Wednesday, 27 March 2019

Gold and pearls and biblical literalism

There's something really special about the chapel where I worship, that I treasure very much.

More than one thing, actually. 

It has a well, which for decades we've been blocking up with rubbish, but we're going to clear it and take away all the grot as an acted prophecy. That's special.

It has a tribe of wild, unruly children who are almost uncontainable because some of them have prominent neurological issues (ADHD and other things) but we have found ways to integrate them gracefully with the adults (well, I think we have), so they are loved and encouraged. That's special.

It has a philosophy and ambience of absolute kindness and acceptance; it's a place where people can be their true selves and come to worship just as they are. That's really special.

But the special thing I was thinking about today is that our chapel was started by the Bible Christians, and their last woman preacher came from there. If you don't know about the Bible Christians and their women preachers, it says all about them here. To cut a long story short, they were — before the Quakers even, I think (not sure) — the only Christian grouping that allowed women's ministry on a (more or less) equal basis to men. It's very special to me to worship in the same place as such a dauntless spirit and an upholding of gender equality.

But I was thinking about the Bible Christians and the rules they put in place for their women preachers. For one thing, they hadn't to be married. Well, in the 19th century, contraception being what it wasn't and the expectation of the domestic responsibilities of wives being what it was, I can see the logic of that. Equality can advance only as far as its cultural context permits. Another thing was they had to be very soberly dressed; they were not allowed to curl their hair or wear gold or pearls.

The fashion in hair styles at the time would have been this sort of thing.

So if you wanted to be a Bible Christian preacher, you had to "take down your curls" as they said, and adopt more the kind of hairdo Queen Victoria moved on to.

No curls.

The other stipulation was that you could wear no gold or pearls, and no fine fabrics — though later, silk shawls were grudgingly permitted for warmth, provided they were of dark and sober hue.

The reason for this ban on gold, pearls and curls was of course the letter of St Peter, here, and St Paul, here.

And this morning in the bath I was thinking about it.

What if, I thought, your gold and pearls weren't gold and pearls at all? You could dress to the nines and say, "Well it isn't gold and it isn't pearls either," couldn't you? Like this.

When Peter was writing, and Paul, if you wore gold and pearls, you must have been wealthy. Not today. For four quid in Debenhams sale I can get the most opulent looking bling which is mere tat, just pretty.

Was the problem the bling — women dressing prettily — or was it the ostentation — the rich/poor divide spoiling the inherent inclusiveness of the early Christian community?

Whichever it was, or even if it was both, it occurred to me that this is a problem inherent in biblical literalism. If gold and pearls are under the ban, I can get round it by covering myself with bling that is neither gold nor pearls, can't I? In my household, some of the women do wear gold and pearls — real ones, made by crafts people who make an honest living that way, and also jewellery they themselves have made themselves from real gold and real pearls. But their taste is modest and quiet; no ostentation, no bling. I'd put money on it even St Peter wouldn't have his attention drawn to their earrings. Though maybe I'd lose the bet.

Anyway, it's always the spirit and not the letter you have to apply; and to do that advisedly, you have to undertake the soul work of digging down to uncover your own insecurities and prejudices and cultural influences — because the whole thing is highly interpretative. What is the spirit of the text? Where is it taking us? What are the implications? Why was it decided? With the gold and pearls, is it about wealth, or display, or sexuality, or all three? And how does it apply to men? And what about the opinion of the women? Which cultural phenomena is it addressing? You live always with the danger of interpreting the scripture according to what makes you feel comfortable; like the heterosexual homophobia that infests the church and grabs at proof texts in Romans and Leviticus, turning a blind eye to Jesus healing the centurion's pais, for example.

In the end, I think, the best rule of thumb is to live with a certain discipline of humility that makes rules for itself and not for everyone else. If you think gold and pearls are wrong, fine, don't wear them. If you think homosexual sex is wrong, fine, don't do it. If you think working and shopping on the Sabbath is wrong, fine, don't do that either. If you think it's wrong to curl your hair, keep it straight. But extend to other people the courtesy of developing their own moral framework, which may not be a perfect match for your own; and live alongside them in peace. 

