We went to see Chariots of Fire last night, on stage. If you haven't been - go! It is amazing. Spellbinding. Uplifting and inspirational.  We were the only two people in the front row (cheaper seats, you had to crane your neck - but we are both tall so it was no problem!) And so my husband was handed a pair of cymbals at the start of the second Act - and had a crashingly enjoyable 5 minutes.

And we all know the story:  how one man stood by his principles, even when his beloved sister and then his team leaders and even the Prince of Wales, asked him to give in just this once - for King and Country. And how he remained steadfast.

The production has been much talked about - how the actors have to run so hard, so fast, around the circular track in the auditorium. We felt exhausted after just a few minutes of watching it all! But by the time we had sat through the whole play (musical? show? ) we felt proud to be Christian, proud to be British, proud of King and country. It was inspirational.

For once, Christianity was not derided, sidelined, undermined or mocked.

For once, the Christian was held up as a hero.

His rival and team mate, Harold Abrahams, was quoted as saying, "I am faster. But he is better."

Eric Liddell was voted as Scotland's favourite sports star over a century after his death. Yet he died in obscurity as a prisoner of war in a concentration camp, having spent his relatively short life as a missionary.

David Puttnam, the producer of the 1981 film, said of Eric Liddell, "Everything I have read makes clear the depth of Eric Lidell's personal commitment: the degree to which his beliefs formed him -  and his desire to bring them into EVERY aspect of his life."

Eric Liddell left an enormous legacy.  A commitment to God, a passion for living life in God's ways, a firmness in his desire for wanting only to be firm in his beliefs and faith. He said,

"You came to see a race today. To see someone win. It happened to be me. But I want you to do more than just watch a race. I want you to take part in it. I want to compare faith to running in a race. It's hard. It requires concentration of will, energy of soul. You experience elation when the winner breaks the tape - especially if you've got a bet on it. But how long does that last? You go home. Maybe you're dinner's burnt. Maybe you haven't got a job. So who am I to say, "Believe, have faith," in the face of life's realities? I would like to give you something more permanent, but I can only point the way. I have no formula for winning the race. Everyone runs in her own way, or his own way. And where does the power come from, to see the race to its end? From within. Jesus said, "Behold, the Kingdom of God is within you. If with all your hearts, you truly seek me, you shall ever surely find me." If you commit yourself to the love of Christ, then that is how you run a straight race. "

In Paris, on the very Sunday when Eric Liddell was meant to be running in an Olympic heat, he was preaching in church. Isaiah 40: they shall run and not be weary'; they shall walk and not faint.

May that be true for you and me today - and tomorrow and all our tomorrows. To run, wholeheartedly and with passion and a sense of calling and adventure, with God's power within us, until we break the finishing tape.



Can I live by faith? The first hurdle arrives.

The initial excitement of finding a house that can be our family home as well as provide a place of peace and sanctuary for others has lasted for a while! Feeling called by God to pursue that dream is exhilarating. If you missed the 'formal announcement', you can find it here.

And for a while we have known blessing upon blessing. Not just that the sellers chose us in spite of ours being the lowest offer; or our London flat going under offer within a few days for more than we had imagined it might be worth; or the sense of the house being the 'right' place every time we walk in.  But more than all those, the 'sixth sense' type of feeling or knowing, that deep imponderable, that the Lord is in this and is making it happen.

So we smiled and accepted the most amazing offers of help - this person doing all the legal work to set up the charitable Trust for us, that kitchen design person offering their services for free, this one who knows how to get grants for insulation doing the ground work, that one offering to put together a little group of initial donors to the Trust. And the kind comments, tweets, emails, letters, cards -  from friends and acquaintances, family and congregation - the sense everyone has that this is 'right,' this is what we are meant to be doing. And people we haven't even met offering to come and be praying labourers when we need them; a member of a youth group we ran 30 years ago writing out of the blue offering to come and help. The couple we asked to be Chairperson and first trustee of the board saying yes  .... blessing upon blessing. And we can't quite believe it's all happening and that there are less than 90 days until we leave the church here.


And there was bound to be a first but.

