming round the corner by the fierce growling and roaring of an approaching wolf intermittently insisting "Mummy!  Be a pig!"

So we sat by the fire and ate orange cake and did jigsaw puzzles and drank tea as if we were the happiest people on Earth which, notwithstanding Kitchenman, gout and the Inland Revenue, I think we probably are.

God bless you and keep you sane and healthy; try to be good.


from me


365 366 Day 56 (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, see here)

Oh, glory, was I glad to be rid of this!  I’ve toted this bag of accumulated stationary items with me through 4 house moves!  Can you believe, someone actually wanted it!  It went with one of my “Keep the kids busy in their school vacation” kits on Freecycle.  And the recipient was actually – get this – PLEASED!  We’re all different, aren’t we?

Friday, 24 February 2012

More on meaning

Of course church life depends to some extend on its finances and its bricks and mortar to proceed.

Of course the creation of beauty in artefacts is a worthwhile endeavour, and the church is one of few remaining communities offering patronage to artists and craftsmen.

Of course sublime music lifts the human spirit, at times near to heaven.

Of course the ancient buildings of the Church – I think of Ely Cathedral, I think of York Minster – speak to us of mystery and summon a sense of the numinous in a way most places in modern life simply do not.

Of course having a building and staffing the church with paid clergy can contribute towards the proclamation of the Gospel and the rescue of souls from the various miseries into which humanity so easily falls.


Did we ever need to be so anal about the flower rota, so disproportionately concerned about the routines and requirements of the choir or so passionately focused on the location of the tea-serving-station?  Yes, we had to consider the security of the building, but was it worth splitting the church council over which kind of fence we had?  Naturally we have to adequately insure the various museum pieces that have clung to us over the years, but is it really worth twenty minutes of animated discussion in the Church Council?

I never ever expected when I was ordained into the ministry of the church that nobody would want to come to the prayer meetings, nobody would be interested in discussing theology, but I would spend the greater part of my time at meetings and sorting out fights. 

As a preacher, the most frequent advice/request I received was “Keep it short” – even, “Keep it short because the match is on at lunchtime and I want to be home in time for the kick-off.”  As a chaplain I was asked to “Float about and serve the sherry”. 

And time and again, in every church setting, the question returns to me with gathering force as the years pass by: “Why on earth are we doing/discussing this?”

Meetings layered around meetings, proliferating admin, enough red tape to bandage Westminster Abbey – a club swollen with bureaucracy tottering ponderously and pompously into irrelevance.

Sometimes, especially after a PCC meeting, I think that’s all the Church is.   My teeth set on edge by the tedium, the sheer mind-numbing boredom as we lovingly pore over for the nth time the insurance valuation of the bleep-dang painting, I ask myself “Whyever we are doing this, why am I here?”

And then . . . I watch the communion queue on a Sunday morning; the ancient frail old ladies in their woolly hats and beady little eyes, the ones pushed in wheelchairs by employees from the care home, the ones with learning disabilities, the ones I know are here because they were so desperately wounded by what was said to them or done to them elsewhere, the ones who are lonely and struggling, misfits, broken people.  And among them the clever, the educated, the sophisticated few; all joining the queue to receive in humility the Body of Christ . . . broken for you . . . the Blood of Christ . . . shed for you . . . and all feeding also upon the simple human kindness which is the trademark of our church – an inexhaustible generosity of kindness that is the touch of Jesus on the bewildered mind, the troubled spirit, the bruised soul.

The artificial injection of meaning into the tortuous administration of ecclesiastical affairs, the misguided sweating of the petty stuff that is the church’s chronic disease – these turn me off so absolutely that I am forever on the brink of leaving altogether.

But it’s when I see the kindness . . . the undeserved, forgiving, gentle loving-kindness . . . that I am moved to worship; “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I didn’t know.”


365 366 Day 55 (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, see here

A sticky-tape dispenser.  I had two.  I added the one with tape in it to a craft kit I put together for Freecycle.  The empty one I threw away after I discovered I couldn’t buy refills in the shops near me – they all came with dispensers.  Then I discovered that the Badger had a really good heavy-duty dispenser on his desk (with tape in it).  I know I can get refills in the shops down in town, so I’ll just use the Badger’s and contribute a refill from time to time.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

In parenthesis

The Third Order of St Francis has as its mission statement that it exists to "make Jesus known and loved everywhere".

That is also my purpose - my sole purpose - as a writer.  I write to open the Gospel of Jesus for people, to present it in a way that makes it accessible to their imagination, so that they have a chance to understand its teaching better.