This means tending boundaries, of course. For example, if I think beating children is inadvisable but some particular school thinks beating children is fine, I'd be wise not to trust my child into their care. If I think intoxication is inadvisable, but I go to a church where wine and whisky and champagne are definitely on the community menu, I might steer clear of social events or change churches. As the Lao Tsu put it, the sage finds ways, like water, to flow around the blocks.

But a word of caution — one's boundaries should not extend to interfering with other people's moral choices, so far as those don't interfere with one's own. Take for example the recent furore created by Muslim people in the UK because at the school their children attended the curriculum allowed those children to discover that some families have same-sex parents. The Muslim parents in question considered the school had overrun Muslim boundaries by allowing the information that same-sex couples exist at all to reach their children. Making the people with whom one differs invisible is not, to my mind a fair boundary. Refusing to serve people in a hotel or cake shop because the morality of their personal relationships differs from one's own is not, to my mind a fair boundary. Fair boundaries mean the other person does not have the freedom to impose their preferences upon you, not that you cannot share the same space under any circumstances or only if you can force your moral framework upon them.

But as ever, I have no conclusions. I was just thinking about gold and pearls and when are they not gold and pearls, and why does it matter so much?

Tuesday, 26 March 2019

Things on Netflix and YouTube

Anyone here like watching Queer Eye For The Straight Guy? Our household has been enjoying the new series on Netflix. I think the one called "Black Girl Magic" is especially good. It tells the story of a young woman whose mother gave her up for adoption as a baby. When she was sixteen, someone outed her to her strongly Christian adoptive family, who threw her out immediately, didn't even give her a moment to pack her things. She rebuilt her life slowly, but had to drop out of college because the accruing debt scared her. She got work as a waitress and food somewhere to live which she furnished from things people threw away, but life remained precarious because where she lived in Kansas she never knew if she'd be fired from her work because of being a lesbian. The Fab 5 from Queer Eye helped her with style and making her apartment lovely. It's a great episode, I recommend it if you have Netflix.

Also on Netflix is the documentary called End Game, that Greta told us about in a comment on an earlier post. It looks at end of life care in San Francisco, focusing primarily on two stories — one in hospital, the other in the guesthouse of the Zen Hospice Project, a Buddhist house where people could receive end of life care. I was so sad to read the guest house in the documentary had to close because it relied on donations, which kept it rolling but gradually dried up after the change of administration in America meant people's giving went more to charities for homeless folk and people in poverty. 

We have a hospice in Hastings where I live, which is also funded entirely by the local community. The other three people in my household, and Buzzfloyd, all belong to a choir that raises funds for the hospice. I was free-church chaplain (unpaid) there for a few years at the end of the 80s and beginning of the 90s. Our hospice is great but not as wonderful as the Zen Hospice project in the documentary. I have read about, but never actually come across, groups who sing for people who are dying, and they had one in the documentary — beautiful. When our Grandad was dying, I went with my family and we sang round his bed. The other people in the hospice liked it too. My family sang at the funeral of my husband Bernard, too, Good News Chariot's A-Comin', and they sang when Tony and I got married too, Bill Wither's wonderful song Lean on Me.

If you haven't got Netflix and are feeling sad because you have no access to the things I mentioned, here are a couple of my favourites from YouTube: a documentary about the work of Max and Charlotte Gerson called The Beautiful Truth (and just letting you know I don't publish comments dissing their work), and Bob Marley singing Redemption Song (sorry, no movie just a still to go with the song, but a particularly nice recording, I thought) and here talking to an extraordinarily posh English journalist who went to interview him in Jamaica, and adds an unintentionally hilarious contrast. 

Oh — and I've posted this YouTube video before; the wonderful Playing For Change song around the world version of Stand By Me.

Monday, 25 March 2019


As you know, I think in the bath. 

I like to have the window open so I can smell the sea air and feel the breeze and hear the birds singing, and be (as Thich Nhat Hanh said) "the happiest people on earth".

And I think.

This morning, knowing our plum tree and miniature ornamental  cherry are laden with blossom and the buds just breaking on the other trees, the breeze blowing, the sun shining and the sky a glorious blue, I was thinking about springtime and blossom.

