Poem: Inside, Outside. Lockdown III

This new lockdown, I am writing in my notebooks again, letting what emerges, emerge. You can read about the Lockdown Poems here – their immediacy, their rootedness in my place.

Once again, I have begun writing what I see, and what is before me in this moment. Whereas the earlier poems, starting in March, are largely written outside, this one is about looking out. Beginning to write is a revealing thing. As I proceeded, I felt that what I was exploring was that sensation of being stuck inside – looking out, but not with longing. I am looking out at a world that is far from inviting. Cold, wet, and darkening as it is. Once again, that small moment, that everyday feeling of watching the rain, seemed to unfold and reveal a wider and deeper difficulty. Not so much of being stuck inside, but of not wanting to venture out into a world that seems alarming, potentially dangerous, as we face the terrible acceleration of the pandemic’s spread. It is truly terrible, the grief that is echoing around our closed rooms, the potential for harm in each interaction.

But venture out I will – the natural world still offers its hospitality and welcome, however cold and dark it seems. The garden and area around still see me tramping about for exercise and refreshment. I had a new waterproof coat for Christmas, which is making all the difference to how I feel about being outside just now – at least from the point of view of the weather. The pandemic is a different matter. My venturing is limited now, circumscribed and circumspect. I notice an increasing tendency to some anxiety at the thought of “out”. That anxiety is well founded. I am listening to it, and taking what precautions I can. As we all are.

It will not always be so, though. We will emerge. For now, the balance and relationship between inside and outside has shifted, profoundly connected to the natural world as we are. We can feel cut off from the winter, we are certainly cut off from each other. But even now, there are tiny wonders to be seen out there, small hopes and shifts, if we can raise our eyes and look.

Inside. Outside   Lockdown III

Inside, looking out,
through golden light
to cold grey,
through glass
and warm air
and stillness,
to where the
cold wind shudders the trees.


Outside, the curved seedpods
of the tree peony
drip with ice rain,
glittering

While candlelight
and lamplight
are reflected in the glass,
and glow orange in
the darkening grey garden.

And a tumble of birds
comes, and goes,
comes, and goes,
chattering endlessly
on the feeders
that sway in the sharp wind

And if I hold my nerve,
and hold the gardener’s gaze,
even from here I can see
that fuzz of green
on the ice-furzed soil –
Herb Robert, violets,
the tissue-paper yellow
of wet primroses,
and the soft spears
of bulbs just beginning.
Bluebells.  Cerise gladioli.

Outside seems far away.
A different air.
A different light.
But soon my boots
will be on my feet,
and my coat wrapped about me,
and I will feel that frost,
and the cold wind,
and I will feel
the ice rain again.

To keep our spirits up, a reminder of what is to come.

The coming of the Magi – Epiphany

Today, I’m sharing with you an extract of my retelling of the Story of the Magi – the Wise Men. Today is the day we celebrate their arrival, and their gifts. You can read a previous year’s bog post here – where I write of how so many different people came to know about the birth of Jesus in so many different ways. How attentiveness can lead to the joy of finding a King, a hope, even in the most unpromising circumstances.

Today, I’ve been mulling over the ways we can fail to see. In this story, people fail to see – or see and profoundly miss the point. There is Herod, insecure in all his power and wealth, seeing only a challenge to him personally. Unaware, as they all are, of how this is a different kind of king altogether, he responds with fear, and manipulative cruelty. He knew of the birth, but could not see beyond his own enclosing neediness. His sight turns inward. And then there are the experts in the law. They knew, too, in the sense that they pored over the scrolls and could give and answer to Herod’s questions, but they don’t seem to have done anything good with that knowledge. On the contrary, they share their knowledge with Herod, and so contribute to the terrible sequel to this story. They did not seek out the new Messiah as far as we are told – I wonder why not? Were they so caught up with their own study of the scriptures that they did not step outside to see what new work of God was opening so close by? Were they so caught up in the service of Herod, or at least their influence with him, that they could not see outside the wealth and power of that palace? Were they afraid?

We don’t know. What we can see, throughout the Christmas stories, is how God is at work in places and in people you would not expect. And, if we look to the religious experts, and those in power – Herod and these experts in scripture – we find they are so full of their own power, their own position, they are unable to see this glorious new thing.

But let’s not stay in Herod’s court. Let’s journey in strange and wise company, looking to the star to guide us. Let’s enter the house where the child Jesus and his mother are, and lay what we have before this most extraordinary of kings. Let us open our eyes to the unexpected, and look for God to be at work.

