The Scent of Time Passing

I’m writing this a week after the end of British Summer Time and the evenings are drawing in.

As usual, I’ve numbered the days on my calendar, starting with 51 for October 31st when the clocks changed, working down to 0 on December 21, the shortest day and a significant milestone if I’m battling Seasonal Affective Disorder at the time.

Reaching each milestone of forty days left, then thirty, then twenty and finally into single figures usually really helps me, especially turning from November to December and finding myself on the same page as the shortest day.

Now that it is dark outside, when I’m cooking an evening meal, I make it a habit to step outside (if the weather allows), stand on the doorstep and just breathe in the scents of the evening.

A few days ago, on November 5th – Bonfire or Firework Night in the UK, – the scent was of wood smoke. Strange, as there were no bonfires nearby but, as so often on that evening, I breathed in the cold, frosty air and the smoke and those intoxicating scents brought back memories of childhood firework parties, gloved hands holding hot jacket potatoes and the delight of signing my name across the night sky with a sparkler.

In a few weeks’ time, I’ll smell Christmas approaching: a heady mix of Christmas pudding mixture, tangerines and the smoke from the cigar my father, (who didn’t normally smoke), allowed himself each Christmas. I’ll think about some of my happiest Christmases past and those who peopled them, especially the family and dear friends who are no longer here.

I’m so thankful for my senses. Although my hearing is declining as I get older, my sense of smell is very strong and I love the way even the briefest exposure to certain scents – passing someone on the street who is wearing a certain perfume, for example – can trigger so many memories.

So, as I go through the next few weeks, I’ll celebrate the wonderful joys I can find in these early winter days. I hope you will be able to do so too.

Psalm 139:14 (KJV): I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.

My Spiritual Chiropractor

Yesterday I had chiropractic treatment which I began some years ago following unexpected severe back pain. As I have ongoing problems with my back, legs and posture, I now need to have regular ‘maintenance’ sessions.

I’m fortunate to have a very skilled chiropractor who is always smiling, calm and welcoming and very good at relieving my painful symptoms. He rebalances me. I don’t have to tell him which bit or bits of me need attention; he always knows exactly where the problem is and what he’ll need to do to ease it.

But sometimes I wonder what he thinks when he sees my name on his list of patients for the day. Each time I go for an appointment, I seem to have a different problem. I’m sure he must sometimes think “what’s wrong with her now?” (Due to his professionalism, I’m happy to say he never shows that – even if he’s thinking it.)

As the discomfort in one area eases, it seems to move to another area or an old problem is triggered and needs further work. I need to be straightened out constantly, have my pain eased and, sometimes, follow a course of exercises to try and maintain progress and (try and) prevent future problems.

As I was laying there today, I thought about the constantly changing and recurring problems and issues I bring to God. I imagined him saying, ‘Not her again. What’s wrong now? What does she get up to between ‘appointments’ to get into this state? Will she never learn how to look after herself and prevent these problems?’

Then I remembered that God would never say, or even think, ‘Not her again’ or ‘Will she never learn?’ He’s my spiritual chiropractor. No appointment needed. Whether I’ve got a new problem, or an old one has reared its head again, His ease and relief are always on offer. As with my chiropractor, I don’t have to tell him which bit or bits of me need attention; he always knows exactly where the problem is and what he’ll guide me to do to ease it.

Whatever issues I have which are putting me out of kilter, causing tension, perhaps physical pain and, sometimes, even depression, God is always there in those situations with me, alongside me. He knows the source of the problems and pains I suffer and His gentle hands are always ready to work on me: easing out the tensions, rebalancing and strengthening me.

I know that to maintain my progress, I need to exercise and keep challenging myself to grow. Yet, I also know that I sometimes need to rest, to consolidate and to reflect.

I’m not good at remembering the exercises my chiropracter sometimes recommends. Often, I start with good intentions, doing them daily but other priorities take over and my good intentions wane. Sometimes, by the time I get home from my appointment, I can’t even remember exactly how to do the exercises!

My spiritual chiropractor, though, is always there on call, through prayer, 24/7 with a gentle reminder, or, sometimes a more forceful prompt, about what I need to be doing to get myself into better shape – and then keep myself in shape – for Him. I don’t always see results at the end of each ‘treatment’ but I can feel myself being rebalanced and strengthened. It’s not pain free but I’m definitely walking taller as a result.  

