Thursday, 31 March 2011

I feel sad now... This should've been my 100th post but because I missed yesterday and the day before its only my 98th... Still my century is only delayed! It'll come round at the weekend!

So much has happened in the last couple of days it will need a while to process it all. But there is one thing that has gnawed at my mind since early Tuesday morning and that was the sight of Wembley stadium.

I see the new Olympic park twice a week as I go to a fro between London and Norwich - its been incredible to watch it all rise from the rather unattractive brown field site into a splendid new development that will attract the world to its doors. Shape and design is so important and yet so personal. I like the new Olympic stadium but I have to say that Wembley with its graceful arch is somehow more pleasing to me.

The shape and angle with which the arch traverses the stadium is just so elegant.

It is truly iconic!

I think many of the Chinese buildings erected in Beijing for the 2008 Olympics were equally immediately recognisable - who will forget the ice cube or the bird's nest?

In a couple of decades will folk instantly identify the stadium at Stratford... I'm not so sure. That's not meant as a criticism because I think its a remarkable building but its not the most beautiful structure in the park.

Being an icon comes with all sorts of pressures and burdens. You have to maintain that status. You have to somehow remain contemporary. You have to retain your appeal - whether you're a structure of a style icon...

Of course the photo is of an altogether different sort of icon!!

Monday, 28 March 2011

I feel slightly perturbed...

I'm going to be at a conference for the next two days and I have no idea whether I'll be able to access a computer to do this... It will feel strange! I've tried to capture a thought for so many days now and even though I started to write one on Christmas Eve I polished the final version on Christmas Day and posted it amid the festivities!

So it could be a real trial and then three days worth of ponderings!!

Today has had a real sense of being on a cusp... betwixt and between winter and spring. We woke to thick fog but even as we drove towards the station some 50 minutes later it was clearing. The spire of Norwich Cathedral was silhouetted against a crystal clear blue sky at the top and shrouded in thick fog at its base!

The garden I took in eagerly as I departed was a wonderful mix of bright spring colours, mostly purples and yellows, with the odd dash of pink. But the trees are still mostly bare, though the faintest hint of green is beginning to transform their austere winter garb.

So it feels like a threshold moment... neither one thing or the other...

Sunday, 27 March 2011

We were talking about baths recently and someone used a word I rarely hear and spoke about "an array of unctions" to make the whole bathing experience all the more delicious.

I have only ever used that word in one context and that is in a hymn!

Come Holy Ghost our Souls inspire... is a stunningly beautiful hymn that is sung to a plainsong chant whose simplicity just adds up to the most perfect 'package'.

The second verse includes the word unction. Thy blessed unction from above is... Unction is an oil or salve for anointing. its something precious and special.

Why am I writing about this word? Because its been travelling around my mind for a few days. Its such an amazing word isn't it! simply because its rarely heard and used... And what does the hymn say unction is?

...comfort, life and fire of love

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Smells are so powerful aren't they...

They can evoke a whole range of responses from revulsion to desire. We've been doing quite a lot of cooking today so the house has been full of the most delicious smells - savoury and sweet - as we prepare a meal for some friends this evening.

Though before we started cooking there was the business of Saturday breakfast, which in our home is now traditionally a full English breakfast. So even before the meal started to tempt us the air was heavy with the scrumptious smell of bacon and sausages.

However, the smell that arrested me most today was outside. We've had very little rain for ages, I realised that last night when I saw some of my plants were drooping for want of water. Its been dull and chilly today, which is so unfair after days of sunshine while we were stuck at work. But the cloud cover has been enough on a couple of occasions to deposit a little rain - not much but enough to make the fabulous smell that only happens when rain falls onto parched earth.

You'll know what I mean if you love it as much as I do. Its virtually indescribable but it seems a fresh smell to me.

We haven't been without rain for that long really. A couple of weeks or so. I haven't noticed it because I'm struggling to find water for the necessities - or luxuries - of life. The tap still flows freely...

