Saturday, 23 May 2015

CAPSULES OF TIME

This morning I had one of those interesting encounters that arise when doing a bit of shopping. A lady came up to be and asked 'Is it Peter?' and as she asked I began to recognise her, responding 'yes, you Beverley?'She was and I then remembered teaching near to her at Blackpool College.. She didn't look very different, although I am sure I did. It was all of 25 years ago since my departure from the college. But at this point Beverley re=awakened another memory; 'And you used to teach me in Bolton' which of course I could recall. That was 43 years ago. Ouch! The Blackpool days seems far away, but those Bolton days almost beyond recall. I did add that that job was the one I had dreamed of and aimed for over several previous years.What strange memories and feelings are engendered. In my memory's defence it is harder to recall times when I moved from teaching to ministry, to teaching again and to ministry again.Sometimes I am asked which I would choose- I have been very glad to have them both but if asked which I would least like to be without it would be ministry and all the riches it brought.

As you will guess we are safely back home. The journey is only 55 minutes but was attended by a slight anxiety as we were carrying our bikes on the back of the car. So once again I took Rosie for her morning walk and passed the plot of land adjacent to a group of about 6 allotments. A year ago this was a jungle of weeds, nettles, rubbish. Now it is cared for by the 'Comfort Zone' at North Shore Methodist Church. I looked at it carefully today, as things begin to grow. Raised beds. Beans, rhubarb, peas, lettuce, onions, leeks and others I could not identify(pointing to my ignorance and not their rarity).What a picture this is of the Biblical promise of the desert blossoming like a rose, places of neglect and dereliction becoming watered gardens. We must always have this as part of our vision for the world. And indeed it could be a picture of what  arid places in our hearts could become. We all have our own version of stoney ground.

We met some sadness yesterday when walking  the canal.A lady we met on our last visit was walking her two dogs, the same breed as Rosie. Since we last met a great sadness has overcome her and her 80 year husband is terminally ill. She proved to us once again how we need to live in small capsules of time. Not this year, this month, but this day. It is a  great gift and if we can do that we shut out- even for a brief time- the perils of the past and the anxieties of tomorrow.

Friday, 22 May 2015

CONTRASTING WORLDS

Looking out through the window yesterday we saw a large pigeon having a drink from the bird bath. We watched it drink, an action very different from every other bird. These all suck up the water but the pigeon throws its head back and lets gravity take it down its throat. I know this because of a book I have at home called 'The Birds Our Teachers' by the late John Stott, a chaplain to the Queen, former rector of a large London church. He was a very keen ornithologist, an interest that took him all over the world. In his chapter on gratitude he used the drinking action of the pigeon, lifting up its head to the heavens having had a drink.We too should be grateful and keep lifting up our heads in praise

I have been reading about the hospital in Gaza, the only one specialising in particular treatments. It has been bombed and now stands in heaps of rubble, a direct consequence of the troubles there.The report focussed on an eight year old boy called Arfon whose house was bombed and nine members of his family were killed, including his twin brother.His pregnant mother survived but lost both legs in the blast. Arfon has a piece of shrapnel in his spine. Now the hospital that cared for them is a ruin. Patients are being treated in makeshift centres and old people's homes.

What a dreadful world we live in.

About the same time I picked up a glossy magazine from the pile of such here. After that Gaza report the articles and photos were simply nauseating and obscene. I am quite convinced that those with excess wealth need it to be taken from them, forcing them to play a part in a better, fairer world. Having said that, I have to say how far away is that possibility in a money loving, money grabbing world. One Sunday newspaper even has its 'Rich List' which people seem to worship.

What a greedy world we live in.

At the rear of the bungalow is a very comfortable sun room where we often sit during the day. Apart from the three of us there is another occupant, a small spider. He keeps running across the floor, behind the bookcase and chairs, seemingly always on the move. What is he looking for we muse? This reminds me of a story previously told on here of the preacher conducting morning worship on the television. During the sermon a spider walked across the pulpit and the preacher reflected on how proud it must be, without any idea of the vastness that surrounded it.

I had similar thoughts about our spider.He, or she, dashes around and knows nothing of us sitting here, nothing of the vast array of events reported by the newspaper we have been reading. But are we not like that insect proudly imprisoned in our tiny miniscule worlds? And like the spider what vast realities we have no knowledge of, dimensions we are not capable of knowing. Amazing what thoughts a tiny creature can give.

