I was trying to find something to cheer us for the weekend and I found this quote.
Don't you love that?
I love the optimism and simplicity of this thought. And if you're a bit fed up of February, take heart. Spring is on the way!
I have some daffodils in my garden already, and I've seen snowdrops and even some primroses in the hedgerows! I do live in the farthest south outreaches of the British Isles, in Jersey in the Channel Islands, where we do have milder winters than other places, so we are already on course for spring, despite the bitter cold and even snow of recent weeks!
But when I saw the quote it also got me thinking about the author - Patience Strong.
It's a name I've known well pretty much all my life. I remember my mum having several Patience Strong poetry books when I was young. It was quite spiritual poetry, the sort that was great for church, or inspiring women's groups. Patience's poetry is traditional in that it rhymes and it's simple, often short verse, and yes, sometimes sentimental, with themes of nature, faith and strength.
So I did a bit of digging to find out more about the woman behind the verse.
The poet was actually born Winifred Emma May in June 1907 in England. Her poems, prose and thoughts have been collected in numerous anthologies, and they are often brought together to create a collection of 'daily'' inspirational thoughts. Some under the title of 'Friendship Book'.
What I didn't know was that Winnifred also wrote books, dealing with Christianity and practical psychology, and that she was an accomplished musician and lyricist. I read that in 1930, she even wrote a song for the 4th birthday of Princess Elizabeth - now Queen Elizabeth II.
She was much more than the seemingly sweet sentimental poetry I first knew her for.
Patience's popular poems were first featured in The Daily Mirror newspaper in England in the 1930s and throughout the Second World War her daily poems appeared in a section called 'The Quiet Corner'. They brought comfort and inspiration to a generation of people living through terrible conflict.
But why 'Patience Strong'? Well apparently the name came from a book by an American poet and writer called Adeline Dutton Train Whitney. She published more than 20 books for girls in her lifetime, in the mid to late 19th century. ADT Whitney's books expressed a traditional view of women's roles and were popular throughout her life. One of them, published in 1868 was entitled 'Patience Strong's Outings'.
I wonder if that book made a deep impact on Winnifred? Maybe it was a book that had inspired her as a young girl? Who knows?
Whatever the reason for her choosing her pen name, I've always been a bit intrigued by it and I think it was a clever choice. It mixes two important emotions - Patience and Strength. To be truly patient with the world and with life, and with relationships takes really strength. And the name has certainly stood the test of time, because Patience aka Winnifred's poetry and words are still around, and enjoyed by millions of people every year.
Earlier I was chatting about spring flowers, so as we wait for Spring to appear - here's one of her poems which is just in the moment ...
by Patience Strong
I've put my bulbs in coloured bowls and hidden them away -
Inside my cupboard, where they cannot see the light of day -
I've put them in the soft black mould as cosy as can be -
And in the quiet darkness they will work their mystery . . .
And when all things lie lifeless locked in winter's frozen sleep -
Inside my cupboard one sweet day a pale green tip will peep.
I'll bring them out into the light and set them in my room -
And silently and secretly they'll grow and bud and bloom -
The grey old house will waken from its drowsy slumbering,
To find the rooms ablaze with flowers, as if it were the Spring! . . .
With daffodils and hyacinths, narcissi, tulips too -
A flaring mass of loveliness in gold and pink and blue -
And I shall smile, remembering my small part in the show -
For though we plant and tend the bulbs -
it's God that makes them grow.
Yesterday I ended my daily thought by asking what it was we might be thinking about 'giving up' for the 40-days of Lent. But I also asked whether instead of depriving ourselves of things we love, perhaps it might be worthwhile thinking about what we could START doing instead.
That would certainly be in the spirit of the Lenten season, when we may be setting time aside to think about our relationship with God and what might be the plan for our lives, and how we might make our world a better place all round.
Today I share this thought with you ... I found it online on IrishAmericanmom.com
Thanks to you, whoever you are! It's really got me thinking about how we can turn the negative into positive, not just in our actions but also in our thinking.
During this holy season it's all about reflection ... to prepare us for thinking about the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on Good Friday, and the celebration of Easter morning when he defied death and was resurrected.
