“I am only one, but still I am one.
I cannot do everything, but still I can do something.
And because I cannot do everything,
I will not refuse to do the something I can do.”

Edward Everett Hale

Friday, 11 January 2019

Don't Judge a Book by its Cover

This week's post is about with-holding judgement. And it applies as much to self-judgement as to judging others. The quotation, by Jeanne Moreau, says: "It's not the facade that matters, but the treasures inside."

There are some words by St Francis de Sales, which I love: "When it comes to being gentle, start with yourself. Don't get upset with your imperfections ... It's a great mistake - because it leads nowhere - to get angry because you are angry, upset at being upset, disappointed because you are disappointed ... You cannot correct a mistake by repeating it."

"You cannot correct a mistake by repeating it." Oh. How often do we pile anger on top of anger, upset on top of upset, and disappointment on top of disappointment, rather than trying to gently, rationally explore how not to repeat our mistakes? I know I do ...

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus bids us to be wary of judging others if our own copybook is less than spotless: "Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgement you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbour's eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbour 'Let me take the speck out of your eye' while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbour's eye."

It is only too easy for us to judge others without really knowing them. To judge them by how they look, what they say, how they act. Without knowing what is in their hearts, what their motivations are, what their life experience has been, which has led them to this point in their lives.

Let us try to look beyond the outward facade, and see the treasures within.

Friday, 4 January 2019

The Two Most Beautiful Things

Last September, my husband and I spent a gorgeous week in Nuremberg. While we were there, I picked up a weekly calendar with 53 postcards, called Weisheiten 2019 (Wisdom 2019). Each page consists of a picture postcard and a wisdom quote.

So this year, I'm going to blog once a week, using these prompts.

"The two most beautiful things are the home from which we come, and the home to which we hike."

Well, I don't do much hiking, but I love returning, both to my own home, and to my parents' home. Especially at special times, like Christmas, Easter and family birthdays. This Christmas, my daughter and her fiancé came home on Christmas Eve and stayed for three days, returning to their home on the 27th. And we all travelled over to Worcestershire on Boxing Day, which my mother insists on calling 'Christmas Day Two', to spend time with the extended family. It was a time of warmth and love and sharing, for which I am grateful still.

Because I know that Christmas is not an easy time for many - for those who have lost their parents, or are alienated from their families, or have been uprooted from their homes (for whatever reason), or have no home to go to, or come from. For all these, Christmas is a time to be got through somehow, endured with gritted teeth.

And I am reminded, as always at this time of year, of the wise words of Howard Thurman:

When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins;
to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart.

Let us live to make it so.

Tuesday, 25 December 2018

Day of Expectation and Gratitude

Christmas Eve has been a day of expectation and gratitude for me. The house is clean and tidy, the presents are wrapped, and I'm waiting for my daughter and her fiance to arrive. My dearly beloved collected the turkey at 11 am, and has spent the afternoon cooking it, and the kedgeree for tomorrow's Christmas breakfast (a Woolley tradition). The house is filled with gorgeous smells and I am so grateful.

I've spent the day working on a blanket for the Summer School Silent Auction next year - it's now five feet across, so I've just got another foot to go. Crocheted with love - I hope it raises a shedload of money for the Summer School Bursary Fund.

Early this evening, I phoned my god-mother, now in her nineties, who had a fall last week, and is spending Christmas in hospital. It was good to hear her voice, and I think she was pleased to hear from me. I am so grateful to the hospital staff, who give up their own Christmases to look after the sick and the injured. Bless them, every one of them.

At ten past eight, they arrived. Our little family is now complete. I am riding on a tide of gratitude and happiness. We watched Celebrity University Challenge, cheering when we got an answer right (more often than usual - the Celebrity version is much easier than the regular one!)

I wish everyone who reads this blog a very Merry Christmas and a Peaceful and Happy New Year.

Monday, 19 November 2018

Transforming Your Pain

They say that when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. This happened to me yesterday afternoon, in the car on the way to lead worship at Dudley. I was listening to Richard Rohr's marvellous course The Art of Letting Go, which I've had for years and listened to numerous times. This time, in the last lecture, the phrase "If you do not transform your pain, you will always, always transmit it" jumped up and bit me.

"If you do not transform your pain, you will always, always transmit it."

I have listened to him saying that phrase many times, and have never been able to understand it. How on earth can you transform your pain? But this day, I suddenly realised that transmitting it is exactly what I have been doing. I have struggled in my relationship with a particular person, never mind who, for a long time. Anything that person said or did, I reacted to, and not often in a good way. It has caused me a good deal of suffering, but it was not until yesterday, that I realised that I have been transmitting that suffering, by sharing my negativity about that person with my nearest and dearest.

Rohr went on to say that we don't have to do this, that there is another way. We can step away from the conflict - whatever it is - and refuse to engage with it. Which means that we will be able to see the person we have trouble with, straight, without all the negative garbage we have attached to them.

I thank God for opening the ears of my heart, and for showing me that there is another way. To quote another wise guru, Brene Brown, I am going to trying to "assume positive intent", try to believe that the person is doing the best that they can. I have realised that the reactive me is my Relative Self, and that I have an Absolute Self, who can rise above petty irritations, and not react. 

