Spiders

 

 

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September – such a rich month.  You can feel the year turning. I love the golden light, and the fruit and berries everywhere.  I love the mornings when spider webs are strung with dew, and there is a nip in the air, waking you up.

Spiders – where are they, the rest of the year?
They seem to be everywhere now, including in the house.  I keep reminding myself of the sterling work they are doing eating the flies, which were bothering me last month….

This is a small poem about the ways of spiders, and the power of waiting.  At this time of year, so much slow ripening is coming to fruition.  I find I have forgotten I watched the bees on the raspberries and the apple trees, wondering what the harvest would be.  I have moved on, thinking of something else.

I forget that much I have wondered about, worried about, prayed about, has turned out all right, after all – not everything, but enough.  I am learning the patience of spiders.

 

 

Spiders – September

Now is the time of spiders –
their silver webs spun between
leaves, and twigs, and blades of grass.
Each one has its weaver,
resting its legs
on fine threads,
its many eyes watching.

For now, warm fat insects
drift dreamily on
the September breeze.

The hedges hang
with berries, I cannot
pick the plums fast enough,
first apples bend branches,
and beans lengthen on their vines.

I am learning the patience
of spiders.
It comes.  What you need
comes to you.  Gently,
when you have almost
forgotten that you ever asked,
or wanted, or longed for it –
here, and here, and here..

 

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I have this on my computer desktop. It helps me remember the power of patience endurance, of not giving up.

 

A parable for Earth Day

We are in the “Season of Creation” – a time when we remember the good gift of Earth, and our responsibilities for it. I am sharing this story with you again, as I refocus my thoughts and efforts on caring for our common home – and they do need to be refocused!

Andrea Skevington

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Today is Earth Day, when we remember the great gift and joy of our common home.  I am sharing with you again a story I wrote in response to the anger and grief I was feeling at the way we so often despoil and desecrate it, with no thought beyond our immediate gains.
The good news is that another way is possible, a way of gentleness, inventiveness, the pursuit of our mutual flourishing. The rapid growth of clean technologies, the identification of the benefits of being in a natural environment for body and mind and spirit alike, are just two ways in which this hope is coming to be realised.

However you are marking Earth Day, may it be a day of joy for all the good things we have received.

The parable of the good craftsman

Once there was a craftsman who had two children. As you might expect…

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Writing for Christmas in August – See, Amid the Winter’s Snow……

 

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Walter Launt Palmer

 

One of the strange and rather wonderful things about writing for a devotional publication like Quiet Spaces  is that you sometimes find yourself doing things at times that feel out of step with the world outside your window.  So, now, in August, I am thinking of the cold and dark of midwinter.  Today, it is very rainy indeed here in Suffolk, and not at all summery, which nearly fits…

I decided to base my meditations on the simple and profound carol, “See, Amid the Winter’s Snow”, by Edward Caswall.  I am finding it a very moving  process, and am looking forward to whatever will emerge from it.
If you feel like some unseasonal listening, you could try the following, which are currently playing on repeat in my house.

 

Sunday Retold – Transfiguration

Andrea Skevington

Part of the Sunday Retold series, following the readings may churches around the word use.  This week it’s
Luke 9:28-36

The Transfiguration

With relevant extracts from my Books.  I hope you enjoy.  Please feel free to use any of my material you find helpful, saying where it’s from.

matthew-spidersilk1 Photo – Matthew Ling

CHANGED BEFORE THEIR EYES (Mark 9:1-30)

Jesus led his disciples on from Caesarea Philippi towards higher ground. Jesus took Peter, James and John, and began to climb the steep slopes of a mountain that rose above the landscape.  Rocks slid under their feet as they walked under the bright, burning sun. At last they reached the top, and looked down on the outstretched wings of eagles riding the rising thermal currents.