Each story I write explores an aspect of Christian faith and experience, with a view to deepening and strengthening the faith of the reader, helping each one's resolve to follow in the Christian way, to "know Thee more clearly, love Thee more dearly and follow Thee more nearly, day by day".

That's why I write.  I'm not bored, I'm not short of things to do, it's not an ego trip, I don't need the money, I am grateful not to be famous and I dislike attracting attention.  I write to be part of making Jesus known and loved everywhere, because I am His property, He is my Lord, and He is wonderful.

Therefore my books are unmistakeably intended to edify and to teach. I personally am interested in reading only those books which similarly have something to teach me, can build me up and strengthen my spirit; and I assume there are other readers similarly hungry for such encouragement.  I often start reading books that are just a "rattling good yarn," but I rarely finish them.

From time to time I wander along to the ACW (Association of Christian Writers) page on Facebook, to see what UK Christian writers and publishers are thinking and chatting about.

Recently I got involved with a discussion thread there about a new fiction list just starting at a UK Christian publisher.

I think I made myself fairly unpopular with the observations I made about the publishing criteria, so I thought I'd better shut up.  But something has been on my conscience.

The writers and publishers chatting on that thread were agreed that fiction with a message is execrable.

Comments went along these lines: 

I don't want to read a book where the author is setting out to inform me, unless you mean telling me about facts I don't know.  If you are talking worldview, forget it!  (a Christian publisher)

Another commenter asked for clarification:
Sorry to be so thick but what does "worldview" mean in this context?

The Christian publisher clarified:
I guess it means your faith, so if you see the world as being created by God, in need of redemption, of people being made in His image, in need of redemption, etc etc. 


Commenter (a writer) responded:
Ah, thanks.  Yes, I completely agree with you.

Later in the thread the publisher continues:
. . . people who write with any agenda other than telling a good story as well as they possibly can - write badly.  They are turning out propaganda. 

Another writer seeks clarification as follows:
When you are self-consciously trying to convince your readers of the validity of your world view as opposed to their own, that ventures into more questionable territory.  But surely presenting a world view in itself is not wrong? 

Publisher opines:
The key is in the word used above "presenting a worldview" - writing from a worldview is inevitable.  But bringing it to the fore is more questionable. 

and later:
No man can serve two masters and no author can have two overriding aims! 

and later:
. . . not to hide your worldview but not to make promoting your particular worldview the main raison d'etre of your novel.  Because it so often is.  And, I repeat, it is propaganda. 

Someone wonders aloud:
Patricia St John, most of the time, seemed to get it right, but do you think her stories would have been just as powerful WITHOUT the Christian input?  I remember feeling slightly uncomfortable, even as a child, when the Christian bits occurred.  

Another writer hastens to reassure:
. . . as for myself I do not ever want to push Christianity/its world view, in people's faces. 

These are extracts from a fuller conversation covering topics broader that just the one about "world view"; but what I have quoted here represents faithfully the tenor of the conversation in respect of the presentation in fiction of the Christian faith.

I didn't want to get into an argument or be antagonistic or pick on anyone, and someone had already offered admonishment that our comments and seeking of clarification seemed aggressive.  So I didn't say anything further.

But over these last two days the conversation has stayed with me, and I am not at peace with having allowed a situation to develop in which not one writer (or publisher) offered the counterpoint of an opinion that begged to differ.

So I want to say here, publicly, that the purpose of my writing (both fiction and non-fiction) is simply and solely to make Jesus known and loved everywhere, and to expound as best I can His Gospel.

It is my opinion that a personal, direct, living relationship with the risen Jesus is what saves and heals the soul.  Knowing that somehow confers a responsibility not to keep it to myself while I watch the world go to hell in a handcart.

I have written this on my blog and not on the ACW page because I don't want to clog that page up with lengthy and unwelcome opinions, but I do want to share a different point of view.

The injection of artificial meaning, part 1

 So yesterday my mind was on a life of simplicity having, perhaps obviously, to start in one’s own life, heart and home.

Once it’s got a grip though, it begins to radiate outwards and the question “Why are we doing this?” begins to assert itself irresistibly in the mind in group settings.

We were chatting about this in our household by the fire the other evening.  Some of us were reminiscing about their schooldays.  I’d started it by talking about charities, and how ambivalent I feel about them.  “Pleeeease donate, so African children can afford a uniform and be able to attend school!”  What?  There are children who want to wear a uniform?  Who want to go to school?  Why should they have my money to ruin the life of an African child?  School already ruined my childhood, why should I want to pay to interfere with someone else’s?  It’s hard to say which I hate more, school or uniforms.

