“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

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Insidious Sexism is Everywhere!

September, the beginning of the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, and also the month in which all the Christmas catalogues begin to come through my letter box. I stash them away for future reference, as I refuse to even *think* about Christmas before mid-November.

The latest one was the Qwerkity catalogue; yes I am going to name and shame. The whole thing is divided into 'Presents for Men' and 'Gifts for Her' which is sufficiently infuriating in the first place. Let me share the contents list for each part:

Presents for Men: Books, Boys, Teens & Twenties, Food & Drink, Gadgets, Grooming, Home & Garden, Music & Hobbies, Out & About, Sport & Leisure, Stocking Fillers

Gifts for Her: Accessories, Animal Lovers, Beauty & Pampering, Books & Leisure, Christmas, Food & Drink, Garden Inspired, Gifts for Everyone, Girls, Teens & Twenties, House & Home, Kitchen, Stocking Fillers, Unusual Presents

So ... women aren't interested in gadgets? men aren't interested in cooking? To add insult to injury, the Books section in the men's part is four pages of books; the Books & Leisure section in the women's part is two pages of books & four pages of colouring books & drawing & jigsaw puzzle stuff. And that is just one example.




But the thing that Really Really Annoyed me was that each of the Teens and Twenties sections featured a student cookbook - the male students' one was called 'The Hungry Student Cookbook' and the female students' one was called 'The Hungry Healthy Student Cookbook'. Implicit message: if you are a female student, you need to watch your weight. This made me spit feathers. I am sure that the books themselves are aimed at students of both sexes, but the placement within the catalogue ... just infuriating!

WHEN are we going to start treating each other as human beings, with equity and respect?

Friday, 16 September 2016

Landscape Memories

Have you ever visited a new place, experiencing it for the first time, and felt a strange, haunting sense  of familiarity? Like you know it so well?

This happened to me yesterday, when my DB and I walked the Ingleton Waterfalls Trail. As soon as we set foot on it, I felt the resonance. It reminded me so much of Dolgoch Falls in mid-Wales, perhaps my favourite walking place in the world. The lively sound of the water as it chuckled and gurgled its way over the rocks; the sun-dappled oaks and beeches, their trunks furred with vivid green moss; the wonderfully evocative smell of the damp ferns, now beginning to turn into brown bracken -   all these were so familiar, so well-beloved.



And the path itself, an eclectic mix of textures, widths, and colours. Partly a network of exposed and ancient tree roots, the dirt between them carpeted with moss, and last year's leaf mould. Partly naturally outcropping stones, and chippings of slate. And partly concrete steps, laid to make the going easier, aloe with stout posts and rails which also serve to prevent the adventurous from straying off the path, in search of a more advantageous viewing point.

Even the background sounds were the same - the deeper rushing roar of the falls themselves, the twitter of birdsong, and the baa-ing of the sheep on the fells above. It was magical.



Every so often, I stopped, closed my eyes, took a few deep breaths, and gave thanks for such beauty, and for all the people who work to care for such places, so,that people like us can enjoy them, and re-connect with the Divine.

Monday, 5 September 2016

Autumn Blessings

This is a beautiful time of year. The long heat of the Summer is over (except that we didn’t get very much this year), and we can settle down and enjoy some warm, golden days before the Winter sets in. In our hemisphere at least, and in spite of the not-so-wonderful Summer we’ve had, the harvest has been largely gathered in; although this doesn’t mean what it once did. For the last few days, the sounds of this traditional agricultural task have been drifting in through my open window, reconnecting me with the rhythms of the natural world. Even if it is now largely done by machines.


 I think it is a shame that Western society has grown so far away from the cycle of the seasons, and the agricultural round. Even when I was a child, which I know my children think was sometime in the Dark Ages, but really isn’t so long ago, harvest still meant something, at least to a child brought up in the countryside. But now, ask anyone where their food comes from, and they are likely to reply “from the supermarket”. You can buy pretty much anything all the year round – strawberries in December, parsnips in June. We’ve got a recipe book at home called The Cookery Year, which is full of wonderful recipes to cook for each month of the year, using “seasonal ingredients”. And at the beginning, there is a four-page table entitled The Fruit and Vegetable Year, which explains what you can get from which country at particular times of year. It makes fascinating reading.

I love the in-between seasons, when the weather is neither too hot nor too cold, when there is a reasonable chance of warm, sunny days, and still-light evenings, when it is a pleasure, rather than a penance, to walk abroad, either around the village, or in my beloved Salcey Forest.

I go up into the Forest as often as I can - it only takes five minutes to walk from my front door, to the gate which leads to the path to the Forest. I can be in the "Forest proper" in ten or fifteen minutes, which is such a blessing. The Forestry Commission has done a lot of work to ensure that the path is navigable all year round (when we first moved to the village, it used to be "wellies only" except in the driest part of the Summer). Nowadays, I can walk in trainers for most of the year, and walking boots for the rest. Working from home as I mainly do, I can choose my times of walking, whenever the weather seems propitious, or to clear my mind, or to soothe my spirit.

I have blogged on here before about the glories of Autumn in the Forest, and I am looking forward very much to the next few weeks, as the leaves begin to turn, and the trees show just how colourful they can be when they really try. I am so very blessed to live in amongst it all.





Sunday, 28 August 2016

This Changes Everything

I've been attending our Unitarian Summer School at Great Hucklow for eight years now, and each year, I come home changed, enlightened, and enriched (and generally a couple of pounds heavier, but that is another story!)


