Lately I have felt like a boat who has lost her moorings, and is adrift, tossing this way and that, flailing and failing, overwhelmed. I have been reflecting on the image of an anchor. That something or someone that holds us, even as we are thrown about by life's twists and turns. I wonder what secures you right now. What holds you fast in this season of uncertainty and discomfort?
It seems as if there has never been a more important or difficult time to establish rhythms in our daily lives that bring a sense of solid grounding, nourishment and peace. Anchoring us in the calm and in the storm.
Right now, I am grateful for a few practices that are simple enough to do most days:
- reading a small portion of scripture, or reading a poem, or working a row or two of my knitting while I drink my morning cup of tea, which seems to naturally replace the urge to grab my phone to read emails and news feeds before I've even properly woken up.
- taking a short walk by myself in the afternoon or evening, even for just 15 minutes. It gives me some much needed solitude and an opportunity for the sights, smells and sounds of nature to rinse my body of the tension of the day (especially in these long, tiring, lockdown days).
- praying a short scripture, over and over throughout the day. I call them my "anchor prayers" and I guess they are similar to the use of mantras in the Eastern traditions, because they help me return to a simple but beautiful promise of truth again and again:
Fear not, for I am with you.
Be still and know that I am God.
Come to me, all who are weary and I will give you rest.
I am the vine, and you are the branches.
Remain in me, and I will remain in you.
Because even though I may feel like a boat drifting aimlessly, I know deep within me that I am anchored, known and loved by God. That even as I flail and falter, feel unproductive and out of control, I am held securely in an embrace of grace. Enfolded in sturdy, yet gentle, redeeming love.
I have also been thinking about the medieval vocation of the anchorite; a person (and most often a woman) who took up a life of spiritual hermitage in a small space attached to a church. Anchored in place, they would live their solitary existence enclosed in a single room, without any doors but often with three windows: one into the church building so they could participate in communal worship and receive the sacraments; one into the servants quarters for life's necessities to pass through; and one that opened out onto the street where the general public could come for prayerful counsel and advice from the anchorite herself. Her life was a life of prayer, a life of listening to the world, to praying for it. I imagine her listening - listening to the sounds of the priest and the people, to the humdrum of everyday, to children and beggars, to the raucous. to the awful and clarifying silence, to the still small voice.
The most well-known anchorite is the English mystic, and first woman to write in the English language, Julian of Norwich. Julian's written works, Revelations of Divine Love, remain some six hundred years after she wrote them, as theologically refreshing and insightful as ever. She speaks simply and honestly about her faith and life experiences of illness and suffering - we know through historical records that Norwich experienced numerous and severe bouts of the bubonic plague in her lifetime. Julian describes the distinctly feminine and maternal nature of both God and Jesus as something that enriches and deepens our awareness of them. She also reiterates the idea of God's enduring love and care for "all that is made":
"And in this he showed me a little thing, the quantity of a hazelnut, lying in the palm of my hand, as it seemed. And it was as round as any ball. I looked upon it with the eye of my understanding, and thought, "What may this be?" And it was answered generally thus, "It is all that is made." I marveled how it might last, for I thought it might suddenly have fallen to nothing for littleness. And I was answered in my understanding: It lasts and ever shall, for God loves it. And so have all things their beginning by the love of God"
Her famous refrain: "and all shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well" did not come from a place of shallow optimism but from her profound faith shaped by loss and sacrifice, and ultimately from her experience of a loving creator God who delights in her and all of creation. She was anchored in body, heart and soul to hope.
"We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure" (Heb 6:19)
And it's a strange thing that we can feel both unsettled and adrift, and also confined and stuck to a place. To a house. To a 5km radius. To a pandemic with no end-date. To a loop in your head. To a pain in your heart. To longing and loss.
As I type this, anchored in my house, I can see four distinct windows: the one that leads outside to the wintering ash trees as they rustle in the breeze; the one that leads to my housemates - my children as they play, make messes, argue and wonder; the one that leads to you - to this screen I'm typing in, to connection in spite of our distance and differences; and to the one in my own heart that leads to hope, where all of me belongs and is loved.
