Thursday, 31 January 2013

Sharing Silence

There are such treasures out there!  Here's another wonderful resource for anybody who's pondering whether to take the plunge into silence: Chris of this fragile tent's reflections on a recent 8 Day retreat at St Beunos Spirituality Centre.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

If God is the "Real Director," Why do We Need a Human One?

Anonymous - Thanks for your challenging question. I've posted it here as I thought the topic merited a post of its own.


Before  Mr GP  set out to "shadow" the Tour de France riders, he booked some sessions with a coach. The coach didn't ride the route for him, nor tell him what to do ; but worked together with him providing   regular encouragement, companionship, accountability and above all, a space where he could best prepare himself physically and mentally, for whatever challenges awaited.  Thus maximising the chances that Dear Spouse would be able to safely  work within his capabilities, interpret the prevailing conditions as accurately as possible, and live his experiences to the full. 

If Dear Spouse had just  read a few cycling books, thrown a map and puncture repair kit in his panniers and set off -   the experience might have been at least, less fulfilling and at worst, downright dangerous. Good intentions are no substitute for  taking  responsibility for one's own safety and well-being.

A soul friend/spiritual companion/director likewise doesn't "tell you what to do,"  solve all your problems, travel  your journey for you or tell you what they "think" God is saying. Their role is more to provide a regular, objective, intentional space where you can begin to sense   these "nudges" of the Holy Spirit for yourself.  It's not always easy.  I know I often see what I want to see, hear what I want to hear;  my human frailties distort my  ability to discern   what God might be trying to say to me.  Dear knows, we don't have to look far to see what tragedies result when people have used "The Word of God" to justify their own agendas. 

Think of a director as an extra pair of ears, there to listen with us  at those times when our own shell-likes may be in need of a syringe.  

 Christ sent  the disciples out  in pairs, remember!

Hope that helps.


Monday, 28 January 2013

Spiritual Underpinnings - Spiritual Direction

(Incubated during the recent  snowy spell). Warning, long post.


Spiritual Underpinnings: Spiritual Direction

Well, the North Wind doth blow and if we believe everything the weather forecasters say, I should have plenty time for writing over the next few days. So, here’s the beginning of   a mini-project that’s been at the back of in my mind ever since reading Robin’s blog on Finding  a Spiritual Director and more recently, ramtoprac’s accounts of their searchings.


If you’ve read my Offline Greenpatches page,  you’ll have realized that I was once  very  into using "spiritual underpinnings" as an analogy to describe the various  support systems that I was setting up at the time. Re-reading that now, I’m wondering if   the “undies” “secret support” term is wearing a little thin (if you’ll pardon the pun!); because such a valuable resource should be anything but “secret.” I think we’ve come a long way since spiritual direction – (or accompaniment as I prefer to call it), was the sole province of clergy and religious. If you discover treasure, surely you’re going to want to let everybody know about your discovery. (Now where did I first hear that one, I wonder?)

So, to my journeyings.  In retrospect, even if I wasn’t aware of it at the time, my hunt for   a director began long before the birds ‘flew the nest,’ back, in fact, to when we moved back to the UK after seven years  abroad. By the time I began to articulate this need, at first only to myself, we’d passed the Millennium.   I was trying to cope with two teens, a husband constantly away with work and all that that brings, but more worryingly, a sense that the church into which I’d thrown myself so enthusiastically to begin with did not - to put it crudely  - “scratch where I itched.” 

I remember the first time I came encountered  the concept of a paradigm shift; well, underneath my seemingly compliant surface, you could almost hear the gears grinding away. My “integrity gap” I called it, even as I tried to throw myself into the seemingly endless round of programs and rotas, giving assent to a theology and practice, which was becomingly increasingly at odds with where I was on my journey.  I was asking questions (only to myself then, I was far too shy to voice them aloud!) that weren’t being answered. Though a glance back through my journals from that time shows the clues were all there.  Put even more crudely – I was bl**dy lonely – a quiet and increasingly questioning contemplative flower in an increasingly charismatic evangelical garden. There were some great people in that community, make no mistake, but the church, too was struggling with change, going through it’s own ‘spiritual adolescence,’ and when you have two adolescents  - well, there are  bound to be spats! 

