Spring rains

I’ve just come back from Lee Abbey, which isn’t an abbey – but a Christian retreat centre, a lovely community centred place in the depths of Devon countryside, banked by hills and dipping down to coves and beaches of creamy waves and deep jade sea.  Very steep hills! After a week of sun I guess I hoped for more of the same, but the valley was pretty solidly rain washed for a lot of the week. I have excellent waterproofs so I was smugly comfortable all week despite needing windscreen wipers for the glasses.

I was booked in for a teaching week on living a reflective life -(which would normally be very appealing to me) but one look at the beautiful countryside made me long to be outside and having a fun week! It felt very positive to tell fellow guests that I was having a holiday while they were inside, being quiet; silence and reflection are fine, but not when I can hear rooks aarghing in the trees, see fritallaries in the grass and have waves to stare at and chase up a beach.  And primroses, violets and new emerging beech and hazel which spatter the hillsides like a pattern on a grey green shawl.

I realise, this week, how much guilt I can carry – I am a book lover who always reads the books I buy.  I spoke to folk who buy books and never get round to reading them, who have not the faintest flicker of guilt.  If I have a passion in life, it would be sharing good books with people to encourage them.  Yet, I feel guilty when I buy books I don’t need – maybe it’s a childhood spent in a public library, where books were presents for birthday and Christmas? Two new books make the rucksack of returning feel heavier!

So this week is learning to live a little after a fairly dark few months.  Mornings out in the sun or rain, walking through mud and up and down the lovely Devon hills and cliff paths, drinking coffee and sneaking cake (because we are well fed already) in small shops instead of costa, afternoons repeating the walking but with company. I guess that’s the kind of holiday that feels renewing for me.  Little pressure, lots of weather, gentle silence, and a backdrop of water – seascapes, streams, and standing pools of the stuff all over the roads on the way home.

 

 

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Days of fog and porridge

Not “days of thunder”; swirling rafts of dank grey fog twist around me today, forcing lights and wakeful driving. Blue is peeping through the cloud edges slowly.

It’s been a week with the consistency of cold porridge.  The sort that is water and basic oats, no syrup, no milk, sets like concrete in stomach and saucepan.

A feeling word picture.  I’m on sertraline, an anti depressant, for the next few months.  I am so suprised at the back up it is giving me.  A lift sufficient that I walk to work, train in the gym and pool and am rebuilding my relationship with God who needs to be the most important person in my life.  And is the one I treat the worst sometimes!

Transparency forces me to admit that the first few weeks felt dreadful.  Dry mouth, queasy stomach, anxious, and very sleepy – with a brain feeling like scrambled egg.

It kicked in after 3 solid weeks.  Sufficient for a job interview, for smiling with, enough for me to forget that social overindulgence is my downfall still!  I need to learn to rest and slow life a little. I’d forgotten how normal it feels to wake up after a good night and not pace around in the morning to stay the ridiculous tears that are drawn like rising sap.  Not life giving just depression’s unexpected downside.  Costa coffee has probably survived without my Sunday morning attendance.

When I was in my late teens and early twenties, I remember being told that Christians shouldn’t need anti-depressants and well meaning folk may tell you not to take them.  I take an inhaler for asthma.  I’ve not heard anyone tell me it is a slur on my faith to want to use medicinal support for fairly inadequate lungs.  Medicated, I have walked mountain ridges even if they are what another friend calls “practice mountains”

I am happy to concur with my doctor’s advice and co-operate.  My only regret is the stubborn heart that thought I could do it by myself and was too proud to ask for help.

The city and the city

Last night I watched the first installment of BBC2’s dramatisation of China Mieville’s interesting, thought provoking and thoroughly weird book “the city and the city” We read it in bookclub and it provoked discussion!  It’s fair to say that I watched the drama and wondered what on earth I would make of it if I hadn’t read the book.  I’d really love to hear from anyone who did see it and hasn’t read it first.

A dark view of two “cities”  One shiny and modern, one seedy, heavy with some kind of political thought police.  A time warp of old phones and tech, peeling posters and cheap suits, heavy with smoke.  The background blurs and it’s not my eyes – citizens must “unsee” the other city which co-exists within their own. Great characters, interesting plot – I’m looking forward to next week.

