Friday, 19 December 2014

An early Christmas present

In our household, a couple of years back, we made a decision no longer to give Christmas gifts.

This is not in a spirit of ‘Bah humbug!’ or holier-than-thou anti-consumerism. We just felt we’d reached a limit. None of us earns very much, and over the years we have given each other so many gifts of cheap jewellery and cosmetics, gloves, socks etc. We began to feel the anxiety, pressure and stress outweighing the joy and delight in the season. So we did what all sensible people would do in such circumstances: stopped.

There are a few exceptions. My beautiful mama, in her 88th year, is getting a bit old to change, so we always have a little bag of presents for her. The grandchildren are now old enough to care (a lot) about presents – and what can a child have that is not given? We don’t want to deluge them overwhelmingly, but we do give a little treat.

And we try to reach out and touch those whose lives are lonely, making sure to put something in the food bank, send shoeboxes to Operation Christmas Child, give a donation to Surviving Christmas (our local seasonal initiative for people who are destitute or just lonely and poor). And we try to by at least one thing from a crafter.


We got our tree – from a farm where reindeer come to visit at Christmas; so lovely! We chose a Nordman fir. We stood it in the window, so its beauty would bless people walking by. Hebe and Alice decorated it. Perfect (we think).

At least, most of us think it is perfect. But, as night fell, one of us sat looking at it thoughtfully.

How blessed are we to have such a generous, considerate person in our family. In the morning, when we looked at the tree . . .

. . . then looked again a little closer . . .

. . . we saw that, as a special surprise, during the night – just like Santa! – someone had left a present for us under the Christmas tree.

Yes, it is true that Santa is an anagram of Satan. But I think he’s only trying to make his contribution. Thanks, chum.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Connection and disconnection

Continuing with looking back over the year past, and the year on the brink of being.

A theme emerging for me in 2014 has been disconnection. Shedding – whether weight, addictions, unhealthy patterns or relationships and affiliations – is not achieved without a measure of struggle and effort in severance.

I have been self-medicating with starch and sugar since forever, doggedly keeping going in the choppy seas’ peaks and troughs, exhaustion and despair never far from me. Physically, the break has been made easily and successfully. I’m a good hundred-per-cent-er, and ‘No more’ works quite well for me. But I’ve come to associate experience and meaning with starch and sugar, and undergo intense nostalgia when I pass a coffee shop on a sunny morning, people sitting at street tables enjoying sweet iced coffee and pastries, or when I think of afternoon tea at an elegant hotel – the starched linen, the silverware and white china, the towering server of dainty sandwiches and cakes. I don’t miss the food one bit, but I miss the experience immensely.

The emotional aspect of my health journey has been important and surprising. It’s led me to sever from groups, good and beautiful in themselves but where I had begun to feel a fish out of water as I got down deeper and uncovered what I really felt and thought. Like an archeologist with trowel in hand, I carefully drew away layers of accretion, until shapes and bones emerged that told a story – ‘This is who I am. This is what I AM means for me. This is God in me.’

It also exposed one or two long-abiding root relationships that had . . . ‘gone off,’ I guess you could say. Not ‘toxic’, as some term it: good, kind, well-intentioned people. But it was as if their boats and my boat had drifted so far apart that when I reached out to touch them, as they sat squarely unmoving in their boats, I more and more nearly fell in the water, straining until it hurt to make a connection. And now I have let go. Neither their boat nor my boat is the better one, but we are on different journeys. May good angels attend and bless them as they go. I will always be grateful for the love and blessing and teaching they once brought me.

In my foray into one-bag minimalism I let go of just about everything – then adjusted up a little. Now I have two not-big drawers of clothing and other bits, plus about a foot, on a shared hanging rail, of garments, and several pairs of shoes. I have about two feet of bookshelf filled with books. And I have a few loved ornaments/toys (Yes. I note it is hard to admit I have toys! I’ll show you one day). I have a few business files – tax papers etc. That’s it. The rest has gone. I sleep on a mat on the floor, I dance in the spaces.