This recalled to mind a time in my life when I belonged to a church home group that included a gardener in its membership. She worked for a very rich family living in a large walled estate including cottages for staff. So sometimes we went to her place for the home group meetings, and had to stop at the electronic gate and call through to the man on duty to give our names and be let in, driving up the long road through the extensive grounds to her home.

The first time we went there, she took us to see the gardens. The family also had a London house, and the garden staff had to keep both houses supplied in fresh flowers, veggies and fruit. To meet this challenge, they were provided with numerous greenhouses, including — I kid you not — a massive greenhouse in which an entire cherry orchard was enclosed!

Thinking about that in the bath, I decided this must be the absolute definition of wealth — to be able to afford a greenhouse big enough for an orchard of trees and the space so that could be just one thing among many, including your Redwood trees dotted about here and there.

But then I started thinking about my auntie and uncle, also very rich but you wouldn't have known it. Now, they were different. The cherry tree family were bankers, but my auntie and uncle were farmers. So they didn't start off very rich, the land grew their money. And as they farmed well and shrewdly, the farm prospered. They poured their money back into the farm, so it did well. When I was a child visiting them in the summer, I remember the large tribe of gypsies who used to come every year for the strawberry picking. When my uncle died, a great many gypsies came to his funeral, because he was good to them in life. And of course, all sorts of people helped him work the land on his big farm. One of the boundaries was a large, deep, fast-flowing, tidal river. Every evening my uncle used to take the men who worked the land home across the river in a rowing boat, and every morning he went and fetched them the same way. I suppose they could have used their money to build a bridge, but I think they liked the separation and the simplicity of the way they did things. They lived like a tree, that drops its leaves and fruit to feed many species and enrich the ground in which it grows — the kind of wealth that goes hand-in-hand with simplicity. 

They would never have dreamed of growing flowers for the house, or buying a separate house in town. The special things to see at their place were the feral cat with her kittens nesting high in the hay barn, not a glass house enclosing an orchard.

So that was a different kind of wealth.

And though I don't have loads of money, I have enough to buy food for the fox, the crow and the seagull, enough to buy fresh fruit and vegetables to eat every day, I have a garden with 20 trees in it, laden with the blossom that will make our summer fruit, and already planted with kale seed and sprouting healthy growth of the herbs and dandelions we put in our salads. And I have a room of my own, and a family I'm proud of and friends I love. I live with artists and musicians and have the pleasure of their work all around me. All of which is wealth in abundance.

Some people are desperately poor. And among those terribly poor people are included some who have pots of money. But you know how with diabetes, because of the insulin resistance the person both craves food and cannot benefit from it, well, that can happen with money too. You can get a sort of money diabetes, where you keep wanting more and more but none of it does you any good, like the man in the Bible. And that isn't wealth at all.

Sunday, 24 March 2019

Lâchant Le Temps Perdu

One of the books we read for French A-level exams at high school was Marcel Proust's A La Récherche Du Temps Perdu. The title is usually translated as In Remembrance Of Lost Time, but that isn't quite right, is it? Réchercher means looking for something again, and implies trying to find again, get back to, the old time, the lost days — of youth, or other times remembered.

It's a very famous book.

Also very famous is François Villon's poem, Ballade Des Dames Du Temps Jadis — Ballad Of Ladies Of Time Gone By — which Wikipedia describes as "a prominent example of the ubi sunt genre". Ubi sunt is Latin and means "Where are . . . ?" (I think. I never learned Latin).

So Villon's poem, like Proust's book, is steeped in nostalgia. The times we lost.

In Villon's famous poem Ballade Des Dames Du Temps Jadis, there's a very famous line: 
      Ou sont les neiges d'antan?
You could translate it as "Where are the snows of yesteryear?"

When my father was still alive (he was a linguist, among other things), whenever we went to eat out at a restaurant, he'd look for — and ask for if he couldn't find any — toothpicks. He refused to go to the dentist and had problems with his teeth. Indeed when one fell out he stuck it back in again, adhering it to its adjacent tooth with superglue. Yes. So food got stuck in his teeth.

These days, restaurants don't much bother with providing tooth picks (called cure-dents in French). So he'd look round restlessly, murmuring sorrowfully for no one's amusement but his own, "Ou sont les cure-dents d'antan?

