Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Wittering Wednesday!: Lost at sea without an anchor?

I can see I'm going to have to alternate my typical that the blog has been silent for a week and when I want to spill, it's a Wednesday! (And I haven't had to be inspired by Morning Prayer this week. But we are talking spirituality here.)

My second year of lay ministry training for the Church of England commences next week, so we've been doing a little reading. I've already read Richard Foster's Streams of Living Water during my first year, and appreciated it, but this week we are asked to look at the foreword by Martin Marty, which refers to spirituality not in terms of streams, but in terms of being 'moored' or 'unmoored'.

It suggests, basically, that spirituality which is linked to an organised church or religion is 'moored', whereas the 'New Age' "I'm spiritual but I don't worship" kind is unmoored - a ship without an anchor, as it were. And I'm not sure that this is a useful way of looking at things.

Firstly, it draws a strict line between those who worship communally according to shared rules and regulations, and those who don't. Those who find God in creation, who seek him in meditation, who don't label the intangible but nevertheless feel it, are seen as adrift. Those who go through the motions of church services, getting wound up about who is doing the coffee rota with them this week and fussing over the choice of hymns, are seen as connected. How is that right? How is dismissing the strictures of organised religion in favour of something freer and more personal that works for you, guaranteed to take you away from God?

Admittedly, it winds me up. People whose behaviour I consistently see as selfish banging on about their 'spirituality' and 'feeling something' when their actions don't change; they aren't interested in a holy spirit acting within them or others. But for many, including myself, that's where it begins. My conversion from atheism to Christianity actually came about through Muslim friends discussing their faith; I'm not suggesting that Islam is in any way unmoored (no pun intended), but I didn't know if I had found a spirituality, Allah, God or Gandalf the Grey at this stage.

Everyone has to start somewhere on their spiritual journey. At every point on it, whether finding calm through yogic meditation or finding transcendental peace up a mountain, I tend to think God is there, trying to reel us in - looking for His lost sheep, putting out the feelers, welcoming us home. We're not disconnected from Him, we're just experiencing Him in a different way. Over time we may discover the Qu'ran, the real meaning of Jesus, the faith of Judaism, and start to engage in religious practices.

But these practices themselves can be seen as mere ritual; people go through the motions every Sunday without feeling anything spiritual. God knows and understands why so many people are put off organised religion when it is responsible for so much hurt and indifference. Yes, the Abrahamic religions can offer a structure by which to live our lives - but does that make us any more connected to God? What about the person who blindly follows the rules of a dubious religious cult - faithful, and moored to what exactly?

If Marty had been explicitly speaking about the Christian faith and Jesus, I could understand a little better. Yes, perhaps toying with crystals and never convening with other Christians renders you adrift from the wonderful fellowship of the faith and discovering more about the Holy Spirit. But the author's dividing the world into those who are meaningfully spiritual and those whose spirituality has little meaning in his terms. (And really, who is he to judge?)

The Christian faith & Church of England are obviously important to me, and I desire that many more people I know can come to understand their importance and worship God through them. I want others to encounter the glory and humility of Christ, and learn to live more like Jesus. But there are other types of Christianity; there are other world faiths; there are other ways of connecting with God. Aren't we all experiencing the same thing, under a different guise, at a different point on our journey? Is it just a question of semantics, after all?

This time last year, I asked friends and colleagues to define spirituality. The most loquacious on the subject were largely atheists and agnostics; they recognised spirituality as a human phenomenon, this need to connect with the something out there, but they didn't necessarily relate it to even a personal theology. Martin Marty defines unmoored spirituality as 'self-acquired', but I think he's missing the point. God surely helps us acquire our spirituality, in whatever shape it comes; he made us with the capacity - the desire - to seek for the spiritual, wherever we can find it.

To me, it's not whether my spirituality is moored or unmoored - I believe that all spirituality has God as its anchor at some level, striving to break through any drivel and fakery (and I'm not just talking about New Age approaches here!). It's how we commune with it. It's how we let God meet with us and shape us, direct us and allow us to grow into the people we are meant to be. It's how we let our spirituality define us and run through us like the letters in a stick of rock, rather than a label on our foreheads. It's about whether we listen when we're praying or actually care for the people with mental health problems who come to church, rather than just tolerate them. It's about what our quiet time inspires us to do, and challenges us to become. It's about what we read means to us, as well as to others, and what it helps us, with God's grace, to understand. It's not about being linked to a specific religious tradition or not - rather, it's what we do with the spiritual tools that are at our disposal, right now, on our journey to God. Never mind the anchor - how and why is the rudder being steered?


(By the way I would thoroughly recommend Streams of Living Water as a read!)

