Fighting for creative space

In blogging terms it’s been a draught patch where much of what I’ve been experiencing and reflecting on hasn’t been stuff I could blog about. There are other reasons, but some of this has been because a good friend and ‘mother figure’ in the parish had died very suddenly last month, and although helping to take the services involved was a tremendous privilege and a joy, serving the family and the many friends she had in that way, took an emotional chunk out of me that didn’t leave space for blogging.

Trying to take stock a bit, I’ve turned back to the things I’ve learnt about myself this year.

Some of my personal journey in ministry this year has been finding the place and rhythm of those creative spaces, through which I can set aside the pressure of parish life, feel I can rest in God’s presence, and experience the fruit of the spirit. Having a spiritual director to poke, prod and encourage me has been a ‘God-send’.

The creativity of the spaces seems to be incredibly important to me, something that is produced from my time with God… it might be the means of connecting with God, or the result of that connection, but the creativity is important.

A view of the back of Alton Abbey

One of the most useful places have been Alton Abbey, where my reflections might take some written form, and feed my ministry in some way, as in with my struggle to connect with the Honesty of the Cross prior to leading the Hour at the Cross. At the Abbey the atmosphere is one soaked in prayer, the offices, surrounded by beautiful scenery and… laughter (on arrival and at tea with the monks). I never fail to come back refreshed and smiling!

The other successful ‘creative space’ has been the complete focus of concentration in the act of fly-fishing, which brings with it a great sense of peace and joy – things that it took my spiritual director had to remind me are fruits of the spirit; my mind is relaxed in such a way as to return to the parish with fresh eyes, as well as importantly returning with food for the table!

Last week I read in the Church Times of the clergy of history who have on occasion neglected their flock for the river-bank. I’m no clergyperson, have no flock (though responsibilities to a flock) and no wish to neglect anyone, but I’m beginning to understand something of their compulsion to fish. There is a spiritual element to the excercise, and I was intrigued when reading with my husband about the idea of a ‘sixth-day ministry’ that he suggested I explore the idea of leading a fly-fishing retreat and the ideas of patience and preparation as being both those required for fly-fishing and ministry! Something to explore… I wonder if they’ll do a follow-up article on fishing ministers of the 21st Century?!

View from a seat at Alton Abbey... a meadow, alive with the sound of honey bees!

This last 3-4 weeks has seen none of this: I’ve not made it to Alton Abbey nor to a patch of still-water with a rod in my hand. I have missed both, and as I prepare to lead a Pentecost Service I fear that my lack of such creative space, in the face of the emotional needs of myself and others, may mean I don’t offer others the quality of connecting places with God that I know I’m capable of, and by which I seek to serve.

Pragmatically I know it can’t be helped, and I have at least spent a day with my husband at Lord’s … a great, if less spiritually fulfilling experience! However I know that I have a day at the Abbey booked for the end of the month, but it is good to acknowledge that the recognition of need for creative spaces with God needs to be prioritised for me to fulfil my ministry.

There are also still other forms of creative spaces I suspect I can make the most of, spending more time in the garden and returning to the silk-painting, but those are creative spaces at home, and at present I feel more freedom to meet with God when I am away from the phone and the computer!

Creating a more relaxed mind – by fly-fishing!

Well, it’s been a long time coming but I’ve finally managed it. Twice inside one week!

One of the battles I’ve had since being licensed as a Reader (Lay Minister) has been to make time for my hobbies – any of them. Since we went into vacancy that battle has become even harder, for all sorts of reasons. There is always so much to do in Christian ministry, so many urgent tasks that appear to need attention (preferably yesterday!)

I’ve been working with my spiritual director to have more ‘creative spaces’ in my life – times where a (much neglected) craft activity gives my brain space to ‘free wheel with God’. Success has been very limited, though I did make my husbands Valentines card. It seems that often my creative spaces end up being times when I bake cakes for the family or catch up on some domestic chore, and nothing gets made.

3 Rainbow Trout from John OGaunt 13th April 2011

For the last two years I’ve talked about going back to a hobby I started with my Father years ago – fly-fishing. Last year I even bought a Rod License, then the vicar left and I never used it 😦

Well, with much encouragement from the family (who all like eating the proceeds), and my spiritual director (who fancies a go herself) I’ve been fishing twice in the last week, and even more importantly yesterday I went fishing on my own: at 42 I set myself free from parental oversight and went fishing on my own.

It’s a tough life fly-fishing – NOT! Almost always, fly-fishing lakes are set in the most beautiful places, surrounded by God’s created world in all it’s glory:

John O’Gaunt fishery at King Somborne in the Test Valley is Dad’s regular haunt – and somewhere I must remember to take some photo’s of something other than fish. It’s not on the river itself, but spring fed still water within a few hundred yards of it. Unadvertised from the road, you have to know where it is as well! I might have caught 3 trout (between 2.5-4.5lb each – the fishing here is relatively easy) but just as much joy came from the March Tit and the female Sparrowhawk, Little Grebe (Dab chick) and Great Crested Grebe (as well as the usual duck and coot).  I also had early sightings of Hirundinidae but whether they were Swallows, or Martins I couldn’t tell – they were passing through fast and I was meant to be concentrating on the end of the line!

