This past weekend, Little Man and I were both baptised, and I was confirmed and welcomed as a member of the Methodist Church. Choosing to be baptised as an adult, and choosing to baptise my son at the age of 5, wasn’t a decision I made lightly. I thought about it for a very long time, because I wasn’t sure whether it was the right thing for us to do. But eventually it just felt right and that was when I decided to do it.
A large part of my hesitation came from the fact that I know I sometimes sit on the edge, looking in, wondering whether I truly belong. I’ve described my faith in the past as “fluid”, something which changes as I grow, and which takes inspiration from a wide variety of sources, not just Christianity. For instance, my husband, TJ, has been on Shamanic Courses; as a family we celebrate the Pagan Wheel of the Year; and our home is filled with books, music, and artwork from traditions as varied as Hinduism, Buddhism, and The New Age. So you’d be forgiven for thinking that I didn’t really relate to any single path.
Indeed, this is something that I myself thought about my faith for a very long time too. But the reality is that I do relate to a single path, and that path is Christianity. Everything I believe comes back to the central core of the Christian message – that we are inherently flawed, but that God loves us anyway. So great is God’s love for us, that he sent Jesus to show us the way to live in that knowledge, and the Holy Spirit to guide us day by day as we try to do so. When I read or experience something from another tradition, it is always through that same lens of unconditional love, and whilst I do not think that Christianity has a monopoly on that truth, it is the path which draws me closest to it.
And it was this realisation that led me to making the decision to step deeper into my walk along the Christian path. I realised that I had been holding myself back from experiencing it fully, because I felt I was somehow intrinsically incompatible with Christianity. I erroneously believed that because I had doubts and questions and interpreted things differently at times from the traditional sense, and because I chose to include aspects from other faiths into my journey as well, that I couldn’t honestly call myself a Christian. And yet, when I look at that central belief I mentioned above, that “we are inherently flawed, but God loves us anyway”, I realised how crazy this thinking was. Why would God want me to miss out on the love and caring of my Church Family, just because I felt a little bit different? The answer, of course, is He wouldn’t!
I clearly remember the moment I was reading a book about Christianity and religion and realised that my thinking was all wrong. And I decided to explore the idea further. Then, that following Sunday, as we sang the opening hymns in church, I felt my heart opening and just knew God was gently encouraging me to just take that step, to stop overthinking it and just do it. So I spoke to the Minister at the end, and told him about my reservations but also how I felt it might be the right time to take the next step, and I’ll never forget what our Minister said to me. He said, “I believe God is big enough for everyone”. Basically, he was encouraging me to just follow my heart and step forward in faith.
There was a little more to it, as our Minister reminded me that I was already pretty active in the church, attending Bible Study and going to the Church Council Meeting, so why shouldn’t I be a part of the Church Family? And at that point I knew, without a doubt, that it was just right for me.
And for Little Man? Well, he goes to church with my every Sunday, and tells me about Angels and Heaven and how he just loves everybody, and quite simply has the faith of a child. So why shouldn’t he also be welcomed as a part of the Church Family… he will still have the opportunity when he is older to decide whether he wants to step further on that path and be Confirmed or not, but right now he understands enough to know he wants to be a part of it, and so he is.
We were thoroughly supported in our decision, and had an absolutely wonderful day on Sunday. The sun was shining, the church was more full than usual, my parents came to watch their Grandson be baptised, my own Grandma was there, and we had his two Godmothers (my sister and my friend from church) celebrating it all with us too. (Incidentally, he also has a “Fairy Godmother”, in the guise of a friend who comes from my New Age background, who shared a celebration for his birth with us way back in 2012 – isn’t he a lucky boy!)
Little Man was rather overexcited, pulling faces at the congregation and trying to sneak his fingers into the font during the service, but our Minister is wonderful and just took it all in his stride! We then had Communion, which in our church is open to all, so Little Man has had it before, but it felt doubly special on Sunday. And I think Little Man picked up on this too, as he pulled me into a hug and kissed me as we waited for the wine!
We were also blessed with some wonderful gifts from family and friends, to help us in our Christian journey, and I shall share some more thoughts on these with you in a later post. For now, though, I just wanted to write down my thoughts about our Baptism and my Confirmation whilst it was still all very clear in my mind.
Tell me, have you been baptised? How did you make that decision? And what does it mean to you? I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences…
Joining in with Share The Joy Linky this week, as this post has obviously brought me a lot of joy! Find out more details about the linky by clicking on the image below…
I had planned on writing this update last weekend, to coincide with the Easter celebrations, but unfortunately I was rather poorly. I was overcome with “brain fog” alongside absolute exhaustion, and so putting together a blog post was beyond my capabilities. But, as the saying goes, better late than never, hey?
So, first things first I wanted to update you on how I got on with my plan to give away 40 items of clothing during Lent. You may recall that I decided to do this, as I didn’t feel there was anything I could give up which would have a significant effect on my life. And giving something away reminded me that no matter how weak and poorly I feel, no matter how little I may possess, there is always something I can do to help another. Giving away 40 items of clothing, which was just under half of my entire wardrobe, allowed me to help a charity whilst also focusing on how these are just items, and losing some of them isn’t the end of the world!
That being said, I really didn’t anticipate just how difficult I would find it. First, I struggled with the daily aspect of it. Because I am very sick at the moment and have some days where simply getting out of bed, feeding myself and my family, and doing the absolute bare minimum to keep things ticking over, adding in a new activity can be challenging. It may sound easy enough, standing in front of your wardrobe and choosing an item to give away, but actually when you get caught up in just getting through the day, you tend to forget. There are several times throughout Lent when I missed a day or two and had to play catch up, choosing more than one item to ensure I didn’t fall behind. Those were the days when it really hit me just how many items I had promised to give away!
And then there was the fact that I wanted to be sure that what I gave away would be useful to another. I didn’t want to just give away clothes I rarely wore – I wanted them to be clothes that other people would find useful. I also wanted to be sure that I left myself a working wardrobe, one which I could turn to and know that I have an outfit for every occasion. In fact, that thinking helped me to create a sort of “must keep” pile, that then freed me up to choose any of the other items to give away. My “must keep” items included jeans, leggings, a couple of pairs of smart trousers, a few summer skirts, and a couple of dresses, plus a couple of tops to suit each of the bottom halves I had chosen. Oh, and most of my jumpers and cardigans – I get cold very easily.
All in all, it was a challenging experience, but one I am really glad I did. I now have the tidiest wardrobe I’ve ever had and actually find it easier to decide what to wear now than I did when I had twice as many clothes to choose from. And I have a big bag full of clothes to take to charity.
2 Pairs of Jeans
1 Pair of Jogging Bottoms
2 Zip-Up Tops
1 Long Sleeved Top
3 Long Tops (which go well with leggings)
5 Vest Tops
2 Smart Tops
1 Vest (that you can wear over a long sleeved top)
Fitting them all on my bed to take a photo of them was rather challenging, so apologies for the blurry photo!
Of course, all of this was leading up to the highlight of the Christian year – Easter! This is something I have always struggled with, because until now I have been far more inspired by Jesus’ life and ministry than what happened during that first Easter. I also really struggled with the idea of a ransom for our sins. But this year I have really started to find some kind of deeper peace and understanding around it all.
