Thursday, 30 September 2010

So here is today's collage from Narbonne

So here is today's collage from Narbonne with Dr B eating Moule Marinières and utterly amazing architecture of the cathedral - I just love those gargoyles! Then there's the story of the 1907 winemakers revolt and protests and even Voltaire's bridge to offer us a memory of Ferney's once resident philoospher.

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Just love this photo - it simply says France to me

Taken in the streets of Narbonne - and we weren't the only ones taking a photo of it either.

Silence and Honey Cakes

One of the great joys of holidays is of course reading. Yesterday afternoon I lay on the lounger in the little sun trap courtyard at the back of our holiday let and read Rowan Williams Silence and Honey Cakes.
Reading about the asceticism and deep wisdom of the desert faithers and mothers while I'm
on a sybarritic holiday in the vineyards of the south was a bit of a contrast.
Rowan Williams writes beautifully and very challengingly. The chapters were originally lectures, the content is easy to read. But the gospel call from the desert mystics is raw and clear. Lying on m
y sybarritic holiday lounger the wisdom, the humour, the spiritual truth, the demands of true prayer and the call to examine my own life honestly and thoroughly brought tears to my eyes many times. Doubtless I am at the moment too easily moved to weeping for many reasons but reading the book and re-reading parts of it today challenges me very clearly once more to know that spirituality is not about "well-being". I don't try to practise some vague discipline of prayer in order to feel better but to discover more of God. Discovering God is not "nice", it isn't a warm fuzzy ... it may end up questioning everything.
Perhaps I just have to accept that I am one on William James' sick souls

Anyway here is an extraordinary passage on language from Silence and Honey Cakes, from the chapter on "fleeing":

"One implication of this is a possible new definition of at least part of what's involved in being a person of faith today (or in any age, really): being a believer is manifest in how we talk, in what we think of language. What is we could recognize people of faith by how they spoke? By an absence of cliché, or of dehamanizing mockery or glib consolations? And what if conversion meant not just taking on a new vocabulary and new ideas but a new style of talking? The "world" is a place where it is barely possible to speak without making things more difficult and destructive, the commonwealth of God is a place where speech is retored, in praise, in patience, in attentive speaking (which is bound up with attentive listening). This is not about any kind of despairing silence, being silent because there is nothing to say or know or because you're always going to be misunderstood. It is more of an expectant quiet, the quiet before the dawn, when we don't want to say anything too quickly for fear of spoiling what's uncovered for us as the light comes."

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Really Now I'm just testing my new found toy

So here are today's and yesterday's photos warts and all because I just downloaded all of them rather than a selection of the best. I'm on holiday, I didn't want to prioritise! I sense I may start to get very seriously boring about this ... my blog is about to be taken over by a boring version of me - you are not going to be able to avoid my holiday photos - sorry folks!

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A collage of 24 hours of holiday

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The Canal du midi - it is just eternally photogenic

By the end of the holiday we are going to have hundreds of photos like this showing the curves and the light and the trees and the water ... So lucky that today was such a day of sunshine

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Evening view of St Chinian from the river

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Lunch outside at Le chat qui pêche

So we had lunch today at Le Chat qui pêche, a lovely little restaurant on the Canal du Midi just outside Argeliers. The sun shone we walked along the tow path, took photos and enjoyed the beautiful dappled light through the leaves of the plane trees.

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Le Canal du Midi - near the port of Argeliers

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Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Blog Action Day is all about WATER

So I am really delighted that the topic I voted for for blog actiona day is the one that has been chosen WATER. So please register and get thinking about how to mark Blog Action day where you are from your perspective on the one thing that no human being or living organism on this planet can do without. What do you want to write about, sing about, paint about, put up photos about, write music about ? Start thinking about it now and register below! I've already got lots of ideas!

We're excited to announce this issue as the topic for Blog Action Day 2010: Water.

Today we unveiled the Blog Action Day 2010 site, and aim to make this year's event the largest single day of action on the web in 2010. Click here to check out the new site and register for Blog Action Day 2010, held on October 15th.

You don't need to be a water expert to participate — you just have to be interested in joining thousands of other bloggers from more than 100 countries in collectively raising awareness of one of the most important issues facing our world.

After all, clean water is essential for our survival, but dangerously scarce. Nearly one billion people in the world today don't have access to clean water and 42,000 people die each week from water-borne diseases. And the issue doesn't stop there — water availability impacts a wide variety of issues from the environment to women's rights and from technology to fashion. If you're unsure what to write about on October 15th, check out our list of water post suggestions to get started.

Last year, Blog Action Day included influential voices ranging from the White House to former Prime Minister Gordon Brown. This year, we're looking forward to an even larger group of influential voices, from celebrities to politicians, to help widen the scope of our conversation.

But we need your help to get the momentum going.

Register today and help kick-off Blog Action Day 2010!

