Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Here we go again

Sorry, gentle reader - no entry at all last week and not much this week. I'm a bit under the weather again, but I'm sure it will pass. I'll be back after Christmas.

Have a good holiday, however you celebrate!

Monday, 30 November 2009


It's easy to forget to be thankful every day, and having a special day to say thanks - even if it isn't my own country's tradition - seems such a wonderful idea.

This year I am thankful for my faith, which permeates my whole life, even when I am feeling as though I am not being 'Quakerly'.

I am thankful for the new friends I have made, and for the old ones I have kept.

I am thankful, as always, for the roof over my head, the food on my table, the plumbing in my house, the health service, the electricity supply.....

I am thankful for my family, and that, despite the times when we thought we were going to lose family members, we are all still here again.

I am thankful for my broadening musical and literary taste, and that I have now discovered the beauty and strength of Tennyson, Arvo Part, Benjamin Britten, Philip Larkin and Henning Mankell.

I am thankful for the internet allowing me to socialise, worship, shop and stay independent in so many ways.

Happy - if belated - Thanksgiving.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Simple Living

This article was brought to my attention a couple of days ago. Journalist Liz Jones, of the UK Daily Mail, attempted a week on unemployment benefits:


I was delighted that she seemed to get so much from the experiment, but astonished by her lifestyle prior to it. I can't imagine having that much debt on top of a mortgage.

If the economic problems help people realise how much they are spending on inessentials, then it will have been a good thing.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Explaining God

I re-post this blog on three other websites, and from last week's entry I have had a number of responses, all asking me to clarify what I meant in my description of how I see God. I still don't have the mental energy for replying to each one individually, so I am putting my reply into this blog post, and I hope it will explain what I mean.

Firstly, I have for a long time been a kind of Unitarian. The way I understand the Trinity is that, just as I am simultaneously mother, daughter and friend, depending on who I am interacting with, so God is simultaneously Father, Son and Comforter in one Being.

I also believe that God is the ultimate Truth, beyond and above time. Whenever someone finds Truth in their hearts and minds, that Truth is of God. That person might say the Truth has been given to them by any one of a number of names - Yahweh, Allah, conscience, Inward Light, Jesus, Buddha, or a bolt from the blue - but Truth is Truth and is indivisible.

We all listen for Truth in our Meeting for Worship. In that context, I don't mind whether you say that you are listening to God, Mother Earth or the Flying Spaghetti Monster - your name for that Truth does not alter the fact of it being Truth.

Our names for whatever reveals the Truth to us are ultimately completely arbitrary, and depend on our upbringing, beliefs and world view. This is why I say that I believe everyone is listening to the Christian God - but if I were Jewish, I would probably believe that we are all ultimately listening to YHWH.

The point is, the names don't matter. They get in the way of our understanding that we are all listening to the one Truth. And this is why I say that Quaker worship is the best chance for peace between the world religions, and between believers and non-believers - because in silence, we are all listening to the same Truth, and we're not upsetting each other and causing rifts by using different names for that Truth.

This is the Truth as revealed to me, and I hope I have been faithful in my description of it.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Quaker Quest: Quaker Worship

I thought it might be interesting for people to see what I said at Quaker Quest about Quaker Worship.

We three speakers had to speak twice during the evening, once on Faith and once on Practice - broadly, what we believe and what we do.

In the Faith section, I started by saying I love Quaker worship because it is unique. I came to Quakers because of the worship - I used to be an Anglican, and then a Methodist, and in both denominations I used to feel that I was just settling into the time for silent prayer when it would be time to sing another hymn.

Another reason I appreciate the Quaker way of worship is that I am rabbiting on to God all day in my head, and it gives me a chance to sit and listen for a change! I also explained that I don't mind what other people say they're listening to - God, Yahweh, Allah, the Earth, their own conscience - as I believe those are all names for the same thing : Truth. I believe that Truth comes from the Christian God, and, if pushed, I would say that all other believers (and non-believers) are listening to Him/Her too - they just have other names for Him/Her.

Because we are all listening together, with no words to cause divisions, Quaker worship brings people together in a way that no other type of worship can. We may not agree on the words to use in worship, but we can all listen together in silence. It can also be a very healing time for people who have had bad experiences in more traditional churches.

Later I spoke to the idea of the practice of Quaker worship, although to be honest my ideas were pretty well entwined between the two parts! I explained that a Meeting for Worship is not like a dentist's waiting room, with a whole load of disparate people sat in silence - there is a palpable air of expectancy and of a gathered community. I always get very excited when there is ministry, as you never know what is going to be said, and whether it will be pertinent to you, or even to the whole Meeting. I also explained about online Meetings for Worship at Quaker Faith and Fellowship, which no one else in my Meeting has experienced; and about the smaller MfW held at my home every month, and how it has a different atmosphere, more intimate than the weekly MfW at the Meeting House.

We had a lot of questions about how you know when you are supposed to give ministry, why we don't discuss ministry when it is given, and how to settle into the silence and prepare our hearts and minds. The room was about three quarters current members/attenders and one quarter new visitors, with between 40 and 50 attending in total. Everyone said they had got something from it, no matter how long they had been a Quaker - we so rarely discuss the finer points of our beliefs that it was interesting to hear what different people actually thought.

If your Meeting is considering running a Quaker Quest, I strongly recommend it. There is a certain amount of work in setting the course up, but it benefits everyone who attends (including the speakers!) so much, that it is well worth it.

Monday, 2 November 2009

What a month!!

Well, October turned out to be the most stressful month I've had for ages. Unfortunately nice stress tires me out as much as nasty stress, so even the good stuff just made me more tired. It has been one of those times when everything that could happen, did happen - and I ended up not getting a proper afternoon rest till almost the end of the month (instead of almost every afternoon), which meant my night-time sleep was disturbed, too.

That meant I began having nightmares. Initially they were things like still being married to my alcoholic ex, but eventually they morphed into the standard scary monster nightmare. (One was that Daleks had invaded Earth - and banned knitting!!!! Terrifying....)

To give you an idea of what I mean, this all happened between October 1 and October 27:

1 theatre trip
1 trip to Quaker Quest - on the same day Richard was out all day,
travelling to Manchester and back to the funeral of one of his uni
housemates. It wasn't a good month for him, either.
4 visits from friends
3 visits from Richard's grandfather, who is very difficult to talk to
1 visit from both his grandparents
1 visit from Mum and my sister
3 visits from new carers
1 5-hour excursion to A&E at the eye hospital - I'm OK, so don't
worry, but apparently I'm starting to get cataracts :(
1 Quaker Meeting here
1 newsletter to write and send round, during which....
Our Broadband started falling over for hours at a time
1 failed delivery of necessary medical stuff
1 delivery of oxygen canisters
1 visit from Social Services
1 visit from a care company team leader
1 visit from the other care company's admin assistant (1.5 hours)
1 service of my oxygen machine
1 visit from the GP
2 visits from the District Nurse
1 blood test
1 flu jab (different day from the blood test)
1 visit from the Access Bus team to make sure my wheelchair will fit
on their minibus (then I can go shopping occasionally!)
....and then the clocks changed and completely mucked up my body clock, as usual....