I’ve realised that, for me, there is a much greater power in the message that Christ continues to live amongst us, touching us in ways that transcend the physical, than in the idea of a bodily resurrection. When I read the Gospel accounts of the resurrection, I have come to interpret them as symbolic rather than something to be taken literally. I know that for many, many people this is key to the Christian message, and for many years that was one of the main reasons why I felt I couldn’t call myself a Christian at all. And yet, now I realise that it’s okay to interpret it this way. To me, the bodily resurrection of Jesus is not crucial to my belief that Christ overcame death and continues to live among us. After all, if it was, why did he only remain in his bodily form for a short time afterwards? No, for me, it’s more about how he continues to inspire generations of people around the world, 2,000 years after his death.
And so that is what I celebrated last Sunday – the fact that I feel God’s presence in my life, that I know that Jesus is calling me to follow him, and that countless other people have experienced this too. Nothing else really matters…
My Christian Journey – Choosing to be Baptised
Of course, a lot of this newfound confidence in my faith has come from the support of those around me. I am part of a wonderful church community, and also have a very dear friend who listens to me ramble on about both my thoughts and my doubts, and empowers me to explore things at my own pace. We spent a wonderful day together at the Cathedral during Lent, and have planned to make it a regular occurrence, as it was so good for us both to spend time together and quietly sit in the Cathedral doing our own reflection.
A large part of my reflection has come from reading books like Setting Jesus Free by John Churcher and The Case for God by Karen Armstrong. It was the latter book, in fact, which first made me realise that I was overcomplicating things and holding myself back from fully integrating into the church community. I realised that I was hoping to understand it all and feel at peace with everything before taking a more dedicated step such as Baptism, and yet the reality is I may never feel that and actually it is more important to simply dedicate yourself to the journey than to have all the answers.
I found myself singing along at the beginning of a service one Sunday and I just knew that now was the time to do it. I can’t explain it, I just felt my heart opening and it just felt right. So I talked to our Minister after the service, about both my thoughts and my reservations, and he was wonderfully supportive. He pointed out that I am already involved in the church, as I attend Bible Study and went to the Church Council meeting, so there was no reason not to feel a part of the Church Family. And he reminded me that “God is big enough for everyone”.
And so, I find myself now counting down the days until my own Baptism and Confirmation into the Methodist Church (and the Baptism of Little Man) on 30th April. We had planned to do it on Easter Sunday, but my Grandma was away and I really want her there. It works out quite nicely though, as it is 2 days after my birthday and part of the Bank Holiday weekend too, so we can really enjoy some quality family time together around it.
I must admit I’m a little bit nervous about it, not because I’m not ready for it, just because it is such a big thing. The thought of standing in front of everyone, knowing that they will all be welcoming us into their Church Family, just makes me squirm a little – it’s too much like being in a spotlight for my liking!! I felt nervous enough when we got married and had to say our vows in front of everyone, and this feels very much the same to me – I’m looking forward to it, but I shall be happy once the standing in front of everyone is over.
Phew, that was quite a lot to fit into a single post, wasn’t it? It’s amazing just how much has happened over Lent and Easter in my life this year. How was your Easter?
I was unsure what to call this post, because there are so many things that are heavy on my heart right now. But I think the title I’ve chosen sums it up rather well. For such a long time I have been desperately fighting the uncertainty over my future, the grief I feel over things beyond my grasp, and the vulnerability that comes with accepting that I am sick and that I can no longer give until I first learn to receive. Resisting all of that has taken its toll, and it’s time I learned to embrace it instead.
I hasten to add that this isn’t a new concept to me – I’ve known I’ve needed to do this for years, but knowing something and actually accepting it are two very different things. Even as my health has deteriorated over the past few years, I have refused to acknowledge just how ill I have become, because doing so felt like giving up. Even up until the very beginning of this year, I was determined to make it all work somehow – I’d go freelance and work from home, I’d schedule in time each day to focus on my well-being, I’d cook healthy meals from scratch, and I’d find a way to do all of this and continue to run two blogs, be active in social media groups, and get more involved in my local community too.
How hard could it really be? I thought. After all, I wasn’t quite as sick as I had been when first signed off work last summer. Several months of trying to rest as much as possible had made a difference, but I needed to get going again to help make ends meet financially, and I didn’t want to be held back by my illness anyway. Unfortunately, with all the determination in the world, there are some things you just cannot change. For me, this is my health. I’m not talking about small changes like eating healthier and getting exercise – of course those make a difference. What I mean is that, if you are chronically ill, sometimes you just have to accept your limitations and find a way to work within them. But that it something I am terrible at!
The past 3 months have practically broken me: I’ve been working with several clients on some pretty big projects; I’ve seen my family struggle with my Nan’s final weeks on this earth; I’ve had multiple conversations with Little Man’s teachers as he has been struggling to settle into the school environment; and I have tried to keep my home running as smoothly as possible throughout all this change, all whilst suffering from multiple viruses on top of my general ill health. And yet despite all of that happening, I still continued to try and do more…
When I look at it like this, I realise how unbalanced my thinking really is. And I understand why I live with this constant knot of anxiety at the pit of my stomach, never knowing when a full-blown panic attack may occur. Because I haven’t given myself time to breathe, time to sit in the uncertainty of my life and grieve for all that I had once wished for but which can no longer be. And I certainly haven’t allowed myself to be vulnerable, because that fills me with absolute dread – what happens if I do that and it all falls apart?
So, of course, life enabled me to experience that which I feared the most, didn’t it? This week I was faced with “saying no and letting go” to so many things, things that I not only felt I ought to do but which I really wanted to do too. I had filled my week with fun activities – a trip to the Cathedral with a friend, and singing in the choir for the Church Panto. But a stomach bug stopped me in my tracks and made me realise I simply cannot do it anymore, I cannot continue to pretend I am coping when really I’m so close to breaking.
I toddled off to the Cathedral with my friend, feeling worse for wear but determined to make it through the week, and ended up spending half of the time in the toilets! I then sat quietly in a little chapel, knowing that I had to cancel my plans but so terrified of letting people down. Thankfully my friend was a wonderful comfort that day, encouraging me to allow myself to be vulnerable for once and not worry so much about other people, and I cancelled attending Bible Study that afternoon and Panto Rehearsal/Performances for the rest of the week. I cried so much when doing it, partly because I hated to let others down, but mostly because of what this signified. In cancelling these plans I was truly beginning to acknowledge how ill I truly am right now.
Which led me to thinking about all the areas in my life that drain the energy I simply do not have to spare. Many of them are things I love and am so passionate about, and it breaks my heart completely to have to put them aside right now. But the alternative is continuing until I break, and having been there just a year ago (and again a couple of years before that) I am desperate not to return to that place any more. This time I want to truly embrace the uncertainty of it all, to grieve for all the things I wish were different, and to allow myself to be vulnerable in this space. No more “putting on a brave face” and pretending all is well when it’s not. Wow, that is hard for me to write… and even harder to live!
Which brings me to the point of this blog post, really. I’ve had a good, long (and extremely hard) look at all the things that I have going on in my life and decided that I have to cut back on so much in order to give myself the time, space, and energy to truly begin this healing work. And here’s what I’ve decided:
1. I shall make time every single day to seek out the love of God which I know is helping me through all of this. This will take various forms – sometimes it may be reading a book, sometimes it may be walking in the park, and sometimes it may be sitting in silence. Whatever form it takes, I want it to become a prominent part of my day, helping me to truly embrace the uncertainty of it all, trusting that I don’t have to have it all figured out!
