The”to-do” list

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I’m sharing some old posts in the run up to Christmas. This was originally published on my first blog, Dappled things, December 2013.

It’s that time of year again and I’m at the mercy of the ‘to do’ list.

Bent low under the oppression of slave driven orders (that I wrote myself), crushed beneath the tyranny of a bitter regime, I’m on a fast track to glory where each rung of the ever onwards ladder of success is a pencil line through the next item, as I strain forwards to accomplish an ever growing list of ‘must do’ tasks. If the the ‘to do’ list is lying I’d like to call out the truth right now. My value and existence are not dependent on what I do, my value is dependent on who I am.

Before this ‘to do’ list lays claim to the whole holiday, I have an announcement to make. Before this calendar is completely full, like the draw under the bed and space on the bottom of the wardrobe, fit to burst with unwrapped gifts. Before the unwritten Christmas cards get up out of the box and wave farewell to the last day of posting and before the amount of home baked goods exceeds the space I have cleared in the deep freeze, I need to pause. For there will be errands to run, for hard-to-come-by herbs to season last minute sausage meat stuffing when Paxo just won’t do. There will be trips in the fading light of the year’s shortest day, into the copse at the back of my house for ivy and rose hips, when a shop bought wreath has failed to bring the Christmas we have dreamed of into the house and at midnight I will be cutting out a last minute quilt or pincushion for a friends who deserves something hand sewn, if I don’t stop myself now.

 

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This is a Christmas to be more and do less. A time to just be, because that is enough, because God is enough. Put the ‘to do’ list aside because there is something of Christmas that you can not buy and you can not bake. Take some time, slow down and breathe deep. Look around and give thanks. Laugh, smile, hug. Remember Jesus.

God sent His Son Jesus, in the likeness of a man, flesh, blood, skin, bone and beating heart. And unlike other men before Him and since, this man, this God-man did not consider equality with God something to be grasped. This man was not driven in the relentless pursuit of the recognitions and achievements that other men chase, but he took on a humble nature that harnessed the fullness of divine strength without ever taking the upper hand. He died on the cross and there, in a place of punishing shame and degradation, he initiated a miracle of redemption that defied all reasonable possibility. Finally he sealed the work in a breathtaking resurrection that changed the course of history and eternity forever, that changed the course of my history and eternity forever.

Therefore:

Be reconciled

We implore you on Christ’s behalf: be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

2 Corinthians 5.20-21

Be transformed

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Romans 12.2

Be loved

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Galatians 2.20

Be still

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.

Psalm 37.7

Be holy

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will – to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.

Ephesians 1.4-6

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Advent light

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For anyone looking for more light as we approach the December solstice.

We need more light in the upstairs sitting room but the length of fairy lights I bought are not long enough for the bookshelf.

I’ve been working at my desk since before seven this morning. I didn’t sleep well and got up even though it was still dark. Lucy and I both feel we are suffering a little from the shortness of day light hours, from deep shadows in the house, squinting our eyes to see in the gloom. We need to be outside more, under the sky, breathing fresh air, soaking up what little sun is left. Only a few weeks into winter and we long for spring.

The window behind my desk is darkened by the silhouette of bare trees, but the sky is acid yellow where the sun presses through and the raindrops on the glass have swallowed enough light to burn like candles.

 “The light shined in the darkness, and the darkness could not overcome it.”

John 1.5

I sit down to write from my heart, from the scriptures, from wild imaginings and dreams. And it comes to me again, the measure of His grace and how words can only be used to approximate his love. How we are all debtors to an unconditional attentiveness that will not let us go. That He has shined his light into our world and it has touched every dark place. It has found its way through a hairline crack or a pinprick hole, even the slightest thinning in the fabric of life must give way to light. And in our hearts, brightening and softening, the darkness of our thinking and the bitterness of our hurt are bathed in His light.

