What strands make up your life?


Early August morning at the weir


Swallows gathering close to the house

August has flown by, it’s been the busiest month at Retreat by the Dart since I started offering retreats 3 years ago. Yesterday after all the visitors had departed and washing was on the line, I had some time to reflect. It really is a good time of year for that – a transition time between summer and autumn, when birds get ready to migrate, blackberries and plums are ripening, the mornings are cooler, misty and dew filled, the sweet pea arbour is fading fast and my thoughts turn to ordering bulbs.

On September 1st 5 years ago  I moved to Devon. It was both an exciting and exhausting day, finalising the clearing and cleaning of Godsfield House, saying a tearful goodbye to my neighbours, and driving as fast as I dare down the A303 with a loaded car and two dogs to pick up the keys to a rental house before the estate agent closed. I was greeted by my close friend Jeanne who came to stay for a few days to help me unpack.


Dippers have been faithful companions on early morning walks

Continuing the pondering, I then recalled how many major life events have happened since then  – acute appendicitis, a love relationship that didn’t last, a work relationship that didn’t well, work,  and more recently a year of chronic post Lyme disease during which time both my close friend Jeanne died,  closely followed by a more recent friend and spiritual mentor, Joyce Ferne.


One of my favourite views of the river Dart @ Sharpham

Before you lose the will to live reading this, I then recalled the inspirational and formative events during this time – being introduced to Cynthia Bourgeault’s writings; attending three  Wisdom Schools with her; finding and buying the Coach House; being introduced to the architect/builder who brought my vision for retreat space into being; enjoying early morning river swims;  completing a training in Centering Prayer;  facilitating residential retreats and the gospel of Thomas sessions, now a fixture with a group of amazing women;  completing a 30-day Ignatian retreat which I can only describe as a profound conversion event.

Conversion to what you may well ask, and isn’t it a bit late for that? Well, I guess the answer is to a new way of understanding the spiritual life. As Richard Rohr said yesterday, “Religion is supposed to teach us the way of love. … The wise ones recognise that without a certain degree of inner freedom, you cannot and will not love. Spirituality is about finding that freedom.”


We came close to a heron yesterday morning

I like the simplicity of this. A friend who describes himself as “agnostic” came to stay recently, and I was trying to explain something of what my line is on religion and spirituality. I could tell by the look on his face I wasn’t getting through! Rohr’s words sum it up very neatly. I hardly dare whisper it, but I have an almost evangelical need to share this, such is the strength of my conviction (oops!) after years of struggling in a spiritual wilderness.


Selkie enjoying my birthday walk @ Sharpham

Another anniversary moment I recalled was 10 years ago when Jeanne and I spent New Year together in Cornwall. We always liked to take time to reflect on the year past and share our findings through drawing, writing and creating images. That time I wrote a poem called “Strands”, (which is pasted below). It was 2 years after I had quit the business of publishing, and although I knew I’d made the right decision, I was struggling to make sense of it.  On re-reading it after a gap of some years, the heart of the poem reflects the same idea – inviting the Soul to take the lead – which is really what inner freedom and the necessary “letting go”  is all about.

I’m struck again by this image of “strands” – threads like swimming that began when I learnt to swim as a child in lake Coniston, or friendships like Jeanne that began almost 40 years ago and will continue despite her physical absence, lovers who have come and gone but fan the flame of passion from time to time, and that ever present undefinable Thread that draws us constantly on to allow ourselves to be oh so gently unravelled and to allow oh so slowly, who we truly are, to be revealed.

This morning I read this quote from Rumi

“How could the soul not take flight

When from the glorious presence

A soft call flows sweet as honey, comes right up to her

And whispers, “Rise up now, come away.”


What shape and colour are the strands that make up the pattern of your life’s journey?



being “in the middle”     with no clear markers

upooted from comfortable home

familiar ego life

a scary place        tempted to return

to what seems safe   but still curious

and open minded, and just a bit excited

(with a thin line of fear – ‘will there be enough’)

letting the questions wait for answers

where will I emerge  how will I be drawn

from this not knowing empty place

rich with potential

the Creative Void

the strands already there gently drawing me on

inviting the Soul to take the lead

allowing time and space

(here where time stretches out)

for her to grow and strengthen

trusting in her beginnings

(so far back the thread is lost)

listening to her promptings

to take up my soul-skin  and return home to

what is true  for me

the experience is the journey

the outcome unknown  only a new awareness

that enlarges my world for ever

New Year 2006

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Where were you when England won the World Cup?

