It's a wonderful thing to play hide and seek and with a small child. Incapable of being still and silent after finding a hiding spot, they giggle profusely at the thought of being so well hidden and in thrilling anticipation of being discovered.
Perhaps we never grow out of the desire to hide or the thrill to be found, the need within us all to seek and also to be sought after. And in so many ways, 2021 has been a year of seeking and hiding. We have hidden ourselves at home, whether we wanted to or not. We have retreated, momentarily lost our bearings. Obscured our bodies by virtual calls and face masks. We have buried hopes and laid plans aside. And yet, perhaps we have spent more time seeking. Exposing our fears and excavating our longings. Exploring information and guides to help us move forward, or circle backwards. We have been looking for goodness in the everyday and the suddenly enlarged world of home, relationships, nature, food, faith. We have sought common ground. And in a strange twist of fate - with the speedy pace and demands of life stripped away - we have been seeking a different way of being in the world that is congruent with what we value most.
Two years ago I had a dream that I was climbing a tall Norfolk pine tree. The very kind I watched my dad climb when I was a kid. I was climbing this tree and couldn't stop - reaching for the next branch above me, and the next and the next. I sensed an urgency to get to the top. I needed to surface; to see above the tree - up and over everything - but I never seemed to be able to get there. At some point I looked down. I could see my children desperately trying to catch up to me. I felt strong pangs of guilt - to have left them behind - but also fear that they would fall in their attempts. A small voice rustled past my ears, as soft as a gentle breeze. It didn't say climb down or urge me to keep going. Hold, it said, hold onto me.
I ruminated on the dream for a long time afterwards. What did it mean, if anything? Did the tree represent my mother journey, my ambition, my confusion about the future? Perhaps it was my indecision about studying again, my ambivalence to keep farming, my desire to leave social media, or the haziness about my sense of sense? I never doubted that the voice was God's. I knew deep within my being that the refrain hold onto me was something I wanted nothing more to hear. Permission to leave everything else aside for a moment and hold fast to my deepest desire and greatest love. To loosen my grip, my white-knuckled grip - on being a perfect mother, farmer, business owner, wife, writer, friend. And hold love.
I think about the familiar advice of having a "light hold" on life. On things. On people. On plans. An open and curious tension that is neither carelessly detached or rigidly fixated. I am no expert in this kind of holding, but I do know that when I hold onto my creator, my source, God - with a curious gaze and soft hold - I feel different. As if I can truly relax into and receive an inflow of love. I feel this especially when I am alone in nature, breathing in the sound and smell and sight of creation around me. Heart open. Refreshed and able to connect once more with the chaotic, messy life around me. I can love from a place of being loved. I can give from a cup that has been filled and is filled over and over.
To the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah, and all of us, God says:
"You will seek me and find me,
when you seek me with all your heart"
Not: you will find me when you follow all the rules, when you clean up your life, when you tick the boxes and say all the right things. Not: when you please everyone around you and acquire all the likes and influence. But you will find me when you seek me - when you choose to look for me with all of your hope and curiosity. When you hold lightly onto me. Call for me in nature, in the deepest recesses of your heart. When you cast your worries onto me because I care for you. When you hide yourself in me.
A favourite old hymn sings:
rock of ages cleft for me
let me hide myself in thee,
rock of ages cleft for me
let me hide myself in thee,
God is described many times in the Bible as a rock, a fortress. And also a source of life, protection. A light, a pillar of cloud. Above and within all things. A maker, a potter, a parent. A place of safety, in which to hide, find refuge, seek love, find kindness, grace, rest.
Whether you are in a season of hiding or seeking, a combination of both or something completely different I hope you know you are a lovable creation, worthy of kindness and a cup that overflows.
Read "Little Revelations" by Luci Shaw.
Listen to the world outside you. Find a place to sit and close your eyes for five minutes. Explore the season with your senses: What can you hear? What can you taste? What can you feel? Perhaps like me you are waking up with the spring, reviving your bones with sunshine after the cold of winter - or perhaps you are in autumn, preparing yourself for the ending of the year and dark months ahead. What are you thankful for? What hopes do you hold right now?
Contemplate Psalm 145 v7-10:
Answer me quickly, Lord;
my spirit fails.
Do not hide your face from me
or I will be like those who go down to the pit.
Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love,
for I have put my trust in you.
Show me the way I should go,
for to you I entrust my life.
Rescue me from my enemies, Lord,
for I hide myself in you.
Teach me to do your will,
for you are my God;
may your good Spirit
lead me on level ground.
Consider these words of Ruth Haley Barton in her book, Sacred Rhythms:
"We must have the capacity to listen to all parts of ourselves without judging them - facts are rational and objective and feelings of consolation and desolation are deeper than surface emotions. We must be willing to pay attention to what is conscious as well as any unconscious matter than presents itself in a dream or slips out in conversation before we have a chance to edit it. We must listen to the stirrings and language of our desire and distinguish our desires from the wants and shoulds of our lives. “Wants are mine; shoulds are somebody else’s”"
Fennel + Lamb Shank Stew
2 fennel bulbs
2 stalks of celery
1 large onion
3-4 medium sized lamb shanks (or 4 large slices of lamb neck)
3 garlic cloves
2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
fresh zest of 1 lemon
1/2 cup white wine
4 cups stock (vegetable/chicken/beef)
For the fennel gremolata:
Small handful each of parsley and fresh fennel leaves + mince finely with the zest + 2 garlic gloves. Combine in a small jug with the juice of 1 lemon (the one you just zested) and 1/4 cup olive oil. Stir to combine with a fork.
Chop onions, fennel and celery into thin slices. In a heavy-based saucepan/stewing pot, gently sauté onions, fennel and celery with a tablespoon of olive oil for around 5 minutes. Remove vegetables onto a plate and add another splash of olive oil to the pot. Next add the lamb shanks, turning each side quickly until browned. Return vegetables to the pot along with minced garlic, chopped rosemary, lemon zest, wine and broth. Simmer on a low-heat for 1.5-3 hours (you can go longer with a slow-cooker). Check after 1 hour and top up with more broth if necessary; you want your shanks to be just-covered in liquid to prevent them drying out. Serve stew with steamed rice or mashed potatoes or on it's own with some delicious bread. Garnish with the fennel gremolata.
Banana Bread with Dark Chocolate
125 butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar // OR 1 cup honey or maple syrup
2 ripe bananas
1/4 cup olive oil
3/4 cup rice flour + 3/4 tapioca starch // OR 1 + 1/2 cups GF plain flour mix
1/2 cup millet flour (you can use buckwheat too)
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
2 teaspoons GF baking powder
100g roughly chopped dark chocolate (I use 70% cocoa)
(Makes 1 large loaf)
- - -
In a large bowl or mixer cream together butter and sugar - followed by mashed bananas, eggs and olive oil. Mix in flours, spices and baking powder. It should be a thick batter consistency. Finally stir in chopped dark chocolate. Pour mixture into a high-sided loaf tin that has been well-greased (or lined with baking paper - I usually just squash a rectangle of baking paper into the tin) - dust with desiccated coconut if you wish - and bake in a moderate oven at 180'c for 45 mins - 1 hour. It will be ready once a skewer or knife inserted into the centre of the bread comes out clean.
early morning landscape
unfolds like a concertina
of green leaves and bird song
plantain, clover, magpie and wren -
we breathe it out, we breathe it in.