2. Leading on from this, I shall use The Family Patch as my place to simply write what feels important to me, rather than trying to produce “useful” content. And right now that is likely to be a lot about faith. I know that this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, so please do feel free to unsubscribe or mute updates from me if you don’t want to read this kind of content. But for those of you who are interested, please do share with me your own thoughts and experiences in the comments, as I’d love to hear from you.
3. Even though it is faith-based, I am taking a break from Spirit Kid Network. I simply cannot devote the time needed right now to build up the kind of content it deserves. There is still content to be found over there from last year, plus my free chakra guide for kids, so I’m not shutting it down completely. I simply need to release the pressure of producing new content on a regular basis on both of my blogs.
4. I am also going to limit my use of social media, particularly Facebook Groups. To be fair I haven’t been using Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest that much lately anyway. But a large chunk of my time gets caught up in Facebook Groups. Most of these are relevant to the work I do at Shortman Media, so it feels a bit risky to step back from some of them, but I really do need to limit my time spent helping others – every short answer I give soon adds up over the length of a week.
5. That being said, I do want to spend a bit more time in The Faith Space, which is a Facebook Group I set up for those of us who wanted to discuss faith in an open and religiously diverse way. I’m not promising anything in terms of how much I’ll actually do on there, but if you’d like to join us please do request to join the group over on Facebook.
All of this means that the limited time and energy I have outside of what I have to do (freelance work, housework, family life etc) is less likely to be eaten up by multiple different things and more likely to contribute to my overall well-being, by focusing on what is most important to me right now. I am a giver by nature – I want to be there for everyone, encouraging and supporting them, no matter what. But that takes a lot of time and effort, which I simply do not have right now.
So, that’s where I am right now – embracing uncertainty (and trusting in God’s plan for me), grief for all the things I have to let go of right now (including all those big, exciting plans I have), and vulnerability (so that others can offer love and support where I cannot). It’s an emotional place to be, and I have cried more over the past few days than I have in months, maybe even years. But that’s all part of the journey, isn’t it?
Today is Shrove Tuesday (or Pancake Day), meaning that Lent is almost upon us. For many years this didn’t really mean anything to me – my family were not religious, we didn’t even bother having pancakes most years, and Lent was just something that bypassed me completely.
But in recent years I’ve tried to be a bit more focused on the opportunity this time of year gives us to reflect upon the way we’re living our lives (what do we need to give up?) as well as the historical, cultural, and spiritual meanings behind our Easter celebrations.
Which is why I was delighted to be tagged by Rachel from Mum on a Mission, who I recently discovered thanks to the Christian Bloggers UK Facebook Group. The premise is really easy – just 10 questions to answer – but it gives you the opportunity to reflect on what Lent and Easter means to you. If you’d like to join in, please feel free to copy and paste the list of questions at the end of this post!
1. How are you celebrating Lent this year?
This year I am planning to choose one item of clothing every single day and put it aside ready to donate to charity at the end of Lent. I saw the idea on a Facebook post from a Salvation Army Corps and thought it was brilliant, because it not only gets you to focus on “giving up” material goods that may be surplus to your needs, it also helps you give to others.
For me this is quite a big thing, because I rarely buy myself clothes. Most of my wardrobe consists of hand-me-down clothes, or items I’ve had for years (a prime example being that one of the dresses I wore for a blogging conference was over 10 years old!) Don’t get me wrong, I like clothes, I just cannot bring myself to justify buying new clothes when I have perfectly suitable ones in my wardrobe.
So, for me, giving away clothes is a massive deal, not just because I won’t be replacing them, but because I usually cling onto them until they are falling apart! But over the past couple of years I’ve been given quite a few items of clothing for Christmas presents and the odd hand-me-down, so my wardrobe is in need of a good clear out anyway. But instead of going through and trying to simply clear space, I am hoping that a daily requirement to purposefully choose one item to donate (and which will make a difference to someone else) will help me focus on how blessed I am and also how blessed it is to give.
Edited to add: I was honoured to be interviewed on Inspirational Breakfast about this on Tuesday 7th March – you can listen to the interview below.
2. What does Lent mean for you?
To be honest with you, I’m still trying to figure this one out. You’ll have noticed that I recently wrote about how I’m only just starting to even feel able to consider myself a Christian and my views certainly make it challenging. For instance, the idea of a ransom for our sins just doesn’t sit well with me, and yet that’s pretty crucial to the modern understanding of the message of Easter, right?
That’s not to say that it doesn’t mean anything to me. Last year I wrote a post on my other blog about called, “How and Why I’m Sharing the Easter Story with My Child“, which focused on my rather liberal interpretation of it all. So just because I haven’t figured it out yet, doesn’t mean I’m not working on it. In fact I am currently reading the book, “The Case for God: What Religion Really Means” by Karen Armstrong, which has reminded me how we don’t need to have it all figured out to seek a relationship with God.
As Karen writes, “[…] we think that the concept of God should be easy and that religion ought to be readily accessible to anybody. ‘That book was really hard!’ readers have told me reproachfully, shaking their heads in faint reproof. ‘Of course it was!’ I want to reply. ‘It was about God.'” Those were the second and third sentences in the book’s introduction, and I knew straight away I was going to love it! It is hard going, it isn’t something you can just pick up and read anywhere – it makes you question and think and sometimes I have to read a sentence 2 or 3 times before it really sinks in. But I love it all the same, because of the very fact it reminds me that God is so unimaginably huge, it’s okay that I haven’t got an answers to these questions.
3. What things have you given up for Lent in the past, and did you succeed or fail?
I haven’t given much up in the past to be honest, because I’m usually totally disorganised and realise part way through that it’s Lent and I’ve already missed the beginning of it! However I did partially give up social media a few years ago. I say partially because it was quite a last minute thing and I knew that there were the odd things coming up which people would contact me about via social media rather than via email. So I logged in occasionally to check nobody had sent me a direct message or tagged me, but I didn’t log in daily, I didn’t scroll down the timeline, and I didn’t respond to anything other than direct messages which required a response.
I really enjoyed the break from social media actually, and ended up having a social media hiatus (especially from Facebook and Twitter) for several months at the beginning of last year. Stepping away really helped me to understand how much of an impact it had on my life (my anxiety levels improved dramatically!) and I was really quite hesitant to go back to it, especially Facebook which had become quite toxic to me. When I did return, I limited my profile and timeline and friends list significantly, making sure I only saw certain updates, and began using groups more effectively rather than simply scrolling my timeline. That all made a real difference to my experience of it, and it was all thanks to taking a break.
I think that’s where Lent is really powerful – by giving something up for 40 days you begin to see the impact that thing had on you. If it’s really challenging for you to give something up, then that thing has more control over you than it probably should have. “Everything in moderation” is a great phrase, but sometimes we have to step completely away from something to realise what we thought was moderation was in fact excessively impacting on our lives. We can then go back with a better mindset and create a better relationship with whatever it was, be it social media, certain foods, or bad habits.
4. Have you ever taken part in an Easter bonnet competition? ( If so post the picture for us all!)
No, I can’t say I have. I remember my mum making Easter Bonnets for the kids when she was a childminder, but I don’t think we ever made any. I’m not even 100% sure what it entails, to be quite honest with you. I’m off to Google Easter Bonnets now…
5. What is your favourite pancake topping?
Hmmm, the few times we had them growing up it was simply lemon and sugar. Then when I went to Russia at the end of my first year of uni and then again during my third year, I discovered a whole new appreciation for pancakes.
