A small life

‘ ….and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.” That’s the start of the meeting between Jesus and the Samaritan woman. He asks her for a drink and then there follows a conversation, a courteous conversation, which ends (wait for it… wait for it….) with Jesus stating that he is ‘I am’. He is God.

That woman, that fortunate woman, heard from his own lips that he was God. When she set out with her water jar she wasn’t expecting to come across the God of all creation, to make the most startling discovery ever made, to hear the greatest claim that could ever be spoken… but that’s what her ordinary day held for her. She didn’t imagine that the great Messiah who was to rescue Israel and conquer the world would be a dusty, weary, hot and thirsty wandering Jew. But he was.

‘The woman said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When He comes, He will tell us all things.”
Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am He.”

Wowser! Her trudge to the well, in the blazing heat of midday (forget all the theories about why she was drawing water at noon), became a monumental moment, written in history, a central point in Theology, and maybe (who knows?) the turning point in that woman’s life.

Sometimes, when the day is long and the work seems thankless, when the water we draw will soon leave an empty jar that needs to be filled again, and again and again…. when the walk to the well is lonely, and we’re a bit fed up with the same old routine….. and the people we’re serving are just plain ungrateful…. we can be lost in our thoughts so that we hardly notice the man sitting at the well, waiting.

We talk so much about the Samaritan woman, but how much thought do we give to the thirsty man? Yes, yes, we know Jesus is God, but how much thought do we give to Jesus the man? It was noon. The disciples had gone to find food. He was weary and so he sat down, in the blazing sun. Maybe his lips were cracked, maybe his mouth was dry, maybe his muscles ached. The God of all creation. And he wanted water. The God of all creation, that ordinary man, had no cup. The water was there, and he couldn’t reach it. He wasn’t Superman or Batman or any other super hero, able to use his superpower to satisfy his whim. He was our servant God, our fully human Creator. You know, when you’re really thirsty and you’re in a dry climate under a blazing sun, and you come across a well, you can almost smell the water. The God of all creation, and he was thirsty! The God of all creation could see the water in his mind’s eye, taste it in his longing, smell it in his need.

I can’t think of a single instance in the Gospels when Jesus used his omnipotence to serve himself. And he didn’t now, at the well, when all he wanted was a simple drink of water. He came to Earth as man and that’s how he lived.

I’ve always had the habit , when I hear a narrative that doesn’t come to a conclusion, of finding my own conclusion and mentally ‘writing it in’. We don’t know if the woman gave Jesus a drink. We aren’t told. But in my narrative, as she lowers the bucket into the well she says a wry smile, “You have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep. Where then do you get that living water ?” and – in my mind – as Jesus replies, he leans across and hauls the bucket onto the wall of the well for her, precious water splashing onto the mud bricks… and (again, in my narrative) there’s quiet amusement in his voice as he replies “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again,  but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst.’ and he plunges his hands into the glistening water, scooping, ” … the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.” And then, in my narrative, he lowers his head and drinks and drinks and drinks, delighting in it… and the woman watches him and turns the words over in her mind, and sees something unworldly in this simple man, and she asks “Sir, give me this water, so I’ll never be thirsty again.”

Anyway, that’s what I imagine. My lovely God, delighting in cool water in the heat of the day. Totally divine and completely man. Ahead of him lay shame and suffering and death, but he was never only a man of sorrows… he was also a man who gathered friends, a man people flocked to be with, a man who ate with his adopted family, who drank fresh water, who shared wine, who built a fire and baked fish (Ah, hang on, Luce, that was the Resurrected Christ… maybe the fire was not so much built as spoken into being!), who slept in the gunnels of the boat, who felt pity and anger and sadness, a man who prayed, who exasperated his friends and a man who wept. He was a man we can all love. A man of simple pleasures.

That’s a lesson for all of us. Jesus led a small life. His pleasures were simple.

What are our simple pleasures, the daily gifts we can really delight in and give thanks for? Shall I tell you one of mine? Well, you can’t stop me, so here goes – my morning ritual, when I return from walking the dogs is unvarying. I make a strong coffee, heat the milk, toast two waffles, slice a pear and then I sit down with it at my desk and read the news section of theTimes online.

Sometimes I add strawberries!

Such joy in small things.

I do pray, sometimes, that when Jesus walked the Earth as man, he knew loads of small pleasures. Daily. I pray that daily he found comfort and joy in little moments of grace. Maybe he loved being man? I hope so. That maybe, even as wholly man, as he drank that wonderful crystal water, he sensed that one day a woman in West Wales would think of him with love, and that maybe, just maybe, that was one of those tiny moments of joy. Knowing that he was loved, is loved.

We all need to know that we are loved. And we are.

There’s another moment of joy, just knowing that we are loved.

You’re irresistible

I’m should be working on my next book, but instead I’m writing to you. You are irresistible. You are! There’s something about blogging that’s warm and immediate, and you know what? You’re good company.

A little while ago I wrote in one of these blogs: 

Do I really believe that the Creator hears one piping voice in a million billion, clamouring over all the centuries? 

I believe he hears not just my words but all my unspoken thoughts, ALL my unworded longings. My silent voice. And even more than this, I believe that prayer is powerful. Not because of those who pray, but because of the one who listens. “

Now. The thing about blogs is, they’re like last week’s breakfast. You might remember what you ate this morning but you’d struggle to recall what you ate last Tuesday. Blogs don’t last. They are words spinning off into space, never to be seen again. And like a lot of breakfasts, sometimes they’re rubbish. But sometimes, as I write, I have get a tiny glimpse of new insight that I want to keep for a while, and think about.  That last sentence I read was one of those new insights:

“I believe that prayer is powerful. Not because of those who pray, but because of the one who listens. “

I don’t ever want to stop questioning my beliefs, so that set me off on a mini-study, about the God who listens. Does he really listen? Is that just a cosy churchy idea that we take easy comfort from or is it a fact? Does it stand the test of the Word? 

Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear. Isaiah 65:24

This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.1 John 5:14

If we are asking according to his will, or ‘in the `Spirit’  God will hear us? How do we do that? How does awkward, wayward, stubborn Luce pray in the Spirit of God? I looked for examples – we have the Lord’s prayer, we have the Psalms, and we have, in Ephesians, a great example of praying according to God’s will: Ephesians 1:16-19

I have never stopped thanking God for you. I pray for you constantly, asking God, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you wisdom to see clearly and really understand who Christ is and all that he has done for you. I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can see something of the future he has called you to share. I pray that you will begin to understand how incredibly great his power is to help those who believe him. 

Everything in that prayer is to the glory of God. Paul is praying for Timothy but not for wealth or even health in this case, but that Timothy will be drawn closer to God. That’s praying in the Spirit. And those words are so helpful to us when we’re praying for friends, when our own words fail. Often when we need them most, words fail us. But God has the answer, always – look;

And in the same way—by our faith—the Holy Spirit helps us with our daily problems and in our praying. For we don’t even know what we should pray for nor how to pray as we should, but the Holy Spirit prays for us with such feeling that it cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows, of course, what the Spirit is saying as he pleads for us in harmony with God’s own will. Roman 8:26-27

Maybe when words fail us completely and we are reduced to silence before God, maybe those moments are our greatest prayers, because that’s when the Holy Spirit steps in-

 My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise. Psalm 51:17

 The Lord is close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:18

Sometimes silence is prayer. I’m so glad. I find it hard to pray aloud with others, not because of shyness or anything like that, but simply because the words don’t come, the words are fluid, they swirl around in my consciousness, reaching out, reaching up, barely formulated. Praying on my own, silent and conscious of the presence of God, of course there are words but then into my mind floods a knowledge of someone I care about, and I lift them up in love, no words needed – or the grief of Ukraine comes to mind, or gratitude for the death of Jesus, and these too, seamlessly, are all lifted up, without words. He knows my thoughts before I have them, and so I offer them to him as prayer. God doesn’t require my perfect syntax, my wisdom, my amazing vocabulary, my thirteen languages (OK, one). He doesn’t need me to speak in tongues. He doesn’t need me. He loves me instead. And love accept all weakness.

 These are just my meanderings, but when I was thinking about God listening I came up with 5 jolly good reasons to pray. You may have 5 different reasons. Here’s my top five;  

  1. I pray because I’m in love with God and I want to be obedient. I pray because we are told to pray, to pray continuously, without ceasing, to pray daily, to pray humbly, to pray together, to pray alone, to pray for all we need, to pray thanks for all we have, to pray praise for all God has done. I could give you all those verses but you know them and you can find them easily enough.
  2. I pray because prayer reminds me who God is and who I am. There’s adventure in prayer, because in prayer we discover God! We discover! Un-cover. Find an aspect of God that maybe  we have never understood before. 
    Jeremiah 33:3. “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.”
    When we want to hear God, we pray. If I don’t pray it’s daft to complain that he doesn’t answer!  
  3. I pray because prayer places me, even when I’m teetering on the edge of rebellion, in a place of submission. Somehow, turning to God, puts me in a better place. It’s a balm to a troubled soul. Poetic, eh? Don’t roll your eyes at me, you know what I mean. Just turning to God is the first step in joy.
  4. You know that good old standby question when we are wondering about some course of action? “What would Jesus do?” It’s a question I occasionally ask myself (usually when I’m really tempted to go the other way) and – guess what – he would pray! Before his ministry began he prayed for 40 days, at his baptism he prayed, when he healed people, when he broke bread, when he raised Lazarus from the dead, he prayed in Gethsemane, and as he died he prayed. What would Jesus do, day to day, in good times and bad? He would pray! 
  5. And one more reason, if I need one, to pray? A selfish reason. Prayer is sublime, uplifting, our greatest joy. It’s walking with God in the Garden of Eden in the cool of the day, before sin entered the world. Prayer is reaching out a hand and finding the hand of God. Prayer is rewarding, demanding, difficult, amazingly easy, essential, intrinsic to life.  Everyday life. The ups and downs of it. 

Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. James 5:13

Martin Luther said “To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.

Prayer is an open door. It’s a time we enter, and a space we walk into. What a privilege!  There’s a sense of excitement as we approach prayer . Think for a moment of those Old Testament High Priests fasting and getting all robed up, hours of ritual, then having a rope tied around them, before they entered the Holy of Holies, the Sanctuary. Just one man, once a year, on the Day of Atonement, stepping into the presence of God… terrified, knees shaking. The rope was there to pull his body out if God struck him dead! Hah! That was before Christ. And now, now? Because of Jesus we step into his presence, God’s presence and reality,  with confidence and trust. Right now. Whenever. Wherever.

Doesn’t that just delight you?

 Some love praying with a prayer partner, or in groups, or in a whole great echoing cathedral. Some love praying in the forest, sitting in the garden, chanting soulfully in a hallowed abbey, striding down Oxford Street with a sandwich board and a loud hailer. One of my favourite prayer times is on the beach, another is driving on the open road, and another is sitting at my table, with music playing, and a glass of wine in my hand. Why not? Jesus dined with sinners. 

Prayer is every moment of the Christian’s life, when that life is submitted to God. 

Yep. It was a good thought, that blog thought of a few days ago…..

‘Prayer is powerful not because of those of who pray, but because of the one who listens.’

Publication Day!

A friend reminded me that today my Do Drama book is published. He heard from the fb post of another friend, and I don’t know how she knew. I’m supposed to be flooding social media with self promotion. Easier said than done. I have – I think – 8 followers on Instagram, and probably the same on fb (three of them are granddaughters) so it’s not so much a flood as a trickle.

