Friday photo – labour of love

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A treat most Christmases is to go and see the garland at Cotehele (a National Trust Property in Cornwall). Each year a brand new garland is made of dried flowers from the gardens. It is truly a labour of love, it is there only in December, a transient glimpse of summer in the middle of winter.

This year’s garland had honesty in it, one of my favourites, fragile, translucent. A plant that speaks to me of vulnerability. This year I want to take more notice of the beauty around me and act in a more aware way in relation to the vulnerability of all of God’s creation.

Wondering Wednesdays: tender moments

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What constitutes a tender moment? Anything in life that helps make us aware of our deep connectedness with each other, of our common struggle, our common wound, our common sin, and our common need for help: the suffering face of another which mirrors our own pain, the sense of our physical mortality, the acceptance of our own sin, the beauty of nature, the eagerness and innocence of children, the fragility of the aged, and, of course, not least, moments of intimacy, of friendship, of celebration, of every kind of shared joy, pain or vulnerability.  Ronald Roheiser

This week we are on holiday, it is an opportunity for another set of tender moments.  Holidays give the opportunity for some family time that isn’t usually possible because of geographical distance.  The picture is a previous year’s birthday present having a tender moment with the adorable nephew’s teddy bear!  Today the adorable nephew is staying with us, tender moments will include the annual pancake making and the attempts to emulate Paul’s ability at tossing them high in the air!   Yesterday Paul and I had the opportunity to create some tender moments as we did one of our favourite day trips which starts with a bacon sandwich and coffee at one of our favourite seaside cafes and includes fish and chips at a different seaside cafe, walking on the cliff and the beach and dreaming together about some new idea…

The other sort of tender moments are not absent but are perhaps less in focus in a week away.  However, I did post my first ever selfie on facebook and saw the lines on my face and round my neck and was reminded of my own mortality which tends to happen now when I celebrate a birthday.  Facebook, Twitter and Radio 4 mean I am still aware of what is going on in the world which can mean shared tears as well as shared laughter.  As I type this Seve Ballesteros is on the television, we listened to the Carpenters in the car – two premature deaths which bring fleeting sadness along with the gratitude of such giftedness.

We also saw some of the devastation of the storms, wrecked beach huts, sandbags, the sort of rock that could kill you if it hit you strewn all over the promenade, this all seemed so poignant on a day when nature seemed so beautiful, so calm.  I am really challenged by Roheiser’s concept of tender moments – the nice ones are very easy to grasp and to celebrate but I am so aware of the need for connectedness, for sharing, the good and the bad and to enable people to celebrate our shared humanity.  I am reminded of God’s tender moment with Adam and Eve when he clothed them despite of their choices (Genesis 3.21).  It is so encouraging to know we can have our tender moments with God when we need them the most.

Reference:

Ronald Rolheiser Forgotten Among the Lilies New York Image Doubleday p123

Wondering Wednesdays – she collects sea shells on the sea shore

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I love the beauty and intricacy of these little shells.  This picture was taken on Hannafore Beach where there were hundreds of them. As far back as I can remember I have got much pleasure from wandering along beaches looking for shells and beautiful pebbles.   I have often wondered if one of the reasons I like shells so much is that as a metaphor it has bought me solace.   Much of what I write involves metaphors as they are so integral to the way I think and have helped me become more self-aware and reflective.

I can still vividly remember a conversation I had with God when on a retreat with a friend a few years ago. God was saying to me there were times when it was fine to look to the protection that a shell gives and not to feel there was something wrong with me because this was so – this was liberating.  While I try to live according to the availability and vulnerability rule of the Northumbria Community for me this has to be done with wisdom. There are some situations and people where I need protection. For me it is a bit like putting on sun tan lotion on a sunny day – without it I will get burnt and be in pain.  I am not trying to eliminate pain from my life – that is part of being human and I have grown through pain but what I will not do is offer myself up as a tasty dinner to a predatory seagull who might like the creature without its shell.

So there are times when I am very happy to go out with my shell and not feel guilt or shame because God made shells too, and they are beautiful.

Wondering Wednesday – Tomorrow starts the night before or the hour of questions

cornwall-2011-071.jpgMany of my heroes as a child and young person were from the world of sport. One of them was also a poet, John Snow, the Sussex and England cricketer. Thirty plus years on I can still remember the beginning of the first poem of his I ever read called The Lord’s Test:

Tomorrow starts the night before

lying looking through the blackness

wondering about the hidden day

’til falling forward trackless

unknowing down the slope,

you’re sitting in it,

you and hope…                                                                                                                                                                                    

This poem resonates with me so much as I have often had concerns about tomorrow, the night before. Usually without any real reason, most of my days don’t hold anything scarier than teaching, meetings, church or study which are nothing compared with the challenges faced by so many.

So why does tomorrow start the night before so often?  Perhaps because it reminds me to commit my day to God and be aware of the work of the Holy Spirit in my life leading and guiding me. Perhaps because I don’t always have the confidence that past evidence suggests I should have in my own capacity. Perhaps even because I have become a habitual reflective practitioner and know that processing things before, during and after they happen can help me learn, understand and apply.

Tomorrow can also be early today as this quotation from Chaim Potok’s The Book of Lights so eloquently describes:

This was the hour he had learned to dread, the hour of questions.  No time of the day or night seemed so filled with the weight of darkness as this hour before the twilight of morning when there hovered about him what he had come to call the four o’clock in the morning questions…

Whether before we fall asleep or when we wake up very early thoughts can race around our head distracting and sometimes distressing us.  This is not helpful!

