simplify: seeking a more ethical approach to Christmas

simplify - seeking a more ethical approach to Christmas @poetryjoy.com

As I sit with the world at my fingertips, I marvel yet again at the wonder of internet shopping at a mere click. Christmas means I get to buy my favourite people gifts from the comfort of my own home. Yet the relative ease can lull me into a false sense of security and control. Simplicity of consumption can mean loss of the ability to simplify.

Truth is, we’re all in danger of getting sucked into advertising hooks and consumerism’s greedy clutches. It’s all too easy to buy more than we need and neglect to think about its effect on us and the world in general. Though it’s vital that we don’t ignore it.

I’m a bit of a “it might come in useful one day” type of hoarder, truth be told. I’m also a wannabe declutterer and minimalist, who rarely has energy enough for the task. A baby taking tiny baby steps toward living with and spending less.

I have an increasing desire to simplify, purchase wisely and live more mindfully. And an increasing awareness of the heedless way I might be contributing to the world’s carbon footprint and ecological decay. Hence my poetic lament below.

Lament for earth

If the sky cries out
in sympathy
with dry, dusty earth
and sheds hot, salty tears,
then wake me up,
I want to be aware.

Let me not miss
a thing of earth’s
dying gasps,
be it by flood
or fire,
because I want to
cry with her.

Let us all weep now
for our carelessness,
our lack of faithful
caretaking and love,
our inability to take
good care
of our Mother Earth.

We have been
bad custodians,
errant prodigals
and wasteful ones,
who now reap
the cost for our sad
faithlessness,
while we watch its fast
decay and death.
© joylenton

“Then God blessed them and gave them this directive:  ‘Be fruitful and multiply. Populate the earth. I make you trustees of My estate, so care for My creation and rule over the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every creature that roams across the earth.'” – Genesis 1:28 The Voice

simplify - lament for earth poem excerpt (C)joylenton @poetryjoy.com

Here’s a short list of potential gift idea resources (some of which I already use) and books to help us simplify, shop, gift and live more mindfully this Christmas and beyond. Though we need to be wary of letting too many “expert” books and resources discourage us in our seemingly small steps of progress toward our simplifying goals.

Ethical resources and gift ideas:

  1. 12 tips for a plastic free Christmas – Marine Conversation Society
  2. Home of Fair Trade products – Traidcraft Shop
  3. Alternative gifts and occasions at Yumbles
  4. Making it easier to be eco – The Wise House
  5. Living Naturally – The First Soapnut Apothecary in the world

Book suggestions:

  1. No. More. Plastic.: What you can do to make a difference – the #2minutesolution by Martin Dorey
  2. How to Give Up Plastic: A Guide to Changing the World, One Plastic Bottle at a Time by Will McCallum
  3. Turning the Tide on Plastic: How Humanity (And You) Can Make Our Globe Clean Again by Lucy Siegle
  4. Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying Your Life by Bea Johnson
  5. The Minimalist Home: A Room-By-Room Guide to a Decluttered, Refocused Life by Joshua Becker

How have you been able to ethically simplify your Christmas shopping and preparations? I’d love to hear from you and pick up some useful tips! 🙂

simplify - weep now lament poem excerpt (C)joylenton @poetryjoy.com

remember: practising mindful awareness to enhance gratitude

 

Winter is a season many of us shy away from, as we seek to hunker down and hibernate while we wait for warmer days. But what if we made a conscious effort to remember when things were different? Does the process of remembering actually make a difference in how we deal with today?

I think so. Because when our lives are less than inviting it helps to lift our spirits if we invite our souls to focus more on gratitude than grumbling. Our heart attitude helps to determine how our days shape themselves.

Autumn is one of my favourite seasons. I love the sheer exuberance of colour as God splashes vivid hues to decorate each dying leaf. It’s as if our generous Creator is asking us to take it all in, to remember this bounty before it all falls to ground.

God reminds us to practise daily gratitude for this moment, because this moment is all we really have to appreciate, here and now, while it is happening. Although it is possible to stay centred in the present, with an awareness of goodness in the past actually enhancing all we are currently experiencing.

“Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.” ~ Genesis 9:16

A new year usually finds us looking forward, but if we remember God’s faithfulness toward us in the past it gives hope for days yet to come. When we do allow ourselves to consciously remember, meditate on the goodness of the Lord and the abundant blessings that He provides, we’re well placed to have a more positive mindset.

We can bask in a golden, autumnal glow, see it as a dying season’s last hurrah before the chill of winter seeps into our body, mind and heart, knowing how God so wonderfully sparks renewed life in what seems dead in us, as well as in trees and plants.

Although winter has its own stark, stripped back to the bones beauty, I enjoy reminding myself of days when leaves are in their final death throes and creation shows off its splendour for us to savour and hold in our hearts.

I remember russet

trees dressed in winter
but I remember russet
a golden arbour

stretching leaf to leaf
as autumnal splendour spread
an ochre blanket

and mantle of mist
delayed a breath of decay
for the last hurrah
©joylenton

A few joy notes…

1) A roast chicken dinner cooked by my man
2) Seeing our grandson togged out in his Rugby Tots kit
3) Being able to rest well today after a pain filled night
4) Supplements arriving to help boost my health
5) Having enough heat, snuggly blankets and warm clothes to wear
6) Creativity flowing although I am low on energy
7) God’s grace enabling me to write this post

Preparation for fasting and feasting

ash berries - life PJ

I belong to a faith tradition that makes no specific preparation for Lent within its practices.

It’s a relatively new thing for me to take note of Lent and consider how to prepare my heart for the journey.

And I’ve come to realise I cannot fully undertake it without surrender, intention and deliberation.

Life itself invites us into a gentle awareness of days and seasons of the heart, an opening to the sacred within the secular.

As nights draw in and days become dark and cold, we may gather dead, dry and dying plants together to make a bonfire. From the embers grey ash rises, ripe for garden mulch.

Ash is precursor to new life, new growth. A potent symbol of the dying and rising we experience within.

Likewise, Lent provides opportunity to sift out dead wood we’ve unwittingly gathered over time, consign it to death and seek the restoration and renewal God offers us through a transformed mind and heart.

Ash Wednesday

Absent from this temple

is smudge and ash of grey

reminder of and reason

why our Saviour came

But deep within this heart

remains a cloak of black

as sin still crouches there

ready to ensnare, attack

Deeper still within this soul

shines a Light without limit

where God’s Love resides

bringing wholeness to my spirit

And as I journey forth

leaning closer into Lent

my value and my worth

become ever heaven-sent

©JoyLenton2016

You can’t get a better companion to walk you through Lent and into Holy Week than Malcolm Guite as he invites us to become immersed in poetic reflection with ‘Word in the Wilderness’.

I’ve also downloaded a pdf file: ‘Hungering for Life – Creative Exercises for Lent’ compiled by Christine Sine, with Jean Andrianoff. Here, contrary to the usual emphasis on fasting, we are being asked to consider what we are hungering for during Lent.

You can find myriad resources for Lent on the Godspace blog, including prayers, ways of celebrating with children, musical and creative resources. Click here to discover them. Ignatian Spirituality also has 10 great ideas for Lent here.

This preparation will hopefully lead to deeper reflection on new life rising from death rather than focussing most on loss and death itself.

The words below speak into our need to focus on the positive. They came from ‘Morning, Noon and Night – Poems and Prayers’ and can be found in various forms in Lenten reflections. I’d love to hear how you prepare for Lent and make space for Easter.

“Fast from criticism, and feast on praise.

Fast from self-pity, and feast on joy.

Fast from ill-temper, and feast on peace.

Fast from resentment, and feast on contentment.

Fast from jealousy, and feast on love.

Fast from pride, and feast on humility.

Fast from selfishness, and feast on service.

Fast from fear, and feast on faith.” 

ash fast and feast - PJ

Intentional awareness

begin PJ FMF file image

There are days that slip by without me being fully aware of their passing or intentional about how I spend my time.

Some get lost in a fog of fatigue. Others are pervaded by pulsating pain.

Many are victims of inner restlessness and inability to settle to anything much.

But those in-between? Times when some energy and mental clarity are present?

They lend themselves to a little more structure and goal setting.

I’ve recently been trying to deliberately add some routine to a life which is far from routine.

And what I’ve noticed is that nothing goes right for long without making space for sacred moments, prayer pauses and soul-sanctuary seeking.

