Thursday, 30 April 2020

Thursday 30 April

Wow, where did the month of April go? Oh right, lockdown ...

Well, today was a day of meetings for me. And it often surprises me, even on days when I am busy and have little time to reflect in between things, the way a thread of thought runs through the day and shows its colour in different moments, meetings, connections or conversations.

In my morning reflections, I found myself thinking about awareness and the things that help us to see more clearly, or to look more closely. A friend had made a comment about noticing the vividness of colour on her daily walks, as though perhaps being in the house the rest of the day stripped away some of life's distractions and made her more aware of the blue of the sky, or the green of the new growth on the bushes. There is the possibility, during these days of being more limited in our activities, that we hear the invitation to turn aside, to allow our senses to be more alert to things that on a normal day we would overlook or discount.

A little later, someone used the word 'behold' and it caught my attention. When we 'behold' something, we gaze on it. To behold something is to receive the gift of what it really is, to drink in a beautiful scene or the face of someone we love. There are so many things that can distract us from gazing upon, or drinking in the beauty of the person of Jesus. In these days, I hear so many Jesus-followers reflecting on the way this time of confinement, whether we are busy or not busy, can be a time of giving more of our attention to our relationship with him ... becoming more aware in the way my friend became more aware of the colours around her.

When Paul wrote to the Corinthians, he described the Christian life as one in which "We all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image." Maybe it's all the talk of face masks, but it gets me thinking what it takes to have an 'unveiled face.' Could the things that veil our faces sometimes be to do with our strategies for self-protection? Could my guardedness when I feel vulnerable result in a veiled vision of God? Could it be that my environment - the worldview soup I swim in - veils and distorts what I see of him? Maybe these are some of the things that stop me from fully beholding him?

What would it be like, not just to behold Jesus, but to do so with an unveiled face?

My day began with a reading that was accompanied by a Collect, a written prayer, that contained the phrase 'Strengthen us to proclaim your risen life.' When I drill down into that word proclaim, sifting from it the evangelical focus on the words I say, for me it echoes Paul's words to the Corinthian church about mirroring or reflecting Jesus, of my life becoming a message. So what would it look like for me to be strengthened - perhaps by beholding Jesus, taking more time to gaze on him - so that my life in all its dimensions becomes a sign, an indicator of resurrection life at work in the here and now?

I'm just going to ponder that while I come to grips with the fact that going out for exercise - something we will be permitted to do from Saturday - means we are allowed out for up to an hour, yes, but we have to stay within 1km of our home. Strengthen me, Lord, to proclaim your risen life!

Wednesday, 29 April 2020

Wednesday 29 April

One of the most basic things we do to add a measure of intention to family meal-times or conversations is to ask everyone to describe their highs and lows from the day. Really, this is the basis of what is known in Christian spirituality as the prayer of Examen.

A legacy to the Christian world from Ignatius, that Spanish priest from the 1500s, the Examen prayer is simply a way to reflect on the day and to notice how God made his presence known to us through the day. Through the highs - the encouragements, joys and accomplishments - and through the lows - the disappointments, sorrows and perceived failures - what were the ways God came alongside us, or invited us to move towards him?

This Wednesday had a bunch of both highs and lows, so I thought I would make this post my own sort of 'ups and downs' reflection.

We'll begin with the lows:

  • Tim's ancient MacBook Pro decided this was the day to give up the ghost. The screen went blank as Manu was getting into her first lesson of the day. And however much you know the moment is coming, it is never an easy thing to face the prospect of repairing or replacing such things. Especially when the normal places we would look to for help might not be open. I'm not sure what extra stresses you have encountered during the over-arching stress of the lockdown period, but this was one of those for us!

  • During her break, Manu raced up the stairs looking for a snack and, deciding on avocado toast,  called me to help her remove the stone from an avocado. I wasn't very focused and jabbed a sharp knife into the avo stone to flip it out of the flesh. Oops, the blade glanced off the stone and into my hand! Man, it hurt ... but there was barely any blood and it seems like I just bruised a bone under the point of the knife. I realise I came off very lightly!
  • We are into hay-fever season here, and my olive pollen allergy is bugging me to the point of keeping me awake at night. The first appointment I can get at the clinic to see the consultant who can give me an immunotherapy injection is for next Tuesday: arghh!
There were some great highs too:
  • After several weeks of cool, overcast or rainy weather, the sun is shining this week! Somehow, being mostly confined to the house is much easier when we can sit in a sun spot, or eat in the garden. I am so incredibly grateful for the sense of space we have from our hillside home.

  • Sunny weather was a good reminder to treat the garden furniture. I do so love to see everything looking well-cared for, don't you? The necessity of maintenance teaches us a lot!

  • News of our computer crash travelled fast (thanks social media) and right in the middle of trying to figure out what to do, friends offered to pitch in with a donation towards the repair or replacement. Goodness, the timing of that reminded me that God is with us (often through people) in the ups and downs of life!
  • I caught a glimpse of Manu doing a weights workout - she has decided she wants to work on her abs and biceps! This reminder that we are being watched and mimicked in the large and small ways was both sobering and encouraging!

I caught sight of a phrase in a much-loved book by Douglas McKelvey: Prepare our souls for those sorrows and joys/ and celebrations and disappointments/ we will encounter , that every circumstance/ would serve only to draw us nearer to you.

May we all be drawn to be more aware of the Spirit of God accompanying us through both the highs and the lows of the mixed bag of these days!

Tuesday, 28 April 2020

Tuesday 28 April

Most of the day was pretty uneventful. I worked out, I wrote some, Tim and I recorded a video for the Leadership Development Course, Keziah cooked, Manu and I walked the dog.

Right now, though, I feel as though I am emerging from a 4 hour deep dive into another dimension. First, I met with my supervision group and we enjoyed more than 2 hours of what was basically group spiritual direction, as we caught up with one another. As we get to linger in the place of listening and wondering, I tune in to places in my heart that would otherwise remain unheard. I realise things about what I am thinking and perceiving that helps me make sense of life 'on the surface,' or as I live it in my flesh and blood.

