Sunday, 25 December 2016

Blessing the makers

Merry Christmas to you if your day is starting – and if it’s drawing to a close, I hope you had a peaceful and happy day.

I wanted to share with you something that’s been a source of joy and hope to me.

To set it in context – much of the time, these days, I carry with me the degradation of the living earth and the cynically ruthless dismantling of human community, as an aching sore in the centre of my soul. Yemen, Aleppo, Trump, the present UK administration waging war on the poor and vulnerable, the growing of poverty and corresponding amassing of riches, the destruction of forests, oceans, air, species . . . War as a business model, oil as a god, flagrant racism and religious persecution, sickening violence wherever you look. It hurts to think of it, and I do every day.

What can I do? I ask myself this constantly. One can donate money of course, and I try to live as simply and frugally as I can so as to make spare as much as I can to help wherever I can – but my resources are not significant.

Neither do I have the temperament to plunge into social engagement: I live quietly, even reclusively – by choice, you might say, but in truth of necessity. We are what we are.

But here’s a small thing that brings me delight, and grows goodness.

Hastings (where I live) is a place of poverty. Employment is scarce, jobs few and low paid. Yet here we have immense riches – just not the kind that have anything to do with money. We’re on the coast, so we have the ocean – and what in the world is more beautiful than the sea? We’re in East Sussex, gentle in climate, clad in woodlands, replete with wild places, a network of lanes threading through farmland and bluebell woods, where the Sussex Downs find their way to the southern shores of England.

And in Hastings – exactly because it is a poor town, unpretentious, short on snobbery, alternative lifestyles flourish. Therefore art and music, spirituality and creativity, diversity and imagination all do well here. It is a cornucopia of artistic creation, and there are so many dancers, singers, thinkers, makers, designers of every kind you could think of.
In our family, you may remember, we stopped exchanging Christmas gifts some years ago, and this year I stopped sending cards as well, except for a tiny handful.

But we do try, at Christmas time, to bless some of the art and imagination that lights a candle of protest against the encroaching midnight of hideous politics and corporate greed. We sing carols at the supermarket, to bring a spark of joy and wonder to the children, to remind last minute shoppers about melody and harmony and spiritual tradition; Christmas is not primarily commercial. We go to the ballet, to celebrate the disciplines of excellence – real live performance, something blessedly free from computer generated images.

And this year we had an excited and happy morning at the Beacon, where Hastings artists had an Open Studios day.

Giving to charity is both important and necessary, but equally essential is the blessing of writers and potters, artists and weavers, tailors and woodworkers, blacksmiths and silversmiths, milliners and bookbinders, by celebrating and purchasing what they make. Unless we do that, the richness of human culture will run out into the sand, and we shall be left alone with Monsanto and Rupert Murdoch on a desert island of our own making.

At the Beacon Open Studios, with great happiness I seized the chance to acquire some of the work of Judith Rowe, a Hastings potter. She makes the loveliest things, and is part of the co-operative that runs one of our best Old Town shops – Made in Hastings.

So I thought you might like a glimpse of how I start my days – here is my Christmas breakfast, enjoyed a thousand-fold more because of Judith’s beautiful pottery.

And look – it stacks most neatly when I’ve done and it’s time to take it to the sink to be washed up. I find that so pleasing.

Bless the makers, friends; bless those who live by discipline and excellence and imagination. Help the poor and needy, but save a little to give yourself the joy of partnering art and craft in the community; a pot, a book, a pair of shoes, a hat, a rug – something made by human hand and heart and eye; for herein is treasure indeed.

Friday, 2 December 2016

Master Chef

The Posh Visiting Aunt Menu
Corn on the cob bathed in melted butter
Spaghetti Bolognese
Vanilla slice

House of Multiple Occupancy Menu
Fried Mackerel* with Steamed cabbage
Ripe Camembert on crispy crackers

*Whole mackerel: head and guts in the bin on the shared landing

Many Flavours menu
Globe artichokes boiled in rum
Chicken breast swathed in marshmallow with a chocolate coating
Cold salad of (steamed) Brussels sprouts and cauliflower in spicy vinegar
Sardine Fudge with Garlic Coffee

Alternative dessert for demolition workers or Arms Fair
Ice cream brick surrounded by chocolate rubble and topped with caramel trellis

Monday, 28 November 2016

Standing Rock. The world is watching.

You can do better than this, America.

An Advent Calendar

I love Advent and Christmas. One of my favourite times of year.

Now we do things so simply at home, I love it even more. We give a gift from our household to our very old grandmother and to the two small grandchildren. Other than that, no gifts; and we send very few cards.

Some of us like to decorate the house, so they do, and I have a beautiful Nativity set.

On Christmas Eve I do a children’s service for the littlies in the Methodist church just across the valley from our house. We sing carols with friends outside the supermarket.

On Christmas Day, we eat something nice, but no greater amount than normal, and nothing expensive. We keep it simple.

And this year, I am trying a new kind of Advent calendar.

