Sunday, 20 October 2013

Direct encounter

“Wisdom is not a product of thought. The deep knowing that is wisdom arises through the simple act of giving someone or something your full attention.  Attention is primordial intelligence, consciousness itself.  It dissolves the barriers created by conceptual thought, and with this comes the recognition that nothing exists in and by itself.  It joins the perceiver and the perceived in a unifying field of awareness.  It is the healer of separation.”

(Eckhart Tolle, from his book Stillness Speaks, a collection of short extracts from his two full-length books; I don’t know which one it is taken from.)

“I perceive something.  I am sensible of something.  I imagine something. I will something.  I feel something. I think something.  The life of human beings does not consist of all this and the like alone.
This and the like together establish the realm of It.
But the realm of Thou has a different basis.
Where Thou is spoken the speaker has no thing for his object.  For where there is a thing there is another thing.  Every It is bounded by others; It exists only through being bounded by others.   But when Thou is spoken there is no thing.  Thou has no bounds. 
When Thou is spoken, the speaker has no thing; he has indeed nothing.
But he takes his stand in relation.”

(Martin Buber, I and Thou)

“Perceiving includes our ideas or concepts about reality.  When you look at a pencil, you perceive it, but the pencil in reality may be different from the pencil in your mind.  If you look at me, the me in myself may be different from the me you perceive.  In order to have a correct perception, we need to have a direct encounter . . .
. . . Suppose, while walking in the twilight, you see a snake, and you scream, but when you shine your flashlight on it, it turns out to be a rope.  This is an error of perception.  During our daily lives we have many misperceptions.  If I don’t understand you, I may be angry at you all the time.  We are not capable of understanding each other, and that is the main source of human suffering.”

(Thich Nhat Hanh, Being Peace)

I have two tasks this week.  One is persevering with editing someone’s very long first novel.  It is a delight to read, captivating to the imagination, but has much to correct.   The second task is returning again to practicing gentleness, paying attention, orientating to Thou instead of It.  Direct encounter.  Ha!  Good luck, Ember aka Pen!

Footnote.  I think Ember Aka Pen is a truly exotic name.  The sort of person whose cat would be called Tiglath Pileser the Third.

Monday, 14 October 2013

The Breath of Peace

There have been days when I thought we would never – never – get this book through.

Now finally, praise God, its two-and-a-bit-years slog to see the light of day is done.  I am so grateful to my agent MacGregor Literary for handling the self-publishing, and for all of you who prayed it through.

It’s available in paperback and also as an e-book.

It's available from US Amazon in Kindle format here, and in paperback here.

And from UK Amazon in Kindle format here and in paperback here.

The paperback is available from the Create Space store, here.

I think the paperback will be available from Amazon too – maybe take a while for that option to become available – though of course Create Space is also an Amazon venture.

The Breath of Peace is the seventh novel in the Hawk & Dove series.

Each of those books addresses a biblical theme and a related Christian life theme.  This one explores Ephesians 5 and what might really be meant by the idea of ‘submission’ – which is not, I think, one person lording it over another or telling them what to do.

It also considers the importance of how we speak to one another, be that in a community, a family or a marriage – because that is probably the biggest driver of the ambience in a household.

I have always been intrigued by the detailed, close-up content of what ‘happily ever after’ might really mean, in the context of ordinary human lives with all their frailty and all their baggage.  This book re-visits William and Madeleine a year after their marriage to find out how they’re getting on.

A really startling thing happened to me when I was writing The Breath of Peace.  Though it has lots about the monks at St Alcuins Abbey in it too, you will appreciate that centre stage is the marriage between William and Madeleine.

Well!  In the week leading up to St Valentine’s Day – which, here in the UK, is specifically about lovers; we don’t send our aunts a happy Valentine’s card – I got an email.

Writing a novel, one becomes completely immersed in that imaginary world – it becomes more real than the ordinary day-to-day.  So there I was, back in the early spring of 2011, writing the Breath of Peace all about William and Madeleine’s marriage.  And one morning I fired up the computer, opened my email, and there in my inbox was an email with the subject line “With love on V-day” – from Will and Madeleine!!!

