Grief & Joy

AltText: Image of a blurred yellow sun setting in the centre, with a vibrant orange top section and a dusky brown lower section.

Here is the text of a sermon I gave to The Ordinary Office community on Sunday 18th September 2022 about grief.

Grief.

We are surrounded by it at the moment. The very public grief of the royal family as they have lost their matriarch. For many of us, our own grief at the loss of the Queen, a constant in our lives. For others of us, we may have personal griefs we are trying to hold while we are surrounded by wall to wall ritual, rites and memorials. Patients on palliative care pathways reminded of what is to come for their loved ones as they face their own end of life journeys. We know grief is powerful, for even Jesus wept in the presence of Lazarus’ tomb. The world is so very heavy right now.

Grief comes in many forms. For example, over the summer I managed to get back to my hometown, and the beach I grew up by. Getting my toes back in the sand was heavenly. Realising I could only get a few metres onto the sand before it was too much, was crushing. I had to sit and watch from a distance as my family collected shells, plodged in the surf and enjoyed their freedom. I have learned to value what I have; dozing on the sand hearing the waves and feeling the breeze on my face was blissful. But oh what I would have given to get my feet in the water. My overriding emotion that day was grief.

Sometimes we hold our own personal grief. Sometimes, it is shared. On Monday as we witness the State Funeral of the Queen, there will be much shared grief. But we also recognise the grief of those who have had appointments cancelled. The grief of those who have lost income when their bank accounts are already worryingly low. The grief of those who are completely overwhelmed by the upheaval in the world and just needed the day to be routine – yet business are closed, carers are absent and they sense tension in the atmosphere. Perhaps not comparable to the grief of losing a Queen. But to someone whose world consists of their immediate sensory experience, who has no concept of a Queen let alone who she was, the disruption and desperateness is not comparable at all.

It is 70 years since the last death of a monarch in Britain. Since that time we understand so much more about grieving. About inclusion, trauma. About human contact, such as holding a loved ones hand through their hardest of days. Why, I wonder, has Operation London Bridge not taken such developments into account. As King Charles has been under intense pressure, travelling the UK, scrutinised over pens and had his demeanour analysed, should he not be curled up under the duvet with Camilla sorting him out hot chocolates and rubbing his feet while they binge watch the latest Bridgerton? My last bout of grief, I spent a week playing Little Alchemy 2 and getting up to 625 items from the basic 4. No regrets – although I haven’t touched it since. And I certainly wasn’t in a fit state to be doing the household admin, let alone conduct matters of state importance.

For some the collective expression of grief has been helpful. The pilgrimage-like scenes we have witnessed as people queue to see the Queen’s coffin have been incredible. For others, it has all been too much, and that must be respected too. We can learn from the experiences which differ from our own. For those who saw the Queen as proactive in oppression and colonialism, we should listen to their voices and seek to understand. If the treatment of Meghan, Duchess of Sussex isn’t enough evidence systemic racism is embedded throughout the fabric of our country, I don’t know what is. A person’s life is never made of a single thread, but woven with multiple strands.

Wherever you personally sit on the scale of grief, be it overwhelmed with emotion or barely interested, be it related to Queen Elizabeth or something else. Know that you are not alone. This is where the strength of collective expressions of grief come into play. When we all pause together, as we have the opportunity to do on Monday, we can reflect on the Queen’s life, our own lives and anything else on our hearts. Dave and I will be around on Twitter should you need us. I would encourage you to take the opportunity on Monday to be with others, or to be with God, in contemplation and reflection. Sit with your emotions, if It feels safe and appropriate to do so. You may want to visit the place which eases your soul, spend some time in nature or contemplating an image of beauty. Because the flip side of grief, of course, is joy.