A book recommendation:

I’m so enjoying working through the spiritual exercises relating to prayer found in Amy Boucher Pye’s book 7 Ways to Pray.* It’s given me a real hunger to explore new ways of connecting with God through scripture and it has already become a really valued source of inspiration.

The background to each way of praying is interesting and each kind of prayer practice is clearly explained with examples from Amy’s own experience. This book is a ‘must’ for every Christian’s bookshelf and makes a wonderful gift to share with others.

*7 Ways to Pray Time-tested practices for encountering God

Publisher: SPCK Publishing (2021)

ISBN 978-0-281-08496-8 Further resources at: https://amyboucherpye.com/books/7-ways-to-pray/

Light at the End of the Tunnel

I recently had a lovely reunion with a dear friend (my first boss), her husband and her daughter: who is my Goddaughter.

We met for afternoon tea in London which, for me involved a train then a subway journey and Light Railway journey; the latter being something I’d not done for some time.

The noise levels on the subway line, one of the deepest on the London network, were almost unbearable without having one finger in my ear most of the time while I was being flung from side to side in my seat as we travelled along, at what seemed to be an unnecessarily high speed.

It was a very unsettling experience for several reasons. Firstly, there were no points of reference as we hurtled past blank walls, just an occasional tiny light on the tunnel wall.

Also, I was putting myself completely into someone else’s (the driver’s) hands with no way of controlling whether or not we’d reach our destination safely.

We had to change from the subway to the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) to reach our destination. On the return journey, the station platform was blocked by a faulty train and I was reminded that the DLR is a driverless system.

The stations too are, largely, unstaffed so information when something goes wrong can be hard to come by.  So, we felt stranded with the information boards inaccurate and the system temporarily paralysed.

Fortunately, the situation was quickly resolved, the faulty train was removed and we were on our way again. Yet, it was disconcerting. We knew where we wanted to be but our route was blocked.

Now, a few days later and looking back at that journey, I’m struck by how parts of our Christian journey through life can feel as though we’re being taken along – or maybe, even, being pulled along – through a dark tunnel.

Are we really going in the right direction, on the right line? Everything is hurtling by; we’re being shaken around; can we really trust the driver? Our life in His hands? Is it really safe to give up that much control?

The points of light along the way can be so small sometimes that they’re easy to miss and the light they give can be fleeting.

Sometimes we have problems, we may feel completely ‘stuck’. Our preferred route is temporarily blocked. There doesn’t seem to be anyone we can ask about when the situation will improve.  It’s all very unsettling.

We know what we expect and hope our destination to be but, on the journey, we don’t always have the clear signs we’d like to have.

All we can do is place all our worries, fears, frustrations, even anger into God’s hands and then allow ourselves to be carried.

Isaiah 42:16 (KJV):

16 And I will bring the blind by a way that they knew not; I will lead them in paths that they have not known: I will make darkness light before them, and crooked things straight. These things will I do unto them, and not forsake them.

It was worth the journey!

Lighting the Way

We’re now almost at the end of September and have passed the autumn equinox when we have an equal amount of daytime and night time hours before the shortening daylight hours bring us to the slippery slope towards winter in England.

I’ve just started daily sessions with my special SAD lamp to try and combat Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

For me, the lamp is a reasonably effective therapy and also gives me half an hour daily when I’m free from interruptions.

It’s an good opportunity to read my daily scripture passage from Day by Day with God published by The Bible Reading Fellowship and listen to and reflect on the daily content from Pray as You Go (https://pray-as-you-go.org/), the latter being especially important for centering me.

Today, 29th September, is also a Quarter Day, a traditional division of the British calendar associated at one time with the hiring of servants, the beginning of new school terms and the time when rents were to be settled. Indeed, some rentals are still calculated to and payable on quarter days.

At their inception, at least as far back as the Middle Ages, it was when debts and unresolved lawsuits were settled and publicly recorded as such before the next quarter began.

The significance of quarter days is now limited, although rents for properties in England may still fall due on the old English quarter days and the names are sometimes used in connection with academic terms starting in the relevant months, especially at some of the older universities.

Today’s quarter day is called Michaelmas, the feast day of St. Michael and all Angels; St. Michael who defeats the dragon in Revelation 12: 7-9.

I find it so comforting that, while there are battles between light and darkness in so many areas of our human life and world and while I’m about to start on my own annual mental battle resulting from shortened days and lengthened nights, the final battle has already been won.

So, I’m entering the final quarter of this year with hope and a sense of light that comes not from my SAD lamp but from God’s love around and before me, lighting the way and leading me through the season’s shadows.

