29 November 2015

And we're here...

The world is full of light: the lights of the valley below, the twinkly lights on the banister of our balcony that we put up for Advent. Stars. Sunsets. Huge moons that look like great gold pieces. Our new home seems to be illuminated in all sorts of ways, especially with the wonderful afternoon and evening light we get here.

Coming home from work is like coming on a retreat: the total privacy of this house wraps itself around me the moment I walk in the door. And yet, it's on quite a busy road (the main road in and out of our hillside suburb) and it's only 5 minutes to the centre of Lower Hutt and 25 minutes to Wellington (without traffic!). Our living room overlooks the valley and Wellington Harbour, and the view is spectacular. No two days are the same - not even two minutes - and it's always lovely. Even when the storms roll in, we can see the clouds coming in over the water, and we get wrapped in clouds up here. No window is overlooked by any other house: the only windows that look onto the street are the dining room, and they are shielded by native trees. Our bedroom looks out onto the deck, and it's shielded by trees from the street so it's totally private. This house is an introvert's paradise!

Returning to our parish church of St James has been like going home again: returning to liturgy, to good music, to good friends who welcome us back into the family. In some ways its as though we never left but in others, we've learnt new things we can offer St James, and the parish has created new traditions that we're becoming part of. One of them was a lovely surprise last week, on the solemnity of Christ the King, last day of the church's year. It was a solemn high mass, concelebrated by three priests, with millions of candles (more or less!), and incense! Lots and lots of incense! The music was the normal St James sung liturgy, although the priest leading it sang the entire prayer of consecration which we don't usually do. It was fabulous. The only slight drawback from my point of view was that I had laryngitis and literally couldn't make a noise at all - the humour of the hymn choice struck me when we sang "Let all mortal flesh keep silence" - I didn't have a choice! It was a relief to sing "rejoice" today on Advent Sunday!

St James has also always had a strong tradition of getting children involved in the liturgical life of the parish. We hadn't been back three minutes when I was asked to rejoin the choir (which I did with joy), and our daughter was asked to be a Herald. The Herald is a tradition peculiar to St James, where a child carries a taiaha behind the crucifer in all the processionals, and is responsible for reading the opening sentence of the liturgy, and leading the processional of the offertory up to the altar. They wear child-sized liturgical robes. It's a sort of junior server: the next step is serving the altar, and then being crucifer or liturgist. Our daughter very proudly did her first service as Herald a couple of weeks ago, and was very pleased that she got to be Herald on the First Sunday of Advent. Hubby has picked up his camera for the parish again, and has been mixing the sound and running the powerpoint (a new innovation for St James since we left). I've also been writing for the parish magazine again, which was pretty cool.

We've also found outlets for most of our other activities: we've found an archery club in Trentham - the only drawback is that they don't have an indoor range so if the weather's nasty, there's no shooting. However, they do have a clout and field range, which we didn't have in Rotorua. Daughter has Linked from Brownies to Girl Guides here, and has had a wonderful term with Guides here (sewing box came out again for yet more badges!). Hubby has returned to the camera club here, and is rediscovering pottery which he used to do years ago. I'm loving having my friends and professional networks back, and the challenge of what I'm doing at work is really interesting.

So, all in all, the move has worked well. It's good to be back!

16 September 2015

Camino di Compostella

The calendar tells me it's 16 September, over a month since I last posted. I can believe it. I thought today would be a day of craziness, but in the end the auction scheduled for today was cancelled because our house sold prior (thank God) and we have an offer on another house in Lower Hutt. The slight downside is that we don't get possession of said house until early November, but it is worth waiting for. It is exactly in the area we wanted to be, it has a stunning view over the harbour that will keep me plastered up against the living room window all the time I'm home, and it's been recently redecorated with a brand new kitchen. In fact, it's as close to perfect as a house can be, and we bless God for blessing us with it. 

The house feels like a gift, but what is more important to us is how much we have been missed, and welcomed home. We went down to the Hutt to look for houses a couple of weekends ago, and we were very nearly mobbed by the congregation at our parish church of St James: everyone was really happy to see us and was ecstatic that we're moving home. It was almost overwhelming, especially when I found out that they have begun a journey into looking at the gendered language of God in liturgy and hymns, which has been a real issue for me for some time. We realised how much they had missed us, just as we have missed them terribly for the time we've been in Rotorua. We had lived into each others' journeys in the nearly 10 years we'd been worshipping at St James', and now it's time to resume the camino again.

So, at the Rotorua end of this move, I am making lists about my lists, crossing things off, adding lots more, and feeling as though my brain has too many tabs open! One major thing will be crossed off this Friday when I finish work as a consultant: I get a couple of weeks' break to move (originally also intended for moving in!) before I start my new job in October. However, things are slowly slipping into place: our new house is 700m from the local primary school so our daughter can walk to school (until we move into the house, hubby will commute her to school from where we're staying), we've found her a Guide company and an art class, hubby is looking forward to rejoining the local camera club and art society, and I'm happy that my professional networks and choir are now back on the horizon. Not to mention access again to art galleries, museums, the ballet, orchestras, and music! Lunchtime organ recitals, here I come....

