Episode 22: Hannah Lamberth: Paint Reflections
Welcome to the Loved Called Gifted Podcast. This is your place to come for musings about spirituality, identity, and purpose.
I’m your host, Catherine Cowell.
So I’m delighted to be joined by Hannah Lambert for this episode. Thank you very much for coming on Hannah
H: Thank you for having me.
C: It’s great. So you’ve got a reflection for us today, and we are recording, excitingly, from my bedroom.
H: We are!
C: I made a bit of an error earlier, I lit a lovely log fire, I thought we could record in front of the log fire. But it’s amazing how much noise that makes!
H: It’s so noisy!
C: It’s really noisy. Then what would have been good, as well as the rumble of the fire in the background, was that occasionally there’s a log splitting that sounds like somebody’s being shot! So we have decanted to the bedroom. I’m just hoping that the kids, who are on either side, aren’t too noisy, but there you go.
H: I don’t think anything will be as noisy as the fire, to be honest.
C: And the sound of ‘gunshots’.
Okie doke, so you’ve got a reflection for us, and then we’ll have a bit of a natter.
H: Fab, great, ok.
So this reflection is called “More pigment in my paint”.
When I say the word ‘pigeon’, what comes to mind?
Maybe running after a flock of them as a small child. Maybe the lady in Home Alone 2, feeding the birds in Central Park.
Maybe, like me, you have a print of Picasso’s Dove of Peace hanging in your living room, which your mischievous Father in Law has nicknamed “the pigeon”.
When I say the words “elephant’s breath”, what comes to mind?
Maybe a trip to Mulwell Zoo on a cold winter’s day in 1994.
Maybe a David Attenburgh documentary, watching the intimate bond between a mum and a baby elephant.
Maybe a once in a lifetime safari watching a herd of elephants journey across the grasslands of Africa.
When I say the word “railings”, what comes to mind?
Waving a child off at the gate on their first day of school? Maybe the love-bridge in Paris where thousands of padlocks declaring undying love are chained to the railings each year.
Or maybe Miss Mel, the suffragette who valiantly chained herself to the metal railings outside the Prime Minister’s front door as part of a long battle to win women the right to vote.
Or maybe ‘pigeon’, ‘elephant’s breath’ and ‘railings’ bring Farrow and Ball paint colours to mind.
If that’s you, I see you.
In an attempt to make my house look like something from a Homes & Gardens magazine, I’ve spent a small fortune on paint samples from said paint purveyor over the last few weeks.
“Set your minds on things above, and not on earthly things”, the apostle Paul tells us. Which is all good and well until you’re trying to renovate a 1930s semi. Or choose which airfryer to buy, or decide which National Trust property to visit.
While I appreciate the quality of a tiny, albeit extortionate, sample tin of Cornforth(?) White paint, and while I won’t say no to a chicken nugget cooked in 6 minutes in a ninja air fryer, and while I love a trip to some manicured gardens as much as the next person, quite frankly, I need more.
I’m longing for more pigment, more depth, more beauty, more seasoning, more heat. I am longing for more Jesus. More of Him in my thoughts, in my conversations, in my parenting. In my friendships, and in my future. But setting my mind on Kingdom things, and things above, might mean thinking less about earthly things. Maybe Paul had a point after all.
It is so terribly easy to be distracted by the superficial beauty of a middle-class life. One with a nice house, decorated in subtle grey, with just a tiny hint of Jesus.
Is that what I really want?
Is it Farrow & Ball’s?
C: No, that’s great. So I’m wondering what it was that prompted that particular reflection, what it was that was going on in you?
H: So since the beginning of the year we have been on a bit of a quest to renovate our house. When you’re decorating – I’m not one of those people who walks into rooms and says “this colour suits”. I’m really, really not very good at decorating and stuff like that. I buy a thousand paint samples and I want everybody to help me decide what to choose and what to do. And unfortunately on this occasion I chose one pot of paint that looked bright yellow when I put it on the wall. I had to repaint it after the new carpet had gone down, which wasn’t the wisest thing. But I think it just struck me in the new year how much of my conversation was related to paint colours. And air fryers. Things that just seem really earthly. Not terrible things at all. I referenced that verse from Colossians, which Paul says, “set your mind on things above, not earthly things.” It wasn’t like I was getting involved in these awful conversations about terrible things, that later on Paul goes on to reference in that book. But it just felt like so many of my conversations were a bit more superficial. I would meet with Christians and walk away feeling like, “hang on a minute, we all love Jesus. Surely our conversation must involve more around Him and more around matters of the heart.” Catherine and I have been talking about matters of the heart today. The deep stuff. The deep stuff within, the deep work that Jesus is doing. The Kingdom things and the things above. And yet I have felt like the last 6 weeks have been very full of earthly things. Not terrible earthly things, but earthly things, like air fryers, and paint colours, and William Morris blinds. And all of that stuff’s ok, I’m not saying that a trip to B&Q to look at all the paint samples is bad at all, but I had just got to the point where I thought, “I want more depth in conversation. I want more of Jesus. I want more –” I don’t think ‘challenge’ is the word, because I don’t think it is always challenge, is it? Sometimes it’s just deep love of Christ that leads us to be more self-aware, but yeah, just something deeper.
