Sunday, 29 January 2012

Just because you could

Hi God.

I made us late for Katy's swimming lesson this morning by stopping to take photographs of the frost on top of the car. She was lucky that I did it with my phone camera rather than going back in the house for the proper camera, actually, as the sun was about to melt it and I thought it was so beautiful that I'd better steal the moment straight away as it would be just drops of water by the time we got back. It was very beautiful. 

How come ice makes such wonderful patterns?  You did that just because you could, didn't you? Just for fun. You thought,

'When it gets really cold and all those people are walking around in multiple jumpers and having to scrape their windscreens, I'll give them a little treat if only they look closely. It'll be something amazing. It won't last long; when the sun comes it'll melt and if they've missed it, they've missed it, but if they catch it, they'll be transfixed. And then they'll look at the sparkles and the patterns and the clear, cold sky and the sunshine and they'll give me glory.'

Was that it?

The glory is yours. There are so many amazing things to see around me when I actually open my eyes to see. It's funny that there are times when I feel very close to you and I see you all around and little things that happen teach me lessons about my life with you and songs remind me of you and things go round in my mind that focus me on you. My life seems filled with you and I'm absorbed in you. Those are the times when I have lots of ideas and I'm reading lots and I'm engaging at church and talking about you with other people who help me. I like those times.

Other times I find that I feel a million miles away from you and then I struggle to see you anywhere. Flowers are just flowers and I don't think to go outside to catch the sunset. I just see tiresome ice that needs scraping from my windscreen before I can go anywhere and my head isn't full of you it's full of the mundane and the depressing and all the things that worry me.

So how does it happen? How come some days it all comes together and other days it falls apart? I'm quite sure that it's me; my frame of mind or whether I've spent any time with you or something like that. The sort of thing I fill my mind with must definitely have an impact on my outlook on life. But then sometimes out of the blue comes a day full of blessings when you just seem to have reached down and touched the everyday and made them outstandingly beautiful.

Next this afternoon we went for a walk (yes, alright, and a coffee) in the beautiful Derbyshire countryside and there was a sprinkling of snow on the tops - enough for Elizabeth to comment that it looked as if you had emptied icing sugar all over everything. We crunched through snow, broke the ice on puddles and squelched through mud. We saw a wonderful low golden sun shining off a lake. A tiny yellow flower was peeping through the snow - incongruous in the frozen ground. How did that little flower come to be there? Did it survive from last year or is it early for this year? Either way it seemed like a little miracle to me. On the way home the sky became orangier and orangier and we stopped to watch the sun go down. It was spectacular; a marvellously extravagant sunset.

We had a beautiful afternoon out and about  - it was a lovely time; an afternoon full of treats. It's a beautiful part of the world that we live in. We are blessed indeed. And tomorrow, if things don't go so well, I am still here in the same part of the world, I am still surrounded by beauty, and I am still blessed beyond measure. I need to remember that.

Thankyou, Father God. For all the blessings that we take for granted as well as the ones we see. For planting perception in us that enables us to see you in the beauty around us. For making it all so intricate and exciting and beautiful and awe-inspiring just because you could.

Help me to show my girls the wonder of you. Help me to keep my eyes open to notice and not be so wrapped up in myself to see.

Help me to give you the glory that is yours because you are the Creator God who brought all this about. You took care with each petal, each refracting sunbeam, each snowflake, each ephemeral little swirl of frost on top of the car. You are Beauty itself and everything that you make just has to be beautiful.

Does that mean me, too, then?  Hmm. That's a thought for another day.

Well, for now, the children are in bed, I have a glass of wine, I'm waiting for the delivery of a Chicken Tikka Biryani and maybe a couple of poppadoms and my day will be complete.

Life is good.


Saturday, 28 January 2012

I don't know how I know you, but I do

Morning, God.

I've been thinking about this origins of the universe thing. Evolution. Intelligent Design and all that. How and who and what and when and why. 

I know that opening line sounds as if I have some great insight to run by you but the truth is that yes, I've given it some thought and no, I still don't have a clue. 

What I did realise is that I really do believe. I really do have faith. I'm constantly beating myself up about not having enough, not being able to pray with enough expectancy and certainty to somehow convince you to make it happen, but when it comes to deciding what I think about how it all came to be, I don't have any problem in believing that it was you. 

Who else could it be?

It's always been other people who have the Big Faith. I've always looked around me in church and seen people who seem more alive than I do. More alive to you. More in tune with the Spirit. More committed in prayer and generally more switched on in a spiritual sense. For ages I've wanted to be one of those people. I've looked at myself and seen all that I don't have and, in typical me fashion, concentrated on the deficits.

But I do have faith. It's come as something of a surprise.

More than that, I realise that the faith that I do have is a gift from you. I couldn't have stumbled upon it by myself, or worked at it for long enough and with enough perseverance to get where I am; you gave it to me. I know that you have many more upgrade packages for me to install when I'm ready (and got rid of a few more bugs) - I know that there's a way to go, but I did feel a bit as if my eyes were opened the other day to recognise that I do have faith.

When challenged, I can't prove that you're there any more than anyone else can, and yet I know. How can that be?  It's hard to express. It's a feeling, a conviction, a sense, a knowledge. I know that you have answered prayers, I've seen your hand at work in my life, I've heard your voice, not in a booming or even a whispering sort of way but so clearly through other people, or the Bible, or things that I've seen or read. I've got to the point in my life that I recognise that there's loads that I don't understand but I am convinced that the only way that makes any sense is to follow you. Even when I have doubts - great looming, black-cloudy oppressive sort of doubts, I don't doubt you.  When things happen that I don't understand, or don't like; when I don't like what you're doing or I want to know answers, I might get down and wonder where you are, and I might get snippy and ask you what you think you're doing, but I don't at this stage of my life anyway, wonder if you're there at all.

I've read about the 'dark night of the soul' and all that; the places where people of great faith have found themselves lost in a place where you can't be found. I don't know about that. I know that I've had times when I've desperately wanted a hug from you, or a word, or something, anything comforting and it hasn't been forthcoming. There have been times in the past year where I haven't known if I'm getting it all wrong and I should feel something, or understand something or should be doing something that would make it all easier.

But I know after all these years of not knowing that I won't be shaken. I belong to you. There are days when you feel close and there are days when you feel far away but I know that you are there all along. There are days when I feel I can do it and there are days when I feel defeated but I know that you are there all the time. Someone reminded me the other day that you are for me, all the time. Wow.

I used to have moments where I wondered if it was all an illusion - if it was all true, or built on an exaggeration or even lies. Could so many people all be wrong? What would I do if it were all useless?  I've not had one of those moments for a while. I doubt myself, all the time, yes, but not you.