And there, under the wide, open sky, Jesus was transformed before their eyes. He was shining, changed, his clothes dazzling white – brighter than pure untrodden…

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Sunday Retold – Transfiguration

Part of the Sunday Retold series, following the readings may churches around the word use.  This week it’s
Luke 9:28-36

The Transfiguration

With relevant extracts from my Books.  I hope you enjoy.  Please feel free to use any of my material you find helpful, saying where it’s from.

matthew-spidersilk1

Photo – Matthew Ling

CHANGED BEFORE THEIR EYES (Mark 9:1-30)

Jesus led his disciples on from Caesarea Philippi towards higher ground. Jesus took Peter, James and John, and began to climb the steep slopes of a mountain that rose above the landscape.  Rocks slid under their feet as they walked under the bright, burning sun. At last they reached the top, and looked down on the outstretched wings of eagles riding the rising thermal currents.

And there, under the wide, open sky, Jesus was transformed before their eyes. He was shining, changed, his clothes dazzling white – brighter than pure untrodden mountain snow. Then, the disciples saw two figures join Jesus – Moses, the law-giver, and Elijah, the prophet. And there, on that high mountain, they talked together.
Peter, James and John watched wide-eyed until Peter said “Rabbi, Teacher, it’s so good for us to be here.  Let us build shelters for you, and Moses, and Elijah.”

Then cloud swirled around them, and a voice came from the cloud. “This is my Son, the one I love.  Listen to him!”  Then there was silence, and they were alone with Jesus.
On the steep path back down, Jesus turned to them and said, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen until I have risen from the dead!”  And the three whispered together, wondering what rising from the dead might mean.

From The Bible Retold

It’s such a strange story.

It forms part of the great turn in the gospel accounts – the turn towards Jerusalem, towards death and resurrection.  It follows, and in some ways partners,  Jesus’ conversation with his disciples at Caesarea Phillipi, in which he asks them who they say he is.  He begins to explain what must happen – how the way is the way through death.  Peter, for one, cannot accept it.

And then, this.  A strange experience which seems set apart from our everyday reality, and yet shows a deeper reality, almost a peering behind a curtain.

Today, as I write this, I don’t find it very easy to know what to do with that experience  – I don’t find myself on a mountaintop.   I wonder what it must have been like to be one of the ones left at the bottom,  trying to help a desperate father and his desperate son, and unable to do so (Luke 9:37-43).  I feel more inclined to ask – if all scripture is useful, how is this useful?  If it is supposed to lead to goodness, then how does this do so (2 Timothy 3:16-17)?  These are often the starting of my enquiry into a passage.

And I find that recognising there is more than meets the eye in life, there is both dazzling brightness and deep, mysterious cloud, that we sometimes have hints, intimations, of reality and depth and connectedness does indeed help.  Although there is much that could be said about the greatness of this mountaintop experience, today, now, I am thinking more simply.

 

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Photo, Peter Skevington, Selworthy Green

I am praying for my eyes to be transfigured, so that I can see the depth and mystery, the brightness and cloudiness that is around me every day.  I pray for eyes to see each person I encounter is a holy mystery, beloved by God, made in the image of God, and therefore I seek to look for what they can teach me of God.    I would pray to be able to see as God sees, but I do not think I could bear the weight of that.  But I can pray for a little more understanding, a little more insight, a little more patience to wait in the cloud, not understanding, and to listen to Jesus, even when no words are said.  And I do find that seeing differently leads to acting differently.  I hope so. I hope that if I know more fully that the world is charged with God’s grandeur  as Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote,  I will walk differently through it, with more care and more delight.  I hope that if I know more fully that each person is precious, I will treat them as precious.

