Cold and no pink!

(Written 17th Feb)

OK, I’ve worked out one of my limitations with giving up pink… all of my warm clothes are pink and most of my shoes are pink. My coat is pink, my cardigan is pink, my ponchos are pink… and the weather has just got very cold again. I’ve been wearing my black funeral shoes for a week now, and I’m feeling down.IMG_0622

I’m away on half-term with family and friends, and I’ve decided to crochet myself a new poncho that isn’t pink… or at least that was the plan. (and OK, I may be about to spend some money on giving up pink… I know I said that I wouldn’t… but it’s either spend some money, or wear full on pink!)

I went to Otter Nurseries – as they seem to sell everything, and they did have a lot of different wools for sale. However, most of them were really drab colours, and something that I probably wouldn’t wear again after Lent. I opted for a beautiful variegated wool… although I should probably confess that once I started to crochet it, I realise there is some pink in it. I’ve decided that for me, it’s good enough, and still counts as giving up pink – the predominant colours are greeny blues, which is a big change for me. When I wear it, it is lovely, but I still don’t feel at all myself when I look in the mirror.

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I had underestimated how hard it would feel to give up pink. One week into Lent and I’m feeling really quite down. When I look in the mirror, I don’t really feel like myself; I feel drab wearing black and dark colours. I’ve stood at my wardrobe, almost stroking the pink clothes, which I’ve now washed and put away… I want to put them back on.

I’m reminded of something I wrote on here a few years ago:

“The face I want to present to the world is this pink, cheerful, capable, in control person: And to be honest…I don’t really want you to see past that…I don’t want you to see that there’s a real person back there…who’s not totally sure of herself, and hasn’t quite got it all together…If I do let you in a little…I’m still likely to try and hide behind loud / sparkly / bright things…you see I don’t really want to even admit my vulnerability to myself…I’ve become a bit of a slave to this perfectionist lark…but the cracks are there…”

I’m realising that it’s not just that I don’t want you to see beyond this pink, cheerful, capable person… it’s that I don’t want to see beyond this pink, cheerful, capable person. I don’t want to admit that vulnerability, I don’t want to let myself be out of control – and this giving up pink is making me feel very vulnerable. Still, 39 days to go… I’ve never looked forward to Easter quite as much as I have this year!

Lent without pink continues here

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Starting to go pink-free

(Written 10tIMG_6523h Feb)

It’s Ash Wednesday, and one of the first things I need to do is to remove as much of the pink as I can. So first stop for me is the hairdressers, to try and dye away my pink hair. When I get to the hairdressers I realise I’ve already overlooked one thing, as I’m wearing pink socks… it’s going to be quite a challenge to notice all the pink things, and to stop using them!

As the hairdresser finishes and I look in the mirror, it feels quite strange to be going brown again, already I’m starting to feel not quite like myself.

It may  help if I explain a little of my journey in to pink in the first place. I tend to think quite a lot in colour, and for a long time the colour that I associated with myself was blue. I painted my bedroom at home blue, my car was blue, my wedding dress was blue…. even my husband mostly lives in blue! In 2004, this started to change.

On Christmas Day 2003 I had a miscarriage, and my health also started to deteriorate, with bad asthma and significant fatigue (which was eventually diagnosed as underactive thyroid). I wasn’t very well, and I had to withdraw from a lot of the different things that I had been doing – I could no longer help on the summer camp that I had been involved with for years, I had to stop leading the youth groups that I was involved with, I had to reduce to part-time working hours. There were a lot of challenges to my identity.

I went on a reflective workshop lead by Rev’d Val Corcoran, and I started to play with colours and textures to represent my life journey. Towards the end of 2004 I started doing City & Guilds embroidery, and in our first term our focus was on colour, exploring all sorts of design work based on colour, and playing with colour in paints & threads. Colour was emerging as a significant thread throughout that year.

At work we were looking at questions around workplace dress & identity. I followed this up by booking an appointment with the fabulous Diana Blakeman at House of Colour, to work out styles of clothes and colours that suited me. I was somewhat surprised to find out that I was a Jewel Winter, and that bright pink was one of the colours that most suited me. I didn’t really want to hear that, and really wanted to just carry on with the black, navy & white that I mostly lived in. She challenged me to try wearing pink for a couple of weeks and to see what happened.100_1606

Soon after, in early 2005 I went on a silent retreat at a convent. I explored the image of God, firstly by playing about with paint to try and capture my own thoughts. The gold ball that I painted tried to capture my image of the holiness, the preciousness of God – but also something of the awe and perhaps remoteness, and also a bounded feel, for me this was something about rules and regulations, about laws and striving for perfection.

I then spent time looking at images of God drawn by different artists, from different traditions. I was particularly drawn to one icon, and in particular the red colour within it (Icons were not something I had particularly encountered prior to this – I’d grown up in a Baptist church, this was definitely new territory for me!) The blue and the gold I was familiar with, but the red really struck a dissonant chord with me.

