As a self-confessed gadget geek who left my software career to spend a couple of years in a monastery, I was once asked to help create a retreat workshop on the benefits of giving up technology. Who are we when we’re disconnected from Google, Twitter and the rest? Leave your smartphones behind and experience life first hand!
Sadly, I knew I was a fraud. During my time as a novice nun, the internet had only reached as far as an antiquated PC in the bursar’s office, and a tentative proposal to permit the sisters to use the internet during a one hour window on a Sunday afternoon was soundly defeated.
But I had come prepared.
Knowing that I was supposed to live in poverty with no access to money, I prepaid for a year’s data on my phone and hid it in my luggage when I came to stay. Since the sisters’ rooms are private and sacrosanct, I could lie in bed checking the news after lights-out with no fear of discovery… that is, until the week the whole community went sick with a vicious stomach bug and the infirmarian came into my room to treat me and discovered the gadget I was too sick to hide.
Once I recovered I was summoned by Mother Abbess who told me with a wry smile that I had “committed a grievous sin, sister”. I dutifully handed over my phone, promising repentance and conversion of heart. Of course, as a true addict I had a backup plan – my old Kindle with the always-free 3G connection and basic internet browser. What aging nun would suspect my innocent book-reader was also a window onto the outside world?
What compelled this need to be connected? I went to the abbey seeking silence in which to pray and learn to be a better person, and I’d really begun to appreciate how mental knots unravel and relax when there’s nothing to be done except the job at hand. When you’re spending the next hour ironing veils in silence, and there’s no benefit at all to getting it done any sooner, your senses open up and simple things like the smooth texture of the fabric and the smell of the steam iron and the light slanting through the laundry window and the clanking of the ancient pipework, all become elements of perfect satisfaction in the moment.
But as soon as you start wanting your task to end so you can do something more entertaining or more important, time gets slower, frustration increases, people seem more irritating, and life is something that gets in the way, rather than a source of joy and wonder.
My own fear was being left behind by the zeitgeist. In the summer of 2012, hidden in the abbey, I completely missed the London Olympics, and I felt like I was losing my identity. Everyone else had this profound shared experience and I stepped out of the room and missed it. I came to understand why the sisters were only allowed to read newspapers a week old: we can really get addicted to being ‘up to date’.
It all comes down to our sense of identity. Where is our treasure? The rich young man couldn’t give up his wealth to follow Jesus, but it’s not just wealth that gets in the way. It’s anything that’s so central to who we are that to let it go would be like tearing off our own limb. Jesus is ruthless. Just cut it off, he says, pluck it out. I’ve seen from the monastery that he’s right. But…
This month's blog was written by Tess Lowe. Tess is training as an Ordinand for ministry in the Church of England.
I’m not sure who said it originally but it’s true, ‘kindness is just love with her workboots on.’ I saw a lot of kindness today.
Back in January I attended an open meeting at County Hall to discuss the refugee situation and how Cornwall could respond with a warm and kind welcome to our Syrian brothers and sisters being resettled here. At that meeting Manda Brookman shared her vision for a more connected Cornwall, a more collaborative compassion, where those who had a heart for welcoming refugees and those helping to tackle the crisis overseas could work more closely and more efficiently together. The idea also led to the opinion that all that had been achieved (by the many many groups around Cornwall) is really worth celebrating. There have been a lot of workboots, a lot of kindnesses and, dare I say it, a lot of learning too. So, part of this vision was to share all those things with added space for gratitude and thankfulness. Manda’s idea came to its fruition today in the event ‘Cornwall: a million stories of sanctuary’.
There was a host of contributions, filled with extraordinary and very moving accounts of courage, compassion, and sacrifice. The day moved quickly with a gentle efficiency that reflected the care and respect that Manda and others had for the subject matter. There was also a shared commonality that never outweighed the desire to learn more and to keep to a sense of openness - knowing our understanding is always shifting.
If you were there today, I wonder whether there was a particular talk/speaker that stood out for you. For me, there was something precious and valuable to be found in all of them, but I guess there were two or three that were significant for me, they tended to be the ones that encouraged and celebrated but also had an uncomfortableness about it too. Those that had a wake-up call, a punch in the gut; those that had for us - the parable for our time.
