All posts by ann.clifford

2020 The Year That Everything Stopped

I had been managing the days well but things changed.   The weather turned, which didn’t help.   Waking up each morning to face the day positively became a challenge.  I can talk to myself severely and say there are many people worse off than I am.   I live in a house with a garden.  I live with my husband, whom I like and is my best friend. I live near my children and can see my grandchildren. And yet…..

Nothing is quite the same.  

My normal way of living has stopped.  I counted on continuing to work with the Off West End Awards, which I have done for the past ten years, but theatres are closed.  I danced, because I love to, and zoom doesn’t come close to being in a large mirror-bedecked practice room, with people I know and like.  I visited and hosted friends for meals, and whilst we’ve set up zoom meals, it’s not the same.  There is pain in the months of loss.

I can see the grandchildren now. The pain of separation was great, and our family has grown closer.

I recognise there is pain in so many; so palpable it’s carried in the atmosphere.  Pain of living with people who abuse in so many ways and cannot live in peace. Pain of loss of loved ones.   Pain of those in different countries where Covid runs rife with people dying, their medical workers overrun beyond endurance. The horrors of explosions, of killings, of racism, of the knowledge that those in charge do not know what they are doing, learning along with the rest of us. Yet, we are irrevocably part of each other, as Covid has shown so eloquently.  One is ill and the rest of us become at risk.  Life is more than me, it is about us. A great lesson.

This upside-down world we live in brings to the surface many emotions.  Alongside unexpected joy, delight, appreciation and wonder creeps wave after wave of fear, anxiety, despair, depression, loss, grief, sadness.  I can choose to self-medicate with all the devices and methods of engagement at the push of a button, rather than allow myself to feel all these uncomfortable emotions. 

‘I have done Netflix’ I heard someone say.  I haven’t.

The changing weather worries me.  If the day is glorious sunshine, the natural world sings hope.  I delight in physical exercise because the world looks so good.  Will that continue in the pouring rain?    Today I was out, having been unwell for about ten days, for my first run. It was a challenge, but although not fully recovered, it did my psyche so much good.   I pray for a beautiful autumn to minister its wellness.  Gifted with the most glorious spring I can ever remember, followed by a glorious summer, do I hope too much?

Listening to a Rob Bell podcast on my run, he speaks about needing to train ourselves to sit and listen to our emotions.  Not to reach for an anaesthetic, rather to follow these emotions back to their caves.  I don’t like to feel all these emotions, to sit in the quiet, let the pain emerge and then follow it.   My challenge is to follow these things back to their caves, find out where it sleeps, then maybe I might transcend, grow, innovate and work my way through to the other side and find something delightfully unexpected.

There are things that haunt.  Things like ‘have I failed?’, ‘have I lived up to my potential?’, ‘have I wasted my time?’  Then I think of the fleeting nature of life, and everything in me wants to have lived it well.   The question is – what is a life?

I don’t know the answer to that, but about fifteen years ago I made a decision that I would become a person who loved others.  My background did not prepare me well for this. However, it seems obvious to me that all things pale compared to relationships – with my husband, my children, their spouses, their children, my friends, my local community, my wider community.  Learning to love people, and contributing to their wellbeing through prayer and action, despite all the upsidedownness and reshaping of these days, doesn’t change.

 

I can’t breathe

So simple
Life…living….breathing
In two three, out two three
In two three, out two three
Lungs threatened,
Body fouled
By virulence –
Spreading, filling,
Taking,
Sucking life.
Nano second by nano second
Body shelled
 And we, the onlookers,
Watch and wait our turn.

George Floyd
Another name, another man,
Another emptying.
A human being imaged in the Divine
Like us
A man of dust returned there
By a knee.
How great our shame that
Inalienable rights
Again prove sectioned,

Where white clambers on black
Without mercy.

Two viruses
The difference –
One could be eradicated
By a vaccine.

 

 

Loving in Isolation

I’ve been reflecting this morning on the strange time is and wonder whether I, along with others of us, can be bold enough talk to about the things that are truly important.

Maybe time is giving us the opportunity to connect with our loved ones afresh in honesty, humility, thankfulness and encouragement.  We don’t know what tomorrow will bring which is why I feel it’s so important to communicate.   We have time to find a way to express how we feel about each one. 

Perhaps we can be brave and offer apologies, ask forgiveness, allow some restoration.  I was thinking of different ways to communicate: speak, record, write, draw, in any way we find most helpful, about how we love and appreciate each other. I know I want to leave a legacy of applause for my loved ones.

