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Tea and Theology

Loneliness

I’ve been reading The Lonely City, which has seemed apt to be reading in the week of World Mental Health Day on 10th October. How is it that the loneliest places can often be the busiest places, where people go virtually unnoticed?

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We live life so quickly that it is possible to avoid meaningful conversations with anyone when there are so many people milling around – the more lonely one becomes, the harder it can be to reach out and ask for help.

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How soon those who feel isolated or desperate begin to have a slightly distorted view of life.

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Many of us seem adept at presenting a calm exterior with few truly knowing what is happening beneath the surface. Having a small circle of trusted confidants can be helpful, but perhaps we need to be a little more open and honest if we are to positively challenge attitudes to those who live with poor mental health.

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Where is the hope? Is it easy to identify, to grasp and quantify? Or do we need to illuminate it?

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How can we as the church, and as individuals, support one another when everything feels too much…surely we should be able to admit it, to scream out and join one another in lament?

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Being with someone in their darker moments means that we are also there when hope begins to reveal itself, slowly at first perhaps, nonetheless noticeable.

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Eventually it might become easier to see signs of hope, and possibilities, especially with someone walking alongside. Can we show bravery by being honest with one another when everything feels overwhelming? Equally, do we have the courage to stay by the side of those we care for when they are overwhelmed, and be with them in their times of darkness, acting like a beacon for them?

Lost

It’s sort of like opening the curtains 
on a morning thick with fog;
difficult to orient the self within,
impossible to see a way through,
or detect the familiar which undoubtedly
surrounds, yet remains out of reach. 
Walking through that same fog
further distorts impressioned reality,
challenges each of the senses. 

Or similar to swimming underwater 
away from bright surface light;
no breath, aware of impermanence. 
Distorted sounds mingle together,
vision impaired by stinging cold water. 
Need for oxygen overpowers all feeling,
get out, rise — rush to the surface 
to greedily gulp in fresh, crisp air…yet
light patches become spots…dots. 

Imagine waking in the middle of the night
in a strange, unfamiliar location;
unable to find a bedside lamp or light switch. 
Eyes adjust to dark but still do not see. 
One foot tentatively in front of the other
with arms desperately stretched out ahead
and breath firmly held so as 
not to betray this fragile presence to
unknown, unidentified enemies. 

Or envisage the fear running through 
every millimetre of the body,
as understanding of just how lost
it is possible to be in this strange
unfamiliar place begins to unfold. 
No idea of that intended destination 
from more than an hour ago,
even less inspiration regarding
where to start to head back. 

Then the beautiful armchair in which to be enveloped is becoming rare,
with warm comfort of familiar brew, often accompanied by a biscuit or two…
That is safety, refuge — but how do I get back there?!

Seeing rather than looking…

This week I had the great pleasure of a quiet day to contemplate the last month of ministry and refocus for the month ahead. I read an excellent book called Spirituality and Photography. I was struck by two things. 


Firstly that we are to be catchers of the light – to bring attention to the divine light of God in the darkness of our world. 


Secondly we need to see rather than just look. Ritcher describes the difference as knowing what you are looking for but being more open to possiblies when you are seeing. The way the light falls in this leaf seems to be to be an allusion of the pain endured during the crucifixion to me – I was only able to see this when I was open to the possibilities. 


The photographer’s obsession with light is similar to my passion to bring light into the darkest places as a deacon…


…to bring hope to people in their darkest hours. 


That light might take a variety of forms…


…like taking time to fully see someone…


…or to be with them as the sun sets, reassuring them that it will rise again!

Be catchers of light this week!

Beyond the Study

The comfortable security
gently draws me in.
The old leather arm chair
sits in the corner waiting
to envelope, to take me home,
back to a time and place
which no longer exists
with the charm and charisma
of wonderful nostalgia.
The leather smell releases
as I sink deep into the chair
which empowers the dreamer
to dig deep into the soul.
I close my eyes to explore
the space and place I have
been brought – past, present, future?
None of it beyond reckoning –
I am outside time and space.
I sit at the top of a castle tower,
overpowered by darkness.
Light clusters around a small candle
to my left – I reach out for it
and take it as I tentatively lean
towards the top of the steps
the urge to step out and explore
overtakes me…and I go!

To ponder…

“The contemplation of things as they are without substitution or imposture without error or confusion is in itself a nobler thing than a whole harvest of invention”

Francis Bacon
“Stop looking and…begin seeing! Because looking means that you already have something in mind for your eye to find; you’ve set out in search of your desired object and have closed off everything else presenting itself along the way. But seeing is being open and receptive to what comes to the eye.”

