Saturday, 30 May 2009

Wow... and a serious invitation.

So. Future Housemate, Sweetie and I went to view one house today.

It's... well. It's not perfect. But I don't think we'll find something that suits our needs better, not at that price. It's... Future Housemate referred to it as dignified, and that it is, with a bit of history and character. It's in reasonably good nick. The amount of storage space is wonderful, and will be even better once we get bookshelves in. There's room for my teaching studio. There's one more bedroom than we were looking for. The location couldn't be better, literally around the corner from one of my dearest friends, with a wonderful grocer at one end of the road and ancient parkland at the other. I can't tell you more than that without sacrificing anonymity.

I know it's hasty to rent a place without having looked at other houses in the area. I know it's a renter's market and we have the clout to find something really spectacular. I know they may decide not to replace the shower, and might balk at our request for a gas hob rather than electric. I know the kitchen is a bit smaller than I'd like (but there is an Actual Dining Room, something I've long yearned for, and I think that will make smallish kitchen okay). I know the rent is a teensy weensy bit higher than we'd planned. I know the garden is north-facing and not as large as I'd hoped for (though it is not without promise... the roses, jasmine and honeysuckle can all stay, in any case).

But I'm rather smitten. I know what houses in that general area are like, having visited a few friends, and this one does feel special. It seems to just be begging us to move in and fill it with life and music. It feels like somewhere that will become home. Future Housemate feels the same. Sweetie likes it too, especially the flexibility of having the extra bedroom.

I may not make it to Evensong tomorrow at Default Option Church. Last week I had a rather dismal and discouraging experience there involving sexist comments, being accused of stealing a hymnal and another sermon I couldn't quite follow (not all the same incident I might add!), but that's not the reason for staying away. I have a friend who had surgery last week and the only time I can get up to visit her is going to be tomorrow night after I'm teaching, so if she's feeling up to visitors I will be going there instead of to church. I figure God understands these things.

That said, I didn't want to miss it entirely. So today I went to St Paul's Cathedral for Evensong there.

The tube was running late of course and I arrived just after the last stroke of five, almost too worried about disturbing things to have the nerve to go in at all. I've lived in London for nine years but for most of those I was chasing Judaism or not really engaging with any structured spiritual practice... I'd not been to a service in a cathedral before. I needn't have worried, it was full of tourists. After I sat down I realised there was an area nearer the front where people actually had service sheets and so on, but I was feeling a bit too shy to go up and join them. So I sat, and I stood, and I sat, depending on which part of the service we were in--I could hear enough of the music to keep track and the spoken prayers were on a speaker system. It's also very echo-y in there and I didn't hear everything clearly, people around me were talking a lot which didn't help much.

But I'm very glad I went, and I'm glad I participated on some level.

Once in a sermon at Leafy Suburb Church, the vicar mentioned a blog I read and comment on. I had a slight panic and then realised that no, she probably doesn't follow back to commenters' blogs and read them all, she might not be able to identify me for sure from what I write here, and even if she did I don't mind her knowing who I am. And it struck me today in St Paul's that I wanted to write about being there, but any number of you lot could have been there too. Do I identify myself or not? I'm trying to remain somewhat anonymous here because it gives me a freedom in my writing that I do not think I could have if my professional life and my blogging here were to overlap much. I'm less clear about where my social life and my blogging are allowed to overlap, and how comfortable I am with the people I meet on my in-person spiritual explorations having access to my more vulnerable, private musings. Do I say that I was there, I was the rather tall lady in the purple skirt and dark blue top and the rather dirty light blue hat? What are the chances? This is London... chances are rather high. I'm undecided. Only I've gone and done it now, haven't I?

This leads into a slightly knottier problem.

One of the things that is very much a part of who I am, no matter which online identity or personal or professional role I'm stepping into, is my work as a student and a performer of music. It's unavoidable.

Not too long after my Big Final Exam Recital I'm having a more personal, celebratory recital. I don't want to put the place and time online, but it'll be in London, at a church reasonably close to a central location. I've struggled somewhat with making this event personal but not exclusive; I don't want to turn away anyone who would like to come, but I want it to be clear that this concert is primarily for me to have the opportunity to play for colleagues, family, teachers and friends, new and old. As concerts should be, it's a gift I'm making to the audience, not a product I am selling. So I've invited pretty much everyone I know, though I'm late getting invitations sent out. And every time anyone says, "Oh, can I bring so-and-so along?" I say yes, of course.

