Advent 2 – Peace

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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.

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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 come out from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
….
They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the
knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.

Isaiah 11: 1-2, 9

I am very struck by the image of the tree stump – cut down, presumed dead, or unproductive – springing back into life.  We see again the hope in even the most hopeless situations, the determination of life, and in the promise of Isaiah something or someone, to persist, to keep growing and going, despite how things seem. All is not lost.

Even my beautiful dead cotoneaster, picture above, harbours life.  Although the plant itself hasn’t sprung up from dead roots, other things have.  Birds perched in the branches, dropping seeds, and now the light has reached the ground, things are growing – a holm oak, some sycamores, and the rose I planted to climb up the trunk. I wrote about the tree here.

Trees come up in the reading from the Gospels, too.  John the Baptist, preparing the way for the ministry of his cousin Jesus, speaks of knowing trees by their fruit.  What their lives produce.

Here it is, from my version in The Bible Retold.

Under the white heat of the sun, far from shade, the murmuring crowds gathered.  Some had walked through city streets, others through fields and vineyards, but all had come out into the stony, dusty Desert of Judea to see one person.
It was John, son of Zechariah, who stood by the river Jordan.

John was no polished performer – he looked wild, dressed in rough clothes of camel hair held together by a leather belt.  He was thin, eating only the locusts and wild honey  he could find in the desert.  But his words were full of power, full of life and holiness. He called out in a loud voice “Repent! Turn your lives around and come back to God!  His kingdom is near.  Come and be washed clean!”  And many came forward, full of sorrow for the wrongs they had done, and John baptized them in the River Jordan.

There some among the religious leaders who came and joined the crowds to look holy in front of everyone else – they thought they were good enough already, and had no real need to change.  “You snakes!” the Baptist spat: “We can tell what you are like by what you do – just as you can tell a tree by its fruit.  Don’t think you can fool anyone with show-religion!”

But most who came were hungry for a new beginning.  For John taught them to hope.  In his words, they caught a glimpse of something beyond their everyday lives.  They understood that John the Baptist was preparing the way for something, or someone, astonishing.
“I baptize you with water, for repentance.  But you wait. There is one coming after me who is so much greater.  I am not even fit to carry his sandals for him. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire – a baptism that will wash you inside out.”

In Luke’s Gospel, we get an insight into what this preparation for the one who is to come  might look like in practice

“Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” …..

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We remember the Advent traditions of giving – not just to friends and relations, but to others as they have need.  What John the Baptist is calling people to, to prepare for the coming of the Kingdom of God, looks a lot like sharing, like generosity of spirit, as we are able.  Perhaps this is a way towards Peace.
As our readings take us closer to Christmas, to the birth of the one who we have been waiting for, we will find a clearer focus on the Prince of Peace who is to come, and the way of peace he walked.

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Hope, and Peace

Perhaps we can make time to keep our eyes open for signs of new growth in the winter gloom, when all seems cold.
Are there shoots appearing? Are there signs of new life?
Can we pursue peace by looking for justice, and by sharing as far as we are able?
We can share kindness, and patience, and perhaps a smile to cheer someone’s day.  Perhaps we can do more than that.  If we have the choice to simplify things for ourselves, we may find we have a little room to share with others.
Might that be a path to a more peaceful Christmas?

Wherever you are in your Christmas preparations today, may you know Peace.

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Little Free Pantry in the East Anglian Daily Times!

Our regional newspaper, the East Anglian Daily Times, has picked up the story of Melton St Andrew’s community food project.  This is such good news!

It’s online now, you can find it here and it’s in today’s print edition, Thursday 5th December 2019.

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Take a look at the top shelf on those photos.  Do you see the model of St Andrew’s?  That was such a lovely surprise on Thursday, to find that a young person had made us a careful and colourful model of the church, and left it on the shelves for us.  Thank you to you. That was such a generous gift of your time and talents.  It seems very much in the spirit of the Little Free Pantry.

Generosity grows and spreads.
Here’s a close up of the article, although it’s easier to read online.

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I do want to say that this is a community project.  It’s received a huge amount of encouragement and support from the Church community – someone made the bunting, someone hand drew posters, people come in each day and check all’s well, people notice what goes quickly so we can replace it.  People from the whole neighbourhood contribute by both giving and receiving.

 

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Our pantry at Harvest

We started the project at Harvest, which was very appropriate.  What we’re finding is that we’re noticing things in the Advent readings that I, for one, hadn’t paid enough attention to before.

