Another week in L’Abri

Dog walked, floors swept, bathroom cleaned. Now I have time before preparing lunch to sit and write a few words about the week that seems to by flying past at breakneck speed.

I’m still here at L’Abri; conversing, thinking, listening and studying. Most of my study time this week has been taken up with reading and writing about mental health, and depression in particular.

It’s not been easy and I am immensely grateful to the other 30 students and helpers here that form the community for their gentle support as I relive some of the darkest times in my life in order to put them down on paper so that, hopefully, others may be helped by this.

I’ve been thinking about the phrase “Mental Health”. How we know that physical health is important; rest, exercise, eating right. How we take time off regularly to maintain our emotional health in relationships and ‘space’, how we talk in the church of spiritual health and are encouraged to pray, read the Bible, study together and sometimes attend retreats and other spiritual holidays like Spring Harvest and Soul Survivor but very rarely do we talk about maintaining our mental health. I’ve been thinking about what it might mean to be mentaly healthy; what activities would we undertake to strengthen or maintain our mental health and how might we build those activities into our regular lifestyle.

And in the midst of this thinking, reading and writing yesterday was Apple Day here at L’Abri. All the community gathered together to harvest the many apples; to peal, core, slice and then freeze them or to prepare them for apple sauce (about 100 jars worth that will last 12months) or to dice the apples and then crush them to make apple juice. I had been told that the apple juice was destined to be made into cider and so I threw myself into the dicing and crushing process wholeheartedly.

Approximately 40 crates of apples were dealt with yesterday (a crate being the delivery crate that food comes in from a supermarket internet order) and another 20 crates of eating apples then sorted and placed in the cool cellar for consumption with lunch over the next few months.

It was a great day of a community pulling together. A time of singing silly songs, telling each other more of our life stories, working alongside each other and generally working together to achieve a set task. Made even better when Claire and the boys dropped in for a brief visit and dinner. It was a privilege to share with them this place that has become a very special place for me in the short time I’ve spent here.

But now, with the memory of apple juice fingers fresh in my mind, it is back to reading, thinking and writing.

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L’Abri.  A shelter in Hampshire 

It’s been one week since I pushed open the large oak door of The Manor,  Greatham to be cheerfully greeted and shown to my home for the next few weeks. 

This is the second part of my sabbatical. A chance to be in a community that encourages questions,  listening to one another, studying and working together.  ( http://www.labri.org/england/). 

I have already had several deep and thought provoking conversations around the lunch table as well as learning about the 30 or so other ‘students’ who are here at L’Abri with me. It is a full,  organized day here with either side of lunch being ordered for work around The Manor and gardens or study, reading and learning. Evenings are community times of lecture or film &  discussion or community games. 

My studies here are primarily focused on working through material for the diocese on the theme of ‘Ministry and Mental Health’ perhaps subtitled; ‘all you ever needed to know about depression but were too busy to ask!’ 

I’ve written just over 3000 words on this subject do far and I ask for your thoughts and prayers as I seek to unwrap this very personal subject further and write about it.  I’m finding it exhausting to go over the emotions and depths of depression and I am so glad to have others around me here to talk with, drink tea with and laugh with, along with friends and family praying and thinking of me at home. 

I’m hoping that, once I’ve done more writing regarding mental health I’ll be able to find time to post regarding the opening of the novel I’m hoping to work on. 

With every blessing.

Back cover to a book. 

One of the things I hope to achieve during my sabbatical is to move forward in writing a novel that has been fermenting for a while. I’ve written an opening to the book (which I will soon post) but today I thought I’d try to compose the ‘blurb’ for a back cover that may, or may not,  one day be real. 

Revd.  James Polley was just a normal vicar; caring for the community and seeking to bring light,  healing and love to his congregation. His previous life as a sergeant in the army sometimes seemed a long time ago yet he still carried the trauma of events long passed. 

Soon one of those passed events will come crashing into James’ present. Will he turn the other cheek or will it be an eye for an eye?

“Simply the best book by this brilliant author.” The author’s mum. 

Faith, hope and love remain. And the greatest of these is….

(ref. 1 Corinthians 13:13)

Whilst looking through my Facebook feed this morning I came across the following video which I just had to share with you all. Please do watch it – I think the 11 minutes or so is well worth it.

The reason why things work is because of love.

There’s something a lot greater than energy, there’s something a lot greater than entropy. It’s the fact that; what’s the greatest thing?

Love!

That’s what makes it all. The why we exist.

So in that great big universe that we have with all those stars, who cares?

Well someone cares about you a lot. And as long as we care about each other that’s where we go from…

I find Mr. Wright to be an amazingly inspirational figure as he repeats a universal truth long known.

In his first letter St. John talked about the same thing.

1 John 4:7-19 It is good to read the whole link if you have time but let me pull out a few highlights.

1 John 4:16 

So we have known and believe the love that God has for us.God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.

1 John 4:19

We love because God first loved us.

1 John 4:21

The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.