We hope you'll join us. If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to email me anytime at


Maria & the Blog Action Day team

Wine, women and ... St Chinian

When we first came to St Chinian ten years ago, we bought a wonderful little guide from the Maisons des Vins to the vignerons of the St Chinian appellation. We couldn't possibly have visited every vineyard, so the first year we decided to limit ourselves to organic vinyards, and the second, to women winemakers. That was when we discovered Line Cauquil. Her father had owned the local garage and was also a "vigneron", delivering his wine to the local cave cooperative. When he retired, his son took over the garage, and Line - who worked in IT - decided to take over the vineyards, creating her own domaine, the Domaine Deslines (the feminine theme is reflected in the label for the "Grand Cru", which unfortunately proved too risqué for an order from the United States). Like most St Chinian wine, Line produces red, and we often end up driving back to Ferney with lots of red, but little white. So this holiday we decided also to test white wines, and started with a wine produced by Hildegard Horat of La Grange de Quatre Sous, at Assignan, a couple of kilometres from St Chinian. Hildegard is originally from Switzerland and arrived in the Languedoc in 1983. Her wines are "Vins de Pays" - but don't let that fool you into confusing them with the cheap generic wines in supermarkets. Like other vignerons in the area, Hildegard chose the VdP option to give her greater flexibility in the grape varieties she could use than if she had opted for the St Chinian or Côteaux de Languedoc appellation, and she uses organic methods (though doesn't promote her wine as such). When Hildegard started producing wines, a female vigneron was a rarity, now she belongs to an association of 18 women vignerons in the region called vinifilles - oh, and her domaine has just an echo of the Brecht/Weill Threepenny Opera, which in French is the Opéra de quat'sous - now, there's a reason to raise a glass!

Monday, 27 September 2010

Driving through a wine list

On Saturday, we set off from Nyons to get to St Chinian for a journey that seemed at times as though instead of following a map, we were working our way down the wine list of a restaurant. Leaving Nyons we first went past the road to Vinsobres, which became a Cotes du Rhone Villages in 1967, and then, in 2006, got promoted to being a stand alone appellation. We then skirted the southern edge of the Enclave des Papes, a territory once part of the Papal States that became part of France only in 1814, close by Visan, where our wine imbibed the previous night came from, and whose label bore the papal arms. On the road to Bollene, we passed by the industrial complex of the Celliers des Dauphins, known for its massive production of Cotes du Rhones wine for supermarkets and other outlets. Crossing the Rhone we continued through the Cotes du Rhone and Cotes du Rhone Villages appellations before crossing into the Department du Gard, moving into the Coteaux du Longedoc territory, first through Sommieres, then the various sub-appellations such as Gres de Montpellier, Pic St Loup (where we passed by the Domaine de l'Hortus, whose wines feature on the wine list of the Chanteclair restaurant opposite our home in Ferney), then on past the signs to Montpeyroux, which also boasts a wonderful cafe des vins called l'Horloge at the centre of the village.
Throughout the journey we would get stuck behind the narrow tractors that are used to harvest the grapes in the vineyard while the smell of pressed grapes would waft into the car as we drove past the village cooperatives. Then, as we got into the home straight towards St Chinian, we entered the Faugeres region, and drove past the signs to the Domaine Moulin de Lene, whose hat obtained on a previous visit Dr B still wears as protection from the sun, and whose wine we drank for the first evening of our stay in St Chinian. Finally, after going past the Domaine de la Liquier, we turned off the D909 to St Genies de Fontédit, and saw our first sign from a producer of AOC St Chinian ... but that will be another story ... one you're all going to get bored by by the end of this holiday!
(This post was written for the stranzblog by guestblogger Dr B)

Sunday, 26 September 2010

In praise of nothing ...

Well tomorrow the holiday begins in earnest. Pictured here are just some of the books we thought we ought to bring with us ... shame to leave them at home when they might like to visit the Languedoc too I suppose! Some of these have been read by one but not by both of us. Really though they took up an obscene amount of space in the car and will mean that we won't be able to fit enough wine in the boot on the way back!
So tomorrow I may have to decide - do I begin with Pain, Evil or the Alexandrian Quartet? hmm ...
Meanwhile this evening I have both begun and finished my first book of the holiday. Now in some ways this is cheating becaue the book is by Christian Bobin and called Eloge du rien. I don't think Bobin has written a single book of much more than100 pages and many of his books are around about the length of a longish written sermon. They are beautifully produced and printed, so feel like reading books. It's right for them to be produced like this because the density and poetry of his prose means it would be hard to cope with too many words on a page. You need to have pages to turn to have time to think. Not quite sure how this would work if you were reading him on a kindle. I think miniatures of literature might not work so well in that format.
Reading Bobin this evening I gave thanks with a wry smile for the fact that I would not have to find an entirely inadequate translation for this glorious half sentence:
"seul l'amour donne un sens à ma vie, en la rendant à elle-même insensée."
The thoughts in his "excurse" are triggered by a letter asking him to write about what gives meaning to his life. He passes through his dislike of such exam-like questions, remembers how the only way he got through school was by learning everything by heart and so ruining his memory and somehow in the middle he chances upon love.
Towards the end he says that love could never fit within the narrowness of meaning (ne saurait se tenir dans l'étroitesse du sens) and then he continues:

"L'amour est liberté. La liberté ne va pas avec le bonheur. Elle va avec la joie. La joie est comme une échelle de lumière dans notre coeur. Elle mène à bien plus haut qu'elle: là où plus rien n'est à saisir, sinon l'insaissisable. Bien sûr, je ne réponds plus vraiment: je chante. Mais v-t-on demander à l'oiseau la raison de son chant?"

Inter-religious running water at the garden of aromas in Nyons

"L'homme ne se nourrit pas des choses mais du sens des choses. Ainsi l'eau continue l'esprit et l'alimente"
"Human beings are not fed by things but by the meaning of things. In the same way water continues the work of the spirit and feeds it."
This is my not entirely successful translation of the inscription on the small fountain we came across in in the "jardin des arômes" in Nyons. "Ainsi" it seemed to me needed more than just a "thus" here but I'm still not sure how to get into English the idea of exprit being both spirit and mind. The French "continue" is also somehow more active - perhaps "impels the spirit forwards and feeds the mind" would have been a possible "transcreation". Sometimes the shortest phrases are the hardest.