- Read the "Blessing for the exhausted" by John O'Donohue a few times. What would it look like to be "be excessively gentle with yourself" in this season?
- Listen to the "The Lark Ascending" by Vaughn Williams, performed by the Australian Chamber Orchestra. Try closing your eyes as you listen and explore your senses - what does the music make you see in your imagination and feel in your body?
- Contemplate Psalm 121:
I will lift up my eyes to the hills—
From whence comes my help?
My help comes from the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth.
He will not allow your foot to be moved;
He who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, He who keeps Israel
Shall neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord is your keeper;
The Lord is your shade at your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
Nor the moon by night.
The Lord shall preserve you from adversity;
He shall preserve your soul.
The Lord shall preserve your going out and your coming in
From this time forth, and even forevermore.
- Consider this quote by David Ford from his book, The Shape of Living:
“The Stoics of antiquity said: Be calm. Disengage yourself. Neither laugh nor weep. Jesus says: Be open to the wounds of the world. Mourn humanity’s mourning, weep over humanity’s wounds, be in agony over humanity’s agony. But do so in the good cheer that a day of peace is coming...That is the expansive side of grief. It can enlarge our sympathy, our compassion, and our capacity for joy as well as for suffering. It increases our aching for the new day, and knows that the true balm for this wound requires that the wound stay open…”
Apple + Fennel Slaw
Fennel and apple were made for each other don't you think? I made this in celebration of the first homegrown fennel from our garden. It was delicious.
1 fennel bulb
1 large apple
2 spring onions
small head of ice-berg lettuce or green cabbage (I used the former here)
mix of fresh greens and lettuce leaves, baby beetroot leaves etc
large handful each of fresh mint, parsley and chives
Shred fennel bulb. Peel and slice apple into thin strips. Do the same with the carrot or grate like I did here. Shred ice-beg lettuce or cabbage if using. Chop herbs and spring onions finely. Toss everything together in a large mixing bowl with the green leaves.
For the dressing:
1/2 cup homemade mayonnaise (sour cream or creme fraiche works well too)
2 tablespoons olive oil
juice of a orange or a large lemon (orange adds a lovely sweet note)
2 teaspoons of wholegrain mustard
salt and pepper to taste
Make the dressing by whisking all the ingredients mentioned above in a small jug and pour over salad. Toss gently and serve...
Lemon, Mandarin + Yoghurt + Poppyseed Cake
Just a lovely, simple tea cake that you can mix up in one bowl - or in this case - one saucepan. A great one to do with the kids.
1 cup white sugar
zest and juice of 1 lemon + 1 mandarin (orange or lime will work well too)
1/2 cup plain, unsweetened yoghurt (I used greek)
2 1/2 cups plain GF flour (or equal parts rice flour + tapioca/arrowroot starch or cornflour)
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 tablespoons poppy seeds
Preheat oven to 180'c. In a medium sized saucepan, melt butter on a low heat. Remove from heart and whisk in white sugar, citrus zest and juice. Next whisk in eggs, yoghurt, flour, baking power and poppy seeds. Pour batter into a well-greased or paper lined baking tin and bake for 30 minutes or until lightly golden on top and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.
Best eaten a little warm with a dollop of greek yoghurt! Feel free to ice with your favourite cream-cheese frosting or even a simple sugar + lemon juice syrup.
to your lovingkindness
steady my feet on soft grass
to the gentle stream
may I bathe in living water,
drink from your wellspring
at the harbour of your grace
a place to rest my head
in the hope of new life
where space for stories grow,
compassion and belonging.
to the still small voice
that I would hear you
in the clamour and in the silence
p.s. I know these newsletters are for the most part a one-sided conversation, and while I hope they bring some comfort and ideas for reflection, if you feel like reaching out for any reason, please do. I would love to hear back from you and know what this season is bringing up for you. Emily x