Okay.  If you are searching for the comment box to explain to me why it’s all different in Africa and children really value formal education, take a pride in their uniforms and rely on schooling to make a way out of poverty – I do know.  The Badger has been paying really quite a lot of money for a very long time to educate an African child through school and college.  She has just graduated from her degree course.  I do know.  I’m just telling you what started the conversation about schools.

So then one of us said, I guess in Africa everything’s still at a more basic stage.  They haven’t got to the stage yet of cruising round all the kids saying “What are those earrings?  Studs!  You’re only allowed studs!  Those are not studs, those are hoops!  Take them off!  Give them to me!”  She laughed.  “Why do they do that?” she said.

Good question.  I said, I think they do it as part of a display of power and control.  The people in charge get to set arbitrary rules as part of a power ethos.  It helps in the crowd control which is one of the main things running in a school.  If you set up a pointless rule and make people obey it, force them to hand in their belongings and generally humiliate and subjugate them, well, that’s all part of controlling them.

An incident from my own childhood comes vividly to mind.  My friend Helen (who was tiny, five foot nothing) had a huge mane of wild curly hair.  One morning she’d spent a while pinning it up into a hairdo similar to the kind they had in ancient Greece.  A bit like this.  In our maths class, Mrs Morris the maths teacher surveyed us all sitting patiently in our desks waiting for her to begin, then silently walked across the classroom, took a hairpin out of Helen’s hair, and reinserted it elsewhere in another bit of her hair.  What’s that?  A power game, nothing else.

Similarly when I was an undergraduate at York university reading English, I recall one of my end-of-term reports in which a tutor surprised me by saying “she undermines all my didactic techniques”.  I didn’t know then, and I still don’t know now, what he meant.  But I think whatever phenomenon he had in mind possibly explains why, in a seminar with a different tutor, where I was wearing a pair of long Indian earrings, after I had made a critique of the text we were studying the tutor sought to discredit it by making a scornful and sarcastic remark about my “chandeliers”.  A power trip.  It worked.  At the age of eighteen a personal humiliation of that kind in a public setting is annihilating.  He apologised at the end of the seminar, having seen how much it upset me.  Too late.

But in every kind of institutional setting, as part of the hidden agenda of subjugation, power and control, artificial meaning is injected into pointless things so that the power elite have a means of humiliating the masses and keeping them compliant.

Part of simplicity is honesty.  Simplicity relationships are as clear as a dewdrop.  In a house where simplicity is practised, the phrase “Because I say so” has no place.  Everything is done for good reason, and the parents take time to explain the reason when the child questions.

In a family practising simplicity, the relationships are like a circle around a centre of truth, love and security.  Each person counts the same as each other person.  Father is not more important, not exalted above everyone.  Father is no more important than the smallest child.  But nor is he less important.  Each person’s needs, desires and preferences are considered and met in balance with those of everyone else.   And everything is discussed and shared so that the children understand the rationale underpinning the decision-making, and see the necessity.

An example.  In the town where we live, the pavements (=sidewalks US) are narrow and uneven.  Laid in the Victorian era, the flagstones no longer sit straight, and it’s easy to trip on them.  The roads are narrow and congested with cars.  When my children were small (I had five children in 6 years), when we went out the youngest sat in the pushchair (=stroller US), the twins had to walk either side of the pushchair holding the handles, and the two older children had to walk along behind me each holding my skirt.  Why?  So I could either see or feel each child.  Why?  Why couldn’t we just hold each other’s hand, or run chaotically along ahead like other people’s children?  Because not so very long since one of the dustmen (garbage collectors) had been killed in our town,  He lost his footing on the kerb and slipped behind the reversing dustcart.  The machinery is so loud that the driver couldn’t hear him cry out, ran over his head and killed him.  If a child, running ahead, slipped on an uneven paving stone (like that one there, look), she would fall headlong.  Depending how and where she fell, she might in exactly the same way fall with her head under a reversing car.  A mother’s first responsibility is to the smallest, weakest, most helpless and vulnerable child – so I couldn’t abandon the baby in the pushchair and the toddlers holding on, to run after an older child who had fallen – and in any case I might be too late.  Don’t want your head crushed like the dustman?  Walk close, and hold on so I can feel you are there, you are safe.  That’s the kind of rule and explanation we had in our house when the children were small.  They were never sheltered from truth (the story of the dustman was very gruesome for a small child to hear), but they were very obedient because they understood the reasons for everything they were asked to do, and trusted their parents only to ask of them what was reasonable. 

It was also the case that if a child requesting a change in the way the household ran could come up with a more compelling reason for change than the parent’s reason for the status quo, then we listened and we changed.  

