Today is Maundy Thursday, a day in church tradition when the heads of the church and heads of state would give money to the poor. It was done in the most humiliating way, though I’m not sure if those doing the deliberately thought of it that way. They would throw the money into the crowd and the people would then throw themselves on the coins and fight for it. Remember these people were starving and had no welfare system. But to those doing the giving it reinforced the idea of “the poor” being uncouth and unruly.
Now the Queen hands out “maundy money” in a calm and dignified way to a chosen few. Now we don’t even let those who could do with a bit of extra cash even go through the humiliation of having money thrown at them. But I think that is because we hide the poor even more. It is harder to see who is on benefit and who isn’t, but the media makes sure it highlights those receiving state aid as undeserving, scroungers, uncouth and unruly!!
This week a might icon of history, religion, culture and tourism has fallen. There were some very brave fire-fighters who worked hard to save it. People have been donating thousands for its rebuild. This same week, if you listen hard enough, the flooded areas of Africa are in dire need of food and medical supplies but no one is donating thousands for them. In fact many parts of Africa, Asia, Central and Southern America, and even parts of Europe are having an on-going struggle with severe poverty issues, yet money for these is raised in dribs and drabs. Is it better to be an icon than a person in need?
I love this when I get bombarded by the same concept from different angles. I have been
challenged on this whole thing of cutting back and doing less, of focusing on my writing and of perfecting that. I am struggling with that too, especially with the mentoring angle. My mentor is awesome and patient. The problem is there is so much more to writing than writing. There is working out what I want to say then editing so that the piece I have says what I want to say and doesn’t treat my reader like they are stupid. I do have a tendency to either overstate or understate. So either my reader gets the same message twice or it is so vague they have no idea what I’m saying (NB here I have overstated 🙂 ) But actually this is what going deeper is about.
On Sunday 10th February the Bible reading was from Luke 5:1-11 where Jesus tells Simon to “Put out into deeper water and let down your nets” The fishermen then catch a huge pile of fish and Simon and others are so amazed they leave everything and follow Jesus. Well our minister that morning preached on that. What struck me was that for me deeper water is cutting back, being available for friends, getting my writing polished, being about for my Airbnb guests, etc. But it is about cutting back, doing less, being more focused on what I do. It also means that I get more downtime than I did last year when I was rushing about doing 101 things. It means I have time to chat to the people I see whilst dog walking, can arrange coffee with friends around their schedule, etc. And in the end will lead to catching more fish rather than lots of small catches.
So going deeper for me is about doing less.
Just as I am accepting this I get it from another angle. My mentor said she was reading
about “wabi sabi” – the acceptance of life being transient and imperfect. So being me I got a book out about it. Well I’ve only got as far as the first chapter which is talking about having to slow down to be able to notice the imperfect and enjoy it, to notice that things are transient. It cannot be done at going fast and looking for something to make me better.
So I must make my writing the best it can be not for my ego to be massaged but because I can. But to do that I must slow down and give it time. I must “smell the roses” so to speak. I must enjoy life even the bits that are crap.
I know I have blogged on this before but if I am to say “The joy of the Lord is my strength” I cannot have it just in the bits where life is going well. I need to find that joy when life isn’t going well. And I believe one of those ways is to slow down, go deeper and have time to accept the imperfections and transient-ness of life.
I was a volunteer at a local restoration project. I was working very hard. I had reached a point where I was tired of doing it all for nothing. The Christian expression that a friend uses a lot is “the grace had gone”, which means the love, the joy, the being able to put the work at the castle first, not needing rewards apart from the joy of being, wasn’t there any more. It meant I was getting grouchy about it all and wanting to see wrong in it and everyone there. My husband said that it is psychologically proven that when people want to leave something – a job, project, relationship, town, etc – they find fault with it. But you see I didn’t want to leave not liking it there. I can see the castle from my study window. I also walk my dog in the grounds. I did not want to stop looking at it, stop going there, stop encouraging other people to go there. I didn’t want people to hear my bad mouthing it. So what to do?
Well, being a Christian, I spent a long time in prayer over how I would resign my post. Yes it wasn’t just that I was a volunteer but that I had a key post. I tried to not do anything and to say I was busy in the hope that they would get mad at me and ask me to leave. It didn’t work. It was time for me to grow up and take control. In the end I did manage to step down gracefully and leave as a friend. It does mean at times that I am called back to help – with events, with late evening lock ups, can still run my writing groups up there. It means I can still walk there, see the people involved and have a chat.
