Sunday, 18 November 2018

The monk and the spaceship baby meet up soon!

Father Laurence and Father Justin meeting at St Catherine's`
In exactly a week's time, Father Justin, a Texan born Greek Orthodox Monk from Sinai will be getting off a train at St Neots station where we will meet him.  I have never had a Greek Orthodox Monk to stay before and at the same time, the baby who once slept in a space ship incubator and was so tiny, she could fit in your pocket, will be staying here.  What will she make of a tall, thin saintly man with twinkling eyes, all dressed in black with a long long beard and his long hair tied in a pony tail and what will he, fresh from Sinai, what will he be thinking of us!  I look round the kitchen all full of photographs, pots of spoons and jars of marmalade.  There are books and felt tip pens waiting for that small child to draw her circles and lines making  birds and fishes, giving them eyes and naming them, bird and fish and then handing us the pen to do the same.  Will he join in that game?  He can't be used to small children curious about everything and she won't have seen anyone looking like him.  I know why he's here, he is coming to give two talks in London and to have a day in Cambridge with us beforehand but she will just see a new person in Granny's kitchen.   She won't be interested in his spiritual message, just whether he can draw a bird.
Will she ask him to follow her into the garden?
And what will he make of us, of the countryside, wintery now and so English, different to Sinai where the desert yields a little green in the garden of the Monastery and deep water has made an oasis with peach and almond trees, dates and a few vegetables.  Will he borrow some wellington boots and stride alongside us walking the dogs round the fields?  Will he be happy here?  You can come and meet him too.   If you live in London you can listen to him talk on November 28th at St Martin-in-the-Fields at 10.00 am.  He will be part of a programme where he and a Benedictine Monk, Father Laurence Freeman tell us about the mystical tradition of both Eastern and Western Christianity.  This event is free and open to all but if you live in another country you can hear Father Justin speaking the same evening via live stream.  If you register for this by clicking on this link, I will send you the access information  a few days beforehand. And I will tell you after all the talks are over and Father Justin has gone back to his desert Monastery, how he and baby Bea and the dogs got on in the kitchen of our house! And there may even be a photo of them all together.
St Catherine's Monastery right under the God trodden Mount Sinai 

Sunday, 28 October 2018

Finding space to meet the other whoever he or she or it is

Revd Archbishop Rowan Williams
By chance and good fortune, I happened upon this talk by Rowan Williams and Ben Quash which happened just recently at St Martin-in-the-Fields.  It couldn't have been by chance actually because it was so much the message which resonates in my own heart but which I couldn't have found the words to formulate in the way that Archbishop Rowan and Revd Professor Ben Quash did and which that Church of the ever open door allows.  It is about how we should encounter that which we think is other than ourselves, other races, other sexes, other colours and of course, other religions without relinquishing our own identity.  Such a great question and they answer so well.  Perhaps this was the answer to my prayer to the Absolute, it expresses a way to find the space which is without colour, race or religion, without prejudice or partiality, outside our everyday world and to find the way to ease the constrictions which can be felt when differences bind and don't celebrate otherness. 
If the stone placed on Peggy's gravestone worked, this was pointing the way to the answer

Saturday, 27 October 2018

offering it through Aunt Peggy, a good woman

There is a story of an orphan in India who desperately wanted to go to School but he had no money to pay.  He asked a wise man what he should do and the answer the wise man gave was this; write your request in a letter and put it in an envelope addressed to God, the Absolute, the all knowing.  The boy did this, he followed the suggestion and then he waited.  That letter went to the sorting office and the sorters were uncertain what to do so they gave it to the postmaster (a most important position then when there was no internet)!  The postmaster asked if they could find the boy and bring him to his office.  They found him, the postmaster adopted him and sent him to the best school. That boy became a judge.  The person who told me this was actually told the story by the judge!
Shingle Street, white shells and stones amongst the others

Now the person who told ME, suggested that when you had a problem you just couldn't see your way to solving, that you offer it to God, to the Absolute, to the all knowing.  I have a problem, one that can't seem to be resolved so I took a beautiful white stone collected from the beach at Shingle Street and I wrote on it.  I wrote my prayer asking that there could be resolution to the problem and then I wondered what to do with it.  Just over the wall from my house, there is a beloved Aunt's gravestone. She was a devout Roman Catholic who, as a young woman had faced incredible obstacles, helped Allied servicemen escape from Belgium, been interrogated by the Gestapo, escaped herself over the mountains and come to England, married an English escapee and lived her life in Suffolk, much loved by family and friends.  Her gravestone has an inscription which is the motto of the Comet Line, the line which took servicemen and helped them escape.  Its meaning is Fight without Blows.