I think he stole a march on François Villon, actually. I mean, it's better poetry, isn't it?

So, all this French nostalgia came to mind because I was trying to fix up a roister for our chapel this autumn coming. The idea I had was of an open mic night (without actual microphones because we don't have any) where we sat round tables and brought snacks and soft drinks, and people took turns to sing folk songs they liked. 

I love folk songs, and I know quite a few off by heart. When I lived in community as a young woman (when I was about 20), I absolutely loved our roisters (as we called them), when we all sat round in the kitchen and sang just about every folk song we knew — Jug of Punch, Martin Said To His Man, Ellen Vannin, and all the rest. I've tried unsuccessfully to get back to it all my life, but the nearest I ever got was the privilege of singing all the songs I knew to my children while they were in bed falling asleep, to prevent them getting up and romping about before they actually dropped off.

And I've always wanted to reclaim those lost times, have back again the delight of sitting round and singing together, being part of it instead of just listening and applauding.

So I started with the members of my family I actually live with, and they said they'd be very busy at that time of year and couldn't commit to attending — they might or might not come. Of course other people would come and I could put an evening together, but my secret dream had been to join in and sing with people who know the same songs as I know because I sang them to them when they were little. My other daughters also sing — but one is a professional musician and I'm not really up to her standard, one sings with other people, and the other has a voice like an angel but has moved away.

I sulked about this for a while and felt mournful. But eventually I came to see it's no damned good attempting a récherche of temps perdu (or even Peru as my auto-correct would prefer I said). You just have to let it go. I had it, it was lovely, and it's gone. Someone else can organise the roister and maybe I'll go and maybe I won't. Time to forget it, the récherche is over. Okay then, je vais lâcher all the temps perdu. Let it go. Release it into the wild and learn a new tune.

Les neiges, les cure-dents, le temps, and the whole damned antan. It's over, and it's time to move on. Eat your heart out, Villon.

Say that last paragraph out loud to yourself. I think you'll find it's a seriously fine piece of prose poetry.

Now all I've got to do is wait for some bright spark, some sainted Clever Dick, to come along and tell me I've got my French all wrong. Oh. Do I sound a little sour to you? Just a tad acide?

Saturday, 23 March 2019

There, in the garden . . .


So I went out in the garden and it's all very beautiful. The cherry blossom over Concrete Thinking is so pretty.

The plum blossom is out.

There are little self-seeded primroses here and there on the grass.

Over there is the toy the foxes have brought into the garden to play with, that I showed you before.

This is it.

And . . . over there . . . what's that? An orange fluffy  . . . 

. . . er . . . what can it be?

The foxes have brought a new toy into the garden.

Thursday, 21 March 2019

Update on Deb S

Thank you for praying for Deb S, friends (see my post here if you don't know who I mean).

I've heard this morning from her mum Jean, that Deb has gone from the hospital to the hospice for end of life care.

Deb is upheld in dying as in living by her strong belief in Jesus. When you have a moment, I'll be so grateful if you continue to hold her in the light and call the powers of earth and heaven to carry her safely home.

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Thinking about Leonard Cohen

What do you think of the songs of Leonard Cohen? How do you respond to them?

When I first heard Songs From A Room as a teenager, a couple of years before my first clinical diagnosis of depression, I utterly fell in love with them. The darkness, the weariness, the loneliness, the sadness and the vivid shards of everyday detail — I listened to them avidly, again and again. I sat up late playing the record (vinyl discs then, of course) borrowed from one kind friend on the record player borrowed from another, lost in my own darkness, weariness, loneliness, etc etc, listening to Leonard Cohen's. At last! Someone who understood!

Later on, as a young mother, at sea in chronic depression, isolation and the terrors of trying to look after babies, I absolutely could not listen to Leonard Cohen's songs. Even the merest snatch of a phrase precipitated the engulfing swirl of nightmare.

Then came the internet and I read more about his life, such that the man stepped out from behind the songs. I read about the struggle he had to go on stage, and the release from that in the tour he made after his big financial crash in his 70s when his money was stolen. I related to that, too — my first agent also stole my money, just I didn't have so much in the first place; so I moved to Chip MacGregor after that and things went better. I read about Cohen's buddhism, and how he involved himself in the nursing care of his buddhist master in that man's dying. I saw how the faith and compassion I'd felt so clearly in the songs was the keynote of his life, really; kindness and courage and honesty. What a lovely man.

