Sunday, December 23, 2018

Fighting the Hermit Gene

The end of the year approaches and then there’s the New Year and resolutions, clean slates, starting again, something new.

I begin to think about what I can resolve to do and about what I have resolved to do in previous years and never did.

It’s all got to start in the heart – and that is where my problems lie. I try to change an outside thing and hope that the heart catches on. If it begins in the right place, in the heart, it will work its way out.

I’m not entirely sure I want to go poking about with my insides – my thoughts, my feelings and emotions. It frightens me. The worms are best left undisturbed in the tin.


I am discovering I’m not indestructible. Winter, life-wise, is coming. Daylight hours, life-wise are, are short. I want to live well while I am still living and not merely survive or exist. How does a person live well? What does it even mean?

The fridge magnet has the answer. “Live like someone left the gate open.”

I spend too much time fretting about what might come through the open gate – something that spoils life’s flower bed or stomps over life’s manicured lawn.

The gate left open is for walking through. It’s about having adventures and taking risks rather than playing sate.

Of course, it all takes courage and as I look into my heart I wonder if I have enough.

Thursday’s writing class was about renewal, or recovery or rebirth. There was just the four of us. Four of us sat around the table, pens busy.

Last year, or the year before that, or maybe many years ago, a friend and I didn’t so much as make a resolution, nothing official, nothing that required a hand on the Bible and a solemn declaration – just musing really. We thought it would be a good idea to do something new, something we had never done before, an adventure into the unknown, if you will. It wasn’t a communal thing we planned to do together, just something on our own.

I am very proud to say that I did three things. Three things doesn’t sound a lot but for a person who has built her life-house in a rut, that’s a lot.  Maybe I wouldn’t have done the three things if I hadn’t retired. I fight a hermit gene. Sometimes I win. Sometimes I lose.

Knitting – I joined a knitting group called Knitter-Natters. My husband assures me that there is another group called “Stitching and Bitching”. I used to knit a lot. Most of what I wore, once upon a time was home made. I knitted and I sewed. In some ways it’s not a new thing.

I’m loving being part of the group though I don’t natter much. It takes me a while to settle in with new people. I have knitted a variety of scarves over the last few months and I have been to more wool-fests that my bank account can deal with. I bought a sock kit. I have never knitted socks before or used a set of double pointed needles. 

“Can I make a suggestion…?” said one of the ladies and the needles were tamed.

Art – There have been times when I have looked at a landscape and wished I could paint it. Yes, I paint with words and what I produce sometimes is stunning.

A friend contacted me to invite me to an art class he was planning to run. We had met through poetry events that stumbled through graveyards and forests.

Art was beaten out of me at school. It was in the days of still life. I shifted over to a more craft based class and spent a year making a fibre-glass tray. It turned out that I was allergic to fibre-glass. Hands swelling and turning red and itchy did not do me any favours. So, yes, art and I had a dodgy past.

We fell in love – art and I.  I discovered colour and texture and marvelled at the world as if I had just opened my eyes. Forget about still life – although a mug and lemon turned out fine.  I loved it. The bank account coughed up for paint and paper and a host of art related stuff. Between knitting and painting the housework never got done.

Walking – What’s new about this is who I’m walking with. The Scottish Waterways Trust has recently started up their winter walks. They are not long journeys, an hour and a half, with a tea break in the middle.

I don’t often walk in company. I have a fitbit which kicks me out of the house to notch up steps, so I do walk often. Sometimes in the New Year we plan to get a dog and dogs need walks.

The lads and lasses at the Waterways Trust plan out the routes. Getting people outside and into nature is a good thing. We are, as a species, becoming less and less at home in nature, and, sadly, more and more suspicious of it. All the remedies for all the ills we experience come in small bottles filled with pills. Nature has the better cure.

The walkers are all shapes and sizes. There’s no rewards for first up the hill. Things are out there to touched and handled, to be picked up and smelled.  Last time there was a tree trunk, fallen over, that just had to be walked along while someone held out a hand to keep you balanced. Kid’s stuff? Playing? Yes, it is. As adults we have become far too sensible and some of us have taken a road with too few risks. It is good to rediscover the adventurer is us all.

My three things. I have made new friends through doing them. I have also connected with myself in a way I didn’t expect.

The hermit gene has taken, perhaps, a fatal blow.