We have made no secret that Dave and I have had tough paths to walk in our journey recently. Joy has felt distant recently. Yet The Ordinary Office brings us joy. Sharing with you all brings us joy. I spend far too much time stuck on this sofa nowadays, but the birds I can watch out of my window bring me joy. Listening to the weather changing. The trains coming past. Seeing the silly things my cats do. I have learned to intentionally seek the joy within the grief. Focus on what I can see which cheers me instead of what I have lost which grieves me. It is a discipline, it is hard and it is not to be flippantly expected of everyone as a life lesson. I don’t always manage it. But I intentionally seek to.

So, as we enter this next week of official mourning, all that comes with it, and with many members of our community having different feelings about it, let us be intentional about seeking joy. Strange advice maybe. But let us take joy in the crispness of the music our exceptional musicians are delivering ceremony after ceremony – highlighting the importance of arts education in our schools. Let us take joy in the small steps of progress towards equality and inclusivity we do see, with women in previously men only spaces. Let us take joy in the outpourings of love outweighing the outpourings of hate.

Let us remember that grief exists because we loved in the first place. In verse 22 of our gospel reading Jesus says ‘Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.’ Joy honours that love just as much as grief does. God doesn’t promise us a life free of grief. But they do promise us a life filled with joy. I wish you more joy in your life today, and always.

Peace be with you.

From the Heart is Always Enough

AltText: Open hands in the shape of a heart, holding a large white daisy and a pink lily.

I make it a key part of my presence online to encourage others, intentionally working to build others up as I have been invested in (1 Thessalonians 5:11). Yet I have seen a saddening trend recently, of amazing ministers, advocates and activists becoming frustrated, disillusioned and downcast. Easy to see why this would be the case in the troubling times we live in. But the worst part of it is, I have seen comments where such godly people have questioned their abilities to minister, queried if their sermons or activities are ‘good enough’ and in some cases, watched people who have inspired me walk away from their calling altogether.

I don’t for one second believe God’s belief in them changed. God loves each and every one of us thoroughly, fiercely and relentlessly. As we give, so they love. As we lean in, so they pour out. As we struggle, so they understand. God is not a strict teacher, marking our sermons with a red pen. Reflectiveness is good, but if we who speak to the world of God’s word truly believe in our call to do so, we must remain in a place of confidence that our words come from that call. From that relationship we have with God. Any doubts, test them in prayer with the spirit, or with a trusted spiritual advisor. I may have sermons which in time I would develop differently, but at the time I spoke them, they were from the heart and what I felt was needed. I will test the words the Holy Spirit gives me, yes. But I will not second guess them. God has not given me false words yet.

I can feel readers shrinking back from the confidence – even arrogance. Yet Jeremiah tells us those who wish to boast should do so only about the Lord, his love, justice and righteousness, and how he delights in such things. (Jeremiah 9:24). Life gets difficult, and complicated. We can’t always do what we want to do, in the way we want to do it. But we who know God can always speak of their love. How, when the world is falling apart, God sustains us. How, when our moods slip and our worlds close in to one room, one relationships, one step at a time, God protects us. How, when our senses are overwhelmed and our bodies are freefalling, God grounds us. We can always give our testimonies, even when we have nothing else to give.

‘Yet what I can I give him: give my heart.’ In the Bleak Midwinter by Christina Rossetti tells this truth perfectly. I have been so blessed in my journey with online church over the last two years to see this playing out so strikingly. People who cannot get out of bed but will still record a prayer for a weekly service. People with so much to manage in their own daily routines but who still volunteer their time to share with others. People who can always be counted on to help out when needed, whatever the role required. People who spend their lives as prayer warriors, covering the activity of others with intercessions and thanksgiving as their way of maintaining involvement once their physical strength has waned. Whatever their contribution, when given with their full heart, it is more than enough. It is rejoiced over. It is celebrated with love.

Let me encourage you today. Wherever you are on your journey, however you serve God, whatever you do and however you feel. God loves you. Be bold in your ownership of your relationship with them and their call on your heart. Give back heart-fully, and you will be rejoiced over. It will always be more than enough. You will always be more than enough. Be blessed.

Peace be with you.

What can you Say?

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When there are no words to say, listen, Listen.

Listen to the sweep of the wind; whoosing, whispering, still. Listen.

