A sparrowhawk landed in the garden this afternoon! She fleetingly sat on our pile of pallets (destined for the allotment) before disappearing. I read recently how an apex predator is a sign of a healthy ecosystem – it means there are enough plants for the caterpillars, enough caterpillars for the little birds, and enough little birds for the big bird. A friend had seen one in her nearby garden and I hoped I would too one day.
14th February is now International Book Giving Day as well as Valentine’s Day. Unsurprisingly, I love this idea and celebrated by making a donation to Give a Book, a charity which gives books to schools with high levels of deprivation, prisons and community organisations. I was also the grateful recipient of Red Sixty Seven – a book about the 67 red-listed birds published by the British Trust for Ornithology and I bought Mr P The Planets by Brian Cox.
Since seeing Venus and Saturn shining brightly in the sky on holiday in Suffolk, there has been a growing interest in astronomy in our house. Mr P and I went to a Valentine’s Day star-gazing evening run by the National Trust at Dunstable Downs but sadly due to Storm Dennis we couldn’t go outside! Instead we lay, listening to the wind and the rain, in a mobile inflatable planetarium and enjoyed learning about some of the stars and planets. I was surprised at how much I had picked up from reading children’s books about the solar system!
“He who made the Pleiades and Orion, who turns midnight into dawn and darkens day into night, who calls for the waters of the sea and pours them out over the face of the land— the LORD is his name.” Amos 5:8
Last year, we saw our first butterfly on 23 February. Hopefully it won’t be too long before we see our first of 2020. In the meantime, I am re-reading The Butterfly Isles by Patrick Barkham. Winter is almost over. There are splashes of colour in our garden and it won’t be long before we start planting in the allotment.
I’m pleased I tried the FairPhone (I had the FairPhone 2) but the microphone kept breaking and I was unable to make or receive calls except via WhatsApp. Maybe the FairPhone 3 is better but right now I need a phone I can rely on.
Lent begins on 26 February and I will be reading the archbishop of Canterbury’s Lent book for 2020: Saying Yes to Life by Ruth Valerio. Will you be doing anything?
Is there an ‘I love books’ gene? When my auntie researched my grandma’s family, she discovered generations of cat-loving bibliophiles. Little Miss, my three-year-old daughter, is the latest in this long line of book-loving feline-fans. Not yet able to read, she often falls asleep with a pile of books on the floor next to her bed and our cat curled up at the other end of her bed. Very cute.
I’m avoiding buying new books this year. Instead I am reading books I already have, buying second hand (I’ve added World of Books to my Consume Better list) and borrowing from the library. Inspired by reading suggestions on The Earthbound Report blog (which I recommend you follow as it’s so interesting and informative), I was delighted to discover that I could request to borrow both There is No Planet-B by Mike Berners-Lee and From What Is to What If by Rob Hopkins from the library service. The books are similar in adopting an anti-fatalistic approach to the climate crisis but look at solutions from different angles. Both encouraged me to keep going on my journey of living justly when it’s easy to succumb to either consumerism and individualism on one hand or anxiety and fear on the other. It’s good to have a reminder of the importance of living simply and investing in creativity, play, rest and relationships.
Disappointed that Bird Therapy, a book about bird watching and mental health, wasn’t available from the library service, I submitted a request for them to purchase it. I can’t quite believe that I (me!!!) have the power to effect change but (just a few days later!) the book is now on order for five libraries in the county and I am on the reservation list!
Our Saturday morning library trips are becoming a regular occurrence and we return with a bag full of books and often a DVD for the children too! Renting a film reminds me of standing in front of rows of videos in the local Blockbuster in the 1990s – is anyone else out there still borrowing films?!
Tagskryt, a Swedish word meaning ‘train-bragging‘, is my Word of the Month. Its contrasts with flygskam or “flight shame“. Here comes my tagskryt!
As the Pilgrim family travelled up to Edinburgh from London on the train, I wondered how different it would have been to have flown. Was the train quicker? Cheaper? Did it use less carbon? Was it less stressful?
While a plane would have been faster (if we had got a taxi to the airport), it would have been more expensive. Little Miss Pilgrim would have needed a ticket on the plane but she can still travel for free on a train. We also have a family railcard which further brings down the price. Both train journeys were relatively easy with some stunning views of the east coast of the north of England, a lost tooth at Wolverhampton and time to read.
But in terms of carbon emissions, the train journey wins hand down. The Energy Saving Trust calculated and compared the carbon emissions for journeys from London to Edinburgh (based on a single person travelling); the plane was 144kg and the train 29kg.