There were little kiosks at the end of many roads, where they made a HUGE pancake on a massive griddle pan (using what looked like a squeegee window cleaning thing to get an even coverage) and then they dolloped your topping in the middle and deftly folded it over itself several times until you got a lovely little square package. My favourite topping was always chocolate spread for those!
We also went round to tea at someone’s house once (we’d met her at a school event we’d been asked to speak at) and she brought out a massive stack of pancakes and various toppings for us to enjoy whilst we listened to music and she practised her English with us. Another time we went to a school event with younger kids, and the mums had brought various snacks, including pancakes, for us to enjoy. Seriously, pancakes work for any occasion!
Tonight I’ll be making a big stack of pancakes and TJ and I will enjoy some of them as savoury ones (with cheese, ham, salami etc) and some as sweet desserts (with fruit, jam, and lemon and sugar). I have always preferred savoury over sweet whereas TJ has a sweet tooth, so making a mix works really well for us. Little Man does not like pancakes, so he’ll be having fishfingers and chips haha
I’d like to point out that my husband managed to convince himself that last Tuesday was pancake day, even waking me up with the pancake song! And in my half-awake state I agreed to making pancakes that evening. So we’ve already had a trial run, because I didn’t work out until afterwards that he’d got the wrong week haha
6. How do you celebrate Easter Day?
Honestly, we don’t have a specific way of doing this. As a child it really wasn’t a big deal for us. Even though we were off school for the holidays, all I really remember is that it was usually my Grandma’s birthday and that mine was coming up too. We didn’t even have Easter eggs – my mum preferred to buy us a bar of chocolate and give us a few squares each day through the holiday.
Last year was the first time I went to church on Easter Sunday for a long time (perhaps even only the second time ever, I can’t quite remember). It was a really lovely service, we were all given a daffodil to take to the front and add to the display around a cross, and the Minister made it really accessible to even the youngest people there. So we shall be going to church again this Easter Sunday too.
We’ll probably also do some kind of roast dinner, because we don’t eat meat very often and it’s nice to make it a real treat. Then we may take a walk in the local park to get out and celebrate Spring too – new life!
7. What is your favourite Easter food?
I don’t really have any foods I associate with Easter. My dad played football every Sunday until he turned 40, and so he didn’t really want a big roast dinner at the weekend. We used to have our roast dinner in the middle of the week, so it was rare we’d have anything special on Easter Sunday. I think we might have gone to my Grandma’s once or twice, but I think that was when Easter fell on her birthday more than just an Easter celebration.
I can’t even say chocolate is my favourite Easter food, because I’ve always had to limit my intake of it. During my teens I didn’t touch chocolate for several years, as we weren’t sure whether it was contributing to my migraines. And even though I eat it now, it still affects me if I eat more than a small bar a day (sometimes even that affects me). I think maybe I need to create a new food tradition for our family…
8. What would you encourage others to think about during Easter time?
I think, for me, it is all about hope – even after the darkest days of our lives there can still be the most beautiful and transforming light that shines upon us. Whether you understand that in the Christian story of the Resurrection, or in a more secular view of Spring coming after the harsh Winter months, I think that message of hope is something we all need, now more than ever.
9. What activities do you take part in during Holy Week?
Actually, I once went with my friend (whose parents are Salvation Army Officers) on the Good Friday Walk of Witness, where various churches come together and walk down the High Street to the Cenotaph together. We randomly bumped into my Grandma there and so she and two of her church friends took me and my friend for dinner at the local hotel, which sticks in my mind as a really beautiful day of “togetherness”.
But other than that I really haven’t done anything during Holy Week. Maybe Little Man and I will take part in the Good Friday Walk of Witness this year…
10. Who else would you like to nominate to take part in the Easter Tag?
Okay, so I’m going to tag my friend Rachel, from Life Story, who is the only other mum with a young child at our church. We have some really fascinating chats about Christianity and faith, however I know that this may not fit on her website. So you’re not obliged to take part, Rachel!!
I’d also like to tag Lizzie Somerset, who I’ve come to know better this past year through a couple of Facebook Groups and the Share The Joy linky. It will be good to read your answers to these, Lizzie!
Finally, I’m going to tag Peter from Inspired By Faith, who to be honest would probably have taken part without the tag as I know he writes regularly about his faith. However Peter had a wonderful conversation with me when I first joined the Christian Bloggers UK Facebook Group and I’d love to read his answers to these questions!
And if I haven’t tagged you but you still want to take part, please do feel free to simply do so! All you have to do is copy and paste the questions below into your own blog post, and then share it with others. Have fun!
1. How are you celebrating Lent this year?
2. What does Lent mean for you?
3. What things have you given up for Lent in the past, and did you succeed or fail?
4. Have you ever taken part in an Easter bonnet competition? ( If so post the picture for us all!)
5. What is your favourite pancake topping?
6. How do you celebrate Easter Day?
7. What is your favourite Easter food?
8. What would you encourage others to think about during Easter time?
9. What activities do you take part in during Holy Week?
10. Who else would you like to nominate to take part in the Easter Tag?
Please note: there is an affiliate link in this post – if you click on the link to Amazon and purchase Karen Armstrong’s book, I will receive money for this.
I hadn’t planned a post for today, but having just returned from a truly thought-provoking church service, I felt the need to sit down and share what is in my heart right now. You see, the visiting Minister who took the service today talked a lot about how difficult we often find it to share our faith with others. And for me this remains one of the biggest challenges I face in my own journey of faith.
For many, many years I didn’t even think I could fit into a church community. Ever since I first discovered the basic tenets held by most Christian churches, I realised that I simply could not accept some of them. I certainly couldn’t affirm a belief in the general understanding of the Trinity or the explanation for Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. In fact, you’d be forgiven for thinking that rejecting these basic principles meant that I couldn’t define myself as a Christian in any way. I believed that for a long time too.
But no matter how much I rallied against these ideas, I still felt drawn towards Christianity in ways I can only describe as God drawing me back to it time and again. I explored other faith traditions, and doing so helped to form the idea in my mind that there really is more than connects us than divides us in life. Yet no matter how many other paths I explored, I always came back to this desire to be part of the church community.
When I first discovered the writings of Progressive Christian scholars such as Marcus Borg, I was thrilled to realise that questioning the general principles affirmed within the church didn’t automatically exclude me from being a Christian. I began to realise that even though I might not interpret the Bible in the same way as others, I could still turn to it for inspiration and guidance. And whilst I may not always agree with certain ideas, Christianity is far bigger than any one single person, church, or denomination.
Which is how I found myself regularly attending our local Methodist Church, because I finally felt like I could fit in. That’s not to say it is always easy. Despite the fact that I go to church most Sundays, I still feel more like a visitor than an active part of the church family. This has nothing to do with the congregation, who are wonderfully welcoming, it’s just that when you’re still trying to figure out how you fit in to the church, it can be very difficult to know how to do so.
For instance, Little Man has watched several children be baptised in the church and has expressed an interest in being baptised himself. Now, part of me knows he just wants to have a special day, and hasn’t thought that much about what it signifies (he is only 5, after all). But the reason I hesitate is not because of his lack of understanding, but rather my uncertainty over whether it is right for us to do so.