I can only speak for right now, can't I? Who knows what the future holds (but you?). I know that I am often weak and pathetic and lazy so I'd better not make too many promises; better not write cheques that I can't cash. But right now, thinking about our breathtakingly complex, beautiful, awe-inspiring planet, I see you, I know you and I praise you. Thinking about the hope that I have firmly tucked away in my heart, about the joy that I feel when I worship you, about the intensity of the love I find I can feel, I know that it's you and I love you.

People might challenge the Creationist view of the origins of the world, and I might not have an answer. People might come up with a compelling theory of something else and I might not be able to disagree. People I know get angry and confrontational and seem desperate to convince others that no sensible person can believe in you and anyone who does is a half-wit. All I have to say, when it comes down to it, is that I know, in my heart, that you are there.

It's not a touchy feely thing because I don't always feel you. It's a deeply personal thing based on experience and conviction and something else that I can't put my finger on. That's the gift bit. The bit that can't be described, can't be given away or shared simply because I would like someone else to have it. (Would be nice if I could do that). It can't be faked. It's the part that increasingly recognises your touch in my life. The part that wants to please you, to make you smile. The part that glimpses how wonderful it will be in the end to have nothing else to do but sit at your feet in the sunrise to end all sunrises and sing praises to you for eternity in a voice that never slips off key.

That's the Holy Spirit in my life.

That's how I know.

So I don't know how you made the world, but I know that you did.

I don't know how I know you, but I do. 

Thursday, 26 January 2012

I don't know how you did it (but you did)

Charles Spurgeon said this:

'In the very beginning, when this great universe lay in the mind of God, like unborn forests in the acorn-cup; long ere the echoes walked the solitudes; before the mountains were brought forth; and long ere the light flashed through the sky, God loved his chosen creatures. Before there was creatureship - when the aether was not fanned by the angel's wing; when space itself had not an existence; when there was nothing save God alone; even then, in that loneliness of Deity, and in that deep quiet and profundity, His love moved for His chosen. Their names were written on His heart, and then were they dear to His soul.'
From 'The Daily Help' Devotional

How beautiful that is. How wonderful.  Of course, only you know if it's true - the bit about the loneliness of Deity, the aether and the non-existent space and all that - only you know what is what. The rest of us just speculate and do experiments and postulate and argue. 

Boy, do we argue. 

We have theories coming out of our ears.  The Big Bang, and the Steady State, and Plasma Cosmology, and Mbrane theories. We have evolution and intelligent design and who knows what else. Sometimes someone even stand up and tells us that their theory is proven; we have the answer! - it's a fact, no need to keep on searching - and then some time later - months, years, generations, we find out that they were wrong after all. It seems to me that the only thing we ever prove is that we don't know

But do you know what? It doesn't matter. 

It doesn't matter to me, anyway. I don't know if it's because I don't have a brain for physics or mathematics or astronomy or philosophy or science in general, but I don't really mind how it all came about. It doesn't matter to me if you made the universe in six days and rested on the seventh, or if you made it happen by drawing forth slugs from a primordial soup and turning them gradually into human beings. I don't understand, I don't know and I don't mind. 

I just know that it was you. When challenged, of course, over the 'I know' assertion I don't really have an answer. Maybe I should work on one. Maybe I should just shrug and say that it's faith.

I have faith.

I believe in you. I look around me and I cannot for the life of me see another way other than 'It was you'. When I look at nature I see you. When I look at tiny babies and children and other people and the elderly I see you. When I look in the mirror (on a good day) I see you. I see you all around me. When I stop to listen I hear you. Who can look at the stars or the sunrise or the frost or the vastness of the sea or a mountain range and not see you?  I know, people do. But those people search for the origin of the universe; I don't. 

I don't need to know because whatever theory is the current favourite, we don't know. 

I don't need to know how you did it. I'm happy that you did.

I'm going to quote the wonderful Margaret Silf again. In the opening pages of her book 'The Gift of Prayer: Embracing the Sacred in the Everyday' she says:

'When we look out through a telescope into the far reaches 
of our universe,
We see a vast reality beyond ourselves,
and beyond the reaches of our minds
or even our imagination - 
yet we are part of that reality.
We belong to it.
We live and move and have our being within it.

When we gaze into a microscope, at just a single cell 
in our own body,
we also see an immensity of life and interrelatedness
beyond our wildest dreams,
a world of it's own, a minuscule microcosm of that
vast outer reality.
It lives and moves and has it's being in us.
It's a living part of who we are.'

You are in every part of us. You're in our DNA; you're in the building blocks of our very being. Your hand touched each one of us. You brought it all to life.

You loved us before it all began. My name, my name was written on your heart. It's too much for me to understand, but my heart swells with joy at the idea of it, far out of my grasp. You knew me before you made me. Before you put the world together you knew me. You knew who I was, what I would become, that I would need to be rescued, that I would hand you back my heart one day. That I would sit here with cold fingers on a January day and try to find words adequate to describe the job of creation that you brought forth just because you wanted to. 

So, as the psalm says, where can I go from your presence? You are here. There is nowhere because you are bigger than everything. You are bigger than the universe, or the universes, whatever. You are outside time. You never forget. You never change. You don't need to evolve. 

Do you look down on our confusion and our need to know and our gropings in the darkness and our assertions and squabbles and our self-conscious posturings and smile indulgently? Or do you find it offensive that so many are determined to find the thing that disproves you? Do you wonder at our short-sightedness? My Grandma used to say, 'There's none as blind as those who won't see.'  Maybe that's it.

We won't see. Like children who cover their eyes when you want to show them an unwelcome truth. Or cover their ears when you call 'It's bedtime!'

Well.  What is there to say? The scientists will carry on searching, because that's what they do. That's what they should do. I don't think it's wrong to question and to seek to know, to understand. I just challenge the assumption that science and faith are mutually exclusive. I'm no expert. It's just that my faith doesn't hinge on how it all happened, or when. It's the 'why?' that's important.

Margaret Silf says:

'Whether we look outwards or inwards, 
everything belongs.
Everything is in a relationship with everything else.
This reality is what many people would call 'God';
God who holds everything in being,
continually impelling all creation in the direction of Life.

Prayer is our response to this reality,
our expression of our deep desire to be in right relationship
with it's Source and Sustainer.
This in turn can lead us into right relationship 
with each other and with the world.'

I don't know how you did it, but you did. And because you did, I give you praise. I praise you for creation, for imagination, for each breath that I take. I do indeed want to know you. To walk with you. 

Creator God. You love me. That's the real miracle. 

' that deep quiet and profundity, His love moved for His chosen.'

 Thankyou Father, for that love. I love you too.


Tuesday, 24 January 2012

The gift of prayer

I've been reading, God.

It's a book by Margaret Silf called 'The Gift of Prayer: Embracing the Sacred in the Everyday'. It caught my eye at the Quiet Day last week and it caught my eye before that at the other Quiet Day last year, and both times I made a note of the title. I've bought it and I know from the first few pages that it's going to be wonderful. 