In this same vein is the wonder that can be evoked by natural things. It was one of our great poets- I have forgotten which one- who said that the meanest wayside flower can give thoughts that lie too deep for tears.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

A SEASIDE CARBUNCLE

One of yesterday's outings was to the seaside at Morecambe. Those of you who know this seaside town will also be acquainted with Bare, the suburb at the northern end of the promenade. Hugely noticeable is a ten floor block of flats right on the promenade, towering far above every other building. It could well win a title as the carbuncle of northern seaside towns. I dont like to see it, partly because of its incongruity, but mainly because I keep asking myself, how anyone got permission to build this ugly edifice. I guess someone knew someone else and it slipped through.

To avoid this we walk the promenade with the carbuncle out of sight. And it makes for a lovely walk- Tuesday with high tide, yesterday at low tide. The sun shone on the water, making the light just brilliant. Looking north there is the sweep of wooded bay taking in Hest Bank, Bolton-le-Sands, and beyond with Arnside in distant view. Beautiful.

I have had plenty of time to reflect, part of the value of a break like this. One conclusion is to wish I was more content. Oh I am enormously content with family and friends. I am content with home, garden and our church. Perhaps a little less content with locality as I wish for more trees, countryside and less concrete. So why am I not content? I am not content in my desire to know more of God in the depths of my being- like water seeping down into a trees deepest roots ( They who think they understand themselves, including the vast unconscious, are simply naive I am afraid).. I am not altogether content because I still desire more adventures for God out there in the world. I cannot shake off my desire to play in carefree fashion.Then there is my endless longing over the sea. These are just part of who I am. Mind you, as a measure of progress is made, the satisfaction is quite rich.

As regular readers know I attempt to practise my mantra of recognising, avoiding, distracting. But there are things that hit us in the face the arrival of which we could not predict. Therefore no recognition or avoiding, only distraction remaining. In the paper this week the dreadfully sad story of a woman who lost her husband of many years and simply could not face living without him. She stayed in the cemetery until the gates were locked, lay down on his grave and took an overdose. And there is the heart of the human dilemma- attachment and loss. We might well ask whether there was no loving family and friends to help this broken soul through her torments. No hope of everlasting life when we meet again? I had to distract myself from this sadness, the only thing open to me.

Today has opened full of cloudy sunshine and we will take to the canal path again. The trouble is that there is so much to do and so little time in which to do it. The answer lies in one word 'prioritise'. My observation is that something our woolly minds find very difficult to do. Often I want to say to myself and others, for goodness sake sort out what is important, most important and not important. Perhaps I should add 'prioritisation' to 'perspectivisation' to a list of what might be new words? Certainly I will not be able to compete with all those ridiculous words recently added to the scrabble dictionary!

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

NATURE'S WONDERS

I may not have spotted the swallows at home, but I saw them yesterday skimming the canal. Further along I saw a swan with 7 tiny grey cygnets, and yesterday a mother mallard with ten little balls of feathers. The afternoon took us to the seaside where a strong sea was breaking on the beach and sea walls. Over the water's edge were dozens of tiny white breasted  birds, which our bird book told us were likely to be dunlins or sanderlings.

We have been watching the  flower show and are constantly amazed at the effort that goes into it.And the colour and wonderful variety of flowers is incredible, from all over the world too. The entire world is longing to garden isn't it? To grow enough food to feed tiny mouths. To turn deserts into gardens of produce. Indeed one of the things I have been most proud of in our work in Nicaragua was the way derelict land became watered gardens producing beautiful flowers,  vegetables and fruit.

I loved the garden in which the Prince had played a major part. Perhaps I haven't watched very carefully -and there is more to come, of course- but there was not a lot of idealism in sight. By that I do not only mean a garden for fundraising but those connected to a social ideal or experiment. That is just me- hating the selfish, longing over the communal, the benefit of all.

Earlier in the television coverage of Chelsea we were introduced to a fashion designer who took his inspiration from the natural world, especially flowers. He took photographs of different flowers and turned them into prints on fabric. The results were quite spectacular, as they would be taken from nature's own palette. I think this is how it should be- the beauty of nature far surpassing anything we can concoct. We particularly love what we call 'Cornflower Blue' which is very rich and needs the flower's name with it to convey a particular richness of colour.