By late 2002 I’d emerged from a bout of counseling, following on from the death of my father. This had given me the confidence to get out there and explore. I’d been aware of the existence of spiritual accompaniment for a while.  I’d also -  joy of joys -  discovered a lifeline,  that “Magazine of Unrest,” Shipoffools.com whose denizens were just one of several sources of encouragement to step out. 

 My director came via some suggestions from what I nicknamed our local “diocesan chappie” and what he called his   “spiritual direction dating agency.”  Best practice encourages shopping around; discerning who is the best “fit” for you is not something to be approached lightly.   I was given several names but for all sorts of reasons, my first try ‘stuck,’ and we’ve been meeting now for over 10 years.  I’d not stated any preference for either clergy, lay or religious though I think I did tick the “Female” box, but I ended up with somebody ordained.  What was more helpful, especially at first, were  those things we held in common:  she has children of about the same age, and knew just what it was like to be rushed off one’s feet and to  struggle with the demands of family life.  Some of the stuff out there on t’interweb about directors would have you believe you’re about to link up with a spiritual Yoda. Or worse, the Spanish Inquisition. Talk about ‘Disease of the Oughteries!’ Both notions were swiftly dispelled. One of my favourite memories, related since with glee to several hesitant seekers, is about one early meeting when I had to clear the family’s washing off the sofa before I could sit down. (To be fair, there were building works going on at the time). I have never been so relieved in my life. At last… a ‘real’ person, not some super-being intent on force- feeding me a diet of never-ending spiritual sticking plaster or theological bon mots.

Since then they’ve supported me unobtrusively through a change of church, theological study, my journey into the Franciscan Third Order and many other ups and downs too numerous to list, as I’ve emerged out of the other side of the child-rearing years and started to look to what the future might hold.  Her style tends to the non-directive – a sometime puzzle to me at first: they do say God sends you   what you need, not necessarily what you want! With my background and hang-ups I could easily have slipped into the habit of letting somebody else “tell me what to do,” which of course is not a stance that any listener should ever encourage, not in that sense.  God is the real ‘director’  after all.

Over the years, the task of listening to my (rather circuitous meanderings) has also been shared by numerous retreat conductors, course facilitators and others. Some I’ve taken to, others less so, yet experiencing a different dynamic has been interesting and I can truthfully say that I’ve always come out the other end having learned something.  I hope I’ve changed…

Talking of circuitous meanderings, I’ll wind up the waffle by revisiting and reanswering two questions once asked me on a radio interview which highlight the benefits of spiritual accompaniment for me personally:

Firstly: “How has direction helped keep you spiritually and mentally well?” Foremost it’s enabled me to rethink for myself those images of God that for all kinds of reasons, baggage carried since childhood etc, were not so healthy. This was, and is a slooowwww process.  Yet I’ve come such a long way. Work-in-progress.

Secondly: In what ways have you experienced God…noticed…become more aware of God since you’ve been in direction?” 
I’m much more open to seeing God in all things . Years ago, I was over  concerned with chasing after the “zap…pow!” big, flashy  experiences. Now I’m far more aware of the “still small voice,” what he/she’s doing in the little things of life, the ordinary, everyday events. Well, on good days anyway…

So, if you’re somebody umming and aahing about whether to send that email, make that phone call or simply begin to take the first step along this path, do be brave, and, as Robin of Beautiful and Terrible said recently “Just do it.”