I know this because I've only read the first few pages and yet already I've had to put it down. Not because it's not grabbed my attention, because it has. Not because I don't follow it, because I do. It's because I've already come across a couple of ideas that need to be considered before I get any further. I don't think this beautiful book will take long to read and so I want to make the most of it. 

The author talks about prayer as a belonging, a coming to stillness, about listening and learning to live reflectively. Each of these little sections is beautifully expressed but the one that stopped me in my tracks was the little page headed up:

'Prayer is a Gift, not an Achievement'

This is what Margaret Silf has to say:

'There is one more commonly held notion
that we may need to let go.

We were told from earliest childhood 
that we would have to work to achieve our dreams.
Our so-called work ethic
is all about personal achievement.

No wonder then, that we expect prayer to work
the same way.
The harder we work at it, we think,
the better it will be.
If it doesn't seem to be 'working', it must be our fault.
We must be doing something wrong.

But suppose prayer were more like love than work?
Suppose it were something that is simply given,
and all we are asked to do is to be open to receive it,
and respond to the gifting?'

What about that?  This really speaks to me as someone who has always been an achiever - lots of exams and qualifications and measurable outcomes. It's always been easy to quantify success and failure. I've always tried hard. My writing is neat. I listened in class. I've always believed that if you try hard and keep trying then you can do it. If at first you don't succeed.... practice makes perfect (and it has to be perfect!). I want it all to be just so. I have tendencies to control freakery. 

If something goes wrong, I feel that it's usually my fault.  Just as Ms Silf says, if it doesn't work, then I must be doing something wrong. 

If I want to be good at something I have to work at it. A couple of years ago I was given a guitar for Christmas and I was so enthusiastic about it to start with. I bought a couple of 'teach yourself' books and a guitar case and a handful of picks and I even kept at it long enough to build up some callouses on the right fingers but then it got too hard and the guitar stayed in it's case for longer and longer. I can't remember now the last time it was out. I gave up. I know that I won't ever be any good at the guitar, and I know why. I don't want to work at it. 

That might be a defeatist example to choose but it's what I believe. To succeed I need to work. I've heard it said that nothing worth doing is easy. So can it be true that prayer is not like work?

I certainly make it hard work. I labour over the idea of prayer and make heavy weather of the mechanics of it. 

Where should I pray? 
How should I pray? 
Is it ok to write down all my prayers? 
Surely I should have some sort of on-my-knees-hands-tightly-clasped times of prayer (preferably with an agonised look of intense concentration) as well? 
How about the times when I 'pray' without feeling my prayer?  Without the sense of presence that I sometimes get? Without the conviction. 
What about the times that I fall asleep mid way through a prayer? 
What about the times when my prayers are just a list of complaints and requests?
What about the times when I try to be quiet and listen and then I get distracted so quickly?
What about the times when it all seems too much hard work and I give up and go and do something else?

Can it be that prayer is not like that?

A gift. 

Like love. I met my husband and we were friends before we fell in love. I didn't realise for ages that I loved him. He asked me out three times before I said yes. My love for him crept up on me. I didn't do anything; and it certainly wasn't like work. In fact, my previous boyfriend had been much harder work and it's one of the ways that I knew (eventually) that Bryan was right for me; I didn't have to try hard. I didn't have to work at being interesting or someone other than me; being with him was easy and comfortable and before I knew it I couldn't imagine wanting to be anywhere else. 

Love was a gift. A gift from him to me, or from me to him? A gift from you, certainly. A blessing. I didn't do anything. I didn't work for it. I realised one day, somewhat belatedly, that I had it. 

Prayer is like that, this book says. 

'There is nothing we can do to earn another person's love
or achieve it by hard work,
or pass an exam to obtain it,
or compel it in any other way.

We can only receive it with a joyful heart,
and respond to it with a generous life.

And so it is with prayer.

Prayer is God's gift,
and never our own achievement.'

Now, if this is true, part of my heart leaps with joy at the idea that I am freed from the pressure of trying and failing, and the other bit of my heart sinks as at least I understand the concept of passing exams. I know where I am with exams. You do the work, you pass the exam. See?

So give me this gift?

Or did you do that already?  Maybe it is alright to write down my prayers. Perhaps when I see you in a blackbird or a crocus or a shaft of sunlight perhaps that is prayer. 

I'm feeling my way here. This is why I stopped at page 18 and read it all through again. 

The author goes on:

'Everybody who ever tries to pray
is convinced that everyone else is doing it better!'

Ain't that the way, Lord?  I look around my church and everyone without exception seems to have more of a handle on it than me. I ask wise people who seem to know your mind so much better than I what their secret is and they say that they pray until they hear from you. They have a hotline to you. Or, if not, they keep trying until they get an answer to prayer. Some people seem to find it so easy. Some people seem to do so much praying. Most people seem to do it better than me.

'It isn't true, of course,
because the love of God is the ocean in which we all swim.
All we can do is become more aware
of the reality of that ocean
and let this awareness inform the way we live.'

How beautiful is that? If I become more aware of you and who you are then it will permeate my life  more and more. We are all buoyant on the waters of your love. It is a level playing field after all. You are even handed.

So, this gift, Lord. Prayer. As I read this book and write this, and read my daily devotional pieces and go on the odd quiet day, and blunder in and out of daily life and nod off during my little chats with you, help me unwrap this gift. If there is something that you want to give me, nudge me in the right direction. I don't want to miss it.

I want to swim in the ocean of your love, dive deep and discover the treasures hidden deep, deep down. I want to dive in and learn to open my eyes to see. I want to float where the tides take me. I want to experience the breadth and depth of it. 

I'm opening my hands to receive the gift of prayer so that you and me can meet on a deeper level. So that I can respond as you want me to.

Come, Holy Spirit. Teach me to pray. Let it grow like love until one day I look back and realise that my heart is full, and know that it is mine. 

You gave it to me. 

Monday, 23 January 2012

The Examen

Hello, Father God.

The other day I went on another Quiet Day. I think it might be addictive. The first time I was a bit apprehensive for reasons I couldn't quite explain (there are those who thought it was simply because I doubted my ability to shut up for a whole day but that wasn't it) but this time I have been really looking forward to it. 

I must admit that after last time, I had a sense of expectation. Last time you touched me and you taught me some things that were really significant for me and I was hoping that you'd do it again. I have spoken to wise friends about Quiet Days and retreats and the like and received very sensible advice that it doesn't matter if the only thing I 'get out of it' is a bit of peace and quiet, or even a nap, so it's a good idea not to go with any ideas of what I want. 

That's hard. I want to hear you. I want to learn to listen. I want to experience you. To feel you. All that touchy-feely stuff where I go away feeling amazed and blessed and awed. Who wouldn't like that? Maybe I'm still just a baby at heart and I want to cuddle close to my Daddy. 