For instance, as we’re thinking about the prophets, and their message of hope in this first week of Advent, there’s this, from Isaiah 58:

If you remove the yoke from among you,
    the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
 if you offer your food to the hungry
    and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
    and your gloom be like the noonday.
 The Lord will guide you continually,
    and satisfy your needs in parched places,
    and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
    like a spring of water,
    whose waters never fail.
 Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
    you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
    the restorer of streets to live in.

 

These words seem very powerful right now – as do, always, the revolutionary words Mary spoke when she went to visit her cousin Elizabeth.  Two women carrying children.  This is my paraphrase of what Mary said:

I’m so full of joy my spirit is dancing
before God, my Lord, my Saviour.
God did not turn away from me
because I am poor, and now
I will be called blessed by all
the generations yet to come.

God, the great, the holy,
has done so much for me.
God brings down the powerful,
but lifts up the weak.
The well fed are empty,
and the table of the hungry
is piled high with good things.

God looks at us with kindness,
giving hope to the hopeless,
caring for those who trust him,
remembering his promises to our people.

 

We know that local community food projects are appearing in many places – and some are long established. We’re the first pin on the map for the UK on the Little Free Pantry website, and it’s a model that’s very simple, very easy to set up. We hope others will be encouraged to do something similar. Wouldn’t it be good if more community food projects sprang up all over the place?  Our hope is for a society where they are not needed, and we can work for that, as Isaiah says.  Change is possible, on the grand scale – the national scale, and on the very small scale too.

We can do both. We can make a difference this Advent.

Perhaps we can find some time for making and sharing, some moments of peace and connection, some moments to hold onto hope in midwinter days.

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Advent 1 – Hope

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Starting a little late, I thought I’d share with you some thoughts as we go through the four weeks of Advent.

This week’s theme is Hope.  Ah, hope. We were talking about that in our Thursday group a few weeks ago, reflecting on how hope feels different when we hold it in difficult, uncertain times.  Not as a glib avoidance strategy that it’s all fine, really, it’s all going to be fine…. but as a deliberate and courageous stance, holding on to a vision of how things could be.  With politics in uproar, and the climate crisis deepening, we need courageous hope, that’s prepared to work to refashion things around us in defiance of what we see.  There is real power in such acts.

During this time of darkening days, we often revisit the words of the prophets.  They often spoke into desperate, unpromising circumstances with a mixture of a vision to hold in our hearts, and actions for our hands to do.  Those actions can be prophetic themselves, speaking out and making plain God’s dream for the world – a beautiful, hopeful vision strong enough to withstand hard times – brave enough to choose to be born to a poor family, who sheltered in a stable, and had to run from a murderous tyrant.  This is how hope was offered to the world, in the infant Jesus.

During this Advent series, I’ll share with you some extracts from my books.  Here’s something from The Bible Retold , as the retelling of the Hebrew scriptures comes to an end, and we look forward..

As the walls were rebuild, so were the people.  For God was building them into a new kind of kingdom.  Isaiah the prophet wrote: “This is how to truly serve me: unbind people who are trapped by injustice, and lift up those who are ground down.  Share your food with the hungry, and clothe the cold – that is how to live in the light!”

The people listened to his words of bright hope.  “There is much darkness in the world, but your light is coming!  All nations will be drawn to you, and they, too, will shine!”
….

“A child is born to us,
a son is given.
Authority will rest
on his shoulders,
and his names will be
Wonderful Counsellor,
Mighty God,
Everlasting Father,
Prince of Peace.
His kingdom, his peace,
will roll across the lands,
and he will reign on the
throne of David for ever.”

We give thanks for the work that is being done right now, in our communities, to clothe, and feed, and seek justice.  May we have the courageous vision to join with that work of light.

From Prayers and Verses

Scatter the darkness from before our paths.

(Adapted from the Alternative Service Book)

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The days are dark,
Dear God, give us your true light.

The days are dark,
Dear God, give us your true life.

The days are dark.
Dear God, give us your true love.

 

The Advent Candle Ring is from the good people at The Chapel in the Fields
It gives me great pleasure to know that the oak at the base was one a lectern, and the lighter wood on top a dining table.  The words written around it are from the ancient chants, the  “O” Antiphons.  I am intrigued by the old Advent practice of placing yourself with the prophets in the time before Jesus, not having a name to call your hope by, but knowing what it is you hope for all the same.  The first few centuries of the Christian Era saw these great prayers, the “O” Antiphons, sung during Advent, calling on Christ to come now, and to come again.
You can listen to the old chant, and read Malcolm Guite’s sonnet, and much more, here.

