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.

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Sermon for Pentecost 7 2015

2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12-19

One of the most interesting parts of my sabbatical has been visiting other churches. And there’s nothing quite like visiting other churches to appreciate how good your own is! Most of the time I have been ignored. Oh perhaps I got a smile at the door as I was handed pew sheets and a hymn-book – but not always. At the Peace people did indeed shake my hand, or limply touch my fingertips without even looking me in the eye, but you could tell they were just being polite before they could have a natter and a real smile for their friend in front of you. And then at the end I handed my books in and mostly nobody even noticed. Only once was I invited back for coffee.

In churches where I was known it was very different of course. There it was smiles and welcome-backs and catching up on news. So it was very tempting to keep going back to those ones.

And then there was the worship itself… Oh jings, but some of it was dreary. Hymn singing that you could hardly hear; (and you know, if you’re going to insist on only singing hymns written before 1900 at least sing them joyfully);
dull, dull, dull sermons straight out of a biblical commentary;
and Eucharistic prayers recited as if it was the phone book.
How great are we, I kept thinking? And we are great! And I really missed you!

But when I was reading today’s lessons the Old Testament reading reminded me of one church I visited where things were completely different. Let me remind you of those verses from the 2nd book of Samuel:

‘David and all the house of Israel were dancing before the Lord with all their might, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals… and David danced before the Lord with all his might.’
Dancing and joyful songs and musical instruments – surely not in worship? Surely not in Scotland? No indeed, this was New York.

St Mark’s in the Bowery to be precise. A church tucked away in the East Village, nothing much to look at outside, in a rather poor neighbourhood.  But oh what a welcome! And of course you’re thinking ‘those Americans are a bit over the top when it comes to welcome and worship’ and you could be right. But you know, before the service people really cared that I was there and asked where I was from. “Scotland?! Oh wow! My grandmother came from Scotland.”  “Scotland? Wow! What brings you here?”  “Scotland? Wow! How lovely that you’re visiting us!”

Let me read you the welcome on their pew sheet:
St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery works hard to be a welcoming place. What that means here is that you are welcome, as you are, to participate in any of our worship services. We believe people encounter the holy here, and we want that for you.
We know that church might be something you have wanted to do for a while; a dream come true; kind of scary; possibly awful; or really exciting for you. We won’t assume.
We would like you to know that all kinds of people come into St. Mark’s week to week. You might find yourself next to a life long member, a new-ish one, or someone who has walked in for the first time. Don’t worry that you have to do what they are doing.
We love children. We are delighted to have them in our services. If you are worried that your child is distracting others, please do what you need to do to be comfortable, but don’t worry that we are worried. If you find it difficult or distracting to be near a child who is making noise, feel free to move. We want children to remember the church as a place that reflects God’s love for them. If you feel that you have been approached in an inappropriate or unhelpful way during your time at St. Mark’s, we would like to know. If you feel that something about how we do things causes you to feel unwelcome, we would like to know. Please talk to an usher, a priest, or email or call the office.

The service was relaxed, the music was mostly modern (quite a few Iona hymns actually) but we also sang The Lord’s my Shepherd to the Scottish tune Peter and Hazel had on their wedding day: Brother James’ Air. And the people really, really enjoyed singing them. There was even some swaying along to the music too. I couldn’t see an organ so they used a piano and if you felt like singing in the choir all you had to do was turn up half an hour before the service and join in the practice.

The sermon was funny in bits and serious in bits and there was a story (and you know how I love a story) and gave us all something to think about when we went home.

We sat in rows in a circle round the altar in the middle and when it came to the eucharist we stood in one big circle round it. “Come along!” they said. “Come and join us!” And Winnie, the priest, really meant that Eucharistic prayer, she believed it, you could tell. Then we passed the bread and wine along the circle from one person to another.

And you know that big AMEN at the end of the Eucharistic Prayer? That one that I’ve told you has to be said loudly and affirmed? Well they sang it and clapped it and swayed to it and someone even produced a tambourine for it.

