Nobodies

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I’m nobody! Who are you?

Are you nobody, too?

Then there’s a pair of us -don’t tell!

They’d banish us, you know.

 

How dreary to be somebody!

How public, like a frog

To tell your name the livelong day

To an admiring bog!

Emily Dickinson

When Emily Dickinson died in1886, nobody, not even closest family, dreamed that they would find 1775 poems sewn loosely into tiny handmade books, or half completed on loose leaves and unedited amongst her person effects, in journals and folios they gave voice to a six year period of intense productivity and a life of writing. And no one could have been less interested in the words of this magnificently loquacious woman who wrote so much.  She had lived as a recluse, but the poems in top draws and slipped amongst layers of tissue between carefully folded garments, petticoats, stockings and her famous white lawn gowns, gave her away. During her life time a mere six examples published in journals and magazines but edited beyond recognition.  Male hands clumsily and brutally forcing her finely charged syntax and idiosyncratic punctuation into a form more acceptable to a respectable nineteenth century audience who had a very decided ideas on poetry; and on women and on women’s poetry in particular.

By the time Emily wrote the nobody poem I believe she had made her peace with the part of herself that had been given this name. There’s a kind of mischievous delight in her opening lines as she calls out her nothing-ness for what it is (lies) and invites us to join her as co-conspirators against the influences that seek to silence us and condemn us to anonymity.

Last week I wrote that our voice is valid even when others don’t validate it. I said,

I have no photos or pithy quotes from the nobodies, their daughters or their mothers. I have no record of the things they said or the things they did, at home, at the end of a phone or stuck in the office.  They celebrated their own small victories and failures in their own quiet ways with out the consolation of an audience. But I know that they are there.

I had no idea this mattered so much to me, that I am so angry that ordinary powerless people get such a small slice of the say and the silly unrelenting voices of the powerful fill the airwaves and the Internet day after day as if no young person ever lived a life worth speaking, as no wife and mother ever knew a few home truths worth telling.

Flannnery O’Connor said

I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.

And this was true for me, I had no idea I had felt so badly about the nobodies, me and you, until I wrote it down. This is why I write, and we must all tell our stories, one to another and find the time and the space in our hearts to listen without the need to interrupt, reinterpret or correct.

So, as one nobody to another, I am asking you to be courageous in how you live and how you speak. I’m asking you to be generous towards the voice of another, whether it is a voice you love to hear or one that is difficult to listen to. Trust in your own voice, in its every nuance, tone and dialect. Let your idiosyncrasies come forth for what they are so that they can seasons and distinguish the story you have to tell. And excel in your listening that you would really hear every word of the story being told by other people. Trust in their story too.

I have a small Sunday habit. I look around my church, somewhere between taking in the notices and passing round the offering basket, or over coffee then getting the kids and the coats and the bags into the car. I count up the women and the men and all their ordinary stories. I name them in prayer and call out the greatness that is hidden in each.

This one has a chronic illness, this one raised four fine kids, this one struggles with a grief to which there is no answer and this one still looks for work. This one stands with a son or daughter in their depression or addiction, this one recently widowed faces retirement alone, another has recently become engaged, another is now a grandparent again and another I only just met.

Their story is waiting to be told.

Something lovely for the weekend

Happy weekend to you all! Especially if this is your half term.

Here in the Murden household we are organising our week for maximum fun, cramming in as much as we can. This will including a few fun ideas for blessing our neighbours and community over the trick or treat period and our own autumn day celebrations , a relatively new family tradition for us.

For now I am sharing a video, found amongst the competing voices of my social media contacts. Courtesy of King’s Church, Manchester (a place of many friends) , it communicates the big picture gospel in the personal words and pictures of one small family; mother and daughter.

What more can I say.

Be blessed!

Your voice is valid

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I’m feeling quite brave today, about using the ‘F’ word.

Last night I made a Pinterest board of inspirational women. It’s a crazy quilt design of poets, writers, philosophers and saints with top stitches in wise words, soul food and polemics. I’m pretty pleased with the results but know too well it is missing all the ordinary women who never made it onto Instagram or Tumblr. This is what is so badly missing here:  I have no photos or pithy quotes from the nobodies, their daughters or their mothers. I have no record of the things they said or the things they did, at home, at the end of a phone or stuck in the office.  They celebrated their own small victories and failures in their own quiet ways with out the consolation of an audience. But I know that they are there.