However, there will be things we will miss: we're not looking forward to saying goodbye to friends, and we will miss the beautiful weather and the loveliness of this part of the island. Not to mention how close it is to everything: an hour to Tauranga/the Mount, 4 hours to the snow, 3.5 hours to Auckland, and I never did get back to Coromandel while I was here. 

But, as before, we know we have been called. In fact, it's all part of the bigger camino, the journey, and the impetus for this one really began about this time last year when we did the Tarore pilgrimage, and then our pilgrimage in the UK really showed us our hearts. So it's time. Time to go home. 

7 August 2015

Black Madonna

I had a hammer-to-the-head moment today. This last couple of weeks since the house went on the market have been insanely crazy, and I've really struggled to keep my focus on what really matters to me.

One of my new Sisters in the Community of Solitude has a real passion for the Black Madonna. As we've been getting to know each other, we've begun to talk about the Black Madonna as an ancient route of the divine feminine to bridge into our world, and I started to read up about these ancient manifestations: icons, statues, and the devotional practices and legends that have grown up around them. The "hammer to the head" was that the statues of the Black Madonna traditionally are seated on the Seat of Wisdom, and many of the writers I've read so far make a clear link between Sophia and the Black Madonna. She is the darkness, the fecundity of the earth, the richness of the shadow, the dark night of the soul.

I need to find out more about her. She symbolises the power and strength of the earth, the darkness of knowing God, the depths of the night, the courage to be and to endure. I've always had a connection with Mary and sensed that there was great strength in her, but finding her this way is a whole different experience.

20 July 2015

Books: the breath of life

The last two weeks have been pretty busy and a bit stressful, so I have been finding a bit of peace and quiet in a couple of books: a favourite, and a new book by a favourite author. The old favourites are the Harry Pottter series from the beginning all over again. This time it's quite interesting re-reading them because of our trip to Leavesden Studios in the UK for the Harry Potter tour. It was one of our must-dos on our (extensive) list of places we went. Each of us came up with some things we wanted to see and then we whittled down the list - well, if I'm honest, we took a sword to my list to chop it down to something even faintly resembling a reasonable length! The Harry Potter tour was on our daughter's must-do list and we were all quite happy to oblige her!

But back to the books. It's slightly odd re-reading them this time because of having visited the sets. Sure, I had my own vision of what the places looked like from my imagination, that was then coloured by the movies, but actually seeing the sets myself and walking among them has made this re-reading an unusually interesting and rich experience.

The other book I've been pursuing, somewhat slower because it requires more concentration, is the wonderful Silence: a Christian history by the outstanding scholar and church historian Diarmaid MacCulloch. Professor MacCulloch has been one of my favourite historians for some time now, ever since my brother sent over recordings of his outstanding BBC documentaries on the history of the church that accompanied his brilliant (but extremely large!) book Christianity: the first three thousand years (yes, you did read that right). I got that book and read my way slowly through it (it's about two inches thick - it took me a while!), and have been planning to read the Silence book ever since I heard that he was writing on monasticism.

I finally got my hands on it and it is a really interesting take on church history: not only does it look at monastic silences, but the silences of shame, of politics, of collusion, of power and powerlessness, of "heretics" and women, black people and gays. It looks at the way silence is used to bring us closer to God, and to hide us away, to control and release us. He describes the Protestant Reformation as one of the noisiest periods of church history and the loss of personal silence before God (deeply distrusted by magisterial Reformers) as something that took centuries to come back. I am about half-way through and it is almost as much of a challenge, though in a different way, as the wonderful She Who Is (Elizabeth Johnston) that I read last year.

Professor MacCulloch writes his history "from below": he has a deep, inbuilt understanding of the hidden silences of the church from his own experience as a gay man, so he is particularly alert to the experiences of silence, power and powerlessness experienced by other groups. It chimes with another book I was reading recently called The War on Heresy, another intriguing take on history that suggests that the inquisition and the Albigensian Crusade weren't actually about belief at all, but about the use, establishment, and abuse of power, and there was no real "Cathar church", contrary to what the surviving medieval manuscripts say (to the victors, the spoils!).

12 July 2015

Booking

The last few nights have been rather fun. After our big trip to the UK in January, we decided we wanted to preserve the photos in a more permanent way than the usual photo album or digitally on hubby's computer. We kept our eye out and got a great deal on an A3 full-colour 52-page hardcover photo book. Hubby's been slowly editing our photos as he's had time around students and decorating - helped by a "yes, yes, no, yes, no, no, yes" session when we sat down together and identified the photos we wanted to include that he then edited for us.