So when I read this morning’s reading about David rejoicing and dancing in the temple, St Mark’s in the Bowery is what I thought of. I remembered the joy they had for all their worship. A joy that showed on their faces. A jazzy, gospel, blues kind of joy. A bit too cringey for you?  For us in Scotland? Well perhaps. But what a sense of enjoyment I got there, of loving the Lord with all their heart and soul – and bodies too.

And afterwards when I was sitting in the sun in a nearby park jotting down my memories of that service, I saw the people from the church coming round with a big shopping trolley handing out food and drinks to the homeless folk there. Just like David who, when he had finished offering the sacrifice, blessed the people and distributed food among all the people – to each a cake of bread, a portion of meat, and a cake of raisins. (And I have some Hershey’s Kisses for you when you leave today.)

Now we may not be up for the dancing and singing but we can support the homeless by bringing food along for the Salvation Army. Do what you can in your own neighbourhood.

And perhaps in time, you’ll be so inspired and excited about coming to church that you’ll go out of here singing and dancing. You’ll know you’ve welcomed the stranger in your midst, made them feel at home in your little Temple of the Lord here in Falkirk. You might even want to go home and write it down so you never forget the welcome you got and how wonderful you feel. You might even believe that you are loved by God and you want to show it.

You might.

man dancing in kilt

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

The real story about an extrovert drowning in a sea of introverts

OK, so this is the real story about my trip to Gladstone’s Library…

Twelve days was too long. A short course or Gladfest would have been better for me.

Twelve days of sleeping in a library felt like I’d inadvertently slipped into a silent retreat with total strangers who didn’t want to be naughty.

Twelve days of trying to strike up conversations with people who really just wanted to read was exhausting.extrovert introvert

Twelve days of thinking you’ve found a like-mind only to find they are only there for the day or are B&B and off exploring all day and only going to appear again next breakfast is disheartening.

Twelve days of not having your own books and journals of quotes around you is maddening.

Twelve days of no music (except for the radio in my room – Please Respect Your Neighbours when choosing Volume) made me wish I’d taken headphones for my laptop.

Twelve days of whispering or talking in hushed tones (in the lounge, for heaven’s sake!) was a strain on my vocal chords.

Twelve days of no laughter was depressing.

Twelve days of rubbish church on Sundays was agonising.

Twelve days of not being able to talk about my project or show people pretty pictures was really hard.

Twelve days of not being able to entertain was like being bound and gagged.Extrovert Rooster

Twelve days was too long. Just too long.

Remind me of this next time, will you?

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

 

 

A feminist’s memorial for 9/11, New York

One of the images which has stuck with me after my visit to New York was the bronze sculpture we saw in the Cathedral of St John the Divine. It was created by Meredith Bergmann, a sculptor, feminist and poet and invited contemplation which held me when I was there and I’ve gone back to time and time again. It shows a woman with her eyes closed, holding up both hands, palms towards her face, stopping two planes. It made me think of stigmata. You can read what she says about it here.

IMG_1147 IMG_1148 IMG_1149 IMG_1150 IMG_1151

In which Ruth goes to America in search of art (part 3)

Day 11

And so to Washington DC, after a hearty French Toast breakfast, on the Greyhound bus. But this time our journey was not quite so uneventful. Instead of 6 of us rattling around a huge coach, this time the bus was full. Foolishly I kept walking up to the back of the bus looking for two seats together and there were none, which left us sitting at the back of the bus, next to the loo and the ‘bad guys’. It began with a long and loud phone call between the man behind me and the love of his life, in graphic detail. More knowledge than you ever wanted to know. Then a young guy got on, just out of prison we learned, who spoke at great length to the mother of his child about how she ought to get herself together and accept she was a mother and should get on with it. Reading my kindle became impossible as a real life soap opera was played out all around us, including some shady drug dealing in the back row. At one point an older man turned to the phone guys and told them to keep it down as G could be an undercover cop! All very exciting but lead us to agree that we’d get the train from now on and hang the cost!

