Books I’ve read Sept-November

It’s about time I scooped up the books I’ve read recently and put them into this space so I can remember the highs and lows of my reading over the last few months. Here we go, books I’ve read from September to mid November. 

The Midnight Library- Matt Haig. 

I think this one is my favourite of all his fiction, a brilliant idea of someone working through their regrets, living different lives to see if her actual life is worth living. I read this in one sitting on our last camping trip of the summer. It’s a beautiful read, it helped me reflect on my life and I was left awash with gratitude for the life I have and stunned again at the goodness and wonder in this world. Go read. 

American Dirt- Jeanine Cummins

Another one I loved and couldn’t put down. This charts the journey of a mother and son as they escape a drug cartel in Mexico and head over the border to a new life in the states. It’s a tense read, a hard read at times and I had to skip read certain bits because the thought of a mother and her 8 year old on the run made me think too hard about what it would be like to be on the run with my 8 year old. Worth delving into. 

Braiding Sweetgrass- Robin Wall Kimmerer

I’ve written about this before and how it influenced one of my sermons last month. It’s a beautiful collection of essays about our connection with the natural world, the wisdom of native American culture and ways we can learn about our relationship to the place we live. It made me spin out in wonder and awe. It made me want to build in deep wells of gratitude and it spun a much much better story for me than the consumerism which invades our souls. Worth soaking in it’s beauty slowly and thoughtfully. 

The Glass Hotel- Emily St John Mandel. 

I loved her Station Eleven but found this story a bit cold. As far as I can remember it was a novel spanning lots of years and different points in a characters life, exploring where events took her and interconnections with other characters. It’s an interesting exploration of what makes a life worth living and it was a fairly good read, but it didn’t set me alight. 

The Gift of Being Yourself- David Benner. 

I had to read this for my Spiritual Direction course and loved it. It’s a deceptively short and simple book but gave me so much compassion for myself, and my boys in helping think through how I can love all of who they are, not just the loveable bits. It helped me move forward to accepting the shadow side of me so I can further know how much God loves and knows me. It really helped me not over worry about some of the not so great aspects of my boys character and helped me have empathy and love for the whole of them. I love that they can articulate out loud (and I pray it would be a deep reality) that God loves them when they are grumpy, angry and frustrated as well as when they are fun and delightful. This book helps in the journey to learn to own our whole selves so that we don’t get stuck in putting up defences to try and hide parts of ourselves. 

The City is my Monastery- Richard Carter

This is a book of thoughts and prayers from an intentional community at St Martins at the Field in London. It goes through the seven things which make up their rhythm of life with thoughts and reflections from each. It’s a beautiful book, one which made me long to hang out with Jesus more. Definitely worth getting hold of and swimming in the beauty of. 

Catlin Moran – More Than a Woman.
OH my word I love this woman and all that she writes. IF you are a woman in your 40s/50s then this is the book you need to read right now. If you are a man and married to a woman in their 40s/50s then you must read this too and chat to the woman in your life about it. And if you are in your 20s/30s it won’t hurt to read this although it may scare you a little. And I guess if you are beyond your 50s you’ll enjoy it just as much. At times reading this was as if she had seen into my life and thoughts and just written them down for me.  She’s got such a knack of writing about the everyday ordinary stuff of being a middle aged woman in a way that is relatable, funny, tear jerking and real. I didn’t identify with all of what she talks about but that’s just because we are different people. So much of this made me laugh out loud with relief that I am not alone. If that’s not a good recommendation I don’t know what is. 

Motherhood- The best, most awful, Job- Ed by Katherine May

Again. If you are a mother then you must stop what you are doing and go and read this book right now. (it has short chapters so don’t worry if you feel you are just too tired). If you are partnered up with a mother then also please read this book right now. It’s a beautiful series of essays from all different kinds of mothers, ones who have adopted, natural birth mums, gay, straight, autistic, mum’s who have lost babies and more. It’s just a wonderful collection of stories that again made me know that I was seen and not alone. Two amazing gifts. 