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For the first time the humanity, the passion, the intensity, the feeling and excitement of Jesus the man struck a chord with me. Red was not a colour I had ever associated with God in any way. I spent some time with this image and exploring further scriptures to dwell on this colour aspect of God. The image I then painted was this:100_1608

This started to capture some of the movement, the energy, the dynamism, the desire of God. It was really challenging to put this on paper, as it was so different to the imagery I had let stay in my head for a long time. Part of me wanted to screw up this painting as soon as the paint started to touch the paper, it felt almost irreverent; opening me to a completely different perception of God. I spent some time sitting with this, letting the associated scriptures and imagery sink in.

I spent se100_1223veral days praying on this in retreat, of encountering these different aspects of God, and letting them seep into me. I created a simple card/ fabric butterfly, that felt like the new, fragile me, emerging from a chrysalis – the chrysalis of pain and poor health, but also the restrictions of trying to meet others expectations of me.

The encounter with this redness of God, the life-giving energy, was a realisation for me of the invitation to live the fullness of life, to allow myself to 100_1222get to know myself better, and to let different aspects of my personality & skills to flourish. And as colour has always been significant to me, this was the start of me really accepting the pink colour – the colour that had been identified when I had my colours done, started to feel like a God-given colour for me, and became almost a short-hand to myself, a reminder to be the person that I am, to allow myself to flourish and live, to love life and appreciate the goodness around me – and to encourage that flourishing in others.

Later that year, as part of my City & Guilds we had to create a wall hanging. I decided to use this colourful journey and to represent it in stitch & fabric. The spiral shell, still hanging in our living room, represents that journey, that transformation.

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Ten, eleven years on though, I wonder if I have almost stopped that transformation by capturing it in an image like that. I’m reminded of Wittgenstein’s words: “A picture held us captive. And we could not get outside it, for it lay in our language and language seemed to repeat it to us inexorably.”

(I’m pretty sure Wittgenstein didn’t have in mind a pink spiral shell when he wrote these words.) However, I wondered if that is what had started to happen to me – had I become captive to this image of transformation, of pink. Was I inside it, or outside it? Was I stuck in a pink loop with no escape? In using pink as almost a short-hand to myself, had I tried to capture it… was I still experiencing God in this way? Was this colour still true to myself? Did it still represent who I am? Or am I restricting myself, stopping the continual change & transformation by hiding behind this colour?

I’m not really sure, and I think that is what I’m hoping  I may find out as I continue on this journey through Lent. I’m only one day in, and already I’m feeling very uncomfortable, and not at all sure that I’m going to make it to Easter… Easter is feeling a long way away!

Lent without pink continues here

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Why am I giving up Pink for Lent?

(Written 5th Feb)

Pink has been a hugely significant colour in my life for the past 12 years, and has become almost a trademark colour for me. I’ve heard myself referred to as ‘the pink vicar’, and it’s almost become my brand. Which is why I have decided to give it up for Lent.IMG_6481

My route into pink was a transformational journey – both inside and out; but does it still mean the same thing to me now as it did when I first encountered the colour for myself? I’m not sure. I’m wondering if pink has almost become a uniform that I put on, is it still the right colour for me? And have I almost hindered further work and development by such a strong attachment to the one colour?

A couple of years ago someone suggested giving up hair-dye & makeup for Lent, and at the time I said that I wasn’t sure if I could, as it would feel like giving up being me. It still does feel like I’m going to be giving up some of the security of feeling like me.

So this Lent, I’m putting this to the IMG_7480test. I’ve decided to give up pink – (but ideally without spending money). My aim is not to buy an entirely new wardrobe that is not pink, but to see what it’s like to live with as little of my usual pink as I can (without spending money). There will be some pink things that I continue to use – my inhaler, hearing aids, wallet and tablet (all pink) will still be regularly used during Lent! I’ve also decided not to just swap pink for purple or red, so I will be endeavouring to leave pink, purple & red out of my life for Lent.

 

At the moment I’m feeling quite anxious at the thought of it, which suggests to me that this is probably a good thing, and that it is likely to be challenging thing for me to give up. I’m really curious to see how this journey goes, and how I may be changed through these six weeks.

Lent without pink continues here

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General Synod 2015 – Further Statistics

All the diocesan results are now in, so it’s possible to see if the trends that seemed to be emerging are there all the way through.

Last week, as the synod results started to come in, I posted a blog post to start to analyse the results, and in particular to see if there were any emerging trends relating to gender / election results.

Gender RatiosNow that all the results are in, if you take a very broad level view, it would seem that everything is straightforward. Comparing the gender split of total clergy (2012), against the gender split of the House of Clergy elected to General Synod, 2015; overall, the gender balance is almost identical – a result I found surprising.

 

However, this overall matched ratios, disguises some interesting dynamics in the processes to get to this result.

There are interesting features in the data for both the candidates standing for election, and those that are elected.

