Author: Emily J. M.

Hi, I'm Emily. Two of my closest family members struggle with chronic illness, and I watch them. That's hard, and so I write about life as a 'Watcher', what it looks like to support them and find Hope.

For us there is only the trying (August update)

And… it’s time for an August review! Sit back, grab a cookie, and enjoy. Here’s what to expect:

  • An update on Thomas Clarkson
  • Thoughts on life and growth
  • Piranesi! (or, I won a book)
  • My painting I mentioned back in July
  • What I’ve been reading lately

Thomas Clarkson

Last time I spoke about Thomas Clarkson, I wrote about all the prayer which has gone into the project, by me and by others. This month I signed a contract to publish a Thomas Clarkson children’s biography! I am very excited, and overwhelmed by God’s kindness. Just because you’re passionate about something and put a lot of work in, doesn’t mean it will succeed… and when it does, it’s such a blessing. I spent August finishing and editing the manuscript, and it is which is now safely in the hands of my proof-readers (thank you!).

We’re always growing

August was a very busy, and at times stressful month, if I’m completely honest. Difficult assignments, surprise deadlines for various assignments all converging in the same week, some exhausting health problems (nothing major, just, well… exhausting!) and a burgeoning realisation that I’m a bit over COVID.

I’m grateful to God for his kindness, even so because although life is sometimes just plain Hard, in this season I have been able to see growth. We’re always growing of course, and God is making us more like him, but it’s one thing to know this, and quite another to see it. Lately I’ve noticed that Emily a year ago, five years ago, a decade ago, would have reacted differently. I have matured – spiritually, socially and emotionally. The difficult times in my life have brought forth golden fruit, even if I couldn’t see it at the time. Nothing is in vain.

So as my birthday draws near, and I realise (as I do every year) that I am not where I expected to be, or the person I expected to become, I take heart. Because my Father in heaven is working. Slowly, but surely, he is re-making me into his likeness. It’s painful and frustrating, and it takes too long, but it’s happening. So I wait in expectation and hope.

Piranesi

As some of you might know, I’m a huge Susanna Clarke fan. Up until this year she had only ever written one novel: Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. I loved it so much, and still think about it frequently. BUT she’s written another book! And I won a competition and for an advanced copy! And I loved it!

It took me a while to get into, and it’s very different to JS&MN, but it’s the sort of book which stays with you. You go on this strange, gripping journey, and you emerge with a new understanding of the world. Would strongly recommend.

“Nearer my God to Thee”

I realised that I never showed you the painting I mentioned ages ago. So, although it was finished before August… here it is:

I really like the story of the musicians on the Titanic. I admire their courage and their steadfastness. There’s something beautiful in their decision to play a hymn to comfort others, even as the ship went down.

Reading Lately

Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine – Gail Honeyman

^ This was a lovely, heart-warming read – but what struck me most was that it was a book about healing. How often do terrible things happen to characters, only for the book to end? Or a Dark Past to be merely a plot device? That said, it’s not a book about Issues. You know, the kind which feels like it’s written so the author can tell you How Bad Drugs Are, or something. No, it’s a genuinely good book which manages to be both realistic and hilarious.

Four Quartets – T. S. Eliot

^I love Eliot’s poetry. It’s confusing and deep and absolutely beautiful. I particularly enjoyed ‘East Coker’:

“And what there is to conquer, by strength and submission, has already been discovered, once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope to emulate – but there is no competition – there is only the fight to recover what has been lost… for us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.”

East Coker – T. S. ELiot

Brideshead Revisited – Eugene Waugh

^ I expected not to like this… but I was pleasantly surprised. The writing is beautiful, the themes relatively thoughtful, and the subject matter interesting. For a book where not a lot happened, I couldn’t put it down!

The Wounded Healer – Henri Nouwen

^ Really interesting discussion of what it means to reach out to broken people when we ourselves are broken. I love his writing!

Othello – William Shakespeare

[watched, RSC, Youtube. Header image is from performance]

^ Talk about a tragedy. I generally prefer Shakespeare’s tragedies… but this was brutal. I think it was because, unlike Macbeth or Hamlet, there is no transcendent sort of aspect, which helps remove it from the every day (ie. no ghost, not witches, no prophecy, just evil, selfish men).

What about you? Read anything recently? How are you going with the whole COVID situation?