And then there’s you, so, dutifully, here goes –

Other books are available

It seems that I’m as good on social media as I am at business generally. I just hate this self-promotion thing. Just hate it. Don’t get it. Wouldn’t it be great if money didn’t make the world go around? If we had no need of it? If each of us had a skill we could barter for the things we need in life, like in the old days? ‘Need’, not ‘want’. Maybe then I would have ditched the written word to learn something useful like weaving, or rearing goats, or growing mushrooms.

Still feeling a bit queasy and dizzy, I went to lie down at lunchtime, and immediately, I mean IMMEDIATELY, I had these three sitting on my shoulders, chest and tummy. Actually those little paws in my torso seemed to help. A sort of satisfyingly painful massage.

Beady eyes and whiskery chins. And that’s just me.

It’s a lovely Spring day, the sun is streaming in, and as I was lying there I was watching a wasp in the rooflight. All that sunshine, all those miles of countryside just half an inch away, hillsides white with daises, roadsides shimmering with bluebells, and that poor wasp was battering himself against my window, hopelessly. He has maybe two or three days of life and tomorrow it’s going to rain. Did you know that wasps are immensely valuable to the world? They eat the aphids and tiny creatures that devour roots and mangle leaves. We all make a big fuss of bees, loving them and protecting them and all that, but wasps – their much misunderstood cousins – are more sinned against than sinning.

Poor wasp. Such a short life to spend hours battering against a pane of glass, bewildered.

I found myself trying to work out how to help him – I could get the vacuum cleaner, turn it to ‘blow’ instead of ‘suck’, climb up a step ladder, and gently blow him away and out into the big warm world. If I knew how to turn the machine from suck to blow, and had a step ladder, and could climb it, and had an extension cord to reach the plug and… and… and..

But I don’t have any of those things so I stayed there, sympathising with the wasp, and absolutely no earthly use to him, with the dogs pinning me down, as the world carried on regardless.

That has to be a metaphor for something.

Do you ever hear me complain?

Oh, man, I have been at death’s door. I have suffered. Let me count the ways…. let me give you the gory details, at length, of my suffering on this Earth. No, maybe not. In shorthand, then, I have been quite ill. Proper poorly as they say up north.

The point is not the suffering (man, it was bad!) but my reaction to it. We (dogs and me) have been housebound for days on end, blinds down, door locked, unseen and unseeing, and it was only yesterday that I managed to take them out so that they could at least get a change of scenery, even if an actual walk wasn’t involved.

The sun was shining, the sky was huge and wonderful, it was a Bank Holiday so there were quite a few people around and, sometimes, West Wales is lovely.

That sounds great, doesn’t it? But as I left home, my soul wasn’t in a good place. I felt ill, in pain, tired and alone and just plain fed up. I couldn’t see the point. Of anything. Seriously. You know, I never imagined that I would end up here. I didn’t. I’ve been a wife and a mum and a grandma, busy busy busy, living in England, up and down to London, working with huge teams of people, supporting parents and daughter and employing people and all that, a helter-skelter sometimes messy life, and now I’m alone and doing nothing. For no one. With no one. In six years it’s all gone to hell in a handcart. Weird, eh? But this is where God has been leading me, so am I going to complain and moan?

Well, yeah. Of course I am. Don’t be daft.

I have my moments with God. He gets an earful occasionally. And a mega earful yesterday. Five miles of steadily building complaint, as I drove through the village, along the main road, through the town, down towards the sea.

When I arrived at a shingle beach, parked up and found a nearby rock to sit on, I was in full flood of righteous indignation. I had no sense of his displeasure as my rant grew. There was no guilt trip or thunderbolt from heaven. He just let me rip, and then brought one single verse to mind that sorted it all out for me…. it was as I looked out over this scene….

that I remembered a verse from Isaiah

Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand,
    or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens?

And I remembered God. Simply, I remembered God. And the gripes, whinges, moans and wheedling went…. what did I have to moan about? In this world, on this shore, on that day, with my dogs… what did I have to moan about? Out of nothing God created everything. As a writer I respond to good writing, and when it springs into my mind, it’s as if I’m reading the words… this is Psalm 19, not good writing but great writing

The heavens declare the glory of God;
    the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
    night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
    no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
    their words to the ends of the world.
In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.
 It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,
    like a champion rejoicing to run his course.

Let me tell you about the scene down there on May Bank Holiday; I think that it’s easy to buy into the myth that all children now are interested only in screen time but yesterday gave the lie to that – there were youngsters in wet suits larking about in the muddy channels of the estuary, others on paddle boards, a multi-generational family was crabbing on the pontoon, teenagers were kayaking, and of course there were children of all shapes and sizes running with their dogs, and playing in the rocks.

There were more mature people too; in the distance on the mud flats, there were elderly men, ‘mucking about in boats’, some were washing decks, some fiddling with engines, two chaps in the harbour master’s rib were trying (for hours!) to get the outboard going. Three elderly women passed by, one was like a character out of Miss Marple, all flowery cottons and a floppy sun hat (it wasn’t that hot!) and white sandals, and the others were in bright pink and starling electric blue tops and white trousers. They talked and laughed as they picked their uncertain way across the shingle, grabbing at each other for support. Lovely. Made your heart glad to see them. Like a Beryl Cooke trio. They found a place to sit, on the grubby old pontoon and proceeded to unpack an elaborate picnic. That scene was a gift, dropped into my lap. I’m so glad we have moments like this to enjoy. We don’t have to be part of it, just seeing those moments can be enough, hearing laughter, distant shouts, the splashes and yells of children, their delight as another tiny muddy crab was caught, the chatter of three old ladies, the blokes doing blokish things… it fed my grizzled soul.

When I came home I looked up that verse – it’s Isaiah 40:12, but that whole chapter is so full of Theological truth, so full of God, so full of life. Man, it’s amazing. I’ve just read it again. So good.