Going from that time of deep listening and noticing, I joined an online gathering of artists and creatives for a time of creative processing; it was all the richer because I was already in a place of awareness. This is a group that usually meets up in a café in Glasgow every alternate week. As a result of this lockdown, they are meeting over Zoom and opening the time up to others. So we were 14 people from as far away as South Africa, Spain and Ireland, along with the usual Glasgow crew.

This kind of creative processing is not altogether dissimilar to the way I would lead people on a retreat, or in an individual time of spiritual direction. That is, the focus is on what comes to the surface during the art-making process, rather than on the end result or product.

I am finding there is a deep seam to be mined around the notion of bringing to birth that I began exploring yesterday. And I am glad for these scheduled times in which to process and think - like many people who are used to facilitating a process for others, I find it hard to set aside the time to do this sort of processing alone. Yet, as ever, I find the physical act of taking up paper and pen (or oil pastel) to be grounding, releasing a wave of discoveries that are as yet not ready to be expressed in words.

How are you finding creative expression is therapeutic for you at this time?

Monday, 27 April 2020

Monday 27 April

What is it about these days and their unpredictable nature? I started the day in a reflective mood, moved into a decided middle-of-the-day funk, coming through that and into a more positive frame of mind, buoyed by guitar by the fire pit and the aroma of Keziah's cinnamon buns.

Are we so fickle? So easily moved by happy tunes and sweet treats? I'm very much afraid we are.

For what it's worth, my reflective morning mindset was stirred by the thoughts of a friend's blog post, in which he calls us to a midwifing posture in the face of global shifts and personal recalibration. It reminded me of Keziah's birth and the things I learned about focus, surrender and the role of stubborn belief in the fact that yes, we do get to live out our redemption in our present reality.

I'm forever grateful for that experience. For having lived that little snippet of eternity, a moment in which I felt myself close to another dimension of being. A time when I felt what it is to trust that we know things - deeply know things - that no one's ever taught us.

Everything Steve writes about midwives was true about the woman who accompanied me through birthing. He especially mentions the way a good midwife is alongside a labouring woman without exerting power over her. I wonder what that means for us as we ask ourselves what we are birthing in these strange days. What does it mean about the kind of leaders we need for this new season?

Maybe one thing worth remembering about a birth process is that there are moments of wonder (for some people even transcendence) alongside moments of pain (possibly despair or desperation) and what can only be described as a whole load of mess.

I think that reminder helps me, on this day of unpredictable mood and emotion. The pain and the mess are just as much a sign that something new is being birthed as the wonder.

And you know, once the birthing process has started there is no way out except to birth that baby, one way or another. Could it be that even this inexorable nature of the process might encourage us? Whether today we have been most aware of the wonder, or the distress, or the mess, we are in it. And just by being here, we can be sure that something new and remarkable will find its way into the world.

As I mentioned to a friend, we may not have a clear idea of what it is that we are bringing to life. Until the very moment Tim laid this exquisite mite on my chest and whispered, We have a Keziah, I had imagined I was birthing a boy. Yep, right up until the very moment of seeing her in my arms. In the same way, we can have preconceived notions of the nature of the new thing that are not quite on track. But no matter, because when we recognise the new life for what it is, when we name it, suddenly it's as clear as if we had always known.

May we play our part in this birthing process - for our own lives, in our families, our communities, our nations. May we have the grace to go deep into a process that can feel scary and intimidating, and do so with a courage borne on the belief in redemptive goodness. May we know the energy of both surrender and energetic participation, and may we be assisted by those who have tasted of the deep knowledge we are just coming to know. Finally, may we know how to name the new thing, and in naming it, receive and wholeheartedly embrace it as the true gift it is.

Sunday, 26 April 2020

Sat/Sun 25-26 April

Days 41 and 42 and the end of the sixth week in lockdown.

Here's an overview of our weekend in 'bullet journal' format ...

  • Friday night Sabbath: 

Connecting with friends, and an opportunity to share communion together remotely (with the added bonus of a first outing for Tim's newly turned chalice).

  • Friday night pizza & movie: 

Since not actually sharing a Sabbath meal with friends in person, we have been following our online Sabbath ritual with pizza and a movie. In this case sourdough pizza base for the family, with cauliflower base for me. Bearing in mind that 'everything is spiritual,' this seems like a perfect Sabbath's eve alternative.

  • Saturday pancake brunch:

Ordinarily, Saturday brunch feels very well deserved because it follows a long run of some sort. In this case, we did a home workout and enjoyed a good sweat so, although nowhere near as satisfying as running, we felt we earned our pancakes!

Confession: I texted the kids to let them know we were sitting down to pancakes. While I loath this sort of communication within the home, I felt this at least gave them the option to join us if they were actually awake ... and if not, we would enjoy uninterrupted couple-time.

Manu claimed she didn't see the text, but she arrived within 60 seconds of this photo being taken. Kids have a sixth sense when it comes to food (and the possibility of uninterrupted couple-time!).

  • 'Quick' trip the shops:

  • Of course, it is never a quick thing to go to the store these days. Tim was looking for wholemeal flour, among other things, and it has become impossible to find. He queued for ages just to get into Lidl, only to discover another long queue inside the store. Aside from the question of safety, it has simply become easier to stay home and make do with what we've got.

    • Garden love:

    I have missed being able to go to the garden centre for seasonal plants or cut flowers. Tim happened to find these pots in Lidl, so he and Keziah planted them and did a bit of garden tidying.

    • New skills:

     Not really sure that Tim on a skateboard qualifies as a skill ... but some of us learned new skills this weekend. Manu made tomato soup for the first time, and I got started on a fabric art project I have been meaning to play around with for a while. And yes, Tim did test his balancing abilities on Manu's skateboard!

    • Doggy cuddles:

    Really, this requires no explanation. Canine cuddles are always good, and in lockdown even better.