Images courtesy of https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2015/jun/12/othello-rsc-stratford-hugh-quarshie-lucian-msamati-joanna-vanderham

Hamilton! – Does your legacy matter?

[Note: My monthly ‘life’ post is due… and it will come, but enjoy this in the meantime!]

I recently (along with many others in Australia!) watched Hamilton: An American Musical when it became available online. I had heard some of the music before, but didn’t know who Alexander Hamilton was, except that he was an American and lived during the revolution. I have to admit I expected an inspirational, rags-to-riches, American Dream™ story. 

Instead I was introduced to a rather selfish, ambitious, and at times un-likeable man and his idealistic, patient wife Eliza. Alexander does Great Things, but when his life is snatched from him too early, it is his wife who ends up fulfilling his dreams. And you know what? It was just what I needed. Because I want to be an Eliza, but I know I am too often an Alexander.

(more…)

Something accidentally beautiful (July update)

Happy July! Grab some chocolate and settle in for a read. Here’s what to expect:

  • A Thomas Clarkson update
  • My review of Upright – an Australian drama
  • 1st week back at Bible College
  • What I’ve been reading lately

Prayer + Thomas Clarkson

I feel I have walked through several valleys and over several hills with Mr. Thomas Clarkson since I last wrote. I sent a proposal to a publisher; I returned to the 21st century for a week; and then I drafted the rest of the biography. I wrote an article on what I’ve learnt from his life; I fielded several emails regarding potential publication; – and I’ve prayed, and prayed and prayed.

Prayed for words and wisdom to write. Prayed for honesty and truth in my sentences. Prayed that the story would bless many, for the hearts of future readers. Prayed against my own ego. Prayed for publication. Evening and morning I’ve handed the story over to God: it is Yours, it is Yours, it is Yours!

An answer will come soon, and so I wait and pray. It is Yours.

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Upright (8 episodes of 25 mins)

‘Because sometimes… Sometimes when you make mistakes, you make something accidentally beautiful… Sometimes.’

Review

Upright is the story of how a man and a girl brought a piano from Sydney to Perth and saved each other in the process.

It’s the tale of two broken, selfish people whose eventual happy ending is a pure gift of grace. It’s set in a world of colourful, but believable characters, where every single morally grey or black decision comes with consequences and mistakes don’t come with cheap forgiveness. 

Throw in a camel, a brown-snake, a lost race-horse, an illegal boxing ring and a stolen prescription, and you only have a quarter of the shenanigans!

Lucky is (apparently) an out of luck (pun intended) musician in his 40s with a dying mother, determined to return her piano before she passes. 

Meg is (apparently) a sixteen year old on her way to reunite with her mum after her parents’ divorce. 

The thing is, neither man nor girl are who they seem, nor even who they are trying to be. Keep that in mind as you bear with Meg’s frankly appalling decision-making skills and the recurring video clip of Lucky’s mother. 

Actors

Both Tim Minchin and Millie Alcock are brilliant and I’m a sucker for ‘unlikely duo learn to trust each other and become sort-of friends’. They are equally hilarious and devastating, and really sold the story to me. 

Humour

Is this a comedy? Sort of. But it’s also deep and quirky and coming-of-age. The humour is somewhat… dry? dark? realistic? Aussie? – I’m not sure, but I personally laughed out-loud several times. 

Local alcoholic: My soul’s dying! 

Fed-up nurse: That’s ya liver, Paul!

Language

There is a lot of bad language, particularly in the first few episodes. I opted to overlook that (which I rarely do) because:

a) at 3.5 hours it’s less likely to get in my head; 

b) it seemed realistic for the characters;

c) it’s not accompanied (as it so often is) by characters getting away with immoral actions.

Where to watch

Foxtel – I got a free ten day trial, and watched it twice (When I like something… I really like something. And I really liked this!)

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First week back at Bible College

So initially I wasn’t thrilled at the idea of studying online. Now we’re exactly one week into the term however, I have to report that Zoom tutorials are a lot less exhausting than I expected them to be, and I am in love with my reading list.

I think this is what is carrying me through, really. Most of the time I feel like I am genuinely just reading for fun! I think that everyone has a ‘style’ as well as a genre of  literature which they prefer, and I am super grateful because so far most of my books are written in my preferred style (literary, musingly-philosophical reflections).

It’s interesting returning to study after six months off. For a variety of reasons I am quite different to the person who was at college at the end of last year, and for the better. Still, as I study I am trying to continue to examine my heart daily – how easy it is for me to work hard for the wrong reasons.