Then the other night I was at Dan Snow’s History Man event at a local theatre. At the end of every evening he always shares something on the local history of the area. Well one of the two places he picked was the castle where I used to volunteer. And he especially picked out the young man who runs the Trust and is the driving force in the restoration. Because I had left with grace and kindness, when I saw it and the things Dan Snow said about it my heart swelled with pride. Not because I had been a part of it but because I knew the person being honoured. I was proud of him. He is my friend. I was proud to hear him honoured. Proud that the place I used to be very involved in was one of only two places singled out in this area for Dan Snow to talk about. All this came about because I grew up and left with grace not with anger.
I am hoping I can take this onward as a life lesson for whatever I do next.
Last night I saw Dan Snow, The History Man, speak at a local theatre. One of the many things that he said that struck me (so be warned there could be many more blog posts to come) was that he knows people say, generally behind his back, that he is only doing what he does because of his family. He paused before saying “Yes I am.” He went on to say that because his parents both had a love of history, that his father was in television broadcasting, because they had money and could afford to go not just to historic places close to home but across the world, that yes that is why he is stood on this stage now. He is doing what he does because of where he comes from.
Here is a piece that dovetails with that –
Jan Fortune in Becoming Your Story Course says “So many people describe themselves as ‘self-made’. It’s an outlandish concept. We all emerge from someone, have childhoods and environments that affect us and exist within various networks, physical and emotional. I’m certain we can make huge changes in our lives, re-invent ourselves, change our values and goals, but the idea that we don’t need others along the path is arrogant as well as unrealistic. No one is self-made”
My thoughts are that if you hear something more than once and it resonates for you then it is for you.
I could weep that I did not have Dan Snow’s upbringing and opportunities. I could weep that I am not Jan Fortune. I could bemoan that I am not a whole host of people. As well as grumbling that I did/didn’t do x, y and z. But I am here sitting in my lovely study watching the snow falling, my little dog snoring between my legs because of my parents,
my life choices, the people I have met along the way, the friends I have met, the people who have spoken into my life for good or bad. All have led to why I am here now.
A lovely friend that I share my writing with said he was amazed that I could write about medieval battles when I haven’t experienced any. Actually that is not true. I have experienced them through what I have read, listened to, watched, visited. All are part of who I am. Yes I have changed my life, reinvented myself, changed my values and goals over the 50+ years of my life. But each and every one of them has been influenced by who I met, what had gone before, or experiences at the time.
Here are just two examples:
I didn’t go travelling abroad because it just popped into my head one day. I went because someone suggested it, even though she didn’t come with me in the end. I went to the place I did in Greece because someone recommended it before I left. And from there the people I met influenced where I went from there.
I didn’t “become a Christian” out of the blue. Lovely well-meaning people invited me to their church coffee morning. From there my life has been again to do with who I met, who suggested what, good and bad things that happened along the way.
So as Dan Snow stood there and said “yes I am here because of my family and I am grateful” I also say I am here in this place now doing what I am doing because of my family, my friends, the influences that have happened.
I am starting off on a new direction with my life – taking my writing seriously and actually telling people I am a writer. I am doing to spend 12 months being mentored to
help this process along. But this has not come about in isolation. It has come about due to many influences and encouragements. Also because of a husband who is content for me to not to have a career but to be home bringing in a modest income via Airbnb and writing workshops, and using the rest of my time writing, writing and writing. I am grateful to him for that.
So I am here typing, looking out my window in North Wales at the snow with my little dog still snoring because of the life choice I made to marry just over 12 years ago. But actually that only came about because I choice to be living in the town I was, etc, etc, etc. So let us all choose to understand where we have come from and many people have made us who we are now.
I am working my way through a wonderful journaling course by Jan Fortune. I have also just started reading The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard. (A big thank you to Josh Luke Smith for sharing this book on his Instagram ages ago) This quote from Jan’s course jumped out at me because it fits in so much with what I am reading at the moment that Willard is saying the problem with Christianity is. (Note I am only on page 77 at the moment 🙂 )
Joseph Campbell says:
People say that what we’re all seeking a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances with our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.
I think way too often, as Christians, when people ask us about Jesus, we talk to them about the Meaning of Life, being freed from sin, going to live in heaven. So very, very rarely do we talk about being truly alive – or as Jesus put it “having life in abundance”.
I fully believe that Jesus comes to give us life here on earth in abundance, that his plan for us is that our physical life resonates with our inner most being. But I also believe that, way too often, Christians have made it a serious of dos and don’ts and what one should believe and what one has to do.