Sunday, 27 January 2013

On My Bookshelves - Quiet - The Power of Introverts

...in a World That Can't Stop Talking. I've  been extolling the virtues of  Susan Cain's   bestseller to our son. This call for recognition of the underestimated and most definitely undervalued power of the introvert in modern day society certainly speaks to me, even if, like one of Amazon reviewers,  I'd rate her wonderful TED talk as more immediately accessible. (I remember blogging at the time that I wanted to stand up and cheer!).  I'd also question whether the statistics and situations  quoted are quite as relevant in the UK, where I suspect we figure rather more heavily on the Introvert scale. I can remember thinking this too about some references in Adam McHugh's research on Introversion in the church. Maybe I've not attended the 'right' churches but  from what I've experienced so far, I'd hazard that introverts are quite highly represented in UK church communities. Though I'll admit that Susan's account of her visit to Saddleback Church together with McHugh had me smiling and shuddering in equal measure. Just reading it made me want to run for the hills.  A weekly attendance of 20,000 people? That'd be like taking part in  a Greenbelt Festival Communion every Sunday.  Just imagine that. No, don't. Aaagh!

Obviously the constant references to American corporate culture aren't ones that would resonate with me hence  I'm not finding the book the easiest of reads so far. Nevertheless, it has some gems in there and provided I can keep on transcending the difficulties, I'm sure I'll find the effort well worth it. It's heartening to learn that civil rights protester Rosa Parks was introvert -  described in her obituaries as being "timid and shy," yet with "the courage of a lion." She possessed "radical humility" and "quiet fortitude." Or to read  of a high-flying tax lawyer's struggles with speaking extemporaneously; one of my constant bugbears. There is hope...



Saturday, 26 January 2013

I have Two Goats

on my reading list, I've realised: occasional reflections from  Franciscan, Good Goat and more recently, through Vicki's blog party - One Old Goat, the latter with sad news today.

Another party-goer, who made me nearly spit my drink out all over the keyboard with her last blog - My Next 20 Years of Living.

A warm welcome to all of you.

So - one with the day, and yes - you've guessed it - I think I can-I think I can- I think I can - I think I can...

Friday, 25 January 2013

Earworms and Latin Verbs

Late night playing about with words (as you do...):

Confidence - Definition

Noun

  1. The feeling or belief that one can rely on someone or something; firm trust: "we had every confidence in the staff".
  2. The state of feeling certain about the truth of something.

Synonyms
trust - faith - reliance - belief - credit - credence
Confidere - to trust

et le voila - I Have Confidence!   or - put another way - Don't Panic! 

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Travelling Hopefully

                                                           Intercity Ad, 'Lazy,' 1987

zzzzzzzzzz.  Coming up for air in a week where most of my time seems to  have been spent listening to "The train now arriving at Platform 4 is the ..." I've worked out that by the end of the week I'll have let the train take the strain on five days out of seven. All my trains seem to have arrived at once - or in the case of Monday evening were cancelled simultaneously as signalling problems brought the network to a juddering halt. (I arrived at Paddington at 5 pm - reached home at 8 pm!). Happiness is, however, standing in the wobbly concertinery bit between carriages with the other sardines when you remember you still have a Shapers chocolate bar and a smoothie in your bag, left over from lunch. Have rations, will travel! I sent up thanks that I don't have to manage this commute every day and spent (or tried to spend) the remainder of the time musing on the events of the day: snow, labyrinths and all. (First prize for initiative goes to the chap who visited the loo as we left Paddington and remained there almost the entire journey. At least he was guaranteed a seat.)

Then back down the line next day to Portsmouth - "land of seabirds and brisk, sea breezes." Bracingly brisk sea breezes I discovered. They'd not had much snow at all, but the wind, the wind...!  I'm currently  spending time with the gospel passage where Jesus calls Peter to walk to him on the water. What an ideal opportunity to really put myself into the account ; all I needed to do was stand there on the marina and let the wind and rain do their worst. I'm sure you'll not be the least bit surprised to learn that I chickened out. Self preservation and the prospect of warmth, comfort and a steaming hot cup of tea kicked in. Sometimes one can take this imaginative contemplation lark too far!

Today's journey back, well, not quite like the old Intercity Ad, but I was travelling at a quiet time of day and was able to sit back, doze, reflect and enjoy the magical  landscape as the train sped through the snowy countryside.

A couple of shorter trips before the week ends with less likelihood of disruption.  As long as I remember where I'm going. If you should see a lady of mature years standing, wild-eyed by an indicator board wondering whether she should be heading  towards Basingstoke, Reading, Guildford or Paddington today, do say hello.