So much for disconnection. But I was reflecting, too, on where I am now in terms of faith journey. I know I belong to Jesus, but I turned this over in my mind, considering what it might mean – in what sense do I belong to him, now I rarely go to church and hold no roles within the church?

And this is what I thought. My belonging to Jesus is not a matter of affiliation. He and I, we are not coupled together like two train wagons. I am not attached to Jesus. Nor do I belong to him as the Badger’s car belongs to the Badger or my laptop belongs to me – important, possessed, but separate.

The eucharist is a sacrament of the way I belong to Jesus. We take the wine, the bread, to say ‘His blood is in my veins, his body has become my body.’

I belong to Jesus as the branch belongs to the tree, as the cloud belongs to the sky, as the water belongs to the ocean. There is no beginning nor ending, I am his property as much as his face is his property, and his peace.

Sometimes, perhaps, one might think he would wish this were not so. I often let him down, embarrass him, make him cry. But it is a Eucharistic belonging – I have digested him and he has digested me. We are in Communion.

Having disconnected from so much, I feel a little disorganized, somewhat at sea in my small boat. 
In 2015, I hope I may discover hidden depths of the I AM in me, find the grace to rinse away clinging tarry deposits of cruelty, callousness, grandiosity, ego-centricity and impetuosity that bedevil my nearly-but-not-quite-innermost self. I hope I may so steep in the kindness and perception of Jesus, that his peace may arise like sap to my most extended twigs, that the leaves I put forth may be for healing.

What I would like is to be the kind of person whose presence makes people feel comfortable, restored, able to breathe, whole again, at peace.

I know I am allowed to have this, and my good hope is that I also have the courage, patience and discipline to get there.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

My favourite version of my new favourite song


I know we’re only in December, but I’m thinking about January, because it comes next.

You probably know already, the Romans rushed around conquering things – veni vidi vici – and changing names to Roman ones. It seems the Dark Ages are still hard to see into, and nobody seems entirely confident of the operation of the Coligny calendar (Unless you are a druid, in which case perhaps you know), but Riuros is a strong contender for the month of frost that got shoved out of the way by the Roman ‘January’.

And why they called it January is because in the Roman calendar it’s the changeover from the end of one year to the beginning of the next. After the god Janus, who had a two-directional face, one aspect looking back and the other forward.

So it’s a bit like the handover meeting you get at change of shift in a hospice/care home/hospital, where the incoming staff meet with the outgoing staff to consider what’s happened and what’s up next.

This seems important to me and I don’t want to miss it, so I’m getting ready now. I’m looking back at the way I’ve travelled and forwards to where I am planning to head through the ways of 2015. Which is subject to change by virtue of the plain reality that life is full of surprises and who knows what is coming along the road to meet me (‘Beware, O wanderer – the road is walking too.’ Jim Harrison).

2014 has been a colossal year for me. The simplicity trail of 2012 moved into a quest for solitude and peace in 2013, and in 2014 I’ve had my nose to a health trail, reading the work of Eric Berg, Gerald Green, Mark Sissons and Gary Taubes. You know how frost disturbs the ground, causing buried objects – china shards etc – to rise to the surface? Well, in similar manner this health quest threw up the phenomenon of minimalism; a deeper cleansing and de-cluttering and refining than before. I’ve spent the year cleansing my liver, and getting a grasp of the endocrine system and how the solar plexus chakra organs work – the gut, gall bladder, spleen, liver, adrenal glands and also the thyroid; all of which has been very enlightening in the most profound and comprehensive sense of the word.

The ripples spreading out from this have been a bit tsunami-esque. I had no idea that among all the other toxic stuff the liver hangs onto and has to process, emotional baggage is included. And I had no idea how much of my lifelong jittery, nervous, alarmed, permanently anxious, weary, fearful, jumpy, hyper-reactiveness was not so much my personality as the personality of sugar.

After clinging tightly together for a lifetime, sugar and I parted company completely in 2014, and boy, do I feel well!

