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.


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.


Blogging v journalling

I’ve kept a diary since I was about 12. Most of that time it was a daily diary too. I still have most of them in a large trunk and occasionally I come across them and sit for a while pondering the minutae of my life.

‘Latin today. Boring. Who cares about all these wars?’

‘I think B loves me and he is lovely but J is just sooo cool and I think I fancy him.’

‘Why won’t this baby stop crying? What is wrong with him? Or is it me?’

‘Thinking of going to Church. I know! Can you believe it? Me going to Church? What shall I wear?’

At some point, around my 20s I think, it stopped being a diary and became more of a journal. More thoughts and feelings than merely recording events. And then it all starts to peter out at around the time I was ordained. Probably this was become I was so unbelievably busy that I didn’t have time to journal. Which was kind of ironic when you consider that TISEC (the Theological Institute who trained me) would keep banging on about us being reflective practitioners. I did start to keep a Quotes Journal at this time which became a place to write down prayers I’d found: poems; quotes; passages from books; and I am now on Volume 3.

And of course it was about this time that I started to blog. Now blogging must not be confused with keeping a diary or journalling. Although to begin with my blog was pretty boring and full of ‘things I did today’ entries which didn’t elicit much comment. And journalling of one’s deepest fears and hopes is definitely not the sort of thing that the world needs to hear about. So blogging became more about comments and observations and reviews of books and movies. The only time I journalled was when I was on retreat and the dreaded silence drove me to my fancy notebook and trusty purple pen.

But lately I’ve found that I miss my journal. I miss working through problems on paper and going back over them when solutions are found. Seeeing the journey written down can be very helpful and there is something really powerful about spilling your guts out (in other colours if need be) and ‘getting rid of it’. I often tell other people to keep a journal when they are going through tricky times, and advocate the use of the ‘unsent letter’. (This is absolutely something that should NOT be blogged.)

So I’m going back to my trusty journal. (Lilac linen cover, plain watermarked paper, stitched and bound in case you’re wondering.) I’ve found that I can’t write as much as I used to without my wrist getting achey and my handwriting is not what it was when I won a prize for the neatest writing with a dip pen.

Now if I can just find someone who will promise to come and destroy them all when I die, I’ll feel much more comfortable about it all.

In which Ruth finds a new way to pray

I do struggle with prayer. I know this comes as a bit of a relief for some of my little flock. That if the Rector struggles with it, then I don’t feel so bad. I struggle with silent prayer, as I’m sure you all know by now. I struggle with the Daily Office unless I get to say it with other people. On the other hand, I am very good at Arrow Prayers – of moments in the day when things flit into my mind and I send them off like an arrow to God. I’m flighty really. I do like the Rosary but forget to do it – maybe that will be my plan for next Lent… but again I prefer it in a group.

This Lent we have been looking at different aspects of prayer and how some personalities find some prayer suits them better than others. This week we will be looking at Contemplative Prayer, Centring Prayer, Silent Meditation – whatever you like to call it. I’ve been having to do a bit of reading up on it. I picked up a little book called Pathways to Prayer which was an old Lent book I had from 1996 and started to flick through it. It is really a Lent course with contributors such as Basil Hume, Grace Sheppard, Donald English, Gerard Hughes and Angela Tilby and I wish I’d found it earlier for it might have made my life a lot easier.

But the thing which has excited me most was a wee paragraph about Writing Prayer. Why on earth have I not heard about this before? In a way I have been kind of doing it already. I have kept a journal since I was about 14. Well it was really a diary to begin with, but in time it developed into a journal and then a sort of spiritual journal. It used to be a record of my life, places I visited and events that happened to me. Sometimes it was just a few lines, sometimes it was pages. Before I joined any church, it was the place where I explored ‘spirituality’ through my journey into what is called ‘New Age’, a place where I asked questions and pondered life and stuff. I recently found these journals and realise that in fact some of it is prayer. Well who else was I writing to but God? There is some poetry, not very good poetry but ‘prayer poetry’ doesn’t have to be good, I reckon. When I joined the church my journal records my journey with God, with the people I met, the books I read, the places visited. And then I was ordained and the journalling took a back seat partly because I just didn’t have time. At that same time I started blogging and it kind of took the place of the journal, but without the embarrassing personal stuff. But I did start keeping Journals for quotes and prayers I found which were meaningful to me. I have notebooks stuffed full of a cornucopia of bon mots which I go back to time and time again.

Today in this wee book both Cardinal Hume and Grace Sheppard said that they found it helpful to write prayers. Do you know, I’d never thought of doing that? Yet time and time again I have recommended to people that they get a journal and write down what is troubling them. And I know it works. I’ve seen people with insomnia, with tremendous stress, with big problems all find relief in ‘getting rid of what troubles them’ on paper. I’ve done it myself before. In fact, my lists are nothing more than making sense of what is cluttering my head and putting it in some sense of order. But why did I never think of that as prayer before? Why did I never think of praying as I wrote it down? Why did I never think of writing down the names of the people I have to pray for each day at the Daily Office? (As it happens I have a pile of post-it notes with names of people to pray for all over my desk.) But why did I not think of setting aside some time to write down my prayers each morning?

I love this! I love this idea of writing things down to pray. I love the ideas of writing wee poems and psalms as they come into my head. Of carrying around my journal of prayer for times during the day. Of using colour when words are inadequate? Eureka!

I shall say no more for now, as this is going to be the topic for next week’s Lent Group. But I can’t tell you how happy I am. I’ve finally found a prayer that works for me. I’m going to write my own!