The last three nights, we've been putting the photo book together: hubby finishing the editing then handing the photo files over to me for upload into the photo book software. It was surprisingly easy to use and had a number of layouts and other features we could use to make the book look the way we wanted. I decided to eschew the "other features" like frames and fake photo corners etc, and just let hubby's photos speak for themselves. In the end, I also left off text, which I had originally planned to include.

Tonight, we finished it. The awesome bit was that originally I had put most of the Hogwarts/Harry Potter tour photos on two pages, and the British Museum stuff on one page. When I got to the end of the album, I had two pages unused - so I was able to insert those pages into the centre of the book and give the museum and tour a lot more space.

There is no way I could capture the British Museum in a double-page spread, so I didn't try. We were only there for a morning (we could have stayed for weeks!) and we went with a specific agenda: the Elgin marbles, the Mildenhall Treasure, and the Egyptian exhibits. We also found a lot of other cool stuff, including the Viking chess pieces and lot of wonderful Greek and Etruscan statuary, and some beautiful Venetian glass when we were trying to find the treasure. I tried to show those key things on the spread, but I will always remember the Celtic torcs and the altarpieces.... The pages showing Canterbury Cathedral and York Minster really capture the way I felt about those places, and overall I'm really happy with it. And we've got Mallard and Rocket in there, one from the National Rail Museum in York, the other from the Science Museum in London.

There was so much more we could have put in, but it's only a place of memories, to trigger our own recollections of what we did and where we went. I fired it off for printing tonight, and it will be amazing when it comes to see those photos full size - the editing program meant each page was not much more than A5 on screen. It was a lot of fun too - but so hard, deciding which of hubby's wonderful photos went in, and which ones couldn't: he had about 3000 photos from the trip, which we cut down to 300 for the album, some of which didn't make it in.... The joys of going overseas with a photographer!

2 July 2015

A face lift

I thought it was time that the blog had another face-lift: it's all about redecorating at present and so it seemed a good thing for the blog to get all pretty too.

Hubby has just finished decorating the ensuite, master bedroom, and the main bathroom - in three weeks! Go hubby! The house is now finished inside and looks lovely. The master bedroom, in particular, is really beautiful. We were really happy to discover that advances in lightbulbs have now meant that halogen fittings can be used by LED lights, so we were able to use some really cool industrial-looking lights in our room. They look like mini follow-spots. We've always avoided halogens because they get really hot and you waste quite a lot of the power in heating the bulb, but the LEDs are almost cold even when they've been running for ages. And the contrast between one gloomy central 100W lightbulb with 20 LED bulbs with an equivalence of 50W each  in five different fittings is quite stunning....


6 June 2015

I have been there

One of my uni friends loaned me 84 Charing Cross Road many years ago when I was a student. I didn't know the author at all but immediately resonated with her love of all things literature and all things England. The sequel, The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street, includes a description of Helene Hanff's passion for England - how she used to go to movies just to see English streets and buildings.

Last weekend, we watched Paddington for daughter's birthday - we missed this one at the theatre last year and had promised her we'd see it. It was quite well done and almost as much fun as the books, but what got all of us was the locations. "We've been there!" "That's the London Eye!" "That's Big Ben!" and "That's the Museum of Natural History!" Tonight, hubby had a movie on from TV and it was the same - location-spotting. The movie was dreadful but on the odd occasion when I glanced up from my book, the locations not the action caught my eye. 

I've finally been there. I have walked those streets until I wanted to amputate my feet with a spoon and my knees were so crippled I was sure they would never straighten out again. I have ridden the Underground and a double-decker bus. I have been in the British Museum and seen the Mildenhall Treasure and the Elgin Marbles, and could have cheerfully stayed there for an entire week looking at stuff. I have scraped my jaw off the floor in the National Gallery. I have walked Westminster Abbey and the Tower of London, and found my ancestors' memorials and the place where one of them was executed (long story). I have fallen in love with Canterbury Cathedral and will never be the same again. I have celebrated Evensong by candlelight in York Minster and seen Mistress Quickly and Falstaff dodging around the Shambles. I have slithered around the Yorkshire Moors in the snow, and watched my family sledding at Chatsworth. I have walked in Chatsworth House and fallen in love with its gardens and library - and just fallen over in the snow! I have floated on Coniston Water and seen Peel/Wild Cat Island with my own eyes. I have walked through Hogsmeade and seen Hogwarts. I have eaten pheasant pie and enjoyed the warmth and friendliness of a 350-year-old British pub. I have touched the original Rocket and stood in the cab of Mallard. I have seen with my own eyes many-million-year-old dinosaur bones and stood inside a leaf at the Museum of Natural History.

I am blessed and very grateful.  

I really must watch Pride and Prejudice again and revisit Chatsworth-as-Pemberley....