Slowly discern a life, a truth, a way,
Where simple being flowers in delight.
Then let the chaff of life just blow away.
Malcolm Guite, from his poem - Psalm I: I Beatus vir qui non abati
Hello my dear friends,
I loved hearing from some of you last month, about your lives, what you're pondering and how your life looks. It makes me deeply happy to know the Beagle is a little ray of sunshine in your world.
I've just turned 52 and accordingly have been in a more than usual reflective mood. I talk the thoughts I'm putting here over on an Instagram LIVE if you prefer to watch and listen, I also expound a little bit more.
Have you ever been exploring a park, city or the wilds of a shopping centre? You'll sometimes find helpful location boards which enable you to get your bearings. Knowing where you are can help you retrace where you've come from and the steps you need to take to get to where you need to be.
A little exercise I've been doing for several years which I found quite sobering the first time is to imagine a horizontal line with a scale along it from zero to one hundred, and then to place myself along it where my current age sits.
It's confronting to see it like that isn't it. This is the point where many people have what's termed a midlife crisis, I seem to be prime material according to Wiki: A midlife crisis is a transition of identity and self-confidence that can occur in middle-aged individuals, typically 45 to 65 years old. The phenomenon is described as a psychological crisis brought about by events that highlight a person's growing age, inevitable mortality, and possibly lack of accomplishments in life.
This is usually how we view the second half of our life: (forgive my amateur design work)
We might be saying to ourselves that the best years are behind us, it's all downhill from here.
But rather than view the timeline as only consisting of two linear halves I prefer to view it as stages or seasons of life. I am all about reframing the way I see things and often through a biblical lens.
The first 20 years are spent in childhood then onto education and finally venturing into either higher education or the workforce. The next 20-30 are possibly then spent in a career, marriage and/or raising a family.
Before you've had the chance to blink you're knocking on the door to 40.
Often it’s not until our kids are grown, our career path fully explored or exhausted or we experience a life impacting event such as illness, divorce, the loss of a loved one or the birth of a new baby, that we find ourselves in what Anne Morrow Lindbergh calls (and I'm adopting) a second adolescence. As Wiki describes it above, these are the events that can psychologically send us into crisis mode, midlife or not.
Why a second adolescence?
As a teenager we’re launched upon the world, everyone is asking and expecting us to know what we want and where we’re going. Apparently the world is our oyster and we should instinctively know the path set before us. But as many of us know, to a large degree the high school education system failed us miserably, unable to nurture our inherent talents and gifts and most likely turned us off learning altogether. This has certainly been my English experience growing up with the teaching-to-the-test model. As teenagers though we were much better at towing the expected line, going through the formalities of where to step next. We tended to move along obediently, powerless almost.
No one prepares us for this second occurrence, these seasons of transition, they catch us off guard and we're disorientated. As Anne writes, "we don't view it as growing pains we see it as a sign of decay." I like what mentor Paul Scanlon says (the king of reframing IMHO), "Ageing is inevitable, decay is not". But as an adult with decades of life lessons and experience behind us we’re faced once again with the oyster. This time though, the situation is different. We have a measure of control, we have choices, we’ve gained career capitol as Cal Newport writes in So Good They Can’t Ignore You, we've gained wisdom.
We need to reframe the midlife crisis into a midlife reinvention of sorts, this second adolescence.
Periods of change and transition, no matter what stage of life, have the potential to offer us the same disorientation and opportunities. Here we get to be made more of a whole person, to be refined and reshaped into more of who we are and are still becoming.
You are here is the most important message I need to remind myself of. As someone with a vivd imagination and a tendency to wanderlust, embracing the art and practice of living in the now is so important. Here, now, is a place. I'm not merely passing through.
There is a day
when the road neither
comes nor goes, and the way
is not a way but a place.
Wendell Berry, The Peace of Wild Things.
Wendell Berry as you may know has a passion for place and belonging, whether land or loves. I’ve found his influence to be very anchoring. We are here now, what is right in front of us is our place, our people, our story to put roots into. Here we make the memories that will warm us tomorrow, even in the darkest times. It's those darkest times that can most make us feel out of place, thrown out of the pattern of things as Elizabeth Goudge describes it. I take comfort from Hebrews 13 verses 13-14;
Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.
Life changing events can make us feel as if we're suddenly missing God's will or best. Yet it was outside the camp, away from the action as it were, literally on a Cross of death that God's perfect will was unfolding the greatest miracle ever known.
You are here, and you're in God's hands.