C: Yeah. So it’s kind of a yearning for something. I can really identify with that sense that you get absorbed by just doing the doing of life, and not having the opportunity to go deeper. I do wonder how much of that is personality, because some of us are much, much more drawn to concrete stuff. Are much more interested in the concrete, the day-to-day. Others of us are much more interested in ideas and concepts and the big-picture, visionary sort of stuff. So if your life is just consisting of paint charts and there’s no opportunity for the deep conversations, then that can be really frustrating.
H: Absolutely, and there are absolutely times to talk about paint colours and more superficial things, just because it isn’t appropriate to go into “What’s Jesus saying in the deepest darkest thoughts?” And there will be people that are naturally more inclined to go deep quickly. And there will be situations in which it’s more appropriate not to do that.
I live in Manchester and Catherine lives in Stoke so I was on the drive down listening to some of the book of Acts, in the bible. I don’t do that all the time, I should add, I very rarely drive anywhere on my own, so I thought I might as well make the most of it. I tried to listen to Radio 4 or some slightly weird drama. You know what Radio 4’s like, sometimes there’s a really weird outer space weird alien drama. Anyway, it wasn’t for me, so I decided to pull over, turn off weird Radio 4 drama, and decided I would use some of my drive time to listen to the book of Acts. I love the bit in Acts 2 where it says “they met together, listened to the apostles’ teaching, and prayed together and worshipped together”. I just thought, “gosh, so many of the times I’ve been recently where it’s been Christians together –” and maybe it’s where I’ve been at, maybe I’ve been more concerned with my Farrow & Ball paint colours, so they’re the conversations that I’ve attracted. There’s definitely some of that. But I think, “what were some of those early Christians talking about? What were the depth of those conversations? What on earth were they praying about for all that time? What were the apostles teaching?” And just thinking, “gosh, actually, I’d really like to experience more of what the early church experienced, in terms of their –” it feels like quite a focussed way of really pursuing Jesus in their times together, rather than it being predominantly surface level.
C: Yeah, so you’ve got a real longing for something deeper. It puts me in mind of the bit in Ecclesiastes, that God has “placed eternity” in the hearts of people. We naturally have that longing for something deeper. There’s a question, isn’t there, of how you get to that. I’m kind of thinking in a couple of different directions. One of them about “how do we wake up to God’s presence in our everyday lives amidst the Farrow and Ball paint charts? How do you sort of, find that? Because actually there is something of the Divine, everywhere, all around us. So just before we started podcasting, I was reminded of a plaque that I’ve actually got up in my bedroom, and it says, “bidden or unbidden, God is present”. So some of that depth is about finding God in everything. But that requires a focussing in a slightly different place, I think. But I’m also reminded of this poem, it’s called The Brightfields, by R.S. Thomas. He writes this:
I have seen the sun break through to illuminate a small field for a while, and gone my way, and forgotten it.
But THAT was the pearl of great price, the one field that had treasure in it!
I realise now that I must give all that I have to possess it.
Life is not hurrying on to a receding future.
Nor hankering after an imagined past.
It is the turning aside, like Moses, to the miracle of the lit bush.
To a brightness that seemed as transitory as your youth once.
But is the eternity that awaits you.
H: That’s beautiful.
C: Yeah. In there is something, isn’t there, about the God who is with us, and there’s a question about what needs to go on within us and the way that we’re connected with the world that helps us to have a deep connection with God in the midst of everything. As well as in the turning aside and the intentional “let’s actually have a deep conversation”.