I don't expect to manage it straight away, but I am, by God, going to try.

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

The Difference between Relative and Absolute

I have always struggled with the notions of False Self and True Self, as explained by Richard Rohr (and before him, Thomas Merton). Struggled to understand what they mean for me.

Today my spiritual director explained them in another way, and it’s all come clear. He spoke of the Relative Self, which is the sum of our experiences, and the Absolute Self, that of God in us.

The Relative Self reacts and compares and likes things and people. It is subject to change. The Absolute Self is able to rise above this reactionary state. It observes and assesses. It is awake. It has compassion for all, including its own small, wounded, Relative Self. It loves things and people just the way they are.

The purpose of contemplative prayer, of meditation, is to quiet the chattering monkeys so that the Absolute Self can be heard. So that we learn to live mindfully, with awareness, and don’t just blunder through life reacting to whatever we see and hear and think and feel.

I feel like a door has opened in my mind, and am so very grateful.

Saturday, 11 August 2018

Discipline vs Indulgence

Over the last few weeks, I have been uneasily conscious of the fact that I have been letting things I ought to do, and actually enjoy when I'm doing them, slide, in favour of reading, doing a jigsaw on my iPad, or just watching TV.

Not that there is anything wrong with reading, jigsaws or TV-watching, but I also wanted to find the time to do things which would nourish my soul: a half-hour sit in the morning, carrying on with my novel, which has been sitting half-done on my computer for months, and doing regular piano practice.

I had been trying to turn the daily piano practice into a habit for some time, with very little success.

Then I had my light bulb moment. I am very much a morning person, a lark rather than an owl, so why not get these things done straight after I get up? Excitedly, I wrote myself a timetable:

0600 - 0630  Get up, shower, get dressed, eat breakfast.
0630 - 0700  E-mails, daily Recognition, check Facebook.
0700 - 0730  Sit / pray
0730 - 0830  Write
0830 - 0915  Piano practice (30 minutes if I have to be out of the door by 9.00)

I shared this idea with a friend, who wrote back: "How disciplined it all sounds but I am sure it is good if it works for you."

And it does! It may sound unpleasantly regimented, and to some extent it is. However, it does mean that I get to spend two and a quarter hours every morning, nourishing my soul. Two and a quarter whole hours of time spent doing things that I like to do, that make me feel better about myself, that make me feel more connected with the world. To me, it sounds like a huge indulgence, rather than a discipline.

Then at 9.00 am (or 9.15 am) I feel refreshed, invigorated, and ready to get on with my day. And without the cloud of "you ought to fit in writing / piano practice some time today" hanging over my head. It's done, and I feel so free!

For me as a morning person, and as someone who Gretchen Rubin describes, in her book 'The Four Tendencies', as a Questioner, this works very well. But I can understand why others would look at my timetable with horror and loathing. It all depends on your perspective, and on your inner tendency.

She divides people into four types: Upholders, who meet inner and outer expectations easily; Questioners, who meet inner expectations, but not outer ones; Obligers, who meet outer expectations, but find it hard to discipline themselves; and Rebels, who hate any kind of expectations.

Before reading the book, I had thought that I was an Upholder. But it soon became very clear that I am a Questioner. Questioners are very good at meeting inner expectations, things they set themselves to do, which make sense to them. But they question all other expectations - especially those imposed by others. They will only do something if it makes sense to them.

So once I had decided that doing these things daily - sitting for 30 minutes, writing for an hour, practising the piano for 30/45 minutes - could easily be fitted in to the first three hours of my day, and would make me feel good, it has become easy to do them.

I would recommend the book to anyone who has trouble with "ought to" and "should" in their lives.

Thursday, 26 July 2018

View from the Hill

For the last two days, I have been on an individual guided retreat at Holland House. The poem below was written while I was there ...

“You yourself are what you are seeking”.
A living manifestation of God – She is in all things.
God is in me – I am made in His image –
perfect and complete.
The whole universe is sacred.

Outside my window, a butterfly
browses among the sun-warmed flowers.
She too is a manifestation
of the Divine in creation.
But she regrets not the past,
nor has any care for the future,
She just does her thing,
flitting from flower to flower,
gaining sustenance for her present need.
Because of her, they will germinate
and seed – giving life to a new generation.
All of creation is interdependent.

It is only we, in our human arrogance,
who try to live outside this flow of life,
between God and the rest of creation.
The wise among us will “go with the flow”,
living in present awareness
of our part in the Circle of Life.

We could learn from the animals.
A dog, out for a walk with his master,
is only aware of present pleasures:
the feel of the earth under his paws;
the sights and smells and sounds
around him, and his perfect contentment
in spending time with the one he loves.
If the man is wise, his sensations
will be the same. But probably,
he will be “walking sightless among miracles”,
his mind on other matters.

God is manifest in the world
and in ourselves. If we pay attention,
How could we not love Him
“with all our hearts, souls, mind and strength”?
Wake up and smell the roses!