+Easter is the season my heart and soul craves all year long. I am reminded once again to slow down. To give attention to the season forming around and within. The feel of autumn sunshine on my skin, the crisp of a cool morning and the sound of trees rustling and unleaving. I know the abundance of life and love given to me, mysterious and undeserved, and am thankful. I hear the goodness of God in the sound of raindrops on the roof after weeks of dryness. And in the efforts of baking, stacking the woodpile, covering eggs with tissue paper, keeping a candle-light vigil on the kitchen window sill, holding a book in my hands, peeling a quince, hugging my menfolk tight, tasting wood smoke on my tongue, singing in jolly abandon at church. Every year I hope in the promise of Easter - in the offering and the renewing, in the recklessness and the lament, in the anticipation and the sweetness - and the hope changes me.
“The screen is the empty mirror where the simulated shadows of things relentlessly replace each other. In our craven fear of being forgotten, we remain glued to the empty window”
- John O'Donohue
A year ago I decided to quit instagram and facebook. To delete my six year history of posts and catalogue of carefully curated squares of lovely and hard life: things baked, clothes made, babies birthed, eggs cleaned, poems penned, plants tended to. I wrote a blog about the decision to quit here.
Thirteen months has given me room to ponder what it was I needed in that decision.
First and foremost it gave me a sense of agency to let go, and in actually letting go, I noticed how good it felt to make a decision for myself that other people wouldn't necessarily want or accept or even need for themselves. A friend said leaving instagram was like "coming home to herself" and I couldn't agree more.
I also needed the gift of space it afforded me. What happened in the space freed from spending hours every day on instagram and facebook? It was simply absorbed in the day (and night) as little pockets of moments between the chores and doing and going - to simply be: to pause, to take more care or a deeper breath. These pockets, like the best placed, generous pockets of a beloved dress or coat, are warm and homely. They are essential to being comfortable, safe even, in the middle of the mess and clamour and unpredictability of life. I am sure there are ways to carve out digital pockets that are relaxing and constructive, and perhaps writing and reading blog posts and long-format news pieces is mine, but it still pales in comparisons to the real life sun-on-your-face pockets of pause and breath. I wouldn't cut them out now for anything.
It has also given me a renewed appreciation for waiting, that easily neglected, yet necessary part of being human. I love Marnie Kennedy's reflections on waiting as a kind of prayerfulness:
"Instant knowledge, instant gratification, instant success are the messages of the media. However, waiting is of the essence of creatureliness and is the characteristic of genuine prayer, for it helps to purify the heart of impatience and consumer addiction. Waiting is in itself a deep place of revelation and leads to the unmasking of illusion, prejudice and fear"
I realised I could wait before taking a photograph of something beautiful or sharing something with friends or family. I could also wait before purchasing a new knitting pattern or ordering beautiful fabric to recreate something I'd see someone else make. I could wait before writing something that others would read in my newsletter, for ideas to come and go more gradually. I could also wait for feedback which didn't come very often and was perfectly alright to keep creating and contemplating without instantaneous feedback and encouragement. I can wait for relationships to simmer and grow in real time. I can wait - and am still waiting - for my body to heal from illness without any guarantee or when or how. I can wait with less instead of impatiently craving and cramming in more.
I'm sure you've come across these famous lines by Mary Oliver from her poem "Sometimes":
Instructions for living a life:
Tell about it."
But what is she saying here? What does the whole poem speak of? Is it a glittery prompt to document our lived experiences for all to see? To labour over photographs and catchy descriptions on our digital devices? Or is it simply to remind herself - and us the readers - to sit with the present moment, however mundane or extraordinary, and drink it in. To savour the sublime ordinariness of grasshoppers and afternoon light, and the gifts of idleness and solitude, the messiness of faith and relationships. What if telling about it was just bearing witness to our own senses? To the stories and feelings of others in real time?
I used to live a life of squares
beautiful confines to capture
bread still steaming
children in play
kind of thing.
You saw what I saw
but you didn't see me
with my phone
body rigid and fingers
tapping the scene
What if paying attention
to my own body is the gift?
That it's enough to feel my senses
hold the present:
I live a life off-grid now
a beautiful freedom to
savour the seasons.