Candidates for Election

  1. As already posted online by others, there were significantly more males standing for election than females. In this document I’ve analysed the data by diocese, against 2012 ministry statistics. These demonstrate that the split is more marked in the Province of Canterbury, with only 2.7% of female clergy standing for election, vs 4% of males.
    M% Clergy that stood for election F% Clergy that stood for election Total% Clergy that stood for election
    Province of Canterbury 4.0% 2.7% 3.5%
    Province of York 3.8% 3.2% 3.6%
    CHURCH of England 3.9% 2.8% 3.6%

There was a wide variety in the number of females standing for election within each diocese – as shown on this map (whereas a more similar level of male engagement across the dioceses)

GS Election Candidates by Gender and Diocese

Candidates Elected

  1. Analysis of the percentage of diocesan clergy that are female against the percentage of female elected General Synod representatives shows an unexpected trend, that the dioceses with most females amongst the general clergy population elected a lower proportion of females to their General Synod cohort.
  2. Of all candidates standing, 57% of female candidates were elected overall, vs 42% of men, so females that did stand were elected much more frequently than men.
  3. When dioceses are ranked by the number of female candidates standing, those dioceses with fewer female candidates standing, were more likely to elect females to General Synod than those dioceses where more women stood. 4+ female candidates seems to be the tipping point, at which males are more likely to be selected than females, of those standing.

Gender Selection vs Female Clergy in Diocese

I’ve attached my full pdf report illustrating this, and the data if you want to take a look.

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General Synod 2015 Elections – Some Gender Statistics

So what’s going on with gender and the General Synod Elections for House of Clergy this year?

Inspired by Thinking Anglicans list of General Synod results, Ian Paul’s analysis of the gender of candidates standing for elections, and the Church Times article on the gender balance of those standing, I thought I would also look at the numbers.

(I have to admit, up front, that I was one of the unsuccessful clergy candidates in the Winchester diocese; but also to being very cross today, that although there were 4 female candidates in Winchester, there were none elected. I wasn’t expecting to be elected, as a second-year curate- but was very surprised that none of the women were elected. And I do want to say, I think we do have some great guys that have been elected from this diocese.)

I decided to compare the numbers of clergy standing against the latest set of ministry statistics that I have access to – the C of E Ministry Statistics, 2012. (So representation numbers not entirely accurate, as there may have been slight changes in numbers / gender since these ministry stats were published.)

This is my data so far (end of 14th Oct, 15): 151015 General Synod 2015 Statistics

My first analysis is of the candidates for election, looking at the number of candidates standing for each diocese, and comparing these numbers (by gender) against the number of potential candidates, using the figures of those in stipendiary & self-supporting clergy from the 2012 ministry statistics by diocese.

As others have reported, this shows that there were more men than women standing, however, putting it in these percentages, there were 13 dioceses where a higher percentage of eligible women stood for election than men

Numbers standing for GS election (2015) as percentage of eligible candidates (2012 data) Comparison of representation in elections
Province M F Total
Canterbury 4.0% 2.7% 3.5% Males higher percentage
York 3.8% 3.2% 3.6% Males higher percentage
Total Church of England 3.9% 2.8% 3.6% Males higher percentage

This shows that the skew was much stronger in the province of Canterbury, with almost 50% more men standing for election than women (as a percentage of eligible candidates to stand). This comes back to the questions raised by Ian Paul – why are less women standing for election. Although, there is a reasonable difference between the percentage of women in the south and women in the north going forward – what is it about the northern dioceses that makes women more likely to put themselves forward for election? Is there a different profile of women in the north – in terms of age? family? experience? length of time in ministry? Or is there something different in the dioceses? Are there more women in senior leadership positions in the province of York? (I don’t know the answer to this one)

 

As the results have been coming in this week, I have then plotted these in the same way. (At the time of writing this, there are 10 dioceses for whom I do not have results information)

This time I have compared the percentage of elected members of the house of clergy (by gender), with the percentage numbers of clergy overall in each diocese (by gender).

Clergy (stip & self-supp) from 2012 Ministry Figures Clergy Figures – Elected to General Synod 2015 Comparing % of elected candidates, with % eligible candidates by gender
Province M F M F Total M% F%
Canterbury 68% 32% 73 26 99 74% 26% Male representation GS higher than male proportion clergy
York 67% 33% 25 17 42 60% 40% Female representation GS higher than Female proportion clergy
Total Church of England 68% 32% 98 43 141 70% 30% Male representation GS higher than male proportion clergy

This data shows that in the province of York, overall there is a higher percentage of females in the house of clergy on General Synod (40%), than there are in the overall clergy population (33%). However, in the Province of Canterbury, this picture is reversed.

Overall, there were 11 dioceses (with results reported so far), where female representation on General Synod is higher than amongst clergy generally, compared to 20 dioceses where male representation is higher. There is one diocese – Chester – where the representation is equal.