Goodness knows what that smells is like in a place of drought...

Friday, 25 March 2011

This is going to have a sense of deja vu!!

However, the train journey back today was utterly, utterly wonderful! Spring has well and truly sprung!

Willow trees are just magical this time of the year. They look like masses of golden tresses. The way the hang and move remind me to locks of hair. The colour is so delicate its almost surreal. The leaves are tiny little shards of bright yellow beauty.

While most other trees still linger in their winter state willows are adorning the countryside with their presence.

The train dawdled quite a bit but still managed to come in on time?! How does it do that... However, while we were at a standstill in a cutting I was treated to the most delightful display of primroses. Masses of them adding a delicate splash of colour to the otherwise drab undergrowth.

Primroses always seem so quintessentially British. They epitomise spring for me.

Then, finally, I reached Norwich and the blackthorn was just amazing. Even better than last week - everywhere seemed to be a cloud of delicate white flowers.

Is it better because winter has seemed so long? Is it the same but we appreciate it more?

Does it really matter when it makes your heart sing...

Thursday, 24 March 2011

I was enjoying my shower this morning, just lingering in the warm water, when it struck me how privileged I was to be able to enjoy that luxury...

There are people all over the world - in obvious places like areas that are developing or areas that are suffering the ravages of conflict - where the idea of a shower on demand would be beyond wildest dreams. More recently there are places around the world that took this simple luxury for granted that can no longer reach out for the tap or press the button. Places like Christchurch and the north east of Japan...

I then spent some time wondering just what it would be like... to find myself without proper washing facilities, no running water, no sanitation, no cooking facilities, no privacy. I'd struggle - BIG time. I find it hard enough when I go to place where the facilities are 'Spartan and I have to share a bathroom. We've become so used to these things. We've even become used to the ultra luxury of en-suite bathrooms...

What if we lived on a fault line? What if the eastern coast of England and Scotland had been decimated by an enormous earthquake? How would we feel living in a sports hall with dozens of others?

I have been bowled over by the quiet dignity of the New Zealanders and Japanese... Would I be so stoic?

We need to become a more joined up society. We need to respond to these events in the quickest and most humanitarian way. Generally speaking we do but sometimes we're deluded by wealth and assume that developed countries can 'cope'... There are times when even they can't!

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Isn't spring just the most wonderful time!

The sun feels warmer with each passing day. The birds appear to be louder every morning. And as for the flowers... well! Everywhere I look is a profusion of colour and the nodding trumpets of spring bulbs.

However, each year my prize for the most stunning spring flower display always goes to the most MAGNIFICENT magnolia tree I have ever seen. Its tucked away on a road in north west London. But it is huge and always full of blooms. For the rest of the year it is quiet unremarkable but in February the buds thicken and bulge until their burgeoning size bursts the seams and the furry bracts are propelled to the ground. Today the buds were huge and clearly about to unveil their true splendour...

(The photo I've attached is from a couple of years ago)

What is about spring that lifts the heart so much? Is it the fact that we all long to emerge from the dark cold days of winter; to end our semi-hibernation? Is it because the lengthening days encourage us to anticipate the warm weeks ahead? Is it because (new) life is just so obvious and so abundant all around us?

I think its a combination of all of them and more... and it works like a charm every year!

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

I really like my job because each day I arrive thinking I know what is going to happen and each day I am confronted with the unexpected!

I've been doing this role for far too long - some would say - but the fact that its so unpredictable makes it great fun! Challenging. Exciting. There is rarely a day when I just sit back and think - well, that all went as I planned it this morning!

I like expecting the unexpected. I enjoy rising to the challenge of an immediate deadline. I feel OK when I have to think on my feet, when I have to give quick answers that serve the organisation best. I flourish in fast moving situations. Its certainly not a role that everyone would find enjoyable. Isn't it great that we're all so different!

