Not a contest

I recently re-read a poem about prayer that I have come to really love, and a new line struck me; « this isn’t / a contest but the doorway / into thanks » Suddenly I felt a weight lifted as I read that. I realised that so much of the time, conversations, meetings, even prayers feel like a contest to see who will get in first with the wisest comment or prayer. But prayer is not a contest. What’s the point in competing when God knows every hair on all of our heads, and knows what we will say and what is real for us before we even begin to know it ourselves?

…And if prayer is not a contest, most other things needn’t be either, I think. What if every encounter we have became a doorway into thanks for us…? And into a world of possibility and love…? What if we could carry with us, wherever we go, a silence in which another voice might speak…?

All shall be well

Julian of Norwich famously wrote « All shall be well, all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well. » Here’s a beautiful musical tribute to that, referring to the force of love I mentioned in my previous post. It’s good to watch the sea and let these words wash over me:

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; 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”.

That awkward feeling

I, like so many others, have often fallen into the trap of only making friends with people who are quite similar to me. But occasionally, just occasionally, I have had the privilege of becoming friends with someone who is really quite different from me.

For many years I have lived and worked around social housing estates in the UK. My Dad was brought up in a similar community, so I have some things in common with the friends I’ve made there, though perhaps at one step removed.

Something I am learning from Black Lives Matter and from black writers recording history from their perspective, is the power of friendship with those who are different from you. James Cone describes eloquently in his book The Cross and the Lynching Tree how various big name white theologians in the midst of the civil rights movement in America failed to make friends with their black colleagues, and how this is partly why they were anaesthetised from really feeling the full force of injustice and the hideous suffering and loss of life caused by the lynchings. The lack of awareness and feeling, coming from the lack of friendship with black people in turn stopped the white theologians from acting or speaking out / campaigning quickly to bring about a change in the law so the lynchings would be stopped. If your friend’s brother has just been lynched, and now his children have no father, you feel something, right? And you are motivated to bring about change, even at risk to yourself.

All of this is resonating with my recent learning as a coach to do with how people can move from not seeing/not knowing there’s a problem to seeing it, then onto feeling the significance of the problem emotionally and physically (opening our hearts and bodies to it), and then onto taking some action to address it.

What is interesting is that most of us most of the time halt this process of change quite early on. For example, we refuse to see/recognise that there is a problem in the first place, in spite of the evidence all around us. Or, we acknowledge the problem, but then we refuse to feel and engage with the discomfort of what it means. Or, we see the problem, engage emotionally with it, but then still fail to act to do anything about it. There is ample evidence of all of this sort of behaviour in the Covid-19 pandemic, regarding reluctance in mask wearing, physical distancing or avoiding unnecessary travel, for example. How we are engaging (or not) with the climate crisis is another example.

Steps, Stairs, Up, Staircase, Stairway

Sometimes my friends who are different from me give me an awkward feeling. Often, they don’t share my middle class language of polite niceties, which cover over a multitude of sins. They also don’t always share my convictions about what is most important during the pandemic or about the climate crisis. They are more inclined to say frankly exactly what they think or feel, without any attempt at hiding it or pretending to be considerate towards others who may think or feel differently.

There’s a certain kind of clarity that comes when someone just says exactly what they honestly think. At times, it presents me with real discomfort, because I completely disagree with what is being said, and I find the language very harsh, with little or no allowance for the possibility that they may be wrong. But just this morning I have been wondering… What if the depth of my discomfort is coming from a realisation that, if I were being really honest, I would have similar thoughts on these, or other topics? And I would similarly admit no possibility that I might be wrong…?

Banner, Header, Question Mark, Question

With all these thoughts in mind, here are some questions I will be pondering:

What are the situations where I fail to see there’s a problem still, in spite of the evidence around me?

What are the situations where I know there’s a problem, but I fail to let myself be friends with the victims and start to really feel the discomfort of the repercussions of it?

What are the situations where I know there’s a problem, I feel something of the repercussions of it, but I still haven’t actually taken action or spoken out?

and…What steps will I take to move beyond where I currently am?