That's the point of Christianity really, this belief in a God who is a living being, not just a sculpture or an icon, or even just a concept or way of thinking that can make us 'better people'. Christians believe that Jesus was the Son of God, and that by dying and rising to life, death itself is conquered so that we can all live eternally, even when we die, if we have faith and belief in him.
It's BIG stuff - so that's why during Lent there's a good deal of self-reflection and prayer going on.
In the very early days of Christianity, when believers were constantly under the threat of persecution from the Romans, being a Christian was counter cultural and 'conversion' had to be carefully considered, so those wanting to be baptised as Christians often spent loads of time studying and preparing.
Many chose Easter as the date for their baptism into the faith, and the 40 days running up to that important step in life were often set aside for preparation and study. Others in the 'church' joined them by observing the season in similar ways, to support their new friends and sometimes to renew the commitment of their own baptisms. And so the traditions of Lent were born.
Traditionally, there are three things that Christians did and still do during Lent - prayer, 'almsgiving' (or giving to good causes and those less fortunate than ourselves) and fasting ... and the last point is where the idea of 'giving up something' for Lent comes in.
During Lent even if believers don't fast and deprive themselves of food and drink, it has been common to give up something that is important to them for 40 days, as a way of putting priorities in place, experiencing 'sacrifice' and drawing closer to God. It's part of the 'conversion' experience of Lent.
And nowadays, even people without faith have taken up this idea of giving something up for the season ... maybe trying to part with a bad habit, or not eating meat, or giving up alcohol or chocolate for these 40 days. Some take the money they save and give it to charity. Very much in the spirit of Lent. Others do it without realising why they're doing it! It's become a trendy thing to do!
After the year we've had with the coronavirus pandemic, where many of us have had to give up so much anyway, it might be a stretch too far to deprive ourselves even more during Lent, but there is another way we might think of getting involved in the Lenten season.
For a couple of years, instead of giving things UP I have instead taken a different route and have given something AWAY. In my case, I ended up with 40 items of clothing/books/bric-a-brac in a black plastic bag which I then donated to charity.
This year I may have to think a bit more laterally because after filling quite few bag loads of clothes, I'm not sure I have many good things to give away now ... but hey... I'm up for the adventure!
Or maybe the idea of starting something this Lent, rather than giving something up, is the way to go?
Perhaps instead of depriving ourselves of things we love, we can use the next six weeks to improve ourselves. Maybe do some reading that inspires our spirit or perhaps do some volunteering?
So - here are some audacious questions
How will you spend your Lent?
Are you planning a 'spiritual journey' over the next 40 days?
Are you 'giving up' something?
If so, what that might be? And will that be a sacrifice?
Or are you planning instead to start something new this Lent?
Over to you!
Today is Ash Wednesday.
And it's a peculiar name for a day isn't it?
So what's it all about?
Ash Wednesday is marked every year exactly 46 days before Easter Sunday. Now I know what lots of you might be thinking - Lent is a 40-day season isn't it? Well it IS, but Sundays don't count during the 6-weeks (ish) preparation for the Christian festival.
The 40-days of Lent represent the time that Jesus Christ spent in the wilderness, before he began his three year ministry. Before starting that awesome task, he took time out to think and prepare himself. In that desert, he fasted and when he was at his weakest he was tempted by (and he resisted) Satan. For Christians down the centuries the same period of time has been set aside for fasting, reflection, repentance and, finally, celebration on Easter Day. Lent is a time for believers to contemplate the life of Jesus, his ministry, his death and resurrection. Central themes of Christianity. And to consider their own relationship with Jesus, the Son of God, and how that impacts on their lives.
Lent has also become a time when many people, including those who wouldn't say they are religious at all, also give stuff up ... but more of that another day.
What about today - 'Ash' Wednesday? Why is it called that?
Well the title comes from the fact that on this day certain Christian denominations follow the tradition of placing ashes on the foreheads of worshippers - usually in the sign of a cross.
Today is all about repentance at the start of the sacred season which will culminate in the weekend when first we commemorate the death on a cross of Jesus Christ, and three days later we celebrate his coming back to life - his resurrection!
