A daily Lent blog

After my sabbatical last year I put together a wee Lent book for my little flock. We are going to be using it daily and looking at the paintings in more depth at our Lent Group on Thursday evenings 7.30pm. The images and text will also be available on a blog called Images of Lent and you can follow it there if you wish.

William Dyce Christ as the man of sorrows

Death is not the end

2016 has had a sad start for me. At the end of 2015 three members of my little flock died. Each one of them was shocking and heart-breaking.

G died first. I had been visiting her for over five years since I’ve been here, taking her communion in her wonderful top-floor flat with views of the Ochils. G had a wonderful sense of humour and we shared a love of the same authors so got on well right from our first meeting. However, a stroke and then the loss of sight through macular degeneration left G deeply frustrated and unhappy. When her beloved only son died earlier in the year she felt she had nothing left to live for. G only had a granddaughter left but she lived in Glasgow and we never met. The first we heard of her death was when it appeared in the newspaper. We had talked about her funeral, G and I, and I knew that she wanted a simple service of the Committal. She wanted no eulogy, no hymns because she thought nobody would be there. When you get to your nineties there are not many friends left. No matter how often I told her that friends from church would be there she was convinced that there was no point in anything ‘fancy’. We agreed on a simple service. Perhaps her granddaughter didn’t know she was a member of Christ Church. Perhaps she was convinced by the Undertaker that they could take care of it all. So we gathered in the Crematorium, we friends of G, and listened to the Undertaker read two poems and say one sentence of the Committal. It was terribly, terribly sad.

A few weeks later I got a phone call to tell me M had died suddenly, found beside her bed. I’d seen her the day before bustling along Kerse Lane heading into town as she did every day. For M loved to shop. She loved to buy presents for all her family, friends and for me. Flowers Molly 2011 She looked well the day before she died. Her death was sudden and a shock. M had a large and loving family who grieved deeply at her death. Her funeral was on Christmas Eve in church and then at the Cemetery. The church was full and there were tears and laughter. M used to do the flowers for Christ Church and I know there was great concern that we should do her proud with a glorious display. It was a difficult funeral to take and I think that was partly because I couldn’t believe I wouldn’t see her again with her full head of chestnut hair, even in her 80s – and  it was all natural, unlike my own! I couldn’t believe I wouldn’t get more tipsy glasses or a request for fluffy polar bears in the nativity. I couldn’t believe I wouldn’t see her every Thursday at Mass and be greeted with her eternal optimism.

Then there was the death of B, another huge shock. B had recently been diagnosed with cancer but it was treatable and was certainly not going to get him down. B was a character, a very private man with a loving wife, with a caustic sense of humour who never failed to make me laugh. He was People’s Warden all the time I’ve been here, loved opera and theatre, and more than anything loved to entertain with food. Afternoon Tea for the CHURCHCHRIST.RP.SERVICE.21housebound were catered for with bone china tea-sets, tiered cake plates and real linen napkins, flowers on the table, all thanks to B. His platters for the Quiz Night were famous and wherever there was food to be served, B was at the forefront organising it. After just one round of Chemo, B caught pneumonia of the worst kind. The kind which is resistant to any antibiotics. So just a few weeks after his diagnosis and after just one week of chemo he was taken into hospital, then ICU and then a few days later on the day before Christmas Eve we sat at his bedside while all the life-support was switched off. Too soon. Too soon. Again another shock that we wouldn’t see him again, taste his little amuse bouches. His funeral was the first I took in 2016 on the 6 January and we catered for his funeral tea in his memory. The joy of Epiphany was overwhelmed with sadness. A star had fallen from our skies.

Three lovely people gone. Each one a beloved child of God. Each one unique and each one a character. Each one missed by us all.

And then this week I began my post-Christmas holiday. I was tired. Tired of death. Tired of being strong and carrying on when all I wanted to do was sit down and weep. Tired of loss. Tired of shock. I knew it would be a holiday of sleeping and reading and thinking back over these few weeks of great loss. I didn’t want to go away. I just wanted to coorie down and wallow in sadness.

bowie_aladin_sane_1000pxAnd then David Bowie died. Not a man I knew, but a man I had adored since I was a young teenager. A man whose music was the soundtrack to my life. A man who shocked my parent’s generation but who thrilled us. A man who cared nought for gender or rules and no, I didn’t understand all of his music and lyrics but I loved them all the same. I know them all still. My boys grew up listening to his music and also know and love him. That made me strangely proud. Memories of listening to his LPs on our little record player over and over again, of dressing like Aladdin Sane at the local disco, of dancing a strange dance to Rebel Rebel with my first boyfriend at a wedding, of wishing I had straight hair so I could have mine cut like his, of crying at Murrayfield when he walked on stage in that blue suit on the Serious Moonlight Tour. And I didn’t even know he was ill. I was totally unprepared for his death. I found a radio station playing all of his music and I sat in the kitchen all day and listened and sang along. Why on earth was I so moved by a pop-star’s death? Because so much of my life had been accompanied by his music. Because he had been theatre and a legend for me.

