Lent Inspirations #2

O Lord the clouds are gathering……

This is a song we used to sing at my old church. I think it is a Gerald Coates song. (Remind me to tell you about the time he came to our church for a weekend. That was a time and a half I can tell you). *Stares into middle distance thoughtfully. Anyhoo to continue.

This first line of this song is shorthand in our house for doom and destruction and I think that is a bit how life feels at the moment. I have not really given Lent the attention I intended to. My attention span is a bit off at the moment. I am certainly liking the “fast from negative thoughts about yourself” texts that I am getting from church every day. If I was going to be a tad critical, the text comes every morning at about 6.15 am and even I manage to hold the negativity back until I get my glasses on first thing. The trick is remembering to go back to it when I am feeling a bit more awake.

Also, am enjoying the Suffolk Vicar’s musings on his website. These are also only a line or so long which is about the limit of my concentration at the moment.

I am quite taken up with the Corona virus carry on at the moment. Not particularly because I think I am going to get it.Who knows? Talking about it though I have been encouraged by something a friend of mine – a scientist and therefore correct – (albeit a very humble Christian type of scientist person) posted this link Nine reasons to be reassured This is excellent but my friend does recommend that you don’t read it on your phone while you are walking because you may well be run over and he thinks you have more chance of that happening than getting any virus.

It is other things that give me pause for thought. The panic buying. Particularly the loo roll. Why bog roll? Or baked beans? Really? It just seems to be a strange reaction to social media and the news. What is a rational response to this? I read this week that the people who can’t stockpile are those who live week to week, which is obvious when you think about it. And now, these people can’t find food to buy. It’s very depressing.

It makes you wonder what would happen in a full on crisis. Outside of what is actually happening, Covid 19 is posing difficult questions to us as a society – about who we are. If Lent is a time for sober reflection then circumstances are concentrating the mind a great deal.

On a personal note, fortunately, Aged Parent cannot get her TV to work so while we are all watching the news in growing horror, she is using her DVD player to happily hoover up Danny Kay in The Five Pennies – completely oblivious to any approaching apocalypse.

On a completely different note. I was thrilled to learn today that there is a ladies open water swimming group in Cornwall who swam in the freezing cold sea to celebrate International Women’s Day.And the name of this brave group of women? The Blue Tits Chill Swimmers. And, on that cheery note off you go with my blessing.

Lent Inspirations #1

Well, it’s early days so far isn’t it. I haven’t started the Ruth Valerio book and I wish I could tell you that it was because I was busy doing Christian spiritual book things but that would not be true. I have just finished an Agatha Christie (After The Funeral, since you ask. Very good.) Then I accidentally started a slightly nasty murder mystery by Tanya French after I saw a review in The Big Issue. So I need to get organised and put that down and start reading a Lent book. (Challengingly, It’s very good so far though and I am struggling a bit to give up turning the next page.)

This morning, we had an interesting conversation in the church we are attending. A nice lady we had never met before came up to say hello. She began to tell us about her ministry in hospitals – giving Christian support to the sick of the palsy. As you do. Unfortunately though, she had recently been blocked from the old succor providing business by the vicar in the hospital who said that she just couldn’t come in here and say what she wanted, when she wanted to patient. I am afraid that I am unable to share with you the details of her conversations as she neglected to share these with us. I am, of course, very aware that we are only hearing one side of the story. Anyway, things appear to have moved on a bit if we heard the next bit right (And I checked with HOH and we did)

Of course she (the vicar) has done that thing – you know – and she’s a man now. A HE! *Draws arms up under bust in manner of Les Dawson. And I know God loves HER but I am sure, of course, he doesn’t love HIM.” *Knowing nod followed by “Anyway. Lovely to meet you.”

So then. Lent. I have signed up to a church type thing that sends me a negative thought every day along with a scripture that contradicts it. The idea is that we are fasting from negativity about ourselves. Also, I have been reading some posts from https://suffolkvicar.wordpress.com/ sent to me by Kirsten. Also very good.

Looking what other people are doing, there is a lot about Looking after yourself for Lent. Being gentle on yourself for Lent. Learning to love yourself for Lent. Hmm.

Firstly, I have no problem with looking after yourself for Lent or at any other time really. I personally am very keen on me. I want the best for me and, if I am to function in any kind of productive way as a Christian or just as a person, it makes since not to tread myself into the ground. I have seen too many Christians for whom being “poured out for the Gospel” means serving to the point of exhaustion – quite often serving people who, given a decent run at it – can do quite a bit for themselves really. No one wants to be doing that. It cannot be right. Therefore – scented baths everyday for Lent. Hurrah!