I have never been baptised and so if I choose to baptise him, I’d like to be baptised myself at the same time. But should we really do this when I know that I still haven’t figured out quite how I feel about and understand that part of Christianity. I wrote about how and why I was teaching Little Man about the Easter Story from a Progressive Christian point of view last year, and for the most part I am comfortable in the way we are exploring the Christian faith together. But there seems, to me at least, a big difference between our personal exploration of Christianity and a more public affirmation of our faith, such as baptism.
You may be wondering why this is such a big deal to me. We go to church, and our church is very welcoming and allows us to take part in communion whenever it is held, even though neither of us has been baptised. So in essence, it doesn’t stop us from being part of the church family. And yet, there is a part of me that feels like we still sit on the edges, looking in rather than being an active part of the church. And that bothers me.
I know that most of this is my own hesitancy rather than anything the church is or isn’t doing to help me feel more welcome. But it does make me wonder why this is so hard, and just how many more people feel the same way that I do. The Minister today asked a similar question – how many people come so close and yet do not take that first step to enter into our community, because it feels unapproachable to them? Are we doing enough to share our faith with others and show them how welcome they would be to join us?
One of the things I love most about the church I attend is that I can see signs of this happening. There is a notice on the inside of the church which says something along the lines of, “it’s not our role to bring people to church, it’s our role to bring people to Jesus”. This speaks to me so strongly, because it reflects the ideas within Progressive Christianity that focus on building communities where there are many ways to experience and understand the Divine, and that it’s important that we, “accept all who wish to share companionship without insisting on conformity”.
And yet even with these signs in my own church, I still feel so hesitant to speak up, share my heart with others, and become a truly active member of the church. I still fear what will happen if I do. But I promised myself that 2017 would be a year of courage, and so it’s time for me to dig deep and find the strength to do so. Our Minister this morning called us to do just that – she phrased it as “God has thrown down the gauntlet”, and I love the image that evokes.
She reminded us that God challenges us sometimes, and though we may try to resist, it’s what we have been called to do. For me the message is loud and strong – I’ve been gifted with the ability to communicate and connect with others in such a way that my entire life has focused on these key skills. And yet in this one area I resist it so strongly, for fear of what it might entail. “Who am I to do or say these things when I don’t even know quite where I fit in yet?” I ask myself. Well, actually, who am I not to?
The truth is, I probably have far more in common with those who are hesitant about attending church than many other church-goers. I know what it’s like to come in as an outsider, someone new to the faith, with questions and doubts that I think may exclude me from the community. I also know what it’s like to walk a path between multiple faiths, drawing inspiration from other religious traditions as well as Christianity. And if that wasn’t enough, I also have such a passion for exploring faith and making it more accessible for others.
Which is why I felt I had to write a post today, after the message at church was so strong this morning. I needed to express what it’s like to attend church when you feel like you don’t quite belong, because it’s often a confusing place to be. And I wanted to challenge myself to step out of my comfort zone this year and truly try to find my place within the church as a Progressive Christian. Because finally I feel able to say that – I am a Christian, even though I reject some of the more common understandings of what this means.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this – do you define the “type” of Christian you are, or just that you are Christian? How do you define what it means to be a Christian? Is it even possible to define it, or is it too complicated for words?
Don’t forget I am always happy to provide a space on this blog for you to share your own thoughts and experiences. I feel a major part of my blogging journey is to help express the diverse unity that exists within our faith communities, as well as society as a whole. So please, feel free to share your thoughts with me on this (even if you disagree with everything I say!!)
I’m linking this post up with Share The Joy hosted by Lizzie Somerset, as it is a really special post to me and it gives me joy to know that I am finding the courage to put this kind of post “out there” in the hope of developing conversation with others who are passionate about talking about faith too, whatever that may look like for them.
I wasn’t sure what to call this post, because it’s quite a tough one to sum up in just a few words. For the past couple of years I’ve been regularly receiving gifts through the post with absolutely no idea who is sending them, nor whether they are all coming from the same person. So my husband and I have decided to call these Gifts from the Goddess.
Why from the Goddess? Well, because the vast majority of the gifts I have received have centred around earth-based spirituality, connecting with the Goddess, and honouring the feminine power within. The latter, in particular, is something I have needed for such a long time. Being a woman has not been easy for me – I’ve struggled so much with my hormones and health, that I have struggled to accept the wisdom, wonder, and power that is unique to the Sacred Feminine. So being reminded to open my heart to this has been quite incredible.
But even more than that, receiving these gifts has taught me a major lesson in allowing myself to receive freely and graciously, without the need to reciprocate immediately. Like many people, I find it far easier to give than to receive, and when I do receive I feel that I must express my gratitude clearly through both words (thank you) and action (paying it forward). Not being able to thank my anonymous gifter has been quite a challenge for me, as I have worried I might appear to be ungrateful.
But gradually a shift in consciousness is happening, one that is teaching me that gratitude comes in all kinds of ways. Whoever is sending these gifts wants me to accept them freely, without the need to attribute them to an individual sender. There is true magic in not knowing where a gift has come from, and being able to thank the Goddess herself (or God, or the Universe, or the Angels, or whoever or whatever you choose to attribute such gifts to). The greatest gratitude I could show is by embracing these gifts, accepting the blessing, and letting go of the negative or ego-based mindset that whispers, “you’re not worthy of this”.
So that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to embrace these gifts from the Goddess fully and completely, and use them on my journey of courage throughout 2017 and beyond. I am going to accept her gifts and reach deep within to find and celebrate the Sacred Feminine. And I’m going to share what I find along the way with you all, starting today with this very post. Let me share with you all the gifts I have received…
In January 2015 I received the first of many packages that would fill my heart with so much joy. It included a fascinating novel called The Serpent’s Tale, a Goddess colouring book by Tiana, and the Earth Pathways Diary for that year. This first package completely threw me, and for a few moments I truly wondered whether I had mistakenly received a gift meant for someone else. But a quick read of the message in the card showed me that it was definitely sent for me…
You see, I had previously written a post about my goals for 2015, which included things like praying more, being more mindful, worrying less, and reading more! I had also written about how awful 2014 had been, how I felt broken, and how I had chosen to simply Surrender in 2015. Whoever had sent this parcel knew me and knew what was going on in both my life and my heart.
What they couldn’t have known, though, was that this package would arrive on the very same day I received news that I was facing redundancy. On a day that essentially decided the path I would take in 2015 I also received a beautiful gift of support for the days ahead. If I’d ever doubted the beauty and synchronicity in life, this package showed me it in very real ways. My heart was flying with love and joy and gratitude that day, and I felt like the luckiest girl in the world. I mean, how often do you receive an anonymous gift like this?
Then in 2016 I started receiving copies of this absolutely gorgeous magazine, and I couldn’t believe that I was being blessed once again in this way. For a moment I really did wonder whether I had subscribed and forgotten about it, because I had seen the magazine during our trip to Glastonbury in October 2015 and it had really caught my eye – had I signed up and not realised?
Of course, a quick check of our bank account confirmed I hadn’t, and so here was yet another gift from my anonymous friend. Who could it be? They knew me so well, and they knew that we had relocated and lived at a new address. And once again these gifts began arriving at a truly perfect time for me. I had been becoming increasingly unwell and had been trying to nurture myself through one-to-one sessions and a focus on self-care. What better way to remind me to look within to the Power of the Sacred Feminine and remember that all was well, even if it felt like things were beginning to fall apart?
