May 2008

For those if you who know your Bible you will be able to find the source of these three words! As the second leg of my sabbatical draws to a close I am full of gratitude – to people back home and here who have made this extraordinary experience possible.

I love this city and its noise and energy and positive feel. I have learnt so much – and visited places – even within myself – that I would not have thought possible. I have been quite amazed at the generosity of people who have been prepared to share their time and wisdom. And being away from a familiar place has helped me make all kinds of connections. 

My last couple of days have been spent with friends and catching up on some of this city’s musts! Thanks to the Creative Director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra I enjoyed a Box seat for the concert on Friday afternoon. It was full of the most marvellous ladies in hats who had clearly enjoyed a couple of lunch time martinis! Here was the list of must dos before the flight!

  • two visits to the Chicago Symphony Hall with great classical music
  • the Museum of Contemporary Art – where the people and the building were more interesting than the exhibits!
  • the Museum of Jewish History
  • A river trip
  • A historical architectural tour
  • Shopping for a baseball cap (for my Dad!)
  • Blues and Jazz club (late night)  
And all achieved – I nearly bought myself a cap to cover my greying hair. The barber on Michegin Avenue told me it looked distinguished which secured her five dollar tip. Why are men so taken in by flattery?
My final anxiety is whether everything will go in the suitcase and what the possibilities are of my charming the attendant on the Virgin desk to let my overweight case on the flight.
And so to June. And so to another phase – the final one of my sabbatical. I am looking forward to absorbing some of the notes in my four black notebooks (remember the blog?) and with 220 pages in each of them I hope I can read my scribble!
It will be good to have a clear focus and be free of people and telephone for a while. No email either!! Great – a retreat. It has been good to connect with many in the States and beyond and now some time to absorb and reflect and read.
I have so many stories to tell and a mountain of jokes…… I can hear you groan!!
Keep well…… the end is nearly in sight and so be thankful!! or not !

the world smiles with you!

Someone once said that you get the face you deserve at 50….. what do you make of that. I think that I have a slightly unfortunate face. When it relaxes I look (I think – because I don’t spend hours in front of the mirror) a bit miserable! I think it is mostly expressing my serious side. Though I do like to laugh and a joke from time to time.

Another massive generalisation – but I do think that Americans are better at smiling! They are a warm lot and when they say ‘Have a nice day’ it is mostly said with a smile. And what a differnce it makes – a kind of infectious positivity.

So – go on – practice smiling at yourself and others. In the shops – with your neighbours and especially in Church at the Peace.

Here is a picture that says it all –


 (remind you of anybody?)

It is good to be a tourist and to tick those three star ‘musts’ off the list. And ever in need of a sermon illustration I wondered whether one really did feel nearer to God in the worlds tallest building! So – here is is – the Sears Tower – 233 South Wacker Drive – to give it its precise address. This has been the tallest building in the world for over 20 years and it cuts an unmistakable profile in the city’s skyline. It took from 1968 to 1974 to construct and is 1,454 feet from bottom to top.

Designed by architect, Bruce Graham, the tower comprises nine rectangular tubes resting on more han 100 steel and concrete caissons anchored into the bedrock hundreds of feet below ground. The whole thing contains 75,000 tons of steel. And thank goodness I do not have to clean the windows! For those of you who like statistics:

  • The tower contains enough phone wire to wrap around the earth 1.75 times
  • 25,000 people visit or use the building each day
  • In a high wind the building moves up to 8 inches
  • The tower has 108 elevators and some very expensive apartments

So – a visit was necessary. The elevator took 43 seconds to reach the top – after which part of me was still on the ground floor! It was a terrible trip! But – worth it. The views are quite amazing – far over the plains if Illinois – over Lake Michigan to Indiana. And below the streets and people. In the distance aeroplanes landing and taking off (from this angle looking almost if they were about to collide!)

It was well worth the $12 ticket. Here are some of the views – none of which quite do justice to the scale and distance of it all.


 And finally – it has the highest toilet in the world – and yes I did !! What a long distance water drop!! (Sorry )

In the Art Institute of Chicago there is the largest collection of French Impressionist paintings outside France. I spend some time getting to know the Impressionists. Here is one you might remember: (Degas)


  The impressionists record the desire of the passing moment. Many of their pictures represent the subjective in the visual experience. They are a splendid collection of the ordinary -with nothing much going on.

However on closer examination more is revealed. What do you see in this picture? Look at the sadness in the woman’s face – what has happened? Is it the relationship with the man? What is her story? What is going to happen to her? Does the man or other people in the bar either know or care about her feelings?

We need sometimes to look beyond the surface to see what lies beneath and beyond the ordinary. Nurturing attentiveness yields wisdom.

Impressionism is an art movement that originated in Paris in the mid 1800’s and its main artists are Monet, Renoir, Pissaro, Sisley, Cezanne and Manet.  The characteristics of this school of painting include visible brush strokes, open composition, emphasis on light and its changing qualitiies. Impressionists captured saw the spendour in the ordinary and attempted to capture it.