As I continue into this semester my prayer is that my study will change my heart and grow me in Christ-likeness, that I might love Him better and bless those around me.

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Reading Lately

Ahh, so many books! I feel so blessed.

Our Greatest Gift: A meditation on dying and caring – Henri Nouwen

^ Written in 3 weeks this is an interesting Christian reflection on how acknowledging that dying is a community act (both human and spiritual communities) can lighten the awfulness.

Death & the Caring Community – Richards & Johnson

^ While somewhat American and dated, this is a practical book full of helpful tips on caring and loving someone who is dying (and their family) as a Christian

The Vertical Self – Mark Sayers

^ A book combining western sociology and a Christian belief in holiness, this is a book which I appreciated more post-discussion with my reading buddy (you know who you are!) I think the primary problem for me was that I found some of his reflections a bit parochial and vague/absolute.

Bridget Jones’ Diary – Helen Fielding

^ Yeah… this is not my type of book. I’m really not about about the romance/sex… and this book is. It was a very easy read, however.

Bleak House – Charles Dickens

^ Whoo! I finished. I’ve been reading BH since February, and being the length of 5 standard novels, it’s taken some reading. I found the 1st half slow going, but the 2nd half was an honour. Dickens’ utter delight in the English language is a thing of beauty.

The Contemplative Pastor – Eugene Peterson

^ Memoir-like reflections on his years as a pastor, if this book is about anything, it’s about living a quiet, reflective life in the presence of God. Definitely ‘my kind’ of writing style, and while there were some parts I didn’t love, I’d like to re-read and continue to ponder over it in the future.

// What have you guys been up to? Read/watched anything interesting lately?

Image courtesty of chortle.co.uk

Perhaps we must stand fast (June update)

Happy June! Grab a hot drink and settle in for some musings on:

  • what I have in common with Thomas Clarkson
  • fidelity in media, ft. Broadchurch and Tim Minchin
  • a quote about apocalypse
  • the problem with dwelling in a land which needs heroes (ft. Thomas Moore)
  • a picture of my latest hobby
  • the love letter in 2 Corinthians
  • an update of what I’ve been reading/watching!

What I have in common with Thomas Clarkson

You might remember that in my last post I mentioned I was deep in research into the abolitionist Thomas Clarkson. Since then I’ve continued on my merry way down the path of Out-of-Print books and 18th century documents.

I’ve come to the realisation that perhaps (one reason) I love spending hours with Clarkson is because we have rather similar personalities! As one biographer described him: passionate, sensitive, stubborn, impatient and sometimes too blunt. While it’s always a bit uncomfortable to see your own faults scrawled in ink before your eyes, it’s certainly edifying!

I’ve really enjoyed writing the draft of the first three chapters, and hope there’ll be many more (or at least seven more) to come.

thomas clarkson research pic

The increasing popularity of fidelity

So… my sister and I finished Broadchurch Season 3 the other day, which is essentially a respectful exploration into the ways an act of rape can ruin lives and tear apart community. It’s a story of hope and trust, of working through trauma and setting out on the long road to recovery.

It’s also a rather damning treatise on porn and infidelity and casual sex. Again and again,  viewers are confronted with the reality that consent isn’t everything. It’s a necessary beginning, but just because both parties agree, doesn’t mean the action won’t have huge social, emotional and spiritual ramifications.

As David Tennant’s character tells a man who has just admitted to infidelity (“you’d have done the same, if you’d had the chance”):

“I don’t subscribe to your version of the world, but I worry about sending my daughter out into it.”

This theme pops up again in Tim Minchin’s new release “I’ll take lonely tonight”– which is about remaining faithful, even though:

“I’m not denying
I hate being alone…

[at least I’ll wake]

Soaked in relief to find I am alone
With only the wrappers of Pringles and Snickers
For which to atone”

It’s a fascinating refrain, this emphasis on fidelity in a world which so often boasts that right and wrong are outdated inconveniences. Apparently it’s not so simple as asking* “Do you want tea?”

[*= although if you haven’t seen the famous ‘tea consent’ video, it’s worth watching. Follow the link above.]