I tried this month to do the whole abstaining thing; veganuary. So I gave up dairy, meat and even alcohol. It lasted five days before I decided that I needed to finish the elderflower presse off with the gin liquor my daughter had given me. It was a week before I decided to use the cheese that was in the fridge for a meal, to use up the mushrooms that were lurking in the vegetable rack with the turkey that was sitting in the bottom of the freezer. Why couldn’t I do it? Because I was doing it as an “ought” rather than it being something my innermost being wanted to do. And the funny thing is that we generally only eat meat once or twice a week, drink wine only on a weekend, and only have spirits on special occasions! It was in the telling myself I couldn’t that I wanted to. When it is just a part of my life – I suppose part of my innermost being – then it is easy.
The interesting thing is when I feel the rapture of being fully alive then I want to love my neighbour, don’t want to do things that would hurt me or others, want to give something back to the world. Interestingly too when I am in church doing something I love to do – lead intercession, do some play with a deep meaning – I buzz and feel like turning up that morning was worthwhile. Not because there was meaning to it – even though there was – but because it made me feel fully alive.
Willard has suggested being immersed in the Psalms to feel fully alive. I remember when my kids were little we used to read a chapter of Proverbs and a Psalm every day and then something else. Today I read the first four Psalms and yes I did feel better. It didn’t tell me what would give me a meaning to life but showed me how I could equate my innermost being with what I believed and wanted to take onward and outward.
So I think we need to stop telling people that Jesus lets us see a meaning to life, or even telling people they don’t know the meaning of life but help to show them the bits of Jesus life that help us all to find true connection with our innermost being and truly bring us alive. And to be honest I don’t want to hangout with a God that doesn’t do that for me
For those of us old enough that phrase will conjure up the cast of Grange Hill telling us to
“just say no” to drugs. But actually we don’t teach people to just say No. This has come from an email I received from a friend who gets a lot of pressure from her family to help when in fact she has a demanding home life too. Her counsellor told her to tell them she couldn’t because of her demanding life. That got me thinking. So if my friend didn’t have things that drained her physically and emotionally then it would be ok for her to support a member of her family that she feels is expecting too much? I’m sure that is not what the counsellor meant but it is easy to think that.
Why can’t we just say No? Why do we have to put in excuses? My husband and I have decided to block out one weekend a month, to just say No to seeing other people. It is hard because we have a wide range of friends who like us and we like and want to see. Already this year we have had to change one of the weekends to fit in a birthday party. At the moment we are changing not losing that free weekend. But it is hard to say No. With myself and my writing I am trying to block out writing days and to say No to other things. It isn’t easy.
So I say “No because this is my writing day/weekend with my husband/I’m seeing my kids”. Why can’t we just say No?
So I am going to try a little experiment, and maybe get back to you and let you know how I did. I am going to say No without explanation. I did try with a coffee invite that I received today. It isn’t that I don’t want to see the person but it is because I am feeling tired what with winter lurking about still, that January/February feeling, and just want to do nothing for a bit. I didn’t say that I did just say “Can’t make the dates you’ve suggested but can do X if that works for you”
Do we always need to give a reason why we say No to something? Discuss [GCSE question for January LOL! ]
I realised yesterday that I am grieving the loss of a friend. Not one who had died but one that was moving away. Since I moved to this town this person has been key in who I am and what I do here in my church life. She has spurred me on, stood by me when I’ve stepped out, filled in the gaps when they’ve needed filling. She isn’t the only but she has been one of the strong pillars that have given me the encouragement I have needed to step out. She is now doing, what I have done many times before, and is moving to another town.
I must be totally honest and say I am grieving. It isn’t the same as when someone has died, but it is a profound sadness. Things will not be the same. And if I am honest, I am not sure if I am brave enough to step out and do things without her. There is a team and it hasn’t just been me and her. Each of us has our role and our part but the part she filled will not be filled by anyone else. At least not in the team that is there. Things will shift. Things will change.
When I gave up a voluntary position recently I was sad and grouchy, similar to this. A wise friend told me to remember that, even though I chose to give up the role, I was grieving its loss. So even though I know that this friend is doing the right thing by moving I will still mourn her not being here any more.
One of my new year resolutions was to be kind to myself. I need to keep revisiting this. In fact I need to keep revisiting a lot of my resolutions – like the no meat, no dairy, no alcohol. All of which I have “failed” but I will keep going back to giving them another go but maybe not with that whole vigor of “a whole month of …” With each of the giving ups I have to keep revisiting and trying for just today. The same goes with the whole thing of being kind to myself. I need to remember that I am grieving and that I did struggle with the party for my friend last night because I didn’t want to be there.
So I will be kind and admit I’m grieving for the loss and change. Don’t tell me she is only an email away. It still means she won’t be at the next prayer day/in the next discussion for the next play/etc. The friendship will have change. And I will have to go through my stages of grief. And if at times it means I’m grumpy and out of sorts then I must be kind to me and let it be