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Small Successes!* Volume 2


1) Managed to wash, sterilise & fill the bottles I needed for the crazy morning ahead, plus shower, get kids fed, dressed etc, without the extra pair of hands I usually rely on...

2) Managed to not yell at the kids *too* much to get us out of the house on time, and had a lovely talk with them about how Daddy needs to go to work to earn the money but it sometimes means Mummy has to rush around like a blue-arsed fly to get everything done & isn't as patient as usual. (No, I don't think I really used that epithet but that's how I felt today!)

3) I only forgot one thing when leaving the house!

4) Baby Becky has put on another pound since we last had her weighed two weeks ago! This is a HUGE success considering that a month ago her weight was plummeting. She's still not up to her birth centile, so it's still feed, feed, feed round the clock, but she's doing very well :-)

*Thanks to Danielle Bean at Faith & Family Live.

Monday, 13 September 2010

May I feed you baby?

OK, I'm hyper-sensitive because breastfeeding didn't work out for more than a couple of weeks with my new daughter, and she's only chunking up on formula. To be honest, what with pre-school, school and two elder girls vying for attention it's made life a little easier in that respect, and my husband loves giving Becky her bottle - the big girls have even helped give her some cooled boiled water.

But why isn't that where it ends? I honestly was looking forward to having this baby a bit more 'to myself' - the big girls are away a lot, and there is no need to hand her over to another caregiver. Last time around, I had a 19-month old and a newborn, and was happy to take any help I could get, over time.

But Rebecca is barely 6 weeks old, and she has already also been fed by three dear women - Sophie's godmother; one of my dearest friends who visited all the way from Scotland; and my sister in law's mum. I was actually happy for them to give her a bottle, or else I would have been extremely (and hormonally!) vocal about it. BUT what I wanted to write about is - people don't normally ask 'May I feed your baby', do they? Because bottle-feeding is something anyone can do, it's assumed that it's OK to go ahead, or to jump in and say 'I'll feed her', or just pick up the nearby bottle and put it in baby's mouth. It's often thought of as 'helping out'.

Yes, I have feelings of inadequacy re the breastfeeding - this is my own issue and is clearly exacerbated by the fact that anyone else can feed the baby (if I let 'em.) But if I was breastfeeding, no one would assume that they could do this, let alone fail to ask permission (although yes, I am aware of the cross-nursing phenomenon). Feeding a baby is part of the bonding process, especially in the early weeks, and as someone who's suffered with post-partum anxiety and depression, this is pretty key for me. Sitting down and nourishing a child, whether it is breast or formula milk, gives you a chance to cuddle your baby close in the hurry of the day, and rest in the moment (if you're lucky.)

I'm also a person who puts a lot of effort in feeding my family good food (most of the time), which may be a reason why I'm feeling this so keenly. And there are a lot of people who do choose to formula feed, rather than do it because they are struggling with breastfeeding. But for those of us who once had the idea in their heads that they would breastfeed long-term, and were unable to fulfil that idea, spare a thought - and ask permission to feed the baby :-)

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Small Successes Volume 1


1) Got my eldest daughter Sophie (nearly 6) to school safely and on time this morning;
2) Got her sister Imogen (4 and a half) to pre-school safely and on time;
3) Got someone to watch the baby while I used the bathroom there;
4) Re-enrolled the older girls for their swimming lessons at the Leisure Centre;
5) Bought Sophie sushi for lunch tomorrow;
6) And some party clothes for her to try on that she'll probably hate, but what the...;
7) And returned home intact with the baby for a cup of tea and sausage sarnie before she woke for a feed.

THAT, my lovelies, is what small successes look like on a school day in the UK with two little big girls and a 5 week old baby. Go me! (I'm just glad I'm not writing this at the end of the day after school pick-up and dance lessons for the big ones, lol.)

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Happy Birthday Mother Mary!

Well, it was going to be Wordless Wednesday, but I haven't yet downloaded the September photos , and after going to Morning Prayer at our Church with Becky (who just slept - our current running joke is that she will think she never leaves her house) I felt compelled to write.

Most people I know are aware I'm I'm baptised in the Church of England, I think, (Anglican/Episcopalian, to narrow it down) although some of my best friends literally are Methodists, and I have some leanings which are very Catholic. During the first few weeks of Rebecca Mary's life, when I was dealing with long and difficult night feeds, I had August's copy of Magnificat propped alongside me and it helped me immensely, as do the words of bloggers such as Kate Wicker & Sarah Reinhardt, dedicated Catholic wives, moms & writers gifted with incredible and helpful insight.