The mortgage company we used for the London apartment have refused to 'port' the mortgage. We hadn't counted on that. We took out that mortgage years ago when we were first in the States, both of us on the generous salaries that clergy there often enjoy. Now we are stepping out into the unknown, really living by faith as we take on this new project;  there is no provable  income in the future. The mortgage company don't like that!

So here is the first stumbling block.

Can I trust the Lord in this? Do I believe He can sort it out? And if I say, yes I do - do I mean it or is it just that I can hide behind my husband knowing that he is making phone calls and filling in forms and doing his best to find a new mortgage provider?

Because if I can't trust now, if I can't keep praying AND trusting, in this first hurdle, what of the next? And the next?

So here is my prayer request:

Will you pray with us that the Lord will indeed provide what is needed?

That we will learn to trust in God's provision and God's timing?


Listen to these children singing one of my favourite songs from Isaiah, a song we sang a lot on the first Cotswold Pilgrimage; click on the link for the music to play while you continue reading:

Surely, it is God who saves me; 
I will trust in him and not be afraid.

For the Lord is my stronghold and my sure defense, and he will be my Savior.

Therefore you shall draw water with rejoicing 
from the springs of salvation.

And on that day you shall say, 
Give thanks to the Lord and call upon his Name;

Make his deeds known among the peoples; see that they remember that his Name is exalted.

Sing the praises of the Lord, for he has done great things, and this is known in all the world.

Cry aloud, inhabitants of Zion, ring out your joy, for the great one in the midst of you is the Holy One of Israel.

(Canticle 9 The Song of Isaiah)  

Attempt something so great for God that it be doomed to failure unless God be in it.



Exciting news: ALL CHANGE!

Mays Farmhouse, Hullavington

Well - take a deep breath; and go make a cup of tea.  RIGHT NOW ……. OK? Sitting down? Here goes:


Our whole future has been changed in a whirlwind just these past few weeks.  We will be leaving London and all its painful associations just after Christmas. There; I've said it; and the lovely church family at St James have been told today. It's official!


As you know we are both somewhat bruised from the tragedies and upheavals of the past few years and in particular I have had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, following the awful accident in which I saw my mother die. The constant London sirens, blaring up and down the Muswell Hill Broadway just by our house have brought so many moments of terrible flashback, and we were advised some time ago to consider moving. A few months ago we both strongly felt the Lord say that it was time we were to begin pushing doors to see where He would lead us and what we would be doing.


We have indeed pushed a few doors, but nothing felt right nor fell into place.  And then, about 8 weeks ago, we both suddenly felt that it was right to do something totally different, something which would give the freedom to work in both the UK and the States, and not tie us to one timetable in one place.  Something where we could each use what the Lord has given us in ministry - Kim for mentoring and coaching younger clergy,teaching on church leadership, supporting those taking on larger churches; and me for retreats and pilgrimages and for spiritual direction for younger clergy women.


We started to look for a property in the UK to use as a base and a small retreat centre; in mid August I found one on the internet, went to the open morning and felt the calm and presence of the Lord as I walked in!  It's just 5 miles from our little Bolt Hole; it's an ancient farmhouse not too far from Bath, dating back at least to the early 17th century.

Suddenly as we started to pray about it everything began to fall into place VERY quickly. We had to put offers in by Wednesday 29th August.  Apparently ours was the lowest offer. But it's been accepted (unbelievable!) and we met with the sellers and spent an afternoon with them (they will be doing up the large barn across the driveway so will be near- neighbours) and they said they just felt they wanted us to have it.  Is that the Lord or what???  So we put our London flat on the market on a Wednesday and an offer was made on the Monday and we accepted it - it is not far short of what we have to pay for the Farm. WHAT provision!


Then, just as we were going to France for a week, I spotted a book on Kim's desk, which, he said at the time, he couldn't remember where it had come from. I read it whilst away, and the way I was praying about the Farm completely changed - from I WANT IT to PLEASE BLESS IT, please bless whoever lives there, please bless the village and all those there. So I spent the week praying that the Farm would be a blessing to whoever bought it and a blessing to those round about; and to be able to live lightly to it if we didn't get it. On returning, I phoned my friend who lives opposite Mays Farm and mentioned the book: Ray Godwin's 'Grace Outpouring.'  To which she replied that she and her husband read it a few years ago and have based their ministry in the area on that exact book and way of praying.


