Saturday, November 14, 2009

Sorry is the hardest word

Last weekend I went to a wonderful workshop on 'Creativity and Shadow' run by my friend, the sculptor Vivien Whitaker, at Woodbrooke in Birmingham. A small group of women, based in the Art Room away from the main conference centre, worked on the subject using our hands and hearts and for all of us it was an intense experience. As some of us said afterwards, questions like 'Did you enjoy it?' and 'Did you have a good time?' were not really relevant!

In order to approach and understand our shadow-side we looked at our strengths and how these might tip over into 'over-strengths'. For me this involved taking responsibility. I know that I can do this but I also know that I have reached the stage of over-strength, when I try to take responsibility for everything and cannot let go and allow other people (and especially my family) to take responsibility themselves. All my children are grown-up people but I am having problems letting go of my 'mother' role, especially the mother who tries to make everything all right.

For me this is encapsulated in the word 'sorry'. Whenever anything goes wrong I say sorry. Sometimes I just mean that I am sorry a bad thing has happened but that is not how my family hear it. They hear me taking everything on myself - again! My elder son got very annoyed with me over the phone a couple of weeks ago when I was saying sorry for his car failing its MOT. 'It's not your fault. It's nothing to do with you, it's my problem.' he said. 'I wish I could take the word Sorry out of the dictionary!'

So it is not surprising that when Vivien gave each of us a plain white paper fan and asked us to depict our shadow on one side and our dream of the future on the other I immediately started on the shadow side and produced this. I wrote the word Sorry everywhere I could and outlined the whole thing in black, like a Victorian mourning letter

I wanted to acknowledge this shadow side of myself, partly so I could try to change it but also because I really am sorry for a lot of my failings and weaknesses. I am also still carrying around a lot of guilt for things done, undone or not done well enough in the past which will take time to work through.

The shadow is part of me and my task is to integrate it so that it becomes part of my wholeness instead of threatening to overwhelm me with depression and feelings of worthlessness. The weekend helped me to realise the effect that my shadow has had and is sometimes still having on my family and I am really putting some effort into working on that. I have displayed the shadow side of my fan in my study where it can act as a constant reminder and I am trying to remove that word from my personal dictionary

The last piece we made at the weekend was an expression of our hope for the future. I made a shape in clay based on a seedcase I had picked up in Kew Gardens with two halves, one open and gold and one closed in and black, although with a few bits of glitter even there. The 'seed', made with a shell, combined both colours, dark and light. I placed it on a piece of printed velvet and wrapped the whole thing in card and tissue paper, black and dull on the outside, gold and shiny within, all tied together with a multicoloured thread.

The whole group explained their pieces to the others and as I did this I unwrapped the parcel. When I got home I took all the outer casings off and put the clay on a low shelf where I can see it every day

The song says that 'Sorry is the hardest word to say'. For me it is the hardest word to stop saying but I am resolved to try. One way in which I am going to do this is not to say sorry when I don't write this blog. I am going to stop imposing 'once a week' or 'once a month' rules on myself which set me up to fail. I will write when I have something to say and I will not apologise for that.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Back to the blogosphere - probably

In spite of all my resolutions I have not been managing to write here nearly as much as I intended. I hope to remedy this in the future but in the meantime I have just posted an entry on the Bad Quaker Bible blog if you would like to go and look!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Blog award

My friend Heather writes two great blogs, one Doodles about knitting and other craft and the other Still Life about her life as a Quaker, although in true Quaker fashion the subject matter often crosses over. She has kindly given me a blog award for which I am truly grateful, not just because of the glory - although of course I do feel that! - but because this is the kind of award that comes with strings attached and has managed to kick start me into writing here again when guilt and inadequacy and the need to get other writing finished had all but silenced me.

The strings are first to nominate seven other blogs for the award and then to meme seven things about myself, so here goes!

Most of the blogs I read are Quaker ones and these are only a few of the many which really inspire me and make me think and feel and sometimes write. So in no particular order I would like to give this award to wise Shawna from Ohio for her blog Mystics, Poets and Fools, Harriet from England at Jumping the brook whose pithy entries I always look forward to, Angelina from Philadelphia who is Not afraid of thunder or indeed much else, Ashley, living in Seattle, who is pursuing A passionate & determined quest for adequacy with great honesty and Sarah in Oregon whose faith and many talents shine through her daily writing at Walking the Sea.

And then there are two more blogs I would like to give the award to which have different emphases. I spent my working life in libraries and can often relate to Mike, The Surly Librarian and I am now trying to spend more time on craft and find Alissa's words and pictures at Handmade by Alissa cheering and motivating.

And now for 7 things about myself, again in no particular order:-

1. I have a weakness for soft toys and have three teddy bears in my study.

2. I wanted to be an actress when I was a teenager and have a LAMDA gold medal for acting - the breath control is still useful for public speaking.