The ashes for today's special church services are made by burning the palm leaves or crosses from the previous year's Palm Sunday celebrations. There's something significant about that, isn't there? The palm fronds were waved by a crowd as they welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem at the start of the final week of his earthly life, but within a few short days that same fickle crowd was yelling at the authorities, calling for Jesus to be put to death, to be crucified! The fact that these symbolic palm leaves become the focus of repentance on Ash Wednesday is something powerful.
Ash Wednesday services are traditional mostly in the Roman Catholic and some Anglican churches. They are usually solemn masses or church services which include long periods of silence for private prayer and reflection, and Scripture responses in which the congregation is invited to participate. Much of the focus is on confession, communion is taken and then worshippers are invited to come forward for the imposition of the ashes.
The priest will dip a finger into a bowl of the palm cross ashes and then the ash is rubbed, in a cross pattern, on the forehead of the person receiving them, accompanied by these words ... "Repent, and believe in the Gospel" or "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return."
I don't come from a Christian tradition where Ash Wednesday is marked in this way, but I'm told it's a very moving service, a time when one can really look into oneself, really reflecting on the purposes of life, and the things that need putting right in yourself. The congregation, I'm told, leave the church in almost complete silence, taking that confession and reflection into their lives outside of the building.
And the most amazing thing is that people don't immediately rub off the ashes which have been placed on their foreheads. They bear the mark for the rest of the day. That's a witness to the world of the start of this holy period of Lent, and a reminder to us all that sometimes we need to stop, and consider what God has done for us and what we are doing for him.
So, if today you spot someone with a dark mark on their forehead ... you'll know what it's all about.
And I, for one, will take the opportunity today to start my Lent journey with reflection, confession and prayer. And even if I'm not bearing the mark of ash on my forehead, I hope I will walk through today, and indeed through the Lenten period, with that spirit in my heart, in my behaviour and in my relationships.
Well at least it is here in the British Isles!
It’s Pancake Day – a day to ... well ... eat pancakes!
Whether you’ve tucked into a pancake for breakfast, or will have them for your evening meal – there are loads of ways to eat them ...
Sweet ... with lemon and sugar or even some fruit or chocolate spread!
Or savoury – cheese, ham, spicy minced meat, avocado... I’ve even seen a recipe for pancakes with Brussel Sprouts and smoked salmon!
It seems pancakes go with anything and everything.
All you need is some flour, egg, salt and little milk, a little pan and – voila!
But the question is - why do we eat them particularly on this day?
Why is it ‘Pancake Day’?
The 40 Days of Lent were and still are traditionally a time when people fasted to prepare themselves for the holy festival of Easter which commemorates the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and on the Tuesday before it all began, Christians went to confession and were ‘shriven’ or absolved from their sins, ready for the serious time ahead.
It was also a day when kitchen cupboards were cleared of all the stuff which couldn’t be eaten during the Lenten Season, including eggs and fats which they mixed with flour to make – pancakes!
In other parts of the world Pancake Day is called Mardi Gras ... or ‘Fat Tuesday’ ! That phrase also relates to a season of festivals running from the feast of the Epiphany. which we celebrated on January 6th, through to Shrove Tuesday.
Some cultures, including Poland, make donuts instead for Fat Thursday – that was last week! It happens five days days before the start of Lent.
So – however many pancakes you eat today, and however you eat them – you’re in good company.
And you’re part of history ... the pancake has featured in cookery books as far back as 1439. And no sooner were they cooking them than people were flipping them! In the town of Olney in Buckinghamshire they’ve apparently been tossing pancakes since 1445 – it’s the most famous Pancake Race in the world! Of course, it's not happening this year because of the coronavirus pandemic ... but it will live on!
*Footnote - by the way if you happen to be listening to BBC Radio Jersey this morning - Shrove Tuesday 2021 - you might hear these words I've written above. I have recorded them ... or most of them ... for a little 'Pancake Day Explainer' ... just part of my contribution to the understanding and fun of the day!
What I love about this thought is the progression of words.
For me, it has a flow which is in itself spiritual and perfect for the coming season, as it takes us on a journey from silence to peace, via the 'busyness' of the everyday.