I love gardens and it was an early morning treat to wander around this one on the banks of the river Eygues and look at the different aromatic and medicinal plants. I really liked the old lavender distiller that they've placed in the middle of the garden as well - you can see a photo of it by scrolling down here.
I took the photos because of the religious symbols of the side of the fountain which rather surprised me in a municipally funded garden in secular France. All gardens should have water in them somewhere, the secret gardens of our inner spirit need water too, which is what holiday and wandering around gardens, vineyards and markets is all about. Well that's my excuse anyway!

Lunch in Lédignan - sometimes it's a good idea to have a bad navigator

Ok so now it is time for the non-driver I am to confess to my multiple uselessness. Due to a lack of attention to detail I managed to choose the wrong road coming out of Alès yesterday ... as is often the case when I'm wrong, I didn't even notice and just kept saying "oh yes, next village will be ..."
Hmm ... fortunately Dr B is a geographer and finally said "do we really need to go to Sommières?" hmmm no...

Anyway, at the beginning of this slight detour - in the grand scheme of things it wasn't too serious - we stopped for lunch in Lédignan. We'd been trying to find a place to have a decent cup of coffee since leaving Nyons and failed miserably - though we did come across a fascinating little Protestant temple in one of the villages.

Dr B didn't want to take the motorway too much so we discovered lots of lovely little places that we may or may not visit again, and we travelled through wonderful countryside in great weather. To get to St Chinian from we skirted the edge of the Cévennes and seem to have travelled from the more Protestant Gard to the more Catholic Hérault. We also came past a strange Papal enclave (where our Visan wine from the previous night came from) which has become a peninsula of the Gard within the Drome.

Anyway lunch in Lédignan was wonderful - very delicious, 15 euros for three courses and really great service and food. We ate outside in the garden but the indoor restaurant was full with lots of folk who felt the autumn air was too cool. It's called La Gardonnenque, uses local food and suppliers and seems to offer a great take out service to many folk in the town as well. Pictured here is my starter, a pressé of goat's cheese and fresh tomatoes with a delicious spicy sweet tomato coulis.

So I suppose this is a warning, there may be an occasional serious post on this blog in the next few weeks but mainly it will be about food, wine and the occasional book I may manage to read ... it's called HOLIDAY!

So there are still linguistic mysteries in this world

Friday was the European day of languages. It was also the day that I saw this sign as we stopped for coffee in the middle of the glorious and wild Isère. It was pointing to the public toilets ...I had no idea at all what it meant but sensed that it did not mean what it seems to mean - literally "Room without bags - or room out of (your) bags".
Anyway thanks to wiktionaire this particular hole in my linguistic ignorance seems to be filled. "hors sac" is for post that didn't go in the postal bags but had to travel separately. Sort of by allusion (tho' I don't really get this if I'm honest) Hors sacs canalso be the place where walkers and shepherds can find shelter and unpack their bags in safety from the elements. Evidently the public toilets served this purpose in the wild mountainous area we drank coffee, they did seem to be a more permanent structure than next door snack bar, which was nevertheless doing a roaring trade in "frites".
Anyway perhaps I have got it all wrong and hors sacs mean something comepletely different. Do let me know.

Friday, 24 September 2010

A wonderful supper in the Resto des Arts in Nyons

So So after blogging about the food crisis I went into Nyons and we ate
at the wonderful Resto des Arts, at 13 rue des déportés. Highly
recommended and you can see pictures here of my three courses. I think
my favourite was the St Marcellin wrapped in a feuille de brique with
a cunning topping of honey and almonds inside and servied with an
exquisite salad. I sound ripe foe pseuds corner don't I? Oh dear, I
fear that as it is holiday time there may well be much more of this
sort of blogging very soon ... ... hmmm and the abricot sorbet which accompanied my peach soup desert was divine ...

A bellfry, a restaurant and wine ...

We drove down to Grenoble on the motorway and then headed for a new way for us across the mountains. It was fascinating - if at times very wet - seeing the changing vegetation and then fianlly coming down into the Nyons valley and seeing our first olive trees. We really are in the midi now. I love tht about travelling southwards in France, suddenly you just know you're in a different place, the mediterranean makes its mark.
Another marker of being in Provence are the lovely bellfries in the towns and viallages - pictured here is the one from Nyons where we are staying for the night.
Then I could resist more pictures from the splendid Resto des Arts including the lovely local Visan wine which we took to perhaps rather too much! (Do check out these great photos of the confererie here - great fun!)

The Churches Week of Action on Food - what will you be doing?

Our friend Colin Williams recently moved to the beautiful historic town of Ludlow. We have yet to visit him there but one of the things he particularly mentions is Ludlow's annual food festival and the question of how to link the life of the church in to that.
It's an interesting challenge - churches are places where lots of eating take place, lots of common meals - the Bible is a book with lots of stories of meals, stories too of food scarcity and also of the promise of plenty. By focusing on food justice do Christians sometimes come across as killjoys, holier than thou? Perhaps. How can we find creative ways to hold the call for justice and the real joy and pleasure of food together. With the eucharist as our founding meal we should surely find it easier than we seem to.
Human beings need food and water to even begin to be able to live. Surely, we do not live by bread alone. Certainly however folk cannot live without bread or maize or rice or some real food.
Today news comes in that the UN is warning of a major new food crisis - the situation is likely to become even more acute for many of the world's poorest.
Today I also received the information posted below from my colleagues at the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance on the churches week of action on food where they seek to highlight women and food security.