We made it to our new apartment alive and unscathed – another basement but very nice indeed on Capitol Hill. Dumped our stuff and wandered down to Barracks area where restaurants of every nation jostled with one another amidst trendy boutiques. Had lunch in an American diner and opted for the healthy sounding ‘Rachel Sandwich’ which turned out to be fried bread and enough filling to keep me in calories for a week. Took the Metrol into town and what a difference from NY and Phillly. DC is clean, white, low enormous and grand buildings which take up a whole block themselves. The roads are wide avenues with 8 lanes and not a skyscraper to be found. Much more up-market and very few shops. This town is geared towards business and politics. We wandered round a sculpture garden next to the art gallery, found a book shop and then staggered home.

Fri Sculpture IMG_1718 Sat house Sat Einstein (1)

Day 12

Tried a Cheese Danish for breakfast this morning. I’m nothing if not adventurous and they have been intriguing me ever since we got here. Didn’t really get the cheesiness of it which is probably a blessing.

Got the hop-on hop-off Tour Bus and did the Capitol North and South, the White House (smaller than you might think but never meant to be as big as a palace we were told), Jefferson Memorial, Lincoln Memorial (they go in for memorials in a BIG way in DC) where we changed bus, sad to lose our hilarious guide. From there we did Constitution Avenue, the Arlington Cemetary (big and tidy and sad), Pentagon City (and it was enormous) and then back to the Martin Luther King Memorial where we had a wander and ponder.

In the afternoon we went to the National Gallery of Art, and I was glad to be out of the hot, hot sun. Sitting on top of an open-air bus does leave you rather exposed to the elements – wind, rain and snow in NY and now scorching heat. So much Dutch and Renaissance art that you wonder how much of it has come over here. Some gorgeous Vermeers to ogle and then we had a look at some American art and I discovered an artist called Andrew Wyeth and fell in love with his painting of an open window. So simple but it draws you in and I adore it.

My legs are now screaming at me to STOP PLEASE STOP! I’m tired and conscious that there is still so much to see but really feel exhausted. So much for going to the gym to get fit before I came away. 15 minutes on the treadmill has not really prepared me for walking 10-12 hours each day. I’m aware that there are huge chunks of these galleries that I’m not even looking at. Can there be such a thing as too much art?

Staggered out to a Sports Bar for large shrimp (and I mean large!) and crawled home with my swollen ankles. G went out to watch a boxing match in a local bar and I was asleep in minutes.

Sat G Lincoln Sat Grunewald Sat MLK words Sat MLK Sat Vermeer Sat Wyeth window

Day 13

Sunday again and I get to go to Church. Yay! I haven’t visited as many churches as I normally would on holiday but I’m looking forward to being pew fodder today. Later I’m meeting with an old friend who is a priest here but her church is having its AGM today so she suggests I meet her husband and go to his church – St Paul’s K Street. And gosh, was it high! Nearly all sung, accompanied by a wonderful organist and fabulous choir of 25, mostly men. Lots of anthems and very CofE. Or Anglican from 50 years ago, or more. Over coffee I was introduced to lots of arty folk, and met one of the more eccentric guides from yesterday’s bus tour – an out-of-work actor. The talk was all about their new priest who is about to join them after an interregnum of two years and it turns out to be Fr Gordon’s curate from St Clements.

It’s funny being a priest in someone else’s church. The temptation is to sit and watch with a critical eye, noitcing the practicalities of how the liturgy is done and why. I’m trying not to do that, but to enjoy being in the pews and being fed myself during this sabbatical time. It reminded me of the time I spent Holy Week at Mirfield months before I was ordaining and thought that this would be the last time I’d get to sit and be fed for a long time. Although I adore leading worship it has been nice to not be responsible for checking the rotas, organising all the bits and pieces before a service, and all the rest. However whenever I am sitting in the pews my own little flock comes to mind and I remember them far, far away and wonder how they are doing. Prayers are offered and candles lit.

After church we went to meet Elizabeth Orens at a lovely Greek restaurant where finally the portion sizes were more manageable. Perhaps we should have done this all along and not gone ‘American’ for all our grub. Lovely meal washed down with a few Bellinis. There is such a difference between DC and NY and we had long conversations about art and the church which was just perfect.

