I don't remember too much about High School. I survived it relatively unscathed, though I have to say the casual, not-even-cruel neglect of we 'working class' girls ensures that I will be a socialist until my dying day, but I have something to be profoundly thankful for. Spiritual awakening.
Nothing at all to do with Religious Education Class, or the daily act of worship, which were rigorously adhered to in State Schools in the 1960's: no, this potted God made little impression on me. Three times a year, at the beginning of each term the truly dreadful headteacher, Hilda Mortimer, would read aloud from the Bible. “Though I may speak with the tongues of men and of angels and have not charity then I am a sounding gong or a clanging cymbal … ” which, I have to say, sums Mort up. BOING .. BOING ..
I can't remember when Paul's letter to the pretty-screwed -up community in Corinth finally began to make an impression, maybe not even at the time, but one day I got it. I just got it. Love is all that matters, and it's all that remains when everything else has faded away.
Today I have roses and a dinner with wine, for romance is amazing and good and fun, but to my mind, it's not 'true' love.
You won't know this until you've lived a bit. The teenage me that snuck out at lunch time to sneak a few kisses with William, still smiles, but this sexagenarian knows better. True love is what is present when two aging people can look back on a life of giving out to one another, to their children, to their community, and say, “It wasn't always easy, but it was worth it!”
The very best talk I have ever heard on that profoundly beautiful segment on love in the letter of St Paul to the Corinthians can be found here:
(Warning! It's not sentimental!)
Contemplative prayer is about the best tonic I know for a weary soul. Or any kind of spiritual practice that takes you away from yourself for a bit and puts you in touch with a deeper reality will do it. I learned long ago that there are many, many ways to find meaning. ” Anything that works” is my motto for transcendence.
I have offended you. I'm sorry, but if you're willing to sit with it for a while, the stuff you disagree with, it's far more likely to teach you something than the stuff you don't. If you open yourself to it.
On contemplative prayer. It's my turn to lead at the next meeting of the group I belong to that meets monthly at Llansor Mill away over the border in South Wales. It's a bit scary, because at least two of the group on any given day are theologians, which I am definitely am not. So, it's my turn to lead, and we're doing St Teresa of Avila, who lived a long time ago and set about reforming a church that had become worldly and corrupt.
I discovered I couldn't get my head round her, or her teaching, and was beginning to get a bit desperate, when I had an epiphany! It was my heart that needed to get round her, so I stopped trying to be clever, and wrote poems instead.
Here's my reflection for Day Seven of the collection of her sayings, “Let Nothing Disturb You”:
Mantra: “Do not be bashful with God”
Summary: Would you refuse a gift if the queen offered it to you?
Reflection on the text: I had a conversation with God many years ago. I was trying to sort out some difficulty believing that God need not concern himself with it. I don't remember much of the detail, but that I was holding on to some misdemeanour, believing that it was unforgivable.
“Was not my Son's death price enough to pay?”
I realised then that it was not humility that led me to refuse God's gift of forgiveness, but the very worse kind of pride.
Ask with confidence. Don't be shy.
Is a powerful, enlightened soul,
She streams into my life with light
And joy of being. She makes me
Be better than I am,
And she is four years old.
She is as she is, because she never
Needed to fear me
Or please me
She needed, only, to know this:
I love her.
And so it is with God,
I sweep into his presence as if he belonged to me.
He taught me with his love.
Not to be shy.
Night Prayer: May I approach you every day Lord, with confidence and joy.
I went to an AGM on Thursday night. It was a real sacrifice let me tell you, as I am trying to give meetings up as a reward to myself for leading a good life.
It was the annual reckoning to its supporters of Gloucester City Mission and it was the usual mix of reports and chocolate biscuits. There are now 20 rough sleepers in Gloucester, and many many, more people living in poverty helped by GCM , which means, a little, helped by people like me. 'Grannies for God' I call us, because most of us are: not because we're especially holy, but because we're free during the day to go out on the streets.