When Kim shared our vision for a little Retreat Centre at Mays Farm with the Church Wardens and Senior leaders at church, their reaction was been amazing: HUGE sorrow at the parting but HUGE belief that this is the right thing. And that if it's right for us it must be right for St James too.  So it has been announced in church today:  September 23: the exact second anniversary of my mother's tragic death.


We are now beginning to think more clearly about both the short-term and long-term futures! We are also having to scrimp and save - we need every last penny for this new project, as the house needs total renovation; it has not had anything done to it AT ALL for at least 50 years and even then not much was done.  Being an old farmhouse though that means that all the old (VERY old) stuff is still there - inglenook fireplaces complete with ancient spit hooks, copper sinks, stone fireplaces … and the dairy and the cheese room … the outside double toilet …. it is like a museum!! We love it.  I went into one old area and the new neighbour asked what I would do with that room and I heard myself say :This is the chapel. And so it will be. Not sure why I thought that….  but it's right.  The orchard will be full of little quiet spaces; there will be 6  bedrooms with private bathrooms, several of which will have adjoining sitting rooms with pull out beds;  so not a vast retreat centre, but it will sleep 12 - 14 comfortably.

A third of our time will be spent in the USA (spread out over the year) and Kim will work 75-80% of the year, to keep a better life/work balance; we will be setting up Trusts with a board of trustees to keep us accountable, in both the USA and the UK.


But a little sabbatical first, which will be a physical one: overseeing and doing a lot of the work on the house. And another little God-incidence: the Bishop wants to pay Kim until the end of March so we can have a 3 month sabbatical (and store our furniture in the Vicarage too)  Another HUGE provision whilst we begin the project. A friend in Bath is doing the plans; the builder, plumber, electrician are all signed up, and we hope to start the work in December - the solicitors are doing their usual thing at the moment with all the paperwork!


So my vision which the Lord is giving me is for THE VINE (my retreat house, based on my ordination verses from John 15) and there are 2 vines growing in the (walled!) large orchard.

It seems that the Lord has his hand on this.  We were given Isaiah 60:22 last week: "I am the Lord; in its time I will do this swiftly" and it really does feel as though this is His timing and He is doing it swiftly! Things are falling into place in remarkable ways in answer to prayers. We already have the chairman of the board of trustees for the UK.  God is being SO good. Of course, there is a long way to go yet, and I am sure there will be ups and downs.  BUT ….!


So now you know:  Mays Farm.  Our new home. We are moving after Christmas.


... and now perhaps it is. The Olympics.  Love them or loath them, they have been the main focus of the UK news for the past two weeks. And what an amazing two weeks it has been. We've laughed and cried, shouted and cheered, tallied the totals, even painted some letterboxes golden. "I hope ," posted the Revd Richard Pennystan on Facebook this morning, "I hope we look back on the summer of 2012, as the moment when British culture shifted from cynicism and criticism, to joy, honour & creativity." Shifted from the riots and despair of exactly one year ago, to the feelings of pride and togetherness; and maybe, just maybe, looking forward to the Para-olympics in a couple of weeks. Paul replied to the Revd RP:  'I think the media backed down a little in the second week and stopped referring to anything less than Gold as a failure. I'm looking forward to the Paralympics. If anything can encourage us all to try harder it must be those who achieve success despite their "disadvantages".'

For what have we seen recently but the young (and not so young, think of the 71 year old Japanese Equestrian!) trying their hardest, their best, for themselves, their team, their country. From Mr Bean (that seems longer than just 2 weeks ago, doesn't it?) to Gabby Douglas and Mo Farah,


to Katherine Copeland and Sophie Hosking

there has been an outpouring of effort and determination, of sweat and tears, of elation and despair. Of joy, honour and creativity.

And we , we who have sat and watched from our armchairs or maybe even from our seats in an arena or our picnic rugs in Hyde Park, we too have poured out ourselves in support and tears and joy and elation. A spate of medals caused our household to open a bottle of champagne to celebrate  - it was also our son and daughter-in-law's tenth wedding anniversary, I have to add, but that wasn't the main reason given by the Vicar!  We have all rejoiced,  waved our arms and flags, chatted with perfect strangers sitting next to us in various venues, been amazed at the spirit of goodwill and bonhomie on the  Tubes and buses (and noted how empty they and all of London seem to be apart from the Olympics-bound) and enjoyed joining in this wonderful adventure of elation.