The third analysis I did, was to look at the candidates in a diocese, against the election results, and to see if you were more likely to be elected in a diocese if you were male or female. This was interesting, as overall, there was a significantly higher chance of being elected if you were a female that stood for election (indicating that the issue is potentially related more to encouraging females to stand in the first place.) However, there were several dioceses where this was not the case (including my own!)

Numbers elected as percentage of those standing Which gender selected most frequently from those candidates that stood
Province M F Total
Canterbury 32% 36% 33% Females selected more frequently
York 34% 57% 40% Females selected more frequently
Total Church of England 32% 42% 35% Females selected more frequently

 Split by diocese:

Females selected more frequently 21
Males selected more frequently 11
Equal selection 2

 

I delved into this further, to see if there is any correlation between the number of female candidates standing and the numbers elected. This is where it gets really interesting – with the dioceses that have declared results so far, of the 13 dioceses where there was just one woman standing for election, in 9 of these cases, she was elected, and in only one instance  so far, was she unsuccessful (with 3 undeclared yet)

2015 Synod Results Ordered by # Female Candidates Standing

In the dioceses where 4 or more women stood for election (10 dioceses), of results declared so far, in 6 dioceses men were selected more frequently than women, but in only 2 of these dioceses were women selected more than men (Lichfield and Manchester).

There are various possible interpretations – and I’m sure you will be able to think of more.

I wonder if, where there were very few women standing, those voting took gender into account more explicitly / were perhaps keener to ensure that there was a woman / women elected.

Perhaps, in the dioceses where more women stood, maybe gender was less of an issue in people’s minds, as they were voting…. perhaps the wider spread of candidates encouraged people to look at more than gender? I think that’s what we want to get to – where we’re looking at people – regardless of gender, sexuality, ….

In which case, in the dioceses where more women stood for election, is it that the women don’t have as much experience as the men? (In my case that is a very valid point, as a second year curate, I have considerably less ministerial experience than those that were elected – and hence my lack of surprise at my non-election!)

I don’t know the details of all the candidates across these dioceses, and you would need to look further – is it that the female candidates (or female clergy in general?) are not as visible in dioceses? are perhaps not so well represented on diocesan synods? in diocesan committees? meetings? in senior roles in dioceses? I’m sure there are others that have looked into these sort of questions.

If there really is a correlation, and 4 or more women standing means women are less likely to have been elected than men, then I feel really frustrated – as, part of my reason for standing was to try and increase the likelihood of there being a female representative of this diocese in the house of clergy… my standing took the number of female candidates in this diocese to 4… which potentially decreased the likelihood of the female candidates in this diocese being elected?!

 

 

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Vulnerability

Psalm 61 “From the end of the earth I call to you, when my heart is faint”

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At the last STETS weekend, I noticed this amazing cross on the wall, and was even more in awe when I read how it was made. The wood had been used for years as a chuck in the stonemasons workshop at Salisbury Cathedral, the gouging and incisions as a result of the stonemasons work.

Sophie Hacker has then expertly applied pigments and metallics to draw out its incredible beauty and complexity. (If you want to see it, it’s hanging inside Sarum College)

This really started challenging my thinking, particularly in relation to perfectionism (something I struggle with on a regular basis!) It is the scars on this wood that tell the story, that provide the interest, the beauty, the texture. This is true for me too.

Recently I was reading another blog, http://parttimepriest.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/sermon-to-self.html and it reminded me of the importance of noticing ourselves, and taking care of ourselves, and allowing time for rest. In the midst of ‘balancing work, study, family… rest certainly seems to be the thing I’m most likely to skip over… lurching from one over-full day to the next.

These got me to thinking about vulnerability, and despite how much I like to do, and how capable I want to present myself… like everyone else, I am only human, and I can’t do everything.DSC_7538-001

I took this into clay, fabric and wood, to think through further, (with the luxury of a morning at Hopeweavers).

I created a sculpture thing, with me hanging in the middle…

The face I want to present to the world is this pink, cheerful, capable, in control person:

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And to be honest… I don’t really want you to see past that… I don’t want you to see that there’s a real person back there… who’s not totally sure of herself, and hasn’t quite got it all together…

If I do let you in a little…I’m still likely to try and hide behind loud / sparkly / bright things… you see I don’t really want to even admit my vulnerability to myself… I’ve become a bit of a slave to this perfectionist lark… but the cracks are there…

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Even on that pink exterior… there are gaps… and slowly, I want to gain the courage to make holes in that pink facade… to let you in… and let me out… and know that it’s OK to be human…

I guess really that’s the message of our faith… not that I always want to hear that… that God loves us as we really are, warts and all… he doesn’t expect us to be perfect, or totally capable, or in control… (that’s his job)… so really, it’s OK to get on with being me… as I really am… living and learning… with the scars of a life that’s being lived… and with the need to rest (like everyone else)… and that’s OK… God isn’t there waiting until I’ve got it all sorted… he’s there now… with me… in the mess and the scars!