Yesterday I was remembering where I was when England won the World Cup in 1966  – with my family on Looe beach (not far from here along the Cornish coast). Mum and I had gone to buy ice creams, we weren’t interested in football. The beach was crowded with people listening to the match on their radios. What I clearly and visually recall was standing on the small promenade above the beach and watching the whole beach erupt as the iconic words “They think it’s all over – it is now” heralded the win.  My brother told me this morning what he most remembers is having fish and chips and cider afterwards!


A sparrow feeding young in a nest on the side of the house

Today is another anniversary, slightly less momentous in the national scheme of things, it’s 4 years since I moved into this house. It’s an odd feeling – it doesn’t seem that long ago, but a lot has happened – good and less good. However I roll the dice, it’s been an eventful time and I feel it has become both my home and the place where I work.


Dartmoor pony and foal by the Dart, upstream at Newbridge

Last week a friend came from the US, and one of the things she told me about was going on a retreat with Cynthia Bourgeault on Teilhard de Chardin. I asked her what was her main  learning from it. She said, two words – “optimism” (Teilhard took a very long view, being a palaeontologist!) and “get out there” – Cynthia’s words – meaning we have to engage in the world, not live in an ivory tower of solitude and seclusion.


Light on the river Dart at Newbridge

Sitting outside having breakfast the following day, vaguely pondering this, I thought “My calling is not retreat giving”. After all that effort to move here and set this place up, why do I say that? After reflecting further I thought, because now I understand that to focus on one thing only is to conveniently avoid the bigger picture, which is what Cynthia was talking about. Responding to God’s call is a being event. In “getting out there” it’s not necessarily a call to social action, which might well be part of the story, but it’s a call to BE in the world. And it’s not a call to be out there, as some kind of model of perfection (as if!), that’s another way of staying in that ivory tower. It’s a call primarily to relationship with God, the Divine, the Source of all Life and it involves the whole of us, not just the part we think is our calling, or gift or spiritual goal. I’m reminded of some other personal iconic words from 30 odd years ago, “I haven’t called you to publish books, I’ve called you to be a friend”. It’s taken me a long time to “get” this.


Early morning close up of ornamental grass in the garden

The way I’ve come to this is through prayer, particularly contemplative prayer. Mirabai Starr writes about Teresa of Avila’s three stages of prayer. Starting with the prayer of Recollection, focussed silent prayer or meditation which takes effort on our part. Over time it can lead on to the prayer of Quiet, she says “We cannot manufacture or manipulate this stage of prayer. We can only make ourselves ready to receive it when it comes, and in the words of Stephen Levine we “hold on tightly and let go lightly”. Last comes the prayer of Union which “is usually fleeting, but its impact endures. Each time God blesses us with these unitive experiences, we are forever transformed.”


Beloved dipper at Newbridge – note the tags

I write about this not out of huge experience, but a sliver of awareness, that numinous moment on retreat last year, which I more and more see as a transformative event from which I began anew. It’s why I will continue to offer retreat space, as that is one place and space where we can deepen this process of intimacy with God. Not separating ourselves off in a holier than thou huddle with God,  but receiving the kind of intimate love that propels us back into the world.

And just as England struggle to repeat the success of 50 years ago, we too in the words of Mirabai Starr “are likely to still bumble through the human condition, behaving unskilfully at times, and with more grace at others”. She goes on to say “but with each taste of union we identify a little less with the individual personality and more with our essential unity with the Divine. We are less likely to take passing circumstances as seriously as we used to. Our values shift from acquiring security to serving the One through being of service in the world”.


Selkie taking the long view at Newbridge

It’s so subtle, and even harder to write about. But I can’t not try. Just like the England football team and Teilhard de Chardin, I will take the long view!

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The task within the task


At first I thought this mallard was mad bringing her young up the weir


But she led them off…


…. to safer water

I had the impression there hadn’t been many nature sightings this month but as I loaded my photos onto the computer, I smiled. There was a multitude of images of new life – mandarin ducklings, teenage goosanders, and mallard ducklings at all stages of growth.