Met up with G after and had to go into town to buy another suitcase for all the booty we’ve bought. Mainly prints, books and posters for me. Where I’m going to hang them is another matter altogether.

Day 14

Up early, fruit salad for breakfast, and on to the Amtrak train back to NYC. Comforable, leg room, no drug deals, no noisy phone calls, just three hours of shoogliness. Not sure why American trains are more shoogly than ours but there we have it. Stepped out of Penn Station to the noisy hubbub that is NY and it was hot. Now I understand why they all leave the city, if they can afford it, and go to the hills or the coast in summer. Fortunately our hotel for our last night is just over the road and up we go to the 25th floor. Sadly our view is of the hotel next door.

Find out the other galleries I’d wanted to visit are closed today so we just go for a wander. Back on the street with the thousands of yellow cabs and tooting horns and shouting of Scripture or phone calls or inner voices, I realise I’ve missed New York. Healthy sandwich from nearby deli (half did me so I gave the other half to a homeless guy who immediately asked for money instead!) and we sat in the park soaking up the exhaust fumes and sounds of the city. Pottered about, going back to Rockefeller Plaza and then to John’s Pizzeria again at Times Square. The sun went down, the lights went on and the noise didn’t abate one bit. We watched the hip-hoppers, the women painted in stars and stripes, the police and all of the big melting pot which makes up this exciting city. I never really wanted to come to NY but find that I love it. I will miss the buzz, the excitement, the people and the friendliness. I’ve never felt scared, except perhaps in Philly briefly, and amazingly have not witnessed one crime. How we have not seen a car accident is truly a miracle. I’ve been asked if I was Australian and my purple hair has been appreciated by about a thousand folk who told me so. I’ve learned that nobody seems to make and drink coffee at home but buys it out and drinks as they walk and work. It has been a trip of a lifetime.

Mon2 hotel Mon2 policehorse Mon2 taxis Mon2 Times Square (1)

Day 15

Our last day so we had a long lie and then ate at the diner in the hotel. I’ll miss the continuous coffee and the maple syrup on everything. My legs look I have blown them up with a pump and painted them red and I show them to the pharmacist who couldn’t care less. We wander around taking it all in until it is time to head back to Newark airport. Security is much less strict and not a sniffer dog in sight. Nobody cares what we’re taking out of the country it seems. G’s suitcase is too heavy so we have to do a bit of jiggery pokery to get it all through. Duty free is not terribly exciting so we enjoy a last snack before boarding our plane to take us home. This time we’re leaving early evening and will be home in the morning so it seems as if it will be a longer flight.

Sadly there are not enough headphones so I don’t get to watch a movie on the way home. We have a grumpy lady sitting next to me and it is all rather low-key really. So I drink lots of water, jiggle my wee fat legs incase a clot settles in and kills me, and doze off and on with my bright pink I LOVE NY neck pillow. We arrive in Scotland at 7.30am where it is pouring rain and freezing cold. Eddie is there to pick me up and allows me to chatter all the way home to Falkirk.

Tue2 plane

In which Ruth goes to America in search of art (part 2)

Day 6

And then it was Sunday. Church. Which Church? So many to choose from. On the advice of Fr Kelvin, I went to St Mark’s in the Bowry where they are doing exactly what I’d love to do if I had a big enough space and a courageous congregation. Altar in the middle of the church with chairs in circles around it. Really mixed age congregation and lots of Wild Goose music along with some modern inclusive stuff. Kind of jazzy, folky, soul feel to it. Notices at the Peace and I was welcomed and applauded. Some went up to be prayed for because it was birthday, anniversary or someone they knew was sick – just like us at The Pig!  We brought our gifts to the plate on the altar and then stayed standing around the altar for Eucharist. Glorious AMEN sung at the end, gospel style. Relaxed, prayerful, catholic, musical, inclusive, glorious.