But the emotional clearing has brought with it awkward change as well as hope and freedom. Greater clarity and honesty is always something of a mixed blessing socially.

I’m looking back on 2014 with a sense of astonishment at the thorough-going sense of change, the resulting calm, the increased health. I sincerely hope I haven’t got more selfish, but I’ve begun to know what works for me, and let go of exhausting expectation-driven obligations that had a lot of duty in them but no love.

At this cusp of the year, I’m thinking about getting right the balance between kindness and candour – simply and directly reaching for what is right for me, while doing my best to keep a practice of gentleness and respect.

One of the things I’ve carried in my bag a long time and would like to ditch now is a curiously recurring phenomenon.

It goes like this: being in a group of people where it is made clear to me that both a) I have a duty to be there and absenting myself would be reprehensible, and b) my presence there is merely tolerated.

I’m not going to do that any more. One of the next steps of the journey is to spend time with people who enjoy my company – as I really am – and who have a kind and healthy vibe; no manipulation, no spite, no dominance games.

Because I’m a spiky, fiery, inadvisedly over-truthful, introverted, Asbergery HSP, that won’t leave many people in my social sphere – but that’s okay.

Also – and knowing my abysmal track record on this one, I hardly dare write it down – as 2014 has been a Year Of Food (in terms of revolution and enlightenment), so 2015 will have to be a Year Of Exercise. Nothing mega. Dancing, walking and maybe swimming are what I have in mind.

As January approaches, I’d like to reflect some more on the alignment of the ways, seeing where the path now leads, considering what to carry along from 2014 into 2015, and what to leave behind in the handy trash bin at the crossroads. I hope it won’t bore you, and I will be interested to hear of any comparable reflections and map-bearings from your own life.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014


There’s this conundrum. I can never work it out.

Suppose Person A was a selfish, scheming, manipulative, subtly aggressive sinful monster, living among balanced, reasonable, kind but honest people. Suppose people in A’s social group let A know how selfish and inappropriate A’s behavior had become, and Person A saw the light and began to reform, curbing selfishness and nurturing humility, behaving in ways more acceptable within the community so everyone was happier and A began to fit in and life got more harmonious and God was pleased. That would be good, right?

But then suppose a few miles along the road there was a different social group, full of selfish, scheming, manipulative, subtly aggressive sinful people, and the only balanced, reasonable, kind but honest individual among them was Person B. Suppose B’s social group got on B’s case incessantly, outraged if B ever spoke up in self-defence, expecting B to comply and acquiesce all the time, calling B selfish, scheming, manipulative, aggressive and sinful every time B tried to remonstrate or reach out for something good. Suppose the only way B could achieve harmony was by giving in all the time and making the others happy and being pushed around. That would be bad, right?

But what I don’t understand is how would you actually know if you were Person A or Person B? How could you possibly tell if you were in actual fact selfish, scheming, manipulative, aggressive and sinful, and had needed others to bring it to your attention – or if you were in fact balanced, reasonable, kind but honest, but been sucked into a guilt trip by the selfish, scheming, manipulative, aggressive and sinful people in your social group?

How could you arrive at an accurate evaluation?

Monday, 8 December 2014


Some years ago now, I was startled from sleep by a very vivid impression. A loud, crashing chord, and a sudden powerful image – as it happened, a head-and-shoulders of a pale-faced young man standing in front of a tall (it must have been, I couldn’t see the top of it), neatly clipped beech hedge in very bright sunshine. I didn’t know him. But the crashing chord was so loud and the image so sudden, bright and insistent, that it startled me awake.

A few years after that I was travelling to London on the train when again a sudden, loud, crashing chord sounded in my head, and some memorable words about my life in the future (yet to be tested, it related to old age) came in to my mind.

Then last night, at twenty past four, I was startled out of sleep by the most tremendous, rending, tearing crash – like someone dropped a skip onto the road from a height. It was cataclysmic, apocalyptically loud. Eventually I got up and went to look around the house, fearful in case something dreadful had happened. All calm and peaceful; just inside my own head.

What is this? Is it a neurological phenomenon?