Listen to the call of the birds; cackling, calling, singing. Listen.

Listen to the motions of the insects; chirping, chittering, buzzing. Listen.

Ground yourself in the sounds around you. The nature around you. The world around you. The earth, the sky, the weather.

From your garden, your window, an image. Make one, paint one, imagine one. Still yourself in prayer and sink into God’s peace. They gave us the beauty of the world so we always have a refuge.

When there are no words to say, take refuge. Listen.

Peace be with you.

Change or No Change

AltText: Close up of sand, showing different colours of grains, wave and hill shapes.

I’ve had enough change for a while.

My soul is often restless. Before I complete one thing, I’m focusing on the next. Years of moving through the education system, then entering the teaching profession which values reflective practice and continuing professional development. Retraining, building a business, diversifying due to Covid. I’ve been through a lot of change, and that’s just in the professional aspect of my life.

It has been exhausting. And it has caught up with me.

We don’t talk about the cost of professional development enough. The constant need to gain promotions, get to the next level, make more progress. More, more, more. Yet while we are focusing on the next point on the pay scale, the next qualification HR require or the next degree necessary to validate gained expertise in an area, what are we not focusing on? What do we leave untended?

I came to a crossroads recently having faced multiple knockbacks in a row seeking my next big change. One of them would work out, right? I was due a new challenge, and all the work I was doing was building towards something? Well, apprently not. Everything fell at the final hurdle. Decision time – to push harder, or to stop? Thing is, stopping is not in my nature, whereas pushing myself very much is.

Yet wisdom comes with age, or perhaps I am just worn out. This time it was right to stop. This time it was right to just stay exactly where I was. ‘Do you want to write about my call on your life or do you want to act upon it?’ God asked me as I prayed over my next move. I want to do act upon it, was my instant response. I want to serve, and if that meant stepping away from pursuing longer term goals and into the daily grind, then that is what I must do.

The gift has been in what I have found there. Peace. Respite. A sense of partnership with God free of distractions or demands. A confidence and security in my faith as the foundation of all things, not my own works or efforts. My soul is well, when the world is not. It is quite a new experience, and I rather like it!

I’ll aways be open to what arises, as I aways have been. This attitude plus prayerful discernment has brought me this far. But perhaps I’ll be less hungry for change in the future, and more willing to settle for the status quo. Let God work their change in me as I stay still long enough to let them …

Peace be with you.

It’s been a While …

AltText: Pale white skinned hand and forearm, palm forward as if waving, against a clouded but blue sky background.

I love writing. I love blogging. I also love feeding my children.

This year has been so tough. The cost of living crisis has impacted so many of us, and bills keep climbing. More and more of my time has been spent on the ‘day job’, writing for money, with less and less capacity to write for creativity, for activism and for faith. This blog was the first casualty. Oh, how I missed it.

Writing is not just a functional, communication tool. It is an expressive art. It is a means of protest. It is a political act. It brings people together around shared ideas, builds connections and communities. Writing inspires, ignites passions and motivates movements. Writing sows seeds in the minds of others, who in turn grow their own expressions of art, politics or healthy living. Writing can be cathartic, frustrating. It can alleviate the pressure in our minds, ease our suffering. It can also drive us to distraction until we have released all we have to give! Writing is a demanding child, a thankless teenager, yet a comforting friend once matured.

Even single words have power. I discovered this all too clearly at Greenbelt festival this weekend when faced with a table full of glass pebbles printed with words (see Gillam Glass). They were beautiful, tactile and unique. I bought a handful of them, and each day have picked one to contemplate as a prayerful practice. Yesterday, on a day when the toughest chapter of this year finally concluded, I picked ‘Loved’.

AltText: Transparent glass pebble with orange, red and yellow colours, with the word ‘Loved’ printed in black, resting on a white coaster with blue stripes and beach hut detail.

