Food for Thought

14 August: The Sound of Silence

I wonder if you remember ‘The Sound of Silence,’ written by Paul Simon. The lyrics, if you look them up on the internet are profound and, as ever, are applicable to this current time as they were in 1964.

The lyrics can be summed up as relating to various states of dejection, with people walking in continual silence thinking their voices will never be heard. In my other articles for Food for Thought, I stated that there are ways and means through which you can talk, be listened to and that your experiences are valid.

There is another way, however, of listening to this track. One where the silence is positive. There are not many people in this world who might delight in silence, or would happily embrace it. However, silence or stillness is an aspect of the contemplative spirituality of many different religions. Certainly, in Christianity we are invited by the Church to reflect at different stages of our lives.

As a priest I am expected to take a retreat at least once a year to refocus on my inner spirituality. That time has just passed. The only difference this year is that I had to make space at home to have that retreat. Silence for me is about switching off the computer, the radio and being intentional in not talking to others. Stillness on the other hand is found when I sit on the beach, listening to the waves or birds.

Silence can be profound in its ability to recharge one’s mind and soul. One does not need to combine the two, though one may lead to the other. Recharging one’s soul can take place through different activities. The caveat is that your choice of activity should be uplifting, mindful and restorative. And remember: what you are doing at any one time is the most important thing in your life at that moment. 

07 August: Gardens

Throughout Lockdown I have found spiritual comfort in growing plants. Particularly those that I might enjoy eating later in the year. There have been frustrations at the weather – too cold, too windy, and at times too hot (though there hasn’t been enough of the latter)! I wonder how many gardens throughout Caithness have responded to the nurture given to them this year.

I turn to the garden when I am stressed. I am fortunate that I have a place where I can grow plants without the blast of the Caithness wind. Despite this, there is a deep-seated appreciation that the world still turns on its axis, and wildlife and the plants in my garden continue in their life cycles dependent only on the seasons.

I wonder how many of us are feeling stretched or stressed? Where are we emotionally? Whether we feel frustrated that our lives do not have that same sense of normality that we once had. If you can identify with that, you are not on your own. Situational stress is a reality as we cope with adjusting to this new normal. It really is a concern.

The extension of stress over a long time is not helpful for anyone, and the period of Lockdown has not helped. I wonder if you have a way of addressing that stress or anxiety? It might be as simple as walking the dog, or perhaps you enjoy crafts, or playing a musical instrument, or running or cycling?

While the easing of Lockdown gathers pace, we need to ensure that our own needs are met – spiritually and emotionally. One of the books in the Bible tells us: “Before you fall ill, take care of yourself.” Self-care is important as without looking after your own needs, looking after others’ needs is much harder. Therefore I suggest that we take some time out for ourselves. If we do, we become stronger in body and mind – more ready to cope with the demands of the changing world that will be the new norm as we emerge from Lockdown.

31st July: It is ok to not be ok

I wonder how many of you have come across the wonderful Japanese art of Kintsugi? The most basic idea of this art is to take a piece of pottery that has broken and put it back together using gold. The gold accentuates the cracks within the pottery and does not just mend it but restores it and altogether makes into a unique piece of art.

But there is an in-depth contemplative and spiritual side to this art that is  frequently glossed over. The artist takes each piece of broken pottery and examines it. He or she ascertains the history of the piece, and the parts that need more care before piecing the pieces back together. By using gold, the cracks are highlighted as scars of worth. 

And so it is with us. Our experiences define us; our encounters with each other have an effect on who we are and our behaviour. When we struggle with our lives, as many of us have done during Lockdown, we may experience some sort of breakdown. This is natural, particularly under such stresses as may have been placed upon us over the past few months. If you can identify with this, please reach out. This state of brokenness is experienced by most of us at some point of our lives.

The art of building lives back together, carefully, restoratively, is both at the heart of mental health charities and the Church. By acknowledging our needs we can reach out for help. We can rebuild our lives, and we do so in a way that incorporates our scars. Our experiences are important and can help us form a closer knit society and Church that listens, nurtures and is inclusive. 

I believe that God’s grace is generous in its abundance. That God’s love is for every human regardless of sexuality, nationality, colour and so on. This is unconditional love and the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is at the heart of restoration, the contemplative life and Christian spirituality.

24th July:

One of the things I remember reading near the start of this lockdown was a conversation from a mother to her daughter. Her daughter was bored, soon after the lockdown began. The mother urged her daughter to keep a journal because she said that in decades to come, the daughter would recall the events around the pandemic and relay them to her grandchildren. Into that journal would go the best and the worst, because that is what happens when you write a journal. Emotions and facts are poured into the pages, that as soon as the page is turned, are kept hidden, until years later.

The period of lockdown has been quite divisive in some ways. Opinions have become polarised, and issues that appeared to be buried have risen to the fore where they have been, quite rightly, addressed to a greater or lesser degree.

This includes the yearning to go back to ‘normal.’ But what is normal? Personally, I don’t want to go back to what was perceived as normal as I found it exclusive, sometimes elitist. Various sectors of society were not included in the activities I found myself associated with due to existing prejudices. This is not the ‘normal’ I want or would wish others to grow up in.

As the easing of lockdown gathers pace, now is the time we should ask ourselves what prejudices we can discard? Secondly, how do we wish to go forward? Lastly, what can we do to ensure that no-one is left behind?

Our Lord Jesus Christ speaks of love, grace and compassion and being abundantly generous in our approach to others. Might I suggest that by including these in all we do and say, our actions will help each other adjust to the new ‘normal’ post lockdown.

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