I pray that light will lead you too.

Beginning a New Chapter

Here we are in September – my favourite month of the year. It always seems to bring with it a sense of anticipation and of the beginning of a new chapter. I know many people feel the same as the start of a new academic year (in England) fills the shops with new stationery and planners.

I even moved my birthday celebration with its promise of cards and gifts from its real date of 1st January to my late grandmother’s birthday of 7th September for several years. It seemed so much nicer in September when the weather is usually better and almost certainly warmer than it is in January and – a huge plus for me, suffering as I do from Seasonal Affective Disorder – the days are lighter and therefore seem longer.

Plus, I could pretend that I was nine months younger than I really was!

The change of date lasted only a few years till I reached another big decade-beginning birthday, which I felt I had to celebrate on the correct date and so January it’s been ever since.

Of course, in many ways, January 1st, my real birthdate, is the obvious date for beginning a new chapter and people often make New Year’s resolutions then.

Yet, as Christians, every new day carries with it the promise of a new beginning; whether that day is in January, September or any other month. Each new day gives us the chance to begin a new chapter, to write the next bit of our life’s story on a clean page, forgiven and renewed. Surely the best gift, birthday or otherwise, we’ve ever been given.

Photo by Oliver Hihn on Unsplash

Opening the Curtains

Image by Rob Wingate at Unsplash

I’ve recently had a curtain pole and curtains installed in my office. I’ve not had any curtains in this room since we moved here over nine years ago. This is mainly because the room faces north so gets no direct sunlight even on the brightest of summer days and I thought that having curtains, however far back I can pull them when they’re open, would only make the room darker than it is anyway.

I’ve always been someone who needs to have plenty of light. I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder and this often leads to mild depression in the winter. So, I go round putting on lights as soon as daylight starts to fade and closing shutters and blinds to keep the outside gloom at bay.

Yet, having the curtains in my office has given me a new pleasure. Each morning, I can pull them back: a physical expression of letting in the light of a new day. Whether that’s summer brightness, a non-descript greyness or even heavy rain, I get much more of a sense of anticipation as a new day begins than I used to without the curtains.

The first thing I do when I sit at my desk is to fire up the laptop and open my spiritual curtains via the Pray as You Go website https://pray-as-you-go.org/ I first discovered this site when someone mentioned it at the weekly online prayer group I belong to.

The details remained on a scrap of paper, buried amongst all the other ‘I must look at these sometime’ scraps of paper until it re-emerged during one of my thrice yearly tidying sessions. I visited the site and was totally captivated.

Pray As You Go is based on Ignatian Spirituality. Each session (less than fifteen minutes), starts with music ranging from well known spiritual pieces like Spem in Alium through Taize chants, African music from the Keur Moussa monastery to modern worship songs, followed by a Bible passage and questions for self reflection and prayer, the session finishing with The Grace.

I find this time so helpful and calming. A chance to draw close to God before a busy day. I feel myself opening the curtains of my soul in the gentlest way possible, to bathe in God’s light.

How do you start your day?

A Walk in the Woods

The photo on my Home Page (by Adrien Tutin at Unsplash) reminds me of my lovely and much missed West Highland Terrier, Hamish, who loved to walk in woodland.  

He’d dash off to explore the scents in the leaf mould, rush from the base of one tree to another, barking futilely as squirrels chased one another through the canopy above. Hamish was perfectly at home in the woods and often, once he’d fallen into a deep sleep after the walk, he’d twitch and (or so I imagined), relive our walk and all his adventures in his dreams.

I’d usually walk with a friend and her dogs and I rarely took Hamish to the woods on my own. Even when the sun was visible through the trees, being on my own sometimes felt eerie and disorientating.

Sometimes my Christian journey feels like walking alone through the woods. It’s a beautiful, multi layered, multi textured thing but I can’t always see the way ahead clearly and the rustles and crackles in the undergrowth and the shifting shadows can be very unsettling. Small paths, branching off from the main ones, can confuse and divert me.

But there’s so much that’s rich in the woods: the richness of nature, its textures, sounds and smells, the sense of renewal as the woods move through the seasons.

I feel blessed deeply that I’m on this life journey through the beautiful but unknown woods, knowing that so many other people have walked the path before me and have left signs to help me on the way. I can’t see those who’ve gone before but their experience draws me forward through the patches of sunlight and the confusion of shadows.

I pray that this blog may help you as you walk your own journey.