I guess that is why I love to escape to somewhere that is utterly quiet, preferably remote. where I can be alone. No mobile, maybe some music but not even that is necessary. I love to walk. Equally, I love to sit and watch the world go by... I particularly like it when I don't see another soul all day. I love to wallow in the magnificence of creation.

I love the contrast from the daily routine. It energises me!

No one to converse with. Well no physical presence. Its at times like that I find myself entering into long discussions with God. Looking back over something in my life, from the not too distant past or from decades ago. I often return feeling as if my batteries have been recharged.

I think everyone needs that in their lives - but their own way, not mine...

Monday, 21 March 2011

You learn something new every day - or in this case - the penny drops on some nugget of information every day!

I do know quite a bit about the equinoxes - not least because I was born on one! I knew they were the mid-point between the depth of winter and the height of summer. (I just love how summer has a positive descriptor and winter the opposite!) But it wasn't until I was watching the weather on the tele last night that the penny dropped.

The equinox is the day when daylight and darkness are equal. Its blindingly obvious once you know it and I could've - maybe should've - made that deduction myself without waiting to be told after all these years. Something that is perfectly normal for someone living on the equator but only happens twice a year for those of us who live further away - though of course its minutes different each day so the gradual change is barely noticeable.

Yet I say that when actually I really DID notice the difference late last week. On Thursday night as I was finishing work the sun was sinking on the horizon - well behind the buildings that surround our office and I noticed that it was setting in a different place!! It had moved significantly! Again this is something that I should've deduced because I know that the angle of the earth means the sun 'moves' with the seasons - low and angular in winter, high above in summer. But I'd never noticed just how much it had moved...

I won't see a sunset for a while now - well not at work! I shall look forward to them adorning my day in the autumn...

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Birthdays come and birthdays go...

Its just another day after all isn't it...? Or maybe it isn't. There are cards and presents to open. There are texts and phone calls. There are people wanting to share it with you, friends and family who want to help you celebrate.

Another year. Another notch. Its strange to be a different age. I've only just got used to the last one. I don't feel any different, I still feel like I did yesterday. No dramatic overnight decline!

However, in the last few days and weeks I've been hearing my mother as I speak. Her intonation. Her words, even in the way that she uses them. Is it inevitable? Will I turn into my mother? I am a different person... but having been brought up by someone you must learn their mannerisms... mustn't you??

I'm off to celebrate with a glass of bubbles - that doesn't break my Lenten fast to give up white, rose or red wine!!
By the way, 3 doesn't figure in my age at all. Not for quite a few years!!

Saturday, 19 March 2011

I awoke to more white!!

We had a sharp frost overnight and the cars were coated with a semi opaque layer of ice whilst the daffodils were bowed low, limp and dejected - their heads almost touching the soil.

Then the sun came up and its power melted the frost in an instant. The daffodils regained their strength and were soon standing up straight again.

But that wasn't the only white experience I had in the morning. The air was heavy with the scent of a white flower - a hyacinth. As the sun warmed it the perfume increased. There is something utterly delicious about the fresh scent of flowers and hyacinths certainly provide a lot, their heady almost pungent perfume lingers long...

It was a gorgeous day, wall to wall sunshine. The warmth of spring held the promise of summer.

Its my birthday tomorrow and I recall the weather from previous years - its often one extreme or the other. I can recall being allowed to wear my new summer clothes as a child as well as having it snow. Snow... more white connections!

Friday, 18 March 2011

White assailed me this evening!!

I got an early train back to Norwich and the blackthorn was so, so beautiful I felt like I'd stepped into a different world - well almost! Clouds and clouds of delicate white blossom shouted the arrival of spring from hedgerows throughout the city. They don't have a powerful scent but they do brighten every vista that they adorn.

Is white a colour? Some say not...

The next bright white object that stopped me in my tracks was the moon - it was HUGE!

I suspect its something to do with the orbits and how close we are but it looked so much bigger than normal! Its almost a full moon - you still just make out a tiny sliver that was missing - maybe tomorrow it will be even more magnificent. It was just incredible to see it hanging there in the sky knowing that so many other people all over this country and others can see the same...

