Saturday, 27 December 2014

Finally - I get it!

 

Christmas Day At The Vaughn Centre:

The Vaughn Centre - a retreat for the rough sleepers, the lonely, the dispossessed - shuts its doors on January 3rd. Everybody I talk to knows this shouldn't be happening, but feels powerless to stop it.

An appeal went out on Radio Gloucestershire a few days ago for a wealthy patron to donate enough money to secure its future, and who know? Miracles do happen from time to time. "Write to The Prince of Wales" i advise Lucinda, "After all, he's a Gloucestershire resident ... and this IS the only facility for the seriously impoverished in the County." She might. I might, come to that. Writing to politicians hasn't proved that effective. Compassion in public life is a luxury we can't afford these days.

The atmosphere on Christmas Day was upbeat. A delicious meal, cooked by a local church and delivered onsite, is being enjoyed by thirty os so people. Tricia, dressed in her finest skin-tight sateen leggings and calf-length boots is happier than I've seen her for months. She's trans-gender: the group with a 40% suicide rate. If anyone tells you its 'just a lifestyle choice' tell them that.

At her lowest, she was told by a psychiatrist, "How come someone as ugly as you wants to be a woman?" How come he got away with it? That's a no-brainer. Tricia is poor and powerless, you can say what you like to people like her and get away with it. Believe me, all kinds of abuse are aimed at you if you can't, or don't know how to, stand up for yourself.

Andy and Mo are planning to marry next summer. They showed me the gifts they exchanged that morning. "We're buying our proper presents tomorrow, in the sales!" We all laugh.

Chris is very chatty today. Unusually polite. Oh well, it is Christmas! Bob, baptised just three weeks ago, is still coming to terms with his new-found faith. "It'll take a while," he confides. "It'll take FOREVER Bob!" I say. He gives his take-away supper to Candy who is late because the police came round to her place looking for someone. " I wouldn't have done it if I hadn't had two dinners already," he explains, ever so slightly embarrassed by his generosity.

Candy's dog attacks Chris's dog and we all pay attention to that until its over, and then the carols start. I'm in the choir. Nobody thought to bring any words, but fortunately Chris ("I used to be in the choir at St Peter's") has a Booklet he lifted from the Mission Carol Service the previous Wednesday, so we're all set.

Six of us cluster cosily around the lonely set of words and belt out all the old favourites.

"No crib for his bed." That's when I understood. The rich aren't here, where poverty, mental illness, and inability to cope with the complexities of modern life are to be found... Here are the poor, and the poor in spirit.

Here is the baby in the manger, born into poverty to be one with the poor.

Here, with the hungry, the abused, the lost and the lonely, is the Holy One, hanging on a cross.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Christmas Eve 2014

What are you doing today?

I'm going to be very busy. And I'm going to savour every last moment.

2014 has been a specatcular year. Two of my beautiful, incredible daughters married lovely men, and a baby, Sam, joiined the family through a third ... It's a privilege to hold so much joy, especially with the knowledge that many lives seem bleak and empty in comparison.

This was the year when I began to feel the creeping onslaught of old-age. Not so remarkably, I gradually became aware that my joints are stiffening and the lower back pain that I thought would go away, hasn't. I creak, and I groan as I go about my everyday business, and I laugh! Oh yes! Sounds stupid, but the intimations of my mortality actually make me laugh.

"Been expecting you!" I grin at the spectre of Christmas-Yet -To-Come, "Let's see what a tale we can spin together before I quit!" The challenges approaching decreptitude offer, are showing up as new ways to be creative, fresh excuses to skive off the boring stuff and get stuck into what I really want to do.

So today. Put candles and evergreens on the windows in the church, and invite a friend to arrange the flowers in the sanctuary because she'll do a great job. Make sweets with my granddaughters, turn out another Tuna Plait and Texas Millionaire Pie, read at The Christmas Vigil and celebrate the First Mass of Christmas with friends and fanily tonight.

Tomorrow I'll help out at the Vaughn Centre, and eat a quiet dinner with my husband. I shall collect my thoughts and give thanks. This is a wonderful life, I haven't deserved it, but I revel in it. I don't know what next year will bring, but whatever it has in store, I'm ready for it.

This week, this blog passed 10,000 hits. I am amazed. And delighted. Whether you are a regular visitor, or a casual passer-by, I have a poet's prayer for you this Christmas:

May you be surrounded by Love

Filled with Hope

Stilled by Peace

And may Joy unlooked for

Be your Gift: May you

Know, that you are loved!

 

Merry Christmas!

:)

 

 

Monday, 22 December 2014

#MicroblogMondays: Free Gifts

I caught a piece on the radio today, it may have been The Ted Radio Hour ( which I'm delighted to hear is soon to be broadcast on BBC Radio 4) about Emotional Correctness. Political Correctness we know and probably love:It gets a bit silly sometimes, I know, but I'm not sorry to see the back of offensive sexist and homophobic jokes, and worse. Emotinal Correctness, I hear, is about making as socially and morally unacceptable, the grotesque online abuse by angry, ignorant people who vent their awfulness on social media in truly horrible ways. I hope it catches on.

In the meantime, let's practice a little Emotional Correctness this Christmas. Doesn't cost anything to be warm amd kind, to lay down prejudice and adopt instead a listening mind and a compassionate heart. Gifts that bless the giver and the receiver in equal measure.

 

Monday, 15 December 2014

#MicroblogMondays: Today

Before dawn, I walked to the top of Southend Lane to catch the 0715 number 678 Gloucester bus (via Tibberton) : the waning moon hung about, to the evident annoyance of the Phillips's cockerel impatient for the sun.

A bit early, so I sat in Starbucks, in Eastgate Street, wrote some Christmas Cards, read a portion of Cynthia Bourgeaut's "The Wisdom Jesus," downed a bucket of coffee and broke fast with a dry pastry.

The whole of the morning I spent helping the Salvation Army serve a Christmas lunch to the people who need to eat where they can: rough sleepers, those in poverty - I make the tea, pour the coffee and greet our guests. There's a wonderful atmosphere in the room. Major Adrian comments that three years ago we fed fifty, today it's one hundred.

Home, exhausted by the early start and hard work! Had a very long rest. Ordered a new duvet cover from John Lewis as Ray's failure to sort the washing has left the second best bedding an unattractive murky pink.

Made a mushroom risotto, which was not too bad ... Probably needed the wine, an essential ingredient I absent-mindedly drank yesterday.

Early to bed. Watched two documenteries on tv, one about darts, the other about the Dukes of Devonshire. I do not approve of having televisions in bedrooms, but a considerable rearrangement of furnishings has taken place, necessitated by the overhaul of the dining room, which needed to be emptied.

Drafted a poem:

Today

I have lived many lives.

You know, I wonder at it. How, the

Grammar School boys on the bus,

The couple in a B and B who have no stove to cook on,

No money for McDonald's,

And Jeanette - over eighty, sprightlier than me,

Serving the gravy and the roast

With a smile a mile wide -

Can be here. Peering over my shoulder

Watching me write, reminding me:

Today, we lived each other's lives

In a nod, a laugh,

A serious moment

And a cup of tea.

