Sunday, 30 December 2012

Here we are again.
Poised at the beginning of a New Year;
probably taking stock of the waning year,
and wondering,
 hoping,
 planning,
 for the coming one.

At the end of 2011 I first came across the notion of looking for a word, 
(or words), with which to look towards the New Year.

The words which seemed to choose me,
(I understood I wasn't to try and choose the word (s), 
but to wait for them to choose me),
were based on the greeting of the angel Gabriel to Mary,
"...you have found favour with God." (Lk.1:30)
This resonated with the eternal truth that
 now  "is the year of the Lord's favour"  (Is 61:2,  Lk4:19)
and I gladly accepted it.

This year has certainly been eventful for me,
and there have been, as ever, ups and downs,
 but throughout I have been tremendously aware of God's favour.

Of course this may have been because I had been more than usually
 on the lookout for favour,
but if so,
 that in itself has done me a favour.

The year 2013 seems to resonate with the word
"Glory"
for me.

I can't think of a more beautiful word to approach the future can you?

Whatever circumstances we find ourselves in 
we can look for those touches of God's glory that are all around us that
I believe Gerard Manley Hopkins called

 God’s Grandeur

THE WORLD is charged with the grandeur of God.
  It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
  It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;       
  And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
  And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
  There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;       
And though the last lights off the black West went
  Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
  World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

 I don't know if you have a word or two in mind for 2013
but I wish you all the Blessings that God's Grandeur,
His touches of Glory,
may bring you throughout this
New Year.









       






       




Monday, 24 December 2012

Happy Christmas

Nestling amongst the artificial branches of our Christmas tree is this little wooden crib.

Perfectionist that I am I was going to discard this scrappy photo
 when the thought struck me
 how ready God is to accept the imperfect,
not to say the down right shoddy.

 I wonder what or who,
 I may well think worth no notice at all
yet will set the angels carolling this Christmas.

How wonderful that love came down at Christmas
from the heart of God ,
who rejoices over us with singing.

Be Blessed at Christmas.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Soul Food

Gave my lottery aided 
"keep the older folks off the streets, 
with their motor skills and synapses firing to the optimum", 
theatre workshop a miss this morning.

I had to give in to my residual loner,
 forgo the company of my playmates, 
and swap a rehearsal room in the Belgrade for my beloved park, 
with it's diamond frost,
 cornflake crunchy underfoot leaves, 
and friends the trees, 
(some unashamedly naked),
 reaching many branched arms up into the glorious winter sunshine.

 It was cold alright, 
with an icy wind  
keeping even the dog walkers to a minimum.

In the walled garden it was,
as my mother would have said,
another country.

The sun reflected off the warmed red brick,
 and played on the benches set out of the wind
 in the lea of the walls.

What bliss to sit for some five minutes or more, 
(well it wasn't that cosy), 
and in the quiet listen to the trees murmur,
 and the bird's song.

Typically, I felt a flicker of guilt.
Should I have skipped my workshop for this?

I didn't need to bat the thought away 
as my spirit reached up with the trees
to give thanks for the beauty of the morning,
and the healing few moments of solitude.

 Be Blessed

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Advent Doors - Facing the Future


Clipart by Fotosearch



I imagine there are Advent calendars everywhere 
with the first doors now standing open.

Whilst some will reveal scripture verses,
one of my grown up granddaughters
 is working her way through a
Minnie Mouse one. 

It has the added attraction 
of laying a daily chocolate trail right up to Christmas.
I don't know how can she resist opening all the doors at once!

I keep away from chocolate temptation 
(at least calendar -wise),
and follow an 
Advent Retreat.

If this is something you have never thought to do,
you can find the one I follow click on
 http://www.sacredspace.ie/

When the page opens simply click on
Advent Retreat
and you will not be transported to a monastic cell for a week,
 but will be gently led to exploring 
Ignatian meditation
 in a way that enables you
 to use however much or little time you have
 to deepen and strengthen your inner life.

In my initial time with the meditation on 
the Annunciation narrative
I found myself again engaging with the notion of doors,
which has stayed with me since my post
 Opportunity Knocks.

There are a succession of doors,
real and metaphorical,
which mark our progress through life as surely
 as the hands of the clock.