I need to keep hearing this… to keep working at just being me… that it really is OK not to do everything / be in control … to let love in… and let me out

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St Clare of Assisi

DSC_3060I thought I’d share my sermon for tomorrow morning at Ampfield – feast day of St Clare of Assisi:

I don’t know what you think about saints, but I have to confess that for me, growing up in a Baptist church, I regarded saints as some peculiar oddity of the Catholic Church, and something I didn’t really get. Saints like St John and St Mark, OK, they were the apostles, but all these other Catholic saints (and to date there are about 10,000 of them) just confused me.

However, the last couple of months have forced me to think a little more. Firstly, my college placement was at Westminster Abbey. At the heart of the Abbey (behind the High Altar) is the shrine of St Edward the Confessor. Many pilgrims come specifically to visit and pray at this shrine.

Then I went on retreat and the theme was St Clare of Assisi, and today is her feast day.

So what do we associate with St Clare? If pushed, a month or so ago, I could have told you that she was a friend of St Francis, and that she had started the Poor Clares convents, but not a lot else.

So who was this person, and why does her popularity continue today? I have to admit up front, that I have been really inspired by this incredible, interesting, dynamic woman.

Clare lived in the thirteenth century (around the time of the Crusades, and the signing of the Magna Carta) She grew up an intelligent, devout girl in a well-to-do family in Assisi. She would have been a strong asset to her family, and the obvious next step would be a good marriage. Clare showed her strength and independence early, and pushed to wait until she was 18.

When she was 18, in the lead up to Easter, Clare heard Francis of Assisi preaching and his words set her heart on fire with love for God. She decided to dedicate her whole life to God. On Palm Sunday, she went to church with her family as usual, wearing her fine robes. She had already decided that she would go and join Francis and the brothers, and had made secret arrangements.

She knew that her family would not like her decision, and that they would try and prevent it. So that night, she secretly left her family home. Once everyone else was asleep, she cleared a disused passageway and opened a gate (normally used for taking out the dead), and went to the church to find Francis and join his group. While his brothers held torches, Francis cut off her hair and gave her the tonsure, as a sign of penance.

This was an incredibly bold set of actions.

Just like in today’s Hebrews reading: “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going.”
And in the Luke reading: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms.”

Clare heard God’s call and responded with her entire being, not knowing what would happen. She turned her back on her entire upbringing and the future that would have been expected for her. She left behind her wealth, her beautiful clothes, her comfortable home, even her hair.

This was a totally scandalous event. If this happened today, it would probably feature in the Assisi version of Hello magazine!

Imagine if you were her family? What would you do?

Probably the same thing that her family did – they went mad, they went after her, they wanted her to come home, they pleaded and coaxed for many days. After all, their intelligent daughter has gone off chasing after an itinerant preacher and his rabble of followers. But when they saw her with the tonsure, they knew this was her path, and that she had decided to totally follow God.

Now imagine if you were Clare? If you heard that call to follow God, would you be prepared to act so wholeheartedly? I don’t know about you, but I know for me it’s easy to add in lots of questions, to worry about security and safety, to want to make sure all the family will be OK, to keep everyone happy, to plan… and to procrastinate, to put it off, to want a bit more reassurance…

In the Genesis reading we heard “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.”

Although we don’t know that Clare had the same promise, she did have a similar outcome. I’m sure she could not have anticipated what would happen in the next 40 years of her life, and certainly wouldn’t have imagined that 800 years later we would still be talking about her.

For Clare, it is about “the choice of poverty… this is a decision to bring all we have and are into line with God’s values, which are values of heart and spirit rather than power and prestige, values of giving rather than having. …[very often] Clare focuses on Christ in the crib and on the cross, because those were the moments when that value system of the heart was most dramatically portrayed” (This Living Mirror, p49)

This poverty is maybe a little different to our common understanding of poverty, which is usually as a result of injustice, exploitation or drought. For Clare this is a choice for “totally self-giving generosity” (Living the Mirror, p58), for self-emptying allowing a total focus on Christ, and awareness and openness to encountering Christ in others too.

I think quite often, our understanding of our Christian faith can be about the things we need to do for God (and then perhaps feeling guilty about the things we haven’t done). Whereas for Clare, it seems to be more about her total focus on Christ, and then the transformation that has in her.

In other words, it’s not about what she can do for God, but about what God then does in her – a very different focus – “it is participation in the creativity of God.” (This Living Mirror, p51)

Clare frequently uses the imagery of a mirror, of focusing on Christ in the mirror. She also talks of how her life, and others can be a mirror for others, so that they can see God’s love reflected to them.

Clare established a convent at San Damiano, and many women were attracted to join her (including some of her family and friends). “Clare was the first woman in the Church’s history who composed a written Rule, submitted for the Pope’s approval.” (Benedict XVI – audience)

She was also strong enough to challenge the Pope, and insist on the total rule of poverty. She had to get special permission from him for the order not to be able to have any material wealth (even though the church wanted to give her lands to use and other assets.) In Clare’s lifetime, many new communities were founded in this order, because her example and the sisters that joined her, drew many others to a life of prayer and penitence, and total focus and dedication to following Christ.

