Lent and Liturgy

21 Feb

As Lent gets going, I find myself once again more immediately face to face with God. Some of my most profound encounters with the divine have come in the silence and reflection that this season affords, and one of my favourite services, the Maundy Thursday vigil, also falls during this time. I love listening to the choir chant Psalm 22 as the altar is stripped of it’s finery.

It was a stripped altar that first showed me the ‘point’, as it were, of liturgical worship, decorated altars and formally observing the seasons of the church year. I was at my parents for Easter, and decided to go to the local parish church, St. Michael’s, Flixton for Good Friday. I had been to the church before, but I had no concept of decorations on the altar changing, or even being removed. So when I walked into the church and saw the bare altar, with just a rough wooden cross propped up in front of it, I was dumbstruck. I still remember the feeling of utter desolation: where is he? Where has Jesus gone? The sense of loss, of something being missing, was physical, and from then on I’ve been on this journey with God that has combined liturgy and silence.

The cycle of liturgy gives an anchor to life, whether that’s stopping 2, 3 or 4 times a day to pray the offices or the weekly rhythm of Holy Communion. Far from causing words and prayers to lose all meaning, the repetition means that they seep into your soul, and can float to the surface as needed. They’re always close at hand. When the liturgy becomes familiar, you notice parts of it more. It wasn’t until I joined a church that consecrated and shared bread and wine, body and blood, on a weekly basis that it’s meanings became such a key part of my faith. I have come to feel increasingly awestruck that we are invited to His table, that each week we retell, recall and reenact those last moments in the upper room.

During Lent, these daily and weekly encounters with God take on new significance. This is desert time, when the ordinary pressures and fripperies of life are cast aside so we may gaze more intently on His face, may shelter more deliberately under the shadow of His wing. And as we do so, we move ever closer to the glorious cry: “Christ is risen!”


9 Jan

Welcoming a new class is always tricky, and my lot this year were no exception. I’m not ashamed to say that we had a bumpy few weeks back in September, but I’m also proud to say that lots of hard work bought a good deal of success by December – the kids had learnt lots, with some of the best assessment results I’ve had for a while. And I had also been learning, most notably patience. How to slow down, and live life as the children live it, accepting their individuality and their challenges.

Well, it feels like Santa stole all that hard work over the Christmas break. By the end of Monday, I wanted to scream with frustration at…well, children being children, I suppose. I’ve had to remind myself that they are not (for the overwhelming majority of the time) trying to wind me up on purpose. Instead, I am allowing their behaviour to wind me up, and I need to put that barrier back up, to say to myself: they are children. They have needs. It’s not about me. Breath. And pray.

I have a little daily calendar of inspiration in my classroom – a mixture of bible verses and other wise sayings and affirmations. Yesterday’s was perfect: “And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19) It was like a breeze from heaven to cool and calm me, and reminded me, after a bus journey spent rather frantically praying for patience, for anything to get through the day, that I can depend on God. That verse from Philippians doesn’t have any ifs or buts. It just says: all your needs. Amen.

Converging Families

26 Dec

Watching, and taking part in family togetherness, at Christmas is always interesting, especially now we have 3 generations under one roof. Seeing my nephew,  now 26 months, growing and learning is fascinating – how he learns to identify people, whether that’s grandad or aunty Jess (the latter being of course particularly gratifying), objects and actions. It reminds me where the kids I teach have come from, and makes me hope that one day he’ll have great teachers who will, love and value him for the amazing kid he is. Which of course is what I’m sure the parents of the children I teach hope for from me. An awesome responsibility indeed.

But families. They’re where we grow and become who we are, whatever kind of family you grow up in. And sometimes the challenge for an adult is to grow beyond your background, to realise yourself fully. If anyone should work out to do this, do pass on the secret.

I’ve been astonished this Christmas at how much I’ve missed my family of faith. For all the church frustrates, angers and disappoints me, I’m somehow unable to stop loving it, and its solid presence in my life. Or rather, unable to stop loving the One for whom the church exists.

And yet again, different families come together and create me – and doubtless all of us – anew.

Preparing for a new term

27 Aug

It seems strange to think that I’ll be welcoming a new class in just 7 days time.

I’m looking forward to new faces, and new challenges – and the challenges certainly abound this year. I was fortunate last year to have a class who were basically ‘on track’ – no special needs, which is a rarity now, and generally easy to handle and teach. This year, however, I face rather more on the special needs front, mostly in terms of learning delays of one kind and another. I’m anxious, because I want to make sure I give these children the education they need, but without neglecting the other 80% of the class, who are on track. I’ve also genuinely not had to deal with kids quite this low down the scale before, so that’s a concern.

