Friday, 31 July 2015

Vicar's Study - Landmarks by Margaret Silf

Have you ever wished that in life you had been given a manual? Or perhaps, to keep up with the times, an internal Sat Nav! Someone or something to tell you 'Go this way' or 'Stop here'. Someone to tell you when you need to make a shift or when you need to just stay in lane. Wouldn't life be so much easier if we made our arrival into the world with a set of instructions for getting the best out of things!

One of my favourite books, that I always find myself going back to, explores just this idea. Landmarks by Margaret Silf  is like a guide to making your own guide for life, it is a way of digging down into your own personal route map. A way of looking back at where you have been, looking honestly at where you are now and setting a course for the future.
I started reading the book when I will thinking about a gigantic change in my life and hesitating over whether to put myself forward for ordained ministry. More than anything at that time I really need to dig down in to what I was really about as a person, what made me tick, where on earth I was going.
It opens with a depiction of what it means to be a person which made so much sense to me that I find it often pops up again when I am thinking about my life. Here is a little diagram from the book:
What really struck me about this was that we spend so much time trying to change our life by changing the outer 'where' circle. You know the way - 'If only I had this new job then I would be different, feel different' or 'If only I had this new relationship, or got out of this old one, then I would be happy'. So often though, when you move, you find that unfortunately you have followed yourself to this new location and set of circumstances and it feels quickly just the same as the old ones.

That is of course not to say that changing things in life is always meaningless or pointless, I am currently reaping the benefits of a massive lifestyle change that reading Landmarks spurred me on to, but rather that we need to understand that real change occurs at the 'Who' level at the base of who we really are. Only attending to our real selves will make the difference that we crave. Only knowing our deepest desires, and understanding them, will we be able to make the good choices for our lives that really move us on towards having the things in life we crave.

Landmarks is eminently practical. Each chapter ends with ideas for reflection and it is very much take it or leave it as it appeals to you. It is based on a Christian meditative practice, the Ignatian method, but is broad and generous in its approach. It definitely takes as a given that there is a God factor in this whole thing but makes little presumption about how you might understand God so there is plenty of room to explore whether you consider yourself religious or really just not very sure!
Now I am in a new season I find myself going back to Landmarks again. Wondering, exploring and having another look at my own deep desires and internal route map. Even for an activist like me time spent reflecting in this way pays of in spades. If you pick up Landmarks do let me know what you think, and I hope it helps you a little on your way too.

30 Second Reflection - Music

'Beautiful music is the art of the prophets that can calm the soul; it is one of the most magnificent and delightful presents God has given us'
- Martin Luther

Thursday, 30 July 2015

30 Second Reflection - Courage

'Courage is when you know you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what'

- Harper Lee

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

30 Second Reflection - Happiness

'After all my research I found out what I knew all along. I could change my life without changing my life. when I made the effort to reach out for them, I found that the ruby slippers had been on my feet all along, the bluebird was singing outside my kitchen window'

Gretchen Rubin - The Happiness Project

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Vicar's Kitchen: Polpo – a Venetian Adventure

After extensive, and I mean extensive, consideration I can confidently say that my favourite food is Italian. There is little better than a pizza with a perfectly crispy base topped with gooey mozzarella, or a bowl of fresh pasta scattered liberally with parmesan. As you will have picked up from the last Vicar's Kitchen post I am also a big fan of tapas so you can imagine my joy at discovering the restaurant Polpo in London which I can best describe as an Italian tapas sensation.

The restaurant is well worth a visit if you are in the neighbourhood. Tucked at the back with a bottle of red and two tumblers amongst the rickety tables and simple linens is an absolute joy and well worth a trip. But if you happen to live further afield, fear not. Good old Polpo also have a cookbook. A whole new world of Italian masterpieces to try can come to you!

Polpo's founder Russell Norman drew his inspiration from one of the most surreal and spectacular places I have ever visited, Venice. The cookbook is beautifully laid out and full of pictures of this extraordinary city, its waterways and back street cafes whose food inspired the recipes in the book.
The concept of the book is based around sharing. There a little bites to start things off with, Cicheti, including my favourite of all mini-bites the mighty Crocchette. In the restaurant we had some delicious Salt Cod Crochette and the book has a recipe for a Parmesan and Potato version which looks amazing.