From the earliest doors which lead us inexorably away
 from the innocence and vulnerability of childhood,
on to the doors we need to pass through
in our search for meaning and identity
right to the end of our lives, 
we are always moving.

Wherever we are on the journey 
there are doors ahead of us 
standing ajar waiting, 
though we may be totally unaware of them.


 Mary could not have been
expecting an angel
 the day Gabriel brought the stupendous news 
the Holy Spirit was to come upon her
 to implant 
 a new and holy life within her.

 In her apparent ordinariness,
  the fullness of who she was meant
she held nothing back.

Beyond her initial fear and unpreparedness,
young as she was,
lay the ripeness of an open heart
which could say
 "Yes",
even to the dark unknown beyond the door 
which was about 
to fully open before her.

The extraordinary trust which enabled her
 to let go of all control of her future 
with the words
"Let it be to me according to your word"
have resonated with me all through this past year 
since last Advent.

If we feel the doors of life haven't opened to us

as we need,
or as we feel they should;
or that we have become trapped
 in a place where no doors will open to us,
Let it be...
 If we are convinced 
there are no more doors for us,
that we have traveled as far as we are able,
or come as far as we will ever be allowed to go,
Let it be...

When we have come at last to a place of shelter,
where we have sojourned safe,
and cannot think to leave,
or when we long to return to some sweet remembered thing 
rather than press on,

Let it be... 
 
Even if we don't want more doors to lie ahead
because we no longer feel we have the strength
 or the desire to go on,
even then we can put our trust in the future 
 by releasing the weight of our expectations
from our own shoulders.
Let it be ...
Who knew The Beatles were such good theologians!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-3bE2mSJFHw


 However we feel about it,
until our last breath
there will always be one more threshold  
beckoning. 

Be Blessed
























Saturday, 1 December 2012

The Run Up to Christmas and All That

Today finds me a bit under the weather with a cough 
and general feeling of slight mallaise.
It's that time of year.

It's also the time of year when we are winding up to Christmas, 
or at least if you are like me,
 beginning to think about winding up to Christmas.

I am not the sort who can buy Christmas presents in the sales 
just after Christmas so that I'm in pocket, 
as well as organised and ready for the next one. 

I am the sort who is still hoping that the whole thing will go away and give me time to get organized
 a week or two before the actual event.

This is particularly true now 
we are no longer the hosts for the main event.
I don't have the same pressure of meeting dead lines now you see.
In those days I was the one who made the family Christmas cake, (with two granddaughters in tow 
enthusiastically sprinking flour all over the working tops),
 and planning the decorations,
 trimming the tree,
 ordering and cooking the bird, 
and generally preparing the house
 so that it was as welcoming and fragrant with Christmas 
as I could make it.

The moment that really began the count down in earnest 
was when I opened the door to my parents 
who travelled up from Wales each year 
to be with this part of the family 
that had somehow got sent to Coventry. 

I poured all the love I had for them into the little things
 like making the beds with their favourite flanelette sheets,
 and making space for their clothes
 by emptying hangers,
 and drawers.
Putting a few fresh berries and leaves in a little vase 
on the chest in their room.
Having the things they liked to eat and drink on hand,
 and above all ensuring 
they were toasty warm and comfortable.

Just the ordinary things you do for guests really, 
but done in the knowledge of how little they had had in life 
and longing to cosset them whilst I had the chance.

Though Mam and Dad died years ago,
 for some reason this year I find myself 
especially longing for those days again.

I am surprised at the depth of my longing,
 and  realise there is still some saying "Good bye" I have not done.
Some letting go I still need to do. 

Tomorrow is the beginning of Advent.
This is the season signifying the end of the liturgical year, 
the beginning of Church's new year,
 and the true run up to Christmas for Christians.
Like many others I am much more in tune
 with keeping this,
than I am with the world's whirlygig way 
of counting down the days. 

This year as I enter this Advent season
 I will be attending to letting go 
some remaining grief for my parents, 
and perhaps for my own younger days too. 

The lighting of the first Advent candle
 will be part of that letting go for me.

Only as we fully let go the past
 can we begin to enter into the promise of the new thing. 

 Advent offers us the chance to
 look towards the most wonder-filled New Thing.

