Sabbatical Reading

When you have three months off work there is more opportunity for reading without falling asleep after the first page. I wondered whether I should read lots of theology because the Lord knows I have plenty of those gathering dust on my shelves but some wise person on Twitter said ‘Read fiction – you’re on sabbatical!’ so I took him at his word. And let’s not forget there is often tons of theology in fiction anyway. So here is my list of reading for the past twelve weeks. (The ones I can remember anyway.)

The Book of Strange New Things by Michael Faber. Missionary goes to evangelise aliens. 4 stars.

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton. 17th century Amsterdam, homosexuality, sugar and miniature things. 3 stars.

Just One Damned Thing After Another by Jodi Taylor. Time travel, humour, easy to read and loads more in the series. 4 stars.

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankweiler by E L Konigsburg. Children run away and hide in Metropolitan Museum of Art. Angels, Michelangelo and a fierce girl. 4 stars.

Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C Wrede. Another children’s book with dragons. Another fierce girl but she let the feminist side down by doing the dragon’s dishes. Good fun though. 3 stars.

Forensics: The Anatomy of Crime by Val McDermid. Fact not fiction but really interesting if you love gore. Never look at a fly in the same way again. 4 stars.

The Comforter by Margaret Hart. Written by a friend and interesting journey through counselling and spirituality and sexuality. 4 stars.

Unseen Things Above by Catherine Fox. Sex , bishops, feminists in the C of E. Wonderful romp. 5 stars.

The Anchoress by Robyn Cadwallader.  13th century, young woman holed up in church, world keeps interfering. 5 stars.

A Brush with Death by Elizabeth J Duncan. Wales, love and amateur sleuths. More in series. 3 stars.

The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die by Marnie Riches. Amsterdam, Cambridge, secrets, fast-paced thriller. 4 stars.

Runaway by Peter May. Glasgow, London in swinging sixties, crime, putting things right. 4 stars.

The Faces of Angels by Lucretia Grindle. Florence, Boboli Gardens, honeymoon killer, art history, stalker and murder. 4 stars.

Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery by Henry Marsh. Required reading for anyone who works in a hospital. Anyone. Not just doctors. 5 stars.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. A single parent, fabby children, haunted house, racism in the deep south, a trial. 5 stars.

The Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb.  1st in fantasy series, touch of T H White, bastard son, Wit and Skilling mind games, thrilling ending. 5 stars

Missing by Karin Alvtegen. Scandi crime, homeless woman, serial killer, enlists young boy to help so became slightly unbelievable, fast pace. 3 stars.

And a host of art books too many to mention.

So what good books have you read lately?

Our Book Group begged a break while I was away so they could read what they liked but I now have a few good suggestions for when I get back. Always open for more suggestions although this is my unread bookcase so I’ve plenty to keep me going. (Two deep on most shelves!)

2015-07-06 06.28.01

In which Ruth sleeps in a library

The problem about living next door to the church is that there is a lot of coming and going, people asking for food and money, choirs singing, children running around, phones ringing and it can make it difficult to concentrate. Don’t get me wrong – normally I love the sounds and the busyness but when you are trying to do some writing it can be distracting. So it seemed sensible for part of my sabbatical to come away somewhere quiet for the writing part. I’ve chosen the pieces of art I want to use in my Images of Lent project but now I have to write the meditations to go with them. (And if anyone has a good title for this book/blog thing I’m doing, please let me know.)

venue-hireSo after three train journeys and a taxi ride I arrived at Gladstone’s Library in Hawarden (pronounced Harden) in North Wales. It is a beautiful building in a little village near Chester with the library taking up one end of it, and the rest being meeting rooms, lounge, dining room (where non-residents often come for lunch) and then the bedrooms upstairs on two levels. There are books everywhere! Heaven must be like this. Of course there is Gladstone’s own collection of books most of which are annotated in his own hand and makes for interesting browsing, but there is also an up-to-date section on Theology, History, Arts, Fiction etc.

After settling in to my room (small, trendy, Shaker-style with radio) I had a sumptuous home-made dinner and found the lounge where folk lounged around, as you do in a lounge, on comfy squishy leather chairs and sofas, reading and blethering. Over a week later I have learned there is an order for conversations with strangers. It goes like this:reading-rooms-web

  1. How long are you here for?
  2. Are you here to read or write?
  3. What are you reading?
  4. What are you writing?
  5. Have you been before?
  6. Yes, isn’t it lovely and how much weight have you put on?