Today is the Feast of Saint Lucy in the western and eastern church.  Lucy was a 3rd-century martyr who according to legend took food to ancient Christians who hid from persecution in the catacombs. The stories tells of how she took a candle wreath to light her way. She is remembered for her generosity to the poor and commemorated as a martyr. But this feast day, so close to the shortest day of the year, is all about light. It is all about learning how to live in a turning of the seasons, how this is only possible when we can look ahead. I read of one beautiful St Lucy’s day tradition from Hungary and Croatia: planting wheat grains on December 13th that will be several centimetres high on Christmas, to represent the life and growth that Christ brings us by his nativity.

Waiting for the divine Word to come for her, like the wise virgins Lucy filled the lamp of her soul with oil most rich; for having sold all her property, she bestowed all her substance upon the poor and destitute. Wherefore, feeding the hungry and giving drink to those athirst, clothing the naked and providing shelter for the indigent, she laid up for herself great store of the oil of mercy, wherewith to delight her Master. For this cause, let us sinners entreat her with boldness, that she pour forth of her oil and wine upon our manifold wounds, treating the afflictions of our bodies and curing the passions of our souls, that, restored to full health by her, we also may abide eternally with the heavenly Bridegroom.

Liturgical hymn for Saint Lucy

We have been watching the footage coming out of Yeman and last night there was bad news from Aleppo. Kingdoms rise and Kingdoms fall. Close to home someone you know someone lost sleep through sickness, sadness or deep deep care.

Let us pray.

The season of nativity, a fast in the Orthodox church, where, deprived of the comfort of rich food, we look to the Light of the World for comfort. For the six weeks of advent, Orthodox Christians fast from meat, eggs and dairy.  It is a fast that changes the tone of the season for those who try to keep it. Our modern Christmas time is one of plenty, it is an advertisement of our self made wealth, our man made prosperity. It will come, it will pass. The fast seeks to separate us from the temporary and fleeting pleasures of the season and prepare us long and slow for the coming of Christ, Light of the World, a real and lasting promise in dark times.

 

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Believing impossible things

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Have you ever felt that following Jesus was too hard? Have you ever felt that your faith was making life more complicated than it needed to be? That the gospel they said would set you free had you trapped and you needed to get out?

Jesus said in this world you will have trouble and in this piece of writing we won’t be rushing on to the conclusion of that remark, however reassuring it might be. Cheaply purchased answers are temporary, easy won solutions throw up new worries and concerns. A generation of Christians have become tired of simplified answers to complex questions and have been hurt in places where those questions are all but banned.

But what if we decided to live as if our questions and struggles were as sacred as our moments of spiritual delight? What if we learnt to value and treasure the most troublesome days of our walk with God and speak boldly (not badly) of them as the dear friends that they are?

At the start of my journey towards a healthier spiritual place, a phrase from Alice caught my attention and fuelled my desire for change,

Alice laughed: “There’s no use trying,” she said; “one can’t believe impossible things.” “I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

I had to tell the truth, if only to myself. The Christian things I once held dear were becoming impossible things and the weight of them was breaking me up. I lacked the faith to believe and I lacked the will to pretend. I began to unwind, one impossible thing after another, like a long deep confession. Each new day, I got up, took the children to school, went to the library, cooked dinner, saw friends, passed the time. One day I was sorry for my rebellion, the next indignant. Yet some days, neither sorry or indignant, I felt the Holy Spirit there. He did not separate Himself from this questioning, I almost believed this was His doing and not my own.

What if I dared to believe this process was actually the work of God, the one I had prayed for, many, many times.

In those days I dared to believe Jesus was a good man not a God, that scripture was not without error. I dared to believe that love does not win, that miracles might not be true, that Christians were not the best people on earth, that Jesus is not the only way to God, that the doctrine of the Trinity is ridiculous, that answered prayer is coincidence, that the poor would never inherit the earth and that turning the other cheek was doomed to fail.

It was a quiet and long work. I told few people about it. I didn’t have the words. My only company in those days was books. 2002: I read Brian McClaren, Donald Miller, Dave Tomlinson and I returned to the ancient theologians I had studied as a student, the “Catholic” writers that evangelical pastors had cautioned me against. I shed impossible things like a seabird in eclipse loses feathers. The colours and textures of my faith changed subtly to match the shades of a changing internal landscape.

