Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Learning or Relearning?

These past few weeks have taken me on a journey, in fact what feels like lots of smaller journeys pulled together to only just start to make sense. I guess a journey never has just one straight path to walk along, but many different, winding paths.

I'm sat here in this beautiful garden, notebooks and pens (my addiction to stationery shines through!) surrounding me, the sun shining down (yes, I have no jumper on!), the birds whistling in the trees and the occasional bark from the dog as somebody comes along the drive. It's a very peaceful place to be. And, although I also live in a relatively peaceful place on the outskirts of the city with a view of the Pentland hills from my window, it isn't as peaceful as here for one simple reason - when I'm at home I feel the need to do 'things'. When I'm away from home I can be free to do whatever I want to do, because I simply can't get on and do 'stuff' because I'm not there to do it.

I've spend the past days confined to the walls of my two bedroom flat, with only two very energetic kittens to keep me company. And this is why:

I decided this week to finish painting my bedroom (although the ceiling still needs done...) and then to redecorate the bathroom. Now, there wasn't particularly anything wrong with the bathroom decoration in itself but it had clearly been a while since it had been done; the paper was starting to pull off, there were the odd stains and grime and really it just needed a bit of lightening in because of it's lack on window.

So, this has been my life for the past days. In my flat, stripping wallpaper, filling holes, painting walls, cleaning, drinking tea, playing with kittens and eating jaffa cakes. Oh, and the odd bit of watching the Olympics of course.

What in all of this is about me learning or relearning? Well, there's a lot to be said for having so much time on your own. I love time on my own, this is a known fact. I get so much energy from being on my own. But this week I have learnt, possibly relearnt, that I only love time on my own if I've had time with people. Time with people: I love it, I cherish it, I don't often turn that opportunity down, unless, well, I'm people-d out! People make my world go round, it's that simple. If I don't have people in my life I go slightly crazy, let's face it!

There is something to be said in this about serving. I don't think I'll ever fully understand what it is to serve in God's kingdom. But I do know that I fit better with serving than many other things. So when I'm in my flat on my own for so many hours in a short space of time, I go a bit bonkers. There isn't much serving to be done.

And, yes, as some people have already said to me, it's good to take time to not serve, to be myself and take time to look after myself. But this learning/relearning this week has proven to me that I still need people and other things to stimulate, motivate and inspire me before I am able to stop and 'look after myself'. If I haven't used up much of my battery than I don't need time to recharge it.

There is much, much more I could say on this. But for now it is time for lunch and a cup of tea. Maybe I can say more another time. In the mean time, go use up your battery so you need to charge it again too!

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Liberation, belonging, identity

"Come to me and I shall give you rest." 

"One bread, one body, one Lord of all, 
one cup of blessing which we bless, 
and we, though many, throughout the earth, 
we are one body in this one Lord." 
© John Foley, SJ

"You are something new but haven't fogotten where you've come from."

"Lord of all power, I give you my will,
in joyful obedience your task to fulfil...
Lord of all wisdom, I give you my mind,
rich truth that surpasses our knowledge to find...
Lord of all bounty, I give you my heart,
I praise and adore you for all you impart...
Lord of all being, I give you my all;
if I should disown you, I'd stumble and fall."
© John Copley Winslow

Her children arise up and call Her blessed 

What did you learn about yourself during your time on Iona?
How do you feel you are different now?
Has your faith changed, and how?
What did community life teach you about the kingdom of God?
Did living in community make it easier for you to talk to people you don't know?
Do you feel more able to be an involved member of a church after your time there?
What did you learn about God?

These are just some of the many questions I have been asked since finishing my job with the Iona Community back in December. These are some of the questions I have found very hard to answer since then. I realise that they aren't questions I can take and answer lightly. "What did you learn about God and about yourself?" There will never be a one line answer to those types of questions. They are questions about life and questions that I can only begin to answer as I continue to journey through life beyond living on Iona.

One of the things which has been difficult for me in my transition from Iona life back to Edinburgh life is knowing how to 'do' church; where to go, who to be with, what it means to me and so on. I went back once to my church that I attended before moving to Iona and, although knowing deep down I didn't want to go back there full time, it was a very strange experience for me. I say I knew deep down that I didn't want to go back there for a few reasons, but the main reason being something to do with change in myself. The last time I was attending this church on a regular basis I was 19/20 years old. On returning from Iona I was 22 years old. That difference may not seem like much in terms of age, but in terms of where I have been on my life's journey, with God and personally, there is a big difference in those 2-3 years. Of course I love my church family there and I would never want to lose contact with them, but for who I am now this church does not feel like the most comfortable fit for me. As quoted before: "You are something new but haven't fogotten where you've come from." That church will always be the church where I found Christianity for myself, where I began my personal growth and journey with God and where I made so many important friends. I will never forget what that church has allowed me to go on and do. Yet, now, I am something new and I have to let that be what it needs to be.