As you see, it was a fun time :)

I'm not complaining one bit about the nice stuff - ever since I first got ill, I've had the view that nice stuff is worth recuperating from! But every day seemed to bring a fresh reason why I couldn't have a rest, and by the end of last weekend I was feeling quite desperate.

I'm happy to say that I have now had a week asleep, and I feel much better, so I hope to be a much better blogger again now.

Next week - what I actually said at Quaker Quest.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009


I'm not blogging this week, for a very nice reason. I am recovering from a trip to the theatre last week - my first time out of the house for over a year!

As always, I never do things by halves: this week I am speaking at our Quaker Quest evening on Quaker Worship. I was so pleased to be asked, and I am really looking forward to it. I know I will be shattered afterwards, so I'm announcing now that there will be no blog entry next week either.

Accounts of my expeditions will be forthcoming as soon as I can write them :)

Monday, 28 September 2009


I listen to a lot of music, and I am quite eclectic in my tastes. I grew up on the Beatles and the Stones, followed by Bowie and Roxy Music. I have a good chunk of prog rock in my collection, especially the wonderful Pink Floyd. I think Jarvis Cocker (in and out of Pulp) is absolutely brilliant. I can sing along to most of the Great American Songbook, and I love all kinds of jazz. I can listen to anything, really, except rap, and drum & bass.

The thing I always stick with, however else my tastes may change, is baroque music - Bach, Vivaldi, Handel, Telemann, Corelli.... As a household we didn't listen to much classical music. Mum is a big Bing Crosby fan, and Dad was tone deaf. I can still remember the joy that came over me when I discovered Bach, on a second-hand record - 'Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring' and 'Sheep May Safely Graze'.

Music can lift me whatever my mood. I recently heard this on BBC Radio 3, and wanted to share it with you. I hope it lifts you, too.


Monday, 21 September 2009

Good news - of a kind

I am feeling huge relief today. I received the results of my application for renewal of my disability benefits, for which I had the recent medical.

Last time I was awarded high rate mobility and high rate care (the top awards) for a period of two years. This has been the norm for the past ten years. This time I received the same award - for an indefinite period of time.

I was shaking so much I could hardly show Richard the letter - no more renewal forms (30 pages of tricky questions), and no more worry!

When the euphoria wore off a bit, I saw the other side of this. Indefinite means they don't expect me to improve substantially from where I am now. As I have lost weight, I have noticed a difference in my ability to breathe, and to walk - but although they feel like big differences to me, in the overall picture of my health, they are fairly insignificant. I've been ill so long now that I have lost my yardstick of what being well feels like, and sometimes a good day feels like more of a step forward than it really is.

Certainly the expression of shock on the doctor's face, when he came in to do the medical, should have said volumes to me. His first words were, after all, 'Well, I really don't know why they've sent me out to you - you're clearly very unwell.'

See, inside my head, I still feel like me. I'm so used to making accommodations for the things I can no longer do that I kid myself I feel no different from when I was working, studying, swimming, singing and acting, back before I got ill. Then I get a reminder like this - and it hits a little hard.

I don't believe in giving in, and I won't let this get me down. But maybe I should take a little more care to make sure that I don't get any worse.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Show us humanity

There have been several programmes on BBC Radio recently about Tennyson, as this year is the 200th anniversary of his birth. In one, a modern soldier read part of 'The Charge of the Light Brigade'. He explained how well Tennyson captured the confusion of battle, and how he emphasised the bravery of the soldiers and the stupidity of the generals. The young man seemed very touched that someone outside the battle had cared enough about the disaster of it to commemorate it in verse. Paradoxically, it is only because of this poem that anyone apart from military historians knows the battle today.

Similarly, what would our images of World War I be without poets such as Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon and Edward Thomas? We would have the photographs, films and other archive materials, but nothing gets across the horror and the human tragedy of life in the trenches with the immediacy of the poetry.

Modern wars still seem to be about the ordinary soldiers taking the risks, while the generals stay well out of the firing line. We are sending children into battle, children who are fighting other children. We are bombarded with images and footage of war on TV, but we rarely hear from the individual soldiers about the horror of their daily experiences. The more film we see of explosions, and the less we hear from the combatants, the more modern warfare starts to resemble some huge video game.

We need people who remind everyone of the human cost and the barbarity of war. We need to be reminded that the little figures we see running on the news are individual people, with lives and thoughts - and emotions which are being crippled as much as their bodies are by the horror of their experiences.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

A better day

Things have slowly improved over the week, and now I feel just about my old self again. Part of the problem was that, the previous Saturday, I was putting together my Meeting's newsletter, to a deadline, and had as usual left it to the last minute. My computer went on a go-slow, and what should have been a happy couple of hours, cutting and pasting and popping in bits of clip art, turned into a six-hour slog.

By the time I switched off the computer I literally could not see straight. Any noise was painful, and I had trouble moving. I slept very badly, and the next day, although my hearing and vision were more normal, I was still very foggy-brained. I announced that my CD player was broken, because it was too quiet and wouldn't respond to the volume control - and realized on the following day that I had been turning up the volume with the radio tuning knob.....

I had to have a medical at the end of the week to assess my ongoing eligibility for disability benefits, and this bad turn did at least remind me what a fragile hold I have over my health. (The medical went very smoothly, by the way, although it also reminded me how ill I am, which was not so good!)

The whole episode has left me with two abiding thoughts: don't leave all the newsletter stuff till the last moment; and don't overdo it. Not cheerful, perhaps, but very necessary.

Monday, 31 August 2009

I Don't Like Mondays....

My laptop has some major problems, plus all my symptoms have flared up. Not a good combination. Back next week, I hope.

Monday, 24 August 2009


It was the monthly Meeting for Worship in my home yesterday. After we had shaken hands at the close, we began discussing the case of Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, the 'Lockerbie bomber', who has just been returned to Libya on compassionate grounds due to his suffering from terminal cancer.

My F/friend Michelle brought the topic up. It has been much on her mind. She said the thing that kept coming back to her, among all the hurt and anger that his release had stirred up, was:

Revenge is not justice.

It is so difficult, when someone does something to harm us, to keep a clear head. Our immediate instinct is to hurt them in return. That may be a natural reaction, but we know that it is not the best outcome. We know, as Ghandi said, that 'an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.' Forgiveness is such a hard, hard thing to achieve sometimes, and there will be times when we feel we will never get there. But it is also healing, for the person harmed as much as, if not more than, the perpetrator.

We also need to remember that our forgiveness is not dependent on their remorse. We can forgive, and let go the hurt, and refuse to give them that power over us any more. Although I have never been involved in a tragedy such as Lockerbie, I can speak this truth from very unpleasant and dangerous personal experience.

Revenge does not heal; forgiveness does. I hope that all involved in this terrible tragedy will be able to find the truth of this for themselves, and not let it warp their whole lives.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Here we go again

Yet again the humidity has beaten me, and I am unable to blog properly this week. The lack of sleep (and presence of unpleasant and disturbing dreams) is really starting to annoy me now!