However. We mustn’t let the concerns become all we see. I’m looking forward to revisiting some old topics, especially those I know the kids will love, like the Romans, and (bizarrely) rocks and soils. I’m looking forward to introducing them to some great books that, again, previous classes have enjoyed: Krindlekrax, Ice Palace, Revolting Rhymes, Charlotte’s Web, and of course a whole heap of poetry. I’m looking forward to getting to know 30 little people for a year, and enjoying the privilege of watching them grow and develop. I’m looking forward to laughing with them and learning with them. I’m looking forward to working with two new (to me) teaching assistants. By the way, it’s worth stating for the record that without TA’s, my classroom, and I’m sure many others, would fall apart at the seams. Teachers might have the letters after their name, but without TA support I’m a tangled ball of stress and exhaustion within 48 hours!

It’s good to take a deep breath in these last moments of calm before the storm to remind myself that, whatever I may say on an exhausted Friday evening, I do love this job!

Reasons to be grateful: It is no longer 1976

18 Aug

So right now I’m home in Manchester, that beautiful city of northern gorgeousness – of which more shortly – and that means that not only are there parents, there is also a television. Earlier this evening, my mother put on an episode of Top of the Pops from 1976.

Oh, dear God.

Truly, we can be grateful we no longer live in these times. One particular glory was Dr. Hook (the Hagrid lookalike) singing A Little Bit More. Not a live performance, but the video. It’s worth watching right to the end for the 1970s equivalent of a big gay orgy. Sorta.


In addition, there were of course the truly, uhm, special outfits and hair.

The one positive I do take from this unique viewing experience, however, is that in the 1970s, the women on TV looked like real women. They clearly had not been botoxed, nipped, tucked, or otherwise generally buggered about with. The dancers were slim, yes, but not totally anorexic. No bones were visible. Actual, real, people. And that was refreshing.

As I stated earlier, I am currently exiled in the North, and as ever being here gives me cause to think about homes and definitions thereof. Manchester will clearly always in some way be home. I didn’t get truly, truly angry and panicked about the riots till I heard that they’d started in Manchester, despite having lived more or less in London for the past 5 years. This city will always have my heart. It is however pleasant to contemplate that in a couple of months time, give or take, I will have lived in one place (one flat/house/room/whatever) continously for the longest period since I was 18. Moving around endlessly was kind of fun, ish, but overall I think I prefer being settled and doing that dreadfully grown up sounding thing of ‘building a life for myself’. But then I am 27, so maybe it is about time!

Faith Confirmed

16 Apr

So I see in the press recently that Kate Middleton has been confirmed. Of course there are the usual grumpy old men telling us that “she did it more for convenience than from conviction”. As a late 20s woman approaching confirmation myself, I think it’s great to see examples of others taking on their faith in the public eye.

Faith is, ultimately, a personal thing. However, part of my understanding of confirmation is that it makes a personal faith into a public declaration – much as marriage is a public sacrament. It’s you as an individual standing up and declaring your faith before witnesses, showing them, before God, what is of value in your life. Probably the aspect of confirmation that I’m most nervous about is standing up in front of dear friends and making a proclamation of faith, and a proclamation that I will follow God’s ways, not my own. There’s no going back – they’ve heard me say it, and now I have to live it. Not that I’m unwilling to – don’t misunderstand me here – but making those promises takes on a whole new value when they’re made in church, in front of a congregation, as opposed to privately in my own prayers.

That said, I am hugely looking forward to being confirmed. It marks something important for me: there is power in standing before the bishop, my vicar, my church family, my friends, my family and saying, yes. Yes, this is what I believe. Yes, this is what I choose to follow. Yes, this is where my life is now. Following in God’s footsteps, not the world’s.

As far as I’m concerned, there’s no better place to be. And I pray that that would continue to be the reality, for all those preparing for confirmation or recently confirmed – including Miss. Middleton.

Ancient Wisdom for Modern Times

9 Mar

Many people have recently been outraged by what passes for restraint in the banking world – apparently a £6 million bonus is the latest reminder that we really are all in this together. So my attention was caught by an ancient approach to bonus culture, specifically from the bible’s Old Testament.

A quick history lesson: God’s people had for various reasons been exiled to Babylon, and on their return to Jerusalem and the surrounding area, found their city in ruins. In particular the city wall had been reduced to rubble. A man called Nehemiah was particularly devastated by this and so set out for Jerusalem to rebuild the wall. While there, this is what he had to say:

From the time King Artaxerxes appointed me as their governor in the land of Judah—from the twentieth to the thirty-second year of his reign, twelve years—neither I nor my brothers used the governor’s food allowance. Governors who had preceded me had oppressed the people by taxing them forty shekels of silver (about a pound) a day for food and wine while their underlings bullied the people unmercifully. But out of fear of God I did none of that. I had work to do; I worked on this wall. All my men were on the job to do the work. We didn’t have time to line our own pockets. (Nehemiah ch. 5, verses 14-16)

It just made me wonder…what if this attitude were more widespread today?