Apocalypse Now 

I’ve been enjoying The Contemplative Pastor by Eugene Peterson in the mornings. It’s exactly what it sounds like – the reflections of a pastor on, well, pastoring, life and poetry. Peterson’s book is the sort of thing you read and chew over. One quote in particular stood out to me considering the state of the world at the moment (a state which has, honestly, always been the state of the world but is definitely much more in our faces at the moment!).

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“A Man for All Seasons”

It’s a circuitous route which led me to watching an amateur production of Thomas Bolt’s famous play on YouTube.

As a teenager I laughed through Roan Atkinson’s Johnny English, and of course the theme song, ‘A man of all seasons’ (“he’s charismaaaatic, with an automaaaatic!”) After googling the song I discovered the phrase “a man for all seasons” was originally used in reference to Thomas Moore, and is now the title of a play based on his life (and death).

And what a play.

For some reason all the productions I could find on YouTube are American, and the film based on the play is apparently American too.

So it took me half the play to get over that (Thomas Moore is British! It’s an essentially British story! Set in Britain!), and also to get used to various theatrical devices (breaking the fourth wall etc.). But the conclusion was fast-paced and the play is worth the watch for it’s haunting musings on the nature of the law:

  • Is it a weapon, or a light, or a causeway to walk upon?
  • Can it ever be right to circumnavigate man’s law to achieve what you believe to be God’s purpose?

And of course, the (paraphrased) observation that:

“…if virtue were profitable we would all be good, and dwell happily like angels in a land which needs no heroes.

But since evil profits far more often than goodness and we have to choose to be human… why then, perhaps we must stand fast a little – even at the risk of being heroes.”

Painting

The idea for my current painting’s been on my mind for a while. It’s not finished yet, so you can have a photo of my paint box instead. The act of painting without a purpose (ie. sale or gift) always feels luxurious to me, an indulgence of sorts.

It makes me feel so blessed – it means I am in a safe place where I can spread out my painting things without worrying they’ll be overturned, and it means I have the time to leave them there until the paint dries. Safety and time – I don’t want to ever take these for granted.

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Paul’s love letter

1 Corinthians 13 is often held up as the “love passage” of the New Testament, but as I’ve been making my way through 2 Corinthians I’ve been really convicted by how much about love the entire book is.

Paul’s overwhelming love for the church in Corinth is a wonderful example of Christian love. I’ve learnt a lot about how to love those around me through reading it, and been confronted by how often my affections are not as they should be. I am called to love affectionately and generously – yet how often I am cynical and impatient instead!

“… you have such a place in our hearts that we would live or die with you…We were especially delighted to see how happy Titus was…” (7:3, 13)

What I’ve been reading/watching:

Much Ado About Nothing – Shakespeare; starring Catherine Tate & David Tennant

^ This was hilarious. Well, well, worth a watch… and it’s on YouTube!

Paper Towns – John Green

^ A book I found tedious until the final quarter, where it redeemed itself by its observations on brokenness:

“I must ask the wounded man where he is hurt, because I cannot become the wounded man. The only wounded man I can be is me.”

The Nine Tailors – Dorothy L. Sayer (audio book)

^ I began listening to this while tramping through the Yorkshire Moors, and finishing it brings back so many memories. This is such a quintessentially English book.

Researches antediluvian, patriarchal and historical, concerning the way in which men first acquired their knowledge of God and religion – Thomas Clarkson

^ This is a fascinating look into how the knowledge of God trickled down from Adam to the time of Constantine through all the nations of the world.

Thomas Clarkson: the friend of slaves – Earl Leslie Griggs

A biographical sketch of Thomas Clarkson – Thomas Taylor

Robert McCheyne: Life is an adventure – Irene Howat

William Wilberforce: Freedom Fighter – Derick Bingham

// How is everyone? Anyone else watched Broadchurch (recently, or otherwise)?

image courtesy of visit-dorset.com

On returning home (May Update)

I’ve long been fascinated by the metaphor of “returning home.” It’s one which trails through all types of literature. Sometimes it’s a positive statement: home represents womb-like safety, the innocence of childhood. If only the character can return home, everything will be alright and they can begin again.

Other times it’s a more negative statement. Characters have changed. They’ve made choices and lived lives, and home becomes a place of jarring discontinuity.

I feel very blessed to admit that I feel I have received the best of both sides of returning home lately. After 14 days in government quarantine I arrived home – to both opportunities and growth.

EDIT: One of these was being published in the Eternity Newspaper – you can see my article here!