So is it all over? Will we revert to our normal British cynicism and underdogness, our critical spirit and humourlessness, our lack of joie de vivre? Will Monday August 13th see us crawling back to work, deflated, tired; crashing down from the pinnacle of this London 2012? It's been an addiction, this past two weeks. Are we now heading back to our little lives of 'quiet desperation' (Henry David Thoreau)?

We don't have to. We can choose not to.

"We are captivated by the Olympic spirit because it is that same spirit that we long to re-ignite in our own lives.  The joy of living comes from pressing toward excellence.  Watching tiny, 15-year-old children fly through the air with ease and cut through the water like dolphins, reminds us of the pain, the effort and the thrill of being everything we can be. It reminds us of when we chose to dance instead of shuffle. The Olympics reminds us of what it looks like to live: discipline, dedication to a goal, the quest for excellence, risk, pain—all the essence of being fully alive. Things we often leave behind as we are swallowed up making a living instead of living.  Benjamin Franklin said, 'Many men die at 25 and aren’t buried until they are 75.' With the sound of the closing Olympic ceremonies still ringing in your ears, don’t sit on the moment. Capture it. Walk, run, read, love, study, discover. Life doesn’t have a winners’ circle; it just has a finish line and you’re not done running yet." (Ken Davis)

Will you choose to push on towards the goal? To give of your best - for the extension of the Kingdom and the Glory of the Lord?

Instead of feeling deflated, can we spur one another on, encourage one another, build one another up, run together towards the finish line?

It's not all over yet. We still have time to be in the greatest race of our time - our own.












How to get a new name

What's in a name? I've always thought I'd like to change to a new name. Of course, I changed it once, 35 years ago when I became Mrs Swithinbank. And there was a new Mrs Swithinbank last Saturday - my husband took his nephew's wedding when Andrew Swithinbank married lovely Laura.  If you peer at the photo carefully you can just see my husband and my son in the background; they are chatting to Miriam and she is due to become another Mrs Swithinbank next May when she marries Jonathan Swithinbank! Confused already?  There will then be 5 Mrs Swithinbanks in our extended family. It's quite a name - one which has constantly to be spelled out especially over the telephone.

Names, and in particular family names, can assume great importance, whether for family inheritance or for business continuity. If the family name and line should die out there can be enormous repercussions. Look at Henry VIII's quest for a son to carry on the Royal line; and Princess Diana's "heir and spare."

But the Swithinbank name is assured for another generation - I have a little grandson, William Furnivall Stafford Swithinbank. A full four family names. He has a lot to live up to  - his ancestor Furnivall  was quite a character, friend to Ruskin, co-creator of the Oxford English Dictionary and apparently used as a model for Toad of Toad Hall.  Namesakes are often important. Alexander the Great had a namesake, who unfortunately fled from a battle scene, and when the young man was found by the great Alexander, he was told, "Either change your name or live up to it!"

Some of us may love our names; others of us dislike them intensely or dislike what is associated with them. Or wish we had a different name. Some people simply change their names - apparently it's quite easy to do!  Or this is fun:  you can have a random re-name which promises something different - it came up with Sasha Swithinbank for me.  Still thinking about whether to change!

So are we living up to our names? Because there is one name we each have that will never disappear. "As surely as my new heavens and earth will remain, so will you always be my people, with a name that will never disappear." (Isaiah 66:22, NLT)  We are part of God's family. You are always His child, bearing the family name. It's not on your birth certificate, nor will it be on your death certificate; but it's written on your forehead - Revelation 14:1 "Believers will have the Son's and the Father's name written on their foreheads."  It's  a name that we each possess and which will last forever.

You are royalty - the child of the King of Kings. Are you living up to your name as a child of God?


What character traits are associated with your family's name, or what events or happenings?

What happens when your family all get together?

How does it all compare with being a child of the King of Kings?



5 Lessons from 35 years of marriage - plus THE photo!

We celebrated 35 years of marriage earlier this week.

And I posted on what I have learned in 35 years -

The best times are those when together we truly seek to serve and follow the Lord and His plans for our lives. That a promise is a promise is a promise. 

