Presence

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Last year I wrote:

presence

  • as in here
  • as in now
  • as in presents
  • as in being
  • as in showing up
  • as in real
  • as in poise

And then on New Year’s Eve I went down with the virus that was sweeping the nation. This took up most of January, on and off, during which I:

  • spent a lot of time feeling absolutely exhausted
  • kept on editing A Spoke in the Wheel, which has a lot to do with physical ability and disability
  • watched Yuri!!! on Ice, which also has a lot to do with physical ability, all the way through at least twice
  • planned a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela

And I was exquisitely aware of what I could do and what I couldn’t do.

I got better. I walked a lot, working my way up to being able to do fifteen miles in a day and not . I made it to Santiago (and am still intending to write all that up). I’m still quite into Yuri!!! on Ice. (And what I really like about it is the way that it deals seriously with physical limitations and spiritual themes in a universe where there is no homophobia; I also spent this year in the Church of England, after all.) I have nearly finished A Spoke in the Wheel, and it’s still about physical ability and disability, though it’s also about burnout.

Presence ended up mostly being about physicality, but also about being a spiritual creature, about paying attention to what it’s like to exist in a body, and what it’s like to exist in time and space. Being me, here, now. Knowing what I can do and what I can’t do, and moving things between the categories. And all sorts of things seemed to come back to that. Slow travel. Being in the body that I’m in, experiencing sex and desire and love the way that I do. Blisters. Going to church when I didn’t feel like it. Pilates classes. Burnout. Depression. Sudden striking moments of awareness of the created world: unexpectedly, intensely, appreciating the taste of soup or the way the sunlight falls on the collar of someone’s coat. Frustration at having so little time that is truly my own.

The Incarnation, for me, is the most remarkable thing about Christianity: that the sacred is physical, that the physical is sacred. That’s what presence seems to be about, for me.

I don’t think that I know anything now that I didn’t know last year. Not in terms of facts, at least. (Except for a lot of figure skating terminology, and that I really do need to get some new walking boots before my next long hike.) Or perhaps that all that I have learned has gone to show how much I don’t know. I still feel that I know very little about presence, that I still have a lot to learn – but that perhaps a little has sunk in, that I’m beginning to understand about being who I am.

A compass for 2018

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Happy New Year! Well, a happy new year to those who are celebrating it today, anyway.

Personally I’m all for celebrating the new year as often as possible. I celebrate it on Advent Sunday, along with the rest of the western Church, at Easter, when I generally stop feeling so grim, and at my birthday. I also celebrate it when the number ticks over from 2017 to 2018 and, if necessary, at the start of the academic year in September. But Advent is, for me, the big one. I take the whole month to do it. Ease the new year in gently. Look back, look forward. Light some candles. Sulk about how everyone else seems to be managing to be cheerful and excited.

Usually I observe Advent with some kind of reflective, communal, blogging exercise, but the days of reflective, communal blogging exercises seem to be past. Besides, I don’t seem to be in the mood for asking myself searching questions or nominating the best book or best day of 2017. I want to do something, but it’s not Reverb; so I think I shall just bumble around and do my own thing, picking and choosing exercises from elsewhere on the internet, and not answering any questions if I can help it.

I’m starting with a compass, identifying the qualities I wish to have in my orbit in 2018.

North is COURAGE

North East is TRUST

East is LOVE

South East is INTEGRITY

South is HOPE

South West is PRESENCE

West is JOY

North West is HAVEN

Some of these are concepts that have been important to me for several years. PRESENCE was my word for this year just gone. INTEGRITY came in around 2012, I think, and hasn’t left. COURAGE got me through 2014. HAVEN, on the other hand, is a new one. I’ll probably end up writing about some or all of these at some point over the next couple of weeks.

After writing the qualities in, I put the quarter days at the cardinal points, and the changes of season at the ordinals. (My life has been much better since I decided that summer begins on May Day and August is actually part of autumn.) I also put my three main new years on there. Other than Lady Day/Easter, they’re slightly out of step with the rest of the compass, but they do seem to want to be on there.

Some of the conjunctions between festivals and qualities are striking; some are amusing. PRESENCE coming in at Lammas, just after my birthday, is both. Some I don’t quite see. (HOPE needs to come in at Midsummer, otherwise it’s downhill all the way; but why JOY at Michaelmas?)