In bookclub we reflected that we often “unsee” things. I know that applies to the homeless in society, but maybe I’m guilty of unseeing people I don’t know how to relate to as well.  People who serve? TV news – too awful?.  It’s easy to walk around in my own headspace, ignoring what is under my nose.

 

 

The other one in the book

A while ago on a sleepy morning I read through the bible book of Ruth.  At work, with a machine coffee, truly early, with the rest room quietly humming with conversation around me.  It had occurred to me that I only read the book through the lens of Ruth, the main character in the plot.  It’s a bit like the film “the other Boleyn girl” – all eyes on the famous one! So, as I thought she might have something to say to me in the depths of feeling truly grotty, I read through the filter of Naomi, (her mother in law) I read it in a snappy translation so it felt like any everyday read for me.  I made a few notes and found to my suprise that I could see God doing things for Naomi that I hoped he might do for me – provide, care, strenghten.  And then I went to work and left the notes for a while! (quotes from the “Message” version of the bible)

“Naomi left home to live in a different place.  Maybe she discussed it with her husband and sons, maybe she was just swept along in a patriarchal culture.  Gone to the place of an enemy nation, yet she settled, raised sons with or without her husband’s support following his death.  Did she start to lose her hope then, only to have it briefly revive on the boys’ marriages? Her sons die too.  That’s triple tragedy sufficient to knock anyone’s faith and spirit.  She says God “has dealt her a hard blow, a bitter pill to swallow”, yet her daughters in law see something of the God of grace and love in her – they offer to stay and accompany her.  Openly affectionate and grateful, aware of how the daughters in law have loved her sons. She’s honest and realistic about her age, marriage prospects and status in life.  Attractive enough in character that her daughters in law cling to her weeping.

She calls herself “bitter” – I think she is depressed, sad and I can see why.  Knocked sideways at all the losses. She says she “left (home) full of life and God has brought me back with nothing but the clothes on my back” “The strong one has ruined me”. Angry, yes, bitter at God, yes. So honest that she doesn’t varnish or hide her feelings.

God provides – through a devoted daughter in law’s work, provision of left over lunches, conversation, grain for bread.  Naomi perks up “God hasn’t quite walked out on us – he still loves us, in bad times as well as good” Ruth is safe and provided for; being in the “house of bread” is good for her. Naomi’s got her strength back – she’s planning and scheming for Ruth’s future happiness – and even perhaps for her own provision and care.  A good man is in the picture.  The women have an open, warm, friendly relationship.  Even so Naomi hasn’t totally run out of resources – selling land that she still owns.  Ruth and husband provided for her, produce an heir – a role, warmth, a future and a hope for Naomi, who dotes on the baby boy like every good granny should!

Sealskin

I’ve just read “Sealskin” a beautiful, un-put-downable book by Su Bristow.  It defies classification – “magical” is one that is useful, “fantasy” is probably a little strong.  It’s based on a Scottish tale of a seal maiden who leaves her sealskin behind to dance on land, captivating a young man into an uncharacteristic act which has life altering potential.  I’m trying hard not to give away the plot, in case you might wish to read it!  I would suggest that reading the afterword of the legend of the “selkies” or seal people is one way of ensuring the ending doesn’t come as a shocking surprise.  Then again, it does slightly spoil the tale if you do.

The writing is smooth and drew me into the world of water, sea and rocks.  And the close knit community of a scottish fishing village, suffocating, alienating, welcoming by turns.  The suspiciousness of change and the hardened perceptions of “outsiders” ring true to me as someone from a fairly small town.  Rumours and gossip, fights and feuds pepper the narrative along with detailed descriptions of nature and the hard but satisfying crofting/fishing way of life.  Weaving through is the character of Donald the young man, an outsider, an introvert, a man painfully not at home in his own itchy skin.  He’s so honest: it is difficult to watch with him in his choices and decisions.  His growth into a man of warmth and strength through the events of the book is it’s charm and attraction for me – integrated into his community, loved and well taught by his choices and the deftly drawn family and villagers who inhabit the tale.

The other main character’s strength and joy, vulnerable childlike simplicity and ability to teach the observation of heart and intent makes this just such a lovely read.  I bought it on a whim and I am so glad I have done so.