Somehow it makes you feel close to folk who are far away... to share the same vista, same vision...

Thursday, 17 March 2011

The church I am part of on a Wednesday night always has an eclectic group of priests visiting to preach or take the service. Last night was no exception! We had the Episcopalian Bishop of Iowa leading our worship and after the service he spoke to us about what its like to be part of the Episcopal Church in the United States at the moment.

He hadn't preached so this was our first and only chance to listen to his wisdom.

He spoke powerfully of the need to listen and draw alongside people. We seem to shrink away from contact, preferring to send messages of good (or ill) will rather than hop in the car or on a train or plane to go and meet that person face to face.. To identify with their pain or need, share in their joy or grief, simply to just be in their physical presence...

He spoke about how theology by email has shrunk the process and somehow allowed it to wither. Emails are short and functional. They don't allow the breadth and depth of theology to expand...

But most strikingly he spoke about Japan and the humanitarian crisis that is unfolding there before us. He spoke about how the world must reach out and provide for their basic needs: water, food, shelter. He also remarked that the last time Japan had faced such a catastrophe America had been the source. You could sense the shared grief in him....

How privileged I am...

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

I've already mentioned that my son graduated (again) at the end of last week. The invitation also included a dress code... men should wear suits, women a suit or dress. However, there was also the option to wear national dress! I guess that in Scotland it has additional meaning - I'm constantly surprised by the number of men in kilts (proper ones!) that I see when visiting Edinburgh.

Now this came as a bit of a shock to me because I'd already decided in my own mind what would be wearing and it only featured trousers, a plain black top and a brightly coloured jacket... all a little bit too casual. So I adjusted my plans accordingly so as not to embarrass my son!

We arrived at the College and I was taken aback by the variety of garments people were wearing. The graduates came from all over the world so there were brightly coloured saris and those beautiful shifts tops and matching trousers that are worn traditionally in the Philippines. There was a graduate from Myanmar - her clothes were gorgeous. There was also a young woman accompanying her husband from Egypt who had jeans on - but I suspect their journey just to be there was sufficient struggle given the recent push for democracy.

So it was far more colourful and eclectic than I could have ever imagined!

I did plump for national dress in the end - I wore a new dress from Marks & Spencer :-)

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Its fascinating working in Westminster at the moment.

Actually, its always fascinating but its particularly so right now because of all the preparations for "THE" wedding. I first noticed something unusual about six weeks ago when I realised that the triangular piece of road immediately outside the Abbey had been "refreshed" and looked rather splendid - I guess the cameras of many nations are likely to be focused on it as the carriages roll up and then away...

Then the other day as I walked along the path that skirts the perimeter of the Abbey grounds I couldn't help but notice that several large sections of turf had been replaced and a gardener was diligently mowing the more mature pieces of grass. A long winter and the tread of hundreds of visitors, mostly gazing at the poppy fields in November, had taken their toll on the tender blades.

I'm now alert for what will happen next! I may even feel its worth reporting here...

Its just a different scale isn't it?? I'm deeply immersed in the preparations for our son's wedding (the day after "THE" wedding) and beginning to get involved with our daughter's plans. I also overheard a young woman on the train Monday describing how her dress had cost almost the same as the price of the hot buffet for the guests... I hope there weren't many guests! I'm also unconvinced that a dress could be worth spending that much! But "each to their own" is a reasonable motto to live by and all young couples want their own day to be unique and memorable, glittering and happy. That is not wrong!

However, somewhere niggling away uncomfortably is the thought that its an awful lot of money for one short - but special - day.

Monday, 14 March 2011

So much assailed my senses this morning!!

A perfect start to a day... Up early enough to still the frost and watch as the sun started to disperse the fog (or was it mist) Steam rising off branches. Sunlight filtering through. A sharpness in the air. Fab-u-lous!