Jesus Washing the Feet of his Disciples, 1898 (oil and grisaille on paper) by Edelfelt, Albert Gustaf Aristides (1854-1905) chalk and grisaille on paper 58×47 © Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, Sweden Finnish, out of copyright
From Visual Grace

They Followed a Star

Far away from Jerusalem, in a land to the east, wise men looked up at the clear night skies above the desert and saw a star rising.  For years they had studied the movements of the stars and planets, and they had never seen anything like this before.  They unrolled their charts and plotted its path.
“This means a new king has been born to the Jews!” they said to each other, as they gave hurried orders to their servants to prepare for a journey.
When these strangely dressed foreigners arrived in Jerusalem, they began to ask “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?” Troubled rumours spread through the city, for there had been no proclamation of any birth.
King Herod the Great’s advisors approached him nervously.
“Your Majesty, strangers from the east have arrived in the city. They are searching for a child who they say has been born King of the Jews.  They saw a sign in the heavens!”  Herod caught his breath, and turned white with fear. He had been given that title himself by the authority of Rome, building palaces and the great Temple to spread his fame.  What kind of king was coming to challenge him?
Then he asked his advisors “Where is the Messiah, the Anointed One, to be born?”  The scholars unrolled the scroll of the prophet Micah, and read out loud:
“Bethlehem will no longer be
the least important of the towns.
For from it will come a leader
who will rule my people Israel
like a shepherd-king.”

“Bethlehem, eh?” murmured Herod. He gave orders for the wise men to be invited to the palace.  He listened to their tale of the star with keen interest, nodding and smiling as if he were delighted at the news.  He told them all about Bethlehem.  “Go and find the child, then please send a message so I can join you in your worship.  What wonderful times these are!” Herod hid his crooked smile.
As the wise men set off from the cool marble and mosaics of the palace, they looked up at the sky once more.  And there was the star, guiding them to Bethlehem.  They followed, and found the child with his mother, Mary.  She was astonished to receive such guests – who bowed low, and spoke of her son with reverence, and unwrapped precious gifts to lay at their feet.

She unclasped the caskets one by one.  The first shone, it was full of gold.  The second opened to a rich, sweet smell.  “The smell of the Temple,” Mary murmured to herself.  It was frankincense, used in worship. The third contained an earthy, dark, resin.  It was myrrh, more valuable than gold, used in burials, and for healing.  Mary looked up at her visitors, and thanked them for these extraordinary, extravagant gifts as the smell of the incense and the myrrh hung in the air about them.

The wise men did not send word to Herod in Jerusalem, for that night, they were troubled in their dreams about him.  They paid attention to the warning, as they had to the star.  So they slipped away, avoiding the city, to cross the desert once more.

From The Bible Story Retold

Lord Jesus,
The wise men brought you gold:
Let us use our riches to do good.

The wise men brought you frankincense:
Let our prayers rise like smoke to heaven.

The wise men brought you myrrh:
Let us seek to comfort those who are sad and grieving.

…….

Let there be little Christmases
throughout the year,
when unexpected acts of kindness
bring heaven’s light to earth.

…….

What can I give him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man
I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give him –
give my heart.

Christina Rosetti

From Prayers and Verses

Poem – Dreaming of Flowers, Lockdown III

Here in England we are back in lockdown – I think it’s Lockdown III, depending on how you count the November one. It’s exhausting, and so difficult for so many, with all the chopping and changing. It’s dreadful to watch the numbers of sick and dying rising every day, and to hear of the hardships lockdown brings too. It’s relentless. I am so grateful to the science and health professionals who are working so hard to both tend the sick and find ways of overcoming the virus. I am so grateful for the promise of the vaccines. I only hope we can get them delivered quickly and effectively.

In the first lockdown, I wrote snatches of poems which often started from times of quiet, seeking stillness in the garden. You can read about that here. How much of that I’ll do at this time of year I don’t know. What this lockdown will bring we can’t say. But I find myself drawn again to the gentle changes of weather and season, plants and flowers, as a way of steadying myself, and marking the passage of time, and connecting with something beyond myself which gives glimpses of hope.

In the November lockdown, or circuit-break, I’m not quite sure what name to give it, I indulged the gardener’s delight of ordering and planting bulbs for the spring, and began dreaming of flowers – I found myself waking with planting schemes forming in my mind. I needed something to look for beyond the shortening of the days, the closing in of the weather, and the uncertainty surrounding Christmas. I found it was effective. It was someting within my control, something I could do to introduce an element of hope and change and the promise of beauty. It gave me physical work, too, which in turn helps with sleep.

And yesterday, the notebook came out, and tentative jottings began to emerge.