We need intimate moments alone with God.

Without them we become dry, drained and depleted.

We need to spend time in His Presence to rest and receive, be refuelled, refreshed and restored.

Because it is better to live mindfully than mindlessly meandering through our days. Each one is a gift of grace, even the hard ones.

This morning as I flipped through my prayer journal I came across words God imprinted on my heart a while back.

I’m sharing them with you today in the hope that they will bless and encourage you too.

prayer whisper image

‘Intentional resting’ ~ Prayer Whisper

Take time each day to commune with Me. Set apart moments to lift your heart heavenwards. For in stillness, rest and quiet lies your strength. In seeking Me, you set the tone of your day as one of surrender to My will and ways. I do not hide Myself. I can always be found by hungry hearts who deliberately draw close to My side.

Be intentional about guarding your schedule to include soul-sanctuary seeking. Devise your days with My guidance. Together, we will accomplish so much more. Dependency isn’t weakness; it’s a sign of faithfulness and trust. The world will overwhelm you soon enough.

Come to Me for inner cleansing, for deep peace and for wisdom to know how to proceed. Lean on Me and learn from Me. I am humble and gentle of heart.

Let Me whisper words you need to hear. An instructed mind and tongue will become a blessing to others. Try not to rush into My Presence or hurry away without pausing to listen. I know your every need before you ask Me for anything, and My greatest desire is to have an intimate, loving relationship with you.

Come close, My child. There is no fear here. Perfect Love casts out fear. I am Holy and I am also tender, rich in mercy and grace. Bring Me your brokenness, your emptiness, your hopes and fears; I will heal, restore, fill to overflowing and provide for you beyond your wildest dreams. Trust Me to take very good care of you with My infinite goodness, patience and love.” 

As part of my soul-sanctuary seeking I have been revisiting ‘The Practice of the Presence of God’ by Brother Lawrence, as well as continuing with ‘Finding Spiritual Whitespace’ by Bonnie Gray, and reading books which reveal how to blend contemplation with creativity. I hope to share more as I delve deeper into these things.

And if you’d like to see more ‘Prayer Whispers’ here, then please let me know in the comments below. Your thoughts matter. Thank you! 🙂

prayer whsiper - intentional resting PJ file pin

Being thankful

gratitude thanksgiving PJ file image

As I type these words I imagine some of you are celebrating Thanksgiving, hearts heavy with thankfulness, faces glowing with candle-light and closeness, enjoying family, friendship and fine food.

Or maybe the meal is over and you’re sitting sharing more intimate conversation, listening and laughter. Maybe squabbling (amicably, of course, we are just imagining the best scenario) over who does the dishes and who gets to choose the TV programmes, and will you pass the chocolates, please?

All good gifts. All grace. All manifestations of the myriad ways we are given holy moments in the everyday. Touches of mercy to warm our hearths and hearts.

For it’s in the simple things of life, eating, drinking, breaking bread together that we become connected, members of God’s big family.

United in His love, and by His provision for us, joined by joy in giving and receiving, in encouraging and sharing.

In the daily grind there is always space for blessing, for gratitude, for being kind, recognising grace and giving it to others.

We may just need to ask God to help us to see it and pass it on.

‘Gratitude’

God’s golden-glimmer gifts of grace

discovered in the commonplace

Rest and sleep, deep peace and ease,

soft wind of Holy Spirit breeze

All our hearts desire and need,

awareness of our pride and greed

Trust and faith will light the way

on discouraging, darker days

Invitation, inspiration ignite

the fire to come up higher

Truth seen, received, believed and heard,

witnessed in Jesus as The Word

Understanding of all our faults and flaws,

underpinning of God’s righteous laws

Divine encounters opening heaven’s door

as death is defeated for ever more

Embraced by Love, encouraged

and comforted by God above

©JoyLenton2014

gratitude poem pin file image

Cultivating an attitude of gratitude is greatly helped by deliberately noticing and counting blessings. One of the best resources I know for this is Ann Voskamp’s lovely book, ‘One Thousand Gifts’.

In fact, because this book has had such a beneficial effect on my life, I have a free copy to give away, chosen at random from those leaving a comment below.

