Lent thoughts -Being

I have the most wonderful Podiatrist called Naresh and we have very interesting conversations about life, death and the universe while he tends to my tootsies. One of the questions he nearly always asks is what I’m reading. Last time I was there I was reading All That Remains: A Life in Death which was a fascinating look at our bodies after death and we had a wee chat about that. He knows I have a fascination with helping people achieve a ‘happy death’ and asked if I’d read Being Mortal: Illness, Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande. It is written from a medical point of view by an American doctor but there is much in it of a spiritual nature. Much of it is Case Studies of people he met who were given a terminal diagnosis and how they wanted to end their days. I’ve enjoyed reading it and been saddened by how society and the medical profession often treat patients. (Often, I said, not always. I am aware there are some good stories out there.)

One passage which caught my eye and gave me cause to pause during the Lenten season was this paragraph:

As our time winds down, we all seek comfort in simple pleasures – companionship, everyday routines, the taste of good food, the warmth of sunlight on our faces. We become less interested in the rewards of achieving and accumulating, and more interested in the rewards of simply being. Yet while we may feel less ambitious, we also become concerned for our legacy. And we have a deep need to identify purposes outside ourselves that make living feel meaningful and worthwhile.

As I get older I can appreciate those sentiments. Recently I had a health scare which really made me think about what was important in my life, and accumulating ‘stuff’ which I don’t need became a real issue for me. I then spent a few weekends selling ‘stuff’ on Ebay and taking things to the charity shops. I thought about what was important to me and it was about spending time with family and reading more and worrying less. I also knew I had to sort out papers and get rid of so many files and magazines and books which I was holding on to unnecessarily. This is a work in progress!

Lent is a good time to let go of what takes us further from God. To let go of temptations which take us down paths we don’t need to travel. To let go of achieving and accumulation and focus on simply being.

Image result for feet in sand

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…

Image result for you are 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

 

 

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

New Year Revolutions 2015

Jumping on the blogging bandwagon of making some New Year resolutions (though Revolutions sounds more fun) for 2015. You should know that I am not very good at keeping them, however. Last year, or was it the year before, I made a resolution not to buy any more books until I’d read the all the unread ones I have. That lasted until May. And I still have a 6ft bookcase outside my study which is positively bulging with unread books. So that brings me to my first revolution:

books and coffeeReading
This year I shall put in my diary some time for reading. For the past few months it has taken me 4 weeks to read our book group offering and occasionally I can fit in another one but I read two pages in bed and fall asleep. As for reading theology and books to feed sermons… pathetic!  So this year I shall put some time blocked out in my diary and not feel guilty at all about reading. Which leads me neatly on to my next one…

Sabbatical
From 14 April to 14 July I shall be taking my first Sabbatical. 12 weeks of time away from the parish to restore, refresh and renew myself and ministry. For years I’ve wanted to put together a Lent Book/Blog using a piece of art each day with a meditation. I am a visual person and really look forward to gazing at lovely paintings and matching them with meditations for the 40 days of Lent. I’ve taken some advice and have been told New York and Washington are the places to go to see great art so that’s where I’m headed. Then perhaps some time in Gladstone’s Library for putting it all together. My Bishop tells me there must be some rest in there too and I’m not arguing with that. Of course this is all dependent on getting some Grants to help finance it so if you know of anyone who can help…

Health and Fitness
I know! Can you believe I even have considered including this? Last year was not a great year for health but was much improved when I was sent for Pulmonary Rehab at the hospital. 6 weeks of exercise and diet left me feeling so much better and my plan is to carry on with that in the new year. I’ve been referred to the local gym and some lycra may even be purchased. Steady, Ruth! I also have liver disease (of the non-alcoholic kind, she quickly added) and was given a scary warning about losing weight (not before time, I may add) so I need to continue to eat cottage cheese and resist all cakes and biscuits on church premises. I will need your help in this, so if you see me reaching for a wee slice of malteser cake you have permission to smack my hand.

