Dec 12, 2021Liked by Tanya Shadrick

I joke guiltily about my membership in the Church of the Great Outdoors. People who do not attend church on Sundays, I was raised to believe, are worse than sinners. They’re not even trying.

Of course, I dropped that faith – or demurred when it dropped me. Later I found instead, and sunk happily into, a faith that affirms no place and no day as more sacred than any other. That-of-God is present in all. We do not say ‘church’, nor ‘Sabbath’. We do not say ‘sin’. We might say ‘loneliness’.

Our meeting places are simple, without altar or aspirational spire to direct our thoughts ‘up there’. The best meetinghouses are old and whitewashed, with bare beams and clear windows. I used to visit a tiny one in the New York woods, with an iron stove in the center for winter meetings. A practical focus, giving sufficient bodily comfort for the mind to quiet.

But there is no meetinghouse near where I live now. Instead, I find I persist in seeking the divine ‘up there’. I walk the hills of this rolling, golden land. The higher I climb, the more I meet that-of-God. I will lift up mine eyes to the hills, whence cometh my help, says the Psalmist – words preserved on a small plaque on a mossy bench, by the Peak District stream where my grandparents’ ashes are. We are hill people; and it seems that runs deeper than their quiet Methodism, my mother’s High Anglican mysteries, my father’s salt-of-the-earth evangelism.

Again and again, I meet the sublime where the land touches sky. Where ravens are agents of the Mystery and the scouring wind sings praise. I take worship with the cattle, communion in curious foraging; and the blood in my limbs surges and circulates, throbbing: here, here, here.

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Dec 10, 2021Liked by Tanya Shadrick

Proverbs 31: 10-31 - The Closet

After her funeral, I found five coats in my mother’s wardrobe.

One I remembered from a childhood spent in the quieting-cold of weekly church services. Its silver-fox collar gave me more comfort than the priest's words usually offered my sad-eyed mum. Consolation seemed unlikely, as we hovered above uncushioned wooden pews and inadequate kneelers, listening to sibilant threats veiled as promises.

A second was a thin, green, canvas macintosh. Mum had bright red hair and green was the only colour that ever made her brave. I was sorry that the contents of the wardrobe were mostly blue.

On a padded hanger, charmed by a stiffening lavender bag, hid the slubbed-silk coat she’d worn on her honeymoon. The lining matched the sixties knee-length sleeveless shift I never saw her wear. ‘Too risky’, she once told me. And I didn’t have the wit to ask her what that meant, though the dress and coat were shot with green too.

The fourth was a long, woollen housecoat. Our kitchen was perennially cold and it embraced her against the chill during late night cups of tea, or early mornings when the fire that launched the boiler hadn’t stayed in overnight. I took it off the rail to pack away and found smoothed rosaries in both pockets. As though she’d say two at a time, if things were especially hard.

The last was a car coat I’d bought her four years earlier. Tucked at the back of the wardrobe in a careful plastic cover. Forest green. Expensive. Suede. I had never seen her wear it. I took it off the hanger and held it close. In that emptying moment I regretted the faith that had never comforted me. The coat smelled of her favourite mossy perfume. I wept that she’d worn it at all.


El Rhodes - I read the passage from Proverbs at my mum’s funeral. It was everything she hoped she’d been. The following day I faced her wardrobe. Thank you, Tanya, for a place to remember and honour both her and those days.

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Dec 13, 2021Liked by Tanya Shadrick

A few years ago, in the weeks leading up to Christmas, I took my daughter and her friend shopping to Exeter. On the way home, in the dusk, on narrow lanes, I hit a rock or a pothole and punctured a tyre. I swore very colourfully, and we limped to a layby. I got out the jack and the twiddly stick thing, and cursed myself for not really knowing how to change a tyre on this car. And I said to my daughter "What we need now are some Scousers to drive past".

About 10 minutes later, a van stopped. A pair of (yes!) Scousers got out, changed the tyre, told us where the next garage was, and went cheerfully on their way.