Amongst the little circle I call ‘my people’, a saying went around last week on Facebook,

Your voice is valid, even if it not being validated by the people around you.

Over 60 people ‘liked’ that quote, most of them women.

Then later in the week I’m wrecked by a viral video event and I don’t even know why, except the girl is no one famous but out of somewhere she found a voice to say some stuff that obviously mattered to a whole lot of people who had never heard of her before.

Finally,  this morning another video story, a woman in Somalia, living out a deep calling, serving others, without salary, support, or fame, celebrating everyday miracles of health and education with ordinary people in a war torn corner of our world. Why has no one told me about this? I just stubbled on her by accident when I’m checking out the world over a coffee, from the quiet corner of life that is my phone.

So I begin to think that Virginia Woolf might just be right, that our stories are not just words but there is a power in the story a woman tells. A woman’s story, authentically told, can unlock truth and freedom for others and is therefore, a story that must be told.

Cupcake

Everywhere I go there is massive enthusiasm for cake.

Has there been a cake revival or have we always loved our cake this much?

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Anyway, I think you should all bake cake this weekend. I promise it will pay dividends. Take a photo of it and with the help of few clever Instagram filters you can quadruple your returns. This is how I operate. Seriously I am not that good at baking (!) but there are no losses, especially when you find a few recipes you can trust. And I can help you there, having tried more than a few in my time. These days I return to the same recipes over again and I’m sharing these faithful few here on the blog.

Previously we have baked muffins here on the Dappled Things blog and as I have said a muffin is a robust cake that can be packed full of good stuff without doing any real damage to the substance of the cake. A muffin batter genuinely enjoys a bit of rough handling and will simply laugh in the face of any mistakes that occur in the making. You probably should go bake muffins if you are a nervous baker but if you are feeling a little more ambitious try a cupcake.

A cupcake is well dressed, well groomed and very very smart (compared to her country cousin; the muffin). A cupcake always dresses up to go out and is never seen without a gleaming coat of flawless pale icing and accessories: sugar-paste flowers, silver dragees and tiny pastel sprinkles. She is all vintage dresses and cute shoes, afternoon teas with thrifted tea cups and saucers, gilt edged and painted up with roses. She is sugar bowls with sugar cubes, silver sugar tongs, saucers with slices of lemon, cake stands in tiers with silver handles, doilies and white linen napkins. She is birthdays and weddings, afternoon tea parties in expensive hotels out in the country or down by the sea. She is vanilla and lemon, rosewater and lavender in an English cottage gardens or out amongst the fountains of an English stately home. Make her at home and you bring some of these things into your house.

Using the traditional creaming method to make such a cake will leave you too exhausted to ice her and enjoy her. There are too many stages and too many things to go wrong: the wooden spoon to cream the butter and the sugar, the whisk for the eggs, the trouble over curdling, the metal spoon anxiously cutting the flour into the softer ingredients without knocking out all that hard captured air. The dishwasher is full and you are nowhere near finished.

Forget it, there is an easier method.

Like my muffin method, this cupcake method is based on two bowls: one for dry ingredients and one for wet. The dry ingredient bowl is actually the bowl of your food processor and it is the food processor that will do all the hard work of ensuring you have a light and delicate sponge that is full of sweetness and air. I am indebted to the Hummingbird Bakery for this solution.

Make some cupcakes this weekend and send me a picture. Happy baking!

Cupcake Recipe

Ingredients

70g / 3 oz butter

210g / 7 oz plain flour

250g / 9 oz caster sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

210ml / 5 – 7 fl oz milk

2 eggs

Teaspoon of vanilla essence

1. Preheat the oven, 170 C / 325 F.

2. Line a deep muffin tin with 12 muffin cases (yes, a muffin tin not a bun tin).

3. Put the butter, flour, sugar and baking powder in the bowl of the food processor and blitz until it resembles very fine sand (you can not over-do this, super fine and filled with air is the aim).

4. In a second bowl or jug combine the milk, eggs and vanilla essence.

5. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and blitz.

6. Spoon the mixture into the cupcake cases. They should be about one half to two thirds full and you may find this mixture makes more than 12 cupcakes.

7. Bake for 25 minutes, until the sponge is risen and lightly brown.

8. Allow the cakes to cool before icing and decorating. Display on a cake-stand or vintage porcelain plate.

Finally, for cupcake ideas and inspiration there is always, Pinterest.

