Mundane perfection.

This evening my twenty-five-ish-minute walk home from work took closer to forty minutes. The reason for this was simple, small and fascinating: I stopped to watch a small furry spider construct a web.

Unfortunately I didn’t get to see all of it. He’d already started by the time I arrived, and he had the main structure already going. But I watched him walk down the web’s main supportive threads, reeling out a spool of cobweb behind him, stretching out his web from the centre point. Some spokes of the web he doubled up; others he left as single strands, presumably following some inner engineering logic of his own. Then, once he had created the spokes, the structure, he returned to the middle of the web. Carefully, delicately, he travelled in ever-extending circles out from the middle, filling in the triangles between the spokes with roughly parallel threads. He did that about six times, then he moved from the middle right to the outer edge and did the same thing, working his way towards the middle. Again, some threads were double-strength; others he left as single fragile strands. When he had finished he stopped for a well-earned rest right in the centre of his brand sparkly new web.

I stood, transfixed, watching this tiny creature’s mundane act of creation. Spider webs are things of beauty, and to watch one reeled out into being right in front of me was a blessing. Like watching prayer, or poetry, or music. Tomorrow this hard-working little spider might catch a fly with his web. He will be safe there, until wind blows or a thoughtless bird plunges through it or it starts to rain, or until for some reason he decides he needs to move on. But today I got to watch gentle perfection being created in a hedge on an industrial street in an everyday city.

Although in hindsight I would have looked pretty strange to a passer-by, standing and staring with fixed intensity into a hedge. Right now, I’m kind of hope that no one I know drove past…


A hurried ritual, and coming up short.

For a number of reasons, it’s been a fairly chaotic week. After my week of blissful, gentle relaxation with my parents, I returned to work and hit the ground running. This job can change by the second – one phone call can shatter a precision-planned day; a task which should take half an hour explodes without warning and takes four or five hours. Lunch gets eaten at ten o’clock or four o’clock; databases crash and notes are left undone and this morning’s now scum-covered coffee finally gets swigged (followed by a gasp and strangled noise of revulsion) after the meeting that should have finished at ten which eventually staggered to a halt at half-twelve.

One of those weeks.

It’s been a frantic week. I’ve tried to take moments of stillness, to stop and breathe and check in with my body and my mind. To find moments of grace, and gratefulness. But there really hasn’t been time. My brain has barely stopped; my body has barely stopped. Which is why I wasn’t surprised that when I arrived at the Cathedral to hear Evening Prayer before my rehearsal I bobbed a quick genuflection in the aisle and hurried quickly to the side chapel.

It was only when I got to the side chapel that I was brought up short by the realisation of what I’d done.  My body had made the observance to the altar, the acknowledgement that I was in a holy place, a place sanctified, set apart. That I was somewhere special, a place of prayer. My mind hadn’t, though. My mind had just rushed me through the small ritual like it was just one more task to get done. So, facing the smaller altar in the side chapel, I stopped. I took my time in genuflecting. Not only did I bow my body in acknowledgement; I also bowed my mind. In that action I deliberately breathed in the living peace and stillness of the Cathedral; I allowed it to permeate my roiling thoughts, to slow them.

It didn’t stop the demands of the day, of course. The gentle hiatus of Evening Prayer, with its comforting rhythms of recitation and readings, was followed by a rehearsal just as wonderfully demanding as always. But that simple action, of turning towards a created representation of the Lord’s table  and the presence of the Divine, was just the reminder that I needed. A reminder to slow down. A reminder to breathe. A reminder, wherever I am, to bow my soul in acknowledgement that I live and dwell within the Source of my being, the Creator of love and life.

Tomorrow will be just as busy as today. Sunday’s singing will be just as demanding as tonight’s. But maybe, just maybe, I can remember to find space within them to acknowledge the Sacred around and within me – space to just be.

Writing (and other) wisdom from an unlikely inspiration.

I am a big fan of The Bloggess. Google her. She’s hilarious.

Here is a paragraph from her latest blog, somewhat dramatically entitled: “Fifteen Things You Absolutely Must Know About Social Media Or Your Face Will Melt Off And Get Eaten By Goats”. She writes a list of fifteen “rules” for successful blogging, and concludes with number sixteen: “There is no 16. There’s not even a 1-15. There are no real rules or magic potions. Blogging success is fleeting, fickle, and largely based on luck (much like everything else in the world). This may seem depressing, but in a way it’s rather freeing. It allows you to write for yourself instead of following a set of rules someone made for you. Find your own voice. Find your own rules. Find a way of measuring success that’s more about freedom and fulfillment rather than page-views and analytics. Page-views mean nothing a year later, but the words you’ve put together may stand and affect others for a lifetime.”

The words she’s put together have certainly affected me. It’s wisdom related to blogging, but it can very easily be generalised to writing. Or, for that matter, to creativity in all its forms. Or, for that matter, living in general. It’s not about success or failure. It’s about finding my voice, using my voice, releasing myself into the world and being who I am without being frightened. It’s about letting myself write badly so that I can learn to write well. Make mistakes in choir so I can learn to be a better singer, a better sight-reader. Take the risk of standing up for who I am and what I do so that I can be that, and do that. Be me, and be unafraid to be me. Because I can only stand and affect others if I’m willing to – you know – actually stand.