 Be Blessed 
this weekend by giving yourself the little treat of a few minutes 
out of the world's whirlygig way.


To understand the run up to Christmas we call Advent, you can check out this little video.
.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Opportunity Knocks


Doorways are a constant source of fascination for me;
especially if they are as characterful as this one.

Don't you just long to know what lies behind it?

The creeper curtaining the door suggests that it is 
not used all that frequently,
However you can never judge the importance of a door by 
how often it is used..

The front door of my uncle's farm was
 never opened when I was a child,
 and then one day some relatives I had never even heard of 
arrived to take tea
and the door I had imagined as permanently shut 
was opened to usher them in.

The moment I realised it was the main entrance to the house
the whole layout of the house made a lot more sense,

Until then I had only ever thought of the farmhouse
 as a large kitchen with bedrooms above.

The parlour door which,
 like the front door was newly opened for me on 
the day of "the visit",
was uncharted territory where a lacy tablecloth, thin china,
 and dainty cake,
were a world away from the scrub topped table, 
chunky crockery, and slab cake
of our everyday tea time.

In all honesty I loved the warmth and bustle of the kitchen,
and found the stiff primness of the best room,
for all it's pretty effects,
not to my liking at all.

Still, it was intriguing to have seen
 two new doors opened in one day, 
and I'm glad I got to see inside the parlour
even if it was only that one time.
(Children were not allowed the freedom then that they are now,
 and I would never have dared enter it without permission.)

It has mostly been my habit to go through as many new doors 
that offer themselves to me as I can.

Because I've never had a plan or any particular goal in life 
other than to do the best I can at whatever turns up,
I confess I've never plotted a path to any particular door,
and the ones which came my way have always been
 scary in one way or another:
(new things always are),
but I've always gone through.
Sometimes I've lingered just long enough to see 
what was on the other side wasn't for me,
but I've just had to explore the possibility first.
 Now I come to think of it there was one door
 I did plot to get to,
 and found really scary too,
even though it was my choice that took me there.
I was about nine or ten years old 
and decided I wanted to learn to play the piano
so I found a teacher,
 knocked on her door and asked the price of lessons
 before presenting my mother with all the details
and asking for the funds!
I loved those lessons,
but had to run the gauntlet of a vicious little terrier 
who used to sink his teeth into my music case
 and swing on it for the last few yards
of my journey to the door for every lesson.
I was always convinced one day it was going to be
 my leg that he latched on to,
but it never was.
Now here I am so many years later
still expecting more doors to open
and still finding there are.
Now I haven't got the time I previously did
 I have begun to look for doors that attract me.
Being a person who can live quite happily in my head
I have recently sought out active things.
A creative workshop attached to the theatre,
 and yes, a Zumba Gold class, 
because
 you are never too old to shake your booty!
( The class I go to doesn't have wall mirrors 
so we are not put off by seeing what we look like,
and it has high windows
 so nobody else can look in and get put off either.)
Each of these ventures has led on to other things
not to mention new friendships.
Oh, and we are exploring getting a piano 
so that I can begin to play again after all these years.
I wonder what new doors await you at the moment?
Are you expectant,
 actively looking,
 or have you given up I wonder?
One thing is for sure each new moment is new.
I forget who it was that said
"Man is not a fixed datum",
but it is a truly Christian viewpoint.
Is. 43:19  says,"Behold, I am doing a new thing ;
 now it springs forth, do you not 
perceive it?
I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland."

Be Blessed 









Friday, 23 November 2012

If I Make My Bed in Hell...


Fallen leaves with "memories" of other leaves         photo H. Price
















  I spent much of my time between the ages of sixteen and eighteen,
 lying immobile in the medical ward of our 
small local hospital in Wales.

Ill though I was, the worst thing, 
the thing that comes most vividly to mind about that time,
was the suffering of my fellow patients.

Then, as now on most medical wards,
 among those patients  
was a constant sprinkling of elderly women who were there 
solely because they were no longer 
able to care for themselves 
and no other place could be found for them.

It was the first time I had ever seen 
 dementia or Alzheimer's,
 and here I was, for twenty four hours a day,
living just over an arm's length from
 some of the victims of these conditions.

