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A Wide Place on Birmingham New Mainline canal this morning

It’s been a joy to visit the Birmingham Mainline canal to run again this week. I’ve had some time off because I was too enthusiastic when I restarted last time and aggravated my plantar fasciistis. I am now *much* better informed about stretching and starting back after injury or any sort of break, and how rubbish runners should also pay attention to these things. Reminds me of the time I went for a run for the first time ever, many years ago. I didn’t stretch afterwards because I thought that was only for good runners. Couldn’t walk for days. And didn’t run again for about twenty five years.

I’m still listening on my headphones as I run. I’ve been connecting with my Church of England credentials of late and reading and/or listening to around five psalms daily, following the pattern set out in the Book of Common Prayer (here’s a pdf if you’d like to try it). I have subscribed to the excellent Dwell Scripture Listening app, which has some great readers, and includes the BCP Psalm reading plan (although they don’t mention that it is Cranmer’s one in the app). So I listen to Rosie, with her northern accent, reading the Psalms (nearly) every morning. You can set the app to repeat the reading, which has enabled me to meditate on the Psalms as I get to hear the daily selection at least three times on my short and slow runs.

This morning the whole reading was from Psalm 119 (the entire psalm takes 2½ days of the plan), and the phrase that caught my ear as I meditated was:

and I shall walk in a wide place,

for I have sought your precepts.

Psalm 119:46

I loved that reminder of the space that the Lord provides for his people when they seek him – and his laws. That feeling of freedom that comes when I know that I am following God’s way and not mine. As I run I feel freedom – the space and quiet of the canals in a noisy and busy part of creation. That verse from Psalm 119 spoke to me this morning of God’s generosity and kindness, when we can so easily think of him as placing restrictions and unnecessary boundaries on us. I walked and ran in a wide place this morning – with my slow and creaking body, and in my heart and soul.

I just tweeted about this recipe, but I thought it would be good to have a less ephemeral version of it too. This is my absolutely favourite thing to do with blackberries.

I can’t remember where I first found the recipe, and they don’t resemble the cobbler that is a big scone that goes on top of a casserole or pudding. The end result is actually a sort of chewy sweet yorkshire pudding.

The sweetness of the cobbler bit balances the sharpness of the blackberries so well. They are very easy to mix up and make, and tonight we ate them straight from the oven with extra thick double cream.

Ingredients

  • 200g caster sugar
  • 125g self raising flour
  • 250ml milk
  • 115g butter, melted
  • A 250ml cup of blackberries

Butter a 12 hole muffin tin (I find my standard metal one works best) and put the oven on at 180C. Melt the butter (I use the microwave on defrost, so it doesn’t splatter). Then mix the sugar, flour and milk to make a batter, and then the melted butter. Distribute the batter in the muffin tin – the holes will be almost full to the top. Then put the blackberries on the top of each cobbler – my blackberries were enough for 4 per cobbler.

Bake for 30 minutes, and then remove from the tin promptly. If you leave them in, they stick!

I managed to run today! It was so good to be back on the canal. The grumpy heron flew out of the tunnel as we passed by, avoiding the Vicarage Hound, who is usually rather too keen to say hello. Sometimes the heron squawks like a pteradactyl as we run into the darkness, but he was silent this morning.

Pretty short and VERY slow

A key factor for me in being able to learn to enjoy running was having good stuff to listen to, and headphones that don’t fall out of my ears. I now have a headband with built in headphones. It keeps my lockdown hair back AND provides the sounds to keep me going. When I tried running over the years I found my head without any input far too buzzy and distracting. Over the last few months I’ve listened to the Bible (most recently using the excellent Dwell app), and to an audiobook of a book I love, Liturgy of the Ordinary, but mostly I run to a Spotify playlist that I update every time I head out with my trainers on. I can’t run to music because it (literally) puts me off my stride, so I instead I listen to the Archbishop of Sydney reading Morning Prayer from the Book of Common Prayer and then a selection of podcasts.

I’ve missed my podcasts whilst I’ve not been running over the last few months. It’s been great to get back to them.