3. I would love to wear high heels but can't walk in them.

4. I dream of living in a house with a turret so that I could have a round study - preferably overlooking the sea.

5. I put on eye-shadow every day unless I'm really ill.

6. My favourite occupation is research.

7. I need to stop taking responsibility for everything and everyone.

So over to you award winners! Please feel free to interpret the strings attached as loosely as you like and thanks again Heather, for getting me writing here again.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Ministry or vanity?

Robin's post on Blogging as Ministry has raised several questions in my mind. As I commented on Liz's post I am quite clear about my use of Facebook. That is all about taking me out of my often too comfortable isolation, about making connections with my family and renewing connections with friends old and new. But about blogging I'm not so sure. Why do I write a blog? Is this a Quaker blog or just a blog written by a Quaker - and does the distinction matter?

A lot of what I write is about my life - perhaps a rough draft for the spiritual autobiography that I must one day sit down and write. I have the title - which is also the title of this blog - and have published a few fragments so far. But if I am writing ministry here should I keep away from the trivial and always leave 'the day of small things' to Facebook?

As Robin says, for me reading other people's blogs is part of the process of writing and often spurs me into putting my thoughts into words - as it has today. I want to be part of the Quaker conversation, but for me this can also be a problem. I gain a lot from listening to others, but I realise that part of me also wants to be heard. I want to be recognised by the 'proper Quaker bloggers' who choose which posts appear on QuakerQuaker and sometimes I find myself wondering what I have to write to make that happen!

But as in meeting for worship I know that true ministry is given and has nothing to do with conscious striving for effect. I must be true to myself and to my own spiritual journey and write what I cannot avoid writing with no thought of any audience. Because I am a Quaker to the core of my being this is necessarily a Quaker blog. I know that a few people read what I write and I am always happy to read their comments. Perhaps the nearest comparison between what I write here and ministry is that when I rise to speak I have no idea what effect my words may have on those who hear them and do not ask to know. It is enough if I can be faithful.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Let me introduce you to my Friends - Grace Hall Chamber

I have been meaning for a while to begin a series on some of my Quaker Friends from the past who inspire me and I hope will inspire others. On International Women's Day I thought it appropriate to begin with a woman who, although a minister, did not travel extensively and did not write anything for publication. Most of what we know about her comes from a handful of surviving manuscript letters and from references to her in the writings of many of her contemporaries. To them she was usually known affectionately as 'dear Grace'.

Grace Hall Chamber was born in 1676 near Durham. She was the only child of James Hall and his second wife, but she also had five siblings, the children of her father and his first wife. Grace was educated at home in a prosperous Quaker family and being 'endowed with an excellent understanding' acquired considerable skill in medicine and surgery which she used throughout her life.

In 1704 she married Robert Chamber, a substantial Friend, and moved to his family home at Sedgwick near Kendal. Grace had an extensive acquaintance among all classes of society in her local community and concerned herself with the lives and happiness of all her friends, not only Quakers. In 1711 she was recognised as having a gift of ministry among Friends although she did not speak frequently or at length. Her travel in the ministry was mainly local and in the company of her husband. There is no record that Grace and Robert had any children of their own, but Grace acted as a mother, nurse and friend to all who needed her, often caring for them in her own home.

Grace's letters give two glimpses of her caring ministry. In 1737 she writes an account for his friends of the death in her house from smallpox of Charles Barnett, a travelling minister far from home. She writes - 'He had not one minute of perfect ease since he came to us so that we had very little discourse with him upon any account but his illness and what might be of service and most suitable for him, but the first morning after he found he was not able to travel he named his wife, as she little knew how he was and said, "I am out of all their reach. I am two hundred miles from my habitation." And I answered, "Think thyself at home. We will do whatever we can for thee. Thou shalt want for nothing we either have or can get to do thee good."' The letter continues with a description of the funeral and, on a practical note, an account of the effects of the deceased and of the memoranda Grace had written at his dictation.

In 1743 Grace writes about the care she is giving to Fanny Henshaw who she took into her home for more than a month. Fanny was brought up in the Church of England but became a Quaker as a young woman, much to the dismay of her family and friends. Very soon after her convincement - perhaps too soon - she began to travel in the ministry and became exhausted both physically and mentally.

Grace writes of Fanny's situation - 'She has been quite overdone, both body and spirits, and the fever coming upon her in that low condition was beyond what her constitution could undergo without being borne down below measure, which is not easily recruited, there being need of both inward and outward helps. As divine providence has provided both for our souls and bodies so I conclude we ought to receive both in as much faith and thankfulness as possible we can.' Grace gave her rest, counsel and the recommended treatment of salt and fresh water baths until she recovered and reflects - 'May we above all things look to the giver of all our good enjoyments in all our circumstances, whether it being plenty or poverty, he knows best what is good for us and we may soon learn by experience both how to order ourselves and advise others - this is what I am and have often been concerned for in secret.'