And yet even as I post this I know guilt and have once more to recognise my own very complex relationship with food - as a fat female Christian from the over-privileged north. Today I am on holiday, travelling. By midnight tonight I shall have eaten two meals in restaurants - I'm in France, these are good meals, delicious food. Sometimes holding justice and joy together is more than hard work, it makes me feel like a sinner and a hypocrite. A sinner and hypocrite who is of course nevertheless invited to the wedding feast of forgiveness and responsibility.
It would not be better if my personal sense of guilt and shame also made me silent.

So do check out some of the resources below - the sermon writing competition sounds fun. Maybe I should give that a try.

Highlight women and food security during Churches Week of Action on Food

The Churches Week of Action on Food will take place 10-17 October 2010. The focus this year is on the vital importance of smallscale food producers, particularly women, in ensuring food security particularly for the almost 1 billion people experiencing chronic hunger.

An action guide and liturgy are available in English, French and Spanish. Join with thousands of others during the week to raise awareness about the root causes of hunger in this world and what we can do to help improve food security around the world.

The resources mentioned below are available at:

What can I do?

  1. Hold a worship service focused on food and gender on the Sunday at the beginning or end of the Week of Action. Use or adapt the liturgy available in English, French and Spanish.
  2. Use the resource guide in English, French and Spanish to plan actions for the week, use as a study guide, and share with others to raise awareness of the issues of smallscale food producers, women and food security.
  3. Print and distribute the prayer card to members of your church to use at home as the prayer before meals during the week.
  4. Encourage a national letter writing campaign calling national governments to safeguard communal land against land grabbing using the EAA Model Letter. Adopt, adapt, collect signatures and send to the same people/institutions on the same day.
  5. Enter the EAA Food for Life competition by writing and submitting sermons on food and gender for promotion in 2011. Details of the competition will be available online during the Week of Action or you can write to
  6. Use the information in the resource guide to write a letter to your local paper for World Food Day, 16 October, letting more people know about the issues of food and gender.
  7. Share the research and analysis in the 2010 Right to Food and Nutrition Watch, with community organizations, study groups and media. The Executive Summary is available now, and the full report will be available from 7 October.
  8. Tell us what you are doing! Inspire others and share your ideas by sending information on your events and actions to

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Enjoying reading Margot Kässmann's blog from the USA

Until Christmas the former head of the Evangelical Church in Germany, Margot Kässmann, is at Emory University in the United States, and she's blogging - allerdings auf Deutsch. is hosting her blog which is an interesting mix of reflections on religious encounters and cross cultural experiences. The most recent post is about Yom Kippur which took place in a Friday evening synagogue which is actually one of the local church buildings.
There's also a post about lunch with former president Jimmy Carter as well as passing thoughts about the Koran burning threat, US radio shows and much more besides.
Certainly worth reading and checking in with once a week.

Beginning my holiday reading ...

So as we tidy up (well sort of a bit) we come across not only books from recent book buying frenzies in Liverpool, London and elsewhere but also magazines that have been been received but not properly opened. For instance several issues of the New Statesman - which come addressed to me and only rarely gets opened by me and often seems to get "lost" in one of Dr B's bags or under a really not at all interesting computer magazine. (Yes, there are limits to my omnivore approach to reading - puter magazines are no longer it, though I did have a brief monthly fling years ago with PC World.)
In the prehistoric piling we also found September's Reform which I am enjoying reading in the late afternoon sunshine, in particular editor Kay Paris' interview with novelist Mailynne Robinson. I was moved by the penultimate question and response:

Q:There is great sadness in your novels. Religion doesn't bring happiness, but it does bring great dimension to the lives of its religious characters.
A:There is great sadness in life, for example at the inevitable end of great happiness, or in the frustration of profound love. Religion makes experience meaningful and sacred - or it expresses the fact that these things are true of experience properly understood. It does indeed add another dimension to experience.
I've been reading reviews and other interviews with Robinson following her recent Absence of Mind here and here and this quote struck a chord from Tim Teeman's interview:

What is her God, I ask ... Robinson looks briefly stumped. “I can write about it, but that’s a big question. The term ‘God’ has a big reality for me but that’s not to say it has definition.” Is “it” a rock? “Yes, but that doesn’t mean I am not vulnerable to everything in the same way as other people.” She had no image of God when growing up. “That never meant anything to me. I was too Protestant,” she laughs. “There are things that exceed language. God is one of those things, pre-eminently and utterly.”
Over on Faith and Theology Ben Myers does not seem so keen on Robinson's most recent novel Home. I hope to find time to read it myself soon. for now all this internet browsing is just whetting my appetite for the feast of reading and sleeping of the two weeks ahead. Here's a little more from Kay Paris' article, the whole of which should I hope be online in a few weeks time once September turns to October.

Marilynne Robinson was raised as a Presbyterian; she worships now as a Congregationalist and remains a staunch apologist for the ideas of John Calvin – particularly in relation to, on the one hand, his contribution to societal principles and culture, and on the other his understanding of the personal sense one can cultivate of the presence of God. “Perception is at the centre of Calvin’s theology… the great energy that rips galaxies apart also animates our slightest thoughts,” she said during a recent interview for Christianity Today – and it is for us to struggle endlessly between centering on this vision of God in the living of our lives, or giving in to self-centredness.

Waiting for Godot ...

