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

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.

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?!

 

 

Vulnerability

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

DSC_7472-001

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:

DSC_7541-001

 

 

 

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…

DSC_7542 DSC_7538-001

 

 

 

 

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

DSC_7545

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

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.

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!

Week One

Well, I’m a week into it now. The first weekend at college was last weekend. It was great to meet the other students on the course; 28 of us in total, and only 5 chaps in the group. I feel happier having met the other students as well as the staff on the course, to start putting faces to names and to start getting more of a feel for the course. It also feels like a real time of transition. It’s taken me 10 years of pondering, prayer and faffing to get to this point; it’s been a potential future for such a long time, but now it’s time to actually get my head down and get stuck into the study.

It was good to sit down with my training minister this week, and to talk through expectations. I was also really relieved to meet my tutor this week. I will be having a 1:1 tutor, as there are no other tutees in this area. I was a little nervous going to meet her in the week, as 3 years 1:1, I really hoped that we would hit it off, and that the conversation would flow / we’d be able to work together. It was a good sign when I said that I was nervous and she said that she had been too. I hadn’t really thought of it from her side, but I guess equally unsure what I would be like and whether I would engage easily in conversation.

I’ve found this week quite hard, getting my head into the studies. It’s a long time since I’ve read books in an academic way; i.e. where I need to actually take in & digest what I’m reading, and potentially be able to do something with the information. I’m slowly finding my way back into taking notes, and that heavier concentration while reading to get my head round the concepts. We have our first assignment already; to pick a prayer, hymn or psalm and reflect on our response to it. I’m unsure at the moment which text to pick; I’m also feeling a little nervous about putting together my first assignment -particularly a reflective one. It will be good though, to try and work out my response to a text, and work through my affective response to it – I think I find it easier to hide behind the head type response rather than the heart.

The other part of the course that I’ve started to get my head round is the local learning group. I need to create / facilitate a small group of people as we go through the course. The aims are to help keep me grounded in reality! And to help me bring theology into conversation / discussion with others. In preparing /thinking about it, I’ve realised that my strong desire to control things is rearing its head again; especially as I’m feeling unsure about what the group will be like, and what we will discussing. Almost the more unsure / insecure I feel about something, the more I want to contain it, control it and direct it. I’ve deliberately invited some people to join the group that will challenge me on that; and will pick up when I’m doing it too! However, I’m still feeling that need / want to control. So for me, at the moment, I know when in the next year the groups will happen, but other than the first group, I don’t have any idea what we will be asked to do within the group. I like to get my head around things, to plan; and also I feel like I want to be able to share that plan with the group… now part of that, I think, is that I want to be in control of what we will be discussing, and where that discussion might go… I’m feeling the need to control what God might do with the group, and direct it…. eeek, how arrogant is that?! So I need to continue to learn to let go, to trust God and to trust the other people. To use this group as an opportunity to let the group develop its own way; for me to truly facilitate it, to listen to those within the group, and be guided by them. (I have a lot of learning to do.)

Getting Started

(I actually wrote this last week, but it’s taken me a week to get started in actually setting up a blog!)

I’ve decided it’s time to start a blog. For the last year or so I’ve been using an online diary within a weight loss support forum, and it’s been really helpful for me to capture what I’m thinking, and to see trends in how my thoughts are changing / how I’m working things through.

Several times people have suggested spiritual journalling to me, and I have a shelf with many notebooks on it, with the first 3, 4 or 5 pages written in, and then I’ve given up / forgotten about it / abandoned it. Having realised I’ve almost started this process with the online weight diary, I think a blog may be the next step for me.

Particularly I want to start it today, as I step out on the next step on my journey. This evening I go to STETs for the first time, so officially I think I am now an ordinand, in training for ministry in the church. It’s been a long journey to get to here. I feel really humbled to look back over the last ten years of my journey and see how God’s hand has been in so much, how he has supported me, guided me, been gentle with me, and helped me to discover who I am and the dream that he has given me.

Yesterday, the following thought was on Sacred Space:

God is not foreign to my freedom.
Instead the Spirit breathes life into my most intimate desires,
gently nudging me towards all that is good.
I ask for the grace to let myself be enfolded by the Spirit.

