Painting in winter is tricky. The days are short and the weather uncertain. I did this sketch in January. By the time I had finished at 3pm the light was fading. Yet there is light and colour. The shadows are deeper but the green grass and orange sky are still bright.
It is summer now but our country feels like winter. We are waking up to another terrorist attack. It feels closer to home as it is in an area of London we know well, a lively jumble of shops, offices and cafes surrounding Borough Market and Southwark cathedral. There will be thousands of words written on this, as there was on the recent Manchester attack and I don’t have any solutions. But all I want to say is:
In winter the world is not dead. There is still life. And summer will come.
One of the things we are looking at in our church is ‘quiet time’. Traditionally this means reading the Bible, with a study guide for a period each day. With my new iPad I found my own quiet time sitting by the pond in Priory Park. There was a lot going on in the park, a lot of people coming and going for a community fair, but it all melted away as I looked at the light on the pond and trees.
In this period of uncertainty it’s more important than ever to find some quiet time, however we do it. I’m all in favour of Bible study but I may just be going back to the pond to do another painting.
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.
Mood 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
One of the advantages of getting older is that you begin to remember little bits of history as it happened. I have a vivid memory of a TV program from the early 80s. It was a documentary of a piano competition. The unusual thing about this broadcast was that it was from behind the Iron Curtain, as the competition was in Poland. The final 10 minutes or so was a complete rendition of the slow movement of Chopin’s second piano concerto. This is one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever written, almost like a lament. In between seeing the pianist playing there were pictures of rows of bodies lying in fields, lines of ragged people walking along roads with only what they could carry. This was the reality of Poland in the second world war: A fifth of its population died in the war; whole areas forced to move to different parts of the country; most of the Nazi concentration camps were built in Poland and millions of Polish people were put to death, not just Jews but intellectuals, homosexuals, anyone whose face did not fit.
Then, after the war, there was no NHS, no swinging sixties, no 80s financial boom. What the Poles had was the heavy hand of Soviet communism. In Great Britain we take it for granted that we can think and do what we wish. This was not the reality for the Poles: Before, during and after the war, their country was not their own.
‘So?’ You might say, ‘Its not our fault’. Which is true, of course. Even in the strange fault finding of the 21st century the problems of Poland cannot be laid at the door of the UK. But does that make a difference? Surely the Christian point of view is to help those who need helping, even if we have not caused their problems. Poland’s economy is growing now and they are finally able to be themselves. Europe is not perfect but the Poles are being offered something honest and worthwhile by being part of it. We, in the UK, should feel proud that we are contributing to this. By welcoming workers from Poland and other Eastern European countries we are playing a small part in the rebuilding of their country.
I thought about putting some stories in this blog of people I know from Romania and Poland but the truth is we all have these stories. They are stories of honest, hardworking people. Some go back and some stay but I don’t know anyone who has a bad word about an individual they have known from these countries.
When we were in Berlin in August I was struck by something unexpected. It seemed to me that the European project was partly about healing the wounds of the 20th century. Initially this was the second World War but also the Cold War. If we want, we can be part of that healing process.