    • Online Sunday service:

    We have loved connecting with our church family in Exeter, England, and enjoy the way Zoom gives us the opportunity to see many people's faces. The informality of the Zoom service is really lovely and everyone is being real about the challenges of being confined at home. While it feels strange that after almost 7 years here we are still more easily connecting elsewhere, this feels like the time to simply receive the gift of connection, however it comes.

    • Hayfever and other irritations:

    Quite frankly, it feels wrong that at such a time we still face the irritations and challenges of ordinary life. Surely there is enough going on, without being plagued by blocked drains, or slow Internet, or hayfever. And still these relatively small and yet truly annoying setbacks continue to be part of our reality. And this weekend saw us (I say 'us' in the very broadest and most generous of terms) unblocking bathroom drains and resetting a laboriously slow Internet.

    While 'we' were busy, I sniffed, sneezed and rubbed my horribly itchy eyes. The photo is of the beautiful almond blossom - it is the olive pollen I am allergic to.

    • Couples yoga stretch:

    Too much weights, jumping and compound movements, without enough stretching, makes for unhappy muscles. During the week, I work out early in the morning and Tim in the afternoons, so weekends are a good time for a catch-up stretch.

    Also a great way to reset and breathe ...!

    • Lockdown let-ups:

    And finally, today - after 42 days confined to our own home and garden - Manu was allowed out for a walk. Kids up to the age of 13 are now permitted to walk within a 1km radius of their homes, for up to an hour.

    Word on the street is that many family groups were out, in a sudden and alarming swing back from the severe lockdown strategy in play here in Spain. One friend took her kids out and ended up going home when she saw how many people were crowding the street. I can't imagine the easing of restrictions will continue unless everyone plays it safe, and the numbers continue to move in the right direction.

    Let's see.

    Friday, 24 April 2020

    Friday 24 April

    40 days into Lockdown and the beginning of Ramadan.

    This is not the place for some nerdy bible exposition on the significance of the number 40 in scripture, even if that were my forte. Which it's not. And, well, it's Friday night so, just no.

    Suffice to say, there are a lot of 40s in the way the bible tells history. Whether 40 days (think Noah in the ark, spies in the promised land, Jesus in the wilderness) or the 40 years the clan of Israel wandered in the desert. I guess you could say that these 40s all have an element of testing in common, transition through a trial of some sort. A sort of passage of fire, if you will.

    That's not the thing that strikes me first, though. It's more that whether they were floating on a flooded earth in a handmade boat, or wandering around in circle in a desert and surviving mostly on a daily delivery of a sort of Frosties cereal (presumably without the milk), the people concerned didn't know ahead of time that they'd be at it for 40 days or 40 years.

    They didn't know how long it would take before they were released into whatever the new season held for them. They just knew that they were there, for that day, that week, that month. They had to put one foot in front of the other and hang in there. Day after day, or year after year.

    This kind of waiting - well, I think I'd call it more a kind of staying - is one of the places in our lives where God invites us into a deeper experience of surrender. It's deceptive, perhaps, to attribute the verb to us, in this scenario. As if we could choose to do the waiting, or the staying. Because in fact, the true test of this kind of a season is that a) we are not in control, and b) we don't know how long it will last. It's a time for learning a lesson about agency, perhaps.

    The only thing I know, then, is that this reality is what is true about today. Today, I am in this stinky floating zoo and everything I thought I knew about the world is gone. Today, I am setting up camp again: different place, same old view of sand and rocks. Or today, I am in my house with a partner and two dependents, and if I leave - which is unlikely - I'd better not go very far.

    So what is our response, when we are in a place we wouldn't choose to be and we don't know how long we have to stay there? This, truly, is the most important question. Not: why? Not: how long? But: how will I choose to engage in this reality, who will I choose to be?

    I think again about Noah's family, and even more about the rabble of ex-slaves that was the embryo of a nation. A mixed bag, to be sure. A fair number of complainers among them, I imagine. A good amount of people looking for someone to blame. I reckon there'd be a good number of relational crises, a fair few people who got stuck in self-pity or nostalgic hankering after what they used to have. I would think that fear and anxiety led to quite a bit of anger and regular murderous meltdowns, along with a number of attempted leadership coups as different people tried to wrest control from those God had appointed to lead.

    And then I wonder about the people who quietly thought it worthwhile to keep their tent tidy. The ones who washed and mended their clothes. Who created systems to make things run more smoothly. Or found ways to maintain rhythms of life that were life-giving to themselves, their families and community. They were none the wiser how long they'd be in this un-chosen situation, and yet they adopted a posture that enabled them to engage, not as victims of circumstances but with this kind of personal agency.

    I read a quote by Richard Rohr today, who said that faith's opposite number is not doubt, but control. Who am I when I face the limits of my own control? How do I walk in faith in that place?

    Maybe it's a bit grandiose to compare this season of lockdown to 40 years of wandering in the desert, and maybe not. There would seem to be some parallels, at least. We don't know how long this restricted way of doing life will go on, but certainly it will be longer than any of us wish. It is a season that has already, and will continue to test us. To what extent are we willing to let go of what was, to release what might be, and to be in the truth of this day? And as we do that, what kind of people will we choose to be?

    If there was any goodness that emerged from the wilderness, if there was anything with which to build a future based on promise and hope, it was in the people who were willing to surrender to the process of deep learning - and unlearning - offered by those years. The goodness found a place to grow in those who chose to live into who they hoped they'd eventually become, who God had told them they could be.

    We're 40 days in, and I wonder if there is anything I would change about how I have lived these days? And what could that teach me about how I might live the next week, or month, or year?

    Thursday, 23 April 2020

    Thursday 23 April

    Today Tim completed his 30th story video and tomorrow is Day 40 of lockdown here (at least, from the day I have counted it). I'm not sure what to say about these milestones except for the obvious. Time passes while we are doing the stuff that makes up ordinary life. That which makes life significant, worthwhile, or good, is not found in the big, public moments but in our small, often unseen lived experiences.

