Hi all, Zoe here, daughter to the lovely, beautiful and smart Jacqui. Mum don't delete that. When mum said she was a bit stuck on the title for this month's issue, but that she wanted it to reflect stillness and quiet reflecting in the new year, I told her of what I've been reading and pondering, and per her request I will repeat it here for you all. As we enter the new year it is tempting to put ourselves under a microscope and search for every minute flaw we can in our character or appearance, as if we don't do that in our lowest moments already. I don't know about you but I don't want to enter into the new year scrutinising myself. Sure self-assessment and reflection are good, but as a chronic overthinker I don't necessarily need a special day to do that. The notion that we need to upgrade, rebrand, reboot our system every 364 days does not compute (pardon the pun) well with our human-ness. We are not products. We are not the latest iPhone. Character evolution and human development is a fluid process, and as natural as the very real, fleshly bodies that we inhabit. So may you take this an invitation to not judge yourself harshly this January 2022. Ok, two cents offered, I will now go back to my day as this is what happens when I come into mum's studio for a quick chat. She'll just be grateful I didn't go into a full blown rant on capitalism. Happy New Year!
Prepare Him Room
wait a little.
Just one minute
should do it.
O our hearts, as busy as Bethlehem,
hear the gentle knock.
There is no need for ceremony
He does not despise the ordinary
Hello dear friends and a happy new year to you!
Consider this your official invitation to keep the posture of Advent and Christmas going, all year if we can, what do you think?!
I enjoyed a wonderful three week break from social media over December in order to fully immerse myself in Advent and the approach to Christmas. I like to think of these breaks not so much a turning away but a turning towards, a saying no to one area so I can say yes to another. For everything there is a time and a season, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, maybe that is Covid's catch cry! I hurt my back almost four weeks ago (evidence the gym is bad for your health? lol) that slowed me down a lot physically as you can imagine, it's almost better but I think a good physio visit is in order this week. And please forgive any typos today as I'm wiring with newly swollen glands and a fuzzy head, oh joy :)
As you'll know, the turn of the clock, season or date doesn't issue a magic bullet to the difficult circumstances of our lives. In fact, I feel those expectations do so much harm and pile pressure upon us. Rather than putting faith in new dates and new beginnings I tend to lean towards a more circular, rhythmic mindset and a continuity of the good things already learned and gained, a building upon rather than a new thing needed.
How hard it is to sit still. I'm feeding my heart, mind and soul on words that encourage me towards being present, embracing the here and now, planting seeds in what looks like a pile of rocks, getting my hands in the dirt and grit under my nails. I don't want clean hands I want skin that needs a good scrub with a hard brush, evidence of my toil. I want to brood over the chaotic dark places and invite the miraculous creative Spirit to work through me and bring about something marvellous.
Now the earth was formless and void, and darkness
was over the surface of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering
over the surface of the waters.
God help me hover.
What I am asking myself at the moment is how can I live a more sustainable life? In other words, what do I need to do in order to be the best happy me I can offer to myself and those around me? This question can only be answered in stillness, in devotion and prayer. Life can be hard, demanding and heartbreaking, there are things I'll never know about you, your struggles and brokenness, there are areas in my life I'll probably never get to share here, but I have learnt and am ramping up this year, that I need to have things in place in order for me to make it. I have to make choices about how I use my time, where I invest my attention and on what and who. I want to set myself up well for greater peace and a firmer footing.
It's been a month of family, reading and pondering, getting a new phone which really means a new camera. I haven't gotten to create a still life this month but I've been weighing what you might like to hear from me, here I am, tapping the vein. I hope you find some delight in the poetry, thoughts and recommendations below.