 

Grant me to recognise in others, Lord God,
the radiance of your own face.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, 1881-1955

From Prayers and Verses

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Sculpture, Elizabeth Frink – Chapel of the Transfiguration, St Edmundsbury Cathedral

 

On Sunday, we went to the Cathedral at Bury St Edmunds for evensong, beautiful as ever.  We walked past the Chapel of the Transfiguration, my favourite part of the Cathedral.  The table is formed of two pieces of stone.  The base is new, polished, very pale and smooth, and the top has been cleaned, but it is plainly old, broken, worn, rescued and repurposed.  Made new.  Transfigured, even.  Above is this beautiful Frink sculpture, which always catches my breath.  The figure of Jesus seems to float off the wall, it seems to hold within it the movement of resurrection, of ascension, those times which are to come showing that this death is not the end, that now, there will be a rising.  There will be life. Death is transfigured in this sculpture – and included.
You might like to take time to look at it.
How do you respond to it?
Does knowing that it is set in the Chapel of the Transfiguration affect how you see it?
You might like to think about the Transfiguration, and its part in the road to the cross, by dwelling on this – written by Paul in his letter to the Colossians.

19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

All things reconciled.

The brightness and the cloud.  The voice and the silence.  The death and the life.

Perhaps, like Peter, James and John,  we can wonder what this rising from the dead might mean.

Perhaps we can see things more clearly, with transfigured eyes.

Bees

Rain and thunder are themes of the week!

Andrea Skevington

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Hot and thundery, the English summer arrives – it’s too much all at once, at least for me.
Here is a small poem written watching the bees through my window, on the powerful, vivid, lavender.
It is also a poem touching on transformation, something that is beginning to emerge as a theme, although I am not quite sure where it is taking me……. which is perhaps, the point.

Bees

I watch them on the lavender,
each purple flowerstem a pendulum of bees,
keeping time with its humming weight,
White and red tailed, bumble and carder.

A few honeybees come, too,
so few, and already yellow
with sweetness.
And butterflies – cabbage whites,
bright as paper – unfolding
in the scent of flowers.

When the summer storms come,
when storm-rain falls in drops
as big as bumblebees, and
hail clatters against the glass,
they rise, as one, and fly
between the…

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How to read a Poem

 

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Earlier this week, a friend asked me how to read a poem.  It was a question I have been asked before, and so I felt I should know how to give a better answer than I did.  Of course, it may depend on the poem, and the mind and the training of the mind of the reader.  A good response to the question will take these things into account.

The exchange stayed with me, so I took some of the phrases of my answer, and wrote them in my notebook sitting on the garden bench later in the day.  I found they formed a a small poem themselves, inviting other words to join them – it’s what they seemed to want to do.

I begin with the mind – at school, so many of us ended up approaching poetry as if it were a form of cryptography, as if the pesky poet had deliberately concealed a meaning and we had to puzzle it out. Poetry rarely holds that kind of meaning.  In this, it is similar to story, as I was thinking in my previous post about parables.   The mind is a great resource in reading, and writing, and good academic rigour can seriously deepen our joy in a poem, but, for the nervous reader, it is not a good place to start.

Try starting like this, and see if that helps.

If you like to listen, you can listen here.

 

How to read a poem

Let your mind rest.
Do not pursue it anxiously,
grasping for meaning.

There is no riddle here
that must be solved
or else doom will fall.
No puzzle to puzzle
for a prize.

Let the sounds of the words
soak you,
water you.
Let the colours of the words
fill your eyes.
Receive it all, then,
with a yes,
hold the words
cool and dripping
in your cupped mind.

Come back,
come back again, for
something that snagged
your dreams
like the dark brambles
over an autumn path.

Come back.
In time, the words may
open to you.
You may taste
their sweet sharpness.
They may grow in you,
nourishing you again
and again.

 

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Sunday Retold – The Sower and the Seed 16th July 2017

Andrea Skevington

Part of the Sunday Retold series, based on the readings some churches follow, with passages from my booksThe Bible Story Retold and Prayers and Verses.

This week it’s

Matthew 13.1-9, 18-23,  the Parable of the Sower

Please feel free to use any of my material that helps you, saying where it is from.