I wasn’t feeling very loved. My support network had been amazing, and they had kept me afloat. Not just this year, but for many years. Yet I was left facing the start of autumn with Long Covid (14 months and counting …) reduced ability to work (because of the former), an unsatisfactory ending to a 4 year long encounter with the criminal justice system (as a survivor) and no certainty whatsoever about what the future may hold.

Only, as I contemplated the pebble, I realised that I do, really. It just looks nothing like the old measures I used to use, in terms of job role, savings in the bank, on-site Church – all of which can be gone in a matter of weeks anyway. My certainty is in my identity as a child of God. Named, claimed and cherished. I have a ministry in The Ordinary Office. I have a network through other like minded people and organisations, striving for the same inclusive church attitudes and establishments as we are. I have a voice, I have a platform. And perhaps now I have left so much behind in the last year, the time is ripe to start writing afresh?

Let’s not leave it so long next time? There is so much to write about, and who knows where those words will lead?

Peace be with you.

A Prayer for Victims and Survivors

Alt Text: A Prayer Table containing pebbles, a small ceramic church, a wooden angel, a kintsugi mug and a wooden cross, all around a candle.

I wrote this prayer for the service today, 13th February, at The Ordinary Office, and in the current climate of increased awareness and discussion about violence against women, initmate & domestic violence cases, I wanted to share an adapted version here. Feel free to share and use, as is or adapted with credit here for context/so anyone may contact me should they need to. Thank you.

Loving God, in recognition that there are those for whom believing in their relationship over warnings, caution or reputation does not work
out well, we take a moment to reflect and pray.

For those who have entered into relationships or interactions in good faith, and have been abused in mind, body or spirit, we pray.

Send your Holy Spirit upon them now, and give them peace. May they know the sweet, gentle rest that comes only through being in your presence.

For those whose circumstances enabled them to make the decision to tell someone, report, share their pain and be heard, we thank you and ask for peace. We pray for justice, that in telling stories change will be brought and society will change through one brave person at a time.

For those whose circumstances meant this could not happen, we thank you that you walk by the side of each and every individual, loving them and offering your comfort, as you always will. That you will guide them towards healthy ways to process their trauma, and caring people to support
them as they do.

For those who have been able to tell someone or report in later times, we thank you and ask for resilience. Give them strength and perseverance when the road becomes tough, determination when dead ends and road bumps appear, and the wisdom to know in their own hearts where their own journey for resolution must take them. Walk by their side in each and every step towards healing, loving God.

May we strive to be a society that listens and hears. Where the silencing which hallmarks abuse can be immediately lifted through reporting. Where safeguarding processes work, and reporting processes bring justice. Where victims have confidence their privacy is respected and perpetrators know they will be appropriately held to account.

Above all, may we be known as people representing places of safety and care. Where we grapple with these complex issues with a heart of humility. Lead us, loving God, to always do the right thing. May the paths we walk and the words we speak encourage others to do the same. Help us listen, hear, learn, repent, do better, be better. As Jesus called us to.

Peace be with us all.

Amen

Making the Next Movement Forward

AltText: Two children balancing on a fallen tree, trying to work out how to move forward safely

We all have to keep moving forward in our journeys through life. For some, that is simple. We have routines, goals, drivers. We get up, follow the pre-ordained timetable of the day, and fall asleep at night knowing our work has been well done. Whatever that endeavour may be.

For others of us, moving forward through life is like wading through glue. We wake to the pain that made our sleep restless. Our rising takes time as we judge what sort of day it will be today, which mobility aids we may need, can we even rise at all? Can we accomplish anything in the capitalist sense of the word today, or is our defiant existance and continued belief that tomorrow may be a better one all the accomplishment we can muster – which, if it is, good for you! Never underestimate the revolutionary importance of valuing your own worth more than what you can actually do…

This time of post-Christmas, when the decorations are down, secular society has resumed business as usual and we are expected to just move forward into the new year of work, productivity and usefulness, is a dangerous time. Depression rises, anxiety increases. We have just journeyed towards this massive high, celebrated in whatever way best befits our situation, and then straight back to it we must go. Keep moving forward.

