This is Scorhill stone circle on Dartmoor which we visited this week. Well worth the rainy walk to get here. I would love to know who built this, when and why but it is mystery and speculation may be fun but there is no way of knowing the truth. One way to get here is over a clapper bridge and the effort to have created both would have been immense. Living with mystery is sometimes a frustrating part of life for me. I like to know and understand and there are so many things I don’t. Living with paradox and uncertainty has been a part of life for a while and I appreciate places like this where I go and experience deep peace which helps me reconcile some of the tensions that this brings.
One of the joys of holidays is time to revisit books I have not read for many years. I read God of Surprises by Gerard Hughes when I was doing an Ignatian prayer guiding course with him back in the 90s. This extract is from a chapter looking at the discernment of spirits. After several examples of different sorts of moods in the life of Jesus he writes:
Creative moods are to be distinguished from destructive by their effect. If the mood is leading to an increase of faith, hope and charity, then it is creative: if leading to a decrease of faith, hope and charity, then it is destructive. Just prior to this he emphasises that Anger, irritability, impatience, sadness are never wrong in themselves, but are healthy human reactions. To refuse them expression does violence to our inner selves, a violence which may be projected into aggressive behaviour, towards others, or turned into ourselves, leading to depression. The rightness or wrongness does not lie in the emotion itself but in the underlying attitude which gives rise to the emotion.
Thus he argues that the important thing is to discern what is happening underneath the emotion and suggests that this is something which comes with experience. 2020 has been a year of all sorts of difficult and strange experiences and it can be tempting to suppress emotions arguing, for example, that others have had it much harder than me, but that is unhealthy and counterproductive as suppressed emotions come out in other ways, usually destructive to ourselves. I know that my pattern of comfort eating has been a way I have tried to deal with difficult emotions. Discernment is a sometimes neglected element of our faith and something I am very grateful to have learnt through a study of Ignatian spirituality. I still get it wrong but I less readily dismiss some of what may be perceived as negative emotions as they can be creative in their impact.
Gerard Hughes, (1985) God of Surprises. London: DLT, p95.
I heard a phrase on the radio this morning that got me thinking about “can one test if anger is righteous or not”?
I was still waking up to catch all of what was said but my take away on it was “serenity in anger”. Is it possible to live a peaceful life with yourself, others and our God while remaining angry? If so, can this be how we can be angry, furious, livid, outraged etc with what we see around us, while remaining in a healthy mental, spiritual, social and psychological place?
My anger currently is directed towards: those not social distancing leading to a policy that cancels replanned weddings at 24 hours notice, jet skiers buzzing swimmers and breaking speed limits, those walking the wrong way in restaurant and shops one way systems,
phishing emails and phonecalls, oppressive theology to those in pain, abusive behaviour etc (Sally editing this would add poor refereeing but probably not in righteous anger mode!)
Is the test for righteous anger, that I am congenial company, a gracious person, not irritating God during my times of frustration? Mobilsed to be constructive, not just angsty and ranty? Probably, but on reflection, it seems I’m not quite there / long way to go yet! But at least I have a sense of direction and a test of discernment for not being eaten up, but living in a peaceful, restful, humble but motivated Kingdom come spirit.
It feels like my day begins when I walk downstairs. I have a routine, turn the radio on, fill the kettle, drink some water, empty the dishwasher… Going down these steps is a little more exciting than walking down my stairs at home! So many journeys have an unseen destination, you are not quite sure exactly where you are going and you have choices to make along the way.
Summer has a bit of space to walk down the steps and not worry too much about where to go as the deadlines and constraints of work life take a back seat for a while. Space to meander and explore, leaving behind some of the burdens of everyday is a necessary treat for me.
One of the benefits of doing a bit of clearing up is coming across books which you had forgotten about that has just the right insight for now. One such book is by Frances Ward and is called Full of Character. I find this discussion helpful in my struggles to cope with all the challenges of Covid-19, she writes:
I’m using the word ‘resourcefulness’ instead of the more current ‘resilience’, because I think it brings different things to the table. Resilience training is widespread today – in schools, and in the military – seeking to enable young people and adults to cope or survive in adverse circumstances. Resourcefulness though, suggests more than the reactive ability to cope. The resourceful person will bring resources to the situation, not only to cope with challenge and failure but also to turn things around for the benefits of all concerned. Resilience enables survival; resourcefulness brings more: self control, and the emotional and psychological strength to give of self to enable others to survive and flourish. Resilience is a survival mode; resourcefulness a flourishing mode.