Power games, intentional humiliation, “because I say so” authority, and the artificial injection of meaning into pointless rules have, no place in the life of a household committed to simplicity, because honesty and transparency form an integral part of simplicity.

One thing I would change if I could go back.  I have never been in favour of spanking/smacking or any kind of hitting.  But I did spank my children, as a last resort, when they were seriously out of line.  It was my view that I was their safety.  My authority was their security.  If they were seriously lippy, rude or badly behaved, or if they did something really wrong, then they might be spanked.  What do I mean by really wrong?  An occasion that comes to mind is when one of them appeared with some jewellery which she told us she had found on the school playground at the bonfire night party – she even took the deputy headmaster to show him the exact spot she had found them.  Then a few days later a discreet enquiry from the mother of the best friend of one of the other children made it apparent that the jewellery in question (we are talking about family heirlooms made of gold, not sparkly bits from Accessorize) had mysteriously vanished from her bedroom (where no visiting child had any business to be) around the time our small burglar had visited that home with her big sister.  And yes, all hell was let loose when I discovered this.

Looking back, I’m not quite sure what I could have or should have done, what alternative path I should have followed.  A severe telling-off and a spanking  seemed reasonable to me; I am a fairly traditional woman.

But my second daughter’s insistence that no child should ever be spanked has won me over.  I think I was wrong.   I know that if a child was spanked in our household there would be hardly a household in the land where the parents would not have been pushed to the same actions.  But if there is one thing in my life I could go back and change, it would be that.  I no longer believe spanking children is acceptable.  Understandable, yes.  Acceptable, no.

Anyway, I’m digressing.  Tomorrow I want to give some thought to the misgiving I feel about the extensive and ubiquitous injection of artificial meaning in the life of the church.


365 366 Day 54  (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, see here

This rubber stamp says “om mani padme hum,” which is Tibetan.  It had been hanging around in my drawer for sometime but never used.  I got it for a specific purpose that never materialised.  I gave it to a friend who is a Buddhist of the Tibetan variety.  He studies with Sogyal Rinpoche in London.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

It's not just charity; simplicity starts at home too.

Living simply starts with one’s own life.  It has taken me all of mine so far to wriggle through to anything like the place I imagined. 

What I wanted was a hidden, quiet life, out of the way and hard to see or find.  I wanted a life that left only faint ecological traces, made little environmental impact, did not interfere with the Earth’s rhythms and processes very much. 

I wanted space and peace around me – time to think and dream and consider, time to watch the wonder of creation, to gaze with God and share His “Ô le bien!” 

I wanted to be free to write – and by “write” I include the thinking, focussing, imagining, centring processes that precedes the actual tapping away at the keyboard by months or even years. 

I wanted as much time as it took to be with my family, loving and encouraging them, cheering them up when they felt low, talking through puzzles and perplexities, sharing ideas, drinking tea together.  I wanted time to sit by the sea and work in the garden. 

But I also wanted to be financially secure and able to pay my bills.  Living frugally is fine, in fact it is part of the plan.  Thrift strategies form one of my happiest games.  At the present time, as other people’s utility bills are steadily increasing, ours are steadily decreasing, and in our household the most expensive people to feed are the cats. 

So I don’t need to generate much income.  I don’t even need to cross the tax threshold.  Just enough.  What is enough? £450 per month is enough.  £220 of that is my ¼ share of household living costs, £75 is my contribution toward family members either in transition or occupied on  family duty or establishing a business, £25 is my contribution towards the cats’ food and insurances, £120 is for regular giving to charity (about £40), national insurance contributions (about £10), travel, books, gifts, postage, eating out, candles, matches, clothes, books, toiletries (aromatic oils, Lush bar shampoo, package-free soap from the wholefood co-op), bits and pieces like hopi candles and spirulina, garden plants – and anything else I may like to buy. 

I can spend money quite fast!!  Any extra that comes in leaves with alacrity.  But £450.00 a month is what I realistically have to see coming in to cover my regular outgoings.

£450.00 x 12 is £5,400.  The tax threshold in England at the present time is £7,475.   The average wage in England at the present time is approximately £25,500.

