Thursday, 20 December 2012

Life's Small Things

A few things brought this 3+ year old poem fresh to mind yesterday:
1) I finally found a beautiful recycled glass jug at Ten Thousand Villages to replace the one the cat broke all those years ago; and we christened it last night, filled with water to rehydrate the cells after some lovely ruby red Carmenere.
2) Brianna's kind invitation to guest blog on her 'winter survival plan' brain child, Reflections on Darkness, has encouraged the light-dark motif to begin playing around the edges of my winter-slumbering consciousness. As I wonder if words will come again, I recall that they have come before.
3) As life continues to meander through its many patches of shadow and brilliance, and as I fail and succeed, fall and pick myself up again as much as I ever have, this poem helps re-ground me by reminding me that today's struggle and this year's struggle are also yesterday's and last year's and next year's; that mine is yours and theirs and ours and God's ("In all our wanderings, in light and in dark, you are the journey and the journey's end."); and that the hope and longing - and the journey in and through and towards them - remain constant, and must be kept alive, and are really what counts.
"How we get there is where we arrive." (Richard Rohr)


Today the cat broke my treasured water jug, a wedding gift from friends.
I cried as I swept up the shards of glass.
Today a friend spontaneously ploughed our oppressive mountains of snow.
We were left with miraculous open space, and the faintest hint of tender green.

Today something was irretrievably lost.
Today something was given, something gained.

Today I was ugly and angry with my daughter over nothing important.
We both cried, and I wondered how I am wounding her.
Today she asked for a kiss on her bumped head.
I marvelled that my loving touch still holds healing magic.

Today love was trampled and neglected.
Today love was simply asked for and freely given.
Today power was abused and vulnerability wounded.
Today there was connection, and tenderness, and healing.

I am a lover and a hater, a hurter and a healer, a bully and a friend.
I am control-freak one moment, carefree singing the next.
I am light and dark, good and evil, hidden and revealed.
Driven at times by an inner force of injury and rage,
Love rises at others to turn my small choices to good.

I am hopeful and despairing, as life’s small things bring loss or gain, fracture or growth,
As small things reveal the great circle of death and life before which I am powerless.
I am a small thing – powerless, yet powerfully held in the greater circle of love.

And so I watch the fall and the splinter, helpless to prevent or repair.
I know the wound and the wounding, and the barriers to love.
I hope, too, for the unsolicited miracle of healing,
For all that restricts to be pushed aside,
For the gift of a wide open space in which love can grow up
Like a tender shoot.

Rachael Barham – Thursday 26th February 2009

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

An affirmation: on returning home after being away

Isn't it such a gift to go away and leave one's everyday life behind for just a little while? And then isn't it also a gift to return to it, hopefully refreshed and with perspective regained and energy renewed? 

This is how I am feeling after a flying (but very precious) visit to my dear parents in England. I love the fresh eyes this gives me for my home, my everyday tasks, and especially my beloved two. It reminds me again (again, again) of the preeminence of love, and the smallness and pettiness of the concerns I can get caught up in. And so I long to recommit myself to this life, these dear people, the tasks and days I have been given, with all that I am and have; and particularly to commit myself to love above all - to love in all its patience, kindness, gentleness, forgiveness, trust, and delight. The sort of love that my small self, caught up in it-self, cannot manage, but that my True Self - centred and sourced from deep within and far beyond - can receive and live as gift. 

So this morning I re-member a simple meditation and affirmation that I wrote last summer on returning from six weeks in Europe, and I offer it to you too, as a way to re-call and rededicate yourself to the life YOU have been given. Because "This is my life!" Try saying this out loud, with a shifting emphasis on each word in turn, and feel what this means for you and what it releases inside you.

          THIS is my life.
          Right here, right now.
          It is not elsewhere
          and it is no different than it is.

          This IS my life.
          I cannot imagine myself out of or beyond it.
          Neither can any shortcomings,
          disappointments or misgivings
          alter or remove what IS.