Frances Ward, Full of Character. London: Jessica Kingsley, 2019, p128-9.
We have been getting ready the past few weeks to reopen the prayer rooms at our hospitals. They have been closed since lock down. It has meant following social distancing guidelines, I think you can see from the photo what we have been in planning to fulfill these protocols to keep everyone safe. It has been a real challenge rearranging all the rooms but we have the motivation to support our patients, families and staff to be able to access our chapels and Muslim prayer rooms and be, feel and keep others safe. It had been both encouraging and frustrating to be lobbied by them of when we are going to reopen!
It got me thinking about can we ever make prayer or a prayer place safe? With regards to infection control, absolutely. Spiritual, hopefully, never. Whenever we make ourselves available in God’s presence, this is a place safe from harm, but not somewhere I could do a controlled risk assessment for outcomes of meeting with God with any confidence!
We have been doing up our garden over lockdown and have various things around the garden to reflect on and I am quite taken with the idea of having a Bible verse or two having been inspired by this one at Buckfast Abbey. Perhaps we need a chalkboard or something so we can change it regularly as I seem to live with different verses and passages through seasons. This one has been quite apt in such a challenging season and has worked for me along with Psalms 46, 121 and parts of Isaiah to remind me of God’s presence and faithfulness.
One of the things I am doing at the moment is reading the lectionary readings for Sunday over the preceding week to give me a chance to reflect and dwell on what it is the Holy Spirit illuminates to me. Thus if I did have a chalkboard in our garden this week I would have written up Romans 8.39 and I like the freshness of the Message version:
absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.
Last week we went on what we thought was a circular walk but I managed to drop the map early on! Paul is good at navigating by the sun and has a sense of direction I don’t possess. Thus we had to make decisions about which paths to take as there were not the helpful waymarkers that make it easier in some places. We eventually managed to get back to the car park and enjoyed a tranquil walk in the woods.
I appreciate this picture, the shadow and light, the trees and sense of protection and the ability to see some distance. But life doesn’t always feel like that, paths do not always feel safe. I have been reminded of some of the scary stories I heard as a child that I imagine had some truth in them that encouraged us to not go there alone. Last night we watched Thelma and Louise and I am not sure I had ever seen it before. I caught myself asking at what point did they end up on the wrong path, which decision or action was it. It is an immensely sad film. I blogged last week on the song when the road is rough and steep and am still reflecting on how we know we are on the right path, choices we make and the capacity to trust God in it all.
Sally and I were meant to be on retreat on Holy Island this last week. Unfortunately and understandably, we were unable to go to the retreat house with our normal group. So while in Cornwall, we went to Buckfast Abbey for our also normal weekly visit when in the area. Not surprisingly, there were restrictions in place. The Abbey was open but with adjustments.
The picture shows the prayer chapel closed from the one way system. I was particularly struck by the image of Jesus behind all the barriers. The shut, perhaps locked doors, the rope, the sign, the one way barriers. Do you notice to eclipse of the face of Jesus behind the frame of the door? It was a very different feel praying outside, standing at the bottom of the entrance steps. But pray we did. The only way we would be let in is to attend a Mass!
It has been such a joy to hear in the past few months about all the different ways Churches and organisations have been creative in their expressions of mission and worship. Sadly, i might reflect that this is imperative to make up for the times we have got in the way, put barriers up for people seeing, accessing Jesus as easily as it should be.
We obviously hope and pray these innovations, adaptions, modifications, that are not forced by safety during covid-19, continue way in to the future.
This stone was by a picnic bench on the sea front, we saw it yesterday. While I have read various versions of this over the months of lockdown I was encouraged that someone wanted to do it for visitors to the town. I regularly have muddling through days and knowing I am not the only one is reassuring and sometimes we need to hear the obvious from someone external.