Then two days later Alan Rickman, the actor, died. Another shock. Another person whom I admired and watched avidly. That voice, that intonation, that humour. I seldom cry at movies but I did at Truly, Madly, Deeply. And his death seemed like the final nail. Too much death. Too much shock and loss.

It has been a sad year so far. Yes I know each one will live on in my memories. I will never forget G and M and B. We will keep on telling their stories. And Bowie will continue to be yelled (I won’t say ‘sung’) along to in my car and whenever I hear him. I might even make a Spotify list of my favourites. And I think I may watch all of Alan Rickman’s performances again and laugh at his Slope or Snape. Dead but not forgotten.

In which Ruth finishes her favourite journal

20140208_131328Did I mention how much I love stationery? Oh how I do! Lovely journals with beautiful covers thrill me more than I can say. (I’m a huge fan of PaperBlanks.) I love beautiful pens with vivid violet ink (CultPens are a great source of the unusual) and lovely puffin tins and purple staples and wooden pencils and … You get the picture.

Whenever I go off on retreat or holiday or to a course I take a notebook/journal. In it I jot down little notes and reminders. Sometimes when I come home I transfer bits to my bigger Quotes Journals or blog about the events which happened. This week I’ve been on the Clergy Silent Retreat at Whitchester and finally finished my lovely purple bejewelled journal. Who gave me it? I can’t remember but I’m sure it was a gift. I’m quite sad it has come to an end, this purple beauty, for it contains many truths and many memories. It still looks beautiful and I shall find a space where it can lie face-front in all its glory.

Do you want to know what’s in it? OK, here are just a few snippets:

  • On visiting a church famous for pilgrims, wonder why the people who take the service aren’t more friendly. Indeed, seem positively snooty. Would it hurt to ask where we’re from?
  • Retired clergy who take Clergy Retreats should not talk at length about their holiday memoirs, or insist that we all love poetry.
  • Meet clergy who are bullied, clergy who are gay but frightened to tell, clergy who are deeply unhappy. Praying seems so inadequate. Why is nobody caring for the carers?
  • Note: buy Icon to St Cuthbert by Tavener. (I never did.)
  • “Some gates only open if you work at them.” David Adam
  • “Too often church worship is weak because we have not been faithful in our own daily prayers. Its like trying to be friendly on a Sunday to someone you have ignored all week.” David Adam

O island my lovePuffin2
my windswept and craggy one
with rain and snow and sleet and wind
to batter down my defences
with sun and moon and stars
to remind me of your awesome power
with quiet and rest and stillness
to revive my spirits.

  • At Bishop’s House, Iona I did some manicures for my little flock. Someone said it was like Maundy Thursday!
  • Staffa and the water was like a millpond. Puffins are God’s comedians. Tobit should be in the lectionary more often.
  • Gilmore-Fraleigh style = Achieving/Directing
  • Saw God in the windows of St Chapelle. Adored spiral pillars and fan vaulting at St Severin.
  • “An atheist is someone who wakes up on a beautiful morning feeling thankful, and then remembers there is no one to thank.” G K Chesterton
  • Is there anything so sexual as St Theresa in Ecstasy at Chiesa di Santa Maria della Vittoria?
  • Find it hard to find God in a chantry chapel until I spotted the unicorn.
  • Thomas Traherne is lovely and all that, but he’s really just not me!
  • Every cathedral should have geese in the courtyard.
  • DSCF0227Oh Gaudi how I love thee. How I love your fluid lines, your nature-in-stone, your colour and symbols.
  • Cool light of the cloisters are places to rest and ponder.
  • Everyone should have a Black Madonna in a snowstorm.
  • Pudding stones from 1026 in a church looked like clootie dumplings.
  • Relics Exhibition at The British Museum and adored some stunning reliquaries.
  • In the bible hardly anyone goes back home – you can only go forward home.
  • Who is holy? Someone who earths God in the ordinary things of life.
  • Today, what is it that priests need to become?  Enabler, listener, risk taker, perseverer, being a bit weird, shared episcope.
  • “How can I find God’s will? God’s will, if it exists, is probably locked up in a file in the Bishop’s filing cabinet!”  Margaret Silf
  • Stop reading and start watching and noticing. Everything is a gift.
  • Taking a group on pilgrimage is like herding cats. And I never did have much of a maternal instinct. Why can’t grown-ups catch a bus/ferry/train when they’ve known the time for months?
  • Feral Goats for 2 miles.
  • Shortbread and lemon curd. Yum.
  • An Art Studio on Skye is really someone’s front room.
  • “I have often repented of speaking but never repented of silence.”
  • Rest is not what we do – it is the gift of God.
  • The gift of rest is a gift to others.
  • Accept the discomfort of not being as we would like to be. Accept others are they are.
  • Stillness enables the work of God within us. It is not about what we do, but what God does. God works in the inner heart. That’s why the Kingdom of God takes so long to come – God takes time.
  • We are so concerned with the world right we haven’t put ourselves right.
  • Humility. As soon as you think you have it, you’ve lost it!
  • Vainglory – seeking attention for ourselves, that we are better than others, taking what is due to God to ourselves. This is a big danger for the Church and clergy.
  • God covers our sins, puts his hands over them.
  • Perhaps today’s reduction in numbers in the Church is God’s plan to take away some of our power.
  • “The utterly magnetic God.” Mother Jane  God draws us to himself whether we know it or not.