I’ve also seen an otter this month, but as usual was too excited to pick up my camera, it was all over in a flash. Most of these sightings are on my early morning walk down to the river with Selkie, where sometimes she hinders rather than helps the process of observation – as today bounding into the river to chase the ducklings. But it’s a lovely time of day when few people are around, and I never quite know what I will see. The morning routine of walking before breakfast and the first Centering Prayer meditation practice of the day is a beautiful start to the day, trying to do it before checking my ipad for the latest in our national drama.


The next day she was back, and I realised that she had brought them there to feed


And here they are, looking very precarious but enjoying the spot


4 “teenage” goosanders resting at the head of the weir


Watched over by their mother

One local friend wrote an email to a group of her friends about her distress following the referendum result. It pushed me into asking myself, what do I think beyond all the pros and cons, ins and outs, ups and downs of this surprising situation we find ourselves in here in the UK. What is my response at a deeper level than being a “remainer”? After watching an awful lot about it in the media, with interviews up and down the country, preparing to write this piece I was reminded of Richard Rohr writing  about the importance of the “task within the task”.

An interviewee in Hartlepool struck me as crazy at first, saying all recent immigrants should be “sent back”. But this is her world, in a place where unemployment is high, re-employment unlikely, and low income the norm. Her fear was of what little she had being taken away. It’s taken me a while to admit that there was some fear behind my decision to vote the way I did. On the surface I have very little in common with that person, but both of us in different ways were hooked by the fear-mongering that was rife on both sides of the argument. The important thing here is  knowing when we are hooked.


Spot the lone mandarin duckling – she caught up with the rest soon after

If we are on a spiritual path, and believe in the unity of all beings, we have to find a way to live with and embrace difference and that takes honest self-reflection especially at a time like this.  It is that which enables us to understand difference in others. So, whilst being deeply engaged with the process that is going on, mind and heart, I think the “task within the task” is to also find a way to let go, detach from our strong views, and find a way into the space beneath all that, which is a place of centredness and unity within. That is what we can take to the table in listening to the debate that is going on, rather than our entrenched position.  It’s a slow, sometimes painful, but most necessary process.


A family of 8 almost grown mallards, (before Selkie sent them flying this morning)

The way I’ve discovered to do this is through Centering Prayer, which is simply an exercise twice a day in letting go of my small mindedness, my egocentric views, my outraged feelings, in order to sink into a wider, more spacious, place. Some would call it  a God space, whatever name you give, it’s the place where I and all that I’m attached to, takes a back seat and allows something else to be present. That something is not another feeling or image or experience to attach to.

Richard Rohr said “Contemplative prayer is the change that changes everything. It’s not telling you what to see, but teaching you how to see…. When you move to the level of the divine mind, the mind of Christ, you know it’s not all about you. In fact, it’s all about God. And you will soon find yourself loving all that God loves – which is going to be an ever widening circle of realisations and love”.

I don’t think this negates action, and I’m not advocating a passive approach to injustice wherever we find it – there are plenty of examples going on currently. But loving all that God loves is what enables us to move beyond “them and us” (brexiters and remainers, aswell as all the subtle undertones of immigrant and resident). The “task within the task” is to find that place within us.

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Tick Story 2


Along the river bank – an arbor of oak spring green laced with ransoms

It’s hardly surprising my notebook of insights and reflections for this past month contains very little, the focus of my energy having been with processing Jeanne’s passing on and then preparing for her funeral. A mutual friend of ours told me last night that she “saw” Jeanne recently in a red tracksuit, I love that image – she who was so disabled latterly by neuropathy looked as if she was about to go running! I am relieved that she is no longer suffering, and I felt honoured to offer a reflection on our friendship at the funeral.

As the NHS haven’t a clue about recovery from Lyme disease, I see a complementary practitioner, who said to me at our last session recently “What HAVE you been doing?!” I told him about Jeanne, all that I’d been through and involved with. In some ways it was a relief that his diagnosis confirmed what I knew – that my energy levels had deteriorated significantly since I’d last seen him. He gave me a stern talking to about prioritising activities into A, B and C, focussing on the “As” – much easier said than done I have to say.