It was as though everything stood completely still.  I just sat and stared at it.  For ages.  Completely stunned.

It had a prosaic explanation, of course - I am on the mailing list of a man who speaks and writes about vegan diet, whose name is Will Tuttle.  What I didn’t know at the time is that his wife is called Madeleine.

But I like to think that I am one of the few novelists who has dreamed a world so utterly real that her own characters actually sent her an email from the fourteenth century.

If you read the book and enjoy it, I shall be so grateful if you could review it on Amazon, and also help me put the word around; because I’m self-publishing this time, so any publicity is entirely down to thee and me.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Only remembered for what we have done.

I feel a bit nervous about writing this post.  I can feel that difference in my heart beating, my breath – the sensation at the top of my arms that also comes when I drink strong coffee.  It’s because I am afraid you will think I am showing off – and I’m not meaning to.  Well, then, you’ll just have to see what you think.

My daughters – my clever, funny, beautiful, kind, capable, visionary dreamers of daughters – sometimes make me CDs of music compilations, and these are always treasure troves of delight.  Yesterday in our little blue car, as we trundled along through the winding lanes of Sussex, between the farmers’ fields and beneath the great trees, one of these music compilations was playing, and my girls here and there singing along.  The great thing about these CDs, of course, is that I know only some of the songs when I am given them, so they come with fresh insights and bring new shafts of unexpected perspective and beauty.

The song I carried away in my heart from our travels yesterday was this lyrical, evocative, haunting ballad from Coope Boyes & Simpson, Only Remembered (I’ll linkify the title in case you have trouble with the embedded one here).

In case you couldn’t catch all the words (by John Tams), here they are:

Fading away like the stars in the morning
Losing their light in the glorious sun
Thus would we pass from this earth and its toiling
Only remembered for what we have done

Only the truth that in life we have spoken
Only the seeds that in life we have sown
These shall pass onwards when we are forgotten
Only remembered for what we have done

Who'll sing the anthem and who'll tell the story
Will the line hold will it scatter and run
Shall we at last be united in glory
Only remembered for what we have done

As I listened to it, perhaps inevitably the question arose in my mind, have I done anything worth remembering?

As I see it, the harvest of my life, my offering to God, has been threefold: raising a family, writing books, preaching in church.

This autumn will see my fifteenth book published, and also is a season when I have been preaching in church again after several years’ silence.  

I am . . . not proud – grateful . . . that so many people have written to me or reviewed online, to say how much the books I have written meant to them.  Helped them, encouraged them, deepened their faith and showed them more of Jesus.  It’s what I hoped, of course.

This next week, I have a new book out – one I wrote over two years ago that I have struggled and struggled to get published, in the end self-publishing through my agent MacGregor Literary.

The picture at the top of this post is the cover art for that book (The Breath of Peace) just to give you a taster.  So breath-takingly beautiful, a picture that tells a story indeed, it was painted by my daughter Hebe Wilcock 

I’ll tell you more just as soon as it’s out on Amazon.

Then at the beginning of November my fifteenth book is out – The Wilderness Within You – a Lent book of conversations with Jesus – my conversations with Jesus, I mean, not just from the biblical record; stories.

And this morning in an hour or two I go to my church for the astonishing privilege of preaching the Gospel, opening the Scripture to help friends understand and see the Good News in our ordinary daily lives.

Only remembered for what we have done?  I expect I shall be remembered as that rude old woman who always left church early and wouldn’t support the quiz night.  Or as that difficult, tactless psycho who would never shut up in the theology group.   Or as the one who left the ministry – put her hand to the plough then didn’t so much look back as wander off to live in the woods.

But I hope that the legacy of my life will be the family I raised, the books I wrote and the sermons I preached; because they are the best of me.   I hope I was one of those who held the line.   And I hope when the end comes I will die with courage.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Gurus and recommendations.

Since nineteen years old, I have looked for gurus.

When I was fifteen, I met Jesus.  This changed everything.

That same year I found St Francis of Assisi, and began to travel in the long train that since the 1200s has quietly followed him; a pilgrimage of laughter and simplicity – of prayer and tears too, and delight in our mother the Earth. 