I'm used to having quite a narrow life, but having it narrowed even more is very irritating....

Monday, 10 August 2009

Further thoughts....

Last week's post generated some very interesting responses and reactions, not only online but in person.

One F/friend told me that she liked that fact that, when she comes to Meeting, she knows she is with people who have thought about their faith, and that our beliefs are not 'dumbed down', and I know just what she means. I think part of the reason for the current Quaker demographic is the tendency for people only to find us after some kind of spiritual search, after a lot of thought about what they believe, and how they wish to connect with the Light they seek. People don't attend Quaker Meetings because they are the nearest on a Sunday morning, or out of habit, or because it's 'the done thing', and they don't attend if they have never considered their own spirituality.

As a religious group, we do not tend to proselytise, and many members (including me) found that comforting when we first encountered the Society. I know that many members and attenders (again, including me) come from a negative experience of evangelical Christian experiences. So I am not suggesting we go out and tell every person in the world that Quakerism is the only true way - that would run completely counter to the idea of respecting the Light wherever it comes from, and would be totally inappropriate.

However, I believe strongly that Quakerism is an ideal way to foster ecumenism and interfaith dialogue - no matter what words we all use to speak of God, or whether we are atheists, we can still all listen together and seek the Light.

Another F/friend suggested that perhaps it might not matter if people do not have any kind of view on the existence or non-existence of a spiritual aspect to life, but I cannot bring myself to agree.

I can only say that I believe everyone should know about us, so that they can make an informed choice - and I believe that, if more people knew about us, our numbers would be rising and our Meetings growing.

Patrick Gale, a non-Quaker, summed up what I feel in his excellent novel about a Quaker family, Notes from an Exhibition:

"When they took her to her first Meeting for Worship, and she witnessed the potent combination of quiet contemplation with the lack of Christian paraphernalia she had long dismissed as nonsense, she found herself marvelling that Quakerism had not become the dominant world faith. It seemed so accessible, sane and adaptable."

Monday, 3 August 2009

Are UK Quakers elitist?

Something is bugging me, and has been doing so for a while now. Are we (especially in Britain) elitist? I don't mean intentionally - quite the reverse! - but from what I read, see and hear from other Friends, UK Quakers are predominantly white, middle-aged, middle-class, educated and left-wing. I include myself in this - that describes me absolutely. But Quakerism has so much to offer everyone, and I am concerned that we're not getting the message out beyond our own circle.

We have Quaker Quest, which is excellent, and I would not think to criticise it. My Meeting is running one in the autumn at which I have been invited to speak, so it would be pretty hypocritical of me to pull it down. But are all the people who attend just more people like us? Are we just continuing the status quo by inviting our friends and colleagues? By all means, invite them - but how do we reach out to other people who may not even be aware that we exist?

I live in a small ex-mining village, with on odd mix of inhabitants. We have University lecturers and post-graduate students, because it's only a short commute to Durham, and we have a group of artists and writers. Then the majority of people come from families who have lived here since the village was founded in the 1870s, people who would be described by themselves as working class, often poorly educated and with complex family trees, as families intermarry and relationships can sometimes be of quite a short duration. Their lives usually revolve around the family, their often unskilled jobs, football for the men and shopping for the women, and drinking on a weekend. They expect to be able to buy pirate DVDs and dodgy cigarettes from their neighbours, and to settle arguments with their fists - without involving the police. Green concerns, ethical consumerism, politics of any kind don't engage them at all.

This is difficult to write about without sounding condescending, and I really don't want to. I am describing my neighbours and my carers, and they are good people. But they know nothing about Quakers, and are usually quite turned off from religion in any form. For example, one of my carers describes any churchgoer as 'all Goddy-Goddy' - with a hastily added, 'Not like you, I don't mean!' I think it's meant as a compliment...

I talk about Quakerism and my faith when the opportunity arises, so at least the people who know me know a little about it. But how do we reach out and explain, to people who are so dismissive of any kind of personal faith, that our way is different? Are they even looking for another way? And would they stay if they came to a Meeting, or would they feel out of place and unwanted?

I have no answers to any of these questions. But they worry me very deeply, so I am putting them out here to see whether they worry you too.

Monday, 27 July 2009

Strangers in a strange land

I recently managed to find a copy of Jessamyn West's A Quaker Reader, a collection of all kinds of classic (and more unusual) Quaker texts by one of my favourite authors. I've been reading a lengthy extract from George Fox's Journal, and these few sentences struck me very forcibly:

...as I was walking upon the top of the bank there came several poor people, travellers, that I saw were in necessity; and they gave them nothing but said they were cheats. But when they were gone in to their breakfast it grieved me to see such hard-heartedness amongst professors [ie, believers] that I ran after the poor people a matter of a quarter of a mile and gave them some money.

I read this the day after putting together the newsletter for our Meeting, which included a very moving report from a Friend who works with asylum seekers in Sunderland, UK, and who is supported by our Meeting in this. Her report drew my attention to the release of a document prepared by the Quaker organisation, The Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust.

"Still Destitute" brings attention to the appalling conditions experienced by people who have been denied asylum in the UK, often for entirely incorrect reasons, but who cannot be returned to their home countries. They are stranded here without the right to housing, education, work, benefits, healthcare or legal representation. Please read the report - it is shaming that such a situation should be allowed to build up in a country which is almost entirely populated by the offspring of asylum seekers, economic migrants and outsiders.

Regardless of what the far right may think, we are not a 'pure race'. If you are not of unmixed Celtic or Pictish blood, you are not an ethnic Briton. We are all mixtures of so many people - Angles, Saxons, Danes, Romans, Normans, Huguenot weavers, displaced persons from all over the world. Our very language shows that.

Asylum seekers are not 'other'. They are not 'cheats'. They are us. They are human. And they deserve to be treated as human.

We can't all work with asylum seekers, but we can all give financial support to those who do. And we can remind people who speak of them as though they were little more than animals that there, but for chance, go you, and me, and our families and friends.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Back soon

The last couple of weeks have been very stressful for a variety of reasons, so I'm taking this week off from blogging. I'll be back next Monday, though!

Monday, 13 July 2009

I love it when a plan comes together

I am a great believer in Romans 8:28 - "And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God" (KJV - I usually use the NIV, but some phrases from my childhood with the KJV just stick!). Time and again I have found that apparently unpleasant things that I have experienced have helped me at a later date, or have enabled me to be empathetic (or even positively useful) to other people.

I've had two excellent examples of this today. My brother has been awarded a benefit he was entitled to, and one of my friends has had her benefits and level of assistance reassessed, in her favour. Both of them came to me for advice and support, and, because of all the pitfalls and problems I have experienced while trying to get the correct benefits and level of help for my disability, I was able to be really helpful to them, and enable them to get the help they need.

I've also been asked to speak on my experience of Quaker Worship at the Quaker Quest my Meeting is running this October. I may be speaking via webcam, but it's possible I may be able to get there in person :)

It's wonderful to find I can still help other people, when so much of my life is about having to accept help from others!