Adult dipper waiting


First young arrives


Second young arrives

In a parallel universe life on the river Dart has been full to bursting with new life. The trees breaking out into that vibrant almost neon green, filling every available space, the ransoms a carpet of pungent white flowers in the woods and along the paths campions a riot of pink. The most precious experience on my early morning walks with Selkie was watching a pair of juvenile dippers being encouraged by an adult to take flight along the river.  Early morning isn’t the best for photos, but I offer them as a unique moment of life on the river bank. Later on I saw a female goosander with 4 large young two days running. In the world around me, everything is vibrant, blossoming, burgeoning, growing.


Adult dipper with fledgling on a log


Fledgling about to take flight

Meanwhile  in the world inside me, I still wonder “why me, why this, why now?” on a daily basis. I have written before about the profoundly numinous experience I had reflecting on Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan, during the first part of the 30 day retreat in Scotland at the end of which I had the fateful tick bite. The other day I was out early on the river bank with Selkie, asking this question yet again. This time an answer came,  “It’s your desert experience”.  And I remembered then, that after Jesus’ baptism, he immediately went into the desert.


In my sparse journal this past month I made a note of one particular daily meditation from Richard Rohr in which he’s talking about “radical transformation”. He quotes Ken Wilber “Religion itself has always performed two very important, but very different,  functions. One, it acts as a way of creating meaning for the separate self…” Rohr says, “This is good and needed… You have to have a self to move beyond the self….But most religion stops at this first function, simply giving you a positive self-image and identity…”


Female goosander with 4 young

Wilber goes on “But two, religion has also served.. the function of radical transformation and liberation. This function does not fortify the separate self, but utterly shatters it … in short, a radical… transformation at the deepest seat of consciousness itself.” Rohr says, “This is true religious conversion. The experience occurs when God or life destabilises your private ego, usually through some form of suffering. It will feel like dying, because it is the death of the false self. The small separate self is shattered, and your True Self is revealed. The True Self is about right relationship, not requirements.”

I always felt that the “conversion” I experienced as a teenager set me on a collision course with Christianity, I simply couldn’t meet up to the “requirements”  I felt obliged to impose on myself. Now, 40 years on, I believe this particular life experience is there to nudge me into this second stage. Perhaps like the Israelites, I’ve needed all that time to come to terms with my ego’s limitations.


Trees reflecting their spring growth in the river

Ah well, there’s a few years to go yet….




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Bluebells for Remembrance


Early April at Hembury

April has been a month of transition in many ways.     Photos taken early in the month showed leafless trees and grey skies, and towards the end of the month there was some stunning greenery around, and the occasional clear blue sky.


My first sighting of duckings on the river

I hoped to see more ducklings, and early April provided  this treat. Since then I’ve seen many pairs of goosanders, mallards and the fun Mandarin ducks, but no more ducklings.

And as the month has gone on, one of my close friends has been defeated by the combination of cancer spreading, and the effects of chemotherapy on her body. Jeanne was a friend from my days in (Post Green) community, heady pioneering days into a whole new way of living and loving. It was a very formative time for me, without it, I doubt I would have found my way to where I am now.


Jeanne at Lamorna, back in the days….

I have struggled to find anything else to write about, and as it’s April 30th, and I’m committed to a monthly blog, this will be a short tribute to our friendship. Jeanne was an important friend, someone I could share my spiritual journey with and be understood, someone I could be myself with and have fun, and someone I could share my interests in art, tennis and nature with too. I think what I will miss the most though, is the memory of sharing our spiritual journeys together.

The one thing I’ve remembered from my reading this month is Cynthia Bourgeault speaking about her spiritual friend and mentor, Rafe, telling her to “find the place in you that lives beyond death”. I think of that often, it’s the ultimate teaching on letting go.


That stunning beech green, late April at Hembury

So, thank goodness everything is growing and greening like mad, albeit with a few early morning frosty hiccups. Bluebells and ransoms are competing with their powerful fragrance.  There are beginnings and endings going on all the time.