People come and go, some only staying for one night, some for two or three (often a gift from children – hint, hint) and some for an intensive week. At the moment I’m the only one here for longer (12 days) although an American family have just left who come for a month every year. Everyone has a different story and it has been interesting hearing the reasons for their visit. The library is open until 10pm and you can ‘book’ your own desk by leaving your stuff on it so that’s handy. I am now tucked into a cubby hole between Feminist Theology and Theology and Culture which feels like a good place to be. Nice to have a browse when inspiration has dried up. There is an extensive section on fiction in the stacks but the lounge also has a considerable selection of fiction too and that was a bit like looking at my own bookshelves at home. But I’ve also found some new ones and some from my wishlist so I’ve enjoyed reading them when having a break from the project.

chapelThe day begins with a Eucharist at 8am in the chapel (Mon-Fri) sometimes taken by the Warden Peter Francis and sometimes by John, resident Chaplain. Then breakfast and a blether and discussion on what we plan for the day. Then into the library to whirr up our laptops and start the day. The only sounds then are footsteps, sighs, yawns, coughs, the occasional whistling hearing-aid and whispered enquiries. (And if that’s all too much noise for you then there are earplugs on the desk.) The librarians are young folk who are doing internships and they have all been lovely and helpful.

My project was to find 40 paintings for each day in Lent and to write a meditation to go with it. This writing part is taking longer than I anticipated and I’m finding I usually only manage two each day. But this is fine and there is plenty time to read either about art, theology or some fiction. And then there are the conversations. Although so far I have noticed that most people who come to libraries do tend to be somewhere on the introvert spectrum and are quite happy not to say a word other than a soft ‘Good Morning.’ They must all pray at meal times that I’m not going to bounce up and say ‘do you mind if I join you?’ I do feel a bit like Tigger here.

A walk into the village takes just a few minutes and there is the Post Office, the chemist, a coffee shop, beautician, handbag shop (never been open yet), tailor and dress shop. It’s all happening in Hawarden. But you can get a bus into Chester and I have done that. (It was lovely and busy and there were lots of shops and a cathedral AND a cathedral shop (my favourite) – bliss!)

Aha! I smell the scones so it must be coffee time. Speak later…

gladstones-bedrooms-03

 

 

The Minister’s Cat

Dear Margaret, my deliciously eccentric organist, passed on some Lenten reading to me after a conversation about our shared love of Timothy Radcliffe. There were some worthy Lenten books in there but the ones which really caught my eye were two little books both called The Minister’s Cat. One is full of delightful Scottish words like ‘bogshaivelt’ = knocked out of shape, and ‘kirkie’ = enthusiastically devoted to church affairs. The other is full of gorgeous poetry about cats.

The Minister’s Cat is…

…AN OMNIPRESENT CATMinister's cat

Obadiah’s on the sofa;
Obadiah’s on the chair.
No, he isn’t there in person;
But they’re covered in his hair.

Obadiah’s on the carpet;
Obadiah’s on the mat.
He’s perpetually moulting,
That infuriating cat.

Obadiah’s on my sweaters;
Obadiah’s on my suit.
When I’m going out on business,
I could kill the little brute.

Obadiah’s on the bedspread;
On the pillow as I sleep.
If he doesn’t keep his hair on,
I shall shear him like a sheep.

I’ve been asking Obadiah,
As he grudges me his purr,
In the name of all that’s feline,
Why he’s prodigal with fur.

Obadiah, to his credit,
Has a reason for the hair:
He’s afraid he’ll be forgotten
Any time he isn’t there.

It’s a token of his presence,
When he’s temporar’ly gone;
And a comforting assurance
That his mem’ry lingers on.

by Douglas Kynoch, Scottish Cultural Press, 1994

(For Obadiah read Lucy Pussy.)

In which Ruth reads and reads and reads…

I’ve been on holiday this week for my post-Christmas ‘and relax’. Of course it never is a total relax because you have a whole house to tidy which has been ignored for weeks with all the comings and goings of the Christmas season. There is forgotten mail to deal with, letters to open, filing to be done, the Archers to catch up with, the photocopier to repair, and a whole host of other thankless tasks to undertake.