H: I think what I liked about that poem is the words “life is not hurrying”. Yes it is! But when you’re putting paint on the walls, you’re thinking, “in 5 yrs, these paint colours are going to be horribly outdated”. When I put that paint on the walls that felt yellow, it felt like the magnolia that the 90s was painted in, to paint over the purples that we all went for for a while, and the air fryer is the current kitchen trend. There was once the slow cooker, there was once the bread maker. I think earthly things are hurrying. They are trends that are the latest pram for your baby or the latest jeans. Which apparently are flares at the minute or something. I went to levis and I said “what jeans are going to be next?”, they said “skinny jeans are coming back in”, I thought “skinny jeans have never gone out for me!” Wearing skinny jeans. But earthly things are often things that change. Life goes on and questions change. The things above are the things that are less changing. That we can forget about, like the rising and setting of the sun. Which happens every day, it happened the same 40 years ago when I was born as it does today, and I think sometimes just stop and look for God in the things that are less transient is really important.
C: Don’t you think it’s both, though? Coz there are mayflies, and there are mountains.
H: Yup, yup.
C: And we change, our lives change, so the fact that paint colours change and 5 years later they look outdated, and you want to move with it, I think you can find God in all of that.
H: Yeah, you can, you’re right.
C: And that thing about hurrying or not hurrying, there’s something about saying, what is the natural pace at which I would live my life? And let me welcome God into my natural rhythm. As well as challenging my natural rhythm and doing something different. So I would say, if I was doing spiritual direction and talking to folks about what works for you in terms of your prayer life, what are going to be the things that you lean into? If somebody is naturally running at 50mph, trying to go for a slow sedentary walk ain’t gonna do it. Maybe you need to meet God on your run. Maybe you need to have a proper march. There have been times when I have gone for a walk with God and it’s been an absolute STOMP. I’m really kind of going for it and feeling God in that energy. The energy in my body. I’m often energetic, but that energy of, “I really want to embrace the world”. But then there are other moments to step back. And your bright field doesn’t have to be in slow-motion, if you’re not a slow-motion kind of person, I don’t think.
H: Yeah, that’s good.
C: We don’t know that R.S. Thomas came upon the field slowly. He might have been jogging past it, maybe that’s the point of the poem.
H: Maybe he had lycra on!
C: He might be pre-lycra. But he does sound like he’s pondering poetically, but you know what I mean.
I was thinking about what you were saying about conversations, and the fact that quite often conversations, even in situations that are labelled as Christian sometimes don’t get to the heart of things. And there is something about saying, “what is it that means we don’t open up to one another, at depth? What is it that makes that difficult?” Coz there is something really beautiful about spending time with other people who are growing and journeying spiritually. And actually listening to one another and listening to what is happening deep within and what we’re thinking about. I’ve been in a lot of settings where there isn’t actually space for that and sometimes the vulnerability isn’t allowed. So I’m remembering from years and years ago, going along to a friend’s housegroup, and I’d really been thinking about the struggle that I’d had as a young new Christian being open and vulnerable. And I was part of a fairly conservative evangelical church and they did quite a lot of ‘inducting’ of their new believers. I felt like a really bad Christian. At one point there was a conversation I’d had with a youth leader and she just happened to say, “y’know, when you’re first a Christian, often your spiritual life is really up and down”. Because I had been surrounded by people who looked so perfect, that was a huge relief. I was like “oh thank goodness, I’m not the only one”. I was determined, I was so excited about this revelation, that I was alright, I was normal, it was ok for it to be difficult sometimes and ecstatically mountain top at other times and I was so excited about this, I thought the next time I met for these 1 to 1 sessions I was having with the pastor’s wife, I would tell her. But I couldn’t, because there was something about her and her vibe she gave off which was really this ‘perfect Christian’ vibe, although I had this story, it was the most precious thing that had happened to me that week, I was like “I ain’t telling you that!”
In the years that followed, I thought, “I don’t want to hide that, because probably there are other people who are also struggling, but unless somebody opens their mouth and says ‘I find this difficult’, nobody’s going to.” I tried it once at a houseparty when I was a student at university. We went away. The Christian Union went on a houseparty and we were in groups to discuss quiet times. I made this enormous revelation, you won’t believe how honest I was, I said “sometimes I find quiet times quite difficult”. And there was silence throughout the group. Like, pin-drop silence. The person who was facilitating said “it’s very brave of you to say that”. I don’t think it was that brave.
H: I don’t think it was that brave either.