 

Friday, 12 December 2014

Performance Indicators

I loathe and despise The Annual Review. Mine own were conducted by well-meaning examiners with no concept of the complexities of my role, which was great, because I agreed to stupid 'goals' that needed no particular effort to 'achieve'. This was easy for me, because I'm a very bright woman with an honest face.
My true performance indicator was to engage in (legit) projects with an element of travel to clock up as many miles as I could without spending a penny. I made 100,000 miles before my career ended. Of this, I am unjustifiably proud. ( You know I'm not a good person, don't you?)
My staff got PI's like:" You've got children, get yourself home on time and don't take work with you." This paid dividends in staff loyalty and excellence of performance that far outweighed the "gains" obtained by stressing them out with unrealistic numbers of Level 3's or whatever the current nonsense was. The pendulum will swing back my way, one day, you'll see.
I am so reminiscing because of Baroness Jenkin's weigh-in against The Poor and their lack of ability to cook. You know what your Baronessness, I know Poor who have nothing to cook ON, or WITH but she doesn't, so I guess I should be making allowances. (Thought about it: Naw, she's not excused.)
Sometimes, I am a born-again Christian. That is, until other born-again Christians engage in gay-bashing, or in other ways show themselves a lot more interested in other people's bedroom habits than is healthy for their souls. " I am not of you," I get to thinking, "So I guess I must be something else now. Don't know what, but there you are. "
Make no mistake, I still embrace and revel in the teachings of Jesus, especially when practised. I puzzled for ever over the enigmatic, "The Poor (whom he blessed by the way, it was the rich he sent away empty) will always be with you." Well, yes, so it seems, but why? I read of the Baroness's 'apology' - for saying that being hungry was The Poor's own fault because they were too something (Idle? Ignorant? Stupid?) to cook. Then I knew what the Bethlehem Babe meant: The poor will always be with us because the powerful will do anything to hang on to their riches. If Baroness Jenkin went out and talked to The Poor, and involved herself in their lives, she would become a whole, new, and much better person.
Have I lost the plot. This piece was about Performance Indicators wasn't it? Yes.
One day, and every day, I have to give account of my stewardship. The checklist doesn't have boxes for: Did you make a lot of money? Win any wars? Believe all the right doctrines? Belong to the right church? Get an enormous number of converts? Or even, God help us, Sleep with the right people? No. (I expect you've got where this is going...) I get rated on these criteria: Mary, tell me, did you: Feed the hungry? Comfort the afflicted? Visit those in prison? Clothe the naked?
Did I? Sometimes.
How about you? Find someone who's hungry and feed them this Christmas/Saturnalia/Sun Return ... ! It will make you both feel better. Yes, really, it will.

Report:
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/tory-baroness-poor-people-go-hungry-because-they-dont-know-how-to-cook-9910671.html

PS Only three vouchers are allowed for Food Banks. Just sayin'.

Monday, 8 December 2014

#MicroblogMondays: When Everything Falls Apart

What does wisdom look like? I don't know, but I think I'm finding out.
There's this young man, of no fixed abode, whom my husband and I have been helping out for about a year. He has many good qualities, yes, really, but yesteray he was arrested at my house, by two police officers whom I invited here for the purpose, because he's suspected of stealing from an elderly couple that I had introduced him to.
A sleepless night ensued, going over what he may have done, of my role in the unfolding tragedy, understanding that everything goes belly-up in the end, but wishing, and here you will know and understand that I am NOT a good person, oh yes, wishing, that it hadn't happened on my watch ... .
Now I am listening to a Dharma talk by Jack Kornfield and he's saying:
"I will not get caught up in your melodrama, but I will love you."

Monday, 1 December 2014

#MicroblogMondays: Graham

I am watching a miracle unfold.
I first met Graham, an unemployed labourer when he was optimistic. Funny, grounded, determined, and full of faith. He'd lost his job in the recession, but was certain he'd find another soon.
Three years passed. Despite attending all the courses available from the Job Centre, and applying for forty or more jobs a week, he was still unemployed. Rumours began to circulate about Graham having, "anger issues" he became cold, bitter, resentful, and yes, bloody angry. I daren't enquire about his faith...
Today he bounced into the Salvation Army lunch club full of excitement. The new Aldi store that employed him last month is opening next Thursday. Graham is laughing and joking, he is calm and present and alive once more.
I see so much depression, sadness and misery amongst the unemployed. When I hear the rich, the powerful, the ignorant rant about ' welfare scroungers', I want to weep. Yes, I really do.
But then there is a miracle ... Not the getting of a job, but the anazing transformation when belief and self-respect are gained once more.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

The New Pilot Inn

Looks empty doesn't it? The New Pilot Inn closed some time ago. I used to frequent it, and I still do, though these days in it's new incarnation as a refuge centre for the homeless and street people. They call it 'The Vaughn Centre ' now, and it does good work as the centre for the BRILLIANT Homeless Healthcare Team and GEAR, the Homeless charity that offers facilities for aforementioned fellow-citizens down on their luck.

My mum and dad used to play darts here. In my (very) late teens, I used to accompany them on match days, drink half a pint of cider and blackcurrant, and marvel at how my father could hit the bullseye and calculate what he needed to 'finish' in seconds. Mum, not so good at either, but a worthy member of the team anyway. I was never good enough to play in the team, but I could occasionally hit the board ...

Two weeks ago, I learned from my friend Tony Hipkins, who majors in holding Gloucestershire County Council to account for its provision for vulnerable people, emailed to say that GEAR has no funding to open the Vaughn Centre at Christmas this year. I shall find out why, in due course, to see if a fuss needs to be made about it, but in the meantime there is some cash to raise. £200, in fact.

Abigail and I went to church this morning. Not together, because she goes with with her mum and dad. When I arrived she was crying becauss she'd lobbed her pet dinosaur across the aisle and hit somebody. When mummy requested that she desist from such behaviour, Abigail took offence and started to howl. She's my granddaughter, and I love her to bits, but I know mummy is right, so Abs just has to get over it without sympathy from grandma.

Father Aidan gave me permission to make an appeal for a second collection for GEAR and Christmas, and I sit preoccupied through the Mass wondering what I am going to say, as the "Feed The World" angle has already been taken.

Abigail returns from Little Church, dinosaur trauma forgotten, with an activity book all about Advent. "Look grandma!" She announces, loudly, because that's her volume setting, and she reads, "No room at the inn!"

A light goes on in my brain:

"I'm not sure of what I'm going to say, because this is so close to my heart, (and here I tear up) but Abigail has just reminded me of when I was a teenager and used to go with my mum and dad to play darts at The New Pilot Inn in Gloucester, which is now a refuge for the homeless, and which can't open at Christmas this year because it has no money. Honestly, if the church can't open the inn door to the lonely and the lost at Christmas, we might just as well pack up and go home... "

Not sure how I ended up, but the result was a collection that raised far more than £200

That's Christmas sorted, now let's see what can be done for the new year ...

 

 

Monday, 24 November 2014

#MicroblogMondays:My Lovely Atheist

I wrote this poem for the men and women I care for who don't express their spirituality the same way that I do: It's OK. It really is:
My Lovely Atheist

If the god that pursues you
Is not kind
Does not welcome you
With Love
And open you to
Your great heart within
Or draw you to your
Birthright

Which is to be Awake
And Compassionate

Then be
An atheist

Yes! Be an atheist
Until you learn to
Just

Be

Friday, 21 November 2014

The Reluctant Theist

I allow myself the luxury of an open mind. I probably wouldn't rate very highly on a scepticism scale, but I am an avid fan of good science and a fierce opponent of bad religion. Hence my title, "Reluctant Theist"
"Too much smiting" is my favourite comment from Bhuddist Jack Kornfield* on old-time religion. Couldn't put it better myself. For those of us reaching out to the concept of an Underlying and Benevolent Consciousness or "God", the 'smiter' of past generations doesn't do it for us. Neither does an emphasis on following rules when you're better off following your heart. Can't be doing with war, hell, revenge, cruelty, intolerance, bigotry, greed or self-agrandissement either. These afflict the good, bad and ugly, including, sadly, myself, and if this is what religion does, then we're better off without it.
That'll explain the 'reluctant' then. So why am I still a theist? Because there are some elements in the cosmos that are not discoverable by the scientific method. Goodness, philonthropy, gratitude, an urge to find a 'being' beyond ourselves, love, kindness, joy... . The list is as long as the first. Not quantifiable or predictable, but nevertheless essential to the well-being and survival of the human family.
My friend Margareta is dying. I sat with her yesterday and we talked of the approaching end. I read to her from a book by a renowned neuroscientist, Dr Eben Alexander, who died ( or his nuerocortex did, which is pretty much everything that makes us human), and on returning unscathed, tells a remarkable tale. A leader in his field, a Harvard professor,he had rejected all thought of Near-Death phenomenum as having other than a natural explanation. He now believes, with reseach to support him, that, "human consciousness is independent of the mind and the brain." Let him tell you the whole story himself. It could change your life by completely removing the fear of death. He emphasises what many Theists have always SAID, even if the living of it proved problematical for most of us:
You are completely and unconditionally loved.You have nothing to fear. You can do nothing wrong.
Here's the interview with Dr Alexander:
http://www.skeptiko.com/upload/skeptiko-154-eben-alexander.mp3
* Jack Kornfield source:
I'm listening to "Simplicity & Sympathy" by Jack Kornfield http://www.dharmaseed.org/teacher/85/talk/20247/