Sweet Sorrow- David Nicholls

The story of a man reflecting on his first love back when he was a teenager.  I really enjoyed this, mainly because it was set in the late 90s and took me back to my teenage years. A nostalgic look at life and all it’s twists and turns. I really enjoyed it. 

I’m still here- Austin Channing Brown. 

I don’t really know how to talk about this other than to thank Austin for the gift of her story. It’s her reflections on being a black woman and, let’s face it, the crap that has come her way because of that. It’s worth reading for the insights, the wisdom that comes from her and the further spur to seek a world which is actually just and where racial discrimination is seen, owned up to and dealt with. 

Girl, Woman, OtherBernardine Evaristo

I loved this tour through a load of interconnected women. It’s a beautiful sprawling book of very different stories and journeys. It made me laugh and cry and be very sad when it ended.

Lost Connections- Johann Hari

I have mixed feelings about this book. I love the premise which goes along the lines of – don’t just give out medication to fix depression but also take a look at the social and psychological aspects of what is going with people. I feel like that was given as game changing revelation whereas I don’t think it was that shocking of a statement. Maybe it is in some corners of how depression is treated but it feels to me a given that our whole lives play into how depressed we become, it’s not just as simple as a chemical imbalance in our brains. But as I write that I realise how easy it is to tell that story to make depression an acceptable illness. But maybe it shouldn’t have to be reduced to chemistry to make it acceptable. Anyway. Johann makes some interesting points about all of that and then goes through seven causes of depression and then looks at how we can tackle each of those in our lives. He calls for a deep societal change from the values of consumerism and individualism to living more interconnected lives with each other. I think he has a point, maybe several of them. Worth reading. 

5 Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain- Barney Norris

A book based around Salisbury and explores the interconnected lives of 5 different people meeting in a chance way, reflecting the 5 different rivers that meet in Salisbury. It was a pretty engaging read, interesting takes on what makes life worth living and a good concept to build a novel around. As I write this I’m starting to realise just how many books I’ve read in the last couple of months are all about interconnectedness and interdependence. I like that theme breaking into the rather weird disconnected world we live in at the moment. 

The Man I Think I Know- Mike Gayle. 

A fairly lovely light novel about two men who used to go to school together and now find themselves in very different circumstances but who develop an awesome friendship. Easy to read which was good for my lockdown fuzzy brain.  

The Wild Robot- Peter Brown. 

My son put this book in my hand declaring I had to read it and that it was about a Robot on an Island who was a bit like Jesus. Such a lovely tale of a robot who befriends the animals on a wild remote island, and yes she is a bit like Jesus in the way she helps people and lives amongst them. I like this story reminding me that Christ does indeed play in 10,000 places. 

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Saying goodbye to the wonderful John and Mandy Taylor.

I don’t know how these latest people to be given a blog post have got away without one so far. They are two of the most excellent people I know. They are about to embark on a new adventure away from the lands of Brighton and whilst I want to stamp and rage about the frustration of brilliant people always seeming to move away from us, I shall resist the urge and instead lean into my appreciation of them and try not to cry too much at the thought of them being less in our lives. 

John and Mandy came to Brighton about 13 years ago from the leafy village of Lindfield. They rocked up to Brighton in a deeply intentional way, sussing out the church we were eventually part of together before coming down, seeking the right place to live and working through what ‘retirement’ would look like for John and what this new space would look like for Mandy in feeding the artist in her. I love how they talk about this move, the care they took over it and the way they wanted to seek the good in the mess and wonder of Brighton. 

I love how much they have loved Brighton, through a whole host of ways, as they’ve been involved in doing vast amounts of good in the city. I love the art collectives Mandy has been part of, the many ways her creativity has seeped into peoples lives and transformed spaces. I love John’s commitment to the St Lukes advice service helping people facing financial struggles, bankruptcy and more. I love John finding his poetic voice. I love their commitment together to be wise helpful landlords, to provide services for the homeless that will bring change with their Umbrella charity. I love the love they have had for our city. I love the amount of people they’ve befriended through their involvement in choirs, co-operatives, Morris dancing, English teaching and general hanging out in local cafes. I cannot think of two people more invested in being good helpful friends to so many. 