I have also been back to the church where my dad goes a couple of times. This is the church where I was raised, where Christianity was set in my bones and technically my home church I guess. The familiar - that is what that church is to me. The familiar safety net. In some ways it will always be that for me, and it's very special to have a place like that. I think if I had have had the time lately, which I didn't due to working most weekends, I would have gone here more often. It has been so many years since I have been there regularly that not many people have known me there since I was about 13 years old, and so going back now they take me to be somebody very different. There's that something new again.

So, what does this 'something new' need? I need to not forget where I have come from, from my roots at Christ Church and my growth at Liberton Kirk. I need to allow myself to be who I need to be now within a church, as a 22 years old woman who is now strong in her views, willing to express who she is to the outside world and not so afraid to hide her life journey with anyone. I require somewhere that I can stand up and be open and honest about who I am, and I require somewhere that I can be challenged to a new level over and over again. Life is dull withough challenges. I don't want to sit back in a church community and nod along with everything merrily like a plastic dog sitting on the dash of your car. Of course, like any human, I would like to be accepted in a community for who I am. I would like to be able to accept everybody in that community also, and feel able to contribute something to benefit the wider community (here speaketh the girl about to study Working with Communities....). 

Today I went along to a new church, a church which I found on a simple google search. Augustine United Church in Edinburgh is a beautiful place. The building is so beautifully built right in the centre of town, mixed in with libraries, cafes, shops, pubs, museums and tourist attractions - right in the heart of the community. The building is so beautifully put together inside, with words of inspiration, faith and stories to tell, with community art/craft projects hanging on the halls and with stained glass windows telling very moving stories. The people, most importantly, are also beautiful. The warmth as you walk in is very obvious and welcoming, the smiles are genuine and the words spoken are honest. God can be felt within those walls and within those people. The interest in my life, the enthusiasm for the Iona Community, the smiles of familiar faces (met previously on Iona last year), the words of the sermon and prayers, the songs honestly sung and the spirit of God moving in that place - they are the things that made that church this morning so special for me. It isn't often you will hear a sermon in such 'normal' language that all can understand and relate, songs being sung with such emotion and truth, and a minister positively praying for the same-sex marriage bill in the Scottish parliament. It isn't often you would feel comfortable to sit in a church with a 'Pride!' bracelet on and not feel judged for doing so. The church has a group called Our Tribe and they have recently won an award for the work that they do in their community, and I found this very moving and inspirational. I feel truly blessed to have found this church today, and I hope and pray that it continues to challenge and reward everybody who attends, and more.

This morning God became real for me again for the first time in a while. Since leaving Iona I have not been a regular church goer and that has put a strain on me in many ways. I hope this is another new chapter of my life now, and certainly a new step on my journey. "Lord of all being, I give you my all; if I should disown you, I'd stumble and fall." That stumbling has been oh so real for me in these last months while settling back in to Edinburgh and making decisions of what to do with my life. This past week I have stepped back on my little ladder and journey onwards once more, after time spent on Iona with people who mean the world to me, in the place which I can still call home, and within the Abbey itself, and then finding this church where I hope I can just be me as I begin my new studying venture. Life moves on. "And you can't keep life from moving on so roll along."

Patchwork put together by 'Our Tribe'

"O Christ, you are within each of us.
It is not just the interior of these walls:
It is our own inner being you have renewed.
We are your temple not make with hands.
We are your body.
If every wall should crumble, and every church decay,
we are your habitation.
Nearer are you than breathing,
closer than hands and feet.
Ours are the eyes with which you, in the mystery,
look out with compassion on the world.
Yet we bless you for this place,
for your directing of us, your redeeming of us,
and your indwelling,
Take us outside, O Christ, outside holiness,
out to where soldiers curse and nations clash
and the crossroads of the world.
So shall this building continue to be justified.
We ask it for your own name's sake.
© Wild Goose Publications - Iona Abbey Worship Book

Wednesday, 11 July 2012


Royal Observatory: Edinburgh
July 6th 2012:
A day off work for a very tired, worn out, grumpy little person. Full time work, friends staying, sports, committee papers, life decisions and planning, association meetings, denitst appointments, tea and cake dates, shopping, cleaning. The list could go on of what I have been up to for the past few weeks that have made me so busy. Though you may look at that list and think it looks quite average, it has been quite stressful for me. And this day, 6th July, I realised why. It isn't often I will share these moments with people, as they are 'my' moments, but this one has made enough of an impact on my life in the past few days that I feel like sharing it is ok.