G had gone off for a wander while I was at church and met me after and we went to sit in a wee park he’d found where some guys were playing basketball. I sat and wrote pages of my thoughts on the service. A church came by to hand out food to the homeless in the park. One of the homeless women said she had a Glock in her pocket so we took that as our cue to leave. Visited the New Museum which took modern art to the nth degree. G took part in an interactive thing where you put on goggles and you could imagine you were in a rain forest.

Then we crawled to the South St Seaport and sat in a waterfront bar for grub and a drink. The sun was out but it was cold in the shade. Then on to the Water Taxi for a birl round the island again before limping home. Sore foot is improving. Legs are not. Rush hour traffic on a Sunday seems weird. This city really never sleeps.

Sun Basketball Sun New Museum

Day 7

Lazy morning then brunch at our favourite diner. Omelette this time. Really trying to find non-carbs today. Went to the Guggenheim for more culture – $25 worth, in fact. Lovely building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and that’s about all I can say really. (No photos allowed.) 4 floors of dates on card and numbers on bits of paper and postcards all saying ‘I’m still alive’. Finally found some paintings in a side room and discovered a Picasso that I loved (Woman Ironing). Outside a busker was singing Stevie Wonder songs so we sat and listening for a while. He was the best thing about our visit.

Wandered along 5th Avenue looking at the posh shops and had an expensive coffee. Back to 42nd St and found John’s Pizza place which was recommended in all the guide books. Well worth it. Massive place, massive pizzas, massive drinks. Lots of local people and a great buzz. Then home to pack for tomorrow we leave for Philadelphia.

Heard on the news that the rabid coyote had been caught by the police. Feel kind of sad for the wee critter.

Mon Guggenheim (1) Mon pizza at John's

Day 8

Greyhound bus to Philadelphia which was quiet and took just over an hour. Our house in Dickinson St is in the southside and was lovely inside, very modern with a small roof terrace. Still no kettle. Becoming experts now with strange showers and plugs. Weather has changed and it is now hot and sunny so we decided to just wander through the neighbourhood and find out what’s going on. Bad idea. One street nice, next street scary. No way of knowing which is which. Finally found a main road and grabbed a taxi into town. Lots of graffiti on buildings which is really quite beautiful. Got my nails done by a Chinese girl in a face mask who spoke rarely but communicated by pointing and we got on fine.

Wandered round the shops and then had the obligatory Philly Cheesesteak which seems to be mince on a roll with cheese. Nice.

Tue Philly graffiti Tue Philly house Tue Philly nails (1) Tue Philly nails (2)

Day 9

Did the Hop on Hop off Tour bus round Philly. Smaller than NY but some grand buildings and a great sense of history. One road had flags from all the nations that they have a good relationship with – saw the Union Jack as well as Scottish Saltire and Welsh flag. Lunch in the hippy area, sitting out in the sun and leaving half a plateful again. Why, o why?

In the evening we had been invited to Fr Gordon Reid’s for cocktails so jumped in a taxi uptown. Really chatty taxi driver who sang God Bless America for us and on being told he had a great voice, confessed he used to sing with the Delfonics – the Philly Soul group in the 60s/70s. Then he put on his new CD and we all sang along! Now that’s what I call a taxi ride.

Fr G has recently retired as priest at St Clement’s there and once upon a time was Rector of St Michael & All Saints, although I’d never met him because he left before I joined. We have since become Facebook friends so it was good to meet him in the flesh. He has a most beautiful loft apartment in the heart of the city and had some great friends for us to meet. Even G, who had been a tad reluctant to spend the evening with ‘churchy’ folk, met some interesting people. Probably drank too much gin and ate too much smoked salmon but had a wonderful evening.

Wed Philly Chinese gate Wed Philly dragon wed Philly Graffiti Wed Philly Hard rock cafe Wed Philly Liberty bell (1) Wed Philly Scot flag

Day 10

More pancakes. Just to check Philly ones were the same as NY ones, you understand. They are.

A morning in the Philadelphia Museum of Art and found the Tanner Annunciation which I love and love even more now I’ve seen it. The photo of course doesn’t do it justice. Discovered lots of American art which was new to me, as well as a host of Monets (how many paintings did he do?!), Renoir, Cezanne etc. Came out at the top of the Rocky steps and joined everyone in having my photo taken like Sylvester Stallone. No I didn’t run up them first. Really.