As you can probably tell, I have been really inspired by St Clare. She may have lived 800 years ago, but her courage and her faith still shine today, and remind us of how it really is possible to heed the words from our readings “Do not be afraid!” And I’ve realised that the lives of the saints, and many other people, can be inspirations for us, inviting us to follow their example and encounter Christ ourselves.

I will end with a poem written by a lady Yvonne, on the retreat I went on, out of the work we did together on St Clare.

Gaze upon that mirror
What do we see?
The familiar cast of eyes, ears, mouth.
Mirroring
Who?
We gaze into that mirror
Surrendering to that inner light
We choose to let go and leave behind the familiar, the loved, the known
We choose to risk the unfamiliar, the unloved, the unknown.
Make ourselves available to that unique call
With rapt attention.
We gaze upon that mirror and entering find you
Lord Jesus

(Yvonne Dalrymple, Hopeweavers@Hilfield retreat)

Collage of St Clare, that we made on retreat.

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Spirals / Formation…

Hopeweavers Beeswax Candle

Hopeweavers Beeswax Candle

A few weeks ago I went on a retreat at Hilfield Friary, led by Jacqui Lea from Hopeweavers, inspired by St Clare of Assisi. It was perfectly timed; I handed in my last second year assignment at college on my way to the retreat. I have to admit I was rather frazzled as I arrived, it has been a pretty intense couple of years with work, college, family, life in general all happening at the same time. On the first evening someone else on the retreat talked about the spiral nature of our journeys, and how we often come back to things from a new angle. This is an image that resonated with me, and one that I’ve explored in the past too; but it sort of sank into my head on that first night, and I decided to continue to explore it in the morning.

In the morning it was suggested that we might like to do a weaving. Having done some weaving previously, I decided to continue playing with the spiral picture in my head, and try and create a 3D version of it. My intention was then to add some string to it, and possibly weave into it, and hopefully incorporate some mirror somewhere. In my head, this seemed like a fairly straightforward project, and something I could achieve in the morning…

Trough to soak willow

Trough to soak willow

I had a look around and found some basket weaving willow in the art barn that could make the spiral shape and some bits of tree branch to make the base into which I could fix the spiral. All looking good… Geoff kindly helped me create a sturdy base out of a slice of the large branch, and attach a smaller branch into the centre as the ‘trunk’. I was able to use a branch that still had leaves on the top. For me this represented Christ, and also the imagery of the tree of life.

I’d not worked with basket weaving willow before. It turns out you have to soak it in water for an hour or two before it is soft enough to shape it without it breaking. Fortunately there was a large trough, so the willow went into the trough… and I had to wait a while… (For those of you that know me, you’ll know I’m not very good at waiting, I like to just get on with things.)

Watching Bees

Watching Bees

So I waited for it to soak, and spent some time outside, watching the bees, and soaking in the beautiful place. (And it was OK, because after lunch I would be able to get on with it again…)

Well, after lunch I was able to get on with it (for a bit…). I attached the willow to the base, and gently formed it into the spiral shape that was in my head. It took quite a bit of wrestling with the willow, and various bits of string attached to the willow, and the branch in the middle, to persuade it to stay in a spiral. There was quite a lot of tying of string, and retying, adjusting tension to form the willow into the shape in my head. (Well, actually not quite the shape I had in my head, but realising that I had to work with the willow, and find the shape it was happy to take.)

At this point, I also slowly realised that it had taken an hour or two for the willow to get soft enough to be pliable and pulled into shape. Having got it into shape, it was then going to take several more hours to dry again, so that the shape would be robust enough to start adding further string to it. Hmmm… more waiting.

At this point I started to spot the irony. This spiral form was intended to be about my formational journey, and how that journey spirals around my image of Christ. As I contemplate Christ and meditate on him, I seek to be transformed. And yet this formational journey isn’t instant. There is no fast-track path on my journey. It involves a lot of waiting, and working through things, and revisiting things. Many years ago, I naively thought that as you worked through an ‘issue’, that would be it; and in the future you would just encounter new / different issues. As I grow up, I realise that actually the things that I have worked on in the past, the issues that I need to address are part of who I am. And yes, although I have worked on them, as I journey forwards, I make my way round the spiral and sometimes return to a similar issue, but from a slightly new perspective. And my formational journey, much like the spiral I was trying to create, involves much tying & retying of string, adjusting of tension, trying to move forward a bit at a time, trying to be the shape I think I am made to be.

