Wednesday, 25 June 2014


Yes ~ the snail, the hobo, the caddis fly larva: but also me. I am not free of my possessions for one minute of one day, not free of them until I lay them down.

Jesus said “So then, any of you who does not forsake (renounce, surrender claim to, give up, say good-bye to) all that he has cannot be My disciple.” (Luke 14:33 Amplified Bible)

He does not mean this metaphorically or figuratively, though it does apply to intangibles that I cling to as well – status, opinion, power and so on. He is speaking literally. He means it.

It is not a threat or a bargain. He says elsewhere: “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free . . . if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:32,36)

Omnia mea mecum porta ~ so heavy, it is so heavy: so exhausting to carry 
all  that  … stuff ...    

Jesus stands at our door and knocks (Revelation 3.20). “Here I am,” he says; and he offers, if I will open the door to him, to come in to me in fellowship ~ that is, as an equal, as a friend.

But what about when I want to go to him ~ to return the visit? The door in to the presence of Jesus is simplicity. The Church of the Nativity at Behlehem is entered through a very low door, called the Door of Humility, about four feet high.

I must become humilis to get at the place where Jesus comes to birth.  

Having nothing, being nothing.

Jesus also told this parable: “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.” (Matthew 13:45-46 NKJV)

That he might seriously mean this is repellant to me. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I am repellant to it. I am waterproofed against the merciful dew of his words. They slide off me.

Again and again, in a closed repeating cycle, I have chosen possessions over the peaceable kingdom ~ the kingdom of God. With tedious predictability I have traded the pearl of great price for costume jewellery.

I wonder now, if I will ever break free? Here and there I come across those who have, who live an arresting testimony to peace and freedom; who speak about Jesus. But their voices are quiet and few, their ways casual and hard to trace – like the dotted silver path of a galloping snail.

That the endeavor to become small should be so big. That life should be so long and what it asks of me so slight and unexceptional. This is the stuff of mystery.

You know what I think helps? A companion.

And maybe smoking a pipe, if it were no so bad for one's health.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Somebody there.

Here’s our wardrobe under the eaves.

I went to put away my sandals and T-shirt.

And then I realised.

I would be disturbing someone.

So I tiptoed away.

Friday, 20 June 2014

Silence as light

This morning in the bath I was thinking more about seeds of peace and war, about simplicity and travelling light. The bath is a good place to think, and our bathroom is white and full of sunshine, which brings clarity and good thoughts. Illumination.

I like to pray in the bath. So I was praying about the longing to walk lighter and lighter, and told my Lord I wanted to be as light and see-through in my being as a lace-wing, and that made Him laugh. I have always been rather hefty.

My thoughts moved on to consider silence. I love silence. Though I live in a houseful of people – and always have done – I spend much time in solitude and silence. If I have a favourite saint, I think it is St Joseph. In the gospel record he is entirely silent – never says a thing – but practical, nurturing, kind; in his silence is no condemnation, rejection or judgement. The gospel writers offer, in their portrait of St Joseph, an icon of the Silence that fosters the living Word – the Silence with which the Word is at home; the Silence that nurtures the Word as it grows to maturity. With kind Silence the Word grows in grace and truth.

And as I swam through these thoughts, something pointed out to me a reality I had never noticed. I was holding in the Light some events – words – that had hurt me. They had got stuck in my soul like splinters and I couldn’t get them out. When that happens, usually I talk about them. But the Light said “Sssh”, so this time I didn’t. Still they were sharp and stuck into me and didn’t fade.

And then it pointed out to me, silence keeps emotions in a non-material state. If I had discussed these things that hurt me, relational baggage would have evolved. Silence allowed them to dissolve in peace. It dawned on me that just as material possessions hold the seeds of war – become sources of contention – so also contention materializes emotion into baggage, if you see what I mean. Therefore silence is an essential component of simplicity. It preserves emotional, relational simplicity. Silence facilitates travelling emotionally and relationally light.

I am not recommending that a person who has been abused keeps it a secret, or that friends freeze each other out by refusing to talk things through. There is a healthy place for telling one’s story and being honest with one another.

What I mean is cultivating an interior open luminous spaciousness in which events and experiences can be dissolved of their heaviness by the joy of inner light.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Seeds of peace and war.

When we moved to our big old house, two households joined into one. Five of us live together.

This brings immense benefits and a few challenges.

One of the benefits is that we like each other. It’s a cheering and companionable thing to have the encouragement and delight of each other’s friendship, doing the journey together.