I have been surprised and delighted by the guidance, support, encouragement and, yes, friendship, that I have found through blogging here. So if you are in London, or think it might be possible for you to be in London during the summer, and you would like to hear me play: please contact me, and if I recognise you and trust you not to blab all over the internet about who I actually am, I'll send you invitation details. I mean it. I am absolutely serious about this. My getting this degree (okay I don't have it just yet, but you give me a few more weeks...) has been very much a group effort and I am honoured to include some regular readers here in that group. You might not think you've done much but a kind word here and a bit of encouragement there have been lifelines, and then there is everything that I have read... even when I can't keep up, these words on screens are important, are necessary. It would be a joy and a privilege to play for you. It's the closest thing I have to sacrament, in this line of work.

I'm happy to give you the option of remaining anonymous yourself. I know lots of you have higher stakes in the anonymity gamble than I do, and I respect that. Lots of people at this concert will be people I primarily know online, though many have gone on to become wonderful in-person friends; everyone there will understand if you say, "Oh, I know the performer from conversations we've had on the internet". For that matter, you don't have to talk to people at all if you don't want to, you can leave the second the music stops or even slip out early. Hiding in the vestry for the entire concert is another option, although of course if I get many of you all wanting to do that it won't work very well as a hiding place!

But please, if you read this regularly, consider coming if it's at all practical.

Free time

I haven't much of it right now. Yes, I know, blah blah blah if-you're-so-busy-stop-blogging-and-get-on-with-doing things. But the first house viewing of the day has been canceled and so I don't need to leave as early as I thought.

Medical appointment on Wednesday went well, with fewer blood samples needed than I had expected. I even got some work done in between. Now I wait for the next appointment to discuss results.

I had an essay back this week, I got 68% on it. Slightly disappointing to be two marks off of a First but on the whole a better result than I had expected. I may be in with a chance at a solid 2:1 for this degree after all; it's very hard to say as we've had very little feedback on some of the major work. I have two more pieces of written work to hand in, and then a crack at re-doing one that was done very poorly in December. I've started to count the time to my Big Final Exam Recital in days rather than weeks, though there are still more than two weeks to go. I'm mostly feeling tired. I had some admin fail to deal with earlier this week and it isn't resolved yet, and I'm hoping there will be progress over the weekend; right now it is out of my hands.

What else? Househunting. Today's first viewing was canceled; I didn't really like the sound of that house anyway. The second viewing is more promising. I don't want to say 'yes' to a house without seeing more than one, but I've done househunting a few times in my life now and this one could not be in a more perfect location, near to friends, transport and wide open spaces. Hopefully the inside will meet requirements and I'll have a new box to live in. I've been feeling quite pot-bound recently, in more ways than one.

Three of my four parents will be visiting this summer. Even thinking about this is such a mixture of anticipated joy and impending doom that I'm not going to try to explain it. I've realised that I have become more religious than any of my parents, or perhaps more practical about my spirituality would be a better word. That could get interesting.

I am cat-sitting for a friend. This is delightful. Cats are wonderful. And their kitchen has decent storage space which means it is full of food which means I don't have to think about food shopping at all until it's time to go back to the flat I live in at the moment.

I forgot to order the cheese for making cheesecake... I started making cheesecake every year for Shavuot when I was exploring Orthodox Judaism and I haven't really dropped the habit. But this year it will have to wait, as it's quite a time-consuming recipe and I don't really have any more free afternoons before my exam. Perhaps something alcoholic is more appropriate for Pentecost, in any case.

Still singing, praying, hoping; still thinking of you lot far more than I had thought I would when I started this lark back in February. Not reading blogs as much as I'd like; when I do comment I often abandon halfway through, as I nearly did with this post. Too much wittering, no real content. Still using twitter (I am song_in_heart there, but to follow my updates I'll have to know who you are, I'm still trying to protect some anonymity) more than anything else but if it's not your thing, fair enough; you don't miss much, the time that I spend there isn't time that I could use to blog properly. I'll get back to content sometime this summer, I hope.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Miscellany again, and some links

Another tiring week full of long days. They do seem to keep coming and coming. Each day pours out its song to the next... and Sweetie tells me that I talked about kittens, last night, in my sleep.

One month from today I will be playing Big Final Recital Exam. I don't feel ready. This is fairly normal. I will keep practising, and it will be okay--or so I keep telling myself. I still have some coursework to do. After the exam I'll be moving house, and I have househunting to do. And the interminable medical appointments continue; this coming Wednesday is a bit of a doozy with the vampires sticking their suckers in for samples every 15-20 minutes for two and a half hours. Hopefully I'll be able to get some of my coursework done while they're at it.

So, I'm not likely to be posting much in the next month. I'm way behind on reading blogs, too, and responding to posts. Have a some links, instead.

I'm very pleased to have happened across this metrical psalmody resource. I don't know what I'm going to do with it yet.