Why is this about faith? Because I don't think they were angels, I don't think they were sent by some higher power, I don't think this was divine intervention. I just think I have faith in people. I believe in connections and kindness. I believe that people will reach out and help - not always, but often enough - and I believe it's good to be one of those people.

I would love to have faith in a higher power. Who wouldn't? What a relief, to know that death is not the end, to know that there was a purpose to all this. I've wrestled with that angel, though, as honestly as I can, and I can't make the step. I'm left with belief in my fellow humans, in the green force that sends the root through concrete, and in my own obligation to take responsibility for my actions and myself.

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Dec 21, 2021·edited Dec 21, 2021Liked by Tanya Shadrick

It was the first time I'd prayed since I was a small boy. No-one had ever told me to pray, not then and not now. But what was strange now was that I had been an atheist, of sorts anyway, for decades.

I had just received the gut-wrenching news of F's attack – a cowardly shit of a man had assaulted her for the keys to her car, and F being F, she had tried to fight him off. He didn't know she was dying, of course.

I was 300 miles away, at work but now instantly by her side. Around the corner was a beautiful old church; I spent that lunchtime walking over and over whatever I considered to be its hallowed ground, praying for her. An atheist is supposed to see prayer as childish wish-making, but it isn't.

What it is:

a longing for grace,

for them to be held in gentleness

and care. That is all

This is something fundamental, and powerful, and good.

I would pray many, many times over the course of her illness. Sometimes pleading for mercy for her, sometimes for strength and grace for myself and others. And then an unexpected third type, which isn't really prayer at all.. but rather the sudden noticing and acceptance of a truth, that where you are standing right now, and everything that is happening, is holy. That every moment is sacred: every meal made with love, every moment of truly noticing and seeing the other, is intensely and powerfully holy and precious. And then you have no desire to defile anything with foolishness, or unnecessary anger. May I always keep that alive within me.

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Dec 17, 2021Liked by Tanya Shadrick

Is that all that is left of life? A pile of carbon atoms?

I couldn’t bear the idea that after losing Dad, there was nothing more. Holding his bone-white ashes in my fingers and scattering the fine powder at his beloved bowling club and in mum’s garden, I refused to believe it was the end. I hoped that his soul was enjoying the wildlife that was a passion we had shared.

A seed of faith was planted when I visited Kata Tjuta in Australia a few weeks after his funeral. It was a freezing morning. It seemed that I was not the only one struggling with the fierce wind and arctic temperatures. There was no life to be seen at all. Sitting on brick-red stones, the pitted terracotta rocks towering over me like protective bodyguards looked as if they were crying sooty tears, joining me in my grief.

It wasn’t long before the most magnificent monarch butterfly flickered like a flame, dancing around my head. The wings were bright sunshine, the same colours as Dad’s funeral flowers. It was the only animal I saw that day.

Last Christmas, in lockdown isolation, I forced myself to get outside and walk. To place one metronomic foot in front of the other. To keep going. A robin flew to a branch above my head. It was fluffed up and looked cold. I vowed to take mealworms with me on the days that followed. Over time, he graduated from taking them from the ground to hopping on my boot and then flying to my hand. He grasped my fingers with his toes and tickled my palm as he pecked. This bird appeared every day until lockdown ended.

Every bird, every butterfly; he is with me. Whenever I am feeling down, I look to nature. Signs of life. I have faith that Dad is everywhere. But most of all, he is in my heart.

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Dec 13, 2021Liked by Tanya Shadrick

The first marker I come to while walking the St Magnus Way in Orkney is attached to a wooden post. At its foot is lush greenery, but no path, and as I wade through the thigh-high stinging nettles, I hear myself thinking in a rather bad-tempered way, ‘shame on you!’. That’s a phrase straight out of my childhood and the Church of England in the 1960s and 70s; it’s not one which I expect to hear popping up in my head fifty years later. Shame on you - a turn of phrase, yes, but one which carries a world of significance. What I mean is, ‘how can the organisers of this pathway have let it become so overgrown, they should be ashamed’ and as soon as I hear these words in my head, I am ashamed.

