Mingled down

In the home at Bethany. A Hearth. A Haven. (John 12.1-8) The events of the last weeks of Jesus’ earthly life are cast. A place, we presume, he knew well. We are told of some who were there. Mary, Martha, Lazarus, Judas, Jesus. From a distance we could see it as a time of preparation or planning. Perhaps. As we prepare to enter into the drama of Holy Week it feels like a pause button has been pressed on the road to Jerusalem for this moment of retreat and tenderness. Maybe it would be gentler to call it a time of shared food and shared close company. It seems as though this was a private moment for just the closest disciples. Moments of companionship on a road that was to become, well, difficult. And into that space Mary offers an extravagance. Judas says it is a crime against the backdrop of poverty. Jesus says different and adds a prophetic word that poverty will never be over. There will always be those who are poor. We will all have our own ideas of what should be “sold to pay for the poor.” It is the generous act of radical hospitality takes the centre stage as the house is filled with the scent of perfume. Sorrow and love flow mingled down. We raise a mirror here to the narrative of the crucifixion and watch the supreme generous outpouring of charged emotion.

What would we give? Or would we, like Judas scorn the radical generosity and claim the thirty pieces of silver. But as we all know silver does not last, so to frame this as a transaction makes little sense. Even the thief to one side of Jesus recognised in the crucifixion the act of revelation. We can turn the mirror to our own times. Amidst the violence and turbulent scenes there are stories of sorrow and love come mingled down for a time. It is truly heartbreaking to watch and to know we can do little more than be witness to these things. returning to Bethany, to Mary. She anoints Jesus’ feet with all that she had.

You risked it all in a moment of emotion charged with an energy that heightened the senses. Perfumed hands, feet, hair flow mingled down. For a time.  Physical touch, in kindness, sorrow and love. Knowing somehow another chance would not come.


You are not alone

‘You are not alone’. The message on the card was destined for an unknown recipient inserted into a box of gifts for refugees. We gathered clothes, toys and other items at the feast of Christ the king. It is the end of another liturgical year. I’m reminded of the song: ‘Nothing ever happens’ by Glasgow based band Del Amitri. Particularly the line, ‘the needle returns to the start of the song and we all sing along as before.’ But not this year. Our song had become dull, ‘How are we to sing the Lord’s song in this strange land?’ Del Amitri’s song has a darker side than a record player (what are those?) with an automatic return. Words from the song which you might reflect on about the loneliness and sadness of life: ‘And we’ll all be lonely tonight and lonely tomorrow.’ But it goes on: ‘And bill holdings advertise products that nobody needs While angry from Manchester writes to complain about All the repeats on T.V. And computer terminals report some gains On the values of copper and tin While American businessmen snap up Van Goghs For the price of a hospital wing.’  There’s more here than being lonely during the long winter nights. I hear a critique of a world cut off from the rest and missing the connections which is why a simple child’s card written with the message ‘you are not alone’ struck me so much as an important thing to tell those to whom these things will go. Our song brightens as the message says: ‘We hear you’, ‘we see you’, and I would add, despite what some members of our government says and what you might read in some papers: ‘we believe your lives are worthy too.’ – It is a beautiful message of hope at a moment when the world is preparing for what could be for many the greatest festival of loneliness. And the song of the strange land of no borders, no limits, where all are welcomed in and valued begins to shine again. Before we prepare to sing along as before in our Advent preparations next week, we take a moment to reflect – difficult I know in these times. But we ought to. Reflect on the year past from birth to epiphany revelation to lent, betrayal, Easter resurrection. From the Spirit at Pentecost to the Trinity season, creation, harvest and Kingdom.  Such is our christian year.  Each time we go around, perhaps we go a little deeper, see a little more, learn something new, become people more attuned to the kingdom. As we gathered, collected, sorted and boxed up the gifts along with good wishes in cards we celebrate the kingdom of God and participate in its coming. The simple sentiment offering hope to those whose life has dealt them, a bitter pill it would seem, if you were to compare it to the lives lived by the two thirds world. The generosity of our communities of donated gifts for those who most desperately need them is wonderful. It is not without a small irony – that we didn’t need these things anyway and of course for those who did donate it was probably a little cathartic, purging our wardrobes of that which we seldom wear. Did you know we were celebrating the feast of Christ the king with a refugee clothes gathering party – or did you think we were just gathering clothes. You’d be mistaken for thinking it was just the latter, for who would suppose that such a simple act could be a celebration of Christ’s Kingdom?  Did Christ not compel us to clothe the naked and feed the hungry?