FranIam is posting a between-Ascension-and-Pentecost Novena, the first post in the series is here. I've not had time or the right words to respond as I'd like to. This promises to be worth reading, if you're into the prayer end of things.

It's also a period of prayer for Christian Unity in the southern hemisphere, but you don't have to be in the Southern Hemisphere or even a Christian to pray for Christian unity during this coming week.

This week at Academic Institution I've seen some people treated rather shabbily by the official machinations of academia; I'm hoping there is a way, within the official rules and regulations, to find some redress and restore a bit of balance. I've spent no small amount of time and energy attempting to do what I can to restore hope and confidence to one friend and colleague who has had the wind blown right out of her sails. Relatedly, Adrian Worsfold writes excellently about the problems of a culture of rules. I think that this relates to what Nick Baines wrote on media neutrality. Both are about a culture of accountability and responsibility which some would say seems to have evaporated in recent decades in the UK. I think we need more ways of building that back up than just voting; what do you think? What, to you, builds up community--online or in person? What fosters care and responsible action? And how can you, I, all of us or any of us, act in good faith to do this while protecting ourselves and those we love from the rotten, rule-bound, opportunistic policies of the punctilious paper-pushers who mistakenly think that if you can't quantify something, it has no quality? Serious questions, and I'm seriously interested in your answers. There's another post in here somewhere.

Speaking of community, and of building up: what is marriage, really? Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG writes well about Biblical definitions of the institution marriage. In the comments he writes: "Those who cloak bigotry in the language of faith are guilty of nothing short of blasphemy." I heartily agree. It's a harrowing time for the LGBT community in America, waiting for a decision in California, and I hope and pray it will end with joy.

It's been a harrowing and joyful time for others, too. I'd fast run out of space if I posted a link and description to every person or situation deserving of prayer, attention and concern or celebration this week. The usual prayer lists from MadPriest and Grandmère Mimi are a good start. But they're only really a small cross-section of one community I'm at the edges of; there are ever so many more, and everything is so interconnected... I find it difficult to keep track of all those I would like to pray for and frequently tack on a sort of catch-all, a sort of intercession for anyone I happen to have missed or simply didn't know about to begin with. Since I'm not omniscient I know that I'll never be able to pray for every specific situation separately, but I still feel sad if I find I've forgotten someone. I wonder how others keep track; I know that some people keep a written-down list on paper, or use various structures to remember to pray for people in certain categories of relationship (family, friends, wider community, government etc). What, if anything, works for you? And how do you decide what goes on your prayer radar?

Josephine's post on photography and prayer, and Doug's post on truth and art, seem to me to be connected somehow.

For today I am resting. So far this has meant lazing on Sweetie's sofa for the better part of a day. I am thinking a nap may be in order. If I'm feeling particularly energetic I might go for a walk. There is a party this evening I wish to attend if I am not too tired, but I mustn't stay out late as I'm teaching tomorrow as usual. I've had enough of staring at a screen for a little while, in any case.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

On Fear

FranIAm made a post on fear in which she asked us to discuss our own fears.

My comment was long. I don't know whether I like it or hate it, but it seems significant enough to post here.

Fran, thank you for this post, and for being so open about your own fears.

Money fears get to me, too, more than I'd like. At the moment I mostly deal with them by being very avoidant about money; I'm a bit of a spendthrift, I have debt that has piled up while I've been a student (though not as much as some, because I've been able to continue working), I tell myself that my studies are more important and I'll deal with the money stuff afterward. Afterward is starting to get awfully close and I suspect it is not going to be pretty! In the long run I know I have to grow up about this a bit.

The money issues, for me, are about scarcity of resources; having enough to survive. Another area where these fears are apparent is in my relationship with food: again, I'm worried about not having enough. I mostly manage not to overeat too badly, but one only has to glance at my cupboards to realise that I'm a champion hoarder. I probably have enough non-perishable food to get through a month, and that's not through any systematic effort. Empty shelves make me physically uncomfortable.

I can look back to childhood experiences for those manifestations of scarcity thinking. It's fairly obvious where and how I picked up the habits. But these worries about the scarcity of external resources are really only scratching the surface of my fears. Underneath there is a deeper concern: the fear that, somehow, I am Not Good Enough. Not Good Enough that people who claim to care for me would look after my physical needs if I were unable to do so for myself; Not Good Enough to be helped back up if I fall, comforted if I am in pain, held if I'm lonely, loved. It's not that I fear not being loved, so much as being, ultimately, unlovable.

