The Door

It would be easier to stay at home and think than travel miles to camp on a cold, remote island. This is why I am doing it, I guess:

Go and open the door.
          Maybe outside there’s
          a tree, or a wood,
          a garden,
          or a magic city.

Go and open the door.
          Maybe a dog’s rummaging.
          Maybe you’ll see a face,
or an eye, 
or the picture
          of a picture.

Go and open the door.
          If there’s a fog
          it will clear.

Go and open the door.
          Even if there’s only 
          the darkness ticking,
          even if there’s only
          the hollow wind,
          even if
                           is there,
go and open the door.

At least
there’ll be 
a draught.
Miroslav Holub

from Poems Before & After: Collected English translations (Bloodaxe Books, 2006)


It looks idyllic doesn’t it: the sunshine, the sea, the puffins…

Now imagine the damp, the rain and the inclement weather of the average British Spring. Multiply that by North Scotland, the surrounding Atlantic gales that are magnified by being on an island, no shelter apart from that you bring with you and no food apart from that which you bring with you.

I won’t say anything about toilets apart from ‘trowel’…

Sometimes when people use the word ‘retreat’, it conjures up an image of warmth, cozy firesides, snug beds and contemplation that nudges into dreamless sleep.

Tomorrow I make the long journey up North to meet up with a friend, a few others I know a bit and some I have never met. The day after, 12 of us will sail from a small port to Lunga. For 48 hours we will survive, share stories, pray, sit in silence, drink whisky and swear a lot. I last did this with this group 2 years ago.

It would be much easier to stay at home I guess, but I would never have this experience otherwise. Sometimes you have to travel somewhere to find something that you thought you had lost.

The days after…

The days after a play are a come down:

-You have prepared, rehearsed and used every spare moment to try and memorise a complex script.

-You have used every ounce of your limited ability to try and imbue it with some feeling and subtlety.

-You have performed; your adrenaline has surged and then fallen repeatedly.

-You have luxuriated in a feeling of ‘well done’ and agonised unnecessarily  when you have felt things have not gone so well.

-You have worked with a group of people over weeks & sometimes seen them more than your family.

And then it has finished…..

But this is part of life- you don’t appreciate the highs unless you hit the lows.

Overall, I had a fantastic time: another of my ‘fifty things for 50 years’ attempted, tackled something way above me, got fantastic support from a group of people and enjoyed myself so much. Plus I am left with a feeling of intellectual challenge: I understood yet didn’t understand a richly complex play.

I am such a luvvie…

Another of the 50…

One of the ‘fifty things for 50 years’ (a list of around 50 things that I wanted to do in the year before and the year after 50- the key thing is that they had to cost nothing/very little. Any fool can spend money on an experience and call it ‘lifechanging) I wanted to have a go at was acting.

For the last 6 years I have done the village pantomime; specialising in comedy transvestites. This time I wanted to have a bash at something ‘above’ me: something complex. A friend said that I was ‘courageous and adventurous’: I am not- just stupid and beginning to think that my 50s are a chance to try new things and maybe fail in the process.

So I auditioned and got into the above play. It is complex and I’m not sure if I’ve got it (or remember and deliver lines with enough conviction), but I am enjoying the process.

Of course the acid test is performing it in front of an audience. That happens tonight, tomorrow and Saturday at the village hall at 7.30. Tickets still available.

I’ll be the middle aged, self obsessed, philanderer at the front…

Falling Upward: one last time (for now)

The author talks about how many of us begin conservatively- at least in the first half of our lives.; it gives us a sense of ‘place’. We need things certain and secure in order to grow and to later find something to rebel against.

This chimes so much with me. I suppose I was conservative theologically (but never politically…), socially, psychologically etc etc. in my 20s. As life fractured in my 30s and I became aware that not everything was ‘onwards and upwards’, I began to change. Many around me also did. The ones who didn’t often became angrier or seemed to be.