Another revelation of Polpo are the Pizetta, think little mini pizzas to share that are feathery light and with innovative toppings. We had topped with Prosciutto and Gorgonzola that was amazing. The book has several versions like Zucchini, Mint and Chilli and Pork and Pickled Pepper.
Meatballs are another speciality of the house and ours came on little toothpicks like the world's greatest lollipops! I can't wait to try making the Lamb and Pistachio ones in the cookbook. But the crowning glory of the whole experience was definitely the dessert, Nutella Pizetta and chocolate salami.
My Chocolate Salami
I immediately went home with plans to make my own chocolate salami which I made to a bit of a mash up of the Polpo and Nigella Lawson's recipe in Nigellissima. Nigella adds Amaretto to hers which I consider to be a stroke of genius, you can find here recipe here. It is totally messy to make and hugely decadent but absolutely brilliant fun.

My own little Venetian Adventure! 
So there we have it, a highly recommended assortment of Venetian cuisine from my kitchen to yours. Now where did I park my gondola?!

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Vicar's Craft Corner - The Story of a Stole

One of the many lovely things about ordination and the last few weeks and months (besides the fact that being ordained is BRILLIANT!) has been the wealth of crafting opportunities that have emerged. This time it hasn't been me doing the crafting but rather those who are infinitely more skilled than me but who have made me some truly beautiful things to mark the special occasion of the start of my Vicar-ing life.

The first of these was my stole. For those of you not into your church lingo a stole is the long scarf that a Vicar wears around their neck during services. The ordination stole is particularly special and so often people have something symbolic on it, what they hope for in this next phase or something that has been meaningful for them in their faith. My moment of inspiration for the design of mine came when I was in what remains as my favourite church that I have ever been in, the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona.

The inside of the Cathedral is extraordinary and nothing like what you would expect from the outside. I wonder if its design, being so inspired by the natural world, resonates particularly with those of a scientific persuasion as another scientist friend of mine thoroughly loved it too. But for me the sweeping pillars, like a great white forest, and the light pouring through vast rainbow coloured windows was awe inspiring. I felt completely at home there and like some deep reality of my faith, and who I experience God to be, was being reflected back at me in that great majestic building.

Around the altar are four of those great forest like pillars topped with four symbols - an Ox, a Man, a Lion and an Eagle. The symbols are an ancient depiction of the four gospels, Luke, Matthew, Mark and John. They have also been understood as representations of the character of Jesus seen through the eyes of each gospel writer.
The four symbols at the top of the pillars around the altar

For Luke Jesus is the sturdy Ox on whom we can lay all of our burdens, for Matthew he is the Teacher bringing us new, transformative knowledge of God, for Mark he is the bounding Lion full of energy and power in his interactions with people and for John he is the soaring Eagle, taking us to new spiritual heights.

As soon as saw them I knew that they were perfect for my stole. Not only were they in this amazing building that totally resonated with me but also I couldn't think of anything more apt than to have these images of Jesus on the first stole I would ever wear. He is and was what inspired this whole thing after all. He is the source of all my confidence, all my faith.

I was very lucky that the Mum of a good friend of mine also happened to be a supremely skilled embroiderer who helps to restore beautiful old church garb for the cathedral at which I was being ordained. With her skill, some help from her friend with the design and that moment of inspiration we came up with this beautiful stole that I wore for my ordination on the 4th of July.

The detail is just extraordinarily beautiful.
The Ox for St Luke, which also happens to be the church I ended up being place at!
You can imagine my surprise and delight, then, when my sister in law presented me with an ordination gift that she had made for me also inspired by the Sagrada Familia. This stunning crocheted blanket took her two and a half months to make and is inspired by the gorgeous rainbow light of the Cathedral. I am completely in love with it and will treasure it for a long, long time.

And all this makes me so thankful for skilled people who bring such beautiful and inspiring things into being. What an amazing gift that really is.

Monday, 13 July 2015

Vicar's Kitchen: Tapas Hour

It is a year now since I was in Barcelona for a month working for a church over there. Lots has stuck from my trip and I look back on it as a very happy, happy time but one thing in particular that has gone the distance is the introduction of a summer time Tapas hour!

I absolutely loved this about life in Spain. Because people tend to eat later, after the worst of the days heat has begun to fade away, about five or six, when you get in from work, is the perfect time to have a few little plates of tapas and a nice glass of something.

In Barcelona this evening ritual was held on the balcony of our apartment from which I could see the sea and the church perched on the top of Mount Tibidabo. Here in good ol' Blighty it is held on my patio or in our dining room with all the doors open.

