Last things: How Evensong has holpen

Sunday 27th was the last St Leonard’s Evensong in the current version of this life. In August, churches join together and we become itinerant Evensongers – St Leonard’s is on the Sunday of Greenbelt, so I’ll miss it; and 7th September is an evening Eucharist. I only figured that one out during the course of Sunday afternoon so it didn’t really sink in until I was there.

There will be other Evensongs, of course. But it was at St Leonard’s that I first learnt the service, first discovered it as a wonderful, peaceful, week-punctuating way of worshipping. Hiding at the back with tears streaming the first few times I was there. Picking a seat where I could leave if I needed to. Learning the phrases, the words that have been said by so many for so long. Finding a little oasis of calm before Monday morning loomed large. Finding myself one of the regulars, then a sidesperson or reader – becoming part of the crowd rather than the one on the edge who arrived at 6.28 and was gone by 7.33pm. Now, if I’m anywhere near Viv, it’s quite likely I won’t get through the service without finding something funny and all those tiny jokes are terribly hard to leave behind. (The Doctor Who collect, for example “…and that both our hearts may be set to obey thy commandments…” or the prayer to say thank you for beer “…we bless thee for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life…”)

Of course with Evensong there has been the PEP tradition – post-Evensong pint. For two years or so with my friend Andrew, losing to him at backgammon in the Odd One Out and trying to make sense of our slightly wobbly lives. And for the past few years with Teresa, lurking in the corner of the Hospital Arms and putting the world to rights. ‘Going to the pub’ as an occupation is not about to stop any time soon, I hope.

I think on the whole I am glad the ‘last Evensong’ arrived fairly early on in the proceedings, because I have a chance to let it go, be thankful and move on to the next last thing. They’re a bit spaced out, which in a way is nice, as I can tackle them one at a time. I’ve been pondering the last Evensong all week – given it its due place in the Letting Go process.

Marathon effort?

No, not mine. I have no desire to run a full 26.2 miles ever again. But I do like watching others, so I had a splendid Sunday out in London on 21 April cheering on runners – hundreds in general, two in particular.

I’ve been the runner, trying to keep left-foot-right-foot-left-foot going. I know how much it can help to have someone spot you, shout your name, just the teeniest bit of encouragement. Even if I know their ‘looking good, Sara’ is a massive lie – it still helps. Just by the 22 mile marker yesterday a group of lads were watching from a first floor flat. They would spot someone walking, pick their name up as a chant, and if that runner started running again gave a huge cheer. The kind of noisy, raucous cheer that only ten lads can make after a few beers. And the crowd on the pavement joined in – loving the reaction from the runners. Some waved – some were oblivious – some looked confused as if they’d forgotten that was their name – some really seemed to find new energy.

In between times – and then as the first floor folk quietened down, and those coming past were slowing – we shouted encouragement at random people. People I’ll never see again; but for a few seconds I helped encourage them on their quest to finish the London Marathon. It’s a great way to spend an afternoon. All those stories – all those individuals logging the training miles, looking for sponsorship, preparing, travelling and then finally making the distance. It’s the stock-in-trade of the commentators, talking about the ‘human interest,’ tugging our heartstrings and making us reach for our purses to donate to the charities. But honestly, up close, in the reality of the blisters and the sweat and the grimaces and the sheer determination – it’s bloody awesome.

It’s even more fun when you’re there holding a 6’ beanpole with a mugshot of your friend’s face; when you have a pint at 10:30 because the pubs are open (well, it would be rude not to), when the sun’s shining and London has that friendliness about it that we saw in the Olympics. You know, when it was OK to talk to strangers, catch people’s eye on the tube and smile (see above re carrying 6’ beanpole about the place).

Greenbelt reflections

Greenbelt reflections

Am writing this on the train to work. You know, the one I’ve caught every day for six years, the one that represents everything about routine and normality and the day job. I am trying very hard not to notice this return to work. Like many of us after holidays I am trying to hang on to the thoughts, feelings and atmosphere of what I have left behind me and not on the challenges of the day ahead. I am trying to let go lightly – because time is linear, and the hours and days only run before me in one direction.