Some people, as they age, see any kind of change as a threat (read your average Daily Mail or Express headline or watch your average advert that will often give you the subtle or unsubtle message-but more, buy bigger, protect what you have):-

‘Many just fall in love with their first place and position, as an extension of themselves, and spend their whole lives building a picket fence around it’ (p46)

I guess the trick as you get older is to become comfortable with letting go/changing and then keeping your boundaries low so you don’t make your fences higher.

I’m learning…

Falling Upward Part 4

‘…you learn how to recover from falling by falling’.

‘People who have never allowed themselves to fall are actually off balance, while not realising it at all.’ (p28)

I have been around people with whom you cannot show weakness: they just can’t cope with it so they change the subject or they try and ‘fix’ you from their position of ‘strength’. Over time you learn to avoid close contact with people like that or at the very least: cease to apologise for who you are.

I think I have done more in the last 18 months that pushed me beyond my usual positions of strength. This has not been without stress or anguish, but has led to some of the most ‘growth’ ever….

..and it is good, although sometimes you wish you slept more…

Falling Upward part 3

‘The world is more magical, less predictable, more autonomous, less controllable, more varied, less simple, more infinite, less knowable, more wonderfully troubling than we could have imagined being able to tolerate when we were young‘ (p25).

The write then goes on to argue that you need a strong container, built in the first half of life, to cope with and thrive with this reality: ‘You ironically need a strong ego structure to let go of your ego.’

It is reassuring to read this and also very liberating. It explains some of the changes I have seen and am experiencing…and some of the architects of certainty that I react strongly against….

Falling Upward part 2

I think I expected more from this age. 30 years ago, I imagined a mortgage paid off and some level of security. I haven’t- life still seems to involve change and flux.

I am aware that much of what I expected to be my future at age 33 no longer is: I am no longer a Methodist minister in a church.

Constant change is part of my life-at the moment it seems more so than the case of most of my friends.

I found this helpful:-

”..resistance to change is so common, in fact it is almost what we expect of religious people, who tend to love the past more than the future or the present’ (p11)

I think I preached more about change when my own life was stable (most people, faith or non faith who speak about change seem to have stability in their own lives…) I did not always see why people resisted change. Rohr talks a lot about the marker of a the 2nd half of life about being open to change and welcoming it as a friend and not something to be kept at bay.

It is hard though isn’t it?

Falling Upward

This is a book that I read as one of my ‘fifty things for 50 years’. I keep returning to it. It is tagged ‘a spirituality for two halves of life’. It would repay careful reading for anyone- whether of formal faith or not. It makes me think carefully about the changes in perception I am experiencing: perhaps the changes that led me into chaplaincy in the first place.

I may have blogged before about this, but a theological college, I became reasonably ok at Pool. The main reason for this is that after lectures people would pour into the Common Room and argue about theology. I had no real interest in arguing it- I wanted to try and live it or just hear why someone believed what they believed and what their beautiful stories were.

I don’t claim to be ‘adept’ and I would be suspicious of anyone who claimed to be ‘adept’ or ‘wise’, but this quote hit me:-

The ‘adepts’ in all religions are always forgiving, compassionate and radically inclusive’ (p10)

…I have often encountered more frozen hatred and anger amongst those who think they are ‘right’, so…

‘Mature people are not either-or thinkers, but they bathe in the ocean of ‘both-and’.

This is not to imply I am ‘mature’, but it is a helpful lens through which to see the post-50 landscape…


I wish I had failed more

I was half glancing at a poem in my boss’s office. I’m sure it had the above line in it and it was cast in a positive light: if I had the courage to have a go at more things it would mean that some did not work out.

This came to mind when it was my 50th party, which was one of my ’50 things for 50 years’. During that, I attempted another one: to try and play at an open mic again. As the local one seems to have finished, I planned to play a song as part of a shortened speech and count that as an open mic.

And…. I managed it. It wasn’t great; it could have been much, much better. It is very scary up there.

At first I cringed, but then I thought: I had a go. I am not going to get any better in public unless I keep having a go.

And sometimes that will mean failing.

And failing is not necessarily a bad thing.