A Hidden Community

Tree of life

Some time ago now I was really inspired by Peter Wohlleben’s The Hidden Life of Trees within which he explains what happens out of sight, how trees form community, how the stronger look after the weaker trees – even when they are different species.

I find myself drawn back to some of these ideas as I observe quieter streets, towns and cities. A foodbank operates in my local area, and is working so hard behind the scenes to source food for, and distribute it to, those who cannot, or should not be making themselves more vulnerable by going to the shops.

The question I am left with is how this sense of community continues into the new issues many face around being forced or ‘encouraged’ to return to work yet have no one to look after their children. They are called to use their ‘common sense’ but I am unsure how helpful that is when there is an expectation that people return to work and, despite there being no childcare arrangements, failure to do so will result in them not being paid, or worse losing their jobs…?

Surely ‘common sense’ would bring people to an understanding that our economy, or wealth, has a higher importance than our wellbeing. This realisation alone does nothing to help this situation though. For some, this time of lockdown has brought opportunities to reconnect, to slow down, to live more simply. I’ve had many conversations, or read articles, where people are hoping that these benefits will shape our futures as we move out of lockdown; how can they when economic division, and power, shape those ‘baby steps’ out of lockdown? It seems that we are more likely to leave some to stand alone, as this tree appears to, with no others around who are able to offer support.

Looking back

What insights do looking back offer?

“Life can only be understood backwards, but must be lived forwards.”

Søren Kierkegaard

Julian of Norwich: lesser festival

Mother Julian

A lesser festival today, but a festival nevertheless. To remember Julian of Norwich, a spiritual writer and revolutionary woman of her time, Mother Julian (the tortoise) came out of her enclosure for the day. Julian of Norwich used to open her window and offer spiritual guidance to those who sought it; she continues to do so today through her Divine Revelations.

”The greatest honour we can give the Almighty God is to live gladly because of the knowledge of His love.”

Julian of Norwich

We’re in this together!

Sense of community!

Loneliness and its effects upon individuals is always significant, but it feels like it is so much more at the moment. It seems to creep up in some way on most of my encounters and conversations. COVID-19 has had a significant impact on every aspect of our lives, and it can be anxiety inducing to think too much about that. I read an interesting article in The Guardian today which explores the effects of isolation on our bodies as well as the social body which we belong to. It ends with a call to remind ourselves of what it means to be human…together.

“Let’s embrace the complexity of what it means to be human in this time of sorrow as we think and feel our way to come out of this, wiser, humbler and more connected.”

Susie Orbach, The Guardian: The Long Read, Patterns of Pain: What COVID-19 can teach us about how to be human, Thurs 7th May, 2020.

My nature and my name…

Give me a candle of the Spirit, O God, as I go down into the deeps of my being. Show me the hidden things, the creatures of my dreams, the storehouse of forgotten memories and hurts. Take me down to the spring of my life, and tell me my nature and my name. Give me freedom to grow; so that I may become that self, the seed of which you planted in me at my making. Out of the deep I cry to you, O God. Amen.

George Appleton (1902-93), adapted by Jim Cotter (b. 1942)
This loved toy, left behind in my neighbourhood today, will be known by a child somewhere. The child will know the toy’s nature and name with real fervour…remember that feeling – that is how God knows you!

After a week of ‘lock-down’ my way of life as ministering from home is becoming the new ‘normal’. No doubt for many of us, the novelty (if there was one) has well and truly worn off as the tensions of more than one adult needing a space to work, home education causes stress, the internet slows because we all need it, we are becoming increasingly worried about money and security as for some ‘working’ will soon cease to be an option, as job roles become redundant under these conditions…I could go on.

In conversation with a colleague this afternoon though I was pointed in the direction of the George Appleton prayer, quoted above. We had been talking about where we find our energy, and what the current circumstances reveal to us about ourselves. I invite you in the cool of this evening to spend time with these words, and ask that God “tell me my nature and my name”…. Ponder your responses to this new ‘normal’, your emotional responses. Notice where you are getting your energy. Notice where you are being drained. Hold them before God and ask that God would show you how to use your God given nature for the glory of God and God’s Kingdom…. Amen.

Beauty is….