I had plans of course. Oh yes, I had plans. Of art galleries to visit, movies to see, family to visit. Not one of them happened. And they didn’t happen because I had to wait in for parcels to be delivered, photocopier repairmen to arrive, a new church noticeboard to arrive, and a son who hasn’t got his Christmas presents yet to visit. That left one day in which I was free to go out and it was blowing a hoolie and all I managed was a visit to papa in the Twilight Home for the Bewildered.

I did, however, manage to read. And read. And it was glorious. Want to know what I read? books open

First I finished Fathomless Riches by The Revd Richard Coles, he of Saturday Live fame. The sub-title of the book is ‘Or How I Went From Pop To Pulpit’ and tells of his life as part of the duo that was the Communards with Jimmy Somerville to CofE Vicar and media darling. Of course there was drug taking, unsafe sex, parties and naughty behaviour before his ‘conversion’ experience and a huge shift into the world of religion and then ministry. To his credit he doesn’t talk about others in his book, well not in a kiss and tell way which so many memoirs do. Nor does he hold back on his own ‘sordid’ past and I found so many ways in which this could have been my story too. (Without the pop star bit of course!) The conversion and subsequent journey to priesthood was almost identical to mine, although I never did ‘go to Rome’. So I enjoyed reading his pilgrimage immensely.

I read two Inspector Gamache mysteries by Louise Penny, one before my holiday and one during. I am reading them in order and trying to savour them but I always reach for them when I know I will have time to read them in one go, or at the most over two days. I read Bury Your Dead (no 6 in the series) which was quite different from the others in that very little was set in the village of Three Pines (which is a bit like Midsomer where a small village is struck by a million murders a week, or so it seems). I think reading them in order is essential because the you get to know the characters gradually and that knowledge is so important to the storyline. There are three stories going on in this book, one linked closely to the previous book which is another reason to read them in order. The next book A Trick of the Light is set back in Three Pines and revolves around the art world and also continues the development of all the characters we know and love. I loved this book especially the Alleluia moment at the very end, which will mean nothing if you’ve not read the others. I’m not sure exactly why I love these books so much. Usually I prefer something much more bloodthirsty but I think they create such visual images for me, and who could resist the descriptions of the wonderful food? And there are some lovely spiritual messages in them, although they are not overtly religious.

the beesNow the next book is highly recommended – The Bees by Laline Paull is a most extraordinary book, full of religion and fierce courage and feminism and spirituality and… bees. You will never look at a bee in the same way again, and if you’re not a huge fan of bees then you will be by the end of this book. If World Book Day was giving away this book I would beg to take part and thrust it into everyone’s hands and plead with them to read it. If I say it is a bit like Watership Down I don’t want to put you off if you don’t like books written from the perspective of a creature, but it is worth trying something you might not normally read. Flora 717 is a sanitation bee, born into the lowest caste of bees, only fit to clean. But Flora is different. She is a fierce bee who wants to learn, to explore, to challenge the hive’s mantra of ‘accept, obey and serve’, and she does with exciting consequences. Some have compared this book to The Hunger Games or The Handmaid’s Tale but it is much more. I really couldn’t put this book down.

A History of Loneliness by John Boyne was another Christmas book which I’d wanted to read since I heard the author speak on radio of his reasons for writing the book. I was a huge fan of his Boy in the Striped Pyjamas but this is much more adult and set in Ireland from the 1970s to the current time and explores the child sexual abuse scandals in the Roman Catholic Church. It is a sad book and makes uncomfortable reading, but there is honesty and truth within it which makes it a must-read. If you are in any way concerned about the celibacy issue then this will confirm all your suspicions. And it highlights starkly the loneliness of ministry which many clergy suffer. It is a novel which surprised me and at the same time made me very sad.

So there we have it. My post-Christmas reading list. I’m trying to squeeze in the next Louise Penny one before I go back to work tomorrow. Greedy, or what?

glowing-book

The Entire Bible

There’s been a Facebook post going around which is just too good to lose.