Then two hours flew by as I devoured the draft of a novel that a friend has written. The story line is gripping but my role is to be the spelling pedant and spot the missing words or the repetition or the bit of plot that could be tweaked so I can't, indeed mustn't race ahead. Though I have to own up to taking a look at the end when the whole manuscript first came through! Its so naughty but I couldn't resist knowing how it finished after reading the first dozen chapters!

But its a real privilege to be part of something unique and creative...

Now I look out of the window and the scene is grey... yet this morning held so much promise, so many signs of glorious colours to come. The hedgerows are beginning to burst forth with the most amazing array of bright lime greens and pale blossoms. It really does begin to feel like spring is on the way and this long cold winter will soon be over. I love the anticipation of the next season...

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Did you know its fairtrade fortnight?

Last week at the morning service in church we heard and saw the impact that being a fairtrade farm can make. We were focusing on tea plantations and the difference between the living conditions in both places was more than a gulf, it was an abyss. A chasm.

The 'normal' plantation saw people barely scraping a living. There was no sanitation. no water, no power. The families were so poor they could not afford to educate their children.

Conversely those who were fortunate enough to work on the fairtrade plantation had significantly better living quarters and access to schools and medical care. There was no comparison.

Yes, we like to seek out a bargain but we must understand what the consequences of those actions are... Our supermarkets drive down prices to ensure they can be competitive but the majority of us have sufficient 'wealth' to be able pay that bit extra so that the workers can have a living wage.

And its not just farmers in developing countries that are being squeezed - our own farmers here in the UK can suffer just the same treatment... We must be prepared to pay what it costs; its an issue of justice

This will be another quick note and without a photo - until I get round to adding one!

Its been a day of contrasts - we left Edinburgh in the snow and arrived in Norwich to warm sunshine and a balmy spring day. Same island but weather poles apart.

Northumberland and Yorkshire were sodden, standing water in fields and rivers swollen by the excess rain to carry away. But when we got home and I walked into the back garden I realised that the ground was so dry I need to make sure that the pots had the saucers put back so that they could retain their moisture a little longer...

We're not a big island!

However I want to tell you about what I noticed as we sat on the train and watched the countryside zoom by. I was suddenly reminded of the books I read as a child. Like every child in my generation I had a huge number of Ladybird books. They were fabulous and full of information, as well as full of fun.

I had a set that dealt with the seasons and I vividly recall the picture of the farmer ploughing his fields with a large flock of seagulls following on closely behind. Today I saw that very same image played out in reality on a number of occasions as the land was ploughed ready for the spring crops to be planted.

There is something deeply attractive about freshly ploughed dark brown soil. Something that promises much and yet remains slightly mysterious. Something essential and unchanging. Something that speaks of the interdependence of nature.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Its been a busy day!!

Our son graduated for the third time so we've been in Edinburgh today. It was a small ceremony in an old building that oozed history. The architecture was fabulous and the decorative plasterwork on the walls and ceilings something else!!

But the thing that really struck me - and everyone else we spoke to - was the speech to those who were receiving their diplomas. It was full of amazing wisdom. These graduates were surgeons and the person delivering the speech someone of eminence who had been in their shoes 42 years earlier.

What we heard was a man of humility and someone unafraid to say he'd made mistakes. He reminded those graduating that they had two ears and one mouth and that they should be used in those proportions.

Utterly inspiring...

Thursday, 10 March 2011

I often stay round friends on a Tuesday evening. They have a beautiful garden but it has foxes living in it. Yes, I've seen the mother and cubs in previous years and the little ones are cute but when I looked out on Wednesday morning the lawn was littered with litter!

There were fast food wrappers everywhere!

It sparked a whole conversation about eating habits. Apparently there is no shortage of food in the urban environment and looking at the debris on the lawn you could see why. But the conversation was about what life was like growing up in the 50's and 60's. We came to two conclusions very rapidly.

The first was that we weren't allowed to eat on the street - well we could eat sweets and ice creams but food was eaten at a table indoors. The second was that we were taught to take out rubbish home with us.