After that, in recent years, I started listening to Leonard Cohen again, and this time it was different.

In the intervening years that I've fasted completely from all things Cohen, I've worked a lot with people who are dying and bereaved, I've made my journey into minimalism and now live the smallest simplest life imaginable, and I've worked and worked on my physical health to balance mood and encourage wellbeing. I keep a discipline of quietness and seclusion from the world, and in so doing I dodge overwhelm. So this time round, listening to Cohen's superb last album You Want It Darker, of which this is my absolute favourite — I love it — I felt so differently about the music and the man. 

From my perspective on life now, for one thing what I'm listening to is more him than me; I'm interested to note his suffering as well as his skill, and discern the core of sustaining warmth that enabled him to get through it all. As a teenager, what I wanted was someone to put into words how I felt, someone to understand. Now I find my own words, and have learned to live with being unheard and not understood — partly because (a treasure to me) there's a kindred, people who have heard me, understood me, taken the trouble from all over the world to find me and talk with me and share their lives (that's you). For another thing, I've made peace with my own needs in life, and grasped that the hunger for quietness and simplicity means I so easily go into the overwhelm that then manifests as depression. Because I so often have to stop, withdraw, I have my critics, some of them fairly savage, others just working on their own assumptions that are simply wrong, but I can live with that. I have no position to maintain. I don't need to try and please anybody. 

When I listen to Cohen's last album, sometimes I wish the stars had been differently configured and I had actually personally known him. I listen to the line "I'm angry and I'm tired all the time" in his song Treaty, and I have a feeling I could have helped with that. He tackled depression with drink and drugs and religion, all of which tend to bring temporarily the relief you grab for, but dig it in deeper in the end. There's a reason your liver got its name; my own experience has been that, cleansing and cleansing, drawing out the interminably long, long string of life experience packed and folded away in there as physical memory, it has been possible to increase peace and decrease anguish. I know he had cancer and crumbling bones and all that agonising, debilitating stuff, and he was old, but even then there are things one can do to help. And in general, in my one life without the extreme challenges he was facing, I find giving quietness and sensitivity permission, and keeping to a discipline of extreme simplicity, and eating the right things, one can end up much less angry, and tired only most of the time — in a good patch, only part of the time. I wish his courage and his humour hadn't been quite so desperately needed. I wish his faith hadn't shone alone in darkness like Venus on a clear December night.

I wonder what's happening to him now, in the light world? Has he work left to do? Is he simply free, released into the heart of all wisdom, beauty and compassion? How did he acclimatise to light? Did he find what he needed? 

My friend Pearl, who died in December, was around for a little while after that to help with her funeral, moving the energies around in her typically sweet and gracious way, but after that she was gone. I can imagine her hungry and excited for the experience of the light world which was always her real home, her soul's environment; it floated round her like a fragrance. It seems to be different with different people — my husband Bernard hung around for ages, leaving signs and wanting to watch over me. Even now that he's moved on and I've been quite fierce over the severance, I still have a little pension that came from him, that helps every month. 

And in these days (weeks . . . months . . . years . . . ), my mother is making her slow and cautious way out of this world, like an animal ambling along the track, stopping to taste every fruit and sniff every flower, no haste, no sense of urgency, just on the way. 

But I'm getting off topic now — starting to think about death instead of Leonard Cohen; an easy enough hop to make, after all! 

Saturday, 16 March 2019

Wind's blowin'

It's a blustery, wild old day on the south coast of England. March has done its thing and come in like a lion, but is nowhere near ready to go out like a lamb just yet.

My crow's come to see what I'm doing, which is hanging out the laundry.

I have to hurry back in and get some food for him. Or her.


Got a good beakful.

A bit worried about the camera.

Spring's advancing. The celandines are out —

— and the fruit trees are well in bud. Our blackcurrant bush is in leaf.

Hanging out laundry takes a while, because you have to peg everything carefully, especially on a very windy day. So I think as I'm pegging.