I have so much I want to record and keep from the weekend but everytime I open the box of memories I’m hit by a cacophony of sights sounds noise feelings conversations friendship music jokes impressions introductions laughter love beer art tea quiet – and it’s never really going to be possible to untangle that lot in the space I have before real life takes over again. The best I can hope to do is pull a few thoughts out and examine them before the demands of real life intrude. It feels like such a race against time…

In my daily life I wail about how I don’t have time for sitting still and being contemplative. About how much I hate trying to still my mind and find space. (see above!)

Yet. Greenbelt lasts four days. It’s the busiest time: there is so much going on, things to do, people to talk to, people to listen to, stuff to watch, beer to be drunk. So why – in the midst of all that busyness, where it’s hard to not feel like I’m missing something good at every moment – why is a daily visit to Soul Space important? That would be the quiet, contemplative Soul Space. How is it so easy to make that choice to miss something else in such a concentrated time, when the stakes are so high? I wonder if I will ever stop finding myself such a contradictory person.

I had so many lovely conversations with people I really only know via Twitter. In fact nearly all introductions to third parties involved sharing people’s Twitter names alongside their actual name. My greatest takeaway from this year’s festival has been that sense of connectedness – some ties are stronger than others, of course, but I pretty much felt at any time there was someone around that knew me.

London is looming large out the window now, so I need to stop, look at the BlackBerry, see what the day ahead holds for me. Whatever it does throw at me, I hope to find time for further untangling and recording. Am I changed?

Greenbelt reflections, part 1.

And so, here we are, the other side of Greenbelt. My weekend was completely different from the one I was anticipating.

I heard Billy Bragg talk about his Jail Guitar Doors project. I laughed until my sides hurt at Adrian Plass. I cried buckets in Soul Space as I had predicted: although the tears weren’t as bitter as I’d anticipated. I talked to people in queues, and I made crap jokes (first one in the car on the way there involving Rev Counters). I laughed at teargas, and was silenced, by Mark Thomas’ storytelling (Extreme Rambling). I presented my own thoughts on social media and helped out with the surgeries. I made new friends in the Communion service and last but not least, I tested Bath Ales’ promise that the Jesus Arms would not run out of beer (it didn’t; I tried really hard). I will write more on the things I thought and learned when I’ve had a chance to think more.

I met many people in person that I had followed on Twitter. That in itself was lovely; a sense of knowing people to stop and chat to when often I’ve felt quite alone. In the last two years I’ve also got to know many more people from the conferences I’ve attended and they were around the place two. Some folk from the North had a huge part to play in calming pre-Greenbelt worries and were just lovely lovely people – tolerating my strange southern ways alongside genuine concern and building a new friendship. A friend of longer standing, Susanna, was at her first Greenbelt – warned she may be in for a fairly damp time, what with the weather and the crying. Turned out mostly dry (weather) but she was marvellously on hand for one or two moments where I did find myself overwhelmed and tearful. OK, maybe more than one or two. And a friend of even longer standing, Andrew, provided me with transport, tent space and great company. I had a conversation with a friend I thought I had lost which showed me a lot about grace and humility (and led to a few of the unexpected leaky eyed moments over the weekend). Lastly, there are some anonymous people that helped me…

The man who gave me several tissues in Soul Space after I had given mine away earlier
The person who handed my purse in
The bar staff of the Jesus Arms

Greenbelt had loomed large on the horizon for a few weeks, and it feels odd to be home and thinking about work, chores and normal life. I’ve loved following people’s journeys home via Twitter and it’s helping me adjust back to life in the quiet here at Batty Towers.

Ideal reading list…

I’ve just re-read another Christian book. (The Busy Christian’s Guide to Busyness) The actual advice was useful.  This book is a mild case by comparison, but there are so many books that take material success as their starting point. The sort that say ‘As I added up my investments and realised my net worth meant I could live in comfort for the rest of my life I felt God calling me to give up my secure job and step out in faith.’

The point is that I was reminded about the list of book titles we’d like to see, as created by me and my ex home group leader Mark. These perhaps reflect a more realistic view of life as a confused Christian – clinging on to faith with our fingertips whilst trying not to lose a sense of humour.