Another thing some of my friends have been teaching me, is about knowing what you deeply want or need. I am no psychologist, but when someone states repeatedly what they want and defends their right to have what they want, what I hear is a small child who is clawing their way back to life. Maybe what that child needed when they were younger was ignored? Maybe they were mistreated instead of cared for? In which case, their asserting their right to meet their own needs irrespective of the needs of others could be the frail beginnings of a recovery? How do we co-create safe spaces for each other to acknowledge our vulnerabilities and begin to face them undefensively and find some agency? How do we make these spaces safe, open, honest, gentle and mutual, without colluding with self centredness or aggression? Is it even possible?!

In response to this, I am also wondering how aware I am of my own needs, and how prepared I am to own them honestly and openly, regardless of other people’s responses to my vulnerability?

It can be tempting to condemn people who express themselves directly and honestly with no niceties. But what if my friends who are different are in some ways like a light shining on my darkness?

Adult, Blur, Bokeh, City, Evening, Light

It’s a whole new world

During this “lockdown”, I have really been enjoying revisiting photos from my world trip last year, since a friend invited me to share 10 travel photos over 10 days on Facebook. It’s a challenge to only share 10 from such a big trip, but I have loved doing it. I will share my favourites here too. While I was travelling, little did I suspect that all of these places would be in lockdown due to a pandemic within less than a year. How strange, and how grateful I am to have travelled when I did and to be home now.

Lake Tahoe Rim Trail, California/Nevada, USA
Japanese Tea Garden, Golden Gate Park,
San Francisco, California, USA
St Kilda Pier, Melbourne, Australia
Artist’s Palette geothermal pool, Rotorua,
North Island, New Zealand
Road to Glenorchy, South Island,
New Zealand
Dunedin Peninsula, South Island,
New Zealand
Lotus Lake, Ninh Binh, Vietnam
Reclining Buddha, Penang, Malaysia
Me with orchids, Singapore
Arosa, Switzerland

Voicing our fears

This blog post may not be for the faint hearted. I just thought it might be good to reflect on some of the fears I’ve heard people articulate in video and phone calls over the past few days. Because several people have said that it has actually been very good to find a space to name their fears. I guess naming our fears may be the first step to beginning to deal with them (if “dealing with them” is possible). I’ll do another post about our hopes, but maybe it’s important to actually sit with our fears for a while. I do find it curiously comforting to realise that other people are facing many of the same fears I do, and some extra ones as well. There is a sense of solidarity emerging, which is how human beings have faced all kinds of adversity. Compassionate solidarity is the beginning of cooperation, which has enabled us as a species to survive a lot of storms. (Having said that, if reading these is not helpful for you at the moment, then please ignore this post!)

Who am I when I can’t do anything useful?

We’re just about OK at the moment. But if this lockdown lasts for months and months, how on earth will we cope?

What if we are back to some kind of “normal” in a year’s time, but people still don’t want to gather? Or they don’t want me to hug them? [Said by a very tactile person.]

People who are close to me have been diagnosed with Covid-19 and there’s nothing I can do to help them. I can’t even be with them, to hold their hands.

Have we made the right decisions about our young adult children living with their boyfriends/girlfriends (or not living with them) for the lockdown?

How do we take sensible precautions, without giving into anxiety?

How do we cope with the fact that one person in our household is very anxious about washing everything that we buy / observing more extreme social distancing / just avoiding other people altogether? In fact, how do we cope with everyone’s different anxieties and the different ways people are finding to cope with the situation?

We’re self employed and our business doesn’t qualify for any of the government support and we can’t work in the lockdown. How are we going to be able to pay the bills, or have money for food even?

When I was ill with Covid-19, at one point I felt so bad, I actually thought I’d wake up in a hospital bed. My spouse has underlying health conditions making them more vulnerable. When they got it, I thought it could be the end, and because of all the horror stories, I was afraid they’d have to go to hospital and I’d never see them again. [This couple have both recovered now, without needing hospital care.]

I so want our “new normal” when it emerges to be better than the old “normal”. But I am worried that it might be worse, because many people are feeling so anxious.

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: