Tuesday 19 February 2013

Spring to soon! Sprung!

I would write about Lent, but I'm not quite there yet. Something about it being half term makes Lent seem unreal - a desert in the holidays? I have never traveled that far.

This morning I thought it was spring. I woke with the dawn sunlight and bounced out of bed ready for activity. Then I looked at the clock - it was 6.45. Figuring no one else would want to be up yet I drank some apple juice, ate a banana and began to make plans.....

I would take my race bike out for a spin, the first of the year. I could see the sun breaking through the mist, and imagined that the hills of the Cotswolds would be magical. I could drop in on my parents and visiting family, hang out for a while doing some crochet, and then whizz back through the hills during a glorious sunset. It would be a long day - 50 miles on the bicycle - but nothing a taste of spring could not bring me too.

I dressed in my bicycle adventure gear, packed my panniers with a change of clothes and my crochet, went outside and uncovered my race bike. It was in much need of attention. A winter in pyjamas had left it stiff, with flat tires and cobwebs. I set to work. By the time I was ready to go it was nearing 10am. I whizzed a mile along the main road before I realised. It was FREEZING.

This was no day to be adventuring on a bicycle! TURN BACK!

Turning around I came to terms with the fact that the task I had set before myself was not going to be completed. It was too much of a challenge. I do not like to come to terms with such realisations.

On reaching home I made a new plan. I put on my running shoes and set off towards Port Meadow. The floods had receded enough to make my normal running route accessible. It was beautiful. Ice had formed on the blades of grass, and in the undulating lowland where the water collected. As the sun struggled to reach each corner of the land it melted and glistened. I ran along cheerily, and thought to myself, 'I should run more often'. I love being outdoors. Running time is 'me' time; it is prayer time, thinking time, God time. I never get to it though. I am always too busy or too tired, or it is too dark. Quite obviously it is much easier for me to make time for running than to make time for 50 mile adventure cycles. 

Today spring sprung. Today there is time. Today doing a little something is possible. Nothing too much, no 50 mile dashes. Just time to run and think and be. Just the time to see the world waiting, the spring springing. It begins. 

Rhubarb Pie with Cream and Ice Cream

This is what we had for dessert on Sunday. It was delicious. And, it was perfect for the time of year. My Ma makes it, so I am not sure there is a formal recipe.

3-4 sticks of rhubarb
sugar to taste
sweet pastry

cream and ice cream to serve

Grease a good sized pie plate with butter and pre heat the oven to 180C. 

Thinly slice the rhubarb and add it with a knob of butter to a pan to soften. Add sugar to taste. Once softened, cool. You could add a handshake of sultanas.

Roll the sweet pastry to line the pie plate, and roll a good sized lid. Fill the pastry with the filling, and top. Pinch the lid to the bottom casing carefully. Pierce the lid to allow the air out. Glaze and place in oven for 20 - 25 minutes until cooked. Serve warm with cream and ice cream.

Tuesday 12 February 2013

Lenten Poems

This is a re-post. When I first found these poems I was readjusting to life in the 'city' of Oxford. I thought the place too busy and fast for my nature, and I longed to be back where I belong, among the woods and the trees, with the animals, the birds and the insects. I found life moved too fast.

Now, I am working in Slough, and commute everyday down one of the busiest motorways in the UK. I cannot say this gives me pleasure. But, working in the school I do, and teaching the children I teach energises me. I love my job. In the course of the day I move in a whirlwind of activity, and only rest in the calm of the evening, or the luxury of a 'no alarm' Saturday.

Of course, I wish I lived closer to school. I wish I lived in a country cottage with a few cats and dogs, chickens, a bird table, and perhaps a pig in the garden. I don't though. So for the moment, I remember. I remember what it was to walk so slowly I noticed the seasons. I remember and I wait. I wait for each weekend to look, I wait for each sign in the trees, each glimpse of change from the window, each battling sign of life I see through the impassive concrete. I watch, and I thank God when I see it.  

"In my parents garden the birds are feeding, the snowdrops are out, the sun is shining, but the trees are still bare, lagging behind in the depths of winter. This can only mean one thing: Lent is upon us. But today, I am going back to the city for the first time in a few months, and although Oxford is full of parks and meadows in which to spy the seasons, there is also always, for me anyway, a sense of detachment there. It is harder to spot the subtle signs of change amongst cold stone buildings.

Lenten Signs

Here in the city
where impassive pavements
light no signals for seasons,
fingers of woodland
point to the river

Mottled ivy
wipes off winter dust,
burns greener: a thorn tree
is beginning to sweat
white tears

Gnarled japonica
bursts into globules of blood,
beading leafless bones;
sunshots dazzle
through crossed boughs

of park lopped trees
and tearing nails of briars.
Robins extemporise
red warnings
of outrageous spring
Joyce Weldom-Searle
20th Century


Lent is a tree without blossom, without leaf,
Barer than blackthorn in its winter sleep,
All unadorned. Unlike Christmas which decrees
The setting up, the dressing up of trees,
Lent is a taking down, a stripping bare,
A starkness after all has been withdrawn
Of surplus and superfluous,
leaving no hiding place, only an emptiness
Between black branches, a most precious space
before the leaf, before the time of flowers;
Lest we should only see the leaf, the flower,
Lest we should miss the stars.

Jean M. Watt 20th Century"

Monday 11 February 2013

Books for Lent

Everyone should have a book for Lent. It is a way of making space for God, for self and for reflection. The Dominican brethren have published their list for this year, and a fine compilation it is too. Seeing it made me think of the different types of volumes I might like to read this year. I record them here, for posterity (I cannot read them all in 40 days), to share (maybe you might like them) and as a shared love with friends of the books that we treasure.

The monks of Tibhirine: Faith, Love and Terror in Algeria - The story of a brave group of Trappist monks grappling with the challenge of living the Gospel in a mixed community of Muslims and Christians. The monks set a powerful example of the brotherhood of humanity, whilst political forces spread religious division and terror. Forgive this book for being written post- 9/11, it's narrative pre-dates and moves beyond the tripping points of contemporary religious-political dialogue. The story of these seven Trappist monks inspired the film "Of Gods and Men'. As always, the book is better.

The Intimate Merton: Thomas Merton's Life from his Journals - Every entry to Thomas Merton's diary is a view into the heart of what it means to be human. He hides nothing: forbidden love, agape, love of God, love of God's creation, a desire to be with someone, a desire to be alone. Thomas Merton is honest, refreshing and beautiful. For this, I love him.

Mother Teresa: Come be my light - I have not read this properly yet. I have owned it for years, but have consistently sneaked out of reading it in full. The snippets I have read tell me that Mother Teresa takes no prisoners in describing the religious life. God is with her, but she cannot see Him, He is present, but she cannot feel it. As if abandoned, she carries on, in faith. If this is all it purports to be, it is the story of faith when hope is lost, and courage where only weakness remains.

The Duty of Delight: The Diaries of Dorothy Day - An unsung heroine deserving recognition this one. Dorothy Day achieved countless victories for those society likes to ignore, and she paid dearly for the privilege. This is the story of a woman who loved. She loved without concern for the consequences. She loved before she was married. She loved the child born to her. She loved the homeless on the street, the alcoholics, the unemployed, the mentally ill, the dangerous and the unloveable. She loved them, and she welcomed them into her home - founding the Christian Worker Movement. For her determination and her bravery she deserves to be remembered.

There, I could go on, but two men and two women seems an adequate selection of heroes, heroines and saints to see us through 40 days in the desert. Lord knows, what trials and tribulations came to their lives lasted longer than that. I love to read. And, I love to read the letters, papers and intimate thoughts of those who have grappled with the most difficult challenges of life. Why are we here? How do we love our neighbour? Where is God in suffering? Does God speak? None of these books offer easy answers, but they are honest reflections from intelligent, honest people. For that I value their wisdom, and am fascinated by what they have to say. These people are the human side of religiosity, and they teach that, for us, the human side is the only side.

Tuesday 5 February 2013

A tending heart

 Sometimes, when I am teaching, a student will be so shy of speaking out in class I'll have to lean forward and strain to hear their voice. Experience tells me that it is often these students that need to be heard. Their thoughts often comprise valuable, well thought out, reasoned ideas.

There's an elderly couple in my church. I think they are both hard of hearing. They strain to hear each other too. Reminiscing on a lifetime spent together they lean their heads together as if whispering, looking deeply into each others' faces. Then they almost shout to each other, holding their hands to their ears to focus the sound. It seems clear that the most important thing for both of them is to hear the voice of the one they love. These days I know quite a bit about their marriage and their fondest memories. I love them.

I wait patiently to hear from those I love. I long to hear the thoughts of my friends and family. My heart tends towards them. It waits to hear what they have to say. This is all the more important when there has been a misunderstanding. Or when there is important news to learn. Or just when it has been a long time.

I say all of this because I have been reading about an unpopular word: obedience. Sometimes, in usage it sounds as though people associate obedience with megalomania. As if it signifies a relationship between someone who barks orders, and another who jumps into line: think obedience school for dogs, army discipline, power hungry authoritarian leaders, fear, suppression, repression. If this is what it does mean, it is indeed an ugly word. However, I do not think obedience is an ugly word. 

Of all the qualities I value in others, and long to cultivate in myself, a willingness to listen is paramount. I long to be the sort of teacher of whom pupils might say, 'she listens'. Of course, I hope I am always there to listen to my friends. I aspire to have patience to listen to the politics of those who govern. I wish for the humility to listen out for, accept, understand and, when appropriate, act upon advice from others. Looking for a name for this quality of active 'listening', the theological word that emerges is 'obedience'. 

In the Hebrew Old Testament, shama, means, quite literally, 'hear'. Hence, we have the translation of Deuteronomy 6:4: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord you God is one....'. In the New Testament the Greek word hupakouo is also rendered 'to listen'. Here it often associated with 'seeing' a situation 'as it really is' rather than a physical sense of hearing. A person can 'listen' to themselves, their reason, their thoughts. Jesus is 'obedient' unto death - He listens to the voice of God within himself. We are called to listen to (obey) the law 'written in our hearts' (Heb. 8:10; 10:16). In Latin oboedire means, quite literally, to hear or listen towards (ob = towards; oedire = to hear). 

Obedience then, is the grace of a 'tending heart', a heart that leans into another, strains to hear their voice above the din of noise and distraction all around; obedience has that sense of leaning inwards to hear with clarity, waiting for a complete explanation. Obedience, in this sense, is rooted in love and care; it is a process, a relationship; it takes time, patience and practise. To play with language, obedience is to 'attend' (give attention to) and 'tend' (care with love).  It is, in every sense, a virtue.

Why this post today? Why now? Well, I have been re-reading some of my scribbles from my undergraduate degree, and amongst those I found the makings of this post. Looking back it is clear to see that re-evaluating my thoughts on 'obedience' profoundly changed my attitude to all those most difficult things in faith, the Bible, Church Teaching, controversial debate, interpersonal relationships, etc . I'll not bore you with all the details of that now, but I thought the scribbled notes worth a look.