So, bake bread, put down roots, have babies, fold laundry, paint walls and plant flowers, welcome neighbours, join groups, engage in fellowship, get to know your community, pray. And also, dream, move forward, plan, start things you've always wanted to but never dared or had the time, take that course, launch that business, paint that picture, take the trip.
We can own our life, just as it is.
And for the late bloomers, those who feel late to the party, dare to lift your hopes and gaze and believe that there is still so much in you, so much to give, to offer, to be and do, you are needed. Don't tell me God doesn't delight in late bloomers or isn't patient, the 'foolish' things. Did you know Moses spent 40 years a Prince, another 40 years on the backside of nowhere being faithful as a shepherd and husband before he was called upon to help with the mass exodus of God's people. 80 years old and leading the biggest emancipation and migration project in history!
Laura Ingalls Wilder was 65 years old when “Little House in the Big Woods” was published.
It was 15 years between David being anointed as king over Israel and the realisation of that call.
A lady called Gladys Burrill became famous after completing the Honolulu Marathon at the age of 92.
“For is it not possible that middle age can be looked upon as a period of second flowering, second growth, even a kind of second adolescence? . . . The signs that precede growth, so similar, it seems to me, to those in early adolescence: discontent, restlessness, doubt, despair, longing, are interpreted falsely as signs of decay. In youth one does not as often misinterpret the signs; one accepts them, quite rightly, as growing pains. One takes them seriously, listens to them, follows where they lead. One is afraid. Naturally. Who is not afraid of pure space – that breath-taking empty space of an open door? But despite fear, one goes through to the room beyond.”
- Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift From The Sea
May we inhabit the here-and-now while continuing to go through to the rooms beyond. I hope you watch the IG Live it was a joy to share this message in a fuller context and also get a yourself a copy of Anne's book. I've linked to it below.
Fayre is an old-fashioned spelling of fare, used to talk about the type of food served somewhere; a chance to sample local fine fayre. I think one of the false beliefs about winter is that it’s totally barren and lifeless, easy to think when you see the exposed ribs of the trees and palid countenance of the landscape. But oh winter proves she is not dead but merely resting. She blushes at dusk in gradient strokes of purple and pink, and flushes with winter berries. The rich colour of these dried leaves in beautiful, tones of caramel and coffee. Isabella seems rather taken with them. I love the sense of movement in still life pieces; a berry about to fall, a perched feather or leaf, a tumbling apple. I used the natural catch of the muslin to hold the bottom leaf in place to give this illusion. The light hits it perfectly.
I'm not naturally a patient person, I usually know what I envision and want it to come about as quickly as possible. I'm decisive. I’ve had to learn to love the process not just the result.
Maybe love is too strong a word, accept is more accurate. I’ve learned to accept the process.
Maybe learned isn’t accurate either. I’m learning to accept the process.
Being impatient makes me rush, which makes me clumsy. I’ve lost count of the arrangements I’ve dislodged or been disappointed with because I tried to hurry. I could naval gaze for many hours as to this flaw of mine but no magic bullet insight will make me patient. I think being a Home Educator and SAHM has certainly added to my impatience over the past decade because when can one get a moment to one’s self!? A precious half hour may present itself but rather than luxuriate in it I’d panic at the choice of things to do and fret at not being able to do them well and poof! . . . the precious moment is gone and the need to be needed is back again. Repeat cycle.
We also live in an impatient world. No sooner is Halloween done when Christmas decorations appear the very next day! Christmas passes and Valentine's moves in, awash in chocolate and roses. Valentine's goes by and Easter eggs pop out along with packets of hot cross buns, and on and on. The driving current of the consumerist river sweeps us along with it, it all seems in such a mad dash. Jesus was never in a hurry so why am I? I wrote about that once. Even church life is not immune, my craziest days used to be Sunday, no Sabbath rest there.
I'm learning to accept my impatience, to own it, confess it, offer it up, lay it down, all the things. I'm learning to accept the process seek patience, it's not optional. Love is patient, 1 Cor 13. Without patience I cannot fully love.
Without patience I can't fully love my creativity. Without patience I can't love the learner driver who holds me up, the slower-than-I'd like cashier, the traffic conditions. While I may not love an actual gridlock I can angle my thoughts towards gratitude for the moment, hearing a calm voice instead of honking my horn, sighing, grumbling and stressing.
“Let’s slow down, not in pace or wordage but in nerves.”