On the same point, and by way of conclusion, I found a piece I wrote two years ago for a friend describing a visit to The Day Centre for the homeless before it closed last January:
I talked to Abs, an Indian guy in his twenties, a drinker, sent by his parents to India for six years, where he was abused. And more and more… But what impressed me about him was his gentleness, his politeness, and the way he was seeking a way out. Maureen, who is a baptist and a bit more overt than me, took over, and Abs seemed to be earnestly engaged. Funny, I just realised that he has the the name I use for Abigail…
Then there was Dave – indeterminate age, be-stubbled (undesigner), missing teeth, happy, well under the influence… He's just out of prison, has got back with his partner, hence the happy.
'Do you want to see my tattoo?'
Well, what girl could refuse?
He'd seen the text on the wall of the prison chapel, it was, 'God alone is my judge' and it was tattooed down his left calf. ('Now THAT'S irony, Dave,' I didn't say.)
I tried to think of what I would have tattooed, and where, and drew a blank on both counts.
I tell you I came away with a great deal of admiration for prison workers. 'Janice' had really looked after him I could tell, keeping him company, getting him a radio, encouraging him and – not judging him.
Dave wants to be baptised. So, I called over Dennis, who is great with men under the influence, having been one himself once, and he talked about the implications…
There's a great little church in the Docks nearby, the old 'Mariner's' church that had served the sailors and bargees when the docks was more than a Mall on water. The vicar is enthusiastic, and the church is alive to the needs of men like Dave.
Which ALL churches will need to become when the Night Shelter closes and the Vaughn Centre loses its funding next year. We have to get good at doing the real stuff. As I often say to people of faith, the Christ won't judge us on doctrine, theology, or the magnificence of our buildings (not in a GOOD way anyway) but on what we did for the widows, orphans and drunks.
What a witness it would be if the church, in all it's manifestations, spent as much time and energy on the latter as the former! By any criteria, I would say we have failed miserably in what should have been our prime purpose. It's no wonder thinking people don't want to know.
There! It's out! I am bordering on disillusionment. And yet, and yet, I'm not ready to jack it all in. I really don't know why!
The AGM was a reminder that whilst some things get worse, others get better. The street friends mentioned above have moved on, as many do, hopefully to better things, and GCM is now in a position to rent a permanent home. We will share premises with the Homeless Healthcare Team. Christians Against Poverty, and the Food Bank. A Poverty 'One-Stop Shop' which I wish to God we didn't need. At least there will be food and shelter for people who need it this Christmas.
My friend and I Carol spent a wonderful week in Sorrento. Here are some of the ways over-sixties holiday:
We sat when everyone queued
Drank a bit
Walked in the rain
Ate Ice Cream
Shopped (now and then)
Drove the Amalfi Coast
(No – didn't do that!)
And the ruins of Pompeii
Just for starters.
As my regulars know, I get a lot of my news and views from American Public Radiio. A few months ago, I listened in on an interview with the Ronald MacDonald of British politics, and Mayor of London, Boris Johnson. Naturally proud of the city he governs, what do you think was foremost in his boast-book? “London is home to 37 billionaires!” This isn't one of them.
So Jeremy Corbyn has been elected leader of the Labour Party by a landslide. All the doom-ranting and nay-saying was to no avai:if anything it probably made the electorate MORE inclined to vote for him, not less.
I am delighted, for Jeremy and for our nation, of course I am, but I am a little bit sorry for myself … You see, it means I'll have to get off Twitter and out of bed and actually DO something.
I made a start, I joined the Labour Party during Jeremy's victory speech (Yes, in bed, via Twitter …) now the real work begins.
Jeremy Corbyn isn't going to attract big money for glitzy ads in prominent places, he's going to have to rely on foot-soldiers going out and about sharing the vision of a fairer, kinder society. This feels better to me, doesn't it to you?
This man has the support of poets. You know what, that means a whole lot more than being in the pocket of the Murdoch Empire, or being at the beck and call of minor celebrities …
A lot of people are smiling right now, a few, I suspect, in spite of themselves. Something new, and slightly dangerous is happening, and I LOVE it!
I have been following the mucky history of 'fracking' for some time on The Diane Rehm Show. (Regular readers know I get a lot of my foresight from American Public Radio, because whatever horrors are visited on our cousins in the USA, inevitably crosses the Atlantic … ) The promise that fracking was 'safe' because the carcinogens added to the high pressure water jets that break the shale rocks to release the gas, would not pollute drinking water, turned out to be undeliverable. “Ah yes!” The oil industry reassures us, “Faulty kit, not dangerous practice!” Well, really, if the oil giants couldn't get something as important as public health right straight away, why trust them with a second bite of the cherry?
