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On vocation

Ok, so it’s been a while (a long while!) since I blogged. But I’ve been doing some thinking recently about life and vocation.

Yesterday was Maundy Thursday. As usual on that day of the church year, I drove into Aberdeen for the annual Chrism Eucharist and Renewal of Vows. My Holy Week would be so much easier if I didn’t go into Aberdeen on that day. I live an hour and a half away from there. So it means leaving my house at 9.30 to get there for 11, staying for the service, and then the lunch afterwards and then driving home, meaning I arrive home about 3.30ish. On a day which then has at least two services in the evening, in two different churches, which are at least 20 minutes drive from each other. It’s always a bit of a scramble. So why bother? After all, it’s not compulsory.

But I go. It’s one of the days which is a touchstone in my year, a pausing point. A reminder. Because, you see, I’m not a natural priest. You will have met ministers to whom the job seems to come as easily as breathing. Who communicate and preach and effortlessly navigate the murky waters of committees. Who are pastorally relevant; good with children and teenagers. I’m sure you’ve met them.

That’s not me. I come somewhat reluctantly to priesthood – I am a priest because I am called. For me, it is as simple as that. It’s not something I would naturally incline towards. When I first started exploring the whole ordination thing, I remember the look of puzzlement on people’s faces. And, if I’m honest, if my selection panel had said ‘no’ – if at any stage I had been turned down – I would probably have heaved a huge sigh of relief, rolled up my sleeves and go on with life. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t think I’m a complete disaster as a minister. I’m ok at it, but nothing spectacular. I’d probably get an B for effort and a C for achievement. I’m not a natural priest.

This year has been particularly difficult in my area. We’ve had two fires in the last 12 months, both to major tourist attractions. Just after Christmas the valley was flooded by a wave of water : approximately half the houses in my small community were flooded. 50% of the shops. The golf course and caravan park were destroyed. The paths network was washed away.

Often there have been no words to be said ; nothing that can be done, apart from just being. Listening. Sitting. Watching and looking. Hugging. Crying with those who cry, and laughing with those who laugh. There has been a lot of questioning, a lot of anger. A lot of frustration at my impotence, my inability to do anything practical to help. It has been like being on a treadmill, with no view of the future. I have at times been physically incapable of doing more – yet there is still more to be done. There is always more to be done. I have ministered and been ministered too. I have been heartened by the solidity of this community. I have wept as the effects of the flooding seem to spread wider.

Yet. Yet what have I done to proclaim the Gospel? Where have I breathed words of God? How can I navigate through the next few hours? Days? Weeks? Months? Where am I to focus my efforts, to get my energy, to look, to listen, to act?

This is why Maundy Thursday is so important. It is a chance for me to remember what God calls me to. To remember that God works despite my inadequacies. To remember that it is not I alone, but I and God. That it is not up to me what happens next, but up to God. That in all that do and say and think I act with the help of God. As we go through the service we are asked various questions… and the answer is always ‘with the help of God, I will’. It is not I, but God. No matter what. Without God, I cannot, I will not. With the help of God, I will.

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Storm and sunset

The year seems to turn tonight

A nip of cold in the air

Evening’s fire lights up the sky

The first storm clouds of the season

Cast into relief against setting sun

The rain advances across the bay

Blown into the twilight

A violent patter of raindrops on window

Wind rising,

Whistling through the air.

Bringing with it

The scent of Autumn

autumn storm


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Fragility and strength

The gale hit last night. Rattling doors and windows, whistling through cracks. Furious winds whipping waves up into a frenzy. Yet by dawn blue skies had appeared, clouds blowing onwards to the east. My morning stroll brought the sight of bladder-wrack and kelp piled high, debris churned up from the ocean floor. Rockpools muddied and sullied by sand. Tangled on the shoreline a few unfortunate fish lay, victims of the storm. Yet on top of the seaweed a fragile white globe lay, cradled gently. A fragile sea potato shell had somehow ridden in on the waves, coming to rest intact. Strength in the storm.

sea potato

NB – a sea potato is a type of sea urchin – Echinocardium cordatum. Their shells are incredibly fragile and it’s quite rare to find one intact. For a closer look, check out this post by Inish Boffin Crafts


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Home comforts

Thursday’s snow flurries turned into Friday’s blizzard. We woke to a white world, snow plastered against the window. A strange quiet. No electricity. No heating. No lights. Small camping stove out. Log fire stoked up. All day the snow continued to fall, hurling itself bad-temperedly at the ground. Tossed about by the wind, clawing at hair and face. A quick dash outside to post a letter became a struggle into the teeth of a blizzard. The path to the door and the pavement is shoveled three times. A losing battle. Inside the fire blazes, the only warmth in the house. Ice dripping from coat and hat. The kettle sings merrily on the hearth. Night draws in early. With candles lit and flames flickering the evening passes quickly. And so to bed, dressed for outside… hat and warm socks. Jumper and leggings. Duvet and three blankets. Hot water bottles top and bottom.

snow beach

During the dark hours the snow still falls. A gentler dance, but just as popular. The morning light sees 10 foot drifts piled along the roads. The local farmers attach buckets to the tractors and plow the roads in the village. In the heart of the community we are safe. Cocooned from the outside world, an insulating layer of snow keeping us separate. Still no heat or light. The local rescue vehicle pops by, checking up on all. We clear the paths yet again, neighbours working together. Lunch has been cooking since dawn, balanced on the edge of the coal fire. Afterwards we emerge and playtime begins. A new member of the village appears, sitting on the bench. Soon the clouds draw in again, pregnant. Snow flurries occupy the afternoon, as the sun slowly moves across the sky. Darkness arrives and the candles are lit again. With my flickering light I climb the stairs and bury under the duvet.

cooking on fire

 

 

 

P1080569

Palm Sunday begins in sunshine, bringing longed for warmth into the room. A beautiful day. I go for a walk along the shore, sinking up to my knees in snow. Raid the garden for palm leaves, buried in a drift, and make palm crosses. No hope of church today – the road is still blocked to the east. By midday, the road north is finally opened. Electricity vans are seen, raising hopes. But lunch is stew slow-cooked by the open fire, and tea is toast and jam. The kettle still sings on the hearth at bedtime, and candles flicker on.

snow shore

Dawn today brought relief. Blessed warmth. Sinking through to my bones. The power flicks on and off before staying on. The main wires to the village are still down, but a lorry late last night brought generators. A day of restocking. The thaw has begun, for now.


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High winds and bubbles

cappucino foam

High tide and gales last night. Doors and windows rattled, and the whole house shook with the power of the sea hitting the seawall.  This morning the windows are coated with salt spray, blurring the edges of the world. Brilliant sunshine shines over the bay, highlighting the wave tops as they gallop shore-wards. We walk balanced on the edge of the wind. Even as we approach the strand, the tempest continues to whip the water, creating a bubbling mass. On the beach, a cappuccino has been washed up. Masses of coffee-coloured foam covers the sand. With the gusts, it rises and swells, jelly-like on the shore. I step in and sink into the softness, walking through a bubble bath. My boots disappear beneath the suds. Laughter peels across the beach, carried home on the breeze.

foamy boots


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Raindrops and fairies

 

wet

Rain beating on windows

Calling for attention

Gutters over-flowing

In joy at being used

Flowery wellingtons

Rainbow coloured umbrella

Bright red raincoat

Waterproof trousers

All dressed up

Stomping in and out of the pools

Watching the raindrops dance

Like fairies across the surface