I had what can only be described as a twitchy day off. One of those days when you don't really know what to do with yourself, when you wake up in the morning with a list of possible things to do as long as your arm yet no inspiration or motivation to do a single thing off that list. I like lists. But on this day that list didn't really matter to me. It was drizzly outside and the wind was whistling through my living room window as I tried to sit still and read my book, with a cup of tea in hand. Sitting still isn't something I do well, but I try. This trying failed as I knew something wasn't right inside of me. What, though?

A few hours later after going to Sainsburys, cleaning the kitchen and hanging my washing I got in the car, turned the engine on and pressed play on the cd player. I drove. But where was I going? I had no idea. I had no plan, I had no aim, I had nowhere to go. I just needed to go.

15 minutes later I found myself up on Blackford Hill. It hadn't been many days since I was last there with my friend watching the sun set over this beautiful city. 

Sunset from Blackford Hill

"Hour after hour in this evening light
How long will we stay here tonight?
There's still a distant power in the daylight
But you can keep it for the morning.
And the shadows of the woods
We could hide from what we know
But as I understood
We were hiding from tomorrow"

So there I was standing on the top of this hill. It's not a big hill at all. Just a hill. But a hill with quite some view. To my left perfect rows of houses. In front of me stood the castle, high and majestic, with the water behind it. To my right Arthurs Seat towered above the city. Behind me the ski slope lit up the distant Pentland hills. But, most importantly, surrounding me there was air. Air that I could feel, air that I could breathe, air that I could join with. 
The weather creeping in over the city
The wind continued to blow as it had all day, and the rain splattered down on my head. It was cold up the hill. There was a man running, a woman walking two brown spaniels and a family of four racing back to the car before the rain poured down. The usual popularity of this hill was no more as the weather closed in around it. There I stayed. I stood. I listened. I watched. I knelt. I heard. I saw.

"And you can't keep life from moving on
So roll along till there's nowhere to go"

Life can move at quite some pace sometimes. That pace can be too fast for me to appreciate all that is happening. In the run up to me standing on this hill I had some great days and weeks, with the most amazing of friends I could ever ask for to keep me sane. Yet here I stood only just realising those joys, because I had the space to be 'me'.

"And my advice
It was to make something out of what it's worth
Make something out of what it's worth
In the end, what's more important?
To have toiled?
To have tried?
I'll let you decide"

 I am an introvert. That's it. That is what all of this is about. I am an introvert.

This is a fact anybody who knows me will know. As an introvert I get easily overwhelmed by too much stimulation, if you like. As an intorvert I require solitude and stillness. That is what has been missing lately. This hill made me remember this. I say remember because I knew all of this before, so it wasn't a realisation, it was a reminder. This is me still getting used to how to live in the city again after spending so much time on a remote Scottish island. My automatic reaction when over stressed and unable to concentrate was to get in my car and drive somewhere away from people. I ended up on the top of this hill, overlooking this city which I love so much, getting cold and wet, knelt on wet grass, and for the first time in weeks I was still. Not just physically still. Internally still. Content. Able to think. Able to feel alive. Able to connect with the God who is so much bigger than I am. Able to stretch my mind. Able to feel people close who are at a distance. Able to enjoy the stillness inside of me. 

With 'Be still and know that I am God' going around in my head I knelt there for quite some time, just breathing in the fresh air and taking all of the wind and rain and view in. Nature is such an amazing thing. Nature makes me alive. Really, trully alive. I love sitting in my flat, I love being in cafe's with a cuppa tea chatting, I love being busy. But if I don't take this time to be in nature, I am unable to enjoy all of that love. So, from now on, when I find myself getting stressed at life, I must just go and say hello to nature, take in the air and enjoy the elements for the freedom they give me. I did it before, I forgot recently how to do it, and just needed that one evening to nudge me in the right direction again.

This introvert needs to be an introvert and that is ok. That is who I am and that is what I will continue to be.

"In your love, my salvation lies"