So you wait for months for emails about culture and then they come along in groups just like buses!
Our friend Alan Leather is starring in Waiting for Godot which will open while we're away. Do hope that we'll be back in time for one of the later performances though. Here are the details for those of you in the Geneva area

A Theatre Someone Production

Waiting for Godot
The classic comedy by Samuel Beckett.
Vladimir and Estragon pass the time waiting for Monsieur Godot. Will he arrive to-day?

Directed by Sue Humphreys
With Alan Leather, Gary Bird, Andrew Brookes, Joe Pirri, Gabriel Bird

October 1st and 2nd Theatre les 50, 31 bis Impasse aux Rues, St Jean de Gonville
October 9th Commons Room, Webster University, 15 Route de Collex, Bellevue
October 15th La Grande Salle, Emmanuel Church, 3 Rue Monthoux, Geneva
October 16th Salle Ausonne, L'Esplanade, Divonne les Bains

All performances start at 20.00hrs
Tickets 19 euros [France] 25 CHF [Switzerland] Free seating

For reservations or information:

or call +33 450201232
Web site

Soup, soupistes and the art of mixing

Thanks to Sophie Verbeek, my wonderfully talented erstwhile calligraphy teacher I get the occasional cultural email and this one really took my fancy because it's such a great play on words.
Sophie will be one of the artists exhibiting at the Robertsau in Rumilly. The Robertsau styles itself as a "mixer of contemporary art" offering exhibition space and space for artists to "mix" with one another and with the public.
Rumilly is in the next door département of upper Savoy, not far from Annecy.
Meanwhile the "soupistes" are a grouping of artists in our part of the world, the Pays de Gex. They say that soupism - the philosophy they espouse - is without form just like a bowl of potage but that one thing is fur sure, it's meant for sharing!
So the mixeur and the soupistes get together for what looks as if it will be a very eclectic but fun exhibition in Rumilly. The whole philosophy the Robertsau looks great - a free space for artists and public to mix and talk and encounter in. A curated space.

Now of course to make soup you need a mixer - if you're making that kind of soup. But you also need friends to share it with, which is what we did with the delicious pumpkin and red pepper soup we ate last night.
Anyway I hope we make it to Rumilly before the end of November. First though we pack to head to the Languedoc.

du 26 septembre au 28 novembre 2010

Jane Le Besque - Christophe Jacquemet
Fanny Gagliardini - Rachel Nisbet - Mike Layland
Yvette David - Sophie Verbeek - Jean Deprez - Catherine Jacquet

installation, photographie, volume, peinture, bijoux, point croisés,livre d'artistes...
Une association invite une autre association...
La Robertsau, le mixeur d'art contemporain de Rumilly, nouvelle mise en marche de la machine
pour "les soupistes", un club d'artistes en tous genre du pays de Gex.
Soupism: la philosophie derrière le soupiste est aussi informe que le potage
mais quelle que soit sa saveur, elle est faite pour être partagée.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

In sync or out of sync - more from Rilke

"Be out of sync with your times for just one day, and you will see how much eternity you contain within you." Rilke

More from Rilke ... this set me thinking about the biblical injunction "to not be conformed to this world", yet somehow Rilke's injunction is more grace filled and much less didactic. Because it is graceful it opens up more possibilities for creativity within me. Wonderful how one short line of prose poetry can open up vistas of meaning.
Then though I went back and re-read Romans 12.2 "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect." and I realised it too is more open and graceful than the way I have internalised it.

Eternity and its values can transform us. Being out of sync and non-conformist can help open us to that, I like that.

Wishes and the future - from Rilke

"Wishes are the memories coming from our future." Rilke

This little quote from Rilke really pleased me as I read it last night. It made me think once more of Jürgen Ebach's wonderful book title Errinerte Zukunft und erhoffte Vergangenheit - A remembered future and a hoped for past.

And our theme in the feminist theology group this year is between the past and the future living in the present.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Daydreaming and sinfulness ... understanding through the labyrinth and Simone Weil

It has been good for me to lead the retreat over the weekend to travel out and back and have time to think of different things. Travelling helped me get some distance from my recent pointless pain as well. The labyrinth, both the idea and the practice of it, helped alot with this.

I suppose one way I might now understand what I have been feeling and how I have been reacting to events beyond my control would be to say that rather than losing the plot I have got lost in my own story.
While preparing for the weekend in Lübbecke I re-read parts of For Lovers of God Everywhere which has so many wonderful fragments of wisdom and came across the passage below from Simone Weil, which I mentioned last week. It made me realise that I have perhaps indulged in a daydreaming of grief over the past two months.
Last week I found myself quoting Weil to someone who may yet become a friend while apologizing for seeming to have lost hope. These weeks have been a strange experience for me and I found myself deeply challenged while reading Writing in an Age of Silence by Sara Paretsky and realising that I was finding it very hard to find hope. My facebook entry read:

Feels a little pathetic that a passage on hope in a piece of detective ficton moves me to tears ... "Me, I don't believe in God, let alone the coming of the Messiah. But I did learn from my Zeyde that you must live in hope, the hope that your work can make a difference in the world."

The only way back towards hope will be in the iterative labyrinth of pain and joy.
For a woman who loves daydreaming as much as I do it will be hard to give up getting lost in my own story of inner pain, but I suppose if I don't I really will lose the plot ... as the Bible says perfect love casts out fear. Love is not about daydreaming.