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

My Very Favourite Title

It's good for adults to play. No, really, it's a scientific fact, and I know this because I've just finished 'The Science of Happiness' and there it was: Play. healthy and healing, a returning to the innocent self that's still in there and loves an outing now and then.

I sometimes play a game that makes my husband's eyes roll. It's usually prompted by an item I hear on the news. It's called, "I Want That Title". Picking the title is then followed by a lengthy explanation on how good I'd be at it. This is a great game for we Brits whose ceremonial life is generously sprinkled with wonderful, if slightly ridiculous, ones.

I have played with the idea of being, "Black Rod" "Silver Sword of The Bedchamber", "Grandmaster", "The Great Architect", "Lady In Waiting", "Her Holiness" ... and I have laughed my self silly at the implications.

But my very favourite title is, "Grandma". Last night I got to play grandma, and it was the most fun ever.

 

Monday, 17 November 2014

#MicroblgMondays: Important! Read Immediately!

What do you make of people with high self-esteem?
Not much, would be my reply, if the same self-esteem is founded on chasing 'worth' at the expense of others. Hey! I want you to know, that's not for me. And I thought I was being stupid! Who wouldn't want to feel great about themselves all the time?
Then I completed a course: 'The Science of Happiness' and learned a better way.
Cultivate self-compassion.
I am a puny, inconsequential, half-hearted, grumpy, selfish, foolish woman. Because I'm human. You know what? It doesn't matter. I am also capable of great love and fantastic acts of kindness ((And so are you!) Because I'm human. That matters.
For your children's sake, teach self-compassion. Show them how to love themselves as they love their neighbour. (We are universally more generous with others, than with ourselves.)
"At grandma's house, it's OK to win, but it's MUCH more important to be kind."
What you teach your children is who they become. Be kind. Firstly, to yourself.
If you are haunted by the inner critic who keeps telling you how awful you are, and I find this entity extremely destructive of my "self-esteem", try this:
"Freeing yourself from the Inner Critic " by Mark Coleman
www.dharmaseed.org/teacher/115/talk/25432/
PS Google 'self compassion' for more than I can write here.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Contemplative Prayer

Because I speak in tongues - not an unusual accomplishment for a Pentecostal, but slightly embarrassing for a Roman Catholic, someone asked me if I was a mystic! How I laughed! I am not.
The speaking in tongues began as spontaneous outpourings of love and gratitide, not even too sure as to Whom or What, when I was a child. Still is.
I have long since moved from noise, however mystical, to silence. I am learning ( who could ever say they have learned?) to open my heart and still my mind and observe, compassionately, what arises. It's a fantastic practise, neither easy ( or it wouldn't be worth the effort) ... Or difficult (or I couldn't do it) just liberating!
Imagine! Not having to work out what's best for me, you, the planet, the universe and ask God to do it. Instead, to wait, and stand under His knowing, and trust Him to let it be, and to let it be good.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Awakening

My friend Alex finally has it taped. Full, as usual of his exuberant excitement, he announced, "These people don't receive bacause they don't give. There's this church in San Franscisco that has people following the 2,4,7,10 routine. Church twice a week, ( forget), (forget), and give10%! They get £144. (I'm pretty sure he forgot this is £144 every two weeks. Surely?) That's enough to live on, they just waste it ... " Mike stopped him, and brought the reflection time back on track. I had just spent a harrowing thirty minutes with a homeless alcoholic who'd arrived at this place after being forced to watch her son be tortured and raped. Sometimes, this work is just too hard. I had no words for her, I just held her, and let her sob. I wasn't paying much attention to Alex.

That was yesterday. Today I am warm and comfortable, and having done all I can to let Michelle's nughtmare pass, I am returning to Alex's formula for getting street people into church.

I see several rather obvious flaws in his argument. If it had been a matter of arithmetic, wouldn't Jesus have thought about it first?

"You are Peter, and upon this abacus I will build my church!" No. The whole point of the gospel is to wake people up to the wholeness and fullness of life that is the discovery of the Kingdom of God (heightened awareness, full consciousness) that is within us all. You don't get there by acquiring a set of religious brownie points. You open yourself up to your suffering and to the suffering of others and let it teach you what is true. This is the foolishness of the cross. This is the heart of Christian teaching.

I do try playing the numbers game, and I always lose. Pray every day, go to confession once a month, and, and - all the other musts and shoulds that afflict religious people. Such nonsense just brings failure with attendant guilt and feelings of unworthiness and hopelessnes. Which might be preferable, come to think of it, to the pride and superiority that would ensue from succeeding ... Jesus was tender towards we failures, but awful towards the proud. I have to think of some way of letting Alex know I think he's talking out of his arse. I will, perhaps, tell him a story:

"About a year ago I met a funny looking young man who bore an uncanny likeness to Matt Smith. 'He's gone to park the Tardis' I remember saying when someone commented on his disappearance one day. He was burning with this vision for street people. He carried a notebook with him everywhere, he was determined to discover what our people needed. He wrote down what they said. He was listening.

Then he discovered a church in San Fransico who found a magic formula. He wrote it in his notebook, and now he he is telling people what they need. He has stopped listening."

 

 

 

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Ice Cream: An Update

Somewhere in the back of a kitchen cupboard, there sits a rather beautiful chrome finish ice-cream maker. It was something I felt I must have some four years ago: I used it once, and it has been burning a hole in my conscience ever since.

Having confessed my materialistic lapse to my daughter, she found the solution: I should make ice-cream with her two daughters. "Chocolate!" (Rosie) "Lots of colours!" (Abigail. With the unrealistic expectations of a three year old.) To cut a long story short, we ended up with a delicious chocolate smoothie and a shocking pink slush made the conventional way i.e. with lots of elbow grease and frequent fiddling about in and out of the freezer, which means we may have ice cream for breakfast.

Ben and Jerry, here I come.

 

Monday, 10 November 2014

#MicroblogMondays: Glimpsing Fairies

This morning, at 6am, the sky was clear and the waning moon hung over the hedgerow. Low mist shrouded the bottom of the garden and it was possible, just for a moment, to glimpse fairies.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Something to Worry About?

I read The New Scientist for my news, I listen to the Diane Rehm Show for my opinions, and I practise mindfulness meditation to keep me sane.

So when I find something to worry about, I don't take it lightly.

If you have read this far, you are interested enough, perhaps, to read on, but I warn you, the subject is pretty boring. You may not even know that something of extraordinary importance is up. This deafening silence is quite deliberate. If everyone knew what was afoot, maybe we would all be worried.

Trade talks. Yes, I know, boring. the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is designed to remove trade barriers between the US and the EU and looks to be a good thing. Yes? Well, maybe.