So I don’t know whether this will become a regular practice, but, as in the first lockdown, I thought I’d share with you whatever it is that comes up, and see if that connects with you, who are kind enough to share your time and attention with me here. I hope we can peep outside, and see something that lifts us. I hope we can receive the gifts this dark season gives, and perhaps bring a few sprigs of green inside. We can plant hope, even here.

So this poem, which might be the first of a new series of Lockdown poems, draws on the earlier planted hope, and receives encouragement and delight from seeing new things spring up. I also wonder – what this time? What might I do during this lockdown? Of course, there is no necessity for there to be anything, it is enough to live in these strange days, but, I am wondering what there might be that is within my scope and power to do, to begin, to dream of….

Dreaming of flowers  Lockdown III

Each morning, now,
as the sun nudges fitfully up,
I do my rounds of the garden,

sometimes under a wide umbrella,
walking with as much grace
as I can muster,
careful not to trample the
sodden, spongy ground.


I am looking for fingers of crocus,
ready to spread,
and snowdrops, grey-green
in the dark soil.
I am looking for what I planted,
and for what has inched
in patient drifts through
the waiting ground.

And there, and there,
I begin to see.
Each day, I hope,
a few more,
and a little taller.

On better nights,
I dream of flowers now,
and wake to think of flowers.
Red and purple
and orange, spread
like velvet, loud with bees.
The hard knots of bulbs
I planted in fistfuls
by November’s shrinking light –
in a fury of hope,
in defiance of the
narrowing circle
of my life, of our lives –
they will awaken.


They are beginning
to do their work now,
this time, within me,
locked down once more,
they are beginning
to push up from the
cold dark depths,
beginning to green
in this faintest, tentative,
stretching of the light.

And what this time?
What will I do that
could push through
the darkness with
green spears of hope,
could fill my dreams
with the scent of life?



A poem for New Year’s Eve – Crossing the Blyth at sunset, at the turn of the year

All the photos in this post were taken by my husband on a wild and stormy day at Walberswick.

This is a strange New Year’s Eve. It’s disconcerting to think how little we anticipated what this year would bring at it’s beginning. It throws our attempts at planning and new resolutions into all kinds of disarray, if we try to look ahead. So I’m attempting to leave the future where it is today. I’m trying to look deeper, at some of the lessons this year of a long pause, a long hesition. I’m noticing that there are things I can take forward…. the things I miss and therefore know their worth, the things I don’t miss as much as I expected. Knowing the value of community, connection, kindness more keenly, I’ll look for ways to nurture them in these new days. Knowing how the natural world has sustained me this year, I’ll be looking to continue to deepen my appreciating, and active care.

The poem I’m sharing with you today was written at a previous New Year. We nearly missed the foot ferry between Southwold and Walberswick while out on a long winter’s walk with our family. It ran till sunset – and sunset was upon us. It speaks of a happier time, when family could stay, when the foot ferry was open, as well as The Bell Inn at Walberswick. Today, husband and I did a long bright blue walk along the River Deben’s bank downstream from the creek, as far as you can now before the breach. It was beautiful, full of birds and ice. Little flags of ice clung on to the reeds after high tide and flashed in the sun. But I did remember this Walberswick walk, and the strange feeling of being suspended between the two shores, the two closed gates, in the hands of the ferryman whose course was sure even though it seemed to slant so across the water.

It helped me thinking about today, where I feel suspended between two shores. This year, the new shore seems further away, and harder to know. We are not used to feeling quite this adrift, and uncertain. Trust, hope, faith, love – and action drawn from these – are important now. But so is sitting with the uncertainty, with the not knowing where we are going and what we are doing. Perhaps in this space we can dream of a shore with warm, welcoming lights, with togetherness, with hope. Perhaps we may find we can be such a shore for each other, and keep lights of hope and welcome burning in the long cold nights.

I’ve shared with you another poem about winter walking along this shore, and a murmuration of starlings. You can read that here.

Crossing the Blyth at sunset, at the turn of the year.

We walked fast towards the ferry –
nearly too late –
and saw the ferryman on the other side,
the gate closed behind him.
But we waved, and he came,
his blue boat a long wide
curve across the river.

Behind him the setting sun,
the treeshapes
black against the orange sky,
How beautiful it is.
He helps us on board,
offering me his hand
with nautical courtesy,
and then shuts the gate
firmly behind us.

So we thank him, and our blue boat
begins to churn those golden waters
rippling with a fast tide,
as we seem to hang for a time
between those two closed gates,
between those two jetties,
in neither one space, nor the other.
We are somewhere else instead,
where all is gold,
where darkness lies behind,
where the lights of the houses and
the wide-open pub are ahead of us,
lights that warm with the hope of welcome.