I believe that the root of evil, in everybody perhaps,
but certainly in those whom affliction has touched, is daydreaming.
It is the sole consolation, the unique resource of the afflicted;
the one solace that helps them bear the fearful burden of time;
and a very innocent one, besides being indispensable.
So how could it be possible to renounce it?
It has only one disadvantaage, which is that it is unreal.
To renounce it for the love of truth is really to abandon all one's possessions in a mad excess of love and to follow Him who is the personification of Truth.
And it is really to bear the cross;
because time is the cross.
In all its forms, without exception,
daydreaming is falsehood.
It excludes love. Love is real.
Simone Weil

We are on holiday and here is proof!

It's only when I get the chance for a lie-in that I realise how tired I am. Today i woke as always just before six but then after a cup of tea in bed fell asleep again. bliss!

We have had a very simply lunch in our very own holiday home in the Ferney sunshine. It was delicious, no wine just "chateau la pompe" and now the chance for a snooze ... well we could be tidying up a bit but I think we might put that off until we come back from the Languedoc where we shall head off to at the end of this week. For now we're just preparing to travel, thinking about all the books we want to take with us and what we might want to do while we're away - probably more days sleeping, thinking, dawdling in bed and pottering on with life. Wonderful.

Ah yes and I've started reading Philip Roth's The Humbling - even only part way in it has given me much to think about. Wonderful pithy writing and a challenge for me to be reading a novella by such a man's man.

Standing up against poverty

While I've been away remembering the Bible, colleagues at the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva were joining the world wide stand up against poverty.

A new inter-religious partnership for health will be kick-started at the United Nations Millennium Development Goals Review Summit in New York, 20-22 September. A small delegation of six faith-based leaders representing a wide spectrum of religious practice and public health experience will convey their collective concern for the well-being of society and their support for the UN-sponsored Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health.

You can see photos here and find the liturgy here.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Remembering the Emmaus Road

I had never done the Emmaus road story as remembered Bible until yesterday and I found it very moving and enlightening.
I wanted three sessions with the group that fitted together but where the "fit" would only really become clear as each of us was on our homeward journey.
The whole point of beginning with a first session on the labyrinth and daring to speak deeply of joys and pain that motivate and hold us back on life's sometimes tortuous journey, was that we should begin to experience more consciously the iterative nature of understanding and discernment, that things are not cut and dried or easy very often but processes which are in various stages of becoming.
So we started with this:
If a man

wishes to be sure
of the road he travels on,
he must close his eyes
and walk in the dark.
If a woman
wishes to be sure
of the road she travels on,
she must close her eyes
and walk in the dark.
(St John of the Cross)

I also spoke a bit about how hard it is to pick up the threads and also shared some of the story of our friend Suzanne. We sang the wonderful Iona chant I learnt at the Kirchentag "Come Holy Spirit" and ended that session by simply reading aloud the kennings that I had prepared, as we reflected on our paths and the way our stories are part of God's story, how Jesus' story becomes part of our story. The kennings simply evoked that, without (I hope) imposing particular stories or interpretations on people.
Compline fitted in beautifully after that first session, and it was good to have a night to sleep on things - and time in the bar to chat about things!
For the second and third sessions I wanted to take up the themes of pain and joy on the journey more clearly. So I chose Christ's arrest, betrayal and passion and wanted a resurrection story to go with that.
Janet had spoken to me about how she had once taken a small barbecue to church to try to prompt rememberings on the cooked fish resurrection story (this was the origin of my kenning "fish barbecuer"). However, I decided I wanted to go with the Emmaus road and see how that worked.
I started that final session by reading Danny Abse's poem about paint and blood. The pain is still part of the joy as we move towards resurrection. Then we began simply remembering biblical stories about bread, gradually moving through to the Emmaus story ... it became clear to me just how much the story itself is about how events are remembered and interpreted. The two were going "home", they thought they knew where they were going - but actually their destination changed because of their encounter with the risen one in the breaking of the bread. Emmaus is a story of iteration, of missed understanding and new insight.
I particularly liked the fact that some people shared experiences around the story from their church and pastoral work. Clearly somehow links were being made between our story and the story of the kingdom. All our stories are one.

Selig and masterchef

This advert in Bielefeld station made me smile in all sorts of ways. I thought of the BBC masterchef series and how the judges there don't wear chef's whites, here in Germany however, they would seem to need to wear the clothes of the trade - looks more professional.
Then of course there's the way it's set up to look like the last supper and the use of the word "selig". Seligpreisungen is the German for the Beatitudes. Also the word used for the beatification of saints. Not sure whether the cooking will beatify the judges though!

On a train to Berlin but having to get off before I get there

I'm on a train and its destination is Berlin but in a few minutes I shall have to disembark and change for Basel and then Geneva, ah well, I can dream of Berlin and all that might be - that will be for the next holiday perhaps.

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Saturday, 18 September 2010

Kennings - for fun, for reflection, for getting to know ourselves and God more deeply

So here are some of our Kennings from this morning's session here at the British Army's Church House in Lübbecke where the CAECG were having one of their twice yearly Council meetings.
The idea for writing kennings came from Janet Lees and you can read a rather more focused method than the one I used today on the Vision4Life website here.
Today had a much broader brief to try and write kennings particularly about God and Jesus but also to write kennings about any other biblical story that came to mind. i did this just as a way to free up people's minds and open them up to the idea, so folk didn't get too hung up about not being able to think of a kenning about God.
On the morning I arrived I also sat down and wrote around 50 kennings on small cards, most about God and Jesus but there are also some characters from the Hebrew scriptures you may recognise (not all of them have found their way back to me so there's just some here). My kennings are at the end in italics and we used those twice, reading them aloud around the group in two sessions before we dared to write our own and read them out to everyone. This was a really fun session and I was so happy it worked well for people.
Later talking with a former colleague and fellow linguist we realised that this process actually turns the original reason for kennings being used on its head. In old Norse poetry kennings evolved as a way of trying to show respect for a person or thing, describing it differently to get appropriate distance, to make something more noble, less attainable. However, what this method tries to do is use the writing of kennings to gain new insights and intimacy - intimacy with God and Jesus, insights into the stories and understanding of what is going on within us at our time of remembering - how we are interpreting the story. The etymological root of kenning is from the verb to know, so these easy little phrases are about new ways of knowing as well.
A very powerful simple little tool and such fun too - great for tweeting!