It was deeply distressing,
 and sometimes frightening to watch.

By day they were often quiet,
 then, willy nilly we were all caught up
in the strange heightened activity of their nights
as time and place became filled with their confusion.

Most extraordinary to me
 was the sudden physical strength
which surged through those frail bodies
 in the dark hours of night.

These old women seemed so utterly lost.
Lost to themselves.
 Lost to their loved ones, 
 and to the world they had known.

Knowing how troubled I was
 the nurses advised me to do as they were taught to do
and not allow myself any emotional connection
 between my troubled fellow patients and myself.

They knew as well as I did 
that our connection was not solely emotional,
 but inherent in our common humanity.

I agonised over the  old women
and the question their state raised for me.
If we can be so lost to ourselves,
 I wondered,
could we be lost to God? 
No longer knowing ourselves or recognising those around us,
could we know God?

As I prayed over the months a certainty grew within me that
at the very core of their being 
these old women were known and held by God;
and further more that at some place deeper than reason,
they too could know him.

Even as the depth of God's indwelling presence with them
 was borne in on me
I was suspicious that I was simply inventing
 a theology of comfort to meet my needs.

However over the months I was given little momentary glimpses,
of the "somebody" still inside,
even those who seemed deep down in their lost state.
(Remember we were living intimately,
through un-interrupted days and nights,
with few distractions, and no escape.)

I began to fully trust that despite the outward evidence
their true inner self did remain,
and that we are not merely body and mind,
but the essence of ourselves is spirit,
coming out of,
 and returning to the eternal.

Still it was hard to be in their company,
though I remained convinced their true self was,
 in it's secret place,
  inviolate. 

One of the indications this could be true
 came via an old lady who spent a fortnight in the bed next to me.

She was there so that the daughter, who was her full time carer,
 could have some respite break herself.

The old lady was without speech,
 accept for a seemingly constant twittering and murmuring.

 Obviously deeply distressed and disorientated
 at her strange surroundings, 
she refused her food,
 and often tried throwing herself over the cot sides.

From my own prone position I tried to sooth her.
Telling over and over that her daughter would be back.
That the food was good.
That she would soon be going home.
How pretty she looked in her clean nightie... 

At times she seemed to quieten a little. 

At last the day arrived when her daughter came 
 to accompany her home  in the ambulance.

At almost the last moment on the ward the old lady turned 
and looked directly at me
 saying quite clearly,
"Thank you."
Then the twittering resumed, her gaze wavered
and she was lost again. 

Her daughter whooped in triumph,
"You heard that didn't you? 
The doctors say it is impossible and that I imagine it,
 but from time to time the mists clear
and this happens!"

Now of course we can clinically measure whether 
those random functions are a possibility
and knowing much more about the workings of the body and brain,
her doctors would not have dismissed her so readily.
 
  As it was we marveled at this sudden ability,
 knowing the time would come
 when this brief coming together of faculties would cease
 and there would be no further outward sign of the person within.
 
Yet I continued, and still continue to believe
that even when all other faculties were gone
 my companions were never truly lost,
for there is no MRI that can read the spirit, 
 and it's secret eternal life.


Years later my belief was affirmed when, reading the scriptures 
I found I already knew, 
and believed, 
 the psalmist's words:-

Ps. 139  
7 Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend into heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.
If I take the wings of the morning,
And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
10 Even there Your hand shall lead me,
And Your right hand shall hold me.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall fall on me,”
Even the night shall be light about me;
12 Indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You,
But the night shines as the day;
The darkness and the light are both alike to You.

13 For You formed my inward parts;
You covered me in my mother’s womb.
14 I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Marvelous are Your works,
And that my soul knows very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed.
And in Your book they all were written,
The days fashioned for me,
When as yet there were none of them.
17 How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! 
how great is the sum of them!
18 If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand: 
when I awake, I am still with thee."
  
***
As I write this, one of my dearest friends
 is spending her first week in a residential home 
 after many months of struggling with dementia
and two old friends have come to the end of their
 descent into Alzheimer's
by dying within a few days of one another.

For Betty,
 Paddy, and Bill,
and all who suffer in mind or body,
may your night shine as day,
for you are not,
and never were,
 alone in the darkness.