Opportunities

My family

It was so lovely to see them again, and I’ve enjoyed having regular Broadchurch-dates with my sister.

Novel re-writing

I spent a week re-writing and revising an adult historical novel for a competition. I wouldn’t have had this chance if I’d been overseas, and it was a really wonderful experience. For 8-10 hours a day I lived, breathed and re-constructed my 1879 world. I learnt a lot about writing, and refreshed my knowledge of the the 2nd Anglo-Afghan War; the British Army; The Epic of Gilgamesh; Afghanistan; and 19th century London. So fun!

NOTE: I’m looking for Beta readers… so if you’re interested in reading an adult, historical, Christian novel with a male protagonist and telling me if you liked it, let me know!

Researching

I also feel very grateful to have time to research Thomas Clarkson. I’m captivated by his story as a Christian Abolitionist in the 18th Century, the man behind Wilberforce, as it were. His life and faith are incredible testaments and still impact us today – and there’s very few (read: no) in-print biographies of him. This is my current project, and since he was a prolific writer I’m working my way through his works at the moment.

Language learning

Since full-time study for me won’t start again for a few more weeks, I have begun learning ancient (koine) Greek online. I’m still at the ‘learn the alphabet and sounds’ stage, and currently have a lot of respect for anyone who has ever learnt a language!

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Growth

Dancing in the morning

The Bible talks a lot about the Return of Joy. That come what may, though your whole world go awry, there will be dancing in the morning. This was something I had a hard time truly believing before my travels. I went through a season where I found it really difficult to hold onto hope, because it felt like so much had ‘gone wrong’.

In the past 3 months I have discovered many joys – little ones and big ones – and now I know, not just from faith, but from experience, that happiness does return. The ability to truly rejoice does come again. There may be weeping in the night, but there will also be dancing in the morning.

As long as we live we will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.

There are no throw-away seasons

In the same way, before my travels I felt that certain periods of my life were ‘wasted’, best forgotten. Now, after both temporal and geographical distance, I can look back and see that they weren’t. Painful, yes. Inglorious and even embarrassing, yes. But a cosmic mistake? Never.

Likewise, I can see that the time I did get overseas, little though it was, was neither a mistake or a waste.

God does place us where he wants us

Before I left to travel I told God that I was stepping out in faith, not because I am a great woman of faith, but because I had no choice. I didn’t know where He wanted me or for how long, so I asked Him to tell me. To put me in the places he wanted me to be, and for the length he wanted me there.

It turns out that place was Yorkshire for 6 weeks, not Europe for 12 months.

God still sends miracles

Again, when I was looking into options for my sabbatical year, I told God that I wanted the impossible. I wanted to stay somewhere beautiful for weeks on end, with nothing to do save walk and read and love people. I wanted to rest. This seemed (financially and practically) impossible, so in lieu of a miracle I set about making plans which might include at least one or two of desires.

Guess what I got, in the end? Six weeks of rest, with nothing to do save walk and read and love people. I feel so grateful, and so in awe.

You only need one fixed point

I think what COVID has done for many of us (for all of us?) is ripped away everything we thought was stable. Economies, countries, education, work – all these routines and normalities we so often take for granted in Western countries. Before I left I didn’t bother taking insurance for anything except for medical, because I literally said to myself: what else could possibly happen in the countries I’m visiting which could cause me to change plans?

As it turns out, a pandemic can.

And you know what? With everything else in flux, God became my only “fixed point in a changing age” (to quote Sherlock Holmes, rather out of context) – and He was truly the only anchor I needed.

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Where to next?

My 2020 Sabbatical has turned out very different to what I expected. When I began to realise this, I started praying regularly for peace and joy amid my disappointment. Right now, I can say that God has mercifully given me much peace and joy. I have to admit now that I am home, I am not weeping the loss of “normal life” much at all. I wake up in the morning and my schedule is rather heavenly: Read X, Read Y, Read Z, Learn Greek, Pray, Read the Bible, Learn more about God, Run, Call a friend, Watch Broadchurch with my sister.

This will be the last in my series of ‘intentional sabbatical posts,’ so I’ll leave you, like the other times, with the books that have been shaping my thoughts:

Reading

The History of the Rise, Progress and Accomplishment of the Abolition, Volume II – Thomas Clarkson

The Contemplative Pastor – Eugene Peterson

A Portraiture of Quakerism, Volume I – Thomas Clarkson

Locked Rooms – Laurie R. King (still…)

This list looks non-fiction heavy, but since the last post I also enjoyed: Faust – Johann Goethe (English trans.); Sabriel – Garth Nix; The Raven Boys (re-read) – Maggie Stiefvater; The Nine Tailors – Dorothy L. Sayer.