God wrestler
Blessing stealer
name changer
soul lover
whole maker
shame atoner
hope holder
pallet lowerer
Bible preacher
lone giver
peace bringer
soul healer
sleep giver
silence holder
truth teller
people lover
path leader
live giver
wounds healer
mosaic maker
wave wader
hand holder
tension holder
relationship healer
life delighter
city destroyer
sin forgiver
sick lover
gospel proclaimer
demon conqueror
faith shower
sin taker
heart warmer
darkness teaser
parable puzzler
hem toucher
world maker
love giver
sin forgiver
world lover
promise maker
son sender
dead raiser
life giver
manna dropper
humble raiser
pride pricker
Dawkins lover
marmite sender
crowd feeder
praise provoker
eternal forgiver
faithful helper
patient listener
constant lover
eye opener
Unity maker
Rule breaker
Free setter
Freedom giver
One maker
Blessing bestower
all things new maker
constant encourager
open-armed includer
ever-present challenger
Incarnated new-life giver
Road accompanier,
sun lighter
idea giver
heart opener
joy giver
neighbour lover
purse opener
warmth giver
light giver
support giver
Demon driver
word sender
God bearer
Crowd feeder
dream interpreter
wine multiplier
life giver
peace bringer
faith giver
grace giver
peace giver
sorrow taker
worship receiver
dream giver
darkness bearer
soul befriender
comfort giver
hate disperser
life changer
wisdom teacher
balloon burster
Angry preacher
sad weeper
meaning reaper
feisty teacher
soldier saver
beloved brother
peace maker
picture painter
dream treasurer
life adviser
water vinifier

thirst quencher
storm calmer
stone dropper
bread breaker
God lover
sheep finder
flock waterer
darkness divider
seed setter
law giver
animal pairer
dove releaser
breath breather
story teller
footware remover
plate filler
fish mulplier
death defier
water walker
fish barbecuer
child lover
way giver
love maker
cup giver
man lover
foot washer
Zaccheus befriender
manna finder
temple cleanser
woman lover
whip wielder
family leaver
parent deserter
temple preacher
olive-branch receiver
blood stopper
hem toucher
lamp lighter
apple eater?
earth former
water seeker
wood worker
cross bearer
fruit stealer
brother killer
serpent talker
kingly philanderer
tear crier
oil provider
tomb quitter
tomb opener
sea parter
whale whiler
desperate sufferer
ark builder
wave strider
jonathan lover
beatitude talker
bush burner
wind calmer
desert wanderer
satan rejecter
cave shelterer
tambourine dancer

Kennings and labyrinths for a retreat of the Council of Anglican Episcopal Churches in Germany

On Thursday evening I caught the night train to Germany to come and spend the weekend with folk from the Council of Anglican Episcopal Churches in Germany.
I was privileged to be able to sit in on their business sessions yesterday - I have to admit that I really must be a bit of a sad case ecumenical bureaucrat to find business meetings interesting. However this was less a business meeting and more a news of the local congregations' life. There were also a couple of opportunites to talk about the WCC's work on environmental issues and the current time for creation, and in terms of ecumenism in Germany through the ACK and involvement in the Ecumenical and Protestant Kirchentag.
However, the real reason I was with this group is that in a moment of weakness (also known as the well-known stranz inability to say no) I agreed to be a retreat leader for three "input" sessions. It's always strange to have a completely free hand with a group and it was wonderful for my brain to try to piece together something that I hoped might be both useful and meaningful for them (and of course for me!).
So, based on the ideas of my friend Janet Lees in Word of Mouth and on the Vision4Life website, I decided to try and do Bible Study without Bibles, and encourage them to allow themselves some time to see how much their story crosses with Jesus' story.
In the first evening session I did a bit of story telling, about myself and where I "come from" to try to empower them to do some deep talking about their own journeys. Then I gave each of them an A4 photocopy of a chartres labyrinth to trace with their fingers or a pen, both inwards and outwards and encouraged them to talk in groups of three and dare to name where they thought they might be going ... and perhaps even acknowledge where they might be coming from.
At the end of that session I distributed some "kennings" that I'd prepared on small pieces of card and we read them aloud around the room as a way of trying to sense where God's story and each of our stories were crossing, how we could pick up the thread.
This morning we began by remembering the labyrinth, thinking about the difference between labyrinths and mazes Then I got everyone to write some kennings - which was fun and the results were brilliant - I'll type them in later.
The main part of that session we then spent in remembering in the large group Christ's passion and betrayal. Our remembering was a powerful time of words and silence, of promptings and saying. It became clear to me just how good a tool Remembered Bible is - we were interpreting and telling at the same time, adding ourselves, our feelings into the story, But today I also felt very much how meditative and emotional remembering the Bible can be.
In the third session we moved to remembering resurrection and the Emmaus story. I had never done this before with a group and as the "remembrance teaser" told them the text we were going to remember together was about bread. so we remembered lots of bread stories before I moved them on to Emmaus. Remembering Emmaus really showed me how much the Bible itself is a remembered story, all about anamnesis. More about the content of our remembering in a later post.
To close I gave the group another labyrinth - this time the Peace Convocation logo - just a black and white version rather than the colourful one pictured here. We prayed and then moved to the chapel for our eucharist where our remembrance became real in the taste of the broken bread.
By the end I felt we had all walked a fair way together, seeing how our paths and God's were crossing and intertwined, how even seemingly dead ends might hold the opportunity for new life and challenge.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Tears before bedtime or actually just after waking ...