However, there were a few times when the rules were relaxed and food was eaten outside. The memories came flooding back! On Norwich market - its quite famous for its colourful awnings - there was and still is a chip stall towards the back, My Granny used to take me, my brother and our cousin to the city when we stayed with her at weekends. It was a huge treat to go to the market and eat a small portion of chips out of greaseproof paper pockets and held in folded newspaper.

If I close my eyes I can still smell them even today... Delicious!

But it was still shocking to see all the papers from the chicken takeaways and burger boxes. I'm not sure what it says about our society...

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Did you have pancakes last night? I did!

In fact we had a pancake feast with ten of us sitting down around a large table in a big kitchen, two frying pans "on the go" and the table groaning with a huge range of possible fillings. We had the obvious, if not obligatory, lemon wedges and sugar, then there were some delicious stewed Victoria plums, chopped bananas, tubs of chocolate spread (a particular nutty brand) and grapes. My 'best filling of the night' was chocolate spread with the plums on top!

But, having had listening very much at the forefront of my mind, I realised how strong that group is because we do spend time listening to one another. Not just the slightly superficial hearing aspect of listening but the whole experience of absorbing body language and tone, facial expressions and pitch. Real listening requires engaging with the whole person, hearing the fears they manage to voice but also discerning the ones they can't bring themselves to say out loud...

I am grateful to the friends I have - not that many - who really listen to me. Who probe and prod deeper - who occasionally annoy me because they dig down to the bits I wanted to keep hidden but never beyond the boundary of my endurance. I'm a stronger person for that.

Sitting round that table laughing and eating, chatting and sharing I realised just how powerful the gift of listening to someone and vice versa is afresh...

The kitchen still smelt delicious this morning and reminded me all over again of the joy of friends

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Have I mentioned how important I think listening is?

The older I get the more I realise just how key that is and just how much we under value and ignore it. In fact the older i get the more dull my memory becomes so I may well have posted this before... but its a big hobby horse of mine!

You will have worked out by now that I'm fascinated by all sorts of things but the rise in Complementary Medicine is one that particularly intrigues me. I think traditional medicine is good, well researched, generally well delivered and we benefit so much from it. You only have to look at the plight of folk in developing countries to work out that!

Yet we are seeing an increasing number of folk turning to alternative therapies for a whole range of reasons. For a long time I have wondered whether that is linked to the amount of time they are prepared and able to spend on the 'client'. Our GPs and the nurses attached to their surgeries are so pushed for time it feels like a conveyor belt. Its not their fault - its a symptom/function of the system.

On the other hand alternative therapists have the luxury of choosing (and frequently) charging for however long they feel you need. In that statement lies the truth - time is a luxury in our lives. My flatmate was telling me last night about all the listening he'd had to do over the last few days and how much he was going to have to do in the coming days and over the weekend.

On the real privileges I have in my life is being a spiritual director - the pleasure of being a listening post and walking with someone as they explore their faith journey is truly special... But listening can be helpful in all walks of life - even or especially work

I know I've made this point before but it bears reiterating... its that precious a gift...

Monday, 7 March 2011

Today started off with a series of unusual sights.

I was up early to get the train to London and in the dawn light as I pulled up the blind in the bedroom I saw a rabbit scamper across the road. Goodness knows what spooked it but it was running for cover as quick as it could go, its little white tail bobbing up and down frenetically. I often see them in the headlights in the evening but usually they're back in their burrows before sunrise.

Then there was a noise I link more with balmy summer evenings - the whoosh of the gas-fired hot air balloons. The "plum" place to take off is in a park quite close to where we live so we often see them as they try to gain height quickly and drift away from the city and over the glorious Norfolk countryside. But I hadn't expected to see one this morning - though I have to admit that the conditions (if you ignore the temperature!) were perfect.