Also, more on Thomas Clarkson: A biography of Thomas Clarkson – Ellen Wilson; The History etc. Volume I – Thomas Clarkson.

 

Living on the edge of the unknown

“If there’s one thing I’ve learnt, it’s that life can change completely in a single second.”

So I responded to an upset eighteen year old Canadian as we sped towards Lyon airport, the sun setting to the right of us, the long shadows of an unknown future striding to catch us from behind.

Two hours ago we had been told that everyone had to leave Taize. In a split second we had accepted an invitation to evacuate to England, our common colonising ancestor. After a stressful hour six of us had booked tickets for the only two flights we could find, for 2pm the next day. We had packed our belongings in 10 minutes, and now we were rushing to make it to the airport before France went into lockdown and the rumours of closed borders, unknown restrictions, and cancelled flights became reality.

Even as I spoke those words I was aware they were pretentious, patronizing and rather idiotic. I was also aware they were true.

Using up my last euros at the airport…

We constantly live on the edge of uncertainty. Some of us have had more reason to be aware of this than others. For as long as I can remember I have known I will not have my mum forever, and yet that split second phone call during my lunch break at work when I heard she had a mass in her pancreas still changed everything.

For as long as I can remember I’ve devoured books where dramatic things happen. Kids die too young; people are wounded in battle; last minute inheritances save the day; all is lost and all is rescued over and pver again. Yet I still remember exactly where I was when I found out that my ten year old friend had died suddenly from an undiagnosed brain tumour.

In the weeks leading up to my travels I chose not to dwell on my hopes and excitement because I knew that life is rarely smooth and expectations often go unmet. Still, the last thing I expected was a pandemic, and the hours that preceded our hasty departure will be remembered for a while.

I don’t know how my story will end, but after a sleepless 30 hours spent watching as flight after flight was cancelled and wondering if mine was next while praying the UK would not close its borders before I got in, I am currently enjoying a happy interlude.

Isn’t this stunning? There are times out on the moors when I feel God has given me eternity in the space of a few seconds.

My days are filled with sharing household responsibilities between the five of us; watching TV; knitting; Taize style prayers; walking on the desolate moors; and reading. It’s a dreamlike existence. Each morning I am beyond thankful to have a place to stay thanks to a generous friend (and their generous family) and each evening I am beyond thankful to hear that my family in Australia are still well and healthy.

At times I feel like I’ve entered an Enid Blyton book. I love moss so so much; it makes me so happy you wouldn’t believe.

I don’t know what will happen once the UK emerges from lock down and we come out of quarantine. I don’t think anyone does. The world will never be the same, and so I wait and watch and pray. I hope the lays of Europe will settle in beneficial lines for me, but I do not know.

A pastoral scene

Each of us, all the time, live precariously. It’s easy to forget this. To forget just how quickly the world can be remade, to forget how easily all the future can be undone. We are but dust and ashes, and so, so fragile. All this pandemic has done is pull back the veil a little. Right now everyone of us is being confronted with the reality of our existence simultaneously: It is uncertain. It is unknown. It is terrifying.

And so what? Do we sit and wait around for the world to end in either a bang or a whimper? Do we throw in the towel, or begin to cotton wool our nests against an apocalypse? You could. People do. But isn’t there a better way?

So many times in those chaotic few days I thought I’d never reach Yorkshire. In the first few days after I arrived I still felt like it would all be snatched away. It still could, but that’s in God’s hands, not mine.

Everything has changed, but nothing has changed. I find this really comforting. Life always was uncertain, always has been terrifying. What this pandemic does is give us the opportunity to see clearly and to decide how we will respond. Not just to the current crisis, but to the remainder of our unstable lives.

God was the answer when life seemed safe, and he remains the answer know we know it is not.

I feel utterly and entirely spoilt. God did not have to send me off to quarantine to such a place as this – and I am so, so grateful.

And so we march on. Wavering on the precipice of eternity, hands held out to Jesus. For this minute I am alive, and all the other minutes have been woven carefully into the very material of the universe by a Master Craftsman. What is unknown to me is known by He who knows me and makes himself known.