          This is MY life.
          No-one else can live it.
          And only I have the power to choose 
          what it is
          or what it can be.

          This is my LIFE.
          It is not a game or a show
          or a dress rehearsal.
          It is LIFE itself, given to me,
          and more than the sum of its parts.

          THIS. IS. MY. LIFE.

          (Tuesday 28th June 2011)

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

What Love Does {More Reflections on the Most Excellent Way}

With foot on the garden fork, its prongs sunk into the roots of another vigorous weed, I lend my weight to the downward push and upward lift. Though it feels too late, I am finally making space for things to be planted and grow up in this thirsty ground. Roots separate from earth, extra soil and needed worms are shaken off, and the dandelion joins a growing pile beside me. Also beside me, a little girl makes circling turns of the vegetable plot, asking her questions and sharing her worries as she walks. 

I am so grateful Love came to me and called me today. I am so grateful that the To-Do list was left behind and that I remembered what love is and does. 

Love makes space for the other.

Here the space is created by no errands to run, no people to see. And here space is created by a task that allows togetherness without intensity: our eyes don’t often meet but our hearts and minds can, and there is the rhythm of the push and lift, and of the circling turns, to keep us both occupied and yet available.

And so, as I dig and she paces, I ask her questions; and there is no way she could know from my casual tone and downturned eyes how deeply I long to hear her answers, how infinitely precious this conversation is to me. I cherish the way a soul hides its secrets, and then how it unfurls these secrets, like a fern in the spring, when it senses that safety and acceptance are coming out to meet them. The unfurling happens slowly at first, then with growing boldness and freedom, as each new leaf or tendril meets the sun and moisture it craves. 

I hear this growing boldness and freedom in her voice – in the confusion she expresses, the emotion she begins to convey and the rising desire to hear my response.

And as we talk and the relief starts to flood her veins – simply that she is heard and understood and loved – she tells me why she had been so silent walking home after school. She was thinking, muddled, worried, and deciding she would talk to God about all this swirl later, when she went to bed. But, she tells me, it’s like God has already heard her and already answered and helped her through this conversation. Even before she really prayed. She was amazed and grateful to realise this. And I was grateful too: that Love came out to meet us both today, and that Love created a space for us to meet each other.

And isn’t this what love does? Isn’t it always running to meet us? Always longing to be gracious to us and rising to show us compassion?*

Isn’t love what makes space for us? And also what fills the spaces between everything and inside everything, by always going out of itself, out towards the other and down into the low and thirsty places? 

Doesn’t it always answer before we call and hear while we still speak?*

We go inside together, and while I’m washing the dirt from under my nails I tell her that if she ever wants to talk about these things again she only needs to ask. She’s silent for a moment, but the freedom is still there to be vulnerable, and she ventures: “I’m wondering what you’re thinking now. Are you thinking that you’re glad this conversation is over, that it went on too long?” 

I pull her to me and look into her eyes – because there are times when the eyes do need to meet – and tell her softly, truly, that I love to talk about these things with her, love to hear her, always love to hear her.

Because that’s what love does.

* Luke 15:17; Isaiah 30:1; Isaiah 65:24.

Monday, 11 June 2012

On the most excellent way: Rocks and remaining

Two small sections of my dreams remained with me when I woke up this morning, and I was somehow reminded of them by the slow and rhythmic swing of the hammock this afternoon. The one I will reflect on today was of a large rock that I was unable to move despite my best efforts. On waking, the familiar words “If I have faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing” joined this dream picture; so later, on my sunny hammock, I turned to 1 Corinthians 13, that passage beloved of weddings and quote books, to be reminded...

Love: The most excellent way. Also the most challenging way: often so difficult to truly find, then fraught with pain and failure and disappointment, and oh-so-hard to remain on and walk well.

