Unnamed

There are many roads to the top of the mountain.

Some are easy, most are hard.

The view from the summit is the same.

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Snail Camp

Here we are at Cruachan Farm Campsite just outside Killin in Perthshire for our second Snail Camp.

We arrived yesterday afternoon, 8 people and 7 dogs. Time was spent, as it often is in Killin, sitting outside the Falls of Dochart pub with a pint of excellent Inveralmond Brewery real ale, whilst admiring the actual Falls of Dochart roaring over the rocks and away under the bridge.

Followed by a meal in the Coach House and more real ale.

We rolled back to the campsite feeling very happy, very relaxed and very tired! Into the sleeping bags with the big screen firmly zipped shut against that scourge of Scottish summers, the midgies!

The dog, as usual, slept pressed up against the screen, not at all happy with this strange arrangement….

The morning dawned, grey and damp and midgy. I retired to the car to eat my breakfast.

I sat, looking out at the caravans, the wooden “pods” and the scattered tents. There are not many people outside, and those that are can be seen scratching themselves at intervals and moving into places where the breeze is catching.

We are gathering now ready to climb our first hill of the holiday – Meall nan Ptarmigan.

An Awesome Lady

2015-08-13 09.55.29This day my heart is aching. Joyce, my friend, my spiritual director, my counsellor, my guide, is at the end of her life.

Joyce retired from teaching some 20 plus years ago, not to sit back and relax, but to come from her home in Lincolnshire to the Highlands, to a tiny village on the Black Isle, to help her friend to open a retreat house. Her friend had cancer and a limited time to live.

And so the Coachhouse was born. Together they planned it, decorated, furnished and loved it.

Her friend passed away and Joyce spent the next 20 years running it, living in and welcoming retreatants from March to October, returning to her Lincolnshire home over the winter, like a bird flying south…

She always reminded me of a bird, a bright-eyed robin. She was diminutive, quiet, unobtrusive. My lasting memory is of her pottering about in the Coachhouse kitchen, stirring pans on the Rayburn, washing dishes, taking a 5 minute break to do the crossword.

You would never guess from watching her what an incredible strong person she was. She guided so many through retreats, through personal dilemma, through tears and laughter.

I would not be here writing this were it not for Joyce. When I was suffering a prolonged and intense depressive illness, exacerbated by past issues, by the betrayal of those I thought were friends and by a total failure of the psychiatric services to help me, Joyce took me into the Coachhouse and cared for me with love and compassion.

She has been more a mother to me than my own ever was. I love her dearly and am devastated by news of her.

She retired last autumn, as the Coachhouse was closing for extensive building work and refurbishment. She felt the time was right to hand over to those who had worked alongside her to bring the dream to its present point.

She left as the autumn leaves were falling and the chill of the winter snow was there in the wind. I went to her farewell party, a gathering of those closest to her, many who were grateful for her dedicated help over the years.

I managed to persuade her to have a photograph taken with me – she hated being photographed but she agreed on this one occasion!

As she left, she hugged me tightly, told me how much I meant to her, How glad she was that I was in such a good place now.  She would be back for trustee meetings, she said, and for the reopening of the Coachhouse in July.  She hoped we could meet then.

She was 84 years old. And had spent her entire retirement working for the good of others.

This past week, I had a message to let me know that she has cancer, an aggressive form that is not treatable, and that she has only a few weeks to live. Her family are caring for her. She has indicated that she would like to receive emails from those who know her, that her daughter will read out to her. I want to write but I do not know what to say.

I write this as a testament to the strongest, kindest, gentlest & most awesome woman I have ever met.

Joyce, I am holding you in prayer and in my heart. I pray that your life’s ending will be peaceful and pain free, and that you will continue on your journey beyond this world.

For me, you will forever be in the kitchen at the Coachhouse, in the garden that you loved, walking the lanes around Kilmuir, moving through the house quietly making sure that everything was in order and holding the wonderful silence you have created.

I will miss you. I will grieve for you. I will continue on my path, knowing that I know myself more fully through your ministry.

Go in peace, Joyce, to love and serve the Lord.