Although in the Church of England we don't perceive Mary in quite the same way as Catholics do, today's Morning Prayer was devoted to her, as we celebrate her birthday on 8 September, and it took place next to the Lady Chapel, which is dedicated to her and is a special place of healing in our Church. Prayer flowing from me in front of licensed clergy in a way it has never done before, I was able to offer up thanks to Mary for saying yes to becoming God's servant, & giving us Jesus. (I also prayed for all God's children, especially the little ones starting school, facing new challenges today.) As a mother, with my 5 week old baby girl next to me (who, although two of my great-grandmothers were Marys, is named for the Blessed Virgin) I could strongly feel empathy with dedicating her life and her child to God. But although my children will go back to God sooner or later - I believe they are a precious gift on loan to us as parents, to nurture them during their time on earth - I have no concept of the suffering Mary encountered during Jesus' last days.

The Old Testament reading during our short, informal service was about the Judgement of King Solomon. He had to decide which of the two women was really the mother of the living baby before him (the other had died; both claimed the living one for their own.) He realised that the real mother was the one who was willing to give up her child to another, as long the child was allowed to live. As a counterpoint, Mary, mother of Jesus, gave up her child to God to benefit us all, but she had to see him die.

Today, in addition to Mother Mary's suffering and loss, I will be thinking of all the precious moments she shared with Jesus before he left this world. I will hold in my heart mothers who have lost their precious babies, some of them even before they were born, some of them before they were even recognised as life. I will also be thinking of all the mothers and carers where I live who sent their precious children to new schools and new classes today, many of whom were tearful or felt on some level bereft.

Thank you, God, for the honour and gift of mothering, and helping us through the difficult times; thank you Mary, who truly suffered as a mother, and whose dedication to the path God laid out for her can help us as mothers today.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Daybooking* in the month of September

Outside my window: Rain, rain, rain. I managed to rescue all the washing from the line before it tipped it down last night. People keep saying it's Autumn, and I know it's not official, but the weather is definitely autumnal. We're back to school tomorrow, so it fits. I do love it though - especially listening to it come down outside when the windows are open.

Most of my waking time is filled with trying to achieve as much as possible with the girls into not very much time. Sometimes it is just making sure they are fed, clean and rested. Today it is Imogen's swimming lesson and completing the invites for Sophie's 6th birthday party. My thoughts are, by necessity, very much on the practical side...also, Becky is 1 month old now, and starting to smile at us!

Thanksgiving: For everything good in this world.

Kitchen goings-on: Ooh you won't believe it, I'm already back into cooking mode, and contemplating getting the organic fruit & veg box delivered again. Just the comforting action of stirring onions and garlic in olive oil, roasting a chicken, bringing the combination of all tastes together....

Reading: I've finally managed more prayer, scripture & psalms as well as Laura Ingalls Wilder for the girls (The Long Winter this time) so my brain is feeling less dead - but it's still Facebook & Twitter feeds on my BlackBerry in the dead of night.

To 2 girls pretending to be fairies in *very* high pitched voices (they've exhausted princesses and spies). The baby wailing, sometimes, if she's hungry or cross she can't sleep. Radio 6 Music, although my favourite DJ has just left as she's now on maternity leave. Rain!

Wearing: A summer maternity dress which looks halfway decent - we're poolside this morning which gets really hot! I'm still waiting for my 6-week medical check before I go back to postnatal swimming & aerobics, and get my Davina DVD out, so meanwhile I'm still covering up those lumps and bumps which may not disappear for a while (if ever!

Around the house:
We're getting there. I'm trying to do stuff like the Home Blessing Hour, but mainly I'm just keeping on top of things like vacuuming the huge spill of tiny beads from an Egyptian headdress (a holiday gift from grandparents - like, thanks.)

A Favourite Thing: TV. I miss TV! I tend to only record a few programmes - family history, murder mystery - and I haven't had chance to watch them. So, I'm looking forward to Autumn evenings when I stay awake after the bedtime feed :-)

*With thanks to Peggy.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Tiny glimmers of hope

Some days, when you're sleep deprived, it feels like you're an actor in a drama, with things happening around you which don't feel properly real. If you're down, it can feel like you don't belong or feel connected to events around you - you just keep pushing onwards in the hope that eventually things will get easier and/or you'll feel better. In this late summer/early autumnal beauty, with dusky pink sunrises and light glistening on deadening leaves, it's easy to register such images without them actually having any effect - I can see God's amazing creations, but they don't move me like they used to.

So how thankful am I for the small things that have been taking place which remind me not only of the presence of God in my life, but the whole amazing bigger picture. I detest the term 'God-incidence' (like a coincidence, but God-directed, for those of you who thankfully don't know the term), but it only takes two or three little things to happen together to help me out and make my day better.

