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I’ve spent part of today watching Rob Bell’s dvd “The Gods Aren’t Angry”.  (It’s funny, having just put in that link, I’ve found myself, through Google, looking through a lot of people’s thoughts on Mr Bell.  Goodness, what a controversial figure he is in some quarters.)

It’s been a thought-provoking, challenging ray of sunshine on a wet day in Edinburgh.  Fundamentally, to me, it has spoken of grace, of the world-changing spiritual earthquake there is in knowing we are not caught in a trap of endless offerings to unsatisfiable ‘gods’ (today, perhaps those relentless gods of work, money, family, approval…).  One part that really has made me think is the idea of the rituals that we sometimes use, religious or otherwise, to somehow try to appease those angry gods our minds and hearts can be preoccupied with.  What is a useful, a meaningful ritual?

I can only quote from Rob Bell himself:

What is the point of a ritual?  The point of a ritual is to ground us, to open us up, to remind us, to tap us in to the peace that has already been made at the culmination of the ages, through this Christ who offered himself.  Any ritual that piles on a whole load new weight …[of] the same old guilt…is not a Christian ritual…The only proper Christ-centred ritual is one that reminds you, that refreshes you, that awakens you…that opens you up to the God who has made peace with all things in heaven and earth through this Christ who offered himself.

It’s ridiculously easy to allow ourselves to become trapped by rituals, practices, ways of living, which negate that, as if the reconciliation and restoration Jesus brought was not for all, for all time. 

But I’m a Christian, I know this stuff (even if I don’t always quite manage to live in the reality of it).  This message is for all who are far off, for a world of people who don’t know the story of grace, and have not experienced people like me – like I said, people who know this stuff – bringing grace and love into their lives.

In the dvd Rob told some beautiful stories of grace.  Like the newly single mother of four who lost her home and was facing homelessness with her children until a couple from Rob Bell’s church stepped in, bought her a home (!) and gave it to the family freely.  Or like the family struggling in the economic downturn to put food on their table, so another family committed to buying all the groceries they might need until things got better (and spent $900 on the first grocery shop!).  Or like the friend who spent time with Rob himself a few years back when he had become caught in a spiral of ever-working, ever-proving himself to the detriment of much else, and sat with Rob telling him with great love and persistence “You don’t have to live like this, you don’t have to live like this, you don’t have to live like this…” until Rob finally heard him. 

I would like to be a grace-bringer to the lives of others, and this reminder of the source of the grace extended to us all has been timely.

I’ve just been doing some research for work-related art projects and have discovered the most AMAZING place, just here on our doorstep, with sculpture by the most incredible artists, and a fantastic vision and resource for Scotland…  I’d not heard of it before, although apparently it has only in the last couple of months opened it’s doors to the public.  I wanted to share my discovery of Jupiter Artland with you.  I’m currently planning visits and workshops and more visits and more workshops…

Andy Goldsworthy

Andy Goldsworthy

The funny thing is, I’d been planning a quick Andy Goldsworthy blog based around an article in The Guardian’s Travel section a couple of weekend’s ago – he’s been steadily installing artworks in mountain huts in a particular part of France, for discovery by visiting walkers.  Never really wanted to go on a walking holiday until I read about it, so I might yet come back and share that particular source of inspiration with you.

The last 3 weeks have been so beautiful, and so full of blessing it’s hard to know how to begin to describe it.  We returned from a 10 day trip to Cornwall at the beginning of last week, and as a family I think we’re still awash with gratitude and general chilled-out vibes.  It’s not usual for us to feel the benefit of a break much beyond the time the break lasts, and I think there are several reasons for that being a little different this time.

Firstly, this holiday was in the company of my parents and also some very dear friends who we see far too little of because of geography.  Somehow, what could have been a bit of a disastrous mix (my parents and our friends didn’t know each other, we just hoped the size of the holiday home we’d rented would allieviate any ‘in your face-ness’) just really worked.  My parents are having a hard time because of my mum’s recent cancer diagnosis, and my dad in particular has become very tense and over anxious.  Our friends are in that early stage of parenthood when you are negotiating your way through life on very little sleep and facing a new parenting/management challenge every day.  Yet they all just got on so well, and actively enjoyed each other’s company – and so, of course, did we.  And there was that extra sense of delight in seeing two separate groups of people we love taking pleasure in each other.

Being in Cornwall itself was a massive blessing (we were in the same house, in a wee village called Helstone near Camelford, just last September with another wonderful family we are really close friends with – the fact we returned less than 9 months later and are currently seeing if we can organise another trip in October speaks volumes about the place).  I found real refreshment in being somewhere both unfamiliar – that ‘where are we now?’ feeling – and like an amplified, uber-version of the Britain that we know.  Plants and landscape somehow the same but not quite (greener, more abundant, both more friendly and more dramatic). 

The chance to be ‘at the seaside’ was an unalloyed delight.  This time round our daughter was thrilled beyond measure to be near any of the beaches we went too, and as someone who grew up on or near the coast in various parts of the UK  I loved seeing her share the same joy at playing on the beach, in the sea, in rock pools and so on.  I went wading into the sea with her (neither of us in swimming stuff) more times than I care to remember on this holiday, and yet neither of us really minded getting wet clothes, sand in unmentionable places and hair bouffed by the lively coastal breezes.  And there’s nothing like drying off in hot sun to compensate for wet underwear…

I also had massive fun rediscovering bodyboarding on this holiday over a couple of afternoons, something else my daughter and I have discovered together this last year.  I confess I cannot take pleasure into the getting into and out of a wetsuit, and nor can I truly take pleasure in the photos of me in a wetsuit either:

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… I think my husband and daughter look pretty good though.  One aspect of being in and part of the sea (the Atlantic Ocean no less!  sounds much fancier than my ‘native’ North Sea) is something I’ve read and heard people who surf talk about quite a lot, and there are some really good quotes too:

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(Thanks to my husband’s blog for this photo taken at The Tubestation last year)

In other words, there is a well-documented spiritual connection we seem to find with the ocean.  I’m alternately afraid of and in love with the sea, and personally I think that’s a pretty healthy state of affairs as it can be a dangerous place (and like many of my generation it’s hard to leave the spectre of ‘Jaws’ behind – I long thought it was just me but have discovered it’s a reasonably common thing!).  Yet to launch yourself across a breaking wave as you head a little further out, a little further out, to lie bobbing peacefully on a bodyboard and let the water carry you up and down, to gaze in silent respect as rolling waves crash together from opposing shores of a bay and merge to make a foaming mass of water is to find yourself in a place of wonder and of peace.  The other aspect of playing with a bodyboard that I liked a lot was just that – it was play, and it was completely acceptable to play wholeheartedly.  I am coming to believe, from my position as amongst other things a playworker and playwork trainer, that play can also be a time of spiritual connection.  Sometimes the Godness of the world he’s made is just there to be seen and experienced and rejoiced in.  Playing in the sea was, for me, an experience of the Godness of his world.

Pretty much the highlight of the whole week, if we had to pick one, would be a week ago, when we spent Sunday in Polzeath, first going to church at The Tubestation, which you will learn more about from my husband’s blog so I won’t repeat it here but I do urge you to check it out, then hanging out for a bit there afterwards and being given a fantastic and completely unwarranted gift by our friends of a beautiful piece of art.  We spent much of the rest of the day just playing on the beach at Polzeath, then each of us got to surf or bodyboard as we chose, and all of this was sandwiched with the eating of lovely icecream and yummy chips.  It was a perfect day.  If there was one day that left us seriously trying to figure out how to make a move to Cornwall so we could become part of the community in Polzeath and get involved in The Tubestation, then that was it. 

And now, back home in Edinburgh, back at work, back amidst the worries and mess of normal everyday life, it seems like a dream that we’re still somehow carrying with us.  Life is good today.  Tomorrow my mum begins her treatment for the cancer they found a few weeks ago, and my prayer above all else is that life will somehow continue to be good, even through that, for all of us.

Okay, so my first RAOK was a washout (although in the end I got to eat all my chocolates myself, so I was happy), but the next day I decided to bring joy to my workplace and take some yummy Green & Blacks chocolate in to the craft class I teach on Fridays.  The previous week there had been grumblings about our centre’s ‘rubbish’ healthy eating policy, which if truth be told isn’t very hard-core anyway.  So I took in the chocolates and watched the pleasure unfold.  The remaining chocolate was shared at the staff meeting and went down pretty well too (although some people discovered they don’t like ‘good’ dark chocolate, philistines…!).

Phew!  Just got to find the right recipients.

Other RAOKs this week have included giving away something I spent a long time making, which a friend coveted and I was glad to give to her. 

But there’s going to be more I’m sure. 

Anyway, this is the big week for The Art of Joy.  If you haven’t already had a look please visit theartofjoy.wordpress.com, and if you are anywhere in travellable (is that a word?) distance come along to the opening night of the exhibition this Wednesday night at The Lot, on the Grassmarket in Edinburgh.  It will be fantastic, the artwork looks great and The Lot is a great venue, a lovely building in it’s own right sat at the foot of Edinburgh Castle surrounded by the history and the hubbub of our capital’s heart.

There definitely is an art to joy, since it is not always a natural state for us. (BTW I’m over myself and my doom and gloom last week,  apologies for the self-pitying – pretty certain it was illness related)

So it’s exciting and challenging to be part of The Art of Joy this spring.  A group of us, friends and fellow small-groupers from MBC, dreamed what felt like a big dream and we now find ourselves galloping towards lots of great activities which suddenly need organising and thinking through.  I am newly appreciative of the diversity of our small group, the skills and talents that there are which are all required to make such an undertaking happen.  There don’t seem to be quite enough minutes to deal with everything, but collectively it feels like we’re making progress. 

There’s going to be a lot happening, an art exhibition going up this weekend with an official opening before the end of March, a therapeutic art workshop, knitter natter for anyone who likes or wants to try out knitting or crochet, a fantastic closing event featuring two great bands and a stand up comedian… and that’s only what we’ve got planned so far!  We’re aiming to bring a bit of joy and light using the arts and the fantastic creative gifts of people in Edinburgh and beyond.  Most of all I’m looking forward to meeting new people, getting alongside people in a creative way and exploring how the arts have the power to make connections which are often unexpected, and almost always intriguing.

Check out The Art of Joy’s website to get an overview of what’s happening and find out how you can get involved. 

I’m wondering if we could do some guerilla joy-bringing too.  How would the people of Edinburgh receive it?  How do I receive it?  Do we welcome unexpected joy with open arms?  With suspicion? With pessimism?  Do we welcome joy with gratitude and expectation of further unanticipated wonder to come?  A masterclass in joy-giving and joy-receiving might be no bad thing in our world.

Yesterday’s blanket of snow over much of Britain has produced a tide of coverage and comment in the media.  I particularly enjoyed reading Stuart Jeffries’ lovely ode to snow in today’s G2 in The Guardian.  It has made me wish I was in London (for once), I’d have loved to see such a magical transformation – not just of the physical landscape but the way people responded to and interacted with it.  It’s funny and very sweet, the way this kind of  ‘can’t go to work or school’ snow brings out the playfulness in us.

Today in Edinburgh the snow has vanished overnight.  People are talking about more coming but I don’t know if I believe them.  That said, it was a treat to see the Pentlands still blanketed in snow as I came home from work a wee while back.spaceball

August 2017
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