Isaiah is my go-to Old Testament book but I also find myself returning time and again to the Book of Job. Job, now there was one totally honest man! No side to him. He probably wouldn’t have been a revered elder in a local church, far too honest. Too spiky. Not for him the pious ‘right thing to say’. He wasn’t great with words, he didn’t set out to put anyone right, he didn’t swerve and dodge, or present his best side to the world…. and he was ready to have a serious word with his Creator. Listen to what he says in chapter 24

Even today my complaining is bitter. His (God’s) hand is heavy even when I cry inside myself.  If only I knew where to find Him, that I might go where He is!  I would tell Him how things are with me, and my mouth would be ready to argue.  I would know His answer, and could think about what He would say to me.  Would He go against me using His great power? No, He would listen to me.  There a man who is right could reason with Him. And I would be set free by my Judge.’

I love that Job is unafraid to complain, knowing that God listens, hears us, and sets us free. Free of what? I suppose of whatever is grinding our wheels right then.

 So I am afraid to be with Him. When I think about it, I am very afraid of Him.  God has made my heart weak. The All-powerful has filled me with fear.  But I am not made quiet by the darkness or the deep shadow which covers my face.”

Don’t you just cheer at the honesty of the man? Yep, he’s fearful of God, he’s in awe of Him, but he’s ‘not made quiet by the darkness’. Kind of undefeated.

When I arrived at that shingle beach yesterday, I was full of rebellion. I even told God that I have lost enough people and been to enough bloody funerals and that the only one I will attend in the future will be my own. All snarled up in a mare’s nest of confusion and loneliness, but by the time I left, he had set me free.

This all might seem like I’m great at remembering Bible verses but I’m not. I’m not a Bible scholar, it’s just that some passages resonate. There’s a verse in Jeremiah 15 that I’m taking out of context, because the imagery is so strong that I can’t resist it ‘

When your words came, I ate them;
    they were my joy and my heart’s delight,
for I bear your name,
    Lord God Almighty.

The Word of God is more than great poetry, or writing, or wisdom. It’s life. It’s now.

PS
Hey, something really strange happened last night. In an email to a pal I said that I hoped his road ahead was becoming clearer to him. Our thoughts are prayers, eh? Maybe that was what I was thinking about as I fell asleep, I don’t know, those last minutes in the day are lost in drowsiness, but this morning as I woke up I had such a clear thought, something outside of me, simply saying “The road will rise up to meet him.”
That’s an old Irish blessing for a journey ‘May the road rise up to meet you”
Was it my all too human sub-conscious, or was it an assurance from God, an answer to my prayer?

So there you go, bloggers all, may the road rise up to meet you.

Life Story

I’ve been told that I should write a book about the people I meet on the beach. I’m not going to, but their stories could certainly fill a few blogs; this morning I met Tom (not his real name), he’s about my age, maybe a bit older, and lives just 100 yards from the beach in a small wooden house that his mother bought for £300 many years ago. He’s had an adventurous life, travelled the world as a sailor, spent years in the far West of Canada, still owns a huge old (very old) wooden cabin cruiser, and he now has leukaemia. He ricochets around the countryside in a battered old pick-up, his garden is full of boats and engines and paraphernalia, and he’s a cheerful and busy bloke, rueful about his disease but undefeated. If you’re reading this in the UK I can best describe him as a slimmed down version of the old Captain Birdseye. Most days he ambles slowly across the small beach to the water’s edge, where he stands for a few moments before returning home, leaning on a rather nifty, highly polished cane. This morning he told me that when he was walking in Canada, many years ago, on a mountain path, he spotted a slender piece of wood in a tangle of saplings and undergrowth. The length of it, about a metre, was absolutely straight and unblemished, as if it had been planed or turned, and at the top there was a graceful curved handle, with a stubby thumb continuing the straight run for maybe an inch. Something about this simple piece of wood spoke to Tom, as if it was asking him to take it home, so he did. It was crying out to be used as a walking stick but, of course, young and fit and strong as he was, he had no need of one. Why then did he take it? For some reason he did and for years it stood in the corner of the room, and occasionally he would sit and polish it, not knowing why, just enjoying the warmth of the wood, the straight lines, the grain. When he returned to the UK it slipped easily into a corner of his packing case and so it made the journey across the ocean. Now, about fifty years later, that simple piece of wood has come into its own, and when he wanders down to the sea each day he carries it almost jauntily, putting it down at each step with a tiny defiant swagger, as if to say ” Here I am – not finished yet”. This morning he showed me the curve of the handle, and gave me the story he’s woven around it;

“In its first winter, when it was no more than a sapling, the weight of the Canadian snow made it bow down, just at the tip, where the growth was newest, so that it curved over and became this handle. See? But then, in the spring, a shoot grew out of it, on the angle…. this little nub of wood, see?” and his old hands smoothed the glowing wood and his eyes sparkled, meeting mine “And then I came along that mountain path. And now here we are. “

I like that story. I like that it shrinks the world and the years, that a mountain walk has lasted a lifetime, that the vital young heart of so many years ago still beats in the frail old man lost in memories, and that today, under a billowing Welsh sky, I held a tiny piece of Canada in my hands and thought of friends who are there right now.

I like that a tiny moment can bridge half a century, conjure up a man’s history, bring two strangers together, vividly bringing those we love to mind, and so become a fleeting prayer. Sometimes a tiny moment is so weighted with wonder that there are no words.

In the dunes, a few feet from where we stood, there are rare orchids, so rare that people travel miles just to see them. They’re hard to find, lost in the ever changing pattern of sand dunes, under grasses and gorse, it takes time and patience and a readiness to fail to search them out, but they are beautiful. The world doesn’t rave about them, there is no price on them, if they’re taken from their hiding place they die, and when their season is over no one mourns them. But when they are here, they are enough. Do you know the poem ‘She dwelt among untrodden ways” by William Wordsworth? It’s worth reading, and I’ll tag it on to this blog (ignore the ‘Lucy’ bit!). I’m adding it for friends who are going through grief at the moment, two have lost their mothers, another has lost her husband, and a mother has lost her son – the last verse of that poem is for them, surely.