And here are three of my current favourite listens:

  • Speak Life has had a brilliant series of interviews recently, with Glen Scrivener talking to some experts on abuse within the church.
  • 5 Minutes in Church History is short, as the name suggests, but there are absolutely loads of these and Steve Nichols covers Christian history from the early church to very recent events.
  • Simply Put is another brief podcast. Barry Cooper explains complex theological ideas clearly and succintly.

What podcasts do you like to listen to?

Pacing

I’m still not back to running after my break over the past few months, but one thing I started to learn with regular running, was how to pace myself. My pace is woefully slow, but I had a rhythm that I could sustain. I can’t run to music as it literally puts me off my stride, so I always run to podcasts and Bible.

(Not me, she’s running too fast) Photo by Daniel Reche on Pexels.com

The daily pace of Vicarage life has changed this week – the boys went back to school on Monday, the Joker to mock A-levels (including an unexpected French exam today). The Engineer has, to his great joy, had his braces removed after about two years of metal mouthed discomfort. I have attended a couple of full days of Zoom meetings, with evening Zooms 3 nights out of 5, if you include tonight. The Vicar has been ministering, recording videos for school and parish, talking to people, attending Zoom school governor training and generally keeping himself busy.

So I’m going to make sure I pace myself. I said no to one Zoom option this week, and am hoping for a restful Day Off tomorrow. But as lockdown lifts, and things change and adjust, I’ll have to work on my pace. The best way to do that is to make sure I’m keeping things slow and steady, and listening to the right things, not putting myself off my stride.

How do you pace yourself?

Signs of Hope

Just in entrance to the Vicarage driveway, a couple of miniature daffodils have poked up and announced themselves.

I went to a school that had a great history of educating women, founded by a pioneer in that field. Every year, at the end of the Spring term, the school celebrates Founder’s Day.

The Founder’s favourite flower was the daffodil and every year since the 1880s (the school was founded in 1850), there has been a slightly ridiculous, but nevertheless much loved, daffodil parade on Founder’s Day. At the parade all the girls in the school present a daffodil at the front of the hall, where they are gathered up and later given away to care homes. In my day, there were careful rehearsals beforehand, at which staff attempted to keep order and direct some semblance of military precision into the ceremony.

Our school motto was ‘We Work in Hope’. So I always look at daffodils, those school flowers, as signs of hope, as they herald the Spring and remind me of the hope mentioned in that motto. So hope is being announced as we walk into the Vicarage drive this week.

And then we arrive at the front door, and find our lovely lion doorknocker, sitting over a heart and a ceramic bauble that also proclaims hope. It was a replacement for our Christmas wreath, a continuing sign to delivery people and any other brave lockdown visitor.

Hope has been hard to come by this last year. But our driveway and our front door proclaim it. We work in hope, we rejoice in hope.

Round this time last year I was reflecting on there being Too Much News. And today, with a budget, more virus and vaccine figures and a chocka email inbox, I was wondering what I should do about Everything.

And I was reminded of the lovely book I gave the Vicar for Christmas – Every Moment Holy.

It has a Liturgy for Those Flooded By Too Much Information.

I commend it to you.

But you, O Jesus, are not disquieted

by such news…

Give us discernment

to know when to pray,

when to speak out,

when to act,

and when to simply

shut off our screens

and our devices,

and to sit quietly

in your presence,

casting the burdens of this world

upon the strong shoulders

of the one who

alone

is able to bear them up.

Amen

What do you pray when you are overwhelmed?

An Old Hat Life

It’s been a struggle to write this blog, this Lent, this #lentowrimo. Last Lent the pandemic had only just started, lockdown was looming, and then began. There were things to speculate about – what was going to happen, how the world was going to cope. There were new things to negotiate – social distancing, online church, finding a source of flour, developing a sourdough starter, advanced baking, homeschool protocols.

This Lent, it’s all old and wearying. We’ve had more than enough of homeschool. We’re fed up of not hugging people. I’ve not made sourdough for months, despite having enormous bags of flour stashed away. It’s been winter for months and months, and I still have toothache.