Detroit and the ravages of time

14 Jan

I guess quite a few people have seen this amazing set of photographs that were featured on the Guardian website at the beginning of January. They show once-grand buildings in Detroit that have fallen into total disrepair. There’s something about these photos that capture so beautifully the decline of a city, and that make me want to howl in anguish at the way in which such stunning buildings – you can so clearly see their former beauty – have been abandoned to the ravages of time. They are compelling viewing, and even two and three weeks later, I’m still struggling to put my reaction to them into words. There’s so much tragedy and possibility and beauty in these photos, and I end up just wishing that there was some kind of architectural fairy godmother who could make it all right.

Climate Rush carol singers prevented from lobbying

20 Dec
Climate Rush carol singers in St. Stephen's Hall, having been escorted out of Central Lobby

Climate Rush carol singers in St. Stephen's Hall, having been escorted out of Central Lobby

On Monday evening, I was part of a Climate Rush contingent in Central Lobby at the Houses of Parliament. We were there to, as the venue suggests, lobby our MPs on the importance of taking action on climate change. However, we were prevented from doing so by the parliamentary authorities and the police. Their reason? Our chosen method of lobbying: carol singing.

Following successful singing sessions in Hyde Park and on Oxford Street, we had decided to take our unique lobbying method to the heart of power, and to the men and women who sit everyday and govern our country. The coalition government has promised to be the greenest ever, but so far we have seen precious little evidence of this: the so called Green Investment Bank is at present little better than a fund, and George Osborne’s green promises are looking more and more empty as time goes on.

This is why we went to parliament today: to remind MPs on all sides of the House where their priorities should lie, in an appropriately festive manner. Some members of Climate Rush were however prevented from even entering the Houses of Parliament, and those of us who did gain entry had our lobbying abruptly halted. We were part way through our first carol, a reworked version of ‘I Saw Three Ships’, when the police and parliamentary security descended, plucking our carol sheets from our hands and escorting us from Central Lobby. The deputy sergeant at arms even put in an appearance to remind us that such festive cheer would ‘disturb the good running of the house’ and thus was not permitted.

Following this somewhat humourless remark, all of the carol singers had their details taken by the police, although some officers were barely able to contain their amusement at writing ‘singing in central lobby’ as their reason for stopping and speaking to us.

At least one MP later commented that she was “sorry not to have seen [us]”, and to all other MPs who had been invited to a unique lobbying occasion, we can only apologize. Stay tuned, however, as this is certainly not the last you’ll be seeing of Climate Rush.

Also posted on the Climate Rush blog

Beyond the Climate March

4 Dec

I was at the Climate March 2010 today (yes, I know, I could have been shutting down Topshop – what can I say, fashion has never been my thing) and at the rally at parliament, Caroline Lucas MP was speaking. She said that she was actually kind of bored of public meetings, of speeches, of debates (pointing out that only 12 MPs attended the debate in the House of Commons about Climate Change and the Cancún summit) and even (gasp!) of climate marches. She pointed out that time was short – we have, by most estimates, between 5 and 8 years before we have damaged our world to such an extent that catastrophic climate change is unstoppable. That estimate of 5 to 8 years really resonates with me right now – my nephew was born just over a month ago. We have until he starts junior school (and is the age of the children I teach now) to basically save the planet.

So how? As Caroline pointed out, we don’t have time for debates, meetings, marches. We need to act. Government need to get their heads out of their arses and act, and we need to pressure them to do it. The Centre for Alternative Technology have recently released the ZeroCarbonBritain2030 Report, which lays out, in detail, how Britain could be a zero carbon nation by 2030. Really, it seems obvious: we get to create hundred of thousands of jobs, we get to be world leaders in low and zero carbon technology, we change society for the better for everyone – oh yeah, and we help to save the planet and her 6 million residents. Everyone wins.

However, it’s becoming increasingly clear that governments worldwide are not going to act unless there is massive pressure from the public and from campaign groups. That’s where groups like Climate Rush come in, a group that Caroline Lucas paid tribute to today – and of which I’m a proud part. Our slogan, “Deeds Not Words” makes it plain where our sympathies lie. We take our inspiration from the suffragettes, who refused to give up until they had reached their goal. Emmeline Pankhurst said it beautifully:

“You have to make more noise than anybody else, you have to make yourself more obtrusive than anybody else, you have to fill all the papers more than anybody else, in fact you have to be there all the time and see that they do not snow you under, if you are really going to get your reform realized.”

These are the words that we at Climate Rush live and act by. We apply pressure through creative, elegant direct action, demanding that people sit up and take notice. If you (along with the overwhelming majority of scientific opinion – you’re in good company on this one) believe that the climate emergency cannot wait, then join us at Climate Rush and refuse to rest until we have realized the changes that the whole earth so desperately needs. We are running out of time.