In the middle of much busy-ness, I am noticing the loss of deep stillness and silence lately, and an invitation to re-engage with it.
Hence yesterday during a glorious morning, when unsettled sleep had woken me too early, I went out. I lay on my back in the garden and saw this:
What glorious blue!
I felt queasy, due to sleep deprivation and not drinking enough water the previous day. But this was glorious. As I lay there for about half an hour, I saw at least 5 different species of birds fly past twittering their spring songs.
I am hoping to drop into this deeper stillness more in the coming time. Even when there is a lot of hubbub and activity around me and lurking in the back of my mind. Perhaps if I practise it, I will be able to lay it aside again as the silence falls…? This is what my brain needs I think.
I’ve recently been listening to the genius Oscar Peterson’s jazz CD “We get requests” in the car a lot. Today I stopped to notice how utterly delighted I am every time I get to the end of the third track My one and only love (a beautiful love song sung by Frank Sinatra among others), and Peterson blithely plays the opening theme of Jesu joy of man’s desiring by JS Bach. It just fits so beautifully right there. One short, simple quote of that distinctive opening melody.
The lyrics of the original song include the immortal line, “…every kiss you give sets my soul on fire”. Well, this is pretty much what my faith means to me. Jesus, the joy of all humankind’s deepest longing, bends low to offer each of us, whoever we are, such a tender, loving kiss, with no selfishness in it at all. It is pure delight.
Oscar was not only a brilliant jazz pianist. He was also a very accomplished classical pianist, who apparently insisted that all his students learn to play JS Bach. So maybe this melody just dropped itself under his fingers one day at the end of this number. But I wonder whether he ever consciously considered the one and only love of God, or whether perhaps he experienced a little joyful tingle at the back of his neck, as I do when I listen to him playing it…?
I was in the queue behind a guy this morning who was on the phone while completing his transaction. “You’re too emotional… women, they’re always too emotional,” he declared into the phone, while demanding she put their child on the phone (I grimaced, imagining the irritation of this woman, who I guessed was probably doing the bulk of the bringing up of the child [also, how is it possible to be “too emotional”? Grrr…]). “Woman; the day is just rising…give thanks and be glad you opened your eyes this morning to greet it!” I exchanged knowing grins with the Muslim guy behind the till and said, “He’s preaching to us all this morning”.
I was just sitting on a low wall writing this when another guy began talking to me. People round here have an instinct for who has got time to listen. We said how much we were enjoying the sun. He said he didn’t like the cold so he was glad for the sun. I pointed to the trees and said how the blossoms were coming. He said, “Yeah this is our world… we gotta look after it isn’t it?” His words were very slurred and in a strong dialect so he had to repeat that three times before I could grasp it. I wasn’t expecting such care for the natural world from someone so vulnerable. But he probably spends way more time outside than I do. I stand corrected.
This is Easter where I live. Three completely different cultural backgrounds, at least two different faiths, shared human needs and flaws and an encouragement to notice that the day is just rising. We give thanks we opened our eyes to see it. And we resolve to look after this beautiful planet with all her creatures. 🙏💕
I made this little chant recording based on something Jesus said (Luke 22.27); “I am among you as one who serves”. What a gentle way to be – among (not above) us as “one who serves”, and how unexpected it is for a leader to say this and to embody it:
There’s a lot of talk about leaders serving, and many do. I am thanking God for them today. But I think for leaders the lure of power and popularity is strong and may tempt us to forget the invitation we have to serve others.
Service is tiring and can be discouraging. It may feel like we are making no difference at all. But maybe we are when we embody this attitude? This is more for those used to privilege, as I am. Those who have endured service and labour and grinding poverty with little or no choice I think perhaps need to hear that Jesus is with them to serve them for once. 🙏💕
I’ve been thinking quite a bit about this quote from Maya Angelou lately:
I often gaslight myself for not knowing things it feels like I should’ve known. But actually I’m coming to see that what matters is that often in my life I have been doing the best I could based on what I did know. And no one can know everything. Now is the time not for dwelling on my past limitations, but recognising what I now know, and “doing better”.
This was brought to my mind a couple of times lately. In one situation, I was feeling righteous indignation about someone powerful’s poor knowledge and response to a damaging state of affairs. I caught myself feeling angry at them for their woeful lack of understanding. But then realised in many ways I was in their shoes not very long ago. I don’t have the same kind of power and responsibility as them, but I do have some power and some responsibility. And I also hadn’t taken the time and trouble to listen and understand; to know better.
I didn’t know what I didn’t know. But now I am beginning to know better, and attempting to do better. This is the way of hope.
The second situation where this sprang to mind was in listening to someone who recounted a great question she had been asked when facing a sticky situation; “What would the best version of yourself do?” Now I know that question, I think it may help me to know better and also to do better going forward. Although I am also making allowances for myself to sometimes do less well due to being tired or over stretched. (These doughnuts didn’t buy themselves today. And the missing ones didn’t eat themselves, either!…)
Over the past year I have sensed a challenge to be ready and willing to join political demonstrations. We have been sold a lie that these never affect any change. I commend Rebecca Solnit’s book Hope in the Dark (2016) to anyone who believes this. Strikes and protests have been more effective than the establishment would like us to believe over decades across the world. So it was that last week I found myself standing in the cold with the nurses striking outside a hospital near to where I live.
I joined them because I am livid about their needlessly awful pay and conditions and the unacceptable dearth of nurses following Brexit and years of “austerity” policies that have seen staff numbers drop and investment in them and their work cut.