Also, many but not all of my readers will be aware of the One&Other project currently taking place in London. The artist Anthony Gormley is organising 100 days of public participation in art, by randomly selecting applicants for one-hour stints, 24 hours a day, on an empty plinth in Trafalgar Square. Between 5 and 6pm BST on July 16, the occupier of the plinth will be

Monday, 6 July 2009

Worn down

We have been experiencing a bit of a heatwave in the last few days. Predictably, this has had a bad effect on my health - the humidity makes my breathing worse, and poor sleep affects everything else. Thankfully, today we have had rain, and the temperatures are lower, so I hope to improve again.

It prompted a poem - not a happy or easy one, but a truthful one:


fists of fire around my spine

my breath rasps

fear of falling
as my stick slips

the bed a cliff I cannot climb

one hour since I got up

Monday, 29 June 2009

A matter of understanding

Well, that last post certainly prompted a lot of really useful and thought-provoking comment!

I think Alice hit it on the head when she said it was something I had to pray about with other Friends. Simply posting here about it helped me to face up to the problem, which I needed to do as I was reacting more and more strongly every time this person came to the house. Sitting with my feelings, talking to God about them, finally helped me to see what the underlying problem is. I am a great believer in talking therapy, which helped me a lot when I was in my late twenties, but it's the first time I've ever tried asking God to be the sounding board!

What I finally realised, after a lot of anger and painful honesty, is that I am angry at this person. The silly thing is the reason why I am angry. Far too many years ago, someone asked him to do something for them, which affected me. It wasn't a nasty thing, in fact it was a very kind one, but I didn't want it done. The person who asked is now dead, and I can't be angry at him, so I am angry at this poor chap who was simply doing what a friend asked him to do. I'm sorry to be so convoluted, but I don't want to give away any details in case the chap in question ever reads this. It's unlikely, but I wouldn't want him to be hurt.

Once I finally realised that, I found a lot of my anger and irritation simply left me. He came round soon after that, and I was quite happy to be pleasant and polite with no effort. It's as Alice said: "...when I learn to see people in the cross they don't bug me in the same way, it's like I get why they were bugging me and act on it". If you haven't read the comments on the last post, please do - everyone talks a great deal of sense and wisdom.

Richard's account of an irritating boy in a class had me laughing ruefully, especially: "I know he is not a bad person and wasn't intentionally being annoying. He just didn't know how not to be annoying." That is such a good description of this person, and it helped me enormously.

Thank you to everyone, and I will keep you posted on developments. I doubt if I have solved the whole problem yet!

Jan Lyn was kind enough to give me a blog award, which I have responded to on the Doodles blog. I had nothing to write about there this week, and plenty to write about here.

Finally, I would like to say a few words about Michael Jackson. I wasn't a fan, although I thought 'Thriller' was exceptional, and 'She's Out Of My Life' can reduce me to tears - but we are of an age, and he is a figure of whom I have always been aware. I find it very hypocritical of the media to be falling over themselves now, saying how wonderful he was, and calling him 'the King of Pop', when for the last few years they have had miles of copy from all the 'Wacko Jacko' stories.

I don't think he was allowed to be a child. There was always pressure on him, and I don't think that ever eased up. I suspect he had psychological problems that most of us cannot imagine, and I believe that he, like Britney Spears, could be the poster child for the unhealthiness of fame and wealth. I hope he has peace now.

Monday, 22 June 2009

Seeing that of God

First, hello to Irene, who has recently found my blogs and read the archives - good to have you here! Check out some of the links below - there are so many good Quaker blogs out there.

Probably the most famous quotation from George Fox is his exhortation to Friends to 'walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone'. It sounds so simple. Within our comfort zones, with other Friends/friends, it's easy to see the divine spark, to respond to it, to treat each other as children of God.

But what about the people who annoy us? I am asking for help with one particular person in my life. He's not a Friend, not even a friend, but someone I have known for a long time. The silly thing is that he has been very kind to me, throughout the time that I have known him - but I cannot hear him knock on the door without my teeth gritting and my hackles bristling. It doesn't make for easy encounters. I force myself to smile, to find things to say, to show an interest in what he tells me, but I greet his departure with enormous relief, and release of irritation.

Every time I see him, I feel guilty for disliking him. I know I am not alone in this - his family all find him intensely irritating, and he has no friends to speak of. He has a very pompous attitude, which tends to push people away, and he can be more than a bit of a smartass. But I know there is that of God in him. I can't see it, because I am too busy gritting my teeth, but I know it's there and I should respond to it.

I'm sure, too, that underneath his external posturing, and air of knowing everything, he is probably very sad and lonely. I want to be nice to him. I want to like him. I want to answer that of God in him. But I have no idea how to start.

Any ideas?

Monday, 15 June 2009

Standing up for simplicity

I am finally feeling much better, due, I suspect, to my spending most of yesterday asleep!

No great and startling insights (no change there, then!), but another poem, prompted by some thoughts on consumerism and the pressure on young women.

shopping list

size 8

designer tag with free

stilting stilettos
to stiffen the spine

because I cannot be
without it

I believe one of the best things we can do for our children and young adult members is to instil in them a healthy disregard for advertising and consumerism. The pressure to conform is so strong in the young, and they need all our support to stand up against 'retail therapy', label hierarchy and body fascist cultures.

Hmm. Guess I did have something to say, after all.

Monday, 8 June 2009

My father

I'm gradually improving at last, and have been very cheered in the past few days by finishing a few half-done projects - two novels (reading, not writing!), a sock, and a shawl. I love a sense of achievement, and I'm not fussy where it comes from!

It's getting near to Father's Day, so I'd like to share a poem I wrote about my late father. He was a huge influence on me - a successful businessman who kept his integrity. His funeral was packed out with people whom he had helped. He was very proud of all our achievements, and I know he would have been proud of me for not giving up when I got ill.

The eccentric lullaby I mention was Mad Carew, his party piece. His soft Hampshire accent made his recital a very soothing and soporific thing - but if we had listened to the words, we would have had screaming nightmares! I recorded his performance on tape once, and I am so glad that I have that still.


I fit beneath your arm

black Sunday suit

or fresh grass and hot cotton
clammy garden-sweated skin
beads on your lip
and your balding head

eccentric lullaby in burring purr
brings back your presence

sharp as grief

Monday, 1 June 2009

As promised....

...another poem.

I have dusted off my writing CV, and submitted some to a publisher. We shall see...


how did you deal with customers
slow to pay

were you a good apprentice
natural with lathe and plane

did you shudder
as you hammered in the nails

Monday, 25 May 2009

Turning a corner

I'm tentatively increasing my activities again, although, as I periodically do, I have pruned everything ruthlessly. Some of the prunings will, I hope, be temporary ones.

Green Sunday has given me a good grounding in being able to ignore the pull of the laptop and the TV, and I have been reading/listening to books, knitting and allowing my system to heal. It seems to have started, at last, but progress is slow. I did break Green Sunday yesterday in order to blog on the Doodles blog - I had something to say, and thought I'd better say it before it went again! But I was quite happy to turn the laptop off again as soon as I had finished.