I have two concerns. Number One: Democracy. The degree of Corporate influence in American democracy concerns me - thank you Diane Rehm - and here is a quote from The New Scientist that brings this to the fore:

"... The talks are being held behind firmly closed doors. If a deal is struck, it is most likely to be approved summarily, with little opportunity for public feedback.

So critics of TTIP's economics, as well as those worried about its deference to corporate interests are free to fear the worst. But whoever is right, the approach is wrong. * In democracies, pro and con should be aired not stifled. Talks as important as these should be in the open." **

I am not a fan of restrictive practices that stifle free enterprise and inhibit the growth of markets that are essential to the economic well-being of us all. What concerns me is my health, and the health and the maintanance of an eco-system that can sustain me in it. And you, of course. Here's the problem.

Number Two (God Help Us) Health and Safety.

(As an aside just think about the reaction, the 'God Help Us' bit. Why are we conditioned to roll our eyes at the very thought of Health and Safety legislation? Whose interests does our scepticism serve? )

The European Union has some vital regulation in place to protect the health of it's citizens and the integrity of the environment, that corporate interests wish to see gone.

Yes, there are some niggly bits of bureaucratic inteference in the right to poison me, or destroy my habitat, that business interests wish to do away with, but I do not.

I know that 'the corporate good' in America has allowed powerful interests (oil and gas spring immediately to mind) to gain exemption from regulations with regard to, for example, water safety. Aquifers in California (which is undergoing a severe drought) have been, and are still being, legally polluted by oil companies, because Dick Cheney, when Vice President, got them exemption from environmental legislation. Think about it! The biggest polluters have a 'get out of jail free card'! Nice one, Dick.

I know that in some states there is no data collected on the health implications of oil and gas operations, because it is illegal to do so. In others, the Environmental Health Protection Agency is so starved of funds it cannot do the science necessary to its operation.

Is this, the US model of protecting public health and well-being, really what we want? Will a 'trade barrier' up for grabs, and liable for dismemberment, be essential regulation to safeguard our health? That such delicate matters as the right to a healthy life are under discussion at the TTIP table probably explains why we're not hearing about it - in case we might object.

Well, I object.

 

PS: For the record, I am very pro-American. (Hi Darlene!) I know that many of my American friends are as concerned as I am about environmental issues. I am not denigrating the US way of doing things, just pausing to wonder if we want to do them here.

* Likely benefits of free trade are addressed earlier in the article

** The New Scientist Leader Article: November 1st 2014 page 5

Monday, 3 November 2014

#MicroblogMondays: The Last Mile

I am typing these few sentences lying on a makeshift bed in my friend Margareta's workroom. Sometime, this week, this month, Margareta is going to die and we, her friends, have dtermined she shall not die alone, and tonight, the  first watch, is mine. 

Margareta's heart is giving out, but not her spirit. Tonight we have laughed, and shed a few tears too. We shared sacred space with the Sacrament of the Sick and Holy Communion. We read our poetry together, and finally fussed over each other making sure the other was comfortable before turning in. Whatever the coming days bring, tonight has been memorable. A gift.

Monday, 27 October 2014

#MicroblogMondays: "Hello From The Children Of Earth"

This message, engraved on a copper, disc, encased in gold, is one of many sent out in 1977, riveted to the probe Voyager, in the hope that an intelligent being will one day find, and hear it. The hope and optimism embodied in this amazing project is truly inspirational, especially when you realise that Voyager's next encounter with a star system is 40,000 years away ... 

Earth is now well into it's six, (or seventh, opinion is divided) mass extinction event. Don't take my word for it, check it out: 50% of species are being wiped out at you read this: - climate change, pollution, deforestation, it's happening, it's real, it's here, and pretending it isn't, no matter how forcefully, isn't going to change that. 

However, there is good news: it only takes a 7% of the population to wake up and work for change, to make it happen. Here's encouragement to do so from Professor Brian Cox, from "The Human Universe" (BBC2 Sunday 8pm):

"We are probably alone in the universe, and that makes us indescribably precious and valuable ... We are the only islands of meaning in an infinite sea of lonely stars ... We have the responsibility to work together as a civilisation to survive, and ultimately to explore those stars."

Let's go for it - for the sake of the children of Earth.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

The Reluctant Storyteller

 Admittedly, once the sun's gone down and you're all danced out, there isn't much to do in the desert ... 

 

I am 51 years old and aboard a Camel named Azell, at least by day, with eight members of Hazel Keyes Arabian Dance Class. Alright, we are belly dancers - having the time of our lives in the Sinai Desert. We have a support team that includes Giles the Oud player, Mohammed the drummer, and as many  male accomplices as could be persuaded to attend on us. Six, if my memory serves me right. Spouses and lovers of the dancers - men  who might be seen at every camp adorning the high places as if laying claim to all they surveyed. This may well  be what men need to do, I say, tentatively. We women were more interested in finding discreet places to pee. 

 

There are stories aplenty to be told: the horrendous  journey from Cairo to Sharm-el-Sheik in a minibus, being offered sex at the ghastly hotel there and quitting the scene at speed with my integrity intact, learning to ride and stay astride a camel ... Days of stark beauty nights under blazing stars ... 

 

And the dancingBetter demonstrated than described, but not here, not now, I don't have my coin belt and veil with me ... At sunrise, before breakfast,  the dancers, and accompaniment, would head off to a suitably stunning view above a patch of sand, lay down our mats, and practice whatever we were to perform after supper that evening back at the camp,which, by the way,  resembled Abraham's and was erected daily by members of Faranjela's clan. 

 

Fourth day in, Chris, our guide explained, as we scrambled down into Powder Canyon, and the sand underfoot WAS just like talcum powder - that this was part of the route the Israelites had taken out of Egypt into the Promised Land. 

 

To my utter amazement, none of the members of our party had any idea of what he was talking about, and Chris, unprepared for the level of interest, couldn't fill them in.

 

'Oh! I explained, You're talking about the Exodus!' And, encouraged to do so, I told the tale.' I can't believe you don't know this! I said, genuinely puzzled. "Why would we, we're from Stroud!" Was. Colena's response. (Colena who set fire to herself trying to smoke something she's picked in a very well-watered  plantation we found, and hastily left, in the middle of nowhere. We let her put herself out) 

 

For the rest of the holiday I was called upon every evening to tell a story. Fortunately, we arrived back at base camp during the Shipwreck of St Paul and I wasn't called upon to interpret the Book Of Revelation!

Monday, 20 October 2014

#MicroblogMondays:Ten Thousand Joys

Life, The Buddha taught is ten thousand joys and ten thousand sorrows.  Today, I am living with one of each. The wonderful celebration of my granddaughter's First Holy Communion and the confirmation of serious illness in someone close to my family. 

This is what life is, and many platititudes spring to mind in an attempt to ward off the blow that bad news deals to us. Tonight I am holding both events in my heart and remembering the wisdom of another great spiritual teacher: to weep with those who are weeping, and rejoice with those who are rejoicing. Doesn't seem like much, but sometimes  it's all we can do. 

Move towards those who are hurting, just be with them, when nothing can be said, just be. 

Monday, 13 October 2014

#MicroblogMondays: Windy Day

As the hedgerows were being tossed about, I paid attention to the colours: the pale yellows of the field maple and the vivid scarlet of the dogwood. Soon everrything will be bare and brown. But today the trees and bushes were gaudy and defuant, clinging to their finery for all they were worth.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

The Pink House

I have a special affinity for words that begin with "q" . "Quodlibet": light, frothy and insubstantial, usually, though  not always, of music. (It's of this blog, for starters.) Quidnunc: Gossip. Quotidian: Of the day. Routine. The purpose  of this blog is both to entertain myself - and anyone who drops by -   and to record for my family what it was like to be me. 