So there I was with hopes and expectations. You didn't disappoint me. No, you weren't there in a vision or a glowing neon finger pointing to a signpost in my life and you didn't speak to me in a booming voice, or a still, small one, for that matter, but still you did speak. 

It didn't start out so well. I forgot my journal and I'd been planning to bring it up to date and do a bit of writing. I meant to bring another bit of writing to work on as well, and I forgot that too. As I sat in the little service at the start of the day I was a bit narked with myself because it wouldn't all be 'perfect' as I'd planned little activities and I was annoyed by my own lack of preparation in waiting to pack my bag till my lift had arrived. As you know, I don't handle this sort of loss of perfection, self criticism and thwarting of plans particularly well. It was like a dark cloud in my head for the first bit of the day even though I knew that I was being ridiculous. 

Then I started to wonder if it wasn't a good thing. I had come here be quiet. To think, to pray and simply to be. I'd planned to fill the day with activities and maybe this was my way of staying safe and keeping control. So what would I do with the day now?  Or rather, what would you do with it?

So I sat for a while. I wasn't moved to tears like last time, and I gazed at the oak tree that spoke to me last time and although it is still a beautiful oak tree, it didn't say anything else today. I gave the day to you. 

Over lunch I picked up a book to distract me from other people's crunching. (Why do they supply us with crisps on a Quiet Day? Or is it only me that notices? I can't eat crisps in a quiet room despite my love of them, sadly. Far too self conscious.)  Anyway, there I was with my parma ham, cheddar and rocket sandwich and slice of cherry genoa cake and I picked up a book called, 'Sleeping with Bread: Holding What Gives You Life' by Dennis, Sheila and Matthew Linn. 

I read the whole book. That is not an enormous feat as the book is short and there are big pictures and I had a couple of hours. It was easy to read and fascinated me from the outset. The title relates to the plight of some children orphaned in the bombing raids of the second world war who were eventually found and placed in refugee camps where they were so traumatised that they couldn't sleep at night lest they wake in the morning to find themselves lost and hungry again. Someone came up with the idea of giving them a piece of bread to hold as they went to sleep and it worked. The bread reminded them 'Today I ate, and I will eat again tomorrow.'

The authors wrote this book to explain something called 'The Examen' which is a prayerful reflection at the end of each day. What today gave me life, and what took life from me?  

Apparently St Ignatius, in his 'Spiritual Exercises' said that he expected you to speak through our deepest feelings and yearnings - what he called our 'consolations' and 'desolations'. Our 'consolations' are the parts of the day when we feel most 'connected' to the universe, and 'desolations' where we feel most disconnected. 
'Church tradition, religious authorities and the Bible are sources of divine revelation. Our life experience, as expressed through our consolations and desolations is also a source of divine revelation. The examen can help us to be open to all these sources of truth, since the examen helps us to listen to all that life is saying to us. For this reason Ignatius encouraged his Jesuit theologians at the Council of Trent to do the examen each day as a way of listening to God's truth.'
D, S, M Linn, Sleeping with Bread: Holding What Gives You Life, 1995. 56/7

I like this idea of truth. For a while now I've been keen to find my path in life from here onwards by learning how to discern your voice; whether in the world around me, or through other people, things I read, sermons, advice of other people; and now I learn that you can use the day to day things of my own life and the experiences I have to help me find my way.

There are several different ways of phrasing the same question and the idea is that you choose the one that speaks to you:

For what moment today am I most/least grateful?

When did I give/receive the most/least love today?

When did I feel most alive today? When did I feel life draining out of me?

When today did I had the greatest/least sense of belonging to myself, to others, God and the universe? 

When was I happiest/saddest?

What was the high/low point of my day?

What do you think? I must admit, this appeals to the analytical side of me. The bit of me that goes over and over things and tries to extract meaning and significance from things. So that in itself I thought I might find therapeutic. It appealed to me as a way to calm, to find peace and stop dwelling on things. To help me learn to meditate and live reflectively. Also to help me focus on positives more as I tend to see the bad things in a day more than the good. 

Some time ago I started writing down Good Things in my life in a book that I have come to know as my Happy Book - it has snippets of things that made me smile at the time - things the children said, good times, answered prayers, ideas, insights, moments that I want to remember - but I only write in it now and again when it occurs to me. The idea of a routine (another one of my buttons!) appealed. Also the idea of making it a discipline to write down the best bit of the day. To insist on locating the positive and remembering it. To make a daily practice of discerning what I am most grateful for.

The other side of things I was less sure about, but it intrigued me. Should I dwell on the negative? It seems that rather than dwell on it, over time noting the life-giving and the life-sapping components of a day will reveal a pattern, the authors said. 

I like the idea that by allowing you to show me my responses to the bits of my life, you will, over time, give me an insight into the way that I'm made, which will give me guidance of what you want for my life. 

'The Will of God is that we give and receive more love and life,' say the authors. They argue that life itself is divine revelation if only we give you a chance to reveal yourself. If I were to note over an extended period the things that lift me up in a day and the things that weigh me down, I might come to see a pattern of what you have given me a desire for, what my life is about; and what I should do less of. What I am not meant for. Where my heart really is.

I'm not really sure about all aspects of this; I still don't really know where obligation and routine and unselfishness come into this new awareness, or for that matter where the demands of daily life as a wife and mother and daughter and friend and so on tie in... but I am learning that if I wait until I understand it all, nothing will ever be started or tried. So, push on. 

It's about awareness. I want to be aware. I have been saying for a while that I want to notice. To mark. To observe and preserve, be aware. I don't want to miss a single thing that you say to me. I want to find all the clues; to act on all the cues. I want to learn to hear your voice in whatever form it might take and to see you in whichever way you want to reveal yourself. I think I'm going to have a go at The Examen.

So, I find myself thinking, what do I need to get started? The people who wrote this book say that you should do the examen with someone else so that you can reflect and share. There's only me. Never mind, I can write it down. Do I need a new notebook? A dedicated pen?  What about their suggestion that I use a candle to help me focus on you as I ask you to bring to mind my consolations and desolations? I haven't got a candle, or a candle-holder for that matter. Do I need to go shopping? Can I do this in bed at night or do I need to find a special place? If I'm in bed the examen might well go the way of my prayer time - starting out in a comfy position and never actually reaching 'Amen'.


There I go over-complicating things again. Making excuses to put something off because 'I'm not ready'. 

Here I go:

Today I felt most grateful when I got back from an errand and my daughter rushed from the sitting room into the hall when she heard the front door close behind me and threw herself at me with the cry, 'Mummy! I'm so glad you're home!' As I hugged her on my knees on the door mat I closed my eyes tight and thanked you for the moment. God, it was beautiful. I had both my arms wrapped around her little body and she had hers wrapped around me. It was wonderful. It was special. I don't ever want to forget that feeling.