One quite unexpected thing that has happened in the last few days is that my writer's block seems to have gone. I had found it almost impossible to write any poems once I became ill. I've managed one or two, but nothing like my usual output. I have no idea why, since Thursday of last week, I have finished four, with another (which may be two, actually) still in progress, but I am not analysing it too hard in case it stops again!

Here is the first one.


no tottering on ice
or squeaking snow
no struggling through swirling rain

a close fireside and a cup of tea
just me

beyond the window
long slow summer evenings
shading into night

Monday, 18 May 2009

A quick hello

Just a brief note to explain why there is no new post this week.

I'm having to take some time off from my online activities because I'm not doing too well. I think the shock of Mum being ill triggered a crash which I am still coping with. I seemed to be running on adrenaline for days, and then came down to earth with a bump!

I hope to be back next week.....

Monday, 11 May 2009

A passing hello

It was my birthday yesterday (and a very happy one!),so I am a bit worn round the edges today.

Normal service will be resumed next week, when I have got over the shock of being so old!

Monday, 4 May 2009

The kindness of strangers

My mother lives in sheltered housing in York, just around the corner from my sister. On April 27, just after my sister had gone on holiday, my mother was admitted to the Coronary Care Unit at York District Hospital with chest pains. Mum only allowed the hospital to tell us on the following day, when they established that it had been a small heart attack, and not the indigestion she had hoped it was.

My brother couldn't come up from Luton till Friday, and Mum refused to let my sister leave her holiday early. There was never any chance of my going down there. I was terribly upset, thinking that she would be alone with no family around her. Without much hope of anything coming from it, I posted messages in four UK groups on Ravelry, a large knitting and crochet website, asking if anyone in York could pop in and see her, and maybe take in some fruit.

I expected, at the most, a few kind messages saying that they hoped she was well again soon, and these I got. I also received six offers of practical help, four of them from total strangers.

The next day, Mum had a visit from one of these strangers, bringing fruit and soft drinks. She sat with Mum for half an hour, and then emailed me to say Mum was in the main ward now, and in good spirits. She refused to be reimbursed for the shopping she had done – 'It was the least I could do,' she wrote.

Another woman who worked in the hospital was all set to visit her that evening, and I had other people lined up for Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Luckily, Mum was discharged on Wednesday afternoon into the care of the warden at her sheltered housing, so I didn't have to call on them – but they were all prepared to go out of their way to visit a sick old lady, whom they had never met, just because they were asked to.

Another online friend suggested the chaplain, and another York Quakers. I did contact the chaplain, who sent a visitor to her, and I was about to contact York Meeting when she came home. (She knows a few of the Quakers in York, as my sister was housemistress for several years at Bootham.)

I was also inundated with kind messages of support, and enquiries about how Mum and I were doing, after she came home.

I would have expected this from my online friends, who are like penpals to me – we know so much about each other, and our families. But I didn't expect total strangers to be God to Mum and to me, and I was very humbled by the whole thing.

Monday, 27 April 2009

Missing in action

Today I met someone I've known of for a long time, but had never been introduced to, and I had a rather odd experience. Before I was ill, we moved in somewhat similar circles, and so we know a lot of the same people. It was lovely to hear about all the old names - but I was shocked by how many had died. And several times my new friend made a comment like, 'Of course, she's nearly 80 now...', which shocked me almost as much as the news of the deaths.

My mother told me once that, when the Second World War ended, she somehow expected her friends who had been killed to come back - to get up off the floor at the end of the game - and it was a new grief to her to realise that they really had gone. I think this is what, unknowingly, I've been doing with my illness - thinking that, when I get well again, everything will go back to the way it was. But it won't. Already it has stolen nearly twelve years of my life. People have got old and died, people I really liked and never spent enough time with. They won't be coming back, even if one morning I wake up to a miraculous cure.

This is an extremely unsettling thought, and one with which I need to sit for a while.

Monday, 20 April 2009

Breaking the chains

We had a small but mighty Meeting at my home yesterday. It was also lovely to be able to spend time having a proper talk with the people who came - something I don't get to do when it's a bigger gathering. I was very worried about how disruptive Merlin the Mad Kitten was going to be, but he calmed right down once the silence began, and was no bother at all. Perhaps he needs more silence, too!

I had quite a revelation about prayer this week, thanks to, of all things, a chain letter. I am notorious among my friends for destroying chain letters. I love a good meme as well as the next person, and probably more than some, but no email annoys me more than the one which promises good luck when you forward it, and bad luck when you don't. They get deleted straight away.

The most heinous, I feel, are the prayer emails. If you want to mail out a prayer, feel free - but don't attach it to a message that says bad things will happen if you don't pass it on. But just to show that God can use anything to get our attention, the prayer chain letter I received last week stopped me in my tracks with this line:

I know that when I can't pray, You listen to my heart.

Now, this should not be news to me. I have been praying, and reading about prayer, almost my whole life. But it popped up right in the middle of my mental wrangling about praying for people.

I got into a terrible tangle over praying for people once. I knew I had to stop my great long monologue about what I thought people needed, and just ask that God's will be done for them, and that was a good start. But I still felt like my prayers were just a shopping list of requests - 'Let Your will be done for this one, and that one, and, oh, don't forget the other one.'

I ended up drawing up a rota, so that everyone got prayed for at least once a week - but there were still some people that I wanted to include every day. Gradually, that list grew until all I was doing in my prayer time was reading out a register of names.

After a few months of this, I began dreading my prayer times, and so I stopped praying for other people altogether. I couldn't work out how to do it without being overwhelmed, and just stuck with, 'Let Your will be done for everyone'. It wasn't what I wanted, but it was better than a daily list, a weekly rota, and five different charity Prayer Diaries every morning.

Some time later I read a book which was instrumental in my coming to Quakerism. It was called Invitation to Solitude and Silence, by Ruth Barton, and it's sadly out of print (although the link takes you to Amazon.com's used and new listing). I wasn't too keen on the solitude - I had enough of that already - but the silent prayer really grabbed me.

That was when I began keeping silence, and I have carried on ever since. I love the idea that I need to shut up and listen, rather than telling God what I want done.

Recently, though, I have heard from several friends who are in difficult situations. I said to all of them what I always say - 'I'm thinking of you.' Well, some people don't like the idea of being prayed for, and I'm not comfortable yet with telling them that I will hold them in the Light.

Once again, I found myself with a problem. I would settle into silence, and this line of people would come trooping into my head, ready to be held in the Light. It got to be like a conveyor belt. One would pop up, I'd think about her, then another would take her place. I was starting just to go through a list of names again.

It was then that the chain letter arrived, and that phrase went 'ping!' in my brain like an egg-timer. I was looking at things from completely the wrong direction. It isn't just when I can't pray that God listens to my heart. It's when I'm not 'officially' praying. In other words, it's all the time.

I babble on to God all day in my head, about all kinds of things, and I think about my friends a lot. He knows full well what their problems are, and hears all day how concerned I am. That's not the purpose of the silence.

