The economics of grace

For those reading this from outside the UK, just to bring you up to speed… so we have a situation now where, due to the lamentable Brexit decision (which may as well have been made by the flip of a coin, opinion was so divided), we have lots of jobs that nobody from the UK is prepared to do for the obscene rate of pay we had been paying mainly economic migrants to do. And we have become so fixated on keeping “foreigners” out of the UK, we have created extra bureaucratic hoops which nobody in their right mind from anywhere else would bother to jump through in order to get a rubbish job with a terrible rate of pay which might help to get us out of this hole.

So I was listening to the radio the other day, and an economic commentator (white, middle class male) was explaining that we have several choices: either we pay more for the work, and employ British workers to do it – this was unthinkable, since then the cost would be passed onto the consumer, and we’d all have to pay more for things; or – and this was the best solution all round in his view – we designed machines to do most of the work, and employed far fewer people, increasing their productivity by using the technology better, thus getting more bang for our buck; or we do what our government is currently doing, and continue to pay rubbish wages, but get rid of some red tape and let the economic migrants in to do the slave labour for us again. (He didn’t use the term “slave”.)

The more I’ve reflected on this, the more angry I’ve become. Because no human being should be paid so little for work that has worth. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth paying for. And if it’s not worth paying for, why are we trying to get people to do it in the first place?

(As an aside, only a couple of weeks ago, I was asked to consider doing a piece of work. When I enquired about payment, I was told that the organisation would “find it hard to justify paying for this work”. Why? If it’s valuable and worth doing, surely it’s worth paying for?)

Going back to the radio programme, I was immediately really annoyed that the commentator’s reflection left no room at all for something that to me is a very powerful factor in it all. People will probably laugh scornfully at my naïvety, but I’m going to say it anyway. I feel measurably more satisfied when I know I have paid someone a fair amount of money for their work. And I feel measurably more at peace when I have been paid a fair amount of money for the work I have done. And I feel so much better about myself, about the world and the direction we are going in on the rare occasions when there is a policy decision that means that the most vulnerable people will genuinely be properly provided for at their point of need. These are strong feelings, which have the power to reshape the whole of our society for the better. And yet, they are not even considered in the line up of economic options. Why is that?

Every time I hear an ambulance go by (this happens a lot as I live near five hospitals), I give thanks that somehow, against all the odds, in the UK we chose to care so much for one another that we created a situation where there are ambulances to pick people up and hospitals to take them to and where everyone gets out of the way to enable this to happen as quickly as possible in an emergency. Nobody tries to hog the road when an ambulance siren is blaring. Nobody. Everyone gets out of the way as quickly as possible. Because human life is valuable and tomorrow it could be you or me in that ambulance.

In this world selfishness is rife, but the ambulances prove that’s not the only reality. I would love us to find a similar way with economics. I feel really bad that we have been paying economic migrants next to nothing for their hard labour. To me, that is akin to slavery, which we all agree now is wrong. It’s an expression of racism, actually.

Why can’t we actually pay people something fair, wherever they are from? And bear the cost of it? And while we’re at it, why can’t those who have amassed obscene amounts of wealth pay a really big percentage of that wealth in tax? How could that possibly hurt them at all? And why wouldn’t they love to do it?! Surely, to see people paid fairly and flourishing, living healthy and happy lives is such a joy! Why on earth wouldn’t we do this, when we so easily could?

And why can’t we listen to our feelings of disquiet when we know we are cheating other human beings out of a fair wage or denying them decent conditions to work in? Why can’t we let those feelings compel us towards a better way? The bottom line may not be the financial price we pay, but the human price.

One minute

One minute to be still and breathe. A good minute: https://youtu.be/8pPr8HPwJYA

I’m using this YouTube channel to share moments of contemplation like this. If you enjoy them, do like, share, subscribe to the channel so they make their way to more people who just need a moment to be still and to open their eyes and ears to what is a gift around them. 🎁

Home

I know quite a few people who have moved recently or who are between homes at the moment. And I’m conscious of the thousands upon thousands of people displaced by circumstances beyond their control; persecution, floods, fear of imprisonment or loss of livelihood or freedom. This post is a thought I am sending into the ether for all of them, but also for all of us.