I had things to talk about last year. But I’m struggling this time around. Life is mostly all old hat.

An Old Hat (Photo by Yulia Rozanova on Pexels.com)

The more interesting things I’m doing are non-bloggable, as often seems to happen in life. I don’t write about everything, you’ll be shocked and amazed to hear (not). One of the dangers of our online lives is the way we curate them. We only tell part of the story – to protect ourselves or to shield others, to present ourselves as we want to be seen. But as we’ve lived so much more of our lives online of late, I’ve seen more of that part telling going on. I’ve done it myself. I’m more than the sum of my blogging and my Twitter feed. I am truthful online. But I don’t tell everyone everything. It’s only a glimpse of Vicarage life. So there are other stories here, but I’m sorry to say that they are staying here.

So tonight’s post is just me saying nothing much, because there’s nothing much that I can say from my small quiet life online and in the Vicarage. Thank you for listening in to me saying almost nothing though. Maybe I’ll find something a bit new hat tomorrow.

Lockdown Timing

Yesterday was the Second Sunday in Lent. And ten minutes before our live in person Sunday service was meant to begin, the Joker appeared downstairs looking a bit peaky and announced that he’d been up all night coughing. Cue a small amount of scrambling…

We seem to have a thing for timing in this Vicarage. It was late on a Saturday that we all came down with a cough just at the beginning of the first lockdown. There was no testing then, so we isolated ourselves for a fortnight. And it was a bit of a panic (understatement) to get everything ready for the Sunday, as all our plans were extra complicated by being confined to the house. And here we are, heading towards the end (hopefully) of the third lockdown, and the Vicar had to send everyone home who’d already arrived at church and then come back to the Vicarage and record the service to upload it. Thankfully, we were able to get a test very quickly and the results came in the middle of the night – and they were negative, so we’re free again.

These unexpected interruptions are such a great reminder that we are not in charge. In fact ‘we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves’, as this week’s collect puts it. We’re thankful that we’ve been kept outwardly in our bodies from Covid19. And are praying to be kept inwardly in our souls too this coming week.

COLLECT FOR THE SECOND SUNDAY IN LENT

ALMIGHTY God,

who seest that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves:

Keep us both outwardly in our bodies, and inwardly in our souls;

that we may be defended from all adversities

which may happen to the body,

and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen.

Watching and Waiting

I took the Vicarage Hound out for his weekly race with his greyhound pal today. On the way home, I spotted this crow (I think, my bird identification skills are rather limited) peering down at us from the clock tower. He watched us for quite a while, presumably checking that the hound wasn’t going to run up the clock tower or find some other creative way to attack. What was he actually waiting for up there though? Did he have an appointment with someone? Was he expecting a bus or is he a fan of our trams?

It’s a good watchtower, up there. You can see up to the High Street, and down to the flats at the bottom of the parish. And you also have a view over to where the car racing happens, on the dual carriageway, past the stubby street that leads to the Metro. And at the moment, from that pillar, you could get a good view of the scaffolding round the church and the stonemasons at work, if you time it right.

What are you watching and waiting for? It feels like we’re all waiting at the moment – for kids to go back to school, for vaccination, for the end of lockdown, for this pandemic to subside, for life to go back to normal. But I need to turn my mind to better waiting, waiting with hope.

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning.

Psalm 130:5-6

Wandering and Wondering

We spent the Vicar’s Day Off over at the farm. Not one of the two farms in our local country park, but the real working farm that Song, our dear friend and lockdown bubble member, lives on. It’s mainly arable, but a shepherd leases some of the fields and we kept the Vicarage Hound VERY tightly on the lead when we climbed this hill, enjoying the dramatic Spring skies and views out to the Wrekin and Cannock Chase.

The sheep have very recently had their lambs and the mothers skittered about as we walked past, the lambs trailing in their wake, getting out of our way and showing us their tails. We bigger sheep didn’t skitter so much as saunter down the hill. But we also have a shepherd, who doesn’t lease the land, but owns it all, and the cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10).

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