Did you like the opening poem? I think it's applicable no matter the time of year. Here's the breakdown:
The genesis was inspired by something Sarah Clarkson said in the Advent Retreat, the third session being about Preparation, "This is the place of His coming, I must not despise the small spaces of my ordinary as the place where He arrives". It blossomed from there. The poem begins with the language we'd use to quieten or calm a fretful child hush now/sshhh. The tone is soothing and one of reassurance, a parental presence is at hand. We're invited to be still wait a little which, for a lot of people might only happen once a year on Remembrance Sunday. This is portrayed by the length of time prescribed just one minute, or two. Remembrance Day has a way of nudging us into this noiseless interval so that we might become reflective. We look outside beyond ourselves but in doing so might unexpectedly access the deeper inner voice of self. Why is this? The next stanza lays open our issue O our hearts, as busy as Bethlehem. Here we are suddenly transported to the biblical scene of a frantic and frenetic Roman city under the pressure of a census. We can picture the hectic activity, panic, bodies rushing to and fro, it is feverish and wild. Sound like Christmas or just life? Still, even now in the excited activity we're invited to lean in to hear the gentle knock. This line is taken from a modern Carol by Sovereign Grace music but references scripture, Revelation 3:20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me. What a feast that would be! Finally we reach silence but are reminded that this state doesn't need an annually enforced ritual in order to be enjoyed There is no need for ceremony/He does not despise the ordinary, followed by a natural pause into spaces as the line breaks. Next there is a link drawing upon another more famous Carol, Oh Come All Ye Faithful where God did not abhor the virgin's womb, a much discussed and criticised lyric but one I feel is most accurate. Just think of it, the God of the universe containing all his cosmic glorious and untamed self into the blood and fleshly womb of a girl. Really ponder it, Divine holiness was going to come forth in filth and dirt, tearing of flesh, smothered in mucus, the ordinary spaces are actually the birthplaces of arrival. We don't need to have it all together, no brass band required, certificate on the wall or instagram ready home. This Christmas and always, it will be in the quiet, the everyday ordinary moments where we might meet with something miraculous.
Join The Dance
Journal thoughts, Jan 2nd 2022
I’m listening to the bird song in the back garden, a voice of praise rising around me, inviting me to pause, to lean in and listen, to join the song. I turn my gaze like Moses eyeing the burning bush and pivot my body to follow the melody. I am immediately awakened and welcomed into the dance happening all around me; the trees are swaying back and forth, the clouds ever-so-slowly gliding overhead, the pop and kick of the fire and the fluttering of the flames. My music plays Goodnight Moon, the slow noticing, naming and being present with the small things, a comb and a brush/the bears and chairs/goodnight stars/goodnight air. Your paper snowflakes stick to the back window, you made these for us, my heart swells. I love you.
Goodnight Moon by Eric Whitacre. This has a special place in my heart as my daughter introduced me to it recently. At a time when Zoe was experiencing some anxiety this piece was a grace and source of deep comfort to her at the winding down of the day. I love the way the naming and noticing of seemingly insignificant things in the child's room has a way of honouring and bestowing love upon them. The systematic working through the items brings a sense of order and closure. To me this speaks into the theme of noticing the dance all around us. Either everything is meaningful or it isn't. I believe it is. I bought Zoe a tote bag with this design for Christmas. Lyrics HERE.
Also Pitter Patter Goes The Rain by Christy Nockels from the album Lullabies For The Beloved. My January Playlist I think is hopeful, peaceful and a breath of fresh air this month. I'll continue to add to it throughout January. I've added a few new tracks to my Quiet & Focus playlist over December too. If you ever have any song or music suggestions I'd love to hear them.
Sally Clarkson's annual declutter podcasts are always worth a listen heading into a new year. Episode 14, 230, 355 and the latest episode will set you up well for 2022. Asking the right questions is foundational to having your focus and goals clear.
As promised, these beauties are our Christmas Eve tradition and treat, usually sending a few out to the neighbours. Taken from The Life Giving Table by Sally Clarkson these are a hit with everyone!
My friend made these for our little Christmas party, they were utterly delicious! So easy to make but totally have the wow-factor on presentation, sure to impress.
I'm still in Dune, The Art of Advent and Haphazard by Starlight but have added to the mix Surprised by Joy, Liturgy of The Ordinary and this beautiful book which my dear friend gifted me for Christmas, Still Life Before Still Life by Ekserdjian. This is a feast of images and a wonderful history of the origins of still life before it was genre in its own right. Now all I need is a big comfy armchair, some hot coffee and a day to myself to really sink into this.
I've gotten to watch many wonderful things over the break (and some failures), here are a few notable mentions. All Creatures Great & Small Christmas special on Channel 5. Tick Tick Boom - an adaptation of the autobiographical musical by Jonathan Larson, who revolutionized theater as the creator of RENT. Swan Song - In the near future, a terminally ill man explores a heart wrenching, emotionally complex solution to save his wife and son from grief by duplicating himself without them knowing. Encanto was delightful with catchy songs and a deeper message. Steven Spielberg's Westside Story was beautiful. I confess, I saw the new Spiderman movie three times!! (hides face) but with a movie making and loving family and everyone wanting to see it with me, this is what happens lol!
[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]
My daughter has given my new phone an aesthetic makeover using the app Widgetsmith. It's free to use and if you either have the inclination or a child who loves such projects, you can see here what a delight it's made this sometimes frustrating piece of tech. I chose themes which all look illustrated or painterly: Charles Van Sandwyk, Jan Van Huysum and Flower Fairies. Zoe has a couple more screens to design but she seems to enjoy it! I can't find anything at the moment but she assures me I'll get used to it :D
So hard to choose this month as there have been several favourites, but this one just pips the post. Ring out, wild bells
Alfred, Lord Tennyson Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky, The flying cloud, the frosty light: The year is dying in the night; Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.