    It makes me wonder what it means to be human. Is it to seek connection, to find ways to walk with one another through the ways we experience life, its goodness and its ills? Is it to make meaning, to take the hours and activities that make up our days - our meals, our bursts of energy, our times of rest - and fill them with meaning so that these things are somehow containers of something more?

    Certainly, to be human is to seek and to create beauty.

    Seeking beauty in the daily turning of the day towards evening ...

    ... and creating beauty from whatever is at hand. Keziah is amazing at binding journals and making book covers for them. They make gorgeous and unique gifts, when we are eventually able to pass them on to others.

    Fatima Bhutto said in a recent interview that creativity comes from pain. Perhaps there is some truth in the idea that the experiences in life that squeeze us invite us to drop into a deeper interaction with what it means to be human - incredibly gifted and yet limited and broken - and from that place a sort of creativity can flow, or at least be dripped out.

    [Following this post, Tim put his own thoughts on creativity intoa video post here. Do check it out!]

     In between videos, Tim has done his fair share of creating. And most recently at the lathe, where he experimented with making a wooden chalice out of three different types of wood. It has turned out really beautifully and is waiting for a further finishing before we get to bring it inside.

    Looks like it will hold at least a third of a bottle of wine, which might be overkill for sharing communion on a Friday night ...!

    But then, you know ... pandemic.

    Wednesday, 22 April 2020

    Tuesday/Wednesday 21-22 April

    Days 37 and 38.

    The reason I didn't get a post published yesterday was because I spent the whole evening participating in the recording of an episode for YWAM TV. They have created a mini series of alternative 'talk show' style episodes, recorded over Zoom and relating to the Covid-19 pandemic. It's a great idea and I've loved the ones I've seen so far.

    The episode I took part in is around the question of connecting to God during this season. What does it look like for us to create space for being with God when we are confined to the house? When we have young kids at home, who need support in their schooling or naturally want to be entertained because they can't go out. Or when we are living in a shared space with people who all have different personalities and rhythms of when they get up in the morning, or turn off the TV at night. Or when we live alone and can spend long hours on screen, and be so much in our own heads. How do we find life-giving ways to make the most of this time, and to wake up to the presence of God in our lives?

    There were four of us on the call, an interviewer and three people offering slightly different perspectives, and I think it went well. We each described our own patterns during this season and made suggestions that others might find helpful. And yet, predictably perhaps, I woke up this morning thinking of all the things we could have said and didn't.

    I want to let people know that there are great resources out there, but that they don't have to use them. I want to release them from feeling that they have to do more, add more into their discombobulated days. Instead, I want them to receive permission - if they need it, and many of us feel we do - to ease into a place of greater spaciousness.

    Rather than encouraging people in a rhythm of doing, I want to encourage them in a rhythm of not doing, of releasing, of letting go.

    What would it look like for us to leave space? Quiet space, empty space. To switch off our devices, to refuse to fill our days with extra meetings, to let the noise of this crazy time just get still. Of course, there are things that need to be done, there are important and helpful connections to be made online. But how about choosing not to overfill the space we might otherwise enjoy, to allow ourselves to settle and to become aware of the ways God might want to make his presence felt in our lives?

    How would it feel for us to allow ourselves to be stripped? Of all the extraneous stuff with which we cover and fill our lives, all the activities that make us feel productive, valuable, necessary. What if we allowed ourselves to feel what is beneath all our activity and relating? Could it be that something true about us would make itself known? And would we be okay with that? To feel it, to be present to the truth of it, and to let God be with us there?

    I am afraid that we risk continuing to numb ourselves. Filling our heads with noise and distraction, turning away from what is uncomfortable about ourselves and our reality, rather than turning aside to God who wants to meet us right here.

    I love the meditation app I use in the morning. I am grateful for the reading app that takes me through the lectionary. It's great to have someone lead me through an Examen in the evening. There are so many podcasts, so many people with such rich things to say. It's all good.

    But to what extent can I be still with God and allow some space for him to meet me, just us? Could I sit by the fire-pit and ask him what it would mean to turn aside to him in this season? Perhaps I could ask him, as I am washing dishes, what needs cleaning from my life right now? Maybe I could sit  with my plate of food and as I eat alone, in the quiet, ask him how he wants to nourish me with his goodness during this time?

    It's not that we need to do more, to try harder. It's actually that we need to stop trying, stop filling, and pay attention to what he is doing. Just stop, and notice. Lean in and listen.

    And breathe.

    Monday, 20 April 2020

    Monday 20 April

    36 days of being confined to the house. 36 days of moving between four main rooms, and for brief forays outside. 36 days of never being outside the property for more than 20 minutes at a time, to walk the dogs (Tim is the appointed hunter-gatherer). 36 days of not running, not driving, not cycling, not swimming.

    And 36 days of connecting on screens. For Manu, 36 days of doing class online, at the same desk, in the same chair, for 5-6 hours a day. For me, multiple online meetings for an average of 3 hours a day and then additional hours of computer work or online collaboration.

    Even for Keziah and Tim - currently the ones with no 'official' work roles - communication with the outside world means a minimum of 3 online connections each week, plus Tim's daily recording and posting of video stories and Keziah's social interactions.

    They say it takes 3 to 6 weeks to form a new habit. And I find myself wondering what new habits we are forming during this time of lockdown. While I'd be the first to celebrate our desire to connect, and the amazing creativity that is being shown to do that in the face of home confinement, it seems to me that we're creating some rather disembodied habits.

    What happens to a bunch of 11-12 year olds who are forbidden to use any public or communal spaces, and yet are obliged to be on screens for over 5 hours a day? That's not taking into consideration their entertainment options. What happens to adults who touch no one outside of their immediate family - indeed, who barely see anyone else except at the supermarket, where face-to-face communication is extremely limited - for weeks on end?

    It's not that we are not good at finding ways to connect - we are - it's that we are creating ways of relating that are disembodied. I find myself spending way too much time in my head - listening to podcasts, audio books, talking to people over Zoom - and not enough time experiencing myself in my flesh and blood.

