Friday, 28 January 2011


I have always been drawn to things pre-historic, for which I should thank my parents - childhood camping holidays took us all over the British Isles and France, from the neolithic village of SkaraBrae in the Orkneys, to the menhirs of Carnac, Avebury, the White Horse at Uffington, the ancient footpath the Ridgeway ... although brought up as a church-goer, my earliest memories of a sense of 'sacred,' 'awe' and 'other' came from being in these places- often very beautiful, natural places- and absorbing the atmosphere.
I grew up associating spirituality with the outdoors, and the ancient. The image above is of Wayland's Smithy; it is a tomb. I imagine people standing around it mourning their dead - people who loved and were loved. Human lives that mattered - and when has there been a time when this was not so?

Ancient sites interrupting the landscape connect us with essential human needs - to form community, to be safe, to understand the land and the life it holds and be able to survive in it peacefully without destroying it or it destroying you,  to be able to travel, trade, explore, create, form relationships, tell stories, make music, art and love, look beyond ourselves out into the mystery of the universe; be alive ... we have not come so very far really, our needs have not changed in essence.

To discover more fully what it is to be human, what true humanity is no matter when, where or who, this is what interests me. It is surely a path to understanding one another at the deepest level, and discovering our natural affinity and mutuality - empathy, sympathy, compassion, acceptance ... for we all know what pain is, and fear, and love and awe ... surely here is something deeper than cultural, religious, credal, economic, historical divisions.
Personal faith, to be of enduring value, has to help us to discover the rich depth of humanity within and around us and help us to draw out the best of what humanity can be - the impulse towards compassion - rather than the violent and fearful worst, which spirals us and the planet into degredation. 
Discovering how to be most fully and wonderfully human, humanity at its most profound, seems to me to be the essence of the spiritual path, whichever faith - what else can we do, after all, except try to walk this earthy life well?

There is a beautiful quote from the prophet Micah (6:8), said to summarise the whole Hebrew scripture, that says it all, to me:
'Hear O Mortal, what is good, and what does God require of you,
but to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God.'
That humble walk with God, to me, is radical spirituality.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011


Scrolling through google images this morning on the theme of the Conversion of Paul (celebrated today), it struck me how the theme seems to have been a great excuse through the ages for painting huge, rearing stallions and muscular torsos.

Even elderly Pauls have a great phisique which does not really match his own description of himself at all. Eventually the paintings of horses and muscular males (sometimes even armoured) thin out and souped-up car conversions take over - an interesting continuation of the theme.

In short, I felt it was all quite needlessly

As an antidote here is an extract from Haderwijch of Antwerp, a 13th century Beguine, (a Medieval lay sisterhood devoted to good works and prayer - see below for link), about her conversion experience. It is perhaps less spectacular than Paul's, but all the same beautiful. Haderwijch often -including here -  writes about Divine Love as 'She.'

[The opening of Vision 13:]
On the Sunday before Pentecost, before dawn, I was raised up in spirit to God, who made Love known to me; until that hour, she had been hidden from me. There I saw and heard how the songs of praise resounded, which come from the silent love humility conceals ... 

There I saw and heard how the songs of praise resounded and adorned the Love of all loves.  

For more information on the Beguines, whose aspirations and spirituality were not unlike that of the Franciscan Tertiaries established by Francis of Asissi, here is an interesting essay by Elizabeth T Knuth:

(see links: Other Women's Voices
image: drawing of a Beguine, 1489

Friday, 21 January 2011


The picture is of a dying Hungarian Jewish woman and was sketched by the artist William Congdon, who you can read about at
Congdon is an artist who interests me greatly - he began as a safe, comfortable and well off American, everything on a plate, but witnessed terrible suffering and death as an ambulance driver during World War 2 and was shocked into a deeper  and more spiritual engagement with life, expressed through painting.
This particular picture is reflective of his horror at entering the concentation camp Bergen Belsen, on its liberation. It was one of the events which radically changed him.
I post it here because it reminds me strongly of a fascinating and moving book I read recently while researching the Feminine Divine: 'The Female Face of God in Auschwitz, A Jewish Feminist Theology of the Holocaust' by Melissa Raphael. (  for a helpful review) She says, among many other things, 'Presence is the key to a good death.' In the face of women caring for one another in the suffering of the death camps, giving the only comfort they can simply by sitting alongside, here, Raphael says, is God's presence revealed. To quote again, 'the suffering of the Shekhina ( Presence of God - feminine) is that of one who, being among us, suffers with us ...'

Wednesday, 19 January 2011


People often ask 'what do you do?' It's not always an easy question to answer - there doesn't seem to be a title for it.
Some of the things I have been doing recently include ...
  • researching use of Feminine language about God, with the intention of writing a book of Christian worship with inclusive language
  • making pen and ink illustrations for my next book, 'The Healer's Tree,' which Iona's Wild Goose Publications is going to bring out in the early summer (hopefully)
  • talking to a community artist about the possibility of putting up an exhibition of photos I've taken, inspired by one of the Islamic Beautiful 99 Names of Allah
  • creating liturgies of  Celtic Christian influence to celebrate the 'old' holy days, in a tiny 13th century church out in the Warwickshire countryside
  • giving a series of sessions on contemplative prayer with scripture
  • learning Urdu
  • helping to co-ordinate a gathering of local Muslim and Christian women coming together for friendship and dialogue
  • talking with interesting people, including neighbours of different faiths, ministers and theologians, artists and writers ...
but most days I live quietly in the neighbourhood, being a neighbour, a mum, wife, homemaker, writer ... hopefully with time for people when they need it and time to let a contemplative lifestyle filter through. Because, a while ago it occured to me that it wasn't so much about what I do, as how and why...