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…




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.

Lent online

There is lots happening on the www for Lent. Here are some links and you can decide which, if any, you want to follow.

Beauty from Chaos has been running for a number of years now. Organised by Mother Kimberly, it used to be an SEC thing but now friends from all over are participating. I didn’t take part last year because I think I was trying to do a daily lent blog myself but it was way too hard and I felt decidedly unspiritual about it by the end. This year I may throw in a little bon mot from time to time to Beauty from Chaos.

Mother Kirstin is planting trees or something over on her blog and has some ideas for things to do. Click on her links and you’ll find even more.

Stephen Cherry, who wrote The Barefoot Disciple (Lent book from last year) has given some ideas for Lent too. Check them out.

There is something crazy going on over at Lent Madness and you might find it interesting.

Fr Simon is doing his daily text messages or tweets over at Blessed. You can join up there or ask me to pass the text messages on. I’ve always found them meaningful and challenging.

If there is anything else you know about that’s going on, please comment.

A liturgy for ordering of a study…

Came across this today and just loved it. And so timely too as I wade my way through a week’s worth of junk mail, begging letters, 43 answering machine messages where the person just hung up, a pile of post-it notes with scribbled words and numbers which mean nothing to me whatsoever but they’re in my handwriting so must have been me, piles of things-to-go-to-church, things-to-be-filed, things-to-be-recycled, things-to-be-shredded, and things-yet-to-be-decided-where-they-belong. But first I think I shall amalgamate all the To Do lists into one giant To Do list, the epitome of To Do lists, the doyen, the king, the zenith of all To Do lists.

All move

I am in the process of switching my study and lounge room around. For over three years I have had my study at the back of the house (facing north and my garden) while my lounge room basks in sunshine (facing the street).  So my view is nice and I can keep an eye on foxy, the birds and my washing.  But the downside is that the room is permanently freezing cold and as I sometimes spend 12 hours in my study a day, it seems daft to be perishing cold when I could be toasty warm.

Yesterday was Day #1 of the Big Move Project. Son #1 was in charge of moving things and painting and I was his ‘mate’.  That meant that I did a bit of cutting in, rearranging dust sheets (because an artist doesn’t care about a few splatters of purple paint on a sofa but I do), making tea, washing brushes and running back and forth to B&Q to purchase all the things we forgot or to upgrade cheap roller to Harris roller (much better). The dining room looks like Curio Imports because all my objets are lurking there.

Let me tell you, I am exhausted. I ache from head to toe. I’m not up to date with my usual Blogs and Twitters and am suffering withdrawals. And it is only going to get worse. Today I have to empty the Study. This is not going to be an easy task, let me tell you. Not a bit.

DIY on a day off

Big thanks to Fr Kirstin for giving up her day off to come and join me on mine to rearrange my study. She is a hard taskmistress and made/encouraged me to throw out far more than I would have done on my own. I am a hoarder, there is no denying it, but with a little gentle persuasion I can be convinced that I do not need to keep quite that much scrap paper. Mind you, the recycling bins are now full and overflowing so a trip to the Dump is imminent.

We even fitted in a trip to worship at the shrine of Ikea to purchase 2 mini filing cabinets – perfect for storing paper and stuff. £17.99 each which is pretty good for metal cabinets, don’t you think? I learned that Fr K’s method for DIY is to throw the instructions away and go with instinct. My method is to plod through with the instructions and every now and again whine a little, at which point Fr K came over and did it for me. Now they are full and I am tempted to go and get more. Yes, I didn’t throw out everything!

So I now have a new view with my desk facing a huge pic of the interior of Siena Cathedral. (Yes, I will do some photos later today.) I have space on my desk and the carpet is once more visible – a state we have not had since I moved in over a year ago. I am so happy.

So thank you Fr K – you are a saint! And my back is killing me so it will have to be a gentle day today.

Wanted: Mary Poppins

Oh how I wish Mary P could arrive right now with her carpet-bag and brolly and sort out my Study. The move is imminent but the mess isn’t getting any better. If anything, it gets worse as I empty files from one place and lay them on the floor until I can find a suitable place for them to go to. Mary P could just swish her whatever and all the files would be in the right places, named and in order, and all the rubbish would be shredded and out in the recycle bin, and all the books would be put away in boxes according to subject.

And what do you leave behind for the next lucky priest in charge? Another thing they didn’t teach us at Tisec! Will s/he care about all the meetings and old accounts and Vestry away days and stewardship campaigns and such like? All those things that were so important at the time and caused such angst? Should I just bin them or leave them in a file marked ‘For your information’? I guess all I can do is file them according to what I would have liked to have known when I first came here.