I also joined them because these are some of our most compassionate people and I really admire compassion. My impression is that you would not survive long in nursing unless you had a sense of vocation to the work. You have to really care about people to do this. Why would we not listen to these people when they tell us enough is enough, and the Royal College of Nursing reaches the point of voting for strike action for the first time in its 106 year history? (Though thanks to a blog reader who reminded me the nurses have actually striked before in 1979, 1982 and 1988).
During the hour and a half I spent on the picket lines, I listened to them tell me story after story about the reality of their work, and about their exhaustion in the wake of the pandemic, of the number of staff off sick long term or off and on. Of the unacceptable and unsafe staffing levels.
Trigger warning: some people may find the next paragraph disturbing (regarding the pandemic)
They told me they get flash backs of the trauma they saw in the early stages of the pandemic. They are used to dealing with trauma. This hospital is a Major Trauma Centre, so the Accident & Emergency staff see terrible things routinely. But from the little I understand, one of the most traumatising things about witnessing trauma is inability to help. At the start of the pandemic, before anyone knew exactly what Covid 19 was or how it could be treated, nurses were using all their skills to find ways of helping patients, but they were working in the dark, with little information or clarity about what would help. They saw many patients die in terrible circumstances.
“What do we want?: Safe staffing! When do we want it?: NOW!” was the chant I heard a lot of (and joined in with) when I was on the picket line. These women (and they were nearly all women) are mostly worried that they aren’t able to do their jobs properly, because there simply aren’t enough of them to do the work. And they are seeing patients suffer and sometimes die prematurely because of the unsafe staffing levels we now have in hospitals.
And of course their pay has dropped in real terms. Despite us being so so grateful to them in the height of the pandemic, this is how we have rewarded them.
I was already really angry before I arrived, but having stood with them, yelled with them, and cheered at all the honking traffic passing by with them, I experienced a whole gamut of other emotions, perhaps the most powerful of which were shame and hope.
I felt a really strong sense of shame at the decisions we have allowed our government to take that have so diminished the work and motivation of these people, when surely all of us will have cause to be so grateful to them at some point in our lives. Of all the people we could undervalue why on earth would it be these people? One of the senior nurses I spoke to had an answer for me; “It’s because we are mostly women, and we’re here because we care about others. So they get away with it. Do you think if at least half of us were men our pay would be this low??” She went on to say she is striking because she wants the NHS to be protected and still be there for the young ones coming up now, and because she wants to be attracting more men and all kinds of people into it, because they need more nurses. But she recognises that we will never attract more people into the profession unless we pay them right and value them with decent terms and conditions and actually invest in recruitment as well.
The hope I felt, I found in listening to the combination of really experienced nurses explaining point by point just what they needed to be able to do their job well, and young nurses yelling at the top of their lungs with impressive vim and vigour having been there since 6:30am that morning. (Apparently they were a lot shyer at 6:30am, but by the afternoon they’d really found their voice!) They were so ready to listen to me as well. Their demeanour was lovely! Their motivation is good; they really care about this work. No one gets up that early to strike unless they believe in what they are doing. And none of them wanted to be there. They all wanted to be working inside the hospital. I told them their job of work that day was to be exactly where they were, striking, and I thanked them for bravely doing it.
As I walked home I cried. My tears were a prayer of lament. How long? How long will it be before good people enacting love in the care of their fellow human beings are valued, listened to and prized as they should be?
I woke to snow this morning, which reminded me of what a gift the lockdowns seemed at first to my introverted, home-loving self. It was like an extended « snow day », when everything was cancelled and no one was going anywhere, for once. I loved that about it. For the first time I could hear the birds chirping even during the daytime in our urban area, and there was hardly any traffic and no planes overhead.
I remember someone wise, about half a year into the Covid 19 pandemic, saying that we would need a « season of healing » in the wake of it all. It’s been obvious the toll it’s had on some people through their particular work or personal lives, and truly tragic things happening. But I do think that others of us, who have not faced tragedy or massive overwork directly, are also now in need of healing.
Whether it’s been through accompanying other people who have been up against it, or through living with a lot of uncertainty ourselves, and having to make multiple adaptations to how we lived, things have been anything but normal for a very long time. And in many parts of the world all of this has gone hand in hand with some pretty extreme political changes, and a rapidly growing appreciation of the very present threat of climate crisis as well.
Given the extreme suffering of many people in the pandemic and also from natural disasters around the world precipitated by climate crisis, it feels pathetic to admit that we are struggling. But it is a struggle now, I think, and most of us are tired, myself included. Bring on that season of healing, somehow, alongside the ongoing work of changing how we live and the political will to get serious about investing in renewables, removing any money from fossil fuel extraction, and also finding more creative and equitable, kind ways of sharing money and resources to enable everyone, and our planet, to thrive. 🙏💕
Last night I went for a magical walk through a wood. It was the last full moon before Christmas. Having had a day of crisp, clear, sunny winter skies, the skies clouded over, and I feared we wouldn’t be able to see the moon at all. But actually we could see it throughout, framed beautifully by thin bare branches and a halo of soft cloud.
At one point the three of us chose a path which took us to a place we had never been to before. (Or maybe we just didn’t recognise it in the dark?) We felt like somehow we had stumbled through a portal into another wood beyond the wood. (Curiously, there was a four way signpost nearby on which most of the text appeared obliterated.) We resisted the temptation to locate ourselves with GPS, and instead relished the moment of mystery, grateful for each other’s company.
I love this quote which I saw today:
“…If a forest is a sacred grove, not timber…” May I always see forests like this. And my “brother sun, sister moon” (as St Francis is said to have put it). I believe we are all creatures of the same Creator. May I always enter the woods with awe, asking of my kin “In the name of your Creator and mine, am I welcome here?” And may I always listen keenly, without assumption, for the trees’ response.