Author Archives: Monica's Books

Lent Diary: How is sugar free going?

I realised that I had been sugar free for over a week now. Its been surprisingly easy with no great cravings. Today my low mood lifted and I felt good. So, what do I miss? I miss having a yoghurt at the end of a meal. I miss eating my daughters cakes and biscuits. But I’m beginning to have more energy. Am I losing weight? I’m not sure because our scales are on the blink. I fluctuated 2 kilos in 15 minutes this morning so something is not right.

Lent Diary: Gnosticism and Valentine’s day.

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People don’t usually give me books. This is a shame because, when they do, I usually read them. So, with a box of chocolates out of the question this Valentines, I was pleased to see a couple of book shaped presents on the table this morning. One of them was ‘Creation, Power and Truth’ by Tom Wright, subtitled ‘The Gospel in a world of cultural confusion’. I’m sure I will come back to this in future posts but for now I’m going to focus on one word: Gnosticism.

So, what is Gnosticism? The root of this word is the Greek word for knowledge, gnosis. Gnosticism is the idea that there is a secret knowledge, that, once known will bring wisdom and enlightenment. Inherent in this idea is also that the physical world we live in, including our own bodies, is somehow inferior to the pure life of the intellect. Tom Wright puts this very well:

This leaves you with what the ancient Gnostics were offering: a religion of self-discovery in which one acquires the ‘knowledge’ or gnosis, that one is already a spark of light, and thereby escape from the wicked world of space, time and matter, and enjoy a private and detached spirituality in the present and an escapist heaven hereafter, relating not the wicked creator God, the God of Israel, but to some quite different and higher deity.

I think this is what most people think they want. In our modern age the high priests are often scientists. There is an unspoken idea that people such as Stephen Hawking ‘know the truth’. The real truth is, of course, that most of us know something that other people don’t (and I’m never going to understand modern physics) but it doesn’t make us better or happier or wiser. Jesus in contrast offers us ‘Shalom’. This word is often translated as ‘peace’ which is not wrong but it also means wholeness and health, not just for the individual but for the community and for the world of trees, hills and houses. Which brings me back to our Valentine’s dinner.

Every now and then our Church Hall becomes a ‘Pop up restaurant’. On Saturday night it was transformed by candles and roses. Some members of the congregation were diners, like ourselves and others were waiters or cooks. One family took on the onerous task of creating and serving cocktails (the ‘St Mary’s Sunrise’ was both full of sugar and very alcoholic!). Although we were sitting as a couple our romantic evening was full of other people stopping to talk to us, and we got up and wandered as well. We brought our own wine and then poured a glass for some of the ‘staff’.

There was an air of joyful play acting about the whole evening but, just to put it in context, the same hall had been used at lunchtime to feed homeless and disadvantaged people and earlier for a men’s breakfast. This wasn’t clever or knowing. It certainly wasn’t ‘cool’ but it was real and warm and full of ‘Shalom’.

 

 

Lent Diary: Sugar free blues

IMG_0725Mood is a very odd thing. I have definitely been in a low mood the last couple of days. Is this an effect of the change in my diet? Also, I have noticed I’m feeling ‘hungry’ a couple of hours after a meal, even though I’m eating more at meal times. I’ve put the word hungry in quotes because I’m not really sure I know what hunger really is.

One of the strangest things to be discovered recently is that the gut has its own nervous system. This acts independently but communicates and influences the brain in our head. So my gut could really be complaining and causing the change in mood.

On Wednesday we went to the Ash Wednesday service at the Church. As usual it was lovely, quiet and reflective. Most of the songs we sang were the same as the ones we sing on Sunday evening but slowed down by about 50%. This was  bit unnerving and I was standing behind one of the best singers in the church so worried I would sing the wrong notes. But we sang one of my favourites: ‘Dear Lord and Father of Mankind’. I like the verse:

O Sabbath rest by Galilee!
O calm of hills above,
where Jesus knelt to share with thee
the silence of eternity
interpreted by love!
interpreted by love!