- John Steinbeck
Tish Harrison Warren writes in Liturgy of The Ordinary that, 'in liturgical time, we make space--lots of space--for waiting . . . . to be impatient is to live without hope.' We are in the waiting and so we need to practice how to wait. All creation waits. We wait. God waits. We wait with hope.
As beautiful as this still life is I confess I'm longing for the arrival of spring colours. Here are two unpublished pieces I created last year, just so we can remind ourselves of what's to come.
Inspired by the brilliant and beautiful documentary California Typewriter and in my quest to pursue analogue rhythms, I bought a typewriter. I love the tactile feel of the plump keys hugging my fingertips, the thud, thud as they convincingly throw themselves towards the pristine paper, the heavy dark ink that can't easily be removed.
There is a saying among builders, "Measure twice, cut once," I adapted that a few years ago when thinking about my online sharing, "Think twice, post once." Once that cut it made that's it, once those words are out, they're out.
The pace and permanency of my typewriter really helps me be more thoughtful this way. Yay for Tip-Ex though!
There's something magical and mysterious about a typewriter. I kid myself that simply sitting before it will draw forth lyrical and profound words. Whether that happens remains to be found but it sure is therapeutic and makes me feel happy to use it.
I wrote Watching at the start of December, on a theme with patience.
Did you know I link every book, film, recipe etc in the Beagle? Where you see words highlighted and underlined simply click the link.
My monthly selection for February is here plus you can still follow and keep tracking with my other playlists which I continue to curate; Quiet & Focus is great for peaceful times while Pray & Groan is especially for prayer when you have no words and need a reminder of God's love.
Karen Swallow Prior's new podcast Jane & Jesus. I was listening to this while driving and smiling the whole way. This is going to be a great series.
The Blurb: What is the life worth living? What are our obligations to ourselves and to others? What does love mean, and how might we embody virtue? These questions are as ancient as humanity’s primordial pursuit for self-understanding, and our podcast will examine them and others by looking at the surprising intersections of two figures: Jesus Christ and Jane Austen. Our host, Karen Swallow Prior will closely read a different one of Austen’s novels each season, and by examining her characters in light of Christ’s teachings, she and her guests hope to shed light on both, presenting a take on literature and popular culture that is as edifyi
I saw this delicious looking recipe on Sarah Mae's Instagram a couple of weeks ago and it spoke straight to my Italian loving, comfort food seeking taste buds. Instant Pot Pesto Zuppa Toscana is a winter keeper. Sorry, you'll need to scroll down past the usual writer's life story but the recipe is at the the bottom and well worth the minute 😄 My son Jonathan was happy to play chef. We popped some fresh crusty bread to warm in the oven which went with it perfectly. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did, I'm looking forward to having it again.
After hurting my back two weeks before Christmas then catching a cold and chest virus for the past three weeks, I've had lots of opportunity to catch up on some films! I do love a good documentary and it seems I've collected quite a few this month.
The Woman In Gold with Helen Mirren and Ryan Reynolds, 2015. This is an older film but one I'd not heard of until my friend told me about it. What a gem. Based on a true story, Maria Altmann, an octogenarian Jewish refugee, takes on the Austrian government to recover artwork she believes rightfully belongs to her family, a Klimt! Moving, thrilling, uplifting.
No one knew of her brilliance until she was gone. Finding Vivian Maier is a documentary of the true and almost unbelievable story a nanny who captured the heart of American culture in the 50's and 60's with her Rollerflex camera. Rivetting, emotional, astonishing. I first heard about Vivian several years ago before this film was made and went on to get the book of her images and partial life story. This documentary goes so much further and unveils a mysterious woman, superbly talented in seeing what most others miss. Vivian we discover, was probably traumatised in childhood, possibly with poor mental health and OCD as a result. We'll never know the full story but this comes pretty close. I believe she would be happy to finally have her work out there and enjoyed as she wrote about this desire in one of her old discovered letters.
HARRIET is the true story based on the thrilling and inspirational life of Harriet Tubman. I didn't know what to expect with this but I was deeply touched and challenged in my own life. How am I spending my days, what am I doing with the time I have to serve others, how can I walk with God more closely? HARRIET tells the extraordinary tale of Harriet Tubman's escape from slavery and transformation into one of America’s greatest heroes. Her courage, ingenuity, and tenacity freed hundreds of slaves and changed the course of history. Gripping, dramatic, inspirational.
Other honourable mentions, all with heart and merit. Some hard to watch in places, but all unforgettable.