C: But that does set up an image of how perfectly everything looks and sounds. So I went along to this housegroup where somebody was talking about prayer, and I just talked a bit about how flipping difficult I found it. And then everybody else opened up and talked about it. My friend afterwards said “that’s the most honest housegroup we’ve ever had”. But it took somebody to take the risk of being open and vulnerable and leading the way.
H: I think that word, vulnerable. It’s a slightly clichéd word these days, isn’t it, but I do think it’s so critical. And our response to vulnerability as well. In one breath we want people to be vulnerable and to be honest and to be able to have the space to safely open up, but in our response to that you don’t want somebody who is prone to vulnerability oversharing in an environment that is not appropriate to do so. I think there is a real gift of facilitation within those settings. Especially a more formal setting of a housegroup or like you said, the houseparty, the weekend away that you went on, of having people who were able to hold these conversations well and encourage people towards Jesus, not for people to come in with judgement and “ohmigoodness, why has this person said that ?!” It is a skill, and it’s discernment that we need to have when we’re in those spaces and those environments. But I do think vulnerability is key and almost have environments where that’s the expectation, that actually we’re going to come together and we’re going to be open and honest. We’re going to be comfortable with imperfection, and questions and “I’m not sure how I feel about this”
C: Absolutely. There is something about, how do you set an environment that does that. I don’t think that every environment is safe for it. So, years ago I managed a speech and language therapy department. As a new manager I was really looking for spaces where I could talk honestly about some of the struggles. It isn’t easy, none of those roles are easy. There are some settings where you would go and think, “oh thank goodness, there are other managers here!” Within the hospital trust I was part of, it was other therapy managers. I’d go along to a meeting and think “ah, yes, I’d be able to talk to these people”. But if I showed a chink, my colleagues would use that as an opportunity to expound their advice to me, or explain how their department was so much better. I thought “ah, there’s a speech and language therapy managers’ meeting.” I went along to that and I thought “these people will talk”. But just as you were talking about situations where nobody gets beneath the surface, nobody was admitting to any level of vulnerability. So in the end I set up my own meeting, and I took doughnuts, and I was the person hosting the space, so I was able, as the host, to ask for other people’s advice and to share. I think because that was the first thing that I did, I got some fabulous help and advice and support, which was great. But there was something about creating an environment that was safe, and having the courage as the holder of that space, to say, “can I share with you something I’m finding difficult?” meant that that space ended up being quite different from some other spaces. But there is something about how you do that, particularly if you’re holding a space, it’s not about getting therapy from everyone else but it’s about – well, sometimes it might be, actually, but it’s about the honesty and being the one who takes the conversation a bit deeper.
H: So what I hear from that, Catherine, is that if you want to be in spaces with more vulnerability and honesty, create it yourself, and bring doughnuts? Because doughnuts are the key! To getting anyone to tell you anything.
C: I think other baked goods are available.
H: We’re being non-discriminatory in our baked products.
C: I don’t think doughnuts are magic. I listened to someone talking about new ways of doing church, and they were joking about old ways of doing church where they bring doughnuts but expect it to be different. So I think maybe not. I think it was something about in the confines of a grotty NHS meeting room, bringing something was a good idea. And something that added a bit of personal space, because in the NHS at that time, you’d be lucky if you got a custard cream.
H: Desperate times! No, don’t knock a custard cream.
I do think that creating a space, be the change that you want to see in the world. If we want those forums for vulnerability and to go deeply, to facilitate those spaces where people can. I know we were talking about a mutual friend of ours, you go from nought to the deepest darkest secrets of your heart in about 0.8 seconds, because she’s one of those people that you can go deep quickly with. And there’s other people who don’t share that same desire – well, maybe they do with other people. It’s difficult, but I think when you are specifically in a context of other Christians, my desire is for those spaces where we are having those ‘Acts 2’ meetings, where we are in fellowship and we are gathering together, is to get beyond the paint colours, and to get to the deeper matters of the heart. Be that in a formal or informal context. It doesn’t always have to be arranged. It can be a group of friends having coffee. Or having lunch or going for a walk.
H: Or wearing lycra and jogging past fields
C: So, do you think you’re one of those people who particularly connects with God in the context of conversation with others?
H: Absolutely. Without a shadow of a doubt. We’ve done a podcast before about my increasing acceptance of me as a ‘people person’. I really do. That is a real way that God connects with me, through conversation, through connection with other people, when I hear from Him and see Him in the context of socialising.