I’ve never been to Galilee but we are surrounded by hills here. Even in winter they are peaceful. Not really silent with the sound of the motorway and planes overhead but I love them. The picture is a view from the top of Reigate Hill, just before Christmas

Lent Diary: First Sugar Free day

IMG_0745I have my painting class on Wednesday but for the last few weeks we have been doing collages instead. At the end of the morning a few more pieces of paper are stuck on the paper and a lot are on the floor. I’ve really enjoyed doing this but it makes the whole business of making a picture even more mysterious. Why one colour rather than another? When is it finished? Why is my own state of mind so obvious in the end result?

After a sugar free day I’m feeling fine if a bit hungry. I didn’t feel at all tempted by the chocolate biscuits this morning but it is only day one.

Lent Diary: Wholemeal pancake day.

A departure for pancake day. I decided that I’d had enough of being up all night with indigestion after eating pancakes and devised a wholemeal pancake recipe. It was quite tasty and the pancakes held together so here it is:

(Makes 4 or 5)

  • 30g plain wholemeal flour
  • 30g spelt flour
  • 1 large egg
  • 135ml semi-skimmed milk
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter
  • pinch of salt
Method: Whisk all ingredients together with an electric hand whisk except the butter. Leave to rest for at least an hour. Melt the butter and whisk in just before cooking. Take a medium non-stick frying pan then heat with a little bit of butter until it is beginning to smoke slightly.
Add a small ladleful of the mixture (or a couple of tablespoons). Cook until top is solidish (a few minutes) then turn, eat with favourite filling (bananas and crème fraiche was good).
Not a particularly sugary day. Just a bit with the pancakes.

 

Lent Diary: Sugar free Lent?

Yesterday this little group of cakes arrived in our house. There is actually one missing, we had the Victoria Sponge (with cream and fresh strawberries, yum) as a dessert yesterday.

This is just to give you some idea of what I’m up against. I have decided to give up sugar for lent. My reasons for this are complex: As I get older I find anything with sugar gives me indigestion. But somehow I still want to eat sweet things. Also, I my list of things I would like to pack into my life is getting longer but I’m often tired. Both the scientific evidence and the evidence of my own experience convinces me that sweet things are part of the issue.

But the main reason is curiosity. Can I do this? What am I going to feel like? And writing the blog feels like a good way to keep track of this little experiment and to make it more difficult to stop.

Lent is supposed to be a time for spiritual reflection as we prepare for Easter. Our own Archbishop accused Christians of ‘Just giving up biscuits’ during lent. But that ignores the fact that we are real physical beings and what we do and don’t do to our bodies makes a difference to who we are.

So, I’m going to enjoy the last few days of sweet treats and make the most of pancake day. Wish me luck, I’m going to need it.

Notes from a Political Mum on Polling Day

Today we all go and vote. Or do we? Many people who are entitled to vote won’t bother. I’m just one blogger with a few readers (and many of you are not in the UK so I will let you off) but this is my message to them:

Firstly, if you are woman, shame on you. People died so you can vote. They gave their lives, wrecked their health in prison. Even if you go to the polls and put in a cross at random, use your voice. Or it won’t be heard.

Secondly, if you are a young person, shame on you. The more people of your generation who go and vote the more your views will be taken into account. By not voting you are letting down your generation.

‘But they are all liars and cheats.’. I’ve heard this said by otherwise intelligent people. I’m sorry but I think this is a myth. Its a good story for the front of newspapers. Better news by far than ‘Good people doing their best to improve the lot of society’. If your view of politics is through the media then it is not through rose tinted glasses, it is through glasses that are cracked and stained, they are practically encrusted with the mud thrown at them.

How do I know this? Because I am a political mum. Every week I get an update right from the heart of politics, a personal account of what is going on. And I’m not shocked by what I hear. I’m amazed that these people have so much energy and drive. I’m amazed that they can keep their beliefs intact in spite of everything that is said to them and about them. As a mum I have never, for one moment, wanted my son to choose a different career. It seems a grand and fine thing to serve his community and country in this way.

So, go and vote!

Pilgrimage reflection – Boxes, mindfulness and what Jesus can give to the world.