I first heard about them via my friend Lou who talked of this couple who had joined her church. All I heard was wonderful, these were people who opened their home, who poured out love and grace. I met them later when I joined the church and was drawn into their intentional living. They rocked up at our community house every week at 7 in the morning to pray with us, they cared about us, they fed us, they were a vital part of supporting us as we tried to live in community together. 

They read the opening verses at our wedding, they welcomed us into their small group when we moved around the corner from them. I have deeply happy memories of our early years of marriage spent around their kitchen table eating amazing bread John had made and talking all things God and reality. 

Their house was a safe point of refuge in the week following the death of Husbandface’s Mum. They helped us weather the hardest part of our marriage. We stayed at their house and they watched all the Lord of the Rings films with us each night that week to help us get put back together. They are the walking definition of a place of refuge. 

When I had our eldest Mandy came round every Monday afternoon to play with him in the crazy witching hour. She also brought a lot of chocolate each week. Eventually we decided we’d have to only have one packet of chocolate, and then maybe chocolate every other week. Her love and support were an essential part of me staying sane in those early parenting years. 

When the church community we were part of ended 4 years ago they didn’t let go of us. We’ve met each month since then to chat and pray and eat. They’ve brought round many a takeout and have again been a vital part of us staying sane and well in the years Husbandface has been ill. I love that they knew him before me.  I love their love and care for him and I love that they always have cared and prayed and not worried if he was a shaky wreck who had to disappear after dinner or if he was well enough to pray and pour out his deep well of love on them. Somehow I trust that we will find others to share this deeply with along the way but I imagine the gap will be large for a while. 

Next week they move to some village near Bath, they are, as usual, moving for excellent reasons, to be nearer family, to be able to be more supportive and hands on in a sustainable way, to find rest in the times they aren’t looking after grandchildren. I love their reasons for moving and I pray that they will settle into church, community life and find deep joy and amazing friends in this next stage of life. I’m glad they’ve found a place with a drive for the van to park on and I am glad we will still be friends, albeit from a distance. I think just about every room in our house has a piece of Mandy’s art on the wall so I know we will always be reminded of them and their love. I’m grateful we’ve had transition time before they left, we aren’t in the same church anymore and so feel less in their lives in Brighton than we did. But we will achingly miss the safety and loveliness of them in our house each month. 

I’m sad, the kind of sad that comes from friendship so rich that it would be odd if I wasn’t sad when it changed. I am utterly grateful for all they have taught me about life, about living intentionally, about friendship and welcoming all to the table. I will miss Mandy’s adventurous baking, turnip cupcakes were a particular highlight, I will miss John’s bread. I will miss their questions and care. I will miss them. I will miss them knowing all of us, as individuals before we even thought of ever liking each other and as companions along the way in our marriage and journey into parenting. I will miss the ease of shared history and look forward to when we can meet up again. 

Raise your glasses, here’s to John and Mandy, goodbye for now and hello to learning how to be friends from a distance. 

EDIT. Just realised I haven’t even mentioned the beach hut joy, the gracious way they shared it with people to have a communal space on the beach to share in friends and of course run a night of the Beach Hut Advent Calendar from…

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On nurturing hope.

I sat in the shed. Turned the laptop on and clicked the zoom link. 

I wondered at what kind of strange world we live in where we conduct services through a screen. Thankful for the chance to connect despite the distance.

Through smiley introductions we made our way. Turned off screens, muted ourselves and sat to remember who we are, who we walk with. Together, separately, we tried to glean some food for our souls to take into the week. 

We listened to music to soothe the soul. We listened to ourselves, found out how we were:

“But if you’re drifting away. If it’s falling apart.
Let yourself, be quietly drawn by the stronger call of what you really love.
Let your soul, The one that you brought with you safe to this moment in time,
Whisper to your fears, And wrestle with the noise of this night, for you”

Martyn Joseph always seems to know how to get in under my defences. 

We sat in silence, read passages from the old old story of a God who calls us on. 