My friend and colleague Danny Crosby usually invites people to worship with the words: "Come as you are, exactly as you are...but do not expect to leave in exactly the same condition..." and Summer School is much the same. It provides a rich mixture of worship, theme talks, engagement groups, and other optional activities.

This year's theme was 'This changes everything'. We were treated to some outstanding theme talks, and inspirational engagement groups. In my group, we were asked to discern / work on a credo or touchstone to which we might turn in times of shock, uncertainty, and change. This was a very deep and enlightening process.

But the thing I have taken away this year, that I haven't been able to stop thinking about in the last couple of days, is a lovely song, which was taught to us all at the end of one of the theme talks, by Nancy Crumbine, a Summer School stalwart from the US. It goes like this:

Here I am, here and now, in this moment,
Here I am, in the place I am meant to be
Nothing can hurt me, nothing can shake me
I am free, I am whole.

This is what I love so much about Summer School - the unexpected, life-changing gifts it provides, year after year. It is the spiritual highlight of my year, and I wouldn't miss it for the world. I am so very grateful to everyone who contributes: to the Summer School Panel, who work for months to get it all in place; the facilitators of the engagement groups; the leaders of the optional activities; the worship leaders for morning devotions and epilogues; the minister for the week; and the Nightingale Centre staff. And to all the participants who come along prepared to be open and vulnerable, and to trust the process, and to grow and change.

Friday, 12 August 2016

On Perfect versus Good Enough

Over the Summer, I have been re-reading Brene Brown's wonderful books, The Gifts of Imperfection, Daring Greatly, and Rising Strong.  One of her strongest messages about living wholeheartedly is to let go of the need to be perfect, to be the best. Striving for excellence is good, beating yourself up for not making 100% not so good.


I've recently re-joined my local gym, and am enjoying pushing my body a bit, trying to get a bit more toned, a bit more healthy. On Wednesday, I decided to up the ante a bit. So instead of doing 15 minutes at level 1 on the main cardio machine I'm using (which simulates running, but without the impact), I did 20 minutes at level 2. There were bellows to mend by the end, but I had a great feeling of achievement. I've also upped the number of reps I do on the upper body machines from 12 to 15. It's such fun to challenge myself, to push myself. Lots of lovely endorphins!

But here's the thing. I'm not comparing myself with any of the other gym users, not beating myself up for not being able to run for an hour on level 5 (or whatever). The only person I am competing with is myself - the idea is to improve my fitness over time. Because it makes me feel good.

Then yesterday evening, one of my oldest friends came round to play canasta. I don't get to see her much, so it was lovely to catch up while we vied for the mastery.


We have been playing canasta together sporadically since 1988, when we used to play every morning, going down to London on the train from Northampton. It is such huge fun - we both play the very best we can, and thoroughly enjoy the contest, but it truly does not matter who wins. Last night, she won the first match; I won the second. We are both openly triumphant about our wins, and commiserate with each other's losses.

But the absolutely most important thing is the huge fun of playing the game. Neither of us has any innate need to beat the other - our self-worth is not on the line. We just enjoy playing.

And that is so precious.





Saturday, 30 July 2016

The Right Words at the Right Time

For a while, I have been struggling with some guilt, over some behaviour in my past, which has made me feel unworthy of love.


But sometimes, by purest grace, you are given the words you need to hear. Today, on Facebook, these words by John O'Donohue turned up in my feed:

"When personal guilt in relation to a past event becomes a continuous cloud over your life, then you are locked in a mental prison. You have become your own jailer. While you should not erase your responsibility for the past, when you make the past your jailer, you destroy your future. It is such a great moment of liberation when you learn to forgive yourself, let the burden go, and walk out into a new path of promise and possibility. Self-compassion is a wonderful gift to give yourself. You should never reduce the mystery and expanse of your presence to a haunted fixation with something you did or did not do. To learn the art of integrating your faults is to begin a journey of healing on which you will regain your poise and find new creativity. Your soul is more immense than any one moment or event in your past. When you allow guilt to fetter and reduce you like this, it has little to do with guilt. The guilt is only an uncomfortable but convenient excuse for your fear of growth." (emboldening mine)

This has hit me like a train. It has taken this to finally help me to recognise that I am *more* than my past behaviour, and that to carry on letting the guilt over that past behaviour define me, I have indeed put my soul into prison. And so I am worthy of forgiveness, worthy of love.


Now I can finally believe that I am worthy of love, that my past behaviour doesn't define my whole self. I can't believe it has taken so long for the penny to drop. But drop it has. Thank you God! And thank you, John O'Donohue.


Saturday, 9 July 2016

A Small Kindness

I had to go into town this morning, for an eye test, and to buy some bits and pieces. I was just about to head back to the car-park, when I noticed a stall in the Grosvenor Centre foyer. It had been set up by some members of the St. Giles congregation, and they were offering free hand massage and nail painting.



And so I stopped, and got my hands massaged by a kind lady called Elizabeth. We got talking, and I asked her why they were doing this. She explained that they wanted to show God's love to the people of Northampton. And that there were some events for children up at the church.

I thought that this was such a lovely thing to do - they weren't proselytising, or anything like that - just trying to make some people's days a little bit brighter. I can only say that it worked - I was touched by her kindness, and my hands felt wonderful.

I do believe that this is the way to live - to try to make a little difference where we are, in the hope that the ripples will spread out and make the world a kinder and gentler place to live in.