Not so fast Kimosabe. I have watched a couple of Gwyneth Paltrow’s GOOP programmes on Netflix. GOOP is Paltrow’s “Wellness” company and the programmes follow her as she and her staff have a go at various things that will support them in their quest for wellness. Some of the things are borderline normal – fasting etc. Some are not – vampire facials and vaginal eggs anyone? (I think she had to pay a hefty fine for spurious claims about the last one). She is very appealing, nor least because she is so fantastically beautiful. I did, however, hear a little negative bell ringing when she described what the thinking was behind her GOOP brand. It goes along the lines “The whole point of life is the optimisation of self”. No, I suppose it depends what she means by optimisation but I suspect it’s a bit like that George Benson song:

“Learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all.” (To which Terry Wogan memorably replied after playing it – “It isn’t.”)

And so, if a manicure a day is what you think you need for Lent because it is what you feel you need to restore some balance in your life at the moment, then I ain’t going to stand in your way. So long as you remember that it’s the restoration of your inner life that is the thing. Not nice nails. I know next to nothing about Lent. I am enjoying learning though. I think I am right though that it is a serious rebalancing event, where we clear things out to make room for better things, where we slow down to re-find ourselves and reconnect with God. So, I know giving up things is considered a bit old school and negative but sometimes, I think it’s like prune juice. Despite how much hard work it is initially. It’s for the best in the end.

Learning Lent

I have decided this year to get involved in Ang’s A Pause in Lent. So I will hopefully be writing about Lent for the next few Sundays. For those that don’t know me this is about the same as Judi Dench deciding to share her wisdom on heavyweight boxing. In fact – having seen her meet Anthony Joshua on Graham Norton – I am thinking that her knowledge of boxing has more depth to it than anything I will be bringing to Lent.

We didn’t do Lent – or any other “Christian” traditions when I was little. (Well we did Christmas because no-one wants to see an eight year old pack her bags and sit in a bus shelter in protest which is what would have happened if the presents and air of forced jollity had not been forthcoming). But we didn’t really do the Anglican/Catholic stuff because – well I’m not sure why really – I think it was to do with “religion” and simplicity and “idol worship”. I was never sure.

I have thought about Lent a couple of times. A couple of years ago I read The Wilderness Within You” by Pen Wilcock which is a fictional Lenten journey with Jesus sort of coming back and being with someone physically. It was about their relationship and I read it in a couple of sittings so I don’t think it counted as a daily Lent journey.

So, leaving no stone unturned for you dear reader, I have looked up things for you. This coming week there will be Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Tuesday (It’s on a Tuesday) when people make pancakes to use up the last of their perishable foods before fasting begins. I’m not sure why pancakes – with eggs, butter and flour, I would be looking more in the Victoria Sandwich department I’ll be honest. Then, on Wednesday, there is Ash Wednesday. This is the first day of repentance and fasting and some people wear ashes on their forehead. (I am sorry if I am teaching my grandmother to suck eggs by the way). I will not be doing this as I have suffered a lifetime of older relatives spitting on the corner of hankies and rubbing my face really hard when I had dirty marks on it.

There is something very beautiful about all this but I am not sure it is for me. However, I am thinking that I am going to spend the run in to Easter doing a couple of things. Firstly, I bought a book. “Saying Yes to Life” by Ruth Valerio. This is the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lent Book. (If you are going to aim – aim high) Ruth Valerio is a seasoned environmental campaigner and it looks like the book is taking a good look at Christianity and climate change which I could probably do with a good kick up the backside about so that should be good.

Also, the church we attend is doing a text reply thing (as you know, I am a top notch tech person) where they will send you a scripture every day saying something positive and life affirming. The idea is that we spend Lent fasting from negativity about ourselves which is a very good idea I think.

Anyway, that is what I am thinking of doing this Lent. Of course, it’s all happening around life and all that but we shall do our best and soldier on. Are you doing anything for Lent?

Kindness

February is a weird time. Just far enough away from Christmas to have lost all the twinkleyness and we are not seeing March on the way anytime soon. Here in the UK, we are in the middle of Storm Dennis (Stop naming the weather)! It’s raining – a lot and we are all on the verge of running out of British Bulldog spirit. To be fair though, all we are having to do is put a towel down at the bottom of the French windows but some people are seeing their whole lives sinking under the water. I did put my Cary Grant coat on (big old coat – bought from a vintage fair – difficult for the wind to get up it) this afternoon and braved the weather for a walk. We spent more time than is probably healthy pinned against a pub wall but, other than that – all is well. I broke my tooth and despite having a cavity so big that I got a prawn stuck in it on Thursday – I shouldn’t worry because my “emergency” dental appointment is February 27th. I think it’s in 2020 although I wouldn’t bet the house on it.