Miscellaneous
I’d like to say I will spend more time keeping my study tidy and organising it better, spending more time visiting family and friends, learning how to crochet, avoiding wasting time on stupid computer games, spending less money on purple Purple-Leather-Handbaghandbags (how many purple handbags does one woman need? really?), making time for mutual support with clergy friends, tidying up my computer files which have been desperately needing doing since I got new computer and can’t find anything, blogging more on topical issues, not leaving my tax return till the last minute, etc etc. I’d like to do all these things but suspect they are an annual hope which take more effort than I’ve ever given. Maybe this year… Oh, and stopping smoking again. Yeh that.

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 Lent and wishes

Father Kirstin has been blogging about Lent and giving up and taking things on. Like her I stopped giving things up for Lent a while ago. Oh I’ve had my fair share of coffee-free, chocolate-free Lents but to be honest I can’t say that they brought me any closer to God or gave me an understanding of what life was like in the desert for 40 days. And to be honest, they probably both had more to do with the theology of Weightwatchers or to hang a healthier lifestyle on than anything remotely religious. This year everyone seems to be giving up Facebook or Twitter and like Father Kelvin this bewilders me. I learn so much from all social media and appreciate the help and support I get (and give, I hope!) that it would be mad to do without that. I’m sure Jesus agrees. 

I have taken things on over the years. In the early days it was probably a Lent Group or saying the Daily Office (long before I was ordained). For a while now I have given up reading fiction and taken on some more serious reading over the Lenten period but to be honest this is more about fitting in some proper reading time and using Lent as the discipline for that. I know I should just do it all the year round, or diary it, but I’m afraid it just never seems to happen. I’ve given financially to charities, to the Bishop’s Lent Appeal, or to a local food bank or homeless collection. To be honest, though, this goes on all year now too as there are more and more good and worthy causes to support.

It did occur to me that I might try and do a bit more parish visiting this Lent. It is so easy to lose track of visiting our housebound and elderly. We have a rota for those who want communion so they are seen every month but we have many more who don’t want communion at home but who need company all the same. I confess I have not always been as good at that as I could. So this morning I took M up to visit her old friend E who has Alzheimer’s and has recently been moved to a Care Home. With the help of my trusty new SatNav we found our way to one of the most remote homes I’ve ever encountered, unless of course you live next door to it in which case it is probably quite easy to find. 

E waved enthusiastically to us from the Lounge where the TV blared and the other bewildered sat around in a circle. “Oh hellooooo!” she cried to M. “How lovely to see you. I’m here, you know, and these are my friends.” One lady asked me where she was and where she was to go. Another stood beside me looking very serious and never left. One opened one eye and closed it again, back to her dreams. “Would you like communion?” I asked, but E looked nervous and said, “No thank you. I don’t think that would be a good idea.” “We could go to your room,” I suggested. “But I don’t have a room,” she said plaintively.

We did go to her room, followed by the two ladies who wanted to know who they were and the one who just follows very close. We tried to get them to turn back to the lounge but they couldn’t understand. M took them by the arms and gently led them back to the TV and beat a hasty retreat. E showed us her room, twice, and the en-suite bathroom three or four times. Well, it was very nice. We tried asking questions about the past but even that was too difficult for her. She was terribly confused and chattered nonstop about the zimmer (a gift from her father she thought), about bad children who might break in because the window was open, and other strange and wonderful things.

And then… “Do you know what I wish?”  A long pause. “I wish I had a baby!” This little old lady of 83ish wanted a baby!  Where did that come from, I wonder? M tells me she lost two of her own children as young adults so perhaps it came from there. Perhaps she just really loves babies and would like to cuddle and care for someone else.  “I wish I had a baby,” she said again. “That’s what I wish.” And I wished I could grant her that wish. I really wished I could place a baby in her arms and watch her face light up with joy. I couldn’t grant her wish. Then I spotted the white fluffy teddy beside her bed and took Ted and suggested she white teddygive it a cuddle instead. E buried her face in its fur and rocked it gently. It wasn’t the same as a baby. It was a poor substitute but for a moment there was love. 

On the way home M said her mind was a rest because it had been so good to see E settled in a good place. “I’ve been worrying about her and I couldn’t get to visit but now I see she is safe and has friends around her. Much better than living alone.” We agreed that she was safe and as happy as could be. 