There is so much emotion tied up with the concept of home. I talked about this a lot with people as I travelled round the world two years ago. Many of my hosts had made a new home for themselves in a different country and culture from the one they’d spent their childhood in. All sorts of things had taken them into those new places; work, family, a significant relationship, search for a place more resonant with their own values, a sense of exploration and adventure. That they’d made a good home for themselves in the new place seemed important to recognise.

Other people I met and stayed with had had little or no opportunity to visit another country, let alone to live anywhere other than where they had been since childhood.

A while ago I read the brilliant book “The body keeps the score” by Bessel Van der Kolk (2014). One of the many insightful observations he makes in the book is that, when faced with any of the traumas that life throws at us, we tend to return home, even if home was not a happy or safe place for us.

The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma https://g.co/kgs/NA5W6h

I am so fortunate that I was brought up in a stable home, where I was protected from most life challenges or traumas, and where I knew ultimately that I was loved. I remember our parents were keen that we were able to remain children for as long as possible. (I’m not sure I’ve actually ever grown up in some senses!)

When I first had to go for ultrasound and biopsies for suspected breast cancer, I remember returning home, cancelling all my appointments for the weekend and curling up in an armchair with a favourite children’s book. Faced with trauma, I returned home.

The whole of my adult life has in one sense been about creating a good home, where people can come and go and find rest, peace and love. I am only realising that now, looking back. It seems to me to be a really important job to be doing, although it’s rarely recognised as such in our Western culture.

This track from the wonderful Lynne Arriale and her piano trio is called “Home”, and captures exactly what a good home feels like to me. Once, many years ago, I remember feeling overwhelmed by all that was wrong in the world; all the pain and grief and injustice people were suffering. I played this track over and over again that day and cried all day for the gap between how the world is and how it could be. How I felt deeply it should be. This has remained my prayer for all those in between homes, making a new home, or mourning the loss of an old home. As I listen to it, it becomes my prayer for all refugees and displaced people, for friends struggling to find a safe home, or beginning the work of finding their feet in a new place and creating a new home.

https://youtu.be/5kF5Zpwa1Io

As a Christian, ultimately I believe our home is in heaven, where thieves cannot steal and moths and rust can’t eat away at anything, and where all tears will be wiped from our eyes. In that home there will be an end to all death, extinction of species, pollution, mourning, crying and pain. The old order of things will have gone, replaced by a new creation. Between us, we have all the tools we need (love, hope, creativity, imagination, kindness, faith) to be growing this new creation. Ultimately we can’t bring it about, but I dare to entertain the hope that we can tune ourselves to its song and trust God for the rest…

Home; a poem

Home, to me
is a pot of tea.
It’s amazing what
is contained within that pot.

The quiet, fizzing thunder as it’s filled;
The cosy slips noiselessly on
and we wait.
We wait for the magic to stir…
for in the belly of that pot
brews Welcome, Peace, Rest.
The pot invites a slowing down,
toward
complete
stillness…
Here, we know that good things come to those who wait.

Home, to me
is a pot of tea.
It’s amazing what
is contained within that pot.

Then comes the tumbling, bubbling pouring;
Wisps or billows of steam issuing from the mug,
depending on the weather.
For everything about a cup of tea
is adaptable to circumstance;
It can warm chilly hands and heart
or refresh you on a hot summer’s day
or knit together nerves which are in tatters.

Home, to me
is a pot of tea.
It’s amazing what
is contained within that pot.

In any other context
the murky colour of black tea with milk would seem unpromising.
But in the context of tea
it promises much.
A pot of tea
is An Opportunity.
A moment for daydreaming a kaleidoscope of wonders,
for brewing a great project,
or for sifting through the fiasco that just happened,
or for unearthing pure gold from half forgotten landscapes.
And the wonderful thing about a pot of tea
is that all this can be done alone
or with others.

Home, to me
is a pot of tea.
It’s amazing what
is contained within that pot.

Once the pot is on the table before you,
you aren’t going anywhere.
And yet, there’s no stopping you.