On to the Franklin Institute for the Art of the Brick exhibition for G. It was an incredible selection of pieces of art made from Lego. Each one even had how many bricks it had taken to make – tens of thousands in most cases. Fought our way through the thousands of teenagers in school parties too. That was fun.

Wandered back into town to find helicopters hovering around. There was recently a death of a black guy while in police custody in nearby Baltimore and Philly were holding a peaceful protest we found out. One after another police cars arrived and blocked all the streets out of town. We jumped in a taxi, cowards that we are, and couldn’t find a road that wasn’t blocked off. Looked like we were never going to get home but eventually we managed a detour and were happy to pay $13 for his trouble!

Thu lego Ascension Thu Lego Girl Pearl E Thu lego skulls Thu Rocky steps (1) Thu Tanner Annunciation Thu woman dressing

To be continued

In which Ruth goes to America in search of art (part one)

DAY 1

You never know who you are going to meet at airports. You can be on the other side of the world and it somehow doesn’t seem strange to bump into your nextdoor neighbour. So when G and I were queuing up to board our flight to New York it wasn’t unusual to bump into Fr Tim Morris on his way to the same place. Small world, eh? It was a bumpy flight in bits but it didn’t spoil my enjoyment of Into The Woods, some reading and some dozing. Then, as if by magic, we arrived in New York at lunchtime, having left at 9.20am. That time difference really messes with your head.  Getting through Security took some time and was rather intimidating but we finally made it to the bag carousel. G went off to the loo and left me to find our suitcases which drew the attention of a rather cute sniffer dog and a rather not-so-cute police officer. As my life flashed before me and I wondered how I’d cope in San Quentin and was the uniform purple or lilac at a push, she asked in a rather unfriendly tone whether we had brought any nasty, poisonous food to her beautiful country. Well, she didn’t exactly say that, but that was the implication. And yes, G had indeed brought in half a baguette with ham and cheese. I was not allowed to touch his bag, or her dog, or speak until he returned which seemed to take forever. Meanwhile every other passenger smirked their way out into the open air. On G’s return we had to go through Security all over again and he had to put the offending baguette in a bin ready to be nuked as soon as our backs were turned.

Our accommodation throughout our stay in the USA was through AirBNB so we never quite knew what we were going to find. In New York we were actually staying across the River Hudson in Weehawken, New Jersey in a large mansion, but in the basement. Our hosts were from Goa but had lived in the States for over 40 years and had filled the fridge with all sorts of goodies for us and chatted about what we could do and see and where to get the bus into Manhatten (10 mins). At the end of the road we have the most wonderful view of the Manhatten skyline, a magnolia tree in the front garden, and peace and quiet so nothing really to complain about.

Dumped our bags, hopped on the bus and reached 42nd St in just a few minutes. First stop was BB King’s Blues Club for popcorn shrimps (enormous portion) and a drink with the friendliest bartender who offered to charge my phone and offered lots of advice. Then we did Times Square, nearly getting run over several times (must look the other way when crossing the road) and walked to 5th Ave and the Rockefeller Centre. By then I was exhausted – 8pm there but my legs are convinced they should be tucked up in bed. “Honey, I LOVE your purple hair!”  “Aw gee look at your hair, its so cute!”  “Love that hair – it matches your whole outfit!” And if I had a dollar for every time someone called that out to me, I could afford to go back tomorrow.

Crawled home to bed. All those workouts in the gym have not prepared me at all for this marathon of walking.

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DAY 2

An interesting night of wakefulness and strange noises and excitement so up early and we were out at the bus stop at 8.50am. Applebees on 42nd St for breakfast of pancakes, maple syrup, bacon, eggs and potatoes. Enough food to feed both of us! No kettles in American homes so had to stock up on decaff coffee while I was out. We had a 3-day ticket for the Hop-on Hop-off buses and a New York Pass for 5 days which got us into all the main attractions free and it was really worthwhile. So we hopped on the bus and did the Theater District, the Garment District, Empire State Bulding, Chelsea, West Village, Soho, Tribeca, and the Financial District where we got off. It was hot and sunny and we were feelin’ goooood.