Today I felt life sucked from me when her teacher told me conversationally that the same child is quiet and withdrawn in the classroom, never contributing spontaneously, never volunteering anything. This is so unlike the little girl I have at home. I worry about what's going on in her head. Why is she so quiet at school? Why does she not feel settled? Why do we still have tears sometimes? This made me feel concerned and anxious. I was uncertain of how to respond to the teacher and all churned up in my tummy. This feeling lasted quite a while and I can still feel it if I think about it now.

So. Is that right? Did I do it right? 

I'm not sure if you can make anything of these things or even if I'm getting it right, Lord. It doesn't seem as if this sort of thing could reveal a pattern in my life, just that I love my girls and I worry about them. Still, I've made a start. Notebook or no notebook, candle or lamp. 

Thankyou for bits of insight. 
Thankyou for wise people who write books and for opportunities like this Quiet Day to sit, undisturbed, and concentrate on you. 
Thankyou that when I look for you, you let yourself be found. 

Thanks for Ignatius, for my children and for my comfy bed. 

I'm off there now. Would it be wrong to say that climbing into bed is the most life-giving bit of my day, and getting up in the morning the least life-giving? 

Or maybe that's not what Ignatius had in mind.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Snowdrops and grumpiness

Morning, Lord

Today's one of those days where spring seems a long way away. 

It's a dark, dank day with wind that seems to be coming from every direction and throws cold rain in my face. I've just taken Katy to her swimming lesson and found the changing rooms noisy and echoey and claustrophobic where normally they don't bother me. Since we got home the children have been bickering and fighting and I'm digging deep for reserves of patience that I can't find. Our house is particularly wintry today.

And I don't feel very well.  

Lord - here you are. I'm dumping today in front of you because it's only eleven o'clock and I've had enough of it already. Last night I had one unsettling dream after another - about having experiments performed on me, about everyone laughing at me, about collapsing in front of a crowd of people. Getting up time seemed like the middle of the night, which is never a good thing. I'm tired and I have a headache and a sore throat and a runny nose. 

It's funny how the glass seems sometimes half full and sometimes half empty, isn't it? The other day we were marvelling how some of last years apples are still clinging onto the trees in the garden despite the gales and fierce weather we've had recently. We commented on how they glowed in the light of a low winter sun, looking like little orange lanterns in the trees. Today they just look brown and rotten and even the birds don't want them.  The trees themselves seem more gnarled and covered in lichen than they usually do. Mum told me earlier that there are two snowdrops out in the garden already and it's a sign that Spring is on it's way - but you can't see them from the kitchen window and I can't be bothered to put on a few more layers to go out and have a look. Spring seems a long way away. 

Grump grump grump. 

I've parked the children in front of the television. I know I should be playing games with them or doing a jigsaw or baking or designing a family mural for the stairwell or finding a cure for world poverty or something, but I haven't the energy. I just need five minutes. Or more. Five years, maybe. 

I've got a cup of coffee here but it went cold while I was adjudicating in the lengthy argument about the blue felt tip pen. I put it in the microwave a moment ago only to find already in there was a coffee from earlier and for some reason I burst into tears. 

Lord, you know what? There are times when I don't want to be with my children. 

There. I've said it. 

I feel very guilty that I said it and even guiltier that I think it from time to time. It's supposed to be different from that, isn't it? I'm supposed to be delighted with them twenty-four hours a day and constantly thinking up new ways to celebrate our family-ness. I don't think I'm very good at that. Sometimes it all gets to me and I want to run away and hide and not come out again. And then I feel guilty for not revelling in the undoubtedly precious gift of my girls. If I'm honest this happens quite a lot. Is there something wrong with me? 

You know that I love them. You know how much I love them. You know my strengths and weaknesses and you'll know that my current mood is down to a mixture of lack of sleep, a cold, the time of year, hormones and good old self indulgent bad mood. 

I can't do anything about the first four and I don't want to do anything about the last one. It would take too much effort to be cheerful right now. 

I don't suppose it's any co-incidence that I haven't been talking with you much for a while. I find that when I stick close to you, hanging onto you, following in the footsteps like the page following King Wenceslas, then I feel better. Safer. More secure. But maybe gradually I've dropped back until the snow covered the footprints, and then for a bit I tried to find them so I could catch up, and then I stopped trying because it got too hard and so I started off on my own. 

So I'm a bit adrift. Help me. I don't think I'm doing so well at anything today. At being a mummy, at being me. At being your child. 

I'm going to see if I can find those snowdrops. 


Brr. Cold out there. But there are indeed, just as Mum said, two little snowdrops that are just in bud. They'll flower in the next few days. A little bit of hope in this howling wind and driving rain. A little bit of beauty creeping up on us out of the mud and dead plants and fallen leaves of the season left behind. A bit of the future; a bit of promise. 

That's what I'm needing today. A bit of something positive. A little bit of peace.

I feel like a child today. I feel like crying and howling and stamping and saying, 'But what about me? What about what I want?' but I'm a grown up and I'm not allowed to any more. And I probably should have feelings like that under control by now, but they bubble up to the surface sometimes and it's all I can do to sort of squash them so that people don't know how juvenile I can be. How selfish. 

I don't want to be like that. 

Thankyou for letting me get this off my chest. I do feel a bit lighter since I had a moan. 

I'm going to hang onto those little snowdrops. I'm going to go and see them again tomorrow. I shall watch as they unfurl into that tiny intricate little bit of early Spring. I hope that the snow doesn't come and cover them up. I hope that the crocuses and daffodils aren't far behind. I hope that the wind calms down soon.

Lord, I don't know if you ever just got out of bed the wrong side but thank you that you understand the whole range of human emotions and you don't condemn us for experiencing any of them. 

Thankyou that there's always another chance. Thankyou that even when I wallow in self pity for no real good reason you always care enough to help me up and brush me down. Thankyou for forgiving me and loving me all over again. 

I'm going to go and see if the girls will make room for me on the sofa. 

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Such love

Just look at this:

Lord God, as you know, I have a love/hate relationship with Scruffy Barney.

I moan and grumble and get angry and frustrated and even resorted to throwing him at the wall in a rage on one occasion where he was eventually located after an interminable, tense and bad-tempered search that involved turning over the house and making anxious phone calls and trips to lost property departments. It seems to happen with monotonous regularity. For something that Katy loves so much, she does seem to leave him behind an awful lot.

I got him back the other day from the latest in a long line of Lost Property boxes. He was nestled on top of a selection of single mittens and woolly hats and something that looked a bit like the bottom half of a smurf. So he had company while he waited for me to bring him home. I'm sure he wasn't concerned. He's used to it.

But look.

I moan and grumble and yet just look. Look at her little face. I see this and I know that I will go to the ends of the earth for my little girl.  I love her so much I think my heart might explode and I know that I will do everything in my power to find Scruffy for her when she loses him. Even if she keeps on doing it. 

