Nearly there now!

OK, I haven’t been brave enough to post this series of pink reflections online until today. (If you want to start from the beginning of Lent, it starts here.) I think part of that is I wanted to make sure that I experienced this, and didn’t get too influenced by comments that others may make. I think I also wasn’t entirely sure that I would make it this far… and perhaps didn’t want to record any possible ‘failure’ in the seemingly simple task of giving up pink for Lent.

It’s nearly Maundy Thursday now, and I’ve nearly made it.

I have to say I’m glad that I’m now worshipping in a church tradition that has an Easter vigil on Saturday evening, so technically Easter will start on Saturday evening for me, and I can put back on some pink.

When I booked my appointment with the hairdressers for Ash Wednesday, to get rid of the pink, I also booked an appointment with them for Holy Saturday, to put the pink back in. But now I need to have a think, and work out if I need to put back on my pink hair. I’m still undecided. I don’t feel that I ‘need’ it in quite the same way that I did. However, I do rather like it – which is why I’ve had it pink for some time. Hmmm, a couple more days to decide. Perhaps I need to go and have a chat with my hairdresser (the rather fabulously named ‘Hairway to Heaven’!) and work out what I’m going to do.

I’m looking forward to the Chrism Mass tomorrow at Winchester Cathedral. One of the highlights for me is seeing all the different liturgical colour vestments – for me, it is a very visual reminder of these colours, of encountering God through these wide range of colours, and remembering that God is there throughout all these different seasons of life, seasons of the year. I’m open to see what happens over the next few days – three more days in black for me, and to see what colours I’m open to as I approach Easter Day.

Draining the colour

(Written 14th March)

OK, it’s now Passion Sunday, we’re entering the last two weeks of Lent. In our churches the crosses have been veiled in purple. I’m finally ready to try a day in black. Poncho is back in the cupboard, I’m not even wearing any blue. This feels very strange, and very uncomfortable (although strangely, 25 years ago, I would have been more than happy to wear all black.)

I’m surprised at how hard I’m still finding it to give up the pink – I thought I would have got used to it by now. I’m also surprised at how hard I’m finding it to actually get to the point of wearing just black. It feels very odd.

One of the things I have realised is that pink really is an expression of who I am at the moment. It does feel like it’s still a good colour, and it does feel congruent with who I am on the inside. Wearing pink I think does reflect something of who I am, of my optimism and cheerfulness. The combination of pink and my dog collar I think does speak something of my informality & approachability, which I think reflects my nature and my approach to being a priest.

However, I feel that I may have started to let go a little of my obsessiveness about pink, and hopefully may be a little more open to other colours – both me wearing them; but also to encountering aspects of God in other colours. Seeing the gorgeous nearly 3 year old Katie the other day, with her love of rainbows, helps me to remember more of the wonderful colours that there are all around us. I’m curious now to find out what happens to me come Easter… how much pink will I reclaim, and will I allow room for other colours? I’m not quite sure… part of me wants to just put back on all the pink that’s been lingering in my wardrobe…

A couple of weeks left to go now… I think I will spend a few more days in black, and see what happens.

Lent without pink continues here

Losing the plot without pink

(Written 3rd March)

3 weeks into Lent, and I hadn’t realised quite how difficult I would find it to give up pink. On a practical side I have to do the washing a lot more frequently, as I don’t have very many non-pink (or purple or red clothes). However, it has gone far deeper than that. I suppose I should have expected it – my journey into pink was related to my image of God, and to my developing identity. Giving up pink is challenging my sense of identity – what does it mean to be Rachel without all these bright colours. I’ve been wearing my new poncho rather a lot, with it’s streak of pink… and some have been suggesting that I’m not fully giving up the pink…am I ready to let go of even this bit of colour?

I’m also finding it disorienting in my prayer life too – which perhaps is a good thing. Have I got fixated on seeing just some aspects of God’s character – the life, the love, the energy. Have I closed myself off to other aspects of who God is?

I’m finding it really hard to settle, perhaps I need to reconnect with the stillness of God. Out and about here, in the beautiful New Forest, I can’t help but notice all the fantastic green colours around me, the signs of spring budding all over the place. Perhaps it would be helpful for me to notice other colours around me… has the pink blinkered me to seeing other aspects of God and this amazing world that we are in?

Am I willing to let go of my images of who I am and who God is… am I able to just be, to stay in the present? Have I started using my old images of God as a short-hand, to try and short-cut spending time with God now, but instead just recalling past experiences of God? Am I willing to encounter myself now, to let myself grow and change, to respond to the situation that I am now, to grow into my calling as a priest, and as a person.

I’m feeling exposed and uncomfortable… maybe this is what Lent is all about. 24 days to go until Easter… I’m not sure I’m ready for any more!$_12

(I may also have had another break of my ‘not spending any money to give up pink for Lent’. I’m really fed up of wearing my funeral shoes and I’ve splashed out on a new pair of black DMs from ebay… rather fabulous, black patent, heeled DMs…)

Lent without pink continues here

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

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

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”

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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…

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

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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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