Many of the abandoned things would return in a different guise. I would turn them carefully in my hands, re-examining a doctrine or a teaching, as if seeing it for the first time.  I found I was free to refuse and free to accept impossible things. I could put it down or I could I could take it with me. I prayed for the sick and saw people healed, my children flourished and my marriage was good. I saw the doctor because I was depressed and then anxious. I had a lingering agoraphobia that made it hard to get out. But God was all new, returning blessings for my un-belief.

When faith unwinds and you are the lost person in the community of the found, know this: you are free to walk away and never return if that is what you choose. But you are also free to stay, just as you are, or in different ways. Go find them, the different ways, if that is what you want. For the God who sends his sun to shine on the righteous and the unrighteous and gives blessing upon blessing to all our unbelief.

 

 

 

 

Homefront (3)

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Reading and knitting news.

Some days at the library or the book shop are like harvest festival, with an abundance of fruitful finds and too many volumes I would love to read. Other visits are like the dead of winter, a shortest day of the year kind of visit where the only books worth reading are the ones I have already read and I come home empty handed.

Happily I’ve plenty to read just now and a pile by my bed that is knee high and threatening to topple any day. I’m currently in the last 100 pages of city saga, Norman Collins, London Belongs to Me. I’d not heard of the author but I picked it up in a charity shop to make up the numbers on a 3 paperbacks for a pound offer.

Norman Collins was a writer and television executive who published several novels in the 30s and 40s before pioneering the first British commercial TV channel, ITV. On checking reviews it would seem that this novel is well loved for its portrayal of a city and the people who live and work there, but I love it most for its portrayal of 1930s Britain and quickly grew nostalgic for a time now past.

London Belongs to Me, is neatly crafted around the residents of 10 Dulcimer Street, a London house owned by the widow Mrs Vizzard who rents rooms to paying guests. A series of their connected stories successfully represent life in London on the eve of the war. There is Percy Boon caught up in a terrible crime, Connie an ageing and light fingered actress, Mr Puddy the night watchman, Mr Squales a failed psychic with ambitions beyond his talent and the rather wonderful Jossers who long for a cottage in the country.

At over 700 pages long, its been a great read as the nights get colder and darker. Thoroughly recommended.

In knitting news I press on with gloves and make slow process on the lace. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to undo the lace scarf but I am quite determined to finish this project at some point.

The lace scarf pattern is 22 Leaves by Lankakomero at Ravelry. I am knitting it in Eden Cottage Yarns Theseus lace, which I purchased using a recent trip to Loop of London.

I’m linking up with Ginny Sheller at Yarn Along today. This is a great place for those of us who love our yarn craft and our reading. Visit her blog for restful thoughts a couple of times a week and the most beautiful homesteading photos.

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Spiritual dissonance

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Spiritual dissonance happens when we feel estranged from the responses we have been taught to make to God, and we grow separate from an authentic spirituality.

Loving God with all our heart, soul and mind creates an appetite for the authentic, and this is always the resting place of our desire to know Him more.

The gospels tell us to seek so that we will find and those who seek so often find themselves looking beyond their received traditions, teachings and practises to find more of God in something surprising outside of the well defined edges and corners of their current box.

Many seekers find that the words of others who are actively seeking God are a mirror and a map in their journey towards authenticity; a mirror because the words of others can reflect back a clear image of the things they already sensed, a map because they offer a route forwards, directions in the next step of the way.

Poetry is valuable in negotiating the deep and strange places of the soul because poetry uses a concentrated form of words to evoke and recreate experiences of the human heart that are often known and rarely spoken.

Advent brings out the best in poets. More so than Christmas. Christmas is over-burdened with meaning, most of it too sentimental to bear the weight of honest spiritual pursuit and the deep pain of the outside world. Spiritual dissonance at this time of year can be overwhelming and we must take all the help we can get to make a way amongst the clutter of the season.

