Fallow and fertile
IN THE constant losing battle of keeping our new home tidy, I have been trying to train my husband and children in the use of “holy spaces”. Defining the word “holy” as “set aside for one use” (a friend used to have “holy” spoons for sugar and jam, a concept that has stuck in my mind ever since), these are simply areas set aside for one ornament and nothing else. Any extra object left in these spaces is confiscated and re-homed, causing its sacrilegious owner a frantic search until they’ve learned their lesson.
Since the whole family is guilty of putting things down the moment they come through the door, I designated the top of the hallway bookshelf “holy” to some pretty candle-holders. I thought this would be the key to a spotless entryway, but it doesn’t seem to be having the right effect. I’m mainly removing old tissues and sweet wrappers to the bin, which acts more as an encouragement than a deterrent to those offenders too lazy to make the journey for themselves.
One culprit, following the letter of the law, has started to stash used service sheets on top of the books on the shelf below. Meanwhile, I am beginning to suspect that someone else has joined me in the policing of the holy space: I keep losing my glasses.
Way back when
AN ALUMNA from my Cambridge college called me up for its annual telephone campaign. I am never terribly financially forthcoming for these, but, after I had broken the news about the sparsity of an author’s salary, we had a pleasant conversation about student life.
It is interesting how the particular language of a college community seems to exist separately from the students who flit through it: its inhabitants change every three years, yet none of the old names, jokes, and references has changed at all. As we chatted about the superior second-year rooms, the antics of the organ scholar during chapel, our shared love of musical theatre, and the library where I had spent so many hours, the years fell away, and I was back in those lilac-scented courts.
My new friend asked me when I had graduated, and I told her. “Oh,” she said, “I wasn’t born then.”
I WAS asked to lead a retreat at Launde Abbey for the first time, and I turned up nervously clutching a folder full of finger labyrinths, which I had printed out for use in one of my sessions.
It turns out that bringing labyrinths to Launde is like bringing gelato to Italy. On sight of my poor paper offerings, our group were offered the use of three full-size labyrinths — two outdoors, and one inside — and a whole library of the smaller variety, made of clay, wood, fabric, and any number of other satisfyingly sensory materials.
Labyrinths seem to wrap up a spool of time into a tight little coil, always taking much longer to walk than you would expect from the size of them: on a previous retreat elsewhere, I once realised in the middle of one that the journey back out again would take up most of the next session, and had to cheat by stepping across all the carefully curated lines.
I therefore promised myself plenty of time to have a go at the big one on the final day at Launde, but was thwarted when, at the appointed moment, the labyrinth was invisible because it was covered in thick snow.
In life, unlike labyrinths, there can be no cheating on the way out: leaving the driveway, our car got stuck.
OVER the school break, I tried to give each of my children some dedicated “Mum” time. This gets trickier as they get older. My daughter, who selects experiences directly from YouTube, chose a trip to sample bubble tea, which turns out to be a sweet drink filled with what appears to be pick’n’mix and tapioca. She was enthusiastic about the results, though I remain ambivalent about a delicacy that cannot decide whether it is a food or a beverage.
My son, on the other hand, spent a morning challenging me to games of chess, air hockey, and times-tables racing, all of which he won. Feeling the need to regain some dignity, I taught him how to play Boggle: at least, with a word game, I could have the upper hand.
It took him three rounds to beat me at that, too, and I didn’t dare to suggest another game.
IT HAS taken the experience of Holy Week for me to realise that there is really no such thing as silence in a town church. In our rural parishes, you could practically hear the candles flickering: the Maundy Thursday watch was only occasionally interrupted by the distant hoot of an owl.
This year, sitting in for one of the Hours at the Cross, I counted the motorbikes and sirens screaming around two sides of the church, and reflected that the act of holding silence in the building was somehow richer for the chaos going on outside it.
It emphasised the way in which we were deliberately experiencing three hours at a different pace, and with a different understanding; and, just as a grieving person feels surprised that the rest of the world keeps on turning, so our silences between the crucifixion readings contrasted starkly with the sounds of oblivious, everyday life outside.
I suppose that time works like space: it has only to be set aside to become holy.
Amy Scott Robinson is a writer, performance storyteller, and ventriloquist.