All shall be well

This is a beautiful song by Penny Stone, set to words by Julian of Norwich, who was an anchoress (a type of hermit, who lived in a tiny “cell” attached to a church building, with no door) who lived around 1342-1416 ish… if you want to join in, the words are: “All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well…for there is a force of love moving through the universe, that holds us fast and will never let us go”:

…and here’s the sound of the Easter dawn near me. Normally there’s quite a bit of traffic noise, but since it’s reduced significantly it’s been lovely to be able to hear more of the birdsong:

Facing the void

Alongside all the really laudable and vital practical help people are offering each other in this extraordinary time, I’m wondering whether there’s also an invitation for us to face our own powerlessness? However much we can do, there is a lot that is simply out of our control.

The journey of faith is ultimately about loss and powerlessness. We can’t always be the answer to our own prayers or good wishes for each other or for the world. When we face into the void, all there is is God, even if you’re not sure whether God is. And most people, when facing into the void, are not sure whether God is, even if they have a deep faith.

This is my experience, having had cancer. One of my invitations during that time was to face into the void. To recognise the limits of my own mortality. The darkness of what is unknown and unknowable by us. For me, it was an invitation to be deeply honest. Maybe the most profound prayers are the ones made by those who are at a loss?

To my surprise, I didn’t want to pray for my own healing. I didn’t even want to pray for strength to fight the battle with cancer. Instead, I found myself asking Jesus, from within the eye of the storm, “Will you be with me?” And I realised more profoundly than ever before that, whether I lived or died, that would be the most important thing. To know that God would be with me. It was probably the most profound prayer I have ever prayed.

People’s constant, kind love for others and care for them is truly beautiful. And the world so needs that at this time. But maybe we are also invited to stop all our activity for long enough to face what scares us most?

As I write this, I am acutely aware that many exploited, vulnerable people will be being mistreated and exploited even more in the current “lock down”. They literally live with their own demons, and now have no choice but to face them daily. And currently, they may be even less able than usual to escape them or find respite. I am at a loss to know how I or anyone other than their oppressors can really help them. I suppose my prayer is that they will somehow find their own agency, even now. And that something about the situation will radically change their oppressors in a positive way.

As we all face our demons and name them, may they flee from us, leaving faith, hope, healing and love in their wake. 🙏❤️ 🌱

Recognising the times

Someone shared this really helpful article “That discomfort you’re feeling is grief” (from the Harvard Business Review), with reflections on the pandemic and our current responses to it. It offers some ideas that address my discombobulation that I mentioned in my post Doh. Worth a read:

https://hbr.org/2020/03/that-discomfort-youre-feeling-is-grief

…and here is such a wonderfully Italian musical response to the situation that I am finding so uplifting this morning. Listen and be transported and heartened:

Here’s a link with the translation of the lyrics. No wonder it resonates so much. The whole opera is set during the Babylonian exile of the Jews, when their question was, “How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?”. This piece (from Verdi’s opera Nabucco) is known in English as The Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves, struggling with their difficult reality. They wouldn’t have known if/when their struggle might end. Translation here: https://www.yusypovych.com/eng/Va-pensiero-English-translation/

Doh 🙄

Well, my new found rhythm was working pretty well for the first two days, but now it’s all gone to cock! I had not anticipated what a grand expedition going shopping would be. Partly this was just due to the amount of preparation needed in terms of thinking about what we would need as we don’t have the luxury of going back for the things we forgot anymore (trying to be part of the solution not the problem!).

We went to local shop before the supermarket, as we like to support them but also thinking (we were correct) they might have some items the big supermarkets could be out of.

We delivered some essentials to a friend in isolation due to multiple health vulnerabilities. And I confess I took advantage of being in a different neck of the woods to hunt for flour for J’s birthday cake for tomorrow, returning triumphant, amazingly (there had been no flour at all in the other two shops).

All the time we were doing these shopping tasks today, I was thinking about all the people who have no money at all to access food with. Being thankful for all that the food projects and food banks are continuing to do to try and help, while feeling so angry that they are now put in an untenable position in terms of how they can practically get the food to those who most need it with the nation locked down. Britain’s shameful and needless food poverty situation, which has been rumbling on for 6 years or more is now becoming a tragic disaster at the very time when we could really do with not having to still manage it with volunteers.

Big picture, angry and frustrated thoughts like this are a constant present reality alongside all the details of the small tasks of each day for me. My brain is turning to mush with even greater frequency than usual.

But the real reason my schedule all went to cock today was because I am so discombobulated by all this, I keep forgetting what someone has just told me, or what I was in the middle of doing. I had about 5 things to do for work on my phone reminders today, which will have to wait until tomorrow. And I have had to leave stuff half done that I would normally really prefer to finish (if only so that I can remember where I got to with it!). I know full well that when I return to some of these tasks tomorrow I won’t have much clue as to where I got to or what I need to do next to progress them.

It’s so frustrating that our brains function so very poorly when faced with this level of systemic threat. I guess all of the things I’ve described are evidence that my body and brain have put themselves into existential high alert mode, even though the actual threat to me personally from this virus is hopefully limited (though who knows?).

Maybe this is something that could bring us hope though? That, even on a deeply subconscious level, we consider such a threat to the whole of humankind as A Really Big Thing. Perhaps it’s a sign that even the most preoccupied of us do actually care about one another in the end. And that we do instinctively realise what is most important, even when we are so bamboozled, we struggle to get our daily priorities in order.