“Drop thy still dews of quietness,
till all our strivings cease;
take from our souls the strain and stress,
and let our ordered lives confess
the beauty of your peace,
the beauty of your peace.” 

We heard gentle calls of Jesus to weary souls. 

I read some of Isaiah 40, marvelled again at the stunning picture of God storming over the hills in power to then gently lead as a shepherd, tenderly caring for those who have young, whispering reality into my depths. 

“You who bring good news to Zion,
    go up on a high mountain.
You who bring good news to Jerusalem
    lift up your voice with a shout,
lift it up, do not be afraid;
    say to the towns of Judah,
    “Here is your God!”

See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power,
    and he rules with a mighty arm.
See, his reward is with him,
    and his recompense accompanies him.

He tends his flock like a shepherd:
    He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
    he gently leads those that have young.”

We remembered we are in this together. We go on together. As Martyn Joseph sings “It’s taken all this time, to turn around and see, the sum of all these parts is we.” We are not alone in this weary exhausted landscape. 

The internet broke and I got frustrated but, despite that, peace had entered my mind again. I stepped out of the shed into the dark with a grin on my face and warmth within. Glad of a chance to nurture hope. 

If you want about 45 minutes of peace and the chance to nurture some hope, the slides and music are in the google slide document below, click away and enjoy some rest with your Maker. 

https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1Pi-W3-OZXZpNqlQ1yxYFJmgv0_V0XJijNaU7533ocwg/edit?usp=sharing

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On Yew trees. Or raising my Ebenezer…

Over lockdown I started getting slowly obsessed with yew trees. I spent lots of time reading about Celtic Spirituality for an assignment on my Spiritual Direction course. I was drawn to the wonder of these ancient trees, these places around which sacred gatherings were held and around which churches were built, recognising these ancient meeting places and their significance in peoples stories. 

Yew trees can last a long time, during lockdown I visited a 1,600 year old one just down the road from us in Wilmington. Despite the boys disappointment in not being able to climb it I was enthralled with this marker of time.

Each morning I usually go for a walk in our local area, I walk for an hour, some days in profound thought, some in quiet contemplation and, let’s be honest here, some in boredom as I put one foot in front of the other. 

One day I stumbled across a part of the area I live in which contained pine trees. We live right on the border of the South Downs National Park, not an area known for its pine trees. A quick google search (I love that I could google ‘why are there pine trees in Patcham?’ and find the answer) told me that the person who had built the estate had planted them. Hidden away in the undergrowth I came across an empty patch of ground encircled by a yew tree. I stood in it and looked to the sky. I walked around it, grinned a bit and realised I’d found something new in this finding God in our natural world journey I’ve been on all my life. 

I love the Celtic way of praying circling prayers, of asking the three members of the Trinity to surround and protect us. Yew trees have now become to me symbols of that presence of the divine. God with us in this world.

When God speaks to the prophet Hosea God says ‘I am like a green pine tree’. I love the symbolism of that statement, the eternal evergreen nature of God, the bearing fruit year after year freshness of a tree that stands tall throughout the centuries. I’m glad God links themselves to these eternal images, reminding me that I am very small part of a very large picture. 

A month or so ago we planted a yew tree in our front garden, every time I look at it I am reminded of this eternal God who spans the ages, who has held us this far, and will carry us on. We planted our Ebenezer (the reminder of God’s help symbol, not the guy called eeezer who is a main geezer) to remind us of God’s help through this last year. As we journey on into the strangeness of the months ahead of us, we walk with knowledge that we are not on our own in this journey. 

I still try and walk out each morning to notice where I am at the start of each day, to say hello to God and ask for awareness of what God is up to as we walk into the day together. I love walking past familiar yew trees in the woods near us, I love holding out my hands to their branches, reminding myself of the nearness of my Maker. I love discovering new ones, one Saturday I laughed out loud as I found a path full of yew trees up in some local woods, I gasped in awe at the abundance and tasted the abundant love of our Creator wooing me again. 

What are your ebenezers in these times? What marker points might there to place along the journey? What speaks to you most of the presence of God with us? 