Perhaps we could think about a favourite piece of music, poem, hymn, something from the bible, something not from the bible, that would bring us comfort and then tell family.  Should hospitalisation then occur and complete isolation happen, they can arrange for these things to be recorded and sent to us, along with their voices perhaps reading some of it, bringing them close once again.

I wonder whether this is an opportunity to be at our most loving and our best selves.

(Pic: me and my mum Mary the year she died 2008)

 

 

 

A New Psalm

 

I declare the goodness of God.
His faithfulness beyond measure.
The beauty of His presence, the joy of His companionship.
He fills lives with mercy.
He teaches what is important and everlasting.
He takes away the clouds, clears the skies,
allows His clarity to shine unstopped,
like a glorious full moon, radiant before the dawn.
He is immeasurable, but also intimate.
He is resplendent, but as present as skin on the body.
He forgets nothing, yet remembers only love.
In Him, the world begins and ends.
In Him, purpose is defined.
In Him, all things receive their proper proportion.
The light of His loveliness pours over His people
covering them with supernatural radiance.
He is, we are.
His story is our story.
We cannot be forgotten, or misremembered.
In Him we live and move and have our being.
In Him we are whole.
He glories in us.
We exist to glorify Him,
His praise ever in our minds and hearts.
The tale of His living, unstoppable goodness forever in our mouths.

 

 

 

 

The Incident of the Swallowtail Butterfly

This is a glorious Swallowtail Butterfly feasting on bougainvillea in Patara Turkey where we went on holiday.  I sat for ages trying to capture this beauty in motion.  It will live for about a month.

I am a proud grandmother of three.  One is two and a half and his understanding amazes me.  He seems to be a child who needs to have things explained to him.  An intent listener he internalises what is being said to him. 

A butterfly incident occurred three days ago. 

I take my grandson to the small children’s zoo often.  It is walking distance from my house through some spectacular open spaces.  Living in West London I am always grateful for the green spaces many have fought to keep.  There is a children’s playground in the zoo and a small trampoline set into the ground.  I bounce across first then he follows.  Without warning I felt and saw a movement to my left.  I looked down at my leg and a huge butterfly was resting on it.  Its wingspan was the size of my hand.  Exiting the butterfly house and it must have hopped a ride on my back.  We hailed a keeper and within moments he captured the butterfly and safely returned it.   My grandson face was full of concern as he understood how to open and shut the doors of the heated butterfly house to keep them safe. If they were outside with us, they would die.   His explanation of the incident to the family was long and somewhat convoluted ending with a loud ‘Crash wallop’.  However, the enormity of the moment had struck home.

He is growing up with an understanding and care for the natural world.  Isn’t that something we all need to be reminded of again and again?  God’s creation of the world and everything in it, including us human beings, is a wonder to behold.   Let us cherish each other and love our world every way we can however small.

An Angel in Richmond Park

Someone working for my friend continues to give them a hard time.   I am ready to sack that person I’m so cross about the amount of stress my friend is enduring.   My crossness only adding to my friend’s stress I suspect. 

I’ve been trying to sort out my Wi-Fi with a large company.  It has taken three complaints, nine phone calls, two other calls that cut me off, sent the wrong equipment twice, equipment promised and ordered has twice failed to materialise,.  I do not shout down the phone because I never get to speak to the same person twice.  Every person apologises and says they will sort it out.   I ask does my file have ‘Do not listen to this woman’ written in black letters across it.  Finally, someone with authority rings me.   I’m sure you have your own stories of frustration

I hate the way these things make me feel inside.  A form of Chinese water torture they wear me down until I want to throttle someone.  Then the poor husband gets it in the neck and all he’s done is asked me how my day was!   

Oh to be wise, and do things well. Writing this I was reminded of my friend Rosa on her ‘hen do’ determined we should all dress in white and be angels.  A lovely aspiration. Can you believe it – there was a harp in Richmond Park where we went for our picnic!

“All is futility” says Ecclesiastes. And you know what, I agree with the writer of that book.  If I step back from the things I do to make a life, and some are a little more compelling than trying to sort out my Wi-Fi, it is a futility because my full attention is better spent not on myself, but on God.  The right questions are:  Who are you God?  What do you want to do that will make me more human? How will you help me find meaning and completion in my life?  What are the important things?

Ecclesiastes is a great book to divest myself of illusion and the ignorant expectation I can live this life on my own.  It dusts me down from unreality and doses me up with emptiness.  A good place to ask God for help.