She might annoy me by not taking care and she might frustrate me by not looking for him herself and instead just sitting there empty-handed and looking woebegone, but Barney is her Special Thing and she needs her Special Thing and I will do all I can to give her what she needs because I love her so, so much. As she grows older it might not be a soft toy that she needs but it'll be something else and I will do all in my power for her. 

Is that how you feel about me?


Tuesday, 17 January 2012


I feel as if my head is full of water.

Not just any water. I'm not talking about the little trickle of water that seems to lurk somewhere deep in my ear when I've been swimming and makes me do that strange jerking motion with my head on one side. Not that sort of water. 

This water can take on a whole range of characteristics; you'd be amazed at how many manifestations of this watery feeling there can be. Well, how often do I say stupid things like that? Of course, nothing amazes you. You know my every thought before I think it. You know how confused I get. How bogged down. How impatient and frustrated. How I love metaphor. Ha. Indulge me. 


Sometimes it's like a whirlpool. Round and round I go, over the same ground. Faster and faster, going round in circles, not getting anywhere. I get sucked down, down, down. Into the middle where I spin round faster still. Sometimes it's a breathless, desperate sort of place, in my head. This is the way I feel when I'm confused and stressed, trying to find the beginning of a problem in order to work out how to unravel it. I chase my own tail and get nowhere. I can't see outwards because the water swirling is preventing me from looking anywhere but inward, and all the inward-looking just makes it all worse. 

Sometimes my head full of water is more like the sea; specifically waves crashing on rocks. The sort of rocks that cause shipwrecks. Sharp, dark, sinister looking rocks, and the waves are big and powerful. The water is turbulent, foamy, frightening. Towering over me, tsunami-like, intimidating and threatening. The deafening roar of breaking waves. The sea is grey and stormy and unpredictable. Nothing is built and things are demolished and eroded. This is not a constructive frame of mind to be in. 

Other times the water in my head is more like a drip-drip-drip onto a stone surface. It's a nagging, maddening sort of rhythm. Drip-drip-drip. The sort of thing I can't shut out. It's there all the time, just at the outer limit of my consciousness, unrelenting, distracting. Things get done, but my mind keeps wandering back to whatever the drip-drip-drip is. Slowly, over a long, long time, this drip will erode the rock onto which it falls and I have to deal with it. I can't leave it long because it drives me mad. I need to find the reason for the drip-drip-drip. I need to get something out of my head. You're good at helping me with this but I amaze myself how long it takes me to ask you. How long I put up with the monotony of the drip-drip-drip before I ask for rescue.

Occasionally I have a river in my head. A huge, vast, wide river. I can see the other side and I long to be there but I am separated from my destination by this huge expanse of water. It seems to be moving slowly, or even not at all but the currents under the surface are strong and I know that I can't swim across. Somewhere there is a bridge but I can't immediately find it. The river is beautiful, impressive but implacable. I need to find a way across but for ages I'm pacing the bank, looking across at the other side. I can imagine the view from the other side and I so want to be there but the journey across seems impossible. It's not, of course. Looking back you've shown me how to cross one or two rivers. Nothing is impossible with you.

Then the river might be a stream. A shallow, fast-flowing stream noisily bubbling over rocks and stones. It is fast-flowing and constantly changing. One idea bubbles into the next and they're bright and they twinkle and shine in the sunlight but most of them are impossible to grasp because they're swept away like a leaf on the water before they've properly taken shape. Sometimes I get so far ahead of myself I can't catch up. I'm full of ideas and possibilities and I want to gather them together and pin them down and make them stick forever but it's like putting my hand in this rushing brook to try and stop the water. I dart from one thing to another without letting anything take shape. Making my mind up too quickly. Doing things because it seemed like a good idea at the time. Not settling. Saying things without proper thought. Making snap decisions. Getting excited and not thinking things through. 

In direct contrast to this are the days when I feel that in my head is a large stagnant pond. It sits there, mostly in shade, and the water is thick and full of weed that would tangle around your legs and pull you under if you tried to swim. It's unhealthy. A breeding ground for wrongs and difficulties and mistakes and hurts. Entrenched in habits and bad ideas and old problems. Unable to get moving; nowhere to go. Bad. Nothing can breathe in this water. Nothing thrives. It's filmy and smelly and old and dark. I don't like being here. 

And then there's the torrent of water. I'm standing at the top of a waterfall watching the breathtaking quantity of water gush over the edge. It sparkles in the sun as it rushes away from me. I see things flash past, carried by the current to the brink and then they're lost forever as they plummet down and down and down. It's beautiful, majestic. Ideas and insights, revelations and images are there - sometimes I can hook one of them out before it disappears over the cliff but mostly they just pass out of reach. Spray envelops me and I know that something wonderful is happening and I am on the edge. Perhaps if I go a bit closer, but so often I lack the courage to go to the edge and peer over to see what vast and awe-inspiring beauty is over the other side. 

It rains a lot, in my head. Sometimes the water comes down as a gentle drizzle but other times it's a downpour. I have mixed feelings about the rain. I know that rain is necessary to make things grow, to make things clean; necessary for life. On the other hand I don't like being wet. I don't like how the sky goes dark and threatening and I can't see the colour that I can see in the sunlight. I don't like rain, and yet I know it's necessary. And then just occasionally after the deluge I feel wonderfully, deliciously cleansed. I feel as if I've been drenched in cool, sweet water. These are the times when I can perceive something good coming out of the storm. I look back (usually it's in hindsight, rarely can I see the sun behind the cloud when I'm standing with my hair plastered to my head and my clothes wet through and the rain coming down). I look back and I realise that you sent rain for a reason. I didn't enjoy it one bit, but I'm better for it. As you know, more often I just grumble a lot and try to get out of the rain. I don't like it much. It rains quite a lot in my head, but there are rainbows.

There have been a few times in my life when you have blessed me with another water experience; once or twice since you found me you've reached down and run me a big, hot, fragrant, delicious bath and helped me to climb in. This sort of water is pure comfort. It's the place I want to go when I'm tired and achey and cold and miserable and I don't want to be a mother and a daughter and a wife and have any responsibilities. I don't want to feel weighed down and defeated with aching joints and bits of me that hurt. I just want to be a little girl. I can remember a couple of times in my life where you understood and took pity on me in a wonderful Father like way and told me to climb in, lie down a while and just be still. Muscles aching, sliding down until the bubbles are at my chin. Feeling the warmth penetrate my coldness and cause a pleasant tingle in my fingers and toes. Feel the stress dissipate and the tension leave me. Prepare me for sleep. Safe and relaxing. A letting-go. Thankyou so, so much for this. 