The Sower (van Gogh) The Sower  Vincent van Gogh

“Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable.  So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet:

 

       “I will open my mouth in parables,

        I will utter things hidden since the

             creation of the world.”

 

Matthew 13:34-35″

I love this small commentary from Matthew’s gospel – it opens up for us all kinds of insight into Jesus’ storytelling.   Things hidden since the creation of the world are spoken out – spoken out…

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Sunday Retold – The Sower and the Seed 16th July 2017

Part of the Sunday Retold series, based on the readings some churches follow, with passages from my books The Bible Story Retold and Prayers and Verses.

This week it’s

Matthew 13.1-9, 18-23,  the Parable of the Sower

Please feel free to use any of my material that helps you, saying where it is from.

The Sower (van Gogh)

The Sower  Vincent van Gogh

 

“Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable.  So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet:

 

       “I will open my mouth in parables,

        I will utter things hidden since the

             creation of the world.”

 

Matthew 13:34-35″

I love this small commentary from Matthew’s gospel – it opens up for us all kinds of insight into Jesus’ storytelling.   Things hidden since the creation of the world are spoken out – spoken out in stories.  How extraordinary is that!

Matthew’s reference takes us right back to the beginning – perhaps we can wonder what these things hidden from the beginning are.  Perhaps Jesus is unlocking meaning, and truth, showing us a natural world which is also a mirror in which we see our own experience, and a window into the mind of God.  These parables, parables of the kingdom, reveal things about the nature of God, of the kingdom Jesus tells us is near, very near, and even within us.  Things which have been hidden, up till the moment the stories begin.

Story works, as we know, very differently on the mind and heart from rational argument.  We remember stories, they stay with us, working deep in our imaginations.  Many of us remember this one – the parable of the sower.  It draws from lived experience – or it did, before so many of us ended up so far away from the rhythms of planting, and growing, and eating.  You could even say that the story itself is, in some ways, alive.

Stories reveal their meaning slowly, over time.  The words of God can grow, unfolding within our own hearts, like the secret growth of the seeds.  Not fast food for the soul, but a banquet – it takes time.

But, why didn’t he just say what he meant? we can ask.  Not every meaning can be spoken out like that, for a start.  There are different kinds of meaning. Perhaps Jesus didn’t want people simply to agree with his point of view, or perhaps he knew they weren’t ready to hear…. not all at once.  Perhaps he wanted to hold out a possibility even  to those whose hearts had been calloused by the hardness of life – the possibility they could be transformed by a new way of seeing the world. Metanoia, the Greek word usually translated repent, means to change your thinking – change your mind in a deeper sense than we usually mean it – change the whole orientation of how you see and understand things.  Even if they could not hear the meaning when they heard the story, the story would stay with them, ready to reveal meaning when the time was right.

As we read it, it can help to set to one side what we think we know of what it means – to allow our rational thinking mind to be stilled, for a while, and to respond with the heart, with the imagination.

Stories can help us make sense of our lives, they open us up to a deeper kind of reality and truth.   When we are ready.  It takes time.  Don’t rush to an explanation.

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Once, when Jesus was surrounded by a crowd of eager listeners, he told them this story.

“One dry, bright day, when the wind was still, a farmer went out to sow seed.  He took handfuls of grain from the flat basket he carried and, with a flick of the wrist, scattered seed, hopeful for its growth.  But some of the seed fell on the path, where the passing of many feet trampled it, and the birds swooped down and ate it.  Some fell on dry rock.  After the soft rains, it swelled and sprouted.  But then it withered, for its roots could find no water.  Some landed among the thorns, which grew so fast that they soon smothered the tender new shoots.  But some landed on good soil, where it grew up, and ripened. When the time was right, the farmer came back and harvested a crop from it, a hundred times more than was sown.”