HOLY BIBLE: the TL;DR version (too long; didn’t read)  BibleBirds-300x297

GENESIS
God:  All right, you two, don’t do the one thing.  Other than that, have fun.
Adam & Eve:  Okay
Satan:  You should do the thing.
Adam & Eve:  Okay
God:  What happened?
Adam & Eve:  We did the thing.
God:  Guys…

THE REST OF THE OLD TESTAMENT
God:  You are my people, and you should not do the things.
People:  We won’t do the things.
God:  Good.
People:  We did the things.
God:  Guys…

THE GOSPELS
Jesus:  I am the Son of God, and even though you have done the things, the Father and I still love you and want you to live.  Don’t do the things any more.
Healed people:  Okay!  Thank you!
Other people:  We’ve never seen him do the things, but he probably does the things when no one is looking.
Jesus:  I have never done the things.
Other people:  We’re going to put you on trial for doing the things.
Pilate:  Did you do the things?
Jesus:  No.
Pilate:  He didn’t do the things.
Other people:  Kill him anyway.
Pilate:  Okay.
Jesus:  Guys…

PAUL’S LETTERS
People:  We did the things.
Paul:  Jesus still loves you, and because you love him, you have to stop doing the things.
People:  Okay.

PAUL’S LETTERS PART II
People:  We did the things again.
Paul:  Guys…

REVELATION
John:  When Jesus comes back, there will be no more people who do the things.  In the meantime, stop doing the things.

THE END

The Wall by William Sutcliffe – Book Group questions

Occasionally we choose a book for our Reading Group for which I can find no questions on the internet. It really helps the conversation if we have some questions to focus our discussion. Here are some questions I’ve come up with for The Wall by William Sutcliffe. Feel free to add any more suggestions in the comments.

THE WALL by William Sutcliffe

Is this book something you would normally read?  Did it win you over?

The book is written for young adults? Did that put you off?

The author says: “What I actually wanted to do is write the story of a kid brought up living a fantasy who happens across reality. For me, that was a lot more interesting.”  What is the fantasy about Joshua’s life?

The author is himself a Jew, so why do you think he wrote a book which was quite critical about Israel?

Did you find the story believable?

Why do you think he chose a young boy to be the main character and not an adult?  Joshua is 13 – the age a Jewish boy comes of age – so do you think he grows up in the novel? In what way?

What did you think about Joshua’s mother? Did you think she was weak?

What about his step-father?

Were there any bits you didn’t like?

It took great courage to go through the tunnel. What gave Joshua the courage to go again?

Did the life of Leila and her family shock you?

Why do you think Joshua took over looking after the olive and lemon groves? What were his motives? Did he make things worse or better for Leila’s family?

The author said “But it was really important to the authenticity of the book that it wasn’t a ‘everyone can be friends across the barbed wire’ kind of story. I guess I have an optimism about people rather than politicians – and a belief that most people want to live ordinary lives in peace.”  Do you agree?

What did you think of the ending? Was it what you expected?

In which Ruth ponders National Poetry Day

I don’t really do poetry. I don’t get it. Well, most of it anyway. Poetry involves hard work and I’m a pretty instant kind of person. Instant food and instant gratification and instant feel good, that’s me. The problem is that lots of clergy love poetry. They read it, they quote from it, they preach it. And sometimes, dare I say it, there’s a wee bit of snobbery around poetry too. The more elusive the poem, the better it seems to be. But if I don’t get it immediately on first reading then I move on.

Mind you, I have been known to pen a wee ditty or two in my time. Not that I’d call them poems though. Just thoughts or ramblings or rantings even. But I mostly keep them to myself or pass them off as ‘meditations’. Meditations cover a multitude of sins.

However, there are some poets I quite like. Carol Ann Duffy, for one. I get her. Or maybe I don’t but think I do. You see, that’s the problem with poetry. You think you get it and then someone unpacks layers of meaning that you completely missed first time round. Maya Angelou – I love her stuff. And I’ve recently discovered Malcolm Guite and Ann Lewin. I also love Matthew Fitt and Maureen Sangster who write in Scots vernacular and make me smile.

So I’ve had a look through my Quotes Journals and here are a few of my favourite poems for National Poetry Day:

God Says Yes To Me by Kaylin Haught

I asked God if it was okay to be melodramatic
and she said yes
I asked her if it was okay to be short
and she said it sure is
I asked her if I could wear nail polish
and she said honey
she calls me that sometimes
she said you can do just exactly
what you want to
Thanks God I said
And is it even okay if I don’t paragraph
my letters
sweetcakes God said
who knows where she picked that up
what I’m telling you is
Yes Yes Yes

I love that poem! Love Love Love.