    I become aware of this because I feel as though I am high on caffeine. That may be true, by the way, but I rather think this feeling comes from this head-on-a-stick approach to life we all have right now. My eyes burn, I get the sort of headache that comes from wearing my glasses for too long. And my thoughts are scattered, it's hard to focus. I'm not sure what I'm feeling, but it doesn't feel good.

    Anybody relate to this?

    The last few days, I have been becoming aware of my need to consciously be in my body. When I become aware of myself through my body - my five senses, my muscles, my posture - it grounds me in the present moment. Instead of wishing for the way life used to be, or worrying about the way life might turn out to be, I am able to be right here and now.

    I've mentioned on the blog that I am enjoying preparing lunch most days for exactly this reason. Me, the resistor of domestic goddess status. The slicing of vegetables, the stirring of sauces, the clatter of dishes as I lay the table, all these things keep me tethered to this moment and out of the shadowy rabbit warren of my over-active inner processing.

    For the same reason each morning, during my reflection time, I give a few minutes to meditation. Focusing on my in-breath and out-breath reminds me that I am a physical being, as well as a spiritual, emotional, intellectual, psychological one. By breathing in and out - paying attention to it - I am helped to be right here, the only place I can really be.

    Then I move my body, I workout. I feel my muscles, I get sweaty and out of breath, I focus on lifting a heavy weight in one direction, or stretching in another. The blood flows, the chest heaves, the quads burn. Movement is not just a way to decompress from the stress of the current season, but is a way to intentionally be in my body, in ways that feel grounding. It helps me to be present to this day, this moment, this place.

    Honestly, I find that hope and joy are only able to flow freely when I am conscious of living this embodied life.

    So what else might you do in order to live into this embodied reality of who we are? Can you stand somewhere where you feel the breeze, moving around you? Are there blossoms where you are, whose scent you can inhale? How would it be to slow down and really taste your morning coffee, or the food on your plate? Could you play a piece of music at full volume that stirs you, or makes you want to dance? What would it be like to really see today ... your partner's face, the view from your window, a favourite image?

    The truth is, we are integrated beings and our non-physical experience of being human is meant to be grounded in our physical one. That's when we do well. Maybe this was part of the reason Jesus told us to remember him by eating bread and drinking wine. So what would it look like, I wonder, to embrace all the non-physical ways we are finding to connect, and shop, and communicate, and be entertained ... and then to cultivate lots of being-in-our-bodies that will offer a counterweight to what would otherwise be rather disembodied?

    What are you doing every day that helps to ground you in the present, physical moment?

    Sunday, 19 April 2020

    Sat/Sun 18-19 April

    Manu's 12th birthday was the main event of this weekend.

    I tend to find her birthdays a bit emotional, if I'm honest. It seems so important that we make it special, more important than feels usual. At the risk of sounding melodramatic, I think this is in part due to the sorrow I feel at not being present for her birth.

    When it's Keziah's birthday, I automatically think of her delivery at home, of our God-given midwife, of those intense and deeply spiritual hours of birthing and bonding, those first days of nursing and sleeping. Manu came home at 8 weeks old and I find my mind wrestling to imagine her first hours, the psychic pain of no longer hearing her birth mother's voice, the voice with which she had been familiar from within the womb. Then her first hours and days with her amazing foster mom.

    It's hard to relate the wonder of birth with the reality of loss, and yet there it is. Every year, I hold this tension in my heart for her.

    I don't remember Manu's birth, but I do remember the day we brought her home. I actually just wrote out that whole slightly surreal story, but I realise that this is not the place (or maybe the time) for it. Suffice to say, there is so much more I could say. So very much that should be said, that needs to be said. Primarily though, this story of adoption is a personal story that belongs to her first of all.

    So on this day, the 12th birthday of this beautiful adopted princess of a daughter, mostly what I find words for is gratitude. Manu has been pure gift from the beginning of our story together until now. Loving and funny, warm and confident, beautiful and oh-so-smart. The privilege of being entrusted with raising this incredible girl is not lost on us. 

    (Yes, the incredible girl is indeed wearing her dressing gown and a pink sequinned fedora for the full-English birthday breakfast she requested!)

    This lockdown birthday was not completely without friends and family - thank you to everyone who sent messages and even managed to get gifts to her - and certainly was not without fun. We had devised 12 cryptic clues for her to decipher, clues that repeatedly took her from one level of the house to another and each resulted in gifts, both small and large! The grand finale was her long-awaited drum kit - and yes, they are digital because we are not quite that drunk on parenting love! 

    Happy birthday, precious Manu. Certainly one for the books!

    Saturday, 18 April 2020

    Friday 17 April

    Funnily enough, this was the day I had decided to write about expectations. The way our expectations - of offering training events, of enjoying sabbaticals, of celebrating birthdays, of hosting visitors, of getting our hair cut; you know, pretty much everything - all those expectations had to shift. The reason I wanted to write about it was because I was thinking about my niece, who should have been getting married today. And I think my losses have been disappointing?!

    How's it been going for you, this process of shifting expectations?

    As it turned out, instead of writing about it I got to experience it ... again. The day was going okay and we were looking forward to our Friday night rhythm of celebrating Sabbath with friends, over Zoom. We were planning to connect with them and then have pizza and a movie with the girls. So Tim took Zola out for a quick walk.

    As they walked, they crossed paths with another guy and his dog, and the canines greeted one another. We're not sure what happened, since it didn't look like the dog nipped her, but somehow Zola sliced her ear right on the end. It seems more likely that she somehow hooked it on a bramble, or something. Anyway, it turns out that ears bleed ... a lot!

    By the time Tim and Zola got back to the house, she had flicked her head around so much that it was hard to tell whether or not she had other cuts, there were so many bloody patches on her coat. We tried to staunch the bleeding ourselves but, before long, the front of the house looked like a CSI crime scene, with blood spatter all the way up the front steps.

    Great, not only do we risk getting stopped by the police for driving to the vet, but there's every likelihood a neighbour will call them in to check on what violence has taken place in front of our house.