Sometimes the days seem full of meaning, too full for this writer to find the words. Among all the shrapnel and mayhem of this broken world, there are perfect jewels, sometimes so small we might pass by, not seeing them. Sometimes as small as a walking cane, or a hidden flower. Sometimes as small as a long life, lived well, a small life that leaves so much love in its wake. It’s good to pause and remember with gratitude and wonder.

She Dwelt among the Untrodden Ways
William Wordsworth

She dwelt among the untrodden ways
Beside the springs of Dove,
A Maid whom there were none to praise
And very few to love:

A violet by a mossy stone
Half hidden from the eye!
—Fair as a star, when only one
Is shining in the sky.

She lived unknown, and few could know
When Lucy ceased to be;
But she is in her grave, and, oh,
The difference to me!

Life off grid.

A friend has just had her fb account hacked. I think that means that everyone who was on her account as a friend is now also hacked so I checked my account and I have 17 people asking to be friends with me. This is bonkers. Some of them I don’t know, some I do know but really don’t have anything in common with, and some – I suppose – will be hackers, ie not the people they are pretending to be. That’s crazy. So I’m coming off Facebook.

I’m toying with the idea of ditching my mobile phone completely. Would that be mad? Would that simplify or complicate life? Answers on a postcard…. has anyone done this? Ditched the mobile?

If we look back to pre-mobile times, there are things that just couldn’t have happened if we had possessed the instant communication we have now. It’s certainly mucked up contemporary drama, where everything is solved by tracking mobiles or downloading phone records, (or that other drama squib, DNA). I suppose that period dramas will soon be more attractive to thriller writers, where detection can depend on dogged sleuthing and the gradual unrolling of a plot, rather than a single phone call to an IT expert.

Nowadays, because of mobiles, we can never be sure who we’re speaking to but, paradoxically, neither can we ever escape each other. Weird. If you have a phone, you can be found, you can always know where your partner is, they can always know where you are. If you’re not sure which flour you’re supposed to buy in Tescos, you don’t have to think about it – just press a single button and you can say “Was it plain or self-raising?’ and you don’t even have to say who you are because your picture has popped up on the screen of the person you’re calling. It’s all very strange.

I type something about a carpet, and an ad for floor coverings pops up.

There used to be an ad for cigarettes ‘You’re never alone with a Marlboro’. Well, you really are never alone with a mobile phone. Amazon and Google and goodness knows who else is following you. And yet, somehow, it’s so impersonal that it makes us more alone than we ever were.

George used to joke that we should never get a sheepdog because you should never have a dog that’s more intelligent than its owner. That’s a bit like how I feel about my iPhone ; I get into my car and there’s suddenly a voice echoing the words of Jesus. Am I having a stroke? No, the phone in my pocket has paired with my car and it’s David Suchet reading the New Testament, the last thing I listened to as I went to sleep last night. I didn’t even turn it on. I certainly didn’t pair it with the car. It just blinkin’ decided to do it.

Thinking about the changes mobile phones have brought reminded me of a family I knew back in the ‘good old days’ (the family of my first husband, Rob) who were so chaotic and so impulsive that every thing they turned to became a funny or frustrating or frankly disastrous adventure. Rob was driven to distraction by their miscommunications and misunderstandings. Just like modern dramas, their lives would have been very different if they had been able to text ….. and that made me think of the Woolwich Ferry day. 

It was someone’s birthday, Rob’s mum’s I think, in the late 1960’s and the whole family was going to celebrate together. There was a bit of humming and hawing about where we should meet but eventually, after a few mild arguments and slammed doors, accusations of utter selfishness and that sort of thing, it was agreed that the Essex crew would come down from Chelmsford, we would travel up from Kent collecting Mum and Pop from Kingston on the way and Rob’s sister and family would make their own way from Ealing (with the inevitable few dogs) and we would all meet up in Woolwich. At the ferry.

The plan was to meet at the ferry terminal at 11am, and from there walk to the Common, to picnic, fly a kite, play football and do all the usual family-outing things. Although everyone would be on foot, Woolwich Ferry had become a roll-on/roll-off service, and Pop hankered to see how it worked (he was an ex merchantman after all) so we arrived early so that Pop could have a ‘go’ on the very unromantic lump of metal he insisted on calling a boat…. and we happily went across and back and across and back to please him (it was just a ten minute, two boat service- maybe it still is). At eleven o clock, we looked around but no one else had turned up.

After waiting for a couple more ferry landings, Pop decided, unfettered by logic, that the arrangements had been misunderstood and that everyone else was waiting on the other side of the crossing. So we stepped back on the ferry and headed north again. It must have been about then – when we were on the water – that the Ealing contingent arrived at the south ferry terminal, a good half an hour late. Seeing no one else there they decided that we all must have already headed off for the park – so that’s what they did. Unfortunately as they set off for the park, we were heading to the north end of the crossing while the Chelmsford branch of that chaotic family were heading towards the south. At some point, the two boats crossed and we saw each other and waved frantically, gesticulating across the noise of the engines and the wind. Each of us was pointing to ourselves and to the bank we would meet on, shouting (probably) the same thing, ie ‘You stay there and we’ll find you’ Of course, none of us could hear each other and while we waited on one side, they waited on the other.