Amen

Tom Dooley

Tom Dooley was a tramp.
He lived high on the Staffordshire moorlands
in an old ruined shepherd’s hut.
He had patched it with salvaged wood,
with stones and mud.
He tramped the roads and tracks about,
the heathery slopes,
The groughs, the peat hags.
He wore a cap, black with age,
a coat patched and worn,
boots tied with string
and a bright chequered scarf,
incongruous colour in a sepia picture.
He built his fire of deadwood,
Of dried peat and scavenged logs.
He ate of bread and cheese, strong onions,
rabbit trapped and skinned and cleaned,
roasted on a makeshift spit.
I heard it said his real name was Colin Ralphs,
a name belonging to a life unknown.
A name given him, reminiscent of family,
childhood, school and friends,
in an age before he sought this
harsh existence,
which to him was peace.
Peace he sought after the violence,
the evil, the death, the destruction,
that he had seen in the war,
that war to end all wars.
It ended, not war, but Tom Dooley’s hopes,
desires and future promise,
driving him away to this barren place.
He took from the world a meagre living.
He gave to the world his silence.
Not once did I hear him speak,
and yet, one day, as I drove past,
he stood in the red phone box
on a crossroads miles from any house,
and he held the receiver to his ear
and he was talking…….

Tidal Wasteland

Coorlie, the cry echoes bleak across the tidal flats;
late afternoon, and autumn sun reflects in wet mud,
shimmering shades of brown & mauve,
a faint line of silver grey marks the returning sea.
Cooorlie, a thin & mournful sound,
pierces the darkening sky, skims across the no-man’s land
between the tides.
Can anything live in the wasteland?

Coooorlie, and a curved bill penetrates the ooze,
emerges triumphant with some blind & squirming creature.
Ghostly shades of sanderling flutter & dart & run out on the water’s edge,
a graceful swirling dance, partner to the creeping waters.

Coooorlie, the curlews cry, as the twilight deepens into night,
a thin chill wind begins to blow.
My steps hasten towards the lighted window and the bright new flames of fresh dry wood.

Easter Sunday. Christ is risen. He is risen indeed, Alleluia.

The long days of Lent are over; we have fasted, given up wine or chocolate, we have waved our palm crosses, heard the crowds shout Hosanna; heard those shouts change to Crucify Him!

We have walked or stumbled or wallowed our way through Holy Week….

Maundy Thursday with its ritualistic washing of feet, the stripping of the altar, the removal from church of the Holy Sacrament…

Good Friday, the hours of waiting, the church feeling abandoned: Jesus is not there….

Through Saturday & then, waking on this day, walking into church to find it bedecked in white with the flowers of Spring blooming on every surface.

The bright morning after the dark night; feeling well after a long illness; hope after despair; life after death….

He is Risen. He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia.

Mindfulness

There is a doorway in the mind;

beware you who find it and step within.

It will lead you into dark labyrinths

of circles, dead ends and hidden turns.

In four dimensions it spirals

from giddy heights to unfathomed depths,

from before time to all eternity.

 

Pause a moment,

your hand upon the latch;

will you step within?

There will be no return, traveller,

to that shallow place which

seemed to be all there was.

Once through that door you will wander

a way unseen and unknown.

 

Others you will meet along the way,

those who have succumbed

and stepped through their own secret door.

They will walk a while in tandem

but do not cling to their company

for they will leave you

and you will mourn their passing.

 

For many miles you will walk alone

through storms, through nights as dark as hell,

with ghosts and horrors

as your midnight companions.

None can reach you on that path;

they can only stand and watch,

with arms you cannot see

stretched out in love.

 

Times you will drop to your knees

exhausted, unable to crawl another inch,

unable to raise your head;

unwilling to look ahead,

unable to turn back.

What will you then, traveller?

Will you question your sanity?

Will you regret your choice

as you stood on the threshhold?

 

Beware the secret paths of the mind, traveller,

there are waterless deserts within,

dense forests and raging torrents,

hidden wells of pain,

of tears and shame and guilt.

Knives will pierce your soul

and you will bleed.

 

Why would you lift the latch, traveller,

why step onto that path

that lasts through all eternity?

Have courage!

For those who dare, for those who  yearn,

who ask, who  seek, who knock,

there are rewards beyond belief.

Sunrise follows sunset

and day comes after night.

 

Comfort and blessings you will have, traveller,

oases of peace and calm,

days of warmth and sunlight,

nights of velvet moonshine;

a rare sharing of souls, arms quick to hold

and the strength of another to lean against.

And the path you will call your own

will ensnare you with promises of wonder.