When I think back it is amazing how gently God does work with us, the patience he has as we slowly come to understand things, and to reach for what is good.

Haggai 1:1-8
Now therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Consider how you have fared. You have sown much, and harvested little; you eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill; you clothe yourselves, but no one is warm; and you that earn wages earn wages to put them into a bag with holes.’

  • Human endeavour and toil are brought into perspective in my prayer. All my busyness and all my concerns are distractions if I lose sight of what really matters.
  • What would it be like for me to be satisfied with less? What difference would it make to me? To others? I ask God to help me to let go a little more, to trust.

This really spoke to me, when I look back, how do I let the Spirit in, to let the Spirit really breathe life into my most intimate desires, instead of trying to control them myself. On more than one occasion in the past, I understand this desire from God, this way I need to go; but then I try and seize control of it, make myself really busy trying to implement my version of it, and get distracted in the process from God at the centre of it. Somehow I end up thinking I know better and want to control it, take responsibility for it, and generally own it, rather than letting God breathe his life into it, and trusting God to actually know best.

I also know there is a danger zone for me… to get lured by other things, by having, by doing…. and not on being… on focusing on what really matters.

A quote I came across today
‘The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing’ (Stephen Covey)

God, I think I need you to help me to realise what the main thing is for me right now. To understand what happens when I live, breathe and focus on the main thing… what I can achieve (beyond my wildest dreams)  and what happens when I try and control it, take total responsibility for it…. anxiety, hardened relationships, non-delivery, distraction, stress.

I think back on the last year. This time last year I dared to set the goal of getting to ‘overweight’… which then became a goal of getting to a healthy weight. Subsequently I then set the goal of cycling the 45 mile Palace to Palace cycle ride. I have now lost 8 stone, and have successfully completed the cycle in 5 hours. I am so proud of these achievements, of listening to the Spirit and becoming aware of what I needed to do. I’m so glad that I’ve persevered with these goals, even though some days / weeks I really felt like I couldn’t do it, didn’t want to do it, wanted to give up and questioned whether it was worth it.

I want to remember these feelings, and the decisions I made, to persevere through the days when I really didn’t fancy it; to focus on what the main thing was, what was really important to me (rather than the tempting bowl of chocolate ice cream in the freezer)

Everything has the potential to draw forth from me a fuller love and life.
Yet my desires are often fixed, caught, on illusions of fulfillment.
I ask that God, through my freedom
may orchestrate
my desires in a vibrant loving melody rich in harmony.

How true, I so easily get caught up on ‘my illusions of fulfillment’ and put a cap on what that would be, or focus too clearly on a very specific, small thing or a particular way of how I think something should be. Help me to be open to what God desires, that his Spirit can work through me and that I will be open to those possibilities, to see the opportunities and the next steps to take in my journey.

In my conversations with Maggie (my spiritual director) she has helped me to see the amazing two years I have had, since the birth of our daughter (well, probably the 8 months leading up to that too) – these have been an incredible few years of happiness, consolation, joy; a real gift from God. Part of this has been because I have been prepared to listen to God and to live in the present, to actually appreciate the gifts as they come, rather than miss them because I was focused on a different future.

As I embark on this next step, I want to write a note to myself (to capture my learnings at the moment)

  • Live in the present, take the time to look at the sky, to notice the sunshine, to splash in puddles
  • Enjoy the time that I have with dh and little one, take the time to really enjoy them, to nourish those relationships and to play (don’t let study become an excuse not to be fully a part of my family)
  • Take things one at a time; even when there is a lot to do, work out what needs to be done today, tomorrow and this week.
  • Stick to my commitment to do this study; enjoy the time I have to study and do the work each week that I need to do.
  • Remember that this journey is what God has called me to; that he has given me the skills and gifts that I need to accomplish this, and that the future is in his hands – I need to be faithful to this next step and not be worried about what might come next.
  • Enjoy it :)

I am really excited, and slightly nervous as I set out on this next step. I am curious to see how this journey will change me, what I will learn through the studies, through the people I meet and the situations I find myself in. I ask for God’s help to stay true to him, and to always remember his love for me, and that his love always wins; and to let that carry me through the difficult times, the challenging times, the tired times, the exciting times, the interesting times that lay ahead.