And taking clues from nature is not limited to fashion designers. It has been true in the world of medicine also, and who knows what riches wait to be revealed. My only fear is that there may be corporate resistance to these 'nature' solutions. I hope not, but if I had a good job researching the cure for the common cold, how  would I react if suddenly someone turned up with a cure that simply meant boiling oak leaves in water?

This morning we paused under a tree coming into leaf and I did not know what it was! Shame on me for that, coming from a birthplace with many giant trees(The biggest Janet has ever seen). We also saw the duck family again, those tiny fluffy ducklings very cute. Donning an atheist's hat for a moment I imagine the question to me.." Given that I do not believe in a God- as you clearly do- what picture of the mind and essence at the heart of the universe would you give me?"

Well, I would refer to chickens when Jesus spoke of God as a mother hen, longing to draw them under her wings. I would refer to tiny worthless sparrows and a God who watches and cares even for them. I would relate the report of stopping and pointing to little children to say that God's world had much of their innocence, life and vitality. I would tell the story of a son who lost his way and was joyously welcomed back by a waiting, longing father. And I would say to my atheist friend "If you did believe what sort of a God is that?" I think he might well say "If only I could believe it?"

Amazing the thoughts engendered by  ducklings  on a quiet canal.!

Monday, 18 May 2015

LIFE ON THE CANAL

Yesterday was happy and relaxed, including a walk and cycle by the canal, and a stroll by the sea. It  rained but the sun also shone for us.In the middle of all this I have been finalising the gift aid schedule for submission to Her Majesty's Customs and Revenue. The last but one Labour Prime Minister was much criticised but when he was Chancellor gave us Gift Aid. So we will collect almost £2000 simply by reclaiming the tax they have paid on their income and interest.

Whilst cycling the canal yesterday afternoon I had two strange experiences. I passed a couple sat in their waterside garden('how brave? ' I thought given the stiff breeze). They ignored me,but on a second look I realised that I was waving at two life sized dummies. Later on the same ride I stopped to post a letter, and remounting my bike noticed that the lamp had turned round on itself. I started to cycle and after a few metres noticed the brakes were not in their usual position on the handlebars. I could hardly believe what had happened- the bike had fallen over and the handlebars had completely reversed where they should be. In other words they were back to front, a phenomenon I have never experienced before. And no, I am not going potty. Just having a mind filled with all the beauty around me!

Along that length of canal is a moveable swing bridge that allows vehicles and pedestrians to cross from one side to the other. It is easily put in position or opened for canal traffic. Indeed it is so light that last year we saw two young girls open and then shut it. I was tempted to cross it, but the other side looked like a private group of large houses. I thought about how convenient it would be if visitors were not welcome simply to close the bridge.

Guarded dwellings? It made me think of how often we need to guard our minds.from so many things that would spoil our peace. Yes, we operate the bridge that makes this possible. Only we can know what these things are, but I do think we need to be aware of them. Unwise friendships. Television programmes. Media articles. Even our own thoughts.

I cycled a distance but fear made me turn round. Not 'big' fear, but minor anxiety that if I punctured (the bike not me) I would have a long way back to walk and push. It made me wonder how often fear holds us back. Not healthy fear that keeps us from danger but the bad variety that haunts our days- unemployment, children, health and care issues, money problems.There are things we can do. Not always but sometimes which is better than nothing. Face them. Lay them out in front of us.Share them- the enemy of healing is often the inability to admit or share. And perhaps one of you will say about my puncture fear 'take a repair kit'. Exactly...there is something I can do!

One of my contacts has suggested to me this morning that he is useless and he might as well (comparing his life to a boat) pull the sink hole out and sink in to oblivion. Not so I will shortly say- that is one fear we must seek to remove from you. More difficult than puncture avoidance but still necessary.

SINGING IN THE RAIN

Yesterday we had a happy day of walks, cycles and visit to Stephen, Rachel and Kate's. Extra exercise for me when Janet cycles away along canal path.....Rosie wants to give chase and if she had her way we would run after her(not too good for my knee !).