You, now, are light

A chant, with a random quiet hum at the start which I didn’t realise it would record! I wonder whether this link will work…?:

https://www.dropbox.com/s/yf6otpf5yqf7g8d/YouNowAreLightEph5.8.loopyrecording.aiff?dl=0

The thing that strikes me about this short text this morning (it’s from Ephesians 5.8 in the Bible), is the confidence of it, and that it’s stated as fact; “You once were darkness but now you are light”. I’m also struck by how it’s talking about modes of being. It doesn’t say, “You once walked in darkness”, or “You once were like darkness”, or “You once were blinded by darkness”. It says “You once were darkness”. That’s a pretty powerful statement. And equally powerful is the strong assertion “but now you are light”.

Coming home to myself (continued)

For the last few weeks I’ve been using this 8 minute « examen » meditation at night time to ground me: https://youtu.be/cAFbD5jCGNI

One of the things I have loved about it, is the invitation to « Come home to yourself, » and to « lovingly accept into your home the person you are… » It is so resonant with the Derek Walcott poem in my previous post on here.

I think being able to set your feet on the ground, to still yourself, and to lovingly welcome yourself into your own home is such a gift. And it is very elusive, particularly for the millions of people who carry anxiety in their bodies daily. That’s why I have found this short meditation to be a good one to practise daily. I am hoping that over time, by practising it, I will settle into this calm and spacious place more quickly. Already, after a few weeks, it’s making a difference to me.

By « coming home to yourself », I mean coming home to who you are, wherever you are; whether you are currently living in a tent, on the street or staying with family or friends or house-sitting or living in your own home. The ability to come home to yourself doesn’t require you to own your own property or even to be living in a fixed place (although if you are constantly moving from one place to another it may be more difficult to do…More difficult, but perhaps more necessary?).

The main challenge of the examen is to review and re-member a moment of delight and love in the day past, and a moment of regret or discomfort. I have a tendency to remember the moments of delight more than the moments of discomfort. Maybe that’s a survival thing? But I love that the meditation invites me to not only remember the positive and the negative, but also to entrust them both to the silence within me. Then it invites me to be still and to let divine love enfold both my moment of delight and my moment of discomfort. I love that. It’s a challenge, but I love it. And I think it’s deepening my sleep…

Coming home to myself

I’m not sure why… maybe it’s the increase in activity with the easing of lockdown restrictions, and the surging back of stuff in the diary? But I have felt like I have been greeting myself passing lately. Apart from moments of delight on occasional walks, or in times of meditative stillness with others or on my own. Then, I arrive, I am 100% present in the moment.

This poem is helping me to come home to myself in a wonderful way. Short but profound:

Love after Love, by Derek Walcott: https://youtu.be/oFg5a7ECjMU

Multiplying conversations

Imagine if every tweet, every social media post, text message, email, came to you in the form of someone speaking directly into your ear. Even as you scroll through a newsfeed or your emails, everything you half look at, spoken out loud into your ear. It might sound something like this:

https://youtu.be/PHBJNN-M_Mo

This YouTube recording comes with a warning and an invitation. The warning is that it’s a recording of ten whole hours of people talking. The fact the creators felt the need to warn us should tell us something about the impact of listening (or even half listening) to that much conversation! The invitation is for people to listen to it all the way through and post in the comments when they’re done. Judging by the 2.6K comments, some must have managed it.

I think the amount of communication we are exposed to in an average day is really quite like listening to this. No wonder I sometimes (who am I kidding – often) feel overwhelmed with the sheer volume of talking. Even though in the past year of global pandemic I guess a lot of people have missed the babble of being in a crowd. (One comment on the YouTube recording poignantly asks, “Who’s here during quarantine trying to remember what people are?”)

Yesterday we had one of our monthly Quiet Days. It’s the first time we have been able to invite people to come round since the pandemic hit last year. The Great British weather was predictably throwing it down by mid morning, so it was great to be able to be inside the house, albeit with the windows wide open for ventilation to reduce the risk of Covid-contagion.

It’s no wonder I increasingly find these set aside times for being quiet so essential. I normally turn off my phone or put it on aeroplane mode for the day. At a couple of points during the day for quite a while the building work next door stopped. Listening to the birds and the rain was glorious. And going outside and being in it, doing some careful weeding to give some impossibly blue flowers space to breathe, touching the earth and smelling the wet grass was so good.

Freeing up my attention to notice and enjoy all these things was such a necessary thing. As is often the case, turning my attention completely away from my phone, and any form of communication other than with myself, with the earth, with other living creatures, with the divine, was a joy.