Here's the thing. We don't write letters or consign our thoughts longhand in spiral-bound journals anymore, or at least I don't,  and if my grandchildren are ever interested in what made me tick, they'd never know, and for reasons entirely to do with conceit, I want them to. Goodness knows how long I'll keep this nonsense up, but I've persevered for far longer than I anticipated, so the chances are I shall meander on for a while .

My daughter recently recorded her day on her blog, and I thought, "What an excellent idea" So I am about to do the same. I shall call it a "Wordshot" because a) I like ascribing new meanings to old words and q) it  sounds sexier than 'diary entry.' It will be a regular feature, unless I forget. So here goes:

WordShot Sunday 12th October 2014

8:00am Alarm

I lreally enjoy  those signs that say, "Warning This Door Is Alarmed", don't you? I love the thought of doors with feelings. I think there may have been a precedent with the lift in 'The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy' but I don't recall how that one felt, and am too idle to check it out. Anyway, I want to go up to the door and say, "I'm so sorry you're experiencing negative emotions associated with the anticipation of attack. Is there any thing I can do to make you feel better?" I don't of course, that would be silly. But I do carry stickers around with me that read, "This door is feeling a little under the weather." Keep your eyes peeled, you might spot one.

I time things to the minute. My friend Chris is picking me up today: at 8:45. So I'm in the bath, 8:40 and there's a knock at the door. Bugger. Chris later reports to Margareta, who was the other half of the lift to church, that the towel didn't cover all it should, but I think she was exaggerating for dramatic effect. "I will be ready at 8:45 Chris," I say, and to her amazement, I am.

Church is always uplifting. I have given up on the politics, and indeed, almost, on God, but nevertheless, this is my weekly dose of the numinous, which I think we should all have in our lives, and church is the least trouble (for me, anyway) and the cheapest source. I love doing the flowers, and singing the hymns. Father Tom from The Mission Field, an Irish ex-barman, gave the appeal on behalf of The Columbians, who are the sort of missionaries who build schools and tell people God loves them. I approve to the extent of slipping Fr Tom a fiver.

I enjoy time with Abigail who has to have a minder still, being only three. " I want to dance! "She shouts (Abs always shouts, it's her thing,) so her father plays another verse of the last hymn and she throws herself around with great enthusiasm, to the delight of those of us who haven't been able to do so for decades. 

10:30 

Chris and I have a long chat in the car. We exclaim at the awful shade of pink my house has been painted by a well-meaning but possibly colourblind workman. "He was aiming for terracota" I say by way of an explanation. "Here's irony," I say, about to make reference to my work with street people, "There's a good chance I'm going to be homeless in the next few months!" I was being overly-dramatic , because it was my turn:  Ray and I have three homes we could land on if necessary. ( Seriously, kids!) We'd never have a problem getting another tenancy either, but this cottage has been my home for eighteen years now, and throwing away the stuff we'd have to grt rid of in order to move, would be a wrench. A remarkable thing happens. Chris immediately launches into the bare bones of a plan to buy a house for us to rent! I am amazed and deeply touched. 

11:00 - 1300

Cooking. Ray's been away a lot this week couriering ( if that's a word) for Skibbly, our son-in-law Darren's film production company. He has landed his dream job, travelling around Europe collecting the master-tapes for UEFA matches. Admittedly, he doesn't get ro see to much of Stockholm or Helsinki, but he does get to see the footie. The point of this aside, is to explain why all the vegetables have to be converted into dishes today, before they go off, Ray not having been around to eat them! Which reminds me, Oh My God, the mushroom casserole is still going in the slow- cooker! Back in a minute.

Phew! Ray turned it off before going to bed. It looks OK but smells like a fen. 

Afternoon Nap. An essential part of a sexagenarian regime.

15:00

The wanderer returns with tales of a 1-1draw. I learn what the Fins call themselves, and what the Greeks call them too. No translation, fortunately, especially of the latter

Dinner. Chicken roasted in the clay oven (fabulous!) and plates piled high with assorted vegetables. 

1700: Till Later

Playing solitaire on this iPad, counting my calories on MyFitnessPal, going on Edex to find out my score for Assignment Two for "The Art Of Poetry" Course  - 11/12 YES!!! 

I had to compare and contrast Emily Dickinson's " Because I could not stop for death.. " with another poem. I spent DAYS trying to find a second poem, then, in desperation, used one of my own. This is very naughty, but because I could do it without getting caught, I did. Well, I say, in an attempt  at a justification for my behaviour, there is no rule that says I COULDN'T. 

20:00 Bed. Body clock still scewed by early- morning wake-up calls for European flights. 

22:00 Wide awake. Dr Who in the bath (Bless you, ipad). Thinks: What can I do now, given that I'm not sleepy?

Blog. Goodnight. Pink House Follows. 









Monday, 6 October 2014

#MicroblogMondays: The Meaning of Vulnerable

I found this idea on my daughter's blog, and thought it a great one: to blog up to eight sentences on a Monday, just to keep going. Well that's one (and two) sorted.

I had a long chat with Gordon today at the Salvation Army Lunch for the homeless and vulnerable people on the streets of Gloucester. We talked about God and Brian - not that either of us have a very conventional view of the deity, just a feeling - Brian is our friend, who has been bullied out of the B&B he and Gordon shared, and I can't get hold of him to find out if he's OK. The word, 'vulnerable' suddenly takes on a whole new meaning. I hope by next Monday to have tracked him down. I'm about ready to bring him home.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Scouring The Universe

God within you wants to know Herself in you.

Sometimes whilst scourning the Universe looking for an answer to the unanswerable question,  "What Is the meaning of life? " I hear something that opens a window, and all sorts of things make sense. I'm not talking about TRUTH mind, as in something fixed, and eternal, no, just a glimpse of a something that makes sense for now. Tomorrow? Who knows? Tomorrow holds the promise of taking care of itself, which might necessarily mean bringing a different truth. There are, as you know as you get older, very few absolutes. 

There's the preamble. Here's the Amble:

I have just finished listening to a Dharma Talk (and I WILL write up my visit to Darlene's neighbours, the Buddhist Temple, soon, I promise... ) The  teacher today quoted my opening gambit, which bears repeating: God within you, wants to know Himself in you.

When I was in Sunday School way back in 1955, Miss Fleet ( Thin, old, bun, bicycle, lovely... ) told me that God is everywhere. A five year old just nods. Very little is known about the ever-widening world, everything makes complete and wonderful sense, and I just accepted it.  Of course I had no idea who God is, and that's perfectly OK, because I've hung around Her skirts for nearly sixty years now, and I still don't. I have learned that this is just fine with God, and also, to be a bit wary of people who tell me they do. 

At Baptism, I was taught,  God comes and lives in us. Don't know what for, exactly, though I have always hazarded a guess that  S/he popped in with the general aim of making me a better person, and good luck to  Him/Her: Frankly, I could use the help. However, I am struggling a bit to make sense of this, because if that were the reason, S/he doesn't aopear to be all that great at it. "God, "I might say, with real conviction, "You are pants at making us good." 

I am, as I have said before, a reluctant Theist. I believe in a Great Something Other, but have no idea what the GSO is. So, hearing that this pre-existing Entity IS indeed everywhere, but maybe not quite as I expected, is, well,  Quite Interesting. Getting to kmow Herself in me , eh? As if I were, as you are, and everything is, an expression of Her (Lord! Give English a gender-free pronoun!, PLEASE!) and He experiences who She is through every expression of Himself, which is the entire cosmos, of which I am grateful to be a teeny-weeny part.

As this is really too much for me to take in, I wrote a poem.

I invited God to tea. For If
(And I say IF) we are to become
Lovers
We really ought to get to know one another better
First.

It was a great success.

Though, unused to juggling a cup and a plate on 
His lap, God, 
Was a little awkward. Just at first - 
Shy, even.
But the cake went down well.
And for the rest?
Well:
He left me with a smile and a promise
Of great times ahead - 

And an invitation to tea,
For you.