Woman with a garden inside her is the title of this astoundingly beautiful watercolour by my friend and artist Adam Lee. I think it sums up well how I feel today, on this my 32nd birthday. I have been blessed with the most sublime and sunshine filled autumn weather, blue sky and green grass and leaves begin to golden. I have been surprised with a smoke bush tree to plant and the most beautiful hand written card from my husband. I have filled a jug with flowers from my local green grocer and various things from my own garden. I have felt the soft fibres of wool and silk and mohair in my hands as I make slow progress on a cardigan. I have listened to and read birthday wishes from the dearest of friends and family. I have drunk tea outside, twice and soaked in the goodness of the earth. I am glad to be alive //
there is life in the vine
in each and every season
our growing and remaining
a place to dwell in love
in autumn as the leaves fall
when mornings grow darker
fruit is stored for what will come:
cheer, loss, communion
winter brings frozen things
ground, breath, tired limbs,
when we are slow and needy
of every clear sky, of warming
springtime flush of green
life budding from branch and tree
and the steady hum of bees,
of children in bare feet
in summer work and play,
beating heat and flowering,
when days begin to sprawl
each raindrop brings relief
there is life in the smallest leaf,
in stretching and growing,
ripening and rotting,
in pruning and resting,
refreshing at the roots
each season is necessary
its own kind of beautiful
when we remain in love,
there is life in Him.
“For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
shall break forth into singing, and all
the trees of the field shall clap their hands."
Today is the third Sunday of Advent where we consider the gift of joy! Joy is that deep down sense of contentment regardless of what’s going right or wrong in our lives. Jesus said that He came so that “our joy may be full”, that our wellbeing and flourishing is at the heart of God’s desire for all of us.
Like the gift of hope, joy is not dependant on what we do but rather it is a state of being. We know life will bring unexpected blows and losses, many of us have felt them this year with increased illness, isolation and uncertainty. Joy is not saying that our hardships and suffering don’t matter, it is acknowledging them whilst also turning our focus to God and trusting that he sees, loves and cares for us at all times. There is joy in speaking to babies who can’t form their words yet smile and understand us, there is joy in giving to others not expecting them to give anything back, there is joy in laughter and cheerfulness, there is joy in rest and a slower pace, there can even be a joy in letting-go of things and thoughts that no longer serve us.
Let us light the third candle on our Advent Wreath, the candle of Joy:
Thank you for the gift of joy:
that deep down sense of being well,
in spite of what’s going wrong in our lives.
Joy that lasts so much longer
than fleeting “happiness”
Thank you for saying that you
have come SO that “our joy may be full”
that our wellbeing and flourishing
is at the heart of your desire for every one of us.
Let us feel JOY afresh this season. Amen.
“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -
And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -
I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet - never - in Extremity,
It asked a crumb - of me.
I keep thinking about this poem by Emily Dickinson and that image of hope living in us like a bird, singing continually in the soul.
I've come to realise that the beautiful thing about hope is that doesn’t require us to do anything; rather it is a state of being. The hope that Jesus gifts us is born out of love, trust and connection.
We hope for our children and grandchildren’s futures; we hope for a restored, healthy environment that flourishes; we hope for inequalities and injustices to be righted, we hope for unity and peace in a divided people, we hope for lives with purpose and meaning.
Living with hope is living with knowledge that we have a loving creator, an advocate - God - who is working all things together for good - that what we see right now isn’t all there is, that the best is yet to come, and that we all have a part to play in our shared future.
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit" (Romans 15:13)
Let's pray as we light the first candle on the Advent wreath, the candle of Hope:
thank you for the hope we have in you:
the hope that does not disappoint.
Hope that is born out of love,
trust and intimate relationship.
Hope not only in what we see
but what we don’t see as well.
Help us to provide HOPE for our family,
neighbours and strangers this
Advent season through words
and acts of kindness, generosity
and love. Amen.
Today we celebrated Beren's fifth birthday! He is wonderful; funny, curious, strong-limbed, sensitive and we love him...