But there are a few other things I have learned as well!  Because it has not been plain sailing all the way - like any married couple we have had our share of ups and downs, good times and not-so-good times and some downright bad times. Years ago, we threatened over the phone on one occasion during a time of severe stress that we might just leave each other.  And apologised and hugged as soon as we were together again later that day. Stuff happens; we are human; and life can be a severe test of the promises of marriage. What I know now, in no particular order, is this:

1. Most things look, feel, ARE better after a hug, an arm rub and something to eat. Together.

2. Never ever ever criticise your spouse in public or run them down or belittle them or humiliate them in any way. I once wrote: A wife should be her husband's biggest fan. (It applies the other way round too)  Build them up to others, praise and polish them and their achievements to others. And whatever you are thinking, save it for home to voice aloud. By which stage it will probably be less important anyway. And your moment of praising will affect your own attitude too.

3. A spouse can do what no-one else can do: pray for their partner at the deepest level.  Because we know one another so well, we know how to pray for them better than anyone else does. And if the snoring wakes you at night take that as a moment to lay hands on them and pray for them. It might just be a God-given opportunity!

4. Keep on with dating after the wedding too.  All those weeks and months of special date nights don't suddenly cease after the Vicar pronounces you are "man and wife together." Nicky and Sila Lee taught us years and years ago (yes, we went to their wedding!)  to put date nights into our diaries before anything else goes into the schedule.  Date night is important - whether you are going out or staying in (which for us often depended on children and finances for years!) If you are staying in, don't just do what you normally do in the evenings. Make it a special time with the best china or the finest wine glasses, candles on the table; take a bubble bath together; have a good pillow fight; arm wrestle; learn to give great massages ...  (dot dot dot as they say in Mamma Mia)

5. Sexy is a state of mind not body. And anticipation is very powerful:  talking about it, leaving little notes, kissing often, sending an anticipatory text message, having coded allusions even when in front of the children or  other people. It is also a great stress reliever.

We were very young when we married With the Revd John Gwyn-Thomas who married us.

But over these years we have grown together, deepened our love, become really good friends, done so much together. Yes it hasn't always been easy. We know that there but for the grace of God go I, we;  it is by God's grace, love, strength that our marriage has developed, stayed glued, persevered, blossomed.

To God be the glory!







What I Have Learnt in 35 years of Marriage

 July 16, 1977.

It sounds even to my ears a long long way back in history. I was very, very nervous -  a shy young teacher, whose school summer term had finished only two days earlier. HE had just graduated from Cambridge. We'd already been engaged for nearly two years, but he had a fourth year of studies to finish and we had decided to wait. I walked down the aisle on my father's arm, wearing the veil my mother had worn at their wedding, and which her aunt had worn years before that. The congregation were singing as we walked - you won't want them looking at you, advised my mother, so have a hymn to come in and then they can concentrate on that and not on you. Crown Him with many Crowns, the Lamb upon His Throne, they sang. And right from the start, we wanted Christ at the centre of our marriage. All Hail, Redeemer, Hail, for Thou hast died for me, Thy praise shall never, never fail, throughout eternity. We knew even then that a life of full time service to Christ lay ahead of us. We learnt our vows by heart, determined not to say them to the officiating minister, the wonderfully Welsh Vicar,  John Gwyn-Thomas, but to each other. As we turned and held hands and looked deeply, we promised.  We promised FOREVER - no matter what: for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, til death us do part. A promise that has been stretched to its limits on many occasions. But we promised in front of human witnesses - our families and friends - and in front of God. He put the ring on my finger; I put one on his. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. A Trinity of witnesses. We sang again. Channels only, blessed Master, but with all Thy wondrous power flowing through us Thou canst use us every day and every hour. And that was our prayer and our commitment.The sermon, by our request,  was an outreach to those of our friends who as yet did not know the Lord. There were prayers; a friend sang a solo from The Messiah whilst the registers were signed; and then the voices were raised in a favourite hymn  - And Can it Be ... my chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose went forth and followed Thee. That's what we promised together  - to follow wherever He leads us.

What have we learned in 35 years?