In this poem by Rowan Williams, the imminent birth of Christ is under shadowed by a knowledge of the torture and suffering He will bear. The movement through the stanzas, leaf fall, to frost, to dark days and finally labour and child birth, does not flinch from the painful realities of our waiting for Christ and yet it capture the wonder and beauty of the whole creation’s relief when he is safely come.

Advent Calendar

He will come like last leaf’s fall.
One night when the November wind
has flayed the trees to the bone, and earth
wakes choking on the mould,
the soft shroud’s folding.



He will come like frost.
One morning when the shrinking earth
opens on mist, to find itself
arrested in the net
of alien, sword-set beauty.



He will come like dark.
One evening when the bursting red
December sun draws up the sheet
and penny-masks its eye to yield
the star-snowed fields of sky.



He will come, will come,
will come like crying in the night,
like blood, like breaking,
as the earth writhes to toss him free.
He will come like child.

This poem is featured in a selection of poems for advent and epiphany, by Janet Morely, that I have reviewed in a previous post. 

Archbishop Rowan William’s poem was published in his first poetry collection, After Silent Centuries (Oxford, 1994), and is now available in the volume, The Poems of Rowan Williams. The poem was set to music by Peter Maxwell Davies in a collection of anthems in honour of the Queen’s diamond jubilee.

 

Homefront (2)

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I was very fortunate to have a knitting companion last week. My niece Ezri is eight and a prodigious knitter. She asked me to teach her to cast on and thinking it would be too hard for her I told her that I would teach her when she was older.

But Ezri insisted and after a little trial and error she performed a perfect thumb method cast on. I have to admire her refusal to accept my advice. My mum was still casting on for me well into my twenties! It seems that she who dares wins and we all could learn from her refusal to submit to know-it-alls when it comes to taking on tricky skills in crafting or in life.

Ezri is knitting super chunky squares for a blanket and I’m still working on the 4 ply gloves.

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I have a huge pile of reading by my bed and some advent reading ambitious that are proving fruitful if a little time consuming. I can thoroughly recommend Janet Morley, Haphazard by Starlight for devotional reading and also Ann Voskamps most recent book, The Broken Way.

This week I reviewed some advent reading here and reflected on my weekend here.

Today I am linking up with Ginny Sheller of Small Things on Yarn Along where we share what we are knitting and what we are reading.

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Books for Advent

Recommendations for advent reading.

Until recently I had not been part of a church that followed the liturgical calendar. Sometimes it actively opposed such remembrance, arguing that we should celebrate Christ’s birth, his death and resurrection, everyday, especially as there was no direction to make an occasion of these events in scripture. At other times the attitude was ambivalent. Not knowing quite what to do with the season, independent churches who found their identity in having broken away from the established churches, were unable to decide whether to throw themselves wholeheartedly into the celebrations or to keep a safe distance from the worldliness of it all.

Some time before I moved to a liturgical church I found that I was slipping into a rhythm of Bible reading and contemplation that followed the cycle of Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter, as easily as my heart and writing followed the seasons of the natural world. When my inner winter times seemed to go on forever I took comfort in Lenten practices that followed the pattern of the freshly emerging spring. When resurrection Sunday came, I celebrated more deeply than before. As the last leaves turned and fell in a splendour of autumn glory, mornings were cold but thought of Advent warmed my soul. The rhythms of the church year echoed the patterns of my own spiritual formation and gave me words to pray in the different seasons of life.

Christmas approaches and we rekindle traditions within our own homes, the right date for putting up the tree, recipes we only make at this time of year, trips out to the German markets or to the theatre, a fire in the hearth every night, movies and good books. The tender meanings of incarnation in a broken world are enlivened for us in carol singing and lectionary readings. Counting down to the shortest day of the year we can make time for  extra reading, something devotional or if we are already widely read in devotional works, something more theologically challenging.