And it's happening. Here it comes. Our lovely government that promised local autonomy is now saying, “Except when you don't allow fracking!” So just wait for it … Some of our most beautiful landscapes will be despoiled, and the lives of many of our citizens disrupted by the roads that have to be laid to accommodate the heavy plant that has to go in and out, by those very goings in and out, and inevitably, someone, somewhere will get a dose of something nasty and everyone in government will be shocked and dismayed, like they didn't see THAT one coming. …
The best science says we can't take out of the ground any more of the greenhouse-gas emitting hydrocarbons without destroying the biosphere. The legacy we leave to our descendants, if we carry on like this, if we allow fracking, is a dying planet. But hey! Politicians only think in bursts of five years, and crossing their fingers, they hope the mess they create now, will either go away, or get blamed on someone else … And now, who knows? With luck, there might not be anyone left to blame them anyway!
My hope lies in a massive awakening of consciousness in the sleeping populace. I thought that very unlikely until hundreds of thousands of disenfranchised Brits joined the Labour Party to vote for Jeremy Corbyn. Who is a both red AND green. You should hear the establishment squeal! They didn't see THAT one coming either.
To destroy the planet for short-term gain is immoral. Corbyn offers a real, alternative to the empowered self-interest that is the current system. He might not be able to stop the juggernaut, but he will stand in its way. Let's face it, someone has to. I, for one, will stand with him.
I am smitten by the number of hits to the story of my grandmother, Ellen Caroline Pitt, who died of complications in childbirth that would not have killed her and her child had she been rich. (She would have had adequate pre-natal care and been saved by a C-section.) The memories of those days are fading now, which isn’t a good thing all round, I think, as I listen to the stories of the men and women sent away by the state to starve when their benefits are stopped.
Well, yes, you stupid people, you SHOULD have gone to that interview, and for not doing so, you deserve to go hungry!
I am exaggerating, aren’t I? Nobody really says that? Maybe not, but it’s what happens. I do not like what we are becoming, and that’s a fact.
This is altogether too serious, so for a little light relief, I took the ‘Would You Make An Entrepreneur ‘ test on the BBC website.
Despite the fact that I signed up for working all the hours that God sends, I failed the test. Even though I lied, and answered ‘Endlessly Thinking Up Ways To,Make Money’ when I really should have owned up to ‘Having Fun’ as being my modus operandi as a teenager.
I thought it was a wind-up, but no, really, this test is promoted by GOV-UK.
I SERIOUSLY don’t like what we are becoming.
I could have opened up with, “Since Becoming Older”, but that's just boring. Who would read that? So.Since Becoming Enlightened, I have been become a whole lot lazier. In fact I would encourage Enlightenment as a good enough reason to wander aimlessly in the wild admiring trees, or to sit still for long periods of time with a beautific look upon one's face.” Wow!” I am thinking, which is probably not what the observers of my beatific countenance are thinking I'm thinking, “This is GREAT. All this doing next to nothing and getting admired for it! What a scam!”
You do know I'm joking. Right? Please engage 'Tongue In Cheek' mode.
The downside to Enlightenment is that once I start opening my mouth and engaging with people, they quickly realise I'm not very Enlightened at all. I get frustrated, angry, petty, and all the rest, just like everyone else. But Hey! Enlightenment has an answer to this too – SILENCE! I am now longer known to be frivolous and empty-headed ( not that I was either MUCH: I'm just making a point here) but WISE.
So here you have it. Sit still a lot, walk aimlessly about a bit, and keep your mouth shut. The secret of a mystical and fulfilling life, admired by all.
I am the real thing behind these eyes
These bright blue eyes
Widening in delight at this stellar world
Made new right now, and now, and now.
I will not name you, or place you in a box,
I will watch you slip and slide through every moment
Making no sense, just falling apart,
Weak with laughter.
NOTHING lasts. Everything comes
And goes, like weather, or tides.
What is there to do, but
Realise my debt to life and
Trade sorrow for joy?