Be Blessed everyone!
*and if you're wondering, this picture is one of mine, taken from the cliffs above Swanage in Dorset on the south coast of England ... a really gorgeous place!
On this Valentine's Day I share with you something very special.
A few years back I wrote a book based on the lives and letters of the couple who founded The Salvation Army, the global church and charity movement.
William Booth met Catherine Mumford in 1851 and they married four years later, in July 1855. Their relationship was developed through letter writing, and that correspondence continued throughout their marriage.
Those letters are held in the British Library in London, and it was sheer pleasure to spend hours pouring over those epistles, deciphering the handwriting. Through the correspondence I got to know these individuals on quite a personal level and I discovered that, although they were obviously very religious and spiritual, they were also complex characters, flawed individuals, and ... I found to my surprise ... very much in love.
That personal even romantic love kept Catherine and William close, and that and their love for God and humanity and their mutual passion for sharing the Christian gospel, helped them to stay strong often during very difficult times.
I love that in 1872, 17 years into their marriage, William - who was also quite an accomplished poet - was inspired to write this to his wife, the mother of his eight children, and his partner in life, faith and Christian mission.
It's called 'William and Catherine - the love story of the founders of The Salvation Army told through their letters' (Lion Hudson 2013)
You can also find it and some of my other books on Amazon and other sites.
You can also check out my Author Central page on Amazon
Thanks and Happy Valentine's Day
We're fortunate here in Jersey.
Luckier than many parts of the world, we know.
Although during the Covid19 pandemic we've had some big numbers relative to our small population, and we have been locked down, with no family or friend visits, schools closed, businesses shut, cafes and restaurants and hotels not open, we are in a good place right now. Or at least, we're beginning to get there.
Numbers have fallen, people are being vaccinated and gradually our island is beginning to re-open.
And that's why non-essential shops re-opened a week ago and we are beginning to see a relaxation of the restrictions. Schools are already open, next week we expect hairdressers to open their doors again and soon we will be able to go to eat out, indoors, at a very safe distance and with all the safety measures in place.
We've been here before. We were doing well last autumn until some people decided to forget that we were in the middle of a pandemic and organised parties, and then coronavirus numbers shot up and restrictions had to be imposed again. Everything closed on Christmas Eve and it's only now we are beginning to see things easing.
It's been more than a month since I ventured into 'Town' ... Jersey's capital of St Helier ... but I had to do so this week and that's when I experienced the Keep Left system in the main shopping area - King Street and Queen Street.
I was, I have to say, rather disappointed that not EVERYONE was keeping to the left, and lots of people weren't wearing masks outside of the shops, but I didn't feel unsafe. Because I was keeping to the rules, wearing a mask and even had gloves on ... woollen ones because it was freezing!
But it got me thinking.
We all need some 'rules' in life, don't we?
If we are living in community, we need to know what is acceptable and what is unacceptable behaviour. We can't all just do as we please because by doing that, although we might make life good for ourselves we risk making life unbearable for others.
Most societies have rules for living - laws - and mostly they are in place for the common good. Many of them are based not just on consensus but also have their basis in shared culture, history and even in religious/spiritual tenets.
Think of the Ten Commandments handed down to us from early Biblical times. The first few are about the relationship between humans and God, but most are about living in family (honour your father and mother) and living in community - you shall not steal, commit adultery, murder, lie against your neighbour or 'covet' what they have and you do not. It's just basic stuff, common sense really, but on this set of rules many laws of lands across the globe are based.
I understand there are some people who just don't like to keep to any rules. In political terms that's called 'anarchy' but most people who make a decision to pass on the rules set out by their community would not call themselves 'anarchists'. They might think of themselves as 'individuals' or 'free thinkers', but imagine if we were ALL just determined to do our own thing, regardless of others.
If there were no rules of the road, and we all just drove on any side of the track, there would be chaos, and probably some accidents. If there were no speed limits then people could just drive as fast as they wanted and risk killing people ... and yes, I am aware that speed limits are some of the rules that many many drivers tend to ignore! If we just took whatever we fancied from a shop without paying for it, knowing that we would not be changed with theft, what would that do to the economy?