The books I am reviewing today are written for advent and offer three different approaches to devotional writing but there common goal is to help us connect more authentically with Christ, the heart of our Christmas faith.

Janet Morely, Haphazard by Starlight: A Poem a Day from Advent to Epiphany.

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This seasonally decorated book offers 37 poems on advent themes, a commentary on each and a question to guide our thoughts and prayers. Morley uses each poem as a stimulus to examine themes of fears and expectations, darkness and light, annunciation, patience, death and hope of resurrection. I have have especially appreciated how her comments on the poem open up the layers of meaning without forcibly dictating the message. The questions at the end of each chapter have been a prompt for my journal notes and help me connect what I have read with how I will respond.

Extract from a chapter one Emily Dickinson’s poem, We grow accustomed to the dark,

“An important dimension of advent is that it moves through a time when the world is becoming increasingly dark. Days are shorter, nights start sooner, and the quality of light is often dulled by poor weather. There is no avoiding having to live quite a large proportion of our waking life during hours of darkness, and for some people this is a physical reality that leads to gloom or even depression … Have you ever experienced the sense of being totally in the dark, either in your prayer life or in life decisions generally? Was it possible for you to risk keeping going in that darkness?”

 

Ann Voskamp, The Greatest Gift

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The Tree of Jesse is a symbol from Medieval art representing the ancestors of Christ as presented in the gospel geneologies. The Jesse tree is named from Isaiah 11:1: “A shoot shall come out of the stock of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.” Voskamp’s book traces the redemptive connections between characters in the Old Testament, Messianic prophesies, and significant events leading up to the birth of Jesus. Those who are familiar with Voskamp’s writing will notice the predominance of her own familiar theme: the overwhelming power of God’s grace to heal the most damaged soul.

An extract from The Greatest Gift, a reflection on Matthew 1

“God can’t stay away. This is the love story that has been coming for you since the beginning. The God. Who walked with us in the garden in the cool of the evening, before the fall shattered our closeness with him, is the God who came after his people in the pillar of cloud, of fire, because he couldn’t bear to let his people wander alone. He is the God who came to grieving job as a whirl wind, a tornado, a hurricane, who covenanted to Abraham as a smoking furnace, who wildly pitched his tent with the holy of holies so somehow, in all the Shekinah glory, he could get close enough to live amid his people.”

 

Paula Gooder, The Meaning is in the Waiting: The Spirit of Advent

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This advent book by Bible Society theologian, Paula Gooder is the most theological orientated of the three book. It involves no scholarly exegesis, but the writing reflects Gooder’s stated intent of bringing the bennefits of modern Biblical Studies to a wider audience of Christian readers. The book has four main chapters, one for each week of advent and they examine stories of waiting in the lives of Abraham and Sarah, the prophets, John the Baptist and Mary. There is an introductory chapter of waiting as a Chrsitan virtue that deals splendidly with the idea of time in Biblical thought.

An extract from the final chapter of, The Meaning is in the Waiting

“Mary’s song of praise, when it comes, is one of the most powerful in the Bible: the idea of reversal (the powerful being made low and the lowly being lifted up), the poetry, and the sheer joy of the song, have made sure that it has remained one of the churches’ favourite expressions of praise for many centuries … Luke portrays Mary as the first poetic theologian of the New Testament : she sees the event of the world around her, makes connections between them, draws deeply on her religious roots and pours this out in a beautiful hymn of praise.”

Well fitting faith

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We skipped church this morning and took a walk in the woods.

Looking out across a frozen lake, shell duck and wigeon collected around the grass-tufted islands and a  cormorant had unfolded its great black wings to dry in the sun. We marched through the oak leaves and the beech mast and we played with our cameras trying to capture the ways in which, even the smallest change in light, can shift the perspective on a familiar scene. We drank our coffee in the hide and counted the swans that arrive everyday from greenland, we scanned the muddy edges for wading birds, ornithological treasures amongst the scores of ducks.