 

 

 

 

 

 

And so we come to Lent

Easter is the earliest it can be this year. And so, as soon as Candlemas was over, Ash Wednesday arrived….

And Lent is upon us, bringing the usual question: “what are you giving up for Lent this year?”

I have done my share of giving things up for Lent, some more successfully than others.

There was the year I gave up butter, eggs & milk. And my husband nobly said he would do the same. All there is to be said is never again!

And the year we gave up tea & coffee – and suffered migraine-like headaches & cramps for the first two weeks.

In recent years, I have stopped giving things up & have instead taken something on….

One year, I committed to reading the Bible – all of it. That didn’t quite work out.

More successfully, I agreed to do several hours gardening each week at a local retreat house. They benefitted from tidy borders & I found spending several hours in their lovely peaceful garden most conducive to quiet meditation.

Last year, to the great amusement of my non-church friends, I gave up church for Lent…

It started as a bit of a joke but the idea had a strange attraction. I did go to one or two services, when I was the altar server, and Palm Sunday & the Chrism Mass – but for the rest, I stayed home & spent time in prayer.

I found it a remarkably liberating experience. And, on pondering why that should be, I have decided that I do not care much for Lent.

I do not at all mind having seasons where reflection, quietness, amendment of life & waiting are prominent. Indeed one cannot celebrate all the time…

But I do not like the emphasis that the church seems to place on sin & guilt & shame. I do not like being told that I am “a miserable offender” & “not worthy to be called a child of God”.

I do not like the dirgy hymns or the sombre atmosphere; the bare church or that preoccupation with sin.

So much so that this year I am giving up….well, Lent actually…

At least, I am not keeping it in the church’s way.

It is right that we should remember our Lord’s journey to the cross. But we know the end and new beginning of the story…and so, we can follow in his footsteps knowing that we are indeed children of God, that we have been saved by his blood, that we are forgiven and loved – and we can celebrate that (but quietly, deeply & reflectively).

And that is what I will be doing over the next few weeks, spending time alone & silently, but not miserably….

Waiting for the Lord

Here am I, waiting for the Lord:

waiting, waiting…

as life and times pass by.

Here am I

waiting for the Lord.

In this ancient place of worship

where prayers are soaked into the stone;

where people come, friend and stranger,

to wait for the Lord.

Is he here? I cannot see.

Is he speaking? I cannot hear.

And so, here am I,

waiting for the Lord.

But I am one of action,

lacking the patience of saints.

I need to walk beyond this place

for there will I find the Lord.

Not in that place

but carried in my heart and soul

from the place of worship where I waited

for Him who was always within.

Looking Back to Look Forward

So here we are, nearly a week into the New Year. I am choosing, just for a moment, to look back, to Christmas, and further, to Advent. Already it seems like a lifetime ago.

Last year, I kept Advent. I did not set out to do that but, as the season progressed, I realised that Christmas had not registered for me, had not begun to impinge on the expectancy of Advent. Three weeks in and, apart from a brief outing to buy presents, I remained impervious to Christmas. Not impervious to the expectancy but to the commercialism, the endless trumpeting  about how many days are left to shop, to cram our baskets full of things we do not need and, in so doing, obscure the true meaning of the season.

The advertising that my friends, particularly those with children, complained about passed me by. I suppose it helps that I do not watch television and am not a recreational shopper!

So, for me, no angels, no tinsel, no tree, no nativity scenes, no carols….

After four weeks of quiet expectancy, of looking forward to a birth, of pondering on the lives of the patriarchs, the words of the prophets, the messages of the angels and the acceptance by Mary of God’s task for her, suddenly it was here! All in a flurry of glitter and tinsel, sparkling lights and mysterious packages; the glow of candlelight on the white of the altar linen, the lights sparkling and dancing, the ruby red wine and piled wafers speaking of life in abundance, the peal of bells and the solemn joyfulness of the organ, ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing, Glory to the newborn King…

Christmas was come, not in November, not during the weeks of Advent, but at midnight as Christmas Eve became Christmas Day and unto us is born a boy….

To everything its season, for everything its time. A time to wait,a time to listen, a time for joy, a time to be born…

Advent first, then Christmas Day and then the twelve days; the excitement of the birth followed by another time of waiting, for the wise men at Epiphany.

By which time, the old year has gone, the new year has begun and we can look back on a season lived and look forward in joy and hope.