First a bit of background for those who don’t know. Last week a group of us from our church spent 5 days walking from Reigate to Winchester (about 75 miles). Before you ask (everyone has) this was pilgrimage for softies. We stayed in hotels and had our luggage taken for us. But, as I hadn’t done nearly as much training as last year it was physically a lot tougher.

One of the great things about a pilgrimage is it re-connects the spiritual and physical in a very real way. It also gives some space to consider and reflect. On the fourth evening we stayed in a retreat centre owned by the diocese of Winchester. This meant we had lots of room and also access to a quiet chapel. On this evening we were asked to take some paper and draw boxes on it. In each box we had to draw or write something which represented a part of our life. We then put these papers on the altar and offered them to God. The drawings I did are below:

Boxes

But drawing these pictures, with the definite lines between them, made me start thinking about the way I live my life. If I were to draw this as an accurate representation it would be a mess. The lines would be blurred; each box would seep into the other. Some boxes would be superimposed apon another one like an old ‘double exposed’ film. So, for instance, while I’m watching TV I’m thinking I ought to be cooking. While I’m praying I think how I’d like to be reading a novel. While I’m writing a blog post I’m thinking how I ought to be doing the housework. And I don’t think God wants me to live like this, not anymore.

This afternoon I was chatting with my daughter and she said that she was struggling with one of her skating moves. ‘I can’t do it full-heartedly,’ she said. Of course it was the wrong word. But I like it. I want to live full-heartedly. Each day on the pilgrimage came with joys and difficulties. On two days I was navigating which meant I also had to make sure everyone was keeping up and going in the right direction. Also, because I wasn’t very fit it was tiring at times. But there was great joy both in the beautiful landscape, being with my fellow pilgrims and walking with God. Living in the moment I felt I was really walking with God.

Towards the beginning of the walk we stopped at St Martha’s church. This is a small, ancient church set high on the downs. After spending some time inside the church we had some time to explore the churchyard before we set off again. So I got my paints out and painted this quick sketch over the valley:

From St Martha's Hill

And I didn’t ask permission. I didn’t worry about what other people were doing and while I was doing this I was completely lost in the moment. Enjoying the beauty of the view and being able to put it into paint.

Two themes kept on coming up during the conversations on the pilgrimage – mindfulness and evangelism. Mindfulness is much in fashion at the moment. For non-Christians it means filling your mind wholly with your immediate experience and letting worry and anxiety slip away. This could be your own breathing, a beautiful tree or some great wise saying. This is not a bad thing and, in this sense, both walking and painting are great mindful experiences. The rhythm of walking, especially day after day, soothes the mind. Moving gradually through a changing landscape fills the mind with interesting things at a pace it can cope with. Painting a scene in front of you is wholly absorbing, there is simply no room for anything else while you are doing it.

But, for a Christian, mindfulness has a much deeper purpose. By calming the mind and filling it with good things we are allowing God to speak to us. We may sometimes hear God’s voice directly but often it is the good things themselves, the beauty of the landscape, the conversation of friends, which will speak just as clearly. I am reminded of Jesus’ story about the seed:

“A farmer went out to sow his seed. Some of it fell on the road; it was tramped down and the birds ate it. Other seed fell in the gravel; it sprouted, but withered because it didn’t have good roots. Other seed fell in the weeds; the weeds grew with it and strangled it. Other seed fell in rich earth and produced a bumper crop”

Our minds are rich earth indeed. But if they are full of the weeds of worry then nothing will grow in them. But if we are growing and walking with God then we can do what we like. Day by day, minute by minute we can choose what we do and it will be the right thing.

So there are many gifts Jesus can offer to the world and to us. Kindness, justice and compassion are just some of them. But, and it seems to me that the world needs this more than anything, the greatest gift is peace. Peace in the world must start with peace in our hearts.  In the slow tramp of feet, the landscape opening up and closing in, the ever changing conversations and the moments of stillness I began to find that peace. It still seems like a fragile thing but, even so, I pass on the timeless greeting:

Peace be with you