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, 
 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,

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.