May you hold on to hope.

 

 

 

The Little Christmas Tree – I’ve been thinking ….

I was checking availability of my Christmas book, and was very pleased to see that Amazon had rustled up a few more copies, when I looked at the cover, and started thinking…..

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I was thinking of how much more I know now about how precious woodland is to all the life of the planet.  The story came to me years ago now. I have always loved woods, but this year the urgent necessity of protecting the natural world – and forests in particular – has really come home to many of us.  Including me.

And so as I read this simple story again, I read it with a deeper awareness of the peril all us creatures face, and how vital it is that trees remain to shelter the creatures of the wood – and indeed all of us, one way or another. The kindness, the interconnection, the sanctuary provided by one small fir tree  provides safety for all the other creatures in the storm.  That kindness is blessed by the smaller stars of Christmas night, and the angels who fill the sky with their songs.

Now, as well as a tale of Christmas night, and Christmas itself, I see it as a story of hope for all of us who are trying to feed and shelter nature over the winter – in our own gardens, or in the wider countryside. A story of hope for all of us who are trying to do small and simple things to make the world safer and better for all its inhabitants – whether it’s reducing plastic, or taking the bus. These small acts matter, the Little Christmas Tree shows us.  They matter a great deal.

I hope that children, and their parents, will feel that message of hope, and the love of natural places, running through the words and beautiful pictures of this storybook.

 

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You can, of course, ask your local bookshop to order you a copy, or order one from any number of online book places.

Poem – Red Kite/Y Barcud

 

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Photo by Gracie Oneil

Like many of us in the UK, I’ve been watching David Attenborough’s Seven Worlds, One Planet which is full of so much beauty, and also heartbreakingly poignant as an awareness of the danger so many creatures and systems of life face seeps through the glory we are watching.  The Earth is so very good.

I wonder if you can remember the first time you became aware of extinction – that humans were causing an animal, or a plant, to be threatened?  It’s a very powerful moment for many, as it was for me.  My own creature was a bird of prey, the red kite, which, of course, I had never seen.  I remember the tears I cried as a child on hearing its story.  Below are a couple of links to video clips where Charles Eisenstein talks of the sense of loss we can experience, and how we respond.

Charles Eisenstein Horseshoe Crabs

Charles Eisenstein Passenger Pigeons

In my own case, the kites have made a welcome return, spreading far beyond the places in Wales where they have been nurtured and protected.  Someone, some people, took time and effort, engaged in research and action, to bring these beautiful birds back from the brink of extinction.  There is hope, just, for so many.

 

Red Kite /Y Barcud

A warm Sunday afternoon,
I lay on the grass, sleepy,
watching the few light clouds
against the blue,
when, suddenly, a swift shadow
passed over me.

A red kite – wide, graceful wings,
forked tail turning and turning to
catch the wind – the wind that
ruffled my own hair.
I stood, in wonder, and whooped,
in joy.  Here she is, at last!
She has been gone all my life.

And sadness I felt as a child
came back to me then,
when I had listened to the story
of the red kites – large and graceful,
that glided over the hills and forests
of Wales

And were hunted – perhaps all gone.
Perhaps every one. Never seen.
Shot. Trapped. Poisoned
by chemicals spread on the land,
sickening the whole web of life.

I remember I wept for them then,
ashamed. How could we?
Make a creature, with a name,
unknown, gone forever,
as if it had never been.
Make a myth out of a living
breathing thing.

Since then, I have looked up,
looked up at the sky,
waiting for them to return.
I have watched them spreading east,
now, all my life, and, at last,
at long last they are here.
I wept again.  I wept for the loss, and the joy.

May you be safe here,
Y Barcud,
May you thrive, and be blessed,
May your young fly in these skies,
May the morning sun rise on your wings.

The Little Christmas Tree – some copies still available!

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In case you were interested in a copy of my Christmas children’s book, it’s available at the moment, although stocks are quite low.  You should be able to order it from your local bookshop, or online – for instance at Eden Books , Waterstones or Amazon.

Here’s some pictures to give you an idea of Lorna Hussey’s beautiful illustrations.  I took the pictures in my garden – the book is clearer and lovelier.
This is how it begins……

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Here is the wood, and the little Christmas tree……

 

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Here are some foreign language editions – I don’t think you can get any of these in the UK!