Monday, 21 January 2013

A Tale of Two Labyrinths


My attempts at making a Snow labyrinth.  Oops! Maybe that wasn't such a good idea after all.


This, on the other hand... Fenn Court labyrinth in London this morning. It was the first time I've ever walked a labyrinth in the snow!


Sunday, 20 January 2013

Contemplative Mindmaps

I want to break with the snow theme for a moment to highlight  a reflection on comtemplative prayer that's new to me - a Contemplative Mindmap by Franciscan Tertiary Simon McMurtary as part of a series of reflections on various topics related to life as a Franciscan. Other mindmaps include Basic Rule of Life and Franciscan Principles. A helpful resource if like me, you're somebody who sometimes finds that images help them to a new understanding.

If you like this, you might also like to give this contemplative prayer exercise from Loyola Hall a go. I've found it especially helpful in the past at times when I've been feeling "blocked" or when I'm going through a "dry" spell in prayer.

It's a Lovely Day



...For Snowmen. What do you think of my latest creation? Not so much  Raymond Brigg's "Snowman," as Snufkin from Finn Family Moomintroll  I reckon. Which reminds me, did any UK readers catch the marvellous documentary on the life of  author Tove Jannsson, the creator of the Moomins over Christmas? I thought I'd forgotten about them, but just a glimpse at those illustrations and maps brought brings it all back.

Anyway,  no snowman blog would be complete without the old classic  though I'll admit to getting ever so slightly diverted by this little gem.  Well, with GP dog around you do need to watch where you're digging!

 I'll need to think what to do with the burst of energy brought on by the walk to church this morning.    I continued the back cure by joining in with other volunteers clearing paths  once I arrived. My walking pole came in useful; could have done with a sledge of my own, too. It would have made the journey home so much quicker - and more fun.

So, rather than grumble about the limitations brought by the weather, I reckon I should make the most of this snow whilst it lasts. What do you think my next  artistic offering  should be? I'm torn between  immortalising GP dog, (might have problems with his sabre-like tail though), or a labyrinth. If that's not too ambitious.



Saturday, 19 January 2013

Snowday



We have snow! Here are some snaps I took out in our garden yesterday.



  Yes, we still haven't taken down all the outdoor decorations yet. 


Winter Wonderland



GP dog exploring. I couldn't get him to stand still for long enough to get a decent photo.


Let me in!


I got my exercise this morning, clearing the front and back paths. Strangely enough, my wonky back now feels much better than it's been for months. Bit of a drastic cure, if cure it is, but so much cheaper than physiotherapy. What with that and my 45 minute walk back home yesterday after my health MOT, I'd be in danger of becoming unbearably smug if I'd not remembered what they declared my waist measurement and weight to be. Surely not?? I'm afraid so, and the nice young man who did them for me obligingly converted the figures into old fashioned inches, stones and pounds for this menopausal dinosaur, so there is no excuse.  I'm not drastically over, more a case of "could do better," but for somebody who's been a lifelong skinny until the dreaded change kicked in, it's all a bit of a shock. I don't think I've weighed that much since I was last pregnant! Goodness only knows what it'd be like if I didn't do all the walking I do. There are advantages in being one of those rare breeds - a non-driver. That's some consolation, I suppose.

I'm very happy to expand my virtual waistline, however, so a hello to two new bloggers, Pennywise and eLizardbreathspeaks who've landed here via Vicky's blogparty. Welcome and hope you enjoy your time here.


                   

Friday, 18 January 2013

Growing blogs in the Kitchen...



It's the warmest place in the house just now. Brrr! 

So, I've donned my glad rags - read best merino thermal undies and fleecy slippers. (nb. I am wearing jeans, cardi and a top as well, in case anybody is tempted to get the wrong idea) and am all geared up for Vicki's Grow Your Blog Party. Virtual, which is good news both for my waistline and my cholesterol levels. Tests today show me to be in pretty good nick for my age and I want to keep it that way. The polar expedition  walk back home afterwards through the snowdrifts must have done wonders for my fitness!