Bluebells in the woods at Dartington


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A kingfisher, a clam shell and real freedom


The Dart at Sharpham, early March, looking towards Dartmoor

I started Lent with a rather spontaneous decision not to buy anything new for the period.  It was born of feeling too preoccupied with what I “needed” for the house. As I write on Easter Monday, that practical decision was, not surprisingly linked to a bigger story that has been gestating over the Lenten period.


The ever present dipper at the leat bridge

During the first part of my 30 day retreat last year I was impressed at one point with the image of a clam shell. I took it as a symbol of my own fierce attachment to certain things. But the magic of that time wasn’t that the clam shell opened, and I walked free (happy movie ending). It remained stubbornly closed throughout the retreat. The real script revolved around the transformative encounter I wrote about in September.

Deciding to cut out spending was a spontaneous decision, I saw it as a small step to letting go of my attachment to “stuff”.  And  the  benefit? At one level space opened up in my mind, and I found myself with more time for exploration. Waking up on a most glorious sunny March morning, I decided to go out early with Selkie and drive to a place upstream along the river Dart.  I was blessed in spades with my first sighting of the year of a kingfisher. At first I saw it as a streak of colour, but later couldn’t believe my luck as it posed on a branch long enough to get a half decent photo.



First kingfisher of the year on the Dart at Spitchwick


As Lent progressed, I noticed at a slightly deeper level, a microscopic step towards internal freedom, along the the notion of not being defined by consumption. I had practical experiences of understanding the difference between “choice freedom” (I can have what I want when I want it) and “response freedom” (I can live without that or, it’s not that important).


A pair of mandarin ducks spotted up a tree by the river one morning

And then I began to piece together the underlying meaning of that spontaneous decision. Yes the Lenten decision was about consumption and freedom, but it also had to do with the real purpose of the spiritual journey. In an excellent book written from a Sufi perspective, (Living Presence) the author, Kabir Helminski, says (about Sufism) “It is and will remain a critic of worldliness – by which is meant everything that causes us to be forgetful of the Divine Reality.”

Richard Rohr gave me a clue too in a timely piece in early March: “You can’t accomplish or work up to union with God, because you’ve already got it. You cannot ever become worthy by yourself; you can only reconnect to your Infinite Source. The biblical revelation is about awakening, not accomplishing. It is about realisation, not performance. You cannot get there, you can only be there.


A lone egret on a flooded field by the Dart



Selkie watching the egret!

Trying to piece all this together into something meaningful (and if you’ve lost me already, just enjoy the pictures!)  I can only liken it to turning a kaleidoscope and seeing the pieces in an entirely new way.  In the new picture, the spiritual path is simply (!) about reconnection to the Source of Life rather than a constant striving for Self Improvement, through this or that book, meditation practice, church group, good work, kind thought, generous giving (these being natural outcomes not required behaviour).

Our “work” is one of being, not doing: to be willing to let go, surrender (not renounce)  anything that separates us from the Centre, the Source of Life, Divine Reality. That’s where the clam shell comes into the equation: whatever I hold onto in a clam like way, whether positive (attachment) or negative (aversion), prevents that reconnection that Rohr talks about.

As ever Thomas Merton gets to the heart of the matter with these words, “The real freedom is to be able to come and go from that Centre and to do without anything that is not immediately connected to that Centre”.


Lovely female goosander on the shallow March river



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Seeing with the river’s eyes


I was shocked to see this view of the flooded river from the sitting room window


male goosander chasing off another male on the river

It’s been a wild month with the river flooding in a very dramatic way.  I can’t normally see the river from the house, so it was a shock to see so much water  from my upstairs sitting room window. By contrast on a lovely afternoon with Selkie up on Dartmoor I had clear views right out to the Exe Estuary and across to the high moor, with a dusting of snow. But the most magical moment was early one Sunday morning on our daily walk along the river bank. In the space of one walk I captured on camera a dipper collecting nesting material, a pair of mandarin ducks mating (I didn’t realise til afterwards that’s what was going on!), and a male goosander chasing off another male, staking its claim on the female. Spring love of the river variety is indeed in the air.