C: AND, from our conversation earlier, I really got the sense that God really spoke to you through interaction with the valspar(?) paint woman.
H: Yes! Wonderful Kath! Brilliant lady called Kath, mid-60s, dyed her hair, took up boxing, got a sleeve of tattoos, ended up getting arrested for accidentally telling someone that she was going to kill them and their adult children. She didn’t mean it. She was on some pain killers or something at the time. Anyway, she ends up in prison, after bonding with the entire police force or whatever police station she ended up in. They said, “oh, Kath, would you like some reading material?”, she said “yes please, a murder mystery”, which I thought was absolutely brilliant. I loved that. I did. I saw Jesus in Kath. I’m not saying Jesus was getting arrested and asking for a murder mystery, but –
C: I think He did get arrested…!
H: He did get arrested!
C: I’m not sure He was into murder mystery, there’s no mention of Miss Marple, but He did get arrested.
H: There is a bit of murder mystery in that, isn’t there?
But I love seeing God move in those random conversations.
C: So what was it that you saw in Kath that God revealed something through?
H: For Kath in her way, I think it was “there has to be more to life than this”. She hit 60 and went, “I can be braver. I can be bolder. I can be more confident.” Admittedly that boldness that she adopted in her 60s did land her in a police station, but she wasn’t arrested for long.
I met her and I thought, “we are literally bonding over the valspar paint counter. Over, knock off Farrow & Ball colours. No-one actually pays for Farrow & Ball, do they? They get it mixed by valspar. That’s what you do. But I thought, “we’re here talking about paint colours, and here’s a woman who says, ‘I want more from life’.” Her context for more was a parachute jump that she’s planning, taking up boxing, and a sleeve of tattoos. I walked away thinking, “Jesus, I want more from this life! I want more fulfilment.” I don’t mean that in a selfish hedonistic way, I mean in a fulfilment in walking with the Author of Creation, doing life more intimately with Him, and encouraging others to do the same. Just by going under the surface a bit more. Trying to be a bit more intentional and having those spaces for deeper conversations. Digging at the heart a little bit more.
C: Yeah. Really listening to that invitation that often comes out of that, “I really want something more!”, I think that is a real invitation from the Holy Spirit to go deeper and to seek the more and see what it is that God is wanting to draw out of you.
H: For me, the distractions from going deeper are often the earthly things that are good. They’re the paint colours and the kids and the family and meeting with people and doing good stuff, but I think it’s so easy to get caught up in that world and forget to take time to dig deep.
C: That is God’s world. It interests me that although you’re saying that’s the surface stuff, it was in the midst of getting your paint colours mixed.
H: Yeah, it was
C: That you met Kath. Who was your bright field, your burning bush. To take a step away and to find God within that. So amongst your Farrow & Ball paint colours, and the decorating and the dealing with the kids, there will be those moments. I think sometimes – certainly for me – the more intentional spending time with God is really the thing that primes me to the depths of reality the rest of the day. The taking some time aside, however that looks. Whether that’s going for a walk, whether that’s reading the bible for a bit, whether it’s having a coffee and taking a journal, all those things, it doesn’t matter what it is. But if you’re out of the stream of it, having those times can, I think, prime you for finding God in all the rest.
H: It’s all about paint! But you’re absolutely right. It is taking time to tune in intentionally, so that you can unintentionally tune in for the rest of the day.
C: And being aware that sometimes you haven’t got time to do deep tuning. Sometimes it is just “I’m going to stop”. And if you’ve got 3 minutes to stop and be with God, then be with God for 3 minutes. Waiting for the ideal moment, particularly if you’re busy, isn’t always going to happen, is it?
Well, I wish you well with your seeking something deeper.
H: Yeah. I’m never decorating again. My house, in 20 years, is going to be the same colour as it is now.
C: Is it?
H: Trends or no trends. I’ll just wait for it to come back around again, like skinny jeans. Coz it will!
C: I have a suspicion that the “I’m never decorating again in my life” might be optimistic
H: Ohhh, come on! … I have a suspicion you might be right.
C: Thank you very much, Hannah
H: Thank you for having me
Hope you enjoyed this episode of the Loved Called Gifted podcast. If you’d like to get in touch, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org You can find a transcript of this podcast at lovedcalledgifted.com and that’s also the place to go if you’re interested in the Loved Called Gifted course or if you’d like to find out about spiritual direction or coaching.
Thank you for listening.