Cream then jam or jam then cream? 

It’s an eternal question,  a question that divides friends and families. When eating a cream tea what goes on the scone first? Are you a Devon devourer or a Cornwall consumer? 

I’m going to suggest something rather disturbing; as long as you get the cream tea it doesn’t matter which goes on first,  cream or jam! 

The reason I say this is,  we are all individuals (cue the Monty Python fan).  One of the blessings of our life is that we are not all cut from the same mould. We know this to be true but so often we behave as though others aren’t allowed to have differing opinions,  preferences and taste than us. 

It happens in many areas of life. I see it in education with the reintroduced of exam only GCSE’s and more emphasis on end of year tests rather than year long teacher appraisal. 

We are not immune from it in our churches and our worship either. Some of us would never consider going to a ‘happy,  clappy’ church others would stay away from ‘bells and smells’. In my own personal faith journey I have spent periods of time in many types of church and experiencing many styles of worship and the one thing I can say about all of them is this; “where two or three are gathered together in the name of Jesus then he is in the midst of them” (ref. Matthew 18 vs20). 

There is much to learn from the experiences and opinions of others,  much to learn too by trying something a different way. At Holy Trinity church the congregation there will be experiencing a little of this during my sabbatical. Different priests with different styles and differing ways of saying the same words all adds to the wonder of what it means to be Children of God; made in His image and yet wonderfully individual. 

And remember.  As long as you get the cream tea then cream first or jam first doesn’t matter,  the taste may be slightly different but all the ingredients are there and at the end you’ve still had the pleasure of a cream tea. 

Many blessings to you all –  I think I might go and find a small tea room somewhere to confirm my theory……… 

400 years and counting

A bucket and spade stood in a sandy beach

Another Monday on holiday finds me led on the beach. A long day before me with not much to do within in. Wonderful!

And as I soaked up some sunshine I thought back to an incident that had piqued my questioning yesterday.

I attended the morning service at the church of St. Edward, Martyr & King, Corfe Castle. The service was one of Matins (morning prayer). It’s been a while since I attended a service of Matins and the leader of the service began by reminding us all that the words of the service, the prayers we said and the chants we sung, were over 400yrs old and had; “stood the test of time.”

It wasn’t too long before the long forgotten words came back to me and, towards the end of the service, we said a prayer that I remembered from my choir boy days when I thought that God was a novelist and an aircraft enthusiast:

O God, who art the author of peace and lover of concord,
in knowledge of whom standeth our eternal life,
whose service is perfect freedom;
defend us thy humble servants in all assaults of our enemies;
that we, surely trusting in thy defence,
may not fear the power of any adversaries;
through the might of Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

Putting my choir boy humour aside, yesterday it was the phrase; “whose service is perfect freedom.” that jogged my though process.

“Do I truly believe that service to God gives me perfect freedom?”
“What does it mean to have perfect freedom in God’s service?”
“Do I live my life in a way that demonstrates perfect freedom in God’s service?”
These are only questions at the moment, things I will be thinking about more as I get deeper into my time away.

But, one thing I am convinced about, one thing I have experienced in my past, is that I can trust in God’s defence and therefore not fear any adversary in life:

  • Whether that be a difficult working relationship where people seem to be working against rather than with me.
  • Whether it be situations outside of my control but the implications of which directly affect myself and my family.
  • Or whether it be the eternal battle of Good vs Evil that is played out in my personal life, the nation or on the international scene.
  • Or even the depression of mind and body that I have more recently been battling.

I do not fear that I will be overcome by any adversary because I can trust in God’s defence.

And so I can lie on the beach and relax.

Going Faster

​My sabbatical doesn’t officially start until 22nd of this month but as I sat in our healing service on Sunday I was reminded of something I learnt some time ago, I knew I’d never remember it for 3 weeks and so I’ll write my first blog now.

About 8 years ago I was on a training weekend and we were asked the question; “If you are driving and you want to make the car go faster what do you do? ” The answer most of us gave was; “Put your foot harder on the accelerator.”

This is true, this action does make your vehicle go faster,  it was described to us as a first order change. The pressing harder on the accelerator affects the speed immediately. 

We were then told that although our answer seemed correct, it wasn’t the most efficient way of making the car go faster. 

It might seem counter intuitive but the best way to increase the speed of a vehicle is to let your foot off the accelerator! You then press the clutch in, change the gear and then press down on the accelerator again.

This was described as a second order change. The initial action, letting off the gas, doesn’t affect the speed as you intend it to but changing gear and then pressing down means a greater potential for increased speed.

This analogy then was explained that; if the parish is busy, if you are working hard but not completing everything then a first order change would mean not having a day off that week, working every evening and missing out on family time. 

A second order change might be having an additional day off in a week to study and pray, make sure that at least two evenings a week are free for family time.

I’m hoping that my sabbatical time will be a second order change :- refreshing and renewing me and my ministry to better equip me for the future.

In the mean time, on holiday today I have been building shoe racks out of sticks and then starting fires.