Something lovely for the weekend

It’s Friday.

I came home from work too swiftly tonight. Raging headache. I left my phone somewhere in the piles of files and papers on my desk. Living without a phone will probably be the riskiest thing I do this weekend.

If you were wondering if I had finished what I want to say about pain, suffering and the hard things of life, I certainly have not. There is more to come: much, much more.  As if the internet did not already have enough words.

In the meantime here is something lovely for the weekend which I found via Ann Voskamp’s wonderful blog, A Holy Experience.

You’ve had your fill of all the cliches,

Like “life is hard but God is good”,

Even though it’s true,

It won’t stop what you’re going through,

I wish that I could say it would …

Hold on my brother things are going to get better,

You’re going to smile again,

Because we win in the end.

A prayer utters itself

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After I had written yesterday I realised how indebted the piece was to a certain Carol Ann Duffy poem, for which I have a great fondness. A few years ago Carol Ann Duffy edited a book of poems called, Answering Back: Living poets reply to the poetry of the past. Duffy invited poets to select a poem and write a response to that poem. This fantastic word game produced a dizzy array of creative pieces that far surpassed simple agreement or contradiction. If I had been a player in the game I would have made a response to this poem, not to contradict, correct or preach but because upon these words I can build, in words of my own, experiences of being with Christ in prayer

Prayer

Some days, although we cannot pray, a prayer
utters itself. So, a woman will lift
her head from the sieve of her hands and stare
at the minims sung by a tree, a sudden gift.

Some nights, although we are faithless, the truth
enters our hearts, that small familiar pain;
then a man will stand stock-still, hearing his youth
in the distant Latin chanting of a train.

Pray for us now. Grade 1 piano scales
console the lodger looking out across
a Midlands town. Then dusk, and someone calls
a child’s name as though they named their loss.

Darkness outside. Inside, the radio’s prayer –
Rockall. Malin. Dogger. Finisterre.

Carol Ann Duffy

So much of my more recent faith journey has been an un-learning of bad habits, bad theology and bad ways of living that I long called Christian. Mistakenly called Christian.

So many of the things I once called faith I later realised were not faith at all.   I had devised for myself a kind of Christianity that was ill fitting and difficult to manoeuvre in. I had manipulated myself into its strange shape and I hobbled along semi paralysed by its restrictions, nursing sores at the places where it rubbed.

During this time there were many occasions when I wanted to abandon my faith entirely but I could not get Jesus and the words He spoke about knowing God out of my mind. It bothered me that He spoke of love and freedom when the faith I had was characterised by neither of these things.  I was tying myself in knots, as I was pulled this way and that by every contradictory teaching and idea. I did not want to abandon Him if there was still a hope that through him I could know real love and real freedom.

During this time I would often identify more strongly with secular, even atheistic writers, than I did with Christian apologists, theologians and preachers. Theses worldly men and women helped me find new words and new ways of seeing and with their help I began to break free. Their diagnosis of religion would maybe pin-point a religious persons lack of heart generosity towards others, their inability to cope with the complexities and challenges of everyday life or their refusal to allow their faith to be scrutinised.  Their generosity, desire for community and love of good things showed up my misery and pessimism for what they were.  But more than this, secular writers, philosophers, humanists and people from diverse religious and cultural backgrounds were opening my eyes to the richness and depth of everything that is good about being made human and all its diverse possibilities.

This poem describes the yearning of the human heart to make something of loss, life and moments of gratitude: universal human experiences. It explores the idea of what a person must do when she want to pray but has no God to pray to or lacks suitable words to express herself.  Who of us has not laid sleepless at night, the World Service in the background, and thought out our own vespers to the plaintive sound of the shipping forecast? Who had not sat at an upstairs window as the light fades listening to the  sounds of other peoples perfect lives, alone with our memories and grieving the loss of people no longer with us?  Who has not found an indescribable comfort in some everyday detail of life or a sudden joyous moment of pure thankfulness for something that is surprisingly good but without an outlet to express that joy or thankfulness?

I will never tire of hearing the words of God- alienated hearts and the God-reconciled hearts and all of their yearnings and prayers.  And we should not be afraid to say when we find God in the strange, the unexpected or just the downright ordinary places of life.

We will find our words.

Abruptly Jesus broke into prayer: “Thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth. You’ve concealed your ways from sophisticates and know-it-alls, but spelled them out clearly to ordinary people. Yes, Father, that’s the way you like to work.”