dipper on a mossy stone in the river looking for nesting material


same dipper with nesting material in its mouth on the river bank

This month also saw the start of Lent, and I decided to commit myself to not buying anything new for the period.  The very first day my clock radio by my bed packed up. I’ve had it for at least 20 years, and my first thought was “I HAVE to replace it”: did this count as something new or not?! “I CAN’T manage without knowing the time if I wake up in the night”, I said to myself. So without further thought, I went and bought a replacement. Afterwards I felt a tad disappointed, so I started to question a bit more why I had made the Lenten commitment.


female mandarin duck eyeing up a male at Still Pool

It started on the 30 day retreat when I was reflecting on blockages to deepening my spiritual life. I wanted to take that a stage further and  see where the challenges really are for me around money.  My friend Jim Forest posted a timely piece by Merton in which he says “there is no spiritual life, only God and His word and my total response”. Well, at the start of this Lenten project my sense is that my “response” is very limited….

Then fortuitiously I read a piece by Cynthia Bourgeault, again quoting from Merton. He talks about “choice freedom” and “response freedom”. Choice freedom is when I can do what I want, I have the choice. “Response freedom” is when I’m in a situation where I don’t have a choice, but I choose how to respond. The key is about being having the internal freedom to choose how to respond in a challenging situation.


looking across to snow on high Dartmoor on a clear sunny February day

In my life as it is now I have plenty of choice, why do I want to challenge myself in this way? Because as Cynthia says in this same piece “There’s a subtle difference between a like that’s an ego having something it expected fulfilled and a joy in something because in a way it’s so unexpected… they have a different feeling to them, inwardly. And as you begin to learn to steer by those internal freedoms, you’ll answer your own question about where joy and pleasure and abundance live in your life.” Indeed.

My disappointment in my knee jerk decision to buy a replacement clock radio, was that I short-circuited that experience. And it was exacerbated by discovering that the red screen is hard for me to focus on.  So the irony is I still can’t see what the time is when I wake up at night – lol!



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Unlearn Everything


Snowdrops by the river…..


…. on January 1st!

I’ve started to notice how car manufacturers are offering a spiritual experience by buying their latest model – “unlearn everything – let go of what you know” was the headline on an ad for a new Ford model, and prompted my thoughts for this piece.

The good news is that my health is improving, it’s slow going, but it’s happening. (And in case anyone reading this is wondering, I am open for retreats!)

As improvement has come, I’ve watched the river Dart as it’s risen to flood levels and back again – a number of times. Most mornings, walking Selkie, I see a dipper or two on or under the leat bridge, bobbing up and down as they watch for a moment to dive into the rushing water. And as I ventured further afield to Spitchwick, on the Dart upstream, I managed to catch a dipper diving for food, a remarkable sight.

And as January has blown by, it’s been encouraging to experience the underlying benefit of this experience with Lyme disease.  The best advice I had from someone who’s helping me recover, was to not burn up the energy I now have in “extra activity” but to let it grow stronger. And those words chimed with the deeper learning, or “unlearning” that’s been going on.

Reflecting on a gospel reading in Mark, in which it said “Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the lake…. he told his disciples to have a small boat ready for him, to keep the people from crowding him… He gave them strict orders not to tell who he was”, I wrote in my journal afterwards “That’s not what he was about!” By that I meant he wasn’t about wanting attention, or being successful, he simply wasn’t driven by his ego.

And the past three months of not having energy to do the things I would normally do, has prompted an “unlearning” of familiar patterns, most of which are, frankly primarily ego driven. To quote Richard Rohr, “The small ego-self hates all change. So someone personally needs to lead the way, model the path, and say this is a good and “necessary suffering”. Otherwise we will not trust this counter-intuitive path.”

On days when I could do very little, it was frustrating, but the slow drip of “unlearning” of conditioned activity, led to a deeper “knowing” that we don’t have to earn God’s love. It is always there. We pay lip service to that, and until something happens to put a spoke in the wheel of conditioned behaviour, it stays at an intellectual level. On the 30 day retreat I had a glimpse of this. The overall experience was of a love that pre-dated my birth and all the overlay of parental expectations that have dogged my life since.


Dipper on the river bank at Spitchwick


You can just see the dipper diving under water


Out it comes ….


…. with food in its mouth!

But what I now realise is that it’s not a once and for all experience. “You can’t put new wine into old wineskins”. The cultural, psychological, and social “wineskin” that we create for ourselves has to be re-made – and that means we have to “unlearn everything” to truly follow the path Jesus embodied.    That’s where the rubber hits the road – in any model of car!