Usually taken amongst the faithful, today’s sabbath rest was taken amongst the reeds, under an open sky, taken in quiet companionship and by (literal) still waters. In a landscape of rest, that felt as if it had been made just for us, we gave ourselves permission to stay away from church and it filled up our souls for the week ahead.

There was a time when we would not have done this, skipped church to walk. In those days we did not neglect meeting together as some were in the habit of doing. Never.

But Jesus said are you tired? and I was. It’s a condition of the soul that must be dealt with. To be tired, all the time, is a sign that things are not well.

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

In Luke 13 Jesus heals a woman who has been crippled for 18 years, but he did it on the sabbath and incited the disapproval of the synagogue leaders and their well defined ideas. Their business was making sure that the people did the things that would bring them the most blessing. They decided what the blessings were, and they decided how they were achieved. Maybe their intentions were good, but let us be clear; these men would rather the woman remained disabled that see one of their precious rules bent in this way.

Jesus asks them, “Should not this woman ..be set free from what has bound her?” and begs the answer that of course she should. And so must we, be set free from thinking, and acting in ways that stifle the joy, peace and freedom that we saw when we first came to Christ. There is a depth of encounter with Jesus that can set us free from the things that weigh us down. There is also a phenomena where our pursuit of faith and the Christian culture we are part of becomes the burden.

It takes unusual courage to move away from long held beliefs and practices to embrace something new. Dark feelings lurk around such decisions and they often hide our need for approval and fear of disappointing others.

There is no quick fix or instant answer. Freedom is not always found at the altar rail or in the prayer line but it is often made good over a period of time as we work through, talk through and pray through who we are and what we want. This is a holy re-enactment of the promise, seek and you will find.  And I am confident of this: God is at work in us, without exception, completing the work he began and we will recognise well fitting faith like the sheep who know the shepherd voice.

 

 

 

On the homefront

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Did anyone else listen to Garrison Keiller’s, Tales from Lake Wobegon, in the nineties?

Well it has been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon, AKA home.

Most things here are determined by homeschooling and a pattern of Andy leaving for work on Sunday afternoon and not coming home until Thursday night. It makes for a very short weekend but I’m learning to cherish the feeling of sadness I have when he leaves as a token of love rather than loss. We are making the most of every minute of the shortened weekend as you may have noticed from my social media activity. Nothing fancy, just good home cooked meals, a little baking, a little cinema, trips out to favourite places not far from home and church.

If anyone reading this also suffers from being apart from loved ones, I hope you find some practices that make it a little easier for yourselves.

We like to share Compline*, by phone, several times a week. Andy reads and by the time he arrives at …

“As the night watch looks for the morning, so do we look for you, O Christ.

Come with the dawning of the day and make yourself known in the breaking of the bread.”

… we’re ready for a restful goodnight and some well earned sleep.

In further news, I am knitting mittens and gloves (endlessly). These in the picture are for Lucy. Knitted up in Debbie Bliss merino wool (Rialto) from a sweet vintage pattern I found inside my Grandma’s war time knitting book, I’m really happy with the colours and the stitch definition.

I’m linking up with Ginny Sheller at Yarn Along today. This is a great place for those of us who love our yarn craft and our reading. Visit her blog for restful thoughts a couple of times a week and the most beautiful homesteading photos.

In terms of reading, I might just treat myself to a Garrison Keiller short story. Sadly most of his early books are now out of print but you can still get hold of second hand copies and wonderful recordings of him reading the stories of small town American life for the radio.

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*Compline is a service of evening prayers from  the Divine Office of the Western Christian Church, traditionally said (or chanted) before retiring for the night. we use the Anglican order and you can find it here.

Burning bushes

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On my street, there were two trees ablaze with red leafed flames, a Pentecostal anointing in an age of faltering belief.

It’s a blessing to the eyes.

Weeks later I pass this place and the flames glow hot, but the tree is not burnt up. Today they kindle yellow across the dull sky of this more than lovely autumn.

On the ground leaves fallen, smoulder like ash in yesterday’s hearth. The sun burns low, casting gold amongst the thinning hedges and piles of leaves.