In 1753, when they had been married for almost fifty years, Robert Chamber died. Grace characterised Robert as 'one of the best of husbands' but acknowledged that her ministry had always to take account of his needs. As she said, 'He was very unwilling to want me, but I think he made that up, as much as any man in his circumstance could have done, in letting his house be free and open to sick and lame, poor and rich. If I were but there it was mostly well.'

In her widowhood Grace travelled further afield in the ministry, often with her lifelong friend Lydia Lancaster. In 1760 they went on a journey to Bath, Bristol and London. Contemporaries wondered at their taking on so much when so advanced in years but described them both as 'green in old age'. On her return Grace became more infirm, finding it difficult to get to even local Quaker meetings. She died, aged 85, at Sedgwick and was buried in the Friends burial ground at Preston Patrick.

The Ministry-Life Balancing Act

Reading Robin's post the other day got me thinking about the struggles I have had with recognising and finding ways to follow my own ministry.

It took me a long time to feel that my interest in spiritual autobiography could be seen as a kind of ministry. It was only when I moved from an academic and personal view of the subject to the development of a workshop that aimed to tell others about the form and tradition of this kind of writing and to encourage them to attempt to write their own that the thought that what I was doing was ministry entered my head.

I was 'released' to follow this ministry more intensively by a combination of the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust awarding me a fellowship and my employer promising that I would have a job to return to after a year. At the time, having gone through the experience of being made redundant twice, I would not have been brave enough to proceed without that safety net.

Afterwards I went back to work but also continued giving workshops and wrote an account of the fellowship. This brought me into writing and publishing both of which I now see as part of the same ministry. I know that I have been led along the path I have taken and sometimes I have been gently but firmly pushed into taking the next step. Looking back I realise that it is always when I have turned outwards, shared my experience and the experience and words of Quaker foremothers and forefathers with others, that what I have done has become ministry.

Along the way I have sometimes taken false steps. There was a time when I really wanted to find a job in the Quaker world. I thought that this would free me from having to balance my Quaker calling with other paid work. Failure and rejection were hard lessons but in time I learned from them. I remained independent and gained much from the work that did come my way. All the time I know that my Inward Teacher has been providing me with lessons that I needed to learn and has been patient with my slowness to understand.

Many years ago in meeting I was given three phrases which I understood were messages for me and not to be shared at that time. I wrote them down and they have travelled with me as lessons and encouragement in my ministry and my life. They are - 'Count your blessings' , 'A way will open' and 'My time is not your time'.

I understand more about what my ministry is and how I should express it as time goes on. Now that I have retired from paid work my view of it is slowly changing again. I am trying to be open to new possibilities but I am also continuing to write and publish, if only infrequently, here and elsewhere. God knows where I will be led next but I am still waiting to find out.

Monday, February 02, 2009

A poem for Brigid

New Year Resolve
The time has come
To stop allowing the clutter
To clutter my mind
Like dirty snow,
Shove it off and find
Clear time, clear water.
Time for a change,
Let silence in like a cat
Who has sat at my door
Neither wild nor strange
Hoping for food from my store
And shivering on the mat.
Let silence in.
She will rarely speak or mew,
She will sleep on my bed
And all I have ever been
Either false or true
Will live again in my head.
For it is now or not
As old age silts the stream,
To shove away the clutter,
To untie every knot,
To take the time to dream,
To come back to still water.
May Sarton (1912-1995)

Poetry for Brigid

I picked this up from one of the blogs I subscribe to and thought it was such a good idea that I'd pass it on. All I have to do now is choose a poem to post, which may not be easy!

Feel free to copy the following to your blog and spread the word. Let poetry bless the blogosphere once again!
WHAT: A Bloggers (Silent) Poetry Reading
WHEN: Anytime February 2, 2009
WHERE: Your blog
WHY: To celebrate the Feast of Brigid, aka Groundhog Day
HOW: Select a poem you like - by a favorite poet or one of your own - to post February 2nd.
RSVP: If you plan to publish, feel free to leave a comment and link on this post. Last year when the call went out there was more poetry in cyberspace than I could keep track of. So, link to whoever you hear about this from and a mighty web of poetry will be spun.Feel free to pass this invitation on to any and all bloggers.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

What is wrong with 25 things?

I am the sort of person who always fills in questionnaires so when I was tagged over on Facebook by a friend who had written 25 random things about her life, with an invitation to do the same and tag other people, I joined in straight away.

The exercise helped me focus a bit more on the family history which I have resolved to start writing this year and I got some friendly feedback. I have also enjoyed reading other people's lists and their different approach to the same request. However some of the responses were dismissive and very much opposed to the whole idea of 25 (or 30) things. People had been overwhelmed by requests, and of course Facebook can be like that, but there was also a feeling that the whole enterprise was selfish, self-absorbed and irredeemably trivial.