My hope is that this Lent I will make time to visit more. To hear stories and agree that zimmers are useful and admire bathrooms and put teddies into old ladies’ arms. Far more use than losing a few pounds or losing touch with my friends.

Sharing Lent ideas

LentTonight it is Mardi Gras and many pancakes will be consumed, for tomorrow we fast. (My favourite is still lemon and sugar, how about you?) Tomorrow we will be marked with an ash cross and Lent will begin.

For a few years now I have given up reading fiction in Lent and I intend to keep this again. I have a pile of non-fiction books, mainly theology but not exclusively, waiting to be read. It is too easy to forgo these for a good whodunnit, so Lent is a good time to do some real meaty study. (Hehe.)

I have put on so much weight since stopping smoking (3 months yesterday, thank you very much) that I am tempted to use Lent as a time to cut out all the baddies in my diet. But I hate that whole Theology of Weightwatchers. I’m quite sure it is not what Our Lord had in mind when he spoke about fasting. “Ruth, thou shalt cut out all those maltesers because you and I know they do not really have a less-fattening centre!” So I need to think of another way of working my way through that one.

I note that a good number of folk are giving up Facebook, Twitter and/or blogging during Lent. This is I would struggle with. But isn’t that the point, Ruth? No, I mean that I would lose so many resources that help me during Lent. So I am keeping my eyes firmly peeled on all that Google etc has to offer.

And what about taking something on? Well I will be doing some serious reading. And we shall have our Lent Group on Tuesday evenings at Prodigal Son Rembrandt7.30pm using Henri Nouwen’s book The Return of the Prodigal Son. We shall also be saying Morning Prayer together each day at 9.30am – and I can’t tell you how excited I am about that. For I HATE saying the Offices alone. Even if one person turns up my day is made. On Sundays at 7pm we shall say Compline together followed by Hot Chocolate. Hot Choc in Lent? Yes! For it is Sunday!

Then there is Lent online. You can check out the Pisky thing over at Beauty from Chaos each day. You can give up busyness for Lent over here. And I’ve read a dozen more but sadly they have all escaped my busy brain.  Please comment any more if you know of them.

Oh and Fr Simon has free Lent texts as ever. Check him out too.

When a Day Off becomes a day off again

Friday is my day off. Sometimes it is not my day off and that is usually because of a funeral or because it is a crazy time of year. Today my day off was interrupted by the Burns Lunch for our wrinklies. (In the USA they call them ‘shut-ins’ – how awful is that? Wrinklies is MUCH nicer.)

However today is also the first day that Falkirk has had snow that lies on the ground. While the rest of the country have been suffering for days or weeks we have somehow escaped. Today it is snowing and lying. Not a huge amount. Not enough to get the wellies on. But it is still flurrying down so the decision to call off the Burns Lunch was made. The Burns napkins were put away for another year. The sherry was put in a cupboard, the haggis etc into the freezer.  After all, we don’t want to be responsible for broken hips and wrists.

So now I have an unexpected day off once more. And what shall I do with it? Oh there are so many possibilities. I could curl up and read my Peter May book. I could watch a pile of Father Brown episodes. I could clean the bathroom floor and try to fix the wonky wastepipe on the lav. (Yes, I know – the plumbing saga still goes on.) I could do some light housework and a bit of vacuuming. I could write all my sermons for this Sunday and next as I’m off on retreat next week and get up to date on things. Too much choice!

What would you do?

7 Up … 56 Up

There is a programme on TV just now called 56 Up. I could be taking part in it. For I too am 56 just now. (Pause to allow you all to gasp with horror… “Surely not, Ruth!”) I have followed it every seven years although I’m not sure that I did watch the very first one when I was seven. So I wondered what I would have had to say every 7 years of my life.

Age 7 – Mum, my sister and I had just moved to Valleyfield Street, Tollcross in Edinburgh and I was walking to James Gillespie’s Primary school over the Meadows by myself. I remember school milk and begging to get a letter to excuse me from it, as it was warmed by putting the crate next to the fire in the classroom. (Yes, a real fire.) If you’d asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I’d probably say ‘A man’. I was a tomboy who played with cars and never with a doll. Hobbies: reading Enid Blyton; collecting comics; buying jokes and disguises from joke shop.