I think about the song that says "Everybody talkin' 'bout heaven ain't going there," and how important it is to get your grammar right, because of course what they really meant to say was "Not everybody talking about heaven is going there," which is entirely different. As things stand, the singer excludes him/herself from heaven too.

I think about teeth and wonder what to do about mine. Having given me no trouble all my life, now they are.

I think about climate change, and Brexit, and how we can best respond to life's challenges without making ourselves utterly miserable.

I think about this film coming out in May, and how very much I want to see it.

I think about my mother and wonder what's the best thing to do about her. This week has included a couple of trips across to her place in the middle of the night, because she presses her lifeline button and thinks she's dreaming the woman on the speaker phone asking her if she's all right. Hmm. 

I wonder what to cook for lunch.

I think about seagulls and crows, about clouds and planting beans. I think about the church quiz night this evening.

All the ordinary, everyday things that make up a human life. And earth is, after all, just that pale blue dot caught in the middle of a sunbeam. Things matter so much and at the same time not at all.

So I come back in here, and sit on the bed with my friend, who has the right idea of how to spend a windy day.

Thursday, 14 March 2019

Tom Cullinan

In 1990, when my first book was published, the novel that began what eventually became a series of nine, The Hawk and the Dove, a friend in Rye who ran a Christian book shop invited me to come over for a book signing. A trickle of people came in, but it was mainly just Anne and her parrot and me, so we had plenty of time to chat about our interests and ideas.

"You should meet Tom Cullinan," she said. "Who's he?" I asked; and she gave me his address, Ince Benet at Ince Blundell on the edge of Liverpool.

I wrote to him and said she'd recommended I look him up. He sent back a typically brief but kind note, suggesting I watch for the kairos. The what? I looked up "kairos"; an interesting word meaning both time and action — like an actor's cue, God's now moment. 

The kairos came a couple of years later when Tom and I were both speakers at Greenbelt (a Christian festival with a slant towards social justice, community, ecology and music). Excited to learn he was there, I went to find him, and rather shyly gave him a copy of the most recent book I'd written (The Long Fall, I think). It was the first time I'd put my books about Benedictine monks into the hands of an actual Benedictine monk. A few months later, a journalist writing an article about my work sought his opinion on it — and he said he was somewhat miffed that I'd managed to get to the heart of the vocation without personally being a Benedictine monastic.

Cheered by this imprimatur, I wrote to him again, asking if I could visit. This was in the days before email, and besides, Tom never had a computer or a telephone. He sent a photo-copy of a neatly handwritten sheet detailing instructions for reaching his place by public transport — a train to Liverpool Lime Street, then a bus out into the country, then a walk through the woods. So I went, and spent a few days with him, utterly captivated by the hospitality and simplicity of his home and his life.

He lived in a wood near Liverpool, where he'd been granted permission to build a house in exchange for managing the woodland. His brother (Ted, an architect, who designed the Maths building at Cambridge university) designed it for him — Tom came of a creative family full of initiative; I gather they had a lighthouse at one point, but when I knew him his mother still lived in Camden, and he used to take his folding bike on the train to visit her. Tom's house was superbly designed, open plan but with clear intentional separation of spaces into nooks that flowed easily from one to the other. It was an A-frame house, the living accommodation mostly upstairs (and there was a highly effective disability lift on a pulley system). 

The idea had been for him to establish a satellite community to Ampleforth Abbey, but the monks who came out with him didn't stay for one reason or another, and it ended up being just Tom. He had this vision for a more earthy and grounded simplicity, close to nature and in perpetual fast from the electronic revolution, that was out of step with the necessary sophistication of Ampleforth, but made an excellent retreat base for them and for the Catholic clergy in general. He kept faith with the Benedictine vision of common life, and in the absence of monastic colleagues a group of like-minded lay people formed in and around his home, helping him with the garden, keeping sheep, saying the office, sharing the Eucharist, being the body of Christ.