Pair of Mandarin Duck at Vale End, Albury Fisheries

Yesterday I went somewhere different – having discovered late last summer how close Albury Estate Fisheries are to my in-laws (less than 15 minutes!) If anything, this is even more beautiful if a little less tranquil because the main road is rather close to the lakes. The fishing is also not as easy – I suspect the stocking levels are lower, and some of the fish have definitely got wise to what us fishermen are up to. But don’t let that put you off. The fisheries are stunning, and once again full of wildlife (as well as in some cases being stream fed, so you get Brown Trout as well as Rainbow). Yesterday between Weston and Vale End I saw Orange Tip, Red Admiral and Comma butterflies, saw multiple Buzzard, Little Grebe, Mandarin Duck, Swans and Geese.

2 Trout from the Albury Estate Fisheries 18th April 2011

I also managed a brace of trout, a Rainbow in the bottom of the Weston Lakes by the stream inlet, and a smaller fish with markedly more spots in the river fed pool at Vale End. I now have 2 trout tickets left to use another time – the Albury pricing system makes fishing more cost effective for those on a budget, which with one teaching income we definitely are!

So among all the fish and the wildlife, where was God in all this. Well, a very great awareness of his creation first and foremost and also of our need to care for that creation – I’ve not yet met a fly-fishery that isn’t very careful and caring of wildlife management.

The most startling thing however was how little I thought of ministry: my focus on the fishing and the wildlife was complete (beyond the odd text-message to tell the family when I caught a fish!) I simply didn’t think about other things. Today I’m wondering if this is good or bad, but despite the concentration involved in the activity itself (and an aching arm this morning) I do feel mentally rested, more so than for a long time. Surely, that can only be a good thing?

More wildflowers and spring activities

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A pleasant family walk whilst celebrating two birthdays this weekend produced these delightful scenes at Sheepsleas near West Horsley in Surrey.

I have a real ‘thing’ about Bluebells… which stem from childhood walks at a place near Fritham in the New Forest, and I get very excited wherever I see them to this day. Cowslips speak to me of real English rural pasture, something that we have so little of these days. At Sheepsleas I don’t think it’s grazed but they somehow maintain this fantastic wildflower meadow – later in the season it will be full of herbs, day flying moths and butterflies.

On Wednesday last week I both heard my first Cuckoo of the year, and saw it as well! Dad and I took an hours ramble from Thrifty Gate near Stoney Cross – a good place to meet so we dog walk before I take on the one-way system into Lyndhurst.

Other than that, with the dog’s missing toenail growing back slowly and a rather busy diary, I’ve not been out and about much. We’ve sorted out a load more belongings and I’ve made two trips to our church charity shop. A lot of the things I want to get back to remain slightly hypothetical, though I have got as far as ordering my Fishing License for this year, buying the makings of two hanging baskets and I’ve acquired some greenhouse veg, courgette and spicy salad plants!

Wildlife at my fingertips

Yesterday morning, as we sat down to breakfast, a baby Blue Tit flew into the french window and wobbled, stunned on the patio step.DSCN9872c(web)

Needing to rescue it from our dog or the local moggies, I dashed outside and picked it up. Graham grabbed the camera, and here is the result. I was able to pop it on the bird table, it’s mother returned, and eventually it flew off.

It was lovely to be able to use the incident immediately to open and close the morning Iona Communion Service that I was leading at St. Peter’s.

Only on looking at the pictures later did we realise it had a deformed left foot (see close up) and wasn’t using it properly. Over the winter we’ve been aware of a chaffinch with similar sort of growths on it’s foot, but we’ve no idea what may cause them.DSCN9875c(web)

We’re enjoying a little relaxation time at present, since it is the start of half-term, the boy is on Scout Camp in E Sussex, and I’ve finally finished my placement report. Saturday afternoon we returned through Ashdown Forest from the Scout Camp stopping for a picnic near some bluebells and at Weir Wood Nature Reserve where we a bit disappointed to find it felt a bit neglected. However the noise from the heronry was extraordinary, and we found two Fallow Deer nearby just showing antler growth in velvet.

Yesterday evening we went to our local patch at Castle Bottom at dusk. We saw a Roe Deer en route in the adjacent Silver Fox Farm fields, and a hunting fox right near the stream-bed in Castle Bottom itself. What we went for were Nightjars, and although we heard distant churring, we saw nothing… but midges. (Must try again, possibly later… although we didn’t leave till 9.30pm.) The smell of Bog Myrtle was intoxicating however. The new blog header was a photo Graham took whilst we were out, just before we returned home across the back of Blackbushe Airport, where we saw a black rabbit (among many other bunnies) and bats… some largish ones out on the edge of the heath, and what we think were Pipistrelle bats in the lane coming home.

Today we’ve been to Ashe… via needing to hand in that placement report in North Waltham… which boasts the source of the River Test (famous for it’s trout). The spring rises in a small pond, favoured by ducks and fed over by Swallows, which then forms a stream that stretches out across a beautiful meadow (full of sheep) through which there is a footpath to Overton. If you fancy a wander we thoroughly recommend it… park by the church and walk through the (very tidy) farmyard to the waymark signs.

Reminded me, I really must try and go trout fishing with my father this summer!

Holy Trinity and St. Andrew's Church, Ashe
Holy Trinity and St. Andrew's Church, Ashe