Our present UK national administration is harsh and greedy, violent and unkind. Very warlike, very hard on the poor and disabled. This winter, many more have been made homeless, reduced to abject poverty, lost the financial support from the government they needed to manage. The call on help from food banks has drastically increased.

So every day through Advent it’s my plan to walk along to the supermarket and buy something for the food bank box put out there. As I walk along, I will pray for the people who are hungry and desperate, worried and frightened, unable to pay their bills. And for everyone who is homeless or a refugee.

And I will think about Mary and Joseph walking through Advent to Bethlehem; where there was no room and they had to sleep in a stable, from where they fled persecution and became refugees.

It’s only a small plan, but a happy one I think.

*        *        *        *        *        *        *

* Image at the top is The people that walked in darkness by Hebe Wilcock.

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Pray with Standing Rock

Today, November 26th 2016, there’s a synchronized action for Standing Rock, a global gathering for prayer, at 3.00pm Central time, 9.00pm Greenwich Meantime. I'll copy and paste the info from the Facebook page below.  

Join us, wherever you are in the world, on Saturday November 26th at 3pm Central Time, 2pm Mountain Time, 9pm GMT

Here's a link to timezones near you:

#PraywithStandingRock is a synchronized moment of Prayer across the world giving thanks for Mother Earth, Clean Water and the Water Protectors at Standing Rock.

Keep in touch for regular updates here:

Using the word 'Prayer', rather than 'meditation' or something similar, is a native led request. Standing Rock is a prayer camp. You can pray in whatever way is appropriate for you. You don't have to be religious. You can follow your heart. Prayer can also mean taking action on the ground, but in asacred way.

Pray for Standing Rock has been approved by the Tribal Council at Standing Rock and we wish, as allies, to respect and support the native leadership and be inclusive of their participation.

Learn about the Seven Lakota values here:

GLOBAL WOPIDA on December 10th

Then, on December 10 (United Nations Human Rights Day), join us along with Chief Phil Lane and many other traditional leaders for a Global Wopida. Wopida is a Dakota word that means "giving of gifts, and thank you".

Take action by contributing to the Protector's Alliance on-the-ground initiative here: 

In case somehow you haven’t heard what’s happening at Standing Rock, let me briefly explain.

38 miles of the North Dakota pipeline transporting oil across America goes through Native American tribal lands – including sacred burial land. And the Native Americans don’t want it, because the pipelines leak and split – always; there are more than 500 such incidents a year with existing pipelines – causing horrendous and lasting ecological damage and associated human suffering. If the pipeline leaks into the Missouri, the damage will be unthinkable.

So the various Native American tribes along with many other supporters, have united at Standing Rock to protect the waters of the land, as well as the land itself and the creatures (including human) that depend on it, against this peril. Access to clean water and clean air is vital to life.

The water protectors have met with state violence deployed on behalf of business interest on a massive scale. The stand (this is not a ‘protest’; the land does actually belong to the tribal peoples) has been nonviolent and peaceful; but the state response has been violent. The water protectors have been teargassed, peppersprayed, beaten with wood batons, arrested and locked in dog cages, shot with rubber bullets, wounded with concussion grenades, hosed from water canons in sub-freezing temperatures. And still they stand, hundreds coming to join them.

We live in times when cruelty and greed feel free to appear in flagrant manifestation, the poor and vulnerable abandoned and fleeced, the earth raped and pillaged, the rich indifferent and arrogant. We can identify many profound and intransigent problems, so much that is destructive and frightening. But if there were three things against which we should take a stand, I’d say dirty technology, violence and corporate greed are the ones. The other things (like the selling off of our health service and the removal of financial support for vulnerable people in the UK) we can, if necessary, unite to tackle by ingenious local means. But if the land is fracked, we all are. If the water and air are poisoned, we all are. A National Health Service is of little use if there’s no water left to drink and all the animals and plants are dying, or there’s radioactive muck pouring into the sea as there is in Japan, or bombs are thundering down as they are on Aleppo.

So today I invite you to join me and thousands of others around the world, as we come together to pray according to our own custom, for the situation at Standing Rock.

I shall be praying in the mighty Name of Jesus that the pipeline will not only never pass through those sacred lands, but that it will be abandoned altogether. I’ll be praying for an end to dirty technology and for the rise of clean technology dependent on the sun, wind and waves. I’ll be praying for humankind as we face the turbulence and terror of what we have set in motion in climate change. I’ll be praying for peace to radiate from my life and yours and the life of everyone praying, for an end to human violence and the coming of God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. I’ll be praying for the safety and protection of the water protectors, for the wellbeing of North Dakota, and calling on God to remember his covenant with the Earth and come to her rescue. I’ll be praying for those who have put themselves at the service of violence who are caught in a trap of slavish obedience, required to beat and harass and hurt their fellow human beings by greedy corporations and complicit government. I’ll be blessing them with the love of the Lord, over and over, letting His blessing soak and rinse through them to loosen and dissolve violence and blindness. And for this whole situation I’ll be praying over and over the Ho’oponopono Prayer: I love you, I’m sorry, please forgive me, thank you – the mantra for healing and cleansing.