Then there's the sort of water that I long for. Sometimes I actually find it, and lately I fancy that I can sometimes remember how to get there, but often it's beyond me. Actually, it's always beyond me, for this is the beautiful, tranquil, peaceful lake where you like me to come to meet you. I don't know why I don't seek it out more often but it's easy to miss a turning and find myself somewhere else. There are other places near here that are quite pretty; other picnic spots that I tend to use when I want my sandwich now and can't be bothered to defer gratification until I get to the end of the trail where you are. Other places that are nice but none as nice as this, but it's quite a walk. Takes some effort to get there. Maybe the more I come the easier it is to find. Perhaps the path isn't so long when you walk it often.

This is the sort of place where I like to sit down and look around, contemplate life. Find a spot with something to lean against and stretch out my legs in front of me and drink in the scenery, allowing it to restore me. I might have a book in my bag but I don't need anything to stimulate me as it's all here. So much to see and yet it's a restful place to be. Life-giving. Pure. Calm. Fresh. Free. A gentle breeze ripples the surface or a fish jumps, or a heron dives. It's full of delights. Something new to see each time I come.

I breathe deeply, fill my lungs with pure air. I wish that those I love could find this place because it would be wonderful to share it.  I want to linger, to reflect, to take off my shoes and socks and feel the clean, clear, cool water on my toes. There are trees and mountains reflected in the lake and the sunsets are awe-inspiring. It's vast but intimate. Impressive yet welcoming. 

When I'm here I don't want to go home. 

I think that one day I won't have to. I'll stay forever and there will always be something more to experience.

This is where I want to be. 

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Languishing in lost property

Aaaagh.  It's happened again, and on my watch, too. 

Lord, why didn't you tell me that we were leaving Scruffy Barney behind in the changing rooms after Katy's swimming lesson this morning? Why didn't you send a vast neon finger to point at him, or give me some subtle intimation that I should retrace my steps before we climbed in the car? If ever there was a moment when a touch of the supernatural might have helped, this was it, surely?

Why, when you are all-seeing and all-knowing, do you watch with interest to see what will happen instead of preventing such catastrophes from taking place in the first place? 

I am sure that you've been asked that question a time or two, and in situations very much more disastrous than the mislaying of Katy's Special Thing. It's just that (she protests) it would make my life sooo much easier if we could just stop losing the stupid stuffed purple one. I could claim back hours of my life spent searching high and low for him. Lots of phone minutes trying to discern who saw him last and if anyone handed him in. 

As bedtime approaches I find myself getting more and more apprehensive.  I was out this afternoon with my Mum and an ominous text beeped from my phone. 

'Is Scruffy in the car?'

Oh no. Of course he wasn't. I knew instantly where he was and I was the last one out of the changing rooms this morning so it was my fault. Well, of course, he belongs to Katy, and she insisted in bringing him to swimming against advice, so I could try pointing the finger at her, but I'd be wasting your time. She just looks at me with big eyes and a trembling chin and I blame myself instantly. Again.

Sigh. So Scruffy is languishing in the lost property box on the other side of town when he should be waiting on Kate's pillow, floppy and grubby and less-than-fragrant, completely taken for granted but very, very much loved. 

Poor little Katy. Will it teach her a lesson about looking after her things? Will she now hold onto Barney more tightly and remember to check she's got him?  Who am I kidding?  Do life's little disasters teach me much about taking care/paying attention/anything else? How many times do you have to remind me about the most basic of things?  How many simple things do I mess up over and over again? I suppose being four years old is much more of an excuse for not learning from one's mistakes. Being forty-one less so.

How many times have we chased Scruffy Barney about? From how many places has he been retrieved? How many times have we said to a wobbly-chinned Katy, 'It looks as if you've really lost him this time', only to discover him in the gutter/up a tree/in the supermarket/garden centre/car park/fridge? (He was lost but now is found)...

We've had tears. Big, tear-filled eyes, mournful expression and a whole-body sort of sadness that breaks your heart. Oh dear. 

So it's nearly bath time. Katy has had extra chocolate to compensate her for the shock of realising that Barney is Not Coming Home Tonight, and she's had an exciting half hour in the garden with Daddy and his telescope looking at the stars in subzero conditions. (This was apparently going well until Elizabeth borrowed a torch from Grandma and thought it would be a good idea to shine it through the other end of the telescope thus temporarily blinding Daddy and putting an end to any chance of spotting a minor constellation for a while. Rumour has it that he couldn't find his way to the back door, let alone Cassiopeia, but that's by the way.)

So we've distracted her and cajoled her and she'll be in the bath in a minute and she always loves her bath. Then it's story time and snuggle time and it'll be then that we grind to a halt and face up to the absence of Scruffy.

Pop in then, would you, Father God? Just fill the little gap that there'll be in Katy's left hand, next to her face, while she sucks the thumb on her right hand. Send your Holy Spirit, because I reckon it's just the job for him. Take away her sadness and give her your peace. Keep her company, hold her close and when she wakes in the night cuddle her back to sleep, please. 

Help me to stop feeling so guilty. 

And finally, Lord, I know where the lost property box is. It's in the foyer near the door and (ahem) Scruffy Barney's going to be a bit cold tonight. Keep him warm, will you? 

And tell him that we'll be coming for him first thing on Monday. 

Remembering to breathe

I am making myself dizzy
Up so high that the air is thin
And then so far in the depths 
It's hard to breathe.

I soar and fly and somersault
Free, inspired, creative
Full of possibilities
Full of hope.

Without warning I'm in free fall
Plummet down and down
Until I can't get much lower
And I stop.

I sit with my head in my hands
Dissatisfied and worried
Concentrating fully
On misery.

Either way I realise:
Flying or falling, 
Ecstasy or despair
I don't breathe.

It's only when I'm still that I know
That I need to breathe
I need to inhale

I need to fill myself with you
To feel cool air rush in
Touch every cell in me

Allow you to fill and refill me
Every breath I need to start again
Inhaling deeply

I need the life you give me
If only I take a breath
For air to reach
Every fibre of me.

Sometimes I forget to take a breath
I am so absorbed in being me
That I don't breathe at all
Until it hurts.

Sometimes arrogance prevails
I think that I can do this
I think that I don't need to breathe
That I'm enough.

Without your life the best I am
Lasts only as long as a breath
Held tight and short
Before I gasp

I can't do anything holding my breath
I can't see or hear or feel
Fear takes over

I am powerless without you
I can't manage on my own
I need your breath 
I'm waiting.

Listening for the whisper of your Spirit
To breathe life into me
So I can mean something
Reason to be.

So I am here and I am expectant
Focused on you
I am still and I know
You are God.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Looking up


What a wonderful time I've had, Father God.