Ain’t I a Woman by Erlene Stetson

That man over there say
a woman needs to be helped into carriages
and lifted over ditches
and to have the best place everywhere.
Nobody ever helped me into carriages
or over mud puddles
or gives me the best place…

And ain’t I a woman?
Look at me
Look at my arm!
I have ploughed and planted
and gathered into barns
and no man could head me…
and ain’t I a woman?
I could work as much
and eat as much as a man –
when I could get to it –
and bear the lashes as well
and ain’t I a woman?

I have borne thirteen children
and seen most sold into slavery
and when I cried out a mother’s grief
none but Jesus heard me…
and ain’t I a woman?
that little man in black there say
a woman can’t have as much rights as a man
’cause Christ wasn’t a woman
Where did your Christ come from?
From God and a woman!
Man had nothing to do with him!
If the first woman God ever made
was strong enough to turn the world
upside down, all alone
together women ought to be able to turn it
rightside up again.

Perhaps poetry needs to be about the right topic to interest me? Hmm.

Waste by the Rev’d Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy (Woodbine Willie)

Waste of Muscle, waste of Brain,
Waste of Patience, waste of Pain,
Waste of Manhood, waste of Health,
Waste of Beauty, waste of Wealth,

Waste of Blood, and waste of Tears,
Waste of Youth’s most precious Years,
Waste of ways the Saint’s have trod,
Waste of Glory, waste of God, –
War!

I do like some of the war poets and this one is just so succinct and kept coming back to me on my recent trip to Normandy.

The Hymn of a Fat Woman by Joyce Huff

All of the saints starved themselves.
Not a single fat one.
The words ‘deity’and ‘diet’ must have come from the same
Latin root.

Those saints must have been thin as knucklebones
or shards of stained
glass or Christ carved
on his cross.

Hard
as pewseats. Brittle
as hair shirts.  Women
made from bone, like the ribs that protrude from his wasted
wooden chest. Women consumed
by fervor.

They must have been able to walk three or four abreast
down that straight and oh-so-narrow path.
They must have slipped with ease through the eye
of the needle, leaving the weighty
camels stranded at the city gate.

Within that spare city’s walls,
I do not think I would find anyone like me.

I imagine I will find my kind outside
lolling in the garden
munching on the apples.

No surprises with that one then.

Please Bury Me In The Library by J Patrick Lewis

Please bury me in the librarybooks and coffee
In the clean, well-lighted stacks
of Novels, History, Poetry,
right next to the Paperbacks
where the Kid’s Books dance
with True Romance
and the Dictionary dozes.
Please bury me in the library
with a dozen long-stemmed roses.
way back by a rack of Magazines,
I won’t be sad too often
if they bury me in the library
with Book worms in my coffin.

Just delightful!

Blame The Vicar by John Betjeman

When things go wrong it’s rather tame
to find we are ourselves to blame,
it gets the trouble over quicker
to go and blame things on the Vicar.
The Vicar, after all, is paid
to keep us bright and undismayed.

For what’s a Vicar really for
except to cheer us up, What’s more,
he shouldn’t ever, ever tell
if there is such a place as Hell,
for if there is it’s certain he
will go to it as well as we.

My party piece on more than one occasion.

The Late Bride by Veronica Zundel

And so she finally
after all those years
opened the box.
And out flew
nothing.
And was that all, she cried
there was in it?
Then why did I dream and yearn
scrabble and fight so long
to get my hands on it?

That was at first
it was only later she learnt,
slowly, so slowly
to fill the box with
the treasures she had
unknowing, owned all along.

Just lovely.

So there we have it, some of my favourite poems for National Poetry Day. Want to convert me? Send me your favourite then!

In which Ruth ponders 10 books

books and coffeeFollowing Father Kirstin’s example, here are the 10 books I was asked to pick quickly that have stayed with me. It is a meme on Facebook just now and has turned out to be such fun and a welcome break from ice-buckets and Scottish politics. For those of you not on Facebook you might want to join in so please do below. We were told not to think about it too hard so these literally are the first ten which came to mind, and why. Since then I have read all my friends’ lists and could add a thousand more.