Saturday, 27 September 2014

The Magic Faraway Tree

Enid Blyton was pretty much all there was when I was a nipper. It was, in fact, a 'Noddy' Book that taught me to read when I was three years old. I wish I knew how, but it was so far away in time, and I so young... . Our Enid led a very alternative lifestyle, impressivily raunchy for a respected children's author, which was so excellently portrayed by Helen Bohham-Carter in an eponymous TV series a few years back. But that's another story, for another day.

A long-time favourite of mine was, 'The Magic Faraway Tree'. It wasn't that well-written, or exciting: thankfully children's authors today have well-rounded characters and intriguing plots. Take it from me, 'The Magic Faraway Tree' has neither. It does, however, have a wonderful plot device. Periodically, there would appear amidst the cloud-strewn branches at the top of the tree, a completely new and exotic world. 'Topsey-Turveylamd' for example where you were expected to walk around on your head. Fantastic.

"What?" You may be asking, "Brings Topsey-Turveyland to mind?" I am about to tell you, so keep reading. There is, at the bar at the top of this page, a button to press labelled, 'Next Blog'. Occasionally! I spend a happy few minutes scolling through Blogland to get a taste of what's out there. I am perpetually astonished, until I hit an unrelentingly, say,  Portuguese, section,  which leaves me mystified and calls a halt to my surfing. 

At every fresh press, a new world opens, a new life revealed. 

I like to think that some of my far-flung readership hits upon this blog by accident, and then hangs around a while. You're welcome. Leave me a message and I'll come and visit you! 

What always pulls me up short, are the abandoned blogs. I see photos of new-borns who are now in kindergarten (or High School!) and I get interested in individuals who were blogcasting back in 2003, but have now  vanished without trace. I feel a little cheated. I am thankful when someone says, "I'm off.Goodbye and thanks for all the hits." The rest,  leave me a little saddened. Did Rollo die? Did Little Wumpkins and Soppy Sally  get divorced? We'll never know, and the voyeur in me feets cheated. 

I guess every blog has a sell-by date, and, inevitably, this one will end one day. But not today! Here are some photos to prove the point. I am on holiday in Washington State, where every trip out has been rather like visiting a new land at the top of The Faraway Tree. See for yourself:
























Thursday, 18 September 2014

Extracting Meaning Is Like Pulling Teeth

No, it's not. I have told you before, somewhere, possibly on Twitter, that NOTHING is like pulling teeth, and I know this, having recently lost a wisdom tooth, and with it, no doubt a little wisdom. The HUGE needle ... No, it's too painful to recall, although, paradoxically, virtually painLESS these days. 

Whilst sitting here in Redmond pondering what'll happen to the Union Flag when we lose the blue bits, and how  UKIP might respond when, no longer holding the WHOLE island, we have to become 'Lesser Britain', I have been contemplating The Science of Happiness and the Meaning Of Life. Over a cup of tea. Darlene gets in British tea, which as eny fule no, is the sweepings off the floor in the Tea Room, but there you are, it came with cards when I was six, and I love it. 

Have I come to any conclusions? Well, yes. Life has no meaning, but that's never going to work, so we have to invent one. This is a glorious purpose and I am spending a lot of time doing it. 

I am spending almost as much time marvelling at the meanings my fellow inhabitants of this precious blue dot ascribe to their amazing  existance. I'm not going into any great detail because I am in a good mood today, and have no wish to offend, but really, if you're engaging in something that doesn't bring you SOME sort of satisfaction, you really ought to stop it. Or if you're hurting yourself, or someone else, you oght to stop that too. 

I have given serious thought to becoming a Bhuddist, but there are some serious obstacles. 'Steak' and 'not being able to sit still' being two that spring immediately to mind, unfortunately, as I can't see that either reflect well on my spirituality. But there you are, what you read is what you get. 

I am going to pass you on to Tim Minchin now, because he is funny and young, and deserves to be heard: I love him. ( Like a son, Ray. :) ) 

This isn't a live link, but .. . Go on, paste it! It's worth the effort: 


www.youtube.com/watch?v=yoEezZD71sc 

Sunday, 14 September 2014

How To Write A Poem

Gotcha! This blogpost is not about how to write a poem, because I don't know how. Poems just happen. This one, for example, isn't written yet . It's sitting in an ante-room, egging me on, "Come on!" It's saying, "You can do this!" 

It's just an image at the moment of a door. It's closed, it has the word, "KNOCK" deeply etched into it's surface, and it is surrounded on every side by a beautiful day. I was struck by this, when I first saw it, because you can walk all the way round the door and still be where you are. No walls, no ceilings, just a door in it's frame,  standing there, waiting. On the top of a hill. Say, Robinswood Hill. 

Now you can see what a cheat I am. As a poet I shouldn't have used the turgid and lengthy convention of prose to show you the door. You may assume that I did  because a description of the door matters, but not to the poem. Here goes:

OK God
Not sure about this.
This is seriously weird. I know
You know me, and the temptation to 
KNOCK!!! 
Is going to be irresistable. 

But first, I want to make something clear.
I am naked. 
BUT
I am not ashamed. 

I notice the serpent's keeping his distance:
"Don't mess with me mate,
I've got  your  number." 

No, God, Not You!

I know nothing  of YOU
If it's not love and all those things
Lovely things.

Here goes ... 








Saturday, 13 September 2014

The Science Of Happiness

I am a phenomenally happy person. I knew this before I enrolled on this EdX course from Berkely. I guess I wanted to know WHY, as that's the way I am.

50% Genetics! My smiling and unflappable father springs immediately to mind. Thanks, Dad! 
10% Circumstances. Yup. I am comfortably off, and I am content.
40% Social Connection. I can do that! Though being an introvert, I have to work on it. The upside is, I don't need a LOT of people around me to MAKE  it work. 

What I'm really about here, is finding something to do with the ungodly hours I acquire, compliments of jetlag. It's 0630 here in the beautiful State of Washington, and I have been awake since four-fifteen. 

I completed Week One of the EdX course, took the quiz, which I did OK on, and wrote up my Three Good Things Happiness Exercise, which was to record in detail just that. Breakfast with Darlene and Carol, walking the dogs in Idylwood Park on the shore of Lake Sammamish, and the sense of achivement at getting my homework in on time, covered it for yesterday. I don't know what today will bring, but whatever it does,  I suspect I shall look upon all I have made, iand declare it GOOD. 

The Ice Cream Maker

Seven years ago, I thought, I MUST HAVE AN ICE-CREAM MAKER! I scoured the shop-sites for the best deal, and bought a shiny new Kenwood. I admired it, read the directions, invested in the cream and etc., and fired it off. Twice. 

It now sits at the back of a cupboard as a permanent reminder that the pleasure of acquisition is an extraordinarily fleeting one, and that Ben and Jerry offer much easier alternatives, frequently at half the price.  

I write this as a lesson to you on the futility of seeking pleasure in things, and an illustratiin as to why "Circumstances" - in this case having enough free money to spend on non-essentials- comes in at only 10%. 

Far more effective happy- generators are, gratitude, Random Acts of Kindness, the company of good friends, and the support of family. To my friends and family I have two things to say: (apart from soppy things, like, "I love you")

1. Don't  buy me any more stuff.
2. Want an ice-cream maker? 




Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Traveller's Tale


I am just returned from Poland! I have one Polish reader, to whom I write:

Pozdrowienia! mieszkasz w pięknym kraju.

I will attach some photographs, to prove the point. 

I am not good with languages, although I travel a lot, and am ashamed of myself. I confess I have largely given up on anything but the most basic attempt. I manage by smiling a lot, pointing and saying, 'Please'. Forgive me Poland, but I couldn't even manage 'please'. The trick is, I have decided, to learn only one word. Then you are in no danger of making a mistake. My brain, on underdrive, decided that, 'tak' (yes) was 'thank you' . Could have been worse I suppose. 

