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'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!