Saturday, 26 May 2018

Balm for the anxious mind

I recently permanently deleted my Facebook accounts — both the one I kept for closest friends and family, and the only slightly larger one that included a wider circle of acquaintance.

Facebook is a wonderful phenomenon; I love the friendships made there, the intriguing and informative articles, the humour, the pictures and so much more. But in the end the antagonism, the drama, the rudeness and the sense of too much information became a strain; unhealthy and destructive of peace.

I've found in recent years the anxiety that has dogged my life growing to problematic levels; stopping me working, snagging at every happiness, sapping vitality. Setting boundaries and pruning connections, observing the discipline of a plain diet and a quiet life have become essential; Facebook had to go.

But a few days ago I can across a book as welcome as a pint glass of chilled spring water in a hot desert.


I so recommend it to you.

I feel such admiration for the life out of which it was written — calm, sane, careful, disciplined, meticulous, kind, brave, adventurous, intelligent and compassionate.

It is about the imperative of establishing facts rather than succumbing to the allure of a dramatic world view.

It is informative and restorative. It re-establishes a sane perspective in a somewhat hysterical world. 

Written with humour, forbearance and humility, without blaming or attacking, with both gentleness and authority, Hans Rosling's beautiful book brings balm to the fevered mind. I am so glad he wrote it, the last — posthumously published —work of a life dedicated to clarity and compassion.

The picture of the cover above is linked to Amazon UK — so far the book is only on pre-order in paperback, but you can buy it in hard-back or read it on Kindle now.

US Amazon has a slightly different cover, but it appears to be the same book and out now in hardback and Kindle. I've linkified this image too.

Monday, 7 May 2018

Green pastures and still waters

The times we live in leave me struggling. 

The two aspects that most deeply disturb me are war and lies. Both of these spit in the face of God — and as George Herbert posted out, "Who spitteth against Heaven, it falls in his face." There is no just war. There are no justified lies. I see both war and lies proliferating, and I see the proliferation of war justified by a proliferation of lies, and it grieves not only me but the Spirit who dwells in me. I see the reach of Mammon growing exponentially, and I feel deep foreboding about it.

There is so little I can do. Only uproot the seeds of war from my own garden, and turn away from dishonesty, embrace authenticity, speak the truth. Though — heheh — sometimes speaking the truth can start a war, can it not!

Recently — in the last year — I've had a feeling of lagging further and further behind. It is as though the world no longer has a place for me. I've felt a kind of pervasive, spreading despair. Where can I be? Where do I belong? Where is peace?

When will you ever, Peace, wild wood dove, shy wings shut,
Your round me roaming end, and under be my boughs?
When, when, Peace, will you, Peace? I'll not play hypocrite
To own my heart: I yield you do come sometimes; but
That piecemeal peace is poor peace. What pure peace allows
Alarms of wars, the daunting wars, the death of it?
(Gerard Manley Hopkins)

We went out to Alfriston just before the hot weather came, at the end of the wild days of wind and rain, on a cold and breezy spring day of clear sunshine, to visit the clergy house by the village church. They have lots of photos of it here.

I hadn't been there for forty years or more, but it was vivid in my memory.

I loved it, and looked at it all over, then went out to sit in the garden. 

It is built just by the river, full from the spring rains so that the branches dip down to the water.

The last person who lived there was Harriet in the nineteenth century, and the vegetable garden is laid out as a traditional cottage vegetable patch would be. 

The formal garden nearer the house itself is created from clipped hedges and trees of box and yew, with beds of old English herbs — pinks and lavender and rosemary and so many more. Herbs that I have known from gardens I have loved my whole life long.

Do you know the song King Jesus hath a garden? The words of it are here, and here is the choir of Kings College Cambridge singing it. The garden at the Clergy House at Alfriston reminded me of that song.

What struck me particularly as I sat in that garden was its restraint — the green simplicity of it. The orderly vegetable beds and formal hedges, the herbs and old English plants.

It was full of peace. A retreat from the urgency and clamour of the modern world. A place where the spirit could thrive and be restored. It had such a strong feeling of happiness, as though it was a person as well as a place. If there is such a thing as happy ghosts, they were there. Somebody had dearly loved that place, and been happy there.

It showed me how to live, made a way in.

I am so glad it is there.