Paul Haines spoke about his Peace Walk from Rome to Jerusalem. On his journey he met a number of refugees, as well as the special people who sought to help them. There was a profound irony in his experience of meeting those who were walking away from war and conflict, while he walked the opposite way for peace. I am in awe of Paul’s commitment and dedication to peace, it reminded me of two things; firstly, we can all do something – as Ruby Brookman has said ‘this is everything about everyone’. No one is left out… of either the problem or the solution. Walking is something some of us can do, and what a powerful thing it can be. Secondly, that real change is sometimes a long journey. Even when we want the revolution we sometimes have to wait for the process of evolution to cut its course. Pauls’ journey taught me that we need to be in this for the long game, it’s lifelong.
Baraa Ehassan Kouja, curator of the ‘From Syria with Love’ exhibition (a collection of artwork by Syrian children whilst resident in a Lebanese refugee camp) spoke about what life is like in Syria at the moment. His words still resonate in my mind. His words were intensely provocative, honest and unfiltered. Baraa was able to share stories of individual people caught up in the conflict, the tales were offensive and violent and yet not left without hope. For Baraa had made that all important step that we ourselves hope to make; the step from acknowledging the horror (and even the part we have played in it) to a hope of another world. I was immensely inspired by Baraa and all that he has been able to do, he represents in my mind a future I long to see. Not some pedestalled idyllic future but simply a more compassionate one.
Amina travelled from London to be with us. The best way to describe Amina’s talk is one of testimony and witness. Amina shared her experiences of travelling from Somalia as a child refugee and starting a new life in London. What struck me about Amina was her sheer ability to reflect, on what was an incredibly traumatic time in her life. I can’t begin to imagine how difficult that must be for her. Yet, through what many would naturally want to suppress Amina finds a force for good. Today Amina shares her story to raise awareness of the challenges facing asylum seekers as they seek to resettle and learn a new way of life. A timely lesson for all of us as we seek to welcome Syrian refugee families to Cornwall.
Alongside these three talks we had the awesome enthusiasm of Ruby Ingleheart, and the amazing gumption and initiative of Shelley and Liz as they spoke about their volunteer trip to Lesvos. We heard about the experience and wisdom of Tam whose work overseas continues to inform the work we seek to do here. We heard from Matthew Barton from Cornwall Council about the resettlement program and the Council’s work with START and volunteer groups to ensure that we can provide the best possible welcome we can. We heard from Magda Machlarz who heads up the Cornwall Refugee Resettlement Network and their work in supporting START and Cornwall Council.
Penzance, Wadebridge (Amanda Pennington), Truro (All Saints Church) and Bude (Mary Whibley) as well as the Eden Project were all represented, and shared their updates and thoughts on the situation too.
Someone wrote recently that when you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression. There is a lot of fear around at the moment, particularly regarding immigration, and more so for welcoming refugees. Ultimately the fear derives from the human desire to protect and secure our way of life, which isn’t intrinsically bad, it just shouldn’t ever justify the alienation, exclusion, and apathy that we are seeing today. The three words I’ve taken away from today’s event are compassion, comfort and companionship. Compassion (meaning with suffering) because true compassion is not about us being the giver and someone else being the receiver. Compassion requires us to break free of any notion of superiority or inferiority and instead attempt to hold to the truth that to show compassion is to come alongside our brothers and sisters and share in the suffering.
The same is true of the word companionship (meaning with bread). When we act as a companion to our Syrian, Eritrean, Iraqi, or Afghan brothers and sisters, we enter into the act of breaking bread. When we share bread with a friend we acknowledge that we are both in need of that bread. There is a mutuality of need and necessity. It pushes us into a radical space where we are changed too. As I’m sure you know volunteering and charity work when done well is never one way – it shapes us and form us for the better.
Lastly the word comfort (meaning with strength). When we comfort someone you are offering the strength that they need. This is the only word of the three that is one-directional. Comforting is the aid work and help that I know Cornwall has offered and does really well. Cornwall has many strengths to offer, she is a remarkable place with many strong compassionate people that care deeply about life, about the wellbeing of her people, and I am convinced that when our brothers and sisters from Syria settle here they will find Cornwall to be a comforting, compassionate and welcoming place. My prayer is that the Syrian families moving to Cornwall will have a renewed strength, to begin and prosper in this special land; that they will know the kindness of the people of Cornwall and truly live as one of us.
Revd Jeremy Putnam
You might say why have we been to Calais?