We are suspended for a while
in this Adnams-blue boat
with the diesel and the saltsmell
and the cry of the birds,
bathed in light, trailing
an ice hand in water
the same colour
as the light.
Here we are.
This moment.
Between two moments.
How beautiful it is.

Melton Little Free Pantry – Christmas Update

It feels like disappointment after disappointment, crisis after crisis in the run up to Christmas this year in the UK. We’d carefully pieced together plans for seeing those we love, and tried to work out how to do that as safely and joyfully as we could, only for those plans to be upended when it was rather too late to make alternatives. Some of us may find that our cupboards are full, and our guests are not coming. Others, intending to be away, are finding it hard to stock up with Christmas goodies – or anything – in time.

For Suffolk folks, the Little Free Pantry at St Andrew’s Church, Melton, might offer a solution to at least the food sharing aspect of this difficulty. You can read more about the project here. It’s a very simple idea. Anyone can come and leave some food at the pantry, and anyone can come and take some food.

Leave what you can, take what you need.

So, if your cupboards are looking a bit full, and you are sad that you can’t share your food with your nearest and dearest, why not consider sharing it with your neighbours?
If you find yourself in need of this and that, why not come along and have some?
I find it’s helped fill a sad space to leave a few things to cheer someone else. It’s helped me to pass some Christmas cheer on. Why not complete the circle by receiving it? It’s looking quite full and festive at the moment.

Access to the pantry is via the lane to the right of the church, cutting across the end of the Rectory drive. You can see some photos of the way here.

Opening Times:

Monday to Saturday, 9 am – 4 pm
Sunday, 12 noon – 4 pm
Open during the Christmas holidays

You can leave items at the Rectory outside of these times. A link to the Church website can be found here.

Apologies for the blur – I still haven’t worked out how to get a clear shot while wearing a mask!

Of course, our current crisis has left people with real worries and practical difficulty in providing for themselves and their families. The Little Free Pantry is a way of neighbours showing love and support for each other at a difficult time. If you are facing hardship, there are others who can also give help. You could try the local Salvation Army, and the wonderful Teapot Project. The Teapot Project redirects food that would otherwise go to waste, passing it on. They make wonderful frozen meals, too. You can order the food at full (very reasonable) price, or pay as you feel.

With this terrible virus, our normal instincts to reach out to each other are constantly frustrated. In these very dark days, we may long to give and receive love, and support, and practical help, and not know how to do it. The pantry is in some ways such a small thing, but it is a sign of hope and of the love we long to share. And the food is not a small thing, it really does help. The fact that it’s there, that people in the neighbourhood are looking out for each other, helps too. That feeling that we are not alone is so important. Joining in with the giving and taking of the pantry connects us. Why not give it a go?

For those who are not local, there may be food sharing schemes where you live, or you could consider starting one?

Christmas, a time when we remember there is light in the darkness.

Advent 4 – Love – Christmas Readings

We are getting close to the last Sunday in Advent, and I’m sharing again a post on it’s theme, Love. This year, I’ve been very struck by the contrast between this run up to Christmas, and what we have grown used to in previous years. There is a sadness and a weariness, an underlying anxiety, as we run our errands in masks, seeking to give each other space. It has brought up sharply the old notion of Advent as a time of darkness, waiting while hardly daring to hope, hardly knowing what we are waiting, or hoping, for.
And this year, as many of us are holding back from seeing those we love, we are experiencing in our often aching hearts how much Love means to us, how essential it is.  Our very essence.  So here are some readings, and thoughts, on our hope that Love still comes down at Christmas.

Andrea Skevington

candles_flame_in_the_wind-other

It’s getting close now….
It’s nearly midwinter, nearly the shortest day….
It’s nearly Christmas.

And I want to give my attention to the story, to let the wonder of it seep through me, and there is a pile of ironing, and things in the kitchen that need attention, even though I am keeping things simple, even though.

It’s easy to feel the darkness closing in, even though there are lights and music flashing and blaring out there. In here, it’s cosy, and the sun is setting already. I will hold on to the wonder of love being born among us, even though the circumstances could hardly have been less promising – for circumstances are never quite what we hoped, and there’s the lesson. To look deeper than circumstance. To make a courageous decision to hold on to hope, and peace, and joy, and love, even though. For these things are…

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Advent 3 – Joy

Here, I’m reblogging some thoughts for the third Sunday of Advent, as we draw closer to Christmas.
This week’s theme is Joy, and we consider the way joy and difficulty might be held together. We also think about how the presence of another person can help that holding. This year, that’s hard, but I’m greatly encouraged by the imaginative and determined way we’re seeking to connect with each other, even when it’s far from ideal. I have also noticed how very precious these apparently small meetings are, how amplified in their capacity to sustain us.
Small gestures, small connections, with neighbours and friends and people far away, really matter.