A last pair of shoes

How do you buy shoes that last?  My grandfather always seemed to wear  the same shoes. Not the same pair. Like all things, they eventually needed replacing. Each pair got demoted when the new ones arrived. Sunday shoes, well polished, lived by the front door. From there they began a slow march through the kitchen to the back porch and out into the shed where the oldest lived in a box, occasionally to be selected for digging potatoes. I started a little like this – searching online for another pair of the dusty brown ankle boots I so love wearing, comfortable, easy on the feet.  But, two pairs in, both now letting water in at the bottom, (and squeaking) the second hand sources seem to have dried up. In need of some inspiration of where to look next I thought of Lloyd, a friend and colleague who died suddenly last December.  I don’t really want a trail of discarded shoes. What I really would like is a pair that would last and be able to be repaired.  When someone dies and the true sense of loss begins to dawn, hopefully too the legacy of the person who died begins to show through more strongly.  Lloyd’s legacy to me, so far, is a pair of shoes. Or, at least, the inspiration of how and where to look.   He was fastidious in his research from beloved cars to pairs of jeans the latter made in Wales to last – the Hiut Jeans no-wash club meant that in Lloyd’s freezer amongst the frozen peas you may have found at least one pair of Jeans. Products designed to last or be repaired (and for free from Hiut). 

So with Lloyd’s inspiration I began the search.  It didn’t take long to find a company in Machynlleth RED, Ruth Emily Davey, who by hand, make shoes to fit your feet. They are made to last and be repairable.  This was not going to be a fast transaction click and collect.  Arriving at RED in the town of Machynlleth I felt a rather nostalgic wave of ‘small boy outside a toy shop’ nose pressed to the window soaking up an image of the all too wonderful things that were within but, out of reach. Entering that space, the world slowed, the colours more vivid somehow than the bright morning out of which I had just stepped.  With tea and gentle conversation we reflected and shared stories of loss. Mine of Lloyd who’s inspiration had brought me here. Ruth’s of Alan, mentor and friend who had died earlier in the year. Feet were duly measured, leathers and linings chosen from those carefully displayed around me.  I’m too soon for the local leather, grown and tanned not three miles from the centre of the town. Perhaps I’ll have to come again for a truly Welsh pair. However, I break from my dusty brown. The new soft leather drab green boots are enlivened with a flash of colour in the stitching and lining and will be ready in around five weeks. In honour of this timescale I should take the bus to collect them, or perhaps the train. If we’ve learnt anything over the past year it is that hurrying life onwards does us no favours. If the economy is to recover then those businesses who promote local skilled workers with repairable products ought to win our trust.

On a warm showery day at the end of June I return to collect two pairs of shoes. The first a repaired pair of the old dusty brown. I couldn’t quite let them go. So it seems they will have a new lease of life with repaired sides and new soles. I’m offered the new boots wrapped within an elegant box. Ruth’s smile that of creator, curator of a moment in which Christmas and birthday unwrappings are found wanting reminds me of gifts from children eager to see the reaction to what they have made. Within are a beautiful pair of feet shaped boots. I always thought I had wide feet – I don’t particularly.  I have feet shaped feet and Ruth’s shoes are built to match. The leather is soft, these are not work boots but for occasions when you want your feet to be cradled comfortably within. My hand knitted socks catch on the new suede lining. I’ll need to unlace and lace these properly I hear my grandfather’s voice telling me. Once within though the close fit is quite unlike wearing shoes at all, more like a part of me through which I can feel the ground, yet at the same time be gently protected. I guess they are an expression of the wearer a drab green exterior with a little of the colour within exposed. I’ll wear them with the top eyelet open, to allow a little more of the brightness out. ‘Will you wear them now?’ Ruth asks. Of course!  I leave the shop in new shoes with the old pair tucked away in the box destined for potato digging and recycling in the shed.