The sermons I listened to during my formative years, the bible I read and learned by heart, the pictures I drew at Sunday School and the promises I made at Girl Guides, were supposed to make me a good Christian girl. I didn’t have an extreme upbringing, it was more of a cumulative thing, layers of hints about being a sinner laid down one on the other, blame and shame stacking up to form rock-solid foundations. Joining in morning assembly every day at secondary school and listening to exhortations to follow The Commandments, tasked to ask for forgiveness; I was steeped in it, and it wasn’t until I started to walk pilgrimage that I discovered that its tenets seemed to have lodged in my physical cells, maybe my very soul. Religion was there with its moral and ethical framework when I was learning to toddle, and apparently the action of perpetual stepping dislodges its toxic teachings.

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When I think about the question, do you have a faith? I start to realise what a tricky word that has become, personally, and culturally. It seems that in the UK using the word 'faith' is a more palatable thing to say than religion. Religion has taken on a negative connotation in these postmodern (or is it post post?!) times, seen at best as an irrational quirk that humans should have evolved out of by now. But faith? That seems to feel softer, less threatening.

Back to the question- do you have a faith? Personally I find a yes or no answer can not suffice, however much I wish it could (and goodness do I wish it could!). It is easier to reply that it depends - on the day or hour. In reality, I no longer know with absolute certainty. Let’s say I did have a faith - in Jesus, in Christianity - and I have spent a significant amount of time in church circles.

I started off quite zealous, which isn't something I would recognise in myself now. So, what happened, a sudden reverse conversion on a dark night of the soul? No, it has been more a succession of small paper cuts, undetectable at first, then over time they began to sting. There have been no major scandals, no outrageous indoctrination. There HAVE been changes, losses, failures to understand on both sides, anecdotal stories from others, spiritual crises and endings too numerous to count.

How have I dealt with all of these? It has been a cycle of commitment, denial, despondency, withdrawal and return. Why return? It is a family, and like most families is fantastic and frustrating, comforting and challenging, with the need for autonomy AND community that I believe deep down we all share.

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Aug 21, 2022Liked by Tanya Shadrick

What if I followed desire like a butterfly seeks nectar, all impulse and instinct, sustained by beauty?

A butterfly starts as a flightless caterpillar, ruled by a stirring, driven by desire that eliminates even the need to eat, surrenders all to this devotion to find its next shape. This caterpillar secretes strong silk to attach itself to limb, hangs with faith and then, in time, sheds its skin to reveal the chrysalis, tender at first, then protective. Inside, the caterpillar dissolves, liquefying into imaginal cells, each thrumming with its own mission to create anew. The butterfly emerges wet and vulnerable, pauses to dry as it pulses fluid through wings, expanding them to power flight.

I live a life of small faith, craving the safety of the chrysalis. I avoid the magic of re-creation. The choice is to dissolve into something or to dissolve into nothing.

A butterfly on the bergamot just now, wings quivering, plunged in, head first, proboscis unfurled toward nectar. Then off it flies, blurry-eyed, not caring if the path looks meandering and nonsensical, unmapped to the rest of the world, knowing it was never meant to follow the duty bound path of the ant.

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Jan 11, 2022Liked by Tanya Shadrick

Another unpolished response, but in my bid to push and respond all of these amazing extracts I'm focused on just sharing what I have managed to think and scrawl down in various ways. Poetry seems to want to makes is presence front and center, although for this I initially had it in prose form, and then by various steps isolated each sentence, stacked one on top of the other, took out the unnecessary words, and it somehow emerged poetic. Faith has never been about Church for me. The language has always made me bristle (after my grandfather died and the orthodox priest talked about my grandfather had sinned all his life I boiled red hot in my pew seat because there was no sin...). But music is something else...even religious or sacred music. If I have to put words to it I'd say music is as religious experience for me. I'm trying to capture that with this work in progress...



