Well finally – Spring is here!

College House, Ripon College Cuddesdon, in the sunshine on a spring day (20th April 2013)
College House, Ripon College Cuddesdon, in the sunshine on a spring day (20th April 2013)

Yes, I know the forecast is for it to leave again later this week, but at least for the last few days, spring has definitely sprung.

Last weekend, we dashed down to the New Forest and after a rainsoaked abortive trip to see the sea on Saturday, finally managed a walk on Sunday 14th, one of the highlights of which was sighting the first to Swallows of our spring.

Fox Moth Caterpillar 22nd April 2013 Blackbushe
Fox Moth Caterpillar 22nd April 2013 Blackbushe

I sighted another in Garsington (Oxon) on the way to college on Tuesday 16th, and avoided running over a Toad on the lane to College Field on the way home. I spent most of the glorious weekend weather in college too, with another Swallow gracing my walk up the path to All Saints Church, Cuddesdon for a rehearsal on Saturday 20th. As you can see (above) college is such a hardship when the sun is out and there’s a few moments to stand and stare. There were even butterflies – Brimstone in particular.

Whitethroat (male I think) 21st April 2013
Whitethroat (male I think) 21st April 2013

When I got home yesterday we walked up on Blackbushe to discover the Whitethroats (small summer migrant) are back, and the Gorse is finally in full flower. When I returned today, I confirmed there are at least two Whitethroats (a pair I think), and also that caterpillars are beginning to emerge – though I very nearly stood on this one as I was watching the birds! No Swallows here, nor our more usual House Martins, and I reckon it’s too early for our Swifts yet. I also saw a young second year Roe Buck in the fields looking like it’s beginning to moult, but I couldn’t get close enough for a decent photo.

But it is coming, spring really is here… more or less! Hopefully it will really get it’s act in gear in early May when I get to spend a whole week doing Rural Theology field visits in the villages around college – hope they don’t mind me taking the camera!

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“Grace is in the fighting” Rachel Mann’s ‘Dazzling Darkness’ (book review)

2013-04-18 16.05.57cwRachel Mann‘s book ‘Dazzling Darkness’ (Wild Goose Publications) should be required reading for all trainee pillocks…, sorry, those currently engaged in ordination training,

“One has to be a pillock to want to be a priest” is just one of the statements that encouraged or challenged me from her autobiographical book – but I’ll leave Revd Lesley to unpack that particular statement!

I briefly met, and heard Rachel speak (at the London Centre for Spirituality) before I  actually read ‘Dazzling Darkness’. I am glad I did, because her poetic style and poise resonated all the more loudly as I read it, but if you’ve not heard her speak, don’t let that stop you getting the book!

What I went looking for was a little understanding about several things:

  • How gender dysphoria might impact on a person’s understanding of and relationship with God;
  • How one person has found it possible to develop and keep a functioning Christian spirituality in the face of chronic pain and depression;
  • What practical steps are involved in the journey from one gender to another.

‘Dazzling Darkness’ does all of that.

But as I fight with ordination training – and at present it is a fight, academically at least – the grace I received in this book came in other, less expected guises:

  • There’s a lot here about salvation; a slightly caricatured ‘evangelical salvation’ that I am very familiar with, critiqued in favour of the transformative power of Christ, the God of love revealed within our brokenness, holding the pain, making us participants in our own salvation;
  • The sometimes desperate search for hope, “the dark face of God”, in the kind of physical and emotional darkness that no one wishes to confront.

However, the one thing that my recent reading of Nouwen’s ‘Wounded Healer’ left me expecting to see, but which I don’t find in Rachel’s book, is loneliness. The emotions she conveys are raw, real, painful and deeply distressing, but she doesn’t articulate loneliness among them. Unless I’m missing something, Rachel’s wounds are more about engagement and communication with herself and others; wounds found in the fight to become, and cling on to, the woman she has become, and to fulfil her calling to the priesthood, that I regard as prophetic in an institution yet to come to terms with the sexuality with which she identifies, let alone her trans gender status. As she says, the “grace is in the fighting.”