But, I reflected today, could this most excellent way be so hard largely because it is so simple and so unrewarding in the ways I desire to be rewarded? I have no great longing to move real mountains with my faith or my prayers, but there are plenty of metaphorical mountains I would like to see completely out of the picture. It is so easy to believe – somewhere deep inside, though often not consciously – that it is the removal of certain situations, challenges, imperfections, sadnesses or deficiencies that would finally complete my life, making me utterly happy and fulfilled. Another angle on this metaphor is that moving a mountain or a rock has a certain thrill and triumph about it; its removal (or moval?!)  is a concrete, measurable, noticeable achievement. And who doesn’t love those?  Thus it is also easy to believe that experiences of achievement and accomplishment are what I am lacking and need to pursue.

Yet, in my dream, the rock I was trying and failing to move remained, and the challenge was issued – is constantly and wordlessly issued – despite and in place of this failure: to make love my goal and my priority. In other words, this dream task I was focussed on and failing at was not really the needful, important task at all. The task I’ve been called to, and that all of us have surely been called to in different ways and contexts, is simply (and challengingly) to love. Though maybe the way of love has the potential to be less challenging if I really make it the focus of my desires, energies and priorities; if I turn my back for a moment on the rock that calls me so urgently and ask instead what it would mean to love, just to love – here and now.

And so, today, I faced a whole day with nothing in my diary; no appointments, no great tasks, no worthy achievements awaited me. But what I did have was a family I love and who I am lucky enough to be loved by in return (as if this love began with me!); and a home to tend and create for them, a task that often seems so small and yet so never-ending and thankless. Such an apparently thankless and endless task begs the pointed question: what, in fact, makes me ‘something’? And what makes me ‘nothing’? 

To (try to) move mountains without love, I continue to learn, is what makes me nothing. But to turn my focus away from the mountains – either the great challenges and imperfections, or achievements and glories – and bend down to love, even after I have failed at this task twenty times already today? This is the most excellent way.
This is how I learn to remain in his love, and I have discovered too long and slow that apart from this love I can do nothing.

So, today, the rock I turned my eyes from was my ‘To Do’ list, and the tyranny of the computer, and the ego demands of ‘productivity’ with associated recriminations of ‘uselessness’; and the bending down and reaching up to love took the form of tidying my kitchen, preparing a simple summer lunch to share over conversation with my husband in the garden, hanging laundry in the sun, walking to pick up my daughter from school, and giving her space of time and heart to talk out her eight-year-old worries. And here’s the unsurprising surprise: it was precious, and priceless, and simple, and satisfying. No doubt there will be days to turn love towards the moving of mountains (can the two not come together?), but not today.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012


Raise high the standard of spring!
Hold up the budded boughs,
As you stride through greening woods,
Your skirts lifted from a gold leaf floor.

See, dancing birds follow in your train,
While others circle overhead.
Hear grateful brooks herald your coming
And frogs sing a chorus of praise.

As you pass,
Bare branches still too proud to bow
Know that spring’s sap will soon
Force them, clothed, to their knees.

So, lift high the standard!
Winter, lay down your frosted arms,
And earth, yield again with joy,
That all might see and

Rachael Barham,
Friday 1st May 2009,
Chickadee Lodge, St John River, New Brunswick.

Monday, 23 April 2012

A lot can change in 48 hours... (and cooking with milk kefir)

A lot can change in 48 hours. For example, all the wonderful people that have made your working year so rich and such fun can suddenly all leave. :-(  And your work can all at once be over - completely over! - for the next four months! You can go from having time for not much else except the necessary tasks of life, to having extra time and energy to do things like... hang out with friends and cook new things!
So, all this being true, I plan to be posting some of my new creations on here  as the spring and summer progress.