I have to admit that I was puzzled and a bit hurt by this but then I remembered that when I was giving workshops on spiritual autobiography some years ago in which I not only talked about the history of the form but tried to encourage people to write their own, I encountered the same kind of reaction. Any kind of examination of one's own life and certainly any attempt to share it with others was characterised as selfish and therefore wrong.

My definition of spiritual autobiography was encapsulated in the title of the workshop 'Turning Inside Out'. It is the story of a person's spiritual journey written by themselves. But it is more than that because it is written from the first not for the individual alone but for the benefit of others, both now and in the future. The extent to which it is published or shared is the author's choice but the intention to share is always there. In order to write a spiritual autobiography we first turn inwards and examine our spiritual journey and how we have got to where we are. Then we turn the inside outwards and share our experience with others in order to help them if we can.

For me writing lists of 25 random things about my life on Facebook is another way of sharing my spiritual journey and opening a window on my life. It is also, importantly, a way of listening to others who are sharing their lives with me. It is part of the process of writing my spiritual autobiography because as an exercise it helps me to focus on different aspects of what I want to share. So long as I use the lists in this way I don't believe I am being totally self-absorbed or selfish.

I am often encouraged on my way by voices from the past. One of these is Alice Hayes who published her spiritual autobiography 'A legacy or widow's mite' in 1723 partly because she wished that when she was going through the spiritual struggle that led to her becoming a Quaker she could have read about others who had had similar experiences. She says "Truly I have thought that if I had met with the like Account of any that had gone through such exercise it would have been some Help to me."

Even on Facebook!

Monday, January 26, 2009

What I felt

I'm falling behind with my writing resolution as I thought I might, but here I am, only a day or so late.

I went to a felting workshop on Saturday and made a bag. Admittedly it is rather too big and without handles it looks more like a tea cosy, but I'm pleased with the colours - reds and browns. I shall put a wooden handle on it later and it probably needs more hand rubbing with water and soap.

I was very happy with the day. I learned several different techniques and spent time totally absorbed in looking at examples, choosing colours and then rubbing away at wet wool with soapy hands through a bit of net curtain until it turned into felt! I loved the metamorphosis and will have another go at the process, although next time I'll be working on much smaller pieces with jewellery in mind. It was good too to see the very varied pieces that the other participants produced.

The workshop reminded me how much I need to allow myself time to use the part of my brain which is not about words and to use my hands in other ways than bashing away at a computer keyboard. I am no artist but I love the process of trying to make things and of imagining what I might make.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

New Year thoughts

It has taken me a while to start writing this year but I have been doing a lot of reading including blogs and that has got me thinking about resolutions and new directions.

I have made a few new year's resolutions including several old favourites like 'take more exercise'. One new one is not to switch on the computer as soon as I come upstairs to my study in the morning but to give myself about an hour of quiet, reading, writing my diary and thinking, before getting into the bustle of the online world. Another resolution which is part of this is to try to read something every day, to sit and read a book I mean. This year for the first time in ages I had space to do this over Christmas and it really enriched my life.

As well as reading I want to write more this year. I intend to make a start on writing my family history, starting with my late parents and working backwards. My intention is to sit down and write, not just to continue the endless seduction of research, although there will be more of that too and not all of it online. I also want to write more on Quaker history, of which more later.

I think that diary writing will help me as it always has but I also want to write this blog more regularly. Sarah has resolved to write every day and Heather to write every week on a Monday. I incline more towards a weekly resolution but I don't want to tie myself to a day, so I think I will say that if I have not written anything in a week from Monday to Saturday I will write, however briefly, on Sunday.

As well as definite resolutions I think that this year may be the beginning of a change in direction that I cannot yet see clearly. In her blog Robin talks about a search for balance in her life. That reminded me of two small angel cards, offered by a friend and chosen from a pack unseen, which I keep displayed on my desk, each showing one word and a coloured drawing. Several years ago I chose Balance and have been working on developing this quality since then, with varied success. Just before Christmas I had the opportunity to pick again and this time chose Surrender, a figure in red holding a white flag, standing on a green hill.

I'm still not sure what to make of this but feel that I can't just dismiss it. At the gathering where we picked our cards several people put back words they didn't like and tried to pick something more comfortable but I didn't feel I could do that. Instead I have been wondering what to make of the idea of surrender in my own life. I am familiar with surrendering to the promptings of my Inward Teacher but perhaps I have not been listening to those promptings carefully enough. Perhaps too I need to surrender my tendency to take responsibility for the problems of others, especially my own family. There's obviously something there to work on and Balance hasn't gone away either!

Anyway, I do not make resolutions in order to succeed or to fail, just as a way of taking stock and moving on.