After the crowds had gone, and Jesus was left with the disciples, they asked him “What does that story mean?” And Jesus answered:

“The seed is the word – God’s word.  The seed that fell on the path is like the seed that falls in some hearts – it’s snatched away by the devil before it takes root, before those people begin to believe. The seed that falls on the rocks is seed that falls where there is little depth – at first, God’s words bring joy to those people, but there are no roots, and when trouble comes their faith withers away.  The thorny places are like hearts choked up with worry, with riches and pleasures.  There’s no space for God’s word to grow. But some seed does fall on good soil – the word takes root in hearts that are ready, and they hold on to it.  In time, the word gives a rich crop in people’s lives, and they are fruitful.”

From  The Bible Retold

 

So, I don’t want to say too much – just these few things.
I love the way the sower is generous – it is the nature of the sower to scatter the seed.  Seed is light, it lands lightly on the earth.  It speaks to me of an abundant, overflowing God, who gives, but does not impose the gift.

Secondly, I wonder about the soil.  We tend to respond to this parable individually – thinking about the state of our own hearts.  And Jesus’ interpretation points us that way. Maybe, in our communities, we can also ask what things make this soil in this place good, or poor?  Are there rocks we can remove, is there compost we can dig in, are there thistles we can pick before they set seed?  What stands in the way of  people being able to receive – for new life to thrive with them?  Is there anything we can do about it?
And, of course, we can ask the same questions of ourselves, and our lives.
We can engage in soul gardening.

Then, I have been wondering about what this word might be.

What are the seeds that Jesus is speaking of?

What did Jesus mean when he talked of the word, and of Good News?

As we read the gospels, these are good questions to hold in our minds.

Often, Jesus spoke of the good news of the kingdom of God, which is much closer than we think.  If I wonder what it is like, as well as looking at the parables, I often think – it is like the presence of Jesus – what he said, and did, how he lived, what he showed.

Transforming.

Isaiah 55:10-13English Standard Version (ESV)

10 “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
    and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
    giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
    it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
    and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
12 “For you shall go out in joy
    and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
    shall break forth into singing,
    and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
13 Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;
    instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;
and it shall make a name for the Lord,
    an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.”

This is one of the other readings given, to be read alongside the Parable of the Sower.  It is worth spending some time reading it slowly,  meditating on it.

Speaking of meditating, you might like to look at the second of the Van Gogh pictures.

Notice the figure is in darkness.  Who has been a sower into your life?  Who has brought love and hope, new growth, life itself?  Can you thank them, or give thanks for them?
Are there ways you can sow good things into the lives of others – with a light generosity?
Notice the way the sun hangs over the sower’s head – does it remind you of anything? make you think anything?
How do you respond to the use of colour in the picture?
Can the light of love and goodness warm what you do today?
How do light and dark interact in the growing of a seed?

Can you nurture new life in yourself and others today?
Can you connect with living growing things?

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The Sower – Vincent Van Gogh

Help me to be patient as I wait for your kingdom
and your righteousness:
as patient as a farmer who trusts that the rains
will come in their season,
and that the land will produce its harvest.
Keep my hopes high.
Help me to pray to you and to praise you.

The Lord is good to me,
And so I thank the Lord
For giving me the things I need,
The sun, the rain, the appleseed.
The Lord is good to me.
Attributed to John Chapman, planter of orchards 1774-1845

We can do no great things,
Only small things with great love.
Saint Teresa of Calcutta 1910-1997

from Prayers and Verses

 

May the God of growth and new beginnings bless you and all you love today.

 

Poem – Treasure, Hidden. Of perseverance and hope.

 

 

 

 

Treasure, Buried

Each morning I find
small divots in the lawn,
dug neatly, completely.

Sometimes, the squirrel
comes while I am there –
both of us, quiet –
and with an arched back
and a bright eye
she digs.

Does she ever find her
hazelnut?
I don’t know.
I haven’t seen.

I do know I find
a seedling growing
unexpectedly somewhere,
sometimes,
and wonder –
was it her?

I push the divots
back into the lawn.
Each day there are more,
and more.

We value persistence,
the squirrel and I,
we value hope.