Hearing the audible voice of God is rare. In our sceptical age, believing the testimony of those who do is rarer still, but there are burning bushes on every street corner, and ordinary folk who are sure they have heard God speak.

Moses lived the strangest kind of orphaned life. Separated at birth from his Hebrew family and raised in the Pharaoh’s place, he fled leaving matters undone to make an uncertain home for himself, far from the life he had been given. Alone in the desert place, tending another man’s flocks, his eye was drawn to the strangest sight.

A bush flickering hot with flames.

It burned but it was not consumed.

The bush was on fire but it did not burn up and Moses was listening and watching more carefully than before. “I will go over and see this strange sight” he said. The Exodus account tells us that when God saw that Moses had gone over to look – then he spoke to him, calling his name from out of the burning bush, causing him to remove his shoes and hide his face.

The nights are drawing in, calling us home, out of the cold, this creeping stain of darkness, split like ink, daylight saving and so much less light for us to see by. Yet, there are burning bushes on street corners and when God saw us go to look, then he spoke.

How can we not compare the seasons of our calendar to the seasons of the soul? How can we not take comfort in the brilliance of autumn glory as winter falls around us? Why would we not scan our horizon and watch to see a burning bush and hear the voice of God?

It makes for the breaking of a heart, to feel alone in this world, to fear that God is silent, that he does not care for us. And it is truely the condition of being human that we know this loss. But we were made to face this and to grapple with it. There is a clear sighted envisioning beyond our doubt and fear which is why we wrap up warm and go out into the cold, looking for a burning bush in a near-winter landscape.

It will turn the eye, and then the soul,  back towards the blessings of God.

 

 

 

Farewell to Dappled Things

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After a break from blogging I’m ready to go again with a new place that I’m calling, I felt it shelter.

I started blogging in the Christmas holidays of 2012. After years of intermittent scribblings I was finally making myself write for an audience. Friends and one or two strangers received the efforts warmly and so I carried on.

Writing became a kind of shelter for me and a few other people, or so it seemed.

About six months into the venture I felt compelled to write honestly on darker aspects of life. The first time I wrote about depression I did not instantly feel it shelter to speak to my audience on a subject that had done a great deal of harm in my own life and amongst my family. I pressed “publish” then curled up foetal on the sofa ready to over-winter there with my face pressed in a cushion and my fingers over my ears.

But I had nothing to fear. The piece was received with kindness and opened up for me a world of fellow sufferers and sympathisers from the most surprising places. It would seem there are few of us who have not experienced this for ourselves or lived close to someone who has. I was a tiny part of a wider movement of people who wanted to expose the taboo and reassure others it was OK to talk about the negative aspects of mental health.

When I read the piece now it is tamed and controlled. At the time it felt radical, vulnerable and brave. It had a happy ending. Back then it was the only way I could write it. It seemed the most Christian thing to do. As things turned out my journey out of depression was more complex than it might have first seemed. I began to find that some habits of mind and some practices of belief were not as Christian as I once thought and not as helpful or healthful as I had thought.

The American poet Emily Dickinson shared a long correspondence with the publisher Thomas Wentworth Higginson, a man she met only once. “I felt it shelter to speak to you” she wrote in a letter that (like all her letters) read more like a poem. The line stuck with me, got under my skin even, wouldn’t let me go. I sense in these words the joy of an exceptional connection, one that comes when we meet a person who seems to understand and listen to the deeper part of who we are. It is as C.S. Lewis says: “Friendship … is born at the moment when one man says to another “What! You too? I thought that I was the only one.” And dare I suggest that for many of us that moment came not man to man but reader to writer? We found shelter in what we read.

Commentators are saying that blogging is dead, that the internet is straining under the weight of amateur writers over sharing their half-baked thoughts. I accept that as a caution but I want to use my words to create moment when a reader can say “What! You too?” especially of humanity, faith and matters of the soul.

Shelter is a good place to begin, to find and make shelter and offer it here through my words.