Firstly, I have been granted grace at bedtimes. Patient with the behaviour of two excited, silly little big girls - how did that happen? It certainly didn't come from me. Answering the ludicrous questions. Talking about problems. The putting back to bed. The putting back to bed. The putting back to bed. The putting back to bed.

Secondly, it's the stuff that springs out of the kids that turns things around. Yes, I know we just had a newborn, but at the start of the 6-week holiday I was thinking we might be able to recommence a daily slot at the piano, like we used to - we have simple books of nursery rhymes, seasonal songs & faith songs. I love to play (in an amateur way) and haven't for ages. Of course, this never materialised in practice. But yesterday, after Church, a roast dinner, a DVD and chocolate, the girls actually *asked* for songs at the piano. And it transpired I haven't played since the piano was moved to a space in the lounge which has better acoustics; I haven't sang with the girls since I joined a performing Ensemble for singing practice. And it felt magical. I felt more 'me' than I have since the birth of the baby, enjoying making and sharing music. Maybe it was the songs for the season, such as 'The Farmer Gather His Hay Today, It's Harvest Time', and 'Paintbox', about all the different kinds of vegetables (and I am hankering after getting the organic vegbox delivered again). Anyway, I was uplifted (far more than singing Onward Christian Soldiers in Church...)

And finally, while I was sorting the music books I came upon a recipe, 1 solitary recipe, on the piano, for Green Beans A La Grecque, that I had put there to, ahem, 'file', months ago; maybe even last summer. And it was just the recipe that I was planning to use today, to use with the remainder of the runner beans my friend Mary brought round from her allotment when she came to visit the baby. (We had some with the Sunday roast - delicious!!) And I just felt at that moment, that everything was in alignment, that everything made sense, that God is all around, & that the good things in life outweigh the bad, at least for now.

I am so thankful for these tiny glimmers of hope.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Quick Take Friday - Volume 1

I am much less sleep deprived than yesterday. Rebecca (4 weeks) only woke to feed every 3 hours. Imogen (4.5 yrs) needed tucking in only twice, and I was already awake. Sophie (nearly 6 years) woke twice (including from a sSakemare) and only kept me awake for an hour. This all adds up to much more sleep than the night before! What a difference some sleep makes! When I was in labour I thought of Jesus's suffering. When I'm sleep deprived I'm just impatient, ratty, unreasonable...


I don't want to be stuck around the house today, but I've missed an important parcel full of baby stuff for the past 2 days so I'm sitting in with the baby while Imogen visits Grandma and Grandad, and Sophie goes hiking with Daddy. I would so love to hike, it makes me ache but I'll settle for returning the books to the library & shopping for a new lunchbox for Sophie...please deliver the parcel this morning.


I cannot believe how smoothly shoe shopping went yesterday. Both big girls chose smart, proper fitting school shoes within about ten minutes. I even got an Iced Caramel Latte from Starbucks. Becky stayed asleep throughout. She must think she never leaves the house!


Finally, finally, finally, our Church Next Door (aka Sunday School) starts again this week. I think the big girls are more than ready, although they have done well drawing and colouring, with some singing and dancing, during the Family Service in Church. And hopefully it will mean people getting to see Rebecca without me being swamped at the end of the service!


It reminds me though - now she is starting in Year 1 at school, Sophie gets to go up to the next group at Church Next Door, without me, without her sisters. I always embrace the back-to-schoolness of the season, and I think ordinarily we would all be looking forward to the new, the return of structure and routine, the change. But we have spent the summer with a new baby, and I feel it will be a huge wrench for Sophie. New class, new classmates, new term, while I go home with the baby. New group at Church. Dance exams, then moving up to new dance classes. I'm sure she'll survive. But I'm praying especially for her at this time. I always thought Imogen would be the most affected by the new baby, but Sophie has been stuck to me like glue this holidays. I hope to prise her from my leg in order to go in the classroom on Wednesday morning...


Although of course, Jessica will be there - the 'best friend' (who I am trying to get Sophie to call a 'very good' friend, so as not to put all her emotional eggs in one basket). Hopefully returning to school, learning & Jessica will give Sophie something new to focus on. She had her first sleepover at Jess' house this holidays, which was a great success, especially considering the clinginess :-)


It's the end of the last full week of the long summer holiday. Only next Monday and Tuesday left to rest and prepare. Part of me is full of a sense of melancholy - the changing weather, the season, the elder girls starting back into their routine - can you tell? But, we have a new life to nurture and help develop, to introduce to the wonderful things in the world, so I need to embrace that joy. And there's the run-up to Christmas of course - and Sophie is sat at the kitchen table crafting the first homemade Christmas card of the season as I type...