Another benefit is sharing. Two houses half the size, each with a garden half the size, would cost a lot more than half the money. Here, each person benefits from the big, lofty rooms and spacious garden with its trees and wildlife, that none of us could have if we lived separately. If each of the five of us had a dwelling for one, all of us would need mortgages and probably none of us would have a garden or a freehold.

Though five of us live here, we don’t need belongings x 5. We have one juicer, one 3-tier veg steamer, one cooker, one fridge-freezer, one electric kettle, one toaster, one water distiller. Our big house absorbs these things comfortably without feeling cluttered. So the space-to-stuff ratio is higher than if we lived separately.

There are not many challenges. Two that come to mind (essentially two manifestations of the same challenge) are the vacuum cleaner and the lawn mower. Neither really affects me because I loathe power tools, almost never vacuum the floors and have never mowed an entire lawn in my life. Though there is an ancient ciné film of me, aged three, wearing sunglasses, valiantly attempting to mow the lawn at dusk (why?)

Household 1 (in order of moving in to this house) brought a Vorwerk vacuum cleaner with a large train of accoutrements, and owns two power mowers – one electric, one petrol. At the time of moving in, the Vorwerk accoutrements had lain almost untouched since purchase, transported from home to home in various moves, ‘in case’. They included cardboard items chewed and peed on by mice, but one of us found these and threw them away.

Household 2 brought a Henry Hoover and a hand-mower.

Each household swears by their tools and neither wishes to part with them, though the owner of the Vorwerk did (after time and persuasion) ruefully agree to the unused accoutrements being despatched to the dump, and Henry's similar accoutrements went the same way.

Which tools are best and should be used, and why, gives rise to a certain amount of friction. Best I not go into this: I mention it merely to explain the background of the reflection that follows.

It occurred to me today that, in our household at any rate, the seeds of peace are found in the areas where we have less, and the seeds of war where we have more. Back to the wisdom of Toinette Lippe: “Problems arise where things accumulate”.

The peace and delight of our multi-home lies in the space and the sharing – we all get more by owning less. Having just the one kettle, toaster, fridge etc, means we all have more money and we all have more room. Everything goes further and makes life nicer. Less is more quite literally in our house.

The friction and stress occurs in those areas where we clutch tightly to our own things, insisting our version is best and adamantly hanging on to it. It’s understandable, of course; “To each his own”, as the saying goes. We all have our own way of doing things.

As my thoughts wandered through this territory, I remembered another source of friction from early in my marriage. I owned a few (three, I think) buddhas. Attending a conservative evangelical church whose members would be coming round for housegroup meetings, my (then new) husband thought it prudent I keep them out of sight. I know why: “Idols!” a Methodist neighbor had referred to them, in tones of contempt, at a previous location. [FYI, statues of the Buddha are not idols: they are not worshipped – they represent the awakened self and are merely the alarm clocks of the soul saying “Wake up!” in a most pleasing and beautiful way.]

At the time, this annoyed me intensely. I clung to my buddhas and it put me off the church big-time. There you go – seeds of war!

In every scenario where material objects are treasured and clutched tight, lies the potential for division. Things are divisive. They are seeds of war. The seeds of peace lie in sharing them and getting rid of them. Problems arise where things accumulate.

I now think the right place for the awakened self is not in a work of art but the interior of my soul.

It have come to think that every time I take to myself a material object, I increase the likelihood of dissent and division. Things not given material expression do not develop into seeds of war. War is about territory and power. Territory and power are about acquisition and possession - ownership. 

Likewise in the church. The wars and quarrels often arise around the music ministry or the flower ministry, or whether women can or can’t be leaders, or who can preach or be ordained, or who can sit in this pew.

Take away the hierarchy, the liturgy, the flower arrangements and the pews, stick with silence, no leadership, a bunch of wildflowers in a jam jar and chairs in a circle, and suddenly you have the seeds of peace. Which is one reason I like Quakers – they’ve noticed this.

Material possessions, and thoughts formalized into rules and organisations, become love objects and get between us and our fellow human beings. Problems arise where things accumulate, where anything ossifies into rules that define and exclude, where acquisition is in ascendancy, possessions multiply, and territory and power are factors at all, let alone the focus.

Simplicity testimony is peace testimony. They go hand in hand.

Simplicity is the seedpouch of the peaceable kingdom.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014


I can’t remember the age my twins started to walk, but they crawled first – very effectively, which often delays walking by removing the necessity.