The purpose of the silence is for me to listen to Him.

I think I need to embroider this on a sampler.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Checking in

Nothing really to say this week, just checking in to say hello!

Green Sunday was much easier yesterday, and I am definitely starting to incorporate what I've learned from it into the rest of my week. I continue to eat breakfast, read and keep silence before I even think of turning on the TV, which is a much more refreshing and grounding way to start the day.

I have also given myself permission not to finish books that are boring or silly. I have a terrible habit of feeling guilty if I don't finish a book once I start it, but life is too short to read bad books....

Monday, 6 April 2009

Green Sunday

Yesterday was my first attempt at Green Sunday, and it worked wonderfully well. As I said in my last post, I couldn't go the whole way because of my oxygen machine, and the subsequent inadvisability of using candles - but it was a good start, and created a completely different feel to the day for me.

Usually over breakfast I automatically turn on the TV while I eat. I always have plenty to watch, because we have a satellite box that stores programmes. After the first one finishes, it's all too easy to start a second, especially if I am knitting and want entertainment while I do so.

Before I know it, it's lunchtime, and I'm feeling guilty for not having spent any time in silence.

After lunch, off to bed for rest and relaxation - and checking my emails, which usually leads to my mooching about online, doing nothing much, all afternoon. Suddenly it's dinnertime, and I feel guilty that I haven't rested properly, or done anything really constructive (except on Mondays, when I can at least congratulate myself on blogging!).

Over dinner, and for the rest of the evening, my son and I watch TV and chat, while I knit. At least, with the stored programmes, we can pause the programme to discuss things. Before we had that, it was a choice of missing part of the programme, or speaking - and we usually didn't speak.

At bedtime, the temptation to check emails again is very strong, and I suddenly realise I have spent an hour online and should be asleep. Not a very restful way to wind down.

Yesterday I ate my breakfast while watching the cats playing, and looking out of the window at the beautiful day. I enjoyed it much more for not eating like a robot. After breakfast, I read a little from my current 'spiritual book' (12 Quakers and Evil), and kept silence for 30 minutes or so. I felt relaxed and calm, and wide awake - I wasn't passively sitting in a tide of noise. It was a wonderful way to spend the morning.

I knitted till lunchtime, enjoying the quiet, and my own thoughts, and after lunch, went to bed.

It was very hard not to switch the laptop on. I even felt a little panicky. I cheated a bit and listened to some music, something I hadn't done for a long time. I quite often have music on as a background, but this was the first time for ages that I had intentionally sat down to listen.

I knitted while listening - knitting is my default activity, if you haven't twigged that by now! - until I felt my eyes closing, then settled for the nap I am supposed to have every couple of days. When I woke up, it was nearly dinnertime.

While I waited for Richard to cook dinner, I completed a crossword - another thing I love that I never seem to have time for any more. While we ate, Richard wanted the TV on, so we had an hour of TV. It seemed very loud and intrusive after my relaxing day.

After that, it was back to bed with my knitting and a cup of tea, and a talking book on my MP3 player. That was cheating too, as it gets charged from the mains - but I really enjoyed the quiet voice of the reader, and the images in my head.

I settled down to sleep about two hours earlier than normal, and slept like a hibernating bear.

I was actually a little apprehensive about doing this, but it worked better than I hoped, even though I cheated in a couple of places. (Richard is completely unimpressed by the idea, but I intend to work on him.) I want to do it as a regular weekly event now, and I'm taking some of the things I learned into other days, too. The no-TV breakfast, followed by a time of silence, is going to be a daily habit, as it was so much nicer a way to start the day. Also, I'm going to try to stop myself firing up the laptop on an evening - the afternoon is enough. I don't think it will be every afternoon, either.

Definitely a good experience!

Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Wider still, and wider

So, having looked closely at the ways I spend my time online, I have been broadening out the idea of simplicity by looking at areas like my TV watching. It's very easy for me to veg out in front of the TV; it's in a direct line of sight from my wheelchair. Although I can still walk a little indoors, my wheelchair is the seat which provides me with the support I need, so it's where I sit when I'm not in bed.

TV and radio keep me entertained while I knit, in the living room - in the bedroom I have another radio, plus my audio books. I made a conscious decision not to have a TV in my bedroom any more when we moved in here, nearly two years ago. I didn't want any temptation to stay in bed all the time, when I was trying to get up a few hours every day, plus I don't like a lot of electrical stuff in the bedroom anyway. I think I already have too much in there!

Now that we have a DVR (we have Sky+), I no longer watch stuff just because it's on. I always have things to watch which I have made a choice to record for later. However, as with the blogs and mailing lists, I do tend to keep watching programmes just out of habit, or because they are series-linked (which means the DVR records every episode automatically).

So I sat down today and pruned my programme planner. I looked at each series or individual programme on there, whether recorded or upcoming, and asked myself if I really felt it was worth my time. Was it enjoyable? Was it positive? Was I just watching it from habit, or because I thought I should?

Once again I felt the weight lift from me as I worked my way through, and was delighted at the end of it to realise that, next time I looked, all I would see there would be things that I knew were really worth the energy it would take to watch them.

That wasn't the end of it, though. I had also read on Green and Quaker blogs about the idea of Green Sunday, an energy-saving day every week. I can't make my Sunday entirely fossil-fuel free: I have an electrically-powered oxygen concentrator, which keeps me supplied with oxygen, and I cannot use candles or other naked flames for lighting because the oxygen is so flammable. But I can turn off the TV and radio, avoid the computer, and spend time with my thoughts, enjoying the peace and silence, and my freedom from the tyranny of the mad little one-eyed god in the corner of my living room.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Simplicity - a wider view

First of all, sorry that this is a day late. This weekend was the time for the small MfW in my home, and as usual it took a while for me to recover. But it was well worth the recovery time! Every month I seem to be meeting at least one new person (which is really making me feel part of the wider Meeting), as well as building relationships with people I have already met.

I've been thinking a lot recently about simplicity. I'm starting to see that it is not just a matter of avoiding conspicuous consumption, or refusing to follow fashion, but is a concept that can be applied to every part of our lives. When I was unable to spend more than a few minutes online yesterday, I started to worry because I would be creating a backlog of things to read which I would have to tackle today. I am on several mailing lists, Twitter and Ravelry (a kind of Facebook for knitters and crocheters), as well as subscribing to a sizeable number of blogs through Google Reader.

This made me stop and think. Was I reading all this stuff because it was important to me, and really entertained and informed me - or was it just habit? Did it all nourish me? As the BYM Advices and Queries 39 says,

Be discriminating when choosing means of entertainment and information.

Did I really need to spend ten minutes every afternoon reading a selection of cartoons, when I could be doing something more interesting?

So I pruned. I dropped a couple of mailing lists, a whole pile of Google Reader subs, and five of my Ravelry interest groups. It felt like a weight off my shoulders.