Another thing that can change in 48 short hours or less is that ordinary milk (and by that - for me - I mean local, organic, raw, unpasteurised, unhomogenized milk, since that is milk in its ordinary, natural form!) can be transformed, by sitting in contact with 'kefir grains' (actually a 'symbiotic colony of yeasts and bacteria') at room temperature, into kefir. This particular transformation is thanks to the gift of kefir grains from (the real) Julia Roberts, one of those amazing people who have just exited my life, stellar thesis and all!  And I have been really loving how easy the kefir is to make.  Just add milk to the 'grains' in a loosely covered mason jar and then strain 24-48 hours later!

But what is this stuff?! Well, think drinking yoghurt meets sour buttermilk. And, as for the 'grains', think cottage cheese meets blobs of gristle!  Yeah, not that attractive! :-)

But this stuff is a superfood for the gut and digestive system (read more about it here) and so well worth making or buying, and either drinking or adding to recipes. I don't like the taste enough to drink kefir on its own, so we use it mostly in the 'berry green smoothies' that I made for breakfast this morning (scroll down on this page to find my recipe) and sometimes in dishes like Soaked Oatmeal Pancakes and, for today's lunch, a new experiement... a ranch-style dressing.

I was inspired to try this by the house salad served at our local Bistro with their homemade ranch dressing, and which I sometimes ask them to add smoked salmon and capers to for a yummy, healthy, good-carb meal. Today, with all this time and creative headspace on my hands, I made my own salad with locally farm-grown spinach, sliced courgette (zucchini), capers, wild sockeye smoked salmon, hard-boiled local free range egg and with my new dressing drizzled over it all.  It was delicious!  And I put an extra dollop on my plate to dip raw cauliflower, broccoli and orange pepper slices in - still feeding those mitochondria!

So why not give this great dressing - or just plain old kefir! - a go? And, if you are already a kefir fan, tell  me what you do with it...

Homemade Ranch-style Dressing with Kefir
An easy-peasy dressing that is brilliant with a spinach salad or to dip raw veggies in, uses up my homemade kefir and is good for me!

½ cup raw milk kefir (or buttermilk)
¼ cup raw milk Greek yoghurt (or sour cream) – more if you want a thicker dip
2 tbsp EVOO (Extra Virgin Olive Oil)
2 tbsp chopped fresh chives
¼ tsp Herbamare (or sea salt)
A small clove of garlic, crushed
¼ tsp onion powder
½ tsp dried dill
¼ tsp dried thyme
A generous amount of freshly ground black pepper
A few drops of liquid stevia (or some maple syrup)

Options: a different blend of herbs, fresh or dried, would also be yummy.

Put all ingredients in a mason jar and shake to blend.  Hey presto!  Store in the fridge or just eat!

Friday, 13 April 2012

You can't contain a child

You can't contain a child
Let one loose in a field
And she will run, fly

Too much life in the limbs to walk
Always the full charge

All this waiting life calls for dash and tear
Tearing to open this moment’s present
To be present to it all

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Saying the words I hate to say

We are sitting opposite each other in the diner waiting for our breakfast to arrive, her pale little face elflike below the new khaki beret. The mad rush to get here in time, her infuriating slowness and indecision, my sickening nagging and unnecessary criticism – these fall away like water below a dammed up stream. Above the dam created by this break in our routine, by a time painfully carved out, the water settles and stills. It’s as if I’ve been caught in a torrent of frustration and needless stress, and I’ve wounded with my thrashing limbs and thrashing words. Why do I do this?

The table between us, the sitting and waiting, is distance and time enough to stop my thrashing and look around me and come into my right mind, right heart, again. I look across at her and see the precious, fragile thing she is and I take her elfin face in my hands and look her in the eyes, hoping my shamed and loving gaze reaches deep into her soul, and I say the words that still come hard, get stuck in my throat:

“I’m sorry.”