But still I looked.  When I was sixteen I found Siddhartha Gautama, through the writing of Herman Hesse first, exploding so vivid on my surprised imagination.  I wore sandals like Gandhi’s (from whom I also learned) and walked through the English countryside to sit on the warm tiled floor of the open church, at the foot of a stone pillar with the sunlight falling on it, just in quietness.  And on my way there, I stopped in the place where the river made a ford across the road, standing barefoot in the joyous company of our sister the Water.  And it was almost the case that Francesco and Siddhartha were with me.

I worked with monks and nuns, in different communities.  I borrowed Sister Felicity’s book Barefoot Journey.  Almost forty years later I still have it, that borrowed copy.  I still feel guilty.  The ex-nun from whom I borrowed it will be dead.  I must make a note to have it tucked in my coffin when I am cremated, and thus – if it may be – take it back to her.

When I was nineteen I discovered Zen, and found the book Unsui, by Giei Sato, and Ina May’s book Spiritual Midwifery, and Lao Tsu’s Tao Te Ching.

That year, I asked for a guru, knelt and begged: ‘Please send me a guru.  I need a teacher I can ask and trust.’ 

But the only answer I heard was ‘If you want a guru in the world, you must be it. Put the guru there yourself.’

Since then I found David Whiteland’s Book of Pages, and I found the writing of Thich Nhat HanhBeing Peace is my favourite, and Peace is Every Step.  I look at the pictures of his face, I listen to his voice and his teaching.  I went to the peace meditation he led in Trafalgar Square.  This is a man I can learn from, and I hold it a sacred and special gift to have been here on Earth at the same time as he is.  Thich Nhat Hanh is a man who can help us wake up.

About ten years after I found Thich Nhat Hanh, I came across Eckhart Tolle.  He is what he says; enlightened.  The wisest person I have come across so far. He has been a teacher of mine, a teacher in the truest sense – still is.  And I have the profoundest sense of gratitude to have been here on Earth at the same time as him.  The vibration of this man translates into my centre as courage, steadiness, a peaceful hope, or a hopeful peace.

There are two more.  In recent years I have discovered the work and teaching of Vandana Shiva.  She has taught me a little bit about ecology and politics, but less than she might have hoped because that was not what I was paying attention to.  Really, I was looking at pictures of her, videos of her, and learning what it is to be a woman.

Most recently of all, through my friend Michelle Wilbert Everett, I have been introduced to the poetry of Mary Oliver; and in that poetry, that face, that awareness, those attitudes, I know I have met another true teacher.

With only one of those, my teachers, have I ever been in the same room at the same time – Thich Nhat Hanh – and that was in Trafalgar Square with several thousand other people.

It surprises me that these are the ones I have learned from – I thought I would learn in church, from Christian Leaders.  But the church has been more an arena of contribution than of learning, for me.  I falter in saying this.  Should I be embarrassed?  Ashamed? Does it reveal my arrogance?  Who knows.  Plough on.

So, all these have been my teachers, and perhaps William Penn, Frederick Leboyer, John Holt and A.S Neill too; but still sometimes I long as much as when I was nineteen to go into the room of another living human being, and find wisdom that can guide me.

But even so, I have been grateful not to have that because, if I had, I think it might have distracted me from what I actually do.  You remember George Fox said, “Christ has come to teach His people Himself”?   Well, so when I am perplexed – or any time, really, every day – I go into the low rough chamber of my heart; a rustic kind of place, like a cob house.  You have to stoop going in under that lintel, the step is worn and the door ancient.  In that room, which opens onto a garden where birds sing and wild creatures pass through unmolested, I meet with my master, the one who bought me, whose property I am, the Lord Jesus.  And I talk to Him, and tell him what’s on my mind.  And He teaches me, Himself, just as George Fox said He would.   He still maintains that if I want a guru in the world, it’s my job to put the guru there.

For all these who have taught me, shaped me, guided me, I am so grateful.  And if you read the work of these people, watch their videos, look long and deep at your faces, you will know everything I know that is any good.  That’s assuming you also know the living Lord Jesus, who I think will meet with you in the quietness of your own heart’s chamber, too.