I should really know better than to overburden myself. I have been trying to learn to pace myself for nearly twelve years, to dole out my limited energy on the things that are important, and to pass on the things that I can manage without. It's a constant trade-off, to try to keep myself entertained, informed and in touch with my friends without trying to do so much that it lands me back under the duvet, unable to spend time and energy on anything other than sleeping and feeling awful. This is one more step on the way to knowing what is best for me and, while I am a little sad that I am still having to remind myself, it's a step I am glad to take.

(For an excellent perspective on living with limited energy, I recommend the Spoon Theory, from the wonderfully named website, But You Don't Look Sick.)

Monday, 16 March 2009

How does the truth prosper in me?

An email arrived yesterday from our elder, reminding everyone that the Area Meeting was approaching, and asking for views on the question that would be asked there: 'How does the truth prosper in Durham?'

It's quite hard for me to answer this from the point of view of the Meeting generally, as I can't attend the main Meetings for Worship, and for Business. I have noticed that we seems to have blossomed this year, though. We now have a midweek Meeting, with a shared lunch, as well as a monthly discussion group that meets after MfW. Both of those have started in the last few months. We have a singing group which goes out to lead community singing in residential homes, and we're starting Quaker Quest soon. And of course, there is also the new monthly MfW in my home, and another in an older member's home. These I know from editing the Newsletter.

One thing I don't know is how much practical ministry we provide. I know there are prison visitors, and even a Quaker prison chaplain (we have an 'ordinary' prison (with a women's wing), a Young Offenders' Institution, and a high security prison, all within Durham). I'm sure there will be many other things going on that I don't know about, because people don't tend to 'blow their own trumpet' - but I think these are the kinds of activities which need to be in the newsletter just as much as the accounts of the discussion groups and Meetings for Business.

And me? Well, this was the year in which I became a Member, so it has been a very special year for me. Having the monthly MfW in my home has made me feel much more a part of things, and has helped me forge friendships with a larger number of people. Being given the task of Newsletter Editor has really brought me into the heart of things, and now I find out about all sorts of activities that are happening all over the area, not just in Durham. I was rather daunted by the task at first, but now I love it, and look forward to putting the newsletter together every month.

Spiritually, the longer I am a Quaker, the more I feel at home. I love the feeling I get in Meeting when I know that what is inside me must be spoken, even though it scares me. I really appreciate the gentleness and genuineness of my fellow Quakers. The testimony of simplicity speaks to me more and more clearly as time goes on, and I am supported by the knowledge of being surrounded by people who believe in it as much as I do, and who won't look down on me for not having the latest gadget or the newest clothes.

I love it that God is honoured by people knowing I can be relied upon to tell the truth, or to keep a confidence without gossiping. I hate it when I let him down, and pass judgement on people, or make a sarcastic comment. I'm not perfect, but I know he loves me anyway.

How does the truth prosper in me? I know that it has its roots deep within me, and I can see it flourishing in many areas of my life. With God's help, I hope to see the day when it flourishes in all of them.

Monday, 9 March 2009

Unexpected insight

It seems last week that there were several Quaker blogs about ministry and direction. It must be a topic many of us are musing on at the same time! It will be interesting to see what happens next.

I was looking through some old journals, to find a poem I wanted for today's post, when I came across something entirely different which just leapt out at me. It was a little insight, undated, which read

Prayer is earthenware mugs, as well as porcelain tea cups.

Underneath it was a poem, which I now share with you:

Taking Tea with God

little finger crooked
I offer
tiny porcelain cups
and sandwiches so thin
that You could read Your book through them

You reply with exuberant doorstops
glistening with honey
fat stoneware mugs
filled up and overflowing

I hope everyone has a good week :)

Monday, 2 March 2009

Being useful

When I was in my teens, I was involved with very evangelical Christian groups, where much was made of finding one's ministry - 'Have you found your ministry yet? Do you think x could be your ministry? Have you prayed for your ministry to be revealed to you?'

I was never quite sure what my ministry was, unless it was being able to perform all the words and actions of the Butterfly Song off by heart, and that seemed unlikely. It was just the most Christian thing I could do. All around me were preachers, prophets, people who could cast out demons, people with a mission to the homeless, people who ministered to alcoholics and drug addicts - and there was I, my only useful talent (as I thought) waving my hands around and ruffling my hair.

As I got older and grew further away from that area of the church, I began to see that 'having a ministry' was no simple, one-time deal. I met people who had maybe worked with the homeless for years, and then got deeply involved with, say, a choir or a theatre group (not mutually exclusive activities, of course, but I hope you see my point). Or maybe they'd been a lay preacher, then packed it all in to go and do voluntary work overseas. Perhaps it wasn't a case of finding my ministry, but listening, and doing what I was told.

Now that I am a Quaker, I can't remember anyone ever asking me what my ministry is. We seem more interested in bringing out people's many abilities and gifts than shoe-horning them into one special area.

I have always had a way with words, and blogging has become my most frequent practice of my writing skills. After reading my blogs, other members wondered if I would be a good Editor for the newsletter. I was worried about taking it on at first, in case it over-taxed me, but I spread out the work as much as I can over the month, and I know no one is going to complain if it's a couple of days late. So far, though, I have got it out on time, three months in a row.

The first two months were four pages long, but this month is ten pages, a real bumper issue. People seem to like my style, and are keen to submit items. I love doing it, I can use my skills, and I get thanks for doing a good job. I don't care what my ministry is now, I just enjoy being useful - and I still love singing the Butterfly Song...

Monday, 23 February 2009

Visual thoughts

I used to be quite wary of sharing my thoughts and feelings about my faith. I suppose I thought people would laugh at me or tell me I had things all wrong. Since being ill I have become much more confident about my opinions and feelings, maybe because I now have so much time to think about them and be sure of them! Becoming a Quaker has definitely helped in this process. I know that fellow Friends will not make fun of the things I say. It's a safe feeling.

Sometimes when I am keeping silence, I have images or visual thoughts alongside the usual verbal ones. On one occasion, long before I began attending Quakers, I saw that I was walking hand-in-hand with Jesus, along a path near a wood. He turned to me and said, “'Friends walking together don't need to talk all the time; as long as they walk together, the silences don't matter.”

This was of enormous comfort to me, as my M.E. means that sometimes I can really struggle to find the words I need. It also formed an important part of my journey towards finding Quakers.

On another occasion, after I had been ill for some time, I was beginning to suffer from depression at my worsening condition. I saw a deep pit, full of shadows and darkness, and I realized that I was standing on Jesus, as if I were standing on a ledge. He said to me, “There is much further down you could go - but you won't.”

Since then I have never again felt so frightened and low, even though my physical condition has not improved.

These visual thoughts don't come often, but when they do, they stay with me for a long time afterwards.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

The gift of simplicity

This entry should really have been up yesterday, but I have the most enjoyable of all excuses for its late arrival - we had Meeting for Worship in my home on Sunday :) These small meetings have been an occasional thing so far, but it was decided on Sunday that they should be monthly now, about which I am absolutely delighted!

Normally I would have rested on Sunday afternoon after all the excitement of having visitors, but like an idiot I pushed on with a hat I was knitting for a deadline. That, combined with having had a broken night's sleep (my oxygen machine packed up, and I had to go onto a cylinder) meant that by Sunday night I had thoroughly crashed. I was asleep for most of yesterday (Monday), but I'm starting to poke my nose out and blink now...