I tell her it’s not her at all (her eyes show me she needed to hear this); that’s it me and I hate it and I’m sorry; that she is the dearest, most lovely thing to me (eyes open, soften and brighten as love and delight begin to heal what should never have been), and that I hate the words that come out of my mouth – so small and mean – even as I hear myself saying them; that I know these small, mean words are flowing more often, more freely, these recent days (she nods shyly in assent) and I don’t know why or how to stop but I see it and will try, and I’m sorry, again.

“I’m sorry.”

Oh how I hate these words as well: Hate that I have to say them; hate what has come before them and made them necessary. I hate them because they are so small, too, and never seem enough. They can’t roll back the waters of time as I wish they could; they can’t affect a miracle of absolute healing and oblivion; they can’t guarantee that this same devastating flood will not ravage our world again next week, even tomorrow. I hate them because they wound my ego and lay me bare to the reality of my power and my misuse of it, of my desires and their constant disappointment, and of my apparent helplessness at times to be anywhere close to the human, woman, wife, friend, daughter, mother (oh yes, especially mother) that I long to be.

If I hated these words less, maybe I would hate my hard, critical, harsh, unkind, careless, uncontrolled, hurtful words more? Enough to hold them in and hold them back? Enough to stop the torrent and step back from the edge of that crashing, hurtling, shattering precipice?

But though I hate the sorry words, still I love them and need them, as much as a drowning man needs the rock that agonizingly stops his freeflow freefall down the raging river. Though they are hard words, yet they soften – the hard places in me and the hurt places in her. Their very hardness is solid ground for me if I will cling to them, and a foothold for the long climb back up if I can stand on them and move beyond.

Moving beyond means accepting the forgiveness that I see mercifully, graciously leap up in her riverblue eyes from who knows what deep, clear inner spring. It means accepting the truth that I am, today, not mountain-climber, rockface-scaler, summit-reacher; but simply one who ackowledges the need to start again, again, at the foot of the towering cliff, thankful to be on dry ground and be given the chance to try again.

It is a humbling, praiseless task, this trying again; but a timeless one too. Even those who have dedicated their lives in monk’s cell to the pursuit of God and holiness and right-relatedness (I remember this with growing courage) embraced this task as worthy life’s work and spiritual discipline. I would expect more from them (from me) but this is the age-old truth and tale:

A curious outsider asked the burning question, hoping for spiritual enlightenment: “What do you do in your cell all day, Father?” The old man replied: “We fall down and then we get up again.”

So I get up again.

And I open the story book we had forgotten and had had to go back home to get, wasting ‘precious minutes’ and provoking one of my frustrated tirades and her hot tears now dried. She moves around the table to sit next to me and be able to read along and see the pictures, and we are together again – warm limbs and happy imaginations, healing hearts and hungry tummies.

We find the place where we left the story last time, and we begin again.

“Always we begin again.”

(attributed to St Benedict of Nursia)

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Risen Life Everyday

What an incredible time of year this is! The beginnings of new life are everywhere around us as we celebrate the Life-out-of-Death that Jesus walked and was and opened to us all.

Since there is too much 'real life' going on for me at the moment, with end of term tasks and tiredness, to put flesh on all the bare-bone thoughts growing inside me about this astounding Life, please allow me to repost something I wrote almost two years ago about life and bread and resurrection and everyday miracles. I don't have sourdough bread on the go right now, but the red clover sprouts on my windowsill and the milk kefir growing in a mason jar in my basement are screaming LIFE to me every day! What is screaming LIFE at you?!


I’m talking here about my sourdough bread, of which I just made another delicious batch yesterday, this time with half unbleached white and half wholewheat flour. Making sourdough bread is a beautifully simple process, but as there is undoubtedly some science to it too, I have taken to recording how I feed the starter and make the bread each time, and what the results are, so as to learn and be able to bake the best bread possible. And each time, documented in my special new food journal, there is exultation (It has risen!) when I come to check the dough after a night of the natural yeasts working their wonders, and find that it has turned from a solid lump to an evidently living mass: a being that has grown to almost twice its original size, that sighs and moves when you touch it, and exudes a sweet, yeasty and slightly aromatic odour.