Monday, December 17, 2018

O Sapientia (O Wisdom)

December 17 is the first day of the "O" Antiphons, an ancient part of Christian liturgy.  It dates back to the fourth century. There's one for each day until Christmas Eve. The antiphons describe Christ using seven Messianic titles. They are based on the Old Testament prophecies and types of Christ. The first one is O Sapientia (O Wisdom).

This sonnet was written last year. At the time I was reading Malcolm Guite's advent poetry book "Waiting on the Word". Here is my version of an O Sapientia sonnet.

Our greatest folly is to close the ear
To wisdom’s voice when she reveals the way
And say that ancient paths have had their day
We choose what we think wise, what we hold dear
Yet at the city gate she makes her call
Spreads out her feast, invites us all to eat
Wisdom so rich it makes a man complete
The flush, the broke, the tramp, the king, us all

Come wisdom draw us from our broken wells
From fallen human truth where error dwells
Come wisdom pour on us a cleaner word
That cuts to bone and marrow all we’ve heard
Fill and spill in us ‘til we overflow
And your sweet way in us we thereby show

Saturday, December 15, 2018

God's Two Books

It seems that with the cold weather, and the discovery that my new trainers are not waterproof, I’m less inclined to go outside. The steps monitor on the Fitbit watch barely reaches half of the ten thousand steps I am supposed to be doing. The Scottish Waterways Trust to the rescue!

I have taken part in some of their activities in the past – a three week storytelling workshop meeting in an entirely unique barge tethered near the swing bridge, and a climb up to the woods to sit around a campfire listening to tall tales in the dark. This time it was a couple of afternoons spent with their Highland Canal Officers.

Their “Nature Walks for Wellbeing offer the perfect opportunity to get outdoors, enjoy nature and socialise, with the added bonus of a hot drink to keep the cold out! “

“Spending time outdoors and connecting to nature is very beneficial for both our physical and mental health, so don't let the winter weather put you off - come along and join us!”

One of the things that has cropped up often in my quiet times is the solitary nature of life since I retired. I don’t feel lonely, and I have a hermit gene that I struggle with, and the writer within enjoys nothing more than closeting myself in with a cup of tea and composing poetry, so I have to kick myself outdoors.

This week we met bedside the swing bridge and headed off for a walk along the canal to the Lock House and the lock gates out to the Beauly Firth. No hills this time, but a biting wind that threatened to tug the hat from my head. Heads down, shoulders bunched up, gloved hands firmly pushed into pockets, we walked on.

The two lads from the waterways know stuff – like birds. Last week, a wee dot circling high above us was identified as a red kite. It’s all the tail feathers, apparently. This time it was an obscure species of duck that spent lots of time swimming under water catching fish. I looked and saw just ripples. There were also finches hopping around the empty branches of a nearby bush.

There is always a focus to the walk. Last week we had a list of things to scavenge – leaves, pinecones, straight bits of wood, fluffy things and interesting stuff. This time we were encouraged to make a wreath with ivy and other bits of winter foliage. It’s an opt-in-opt-out thing. I opted in and looked at the hedges for bits to decorate my wreath. It wasn’t quite big enough to wear on my head as some of the other ones were.

There is something vaguely reminiscent of my Geography filed trip about these walks. Whether I start at the front walking with the officers, or in the middle of the line trying just to keep breathing as we climb a hill. I always end up at the back. I just walk slower than most people. I have shorter legs than most people. I amble. There’s always a man to keep up the rear. I feel well looked after.

There is a tea stop along the way. One of the lads makes a fire and boils a kettle and the other lad hands out flapjack, a little burnt at the edges. There is something about that cup of tea that makes it taste so good. That’s when the meaningful conversations begin.

I have had a number of “God” conversations. I mention that I’m newly retired. They ask about the job I used to do. I tell them I was a teacher. They ask what subject. I say, “Religious Education”. They ask whether I believe in God. I say “Yes”. And then the conversation opens up. One man had a very Buddhist philosophy of causing no harm. He is not out there to be preached at, so I don’t preach. I talk about how essential God is to my life and how I try to allow Him space to direct my way. It’s a very casual conversation.

Nature is amazing. Most of us know too little about the world around us. It has been good to be taught stuff – about the red kites and their tail feathers, about molehills and clusters of ladybirds. It is good to be in the company of people that can tell you about the rare duck swimming under the water to catch fish.

Early theologians believed that God had two books - the Book of Nature and the Bible. Both books read together lead to a knowledge of God.

I’m reading both books!