Anne Frank #Parallel Stories starring Helen Mirren and narrated by Helen. *Sensitive holocaust content*
Black Or White with Octavia Spencer and Kevin Costner. A grieving widower is drawn into a custody battle over his granddaughter, whom he helped raise her entire life. *Racial topics and language*
[Occasionally my recommendations may not be for everyone. My choice of films, books etc are based on my particular tastes and tolerances. Just a note for my G-rated friends]
In many of the historical houses I get to visit here in the UK you will find exquisite wood carving. Alnwick Castle was one such outstanding example, it's only a shame we weren't allowed to take photos inside. One home we were able to take photos of the interior was Hughendon House. Some of intricate and delicate still life carvings were mesmerising such as this one pictured below which was a gift from Queen Victoria.
When Zoe and I visited Newcastle last September we saw some incredible wood carving at the Laing Art Gallery. Look at this by artist/sculptor Gerrard Robinson, The Boar Hunt: It measured approx 4x3 ft.
It was wonderful to see local artists being exhibited in all of the galleries and museums we visited while in the area.
Such craftsmanship is still being created today although obviously demand is quite slim and mostly limited to royal palaces maybe and football stars? But one such artist I've come across is David Esterly.
I'm enjoying learning about Still Life Before Still Life in the book I showed you last edition. It's been interesting to see the ways in which florals, botanicals, insects, fruits and animals were captured through art before and beyond the canvas. David is one such artist.
There's a lovely short interview with David on Youtube that you might enjoy, plus this incredible little clip. I love his creative ethos, his mission statement of sorts, and way of working. When asked how long it takes him to carve a feather he said, "I never answer questions like that sorry . . . .I can't think in those terms, I then become very depressed about it". I'd not wish to answer that either, it would force me to realise afresh how time-consuming such intricate work is! I think what David also implies is that he doesn't take on the burden of time, he simply embraces the work and journeys through the project until it's finished, time is not his master. I think he's definitely learned the secret of loving the process, very inspiring.
There are a few books I've decided to read at the start of a new year, a way to reorientate myself, to gently remind myself of what matters. As I've shared before I see much merit in re-reading books which have spoken to you in the past. We see many new facets, not that the message has changed but we have. We are older, more aware, have experienced new things, have new needs, are becoming more of a whole person.
Gift From The Sea Anne Morrow Lindbergh. To help me pause, take stock, regroup, refocus.
Keep Going. Austin Kleon. For creative encouragement.
This Beautiful Truth Sarah Clarkson. For a reminder of the goodness of God and His presence.
Own Your Life Sally Clarkson. A mama pep-talk, always needed!
There were many images so I've popped them all in a post of their own. Enjoy the summery visual feast and points for recognising something familiar.
Marine researchers discovered this coral reef off the coast of French Polynesia on the island of Tahiti. In impeccable condition with no signs of damage by the climate crisis or human activity. Lead photojournalist Alexis Rosenfeld described it as a "work of art".
I was gifted Malcom Guite's latest poetry collection called David's Crown, Sounding The Psalms and boy is it blessing my soul. This is the opening poem, I do hope you treat yourself or someone to a copy.
Psalm 1: I Beatus vir qui non abiit
Come to the place where every breath is praise, And God is breathing through each passing breeze. Be planted by the waterside and raise Your arms with Christ beneath these rooted trees, Who lift their breathing leaves up to the skies. Be rooted too, as still and strong as these, Open alike to sun and rain. Arise
From meditation by these waters. Bear The fruit of that deep rootedness. Be wise In the trees' long wisdom. Learn to share The secret of their patience. Pass the day In their green fastness and their quiet air. Slowly discern a life, a truth, a way,
Where simple being flowers in delight.
Then let the chaff of life just blow away.
Fare the well friends, that is to say, 'live well, have a good life'!
I hope to see you next month with a new still life and lots of interesting goodies. Have a blessed, healthy February. May you know where you are and live into your capacity in it and also, stir up those dormant seeds of dreams and move forward to the next room of adventure.
Snaps from home
Zoe and I got to see Hamilton last moment for joint birthday present. Friends, it was matchless, I don't think I'll have an experience like that again.
Birthday flowers and a new blue velvet chair for my studio/reading room.
A fun lunch with hubby near London Bridge on my birthday. Have you ever seen a drinking straw made of pasta?
Southwark (pron. Suth-uck) Cathedral where Shakespeare attended. There is a Roman road beneath the foundations as well as a 1st century burial casket.
Borough Market. Oxford bible study via Zoom. Breakfast in a box. Gifts in the mail. Winter colours. Alba, who every morning comes to find me for her morning ear rub.