So far, summer has not afforded me as much opportunity to get out and get lost in photography as I would like. That said, I have recently been thinking through what beauty is…what it really is, not what we see it as from so many areas of society which wish to control what we want and how we look.

A few months ago I spent a week in Portugal and had the privilege of getting lost behind my camera, which was so refreshing. As well as the obligatory holiday snaps though, I wanted to capture a different view of beauty…

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This was the view from our hotel room…I found it bizarre that each day these were the items which were hung to dry, and yet I saw something of beauty in the simplicity of this display.

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We met a couple who were making their living through this art; one would paint the rocks the other would arrange them. Their messages were simple. For me the beauty was in the way they were seeking to challenge and their understated way of offering this to the world.

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I had never been so close up to even one peacock, let alone whole families of them. Here the beauty was in what had not been previously seen, as well as in their inquisitive charm!

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We had not been aware that it was PRIDE on our first day in Lisbon. Watching the parade come through the city was incredibly moving though. Again the beauty was in the simple sentiments, such as ‘Love has no limits’.

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Beauty as attraction! In the square bubbles were being blown and flying off in all directions due to the wind. It was so simple, and yet fascinating to watch them, wondering how long they would last, where they would land, when they would burst.

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Beauty in the simple solutions, in that which is old, or distorted by rust, beauty in that which many would not notice, or is the beauty in the blue backdrop?

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Beauty in the warmth of the evening, beauty in the sunset glow.

Whilst I am not sure I managed to capture a different view of beauty, I see this as the beginning of a conversation, which I invite you to join in with. A conversation where we capture beauty in all of its awe and wonder, beauty as breath-taking because of its freshness, not as perfection but rather as imperfection, beauty as that which is not known, beauty as something which allows us to glimpse the Divine in the everyday.

Please share your images of this kind of beauty in the comments section to enable us collectively to rewrite the meaning of beauty, so that our sons and daughters, nieces and nephews and grandchildren can grow up being released and liberated by its definition, rather than constrained or imprisoned by it, afraid to go out, to wear what they really like, or to be truly and wonderfully who they are!

Thought provoking…

I’ve just finished reading The Good Immigrant which is a collection of essays about what it’s like to live in a country that doesn’t trust you and doesn’t want you…

There were a number of heartbreaking reflections but one of the saddest was Musa Okwonga who decided to leave Britain because of such deep-rooted institutional racism. He said:

“Britain was not great because of its papers and politicians who relentlessly denigrated us, it was great in spite of them. Britain was great because of the spontaneous community spirit you saw as soon as a small town was flooded, because of the volunteers who turned out in their tens of thousands to act as stewards for the Olympic Games. But that wasn’t a spirit that I felt my country was doing nearly enough to nurture.”

This hit me between the eyes as I read precisely because of the sadness and hope within it. A growth in our collective community spirit could be the grassroots response needed to tackle a number of issues in our midst, not least the divisions we have a tendency to draw due to race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexuality and disability.

Can we nurture this community spirit in order to look outwards rather than onwards? To welcome the stranger and care for the lonely? This book is a must read, an incredibly uncomfortable mirror to look into, but one which I pray will change hearts and minds for the better. Amen.

Let the eyes of your heart guide

For our patronal festival I preached about letting the eyes of our hearts be a guide to the need within our community – a need which we can meet in a simple way, yet which feels huge to the person on the receiving end!

If we let the eyes of our heart guide, what do we actually see? I have been reading Peter Wohlleben’s The Hidden Life of Trees. He writes about trees as social beings with a sense of community and has literally brought trees to life for me! I was incredibly struck by the apparent echoes there are in creation as so much life was created to be in community…and yet it feels like we don’t do community as well as we could. How often do we help for no other reason than for the good of someone else? How often do we forget looking out for ourselves and bettering our own ends? How often do we see need and respond to it?

This led me to think about the film Pay it Forward where a young boy responds to his Social Sciences project of ‘Think of a way to make the world a better place and put it into action’ with the idea of doing something for three people that they would not be able to do for themselves, and asking only that they similarly do something for three other people. The exchange of help becomes about hundreds of people rather than just between a few individuals.

What if we lived more like this? What if we gave for the love of giving and loved as Jesus loves? What if we seek love not war? Would it make a difference? #actofrandomkindness