…and you haven’t yet cleaned your old house and your wife is going away at 4am tomorrow and you have to carry on with your part time work as well as your normal job….
William Stafford ‘Any Morning’
Just lying on the couch and being happy.
Only humming a little, the quiet sound in the head.
Trouble is busy elsewhere at the moment, it has
so much to do in the world.
People who might judge are mostly asleep; they can’t
monitor you all the time, and sometimes they forget.
When dawn flows over the hedge you can
get up and act busy.
Little corners like this, pieces of Heaven
left lying around, can be picked up and saved.
People won’t even see that you have them,
they are so light and easy to hide.
Later in the day you can act like the others.
You can shake your head. You can frown.
(the view from our new front window)
Mixed feelings today: a home has become a house.
Friends are descending to move boxes and furniture.
We go to a new house, hoping it will be a home eventually.
Much to say goodbye to and give thanks for.
Much to discover: a new chapter begins
Something mellow and slightly mournful.
Today our home looks like a house. Later on, friends will arrive and start moving the first items from this house to a new house which I hope will become ‘home’.
But for now: no more words, just music.
I was talking with a couple of staff. One was relating the tale of a minister in their community who had had some kind of breakdown. the local church had been understanding and supportive and were ready to receive them back.
‘Guess what happened?’ said the person ”When they were ready to come back, the church decided to move them. Why did they do that- going back would have been good for their recovery. Moving would have been bad. Why don’t these church leaders listen and live in the real world?’
Inside I was weeping for that minister, saying a loud ‘Amen!’ to what that staff member had said and echoing that ‘Why?’
In the past that gave me a heaviness, for I was trapped in that unreal world: like the little girl with the little curl, when the church is good, she is very very good- when she is bad, she is horrid.
Now it gave me a lightness- I am nearly free, but also a sadness: when things go wrong, there are many trapped in an unreal world where consistency of approach is rare and lack of employment conditions means that there is no effective challenge when human error happens.
Of course- maybe I got it wrong- maybe the national church did behave well; but to someone outside, skilled in mental health, it failed.
I had put 2 pieces of furniture on ebay: we are downsizing and you can’t take everything with you.
I had been careful to include the dimensions and ‘local pick up only’.
Then my phone started pinging with ebay messages. There were 2:-
‘Do you do delivery?’
‘What are the dimensions?’
I managed to reply courteously and not to say ‘why don’t you read the description, you *&^% numbskull?’
It got me thinking though: when faced with a wealth of information, how many of us truly listen? Most of us hear enough to make a response, but never really slow down, absorb and….well….listen…
If working in mental health is teaching me one thing, it is that. And it makes me think of all the times before, in a hurry to ‘fix’ that I never bothered.
I did sell that item by the way. And for a lot more than I intended,
It had been a long and a good night. The spirits had flowed freely. Perhaps too freely: I have only the vaguest memory of walking home.
He, fortified by herculean amounts of Jack Daniels and aware that I was a minister began to launch into an impassioned attack on religion and the idea of God. People shifted uncomfortably: ‘This is a bit deep’.
‘It’s ok- I don’t mind- it’s just like being on a mental health ward’.
It was- in the sense of emotional honesty and immediacy.
The thing is: I really didn’t mind. I loved it- even without the Jack Daniels (although that helped).
I was on a long drive across North Yorkshire. Lunch hadn’t really happened, so I stopped at a cafe in an idyllic village, looking forward to a few minutes in the sun, drinking coffee and eating apple pie & most of all being still.
In the end I did not get what I wanted, but received so much more.
Someone saw my clerical collar and my works i.d. badge, made a comment and sat opposite me with his wife and began to talk.
He told me of a successful life that fell apart at retirement: the anger that had seethed all through his life finally boiling over as he fell headlong into depression. Then he tracked back to early years in children’s homes feeling lost, being starved of affection and hiding it. He thanked the healing power of God, knowing that he would be forever scarred, but thankful for those scars as it helped him feel others’ pain. He talked of those he knew who had not been so fortunate.
It felt like a sacrament: me searching for space but instead finding communion with someone else.
Sometimes you are thankful at just being in the right place at the right time.
I have just realised that this is the longest break I have taken from preaching since I preached my first ‘official’ sermon in December 1992. This break has, at the moment, no end.
Someone asked me if I missed it: I don’t. And I don’t feel the need to get back into the saddle just yet.
Mostly it is because I am enjoying the break. Preaching is damaging to the ego: you stand there, speaking on behalf of the divine and people listen. Even the most careful of us can get corrupted by that position of power: I think I did in the end. I know I that I began to take it for granted that I could stand up and speak: often people said it was good.
Also, I have become aware that in listening to preachers that I have noticed just how many draw attention to themselves with great frequency. Whilst preaching has to be ‘truth through personality’ and not a lecture, when there is too much personality I struggle to listen. Actually, that is not strictly true: I feel profoundly ashamed- I most probably did that.
To all that, I think the best response is silence, confession and rest. #humbled
Everything is changing. week today we will have moved from a house which both of us have lived in for the longest period of any house we have lived in ever (I think that sentence makes sense).
It is a difficult and strange time- downsizing for the first time ever. Much that we thought was permanent is going. With various other things happening, we are all finding this stressful: sleep is hard to come by.
Into this, I read this poem about permanence and impermanence.
This evening, the sturdy Levi’s
I wore every day for over a year
& which seemed to the end
in perfect condition,
How or why I don’t know,
but there it was: a big rip at the crotch.
A month ago my friend Nick
walked off a racquetball court,
got into his street clothes,
& halfway home collapsed & died.
Take heed, you who read this,
& drop to your knees now & again
like the poet Christopher Smart,
& kiss the earth & be joyful,
& make much of your time,
& be kindly to everyone,
even to those who do not deserve it.
For although you may not believe
it will happen,
you too will one day be gone,
I, whose Levi’s ripped at the crotch
for no reason,
assure you that such is the case.
Pass it on.
‘Notice’ by Steve Kowit (1938-2015)
Anyone who reads this blog will know that I have a downer on the idea of ‘Christian music’. Much I have heard has been derivative ‘music lite’ with clunking lyrics foregrounded. And the negative view of Christian music is….
Besides which, why is does idea that is fundamentally concerned with outsiders (Christianity), produce music that is ‘safe’ for insiders.
I do, however, have a soft spot for Gungor- I like the musicianship and the attempt to try something different. I also like the way that Michael Gungor writes in a similar vein about ‘Christian Music’.
This song came up on my playlist as I was driving away from a lunch stop last week where a man had just poured out his life story, brokenness and eventual recovery. It seemed somehow fitting.