I wrote last about my goals for 2020. I have started well with home-made flapjack as a snack with less plastic packaging (I couldn’t find demerara sugar in a non-plastic packet). I’m more of a domestic disaster than a domestic goddess and I was surprised that it turned out perfectly; I’ll attribute its success to my three (mostly enthusiastic) helpers!
I’ve finished Arthur Ransome’s Peter Duck and Winter Holiday, and am now onto Pigeon Post! A retreat to much-loved books of childhood.
Our county library service have impressed me with their range of books I can reserve, including The Book of Joy by the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu (Sarah Bessey’s Field Notes Book Club’s book of the month), From What Is to What if by Rob Hopkins, the founder of the Transition Towns movement, and Allotment Month by Month.
I’ve also signed up for a 5km Cancer Research Race for Life in the summer so need to get running!
I find having some written-down goals helps me achieve at least some of them!
- Borrow rather than buy books – I have already reserved from the library Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light, the final book in the Wolf Hall trilogy, which is published in March. It’s a good exercise in patience to wait my turn and, at 864 pages long, I will be glad of my superhero speed-reading skills!
- Home-baking – I am aware that my kitchen bin is still frequently full of single-use plastic and so I want to think again about alternatives to packaging. I’m going to start with making flapjack!
- Buy items from a zero waste shop, such as The Refill Pantry in St Albans.
- I’ve recently subscribed to Sarah Bessey’s Field Notes and will be joining her Book Club for 2020.
- Last year, I started using Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals. Not every day but often. I’ve returned my borrowed copy and purchased a slimline version for myself. I received a new Bible for Christmas – a Lectio Divina Bible – which I am enjoying using in conjunction with the Common Prayer book. These books are now in a ‘book bag’ by the side of my bed so that I always know where they are and can be easily transported. I’m going to see if a similar system will help with the children’s bedtime books. (It may just be me but I keep misplacing my books!)
- Do a 5K run – a friend and I go for a walk/run once a week and we’d like to do a Cancer Research Race for Life in the summer.
- Finish re-reading the Swallows and Amazons series of books that I loved as a girl. I now own all of the books – thanks to some birthday presents and a serendipitous find in an Oxfam bookshop in Oxford. Reading about boats and birds is very relaxing.
- Explore some local wildlife – maybe swifts, bats or dragonflies.
- Do some of the St Albans Pilgrim Way
I find it easier to do rather than to be! I hope that I can also spend some time ‘being’ this year.
Advent – a time of waiting, a time of keeping watch, a time for wresting with the now and not yet of our faith. We look forward to that time when all will, finally, be well. We anticipate the day when there will be:
and no death.
We long for God’s Kingdom to come and in the midst of our waiting, watching and wrestling, we – with God, with the God of Justice – can bring hope, freedom, peace, healing and love.
I have found three more Advent activities to help me have a richer and deeper experience of the God of Justice.
- Red Letter Christians and the Diocese of St Albans are producing a daily Advent Challenge on the theme of Jesus and Justice. You can sign up here.
- Tiny Advent poems – one for each day in Advent (there’s one at the end of this post). They are available from Engage Worship.
- Write for Rights – each December, Amnesty International organise a writing campaign so people can send messages of hope and solidarity to human rights defenders across the world. It’s much easier to participate in the era of emails and the internet! I have already sent a few messages and hope to send a few more during Advent.
Reading some Bible notes recently, I was surprised to see Tamar described as an adulteress and Bathsheba as a seductress. Really?
Really? Still? Is that the label we are still giving women who were abused?
A few days later, I received an email from Red Letter Christians featuring Silenced Women of the Bible, gut-wrenchingly, powerful paintings by Jen Ford.
Take a moment to look at her paintings
Bathsheba – Victim not seductress.
Abuse labeled as sexual immorality.
Victim not seductress.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.
This is a follow up to Me Too.
We’ve had Halloween and Bonfire Night and so thoughts now turn to Christmas. But…before Christmas, there is Advent.
Advent – a season of expectation and preparation. I think it’s one of my favourite times of year. Maybe because I am a person who loves to prepare and who loves the joy of anticipation. Advent is rich in symbolism and grounds us in God at a time when the voices of commercialism are at their loudest.
Here are my ideas for celebrating Advent this year:
Reverse Advent Calendar – the Mini-Ps are going to make a ‘reverse Advent calendar’ for our local foodbank. Together we will choose items to buy and then take them up to church each week and place them in the foodbank collection box. We will also read It’s a No Money Day by Kate Milner – a beautiful, tender, heart-warming and gentle book that explains what foodbanks do.
Last year, we coloured pictures from a Jesse Tree book which worked better than expected! The children really enjoyed the colouring and this year, I plan to have an actual branch to stick the pictures onto!