But I need to remind myself that tomorrow there is hope, there is love, there is joy, there is peace along with other fruit of the Spirit and that those things are real even if there are some days I only fleetingly experience them.  I am helped with this by spending some time with God every morning sitting in a chair looking out over the garden.  I see the birds and am reminded of the words of Jesus in Matthew 6 when he encourages us to look at the birds of the air and see how God feeds them.  The passage then goes on to say “And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?” I know the answer to this is no, but that doesn’t always stop me from doing it.  Tomorrow starts the night before but that can also mean the excitement and anticipation of a new day, a new experience, a new challenge to be faced with the hope that faith in God can bring.

References:  John Snow,  Moments and Thoughts,  Kaye and Ward, 1973.

Wondering Wednesdays – the shape of our life for the sake of the world

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The question is asked:  “What is the shape of a contemporary way of life that truly is life-giving in and for the sake of the world?  And how can the church foster such a ways of life, for the good of all creation?” (Bass 2008:23).  I am a bit of a news junkie and always at least start and end the day listening to the news, radio in the morning, television in the evening.  Day after day I listen to stories which demonstrate that the contemporary way of life is far from life-giving for so many people.  I am particularly sensitive to stories which talk about the oppression of women and children and some days it seems like story after story shows how the often marginalized and vulnerable are suffering because of the way of life adopted by others.  I have just attended a safeguarding session as part of my curacy training, that just adds to the feeling that our way of life brings such desolation at times.

I am not always very good at being the answer to the questions that I am asking but I want to be and part of my commitment to education is to try and help facilitate people discovering what is life-giving for them and to help them find the life in all its fullness that Jesus talks about (John 10.10).  I am also aware that I am not as much of a global citizen as I need to be and can have a narrow local focus rather than being aware of how my choices impact God’s creation.

When we were researching the Faith of Generation Y one of the things we concluded was that young people were asking “Does Christianity work?” rather that “Is Christianity true?” as was the case when I was a young person.  My hope and prayer is that increasingly churches can show that Christianity does work, that churches can offer life to communities which are having life squeezed out of them through economic malaise, short sighted policies, mistrust and neglect.  I am so grateful for the signs of spring I see when driving along country lanes, snowdrops and primroses blooming in hedgerows.  But most of all I am grateful for the signs of life I hear about at church, from the students I work with, from colleagues I am training with and I have hope that the world is seeing glimpses of a church which offers a life-giving alternative way of living.

References:

Dorothy C Bass. (2008) ‘Ways of Life Abundant’ in Dorothy C Bass and Craig Dykstra  (eds)  For Life Abundant.  Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, p.23.

Sylvia Collins-Mayo, Bob Mayo, Sally Nash with Chris Cocksworth. (2010)  The Faith of Generation Y.  London:  Church House Publishing.

Constructing stories

I am trying to join some dots between different strands of thinking and reading I have been doing this year.  One of the joys of live tweeting from events is that you get drawn into a variety of subplots as you start interacting with other tweeters.  I got to read Donald Miller’s  A Million Miles in a Thousand Years as a result of this. The subtitle of the book is How I learned to live a better story.  I started reading it as I was exploring a part of my story.  I revisited Sussex University where I was an undergraduate as part of a trip to Brighton.  I sat in the Student Union bar which had barely changed, drinking the same beer as back in the day, writing reflections remembering who Sally was back then and who she is now.  Overall I am happy with the story I am living.  There are sadnesses and life is not without complications at times, but ultimately choosing to follow Jesus as enabled me to live a better story.  However, in middle age I am also aware that choices I make now may have profound implications on what my story may look like in later years.

Donald Miller

Alongside this I am writing a piece of autoethnography (or autobiography) for my thesis on shame in the church.  I need to explain why I am drawn to research shame and why it is important for me to explore how to minister in non-shaming ways.  I wrote this piece before I began to read the stories of people who had responded to my anonymous questionnaires.  I needed to explore my own vulnerabilities if I were to ask others to share theirs.  I became very aware that my story had been shaped by some significant incidents and that my values had often been formed by childhood experiences but until I consciously started reflecting I wasn’t fully aware of what, how and why.

I then started reading an article by a friend  on narratives and reflection and began to consider her contention that

What we have instead of truth, [in the context of reflection] therefore is plot, and plot is available for retelling.  We can modify, develop and re-narrate the plot of a story.  Looking back at stories of the past can offer us ways to re-interpret them, and so invite alternative ways of going on in relation.  Stories of the past are important contextual narratives in making current actions justifiable. 

This resonates for me with Miller’s telling a better story and I am aware of a desire to narrate stories in ways which are life-giving and which enable others to live life-giving stories.

Cheese Pizza

The adorable nephew (aged 10) stayed with us this week. As he said to me pizza and pancakes is now a tradition, it is part of the story of a sleepover with Auntie Sally and Uncle Paul.  We have a jointly constructed story which can get retold according to audience and intention and the story varies depending on whose voice is being prioritised.  I may talk in terms of autonomy and choice, he may be thinking soft Auntie Sally for letting me have cake for breakfast (one of my childhood loves).   I am still not clear how all these insights and thoughts will impact my ministry but I am more conscious of the importance of understanding how what I say may be heard and how  important it is for me to understand the stories I live and work within.

References (the academic in me makes me do this):

Miller, D. (2009)  A Million Miles in a Thousand Years.  Nashville:  Nelson.

Ramsey, C. M. (2005) Narrative: from learning in reflection to learning in performance, Management Learning, vol 36(2): 219-236.

First post

This is an interesting day to be trying to set up a blog and to write my first post.  I (Sally) have contributed to the http://www.coffeeringsandbeautifulthings.com/ theme for February on Lost and Found.  I wrote it on a train going to Carmarthen and found it a creative and life giving process although seeing it out there today I feel a little vulnerable.  We have been talking about blogging for a long time but had not managed to set up a website but since writing that piece other things have come to mind as things I would blog about so here we are!  IMG-20120617-00252