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Unexpected Gift


Gulls on a flooded field in the Christmas Eve sun

This is my first Christmas at home alone in Devon, and so far  (it’s Christmas Eve), I’m loving it. After torrential rain (again) this morning, the skies cleared to blue and Selkie and I went out for a second walk,  to make the most of the sun’s warmth.

As Christmas has approached this year I’ve had to draw back from many of the usual activities. At the same time I’ve had a growing awareness during this period of Lyme disease affliction that perhaps it is something of a gift to me (I may regret these words!). When I told a friend a few years ago I wanted to be more contemplative, he said “I always think of you as a “do-er””. And now I can’t “do” what I’d normally do or what I’d like to do. The unexpected gift is that I’m learning something about being on my own and inactive that is helping to bring me closer to how I actually want to live.


Duh – we’re not going this way!

I’m being forced to be more attentive to decisions about what I want to do. I have simply had to pay more attention to the prompts, and impulses that lead to action – to just “nip” to the shops, getting carried away online longer than planned,  picking up the phone impulsively. So many unconscious choices!

I’m becoming aware, particularly now at Christmas time, when life usually gets so much  busier and more social,  what actually motivates me. For example I have a strong “Will there be enough?” driver. So watching as I spent far too much time, energy and money at Morrisons the other day, only to end up flat on my back afterwards was salutary.


The flooded river Dart at the leat bridge this lunchtime


Dippers have been the most frequently seen birds this month

The image that comes to mind is feeling like I’m on the underside of a frozen river or sea: all the busyness and activity of life is skating around above ground, and I’m swimming around under water, watching and observing but not participating. Like a seal I guess, occasionally coming up for air, but for the most part enjoying the solitude of the deeper waters.

For once, I can pay more attention to the spiritual significance of this time in the Christian calendar. Stripping away the popular notion that it’s about  peace and goodwill, although they are usefully moral adages to aspire to as we drive faster, try to fit more in to each day, and spend time with people we don’t often see, I’m holding on to this quote from Meister Eckhart

“God’s ultimate purpose is birth. He is not content until he brings his son to birth in us.” 

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F Words: Fog, Floods and Friendship

I have spent all of November in a bit of a fog, under doctor’s orders to rest. I can hear you say, how wonderful, and I didn’t mind either to begin with. This was the “cure” for for Lyme disease. But it’s not as easy as you think. It’s been a very good challenge for my ego which likes to plan, be active, productive, hey, even do the things I feel “called” to do. And just as things were starting to go well…..


Selkie wondering which way to go!

I had to cancel the lovely group of women who meet here to delve into the gospel of Thomas, postpone a retreatant, advise others that I couldn’t offer retreat guidance, abandon the garden, limit phone calls with friends, and cut out most if not all social activity. Thankfully I was able to still take Selkie out morning and evening, watching daily as the river rose to flood level, bursting its banks and curtailing our walks in places.

I read a quote a while ago which went along the lines of “find the place in you that lives beyond death”. I think that’s what this recovery process is about. I’m not indispensible, people will find their way spiritually without me. It’s a very interesting process to reflect on the fact that life will go on for others after we die.


Selkie found this melee of mandarin ducks in a flooded pond

The flip side of this coin if you like is learning that we are loved for who we are, not for what we do. I don’t know how this gets so ingrained in us, but I did get some clues about my own propensity for performance enhancing love on my recent retreat. Richard Rohr wrote in a recent piece “this God wants to love and be loved rather than be served”. Our calling is to relationship, not to a task.

About 30 years ago,  I had a bathtime spiritual moment, when a voice clearly said to me “I have called you to be a friend”. I have lots of good friends, and I find it easy to carry that out when it comes to them. I had also made some steps towards  embracing people who I don’t find easy to befriend. But on my recent 30 day retreat, the penny finally dropped that the primary relationship with the Divine, God, the Centre, is friendship.

“The journey of the pilgrims is two steps and no more:

One is passing out of selfhood,

And one towards mystical union with the Friend”.

From the Secret Rose Garden, written by Shabistari a 14th Century Sufi mystic.


A very full river Dart at Staverton


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