Spiral in progress

Spiral in progress

Ah, I think… clearly I’ve found the lesson I needed to learn from constructing this spiral… yes, I’m going to have to do some actual waiting, while I make my formational spiral that is about waiting, and revisiting and slowly learning and being transformed. OK… lesson learned, now I can just get on and tie the string into the shape I had in mind and finish the sculpture…

Well, it turns out, that even once the willow is dry, there is still quite a lot of give and flexibility in it. Which means that attaching the string in the ‘Barbara Hepworth-esque’ design that I had in mind was going to be a test of my patience. Much tying, and retying of string later, and I had finally managed to create the shape I had in mind. For me it was important that the strings connected the lower (earlier) parts of the spiral (journey) to those higher up; in the way that our current journey is connected to the journey that we have been on. And it was important to me that those strings all touched the central ‘Christ-tree’, and that their direction was slightly changed / shaped/ transformed by that encounter. Several hours later, much muttering, and much tying and retying of string, I had managed to get the form in place.

Spiral string

Spiral string

OK… surely that’s enough waiting now… surely I can just get on and complete this spiral sculpture… (by now it’s nearly the end of the second full day, and we go home on the third day!)

The final thing I wanted to incorporate into this image was some mirror. The retreat itself was entitled ‘Gaze Upon That Mirror’, and mirror is an image that Clare had used.

“Place your mind before the mirror of eternity!

Place your soul in the brilliance of glory!

Place your heart in the figure of the divine substance and,

through contemplation, transform your entire being

into the image of the Godhead Itself…”

(St Clare of Assisi 1238, the third letter to Agnes of Prague)

With the sculpture I wanted to place some mirror on the base, so that it was possible to view it from different angles. In particular I wanted to be able to look in the mirror and see the central tree / godhead image reflected. From some directions, this would involve looking back through the spiral, looking through the string, looking back through my journey and seeing Christ’s transforming love at work through my earlier journey. But it’s also possible to look in the mirror and focus on the leaves above, on the central trunk, and to see where the spiral might be going, as the journey continues; and to focus on Christ in that mirror.

Mirror, mirror

Mirror, mirror

The materials that I found to use for this part of the sculpture were some broken pieces of mirror tile, and some air drying clay. I was able to mix the clay with some PVA glue, to help the tiles stick to the piece of wood underneath. As I put the mirror tiles into the wet clay, and assembled it, the mirror pieces became covered in a layer of clay and glue. Once I’d got all the pieces in place, I tried to clean the mirror pieces. It turns out my waiting wasn’t over yet. As I tried to clean the mirrors, all I did was keep smearing more wet gluey clay back over the mirrors.

I needed to leave the clay to dry overnight, and it was only on the very last morning that I was able to clean each mirror piece individually, so that they were able to reflect clearly.

Spiral from above

Spiral from above

So finally, as the retreat drew to a close, I finished my ‘first morning’s spiral sculpture’, exploring my formational journey. I hadn’t expected the process itself to be so formational, as I faced up to my impatience, my desire to move forward and resolve things, and my frustrations at revisiting earlier parts of the journey.

Creating this spiral, meditating on it during construction and praying with it now I’m home has also started to give me the confidence to keep finding a way forward. I know there are aspects of my journey that I have visited in the past that I need to visit again. The additional stresses of juggling work, college and family have helped me to realise that our journeys are never complete, and that issues I’ve explored before need to be looked at again, albeit from a different angle, a new twist of the spiral. I’m optimistic though, reflecting on my journey thus far, that contemplation does indeed lead to transformation, and that I just need to have the courage to keep exploring and following that journey.

Formational spiral

Formational spiral

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Wildness & Warmth

Wow, where is time going?

I had a really useful meeting with my spiritual director a few weeks ago – reflecting more on this control / apathy thing. In particular, I realised that for me, when I lean towards apathy it’s a health thing too. It’s like I literally throw my arms back and opt out of everything – including bothering to look after myself. It’s not a helpful, healthful trait of mine, and I think I’m also starting to realise the impact this has on other people too. When I choose apathy, I zone out from other people – for my friends this tends to mean I withdraw; at work this means I don’t show up because I’m ill. I guess I’ve tended to think of my health just being ‘my problem’, but realising this helps me to see that I really need to learn to stay hold of who I am, to keep on top of myself /my health, because I don’t want to cause this impact on other people too.

In talking it through with my spiritual director we reflected on the phrase ‘the wildness and warmth’ of God, from Jim Cotter. I think in my quest for control, it’s like I want to ‘control God’; to categorise / confine / understand him, and then put him in a box. This phrase has been particularly helpful to me; I’ve been dwelling on it / letting it seep into me over the last few weeks. As I’m doing my studies it’s opening it up even more to me, just how big this God is, and how wild… how he challenges the status quo, he challenges our assumptions – yet there is a warmth to him – this is a message of love, of salvation, of becoming the people he truly created us to be – if we’re willing to let him change us / live in us / breathe in us.