That the promise still stands. A promise is a promise is a promise. Through the joys and the sorrows - the 2am feeds and then the weddings of those same babies; depressing times and times of delight;  6  little grandchildren; broken dreams and heights of splendour; speaking together to large conferences, praying for individuals;  upholding one another; and trying to serve the Lord together. The best times are those when together we truly seek to serve and follow the Lord and His plans for our lives. He has given us enormous blessings, gifts, privileges and  experiences. Not least, a wonderful family of children, children-in-law and grandchildren. But best of all, each other, to love and to cherish, from this day forward. For ever. It's our promise and our love. 


What have you learned in the years you have been married? What blessings can you share?

SHARE THE LOVE: maybe forward this to others, pray for and strengthen their marriage? 


  It's been a tough time - 22 months of coping with loss, depression, stress, emotion, exhaustion.

You too know how that feels. We all have rough things to cope with: times of pain, anxiety, grief - from a variety of causes. And it's hard when something suddenly reminds you, takes you back into it when you thought you were learning to cope, learning to live with the 'new normal.' The questions come again and again.

-Why, God? why did that happen? and why do I need to be reminded again today?  when will it all come to an end so I can move on?

It was the sermon Sunday morning. Well meant, talking about Jesus quietening the storm, being there IN it with the disciples; linking it (somehow) to Moses in the bulrushes and God being concerned with every small detail of our lives. And lots of stories of the pain and the suffering that people endure - including one of a woman being crushed under the wheels of a car and killed.

I saw that happen to my lovely 90 year old mother.

Don't be bitter, the preacher urged. Be broken hearted, yes, for the Lord binds up the broken hearted. But don't get bitter. Let the train of faith always be ahead of the parallel train of problems and pains. How, I asked him afterwards. How do I do that? How do I keep the train of faith ahead?  He had no answer but to repeat that there is so much suffering in the world and not to get bitter but allow God to bind up your broken heart. I left feeling bruised and broken hearted all right.

But there IS an answer. We can know what to do, where to go for help. We can't explain why the sorrow and the sadness and the hurt and the pain, but we can look to Christ and seek His peace and His strength. I can't pretend it's easy, for it's not. There are days when there seems to be no peace, no strength, no stilling of my storm. But there are things I am  learning,  that I can share with you, for those days. That I pray will help you as you struggle with the pain and the sorrow, the emotion and the exhaustion.




- ask for help. Personally I don't find that easy. But when you can't pray for yourself, for your situation, for your sorrow and pain, someone else can and will. A trusted friend; the prayer team at church; a prayer help line; even on Twitter where you often see people asking for prayer. All of the above - it doesn't have to be either/or! You don't even have to say why if you don't want to. A simple "please would you pray for me today" can be enough.

- take a short walk. Even if it's just a short walk through a park. Fresh air and looking around at trees or flowers can help. Drop your shoulders, breath deeply...  keep looking around, moving your head, your eyes, to see from side to side. Notice what's around you.

-be grateful. Actively look for, notice, write down, two or three things for which to thank God each day. Whether it's the aroma of fresh coffee or the sun rising again today;  a green light or a parking space; an email from a friend or a verse of Scripture which stands out and helps; a friend, a grandchild, your favourite pair of shoes .... Jot down a couple of gratitudes even in the brokenness.

- allow yourself time. Time to rest; time to recover; time to heal.  We are a busy, rushed society. We don't allow ourselves time, let alone one another, to grieve, to mourn, to recover from loss whether of loved ones or jobs, homes or situations. He heals the broken hearted and binds up their wounds - but maybe not instantaneously for maybe we have things to learn, things we can share with others, rough edges to be smoothed, pride to be smashed. Go slowly. Rest up. Don't try to do too much too soon.


Know that He cares for you. Look again at the top cartoon. And be thankful.



The illustrations were found on the TECMAN site.










We all need them.

But I hadn’t realized just how much we long to be hugged, yearn for the warmth of human embrace, until I wrote about hugs a couple of days ago  and received a number of comments and emails in reply.

And then on Friday afternoon, I went to the gym – for the fourth time this week! I’m visiting my daughter in Virginia and she goes regularly – and now her gym has kindly given me a free pass for the duration of my visit.  I’ve got the bug already – pounding away on the treadmill, doing the rolling hills program, trying to keep ready for the 100 miles walk of Pilgrimage in September; weights in hand, ear plugs in, small TV screen on in front of me.  And off I go, oblivious to my surroundings.  I’ve watched chat shows, Wimbledon tennis, the news, depending on the time of day.