When listing my reading matter I overlooked  the one book I am currently re-reading. This is the diary of Che Guevara and his description of the final days of the old despotic, gambling,corrupt regime in Cuba. Under Castro Cuba became a hated communist regime but with wonderful results in the field of medicine. (See Thursday's blog). If I ever succumb to lung cancer we will be offer to Cuba for their medicine.Indeed the reading matter was inspired by the medical matters described last week. The exploited poor of Cuba so long ago paid a high price for their release from that hated regime.
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Today it is raining gently, but cold with it. Who cares? We dont, because  relaxation is the order of the day and the temptation to rush off is subdued. And there is ample gardening to see on the television this week.
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There was published today the obituary of one of those characters who make history for thousands of others without wanting to make history for themselves. Today it was about the life of a man who loved walking and was the one whose campaigning led to the creation of the Thames Valley Path which stretches 184 miles from the river's source into the heart of the city of London. Many were the battles and difficulties he had in making possible this long walk(said to be the second best urban walk in the world) largely because of so much private land along a very disjointed route. Dead end paths, obsolete ferry crossings, and few rights of way were the main difficulties, but persistence paid and in 1996 the prize was won as the path opened. He died in April at the age of 89.

This famous walker- a man who occupied many posts in the Rambler's Association- was offered an MBE but refused it out of his strong socialist principles. His love of walking was infused with a strong social conviction that everyone should have the right to walk in the countryside.Since 2000 over 4 million acres of land have been opened to the public. It all seemed an impossible dream at one time, but determination, dogged persistence and a refusal to be put off, paid off.

Once again we see a life dedicated to the good of everyone and not private gain, surely the scourge of our age and the killer of idealism.


Sunday, 17 May 2015

BLUEBELLS AND COW PARSLEY

Not much has changed here in Bolton-le-Sands. It remains a quaint village winding up the hill with two bridges crossing the canal. If you drive from Lancaster along the A6 towards Carnforth you come into BLS and quickly pass out of it. But in so doing you will have missed the village. One shop has changed from being gluten free confection to something to do with weddings (at least this nicely balances the undertakers further down the road) and the small village library is being refurbished. As I  strolled out yesterday a Summer sound was to be heard; it was a cricket match over the hedge. What a genteel relief from the bruising, swearing, blaspheming sounds we hear at home from  football matches.

The canal really is a world cut off. Gardens down to the water's edge- and very modest semi type houses many are, but with some posher ones.Bluebells and cow parsley happily mixed together.Gardens with wallflowers which seem- at home as well as here- having a very good season.

This morning I walked along the canal path (outside our garden gate) for a newspaper.I counted six fishermen sat on the bank with their long fishing rods stretching almost the entire width of the canal. I slowed down to watch but no fish was hungry enough to bite the bait on offer. They were clearly men waiting in patient hope. It occurred to me that for so many people that is how they spend times in their lives- waiting for things to happen. But that is exactly what some situations demand; simply to wait.

Waiting is one of life's most difficult occupations, perhaps joyous waiting, like a child before Christmas, but more often anxious waiting as for a hospital appointment. I am not sure what can alleviate the pain of waiting except to offer friendly, loving support in the process. There is one wonderfully moving story of waiting in the Gospel. It is the story of the father waiting for his beloved son to come home. That son had taken half his father's wealth, clearly misspent and wasted it. But love remained unbroken and that father watched and waited in patient hope.

What a picture of God that is. Even if you do not believe in such things, even at the level of myth it is wonderful in its love and compassion. And for us who opt to believe it is a glorious picture of a God, just waiting for us to come home. Home from indifference. Home from blindness. Home from too much worldliness. Home from fear and delusion.Amazing what a group of fishermen can evoke.

And yes, I have brought a bookshelf with me. Two books about the mind. Two travel books, one about walking, one about sailing. Two books of what I will call devotion, one a book of short addresses given by a famous congregational preacher over 50 years ago, yet strangely timeless in their message.

So what do I hope from this break? To see and feel the natural world, so much in abundance here. Perhaps a kingfisher to see,? To relax with little pressing to be done. Hopefully to further refine my sense of what is important. Sorting out priorities is a difficult business but something we all need to do. One of mine is to help people find a little more purpose, dignity and peace of mind. To help make Faith something natural, deep, meaningful. That is why I want 'Walter' to leave the church, make wonderful discoveries 'out there' and return healed.. It will be back to the clothes analogy- we need faith made to measure, not off the peg. Right down to our roots we are so individual and complex. Walter will leave the church to find his truest expressions and formulations of faith. Rather like the father's son I wrote of above...'he came to himself' ?