It’s just such a challenge to me at the moment, to really let this hope / love live out through me, and to let it speak to my behaviour. I’m still muddling along /messing about with this whole food thing. I know I have a problem with food; and I’m pinging again between control and apathy. It makes me feel really cross. I know there are better ways to be; but it’s like I start eating some chocolate / bread or pasta and I turn into this addict who just craves more and more. I had a bit of a wake-up call yesterday, (having started eating carbs again), when I saw the nurse for my asthma review, and my peak flow was down to 450 (the predicted one was 490 for me). I had hoped it would be higher than this. I really need to stop this messing about. I don’t even really know why I start putting these things in my mouth. Part of me feels like I ‘deserve’ chocolate / treat / that it’s not fair that I should have to go without these things. However, I think I need to somehow wake myself up. The negative consequences for me, when I first start eating something like chocolate / carbs are:

  • My brain turns into a chocolate obsession, and I start finding ways / obsessing over when / how / where /what I will eat next
  • My breathing starts to get worse
  • My neck, chin start to get itchy
  • My nose starts to get more blocked, and my ears seem to get more itchy too
  • The weight starts to go up again (and then I start to feel bad)
  • I feel more tired
  • I feel more lethargic, and am more likely to spend the evening watching telly than doing something I actually find satisfying / productive /interesting
  • I start to withdraw from others, as I feel bad / guilty
  • This tends to lead to more extreme apathy
Hmmmm, I guess I should balance this with how do I actually feel when I eat the things that really work for me – meat / veg / carb free / vlcd
  • I feel full of energy
  • My weight starts going down
  • My breathing is better, and I rarely need to take any inhaler
  • I wake up in the morning full of beans and ready to start the day
  • I feel good about myself
  • I feel in control
Argggg, so why do I ping from this state of healthfulness, to one where it all starts to go wrong. I know in the past I have identified myself with the former state, and saw myself as fat and unhealthy, and didn’t think there was anything I could do about it. But having lost 8 stone and feeling so much better, I thought I’d got past that. I’m not quite sure what is drawing me back or why I’m behaving in these ways that I know lead to a negative spiral for me. There must be some payoff somewhere… otherwise I wouldn’t keep doing it. So what is it that leads me to convince myself that the first piece of chocolate is a good idea.
Hmmmm, something for me to think about /work out. For now, I need to go and get little one from nursery.
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Control

I think the last few days I’m facing up to my desire for control. I mentioned it in my last post a few days ago; it’s refreshing to find that the local learning group I need to facilitate I can’t actually control. There have also been some recent things both at work and with my family, where my first reaction, particularly when I am feeling unsure about something is to try and control it. When I get into that mode, I also then start to get more anxious and feel more stressed; I also, rather arrogantly start to assume responsibility for more than is actually mine to be responsible for. Although I don’t like to hear it / face it / recognise it, my desire for control is also not necessarily great for other people. At times it can suppress others gifts / involvement / skills / talents, which is a real turn off for other people, and isn’t doing anything to spread love, faith or hope. When I get in that mode, it’s also not bringing out the best in me either.

I think I need to learn to recognise more quickly when I’ve made that switch; especially as it’s not great for me or anyone else! The danger for me, though, is if I decide that I’m not in control I can get quite black & white about it, and almost ping from ‘control’ to ‘apathy’ and totally switch off – a not particularly attractive streak in myself, and again, also not particularly helpful for anyone I’m around.

As I’m starting my studies, I can feel myself pinging between these two states of ‘control’ and ‘apathy’. I feel that I need to discover a new, greyer area somewhere in the middle, a healthy state of balance; where I can feel part of what’s going on, fully engaged, but without trying to unhealthily control or take over situations.

When I look at my family, things have been better recently when I have made a conscious decision not to overstep that mark and not to try and take responsibility for things /people / situations that are not ‘mine’ to do.

It reminds me of a phrase that Wanda Nash gave us at a retreat a few years ago ‘Do not feel totally, irrevocably responsible for everything, that’s my job, love God.’ How true it is, and how much I still need to take that in and let it take root in me.

The other aspect of this control for me is the area of self-control. As someone who has been seriously overweight for many years, this is an area that I have let get totally out of control. Since this time last year I have been dieting, and have made serious inroads into sorting out my weight problem (my bmi has now come down from 45 to 28); however, I still need to work through this issue of self-control. I have lost most of this weight through a very low calorie diet.  I feel fantastic when I am on it, and totally in control – but then I get this black and white thinking… either I’m on the diet, and sticking to 3 packs a day; or I’m off the diet and it’s fine to eat an entire packet of chocolate buttons and half a tub of ice cream… pinging from extreme control to a completely free license to indulge. Again, I know the route forward long term is finding a path of balance, of some degree of self-control, but not total control.

Having said that, I am opting to go the control route to lose the last two stone, to get me all the way to a healthy bmi. I know I feel good on the diet, and I believe I can actually achieve this weight loss if I follow the plan. (Part of me still believes some of my old ways of thinking where I didn’t believe it was even possible for me to be ‘overweight’, let alone to set my goal of being ‘healthy’)

Hmmm, anyway, enough waffling about control tonight. Time to exert my last bit of control and nearly meet my aim of going to bed by 10pm, to try and reduce the tiredness!

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