One thing that travel has taught me is, that there's no need to be shy. The Polish people were patient, and kind, and I had no worries about heading off to the supermarket alone to shop for little things for my grandchildren. There was this delightful 'OH!!! ' moment when I realised that I now have a BOY to buy for too. 

I had a very clever strategy for the checkout. I thought I'd listen very carefully to the shopper in front of me, and repeat what she said on being handed change. This could have worked. I am determined to give it another go. But I did come a little unstuck when I quickly become aware that what was going forward was a discussion about giving the right money. I surmised this by observing my fellow shopper, a little disgruntled, returning  to her purse and fishing about amongst the shrapnel to pull out a few coins whilst changing one denomination of zyloty for another. I knew I was in trouble. To make matters worse, there was no polite exchange of pleasantries to conclude the transaction, so I was stuck with, 'Tak'.

Well, yes, I was subjected to the same procedure. So I smiled my most winning smile, adopted Received Pronounciation and said,

"i'm terribly sorry, but I'm English, you'll have to write that down." Whatever good I thought writing it down in Polish would have done, didn't occur to me at the time, but nevertheless, the cashier gave in without a fight. "Doesn't matter." She muttered, taking my 100z note, to which I replied, 'Tak'.











Wednesday, 3 September 2014

The Contemplative Mind

I am probably the least qualified to contemplate the contemplative: I plash about in the shallows with a grudging acknowledgement that I need to get a lot more serious about it  to make a real difference to my life. So I say, but I look back at that sentence and begin to laugh, because the striving to do better, get more, reach a goal - even that of becoming a saint - really isn't what it's all about. No, not at all. Nevertheless, I made an important point, I don't know a lot. So you won't find any great wisdom here, just chatter. 

I am thinking about non-dual thinking. A gem of the contemplative, and a key to unlocking imaginary prisons as well as taking down some serious barriers. I have been exposed to this teaching for about five years, coming in at the time I needed it most.( Long story, never mind. )

I once held very firmly to some ideas. I was staunchly left-wing. I was a particular brand of Evangelical Christian, I had strict views on how to do this, and accomplish that. I made a habit of making other people's causes my own. I jumped onto bandwagons (providing they were heading in the 'right' direction.)  I was, all-unknowing, schooled by my upbringing, to react in a certain way to certain stimuli. I knew who the bad guys were. My thinking mind was set to automatic , and my responses were of the knee-jerk variety. 

I am no longer a staunch Evangelical Christian. So quoting St Paul here is going to seem a little counter-intuitive, but I tell you, if you sift St Paul, and don't take everything he says as gospel, there's some thunderingly good stuff in there. "Be transformed by the renewing of your mind." He writes, which is to say, find a practice that you are comfortable with ( and there are myriad to choose from) that stops you thinking the same old crap just because it's what you do. Wonderful. Then there's my signature verse, Paul's letter to the Galatians. Chapter 5 verse I: It is for freedom that Christ has set you free, so do not therefore subject yourselves once more to a yoke of slavery." 

Now leaving Christ out of it for a moment, no offence meant, but here is a great invitation to realise you CAN be free from thought patterns and behaviours that keep you miserable, and you  can also return to them if you don't stand guard over your heart and mind. 

For YEARS - and here's a prime example of pre-programmed-thinking - I didn't get the irony of evangelisation that promises 'freedom from sin and death ' and then immediately loaded the new convert down with a list of do's and don'ts longer than your arm. Some freedom.

I am letting my fingers tap away without me again. Non-dual thinking: no knee-jerks. Do you think in black and white? Well here's the thing, your brain isn't called 'grey matter' for nothing. Contemplatives don't judge or pre-judge. Everything is as it is.  the key question is never,"Is this position/person/point of view right?" Rather, "How much of this is right?" Hold the judgement. 

I haven't  put that well. Way back when Adam and Eve were living up in the garden, they were told not to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge."Right?  Well, no, they weren't. They were strongly advised not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. There's a difference. The wisdom hidden in this myth, is: stay away from the battle-lines. Don't take sides. Don't judge. Stay whole, stay balanced.

I watched a guy on You-tube today rant for ten minutes on the illegitemacy of Obama's Presidency because of the persistent myth that he has a forged birth certificate. Rant rant rant ... This person's obsession, which was beyond hatred, fuelled by  his conviction of his 'rightness' had quite obviously poisoned  his life. I left him a message:

"Your behaviour is irrational. Stop trying to be right, start trying to be happy."

There! That's it. 


  

Monday, 1 September 2014

Donegal

I find my last post very hard to follow. How can I just turn to the every-day musings iof a reluctant God-botherer after that? 

I have been thinkng deeply about what motivates the perpertrators of the kind of atrocities that have always been part of the worst of human conflict. There is no nation that has engaged in  warfare and kept it hands clean, before or since the Geneva convention, so this is not going to be a rant against 'the other side'. Not a about a state of war, then, but a state of mind. 

I can only approach this by reporting on what I see in the one individual I know who has been there and done it. 'Donegal' is not his real name. He is a sick and broken man on the streets of Gloucester who was once an activist in the IRA. He was radical, fanatically committed to his cause, and is still convinced he was in the right, and I'n not going to say, that he wasn't. Britain has nothing to be proud of in its treatment of Ireland and the Irish, and equally fervent 'warriors' on 'the other side'  did terrible things too. Like I said, taking sides isn't my point. 

My point is, once the testesterone fuelled blood-lust dies down, other human instincts, those of compassion, loving-kindness and empathy, which have been over-ridden and surpressed, begin to re-emerge. Allowing them, or even further surpressing them, takes it toll, or it does on Donegal. He never sleeps unless he is drugged because every night, every time he tries to close his eyes, he sees the people he tortured and killed. It is hard, very hard not to feel compassion for this man who is haunted moment   by moment by the evil he perpetuated thirty years ago, for a cause he believed in. I thought I wouldn't wish this kind of suffering on anyone, until I saw the photograph of that little girl. 

There is going to,be no saccharine-sweet ending to this piece. I hope with all my heart that who ever did THAT spends his old-age afraid to sleep because of it. And I wish him an old-age to suffer it. 

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Street Walking

Dennis, Alex and I took to the streets yeaterday with our trade-mark trolley of give-aways, and passed the time it takes to walk from the Mission to the Shelter for the Homeless, engaged in earnest conversation. Dennis is a bit disillusioned. I think if there was an OFSTED for Churches, and I'd quite like to start one, (GODSTED?)) he feels his would be in Special Measures. 

I pause for thought. We are very fortunate at GCM (Gloucester City Mission) because when Dennis and I joined, the hard work had been done, Missioners are accepted and respected on the streets, and we have a fun time being nice to people.  In the four years I've been dispensing loving-kindness in the shape of a sausage roll, I have never been insulted, assaulted, or treated in any way other than kindly. I am very grateful to the street-people for being so generous with their time and forbearance. I often wonder what they really think of us! 

Dennis thinks his church is too complacent. He was particularly wound up by the apparent lack of concern for the poor by the bankers in his midst. I am surprised. I had stereotyped Dennis' church as being low-brow evangelical and necessarily short on bankers: goes to show how misleading prejudice can be. 

"Dennis," I say, having come over all preachy, "Why don't you give the banker the same opportunity to open himself to you as you do Bill Jones?" (Bill is the  poster-tramp of the Mission, and proud of it.) Dennis looks at me in awe, and I am overcome with smugness. I am, you may spot this, taking him to Martin Buper's insight that, "All real  living is meeting." You can't know anything about anyone unless you make the effort to share your vulnerability with them.  Or just listen to them. Really. 