Thomas Merton

Shaking the Dust

Ancient custom decrees shaking
shoe dust at unwelcome faces.
Unspoken communication
such as this seeks to acknowledge
hostility which replaces
delightful hospitality,
where shoe shakes supersede handshakes!
Such tradition comes not without
trepidation, hesitation
before final demonstration
of submission to one’s wishes
What brought me to stand at your door
and desperately shake dust off
my shoes, with the bitter taste of
betrayal tainting highlights of
our history – our childhood and shared
experience? What? Where? When? Why?
Why use this powerful method
of communication to end
all future destructive attempts?
Few know how to truly hurt me,
yet you have long since scrutinised.
I marvel at such attention.
The impact of pain, exclusion,
petty point scoring runs so deep…
Such consideration deserves
the response long meditated
upon, negotiated for.
A shame those involved knew nothing
of your game, such acquiescence.
Of innocent participants?
Mere cannon fodder to you now
And yet I still forgive you – yes…
but to forget would be foolish.
So I shake the dust off my shoes,
turn away never to return.
As this ritual requires.

Are you busy?

It seemed like a simple question, and yet I was frozen on the spot…how could I answer? It wasn’t the kind of enquiry which might result in a request of some sort, but rather an extension of “how are you?”


Thoughts came crashing all around me like a huge wave…am I busy enough? Or am I perhaps too busy?


“Busy” can be like a badge of honour in our society – the busier we are, the more valid our existence. 


In contrast to that idea, I aim to give the impression of having as little going on as possible – not out of laziness, but rather to be open and available to those who need. 


It can be so hard to keep grounded, remain focused on being present, when there is a reason to daydream and to keep your head in the clouds (to a point)…


…to notice in a new way, or to see through God’s lens.


How can I possibly measure a ‘heaven focus’ with a gauge of this world?


This simple question whirled around in my head, as I tried desperately to feel my way to the truth and find a sense of peace. 


A light had been shone on my need to reconnect  with God who calls me to minister amongst the people, day after day, and to find my peace there. 


As I walked out into the city the next day, on my day off, I ways struck by this street art, which for me depicted the hands of God breaking through, drawing me to rest. Busyness is such a complex concept – but do we dare to not seek it?

Cracked vessels

I’ve been thinking about how people are a little bit like cracked or imperfect vessels. Each vessel is imperfect in a different way, and that may be more or less noticeable, but each is imperfect none the less.

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Some might be too small to be of any real use…

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Others might look beautifully ornamental but not have a purpose…

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Some might just be the wrong shape for what you intend to use them for…

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Or not deep enough to contain the growth that is happening…

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They might have a good side, but damage on the other…

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Or not be very good at allowing light to shine out, even though that is what they were designed for…

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Too big…

 

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Or whilst perfect when they’re new, they rust once the weather gets to them!

Whilst these criticisms are specific to vessels, how does imperfection and brokenness manifest itself in people – in you and those around you? Is it easier to see in others? Are we quick to judge those around us whose imperfections may be slightly more obvious than our own…do we convince ourselves that our imperfections are not as damaging or as bad as those of others?

What if we try instead to see the beauty in others? What if we look into the eyes of those around us and searched for what they hold inside them and for the things about them that we love?

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Brokenness into Beauty

The room was huge – bigger than
you might be able to envisage,
stretching as long as it was wide
It seemed to go on and on…
goodness knows what it was
before this destruction?
A banqueting hall perhaps,
which would make more sense
of the ceramic debris covering the floor!
Eyes took a few moments to adjust
to the poor lighting as they looked in
from the old heavy double doors.
Windows, covered by dense curtains,
allowed only a few shards of light
to break through the cracks
and the electricity of the industrial
revolution was yet to arrive
in this once fine and grand palace.
All that remained of such grandeur
were these shattered pots now
littering the floor, buried in dust.
Different shapes, sizes,
colours and patterns
reflected the diverse range
of ceramics they had once styled.
And now this was all just rubbish,
they could never be pieced together
to return to their previous existence.
They were broken and useless
with no further vessel potential…or was there?
What might it be like if each of
these pieces were gathered
together to form one single vessel?
The vision, small at first, grew beyond
all reckoning – it became an obsession!
Slowly initially, then more intentionally,
hands gathered individual pieces and
gently wiped away dust and traces of decay
before placing them carefully
and purposefully alongside one another.
Dust stirred up as feet tentatively pushed
broken pottery aside, deliberately
taking care not to add further damage
to these precious pieces, as they moved
deeper into the room to seek and gather.
An initially small and seemingly
insignificant workspace spread
as clutter gained a sense of sequence.
The sound of steady breathing alongside
a light chinking and clinking of ceramic
pieces making contact was all that
accompanied the silence
in the vast banqueting hall.
The divine artist worked unceasingly
to form broken fragments into a
vessel of unique splendour and artistry;
pieces fused together with golden lacquer
took on a greater depth and charm
than had ever emanated from them
in their previous existences!
Brokenness led to beauty as
the divine artist gathered, shaped
and moulded the pieces of pot like clay.
Never before had anything like it
been crafted or created but as eyes
observed the work of their hands
and saw the immense light that the
powerful vessel had been built around,
they looked and saw that it was good.
And then they rested!

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