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Thoughts from a week off…

I’ve had the last week off work, leaning into the space afforded by the 5 hours a day the boys are at school, enjoying the extra time to walk around the beautiful places near us, to read more books, to sleep on a chair and then jerk awake, wondering how it’s suddenly half an hour until pick up and couldn’t I have done more with these precious hours? 

I’ve been in search of the right experience, the moments to make this week special, the high of rest and the feeling of being topped up again ready to go go go. I know, I’m not sure 5 hours off a day for a week can make up for the tiredness which seeps in my bones from the last 8 years of parenting with a year of global pandemic thrown in for good measure. 

And so I walk on. 

I think this is the longest time off I’ve had with space just for me in a long long time. Leaving aside my slight playing for sympathy or my unrealistic expectations for what on earth I thought would happen in this time it has been good. Not amazingly wow, not complete filling of the tank, but a slow and steady, gentle, putting in of things that are good for my soul and might just last me until the next opportunity for time off. 

I’ve walked each day, enjoying the wonder of many sunrises, the beautiful world all around, the leaves I’ve watched grow from buds now changing colour and falling to the ground. The sky now visible in the woods. The space between the trees grows wider each day and I am captivated by the way the sun lights everything up in such different ways each morning. 

And so I walk on.

I’ve stepped back from the world of social media, seeking connection in more direct ways, and seeking greater connection with the source of all this. I’ve slowly pulled back from mindless scrolling on my phone and have the attention span again to read books without tapping my phone every few minutes. This is a longer process and whilst I love the connections social media brings, I also want it to feed the flesh and blood relationships I have. Harder to do in the world of lockdown part 2 but a necessary aim for deeper richer living. I’m toying with a sabbath rest from social media each week, and putting it into intentional times in my day. I’m wondering how to fill the gaps in the day with good things, with soul refreshing wonder rather than mere numbing. 

And so I walk on. 

The realities of lockdown 2 have yet to sink in. Being off work means nothing much has changed in our world on a large scale. The details are making me sad though, the lack of being able to welcome people into our home, have a cuppa with a friend, have the boys friends over for fun and have dinner with friends. Our social world feels small again and as time goes on I fear that our brains will learn this small too well, that pushing out to relearn physical connection will be hard. And maybe it will and maybe pushing through that will be a wonderful retraining of our brains.  I feel the ache of lost time with people coupled with the thought that maybe we weren’t made for so many people in our head at one time. The questions are loud and the answers are few. 

And so I walk on. 

The boys are still at school and I’ve enjoyed this week of space. I think the full weight of the restrictions may hit when I go back to work tomorrow and have to go back to the online world, making the most of whenever it is dry to walk with people instead of meeting in our lovely church cafe. I’m holding into the hope that this may only be a month. I hold onto hope and try not to see the numbers on my calendar rushing towards December. Tomorrow I will engage with the C word, tomorrow I will allow my brain time to think and ponder advent, to think about how to mark what will be a very different experience this year. Tomorrow I will engage again. For now I shall write, read and drink some more tea.

And so I walk on. 

Grateful for the rest and hoping to walk on in more intentional ways. Hoping to remember the author of these sunrises, the painter of the sky, the maker of all, the One who calls me to love and be loved.

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Watching the black dog slowly slinking out of the door

And sometimes it’s the Saturday mornings, the pushing through to get out on the hills to watch the sunrise, the making a playlist about sunrises, the listening to interesting profound people in my ears as I wander around the golf course.

Sometimes it’s the realisation that I’ve seen these leaves from their birth as buds to their fall to the ground as I’ve walked these paths.

Sometimes it’s the returning to my family, chaos all over the floor, detritus of games and fun, a husband in the kitchen making monkey bread for our adventures, putting together our Saturday morning indulgence of brioche and bacon.

Sometimes it’s the music of Martyn Joseph perfectly soothing my soul, there is still a lot of love out there, still a lot of love, still a lot of love.

Sometimes it’s singing loudly whilst the small ones cry at me, sometimes it’s gazing long and deep at the hills out of our kitchen window with a big grin on my face because there is still a lot of love out there, still a lot of love.