I will revisit my rhythm for the day again tomorrow. And people will encourage me and help me to begin again. And I think I might make a personal rule that’s it’s OK in this season to sometimes literally just do the tasks that are in front of my face, and not think about too much else.

But that food poverty thing, I really mean that.

Here are two beautiful pictures from my walk today, where I wrote this to the sound of birdsong. The birdsong seems more prolific at the moment, with the lack of traffic noise. For this I am very grateful. Maybe they are singing to call us back to ourselves?

Routines and rituals

I am really not a fan of routines in general. But my experience of living communally and the wisdom of many ancient monastic communities (of monks and nuns) is that routines really help. Especially when you’re all living in the same space. I’m thinking it’s time to share some of this experience about how to create a good home together…

I have so much to share about this, but for now let me just say that I’m going to try out a daily rhythm from the Northumbria Community retreat house (https://www.northumbriacommunity.org/) (“Midday and Evening office” and “Compline” are other prayer times):

Northumbria Community Nether Springs House Daily Rhythm

I’m not sure how it’s going to work out, or how I will interpret the categories of activity. Already today I decided that washing up should be in the first “work” session. One thing I feel really concerned about is that we learn to properly value household tasks like washing up, cooking, cleaning, laundry etc, which have often been done primarily by women, and have rarely been accorded their proper social value. In times of pandemic, when we’re all at home more, these tasks matter more than ever and I believe everyone in a household who possibly can should share in them. They are not the sole province of women or even of adults.

I do let the cat off though. She’s so lazy!

I am well aware that the freedom to live to anything like this routine is a real gift. I’m in the self employed category, so most of my work for the moment has been cancelled. My work now consists in figuring out how to adapt what I can to be online and then working out which work streams I’m going to be able to develop in this season, and also how to access any government help.

In the midst of so much uncertainty, I am wondering whether this little framework of routine could be useful. Feel free to use it or adapt it for yourself, if it might be useful to you too. Or maybe to come up with your own. And let’s see how we go…

The view from here

I have an extraordinary neighbour, a local councillor whose husband Howard Knight (also a big figure in politics) just died tragically before his time of an aggressive form of cancer. Even in this pre funeral time, Sioned the Extraordinary, as I’m going to call her, has been prolifically sharing on social media links to sites where art galleries, theatres, NASA even are making inspiring images freely available online or live streaming theatre for free to help us out and give us a different view particularly for those stuck at home in isolation. Howard’s funeral is later today (and is also being webcast). Prayers winging their way to you all.

Here are some of Sioned’s isolation-busting links:

Wind in the Willows West End performance being live streamed: https://www.whatsonstage.com/london-theatre/news/wind-in-the-willows-coronavirus-stream-free_51205.html?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=17march2020

NASA pictures from space: https://www.diyphotography.net/nasa-makes-entire-media-library-publicly-accessible-copyright-free/

Indigenous films online for free: https://www.cbc.ca/arts/there-s-a-massive-free-catalogue-of-indigenous-films-online-and-we-have-6-picks-to-get-you-started-1.4623884

Paris museums make pictures of their art collections available online for free: https://kottke.org/20/01/paris-museums-put-100000-images-online-for-unrestricted-public-use?fbclid=IwAR0i0qVPhplSn5UFqeycuEiOgHtT9BPEaIFufJRed2sb57fuAzQLmaUw81w

Coronavirus: isolation

I woke up this morning to an oddly familiar feeling. The feeling of, “Well, there’s not a lot I can do today… or tomorrow… or the next day…” Last time I had that feeling, I was facing 9 months of very limited activity due to cancer treatment (chemotherapy, surgery, radiotherapy). My work had effectively been cancelled overnight, along with many of my usual social engagements.

There are many similarities between that time and this. Now, nearly all my work has been cancelled overnight (having just gone self employed in January that’s a scary prospect, income wise). My housemate has gone around spraying all the door handles with detergent again. And we’ve reverted to being very wary about inviting anyone else into our house, trying to keep ourselves uninfected (this time more so we don’t get the virus and inadvertently pass it onto anyone more vulnerable).

When I was having cancer treatment, my immune system took a thrashing, and any little infection like a cold or anything could have killed me. I think now, four years on, my immune system has mostly recovered, although perhaps it will never be quite as good as it once was. I feel acutely aware of the level of threat this virus poses to people like cancer patients and the elderly, and anyone with serious underlying health issues.

In our household, our initial thoughts have been that it’s probably important to keep some simple routines at a time when so much is up in the air. So although I felt tempted this morning to just give in and stay in bed, I didn’t, but got up. One thing that helped motivate me was the fact that we have a little prayer/meditation time on weekday mornings together, just for half an hour. It’s a time to sit quietly together, light a candle, listen to a good thought for the day (we’re currently using Sister Wendy Beckett’s Art of Lent https://g.co/kgs/ec9EeT along with reading through the “sermon on the mount” from Matthew 5-7 in the Bible) and we pray for people in need too.

Although there’s much that is challenging about this situation, maybe it’s an opportunity, too? I wonder whether we can find better, more humane rhythms to live by, which may bless the earth rather than thoughtlessly destroying it quite so much? And whether we might invent new ways to be kind in this season? Or just put the old ways into action more…?