Yesterday I also enjoyed doing this in a shared physical space. We have had Quiet Days in the past year where we connect with people for short video calls a few times through the day which were OK. But there is a particular gift we offer one another by physically being in each other’s presence but not speaking to each other or expecting anyone to speak or to listen to us. It’s a rare social environment where we agree to offer one another the gift of silence. We are considerate of one another in how we inhabit the space, but the consideration is silent.

We broke the silence for lunch together which was also a delight. And at the end of our time people could share whatever had come to them in the silence if they wanted to. There were just three of us this time. A lot of people say they want to make time for this sort of day, but it seems really difficult practically for people to do it, for a whole host of good reasons.

But I am thinking this sort of time (maybe not a whole day for everyone) is only going to become more necessary, given the extreme demands on our attention…?

The wrong beds

A friend recently shared the poem « The wrong beds » by Roger McGough. It’s a brilliantly observed piece reflecting on life as a hospital ward. It ends with the line « We didn’t make our beds. But we lie in them. » There is such a lot to ponder in that…

You can find the whole poem in That Awkward Age by Roger McGough: https://g.co/kgs/SVei6q

My favourite little milk jug from Dublin

A day or two after my friend had shared the poem, I accidentally knocked my favourite little milk jug on the floor, and the handle shattered. I bought this funny little jug on holiday, and although it has always annoyed me that it won’t go in the dishwasher, it holds sentimental value for me. It reminds me of the friends I was with when I bought it. And it has made a lot of people smile since.

The timing of discovering the poem and breaking the jug made me wonder about blame. We often assign blame saying, « You’ve made your bed. Now you’ll just have to lie in it. » or « I suppose I’ve made my bed and now I’ve got to lie in it. » I immediately berated myself for being so clumsy and knocking over my jug. But I was so tired when I did it, it’s not a surprise. And was it my fault that I was tired? Maybe partly. Maybe not wholly…?

What I love about McGough’s poem is the thought that maybe we didn’t actually make our own beds. And if we had had the opportunity to make them, we wouldn’t have made them here, or like this. They are in the wrong place, always, it seems, no matter where they are.

When we’re in hospital we don’t make our own beds, but we know we should be so grateful for those who make them for us. (And even saying this here makes me remember how grateful I must be that in the UK we have hospitals and people whose job it is to make the beds in them. Not something all of the world’s population experiences, which fact the pandemic has brought more to our attention lately.)

So when we lie in a bed that we didn’t make for ourselves, but which we somehow ended up in anyway, what will be our response? When through no fault of our own, we find ourselves ill, living with a health condition we never asked for? Or we are misunderstood, disbelieved, or something is missed and as a consequence, we suffer? What then will be our response? We sometimes have to lie in the bed that is made for us, whether we like it or not.

And that goes against the grain in a capitalist society where we are constantly bombarded with adverts telling us we can have whatever we want. This is a lie, in fact. And even those with vast stores of wealth often do not have what they want. In fact, I wonder whether many of us even know what it is that we want or need most deeply.

Perhaps people who have less material wealth will teach us something about what is most needed? Certainly they would know more about that than the makers of adverts, or the publishers of glossy magazines, I think…?

« We didn’t make our beds, but we lie in them. » When there’s a fight to be fought in the name of justice and peace about the beds we find ourselves in, may we find others to join us for the fight and give us courage to speak out. And when the beds we lie in are actually a real gift, may we appreciate them as such, and may those whose hands have made them for us be blessed.

Still

Te Anau, South Island, New Zealand

There are some things that give time back to me

And others that steal it away,

Like a thief in the night.

My friend’s hospital appointments with all the -ologists,

Stealing the life they are so carefully trying to save.

My latest contract for work that I don’t really believe in,

Which I’m doing to put bread on the table.

I have the impression that these things are robbing us of life?

I strike a match

The candle is lit

We let the silence fall.

Disturbed waters still.

I hear a bird sing in the distance,

Breathe in the delicate aroma of my tea,

Hands warmed by the mug.

My shoulders drop, burden loosening;

Nous sommes arrivés

We have arrived;

Brought back to ourselves

Here there is life, healing, peace.

Here, the present that was always ours to live is ours once again.