Age 14 – Still in Valleyfield Street and still at James Gillespie’s, but this time the High School (all girls). I may have started smoking and other such rebellions (short skirt, multiple badges on blazer, etc) but boys were still a mystery. There was a school trip this year to Switzerland along with boys from Boroughmuir School and I could barely speak to them for shyness. Was feeling drawn to dentistry and medicine but as I couldn’t do science this was looking less likely. Hobbies: reading; movies; music of Marc Bolan and David Bowie.

Age 21 – Still in Valleyfield Street with a husband and two babies. Dreams of being an actress have had to be put on hold but the dream is still there. Convincing myself that having children at a young age means that I’ll still be young enough to have fun when they are grown up. Have worked in the bank and now part time Auxiliary nurse at Simpsons hospital. (As close to medicine as I ever got.) Eldest son is hyperactive and proving to be a bit of a challenge. Nobody agrees with me that it might be related to artificial colouring. Hobbies: knitting; reading.

Age 28 – Divorced and living in Brougham Street, still in Tollcross. Rebellion is my second name. Working part-time in a Cocktail Bar and having lots of fun. Dabbling in New Age spirituality and reading lots about Native Americans and Shamans. Dreams of being an actress have been shelved. Both boys are at Gillespie’s, which is now co-ed, and it is very weird being summoned to the head teacher’s room when I spent so much time outside it in my childhood. Hobbies: reading; Bach flower remedies; crystals; Shamanistic drumming; crosswords.

Age 35 – Still in Brougham Street, but have my own business making and fitting self-adhesive signs with Jenners as my biggest client. Loyal member of St Michael & All Saints across the road from my flat. Have been Confirmed and now read, do intercessions, on coffee rota and help run the Youth Group. Still trying to integrate New Age spirituality and Christianity but finding some Christians rather hostile to the notion. Against the ordination of women because ‘Father says so’ and rather a spiky Anglo-Catholic in love with ritual. Learning how to be an Altar Server – first time for women in our church. Passionate about Cursillo (renewal movement in the church). Hobbies: reading; church; cross-stitch; making jewellery.

Age 42 – Have been made homeless and am now living in a council flat in Hyvots, Edinburgh. In my second year at New College, University of Edinburgh studying Divinity and in my first year of Tisec (Theological Institute of SEC) training to be a priest. Working part time for The Rock Trust working with young homeless people. Still dream of being an actress but wondering if priesthood will fulfill at least some of those desires (standing up and showing off in front of an audience). Not able to watch anything on TV except for Casualty once a week because every night is revision night. Loving it! Hobbies: church; theology; reading fiction during holidays; exploring churches.

Age 49 – Living in Linlithgow as priest-in-charge of St Peter’s & St Columba’s Bathgate. Have been curate in Perth but glad to be nearer home to visit sick parents. Dad is in a Care Home in Edinburgh and Mum has been diagnosed with cancer. Juggling two churches is hard work (12 hours days not unusual) but loving being a parish priest. Surprised at how much I love working in a small town where everybody knows your name and stops for a blether in the High Street. St Peter’s has just been redecorated in shades of lilac. Also working as Diocesan Co-ordinator of CMD 1-3, General Synod member, on Mission and Ministry Committee and Board, and on I&C Board. Hobbies: reading; romping round churches.

Age 56 – Now in Falkirk at Christ Church, having done nearly 5 years in Portobello, Edinburgh. Only serving on one committee now – I&C but about to serve as Diocesan Vocations Adviser. Blogging seems to keep the attention-seeking actress in me amused some of the time but I have learned that it is not always wise to blog everything. Looking forward to living on my own some time soon (one son moves in as the other moves out, and so on and so on).  Hobbies: knitting prayer shawls; reading my Kindle; blogging.

So there we have it. Looking back it seems as if there is no clue to what the next seven years will find me doing. I seem to leap from one thing to the other, changing opinions willy-nilly as I go. Ah, ever fickle and flighty. So where will I be in 7 years, I wonder?