Adam and Eve, and other failed believers
Believe, conceive, achieve and other trite exhortations: The cynics’ concise guide
Build your own confessional box
Christian headgear:  field guide to the modern mitre
Christianity : Tough, Confusing and Occasionally Incomprehensible
Design Your own deity
Evangelism for Agoraphobics
Evangelism: Is it really better to give than receive?
Fish! How to spot a Christians car
Full length on the pavement, a fallen outlook
Grow your own Curate
Happy Clappy…How to cope when others exhibit too much joy
How to cope when you trip on your own bootlaces
How to avoid “giving the peace”
I – spy: How to stare politely when odd behaviour is encountered in Church
Inappropriate humour without guilt
Jaded or just plain tired? A Christian perspective
Joy and hand waving for cynics
Keep on keeping on: A study in perseverance
Keeping awake in the sermon
Killing: A Christian history from Richard the Lion heart to George W Bush
Lazarus did it and you can too!
Looking through a glass darkly – illuminated
Make your own stained glass window
Mountain Climbing for the Confused
Never rains but it pours: A celebration of the precipitation of life
Nobody’s perfect: Bearable self assessment
No reply? When God’s ears need syringing
Opening beer cans in church: How to do it silently
Overboard? What to do in life’s storms
Platitudes and how to avoid them
Praying from the recovery Position
Quarks and other odd things God made for some reason
Ranting and its place in the modern church
Real Ale – Why Christians should all drink it
Secular friends? Conversion made easy!
Surviving the climb, avoiding the fall
Shouting in Church: How to do it without upsetting clergy
Tea and coffee pot trauma: A guide to serving hot beverages correctly in the modern church
Upwards and onwards for the jaded climber
Victory books and how to avoid them
“Why me, God?” and other pointless questions
Wrestling with contradictions for beginners
X-ray Christianity – it’s what’s inside that matters!
Yawning in church – what to do when you’re caught
Yokes and other light farming implements
Zerubbabel: Who was he anyway?
Zimmer frames for God! The elderly and the Church

Measly six and a couple of gym sessions

… that’s all I have managed in the last couple of weeks.

Two miles on Saturday morning – in a ridiculously slow 25 minutes, and then four on Sunday afternoon at about 10 min mile pace. Saturday afternoon’s beer festival session wasn’t the best preparation. But it was fun.

I could also tell that the gym workouts I’d done to try to target running muscles (technical term, that) seemed to be working – why else would everything hurt so much?

Feeling blessed by friends

Sometimes I get a bit down in the dumps because I am single, an odd number in a world of evens pairs.  More often I just get a bit ranty about how biased society is towards families, with assumptions about singleness and relationships being all the more highlighted within our churches. (see posts passim!)

In the last few weeks, however, I’ve been so fortunate in spending quality time with friends, where all the things that make me ranty have been pushed to the sidelines. There was a girls’ weekend in north London, where we talked for England over a Saturday evening. Yesterday I met a whole new set of people at the Librarians’ Christian Fellowship annual conference, and that was a very interesting day. It was rounded off with drinks and a trip to Ed’s Diner in Soho with one of my best friends and a couple of other boys. More than once I laughed so hard it hurt. (And I explained a bit more about my faith along the way, it wasn’t all fun fun fun, there was serious evangelism in there too. Well, OK, maybe not serious).

In between times I’ve had some rotten times, there’s been financial worry and stresses at work too. But this evening I just felt so grateful for the people around me that are good friends, the sort you could call at 2am with a problem, that I wanted to record it. So I have …

Getting lost in Highwoods

This morning I ran for 1hr 20, 4 miles of pavement sandwiched around a lot of fun, boggy, wet leaves running in Highwoods Country  Park. I saw a deer, and plenty of squirrels, which was great. But the route I’d planned (or thought I’d planned) went a bit pear shaped – a slight failure of sense of direction. It was a bright sunny morning, very few people around, a real treat to be out and enjoying the park.

The reward for this is a nice Adnam’s Explorer.