Tag Archives: motherhood

Undiluted breathing

28 Mar

I went to set up coffee at work today and it was quiet – no stretching out to meet and greet and welcome a new person.

But I offered to clean up the coffee afterwards. This morning there was some confusion and no one knew who was setting up, so instead everyone from our section of the college turned up to set it up. Or so it seemed.

It is a beautiful summer’s day today – despite it being spring – as if Summer couldn’t wait and asked for a house swap with Spring for half a week. So while Summer’s in residence, the British become colourful and ridiculously happy. They forget about these days of sunshine for the rest of the year. Sun?! Really?

But when she’s here, suddenly there is free time in the middle of a work day. Suddenly they want to smile at you even through your sunglasses. Suddenly it’s like someone took a sharp, serrated meat knife and scored through a cloud sheet in front of you and of them. And the awkward discovery of life just in front of you that you hadn’t noticed happens. Awkward but happy. You smile.

But inside the Wycliffe College staff room, there wasn’t a terrible hurry to rip any sheets apart.

And as I cleared away the dishes, an older gentleman – I’d met him before and recognised his friendly, unashamed Northern brogue – put his hand on my back while the last people left. Unusual in an Oxford college at a staff rendez-vous, but er I am not immune to charm…

He thanked me for helping clear up. Everyone seemed quite surprised and amusingly thankful at someone doing it off the rota – but the only other place I’ve ‘done’ coffee or tea for a group is at church. And there I’m not thinking about a rota… usually only about how to hide my face from socialising when I need to. *Confession alert. Memo for later*

QED Once I’m there, I love ‘doing’ coffee or tea. It hides your face almost as much as leading worship or standing up front does. *Definitely memo for later*

“And if you’re wondering why we’re all a bit quiet today,” he said…

I hadn’t been wondering. I’d noticed, that’s all. But I straightened up from the coffee pots.

“If you’re wondering why we’re all a bit quiet today, it’s because an ex-student is having a still-born this morning.”  

And there was community and love. Ripped open cloud sheets by the sun, with healing in his wings.

She had been a student and had worked there. Her mother had flown from the US to be with her when she’d heard what was happening.

There were a few things that crossed my mind. That I wanted the ‘still-born’ to be called a child or a little girl or boy. That I wanted to tell him to go and visit if he needed to – the coffee pots and work would survive. But he told me people had gone, and more people would go. And I asked for her name and I wanted to pray for her.

I cannot imagine the years of pain, of unfinished story that an unborn or a still-born child must bring. About as many years of joy as he or she does, I suspect, knowing if you do that they live in the arms of a bigger, greater Parent than we will ever be.

I’ve admired mothers and fathers who have loved their children through life and death. I am in awe of them when they see that joy – I don’t know if I would be able to.

In my mind, I have this picture. The babe in the womb takes oxygen from the bloodstream. She’s not ready yet for O2 straight. We’re not ready yet for the physical presence and glory of God straight. Not all the time anyway. But then those babies are, those people are. They’re breathing it in already and to us, it must bring joy in the rain.


Easter is not far.



8 Oct

I have a heart-longing this afternoon for a moment in time that embodies a lifestyle, a way of living and loving, a way of doing community and society that I doubt the Western hemisphere finds easy to come by.

I’m sitting here with Manzon’s attempt to outline The Construction of a Field, but my mind is stubbornly on a rickety bus whose seats are steadfastly warm from the sun. I’m on the bus with my mother, who is the perfect person to go out with on a lazy, laid-back expedition.

We’ve just been to the salon and gone perusing through bargain-hunter haunts. I’ve dragged her reluctantly from shop to shop, presumably. And she won’t refuse because I’m leaving soon. But she does really want to stop for food.

It’s easy to find some place to eat from bus stop to bus stop in India. It’s easy to eat out on your wallet too. It’s easy to choose from a variety of tastes. And it’s easy to treat yourself to a meal that is less easy on your wallet, but still doable.