 

Real Life

A long time ago when I was working as an actress my husband and my two children (aged three and six or thereabouts) visited me at the rehearsal room.  The play was challenging, and another actor was playing my husband.  The actor’s comment after they left was “you have a real life don’t you?”  He had been surprised to meet my family because once in rehearsal, the group of actors became my family.  He was my husband and together we had to act a tenderness even though by the end of the play we had broken apart from each other. 
It was a comment that lived with me.  The father of a friend of mine who works in the movie industry now discovers the work has stopped and he is completely unprepared for the real life he must now live.  He has worked hard all his career, been successful, but today is hyper-anxious and finds himself isolated and lonely. Since writing the book Time to Live looking at dying and death, I recognised my final wishes would not be that I spent more time at my place of work, or even my writing. Rather, I would want to see the beloved faces of my children, my husband, grandchildren, and friends. Recognising that brings a great perspective to the everyday choices of living life.
My relationships gained greater focus.  These are a few things I have taken on board in my attempt to sustain and enhance my connections with my adult children.
  • Be Accommodating – often when you least feel like it somebody wants something
  • Non-judgemental – with my grown-up children the requirement is that I say nothing. As a mother I was always teaching, now I am required to zip my mouth
  • Listening – being available, often at a difficult time. The rewards are great.
  • Trustworthy – don’t undermine their wishes. For example implementing whatever regime they as parents want to sustain with their children.
  • Allowing an adult to adult relationship to blossom – which means accepting and respecting the person they have become and are becoming.
  • Love whom they love – no question or debate about this. Learn, change, but love their partners whatever. Be family, love and accept each other.
  • Commitment to relationship– this means the things important to me at times can and must wait.
  • Caring for myself in all of this and making sound decisions. However I would rather be a ‘yes’ person overall so my ‘no’ is rare.

Where is God in our 21st Century World?

This is a book for the curious, the faith-filled or those with no faith.  It is bursting with richness and diversity, vulnerability and exploration, colour and fragility, treasure and beauty.    The featured artists care about our world and the life it sustains. Their persistent probing to find meaning and understanding through what they make is hugely important to us all.   Don’t expect answers, rather a multitude of questions.  Does God exist? If He does where is He? How is He accessed? If He is real what does He offer?
 

 

 

 

ABSENT

One of the things which causes us to say God does not exist is because  He can appear absent when He is most needed.  Bad things happen to good people, good things happen to bad people and we cry out from the depths of our being Why?  How can God be good or real if He allows such terrible things to happen?

Very bad things happened to the early Christians of the first century.  Unspeakable horrors were visited upon them. Writings of the time testify to their faith, their ability to meet their deaths bravely declaring their unwavering belief in Jesus.  This testimony to God, in the face of affliction, affected many. The Christians understood, death was not the worst thing that could happen.

In the book ‘Where is God in our 21st Century World?’ there is a chapter entitled Suffering and Death.  In writing it I did not want to shirk the question of an absent God.  This was my response.

ABSENT

Absent when most needed.

when the baby died

the mother wasn’t healed

the father didn’t walk away from the car

the fire came and all was lost

Absent when His friend died

The anguish in the garden, when blood filled his pores.

The darkness of death made darker still

when God is not there when needed.

There is an outlandish God who promises presence without

delivering the performance we want.

A preposterous God who loves to the point of death.

An unbelievable God.

In a world of tears there is laughter to be found. On the sound

of the poor, the broken, the children, the madmen and the fools

skims the Presence who hears the unlikely, the least and the lost

and weeps until there are no longer tears, because in the midst of

death He is always present to bring life.

Listen.

In silence let the stones cry out.

Shhhhhhh.

The Other Lamb by Marjan Wouda

A new-born lamb, sleeping or maybe stillborn, is unsentimentally displayed twice life-size. It seems to be stretched out on some kind of altar. Perhaps it is a sacrifice.  If so, to what, and for whom?

 

A Thousand Bottles of Tears

I have been so moved and amazed at the privilege of being involved in the Chaiya Art Awards and having the opportunity to write the book.   I interviewed the winner, the delightful Deborah Tompsett about her story. 

 

 Hand thrown clay vessels, each unique. Each pot formed from a heart-sized lump of clay from baby to adult. They are filled with handwritten messages and then re-fired.

Since the Davidic era, 1055BC, tear bottles have spoken of the sacredness of tears as messengers of grief, contrition and love.

