One of the many good things about being a woman is that for a couple of days each month you get an insight into yourself that reminds you of your emotional fragility and vulnerability. I can get to thinking that I am pretty ‘nice’ person, these days, who has her temper pretty well under control and can react to stress calmly and with flexibility. But on those two days what lurks underneath is revealed – I am easily irritated, moved to tears by the most trivial setback, impatient and generally grouchy.
On those days it is like the patterns of character ploughed into me by years of being nurtured as a child, friendships, parenthood, marriage, work, worship and prayer become blurred into a dishevelled mess. I can see clearly – and so can my closest friends and family – that the virtues I may have come from the grace of God, not from my own strength. I am aware of my need for God’s love to permeate my being if I have any chance of bearing witness to that love in our world in any way at all.
Even if you haven’t experienced the joys of PMT you may recognise the feeling. Grief, stress, failure, illness and anxiety can all leave us feeling frayed. But even in those times, God’s love somehow keeps the pattern in shape, bringing order from the chaos, glimpses of joy in the fog of unhappiness.
I have said before in this blog that I have a terrible fear of order, routine and things that can bore me. But I am developing a deep appreciation of patterns.
Today coming out of church (actually coming out of Sainsbury’s) I was aware of the enormous volume of traffic. I had just been to a shop that I believed should be shut, Sunday was just another day.
This year’s focus on Black Friday seems equally saddening. I love shopping normally but I could not bring myself to be part of this consumerist frenzy and I disciplined myself to buy nothing on both Friday and Saturday this week. As a pattern of spending it does not seem to make business-sense either – why is everything going cheap just when we are buying Christmas presents? The pattern of January and July sales shaped my years as I grew up and regulated spending, encouraged saving and gave a focus to fashion fasting and feasting through the year.
Many of our faiths give this same sense of pattern and order that helps us focus on what is important and remind us to pray and stay alert for God’s presence. Advent is the Christian time for getting ready for an encouter for God, Muslim prayer five times a day is just one way their pattern of prayer helps focus an unbroken rememberance of the presence of God.
I get that the Christian calendar cannot any longer regulate the market nor can our patterns of worship dictate supermarket opening times. But I hope we can find ways of patterning our lives together that mean we don’t, as a society, spend our whole lives living in a dishevelled mess. Scenes of people fighting over TVs are only a caricature of much of our normal behaviour. E-bay is a tussle in the final seconds, the scramble for gig tickets is a norm, my children have to fight for a place at sixth-form college and graduates are competing to find any work at all.
How can we help each other live in an awareness of God’s abundant love? A love that does not need to be wrestled away from anyone else. A love that is for all people.What will our new patterns look like and how will they reflect the love, joy and peace?
When I did my placement a year ago in church where many of the congregation had roots in Jamaica I realised that God had sent the Church in this country a great gift, a gift that the Anglican church at least was very slow to welcome. In Birmingham we have a gift of people from a wide range of traditions and faiths who are also looking for new ways of patterning their life so their lived religion is embedded in their civic life. Together we have an opportunity to imagine and forge some new, exciting patterns that order the chaos of consumption, challenge the frenzy of competition and create a culture of compassion.