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The first Little Free Pantry in the UK!

Some good news from this corner of Suffolk…..

I’d like to share with you an article hot off the press at the Melton Messenger – the local parish magazine. I’ve tweaked it ever so slightly for the internet. In it, I talk about our open, freely accessible community food project, which we hope will be a sign of love and welcome, as well as practical help, to anyone who wishes to participate by either receiving or giving. Anyone is free to use the pantry, with no questions asked.

It’s such a simple idea, maybe it’s something you, or a community you belong to, could consider? It might be very welcome in the run-up to Christmas, and in the leaner days that follow. In the article is a link to the Little Free Pantry website, which is full of delightful and helpful things.

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Sharing the Harvest – New Community Food Project Launched!

We’re delighted to tell you that St Andrew’s new community food project is now up and running!

It’s a Little Free Pantry – a set of shelves in the Church porch which are freely accessible. Anyone can leave some tins, and anyone can take some. The ethos of the project is:

“Take what you need, give what you can”.

We are quite excited to be able to announce that we have successfully registered our shelves with the Little Free Pantry movement. It is now, officially, the first in the UK! You can find out more about the movement, and see St Andrew’s Melton on the map, at their website: http://mapping.littlefreepantry.org/

Back to the launch….. it was at our Harvest Festival. The Church was looking beautiful, decked out with orange autumn flowers, and wheat, and apples. It smelt as good as it looked. During the first hymn, as we gave thanks for the harvest, we all brought up our gifts of tins and packets and gave them to Rev Paul, who piled them on the altar. Later in the service, we joined hands to pray a blessing on the shelves, and for all who would use them. The shelves were stacked with the tins that had been brought. The surplus will go to the Salvation Army’s food bank. It felt that we were participating in something very ancient – giving thanks for, and sharing, the Harvest – in a way that was new to us, visibly opening our Harvest Thanksgiving to whole parish.

For we hope that Melton neighbours will want to join in. It’s a way we can all participate in the generosity of Harvest, whether we are giving, or receiving. We hope it will be a year-round sign of God’s love in a very practical, daily-bread way – with tins of beans, and soup, and such. We hope it will help to strengthen the sense of community in Melton. It’s so good that we can keep the Church and its garden open and accessible to the neighbourhood, and we hope this project will be a further sign of welcome, and of the inclusive community we are seeking to build here.
As people are free to take and leave when they like, the stocks may be variable, but we’ll do our best to keep an eye on things and make sure the shelves aren’t empty!

So, why not come along and take a look? Why not come along and join in?

Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can change the world — Howard Zinn

We have a tradition of sharing produce in the congregation – many people have productive gardens with gluts of tomatoes and apples. We now have a basket above the shelves where we can extend that sharing to all our neighbours – subject to the vagaries of harvest and weather!

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If you’d like to think some more about Bread, and hunger, you might like to read my Lent post on “I am the bread of life”, here.

Poem – Poldhu Cove #EverybodyNow

I’m carrying on with this season of posting work which speaks of Earth’s beauty, and at times my sadness as that beauty, the very life of the Earth, is under threat.   As the Extinction Rebellion protests continue in London and elsewhere, I hope that some of these short pieces with help remind us of the astonishing loveliness, variety and vulnerability of the systems of earth and ocean, forest and animal that nurture us all.

We need to reconnect, to feel again a love and delight in the goodness of it all.  All the good earth.  I hope what I am sharing with you today, words and pictures, will help.

Today, I am sharing with you a poem wrote on a Cornish beach just over a week ago, some of the time sheltering under a towel from the rain, all of the time completely in awe of the vast waves.  While we were in Cornwall, we discovered the work of the extraordinary photographer Mike Lacey, whose work captures the beauty and the power of the sea.  His work is well worth exploring, and supporting.  All the pictures on this post are his.  His work shows you what, in the words of my poem, I wish I could show you.

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Poldhu Cove

I wish I could show you
the turquoise water,
rolling and rising high above,
rolling from the wide sea
into the dark arms of this cove,

With its little stream crossing the beach,
sandy, dune-grassy,
with piles of grey shingle, lined with quartz,
and the crosswaves that meet there
at the stream bed as the water rolls
back from the rocks that welcome it.