It was then decided that Mum and Pop would take the next ferry, with me and Rob staying on the north side, so that we could relay the correct information if the Essex crew came back. Afterwards Pop always maintained that there were another two crossings before we all arrived on the same bank, but I don’t think it was quite that bad… or maybe it was. Anyway, we finally managed landfall on the same side, at the same time, and there we waited for the Ealing contingent, growing ever more annoyed, finding a phone box and ringing their home number in case they’d forgotten. The phone of course rang out with no answer, and we must have waited for another hour or so before giving up and walking to the park.

According to family legend it was 2pm by the time we all met, and by then Pop was dizzy with hunger and Mum claimed to be seasick. I don’t remember flying the kite or playing football, but I do remember that there was a whole lot of teasing, that the dogs were completely manic, that Pop’s shoulders shook with laughter all day long, and his false teeth slipped, that the sandwiches were left in a rubbish bin and we all had fish and chips to warm up.

That was a day out with the Elliotts.  Nowadays, there is no confusion in my life, but I could do with a bit. I could do with a few slammed doors and heated discussions about whose fault it was, and who said what, and I could do with a bit of laughter and some fish and chips (in newspaper please!) and I’d quite like someone like dear old Pop in my life. There’s a lot to be said for a bit of chaos.

Yes. Maybe I’ll ditch the mobile.

But then there’s the texts and photos I get from the grandchildren… and messages from Lynn….. and my youngest granddaughter and I do Wordle together every day (she quite often beats me) and Sandra has started doing it too…. and I like to listen to Lectio 365 on the beach every morning… and… and…. David Suchet is such a wonderful reader. I would really miss all that.

The spirit is willing but the flesh is exceedingly weak. And then there’s the iPhone camera…..

Hmmm…. I think I better think it out again!

Crash landing!

I may have told you that I wouldn’t be posting any more of my next book, but you’ve all persuaded me, just one more mini chapter. Then no more. Absolutely.

I don’t have many memories of life when my mother was alive. She died when I was 7 and the only mental pictures I have of her are stolen from black and white photos, not real memories at all. But while I don’t remember her, I do remember some moments, some places and incidents from those years. My first memory, in 1952/3,  is dramatic.

We had been airborne only an hour or so, as far as I remember. It was an Army transport plane, no frills, a big payload space below us somewhere but, in the cabin, seats and a basic crew who served only sandwiches and tea.

I was with the other small children at the front of the cabin, in a space that had been cleared for us, seats removed, sitting on the floor, surrounded by crayons and colouring books. The older ones, my brothers included, were reading comics, or talking, or bickering, playing hangman, already bored. The mums were at the back of the plane, probably (I think now) worn out by the early start, leaving our married quarters, piling onto the buses, rounding up tired children whenever we had stopped for toilet breaks, waiting for what seemed like hours at the airport, before boarding – at last – the plane that was taking us to the regiment’s next posting in Cyprus. I can imagine now that this was a lull in the mothers’ horribly busy day, a time for just sitting, or chatting, or grabbing a doze. 

I don’t know who saw it first. It was certainly one of the older children, and it may even have been Martin, my brother. At 14, along with the other teenagers, he had the job of baby-sitting the rest of us. I was just four, so I don’t remember feeling any alarm at all, just interest, as if this, too, along with the colouring books, had been arranged to keep us occupied. 

An engine on our four prop plane was on fire. 

The news was shared first by the teens, in a sort of muted awe. We clambered on seats to look out of the window. Because of the shape of the plane, we couldn’t see the engine, but we could see the wing and the smoke, and the blur of part of a propeller that seemed to cut through the guttering flames. It was nowhere near as exciting as the teenagers were making out. Their voices were shrill and loud. One of them went to the adults to tell them, but his mother simply nodded, barely breaking from her conversation. The news bringer was insistent. He was pointing back down the plane, to the right wing, his eyes huge and his mouth open… still no one took any notice. Now we were all looking, not at the fire, but at the mothers, and some had gone back to poke their own Mums, to relay the news. One woman put her arm out, pulling her daughter towards her, comfortingly, but still listening to some anecdote, still deaf to our growing excitement. The flames were a bit more impressive now, and there was a trail of thick smoke whipping away into the sky.  The women remained blind and deaf to the urgency and the gradually mounting sense of fear. 

And then a member of the crew came into the cabin, a strong male voice above the hum of the engines, the laughter and chat, and at last heads were turned. An engine was on fire. The extinguisher had failed, but there was nothing to worry about. We had three other engines. One of the younger mums, holding her baby, said ‘But if you can’t put it out and it spreads?” The answer was controlling, managing, “We’ll land at Orly airport in about ten minutes. There’s no need for any concern.”

As we returned to our seats and were strapped in, as the crew instructed us to tuck our heads into our chests when the order came, as everything that was loose was stowed away, the fire spread to the other engine on that wing. Martin, tall enough to see what was going on, kept us fully informed, describing the flames and smoke growing thicker, fiercer, and now there didn’t seem to be any movement from either prop….maybe the engines had dropped off… maybe the wing was going to drop off… finally someone told him, quite forcibly, to give the running commentary a rest. 

The plane was full of children and mothers, but we were Army brats and Army wives and there was no panic. Concern, and a resigned rueful sense of ‘More bloody queueing up then, more waiting around. I hope there’s a cup of tea at the end of it.’ 

The crash landing was impressive. As the plane made its approach, the order came to brace ourselves, so we didn’t see the runway coming up to meet us, but as soon as we’d felt the crash,  jolt and bounce of the landing, every head was raised and Martin shouted excitedly to look, and so we did, those of us who could crane high enough to see….  As our plane sped down the runway, on one side of us (my side) there was a convoy of fire engines, racing alongside us, not keeping up with us, but there, in attendance, impressive. On the other side, I learned later, the side where we would be evacuating there was a similar convoy of ambulances. 

I would love to tell you what it was like, evacuating that plane. I would love to tell you how mothers gathered children, and grabbed their belongings, how cabin crew carried babies, how we escaped through hastily opened doors, tumbling onto canvas chutes…. But I can’t remember that bit. 