Thankfully I have plenty of evidence that this is not the case, but it still frightens me. And it's still a strong enough possibility in my mind that I sometimes get spooked and think that those who have power over my life might take a dislike to me and actively try to hurt me. Male authority figures who are taller than me are the most terrifying; after five years I still feel incredibly anxious every time I have to meet with a certain person at Academic Institution, even though he has shown himself to be of good will. And one of the reasons I feel so comfortable at Leafy Suburb Church is definitely that the priest and deacon are both female. Working with conductors is also difficult, and though I manage this relatively well I feel far more stress with a man up there waving the stick around than I do with a woman. Again, this is traceable to specific childhood experiences.

The result of all this is a grasping after control. It's ultimately futile, but my full cupboards are a vain attempt at having control over my food supply; so is much of my interest in gardening and foraging, though those have also brought me great joy. I fear my physical disabilities not so much because it is likely I will end up with much more severe chronic pain than I have now, but because I am terrified that I will lose the ability to do enough work to look after myself. I have in the past been extremely clingy and co-dependent in relationships, bending over backward to please a partner and expecting that they do the same for me and then being devastated when they won't or simply can't. I have been extremely intolerant of other people's failings when they have let me down, and even more intolerant of my own failure to keep everyone happy--which is pretty much impossible, as any fule kno.

I do better now, I think. I'm certainly much happier, and certainly less ruled by fear. There are a number of reasons for this. One is just that three years of therapy taught me a lot about re-framing, and I don't interpret so much of the world from the assumption that people hurt me on purpose. I've learned that what people want to do and what they would like to do are often separate, that nobody has enough information to do the right thing all the time, and that most people have no more ill will toward me than I have toward them. There was a period of time when I knew this on an intellectual level but could not grasp it on an emotional one, and that was a very difficult stretch, but being as objective as possible did help me to become less afraid. It's really not all about me and my fear, despite the increasing length of this comment on said subject.

Another reason I am less afraid is because I do actually have more control over my life now than I did. I've had diagnosis of two long-term conditions, both of which were affecting me hugely in ways which were not taken seriously by others. Neither of these are likely to ever be cured, but both of them have options for management which reduce my difficulties, and as I learn more about how these conditions affect me and what works for me and what does not, I gain even more control. It's been a hard shift, going from having a goal of running the London Marathon to having a goal of staying off prescription painkillers until I'm 40, but that's a world and a half better than being in pain all the time and not having any clue what was going on and being told it was all in my head. Now I'm in pain about half the time and can make good decisions about whether to medicate or rest. (The physiology of pain is an interesting side-note here, too; chronic pain can really, REALLY mess with brain chemistry. It certainly has an effect on my mood, though my pain tolerance is relatively high in terms of ability to function physically despite pain.) And I'm getting more skilled at managing the other perils and dangers of this earthly life, and more confident that if everything goes wrong I will still be able to feed myself.

Another reason I am not as fearful as I once was is because, for whatever reason, some people saw fit to help me. And they kept trying, and kept trying, and kept trying even when I was really rather horrible to them, and somehow eventually I was able to see it, and believe that maybe, just maybe, if these rather wonderful people cared enough to love me, I might be lovable after all, or at least not abhorrent. There is one person in particular in the last few years who was a huge support to me; I've not worked out whether her effect on my life is because she happened to be there at the right time and I was ready for those changes or if her particular capacity to love was different enough from my previous experience to get through to me. It may be some combination of both, I'll probably never be able to figure it out. But now that I have that hope to cling to I look back and see that actually, many others have helped me, cared for me, loved me even when it has been hard for them. They far outweigh and outnumber those who have hurt me, either through incompetence or through lashing out in fear and pain themselves. They even outweigh those who might have been truly sadistic (though the more I think about it the more I think those were just very, very fearful people, acting the only way they knew how). And realising that and allowing myself to feel loved and risk loving has opened the floodgates, and suddenly I love more than I fear. The flailings and thrashings of people who are frightened do make me sad but they don't hurt me as much as they did, because I know they are hurting so very much more and I just want to show them that they are loved, intrinsically lovable children of God. I want to sow harmony where there is discord, I want to sow hope where there is despair, I want to sow joy where there is sadness, healing where there is injury, all that other stuff from the prayer of St Francis of Assisi. There doesn't seem to be any other sensible response to the depth of love that I have felt, even if sometimes it seems like a distant glimmer, even if sometimes I feel alone and frightened.

I have limited energy and limited time and have to pick my battles to an extent, but I think maybe that's what discernment is about. Not about what to do--what to do is to spread love and hope in the world--but about how to go about doing so.

The word verification is "twament". I'll probably have to re-post because I spent so long writing this, though. (Yeah, I did. Second word verification is "insts", which isn't nearly as good.)

That's where the comment ends, but I should add a few things:

Those of you who know me well will be able to read between the lines on some of that. Please respect my desire for anonymity in this forum.