I wish you could feel how warm the water is, here,
where it’s shallow, and the longing,
and the fear, to go out deeper.
And I wish I could show you the light folded into
those great waves, like glass as they rise above you,
above the line of the horizon,
as you feel, with a strange joy,
your smallness, your body’s softness,
how easy it would be to be tumbled in this light
overturned in this water,
upended –

And the cold wind prickling the skin of your
outstretched arms,
open to welcome this Atlantic, nonetheless,
as your damp hair whips,
as you are part of all this,
knowing your place,
feeling your place.

 

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This is one of the poems I have uploaded onto the lovely Places of Poetry map. If you are in the UK, why not see what’s been added where you are?

A lament – I hear the song of the Earth #EverybodyNow

I’m posting a series of pieces as my small way of joining Extinction Rebellion’s protests this week and next.

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This is something I wrote for myself, in the summer.  I was thinking about what I wanted to say in what may become my next book, I was thinking of what was on my heart, and I gave my heart some space to speak.  What came was this – I’ve tweaked it a tiny bit, and it may well turn into something else in time – this, though, was a felt rather than thought expression of my growing sadness as I attempt to follow those words from Job –

But ask the beasts, and they will teach you,
the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you:
or the bushes of the earth, and they will teach you;
and the fish of the sea will declare to you.

Job 12:7,8

I have called it a lament for now.  I am not sure what to call it.  I have tried to resist my natural urge to say something soothing, and, as in the parable I shared on Monday, let the piece be what it is.  Lament is powerful, and important.  We need to give space to it, and then in time we may find we can move through it, knowing what we love, what we risk losing, empowered by it to act, to cherish, to tend our beautiful Earth.

 

I hear the song of the Earth

I hear the song of the Earth –
so good and green,
in June, when the whole world sings,
and the fledgling birds walk fearlessly,
and the young badger sits on the grass.
I hear the song so poignantly
so ebbingly,
at the great green flood tide of the year.
For I hear within the bassnote of loss
of grief of absence,
of all the creatures
that are not,
are no more.
I hear the clatter
of plastic as it
rattles through
the web of life.

I hear the whales
that have thrown themselves
ashore as I wonder
what would they sing
if they still could.

I hear the forests burning
and splintered, the roar of
the orang-utan
fighting the gripper that
tears down the tree.

I hear silence, absence,
the butterflies I do not see
and the hedges that are gone.

The Earth cries out
and these are not birthpangs

Or if they are they are pangs
for our waking, awakening,
coming to our senses
and listening to the teaching
of the plants and the animals,
The water and the air.

It may or may not be too late.
we may or may not be able
to turn away from destruction.

That is no longer the point for me.
The point is that my voice must join
with the cry of the beached whale,
and the turtle laying her eggs
in trash,
and the hare chased by dogs,
and the young albatross
with a belly full of plastic.

That is my task, as a
being on the Earth.
my task is to feel the Earth’s pain,
and speak, and speak,
And cry out in a tongue we understand.

And so, I sing a song of the Earth,
in winter, when life ebbs.
I remember the good, and the green,
the fledgling birds and the young badger,
the butterflies and the hedgerows full of blossom.
I will sing of them still.

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Poem – The wings of Gabriel’s Wood #EverybodyNow

Today I’m sharing another poem to mark Extinction Rebellion’s actions in London and elsewhere.
There’s a long tradition of poetry helping us to see both more clearly and more deeply – it can help us linger on those moments of beauty and connection with the natural world that remind us of our proper place, and inspire us to love and to act.

This poem was a scrap in my notebook for some time.  It describes the experience of entering Gabriel’s Wood on the Golden Cap (Dorset) estate in the path of the remains of a hurricane.  The living things that gathered there seemed less disturbed by my presence while seeking shelter from the coming storm.  We had a commonality of purpose, and a connection.

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The Wings of Gabriel’s Wood

Far above the wood fly buzzards –
I can see four,
or five –
young who have grown
and ready to fly,
their thin cries
carry on the wind.

They are harried by crows,
dark, gyring to keep moving
as the wind booms in the trees,
as their feathers twist.

Entering under the dome of trees,
into a loud stillness, I join
pheasants who are sheltering,
and a tiny wren who skirts
the ground like a mouse,
and fat pigeons picking up acorns
that clatter like hail,
and warblers who snatch notes,
not risking a song.

The wood is full of wings,
folded, sheltering.
And I too take my shelter here,
a creature, too, before the storm,
in this loud wood,
among the falling leaves.