  1. Skallagrigg by William Horwood. This book was introduced to me by a friend Sheena Liddell who recommended it highly. It was such an unusual book and held me horrified and intrigued. I couldn’t put it down and have since recommended it to loads of folk. I then went on to read his Duncton Wood series which were spiritual and mole-ish and lovely.
  2. The Great Divorce by CS Lewis. Not long after I started going to church I asked my priest if there was such a place as hell and this is the book he told me to go and read. I can still remember it vividly and often do the same to my little flock when they ask.
  3. Perfume by Patrick Suskind. This was a recommendation by a work colleague Mike Nicholson, now an author himself. He said the writing was incredibly descriptive and he wasn’t wrong. That first page! The smells! And how dark it was. Delicious. Not everyone agrees with me and I’ve done it in two book groups where folk hated it.
  4. Some Day I’ll Find You by HA Williams. This one came up in a conversation with a Roman Catholic monk who couldn’t believe that I hadn’t already read it. After I did, I couldn’t believe it wasn’t on our reading list in theological college. An autobiography that was honest and so easy to read. I loved it.
  5. Alan Ecclestone by Tim Gorringe. Was this on my reading list at theological college or did I find it on my own? I don’t remember but I do remember reading it at a summer school and underlining just about every line and shouting ‘Yes! I want to be a priest like that!’ I failed miserably but he is still a hero. And then, of course, that led me on to read Kenneth Leach and why didn’t I list any of his books in my top 10 which I also adored, and now count him as a friend.
  6. Crosstitch by Diana Gabaldon. Who told me to read this one? Sheena? Sally? I know we all read them at the same time. Magic, Scotland, Highlands, Culloden, and the beloved Jamie. A great series to begin with but I did go off them when it all went to the USA. But that first one will always be the best. (Now called Outlander in some parts of the world and about to be a TV series and I can’t wait.)
  7. The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley. I think this was suggested by a friend Irene Hutchison and introduced me to women of Arthur’s court. Love powerful women in a book and there is a whole series. Not sure how many I’ve read and still have some in my unread pile.
  8. The Once and Future King by TH White. Now funnily enough, this came up in a conversation with Bishop Michael Hare-Duke when he spoke to me on a retreat about the unicorn (don’t ask me why) and love but the unicorn got me interested.  Merlin, Arthur again and unicorns. What’s not to like?
  9. Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. I read this many, many years ago and fell in love with the story about how the author wrote the story. I’ve lost count of how many people I’ve given it to and they all love it as well. You never look at cathedrals in the same way again.
  10. War Horse by Michael Morpurgo. There were so many that I could have chosen by this children’s author but I think War Horse is my favourite. I went through a period of reading children’s books just a few years ago and was enchanted to find such good stuff in that genre: Madeline l’Engle (via Mother Kimberly); Mallory Blackman (via Louise Daly); and a host of others. 

So that was my quick ten books. Since then I’ve been reminded of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, Miss Garnet’s Angel, Take This Bread by Sara Miles, Anne Lamott’s books, Nadia Bolz-Weber, The Owl That Called My Name, Birdsong, Pat Barker’s trilogy, Kate Atkinson, and of course all my lovely Phil Rickman and other clerical crime ones. OK I’d better stop there.  I could go on and on and on. I now have a bookcase jammed full of unread books and a Kindle packed with classics and bargains and other recommendations and just not enough time to read them all. I think it was last year that I made a resolution to try and get through the year without buying any more books and just read the ones I had. I think I lasted until May and it was hell.

The delightful thing about this has been reading other friends’ lists. Some familiar, some unknown but loads more to add the wishlist. I’m so glad to have booky friends.

In which Ruth ponders her holiday reading

Did I tell you I’d found a new crime writer whose books are just fabulous? I heard about her from several clergy friends – all women and all from over the pond. The author is Louise Penny and the series of books which I’ve been enjoying are the Inspector Gamache series. So far, I’ve read the first four: Still Life; Dead Cold; The Cruellest Month; and The Murder Stone. They are set in the delightful village of Three Pines in Quebec which is a bit like Midsummer in that many people seem to get murdered there. I kind of want to go there but would be very wary, if you know what I mean. The characters are so real that you feel as if you know them and poetry-loving Inspector Gamache and his wife are just delicious. And the food! Every meal is mouthwatering and there really should be a recipe book brought out soon. There’s not much in the way of churchy stuff but lots of human life is there to be pondered. (By the way, I didn’t read them all in this holiday – just two of them!) Each book is a stand-alone story but it is best to read them in order as the characters develop over time.