There isn't so much of a view, just our garden shed with tumbling ivy growing down over it and a few pots filled with lettuces that I'm growing but it is still pretty lovely with the birds chirping away and soaking up the last of the days heat.
A very special Barcelona view from our roof terrace

So if you fancy instituting Tapas hour in your house, here are a few tips!

1.Keep it simple

The best tapas dishes for Tapas hour, in my book, are the ones that come straight out of the fridge and require minimal preparation. A block of Manchego sliced into little strips (Tesco Finest does a really delicious and pretty inexpensive one), some chorizo chopped and briefly fried until it releases its orange juices and crisps a little and a pot of olives and sun dried tomatos. Grab some tooth pics, put your feet up and go to town!

2.Wash it down with something special
Part of the joy of Tapas hour is the chance to let the day go with a big 'ahhhhh!' To aid the relaxation process a lovely glass of something nice certainly helps. In Spain I often had a glass of Rioja, here I tend to have a bottle of Sherry in the fridge which I either have as it or as a Sherry Spritzer. To make a Sherry Spritzer pop some ice cubes in a glass with some lemon slices. Fill the glass a third full with sherry and top up with soda water. Lush.

3.Good company

One of the joys of Spanish life was the amount of time that people just happily sit. Nothing was rushed, lunches ran on for several hours, sitting and just staring off into the beautiful view was a completely acceptable, in fact highly recommended, past time. I love Tapas hour at home because it creates that same feeling. We both work odd and sometimes long hours so Tapas hour gives us a chance to touch base, catch up on the day or just enjoy the sunshine and quiet together.

So there we have it, Tapas hour from my house to yours. Enjoy! x

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Vicar's Sofa: Silence for the Very Chatty

Well, first things first, I am now ordained! Crikey, I hardly know what to do with myself (quite literally!) and there will be more on that to come I am sure but first I wanted to post a little something on the days leading up to ordination which involved a silent retreat. Yup, it was time for silence for the very, very chatty. Gulp.

As anyone who encountered me before the retreat will know I did a fair amount of humphing and grumphing (a technical term...!) about this before hand because, well, I find it pretty hard to sit down and shut up for any extended period time. Said like a true blogger eh?
Partly I was worried about spending the few days before a life changing event in silence because I tend to process things through talking. I hardly know what I think until I have got it out of my head and in to words and somehow the conversation helps me to know where I am at on things.

The gorgeous location and weather helped a great deal this time!
I've tried one silent retreat before and it was all wonderfully bizarre. I was the only person in the retreat house which reminded me intensely of the Beast's Castle in Beauty and the Beast. So much so that I expected the silverwaree to start speaking to me in a French accent by day two. As it was I would have been bloomin' grateful for that because being alone for that length of time was even harder than not speaking. I tried to befriend the housekeeper but even she wouldn't have me!

You can imagine my surprise, then, when I absolutely loved this silent retreat before ordination. From the moment we were told that we could no longer speak to one another I felt this great sense of relief. The weeks and month leading up to this crazy season of my life have been utterly frantic. I have met so many new people and made so many decisions that being locked in a room with books and having meals provided at regular intervals was utter bliss.

Here's a top retreat trip - gin in a can and a good book!

But what I really found was that it was wonderful to be alone with my own thoughts. I realised that from the moment I open my eyes in the morning to the moment I go to bed I so rarely have more than half an hour without interaction with someone else whether that is in person or online. It is not that this interaction is bad, just that it is alters you and changes your thoughts and feelings. Being on retreat I was able to sustain a series of my own thoughts for days without interruption. It was wonderful.

That, in itself, is enough to recommend seeking out some silence but for those of you more spiritually inclined it was also immensely good for my soul. I had a chance to think, really think, about my life, where I had been, where I was going and what all that meant to me.

I had a chance to listen and talk to God, who after all is the only one who has any real answers for me anyway. It turned out that the things I needed to hear where so ridiculously simple that I was almost amazed that I needed to hear them. Small but fundamental things like knowing that I am loved, that I am cared for, that this next stage of things is so firmly in God's hands that quite frankly I just need to chill the frick out.

I think it helped me to be retreating with other people, just their presence was lovely even if they weren't speaking, and regular little talks from the retreat leader broke up the days. When the silence ended I was bit gutted really and I sort of missed it somehow.

Now that I'm back in the real world (as real as it can possible be for me in this strange new role!) I really want to hold onto some of what I experienced, to take time out to just let my own thoughts run, to give myself a little time where no one, not even myself, is asking anything of me. Well, that's the plan anyway!