Walked to the 9/11 Memorial where there was still work going on but we gasped at Freedom Tower and the wonderful water memorial with names carved all round it. Met some nice police officers who allowed me to have my photo taken with them. (I’ve watched the programmes so I felt I knew them well enough to ask.) That whole area is very strange because it is really busy but everyone speaks in hushed tones. Yes the carhorns are tooting in the distance and the sirens are going but in that square it is strangely calm. The Museum was quite incredible, cool and moving. Really interesting displays and memories and not ghoulish or tacky as I’d feared. Some things stick in my mind… mangled metal, fire engines worn out, comments and words and people, what colour of blue was the sky that day? and a whole host of shades of blue paper filling a wall.

After that we popped in to Trinity Church, Wall Street, one of the wealthiest Episcopal churches in the world. I was surprised at how traditional it was. In the Sacrament Chapel there was a woman weeping, candles burning, Jesus and me. I hadn’t found anywhere at the 9/11 site where you could light a candle or say a prayer so I did that there.  We found a wonderful bronze statue dedicated to 9/11 – a woman holding up her hands and stopping two planes, like stigmata.

Pizza in the sun for lunch – a slice the size of a whole pizza.

Back on the bus and off to Chinatown where the rain fell down. And did it ever! We were handed out yellow ponchos but G was too cool to wear it. I am off the age where I don’t care what I look like so on it went and the hood went up and I didn’t care that I looked like a demented duck. When the thunder and lightning began G gave in and casually shrugged it on. And we got soaked through Little Italy, Greenwich Village, Broadway, 5th Ave, and back to Rockefeller Centre where we got off for shelter. Had to buy a lovely Monet umbrella in the Met Gallery Shop and G lusted in the Lego Store before we tried to go up The Rock but because of the lightning they wouldn’t let us. We didn’t argue. There was nothing for it but to go to Macy’s. Not cheap but everyone in the world seemed to be buying designer handbags.

Walked back to Times Square for the bus, cold and wet and very tired. Dinner at Ruby Tuesdays with a Marguerita. Left about half of it. When there’s so many people begging on the streets, why do they give such huge portions of food?

2015-04-21 12.29.08  Me n NYPD 2015-04-21 911 names  2015-04-22 12.04.05 2015-04-22 17.25.51

Day 3

Freezing cold today. Up and out early and breakfast in a deli. Needed something healthy so had bananas on my pancakes this morning. Of course there were about 6 massive pancakes and butter and maple syrup and Nutella to go with my fruit but I’m now getting the hang of it. I did draw the line at omelette on a croissant though.

On the bus again with a great guide who sang us songs from the musicals as we went through the West Side (Mariaaaa, I’ve just met a girl called Mariaaaa!) “Oh you’re from Scotland! Do you know Susan Boyle?!”  We were sorry to get off but the cathedral of St John the Divine was calling. It’s a huge place, empty and chairs in only about 1/4 of it. No flowers or Easter gardens. There was a modern installation inspired by Dali’s St John of the Cross and some very modern Stations of the Cross. Said a prayer for my little flock.

Then round Central Park to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I think it would take a month to see everything in it, it is so immense. We did European Art, Modern Art, American Art and that took over 3 hours and we were fairly romping through most of it. I fell in love with a painting called St Joan of Arc. G learned that he really doesn’t like modern art. “I could do that.”  Hobbling with sore foot now and begged to go home at 6pm while G went to look at the Comic Shop. Toe seems to be infected and the news says there’s a rabid coyote on the loose in New Jersey. Time for bed says Zebedee.