Jesus resumed talking to the people, but now tenderly. “The Father has given me all these things to do and say. This is a unique Father-Son operation, coming out of Father and Son intimacies and knowledge. No one knows the Son the way the Father does, nor the Father the way the Son does. But I’m not keeping it to myself; I’m ready to go over it line by line with anyone willing to listen.

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” 

Matthew 11.25-30 The Message

You may also like to read, In which I do what I can

 

In which I do what I can

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Today I shall do what I can.

Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfil his good purpose.

Philippians 2.12-13

Between each turn of the head on the pillow, post Monday morning alarm clock calling, a quiet prayer will be whispered into the free-fall of the still empty day. I will do what I can in my speaking with Jesus, in the six o’clock half light, beside the warm heap of a slumbering husband and the cries of the marsh bound geese overhead. I will pray. I will greet Him and He will greet me, I will tell and He will hear, I will listen and He will speak some, until I am ready to sit up in bed, open his Word and read.

Maybe this morning I prayed for you and maybe you prayed for me. And maybe in a Spirit-stirred moment our tiny prayers brushed and the friction lit a spark enough to ignite and light up the darkness, creating for us both, enough light to walk in this day and more light as hope for the next. That is what I felt when I prayed, light breaking into darkness, an effortless glow, clear shining and warm. Together we prayed and the whole Emanuel reality turned inwards upon itself like a garment spread: God with us, us with God and though we seemed alone we prayed in accord with a host of heaven in waiting.

Propped up with pillows, in the light of a table lamp, I read Paul’s letter to the Philippians, his hard won words, “I have you in my heart” (Philippians 1.7). For Paul the heart was the place where Christ reigned and it was the place where he could confidently hold his friends in prayer through good times and bad times. His confidence was not in himself but in Christ. So, for me, when I am disappointed, or hurt or confused, when I have unanswered questions or things fall apart, this is where I will go. And if I see any of these things befall you, I will go to that place on your behalf, knowing Christ is there for you. I will do what I can to pull every last one of us survivors and stragglers into such a prayer place, every cast-away who flounders, the wounded and those who fight help. I will strain to bring us all into the safety of a prayer that bears the name, I-have-you-in-my-heart.

So this will be my work today: to have the same affection as Christ, just as Paul writes, “I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1.8). Today I will probably not feed the starving or visit those in prison, I will not start a NFP or change a nation with an act of political protest, I will not rescue a human slave from a trafficker or pray releases to an addict in bondage to alcohol or drugs, I will not preach to a stadium packed with eager hearted worshippers, this blog post will not go viral. But I will try this one thing, to love as He loves, to be attentive as He is attentive, to be kind, to forgive and to make peace where there is none. I will take my opportunities and do what I can.

Downstairs below and upstairs above I hear my own children up and about, climbing from beds, using the bathroom, searching for far flung items of uniform and equipment for school. I get up to greet them with a smile and a word and a meeting of the eyes. Today I will do what I can, though my bed is warm and I do not need to be up this early. This morning I am not a parent in a super hero cape or a Proverbs 31 woman of great virtue. Today does not require me to work myself up to some place of super human possibilities. Without serenade and without applause I will perform small acts of private non-heroism, just because I can.

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When Andy and I walk out later we notice how much the autumn has moved on since we were last at the mere. I hold his hand and love him well, my husband who faces uncertainty: redundancy, a mortgage and bills, fragile plans for the future all to be grown out of nothing. The golden glow of early autumn, all sunshine and abundance has changed into a wind damaged turmoil of sodden leaves piled by the path, broken branches and shrivelled fruits. I count sixty whooper swans on the mere and soon there will be more. Out in the hide at the far end of the reserve I see my first marsh harrier, and wonder at its great wing span, a shallow V, cutting the air in effortless flight.

If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ,” says Paul, “if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.

Philippians 2.1-5

He has been our comfort and He has been compassionate, we have known His help and He gives us hope. He says that we can have the mind-set He has, that we can be like Him in this world (1 John 4.17). Even when emotional resources are low, or challenges seem too great or when I don’t have the understanding necessary to negotiate the events that unfold before me, my trust will be found in Him. I will follow the example of Christ, and let the Christ within in me make Himself known, this Jesus who,

Being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

Philippians 2.6-8

This is why I do what I can.