"You should be the pastor of a church. "Dennis says, and I stare at him in disbelief: several disqualifications immediately springing to mind. One of the best things about being a Catholic is that I'm NEVER going to be burdened with THAT. 

However, I did get to do some pastoring. The aforementioned Bill Jones was waiting for is in the porch outside the shelter. 

Bill greets me with enthusiasm. He doesn't so much flirt with me, as insist that we get married. "Over my husband's dead body,  Bill," I laugh, and he does too. It's our ritual, so don't get reading anything into it. 

"I'm barred," he says by way of explaining why he's outside the shelter, not  in it. He usually is. He's also usually drunk, which is more often than not, why he's barred. Bill is not a quiet drunk. 

He's been ejected from his room in a hostel for, allegedly, killing one of the other residents. I ask him about this, and he says, evasively, "You don't want to know." He's wrong, I DO want to know, but I'm not about to press him. 

"Where are you living now Bill?" 

"Here," he replies, pointing to the ground beneath his feet. Hey-ho Bill. Have a sausage roll. 

He then engages me with a brilliant stare and begins to gabble. Well, this is new. So I reply in tongues, make the sign of the cross on his head and say a blessing.

"I liked it when you did that. Do it again!" So I do. 

At this point. his social worker arrives essaying yet another attempt to get him to see sense on the housing issue. I hear him tell her he wants to go to Scotland. I get the feeling that she wants him to go to Scotland too, and really, I wouldn't blame her. 

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Running A Bath

This is another one of those posts that begins with itchy  fingers and mind ablaze, but with no clear sense of direction. 

Garrison Keiller set me off. What with being all tied up with family delights: weddings, and the arrival of young Sam, I had a few weeks of the 'Writer's Almanac' podcast to catch up with. There we went, Garrison and I, weaving through time and space, taking in events significant to the date,  with a poem to cap it all. Better than the news, because there isn't any news, and this is a good thing, as what news there is, is all so gloomy these days. Reflection on past news (a much better descriptor than 'history' don't you think?) inspires my thoughts for the day, and here they are:

"It was on this day in 1940 that Winston Churchill declaimed in the House of Commons, 'Never in the history of human conflict, have so many owed so much, to so few .... ' " Winston, Garrison tells me, endlessly rehearsed his speeches in the bath. Suddenly, there's a connection. I would, I think, live in the bath if the water never cooled down. 

"What have we done?" The journal entry of the pilot who dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima on August 6th 1945. Indeed. 

The first television picture was a straight line. And it WASN'T transmitted by who I thought it was, and E Annie Proux was born in Conneticut. I would have gone to the gallows swearing she was Canadian. 

Philip Larkin, a superb poet who wrote, "Deprivation is to me as the daffodils were to Wordsworth." I liked that. But he wasn't from Hull at all, he was born in Coventry. 

Random stuff. Makes me think. How much other stuff that I believe to be true, really isn't, and does it matter? 

I shall run a bath and think about it. 



Monday, 18 August 2014

Nobody Special

I have been attending to your soul for you, as I know many of you are too busy to do so for yourself. It's a great work.

Once, shortly before being deselected from a Church Parochial Council - a real achievement as you Anglicans will know, because the challenge is usually enticing someone ONTO the PCC, not throwing them OFF -I was asked, "Who do you think you are?" Well, back then, I was young and arrogant, and knew everything, and thought I was SOMEBODY. I wouldn't have said that, of course, I would have said something humble, and clever, and not quite a put- down. I wasn't a nice person. Not saying I am now, mind, but I might allow, 'nicer'. 

So the years have rolled on, and I observe my younger self engaging in all kinds of worthy deeds, none of which amount to a hill of beans now. Interesting. None of it mattered. All that posturing and striving, and making something of myself. All pointless. 

You might think this thought makes me sad. Well it doesn't. It has me laughing like a drain. A real good, heartfelt, unladylike spluttering roar of a laugh:  you should hear it! 

I heard it said, not so long ago, "You can't give away your own enlightenment." I was much struck by this thought. You can't. My wisdom is not yours, and may just leave you puzzled. But I reckon you can mix a whole pudding of metaphors by switching the light on and off until the penny drops. 

So forty years after someone in a temper threw the question at me like a missile, I am ready to answer it. I'm NOBODY SPECIAL. 

That's the only way anything I write can hold any meaning. I have found a role in my almost-but-not-quite religous state of mind, and it's to quietly invite people who might be interested to begin the interior journey. 

My laughter comes from that place. I'm nobody special because I know who I really am.  Amazing. Utterly fantastic. A conscious being in a largely unconscious Universe. Capable of great acts of forgiveness, fantastic acts of kindness, and splendid works of compassion. We all are. You are.

I invite you to discover your own depths. Or wait, like me, until they find you. 








Friday, 15 August 2014

Having A Life

It begins with noticing that the floor needs cleaning and finding, for the very first time, that to bend down with a dustpan and brush, is really going to hurt. I stop to consider this  novelty as if analysing it is of greater importance that feeling it, and I decide that it is. 

I have a high pain threshold. I am capable of observing discomfort as an interesting phenomenum, wondering... ?  It's not going to overtake me, or stop me, but it is here to make me think. I am alive. Yes, and the sensations I have are pressing and real: not entirely pleasant, admittedly, but a reminder and a remembering, to have a life is a gift, or so it has always been to me. A strange reaction perhaps, and one that always makes my inside surface, and my outside smile. So, I may not be  able to bend much for a while, but I am resourceful, and I will learn to sit, or lie down to do the new things that hurt, and take on a different perspective. 

I sat old-age down and gave him a good talking to. "You and I are are going to be together for quite some time, so we're going to have to learn to get along!" Can't swear to it, but I think I hear laughter. Perhaps it's yours! 

Friday, 8 August 2014

Random Act of Kindness

Did I say I was giving up vanity? Well, I wasn't meaning for EVER, naturally. My vanity isn't just skin deep, it's been around for as long as I can remember, and takes on many forms. Like, for example, checking this blogs stats at regular intervals. 

Cut me some slack - I have aspirations to be a writer, and one needs to know that one is being read! 

I am gratified by the response, and appreciative of my audience, and would thank you all profusely, if that wasn't somehow ... Weird? Ah! But look! I lay claim to weirdness in my profile, and come to think of it, immodesty too ... So ...

I learned today through a forensic analysis of my stats, that someone googling Richard Rohr, had stumbled on one of my posts, 'Spacious Soul' and read it - or anyway OPENED it, which counts. 

At the end of my plug for RR's book, 'Immortal Diamond' I'd added a non-sequetor, a postscript to my regular grumbles about my inability to get a bed for Bob. Bob died of an overdose, I wrote, sleeping on a child's bed, all alone, in July, 2013, to be found days later in not a very good condition. 

I read this post with shock. Although I still meet, and chat with, Bob's brother, Steve, who also has Huntington's disease, I had put Bob completely out of my mind. This is what we do, I tell myself, this is how we cope. 

Something moved in me though, something changed. When Brian needed his driving license updated,  
I put my hand in my pocket and I shelled out the £25, and now have the  satisfaction of seeing Brian in full-time employment as a result. I wasn't thinking about Bob, or his bed, but I was thinking of the months of endless hassle trying the roundabout way of do-gooding, and took a short-cut. 

So I pan-handle money from nice middle-class people like me, usually in return for fixing  their emails 
or installing a piece of software and saying, "I don't need the money, but if you want ro make a donation for one of the poor sods I meet on the streets, I'll pass it on. " People are generous, and someone down the line gets a bit of help. 

"Random Acts of Kindness" it's called on my Resilience Programme, and boy, does it feel good! So don't turn your nose up at me for trying to make out I'm Mother Teresa, try a Random Act of Kindness, and if it doesn't come back and bite you in the bum ( which is always a risk) see how good it makes YOU feel!