We went because of you .You have seen on the T.V. in the papers and in the Media generally the plight of the many Refugees there. The numbers have doubled since we were there in August. Your response was overwhelming. Donations of tents, food, blankets, sleeping bags and much much more. We had to move some the donation gifts from the hall of All Saints into the main Church for our volunteers to be able to sort and pack all that was given. This happened over two work days. We took over 500 Shoe Boxes full of personal items and food. These boxes were to give to individual refugees. Forty boxes of Blankets-Coats-Shoes-Sleeping Bags and about fifty tents and tarpaulins, all this plus many practical items. All these donations were from anonymous people who’s caring and giving spoke of their generosity and feelings.
To cover transport and travelling expenses many also gave donations of money.
On Wednesday the 25th November we packed the van, the longest transit made and on Thursday we travelled to Folkestone and met up with two other groups, one group from Launceston, one van and one from Somerset with two vans. We travelled to Calais arriving at 9.OO a.m. European Time, having left at 6.30 GMT. In Calais we unloaded all the items except the Shoe Boxes and reloaded the vans with all items such as 800 blankets, 600 sleeping bags, sleeping mats etc., these went to the refugee camp and our party distributed them. We returned to the warehouse for lunch and refilling the vans.
In the afternoon we returned to the camp with tents pallets, tarpaulins and rope and much more. By the time we had finished the distributing it was dark.
What were the conditions like? Very simply, cold, wet, muddy, smelly and crowded, could it be worse? No.
Did your and our efforts make a difference? Yes. You only had to see the smiles on the faces of those who received the gifts to know we made a difference and gave them hope that someone cares enough to do something.
Colin, David and myself felt very blessed to be able to deliver your gifts of Love and Hope to so many people.
So what next, well we are still digesting what we have learnt and are in contact with the people we met and who work there work 24/7. We are listening to the day by day assessment of how to best support them with the needs of so many of our fellow human beings in such difficult circumstances.
So watch this space- you can and do make a difference.
Keep in touch by checking two web sites…. www.asht.org.uk and www.care4calais.org
Your brother in Christ
The laws of maths and geometry teach us that the shortest distance between two points is always a straight line. If only the Israelites had paid attention to this when leaving Egypt, perhaps it wouldn’t have taken them 40 years to arrive in the Promised Land!
These days when we take a long journey we use the likes of Sat Nav or Google Maps, plotting our course based on a number of factors, such as distance, traffic and weather conditions. In Moses’ day they just had the stars - which was in a way, a kind of Sat Nav - but it certainly wasn’t the voice of Google Jane reading out the instructions en-route, “You have wandered too far into the wilderness turn around when possible.”
Wouldn’t it be so much easier if we had a GPS device for faith, and hear the voice of God as clear as our mobile phones, handheld GPS devices and TomToms, helping us to stay fixed to the right path?
The psalmist wrote (Ps 119:105) “Your word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” Trying to articulate God’s vision for the church without listening for his Word is a bit like waiting for the Sat-Nav to give directions only to find you’ve locked it in the boot of the car because you thought you wouldn’t need it. The Word of God is what fuels the fire in our hearts, it is what fills the Church with passion, hope and Godly ambition for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. A vision without the Word of God is a vision that has only an earthly sense of place and direction, and therefore we are left with a simple and logical utility like ‘The shortest distance between two points is always a straight line.’
But as the Israelites showed, sometimes the shortest route is not the best route.
Our obedience to the Word of God may well take us on a slower and more challenging route, as it did the Israelites. In his poem “The Road Not Taken,” Robert Frost wrote, “Two roads diverge in a wood, and I – I took the one less travelled by, and that has made all the difference.” I think that there is something to be said for taking the easy route because it makes us feel safe. On the other hand there is something profound in taking the road less travelled, even if longer, windier and more dangerous along the way, because in doing so we venture through new territory, experience life and grow in unexpected ways.
God has a habit of working out his plan over the course of time. Very rarely does he call for the ‘quick fix’, or the ‘easy win’. As you read through this vision document you may feel that there is a lot to take in; we have time for this. This is a plan for the next 3-5 years so that we have the freedom to do this on God’s terms, and in His way.
The reason why the Israelites took so long over their trip to the Promised Land is because God wanted them to grow and to learn about the wisdom and grace of God, learning to live with a provisionality and dependency on his Word. We must do the same if we are to see the Gospel prosper and our Lord glorified. We must do the same if we are to see God’s purpose fulfilled in us and the church. Lifelong and meaningful change in the world can only occur through a lifelong and meaningful commitment to the Word of God, Jesus Christ. So my friends, here it is, our chance to make a difference, to grow in faith, to grow in number, to live for Christ and to seek his Kingdom.
Let’s do this together.
Yours in Christ
A collection of thoughts and reflections from the people of All Saints.