A Burning Bush

This morning, I went out and prayed a little song looking at this extraordinary forsythia, or “burning bush”, as I thought of it. The song borrowed words from the ancient story about a bush that burned and burned but didn’t burn up. (Exodus chapter 3 in the Bible.) Once God had got Moses’ attention with this extraordinary sight, God told him to take off his shoes because, “the place on which you are standing is holy ground”. I sang those words looking at that bush. Then later the same particular reading was there in our Evening Prayer (allocated by a prayer book – 66 books in the Bible, each with many chapters and verses…what are the chances?!). Along with this beautiful quote from Elizabeth Barrett Browning:

“Earth is crammed with heaven,

and every common bush afire with God,

but only he who sees

takes off his shoes.”

I increasingly think that every place where we might stand on the earth is holy. And that all creation is crying out to us to pay attention to it, to nurture and care for it. All animals, plants, trees, skies, rivers, lakes, seas. Everything. That’s what the climate crisis has begun to make us realise, and what the corona virus pandemic may also somehow be warning us of.

The wild world is not under our control, although parts of it have been under our thoughtless dominion and monopolisation for far too long.

If you get the chance, maybe try taking off your shoes and standing on a patch of our good earth if you can access one at the moment. The place on which we are standing is holy ground.

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…?

Brexit day

“To walk away from the European Union as a member state is a source of real grief. It’s not simply turning our back on one of the greatest projects of peace and reconciliation the world has ever seen…” Michael Sadgrove’s moving, insightful and profound account of the significance of this day not only for him personally (as for so many whose parents/grandparents or who themselves are from other EU nations), but also for us collectively.

He points out how doubly poignant this is, falling as it does within a week of Holocaust Memorial Day. His mother, who died only recently, was a Jew from Germany. I myself am descended from Jewish family who fled the pogroms in Poland and found sanctuary in England.

In the midst of Brexit I feel we’ve lost sight of what the EU thing was about. To my mind, it was part of the ongoing reflective response to an age of terrible World Wars. Part of a pact of nations with one another that we would never let one of our political leaders cause such devastation, persecution and death again. I hope we can retrieve our commitment to big scale teamwork and compassion for people from other places in spite of this sea change.

In the meantime, I am sad today. And I send love to all my friends and relatives who live in other countries and parts of the world. That which unites us is stronger than that which divides us. May it ever more be so, inspite of our current reality ❤️

https://northernwoolgatherer.blogspot.com/2020/01/thoughts-on-brexit-day.html?spref=fb&m=1

Andante

In the nick of time, I bump into Gary at the bus stop

Caught in indecision,

my better self on the brink of winning;

I will not get the bus,

I will walk home mindfully.

But my brain is still racing in three different directions at once

and the adjustment will not come easily.

This week, my friends are true companions.

They keep suddenly appearing,

like mindfulness angels!

Yesterday, in a café, like three wise Magi,

crowned with twinkly eyes betraying a readiness to see the funny side,

Alex, Martin and Gary arrived at the next table

as I was meeting colleagues.

As unexpected as if they’d ridden in on camels.

Today, Gary stands tall, relaxed;

ready to pause.

We reflect on how difficult meditation and mindfulness is these days

and how important it is

to become acquainted with your own mind.

He surveys the street with a shrewd gaze,

diagnoses a hidden epidemic;

an outbreak of mindlessness.

By nighttime I will discover I carefully filed my receipt in the expenses area of my purse,

but forgot to pick up the pens I’d just bought.

They must be sitting there, on the checkout still,

or did I somehow drop them on the floor and not into my bag?

This is what constant divided attention does for you;

So many lost things.

We go our separate ways

Encouraged

I realise I’ve been marching heavily.

Now I will stop pelting it hell for leather

and return to walking lightly,

with kindness

on this fragile earth.

I am neither strolling

nor marching

nor racing ahead

I am walking

at a walking pace

How else should I walk, after all?

Gary’s right; it’s been good to me so far, this jar.

Being present

In my travelling, I really wanted to be present in each place and with each person. I didn’t want to get to the end and regret not having really paid attention to the beauty around me. Or even to any ugliness. I wanted to fully experience everywhere and everyone.

Since I’ve returned, I have realised that I’d like to carry this attentiveness with me wherever I go. Wherever I am I am here, now. I am with the person I’m with, or on my own.

On Sunday we had some friends round for a meal and had some time to reflect together. To my delight, a couple of them gave us a mindfulness jar as a gift:

It has 52 cards in it, each with a mindful practice on it. One for each week of the year. What a delight!

This week’s practice was to go for a mindful walk for 15 minutes or more each day. So, after a very cerebral meeting with some colleagues, I went for my first one. Here are the views I would not have seen had I not been. It was so refreshing!

And, knowing I was going to be practising some mindful things, here was the sky from my bedroom window this morning. This show quietly goes on, but so easily I miss it each morning, because I’m already thinking of all the things I have to do. I don’t want to miss it anymore.

Happy new year!

May your vision be clear and your life full of love in 2020. Here’s to the ongoing journey. I wonder where yours will take you…?

A few years ago, I came across the poet John O’Donohue for the first time. This quote I saw so grabbed me that I immediately looked for the rest of the poem-prayer. Every year I find myself thinking it’s a good one to start a new year with:

“May I have the courage today

To live the life that I would love

To postpone my dream no longer

But do at last what I came here for

And waste my heart on fear no more.”

from A morning offering by John O’Donohue

Happy Christmas! 💫 🎄

A couple of perspectives from my travelling:

1. A major part of the joy of travelling is coming home. This Christmas I particularly feel for people who are forced to travel and have no prospect of returning home, particularly asylum seekers who are exiled from their own country and barely welcomed in ours, where the language, culture and climate are so different, where they have to relearn how to do everything you need to do to survive. They face these challenges in a situation where they have no status, and are not allowed to work to earn money and provide for themselves. I can only begin to imagine how demeaning that feels.

The crazy thing is that they are usually very skilled people, who really want to contribute and who are real grafters as well. I also feel for people on the streets who have no home to return to at all.

Of course the Christmas story involves a family travelling. They were returning to Joseph’s ancestral home. But what that was like for a pregnant Mary I don’t know. And shortly afterwards they had to flee to Egypt; a much longer journey to a country where the language, culture and many other things would have been different. Food for thought…

2. Weirdly, although many of us struggle with the short days and dark nights and mornings at this time of year in our time zone, when I was in Australia, I remember I reached a point when my body was longing for the days to get shorter (at the very point when they were in fact getting longer over there). I was longing for dark and cold! And I have loved coming back to the dark and cold. I wonder whether viewing this season as one for hibernation (as a few of my friends have been doing) is a more positive and natural way of living in it. Demanding less of ourselves each day. It’s a thought.

Anyway, I hope whatever your circumstances that you and yours have a happy Christmas. And wherever there is darkness, may light come.