My husband encourages our family to observe the 12 days of Christmas, and having never done so growing up, I am rapidly becoming an advocate. Not to prolong the feasting. But to process the journey we have just undertaken. If we have truly grappled with the Christmas story, we have walked with a pregnant teenage revolutionary woman who calls for politial change. We have witnessed the subversion of societal norms. We have come face to face with the plight of a refugee family, and what it means to flee for your life in the face of a murderous regieme. I hope we have been challenged, shocked, sobered …

So amongst the celebrations and the joy, we also need time. Time to process. Time to understand. Time to gather our thoughts and the implications of these challenges in our everyday faith. Can we really be against welcoming migrants from across the channel when Jesus was once such a person?

These things are tricky. Life is tricky. Some of us have trickier places to move forward from than others. Some will glide forward while others will cling to where they are now in fear. The important thing is we intend to move and we keep trying to take that next step, hop, wheel, crawl or mental leap. With Jesus as our guide.

Amen

Peace be with you.

Just … Love!

For our first wedding anniversary, my husband made me five paper flowers and left them on my bedside table. I have them framed. He had bought special paper, stayed up late at night to practise when I was asleep and then made the final pieces for me. Dedication to an act of love.

How dedicated are we to the act of love? Or is it just an abstract concept we are good at talking about but not very good at facing? We can love our family, our chosen partners, but can we love our noisy neighbour, or the person whose theology clashes with ours?

People can act in ways which make it difficult for us to act in loving ways towards them. Ways which may trigger responses in us that are anything but loving. It can take a lot of hard work and dedication to love under those circumstances. It is, however, what we are called to do.

I’m still learning. But I’m going to keep on trying. Will you join me?

Peace be with you.

Joy as Resistance

I have never been one for cats, but my new rescue melts my heart!

How can we have joy when all around is despair? Is it even fair of us to pursue joy? Should we feel positive when there is so much pain around?

I’ve had my fair share of knocks and tough times these last two years. In the summer I caught Covid and am now one of thousands upon thousands left with Long Covid symptoms, fatigued and struggling to maintain any semblance of the life that was before. So how, pray tell, can I possibly be joy-ful?

When I felt that black dog of depression starting to loom, I made a choice. I would intentionally seek joy to try and keep it at bay. I became impulsive. I rescued a cat, because she was named after my favourite video game character and her story was so sad. I had teal streaks put in my hair, because if I was no longer to be client facing for a while, then I’d do something I wouldn’t do while I was. I started painting messy, textured, abstract works for the process of it. It all helped.

Joy to me became an act of resistance. Two fingers up at the world which wanted to grind me down. At politicians engineering weary populations so they could slide evil legislation through without challenge. At eatablishments making sure they are seen to be doing something while having no intention of doing anything meaningful at all. Joy became my rebellion. My resistance. My revolution.

Joy is a fruit of the Spirit. Perhaps instead of thinking of this in terms of happiness, we could think of this in terms of the ability to find good in the darkest of times, and to never ever give in to them?

Peace be with you

Peace in Restless Times

A few weeks ago, I found some unexpected space in my day. I grabbed a book, kicked off my shoes and sat in the garden with my toes in the grass. It was grounding. I was at peace.

It happens so rarely in the hectic life of a working mum of two with a part time ministry and a series of chronic conditions. When it does, it is such a treat. I need to make it happen more. A new year resolution perhaps? But also, intentionality about making peace in restless times is vital to our wellbeing.

There is so much anger, angst, vitriol and hatred out there. Social media brings it directly into our homes. The only way to combat this is to cultivate peace. Actively practice the peaceful response – if a response is needed at all! Demonstrate the disarming power of peace. It really does work!

Jesus is the Prince of Peace. If we follow his way, then we too should value peace. Whether that is holding a vigil to remember victims of violence against women, refusing to rise to provocation, or simply taking half an hour each day to be at one with God. All are steps towards a more peaceful world.

And we all need that!

Peace be with you.

Amen