    Our own vet had no appointments available, so we called through to another local place. They had to send a letter giving details of the appointment and verifying that, yes, we did indeed require veterinary assistance and therefore did have good reason to be out on the roads. Tim printed the form in case the police stopped him, and loaded Zola - still bleeding profusely - into the crate in the back of the car.

    As they left the house, I set to with a bucket of water, cleaning product, mop and cloths. As I was discovering and scrubbing blood spots, my mind flashed back to a Christmas Day when Keziah was about 2 or 3. I had taken the dog out for our customary Christmas morning run and she cut right through the tendon up the back of her paw, on a broken bottle. That was quite the bloody mess and it had been equally difficult to get to a vet quickly on that occasion, though for entirely different reasons.

    Having cleaned up as much of the blood spatter as I could see, I went inside to change my clothes and shower. The girls and I went ahead with our Sabbath call, and ultimately with our pizza and the start of our movie too. Tim, meanwhile, found himself outside the vet's, queuing in the street with the dog for about 2 hours, standing at an appropriate distance from the other poor souls with their pets.

    When they finally returned, Zola had a bandaged ear, held in place by a sort of bandana. The vet had been unable to stitch the wound because of the thinness of the ear at the tip. There was little to be done except to try to get her to stop shaking her head around, in the hopes that the cut would coagulate and stop bleeding. The bandana didn't stay in place for long, but the dressing seemed to hold, so we crated her for the night hoping that by morning the dressing would have done its job.

    So yeah, we didn't see that coming.

    And you know, what wouldn't normally be that big a deal - dogs get up to mischief all the time - actually felt pretty exhausting, especially for Tim who did the running around. But I guess that's the thing, right? We're all in a season when so many of our expectations have had to change ... then a simple thing on top of it all, like spending Friday night at the vet's, feels far more tiring than usual.

    Here's hoping your Friday was less eventful. (Update: things look good this morning and we have a script for antibiotics, in case of infection. Even Zola seems worn out by the whole experience!)

    Thursday, 16 April 2020

    Thursday 16 April

    Day 32 and I am thinking of what it means to be alone.

    I'm thinking of the girl, lying in the hospital bed in a nation that feels foreign to her. Unable to see the few people she knows because she is in isolation with suspected Covid. Far from home and family, only able to be in touch by FaceTime.

    I'm thinking of the mom, at home with her three kids, the youngest of whom was only adopted into the family right before lockdown. Unable to access the support she needs for her newly expanded family, and isolated from those who would normally step in to help.

    I'm thinking of the young couple, whose wedding was cancelled because of lockdown in their nation. Just moved into their new home and now unable to share with family and friends the joy of what should be a season of celebration.

    I'm thinking of the young woman, looking forward to seeing her family for a shared vacation, which was then cancelled. Unable to enjoy the long-anticipated time of reconnection and relational support, and instead isolated alone in her home for 2 weeks.

    I'm thinking of the single mom, recently divorced and at home with her only child. Unable to mark with her family the milestone of a marriage ended, or to grieve with them the loss of that for which everyone had hoped; the rescue of the relationship.

    I'm thinking of the friend, living alone in her apartment, sitting down to have yet another meal for one. Unable to share this simple joy of good food with a friend, filling the empty air with the sound of yet another podcast or audio book for fear of the emptiness of the endless quiet.

    I'm thinking of all those of us who have moments of feeling alone even though we live with others. Of the ways in which this physical isolation can trigger, sometimes, memories of other times of loneliness, of missing connection. Maybe during this time, we long to be more connected virtually than we actually are. Perhaps we hear of the ways others are connecting and feel we are missing out.

    I reflect on this good, God-given drive to be connected, included, held by our communities. And I wonder if my longing for connection - and yours - could become a sort of prayer for us all. That we might all learn to play our part in the great web of mutuality that makes up human connection. That I wouldn't be afraid of the times when I need to receive from that supportive network, and neither would I be afraid of giving generously when I have the opportunity to offer support to others.

    So yes, I stand on my balcony each night and applaud the medical services, looking left to exchange a nod and a few words with my neighbour, who probably doesn't even know my name. And I exchange messages, not only with people I know well, but even with those I have never met in person. Simply as a way of saying: we are in this together, we have common needs and shared longings for our world.

    Could it be, then, that even when we feel most alone we are in fact held by a thousand hands? Those who picked the vegetables I eat, who delivered the mail that arrived, who emptied the trash I put out, who created the music I listen to, who drove the trucks to stock the grocery store at which I shop.

    It's true, this is a lonely time. May you know then, my friend, that you are never truly alone.

    Wednesday, 15 April 2020

    Wednesday 15 April

    One of the things my author-friend reminded me about the other day was the practise of writing what is termed - by those in the know - as 'morning pages.' These are three pages of freehand writing, all in the first person, as a sort of brain-dump first thing in the morning. The idea is to unstop your creative flow by working through all the ('scuse me) crap in your head.

    I think this is precisely the approach I will take to this blog post ...

    This morning I woke before 5am to thunder, lightning and torrential rain. As the sound of the storm receded, the tide of muddled thoughts swept in. At this time in the morning, I can get some of my most significant ideas. I can also lie wide awake yet paralysed by the onslaught of mindless minutiae, as was the case this morning. I remember wondering whether to get up and let the dogs inside from their kennel, thinking they'd be freaked out and possibly damp. As it turns out, I was more freaked out by the idea of getting out of bed in the cold. It's hard for me to turn on the compassion switch at that time in the morning, ask my kids.

    Tim, bless him, clearly saw the state of me when we got up at 6:45 and followed his normal delivery of a cup of tea with another, of strong black coffee. My hero. The caffeine shot and general encouragement helped me drag on my workout clothes in order to get into this morning's abs and cardio routine. The storm had thrown out the Internet and I ended up using my phone to stream the workout. It's a good job I am familiar with the workout, because that little phone screen seems to get smaller by the day.