Sometimes it’s all these things and more.


And the black dog slowly slinks out the door.

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Happy Birthday Son2!


Today marks 6 years of our lovely youngest boy in this world. There isn’t a whole lot to say that hasn’t been said before. I wrote the poem below when he was 4 and it still applies to this wonderful ball of energy, passion, love, concern, enormous emotions, overly dramatic whirlwind of a son. 

I’m sure it was just the other day

that you sped crawled into my lap
Grinning like a wally,
face snuffled into mine.

I’m sure it was only yesterday

that you
Grabbed my face
and turned my full attention to you.

All or nothing from the start

I’m sure you were smaller
Less articulate
Fitting more easily into my arms

I’m sure it was only a few moments ago that you twisted down and entered this crazy world

Perfectly formed face blissed out asleep on the bed
Whilst I rode the endorphin waves of your safe incredible arrival.

I’m sure it wasn’t long ago that all you could do was stick out your tongue

And gummy smile your sun to my heart.

I’m sure it wasn’t all that long ago when you started to smell me deep each cuddle,

since you learnt to toddle around
investigating all you could find.

You.

Over there

On the other side of the room.
Sprawled long on the beanbag
Head propped in your hands.
Unselfconscious, gazing deep at the screen.

You with all your thoughts, ideas, plans, imagination and desires.

4 years? Now 6?

I’m sure it was only yesterday.

I adore his face and his cheeky dimpled grin. I am bowled over by his enthusiasm for people. I am endlessly amused by his love of sparkly bling and always entertained by his passion for each one of his multitude of teddies. I am exhausted by the challenge to help be a safe space for his myriad of feelings and emotions and not a sponge of them all. 

I look at him, tall, full of life, articulate and funny. He no longer needs to hold my face to get back to sleep but still he orbits around me. I gaze at him and soak up the snuggles, knowing that the old adage remains annoyingly true. The days are long but the years are speeding up. 

This post is still the best I’ve written for him. It sums up the crazy wonder of his birth so well, the rare treat of a straightforward beautiful entrance into the world. And my prayer at the end of it is still one I pray, still my desire for this ever growing wonderful boy.

I pray so much your delight in people would last and grow strong, that your dogged determination would channel into powerful love for others and commitment in this life. I pray that you would come to know your Maker as your friend and more. I pray that you would be wholehearted in this life, full of compassion and love. I pray that you would draw the outsider in and I pray that you would always, whatever, truly know that you are loved and would be strong and secure in that love. I pray for your protection in this world of ours, so beautiful and so broken and that the struggles you face in this life would not shake you or destroy you but our wonderful Maker would use them to bring good to you and those around you.

I really enjoyed the extra time to hang out with him this year, one upside to this whole global pandemic year. I love the light in his eyes and in the eyes of his brother. I love this crazy journey we are on together which is exhausting but incredible right now. I freak out about the future over and over again but in the midst of that I am brought back to the present, the now we have, the chance each day to enjoy them, interact with them, learn from them, have conversations with them that I hope and pray will build a solid foundation for any storms we face ahead of us. 

I am also grateful that we do not parent these boys alone, that I know their Maker delights in them and loves them, that there is a ultimate secure homebase for them in the Everlasting Arms and I long for them to grow up secure in that love, knowing they are beloved, able to love well those around them, able to get up each time they fall, able to mess up and know grace, able to walk through this world with hope and wonder. 

Lots of the time my parenting feels a bit like the Mums in Dear Evan Hansen, desperate for a map, searching for how the hell to do this. Sometimes though in reality, and lots in intention, it feels like this Alanis Morrisette song below. Watching this video breaks my heart and I echo the beautiful line, “my mission is to see the light in your eyes ablaze”. The times my boys eyes light up are the best and I always want to nurture that light through whatever weather lies ahead. (I’ll save my other parenting song of the moment for Son1’s birthday later in the month). 