I've just had a marvellous little break from normal life. Actually, it was more like a trip through time back to our old pre-children life when Bryan and I lived in London and used to do dynamic things now and again, like Go Out. Sometimes we used to wander round the streets in the capital city after work watching the evening come to life (in hindsight, not often enough) and occasionally we'd have dinner and/or go to the theatre or cinema and get the Tube back home late at night. Sigh. Of course, such behaviour is not possible with small children who require frequent snack and toilet stops, entertainment and a clearly visible child-friendly objective. They're not up for aimless wandering. Or restaurants where you don't collect your food on a tray. Or anywhere that you have to sit still or keep the noise down, come to that. No, wandering, restaurants and theatres are something for another day several years hence I think.  
St Paul's

Until then, little escapes like this keep me going.  Met Bryan for a bit of lunch at Borough Market and then as he went back to work for the afternoon I went exploring.  It's years since I've been in St Paul's Cathedral. I don't remember much about it, to be honest. This time I queued up and was a little aghast at the size of the entry fee but after a moment's pecuniary indecision I paid up, looked happy and went in.

The High Altar
My goodness, it's worth every penny. Apparently it costs an arm and a leg to maintain this place and when you've had a wander round this breathtakingly beautiful cathedral you can see why. What a monument to your splendour, Lord. Every way you turn there are mosaics, spectacular frescos, paintings, murals, sculptures, woodcarvings and statues. Rich fabrics, gold leaf, jewel-like colours and chandeliers. Famous names everywhere; history comes alive among the dead and commemorated. William Blake, John Donne, Nelson, Wellington, Grinling Gibbons, Millais, Holman Hunt. 

I took the tour, I listened intently on my headphones, I wandered and sat and listened and gawped and marvelled. I climbed the two hundred odd steps to the Whispering Gallery and no wonder my knees went wobbly at the top as I gripped the handrail with white knuckles. I learned so much and feasted on the beauty and extravagance and skill and workmanship and the sheer vision of Christopher Wren. (I always want to call him Christopher Robin, Lord, why is that?) 
The Dome from
The Whispering Gallery

Grandeur at every turn. What man can achieve with enough determination and boldness and inspiration. And money. I think you like St Paul's, Lord. I felt that you were there. You were in the vast spaces and the tiny details. Apparently when a team of experts cleaned the outside of the cathedral, high up among the towers and curlicues they discovered carvings and stonework that would never be visible to the eye normally, hidden behind other structures, yet created with the same intricacy and attention to detail that marks the more obvious adornments of the building. Someone knew that you see even the hidden parts and took care not to cut corners. I like that the craftsmen made it perfect, even in the bits that no-one sees. 

I spent the whole afternoon wandering in St Paul's, and came to the conclusion that the opportunity to explore this extravagant house of yours was worth every penny of the sizeable entrance fee. I could have spent another couple of hours there and that's even before I got to the gift shop. 

I liked being there on my own as well. Not only because I could wander as I pleased, immersed in my headphones guides, but because it left me alone with my thoughts. You were in my mind. You opened my eyes. 

The Light of the
I have for a long time loved the painting, 'The Light of the World' by William Holman Hunt. I used to have  a postcard on the wall by my bed when I was at University. I love the colours, the warmth, the composition, the patience on Jesus' face as he knocks on the door, waiting for it to opened from the inside. I love the idea that you will wait until we realise that the door is there and you are just beyond it, waiting for an invitation. I didn't realise that it hung in St Paul's. There was my painting. I finally got to see it. It's as magnificent as I thought it was. 

What a wonderful way to spend an afternoon. As I left the cathedral the organist was limbering up for Evensong and the glorious sound filled the air. Dusk was falling and outside was that wonderful pinkish half-light that makes spectacular architecture like this look even more outstanding. I walked away from St Paul's down to the river and kept turning to see it's looming beauty. The lights of the city were starting to twinkle and the Thames reflected the bridges, streetlamps, floodlights and light shows. I had music on my headphones and I walked to the middle of the bridge and stopped to take it in. Beautiful. I miss London. 

There's a song that I listen to often that has the lines in it:

'As sure as gold is precious and that honey's sweet
So you love this city and you love these streets...'

(Robin Mark, Revival)

Lord, sometimes when I'm out in the Derbyshire countryside revelling in the stillness and tranquility of nature I can see you. I see you in the beauty of the natural world, and yet yesterday I stood on that bridge in the middle of the busiest city in our country with barely anything green visible to the naked eye and yet I could see you there too. In the pink of the sunset on a cloudy January day behind the distinctive dome of a cathedral built to honour your name. In the beauty of the lights of a busy city reflected in the water of a big, fast flowing river. In the juxtaposition of history and newness as I looked at the Tower of London across the river from the newest unfinished statement building that they call 'The Shard'. In the glass and chrome and metal of the city and the sandstone and marble of the elegant bridges and arches. In the shouts and laughter coming from a crowd dining on a boat on the water and in the eyes of the tourists who, like me, stopped to drink in the atmosphere.

Such energy. Such a mixture of all life. Hope and despair, joy and pain, triumph and disappointment, celebration and defeat. All human life is here, someone once said. All emotion. I found myself looking at people, as I find that I do when I'm on my own in a busy place. I like the feeling of solitude in a crowd, sometimes. I like having my headphones on so that I can cut myself off even further and live in my head. I  look at people hurrying, lingering, frowning, thinking and I wonder who they are and what is in their heads. You know. No city is too big for you; you don't leave anyone out.

It made me think of the Holman Hunt. How many of these busy, rushing people slow and hear you knocking? How many of us put down the camera for a moment to see things as they are?

Underneath the painting
At Borough Market there's a tunnel where the railway passes above on it's way to the bridge over the river and underneath there are little shops and market stalls. One of the tunnels has a huge net of tiny star-like electronic lights on the whole of the underside of it so that when you walk along the pavement underneath there are rippling lights spreading in patterns. From the centre, then random twinkling, then a wave of sparkles. I found myself stopping to look up. Looking up at the lights, up at the skyline, up at the sunset, up at the majestic dome and ornate ceilings of St Paul's Cathedral. No matter how high I climbed today the beauty was still above me. I guess it always will be.

What a wonderful, beautiful, joy-filled day I've had. Thankyou so, so much.

Lord, Bryan and I had a lovely meal and saw a wonderful show. We just enjoyed being together like we used to in the old days before the family came along and enjoyment starts taking a different form. Maybe being just the two of us is being a little self-indulgent, but I don't think so. It was great. There was something a little melancholic about it, perhaps - remembering days that are long past and impossible to get back - but maybe that's just me, inevitably finding the downside. It had everything. Theatre, food, wine, the best company, space, peace, beauty, inspiration, music, sleep - even time to relax and read my book uninterrupted on the train. What a treat. I loved it. I had a great time.

Thankyou for coming with me.

Can we do it again please, soon? I quite fancy going to see Westminster Abbey next time and I'm quite sure I'll find you there as well. Mind you, I know you don't just hang out in the churches, Father God. I could go to the Art Gallery or the Zoo or the Planetarium or a packed city square and there you'd be as well.

You were gazing at the skyline with me last night and showing me the glory of the city, too. You showed me where to look.

You really do send blessings in surprising ways.


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