On Easter Sunday those associated with the Northumbria Community renew their vows. This year the theme is a call to relinquish control, very apt for me this year.
A group of us met in Bournville to learn from Eata, pray an Office, eat and share with one another and finally renew our vows. It will be one of the few things I get to this Easter but is always a precious time and precedes the ordination vows I made and also renew each year on Maundy Thursday.
In the changes in life in recent years I am becoming more aware of the importance of availability and vulnerability as I seek to explore what it is I am being called to. Flexibility and listening to the Spirit seem increasingly pertinent and trusting God to bring across my path those people and tasks which are for me this season.
I have long loved the metaphor of fruitfulness and wrote about it in a thesis long ago. I find it more useful than success in exploring what it is that emerges from what I do. Fruitfulness also allows for the slow burn of much of what I do. Seeds planted now may bear fruit many years later.
I came across this in my daily reading book recently:
We often think of the fruitful life as springing from strength, power and overflow. But we soon learn that often we have more go give when we are open, vulnerable and aware of our own limitations.
Fruitfulness, moreover, is enhanced when our life is characterised by thankfulness, appreciation and gratitude. This allows us to appreciate the good that comes our way. So much of that which could nurture us is carelessly thrown away because we don’t appreciate and appropriate the many little blessings that we receive. …
Finally, fruitfulness is sustained by care. We need to watch over the seeds of hope. We need to care for what we are and have. We need to channel our resources. We cannot be haphazard or wasteful or slothful and expect to be fruitful. The nourishing sources of life need to be constantly tapped lest we find ourselves in a position where much is expected of us while we have little to give.
How do you understand fruitfulness?
What can you do today to be fruitful?
From Charles Ringma Dare to Journey with Henri Nouwen Sutherland: Albatross, 1992, reading 88.
I create spiritual care and staff support cards for the chaplaincy team at Birmingham Women’s and Children’s Hospital. This is one which I am revisiting this week and am grateful for those who are helping me create brave space in this strange new world. It is by Micky ScottBey Jones, hear it read here.
Together we will create brave space, because there is no such thing as a ‘safe space’. We exist in the real world, We all carry scars and we have all caused wounds. In this space We seek to turn down the volume of the outside world, We amplify voices that fight to be held elsewhere, We call each other to more truth and love. We have the right to start somewhere and continue to grow, We have the responsibility to examine what we think we know. We will not be perfect. This space will not be perfect. It will not always be what we wish it to be, But it will be our brave space together and We will work on it side by side.
A brave space for me is one where I can be real, vulnerable, questioning, exploring, and know that the space will be respected and I will be held, and at times possibly even carried. Brave space is a mutual thing, we are interdependent.
Wow, what on earth is going on!? Here in the UK, the guidelines for Christmas have just drastically changed. Coming together for less people over less time!
So, how are you feeling about this, bewildered, frustrated, angry? Many of us may not be able to get away and see anyone. Most of us are having to make last minute changes. I am feeling all at sea.
I heard another metaphor used today, marooned. Castaway, like Tom Hanks, stranded, not by choice on a desert island. Disoriented, frightened, lonely, hungry, unsafe. Perhaps what is most frightening is not knowing if one would ever be rescued. I think this metaphor might succinctly capture how many of us, personally, or speculating about others, might be feeling before and or after the latest restrictions, stuck where we don’t want to be.
Feeling stranded, disempowered has sadly become a normative covid-19 feeling. As our Paediatric Chaplaincy Network met this week, we shared such feelings. Instead of us feeling discouraged, we found some comfort in such feelings being normalised, its not just me, I am not alone, I am not odd, others have gone before me and survived!
As we return to the familiarity of the first Nativity, we are encouraged to find fresh resonance of our current situation. The forced simplicity and restrictions. Not what we have planned or would desire for ourselves or loved ones. Unusual presents delivered in unusual ways. The last minute changes, uncertainty of where we will be staying or be safe. Covid-19 encourages us to desanitise the first Christmas, it must have felt frightening in all the uncertainty.
Sustaining hope is often produced in such empathetic solidarity. We are a part of the ongoing Christmas story. There will be suffering but we have many resources to endure, if not thrive. Our faith was born in vulnerability, our faith story today imitates our Christ birth story of uncertainty and insecurity. This part of the story does evolve into an another chapter of life in all it’s fulness, in due course.
This is our front garden, the tree which was a beautiful centre piece when we moved in began to bend towards the sun and ended up at an angle of 45 degrees. In lockdown we have gradually been assessing our neglect of our garden and one evening this week Paul got the tree upright again but only by leaning it against our garden rubbish bin.
I couldn’t believe the complexity of the branch system and the way the tree had struggled to grow. I think we largely k ow but perhaps too often forget that what people present to us is what they want us to see and we don’t always see what is underneath, the struggles the challenges, the complexity of life. One of the good things of this time has been the increased willingness for people to be vulnerable and share how they are feeling. May that be one of the things we take forward along with increased empathy and compassion.
Paul had the original vision for establishing a Youth series as part of Grove books and we have both been involved ever since. With four published a year we are now a teenager as we have been going for 13 years.
This is our most recent book and one which has had a long lead in and which originated at one of our writing days where anyone is welcome to come and we talk about writing but more importantly give time for writing. Lots of booklets have come out of that and one of the things we love is that it enables good practitioners to get some of their experience out there to be shared much more widely.
This booklet is mainly stories that people have shared with me, from the writing day and beyond and one or two particularly commissioned because I knew of or had read of their story elsewhere. I am grateful to all those who had the courage to share and for their willingness to be named and to be vulnerable. You can buy a booklet from me, they are only £3.95 each or you can order in print or electronic form from the website.
There are lots of other series – why not subscribe to ours or another one…
It is not easy writing a booklet on vulnerability – the stories I have been told trigger all sorts of thoughts in me:
Faced with our own vulnerability, we often experience extreme fear (McFadden 2008:133).
I have increasingly realised that early experiences in hospital as a young child which I don’t fully remember mean that I am overly fearful anytime I think I may be ill or something happens. My body is vulnerable. A tear in my retina this year brought that back to me – apparently I did nothing to bring it on – it happens to some of us with age – and not even old age!
What I have also increasingly realised is that my vulnerability is less of an issue if I share it with and allow myself to be supported by others (and God):
In contrast to fear, compassionate love – or agape – ‘links empathy, understanding and justice, promoting interdependence’ (Rumbold 2006:41).
McFadden, S. H. (2008). Mindfulness, vulnerability, and love: Spiritual lessons from frail elders, earnest young pilgrims, and middle aged rockers. Journal of Aging Studies, 22, pp.132-9.
Rumbold, B. (2006). The spirituality of compassion: A public health response to ageing and end of life care. In E. MacKInlay (Ed), Aging spirituality, and palliative care (pp.31-44) New York: Haworth Press.
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.
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.
Ronald Rolheiser Forgotten Among the Lilies New York Image Doubleday p123
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.