2015-04-22 09.35.30 2015-04-22 11.46.36 2015-04-22 15.53.04 Candle at St John the Divine

Day 4

The temperature has plumetted and there is news of snow on the hills. It will be like our summer, they’d said before we came. And I packed accordingly. Have now worn the same lilac hoody for days now and am wishing I had brought my gloves. G wanted to shop so today was allocated a no-art day but a trip to Woodbury Common – the designer outlet village. Everyone was getting on the bus with suitcases which seemed strange but then we discovered that they literally wheeled them around and filled them with designer goodies! I was forced to buy cheap Ugg boots and a North Face jacket because it was snowing by then.

Day 5

Breakfast at Evergreen Diner: football on TV, packed full of people going to work, just how you imagine a diner should be. Tried Cinnamon Toast this morning and it was delish. More maple syrup and way too much but I struggled my way through it. Infected foot is so sore I refuse to walk and we hopped in a cab to the Museum of Modern Art. A morning of Picasso, Van Gogh, Seurat, Gauguin, Warhol etc along with some very weird stuff. I’ve never really got modern art before but I found myself liking some of it very much. G didn’t. There was an exhibition of black American art which was good.

Then down to Pier 78 for a boat tour round Manhatten Island which gave great views of the city. Got off at Pier 11 and wandered round the financial district and watched some hip-hoppers doing their thing. Went up Empire State Building and did the Skyride – a simulated ride over the top of NYC where we screamed. Well one has to, doesn’t one? Looking down on the city was quite incredible but the concrete is starting to pale a little. Found myself hankering after some mountains and green fields. What is happening to me?!

Wandered through the posh part of town where there were lots of spooky tulips in beds. Had to have some Dunkin Donuts to make me feel better. Exhausted, foot sore, and don’t know how I’m going to carry on. Melodramatic? Moi?

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to be continued…

The Sabbatical begins

It seems such a long time ago. Months, maybe a year or more? Certainly the notion of a sabbatical has been bubbling away for ages and I knew exactly what I wanted to do with the time. For ages I’ve wanted to put together a Lent book/blog with 40 paintings or pieces of art along with a wee meditation. I’m a visual person, you see. Yes, I love words but especially if they paint pictures. And I love art. So my plan was always to visit lots of art galleries and rummage through all my saved pics and postcards for 40 images that I could use as a guide for Lent. Something that I never have time to do when daily ministry gets in the way: the phone calls, the visiting, the liturgy, the meetings, the prayers… all the things that make up my life. So about a year I spoke to the Bishop and started making the plans, applying for grants, speaking to arty people for advice.jozef-israels-peasant-woman-by-a-hearth

I’d thought perhaps a trip to Florence and the Uffizi and perhaps Paris or Amsterdam. But the advice I was given was to go to New York and Washington. Now I shall share with you that the USA has never held any appeal for me. Nothing against them but its just not a country that I needed to visit. Give me Italy any time. But one friend after another told me how much I would love New York. And they have a great collection of art, especially Dutch and Renaissance which are probably my favourites. Gradually the excitement grew and now that Lent and Holy Week are over I am fairly bursting with alleluias and anticipation. I spoke to Son #2 about New York some time ago because he’s been twice and now he’s coming with me too which will be lovely. That will help me find our apartment again, my sense of direction not being great. Then when we looked at the map and found out that Philadelphia is in between NYC and Washington we thought we might have a few days there too.

This week is for planning and packing. Then next week we fly to NYC then Philly and Washington, traipsing round art galleries and museums and looking at lovely paintings. Huge joy! After I get back I shall head south to Gladstone’s Library to do some writing and choosing the art I love best. Perhaps there might even be a trip to Amsterdam too. Then 12 weeks from now I shall be back at work once more. 12 weeks!

I have some lovely clergy friends who are looking after my wee flock while I’m away, and I know my wonderful ministry team will take care of each other. And it will be good for them too – having a break from my preaching and nonsense. Of course, there’s always the risk that they won’t want me back…

sabbatical1Thanks also to the Alistair Haggart Bursary Fund, the Sons of the Clergy and my own diocese for grants, and my lovely flock and friends who have been so generous with gifts enabling this trip of a lifetime. I’ll be blogging, tweeting and FBing as I go so look out for those. Now back to the lists…