It’s very exciting to receive a parcel for a publisher – and today, this one arrived.
It contains BRF’s book to celebrate 100 years of publishing, and includes a huge depth and breadth of wisdom and insight. They asked a wide range of people to contribute, including me. I’m very honoured to be invited to be part of this important project, it’s so good! I’ve written for them for a while, in Quiet Spaces, and now New Daylight. They also published my most recent book, “Jesus said, I Am – finding life in the everyday”. I find myself in excellent company. Here’s one of the pages that list the contributors, and you can see the depth and breadth BRF have pulled together to make this book. You might find me somewhere in the middle.
I was asked to write a reflection on a passage from John’s gospel, where Jesus speaks to a woman at a well. It’s a passage I love, and have spoken and written about before. I included a reflection on its themes in my book on the I Am sayings, as some scholars regard it as the first. You can read more about that here. As the title below says, the well is deep, and I find more and more wisdom, compassion and hope in the passage the more I allow myself to sink down into this encounter.
I’ve been having a browse through, and it is a beautiful, thoughtful book. It would make a good gift for someone interested.
You can buy it from the publishers here, or from wherever you like to purchase your books. It can be ordered from any local bookshop.
This is another poem written a few weeks ago, so is slightly out of time. But only slightly. I have yet to cut back the lavenders that guard this bench where I often sit, as they still have a few stray flowers which draw the bees whenever the sun comes out. And it does, these last few days of strange warmth, and intermittent downpours. In some ways, then, this poem is an elegy to the extravagant blossoms that drew so many bees only a short time ago.
It is also something else. It is a poem where I tease out the feeling I often have while in my garden, that it isn’t “mine” at all. It belongs just as surely to all the living things who make their home here, or feed, or rest, here. It belongs to the newts who live at the bottom of the compost heap, and the bees, and the worms currently throwing up extravagant curlicues of casts all over the lawn, and the squirrel now hanging upside down and raiding the bird feeder. So, I seek to tend for the benefit of all these who live here too. It is a good feeling, to know you share the space with other beings. It seems to be bound up with belonging, and gentleness, and a delighted respect. It’s a subtle shift in feeling, but it feels an important shift in perspective. I am sure, for most humans, through most of human history, this knowledge was part of our shared culture. I’m sure it was held gladly in the spaces between people as they gathered and grew and hunted, and that they passed it on with delight. I am glad to be finding it again, to be included in that long and noble practice of humility and service and mutuality in this small space. It is a small part of rewilding myself, as well as my place.
The Realm of bees
I enter this humming space, roofed by a tracery of magnolia branches, looking up at light-lined leaves. By my side, simple white gladioli.
I feel a slight reserve, knowing myself guest in my own garden, having stepped into this place of bees between the bowing guards of lavender, the scent on my clothes, taking care not to disturb the crowds and flights of bees, so many the flowers turn black and the lavender falls back, half closed doors enclosing me.
And as I sit I breathe deep in the great mead-hall of the bees, full of feasting and the warm hum of wings. I watch the sedums where honeybees stuff their yellow pockets, and the soft butterflies drink deep.
The air is heady, thick even, and one by one large bumbles make their way to my flower-scattered shirt, and rest awhile, and at the feel of them I find a deep stillness.
I see their soft fur, their forelegs scratching an itch, wiping a large, complex eye that looks up, looks up and seems to meet my own, and I wonder what they see as they see me.
I rest now, quietly and strangely, in this realm of bees, I am warmed by the same warmth as them smell the same rich goodness as we breathe the same air, as I sit here, among the flowers, adorned in bees, I feel no longer a stranger, but welcomed into their rich world, seen by their complex eyes, content with them in the sweetness of this early autumn sun. For this moment I, too, live in the realm of bees.
As things grow and spread in the garden, I sometimes feel a plant is no longer thriving, or no longer fits the mood. The colours and textures change constantly, and sometimes something can seem stranded, suddenly out of place. I felt that way about these tall, pale asters last year. I moved some, and find they are thriving in their new homes, but the rest, I thought I’d dig up.
Lack of energy or time or poor weather means that I often don’t carry out my plans, leave them for another season. But increasingly, I am not acting on an impulse to remove, I am giving myself another chance to look at things differently. I am so glad that I left these, for this year, the asters are the loveliest thing I see.
I thought about their transformation, or rather, the transformation I experienced in how I saw them. I realised that the plants that are around them, and the increased light now the old tree has died, have made them appear transformed, lit up. Seeing things in isolation, out of context, we can miss their beauty, their true qualities. Kindly companions change everything.
A change of heart/asters
I wanted to dig them up, these pale asters. They looked grey under clouds grey enough. Shaded and overshadowed, they spread, moved forward towards the light. In their advance, they bound cyclamen as tight as a vice. They are no good, I though.
But, it seems, they needed that light, and more than that, the right company – this new rich pink, the purple leaves turning deep red behind them, the pale chaos of ammi running to seed – all this has transformed them, or rather transformed my seeing, revealed their beauty – a delicacy of colour, a generous abundance.
In this new light, the bees and the butterflies crowd them for their late nectar as the sun shines on them, finding in them a sweetness I had missed.
I will not be so hasty. I will give myself time to look again. I will step back, take in the whole, and remember that kindly companions change everything. I will look to add, befriend, seeking the right company.
I will remember the value of light, and seeing each thing not for itself alone, but as part of a wider abundance. And so, I have had a change of heart and I see now, yes I see now, that none of this pale, unassuming flourishing is wasted.
It’s been a while since I’ve shared a poem with you, so thank you for finding me again! Sometimes, it’s good to simply be over the summer, to rest in warmer days, and fill up notebooks with things for later.
And so, this next poem comes to you a little out of season. There are still a few wild strawberries hanging on in there in sheltered spots, but now the autumn storms are upon us, and they don’t last long. So this is from a few weeks ago – it feels longer, like a different, sunnier world. The fruit ripening now is the apples – but I hope to write about them another time.
As I was harvesting wild strawberries, I was thinking how good it is, the way they just spread around the garden, making a home for frogs and newts and slugs, how good it is they choose their places to flourish and thrive. Much in the garden is self-willed, and it does seem to be thriving, if a little scruffy at this time of year.
I do tend them, by looking after the soil, and they tend me with their sweet goodness. As I was turning over this circle in my mind, this poem came, with a basket of fruit.
Wild strawberries – a gift
Each day now, I bend, send my hand through thick leaves, under undergrowth, searching for that flash of fruit.
Finding trove after trove, tiny, sweet-sharp, intense, lingering on the tongue.
They grow rapidly, self-willed, under my delighted gaze, spreading over rich soil thick with compost, nourishing the slugs and me.
And as I stretch and gather, gather and stretch, I feel a sudden wash of gratitude, precarious, and abundant, thankful for each tiny fruit.
For a moment, I feel part of a rich goodness beating steady and deep, a full base note under the sweetness – the endless life-circle of gift and gratitude, gratitude and gift,
and of mutual care – I care for the plants, and they care for me, gently, sweetly, with a taste never to be forgotten.