And then came this gift – a second copy of the Earth Pathways Diary, this time for 2017. I received this one in September 2016, 3 months into my sick leave from work as I faced more and more referrals to different specialists in the hope of figuring out what was wrong with me. It was a beautiful and timely reminder that even when we feel unable to plan for the future because it is so unknown to us, we can still have dreams and look forward to what is to come. This package arrived a couple of weeks following this post, focusing on allowing yourself to not be okay for a while, and felt like yet another nod from the Goddess, saying, “yes, that’s it!”
Receiving so many gifts in quick succession was such an amazing comfort for me in a time when I was feeling so utterly useless in so many ways. I had become so ill I could no longer do even the simplest of things, and I had begun to question everything. These gifts helped me to dig deep within my faith, to find the lessons within, and they supported me in a deep spiritual transformation in which I found my way back to God/Goddess, and realised that this journey I am on is so incredibly sacred, even within the most mundane of moments.
Which brings me to today. and yet another timely gift from the Goddess…
This beautifully wrapped package from Goddess Temple Gifts in Glastonbury arrived yesterday, at the end of a deeply challenging week. I had entered 2017 with so much hope and passion for delving deep within, to nurture myself on every level (spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical). I had been making time every day for meditation, kundalini yoga, affirmations, reading… you name it, I’d been making space for it. I even shared how passionate I was in a rather impromptu and amusing Facebook Live on Thursday. And I really felt like I was getting somewhere at last…
But then Friday morning I woke up feeling incredibly sick, and wanted to just lay in bed all day and refuse to move. Unfortunately that wasn’t an option, as I had a hospital appointment with the Endocrinologist. Thanks to confusion over the clinic number I was supposed to attend, and then being sent for a multitude of blood tests which meant waiting in a busy clinic for 2 hours, I ended up the day feeling completely wiped out. What followed was a whole week of feeling absolutely beaten to my core, along with another trip to the hospital for more specific testing due to low cortisol levels.
I felt all my intentions falling away, all my hopes slipping out of my grasp, as I struggled simply to drag myself out of bed and look after myself and my son during a nasty virus that knocked me to my core. I have honestly never been so scared as I was on Tuesday, when I struggled to even sit in bed beside Little Man. I just could not get out of that place of fear and it broke my heart. So to receive this gift on Friday, as I awaited the results of these extra tests, reminded me that there is always hope, always a way forward, and always someone watching over you.
The Goddess is with us in every single moment. She is there in the dark as well as in the light. She is there when we fall to the lowest lows, and soars with us to the highest of highs. She embraces us when we feel lost and alone, she is the eternal mother nurturing our souls, and the wise woman who has been here so many times, in so many ways. And she is the maiden, excited at all that lays before us. She is someone I wish to know more, and so I am truly grateful for this latest set of gifts that focus so clearly on who she is and what she has to give. For she has been walking alongside me all these years, just waiting for me to hear her call.
Here’s to the Goddess and the gifts that she brings. And here’s to those special souls who walk this path with us, sending us gifts in so many ways, whether they are physical items, whispered prayers, or gentle hugs when we meet. We are so blessed.
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Today I want to share with you what I have chosen to be my focus keyword for the year ahead. Choosing a word for the year can be a lovely alternative (or accompaniment) to the more traditional New Year’s Resolution, and it’s something I have personally done for several years now. And as I look back I can see how the word I have chosen each year has helped me to focus on what is most important to me at each stage of my life.
But more than this, it has also provided me with a lens through which to understand and reflect upon the things that have happened in my life. It helps me put things into a new context, rather than simply thinking, “why me?” or “will this never end?” when things get tough. And it also helps me to set goals and focus on developing new skills and habits which help me reach those goals too. I no longer aimlessly wander through life, because my focus keyword gives me a purpose.
Which is why I am so thrilled that this year’s Word of the Year is a big one, that will challenge me to step out of my comfort zone (which isn’t always that comfortable, I might add!) and make real, lasting change in my life. Are you ready for it? Here it comes…
That’s right, COURAGE is my word for 2017. As has been the pattern over the past couple of years, this word actually just popped into my head (and my heart) rather than being something I consciously thought about whilst trying to choose a word. Which is why I love the above quote so much, because just as Lucy felt sure the voice whispering to her was Aslan’s, I also feel sure that these words are being whispered to me from the Divine.
It all started at the end of 2014, when I was in a truly awful place and I felt like I had been broken beyond measure. In a moment of prayer I heard the word “Surrender” and that became my word for 2015. It was a very apt word indeed, as I faced redundancy, relocation, and the beginning of a deterioration in my health. The latter led me to choosing the word “Healing” for 2016 and, as I wrote in my previous post, I have done so much healing in ways I could never have imagined this year, despite being very sick for most of it.
Which leads me to where I am right now, looking towards the future with hope that the uncertainty and challenges I have faced over the previous few years will finally begin to settle somewhat. Had I tried to choose a word for myself, I’d have most likely opted for something like “peace”, “stability”, or “security”. But those are only a part of the equation, I cannot even begin to get there without the courage to walk forward, one step at a time. Which is why I know this word is a message for me, guiding me into the unknown with hope and certainty that if I do so with courage, things will start to happen.
But what does this actually mean? What does walking forward with courage look like? I cannot help but hear the Cowardly Lion’s speech in the Wizard of Oz, when he lists all the different ways he sees courage in the world:
Lion: What makes a King out of a slave? Courage. What makes the flag on the mast to wave? Courage. What makes the elephant charge his tusk in the misty mist or the dusky dusk? What makes the muskrat guard his musk? Courage. What makes the Sphinx the 7th Wonder? Courage. What makes the dawn come up like THUNDER?! Courage. What makes the Hottentot so hot? What puts the “ape” in apricot? Whatta they got that I ain’t got?
When I remember his speech I am always reminded that courage isn’t as simple as “being brave”. Courage is what makes us who we are, and it’s what drives us to do what feels right to us, no matter how hard that may be. It’s what keeps us going when things get tough, and it’s what allows us to admit defeat when we need to. There isn’t a one sized fits all approach to courage, and often the most courageous things we’ll ever do are those which make us feel the most scared and small.
But though we may feel afraid, it is the act of following our heart and doing what feels right that brings us the courage to change our entire life. And for me this is the aspect of courage I want to focus on this year. In 2015 I began to learn how to surrender to God and his plan for me. In 2016 I began to learn what it means to heal at the deepest, darkest level of my soul. And in 2017 I hope to learn how to step forward with courage, to embrace the unknown, trusting that I will find the path I am meant to tread, and doing things which I have fought out of fear for so very long.
For me this means following all of the above. It means saying “yes” to new opportunities that terrify me, because to do so I have to believe in myself and my abilities. It also means saying “no” to things, even things I would love to do, because I cannot do it all. And that, my friends, takes a lot of courage for someone who has long defined herself by what she can do and achieve!
It’s about making myself a priority, so that I not only carve out time for myself every single day but I actually make it a sacred promise to myself to do so, no matter how crazily busy my day may seem. And it means allowing myself to have big dreams, even when they feel a million miles away. Because by finding my tribe, asking for help, and forgiving myself, I will pave the way towards those dreams in ways I could never do alone with only my fearful inner voice pulling me down.
Yes, courage feels like the perfect word for me this year, and I know I have already placed the foundation stones on which to build my future. I’ve been blessed by some truly wonderful friendships this past year, which have helped me delve into my heart to find the courage hidden so deep inside. My tribe has helped me dream big, plan for the future, and surround myself with resources to make this my best year yet. And I wish for nothing more than the same support and encouragement to find you too.