Ginger had traveled the world busking

with her flute, she told me on the sidewalk

outside the Chinese restaurant.

She wore a beret and there was a gap

between her two front top teeth—it

made you smile when she smiled.

I confessed to playing myself and

that’s how I ended up in

a small white church among green hills

with a borrowed flute

on an August day. It’s where I learned

why Church words never felt right

but the music always did.

“What vibrato you have!,” she exclaimed

after our first two-player round of

Dona Nobis Pacem.

My insides trembled from stopped up tears.

In all my years of playing I had never made

sound like THAT.

Big Velvet Notes

lived inside my fingers and lungs.

With my fingers and the air inside

I conjured stars and felt mountains.

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Dec 13, 2021Liked by Tanya Shadrick

Wow, "that hedge- and hymn-bound living" beautiful. Have I lost my same anger at that male-led institution? I have been writing about it a lot... Thanks for sharing your lovely words, Tanya

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Aug 29, 2022Liked by Tanya Shadrick

I saw from instagram that you were away. One of the greatest things of being human is being able to be happy for another and watching you embrace all of these good things that are now in your path always brings a smile. I do want to try to reply to all of them! It has been such fun, breaking out of my normal writing, trying to stay within the word limit, working on finding an entry point. The enjoyment I've found has surprised me. As always, thanks for your response and encouragement. It was a lovely way to wake up this morning!

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Aug 12, 2022Liked by Tanya Shadrick

My great-grandfather was a priest executed shortly after the revolution. His family of 14 children was scattered across the globe. Forever lost to each other. My grandmother has managed to keep safe just one small piece that connected her to the lost family - a small icon. As an only grandchild I had to take care of it. It should have been a privilege, but it feels like a burden. It is wrapped tightly in a fabric and hidden away from everyone’s view. Sometimes I feel that I’m trying to hide myself away from this small piece of history, a relic that was touched by officially canonised saint, a martyr. Both, his daughter, and granddaughter became unofficial life’s martyrs. I want to break that family tradition of martyrdom. But the fear remained. The memory of my great-grandfather was betrayed, I wasn’t even christened as a baby. It was an awkward place – believers had to pretend to be atheists (it’s the other way around now – how ironic). Mother refused to join the party, father was weaker and had to join the ranks of sinners. He paid with his sanity for that. I decided to get christened at the age of twenty as a gift to my parents. How silly I was. The ceremony itself was unpleasant for its mundaneness. I wasn’t closer to God or divinity after that. I avoid churches now, all of them. Even the one that are museums now. I can only speak to God in nature. I just wish he’d tell me what to do the icon.

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May 13, 2022Liked by Tanya Shadrick

I often tell my daughter Margaret the story of her naming:

“I was pregnant, and very scared. I’d lost a baby before your brother, at twenty weeks. And I was scared I’d lose you too. So, I prayed: “Let this baby live and I’ll name it after one of your saints! Tell me which”.

Later, a knock at the door. I open it to a smiling face: “Hello, I’m your midwife. My name’s Margaret Clitherow”.

Margaret Clitherow!

The Pearl of York, pressed to death on Ouse Bridge for holding Mass above her shop. I’d lived opposite her shrine for years, during my time at York University. I knew her.

You were born on the eve of her Feast Day. At the hour, actually, when she was sewing her own shroud, praying before they came to take her away.

That’s not all.

Rewind nine months. I was practising “visualisation”: “Picture your womb as a velvet-lined box, your egg as a precious pearl nestled in the velvet…” After, I prayed. “Will I conceive? Give me a sign…” Yes, a sign. “Send me a pearl”.

So selfish! To be demanding, bargaining.

But next day, at church, when I take your brother to Sunday School, the teacher says “Today we’re going to read Jesus’s parable of the Great Pearl. I want you each to take one of these.” She opens a box. It’s overflowing with pearls.

