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

 

Spring cleaning, Roses and our wonderful brains

Roses

Inspired by my new toy, A Steam Cleaner, I did some spring cleaning yesterday. These roses looked wonderful in the sunlight and steam.

But back to my books…

I’ve finished reading ‘Chaos’. It ends with some thoughts on the most wonderful natural system of all: our own bodies. Most of the focus at the time this book was published (1987) was on the functioning of the heart. It was known even then that a jolt of electricity could reset the rhythm of the heart when it was running out of control. This kind of rough treatment has also been tried on the brain and sometimes even seems to work, but can also result in damage.

One of the difficulties of thinking about the mind in a Christian context is our tendency to split it into several separate entities. First there is the ‘mind’: A complex computing engine designed to figure out logical stuff. Then there is the ‘soul’ which deals with emotions and spiritual stuff. Both of these are somehow superimposed, but not quite part of, the ‘brain’ which is a wobbling mass of nerves and chemicals.

But Chaos theory gives us another way of understanding the mind. Experiments in artificial intelligence created:

… points of stability mixed with instability, and regions with changeable boundaries. Their fractal structure offered the kind of infinitely self-referential structure that seems so central to the mind’s ability to bloom with ideas, decisions, emotions and all the other artifacts of consciousness.

If we think of the brain as only a sophisticated computer then we have to see the spiritual side of ourselves as separate and non-physical. But if we see it as an almost infinitely complex system, like the weather, then all of who we are can be incorporated into our real, physical brains.

Once we think like this we can have a much more holistic approach to spiritual, mental and physical health. We can see the rhythm of a walk as a way of bringing us closer to the rhythm of God’s creation. We can see intense experiences of the Holy Spirit as being a way of resetting our minds into a better track – like defibrillating a heart. Every action, even spring cleaning, and every sight, like a bunch of roses, becomes part of the pattern of our minds.

 

Sensitive Dependence on Initial conditions – How I started being a Christian.

Chaos Book

Evangelism seems a thankless task. All those books written to convince us that God is real and Jesus is important. All those talks. Then a book comes along which seems to have nothing to do with God and it flicks a switch and makes it possible to believe in God after all. The picture here is of that actual book (Chaos, by James Gleick). It’s a bit mouldy and bent out of shape. It’s a great book and I would recommend it but, unless you are also a computer geek with an art degree it probably won’t change your life.

So what is Chaos? What it is not is complete disorder. As Gleick says:

Truly random data remains spread out in an undefined mess. But Chaos – deterministic and patterned – pulls the data into visible shapes. Of all the possible pathways of disorder, nature favours just a few.

But it is not straight lines and geometric shapes either. Go for a walk and look at the clouds. They are all different yet we know they form a pattern. That pattern can be modelled or represented using mathematics and so can the trees and the grass. This is how modern animators make their films look so real, using ‘fractal geometry’. This kind of geometry can be very complex but the principle is fairly simple. You take a function (often including an ‘imaginary’ number like the square root of minus 1) and run it over and over again for each spot on the graph, each time feeding back the result of the previous calculation. Do this thousands of times and, depending on where the result ends up, colour your spot a different colour.

mandlebrot set
This image is the output of such a process called a Mandlebrot set. One of the interesting things about this kind of maths is that, even if you do exactly the same maths, if you change your starting point very slightly (say by 0.00001) the results can be very different. This has become known as the ‘Butterfly Effect’ (because a butterfly flapping its wings in China can cause a hurricane in the USA) or ‘Sensitive Dependence on Initial Conditions’.

For me, that was the switch. I had been struggling to see what role God could have in the world. Then I had the idea that God was nudging the world subtly by changing the Initial Conditions, setting it off in a different direction every now and then. It was a very small role for God indeed and my conception of God’s role in the natural world has grown and grown until I feel we are literally surrounded and kept alive by the wonder of His ever changing world, but that is how I started being a Christian.

New Year, New Pilgrimage

Misty Walk

We had a very strange walk yesterday. A thick fog had come down onto the country and it just felt like the dead end of winter. I felt a strange sense of dislocation with no idea of where we were and no visual clues beyond what we could see 30 metres ahead.

This time of year is odd. We are constantly being told to ‘make resolutions’ and ‘look ahead’. Yet I can honestly say that I don’t know what this year will bring. Like the walk I’m taking things one instruction at a time.

And there was no colour in the landscape. Only a dull brown and green. In a month or so there will be snowdrops and crocuses but even the Christmas lights are packed away now.

Dark WalkI took this picture about an hour before we finished. Luckily it was quite a clear path and not too muddy. Every now and then the lights of a house would be visible in the darkness. Husband and me joked that we could knock on the door and find ourselves in a ‘murder mystery’.

So, what is on the horizon this year? A new job in a couple of weeks time, A new pilgrimage in April (this time from Reigate to Winchester) and a swimming holiday in Croatia. New Year resolutions are:

  • Blog more
  • Paint more
  • Worry Less

That’ll do.