Some of this makes it sound as if I'm never afraid, never act badly out of fear, am always able to somehow get above scarcity thinking. That is not the case at all! But I've gone from my fears being so overwhelming it was hard for me to get dressed in the morning to being able to participate in life to a much fuller extent, to being able to engage with my fears on a more meaningful level than just hiding under the duvet. I may only just pass as 'normal' but it's a huge change for me. And for me, whether I'm able to function seems to have a lot to do with how I relate to fear, and how I relate to fear seems to be directly affected by whether I feel loved and lovable. Your mileage, of course, may vary.

There may be another post on fear, language and scripture at some point. Or there may not. I'm meant to be doing a degree...

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Celebrations and Concerns

What a week it has been!

In some ways a bit of a rough week: it's just That Time of Degree, I'm afraid, there is a silly amount of paperwork to be done and I've been put into a performance project which is eating serious amounts of time in rehearsals that are, quite frankly, rather tedious at best. I've had a bit of a cold which always saps my energy and makes my chronic health problems more symptomatic; there's not a lot I can do about that but rest more, but see above re: scheduling. It's all rather overwhelming and discouraging if I think about more than one bit of it at once. And Sweetie is away this weekend, so I am at home by myself facing a very messy bedroom and wondering whether to use my 'rest' day to try to make it a little more livable.

It has been a very hard week for various friends of mine for reasons I'll not discuss here. They have been very much on my mind and in my prayers. At times this week I've also felt quite overwhelmed by the sheer amount of pain and hardship in the world. There's so much I can do so little about, and so much I should do something about but fail to do, and I don't quite know where to start. It's the typical save-the-world-before-breakfast problem.

The good, though, far outweighs the bad.

Monday's post basically wrote itself and I don't really feel like I can take much credit for it. But the positive response to it has been cheering me all week, partly because it's flattering to my ego to be told I've done something good but partly because I so desperately hope that the vision of the world I put forward in that post is actually true... having so many of you affirm the truth of what I wrote feeds that hope.

On Tuesday night I was gripped by a different sort of creative inspiration (or maybe it was the fever I had?) and got some composing done; I shouldn't really be working on non-degree stuff right now but this would not let me go to sleep until I wrote it down. It isn't finished, and won't be for a while, but I've been agonising over another composition project (for which I still have not found an appropriate text) and the reminder that yes, I can write music, was very welcome.

Wednesday night (after coming home early from my studies to drink soup and feel sorry for myself) I had a meeting with Sweetie and Future Housemate. Dreams and vague hopes are becoming plans: we have a budget, and a timeline, and a plan to find somewhere to live. This is very, very exciting for me: I've never lived in any house longer than three years, I've spent the last few years in various fairly transient housing, and putting down roots somewhere is looking very attractive. I will have a home, not just a place where I sleep and store my things. I've hoped this many, many times before, but I think this time it might work, because Future Housemate is looking for so many of the same things I am.

Sweetie has been unemployed for some months; last week he was offered a job but the contract did not turn up right away. Thursday he got the contract! Much relief all 'round: this lifts a load of worry from him and makes our future plans much easier. It means I will be able to take a long-term view of building up my paid employment to levels that will support me (and eventually others) well financially, instead of having to grab something short-term that actually hinders my ability to work on long-term plans. It means we can afford for me to take some rest after my degree, which will be much-needed and may lead to significant improvements in my physical health. It's just wonderful news.

Also on Thursday night was a rehearsal with Petite Violinist just for fun--no pressure, no deadlines to work toward, just reading through Handel and having a good time of it. What sheer joy! Of course by the end of the rehearsal we had a performance shoehorned into another concert, so the deadlines are back but they're manageable deadlines for both of us and it is always rewarding to play with Petite Violinist.

By Friday I was pretty wiped out by all of this and spent far too much time struggling with feeling rather miserable, but my last lesson of the day was just plain inspiring. And I realised that I do seem to be making some new friends, online and in person, and this was a great comfort despite feeling rather rotten for most of the day. And really--what day that includes Bach, Brahms and Tallis can be all that bad? Not to mention a bit of Ella Fitzgerald.

Today I am free to rest and that is what I will try to do. Tomorrow I get to teach, and weary as I am the thought still makes me smile. And I've managed to juggle my schedule so that I'll be able to get to Leafy Suburb Church for Evensong; it will be great to catch up with Deacon Friend and if the transport is good I might even sing in the choir again.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

On teaching.

That last post seems to have gone down rather well. I've been wondering what to say next, and knowing I'll not be able to match it.