On Friday afternoon it was the news. And I was fascinated to see coverage of a HUG-IN.

A sweet looking Indian lady, called Amma (mother) to her followers, had been just a few miles away in Alexandria, VA, all day, just hugging people, one after the other. It’s what she does.

She sits there and hugs anyone and everyone who comes for a hug.                   

People had been waiting for hours in order to get a hug.

“She doesn’t get up, or stretch, or eat. It makes you contemplate your own life and challenges….When she hugs me, I experience a great surge of peace and spirit. I have to go sit down,” said a woman quoted in The Washington Post.

People believe that Mata Amritanandamayi, the hugging saint, transmits power to others through a simple hug.

And in many ways they are right. A hug can relieve stress, prolong life, increase healthy levels in the body

But it seemed so sad that people had travelled and waited in order to be hugged by a stranger. Was it so very different to being hugged by family or friends? Did the effect wear off and if so would they have to follow Amma to her next location for another hug?

And I thought again of the Good Shepherd carrying His lambs close to His Heart. (Isaiah 40:11)

How He wept because the people were tired and confused, like sheep without a Shepherd. (Matthew 9:36)

And how He has no hands now but our hands – to hug and hold and help.


Teresa of Avila (1515–1582) wrote:

Christ Has No Body

Christ has no body but yours.
No hands, no feet on earth but yours.
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

Might you hug someone today with the hug of the Good Shepherd?  Who needs a hug from you? 

Or maybe you need to ask for a hug for yourself?

And send this on to someone so that they will also hug someone else?

UPDATE: hugs for January HERE: http://www.ministriesbydesign.org/2013/01/06/why-you-need-a-cuddle-in-january-pt-3-of-alleviating-the-blues/







Holley said it yesterday : Three hugs a day makes you live longer.                                                                             

Makes you happier.


Of course,  at any given moment you are 50% of a hug.



My mother was widowed when only 64. And after that, she always said she missed his hugs. No-one hugged her, touched her.


We each need the  

3 HUGS a DAY diet 



We each need to be touched, to feel the warmth of another person's hand or arm around us.


Hugs are healing.  Heart rate slows, blood pressure stabilises, immune system improves.

We know that if newborn babies are deprived of touch, they don't do well even if their other needs are all met.


Virginia Satir, American author and psychotherapist said we need four hugs a day for survival, eight hugs a day for maintenance, twelve hugs a day for growth.

I look at this photo.  Taken at my mother's funeral.  Two of my grandchildren, her great-grandchildren, caught on camera hugging each other.  Too small to understand what was happening, but maybe aware of sadness all around them. Cousins hugging.

Hugging is such a natural, healing thing.

* * * *

I hesitate to hug. Always have done.

I like my space, shrink from contact.  Immediately following my 90 year old mother's unexpected and brutal death caused by an out-of-control car, people wanted to hug me.  It was kindly meant, I know.  It felt like being rubbed raw.

Hug three times a day?  Eight times? TWELVE times??

And now I read that  hugging increases oxytocin, especially in women, and so can lessen stress because it  decreases the levels of cortisol , the fight or flight hormone.

I need a hug.

Right now.

And so do you.


At the end of a Pilgrimage, when we have all been through so much together - miles and miles, blisters and sisters, views and pews, the agony and the ecstasy -

we hug. No words to express so much; but a hug says it all.

Even for me.






He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart

 Isaiah 40:11 (NIVUK)




Have you hugged anyone today? Been hugged?

Might you try? Might I?

Please hug me if you see me ... I'm learning to hug back!

And if there's someone you want to hug but are not sure ... or they are far away ...

send them this?









I am writing a  blog (Monday to Friday)  on preparing spiritually and physically

to lead a Pilgrimage of 100 miles in September.

for details of the Pilgrimage, click on the dropdown Cotswold Pilgrimage bar at the top of this page.








Thomas Jefferson thought so .The phrase is meant to exemplify the "inalienable rights" with which all human beings are endowed by their creator and for the protection of which they institute governments. (quote taken from Wikipedia)


But there is another thought.