For now, that is enough.

Only in Britain..

Reading:

Making Money, a discworld novel – Terry Pratchett

Thomas Clarkson’s  award-winning (and literally world changing) “An essay on the slavery and commerce of the human species, particularly the African” (1785)

The wrath of a loving God, unravelling a Biblical conundrum – Br John of Taize

Sel. From Martin Luther’s Table talk

Various fan fictions and online meta analyses.

… I also watched North and South for the first time. Seemed appropriate given the locale (I’m living in the North now). I know everyone seems to love it, but… I just couldn’t deal with the romance. On what basis do they love each other? They’ve never even had a proper conversation. It drove me up the wall.

Our rewatch of Good Omens and Doctor Who was much more enjoyable. And also appropriate given Eccleston is northern?

And credit for the title goes to the Star Trek episode “the city of the edge of forever”. Likewise, credit for the second title in the previous post goes to Gabriel Marquez’s Love in the time of the cholera.

Lastly, T. S. Elliot owns “a bang or a whimper” and his poem is absolutely stunning: https://msu.edu/~jungahre/transmedia/the-hollow-men.html

Life in the time of Corona virus & Lessons from the rain

LESSONS FROM THE RAIN

I struggle with the cold. I really do – and since arriving in Europe it’s been cold with a capital C! Cold with sun is doable, but when it’s cold and rainy and you can’t be inside, I tend to not be a particularly joyful person.

I was praying for joy in the rain this past week, although to be honest I didn’t think such a thing was possible. I would settle for long suffering endurance with only a few moans a day.

Then as I was walking (not particularly patiently) in the rain a few days ago I had a sudden realization of how verdant the grass was. It was so, so green – something which would not be possible without the rain. And I grudgingly agreed to myself that perhaps the trade off was worth it: rain for green grass. Without water, as we know in Australia so well, there is no life, no regrowth, no refreshment and renewal.

I was also reminded about something my Aunty said after my cousin died. She said that the rain had become to her a sign of rebirth. Because it is only when a seed is planted and watered that it can grow. And God does not plant seeds and neglect to water them. There are no meaningless deaths under His mighty hand. Rather, every death brings purposeful life. Every seed is watered. Every rainfall heralds a resurrection.

Hope comes again. God’s promise to Noah in the negative is “it will not flood again” – but the positive expression is, “the sun will come again”. Joy and warmth will return; the rain does not come in vain.

So now as I walk down one of the many dirt paths, shoulders hunched and fingers clenched against the rain, I try and remember these two things. Rain brings resurrection; the sun will come again.

There have been difficult times in my travels, like in life. A moth eating through 50% of my t-shirts/long sleeves and scattering them with holes (thankyou Amelia for putting up with my complaints).

Getting fined 60 euros because no one told me to validate my train ticket and having the conductor tell me “that’s your problem, not mine”.

Returning to my room to find my locked bag busted open and my posessions scattered around (but nothing taken).

Spraining my ankle and still being unable to sit cross legged for very long (we sit on the floor in church). Catching the cold that’s flying around Taize (but not corona!). Being up all night because the food didn’t agree with me.

And yet, the sun comes out again. Joy returns. There is always hope – just like the rain will end, so will present troubles.

There were times in the past year where I couldn’t imagine they ever would. Where I felt like it would rain forever. It’s true that there are some storms that we are called to walk through our whole lives long. But perhaps even then, joy can return. The sun can burst through the clouds.

And in the meantime we walk through the rain in hope. Hope for new life, hope for resurrection. Hope because no life is meaningless and no seed is planted that will not be watered. And one day, the sun will shine again.

Reading

Because each season of life for me is flavoured, shaped and adjusted by the books I’m reading at the time, I’m currently enjoying:

Thomas`a Kempis’ The Imitation of Christ

Martin Luther’s Tabletalk (selections from)

Laurie R. King’s Locked Rooms (reread)

LIFE IN THE TIME OF CORONA VIRUS

This is a last minute addition to the post because the situation in France is changing by the hour. First 1k ppl are allowed to meet, then 500, then 100, and now, from 6pm last night, no one. All non essential shops are closed, all schools and unis.

Taize itself has closed, which means we’re not welcoming any participants, and have become a closed community until at least April 19.

Volunteers from countried which have recalled its citizens and closed their borders are leaving to get home before that happens, so life’s a bit crazy and a bit unsettling at the moment here.