I went back several times to stay with Tom, and one occasion in particular remains vividly in my memory. It was while I was training for ministry, writing books, preaching and teaching, involved in a a prison fellowship, working on a voluntary basis as a free-church hospice chaplain, and being the anchor person for our family of five children, all between five and eleven years old. We kept an open house, and all kinds of people stayed or just wandered in to find us. There came a time when I was utterly exhausted, and went to spend a few days in the woods with Tom. I got there, and then collapsed, completely ill and unable to get out of bed for the next couple of days. He left me in peace, and I just rested, feeding my soul on the view of trees from the window. The room was warm and cosy because the stove pipe from his furnace in the workshop below passed through it. A very healing space.

This was the way to Tom's house.

The house was called Ince Benet.

This was the first glimpse of the house as you came through the trees.

It was just lovely.

That chimney you can see rose up from the furnace and heated everything. The window belonged to the room where I stayed when I was ill. Can you see the stove pipe passing up through the inside?

This was the bedroom —

— with its stove pipe —

— and its view of restful trees. 

And sheep.

A storage area with a freezer and rope and bottles of the delicious apple juice Tom and his friends had pressed — 

— separated the room where I stayed from the kitchen —

— which led into the eating area (I have lovely photos of Tom's friends having lunch with him, but these days, you know — data protection etc — I think I can't post them) — but here's Tom, anyway, with a child beside him —

The dining area was separated from the library and reading nook in the window, by the stairwell.

Halfway down the stairs a sloping surface acted as a notice board and display space.

This was the disability lift.

Under the main part of the house, Tom had his book binding room, guest quarters and a chapel —

— where upright chairs alternated with cushions for those of us who prefer to sit on the floor.

The first time I went there, I wanted to make a little memorial devotion for my dearly loved friend Fabian Cowper (another Ampleforth monk who had died some while before), and Tom asked if he could join in, so we did that quietly together in his chapel.

Outside the chapel, the eaves made a walkway along the house with places to sit looking across the big garden with a vegetable patch, a greenhouse and a caravan for guests making a solitary silent retreats.

The vegetables Tom grew were magnificent —

— and the herbs —

Under the kitchen end of the house was the wood store with its furnace —

— where garden implements hung neatly, and the stairs rose to the storage space between the room where I slept and the kitchen —

Outside Tom's bookbinding shop (and his own room) he kept his bike, a Sturmey Archer from the 1940s. He used it to travel out to the village churches to say Mass for them —

He taught me so much, and he inspired me. I remember him saying, "It's a good idea to want what other people don't want", and how right he was!

I loved Tom very much, but he and I saw eye to eye on almost nothing! When the Catholic bishops issued the One Bread One Body edict that put a stop to the gradual relaxing of the exclusion of non-Catholics from the Eucharist, and Tom was under obedience to carrying it out, I stopped going there, though we stayed in touch. I'd send him a Christmas stocking sometimes, with things like rubber bands and paper clips and safety pins and woolly socks, with my love. And I went back once, with my husband Bernard (an artist blacksmith), who had made a crucifix for Tom's chapel. We wrote to each other, and I kept and treasured his letters a long time, but in the end, as part of my own discipline of simplicity, I burned them. I try to keep no earthly ties. But I have kept one of his letters.

The last time Tom wrote to me was back in 2011. I'd sent him a copy of this book —

— with this dedication —

— and he wrote in response.

The next year, I heard from the abbot of Ampleforth that Tom was becoming frail. Peripheral relationships become burdensome as one grows old, and he was in his late seventies by then, so I let it be. Monastic life embraces a discipline of purposefulness, and I had nothing more to say but that he was so dear to me, which he already knew.

When I left Tom's house for the last time —

— I knew I would never go back. But I have kept these photos taken almost thirty years ago, because I never wanted Tom's place to fade from my memory.  

From time to time in these last few years, having in mind that Abbot Cuthbert said Tom was getting frail, I looked on the internet for traces of what he might be doing. Up to 2017, I found indications of him still speaking, still working. There were gaps, of course, because I relied on reports and articles and videos — Tom himself was never online.

And then I looked again today, and saw he died at the end of January. Waymarks of his passing were here and here and here and here.

May he rest in peace and rise in glory. A prophetic and healing spirit of such fire and such humility, he was so dearly loved on this earth.

Now I have uploaded my photos, I'll make a fire of the originals and send the smoke to heaven as my farewell. I am so glad I knew Tom Cullinan, and so grateful for the kind and open space he made.