In pursuit of happiness we lose contentment.

I reposted a photo on Facebook  (I don't know where it originated, if you know please let me know!)  -  and it has been 'liked' and reposted by more people than much of what I put there! It seems to resonate with them:

Five simple rules for happiness:

- free your heart from hatred.  Anita Mathias has been blogging on this. It's a powerful thought - forgiveness, freedom from hatred, yes - but more, actually praying for the strength to love in place of that hatred.

- free your mind from worries. Easier said than done? I have learnt that actually I have a choice. I can choose to worry - or I can choose not to.  I can choose to

 Cast the whole of your care [all your anxieties, all your worries, all your concerns, once and for all] on Him, for He cares for you affectionately and cares about you watchfully. 1 Peter 5:7 (Amplified Bible)

- Live simply. My daughter's friend, Alice (not her real name) had always wanted a large family home, plenty of space, a large garden - and a couple of  years ago her dream was realised. She and her family moved into a beautiful home further out of town, with everything she had always wanted. After 10 months Alice finally plucked up the courage to tell her husband that she wanted to move. It felt so unnecessarily luxurious and was taking every last penny of their money - so they had less to give away to others. He was much relieved for he had thought the same. So they prayed; and within 24 hours of going on the market, the house was sold. They moved - to a much smaller but very pleasant townhouse. Her happiness levels soared: once again they had money to give away to those who had so much less, both at home and abroad. Alice is living simply so that others may simply live. She is radiantly happy; I know I've met her.

- Give more.  Of yourself. Your time, your talents, your treasure, your testimony. Whatever  you share will be given back, pressed down and running over.  God is no ones' debtor.  Yes it's costly and sometimes hurts. In more ways than one. But as David said, "I will not give the Lord what has cost me nothing." (2 Sam 24:24)

- Expect less. My grandmother used to say Blessed is he who expecteth nothing for he shall not be disappointed.  It's somewhat tongue in cheek. But what RIGHT do I have to anything? All is gift, given in love. What if tomorrow you had only the things you gave thanks for today?


Five simple ways to  true happiness.

Might they work for me? For you?  Shall we try?




Reflections on water


I am writing a daily blog (Monday to Friday)  on preparing spiritually and physically

to lead a Pilgrimage of 100 miles in September.

for details of the Pilgrimage, click on the dropdown Cotswold Pilgrimage bar at the top of this page 



The Fosse Way. Ancient, straight, unbending.  Full of old memories.                                                       

Roman soldiers marched it. Horse carts stuck in its mud.

Cars still drive most of it.

My friend and I walked some part of it, heads tossed about in the wind, hairfree, carefree, glad to BE.

We walked.  We talked.  Glossy black cows and speckled herds were over the hedgerows.

We found berries sweet, small, sun-kissed.


There was a sadness in each of us, years or more of hard places.   Parents departed. Children making nests empty. Struggling spouses. Illnesses. Finances. Life.


And the book I recently encountered.  Eucharistic moments – the breaking of bread, the giving of thanks in the brokenness, the miracle ensuing. Looking for charis, gifts of God, so often unnoticed yet there for our accepting.


We strode on, the ground dry and cracked, the path hard to our feet. And then.  The farmyard, horses, a tractor from which to stand aside.  The gate to the next field, always open – always there a puddle thick with farmyard mud to straddle.


More dry earth, more fields, more cows.  More sun and wind and glorious freedom in the views. And then that final wet stretch, teetering along its edge, trying to find a pathway through, and I knowing it to be always wet, “Perhaps it’s a spring, fresh water always leaching through.”



Hop skip jump and we are over and onwards.

Remembering later, I write to her.



Thinking of that cracked dry soil we saw in some places this afternoon; and the puddles which never seem to be dry - a metaphor of what happens when joy and grace and God's gifts penetrate our broken, cracked lives.  


And looking for the Gifts.  Searching out the Eucharistic moment. Allowing Him to leach into our crackedness.  Dry hardness becomes soft.


Life giving.

Life healing.

Life refreshing.

Life in all its fullness.

His life filling into ours.


Jesus replied, “Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.”  John 4:13-14






When have you experienced that Life-Giving Water  in new and unexpected ways?

Who needs your help in finding that Water right now?