And so it’s easy to change your mind. To decide not to go into a restaurant and find another one two street corners away. To ask the lady selling bangles why she won’t sell them cheaper and nearly have an argument with her but also ask her what her daughters are studying in school and listen to her tell you to get married soon. To turn around and say to my mum that I want to delay our plans by a half hour because… well, I want to get a henna tattoo on my hands. Mehendi is what we’d call it.

And I’m walking around with a blue umbrella, avoiding the sun, and I like the absence of heat beating down on me and the presence of prevailing warmth in the air. And this is fine. In India. It’s not weird. Nobody’s going to carefully keep their eyes off you so as not to look at you like a spectacle.

Also, just so you know, if it were a spectacle – they’ll look. You know? And you hate it when you’re there. But it’s a way of life. It seems to come with the territory. Passive-aggressive is just… less passive there.

So we step off the bus, walk into a restaurant, and my mother finds a table. I am less laid-back. I walk up to the counter and tell the guy that if we’re paying for air-conditioning (which you do, actually, in restaurants there), we want it on. Of course, he’s amused because I look as unlikely a candidate for independence as possible. I’m in jeans and a t-shirt, I carry a backpack, I’m shopping with my mum. I look like I’m in college – you know what I’m saying? 😉 I also look unlikely to be able to speak in any authoritative way in the local dialect. But I do. So he smirks, but I practise my stare and the A/C gets turned on. Stat.

And then we saunter over to the mehendi stand. Four youngish guys, all in jeans, in a mehendi stand. Daunting. One of them takes my measure. I take theirs. And then he nonchalantly asks me to put my hand on his knee.

I am a little less nonchalant. I’ve learned different social codes. My mother doesn’t care – she’s just encouraging me to tattoo both hands. But I gingerly lay my arm out and the man paints a tattoo on. And my mum looks on – and there’s love in her eyes and enjoyment of this time. A security I only know when I look for it. But it’s always there.

And they wait while we fumble with our many bags, umbrella and wallets to get the cash out. It’s always a struggle between my mum and me to get to our cash first. And they listen in to our banter. They’re not in the least uncomfortable. We know it’s banter they can listen in to, of course. It’s an allowed intimacy.

She pays. I am incapacitated by the wet paste on the whole of my left arm and hand.

And we hop on a bus again. We’re talking about the dogs and my father. I hope he’s waiting for us for dinner. If he’s been out, he’s probably bought something for us. And it’s okay to stick my hand out into the sunlight streaming into the bus. It’s not weird either. It’s not in anybody’s space because it’s not as crowded in the afternoon. And it’s okay to hide my really hot cheeks from the sun, and it’s okay to laugh with my mother and give her a hug if I can manage it with my bags.

It’s okay to change my plans, to delay things, to speed up things, to make something happen that I thought about ten minutes ago. It’s okay. And I miss it today.

And with two, they covered their eyes…

21 Apr

Someone asked me why I cried at church. But I expect to cry, so I didn’t know the answer.

Because beauty breaks your heart. You look, at the beauty that even angels fear, you love, you sense the presence of Someone infinitely bigger than you, yet infinitely gentle, and then, as the hairs on your neck begin to re-sensitise, you know His eyes are on you. That’s all. He is just… looking at you.

And He’s not looking at anyone else. And the breakage happens – just as you look back.

He takes my defenses down. Every time.

In the ministry, I think, God allows you the overwhelming honour of looking with Him. As you see what He sees, as you see the broken roads those tattered sandals have trod, or the memories of day-long trips for fatal water that those young eyes hold, or the suspicion of a life that has never known an unbroken promise, or the shocked immunity of your child who learns that others have died for rice… and as you look back and see the reflections glinting in His steady eyes, the breakage happens.

But it is only there, as I sit in that presence, as I let myself look into those eyes, and trace the shape of its shadows and stories and suffering and grace, that love hits me – and the impact barrels through my chest, past my diaphragm into the world that I saw with his eyes.

Every time someone weeps out of less than joy, every time a friend has sold their dignity, every time someone hates and knows it, every one someone cannot shrug away the sin, I must sit and I must look into those eyes. For the beauty to break through the calluses.

In the reflections, the stories make sense.

Ecce, Dominus.

Today, my heart was broken by this

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