Finally, on my way into Liverpool Street station as the train slowed down for its approach I was at the front of the queue for the door. It was impossible not to notice all the rubbish that was piled up at the side of the track, Old hot drink beakers, endless plastic bottles, snack wrappers, fast food cartons you name it was all there - not at all unusual though very unsightly and even more unpleasant! However, what really took my eye was a huge pile of orange peel - and I mean HUGE! It looked like the peel from one of the big nets of oranges you get at a supermarket.

How on earth did it get there? Why on earth was it there? Did a group of health conscious graffiti artists leave it? Or were the gang working on track maintenance trying to top up their five-a-day?

I can't answer any of those questions! But I've been intrigued by them all day!!

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Simple or should that be Simples?

Today I went to church... a gorgeous little medieval church - the sort that Norfolk has lots of, and I mean LOTS! Its my lovely parish church that serves a whole variety of people - ages, backgrounds, outlook - all sorts!

The worship was good - all about Fairtrade but in particular, all about fairtrade tea. Its when you see the level of exploitation that you realise what we're doing in terms of imposing poverty.

Yes, its relatively easy to see that in terms of developing world but there is a more hidden exploitation in terms of the price the farmers pay in this country...

But lets not get too serious - though it really is "food" for thought!

The simple thing that made me smile - the churchyard was just a sea of snowdrops... Simples!

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Lent is just round the corner - and don't I know it!

Not because I'm anxious about what I might give up - though it was interesting to read in the paper this morning that the most senior Roman Catholic in England has suggested that Catholics should abstain from eating meat on Friday's in Lent.

Actually this is something that has a long tradition in the Christian church, we always ate fish on Friday's when I was growing up, but his motivation seemed to be a fascinating mix between bringing back the emphasis on abstinence and coupling that with the benefit to the environment. Well - the piece I read portrayed it like that.

The reason I know that Lent is close is that for the last 5 years I've been writing or helping to write or editing a Lent booklet for my London church. We have prepared our own course for the last 5 years and its been an incredible journey for me. Initially - for the first two years - the booklets were entirely my own work, the first was on Brokenness and the second on Healing. Then my friend Simon and I did a series on St Paul.

Last year was different though - we opened it up to the whole church to write a piece about their favourite Bible verse. Reading those offerings was a wonderful mix of inspiring and humbling.

This year we've got a "gang of four" together to write about the seven "I am's" from St John's gospel. However, that wasn't my only project! I also decided to put together a booklet for my new parish in Norwich - two booklets in one year! Phew! We copied the idea from last year and asked folk to write about their favourite bit of the Bible. It really makes a community grow in depth of knowledge and understanding - of each other!
Fitting all that in with the day job was a challenge!
As for Lent - I'm seriously thinking about giving up wine! That would be a real act of personal sacrifice... and possibly a bigger challenge!

Friday, 4 March 2011

All that glitters is not gold

I've been meaning to write about this for weeks now but something else always pops into my mind or demands priority... but as the evening draw out and the days get longer and lighter I know that I shall 'lose' a little bit of joy for another year.

There is a street near Waterloo station that I walk along maybe once or twice a year that has the most fabulous paving stones! They glitter like they've been sprinkled with masses of tiny flakes of gold! Despite knowing its there I'm always - pleasantly - surprised by it.

It will, of course, be entirely due to the slabs being quarried from a stone that has lots of metallic deposits scattered through it; but I don't care. It looks delightful. It looks magical. It looks special. It actually looks like something it isn't!

There are people like that too aren't there... who appear to be something that they aren't...

Sometimes they appear drab and dowdy and you discover they're actually gold dust inside

Sometimes, sadly, its the other way round

So I'll store away my memory of that path for another year and wait to be surprised again in the winter :-)

Thursday, 3 March 2011

New things catch my eye - mostly because they are often shiny and so they stand out.

The track at my local tube station is having some routine maintenance done on it and this morning I noticed that some of the nuts and bolts that fasten the rails to the sleepers had been replaced with very bright brand new ones. It was impossible not to look at them. They drew your eye immediately. They looked so incongruous against the rest of the track, which after years of use was dull and dirty.