As I once again write my jubilant testimony to this miraculous transformation, I realize that it has a distinct resonance with the Paschal greeting – “Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed! Alleluia!” – hence the title of this blog post. But while such rejoicing is fitting for Easter Sunday morning resurrection, is it really appropriate for Monday morning bread-making? Is my title, or my sense of triumph, somehow sacrilegious?

Well let me say first of all that when I go downstairs in the morning, open the corner cupboard, take out the big blue bowl, lift the plate covering my dough and find that it is changed, it always feels like an everyday miracle. I almost gasp each time, never ceasing to be surprised and delighted, particularly because all I have done is mix a little salt, five cups of flour and two cups of water into a cup measure of starter, stirred it and left it alone. No kneading needed! With next to no effort and very little time on my part, a living food has been created that will nourish the bodies and souls of my family. This is not of my doing. I may be an agent but I am not the source. This bread is testament to the life we are surrounded by: the life (and natural yeast!) that flows in the air we breathe and the water we drink, that resides in the warmth of the sun and the goodness of the earth. The bread is testament to the fact that this life, when acknowledged, respected and wisely harnessed, can yield revitalizing miracles day after day.
So my sourdough bread is a miracle to me: maybe not on the scale of the Resurrected Christ, but nevertheless part of the same Life that comes to me as pure gift and deserves to be celebrated. My Easter-like rejoicing over bread is, in fact, absolutely appropriate, because it reflects the ongoing incarnational nature of the life of God as I perceive it. Ronald Rolheiser describes it like this:
The God who has become incarnate in human flesh is found, first and foremost, not in meditation and monasteries, although God is found there, but in our homes. As Nikos Kazantzakis puts it: “Wherever you find husband and wife, that’s where you find God; wherever children and petty cares and cooking and arguments and reconciliation are, that is where God is too.” The God of the incarnation is more domestic than monastic.

Rolheiser also discusses the fact that, in Christian theology, ‘the body of Christ’ refers all at once to the human Jesus, the bread of the Eucharist, and the community of faith. God has become flesh and bone, and bread and wine, and blood and tears. I love this, all the more because it has taken me so long to grasp it, as the false divisions – between spiritual and material, sacred and profane, human and divine – finally begin to crumble. The wonderful Rolheiser again:
God takes on flesh so that every home becomes a church, every child becomes the Christ-child, and all food and drink becomes a sacrament. God’s many faces are now everywhere, in flesh, tempered and turned down, so that our human eyes can see him.*
But often I don’t see, so I am grateful for the moments when my eyes are opened: when the lifting of the plate covering the waiting dough feels like the rolling away of the stone from a tomb; when the risen bread resonates with the surprise of new life; when the five cups of flour and the two of water are as miraculous to me as the five loaves and two fish; and when I am happy to sit as a family around a loaf of warm, fresh bread and delight together in sharing both its earthy goodness and our imperfect, sacred love.
So when I look on each new loaf with its crispy crust and marvelously moist yet airy interior, I will continue to exclaim: “It is risen! Alleluia!”

*All Ronald Rolheiser quotes are taken from one of my all-time favourite books Seeking Spirituality, published in North America as The Holy Longing. He quotes from Nikos Kazantzakis, The Last Temptation of Christ.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Enough for me

--------The foot of the cross--------

Enough for me this place, still strange to me and me a stranger
Enough to see this small patch of rough wood
The rest towering too tall, too lofty looming for me to grasp

Enough for me the gift of this mysterious tree
A space carved out for me beneath and within it
A bowl hollowed hallowed and now smoothed endless in capacity

Enough for me to know myself somehow carried there
Received and held there
Despite myself, uncomprehending and unsure

Enough for me to rest here, sleep here
Soul-stilled and quiet waiting
Weaned with, and weaned within