Has anyone been watching the Agatha Christie on Sundays? The Pale Horse? I know that these BBC adaptations are meant to be different and challenging (I think we all needed counseling and support after watching John Malcovich as Poirot) but I do not have the faintest idea what is going on. And bear in mind that I re-read the book a couple of weeks ago. Although I didn’t pay much attention to the re-read – I remember not liking it originally because a chicken or something met a nasty end.

Much better in my humble opinion is the film “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” I wrote about the documentary about Mr Rogers a few weeks ago but this is the Tom Hanks film. (Or Tam Honks as he is forever known in our house) It is really quite brilliant and moving but very complicated and human. It was very moving to see him kneeling by his bed, a small notebook in hand, praying for people by name. Just their name – nothing else. Made me think about how worked up we (well – let’s be honest – me) get about prayer – about how we have to explain how it works to God and go into details about the whole thing, otherwise he won’t understand. Yet, here was a man with enough faith to just say a name to God. It gave me plenty of pause for thought.

I am writing this as the news about Caroline Flack taking her own life is coming through. I’m not sure that I have anything to say except that everything – everything is recoverable from – there are no exceptions. No pit is too deep as Corrie Ten Boon used to say and I wished she had heard that and also that she appealed for kindness because I suppose she knew in her soul that that was what she needed and it wasn’t forthcoming. We blame social media but social media is inanimate – it’s the people on it that are cruel. We are a mess sometimes and no mistake.

For those wondering – Aged Parent is getting a bit more settled. There are activities every day – The Music Man every Thursday seems to be a particular favourite and she eats her lunch in the dining hall every day (except when it’s batter or vegetables or cheese or pork – she can’t be doing with pork)

Anyway, always looking to be helpful she told me about her helpful remarks to the lady who sits opposite her – a permanent wheelchair user.

AP – So I told her – A word of advice my dear. I have been told that if I don’t use my legs I will lose the use of them so I am trying to walk on them as much as I can. Something for you to think about in that chair love no?

Me – Mum she’s paralyzed!!

AP – Really? Shame. Nice girl. Pity I didn’t get to speak to her earlier.

Noooooo! Have a good week.

Lowborn

Since we moved, I have started to walk to work a different way. (Why, yes I do walk to work. Thank you for being impressed. I’m averaging about 8000 steps a day to and from work since you ask and yes I am quite pleased with myself. Thank you).

I walk down quite an “interesting” street and, if someone was glassed outside Boomerngs last week I don’t let it bother me because I am well away from there by 5.30 pm. In the morning, I walk alongside a stream of secondary school pupils, on their way to an establishment that is never going to give Westminster Prep a run for its money in the results department. The girls are noisy with those wobbly hair buns on top of their heads and beautifully applied make up. They are carrying school bags which are just big enough to hold their phones and their fags (FOW 2s observation) but they seem happy and boisterous and you don’t really fear for their futures.

Occasionally though, you see a child and they are a little bit different. Their clothes aren’t good – especially the shoes and they don’t look that clean. Their parent/carer doesn’t look great either – usually pushing a trolley which has seen better days. These days, poverty can be easier to cover sometimes. With the advent of fast, cheap fashion – people can sometimes be turned out better than they would have been able to be in the past, without handouts and the like. I myself have known what it’s like to go to Dorothy Perkins with clothing vouchers – I know a little bit of how that feels. (On a side note – fast fashion is complicated. I know that sometimes it is made in terrible circumstances but you may find that the poor in this country appreciate the availability of clothes that ordinary people wear that stops them standing out as deprived. Like I said. Complicated). When you see these children, it gives you pause, You wonder about their home life, their friendships, their future.

Lowborn by Kerry Ann Hudson is a book about that kind of a life. As a child of an absent father and an alcoholic mother, her early life was marked by a succession of homes, various “dads”, school uniforms from charity shops that made people laugh at her and the need to grow up much sooner than a child should. More often than not she was her Mum’s rescuer rather than her child. In her teenage years she “went astray” drinking and sleeping around. There was a brief time at an evangelical church but she doesn’t seem to have made any contact with God. It was just a place to meet young people like her. It is so well written – brilliantly evoking her life and times. The book jumps back to her childhood and then forward and she visits the towns of her youth and tries to deal with the feelings these visits stir up.

Hudson is still trying to come to terms with her past. She is a successful novelist but still feels affected by the things that happened. Her young life was one lived at the outer margins. I think that many of those who live in poverty may not have the back story that she had but it is still shocking. At the end of the book she leaves us with figures that are meant to stir us up

“we live in the world’s sixth-richest economy but one-fifth of us live in poverty”

Sometimes this is a really difficult read and it makes no apologies for that. She is, however, a walking talking beacon of hope that people can recover, albeit with scars. Recommended.