One of the things I spend time doing is teaching music. I've done other bits of teaching--volunteering with Cub Scouts, small amounts of academic tutoring on a fairly informal basis--but teaching music comes most naturally to me.

The last few weeks I've been doing a bit of music coaching via e-mail, which has been an interesting exercise. It has forced me to think carefully about what I do when I teach, because at one remove I cannot operate on instinct. That in turn has lead to some refinement of technique, I think, and some ideas for further distance learning tools.

I often say to people that I don't just teach how to play the notes, but how to be a musician. This is true on some level: learning the notes alone does not good musicianship make. Or I tell people that I don't just teach music, but how to learn. Again, this is true on some level: the strategies I teach my students to use in learning music can be applied in many other situations, and the habit of attentive learning is a useful one to build. Sometimes I tell people that what I teach my students is confidence, how to perform well under pressure, and while that's often a useful skill in music and their experiences in musical performance often have a lot to offer in terms of transferable skills (for most people school exams, job interviews and public speaking are a relative walk in the park after music exams), that's not really the point.

In a world where most of my students are under immense pressure to do things perfectly, I try to show them that perfection as they conceive of it doesn't exist. There is always something, in singing or playing music, that could be done differently, and some would say better.

In a world where living up to external standards is emphasised as the only route to success and even survival, I try to show my students that the world won't fall in on them if they play a wrong note, that doing things well to jump through a hoop isn't nearly as much fun as doing things well just for the sheer joy of it.

In a world where literalism and adherence to written instructions reign supreme, I try to teach my students to use their imaginations, to create something more than just what the dots say.

In a world where tests are things to be passed and then forgotten, I try to teach my students that being able to play a piece well once doesn't mean they'll be able to do it every time; that consistent results require ongoing input.

In a world where pleasure is associated with instant gratification I try to teach my students that tasks or projects which take hours, days, months, years can be worthwhile and enjoyable.

In a world where inherent ability is far too often conflated with worth, I try to teach my students that no matter what their starting point, they can improve and this can be fun.

In a world where regimented, dedicated hours of hard work are required even of children, I try to teach my students that no matter what they've done during the week, no matter whether they've had a chance or the inclination or energy to practise, as their teacher I will meet them where they are and help them go from there in learning. I won't shout at them for making mistakes or for not practising enough, or for anything: they get enough of that from others.

Yes, you read that correctly: I do not tell my students off when they haven't practised. I start where they are. I teach them how to practise, I teach them that practising works by working with them in lessons, and I find that when they are ready they will start taking the time to do it on their own, unless there are barriers in place.

All this is a lot harder than just teaching them how to read music, how to play the right notes, but also more rewarding. And some of the time I do seem to get it right.

It is a privilege and a very deep joy to have the opportunity to work with people on these different levels.

(It was late last night when I wrote this, so coherence may not be wonderful, and I've almost certainly missed some things out. But I'm going to post it anyway.)

Monday, 11 May 2009

Schism or get off the pot.

A woman turns up at the crematorium for the committal of her deceased parishioner. Nobody else is there, but she says the words anyway, and works out the details later.

A man searches for a job where his inclusive and liberal attitude will be welcome. Meanwhile he makes time and space for an online community where the marginalised are accepted as they are, right down to getting told off if they behave badly toward one another.

A woman, childless and recently bereaved, wonders what to say in a sermon on Mother's Day. She isn't worried about what people will think of her, but about how best to nurture and support those in her care.

A man struggles with administrative barriers to ordination. He keeps preaching the Gospel anyway.

A woman relives the violent, horrible abuse of her past and tries to figure out how best to go forward in this life.

A man pays a month of rent for a friend who has been ill and won't be able to ever pay it back. He's unemployed himself.

A woman dealing with a serious health scare and a gruelling search for right employment spares a kind word and points at a useful resource for an online acquaintance feeling nervous about far less serious problems.

A man bends, then breaks, institutional rules in order to make sure a disabled student gets the support she needs.

A woman spends the day on the phone asking for funds to pay the debt of a stranger she has never met.

A man directs a choir singing Evensong; despite having been informed by the police during the preceding week that his son has been found dead, he offers what he can.

A woman organises and leads ten days of prayer for a friend undergoing heart surgery.

A man tracks down the family of a formerly homeless person who has lost touch with all kin. A reunion looks possible.

A teacher wonders how best to support a family running low on cash and hope.

A child offers an apple to a friend who didn't get enough for breakfast.

A woman sings and prays, because there doesn't seem to be any other sane response to the world.

If you must, go ahead and waste your time and energy and money trying to legislate who is a member of your church and who is not.

Dither away. The rest of us have work to do.

Saturday, 9 May 2009


It is my day off and I'd like to be outside in the park, but my joints are playing up and I'm not really walking well enough to go traipsing around on my own. So I'm catching up on bits of non-work computer stuff, instead.