DSCF0725

In which Ruth falls silent but two weeks too soon

silenceThe virus came upon me. The no-voice virus came upon me hard. For ten days now I have had no voice. Actually that is not strictly true – the voice has varied from Minnie Mouse on helium to Eartha Kitt (you have to be of a certain age to get these) after a pack of Gitanes to nothing but a squeak or a dry husk. Every morning I have woken and tried it out hopefully to the cats. “Good morning Lucy Pussy!” I scratch. “How’s my lovely Rita Kitten?” I mouth. Nothing. Zilch. Nada.

Of course there is a certain irony here. Over a year ago I had suffered several asthma attacks all winter long for which I was referred for a CT scan which showed up something on my lungs. Scarring, fibrosis, I was told. This meant a referral to the Respiratory Clinic. Now if you are a reader in the UK you will know that referrals on the NHS should happen within 12 weeks. Ha! I laugh at the thought of it. 11 months later I got my appointment with Forth Valley hospital and it was just a few days before the Lost Voice. So as I sat in the Consultant’s office I was able to say that I’ve hardly had any asthma, any colds or coughs, no lung or breathing problems at all, thank you very much. “Jolly good,” said he. “Some COPD, a bit of Fibrosis, some thick bronchi-whatnots so a wee bit of physio and we’ll keep an eye on you every year, dear.” And I was shown the door.

That was merely a week before the voice went. the lungs wearied, my temperature went up, my asthma-cough came back to haunt me at night. Oh pooh. Bloody typical. And the double irony is that I’m due to go on a silent retreat next week! That will be when my voice returns, I bet you!

This enforced silence has made me think, of course. Made me think about how noisy I am. How often I take for granted that I can pick up the phone for a blether, to ask a question, to have a moan. So that has been a salutary lesson for me and I’ve felt oh so lonely at times. What would I have done without Facebook, Twitter, Messaging, texting etc? Drama queen, eh? I wish I could say that I have used this enforced silence for good, of course. For some meditation or holy listening and mindfulness. (The subject of next week’s retreat, ironically.) But no, I have worked on using the time to get lots of computer and office things done. Can you hear my introvert friends scream now, can you?  But let me tell you it was not easy being an extrovert trapped in an introvert’s body. Oh no!

Of course I have much for which to be thankful. My little team who have rallied around and stepped in to say liturgies, preach my sermon, make phone calls on my behalf. Bless them. And yes it is very good for a control freak such as I to have it all taken away from me from time to time. But you know, the timing could have been better, eh?

keep-calm-and-enjoy-the-silence-50

In which Ruth lets down her readers

Oh what a bad blogger have I been! My intentions fall by the wayside in direct proportion to looking after two more churches during their interregnum. I collapse at the end of the day in front of the TV with my pussy cats by my side and zonk out completely. And you know something? I don’t even remember what I did last week.

I know it has taken me about a month to read The Cuckoo Calls by Robert Galbraith, aka J K Rowling. I can give you a short review: OK story but too long. I only persevered to find out whodunnit. Writing was ok just too much of it.