    I'm grateful for hot showers, for family breakfast at the kitchen island with a liturgy from Every Moment Holy and a psalm. Seriously, if I ever feel bad about mood swings, I think of the psalmist - talk about all four seasons in one day. I'm also grateful for school routine, and enough rooms in the house that we can each be in a different one when we prefer (or need to focus). Imagine being in a one-room home, or being in lockdown with people you don't like. Or are afraid of.

    YWAMers are like viruses - to use a current metaphor - they seem to breed and suddenly pop up in places you hadn't imagined (sorry, that may be insensitive but the idea of morning pages is that you just allow whatever you put on the page to, well, stay there uncensored). Today I heard that we have a team that has been pioneering in a nearby town since January and one of the team members was just admitted to a hospital in Malaga with Covid. I called her - I had to, she's only a bit older than Keziah and she's in a foreign country, sick (trust me, it's horrible being sick when you are far from home), and unable to see anyone familiar. That is one heck of a tough call. She sounded okay but it must be far from easy.

    I had a meeting about the leadership course we hope to run from the end of September for 6 weeks. It's hard to feel totally engaged, honestly, when there is a possibility that even then travel will be disrupted. It's hard to feel that anything can be banked on right now. I find myself wondering about that and the training in spiritual direction that follows at the end of November. Will we end up finding ways to offer content and processing online? I can see that the limitations of the pandemic have already resulted in a lot of creativity in training solutions and online learning communities. And while I don't relish the idea of any further cancellations, I think we'll reap the benefits of that creativity for a long time to come.

    I walked the dog at my usual time. Invariably as it approaches 6pm my motivation for getting out is waning but as soon as I get out of the front door, I am grateful. There's another world out there! Today, for the first time in a month, I allowed the dog to have a run off the leash. Somehow I was worried about the possibility of depression setting in if the dogs don't get to run more. There is the possibility that this was both anthropomorphism and transference.

    I got back to the house as Tim was finishing a workout. I handed him the leash and he headed out with the other dog (thank God for two dogs - never thought I'd say that). Keziah snuggled in a blanket on my bed and we watched a movie. I can't even remember the title, it was some Hallmark claptrap but Kez needed the mom-time. The most memorable thought I had as I watched it was that I really must go through my wardrobe and smarten things up a bit. Allowing things to slide into middle-aged dowdiness is a very real fear of mine, don't laugh.

    Manu had us in fits of laughter this evening, the kid is so funny and is developing the fine art of dead pan humour, that leaves everyone in the room except for her gasping for breath and holding their sides. Can't believe she's 12 on Sunday and am really hoping her birthday gifts get delivered on time. I asked her what would make her birthday special: being allowed to sleep late, then eating nice food, was apparently all that came to mind. I suggested a Zoom call with friends or cousins and she retorted that Zoom calls are a real energy drain. I know how you feel, I thought.

    Well, Tim just turned the dishwasher on. At the first sound of the water running into the machine, the dogs lifted their heads from their paws and trotted off to be let outside to the kennel. I guess that means it's bedtime. Day 31 of lockdown can be checked off the list.

    Tuesday, 14 April 2020

    Tuesday 14 April

    Thirty days!

    Today I had my final 'official' chat with my spiritual director, with whom I have been meeting for about 4 years. We have decided it's best for me to find another director for this next season, simply because over time Pam* and I have developed multiple relational intersections. (In the same way that you wouldn't want to invite your therapist to your birthday party, it's preferable that your spiritual director doesn't wear too many other 'hats' in your work or social life.)

    While I feel so grateful for the ways our friendship and working relationship is developing, I also feel sad about this ending. I got to thinking about what it has meant to me to meet with Pam over the past years, a season that has been far from easy. She has helped me to navigate some turbulent years of parenting an anxious child through high school. She has listened to me process the relational and community losses that have been part of moving to Spain. And she has walked alongside me as I adventured into a whole new ministry focus.

    The image that came to mind as we reflected together on the past 4 years was of a tent peg, one of those old-fashioned wooden ones with the top a bit squished from being hammered into the ground so many times. I pictured my life as a tent that might have been blown away from its moorings were it not for the willingness of people like Pam to play a part in tethering me to Truth, to Presence, to Love.

    When I described this mind picture to her, Pam remarked that she hadn't felt she was doing much. Except for showing up. Now, this is exactly what you would expect a good spiritual director to say, that they simply show up to listen to and notice the work of the true Director, who is God. But it got me thinking about what it means - well, what it feels like perhaps - to make our unique contribution to the world.

    It reminded me of the time outside Wycliffe College in Oxford, when I bumped into Tom Wright after he had just given a talk. When I thanked him for what he had said, he made some comment about feeling rushed and having galloped through his material. I was shocked (and a little encouraged, I have to say) that such an admired teacher should still feel this vague need to qualify his perceived shortcomings.

    And it made me think of a video clip of a brilliant woodturner who had worked on a particular bowl not just for days, but for years if you count from the time he picked out the wood. He offers this quite stunning piece to a friend as a gift, and one of his first remarks is to point out where he'd gone a bit wrong and had been obliged to find ways to fix his heavy handed chiselling.

    This is why, on art retreats, when participants gather to share with one another their creations, we always emphasise the 'no disclaimers' rule. Else almost everyone will introduce their piece with some comment about why it didn't turn out differently.

    Could it be that we all under-estimate the value of our unique gift to the world?

    I come to this question in part as a result of another conversation I had today. I had called an author friend to ask her advice about the writing process. During the conversation, I expressed my hesitation to add my little voice to the cacophony of voices out there, all seeking to make themselves heard. Who am I to think that I have anything to add to the general level of noise that already exists in the world, so full of words and talk? My friend reminded me of Madeleine L'Engle's urging of us to 'dare to disturb the universe,' that each one of us has something unique that can only be communicated or offered to the world by that one.

    Funnily enough, earlier in the day the liturgy I had chosen to read over our family breakfast was the one Douglas McKelvey had titled, 'for those who have not done great things for God.' At the time, it seemed a fitting prayer for this time of home confinement. Now I wonder if perhaps none of us feel we have truly done great things for God? Perhaps we wrongly understand greatness, perhaps we fail to appreciate the greatness there is in our own unique, yet ordinary-feeling, contribution to the world.