Andrea Skevington

maryelyladychapel.jpg Mary by David Wynne, Lady Chapel, Ely Cathedral

I love this contemporary statue of Mary in the ancient setting of Ely Cathedral’s Lady Chapel.  I love the bright, pure colours of blue and gold, which are probably  much closer to the original look than the current mellow stone.  Most of all, I love her stance.  It is open, powerful, ready to receive the extraordinary gift that was promised her.  It is joyful – with a joy that acknowledges the reality of the difficulties to come, I feel.

Once again, this week, we have a powerful word – Joy – as our theme.  Once again, we are aware that our immediate circumstances may not point to joy, but to sadness, or anxiety, or emptiness.  Once again, we see examples in the stories of Christmas where people have faced great difficulty, as Mary must have done with her unexplained pregnancy. The consequences…

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The Little Christmas Tree – a beautiful BSL video telling of the story.

I’m really thrilled to be able to share with you that Janeene Streather has recorded a compelling and sensitive sign language telling of my children’s story, The Little Christmas Tree. It features beautiful close-ups of Lorna Hussey’s intricate illustrations of the trees and the animals.

It’s such a joy when something that emerges from your imagination finds a place in the imagination and work of another, and builds up layers of connection and resonance. And as a BSL story, it will find its way into the imaginations of others, and so continue to broaden and deepen as more people make a home for it in their Christmas storytelling.

Do take a look. It’s beautiful. If you are a teacher, parent, or member of the deaf community, this will be of especial interest, and I think everyone will find it a few minutes of gentle calm to help recentre us on the love that comes to us at Christmas.

Please do watch it here: The Little Christmas Tree, BSL

If you would like to buy a copy, it’s very good that that bookshops are open again! It’s also available at all the usual online places, including bookshop.org which has already supported independent bookshops to the tune of £500,000 since its launch earlier this year.

Light and hope in even the darkest, coldest night.
Advent blessings to you, and thank you for reading.

Advent 2 – Peace

Here, I’m sharing again a post for the second week of Advent, when some traditions focus on the theme of Peace as we wait in the gathering darkness for the birth of Jesus.
If we look at the world around us, its sometimes a real challenge to hold peace in one hand, when there is so much trouble in the other. And yet, it’s there.
May you have peace today, this week, this Advent.

Andrea Skevington

img_0857

We’re drawing deeper into Advent now, the days are shortening, the cold and wet are creeping closer.  Meanwhile, the shops are full of – beautiful things, and plastic tat, and carols, and cheesy music, all jumbled and clashed together as we go from one to another, and back again.

How to hold on to some kind of centre, some kind of Peace, in the midst of lists and duties and timetables and so many forgotten-to-do-in-time things?  How to hold on to a centre, and to peace, in the midst of loss, and loneliness, and Christmas pasts? This Sunday, the second of Advent, sometimes takes the theme of Peace, and peace is much needed.

IMG_0928 This beautiful Advent ring is from The Chapel in the Fields,  and you can read more about it, and the words on it, here.

Once again, readings for this week turn to the prophets.

A shoot shall…

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Poem: November Trees – twilight

I wrote this when it was darkening fast – by the end I could not see the marks my pencil was making in my notebook. Darkness comes so early now, but that change into night is beautiful, and, if we can take a moment to notice it, has things to teach us too.

So I have no photo of this moment, but am offering you others from autumn, and hope that you will have a chance to look out of the window, or walk through darkening paths, and see the trees as they settle for the winter, and the birds as they settle for the night.

November trees – twilight

It grows dark.
The trees are black lines
against a yellow sky
which shines, illuminating
through a net of ink,
and the last birds drift
overhead to their roosts
by the river,
and the last birds murmur
and settle in those darkening
trees,

And quiet sadness
creeps like frost across the grass,
as the last flowers
bow their rimy heads.

And suddenly, the question –
What are we to do?
seems a different kind of puzzle.
Not one to solve, but
one to lay down,
in its many pieces,
on the cold grass,
slowly, in wonder.

All this before me knows
what to do, and does it.
Rooted, patient,
receiving the weather like
weather –
whatever comes, comes.

From this place, it will act
when action stirs it with
the unsettling brightness
of spring.  When the ink
stirs once more with green sap.


Until then,
the cold trees will
net the light,
and wait, and deepen,
the darkness will spread
as I am learning to be
grateful for this breath,
to watch this red leaf
spin on a thread of
spiders web,
to feel the cold
sting me alive.