Its a bit like that when buildings are cleaned or statues given a fresh layer of gold leaf. Suddenly they look different. Frequently they look more attractive.

That's where objects have an advantage over people! Or at least that was and still is for the most part. We can't easily carry out maintenance work though increasingly we are able to replace joints that wear out! But they don't look beautiful and shiny and new afterwards - they look bruised and swollen and have a (albeit) neat row of stitches.

Of course some folk try plastic surgery to correct what they perceive to be faults - and that is their choice. The closest I get to a bit of me looking new and shiny is when I have my hair cut! But I wouldn't say that grabs attention!

I rather like the way that the canvas that is our body tells the story of our lives... the wrinkles and scars, the grey hairs and age spots, even our limps and tattoos - all of these make us who we are.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

I just have to share what happened to me yesterday evening with you!

On the majority of Tuesday evenings I go along to a Bible study group in the home of a close friend of mine. Last night was a little unusual in so much as just as it was about to start my friend took a call from her elderly father who had fallen and was unable to get up. She dropped everything - of course - and went to his aid, quite a long journey by car. As she left the room she looked around and said "Steve has planned the worship and Sue is going to lead the study" as she thrust her notes and book-marked Bible at me!

Fortunately - and she knew this - I wasn't phased by it but the topic was all about worrying. The bit where Jesus talks about food and clothes and asks why we worry when the birds of the air are fed sufficiently and flowers of the field are clothed beautifully... he says that we can't add another hour to our lives by worrying. Yet we do... worry that is.

To get the evening going I had to think on my feet because some were struggling to identify something they worried about - quite a healthy sign really! So I mentioned two things at the opposite end of my worry scale. The first example, because it was fresh in my mind, was the tale I told yesterday about the child who was trapped in the earthquake texting her parents - it heightened my own fears as a parent. To lighten the mood though my example from the other end of the scale was the fact I don't have shoes to go with my outfit for my son's wedding!

Maybe its our British sense of humour but for the rest of the evening the touchstone was my shoes - they were deemed sufficiently 'serious' to worry over! It was good because there were a couple more times when we needed to lift the tension and ease the anxiety levels.

The reason I'm boring you with all this is because when the group dispersed at the end of the evening I checked my mobile and saw a message from my Mum. It said "can you call me as soon as possible - don't panic"! Given the evening started with an elderly person falling I found it hard to not panic - even worry! So I called her immediately. She wanted to tell me that she'd found an outfit for my son's wedding and that it was 'bright pink'! (My Mum usually wears neutral colours so this was exciting news.) However, she had more to tell. The outfit had some shoes and a bag as part of the deal. The shoes are bright pink too with gold heels and a size 7 (my mum takes 6.5). She'd got them for me because she thought the deal was too good to miss and she seemed to recall I still didn't have any...

Brilliant! Why worry...

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

I haven't mentioned the dreadful earthquake in Christchurch. Its almost been to painful to contemplate. Yet I am thousands of miles away and in a part of the world that doesn't suffer from the horrors of devastating tremors so why should it be so painful.

Sadly its like any disaster these days, the continual access to images and firsthand tales is so prevalent it is hard not to get caught up in the enormity of the unfolding tragedy.

I'm sure this earthquake was and still is made all the more real because I have an ex and a current flatmate who come from New Zealand and my current flatmate has a sister who lives in Christchurch. One of the links he sent me was so unbelievably harrowing it was difficult not to burst into tears of genuine grief.

The link was to a news report from a local paper that recounted the last text messages and a frantic phone call of a daughter to her mother and father. The daughter, still a child, their child, was a qualified nurse who was studying to improve her English at the language school. So she knew about the advancing pain that was wracking her body. She told them exactly where she was in the building but the destruction was just too great - she would not have known that - and her parents were on her native island in the Pacific.

I just cannot begin to imagine myself in that same position... its too appalling. They told her to pray... they shared their deep love...

I'm not sure I'd have the strength to face what they had to, I pray fervently that I will never have to...