Anyway, you get my drift.
Not that I want to live in a highly controlled society, but there is a need for some boundaries for our behaviour. And whether it's because you're a free thinker or just basically selfish and think only of yourself before others, one thing that this pandemic has taught us is that we DO all need to behave responsibly and follow the set out guidelines if we are to beat this virus.
SO - for all those in Jersey planning to do some Saturday shopping in Town.
Please ... Keep Left, keep your distance, wear your mask and sanitise endlessly.
Yes, I know I know ... lots of rules and some of us might be getting a bit bored of it all.
But if we don't do it, we could well find ourselves indoors, stuck at home, no seeing family members, with no retail therapy, or sports or eating out for much much longer.
Not sure about you but I'm happy to stick to the rules if it means that I won't have to do so forever and ever, until the end of time!
There are times when a song or a piece of music takes you by surprise, or unexpectedly reminds you of something in your past or takes you back to a moment in time.
That happened to me last weekend.
On Sunday at lunchtime in the UK the BBC broadcasts its long running and very popular television programme called Songs of Praise, a religious show which features Christian hymns sung in churches of different denominations across the country, and interesting interviews and features about the life of faith of the nation.
Even during the coronavirus pandemic, when they haven't been able to go out and record big congregations singing at the top of their voices, Songs of Praise has kept alive and vibrant. They have recorded soloists, and small groups and choirs singing at safe distance, and new interviews are interwoven with some of the highlights of congregational singing recorded in recent years, before churches were all locked up to keep us safe.
I've been involved with Songs of Praise for several reasons down the years. I've sung in a few big congregations. As a PR working for different churches and faith charities, I've helped provide guests for the programme. And many years ago, I was actually a guest myself when the programme came to Jersey and I was interviewed for the show.
In addition to the church based programmes, every year Songs of Praise also hosts 'specials' like 'The Big Sing' and competitions like 'Gospel Choir of the Year' and 'Young Chorister of the Year' which enable the whole nation to enjoy some amazing singers and performances.
This year, for the first time, Songs of Praise is hosting a new contest - 'Gospel Singer of the Year' - and last Sunday (Jan 31) they held the semi-finals. The top three will be in the final today.
But that's not really why I'm writing this.
I'm inspired to share a song with you this Sunday. It was sung last weekend by one of the semi-finalists in the Gospel Singer of the Year programme. And it brought back a particular time in my life and a poignant memory.
In May 1985 my darling Dad died. It was way before his time. He was only 63.
He and mum were living in the UK at the time, ministering in a Salvation Army corps (church) in Kent, and when Dad passed away - or as we say in The Salvation Army ... when he was 'Promoted to Glory' - we held three memorial services. One in the UK church that he was leading at the time of his passing, and then ten days later, the main funeral and an evening celebration service at home here in Jersey, in his 'home' church.
In the celebration service I sang a song for my Dad. How I managed it I'll never know, and I am aware that I missed some of the top notes because of my tears, but I did it for him.
The song meant a lot to me but I have to admit that I haven't listened to it much in the intervening 35 plus years and I certainly haven't sung it in public again. In fact, I don't really sing solos much anymore.
But it was THAT song I heard on the Songs of Praise Gospel Singer of the Year. It was sung beautifully and I was pleased that the performer is in the final. It brought a tear to my eye and caused a lump in my throat, but it's been going through my mind all this week.
So - just for you - I share it with you this Sunday.
The title of the song is 'My Tribute - To God be the Glory' and it was written by the amazing singer/songwriter Andraé Crouch, who also sadly is no longer with us. He mixed his own words to the eternal poetry of hymnwriter Fanny Crosby to create this beautiful song.
'My Tribute' has been sung by many artists down the years, including one of my favourite singers - Sandi Patty. But in the 1980s I also listened a lot to a Christian singer called 'Evie' ... and it's her version of this amazing song that I was inspired by.
It took me a while to find it online, and in the process I discovered that Evie is still performing, including this song, and looking and sounding amazing ... but this is the original recording I fell in love with.
Enjoy and be blessed!