It’s not unusual to find oneself knocked sideways these days, to get sucked in to the hatred screamed from the tabloids and online. I determine not to let it overwhelm me – not to give in to the cycle of fear that arises from and results in seeing other people as unconnected to myself – but then catch myself slipping yet again.
It’s simple in theory but also hard work to move through life with my antennae out, alert to other people and to the currents within myself. However it has to be done, this constant checking out and checking back, this resetting of my internal compass, this tweaking of my rudder on life’s ocean.
Inspired by Rhiannon Grant, I’m going to have a go at alphabet blogging. 26 letters over 52 weeks.
Unfortunately the first A that came to mind is Armageddon. I nearly ducked it but, given the current political shenanigans, warmongering and climate disaster, it feels apt and needs facing steadily. As does that old joke of an A which jumped in straight after: “Armageddon outta here”. Which is also apt and needs to be slapped down, at least in my￼ case. Avoidance (another A) is not an option. In the Quaker tradition we’ve realised that the only positive way to deal with pain, fear and despair is not to be cowed and brought down by them but to stand firm and still, in the knowledge that a way will be shown to us and strength given to travel it.
So, who knows where and what I’ll be by the end of 2020 but I hope to keep staying present and determinedly non-hating; paying enough attention to my own needs so that I’m in better nick to support other people.
For the last few years I’ve had increasingly mixed feelings about celebrating Christmas in our darkening world. This year there’s a sort of survivor guilt as well, as I have a home and family, and there will be food on the table tomorrow.
Advent has always been important to me, a gradual walk into the darkness towards the manger. Anyone who has ever held a newborn will know the vulnerability but also their awe inspiring power. This year there is an added dimension. A couple of weeks ago I was on silent retreat at a Carmelite priory and heard read aloud those wonderful passages from Isaiah – the ones that begin Handel’s “Messiah”. The penny dropped that, alongside the power of that tiny being, something huge is also happening and that those two things were about to converge.
Which brings me back to this afternoon. The Carols from King’s at 3pm on Christmas Eve always mark the beginning of Christmas for me, but today I felt antsy and irritated at the “holiness” of it all. Then came a reading which grounded me, by a woman who sounded like a regular person and seemed very sincere.
Listening intently for the source of my discomfort, I was struck for the first time how much the Victorians tried to tame Jesus and how that’s not actually possible. The carols I grew up singing are mainly about gentleness and mildness. The power of kingship is there and may have meant something to the original writer but how much does it really mean to us now. Are we just paying lip service?
In today’s world we persuade ourselves of Jesus’s gentleness and mildness at our peril. Even worse, we try to emulate it, telling ourselves we are “nice” people. Jesus cannot and should not be tamed. What the world needs is the power of a people acting radically out of love, as he did.
I realised in Meeting for Worship recently that I have passed beyond hope. Imperceptibly. I have no idea when that happened, I simply became suddenly, devastatingly aware.
Now, this is not to imply that there IS no hope just I, personally, can no longer feel it.
Observing my immediate feelings, I was curious to find that I was not experiencing despair but, rather, the opposite. In Ignatian terms, not desolation but consolation, consolation, consolation.
The flip side of hope – for me – seems not to be despair but steadfastness. Faithfulness.
So… resisting in whatever way I can… calling out injustice in whatever way I can… supporting others in whatever way I can…
Doing what Love requires
I’ve suddenly realised – with utter clarity – that my default position is fear and despair.
I’m well aware that the roots of this rest in childhood damage, which I’m not going into here. Most of the time I rise above it, practising mindfulness, presence and positivity. Combatting division. But when I’m exhausted or over stressed, despair rises up from nowhere and bites me on the nose. These days Twitter can have me spiralling downwards within five minutes.
I care deeply about people and events, so I want to keep myself informed in order to act, but how to do that without going under? I suspect I am not alone.
In such moments I feel extremely thankful to have fallen in with Quakers. The insights of early Friends, like the gospel these echoed, are beacons of light and hope – of liberation from fear. George Fox’s “ocean of light”, which the darkness can never overcome, is a perennial comfort.
“The good ship Woodhouse” is one of my favourite Quaker stories. Separated from a convoy in mid Atlantic, Dutch privateers bearing down on his tiny craft, the ship’s Quaker master suddenly heard the words, “Steer a straight course. Mind nothing but me.” There wasn’t much choice, so he did. Suddenly the wind changed and the pirates were blown off course. The Woodhouse dropped off her cargo of Friends in the New World and returned home safely to tell the tale.
Steer a straight course. I think I can do that.
This clip has being going round and round in my head over the last few days. The answer?
Ride out and meet them.”
It feels strange to be saying this here because, on the surface, armed horsemen charging out of their stronghold into the midst of Saruman’s army have nothing to do with either Quakers or beads. And yet… I feel it is vital that we disappointed Remainers don’t seal ourselves off from the rest of the UK but that we do “ride out” fearlessly and meet our apparent opposites.
Meet them in dialogue, meet them in friendship, keep building bridges.
I know that’s hard to do when it hurts but these are still the same people we stood next to in the bus queue or the supermarket on Wednesday. People who care about their families and their country as much as we do. And, importantly, not every Leave voter is a racist.
Now I’m recovering from the initial shock, my hunch is that many Leavers may get very disappointed when it becomes clear that many of the promises given can’t be delivered. Remainers already know that, so we have the chance to think ahead, to find ways of making it work. Not to say I told you so but for the sake of us all.
It’s important in our bridge building to stay open to what we can learn from those we talk to, those who seem different from us. One of my favourite Quaker sayings is “think it possible you may be mistaken”. It is an ever present possibility. Am I open to my own thinking being changed?
As I was thinking how to express myself here, my daughter sent me a link to yesterday’s statement from Friends House which sums it up much better than I ever could.
Remainers or Leavers, can we turn this situation to good? Can we find ways of taking this revelation of the extent of disaffection and addressing the causes in the interests of greater understanding and unity in these islands and across the world?
I’ve written before about tacky beads (or, rather, beads I dislike) working up into something pleasing. So I shouldn’t be surprised when it happens but, yet again, I am.
These are the sort of beads I slide to the bottom of the drawer with a shudder and move on. To be fair, the shiny ones weren’t my choice, just included in one of the monthly bead club packets I’ve mentioned before. The round ones are something semiprecious, I can’t remember which but, seriously, what was I thinking? The opaque facets are just evil but hold on…
They actually work quite well together. I might even be enjoying this piece?
And here’s the finished bracelet. I’m pleased with it and, for the right person, it will be the right thing at the right time.
Waking early this morning to the sound of the birds bopping around, a new project and surprising colourway jumped into my head. Surprising because I’ve had this packet of firepolished beads for some time but don’t actually like them very much. Opaque’s not really my thing. So I kept the idea at the back of my mind until the alarm went off, then got up to try it out.
And, of course, it’s really pleasing
When will I ever learn? I know this stuff at head level but sometimes it takes my heart and soul a while to catch up. I missed a trick last week, when I was introduced to the first series of The Killing, spotting the perpetrator very early on but allowing myself to be swept away among the shoal of red herrings.
So in future I’ll be trusting my gut feelings more, even when they don’t seem to make sense. Maybe I’ll “wait” with them for a while, as we Quakers say, to see what happens. But when I know it’s time for action I’ll be out there, just watch me.