On Sunday I had great fun with one of my little interregnum-flocks. We did SWOT analysis and looked at what they wanted in a priest. I managed to contradict most of that. Well, everyone wants a ‘family man with young family’. Jings. You’d be far better with an old wifie my age, I told them. We want someone ‘healthy’ someone said. I take 10 pills to get me going in the morning, said I.  I’ve left them doing the Parish Profile and look forward to reading that.

The diary is pretty full from now on so don’t expect me back here until reflection time. But heh! you never know. I just might be bursting to share something.

Here are some lovely BVM pics to ponder at this pregnant season…

BVM mullan  pregnancy-test  Pregnant Virgin dreamstime  The Crowning by Sara Schnelle

In which Ruth has a holiday and then doesn’t

So this week I tried to use up the last of my annual leave. There were still 6 days lingering and for the past few years I’ve lost a few of those and I was determined that this year I would get them all. This was the only week which didn’t have some important diary dates and thus it was crossed out with a big bold purple cross in my Parson’s Pocketbook. (I would have 20131129_172852done a similar thing with my Google Calendar but I’ve never really quite got the hang of it. Instead I got the word HOLIDAY printed in small orange letters at the top of each page. Not the same as a big purple cross. At all.)

On Monday I shared with my Facebook friends that I did have a few tasks to complete before the holiday could begin. Things like 2 sermons, ironing, housework, expenses, read the book group book, Income tax return… that sort of thing. “Oh no you don’t!” they all screamed. “Those are not holiday things to do!” they chided. “And when do you suggest I do do them?” I muttered darkly.

For its all very well to say that our day off should be a day off where we lounge around in our onesies reading trashy novels or watching QVC in the morning, before staggering to the phone to order a carry-oot. Yes, that’s all very well if you have a Housekeeper, Secretary, Team of Clergy and Lay assistants and are up to date with all your paperwork. NOT IN MY WORLD, IT AIN’T.

Most priests I know have to use their day off for a quick hoover, some washing and ironing if you’re lucky, visit the elderly parents and then fall asleep in front of the TV missing the end of a particularly gruesome autopsy. Well, that’s my world anyway. And thus the holiday began…

I whizzed round with the hoover, skooshed a bit of polish in the air and flicked the duster over the mantlepiece in the lounge. Got slightly waylaid when I thought it might be nice to move the furniture around so that it is cosier in winter. Got some moved before my bad back screamed to me “Stop!” and I gave up. Decided I’d done enough housework. Left the room half done and thus it has remained.

Thought I might finish my new Phil Rickman book, The Magus of Hay, before starting on the Impbook group one but as soon as I sat down, it began.  For this next bit you have to imagine a small impish creature sitting on my left shoulder with a particularly wicked glint in his eye. Thus he whispered as I read my book…

So have you done your sermons then?
And you hadn’t forgotten its Advent 1 on Sunday and you need to prepare the Candle prayers?
And who is doing the greenery this year? Remember H cut through her tendons at that particularly bloodthirsty Craft Group. She can’t do them.
And the Carol Service… have you decided what carols you’re doing? You know you need to let the choir leader know before Wednesday. They have to practice, you know.
Remember that purple cloth you took to the clergy conference? If you want to use that again you’ll need to get rid of all the wax. And while we’re on about that, there is a pile of ironing lying through there.
What about the Income Tax? If you don’t get it in before December your accountant won’t be pleased. “I’ll do it every week so there’s not so much to do,” you promised last year. Ha!
And while you’re thinking about the Advent Candles and what you’re going to do, don’t forget to let the pew-sheet person know before Thursday so she can add it on.
While we’re talking about the pew sheet, did you give her the notices too, and the sick list? Wouldn’t it be easier if you did them yourself in Advent with all the extras? Well you’d better tell her then.
Ah Advent! Usually you do a little something extra. You haven’t done a little extra for a while, have you? What with those two other churches you’re looking after, you’ve made excuse after excuse. What about Compline? People like Compline. That wouldn’t take long to organise.

I turned over my page. The Magus of Hay was going to have to wait.  Would it be possible to get it all done in one day and then I could relax? Because I sure as hell couldn’t relax and read with my feet up while that little imp reminded me of all the things I had left undone and those things which I ought to have delegated and hadn’t because Lord knows everyone else is busy too.  The despair was overwhelming. (Ok, perhaps that’s a slight exaggeration. But it was rather spoiling my book.)

angelmanAnd then it came to me! (I like to think there was a lovely angel on my right shoulder nudging me with his big fluffy wings for this bit. Cute, huh?)  How about if I didn’t take my holiday? How about if I just got on with all the work that had to be done but didn’t tell a soul that I wasn’t on holiday? What if I left the answering machine on and let someone take my midweek service, and just cleared the decks for Advent? Genius! I can’t tell you how happy that made me feel on Monday night when that decision was made. I could go back to work! Yay! (Did I mention I love my job?)

