Lent thoughts: You matter because you are you

My plan this Lent is to read more. To read something every day, carefully and intently, and hopefully to find something to aid me on my Lenten journey. Of course, already my plan has already failed. Yesterday was Ash Wednesday and we had a Eucharist in the chapel in the morning followed by coffee and a blether in the rectory which took me up to lunch. Then I took my ashes (and lemon in a bag) and the Sacrament out to some of my housebound members. My plan was to whizz in and out, daub some ashes, share some bread and wine, chat a little and move on to the next one. Silly me. My plan should have been to go and listen to lonely people who feel that everyone has forgotten them, to listen to someone who is struggling with not being able to do what they’d like to because their body is letting them down, to listen to concerns and grumps and to pray with them. Well that’s what I ended up doing and of course I didn’t get to all I’d hoped to visit and I didn’t get home till it was dark. But that didn’t matter really. I can go next week.

Today is World Book Day and a few weeks ago a friend said ‘Why don’t we all just clear our diaries and read on that day?’ I have a Vestry meeting tonight and some prep for that, but my plan is to give a good chunk of today to just reading. I don’t have the latest recommended Lent book, but I do have a shelf of old ones. And a host of other shelves full of books, some unread, which I am sure will contain plenty material for pondering this Lent. My plan is to share some of that reading here and perhaps over on Beauty from Chaos.

Today’s reading is from a book called Pray, Love, Remember by Michael Mayne.

Many who have spent time listening with real attention to another person in need will know that frequently we find in others the familiar echo of what we know in ourselves: a deep, unsatisfied desire. It is, I believe, a kind of homesickness, a longing for the bringing to fruition of that potential for love and those natural springs of compassion that help define our humanity. The beginning and end of compassion is a question of how we see: how you see me, how I see you. This need that we share, to be seen, to be noticed and given value, is not some childish craving for attention: it is the only way we have to become our true selves. Egos are lonely, and egotism a lonely way of being, and our spirits are fed by what we freely give each other. It is not only babies who languish and grow sick if they are starved of love. I am affirmed when you notice me, when you give me your attention. However old we grow, however wise, the child we once were is always part of us and, in one way or another, every human being (far less confident that we appear, most of us) cries out or acts out – or often, disastrously stifles – their need to be recognised, perhaps forgiven, but most often simply encouraged: to know that ‘you matter because you are you’.

This Lent, I am going to try affirming people more. Someone on Twitter said they were going to send 40 postcards this Lent to friends who they haven’t kept in touch with as much as they should. Hmm. Could I do that? Perhaps…

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In which Ruth ponders listening

Listening makes up a large part of my job. Listening to stories. Listening to the unspoken word. Listening to symptoms. Listening to sadness and worries and troubles. Listening to anecdotes and funny tales. Listening to overheard conversations.

Listening is really important in ministry. Listening and not leaping in with your own story. And that is sometimes hard to do. Sometimes I find myself biting my lip to prevent myself diving in with my own contribution. Perhaps it is worse when you are an extrovert, desperate to be witty and amusing and take over the centre stage. I have a tendency to do that. To wait for the gap, the breath when I can leap in. To lighten the mood, to not sit with the sadness. Someone recently told me that ministry wasn’t all about telling people that they are loved by God. Sometimes you need to sit with the dark bits.

Today I came across this poem/prayer so I share it with you (and me). (And I hope the author doesn’t mind me sharing it.)

How good are we at listening to other people? – Nov 06
I am listening to you, honestly,
But I’m also thinking about what I’m going to say next
I hate embarrassed gaps in conversation when no one knows what to say
I want you to think that I’m interesting, funny, witty
So I’m lining up my response, getting it ready

I am listening to you, honestly,
But I hope you don’t go on too long
I want to catch the final scores, to find out how my team has done
And I need to ring my friend before he goes out for the evening
Then ‘I’m a celebrity’ is on TV and I don’t want to miss that
So make it quick and you don’t need to repeat yourself

I am listening to you, honestly,
But I’m also thinking about what happened at work this week
And what I’ve got to do next week
I’m going to be in trouble if I don’t get that report written
And I need to work out why my colleague isn’t talking to me
So it’s quite hard to hear what you’re saying
over all this internal noise

I am listening to you, honestly,
But that group over there looks like they’re having a much better conversation
They’re laughing and joking
I’d really like to get to know some of them
Not that you’re not important – of course you are
I just wish I had the chance to speak to them too

I am listening to you, honestly,
But to be honest, I wish you’d really listen to me
Just for once, to pay attention to what I have to say
without jumping in with your experience and your solutions
I don’t want you to solve my problems
I just want you to hear me
To hear the me behind the words
To really listen


Clergy Conference 2010

I am just back from 3 days in misty Pitlochry, staying at the Atholl Palace Hotel, for our annual Clergy Conference. We always have a guest speaker at these events and this year was no exception. However, I have come to the conclusion that it really doesn’t matter too much who the speaker is. Really, the best bit is getting away from the parish to nice surroundings and meeting up with colleagues and friends. We may have theologies which divide us, but we also have things which unite us. For a start, we are all stipendiary clergy and it is really important that we do get time together to share the things which frustrate, please and puzzle us. Over the years the group has changed. People come and people go, but the main body stays the same. With +Brian at the helm we have grown closer together. Things which were a cause for arguement and disagreement have been dealt with openly and we have found a way to move on in harmony. I’m not exactly sure how it was done, but it has worked. Some of it is due to the fact that we have had time out to listen to one another’s stories, over dinner, in the bar, or sitting round the log fire with a cup of coffee.

Sadly, our speakers don’t always get the opportunity to do that. Often they come from outwith the the Diocese, Province or the SEC. I’m sure they are given a briefing by the Bishop and/or the planning group on the planned topic and I hope they ask about the participants. Sometimes that is more evident than others. But having just recently had an evening of listening to my new little flock’s stories, I can’t stress enough how important it is to listen to one another. It has to be a two-way process. Of course we are a diverse group so I guess it takes more than a brief conversation to figure out where we are all coming from, and that will be different in many cases. The best way of dealing with this is to allow dialogue to happen during the course of the conference. Top-down lecturing is never the way to go. It makes us feel like schoolchildren – and we are likely to behave accordingly.

So, what did we talk about while we were away? Well, we listened to a lot of metaphors about the church and mission. We heard from the new Diocesan Deliverance Officer and had good discussions on spirit possession and other such manifestations. We talked about discerning vocations and about our own journeys. The food was excellent, the views misty and atmospheric, the log fires were cosy and most important of all – there was a Sale on at the House of Bruar.