It seems like yesterday he was born; my autumn baby, my biggest baby (8lbs11oz), my shortest labour (3.5hrs), with a head of silky dark hair just like mine had been as a baby. When my grandma was told of his birth she said "Beren the Brown", and he certainly was as a newborn, but by his first birthday he was becoming blonde. Sometime between his first and second birthday his tight curls emerged and have stayed every since!
I knitted him a second stockinette snake (his first greeny-hued one was a Christmas present) - but this time in red, black and grey. A homage to the many, many red and black drawings he does at the moment.
He requested a "chocolate cake with lots of red and a red and black snake" - I made a gluten-free devils food chocolate cake with ermine frosting, and with the help of some marzipan I shaped a red and black snake and some rocks and toadstools. Raspberries and strawberries added some tasty "red" along with geraniums from the garden and sprigs of green mint and nasturtium leaves. He was well-pleased!
Our Easter Sunday morning special. This recipe makes enough biggish pancakes for 2-3 people. It can easily be doubled or trebled! The use of milk kefir instead of plain milk is really special, not only does it help the pancakes rise and have a fluffier texture, it also adds a yeasty delicious flavour which somehow reminds me of brioche. You can also use buttermilk or full cream milk with bicarb soda mixed in.
You will need:
1 large free range egg
2 tablespoons honey or maple syrup
(can be omitted for savoury pancakes) 3/4 cups milk kefir OR full cream milk
buttermilk with 1/2 teaspoon bicarb soda 1 cups plain flour mix (50/50 brown rice
+ tapioca flours)
1/2 cup buckwheat flour
2 teaspoons GF baking powder,
Pinch each ground vanilla bean
+ ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons melted butter
In a small bowl whisk together flour and baking powder. In a separate larger bowl beat egg and honey together with a fork – then alternate adding spoons of flour and milk in small amounts, whisking well between each. Stir in melted butter. The batter improves if it’s allowed to sit at room temperature
for 20 minutes before cooking – but it isn’t absolutely necessary. Spoon into a hot frypan on medium heat (add a little butter before if not using a non-stick pan) and flip over once bubbles appear all over.
Try adding 1/2 cup of grated carrot with extra ground cinnamon and nutmeg for a carrot-cake flavour... or 2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley or chives for a lovely green-flecked pancake to accompany cream cheese and smoked fish.
I love the tradition of keeping a prayer vigil on Easter Saturday. Why not try making a simple candle wreath using a plate and greenery as a symbol of your commitment to pray - keep the candle alight all day if you can (in a safe spot!) like on the kitchen table and every time you see it flickering remember to pray for anyone on your list, for the world, or a simple thanksgiving for Jesus, the Light of the world.
You will need:
A large plate, platter or shallow wooden bowl.
Fresh or dried flowers, leaves, nuts, acorns, leaves, greenery.
A pillar candle or any other you wish to use.
Arrange flowers and leaves and nuts around the edge of the plate. Place the candle in the centre and light it as a sign of your commitment to prayer today. You might like to read this traditional Paschal Candle prayer:
May the light of Christ
In Glory rising again,
Dispel the darkness of
Heart and mind.
or read this lovely poem by Joan Mellings:
On Easter Saturday night,
A flickering flame burns bright,
The Paschal Candle a vigil keeps,
While the busy world is hushed and sleeps
My second offering for celebrating Easter at home is to try making doughy garden scenes using homemade salt dough. Find the recipe below or use your own favourite recipe. Gather sticks, pebbles, flowers, nuts, seeds and stones from the garden to use in your scene.
You might like to make the garden where Jesus was buried in the tomb, using a big stone to roll over the entrance. Use your imagination and explore the different textures and patterns nature can make in the dough. Big kids will enjoy this too!
You will need:
2 cups plain flour
1 cup fine salt
2 tbsp oil
4 tbs cream of tartar
2 cups water
few drops food colouring (green, brown, grey, whatever you wish!
Mix all the ingredients in a saucepan and stir over medium heat for 3-5 minutes, until the mixture thickens and comes away from the sides of the pan. Tip out onto a clean plate and roll dough into a ball and let it cool before playing with it.
ABOUT the author
Emily Clare Sims is a farmer and mama to three young boys. Each day she looks for ways to notice beauty, contemplate her faith and savour the seasons...