 

 

WHERE IS GOD IN OUR 21ST CENTURY WORLD?

This piece of work was displayed at the gallery@oxo on the Southbank as a finalist in the inaugural theme based Chaiya Art Awards exhibition.   Deborah won the first prize of £10,000 for her stunning piece of work. 

 

I’m an artist specialising in ceramics.  I did a degree in fine art sculpture at Canterbury Art College in the late 70’s early 80’s.  It was a turbulent time. Sculpture was very male dominated and there was quite a bullying atmosphere amongst the tutors. It was also really difficult being a Christian.  I had been asked by my church for a piece of work and I was given permission to include it as part of my degree work.  However the head of the department went on sabbatical and the tutors refused to help her.  Fortunately the technicians were wonderful as it was a difficult piece of metalwork comprising of a large cross with thorns entwined around the top piece of the cross. The other students were really supportive, however, I found the atmosphere very difficult and didn’t do well in my final year.

I asked Deborah if she thought things had changed and she told me about a young student she had met studying at the Slade and she was bubbling with the support she was getting.  What did you do after finishing college as there must have been a feeling of great disappointment.

I thought I would go to Italy and do a course. So I worked as a home help, saved up and went. Didn’t know where I was going to stay and ended up working as an au pair able to do a part-time evening course.  I went everywhere I could to look and draw and it was a very fruitful time.

Deborah told me she was successful in becoming apprenticed to a potter in her village and learnt all the basics.  She also spent a summer in Beirut working with partially and non-sighted children making pots with them.  It was a very troubled area and hugely formative for her.

So where did you get the idea for the tear bottles?

The idea began to develop as I realised there is so much fuss in the world and we only get tiny snippets of peoples’ stories.  All these painful stories that are so private that no-one would know about but God knows and they are precious to him.  Nothing is lost.

I discovered there is an incredible tradition of tear bottles from centuries ago, tears almost actually physically held.  I thought if I made as many different bottles, each individual and each pot fashioned from a lump of clay the size of a human heart – from a baby to an adult.  The indicator of your heart size is your fist. 1000 seemed such a complete number and when people see the entire collection, it speaks to almost everyone.

 It did indeed speak to me.

     

 

 “You keep track of all my sorrows.

         You have collected all my tears in your bottle.

          You have recorded each one in your book.”

 Psalm 56:8  New Living Translation

 

 

I was curious to know what inspires Deborah.

I am inspired by poetry – TS Eliot, Gerald Manley Hopkins, Howard Hodgekin.  By other artists like Grayson Perry and Edmund de Waal, Anthony Gormley, Joan Mitchell, Philida Barlow, Joan Mitchell, Louise Bourgeois, Yayoi Kusama.  Beauty is one aspect of the many characteristics art can display. Ugliness can have a strong message as well as incompleteness and many other things – all a reflection of the complexities of living life.

What was it like to win the Chaiya Art Awards 1st prize?

I felt it was amazing to be selected and exhibiting with artists I had heard of. That in itself was a privilege. Then to be in a London exhibition. On the night of the award my two sons rang me saying how proud they were of me.  It was one of the highlights of my life.  You work away to make ends meet, children, husband, busy job, beavering away to keep hope alive, then a big prize and some recognition is great.  Winning the money has opened up the possibility to have a studio away from home and I shall be in Ashburnham Place, a conference centre.  They want artists to work there and for them to contribute to the community. It looks like the tear bottles will go on semi-permanent display in their prayer centre.

I have to ask – what do you feel about the book?

I think it is a wonderfully unusual book in a completely different category to other art books.  I felt drawn in and have been hugely comfortable about giving and showing the book to others.  It is kind and welcoming.  It allows space for anyone to enjoy, to respond as they wish with nothing prescribed.   It is an opportunity to look deeper into spirituality. People are closer to God than they think.

I loved talking to Deborah and hearing a little of her story.  Her website is www.deborahtompsett.co.uk  and if you look you will see she creates much more than sculpture alone.  The following is one of her favourite quotes:

“Love all God’s creation, both the whole and every grain of sand.

Love every leaf, every ray of light.

Love the animals, love the plants, love each separate thing.

If thou love each thing thou wilt perceive the mystery of God in all;

And when once thou perceive this,

thou wilt thenceforward grow every day to a fuller understanding of it;

Until thou come at last to love the whole world

with a love that will then be all-embracing and universal.”

Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

 

The book is available from bookstores and www.chaiyaartawards.co.uk