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Remembering Geraldine Cunningham

Today marks the 9th year since my mother in law died of cancer. Finally I think we are getting the hang of how to remember her well and honour her life within our family. Grief is a strange thing, it twists and turns and shows up in unexpected places. Life is similar. For the last 9 years it seems like we have either been through major change or dark stormy times around this time of year. This day has come and gone with little ceremony but with a darkening around husbandface’s world and an exhaustion in his bones. Grief has worked it’s way through his body and we have weathered the storms around this day.

Last year we realised we wanted more of a celebratory air to this day, to mark this day with the things we loved about Geraldine, to give our boys some tales of their Granny and to do some things she would have loved. So we will spoil our boys today, we will eat a lot of sugar, we will talk of the good times, the heart of generosity, compassion and care she had and the ways her wonderful children carry on that legacy of abundant generosity and outpoured love. We’ve bought sunflowers to fill our kitchen with her favourite flowers and we will remember her fullness as we walk on in this life.

Here are some words I wrote after we returned home 9 years ago, after her wake and funeral. I am still sad I didn’t get to know her better and I am still grateful for her heart and passion for her wonderful kids. I’m glad I got to marry one and be friends with the other.

We buried my mother in law on Saturday morning after a long fight with cancer. There is no other word to describe it, we use cliche’s for a reason after all. Fight is the word for Geraldine’s refusal to give in to despair and for how desperately she clung onto every opportunity for hope against the rising tide of cancer. I didn’t know her as well as I would have liked yet strangely her illness provided the opportunity for better chats, deeper relationship and the chance to hear her life story. These gave me a chance to see the deep love she had for her children and her strong desire to provide them with roots in this unstable world. She was a woman of passion, full of banter, who loved being in on the action, who loved gathering people for a party and who poured her life out into her family, both in her first and second marriage.

I’m sad that we won’t get told off for giggling on the sofa anymore, with her eager to join in on the joke. I’m sad that I won’t have the chance to tell her that I love her desire to get everyone she knew the perfect gift, reflecting how well she knew them. I’m sad that there will be no more moments when I can ask her questions about her past and the roads that brought her to the place she was in life.

I’m grateful for knowing her and I’m grateful that she welcomed me into the family, getting used to the strangely quiet English girl who had appeared to have stolen her son’s heart so quickly. I’m glad that we had the many trips to Belfast this year so I could know her better. I’m grateful for her enjoyment of our marriage and I love her son, my husbandface, and his care and concern for her over the last year. I love that she got to come and hang out in Brighton with us at Easter and see how we live.

It took us a while to understand each other, it wasn’t an easy straightforward relationship, we had a wide cultural divide to cross but I’m very glad to have had Geraldine Cunningham as my mother in law and we will miss her lots.

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Thoughts on interdependence…

Yesterday I preached on interdependence, one of our churches 5 values (conveniently they all begin with ‘I’, inclusion, integrity, intimacy and involvement are the other ones.). On a side note I love that we don’t particularly have goals or visions for the future but we have a way to live in this evolving journey we are on as a church. We long for these values to inform and shape all we do and the ways we interact together. We get it wrong a lot, but each year we remind ourselves of the ways we want to walk in, and how much they are found in the heartbeat of God.

Small advert for our church over. 

Yesterday I spoke on interdependence and mainly quoted from a brilliant book I was given for my birthday this year. ‘Braiding Sweetgrass’ by Robin Wall Kimmerer is exquisitely beautiful. It’s a series of essays reflecting on the natural world we live in and our interdependence with it. One of her major themes revolves around gratitude waking us up to the abundance all around us. She also talks about reciprocity lots, which I can just about say now. I quoted her extensively because of the huge amount of wisdom when it came to looking at interdependence.

My basic talk went along the lines of – interdependence isn’t a value we have to try harder to achieve but a value to wake ourselves up to. I offered three images to help us see the interdependence all around us. Firstly, we are part of an interdependent world, look at nature (see the quote below about how fungal networks help trees). Secondly we have an interdependent God, look at Jesus hanging out with his friends, Jesus needed people, his life down here was incredibly interdependent. Thirdly we are the interdependent body of Christ on earth, look at the way we are described as a body in 1 Corinthians 12. We need each other and are part of each other, just as much as our bodies have their individual parts making up a whole, unable to function without each other.