I was going to post something serious, going to work on something from the placeholder post I wrote a few weeks ago now, or maybe a post on economics and spirituality and abundance and my take on these, but I've used up all my concentration for today so you get miscellany instead.

Had a lovely chat with Sweetie this morning about the future. Lovely lovely. Nothing we didn't already know, nothing we hadn't touched on before, but it was good to reaffirm that our plans for our lives are compatible.

On Wednesday we have a meeting with Potential Future Housemate to talk about house-sharing stuff. I am hoping it goes well. If not, I need to have a good re-think about some of the shorter-term future. I certainly can't afford to live alone and have the space I need to do the work I want to do.

This week I e-mailed the chaplain at Academic Institution to ask about... well, I'm not sure all of what I'm asking about, which was why writing the e-mail was difficult. Some of it is a matter of specific advice on a particular project of mine, but that overlaps with some major gaps in my understanding and faith. It's all a bit tangly. I'm not sure whether to point him at this blog or not. For now I will wait.

Yesterday I sang in a choral concert at fairly short notice. I have Lauridsen's setting of "O Magnum Mysterium" stuck in my head now. There are worse earworms.

Earlier this week I was feeling quite twitchy. This happens from time to time and usually passes in 2-3 days, and this time was no different in that respect. The worst of it is something I call the "what-ifs", not positive, expansive what-ifs like the ones Graham posts but more ominous and fearful. What if all my students quit? What if I fail my exams? What if I hurt those I care about, what if I alienate those I love, what if I miss everything important in life, what if I fail, what if I cause harm? It's a sort of litany of all the ways I could be unlovable, all the ways I could err, all the ways I could mess things up. It's part of the way my brain works: I have a lot of ideas, they all branch off of one another like a tree and I have trouble following only one branch. Sometimes this is an advantage, in that I have some pretty good ideas. Sometimes it's a hindrance, trying to decide which limb I can rest on, which bit of the tree to climb next. This was a particularly damaged limb, a blackened and diseased piece of wood, not safe to sit on for any length of time, but try telling my brain that!

On Monday I took this to my paper journal, where I don't worry about anonymity or what people might think. I wanted a quick answer to the what-if gremlins, a short and memorable rebuttal. And I got one, in the phrase "God will still love you." I hadn't expected that.

I would love to say that this drove the what-ifs away, that I felt better instantly, that I slept without nightmares that night. It didn't have anything like that sort of effect. I kept feeling anxious and twitchy. Whatever weird brain chemistry thing was happening had to run its course. But I think it helped, in that the twitchiness was a little easier to bear. That in itself is a mercy.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Feeling sheepish

It is Good Shepherd Sunday. My memory of this story from childhood is always one of wondering, if one sheep got lost and the shepherd went after it, who looked after the rest of the flock while the shepherd was away looking? Yeah, I was missing the point a bit.

Today I missed Evensong. I went to the church in the area where I teach, where I usually go for Evensong on Sundays if I'm not able to get to Leafy Suburb Church or elsewhere. It has become a sort of default option. I turned up. I started folding up my bicycle. I realised nobody was there.

Default Option Church is okay. They do well, I think, to have Evensong most Sundays. They're not unfriendly, not as welcoming as Leafy Suburb Church but they probably just don't know what to make of me. The sermons range from good to wishy-washy to downright confusing.

I've been telling myself that I go for the music.

The choir usually outnumbers the congregation. The singing is directed with care and a great deal of precision but lacks a certain passion and doesn't take risks, the hymnody is often planned in such a way that doesn't encourage congregational participation (alternating women and men for verses when there aren't many strong singers in the congregation means people get lost; and I can't easily sing the soprano line for consecutive verses in many hymns so generally stick to harmony except for first and last). Overall my impression is that it's a little insipid and uninspiring. But... I turn up anyway. I can't easily get to another service most Sundays. I turn up, and I sing the hymns, and I try to take something from the sermon, and I try to notice what the music is trying to do, and I sing along in the psalmody, sotto voce and slightly behind because I don't have the dots to tell me what notes are next.

I knew sooner or later I'd turn up and there wouldn't be a service, and tonight it happened, and there was nothing for it but to head home.

I didn't expect it to upset me so much. I guess I am there for more than just the music.

I read the Evening Prayer service from the Book of Common Worship courtesy of the C of E website and then took a psalter and went to sit in the park and sing... sotto voce again so as not to attract undue attention. And the park got dark and cold and I came home. And saw this post, among others.

There's rather a lot of church on the internet after all.

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Thoughts on Trinity

Last Sunday I had a conversation which seems to have changed my understanding of the Trinity.