Addendum to yesterday’s post: I did walk to work today. I did see the same driver in front of whose car I stepped two days in a row. I did meet her eyes, and we did share an amused smile and a moment of connection. The only difference was that this time I was watching where I was going and I managed not to step out into the road without looking. That’s an improvement, I think.

Absent-minded connection.

I really should not walk and think at the same time. For two days in a row now, walking to work through the light industrial area which also serves commuters who want to avoid the traffic on the main roads, I have stepped off the kerb without looking. Into the same street. In front of the same car. Driven by the same woman. Who two days in a row has had to stop for me. The first day I waved an apology and mouthed “sorry” through the windscreen of her car. She waved acceptance and we smiled at each other. Today I waved a slightly more chagrined apology as I mouthed “sorry” through the windscreen; she waved acceptance with a far greater degree of amusement on her face. Our eyes met and we grinned at each other; I shrugged at my own absent-minded stupidity and we both laughed.

Tomorrow I should probably not step out into the road without looking. But for today, I enjoyed a moment of human connection – and I rather suspect that she did too.

The fact that the moment of human connection was over my stupidity appears to be beside the point.

A golden week.

I’ve just spent the week with my parents. It was a peaceful week, a gentle week. There was a lot of laughter, some in-jokes funny to no one but the three of us; some serious and gentle conversation; sharing of news and the mundane beauty of day-to-day life; time spent in companionable silence lost in our own thoughts or absorbed in our own reading, but together nonetheless. Also a huge quantity of food consumed and love shared.

It’s been a golden week, a blissful week. And, aside from the joy of the week itself, there are two wonderful things of which I’m profoundly aware: firstly, there will be no punishment for having a wonderful week. I had a wonderful week. End of story. I don’t need to wait for the other shoe to drop. Secondly, my parents are among my best friends. I’m not sure that I know many people who can say that.

I’m now facing the beginning of my working week (so we’ll see how long this sense of peace lasts!) but I do so knowing how deeply I am blessed.

Losing myself, and finding myself.

The saddest part of most of my weeks occurs when the choir finishes singing the anthem at Evensong on Sunday evenings. This is the point at which the singing for the week ends, and I must now wait five whole days before I can sing with my choir family again, for Friday evening’s rehearsal.

Today I got to introduce my wonderful parents, who are visiting me and who attended services at the Cathedral, to my choir friends. I’ve got used to the literally incredible fact that I have friends, but it’s not a reality that I ever take for granted. Still, today I saw my friends through fresh eyes as I watched them engage with my parents, and was reminded afresh of just how blessed I am to have such warm, loving, vibrant, caring people in my life. People who care for me and allow me to care for them. People who love me and allow me to love them. People with whom I can have silly, joyful fun, with whom I can have serious conversations, who allow me to be quiet when I’m not up to talking but let me know that they’re there for me anyway. These people have, sometimes unknowingly, been light for me in some very dark times. They have extended to me the hand of God at times when God has seemed a long, long way away.

Every day I am grateful for the blessings with which I have been showered. It’s just that some days I am more profoundly aware of my blessings than on others. Today is a day of that profound awareness and I am grateful for my friends.

Being known II.

This is the other scary thing about being known: being known means that you have to face compassion.

There’s a church in Melbourne, in the city, which has engraved along the low wall which lines its border with the footpath: Cleave me with your compassion. Each time I see this, or even think about it, I realise anew how frightening this concept is. Compassion – true compassion – does cleave you. It burns. True compassion is witnessing someone’s pain. It is upholding someone’s pain, taking it seriously. And in doing so, we are forced to acknowledge the pain we have been trying to pretend is not there.

It is easy to brush things off – I’m ok. I’ll get through this. Yes, it was tough, but it’s over now…. It’s easy to say all the brave and self-reflective things, to deflect attention off the tender and painful places. It is easy to offer a small pain to cover the large one, the one you think might cripple you if you even acknowledge it.

But that’s the thing about compassion. It forces you to acknowledge the crippling pains, as well as the small neat ones. It forces you to face the reality of what you’ve been through, what you’re going through. To face the fact that healing takes time, that recovery and restoration are painful. It forces you to be vulnerable, to step away from self-control and keeping it together and putting on a good front, and to admit – to yourself and to others – just how much it hurts.

But – inconveniently to this left-brained control freak – it is facing this compassion and being willing to offer up my own pain that will be the catalyst for my healing. In having the courage to face my pain, to face the reality of what was done for me, I will learn to carry it more lightly. There will be days when it will not feel as heavy, as all-encompassing. The alternative – to pretend frantically that the reality of it is not something I carry – will only drag me down more heavily.

And here’s the other thing: the Creator God of Psalm 139 is already there. Already surrounds my every breath, upholds my every step, sheds every tear (even the ones I pretend aren’t there) and shares every moment of grief and joy. And it doesn’t matter to It whether I’m open to compassion or not. If I shut the door, the Creator of the Universe comes in through the window. There is nothing I can do to push away the Source of love, the Ground of my being.

So I guess there’s not much point in trying.  I’ll just have to learn to let It in.

I think I might be getting there. Slowly – but getting there nonetheless.