The beard snoozing on yonder bank is Mr GP. The left leg is mine (I'm not photogenic).


and here is our trusty travelling companion, Old Teddy, searching  for treasure on the Southern Uplands Way. We managed to drag him away eventually...all the way up to Oban, Mull and Iona. That was some  journey we made, our Grand Pilgrimage back in 2011. We've walked all over the place, as have my blogs: I've had three though Growing Greenpatches is the only one currently active. 



 And me? Like Dormouse, I began my blogging career over on the wonderful wibsite by way of that even more wonderful Magazine of Unrest and nest of subversiveness -  shipoffools.com. Like Dormouse,  only the opposite way round, I lived in France before moving back to the UK, but that's another story. Hop over to my Vintage Greenpatches page to read "Greenpatches: Five Things You Wished You'd Always Known," or was it "Wished You'd Never Known?" Far better than me waffling on  here. Don't forget to read my Welcome blurb too, that really will confuse you. Well, I did say Growing Greenpatches was a right old pot-pourri, didn't I?

Giveaways? (You can't have a party without a party bag).  Let's see... Pot-pourri? Might not travel well.     Let's say - if you'd like a keyring in the shape of a Shell of St James, symbol of pilgrims on the Santiago de Compostela route, comment here. On February 1st I'll pick a name at random to be the lucky winner.

Do come and join me in the kitchen and we can raise a glass (of decaffienated fruit tea) together.

Cheers!













Thursday, 17 January 2013

Always in The Kitchen at Parties 2




Coming soon to a blog near you - the Grow Your Blog Party hosted by Vicki at 2BagsFull. If the weather forecasters are right, we'll all have plenty of time to join in, 'meet' new bloggers and expand our virtual waistlines. Who knows, I may even stick my nose out of the kitchen, when I'm not in it boiling up gallons of steaming soup. Brrr! 

My thanks to Vicki whose idea this was, and to Dormouse for highlighting the event.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Creme Eggs, Chopin and Crosswords

I had to smile just now as I read Bad Christian Dave Tomlinson's memories of his mum. Especially when he mentioned the sweeties hidden away in her room. I  bet it wasn't just the children who were the lucky recipients of those dairy milks and rollos;  judging by my own experience,   where Mums and Grandmums are concerned, their 'children' are never too old to be slipped an illicit treat. Even when her Great Grandchildren were around, my Granny loved to pass me  over a little 'something,' usually a Creme Egg or some Rollos, a pretty card, often a little  notebook, frequently parcelled up in either a plastic bag or some material, held together by a huge elastic band, homemade out of an old pair of rubber gloves. (Don't ask! My family were into recycling long before it became fashionable).

She extended this to Mr GP, too, albeit in the form of a glass of sherry.  Or  A Nice Cup of Tea, preferably served  with a huge pile of marmite and cucumber sandwiches and slices of homemade cake before the older members of the family got down to the serious business of doing the newspaper crossword . Not marmite and cucumber, you understand; even Granny's attempts at haute cuisine weren't that exotic, though her home made soups were legendary, and nobody ever debunked  the family legend that she'd been known to add marmalade to the mix!

Add to this a love of music, reading,  gardening and just the beauty of the everyday,   the ability to see the best in everyone and a kindliness that extended beyond immediate family and you can see why this remarkable lady was so well loved.  Active until well into her seventies, we used to love to go and stay with her;  for a good few years various of us grandchildren used to live there for quite long periods in turn.  She wasn't perfect by any means,  but who amongst us is!  In a family which could be  volatile, to put it mildly,  she provided a stability and a steadiness that we badly needed. Neighbours, too would visit for her weekly musical afternoons, not forgetting that cup of tea! And although inevitably numbers and the musical element  dropped as the years went by, I can remember the visits continuing until just a few days before Granny's death, at the grand old age of 102.

After visiting my aunt over Christmas (and yes, tea and cakes continue), I discovered she'd slipped a folder  in amongst the presents -  stuffed with letters from  myself  and drawings, cards and notes from my children to 'Big Granny,'  mostly written when we were living overseas. A wealth of memorabilia. Not quite the same as a creme egg, but now that I'm the proud possessor of three dental crowns and a post menopausal spare tyre, far better for me. What a wonderful gift.


Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Monday, 14 January 2013

J'aime la Galette

Galette des Rois, Greenpatch style


J'aime la galette
Savez-vous comment ?
Quand elle est bien faite
Avec du beurre dedans
Tralalala lalala lalère
Tralalala lalala lala




Catching up on matters Ephiphany-wise: here's last week's attempt at making a Galette des Rois, (King's Cake), my best yet, if I say so myself! We brought this tradition, common throughout  France and other parts of Europe, back with us after our time living in Alsace. I've often 'cheated,' and make the filling out of ready to roll marzipan; this time I mashed some up  before adding adding flour, eggs and milk to make my own version of frangipane. It worked! Well, I've not yet had any reports of the collywobbles from book group, who were the lucky tasters at our meeting last week, so I guess its safe to assume they all survived the experience! We've also said goodbye to our last little porcelain feve, which gives us a good excuse to go exploring in search of new supplies for next Epiphany. 

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Listening in The Land of Brisk Sea Breezes

 Anglican Cathedral, Portsmouth


There's nothing like a good gust of wind to blow away those post Christmas cobwebs, is there? That was my experience  yesterday as I made my way  back down to what I used to call "The Land of Seabirds and Brisk Sea Breezes," for the opening session of a course on a Week of Accompanied Prayer. Those of you familiar with the original  Greenpatches (is there anybody?) may remember my reflections about my time as a "pilgrim,"   on one of these home-based retreats. No need to travel far and wide to make your retreat; your retreat comes to you. All that's needed  is  a commitment to spend half an hour in prayer  and to a short meeting with your prayer guide each day. There is, of course, a little matter of incorporating all this into the hustle and bustle of your daily life: definitely a challenge, I discovered.

Nearly two and a half years down the line, it's time for some of us  to reverse roles and learn a  about the nuts and bolts of accompanying our own pilgrims. A daunting prospect, perhaps? I certainly felt slightly 'wobbly' beforehand: with memories still quite fresh of the first spirituality course there which had been such a formative experience for me. Would revisiting prove to be a mistake? 


No worries. From start to finish, I loved it. From greeting  old acquaintances to meeting new ones, to the practical side of things: it's quite  intense, plenty of listening experience and little time in which to be nervous. (talk about brisk sea breezes!).  I plunged straight in; even surprised myself   by volunteering to be the first person in our small group  to act as 'guide.' Not typical Greenpatch behaviour but then I am older, wiser (and from the look in the mirror this morning - wrinklier). 

Looking next week's dose of fresh air.

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Epitaphs and Inscriptions - Postscript

Many thanks to  new commenter, Derek, who's discovered the story behind the Bill Lobban memorial by Loch Lomond.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

New Year's Word

A word -in-progress


Here's what came from my first go at using my new Drawing Machine. Who would have 'thunk' it? Why "word-in-progress?" I'm not entirely sure myself; there's been much swirling around lately that's only now beginning to make sense and which, as the waters settle post Christmas I need to sit with. Both a "work" and a "word," in progress in fact.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

New Year's Grace

"Grace" the latest addition to the GP menagerie

I guess we could all do with some grace at this time of the year. Here's mine - a pressie from Ms GP - "Grace," one of Andrew Duncan Graham's "Highland Characters," handmade from Harris tweed and stuffed with lavender. Ideal for snuggling up with in bed on a cold night. (So far, neither GP cat nor Mr GP have raised any objections!).



Next up - this ingenious little "drawing machine," another gem from Ms GP who has a knack  for discovering  the most  quirky and unusual gifts.  As you can imagine, I managed to get more felt tip on my hands than on the paper.





New Year's Prayer - Recapture Me

Prompted by The Love That Moves the Sun's sharing of Ignatius' Suscipe prayer, here's an old favourite of mine, Michael Card's Recapture Me from his album The Word.  It dates way back to my rather more fervent, evangelical days, only for me to rediscover it unexpectedly on retreat a couple of years ago.