So, I am fighting my problem which is a little war of truth and untruth with a prayer which I hope that Aunt Peggy will find and present the message on the stone to the nearest angel to take straight up to the highest Authority for help.  Go, Angel Go!

Sunday, 21 October 2018

Seeing through her eyes

Getting used to being a Grandparent who plays cards!
I watched as the car drove away.  The two of them, two grandparents like us had been staying here for a week with their large family joining them for different days and nights.  They came from Cornwall and it was a big effort to drive all that way to Cambridgeshire and back and they weren't young.  They were the same age as us and we had so much in common.  Numbers of children and grandchildren, similar family holidays involving sea and sand and walking and swimming and climbing.  She, the grandmother was the one who caught my eye as the car drove away; it was the look in her eye, a yearning it seemed for the times when they were all around her and she was mother.  Her look caught my eye because I recognised so clearly some of what she was perhaps feeling.  Time passing and everything changing, babies becoming toddlers, toddlers to children, children to teenagers, teenagers to students, to careers and partners and their own babies coming and becoming the toddling ones.  I had watched the grandmother as she played with the small children, watched her shepherding them up the ladder to the wendy house, watched as she pushed them on the swing, watched as she sat with them inside playing games and colouring pictures of cows and goats and gruffalos!  She loved having them here and it was clearly a wrench to go.  I watched as the Grandpa rather tenderly opened the car door and in she got, he driving, she looking out and perhaps both of them remembering how they had packed all those children when they were small into the back of the car and taken them on holiday, taken them to school, and then maybe to university and then watched as they graduated, cheered as they got their first jobs, invited the girlfriends and boyfriends to join them for lunch and then hoped that they would be happy if they married, would be able to withstand all the pushes and pulls of life and the ups and downs of their families.  Hoped for the best for all of them, loving being with them, sad to leave, sad to go home to the house and garden in Cornwall and there to wait for the next chance of seeing them all together again.  A mixed feeling but maybe now they are settling down to Sunday television, they are over the sadness and have spoken to all of the now grown up children and heard they are all alright.  They have slotted back into their lives again.  That's the way it goes but we, the grandparents didn't think it would ever happen to us, we thought we would be ever young.

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Brian Hodgkinson's heroic history of the way civilisations come and go and give us our heroes

Agamemnon walked home through this gate! True!
Brian Hodgkinson
I have a friend who looks just like an ordinary person, walks and talks like everyone else, drinks tea and coffee, smiles and moves around just like everyone else but HE IS SO CLEVER!  He would probably say that he just reads a lot but then so do I but I don't retain the information.  He does, his brain must have so many places full of interesting and accurate facts that when he sits down at his desk and concentrates on what he wants to know, he can bring a decade, a whole century or even a millenium to mind and have it in an order which he can then explain in such a way that someone like me, a person of very moderate understanding, can feel the texture of history in my own bones.  He has written both poetry and history and his name is Brian Hodgkinson.  I have been reading his extraordinary new three volume book which is so beautifully written and crafted it could be called poetry.  The three volumes cover The Advancement  of Civilisation in the Western World, and that is just what it is, a great panorama of millenia which makes sense of who we are now and what we might have been and what we could be.  Hodgkinson weaves myth and legend into factual evidence so that Homeric heroes have their feet in facts and turn out to have their descendants in every heroic action performed by every person we recognise today as heroic.  His starting point for the beginning is way back in the foundation of time, farther back than the written word, back into the mystery touched on in Scriptures which try to describe how something comes into being from consciousness alone and takes form through words.  This may sound fanciful but when we begin to see that all our understanding of anything from the most sublime to the most prosaic is expressed in words in our minds, this capacity words have to create makes sense of In the beginning was the Word....
Now, this great work from Brian Hodgkinson, my friend who I am glad to introduce to you is available to pre-order from Shepheard Walwyn publishers at £65 for all three.  

I have been zooming through the first book because it has pace, isn't dry and dusty and have just ordered one copy for myself and one other.  It might be for YOU!!!