Ring out the old, ring in the new, Ring, happy bells, across the snow: The year is going, let him go; Ring out the false, ring in the true.
Ring out the grief that saps the mind For those that here we see no more; Ring out the feud of rich and poor, Ring in redress to all mankind.
Ring out a slowly dying cause, And ancient forms of party strife; Ring in the nobler modes of life, With sweeter manners, purer laws.
Ring out the want, the care, the sin, The faithless coldness of the times; Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes But ring the fuller minstrel in.
Ring out false pride in place and blood, The civic slander and the spite; Ring in the love of truth and right, Ring in the common love of good.
Ring out old shapes of foul disease; Ring out the narrowing lust of gold; Ring out the thousand wars of old, Ring in the thousand years of peace.
Ring in the valiant man and free, The larger heart, the kindlier hand; Ring out the darkness of the land, Ring in the Christ that is to be.
I'm wowed by Remington's Robinson's tiny oil paintings created in an Altoid tin!
The Conversion On The Way To Damascus by Caravaggio, 1601.
This is one of the selected images in The Art of Advent and spoke to me this month about the coming of light only being possible in darkness. Let me be more honest, it humoured me. I see myself as the one needing to be knocked on my behind at times or thrown from my high horse in order to see the truth of something wonderful. I love Paul's expression and posture, he looks so serene and surrendered, or maybe like a dead man!? The horse also amuses me, scared and stepping around the prostrate rider below, what on earth is transpiring? I do think my family or friends look on me this way at times when I'm undergoing some sort of transformation. Which to be fair I seem in a constant state of being an INFJ (kidding, not kidding) Do they step around me careful not to hurt me while I'm down and splayed? Another aspect which hits me is the abounding gracious love and mercy of God who breaks into our darkened lives with such good news. Of course it doesn't appear this way at first. I love Caravaggio's portrayal of light, it's what he's renowned for.
Christmas Snaps from Home
Zoe and I went on a littlle neighbourhood drive, coffees in hand, and explored the local Christmas lights.
Top row: Christmas feasting with my friends and bible study pals. 2nd row: De Heem cushion gift, Alba tolerating me, churchyard Christmas tree.
3rd row: Mum, sister, the making of Harry Potter at Warner Bros Studios.
4th row: Advent decorations at home, Shepherd's Meal table, Christmas jammies.
5th row: Celtic cross from Lindisfarne from Zoe, Boxing Day dinner, music jam session.
My friend Sally and I took a lovely little 'recce' as we say here in England, to the market town of Woodstock last month. It's just 20 mins from central Oxford and very near Blenheim Palace, birthplace and ancestral home to Winston Churchill. The many quaint shops, homes and buildings had the distinct Oolitic Limestone, formed during the Jurassic period. They had wonderful coffee and pastries too, thankfully made this era!
I'm choosing joy this year how about you? I'm choosing light and love and the life that Christ gives me. I went for a walk Jan 1st anding looking up and saw the most beautiful brushstrokes of grace. Can you believe this hasn't been edited! Well done if you can spot the two little black dots, they're actually birds, that's how vast this scene was.
A couple more things before I sign off. I wrote these words September 13th 2019 while in the States and captured this image from the dashboard. My family had driven through Nevada that day and later that night my thoughts went to the stark scenery we'd encountered.
We Plant Trees
Journal thoughts, Sept 13th 2019
Nothing, as far as the eye can see.
Desert land, barren ground, shrubs, salt beds, wild grasses, sands.
A haze, not made by a city but dusts of the plane.
So, we plant trees.
We plant our flag, claim and rename; no longer barren, but fruitful.
No longer arid, but watered and lush.
An outpost, a haven, an outpost of loveliness and comfort.
A rest stop on the long haul.
We plant trees.
We inhabit, we subdue and cultivate.
We make a home, a life.
Civilising the wilderness, taming the unharnessed.
Making a stamp, a mark.
Is this not the call of the wild, to stake our claim and go forth and make it a fruitful land?
But what manner of people live here, on life‘s edge?
Isolated, self-sufficient, hedged in and all about.
When it’s bleak, when it looks dead – cultivate.
Plant a flag, plant a tree, water it, grow it.
Focus on your small patch, don’t get put off by the land you’re surrounded by.
Thank you for being here friends, drop me a line any time, I love to hear from you. Next month I'll have a visual tour for you from my visit to Chenies Manor House and Hughendon Manor, both glorious stately homes.
I'll see you in February with more goodies and a new still life. Let's plant trees!