I’ve also read The Four Last Things by Andrew Taylor. It is the first in the Roth trilogy but I’m not sure I’ll rush to get the next ones. It is churchy but rather dated now. A little girl is kidnapped from her childminder. Her mother is a curate and father a policeman and the book explores their strained relationship and what a missing child does to your faith in God. The rest of the book explores Angel and Eddie, the kidnappers, and what has brought them to this place. Rather grisly and the church doesn’t fare very well. Perhaps this is more realistic than I’d like to think.

I also read Extraordinary People by Peter May (of the Lewis Trilogy which I loved). This is the first in the Enzo Macleod books, a Scottish forensic expert living in Paris. If you know Paris you will probably love this book. I’ve been but don’t know it well enough so found the constant use of street names a bit of a pain. (However, I realise if it was set in Edinburgh I would probably be delighted so make your own mind up on that one.) Lots of clever clues which of course he manages to solve just in time which reminded me a wee bit of The Da Vinci Code. Good characters and good mystery. Not sure I need to read the rest of the series though. Back to Inspector Gamache for me.

Acts and OmissionsAnd finally I have started Acts and Omissions by Catherine Fox which was waiting for me when I got home. I read all her books when they first came out and absolutely loved them. Being married to a clergyman she knows the church and all its foibles and this is no different. This book actually began as a weekly blog but I didn’t enjoy having to wait each week for the next chapter so am thrilled that it is now in print. It is hilarious and wonderfully observed. If you love the church you will love this. More when I finish it…

In which Ruth ponders busyness and prayer

I am not doing very well with my daily Lent blog and I’ve even managed to fail at a weekly one over at Beauty from Chaos. Those great plans of getting ahead of myself when things were quiet (ha!) and storing them up just hasn’t happened. The excuses could take up a whole page in themselves: a funeral; meetings; a full day on Deliverance ministry; Lent Groups; sermon writing and re-writing; hymn choosing; desperately trying (unsuccessfully) to get cover for foster-flocks; assisting with Congregational Profiles; and all the other minutiae which takes up a priest’s working week. And the worst thing is that none of it has felt very holy.

It hasn’t helped that I’ve been re-reading Easter for our Book Group. There’s nothing like reading about a priest in crisis for bringing you down. Arditti is so good at observing churchgoers and it has made me wonder what goes on in the heads of my own little flock(s) during services. Of course there are some whom you know well and could probably guess. There are some who are unable to hide what they are thinking from the expression on their faces – and its not always good! But I am sure there is lots going on behind those gorgeous exteriors that I know nothing about. How well do we know our little flocks? And would they want to tell us what’s going on in their heads anyway? Post-Easter resolution is to do more visiting. Crisis ministry is not good for anyone.

I have enjoyed reading Harry Williams’ Becoming What I Am, a little book on prayer. Funnily enough it was a Roman Catholic Redemptorist brother who first introduced him to me. Why do our own theological colleges not teach us about these great writers of the (recent) past? It is so easy to read and, although a little dated, still resonates strongly with me. Today I was reading a bit which has helped me. Let me share it with you:

Von Hugel once said that a very fruitful form of prayer could be compared to sucking a lozenge. What he meant was that instead of selecting passages for meditation…, you read through a suitable book, but not in the ordinary way of getting through it. You read a few lines or a paragraph and then ponder over it. It may say something to you to make you aware of God’s presence, perhaps for the whole ten minutes. Or perhaps the lines you read will keep you going for only a minute or two; then you can go on to the next few lines and try them out. On some days you will find that two lines of the book will fill up ten minutes prayer time, and on other days that you will have to read eight or nine pages. But your aim will be not to swallow what you read immediately as in ordinary reading, but to keep it in your mouth and feel its flavour, as you do a lozenge.

Our job is to put ourselves at God’d disposal by the discipline of regularity, by faithfulness to our rule, and by the use of that common sense without which we can’t do anything. But there our job ends. What happens when we pray is God’s business, not ours. God will give us what he knows is best. And what is best we see in the life of Jesus, in his joy and peace and stillness and confidence and trust. And also in his passion, his bloody sweat, his death and resurrection.

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