So it came to pass. It is nearly all done too. Well, except the ironing, and the Income Tax return. Oh, and the expenses. But I do still have tomorrow.

I will get those holidays back some time. Perhaps in Advent, two at a time. Or perhaps in January after my post-Christmas breakdown. But you know it is a small price to pay for the good feeling I have today. I think I’m nearly ready for Advent. Isn’t that what its all about?

Postscript… just as I finish typing this Son No 1 phones to ask if I can help him move the last of his stuff to the new flat tomorrow. He has a bad back too. Ach there’s no rush for that Income Tax Return, is there?

(As an aside, the Magus of Hay was rather disappointing.)

In which Ruth feels like her life is falling apart

Now you may know that I am not one to exaggerate or anything like that, but for the last 48 hours my life has indeed fallen apart.  Nobody has died, that I know of.  (Well, how would you word that sentence without ending on a preposition?) Nobody has lost their job, or if I have I haven’t received the letter yet. My children are still doing what they do and the least I know about that the better. So what is the reason for my life falling apart, I hear you cry?

My computer is broken. And being the age I am, I can’t even remember back 48 hours to what caused it. Was it a print command? Did I try to do two things together too quickly? (This is not a brand new shiny computer, no, this is an XP computer and it was the new thing when I got it.) Anyway, whatever I did, it began to run very slowly and wouldn’t print. Nor could I get into whatisname where the Printers thingy is kept. So I switched it off and had a few words with it.

Yesterday I didn’t have it on until tea time when it kept asking me to report things to Microsoft which I did to no avail. So what’s the point of that then, if they’re not going to fix it? Spooler SubSystem App has encountered a problem… The print spooler service is not running… Duh? Ctrl/Alt/Delete did no good whatsoever and that’s my only remedy. (Speaking of which, I even went out and bought some Rescue Remedy which gave me a nice hit of brandy but did  nothing for the computer whatsoever. ) Then I wondered if Rita kitten had something to do with it. She does love my desk as a route to the sunny spot on the window-sill and is prone to escaping there, scattering speakers and crucifixes asunder, if Lucy Pussy is chasing her. Had she pulled out a wire? I spent the evening pulling out plugs and putting them back in again.

Today I realise that my life has fallen apart. Without the comfort of my computer I can do nothing. I cannot write sermons, I cannot send emails to groups, I cannot find files and print them off (oh why did I not print it out as soon as I wrote it?). And this is when you kick yourself for downloading DropBox and other such sharing things and then never putting anything in them.  I clutch my iPad to my chest as I rock back and forth and wish that I’d bought a keypad for it that meant I didn’t have to type with one purple pointy thing.

I’m now waiting the arrival of Ewan the £52 + VAT per hour computer man. And I’m praying. Hard.

Diary entry in which one is nearly bombed

I used to ‘diary’ every day. A page a day from when I was about 14. Then it became a ‘journal’ and I kept it going pretty consistently until I started blogging. They all lie in a trunk and occasionally I will rifle through them while looking for something else. I used to have a friend who promised to destroy them all on my death for fear of others reading them. But now I don’t care so much – or perhaps I’ve just forgotten what secrets lie therein.

Of course blogging is nothing like keeping a diary/journal. It is public for a start and therefore probably not one’s inner thoughts. (Well not the libelous ones anyway.) But from time to time, mostly when on retreat or holiday, I do go back to scribbling away in a delicious notebook. One should always have a delicious notebook, don’t you think?

A while ago someone gave me a wonderful book called The Assassin’s Cloak – An Anthology of the World’s Greatest Diarists. Each day there are several entries from well known (or not so well know, in my case) diarists from that day. Pepys is in there of course, and is probably the earliest at about 1661.  Today one of the entries really made me smile, so I share it with you.

I noticed a very funny note in the kitchen from old Kate who ‘does’ for my mother.  ‘Madam,’ it said, ‘had one [bomb] at the top of our street. I was shot out of my bed. It was gastley, all night digging. Today I am nearly a cripple, I can hardly walk. I think it must be rumatism. I am breaking up.  The butcher has run out of sausages.’  My mother’s note for today simply said, ‘Dear Kate, so glad you are still alive. I think we will have Welsh Rarebit tonight.’

Joan Wyndham, 1943.