Finding quiet time…

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.

A picture for the referendum

image My blog output has been really light recently. This is partly because the technology at home has been getting slower and also because I have been spending more time doing art. But now I have an iPad I can combine the two. This is an image I’ve had in my head of what Europe could be. No more explanation. Just look at the picture.

Painting and the missing soul

Alice 0316

Two quite significant things have happened to me in the last two weeks. The first was that I finished this painting. Its difficult to be completely happy with any portrait, there is always something more that can be done. But I feel I have turned a corner and, finally, I’ve found a style that makes sense.

The second thing is that I spent a long weekend in Oxford studying Christian Apologetics (which is just a fancy way of saying modern theology) and I came away with a new book by Alister McGrath – ‘Inventing the Universe’. Its rather a grand title and I’m not sure that the book entirely lives up to its promise. But it had some really interesting thoughts about the soul. He says:

Modern neuroscience has no place for the idea of a ‘soul’, understood as some immaterial part of the body. Neither does the Christian Bible. The ‘soul-body’ dualism lives on in popular culture, both secular and Christian. Yet the best view – found in both contemporary neuroscience and Christian Theology – is to think of humanity as a physical unity: a single body, not a ‘body and soul’

I had always suspected that this was the case and I quite like the idea that the soul may have gone missing. It makes a lot more sense of the world we actually live in.

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.


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.