Look at this picture:


In this colour and ‘impression’  Monet captures the momentary and transient effects of sunlight. Can you feel the intense colour?  There is extraordinary freedom within the work and ease.

Here is another – 


  At the time these paintings attracted great criticism. One art critic complained that this picture looked unfinished!

This particular collection is well presented in the gallery with plenty of space and clear explanations for amateurs like me!  And I was interested to learn that this movement influenced other movements especially European Classical music. So appropriate composers to listen to while being absorbed into this feast of colour would be Debussy, Satie, Ravel and possibly our own Vaughan Williams.

 They are beautifully captured and offer us the opportunity to look and see more and more and more within the ordinary moments of our lives. Happy seeing.


There are only a few things that I remember being smacked for at home – swearing was one of them. I picked up this language in the playground and taught my sister it before tea. My poor parents went spare! As I overhear conversations on trains and in shops there seems little reticence – four lettered words all over the place and sometimes used by the young.  I think that they are also over used on Television and Cinema – it’s something all of us sort out if we had the resolve. And – as ever – it starts with us.

There are other four lettered words that need to handled with care, perhaps to be uttered less frequently and then with intent. Here is my list!

Do you think that we will ever be able to reclaim the concept of Work? It means much more than task or job! Work can be life giving and changing and therefore holy. It can also become an obsession and destructive. Work for some people is a false God.

Closely related is the word Rest. How hard can that be? True rest – which we all need – can be restorative providing balance and perspective.

Then what about that small word that many use – Hate? When we hate something or someone then we want them to cease to be. It is a negative word with terrible consequences that we use so easily and quickly.

The other overused and under appreciated four letter word is – you guessed it love. I wonder if we might be more thoughtful about this word and its use? Love can be a warm, enfolding and sheltering word but it can also be strong and difficult and challenging. It is something that all of us could be better at – more deeply focused and intentional within.

Words – wonderful – complex and ever fertile in their possibility! Handle with care…

Well here is my bit of Daily Mail journalism for the month! I sometimes wonder looking around here (and elsewhere) whether we shall ever need to speak to anyone ever again…..

During my search for a book in the library I saw a lad carrying his lap top – probably with the information he needed to secure books for his work. He was also wearing earphones listening music on his I Pod. I was trying to get past him but could get his attention because his mobile went – I thought that was a gadget record? Three indispensable gadgets for living. Can you beat it?

For those of my readers who might need a picture here goes:

           A mobile phone – but beware you can do all sorts of things with it these days including taking pictures and listening to the news ! And you can also record small bits of video……….  

And the I Pod -it is a small device of playing hours – no – days of music on it!! I have one and it has helped pass the time especially in the evenings!



And finally – a lap top – a portable computer which has been my salvation here and without which I would not have been able to have blogged my way round the world! That may have been an advantage but since my journey to the states over 3,000 people have visited my blog page! You would think that people had better things to do with their time. Here is a picture of my amazing small lap top


  We have become very good friends over these past weeks – its a small wonder of tricks!!

Well all this is great – technology and the wonders thereof….. but – I have a sense that it is diminishing our ability to communicate with one another rather than enable it. Does everybody really need a mobile glued to their ear? What do they talk about all day? And the mobile text is the only way some people connect! And as for blogging – you fill in the gaps. There are both wonders and dangers in this revolution!

What is your favourite piece of electronic machinery? And why?? What is your favourite way of communicating with people??



I have turned to some biographical narrative in order to consider how older people themselves narrate the meanings of age. Perhaps it is not surprising to discover that women do this much more creatively (and I think honestly) than men. This short book is quite amazing in its eloquence, honesty, wisdom and rigour. Reading Heilbrum is like listening to Bach – a delight! She combines wit and detached judgement – a rare combination when the subject matter is herself and her approaching old age.

There is no pretence that age is easy – indeed Heilbrum reckins that when it comes to life and age – it is rather better to leave the party while it is still fun! She draws on her career as a University English teacher by using some of the great texts of literature to illuminate her journey. It also gives her a skill in expression which is bountiful for the reader.

This is (from one perspective) a rather privileged life – a happy and comfortable family life, a secure and well rewarded career and a society that is intelligent and sociable. She enjoys two homes and lots of European travel indulging her love of all things English. But she fears old age and all that it may bring through its diminishings and decline in power and choice.

She elects for  a different approach – to live on borrowed time and enjoy the moment in all its possibilities. So we have reflections on her new house; her marriage; sweet solitude; the fascination with the computer and e mail; the joy of discovering new friends. Each short chapter deserves to be pondered and the lessons within them taken up for ourselves. In the narrative are many pearls of wisdom to help us learn to love being old.

Now how do we define old? That is for another day. I will leave you with a rather wonderful picture of the author:


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