    Here is part of that liturgy:

    How many times have I been told,
    O Christ, by well-meaning people,
    that it is my destiny and my charge
    to go out into the world
    and do great things for you?

    How many times in response
    have I prayed earnestly,
    asking that you would bring
    such things to pass -
    that you might use me mightily
    for the work of your kingdom?
    How many times have I then
    waited expectantly.
    And waited.
    And waited
    for that great thing, whatever it might be,
    to be made obvious.

    How many times have I felt then
    the gradually settling weight of disillusionment,
    of disappointment and confusion,
    when no great thing materialised, when no
    life-changing opportunity suddenly
    arrived at my doorstep, when no such moment
    of call or clarity was ever manifest at all?

    I think back to this picture of my spiritual director as a tent peg. Could it be that the stake itself is most aware of the ways it gets repeatedly hammered into the depths of the ground; sometimes soft, sometimes hard. While the tent - well, the tent is most aware of the gift of the tent peg, that holds it firmly tethered when the winds blow.

    Maybe each of us, as we offer our gifts to the world, feel most conscious of the ways we get battered. Maybe we find ourselves wishing the ground in which we're planted were softer, less punishing. At these times, it would be easy to berate ourselves for not doing great things for God (or great things compared to so-and-so).

    But think of the tent. The tent is held, and that is enough. That, in fact, is everything.

    [* not her real name.]

    Monday, 13 April 2020

    Monday 13 April

    Well, we are into Week 5 of lockdown. If it weren't that the strange has become normal, I would say this were pretty astounding. So be it.

    Frankly, today has had its own particular dose of weird.

    As keen as I was to return to the structure of days in which Manu follows her school timetable, I was relieved to wake earlier and to read, journal, meditate and workout before breakfast. I know, I know, there are more than a few of you that will find my attempts at self-soothing weird.

    And yes, you may well have the last laugh. Since immediately after breakfast, as Manu went through the process of logging onto her Microsoft Teams account, she realised that she did not, in fact, have school today at all. The fact that I am announcing this blatant failure of parental competency to you all just shows how far we have all shifted from normal.

    Needless to say, Manu does not share my proclivity for early mornings and routine. She happily ditched the laptop in favour of the duvet, snuggling under the covers with her book. I, on the other hand, grabbed a second cup of coffee and headed for my desk.

    I responded to some emails, trying to ignore the fact that someone of questionable integrity just brought out yet another self-published book on Amazon, while I am struggling to write anything publishable (even by myself). Then I sat around waiting for my first meeting, watching as the clock ticked 20 minutes past the time in my schedule. It turned out the other person had completely forgotten our appointment (and not without good reason). I tried getting onto my second meeting via the relevant Zoom invite, until realising the date on the notification was for next Monday. The meeting host had changed the date without telling anyone.

    I filled the time by watching a video of a friend cutting her own hair, dressed only in her bra. The alternative was to watch yet another miracle of coordinated singing over Zoom, from 20 different locations. Given that every Friday, our family and one other fail miserably to sing one song in anything resembling 'coordinated Zoom time', the self-hair-cut-in-a-bra video was a no brainer. It just made me feel better about my abilities, you know?

    While I made all these false starts in my efforts to be productive, Tim recorded and posted a 20 minute video, turned a pretty great bowl from a lump of wood, and made bagels for the first time. I guess it was just his day.

    Admittedly, Manu remained under the covers with her book for a good deal of the day. Meanwhile, Keziah made beautiful music, did complicated braids in her hair, and posted super smart book reviews online.

    I shared with the family my need for some verbal affirmation to help me rally my mood at the end of this day of thwarted plans and disappointed efforts. The girls were great - they told me I have a great sense of humour it's only that Americans don't get it.

    Stranger things have happened.

    Sunday, 12 April 2020

    Sunday 12 April

    Day 28 of Lockdown and it's Easter Sunday. A day to both celebrate and anticipate life that overcomes death. One of the best reflections on resurrection I have heard is from Frederick Buechner, who said: 'Resurrection means that the worst thing is never the last thing.'

    I have known many 'worst things' in my own life and the lives of others. Suffering and abuses at the hands of others; loss of children or of beloved partners; loss of homes and livelihoods; loss of security; loss of community and connection; loss of freedom, or of trust. As I bring all these things to mind, the truest thing I know is that these things do not get to have the final word. Somehow - and from our vantage point, we don't always see how - resurrection life will be made known.

    I am grateful for those stories I can already tell of the ways life has been restored to people or places where, at times, it felt that all was lost. Even while we wait for the grand unveiling of resurrection worked into every story, there are resurrection stories already being told. Healing, restoration, reconciliation, peace-making in the lives of individuals, families and communities. Thank God for these glimpses that give us hope of more to come. (In this video, Tim tells a particular story - just one of millions that could be told - of tenacious life in a place of death.)

    I love the phrase in Ted Loder's Easter poem. He writes of 'resurrection madness.' It is a kind of madness to keep believing in the power of resurrection life - some days it feels more mad than others - and yet there is a visceral knowing that, beneath all the pain and all the brokenness, it is the truest truth. Resurrection madness will have the last word.

    Lord of such amazing surprises
    as put a catch in my breath
    and wings on my heart,
    I praise you for this great joy,
    too great for words ...

    ... but not for tears and songs and sharing;
    for this mercy
    that blots out my betrayals
    and bids me begin again,
    to limp on,
    to hop-skip-and-jump on,
    to mend what is broken in and around me,
    and to forgive the breakers;

    for this YES
    to life and laughter,
    to love and lovers,
    and to my unwinding self;
    for this kingdom
    unleashed in me and I in it forever,
    and no dead ends to growing,
    to choices,

    to chances,
    to calls to be just;
    no dead ends to living,
    to making peace,
    to dreaming dreams,
    to being glad of heart;
    for this resurrection madness
    which is wiser than I
    and in which I see
    how great you are,
    how full of grace.