Copies should arrive in October and great Autumn reading ahead.

Friday, 7 September 2018

Dr Jonathan Sachs takes us by the hand through the Moral Maze which faces us

Dr Jonathan Sachs has a nice face too!
We aren't going to hell in a hand cart! But we need to know the pitfalls and the avenues which have curiously always led to hell.  Dr Sachs, former Chief Rabbi has compiled a series of programmes which you should listen to, you should listen quietly, picking one at a time following the journey he has taken us on looking for Morality in the 21st century, where is it to be recognised and do we measure up to its call?  Do we want to?  And here is a good question, why do we want to?  Do we want to be good moral people to feel smug or do we want to be good moral people in order that our families and communities and the wider world don't suffer from our immorality.
It is going to rain this weekend probably, the evenings and drawing in and the mornings are later.  You could just sit in your bed, or even lie there having clicked this link and start the adventure he sets before us.  Why not start with Episode 14 where Melinda Gates talks about using all her good fortune in small and large acts of kindness.

Thursday, 6 September 2018

I went to Sinai and this is what I found!l

Desert, where would you put your sleeping bag? Or find your bathroom

I went to Sinai with my friend Mary.  She has given me books across the years of our friendship and this journey started with my reading her Christmas gift of The Sisters of Sinai by Janet Soskice (you can hear her talk about them by clicking the link.)  These two sisters and their journey to discover what really was written in ancient manuscripts stored at St Catherine's Monastery and their connection with the Monks was our starting point. My friend Mary has always inspired me because she has a stillness about her and as an artist has a discerning eye.  I am the one of this friendship who can't resist taking action and having read the book and found a journey going to Sinai led by Sara Maitland (click for info), I persuaded her that we could do it, we could camp in the desert for a few days not realising we would really be out in the middle of the sandy desert with no tent, just ourselves in a sleeping bag and the stars above us, no loo, no electric rollers, no radio, no i phone, just 12 people scattered over the desert gazing upwards and watching the light of the sun and moon changing our days into nights and our nights into days.  As we woke, we would see others sitting up in their bags, getting dressed in the bag, clambering out and walking across to the one tented structure which contained the hole in the ground which if we had been American, we would have miscalled the bathroom.

Inside the Monastery
We were a long way away from England, from Sainsburys and what we thought of as our lives!  And we finished our time there by visiting St Catherine's Monastery which is where the next part of my adventure began.  This was where hermits and ascetics travelled from the earliest days of Christianity to be at the foot of Mount Sinai where so many old and new testament stories meet and where since the 4th Century there has been a fortified Monastery which over the centuries has filled and emptied with Monks according to the desire of men to renounce the world and which has the most exquisite collection of icons and manuscripts.  At this time, there are perhaps 29 monks attached to the Monastery, some very old but interest in it has increased as the realisation of the threat to religious freedom has risen and polarisation and misunderstanding has threatened so many buildings and communities.  In an age where we preach liberalism in so many parts of life, true freedom to worship has been reduced to a point where instead of enjoying the diversity of ways to approach and pray to God through the pathway we have chosen, people feel threatened by the ways of others leading to extreme thinking that 'my faith is The One faith and No other should exist'.  

Father Justin

Here at the Monastery, while following with devotion and absolute adherence to their own programme of worship, pilgrims and visitors just interested in the history of the Monastery are welcomed.  Here is where I knew I wanted to return, to return over and over again, not just to stare and wonder at the treasures, but to simply be there, attending or not, the services I was allowed to go to, sitting in front of the icons, not understanding or knowing enough to translate anything into my own language but to allow the place and the feel to enter my heart.  And so growing to love the place, being of an active nature, I wanted others to know about it and to take it to their heart so that it would continue to be protected.  This year, Father Justin, an unusual Monk given that while he is a Greek Orthodox Monk, he is a most erudite and intellectually sharp Texan born, quietly spoken man.  He is coming to England and YOU can meet him too.  He will be here on November 28th, speaking at St Martin-in-the-fields in the morning and at Mandeville Place in the evening.  You can read about all this and register for both events by clicking this link to the newsletter with all the details.  

If you never get to camp in the Sinai desert and you never manage to come with me to St Catherine's Monastery, then register now to hear Father Justin and book your ticket to London from wherever you are.  This is an opportunity not to miss.

So pleased to show off the renovation work in the library