Anyway, knowing me I’ll either revisit this every day until next Advent, or forget about it immediately. Or revisit it every day for the next three weeks and then forget about it completely.

Courage to trust; love with integrity;

Hope for presence; joy in the haven.

Haven for joy; present with hope;

Integrity of love; trusting courage.

Courage/Hope

Love/Joy

Trust/Presence

Integrity/Haven

Courage with love, hope with joy

Trust in integrity, present in the haven

December Reflections 30: thank you for…

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Much has happened in 2016 for which I am grateful.

That was not going to be the opening sentence. I have just deleted an apologetic introductory screed in which I explained that I knew it had been a dreadful year on the large scale. I am not going to apologise for having had some things that were not unilaterally appalling happen to me. Some good things did happen.

Thank you, 2016, for:

  • the positive reception for Speak Its Name
    • No, it hasn’t sold thousands, but the people who have bought it have liked it a lot.
  • my new job
    • It is a huge privilege to witness people growing in skill and confidence through adult education, and I’m also grateful that my involvement in this is compatible with my introverted personality.
  • vastly improved levels of confidence
    • This time last year I would not have been contacting bloggers out of the blue to see if they were interested in reviewing my book, I’ll tell you that much.
  • glimmerings of progress in some other personal matters
    • Operation Safe House II? Operation Mission to Mars? Well, maybe.
  • walks along the river
    • Getting off Twitter has helped every time. Getting out of the house has helped most times. A brisk four miles (up to the lock, and back again) makes things an awful lot better.
  • time by the sea
    • A long weekend in Lyme Regis in April; a week in Ventnor in July, and then another few days there just now.
  • the love and support of friends and family
    • I really do have some excellent people in my life.
  • perspective
    • Even when things inside my head have been dreadful, I have never forgotten that this is not reality. I think this might have been the first year that this happened.
  • the music.

December Reflections 29: my wish for 2017

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Today I was in Surrey, spending a day with some university friends and our various partners and children, as has become traditional for this week between Christmas and New Year. In the afternoon we walked out to the playground near Merstham station, and I was struck by the beauty of the winter sunlight.

Just on the other side of this bank is the M25. Walk up to the top of it (we didn’t, today, but I have in the past) and the noise of the traffic hits you, thousands and thousands of cars and lorries orbiting London on the country’s most notorious motorway.

And yet from this side you wouldn’t know. One hears the trains – two lines cross at Merstham, and even in these days of Southern Fail there are plenty of trains passing through to entertain the children – but the motorway doesn’t intrude itself upon one’s notice. It has its uses, of course: one party would have found it difficult to get there without it.

My wish for 2017 is to see clearly, to see what’s really there, to know about both the beautiful and the ugly, the good and the bad, to recognise that they’re intermingled in ways that I’ve yet to comprehend, and not to discount the one or to deny the other.

December Reflections 28: quiet moment

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On a busy day, one has to take one’s quiet moments where one finds them. Waiting for the rest of the family to put their coats on and come out to the car. Guarding the bags in a shopping centre coffee shop while everyone else takes their half hour browsing the sales. On a slow train trundling through the Surrey hills at sunset.

There have been plenty of quiet moments, it turns out, when I’ve looked for them.

December Reflections 24: traditions

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‘Anything done once is a tradition,’ my husband says. ‘Anything done twice is a very long-standing tradition.’ Traditions take root easily and, given the right circumstances, grow and grow. The Christmas crib is a genuinely long-standing tradition, having been invented by St Francis and therefore being Older Than Protestantism. This particular crib has been a feature of the Jowitt family Christmas for as long as I can remember, so that’s almost as old. The angel with the violin showed up at some point in the mid-nineties, and that began the tradition of adding things to the crib. Next came the dragon and the penguin; the other animals and mythical beasts found their way in gradually over subsequent years; and I’ll swear I’ve never seen that triceratops before today.

The one figure conspicuously not present is of course baby Jesus, who is placed there after midnight mass. The shepherds and kings are lurking out of shot, too.

Traditions can be comforting and meaningful and also fun. They can get a bit out of hand if you’re not careful, and sometimes it’s helpful to pull back a little. After all, they can be reinstated with little difficulty if it turns out it’s Not The Same without them.