Then I wondered how we could lean into becoming more aware of our interdependence on each other?

We might start with gratitude, Robin says in her book, “appreciation begets abundance”. When I am thankful I start to see my abundance, I start to see the wonder of what I have and find that it is enough, more than enough. Gratitude helps us wake up to the wonder of our interdependence on each other. 

Next mercy and forgiveness help us keep going in our interdependence, they are the ways we can move through the pain of being hurt by each other. We are going to hurt each other, no-one can live in community with others without being hurt. Mercy and forgiveness are needed so we can stay in this interdependent state and not rush off back to island living.

Lastly ceremony or sacrament are the mechanisms we can sustain our sense of interdependence long term. Ceremonies help us by providing physical signs of invisible realities, communion is an obvious example. Ceremonies are important for us to feel connected to each other, to see the strands that hold us together. Showing up for each other each week is a ceremony, coming to church used to be a powerful ceremony and we might want to think about what ceremonies we can enact with each other to remind ourselves of our interdependence together in these more disconnected times.

Next week we have partnership Sunday, where we recommit ourselves to each other for the year ahead. We are planning to make it ceremonial, a physical act in times when it is hard to be physical together. I am hoping and praying it will be significant as we invite people throughout the day to travel through our building, praying a labyrinth and then signing up to be partners of this church for another year. Hopefully the time-lapse will be awesome.

There is much more I could have said, or maybe should have said, but forming these thoughts together this week have helped me be in awe again of the created world around us and our creator who wove interdependence into the fabric of our lives and planet because we were made in their image, all the created world reflects back the interdependent dance at the heart of God.

I’ll leave you with some of the quotes from Robin, such beautiful words to help us dwell in this world with wonder: 

“The trees in a forest are often interconnected by subterranean networks of, fungal strands that inhabit tree roots… These fungal networks appear to redistribute the wealth of carbohydrates from tree to tree. A kind of Robin Hood, they take from the rich and give to the poor so that all the trees arrive at the same carbon surplus at the same time. They weave a web of reciprocity, of giving and taking. In this way the trees all act as one because the fungi have connected them. Through unity, survival. All flourishing is mutual. Soil, fungus, tree, all are the beneficiaries of reciprocity.” 

“Each part of creation is thanked in turn for fulfilling it’s creator given duty to the others, it reminds you every day that you have enough, more than enough Everything needed to sustain life is already here. when we do this every day it leads unto an outlook of contentment and respect for all of creation. You can’t listen to the thanksgiving address without feeling wealthy. and, while expressing gratitude seems innocent enough, it is a revolutionary idea. In a consumer society, contentment is a radical proposition. Recognising abundance rather than scarcity undermines an economy that thrives by creating unmet desires. Gratitude creates an ethic of fullness, but the economy needs emptiness. the thanks giving address reminds you that you already have everything you need….Cultures of gratitude must also be cultures of reciprocity. Each person, human or no, is bound to every other in a reciprocal relationship. Just as all beings have a duty to me, I have a duty to them… appreciation begets abundance”

“Ceremony is a vehicle of belonging to a family, to a people and to the land”

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Autumn

Last night at church we sat and pondered Autumn. I remembered there are many things I quite like about this season and wrote the poem below. These are strange times we live in, in the midst of them it has done my soul good to remember the unchanging nature of the changing seasons. Some comfort in an uncertain world right now.

Autumn
feels like journeying into warmth
cold crisp mornings, wrapped up tight
frost glinting on grass, spiders webs soaked with dew.

Autumn
feels like being surrounded,
encircled, drawn into something safe
held in big woolly jumper hugs, stories around candle light
curtains closed before dinner.

Autumn
feels secure, sheltered against the rain,
fireworks, crackling flames
Mist hanging over our hills,
Endless cups of tea listening to Travis.

Autumn
feels like the slow dance,
before the death of winter barren lands,
the rest and gathering before longing for spring
the delight in the beauty of dying,

before
silence,

before
resurrection

can
begin.

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