For the first time in many meetings, I spoke. I was quite taken aback to feel that familiar

excuse me

excuse me

and, for once, I didn't need to wait until it became


before I gave in and spoke :)

And what I said was (more or less) this:

We are going to become an important help to people in this credit crunch/depression. So many people use shopping as a band-aid over the emptiness in their lives, and get into more and more debt doing so. There just won't be the consumer credit available any more to do this, nor the money available to service the debt, and people are going to be left without their prop.

We know the joy of freedom from acquisitiveness and the retail therapy culture. We can demonstrate the joys to be had in simplicity and not buying things for the sake of buying them. People are going to need that voice, that perspective. We have the experience people will need in finding support in non-material things, and we will be able, if we choose, to share that.

We all agreed afterwards that sometimes a problem can bring out the best in people (the old 'Blitz spirit'!), and we all hoped that this would be the case over the next few months.

As BYM Advices and Queries no. 41 says:

A simple lifestyle freely chosen is a source of strength.

And if you don't invest your happiness in things, then it can't be taken away by bailiffs....

Monday, 9 February 2009

Fluffy Brain Days

Blogging on a set day seems like such a good idea, until I get to a day when my brain is full of fluff and I am devoid of inspiring content!

I had a rough week last week, culminating in a bad bout of insomnia on Saturday night/Sunday morning (I finally fell asleep a little short of 6am). I feel distinctly uninspired, although I know that's just the effect of the illness.

So, a little something from my Commonplace Book to ponder on. I have kept a Commonplace Book for years now, noting down any quotations that speak to me, amuse me or are just plain beautifully written.

I went to my oldest Commonplace Book for today's entry, and got sidetracked by a number of old friends which I had forgotten. The one which I would like to share with you is from Gerard W Hughes' brilliant book, God of Suprises, and it's one I find very heartening on days like today:

When we pray, we may become more aware of our inner chaos.

This is a grace, a gift of insight, not a sign of failure.

Have a peaceful week, everyone.

Monday, 2 February 2009


Gil S had a meme on her blog about poetry today and, although I'm not really joining with the meme, I would like to share this with you.

It was commissioned for the multi-faith chapel in the new hospital in Durham. I was asked to stay away from specifically Christian imagery or subject matter, and I thought something common to all religions was the idea of hope.


I stand beside the football fan, the student in exams,
The busy driver looking for a space,
The mother tucking in her sleeping child

I know consultants' waiting rooms,
The operating theatres and ITUs

When you are quite alone and all is silence
I am here

I hold your hand in darkness

I will never leave

Monday, 26 January 2009

A little glimpse of Heaven

I was having trouble today settling into silence. I was uncomfortable in my chair, I have a chesty cough at present which kept interrupting me, odd thoughts kept popping up - you know how it is.

Suddenly I was aware of a chaffinch singing. The two oak trees immediately in front of my house are still leafless, so it was quite easy to spot the little bird, hopping from branch to branch. I must have watched and listened to him for ten minutes, as he made his way round both trees before finally flying off.

I sat back in my chair and took in my surroundings again. The sun had come out, low but surprisingly bright, warming the trees and the cream rendering on the house opposite. The sky was a pale but distinct blue.

And I felt utterly at peace.

Monday, 19 January 2009


Doesn't Monday come round quickly!

My brain this week is full of fog and has no deep insight to offer. What I can offer, though, is some of the more unusual Quaker links I am accumulating in my search for Newsletter fodder.

I'd like to start with the Digital Quaker Collection. This is like Project Gutenberg for Quaker writings. It has complete texts of all kinds of Quaker writings, including well-known books like Barclay's Apology and the Journals of John Woolman. It's hosted by Earlham School of Religion, and is an invaluable resource for older texts. A small and more easily navigated selection of the most famous texts can also be found in the Quaker pages of the Street Corner Society.

I enjoyed browsing this collection of Quaker Quotes, which range in time from the beginnings of the Society up until 2002. This is a really varied selection - from the Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech to an article entitled Danger of Quaker Smugness!

The Southern Quarter of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting has an excellent outreach website for children called KidsQuake, in which you can find an illuminating list of Quaker films and documentaries. I also found two different websites containing examples of Quaker Humour - some funnier than others, of course! My favourite is a note spotted on an office workstation: 'I am a Quaker. In case of emergency, please be quiet.' Which tells you all you need to know about my sense of humour....

Lastly for today, the Quaker Jargon Buster. Never again need you wonder about the meaning of daffodil ministry, being eldered, or the significance of the phrase, 'That name would not have occurred to me...' This is a UK site, so if any non-UK readers would like to tell me about jargon from their areas, I would love to hear it :)

Monday, 12 January 2009

So far, so good

Well, it's Monday, and I'm here as I planned.

Now - what to say??

Actually, it's easy to know what to say. I am feeling so much happier and more connected for having made a point of putting aside a little time each day for silence. I've never been one for surrounding myself with extraneous noise anyway, but a little intentional silence, where I try to connect with God, has been a positive and happy part of each day so far.

In the past when I have had quiet times (I'm not keen on calling them that - it's too close to Quiet Time, which has too many bad associations for me from my times with charismatic groups), I've used a Bible verse or a section of Advices and Queries to concentrate on while I settle in to it. At present I have gone back to reading my Twelve Quakers and... booklets, which I was given when I became a Member. They are ideal for this, as each section is fairly short, and is always thought-provoking. (If you follow the link - there are two on the following page as well.)

What do you do to settle into silence?

Monday, 5 January 2009

First Post of 2009

I don't do New Year's Resolutions. I don't see the point in setting myself up to fail by giving myself a list of things that I know I will not keep up, even until the end of the first month. But every January I do take the opportunity to look at what I'm doing and decide if it's what I want to do.

What I want to do this year - and I have no idea of whether this will work, because there are so many variables - is to go back to something I tried on my knitting blog, and which worked well until I got very sick with food poisoning. This was to write a little each week, regardless of how little, just to keep my writing muscles flexible. I do tend, especially on this blog, to wait until I am struck by a good idea - and so weeks can go by without my writing a thing! It's a strange thing about inspiration - the more I write, the more inspiration I find...

I also want to try to write only in the blog, and not in my head. I'm a terror for getting an idea, and then planning the whole thing out mentally, coining phrases and marshalling my ideas, until I spend so much time on it that I am bored with the whole idea and never actually write it down. There are numerous wonderful blog entries in my head which never made it to the screen. I've also just taken over as the Newsletter Editor at my Meeting (Durham, part of BYM), so I'm intending to bring this habit to bear on my newsletter writing, too!

Finally, I want to be more organised about my times of silence. No pump produces water without being primed, and my writing pump is fed directly by my spiritual priming. It's sheer laziness that makes me turn on the TV or radio instead of spending some time every day in silence, and I must break the habit.

So, I'm going to try for a little every Monday. Don't expect great wisdom every week - but I will at least try to show up :)

Happy New Year, everyone.