I’ll kick things off with my own grace gifts for today:

1) As I pulled the curtains back after a wakeful, pain-filled night, I saw a blaze of heart-shaped light filtering through the gloomy grey outside, edging the clouds like a living thing. It felt like God was saying it’s OK, My love-light can seep through the most challenging nights and days and bring hope back to you.

2) The poem above falling into my head as I pondered on God’s goodness and grace. 

3) Having a husband who holds me close even (yes, especially) on my tear-filled, over-tired, angsty days when I feel so unworthy of his love. He is a living reminder of the love of God continually poured out, always giving, faithful and unconditional.

Now over to you:What 3 things are you thankful for today? (you can add more if you wish) 

Just leave a comment below to be in with a chance to win a free copy of ‘One Thousand Gifts’. (Offer limited to UK residents only due to postal charges – sorry) But please do leave a comment anyway so that we can share in praising God together for His gifts of grace. PS: I am so thankful for all of you who read and follow this blog. Have a blessed Thanksgiving Day! 🙂

More than meets the eye

blue skies PJ file image

I had an outing today as I accompanied my husband to a hospital appointment.

There is always a silver lining to such excursions, fraught as they are with anxiety and stress (him), weakness and pain (me).

We didn’t have far to travel but it was enough to alter my perspective.

Four wall living can become my default mode once Winter sets in.

I aim to get out and about as much as I can manage in the warmer weather, despite protesting limbs and weariness setting in so quickly.

And I was glad of the opportunity to see a change of scenery.

So I took a few photos to file away as memory markers on gloomier days.

Saw an electricity pylon stretching metal arms to a cobalt sky like a praise song.

Watched the interplay of light falling as beams across the clouds, with hints of glory sneaking through.

Marvelled anew at the beautiful, creative display God puts on day after day.

Engaged in a spot of people-watching safe in the confines of the car and shared furtive glances of a waiting room.

The poem below was a result of a few seconds’ glimpse where my imagination pierced through to a woman’s soul.

For there is always more than meets the eye with everything and everyone we encounter.

‘Hidden core’

A pale blue sun-hat

sat deep upon her head

as she marched forward

with fast, determined tread

At odds with the autumnal

coat she loosely wore

reminiscent of tides,

ice-cream, sand and distant shores

Her eyes turned downward

as she pounded city streets

No betrayal of emotion

in her persistent, plodding feet

Yet in the corners

of her heart there washed

a sea of thoughts and words

inexplicable, unseen,

unvoiced and unheard

Just like each one of us

she had a hidden core

where pain and sorrow mingled

and joy sat at the door

A place of whispers, shouts,

an appalling weight of tears

A place of silence, doubts,

where she carried secret fears

©JoyLenton2014

hidden core PJ file pin image

Little things count

It’s so often the little things that count the most.

A smile at just the right time.

A squeeze of the hand.

A word in due season.

The look in a loved one’s eyes.

A surprise visit or gift.

We value what brings unexpected, unanticipated pleasure, joy and delight.

It’s all the more special for being a surprise.

Or even an everyday occurrence coming into sharper focus for us as we view it anew.

Yet we so often go through our days unheeding the tiny glimmers of grace which God has strewn along our way.

When our eyes are open to the world around us, we can live with a deeper sense of gratitude and praise for all that our Creator God has lovingly fashioned and made.

‘Little things’

Despise not the little things

dew-dappled leaves, hen’s eggs and sparrow’s wings

cumulus cloud now spread thin as entrailed cotton wisps

with no discernible hint of moisture within

Golden patch of sun, scent of rain, a new day begun

as earth shifts into motion once again

with rooster crowing bringing breakfast to mind,

for creatures of every kind clamour to be fed

and given swift their daily bread

Cooling breeze on our extremities as seasons

morph their mosaic coloured hand

upon this ever-changing land

Such things may not amount to much

in mind or eye for you and I

though God keeps careful count

And if we do take note with eyes wide open

to the daily grind we find expectation rise

and cease doing things so much by rote

as we pause afresh in wonder, marvelling

at God’s hand in all we’d cast asunder

when with averted, unconcerned gaze

going blithely dulled, ignorant and unaware

about our moments, hours and days

of all the beauty that little things can bring

to all our thoughts and ways

©JoyLenton2013