So, here’s my invitation to you – follow me on instagram or Facebook as these both offer me the opportunity to connect with others on a much more regular basis than I can here on the blog. Let’s build a community to support each other through the coming year, one in which there is more emphasis on being kind to ourselves and following our own paths than trying to keep up with the rest of the crowd.
And, if you want some help choosing a word for your year, do check out my friend and mentor, Michelle Reeves, who has created a special coaching package specifically for making 2017 your best year yet!
I’m linking up with Share The Joy, hosted by Lizzie Somerset (on behalf of Michelle Reeves) because this post has filled me with such joy and enthusiasm for 2017!
Today is the Midwinter Solstice, the shortest day of the year and the turning point at which we start the slow journey back towards the long days of summer. And as has become my custom over the past few years, I am taking some time out today to reflect on all that has happened over the past 12 months and what I hope to achieve in the coming year.
I find the Midwinter Solstice really symbolic in helping me remember that nothing ever lasts forever, and brighter days are always ahead. The past few years have felt like a never-ending battle, with ever more challenging situations developing despite my determination to keep going, and keep growing. Over time I have found my strength and resilience waning, both physically and emotionally, to the point where it feels like things will never change. And yet I only have to look at nature to realise that this isn’t so. Right now the trees are bare and the skies are grey, and yet I trust that Spring will come again, it always does.
When I apply this same reasoning to my own life I begin to see that even the most traumatic times in my life have come to an end at some point – my dark nights of the soul never last forever, even when I fear they might. So, when I look back on my Solstice Reflections from the past two years, I could easily conclude that yet another year has gone by and I’m still sick, still poor, still suffering. But the reality is not quite that simple.
My 2014 Solstice Reflections came during a truly traumatic time for me, when I really couldn’t see any way out of the situation I had found myself in. And yet I did, and the next year started off really well. Unfortunately by the time I reached December my Solstice Musings for 2015 seemed to find me back at square one, with another Christmas spent struggling physically.
However I was in a better place emotionally and spiritually than I had been just 12 months before, and so I was able to see that instead of going in a circle I was actually following a spiral dance, coming around to a similar spot but always just a little bit further on. The same can be said for this year too, and I am so very grateful to this blog for giving me a very tangible record of where I’ve been so that I can reflect just on how far I have come.
You see, my focus word for 2016 was “Healing”. I was determined to make sure I did everything I could to help my body heal after several unbelievably stressful years that had taken a real toll on my physical health. I started with healthier eating, regular yoga sessions, and a desire to look after my emotional health by limiting the pressures I put upon myself (which included over 3 months away from Facebook and 5 months away from this blog!) But despite all my best efforts, I ended up more physically sick than I have ever been in my life, which felt like the furthest thing away from healing as possible!
And yet, despite being so physically ill that I couldn’t even get out of bed or think straight at times, I began to realise that I have still been doing a huge amount of healing work. No longer could I ignore my body’s cries for help, I had no choice but to stop and listen. Even more importantly, I could no longer try to pretend that all was well and I could fix things by doing the same old stuff I’d always done. I had to learn to trust in something greater than myself, and accept that there was no quick fix to all of this.
Healing takes time, especially when you’ve put everyone and everything before yourself at the expense of your own well-being for far too long. You have to learn to live in an entirely different way, to accept a slower pace of life, and trust that your world will not fall apart just because you say no to things (even things you’d love to do).
Which brings me to where I am today, on the longest night of the year. Once again I am struck by the deeply symbolic nature of the Midwinter Solstice and its celebration of the return of the light through the darkness. This year has been a dark one in many ways for me, and I am ending 2016 without a firm diagnosis for why I have been so ill, despite countless appointments with numerous specialists throughout the year. But within that darkness there has been so much light for me to find, and I truly do feel as if I am firmly on a healing path, making progress step by step on this glorious spiral dance we call life.
I’ll be back again before the end of the year to share with you the word I have chosen for 2017, I’m so excited about this one! But for now I want to simply wish you all a very Merry Solstice and a Happy Christmas too.
Linking up with #ShareYourYear hosted by Belle du Brighton, as this post sums up the past year for me very nicely. Pop over to the linky to find out what other bloggers have been up to this year – it’s a great way to get a snapshot of bloggers’ highlights (and find new blogs to follow!)
21st December marks the Midwinter Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere. This is the shortest day of the year, and falls right in the crazy run up to other major holidays such as Christmas and Hannukah. As such, it is understandable that it gets overlooked and forgotten about!
But if we can take a moment to mark this point in the Wheel of the Year, we will be reminded that life continues in cycles as the seasons pass and that nothing lasts forever. During the cold and dreary months of Winter, it can be truly uplifting to realise that the hardest point (the longest night) has now passed and we are on our way to brighter, warmer days once more.
So whilst I know you’re probably super busy right now (I know I am!) I do hope that you’ll find some time to stop and reflect on the Midwinter Solstice this year.
The absolutely wonderful thing about the Midwinter Solstice is that a lot of the things we traditionally do at this time of year to celebrate Christmas work just as well for Solstice Celebrations too. So you really don’t have to go out of your way to mark this occasion, nor do you need to worry about it interfering in any way with the “reason for the season”, whatever that may be for you.
Each one of the suggestions below would easily fit in with your festive plans, so I do hope you try at least one of them!
1. decorate the house
Okay, so you’ve probably already done this anyway, right? But how many of your decorations were bought in a shop and how many have you foraged for or made yourself? There’s absolutely nothing wrong with store bought decorations, they add so much colour and joy to our homes during this otherwise very dark month. But there is something very special about bringing a little bit of the outdoors inside, or using fruit and grains to make orange slices and gingerbread cookies that fill your house with such festive fragrances.
If you go for a walk, see if you can spot some holly or other greenery to bring indoors (remembering to ask permission if you need to cut it). Bringing nature indoors is such a time-honoured tradition, that connects us to nature at a time when we are usually so busy huddled up inside our houses that we rarely stop to just focus on the world around us.
And if you fancy baking cookies, why not see if you can source some locally ground flour or use a traditional recipe from your local area (ask your neighbours, church groups, schools, bakeries, and local library if they have any recipes to share). Using local ingredients or recipes passed down through the generations will help ground what you do, connecting you to the memories of all of those who have gone before you, as well as the promise of those who will come after you. You really do become a link in the chain that connects us to one another in all directions.
2. light a candle
This is an obvious one, I’m sure, but I often find the obvious things are the ones we tend to overlook, so it’s worth mentioning this activity here.
Lighting a candle is perhaps the single most symbolic way you can celebrate the light in the darkness, which is so important to us all. It is why we light candles in the Advent wreath, and it is why we string fairy lights on our tree and around our homes at this time of year.
We all like to be reminded of just how much of a difference that comforting glow makes to an otherwise dreary and miserable month, when the skies are grey and the nights so long. But why not make it extra special but choosing a specific candle (think about the colour and fragrance especially) to represent the hope and joy you wish to connect with on the Solstice. You could even say a wish or prayer, and imagine the candle flame burning brightly with the intent to make your wish come true!
3. make a manifestation collage
This is an excellent way of celebrating the hope and joy that the Winter Solstice brings with it. We have come through the increasingly darker days of Autumn and are now heading into the bitter Winter months feeling frazzled and worn. But we know we can make it, because from this point onwards the days will grow longer as the sun shines both warmer and\ brighter upon us. And that’s the perfect time to let go of the past and embrace the future.