I don't claim that this is a new idea, or an orthodox idea, or a correct idea or even an idea that I haven't encountered before. But for some reason it stuck and I'm finding it significant. I'm going to try to explain what I remember of it. I wasn't able to find the words at all on Sunday so this might be a mis-remembering, and at best there's going to be some heavy paraphrasing. I said in a comment on Margaret's blog that I only understood something at the edges of my brain, where the words won't go. I think now that I wasn't accurate: it's the core of my being where the words won't go. The words are the edges, they're the result of deeper things and can influence deeper things but the still small voice is wordless.

Anyway, last Sunday...

I'd just sung and played Evensong in a rather adorable church. We were talking as we packed up, and I mentioned to another musician that I'd never really got on with the Trinity, couldn't wrap my brain around three being one being three.

"But you have a mind," said M, "and a body," and her hand rested gently on my shoulder a moment, "and you have a soul. Each of these things is uniquely yours, definitely you rather than anyone else. None of them is you in your entirety. The Father is the Mind of God, the Son is the Body of God, the Holy Spirit is the Soul of God." And then the conversation moved on to other things.

I don't know why this stuck; maybe it was the way M spoke, shining with quiet wisdom. Maybe it was the singing. Maybe it was the unexpected setting, the oh-by-the-way relaxation of discussing it so casually instead of getting tied up in knots. I don't know. I just know it stuck.

For as long as I can remember, I have had a much easier time relating to the Father/Creator and Spirit/Ghost than any of the doctrine regarding the Jesus as the Son of God... that which is so integral to Christianity. But insofar as Christ is the Body of God, insofar as the church and all humanity is called to be the Body of God, to do the work of God, in some sense this works.

I don't know how I reconcile that with Jesus the human being as the Son of God. I cannot shake the feeling that human body is too small a container for the infinite. But the business of Jesus being on Earth in that form rather than with all humanity as His body seems to be an event in time, and I'm not all that sure that time is relevant for God the way it seems to be for humans. If God loves us, that love has not changed; the crucifixion and resurrection were a result of that love, a demonstration of that love, but not something that somehow changed our status as God's creations, God's children. These historical events were not something that changed our invitation (responsibility? compulsion?) to show to each other the love that God has for us. I suppose in some sense you could say that though they happened (if you trust Scripture/your experience/whatever enough to believe they happened--another matter entirely) in historical time, they've always been reality, always will be reality. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end.

If that's the case, whether the historical facts are accurate is rather on the irrelevant side.

Little details

Was off to the vampires for some tests on Thursday. I have to have a longer test (about 2.5h) on 27th May and then they can decide on treatment options. This is a minor health issue but it is being investigated very thoroughly, for which I am grateful. Only I wish it didn't involve so many appointments.

The rest of the week was good, I got some good work done and spent some time with cherished friends. Yesterday I planted sunflowers, nasturtiums, calendula and some very pot-bound supermarket lavender and mint, as my act of May Day subversive gardening. If they survive (and I'll be walking past on my way to Academic Institution most mornings, so can water them if it gets dry) I'll probably take some pictures.

Sweetie is away this weekend, and I am missing our usual weekend routine of lazy but companionable mornings on the sofa. This afternoon I am going for a walk with a dear friend who lives in the area I am planning on moving to, which should help me feel a little less lonely. Then off to the pub for another friend's party. I love my friends so much. I can't really keep up with them all, and we don't see eye to eye on everything (many of them are atheist or agnostic, for a start), but every last one of them is fantastic.

While I'm in the area I'm going to move to, I'm going to have a look at churches. Nothing major--just find the actual buildings, jot down service times and names and maybe contact info if it's there. The only one in the area with a decent website is part of the Forward in Faith brigade and I just don't think I would feel comfortable in such an environment.

Yesterday was blogging against disablism day and I failed to post about it. I feel I've let the side down a little, as someone with various disabilities; mine are usually not immediately obvious which means I have more trouble with passing as 'normal' and being expected to cope in situations where I can't than I do with prejudice based on obvious disability.

Next week classes start again at Academic Institution. I'm feeling a lot less stressed than I was before Easter, and I've got rid of the worst of the exhaustion. But this is the end of a four-year course, there is a Big Exam at the end, I have moving house and visits from parental units to contend with in the summer ahead, and I'm feeling a little overwhelmed. I'll probably continue to feel overwhelmed until I've settled into a new routine, post-degree.

Internet access has been quite patchy again, but if I still have any left I might post about something serious tomorrow evening. There are ever so many serious topics floating around in my head. Love and fear and hope, and impatience and eternity and change, and words and music (always), and ritual and flexibility.