I have also bought an Advent candle to light each day. Hopefully, this will be more suitable than my solar-powered fairy lights which were a feeble addition to our street’s Christmas decorations! There just wasn’t enough sun to charge them so they were very dim. However, they worked very well in the summer months when we were camping!
I also want to try some of the activities in Wild Advent, such as making jar-jar lanterns, looking at the stars, and making a nativity scene out of leaves, stick and moss.
Sometimes I think I must come across very serious, worthy and austere. Don’t worry – there is a lot of fun, joy and laughter here.
The Mini-Ps have Lego Advent calendars from Grandma and I expect I shall be helping to create Star Wars vehicles out of Lego at 6am!
From Advent Sunday, I also allow myself to wear my Christmas tree and my Christmas pudding hats. I am also planning an Advent hairstyle!
I’ve been wanting to write about justice and worship for a while now but haven’t been able to arrange my thoughts. I’m still not ready really. I have questions but it’s time to share and maybe have some conversations.
I’ve realised earlier this year that I feel a particular closeness to God where I am singing worship songs in a social justice context, such as at The Justice Conference. I’ve noticed how I feel at home in an Anglican service where issues of justice and poverty are mentioned each week through the liturgy and prayers. Recently, we sang Tell Out My Soul which is based on the Magnificat, Mary’s prayer at the beginning of Luke’s Gospel.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
(There’s a great article on the Washington Post about the significance of Mary’s prayer.)
Sunday morning worship doesn’t make sense to me anymore unless justice is incorporated.
I’ve been thinking for a while now about the intersection of sung worship and social justice and what that could mean. I’m not a singer or a musician or a worship leader.
So far I’ve found three ways:
1) Sung worship as prophecy – when we sing we are proclaiming God’s will to be done and his kingdom to come. We are proclaiming freedom, peace and justice.
One of my favourite songs is Andy Flanagan’s We are Blessed – a song for which he gets no royalties as he doesn’t want to profit from a song about justice. Have a listen!
2) Lament – there are plenty of laments in the Bible – laments that eventually turn to praise. I want to learn more about lament and read Prophetic Lament by Soong-Chan Rah – a Korean American pastor who planted a church in a deprived area. He writes into the American context but so much of it can be applied to a UK context (and goes really well with We Need to Talk about Race by Ben Lindsey). I was moved by the death of a young homeless woman in the town where I work and wrote a short lament for her.
3) Worship as protest – I would like to go to the Faith Bridge which is currently being organised as part of the October Rebellion. But the pressures of day-to-day life mean that it wouldn’t be a wise decision. Christians are gathering there to prayer and to worship.
There’s a long history of worship as protest but protest should also inform our worship. I’ve been listening to Andy Flannagan and Thandi Gamedze’s talk from 2018’s Justice Conference called Justice and Worship, and Thandi talks about finding the protests and using that cry for justice to inform our worship songs.
I know that I am just dipping my toes into an ocean here and this is just the beginning of a journey.
Once again, I find myself reading half a dozen books at the same time:
The Garden Jungle by Dave Goulson
I love Dave Goulson’s writing, having read A Sting in the Tale earlier this year. We made the hard choice not to go and hear him speak at a Wildlife Trust event last week; we are trying to keep September as free as possible to help with the back-to-school adjustment.
The Garden Jungle is full of ideas (some simple, some needing space) for gardening for wildlife. I have a dream of completely changing our front garden so that we have grass, plants and a pond.
The Big Six by Arthur Ransome
Reading children’s books set in the 1930s is very relaxing! I enjoyed reading Coot Club on our holiday in East Anglia (Mr Pilgrim is now half-way through it!) and I’m now reading The Big Six which is also set on the Norfolk Broads. There’s a simplicity and a joy in reading about children sailing, fishing and bird-watching.
We Need to Talk about Race by Ben Lindsay
Ben Lindsay is a church leader in London and writes about the black religious experience in the UK. As a white woman, it has opened my eyes and I hope that I am changed because of reading this book. Each chapter ends with questions to consider and I know I need to keep going back to this book. If you are part of a church, I would recommend reading this.
The Gardens of the British Working Class by Margaret Willes
I spotted this at a friend’s house. She had borrowed it from our local library so I didn’t want to request it from there! I haven’t reached the sections on allotments yet but I’m enjoying looking at history through the eyes of gardeners.
Emperors, Admirals and Chimney Sweepers by Peter Marron
This beautiful book about the names of butterflies and moths was a birthday present from my gorgeous daughter. (I think she had some help from Mr Pilgrim.) I love words and names and history and butterflies and this is a book to treasure.