Memories that are 68 years old have blurred edges, but the central image, the event, is crystal clear. Frozen in time. I just wish with all my heart that I could remember my mother, she’s there, at the edge, almost real, almost Mary Gannon.

A quiet Welsh night

Tonight is a vigil. Tonight, on the eve of Easter Sunday, I’m taking all the thoughts and cares I have and placing them before the God of everything. A night of prayer. There is no limit, no prescription and no proscription for prayer. Prayer is life, submission. A breath can be a prayer, a life lived for God is prayer. My whole life is very obviously not solid wall-to-wall prayer – you know me, I stumble and fumble along – but tonight, tonight is a prayer. From beginning to end. Or as long as I can stay awake (the heart is willing but the body is weak). This blog? A prayer. This breath? A prayer. This clumsy finger plonking on the key board? A prayer.

Prayer can be a decision.

Staying awake, under a wide deep black Welsh sky is prayer, if we stay awake with God.

He is in my thoughts and in my heart, he is in all my experience so I don’t have to recite a list of all my wants, dutifully working through the friends who are at this moment in desperate need of his comfort. He knows. Just as I am aware of those I love, and of the terrible chaos of the world, of those who are grieving and those who are dying, and those who keep watch over them, he knows my heart. I don’t need to find the right words.

My prayer is that those who are in need will love him more and more, know him better, hold him closer, be conscious of his presence and his peace, that they will glorify him whatever they’re going through right now, buoyed up by him, and that their devotion will grow. I don’t take this to God in words because we don’t need words to pray. Prayer is above and beyond words. You need words – you’re reading a blog after all. And I need words, here they are… so many words…. going on and on…. but God needs no words. He knows.

He is the God who created the immeasurable Cosmos, who made the Sun so large that over a million planet Earths could fit inside it, who made the Moon to bring us gravity and tides, who hurtles our little planet through space at 1000 miles an hour. He’s the God who brought me into the world, and you, and who will take us from it one day. He knows the synapses and the neurones and the neutron transmitters of every wonderful, mysterious human brain. He hears the cacophony of a billion voices raised in prayer. Do I really believe that the Creator hears one piping voice in a million billion, clamouring over all the centuries?

I do. So there.

I believe he hears my unspoken thoughts, my unworded longings. My silent voice. And even more than this, I believe that prayer is powerful. Not because of those who pray, but because of the one who listens.

Tonight friends are holding their own vigil, as a dearly loved wife and mother gradually slips away into another life, into death. Their night vigil may take days or even weeks, and so they’re uppermost in my thoughts. Good thoughts though, completely trusting thoughts, I have no fear on their behalf, knowing he has them safe…. they love God, and where there is love there is no fear. ‘For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ Romans 8:38/39

But the end of life can be distressing and painful, so it’s a hard hard time for these friends, just as it’s a hard time for Ukraine, for all the frightened and grieving people over there. Just as it’s a hard time for all those in sickness and mourning the world over. In this life we will have trouble. What was the next phrase? Ah yes, “But take heart, for I have overcome the world.”

Tonight, because I am old and have no call on my time, this is a vigil. We don’t all have the privilege and luxury of night-long prayer, indeed I may find in a few hours that the brain has ground to a halt and my eyes are closing. I make no promises! But these retirement years are a good time for prayer and meditation, for timelessness. Every life and season in life is different. In the daily round children need to be fed, work needs to be done, sleep needs to be slept and even silly jokes need to be joked. But we can do all these things as prayers. That may all sound more diluted than a silent vigil in an Easter night, but they’re just the same to God. He knows our hearts, he knows our longings, and he honours them.

You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
    you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.

Psalm 51:16/17

Our God, our wonderful God.

God stretches out heaven over empty space and hangs the earth upon nothing. He wraps the rain in his thick clouds, and the clouds are not split by the weight.  He shrouds his throne with his clouds. He sets a boundary for the ocean, yes, and a boundary for the day and for the night. The pillars of heaven tremble at his rebuke. And by his power the sea grows calm; he is skilled at crushing its pride! The heavens are made beautiful by his Spirit; he pierces the swiftly gliding serpent. These are some of the minor things he does, merely a whisper of his power. Who then can withstand his thunder?
Job 26:7-14

Tomorrow is Easter Sunday. The day we remember the resurrection of Christ, our image of eternal life, the life he has given to everyone who turns to him. The life he gives us even as we are dying, the life he gives us even as we are grieving. The life he is holding out to all of us.

I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.
John 10:28

Beachy Head 1973

The next (and last) snippet from my next book, again taken from my first marriage:

We had our adventures. At the time they didn’t seem like adventures but looking back, comparing my life then to my life now… they were adventures and I’m glad for them. There was the time when Rob decided, with no warning and no reason, that we would camp out on Beachy Head on Christmas Eve. Great idea! To hell with convention, with the boring traditions of family and food and endless telly. We would break free and do our own thing.

We packed up our brand new Reliant Robin (three wheel van, fibreglass, needing only a motorbike’s road tax) with sleeping bags, an old but much loved tent, camping stove, grub, wine and other essentials (chocolates, crisps, camera) in the back and set off.

She was just like this and we loved her!

When we left the Miss Behave the weather was fair to middling; it wasn’t raining, it wasn’t too cold and it wasn’t too windy.  By the time we arrived at Beachy Head, ricocheting down the country lanes (the Reliant Robin could be shifted sideways by the lightest breeze) the weather had progressed from middling to a bit threatening. With an eye on the glowering horizon, and remembering how many Robins were blown over in every storm, Rob turned off the road onto a track, and after about a quarter of a mile he parked the van in the corner of a field, in the lea of a hill and we lugged all our kit up the last stretch of hillside. That stretch of hillside was a lot longer than we had expected, and it took us the best part of an hour. I was beginning to think we’d overshot Birling Gap and were going to find ourselves  in Eastbourne when at last we were there. Fabulous Beachy Head. 160 yards above sea level, and even in the gloom we could see the chalk cliff face shining brilliant white, a beacon of hope for so many. 