Still, there is nothing to do but wait and pray. I am unaffected, but praying for peace for those who have to weigh up choices and make time pressured decisions. It’s also sad having to say so many goodbyes!

Community life will also be changing. The 3x daily official prayers are cancelled and we will all have to figure out a new rhythm of work and prayer.

In the midst of all this turbulence all over the world, I have really appreciated these two resources. One is a quote from C S Lewis and the other a poem by Annie Flint – both well worth the read!

C. S. Lewis on the Coronavirus

https://library.timelesstruths.org/music/He_Giveth_More_Grace/

If you can imagine…

If you can imagine a tiny village in France, with 11th-18th century buildings covered in moss and vines, and daffodils and green paddocks stretching as far as one can see –

If you can imagine getting sunburnt one day and snowed upon the next, bare trees and blue skies, biting winds and freezing evenings –

If you can imagine two thousand Portuguese students and two hundred other individuals singing and praying three times a day in a sprawling, candle lit church –

If you can imagine being one of only two native English speakers, and having a 1/5 chance of a song being in your language, and listening while each Bible passage is read aloud in three languages (thankfully English is always included) –

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If you can imagine prayer first thing in the morning and last thing at night and discussion groups of individuals from every religious and non religious background imaginable –

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If you can imagine white robed Brothers in church and then the same ones in fleece jackets and slacks afterwards. If you can imagine Sisters from 3 different orders in jeans and cardigans –

If you can imagine cocoa in a bowl and bread with chocolate sticks for breakfast and some variation on pasta, green apples, beans/peas, cheese and bread for every meal –

If you can imagine long queues filled with singing Portuguese students and longer walks in the French countryside –

If you can imagine endless barricks and tents and a garden of silence complete with a lake –

If you can imagine all this, perhaps you can imagine a community called Taize.

Singapore

Brief observations…

The first thing we discovered was a siesta in the middle of the day is practically necessary to survive the heat. I am so thankful for the aircon in our hotel – it actually kept our room cooler at nights than at home!

One of my delights has been trying as many drinks as possible – I could blame it on the need to remain hydrated but really it’s just so fun! The various juices and ice-teas are cheap and there’s so much variety. From wintermelon tea to soursop juice and a milky-jelly one which to this day I have no idea what it was, each one is an experience.

Coffee is also an experience. Would you like it with sugar, condensed milk or evaporated milk plus sugar? What, you drink it unsweetened? Good luck trying to explain that… You want normal milk? Too bad. When in Rome…

Kopi and kaya toast. Very traditional

The regulated integration of cultures in Sing is also so fascinating… There are 10 official religions and each housing block by law has to contain a certain percentage of each of the main ethnicities. It means that even though “China town,” “Arab street” and “Little India” exist, community life is far more integrated than you’d expect.

Sing. really is “Asia lite” and it’s been quite nice. You don’t have to worry about water, food poisoning, language, or even transport. Very relaxing!

Meeting many solo female travellers on various walking tours has also been cool. Hearing where they’re from, which countries they’ve travelled thru, how long they’re traveling for, and why they left home has been interesting. It’s like a window into a whole new subculture – one I guess I will be part of very shortly!

Due to the corona virus, we’ve had our temperatures checked multiple times a day, on each entry to a public space and 2x daily at our hotel. It also means that several places we would have visited are closed – such as all the mosques and temples. So too are the catholic churches, altho the protestant churches seem to be open. We visited an international church on Sunday and it was lovely!

R&R for A and I has included watching the Netflix series Dracula (by the creators of Sherlock). While not particularly relaxing and with some shocking scenes, I’ve found it a fascinating attempt to update the 19th century novel by Bram Stoker and make it both relatable and applicable. Interestingly, episode 3/3 which is almost entirely not based on the novel, being set in 2020, is easily the best.

I’ve also read Good Omens (1990), after watching the tv series (2019), and spent some time pondering the differences between the two media. The modern adaptation is definitely angsty-er but also more heavy on The Power of Friendship (TM). It seems cultural expectations can shift wildly over 30 years.

A beginning…

I don’t find minimalism particularly hard, but there’s always a trade off.

Today’s one was my Bible and journal in lieu of a third pair of shoes. Ah well, I can’t wear three pairs at once anyway!

A prayer point would be that Singapore doesn’t get any more corona virus cases. I don’t want to be denied entry to Europe bc I’ve been there!