I love making manifestation collages at this time of year, and enjoy cutting up images and words from various magazines to then stick on a large piece of card. I’ll then place it somewhere prominent so I can reflect on it throughout the coming year. It reminds me of all my hopes and dreams, and keeps me going when the going gets tough (as it inevitably does from time to time).
This is a great exercise for you to do yourself, but it’s also super easy and fun for your kids to do too (who doesn’t like cutting and sticking pictures of what they want in life?!) It also offers you a great chance to get to know what is on your children’s hearts right now, what they are hoping for in the coming year, and how you could help support them in that.
4. give food/shelter to others
We all love to celebrate with a bit of abundance at this time of year, right? But there’s no denying that it’s often a real struggle to make ends meet for so many of us, and for others it is impossible to even provide the essentials needed to survive these cold, Winter months.
As much as we’d like to think that we are no longer at the whim of the elements as our ancestors were, when a good harvest could make the difference between life and death for many, we still struggle with poverty and homelessness. The use of Food Banks is constantly on the rise, and the number of families living below the poverty line is shocking. Add to that the increasing number of people recently described as “JAMS” (just about managing), who are just one paycheck away from losing their home or having no food on the table, and we begin to see just how stark the reality is.
So, at a time when we are all splashing out on good food and drink and celebrations of friendship and family, it only takes a little bit extra to make a real difference to someone else. Donate to a Food Bank or shelter, send toys to the local children’s ward, of buy that homeless guy you pass every day a hot drink and some lunch, to help him get through another day. It’s so easy for our kids to be completely oblivious to the struggle that so many face, and yet my experience is that kids can be the most generous and loving of us all. So let them make a difference too – it is the season for giving, after all.
5. go for a moonlit walk
What better way to focus on the darkest night of the year than to go for a moonlit walk. Even if it’s cloudy and you can’t see the moon or stars, take your kids for a walk in the dark anyway. There’s something really magical about doing that as a child, as it’s something you rarely get to do when you’re young. It feels much later in the day than it is, they get to see the Christmas lights along the streets, and then you get to come home for a nice hot drink before bed. Ahhh, bliss!
want to know more about the winter solstice?
I haven’t written a huge deal about the history and traditions surrounding the Midwinter Solstice, or the modern Pagan celebration of Yule. This is because I know December is such a busy month for many of us and I wanted to keep this post super simple. However if you’d like to find out more, you may find the following sites helpful:
The White Goddess has a wonderful page explaining the origins of Yule. It also includes a recipe for Yule Wassail, and a ritual for celebrating this Sabbat.
The Goddess and the Green Man also have a great page dedicated to Yule. There is so much information on this page that it is hard to provide an overview – just check it out!
Most of us know the Nativity Story, right? Even if you’ve not been raised in a Christian family, chances are you know the basic storyline, thanks to Nativity plays at school, Christmas carols on the radio, and cultural references to it in both literature and on tv. The same will be true for our children; even if we don’t actively seek to introduce them to the Nativity Story at home, they will come across it in other ways.
Which is why I think it’s a really lovely idea to actually sit down once in a while and explore it all in more detail. Doing so often helps us to gain new insight and a whole new perspective on things, and can be really beneficial in helping us figure out what it is we actually believe and how that impacts on our lives. Obviously how we do this will depend on our individual age and background, but I hope the following will help you begin your own journey of exploration of the Nativity Story.
Understanding the nativity story
What would you say if someone asked you to tell them the Nativity Story? I’m guessing it would be something similar to this…
Mary and Joseph travelled to Bethlehem and, because there was no room in the inn, Jesus was born in a stable. Angels appeared on the hill-tops and proclaimed the birth to the Shepherds. And three Wise Men travelled from afar, following a bright new shining star.
It’s no surprise that our retelling of the Nativity follows this same pattern of events, as that is what we hear about every single Christmas. But did you know that no single Gospel account of the birth of Christ includes all of the above aspects?
The vast majority of it comes from Luke, whose account of Jesus’ birth is by far the longest and most detailed. His account includes the census, the stable, and the shepherds and the angels. However it has no mention of Wise Men, who only appear in Matthew’s Gospel. However Matthew’s version of events is much shorter and less detailed, appearing to race through the birth in comparison. There is also a marked difference in who the Angel appears to during the pregnancy – in Luke’s version the Angel appears to Mary, but in Matthew’s the Angel appears to Joseph, encouraging him to support Mary.
Then, of course, there are the two other Gospel accounts of Mark and John. Neither of these even mention the Nativity! Mark’s Gospel begins with John the Baptist proclaiming the coming of Christ, and John’s is entirely different, with far more spiritual leanings as he writes about “The Word made flesh”.
So what does this all mean in terms of how we understand the Nativity Story and the truth we find within it? Does it mean that the typical story we hear year after year, bringing the two accounts of Luke and Matthew together as if they are one single narrative, is false? No, I don’t think it means that at all!
We must remember that each of the Gospel writers were telling their version of events in a very specific time and culture, which means they were also writing it for a very specific audience. Just because they adapted it to express a deep truth in a way that those who read it would understand, doesn’t make it wrong. Just think about how often we ourselves adapt what we say depending on who we are talking to – you wouldn’t expect a young child to understand with the same level of experience as that of an adult, would you?
I am reminded here of the Bible Study I went to this week in which we discussed this very thing, and I wish to share two quotations from it with you…
I found these quotations so refreshing, as they reminded me that it’s not only okay to reinterpret the Bible in a way that means something to you, you are actually encouraged to do so. And how you do that will depend entirely on your individual and family culture.
Obviously, such deep theological ideas are not the easiest of topics for young children to grasp (hey, I struggle with them myself!!) Which is why it is probably far more useful for you and your family to explore the Nativity Story in some other way. Here are some ideas that you could adapt to suit you and your family:
Re-enact scenes from the Nativity
Role playing is a great way to step into someone else’s shoes. Why not ask your kids how they think the various people felt, or why they think some events happened as they did. Questions could include:
Do you think Mary felt happy or scared?
What do you think Joseph thought about it all?
Would you like to meet an Angel?
Why do you think the inn-keeper offered room in the stable?
What gifts would you have brought if you were one of the Wise Men?
Make your own Nativity Scene
Get creative and find ways to make your very own Nativity Scene, so that it reflects your own ideas about it. How you do this will depend on whether you have a particular interest in a certain craft, and the age of your kids. Younger kids may enjoy simply drawing it on some paper, or colouring in cut-out figures. Older kids may enjoy learning a new skill such as knitting or embroidery. Make it your own and then treasure it for years to come.
Write your own Nativity Story
Older kids may enjoy looking at the various different versions there are available and then thinking about how they would retell the story to someone who didn’t know it. Would they write it like a fairytale, starting with “Once Upon a Time”, or would they want to embed it in history like those Gospel accounts that start with the ancestral lineage of Jesus? And what style would they use – prose, poetry, music? Have fun with this one and have a go yourself, it may be fun to compare stories with each other!
There are so many resources available to help you explore the Nativity Story, in whichever way you wish. A quick Google will get you started, although it may also be a bit overwhelming too! With this in mind I have collected a few of my favourite resources together over on Pinterest. You can find it at bit.ly/SKNNativity
I hope you have enjoyed this blog post. Please do let us know by leaving a comment, we’d love to hear from you!