Last year I sold a few books which bumped up my income.  It came in handy to pay towards the ongoing (now, thank the Lord, almost finished) building works on our dilapidated old house.  And I never have trouble finding things to spend money on!  I cheerfully disposed of the extra I earned on buying clothes and having fun.  In a couple of weeks, for example, some of us are off to Yorkshire to visit some really nice nuns with whom I have been in correspondence over the books I write.  With patience and application (slaving over a hot computer for 2 hrs while repeatedly forced offline in the crush of people buying the same thing) I managed to get 2 nights at a York Travelodge for £19 a night (hooray!), and the Stanbrook Abbey guest accommodation at Wass is modestly priced. Even so, I wouldn’t be able to go on a trip like that or replace my computer or even pay my accountant without earning over and above my basic as outlined above.  Nor pay for items like all the ink and paper for church admin etc.  Nor have all the ready-meals and take-outs we’ve enjoyed while the kitchen’s been out of commission.  Nor source toys for the Wretched Wretch and me to play with.  But that’s no problem because I do turn over more than £5.4k a year – it’s just, that’s the bottom line, what I have to bring in to keep my nose above the water.

So though I can get through almost as much money as the good Lord sends, my actual needs (for outgoings, this makes no provision for making savings) are only £5,400 pa.

It has taken me a long time, steady focus, and determination to reach the situation where a) things are in place that allow my regular expenditure to be so low (eg I no longer have a mortgage) and b) things are in place (like solar panels on the roof selling electricity to the national grid) to create that small income.  Writing income is too uncertain.  Publishers say things like "Thank you!  Yes, we may well want to publish that.  Can we let you know in a year's time?"  It's regular, dependable income that has to be in place.

So, financial realism is an aspect of living simply, and can make it a distant star while one works patiently towards one’s vision and goal.

Time management is another aspect of living simply – considering carefully before taking on commitments, and keeping a discipline of relative solitude.

Management of space is another aspect – and the most discussed and best understood one; people have grasped the importance of de-cluttering by now (in principle at least, they have a ready supply of reasons why they’d like to but personally can’t possibly).

Emptiness is an aspect of living simply.  For me, one objective in simplicity is engagement with the living world as distinct from the world of man-made objects.  I find that possessions, whether for ornament or utility, compete with that.  If I sit in a plain room that has very little ornament – basically, not much in it – then I notice the shafts of sunbeams moving and changing, the drifts of woodsmoke, the smoke from an extinguished candle, the shadow of fluttering birds wings, the passing of a cloud.  Part of the objective in redesigning the kitchen was to make space to allow in this living beauty.  As things stood, the morning sun came pouring in at an angle from the east, hit the wall cupboard – and stopped right there.  Now, with that block of veneered chipboard removed from its paths, the sun will stream in unimpeded.

I love this.  I want the beauty of travelling light and things that are alive to be the adornment of my days, not a vase or a statue.  Not that I have no ornaments; here are mine:

Another aspect of simplicity – an important one – is contentment.  This I am working on.  Naturally anxious, with something of a restless mind always looking for trouble (and willing to make my own if I can’t find any naturally occurring; if all else fails I can always worry about Hell), a discipline of contentment is an important objective for me; but I find it easier to isolate, identify, recognise and work towards that once the easier things like a financial structure, a clear space and a pruned diary are in place.

Now, when I began this, saying that living simply starts with one’s own life, I wanted to go on to think about how challenges to simplicity arise in association and interaction with others – in taking one’s place and making one’s contribution in the community.  But look, it’s taken me so long to say what I mean about living simply starting with one’s own life that I must leave it at that for today.   We can think about The Others tomorrow!


365 366 Day 53 (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, see here

Oh, I love the art of Sieger Köder.  When I became the secretary to our church’s PCC (the church council, its admin body), I wanted each of the documents for which I was responsible (agendas, minutes) to have a picture.  This was just because I like pictures and am always disappointed if there isn’t one, only words; but I have been pleased to discover the pictures offer a secondary function of making it easier to quickly identify a document from a pile of others similar.  At the Standing Committee I can see at a glance round the table who’s looking at their minutes of the last meeting and who’s inadvertently got the minutes for the last PCC out of their folder, so hasn’t got the right information to hand.

During the time I was equipping myself for the rôle of PCC secretary, I went to the Christian Resources Exhibition.  One of the stalls I like to visit there is that of the Paulist press, who have such wonderful materials for group study, personal meditation, correspondence and church life.  I got this CD ROM of images of the work of Sieger Köder thinking they would be wonderful for the pictures I wanted to head my admin documents.

At the same time, with some difficulty I managed to obtain all three of the books + disks of Steve Erspamer’s art, which takes me round the whole liturgical cycle of the Church’s years A B & C. 

I prefer to stick to the one artist for stylistic consistency, and Steve Erspamer’s work is in black and white – the colour in Sieger Köder’s is essential to the imagery.  This makes Erspamer’s much cheaper for me to reproduce.
So I found myself always using Erspamer’s images but, to my surprise, never Köder’s.  Accordingly I passed on the CD ROM.