The tent was a two man bivouac thing. You know, a serious camping tent for serious campers, but it was old and a few guy ropes were missing and it looked a lot cosier from the outside than it felt on the inside.  The weather was pretty wretched by now, but Rob was a past master at denying the bleedin’ obvious and I was his cheerleader, so we congratulated ourselves on knowing better than all those stay-at-home telly watching idiots, clinked our plastic wine glasses under the billowing canvas, and shouted above the wind, ‘Here’s to a fabulous Christmas!”  

Christmas on Beachy Head is not amazingly balmy. The rain there is particularly wet and the wind is a million violins tuning up in an echo chamber. At about 3am Rob admitted defeat and we flailed around in the dark, gathering up the now soaking and not – after all – waterproof canvas, scrambling to shove food and kit into flapping plastic bags,  tripping over the trailing guy ropes as we stumbled blindly down the hillside to the comparative comfort of the little Robin. Maybe we didn’t take the shortest route because it seemed to take half the night to reach it, but what a great relief to reach shelter, slamming the doors on the raging storm, hearing its fury now muffled and ‘out there’. We slept in the seats, because the back was full of our soaking gear, and every now and again Rob would turn the engine on to give us a blast of something akin to warm air. We fell asleep at about five. 

At seven we were awake. Christmas Day!  I got the camp stove going, a celebration breakfast of bacon and eggs, and it seemed at last that this was a great way to celebrate. It was a lovely morning, cold and windy but bright, with scudding clouds in a brilliant sky. Even Rob didn’t want to walk all the way back up to the cliff edge to see the sea, so we agreed to head off into Brighton, for a more sedate walk along the promenade. Breakfast done, coffee drunk, feeling returning to feet and fingers, we packed the van again, sorting out the worst of the mess in the back, and clambered aboard. There were two problems. One was that the battery was now flat and the engine wouldn’t start. Rob said “No worries, we’ll push her onto the road and get her going downhill.” That, of course, is one of the great advantages of a fibreglass vehicle, it’s very light. Our second problem however was that we, and all our camping gear, were not light at all, and we’d been in the van all night, as the rain steadily softened the earth below our three wheels. Now the decision to park at the bottom of a rising field, behind a hedge, where all the run-off would gather, didn’t seem so great. We were stuck, well and truly. The single wheel at the front was deep in mud, and the more we pushed the deeper she sank, wedge-like. Bum. We unloaded everything from the van to lighten it, but still no luck, the more we pushed, the worse it was.

This was 1973, before mobile phones, but we were only a couple of miles from the nearest village, East Dean, so it wasn’t too terrible. It was just a shame we weren’t absolutely sure which direction to take down the winding lanes. And was the AA recovery service even working on Christmas Day? We could only hope so. Rob set off to find a phone box, it started raining again, and I tried to cover all our belongings, lying in the open now, with the useless tent. 

Unfortunately, Rob had forgotten to take the Ordnance Survey map with him and I knew he wouldn’t remember our (rough, very rough) grid reference, so I set off after him, map in hand. When I came to the end of the muddy track I realised that I had no idea which way he would have gone, left or right, so I returned, swearing quite loudly, to the van. 

Rob came back, alone, at about 11. The AA were coming! Hurrah! After an hour or so, help arrived. Nearly. We watched from our damp field as the little yellow van came into sight, drew quite near and then went past, to vanish over the horizon. It came back, drove past us again, and vanished between the high hedges in the other direction. By this time we were monosyllabic, barely grunting and Neanderthal. I walked along the track to the road to flag the AA man down the next time he came along. He didn’t come along. For ages he didn’t come along. And when he did (well past Christmas Dinner Time) he didn’t resemble the friendly, smiling, saluting AA man of the TV adverts in any way at all. He didn’t quite call us bloody idiots but the sense of it hung in the air around him.

We arrived home in the early evening and went to bed. That was Christmas 1973. 

Parlo Italiano?

About 4 years ago I wrote 5 x 15 minute monologues for BBC Radio, which were transmitted, one each day of Holy Week (Monday to Friday) on Radio 4, then repeated in the evenings. They were an exploration of the role Judas Iscariot played in the death of Jesus Christ, told from his perspective, in his voice. And of course it was all just my imaginings of what Judas might have gone through at that terrible time.

Tonight, in a beautiful, lofty church in Rome a group of enthusiastic young and not so young adults are presenting ‘Judas’… or, as they have it, ‘La Passione di Giuda: la voce dei protagonisti’

The piece has been given a new lease of life, in Rome, in or near the Vatican, translated by Fr Salvatore Sessa (that’s him, above), and I am so tickled to think that will be heard in another language , in another country. It reminds me of my last blog – God is not limited by time or distance… and obviously not by language either!

A very grainy photo of the video on my Mac.

So, if you speak Italian, and want to meet this cheerful gang (and see a beautiful Italian church) head to

https://nam12.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3Dpz0hfhb9MSc%26feature%3Dyoutu.be&data=04%7C01%7C%7C122aab47c1c64ca79d5508da1ae4c235%7C84df9e7fe9f640afb435aaaaaaaaaaaa%7C1%7C0%7C637851867057689493%7CUnknown%7CTWFpbGZsb3d8eyJWIjoiMC4wLjAwMDAiLCJQIjoiV2luMzIiLCJBTiI6Ik1haWwiLCJXVCI6Mn0%3D%7C3000&sdata=KnxeLVgPw48Qfh0BpBt%2Bn6y%2BQ4nx9IGHTnyK7rpYalM%3D&reserved=0

And a few more stills, stolen from my Mac

The sound desk

Fr Salvatore Sessa
Setting up