μαργαριτάρι (margaritári) – pearl in Greek.

But that’s not all.

Fast forward some years to us visiting for the first time your grandmother’s childhood church. My mother, who died sixteen years before you were born. There in the stained glass, Margaret Clitherow. There, in an alcove, a statue of Margaret Clitherow. My mother as a girl, dreaming beside Margaret, under her stained light, all those years ago.”

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Mar 30, 2022Liked by Tanya Shadrick

I was introduced to ideas about grace-based living in my late twenties. ‘What? Perhaps you don’t have to earn the right to good things happening? Beautiful things can happen just because we’re loved? Suffering is sometimes optional? WHAT? And fun and pleasure can be… abundant? Not just the trade off for pain?’ Revolutionary.

In my forties, I find faith can flap about untethered - close but out of reach sometimes. When I allow myself to connect, I sense its heart lies in the loving spaciousness of paradox. I think this might just be the main highway to wholeness and integration at all levels of the human experience; inside our own body-minds and within and between communities too. In the great allowing of simultaneous truths without diminishment or adjustment. For me, gratitude for a recent early cancer catch and a myriad of feelings about the future. Sometimes, wanting to be near and away from loved ones at the same time. Needing to keep busy and needing to slow down.

I imagine my attention slowly lowering down from my head to my chest for this is where the shared wisdom is. I feel it’s where I am attached to the spiritual network. My feet grow tree roots and my arms reach beyond the sky. I feel faith in my own body as safeness with room for uncertainty, with connection to rhythms and rituals in nature so repetitive I can feel outside of time.

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Growing up, church and Baptist Sunday school were an inextricable part of my life. Weekly Sunday school was run by a mother and daughter who, confusingly for me, ran a local shoe shop during the week. We sang, tunelessly, various Jesus related ditties. I thought Jesus was rather greedy when we sang during collection, “hear the pennies dropping, listen as they fall, every one for Jesus, Jesus wants them all”. As a fervent attender at Brownies and Guides, with military style monthly church parades, religion became ever more embedded until I was confirmed. The absence of thunderbolts or any stunning revelation led me to read about religion and to think and feel more deeply, until I decided that my experience of nature; walking on hills and in dales, on seashores and in woodlands and breathing in the air was all the religion I would ever need.

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Jan 2, 2022Liked by Tanya Shadrick

I so identified with your mountain-top shouting – it’s where I find God mostly these days.

I was raised Roman Catholic - at 8 years old I moved to an RC primary in the next town. I learned how God looked for my mistakes and wanted to punish me, but Jesus was crucified (also my fault) so he was willing (reluctantly) to overlook my inherent naughtiness. This God didn’t look like the Jesus I read about, and I struggled with the disparity. I had a personal faith, it felt real, but still found a gap between the all-powerful, dominating, vengeful God and the life presented by Jesus in the Gospels. As I grew older, I moved through Anglican, then Charismatic Evangelical flavours of Church, eventually into leadership roles within the latter. However, the nagging problem between what Jesus looked like and how ‘God’ was often represented remained.

Some years ago, a political theologian friend began researching a Jesus-based politics of love. Critiquing the Sovereignty model, this looks at society, life, God, scripture through a ‘Jesus lens’, essentially that if Jesus is God incarnate, then God looks like Jesus. A life-laid-down, enemy-loving, self-emptying-of-power God. So our understanding of who God is must begin there. If it’s not what Jesus would say, it isn’t how God thinks either. Re-reading the Old Testament with this ‘lens’ radically changes the perspective. Not a dominant, hierarchical God, rather a horizontal, open, relational one. ‘Kenarchy’ arose from this research (see kenarchy.org) with seven principals, the first being the instatement of women. S/he isn’t to be found within hierarchical power structures, although they often try to use a domineering God narrative to justify their power and control.

Jesus’ response to the bleeding woman was to focus entirely on her wellbeing, not condemn her (Mark 5:25-34).

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