I know that the first time either spoke a word came after they began to walk. Perhaps eighteen months, then? That feels about right.

I recall it vividly. Some brickbuilt steps led up from the lawns where the children played at their grandparents’ home. Hastings is a coastal town so every dwelling perches on a steep hill one way or another, and many gardens here are terraced.  At Grandma and Granddad’s house, the front path sloped down to the front door, and the land fell away at the back. A patio ran the width of the house at the back, a rockery and herb bed planted on the steep slope down from it to the lawns, with two sets of steps between the two heights – one of wide concrete slabs where lizards sometimes ran out of the fringing heather to bask, the other being smaller brick steps less daunting for a small child to manage.

And Alice was following her twin sister Hebe up those brick steps on the day Hebe spoke her first word. She stumbled, and exclaimed: “Whoops-a-daisy!”

She didn’t speak again for some months, and she remembers why.

Before children begin to articulate words, they communicate telepathically. We can trace this in our twins. They have a clear recollection of a day when, sitting in their green pram together (again at Grandma’s house; it was her pram), they wanted to get out and play. They discussed this dilemma and decided to call for help. The first person who passed by was their eldest sister. They called her but to their disappointment she ignored them (as did all the adults). Then they saw their second eldest sister, and when they called her she heard them and came to see what they wanted. They told her they would like to get out and play, so she ran and fetched an adult to lift them down.

The particularly interesting thing about this event is that we had that green pram only up until they reached six months old – after that it was too small for them. So this complex communication took place about a year before either of them spoke.

Hebe remembers the shock that reverberated through both her and her twin when she said that “Whoops-a-daisy” at eighteen months. It felt threatening. As soon as she said it, she had the sensation of standing at a threshold, the doorway into a world of speech where Alice (her twin) could not go with her. She chose to wait for Alice, and not go through. When Alice was ready, they went together.

Hebe is a very inward, reticent person, like a quiet dark stream under the shade of trees, running unseen between steep banks clad in moss and fern. She sees more than she says, and is capable of more than people generally notice. Gifted and wise, she lives hiddenly, observant of the ways of insects, birds and small mammals, familiar with hedgerow plants, sensitive to the soul of stone and what it wants to be. Reticence is a strong component of her nature.

I see in my granddaughter Iceni similarity to her Auntie Hebe. Iceni reminds me of Hebe at that age. She is not quite so shy (my twins would bury their faces in my skirt or in their hands if anyone looked at them), but she does take a while to warm up to a social encounter. She peeps cautiously; and her smile, when it comes, begins with a small quirking lift of one side of her mouth for quite some while before her face lights up fully.

Iceni, at almost a year, has for some time understood what is being said to her and knows many words; but she only half says them – she can’t quite bring herself to pull them entirely into form. She enjoys sharing in a “Hi five!” – but she says a soft, hardly noticeable “ha . . .v . . .” to express it. She loves to rock on her rocking horse to the song “Horsey, horsey don’t you stop” (and gets sad and cross if she can’t enlist anyone to sing it for her). She joins in with faint sounds and a “p” to go with “stop” and “clippety-clop”.

She will respond to questions and murmurs faint words for her brother, her mother, her father – all of whom she loves with a most tender devotion; but she has this profound reticence in which her speech is still enfolded.

A couple of weeks ago, she had a bath at our house – in the big bath because the kitchen sink was cluttered with pots waiting to be washed.

Her nappy was not wet, so before she went in the bath I sat her for a few moments on the toilet. Her mother is very tuned in to her – her mother (Buzzfloyd) is that second eldest sister who “heard” our twins calling her telepathically at five or six months of age – and follows that practice (I can’t remember what it’s called) where you don’t try to potty-train the child but tune in to its bodily rhythms and pop it on the toilet at the point it’s ready to go; she does this with some success.

So I sat Iceni on the toilet, and asked her “Do you want to do a wee?”

With a tiny, definite, brisk, quick little movement she shook her head “no”. The least possible expression of what she wanted to say; but very clear. Again, it had the quality of reticence. She knew perfectly well what I was about, what opportunity was being offered her, and how to communicate her “no”. But I had the sense that even that small expression cost her something – put her in a position of being more forthcoming than she was really ready to be.

I think it is likely this quality of reticence will remain a component of her personality all her life. She has a life-and-soul-of-the-party side to her too, when she’s in the mood. I see inner strength and quiet confidence in this child. Iceni is a good name for her.