My friend, colleague and fellow editor of the Ecumenical Review Theodore Gill has been leading morning prayers this week. As ever the 15-20 minutes he invites us to start the morning with are spiritually uplifting and intellectually stimulating. I try to help as I can with leading any singing that might be needed - though as ever early in the morning this rather depends on whether my voice agrees to behave and whether I know what has been chosen!

On Wednesday morning we had some wry smiles as we listened to the passage from Proverbs 31 on the character of the noble woman! You can find our order of service here.

As we moved into the prayers of intercession I found that tears were splashing down my face. For once I was in the chapel without my bag and so no access to a hanky - it's not really the done thing to wipe your face with the hem of your skirt - certainly not when you have legs like mine! The prayers of reconciliation from Eastern Europe moved me, I can't say too much here about why but they did - it felt to me as if they had been written with my concerns in mind and I felt very much not cut out to live up to such an ideal of forgiveness and newness of life.
I wish I could say that the tears refreshed me but they didn't really. However my early morning chapel tears which sprang from a doubtless deep source of guilt and incompleteness within me were quickly over. For that I am greatful. I have wept too often in recent weeks, indulging in a daydreaming of grief, losing myself in pointless (though it seemed to me very real) pain and sensing no way out or forwards. So perhaps sudden and brief tears are some kind of progress ... I hope so. Not exactly refreshment but getting there.

Daydreaming - Simone Weil
I believe that the root of evil, in everybody perhaps,
but certainly in those whom affliction has touched, is daydreaming.
It is the sole consolation, the unique resource of the afflicted;
the one solace that helps them bear the fearful burden of time;
and a very innocent one, besides being indispensable.
So how could it be possible to renounce it?
It has only one disadvantaage, which is that it is unreal.
To renounce it for the love of truth is really to abandon all one's possessions in a mad excess of love and to follow Him who is the personification of Truth.
And it is really to bear the cross;
because time is the cross.
In all its forms, without exception,
daydreaming is falsehood.
It excludes love. Love is real.

The greatest dignity is that of belonging to the community of the beloved disciples of Jesus Christ - a reading at morning prayer

Morning prayer this week is being led by Theodore Gill. On Tuesday he read this for us as we reflected on 1 John 1. You can find the order of service for the prayers here. These were powerful words to hear early in the morning ...

Conclusion of Raymond E. Brown’s
The Community of the Beloved Disciple
(Paulist Press, New York, 1979, p.163-4):

…At various times I have referred to the theology of the Fourth Gospel as challengingly different, volatile, dangerous, and as the most adventuresome in the New Testament… Over the centuries John’s Gospel has provided the seedbed for many exotic forms of individualistic pietism and quietism (as well as the inspiration for some of the most profound mysticism). Johannine christology has nurtured a widespread unconscious monophysitism, popular even today, in which Jesus is not really like us in everything except sin, but omniscient, unable to suffer or to be tempted, foreseeing the whole future. (At the same time, Johannine christology has been the mainstay of the great orthodox faith of Nicaea.)

The ultimate check upon what Kysar calls the “maverick Gospel” has been the church’s hermeneutical decision to place it in the same canon as Mark, Matthew, and Luke, Gospels which implicitly advocate the side opposite to many Johannine positions. This means that the Great Church, “the church catholic” of Ignatian language, whether consciously or unconsciously, has chosen to live with tension. It has chosen not a Jesus who is either God or man but both; it has chosen not a Jesus who is either virginally conceived as God’s Son or pre-existent as God’s Son but both; not either a Spirit who is given to an authoritative teaching magisterium or the Paraclete-teacher who is given to each Christian but both; not a Peter or a Beloved Disciple but both. Tension is not easily accepted in ordinary life, and we usually try to resolve it. So too in church history – but because of the church decision about the canon, attempts at simple resolutions of these theological tensions into a static position on one side or the other are unfaithful to the whole New Testament.

This means that a church such as my own, the Roman Catholic, with its great stress on authority and structure, has in the Johannine writings an inbuilt conscience against the abuses of authoritarianism. (So also the “free” churches have in the Pastorals an inbuilt warning against the abuses of the Spirit and in 1 John a warning against the divisions to which a lack of structural authority leads.) Like one branch of the Johannine community, we Roman Catholics have come to appreciate that Peter’s pastoral role is truly intended by the risen Lord, but the presence in our Scriptures of a disciple whom Jesus loved more than he loved Peter is an eloquent commentary on the relative value of the church office. The authoritative voice is necessary because a task is to be done and unity is to be preserved, but the scale of power in various offices is not necessarily the scale of Jesus’ esteem and love. In this day when Catholics quarrel about how much respective authority pope, bishop, priest, and lay person should have, and when Christians quarrel about whether a woman should be an ordained minister of the eucharist, John’s voice cries out its warning. The greatest dignity to be striven for is neither papal, episcopal, nor priestly; the greatest dignity is that of belonging to the community of the beloved disciples of Jesus Christ.