Poem – Morning Yoga Practice June 2017

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There has been much grief in the UK this week, met with an outpouring of love, and courage, and kindness.  These sudden losses shock us, remind us of our fragility, and the fragility of those we love.  The moments of national grief catch up our own more private losses, bring to mind what has gone before, and can take us deeper into questions – and the capacity to endure the space between the question and anything like an answer.

After reading Malcolm Guite’s reflections on being so close to the terrible events at London Bridge on Saturday night, I too have had these words of Shakespeare on my mind.

How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea
Whose action is no stronger than a flower?
O! how shall summer’s honey breath hold out,
Against the wrackful siege of batt’ring days?

Asking questions seems a good response to the depths,

I am returning to my practice of writing freely, recording what draws my attention.  This morning it was this.

 

Morning yoga practice  June 2017

I bend on the grass,
look up at the bending gladioli
dancing cerise with their
graceful arches

as June’s north wind
rocks the branches,
as the air fills with
white petals –
blossom, roses –
that fall.

Why is it all so fragile,
this beauty?
why does it all slip
through my fingers?
I stretch, stretch out my
heart, and my love,
sending it both near,
both near and far away.

 
Restore them dear Lord,
Make them whole,
may they see
this life this beauty,
as the petals fall about me
in a cold blaze,
life and beauty ripped away,
yet carried on this June wind,
yet landing softly on this
green earth.

The Deadline Approaches – I AM book

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I have been working on a book for BRF for nearly a year now, and my deadline is approaching!

This means I’ll have less time to share things with you good people over the next month,  but I hope to be able to post a little something from time to time when I can.

Instead, I shall be sitting at my writing table – it’s a lovely ’60s pine one that was my family kitchen table before being passed on to me.  Many meals have been eaten off it, and veggies chopped and pastry rolled.  It also bears the marks of art projects and homework frustrations which I could sand down, but really don’t want to.

The view from the table is the picture you see here – it’s a little distracting.  Although I haven’t had my camera ready to take pictures, so far today I have seen blackbirds, a robin, and even, briefly, a kestrel at the birdbath. I think the kestrel is watching for smaller birds…..

Today, I am revising a chapter on Jesus’ saying “I AM the bread of life”, thinking about the crowds that were fed by the side of the lake, and what it might mean to be nourished by God.  It is a wonderful thing to be able to do, and it is also wonderful to be able to stretch my legs and think outside, with all that beauty and life around.

Thank you for your patience, and I’ll try to post something soon!

A parable for Earth Day

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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, he had built a beautiful house out of seasoned wood, with wide windows that looked out over his lush green fields, his flocks and herds.  He had made fine, carved furniture for his house, and he had smiled when he made it, and said, “That’s good!”  He had made beautiful plates and cups and jugs out the red clay near his house, he had smiled when he made those, too, and said, “That’s good!”  He had made a sheepfold to keep his flocks safe, and smiled, then, too.  In fact, all that was around him was good and flourishing and abundant, and as he looked at it all, he laughed out loud and said, “That is all so good!”

The day came when he needed to go on a journey, as the people in these stories often do.  He thought, “My children are old enough to be left in charge now.  They have watched what I did, some of the time, and I have told them how good it is.”  And so he left, and the children looked around, and they, too, saw that it was good.  So good, in fact, that they started to think how much it was all worth.  So they sold the furniture, and the plates and cups and jugs, for a fortune.  They were made by a master craftsman, after all.  The plastic ones they bought to replace them were good enough. They looked at the lush green fields and thought, “We could rear more animals in pens.”  So they did: twice as many, three and four times even, the poor creatures.  They sold the pasture they no longer needed, and a factory and a car park grew there, large and grey and ugly.  The water from the well their father had dug became bitter, but they bought water in bottles with all the money that they had made.

Then, the time came for the father to return.  As he drew near the house, he noticed the trees along the road were withered and dying, and his smile left him.  He came across a bird trapped in plastic that blew across the fields, and he set it free.  Then, near the house, he found a thin child sitting by the side of the road.
“What is the matter?” he asked.
“I drank water from the stream that flows from over there, by that factory.  It tasted bad. Now I’m sick.”  The father gave the child water from his own flask, and picked up the child to take home. He had herbs for medicine there.

But when he got even nearer, he could see that the factory was on his own land, and that where his own fields should be was all noise and smoke.  He could see the plastic rubbish spilling over from his own front garden, from where the flowers and the vegetables and the herbs had been.  He saw his own children, with grey, indoor faces, and said, “what have you done?”
“Father, we are so pleased to see you!  Come inside, we will bring you the accounts and you will see what we have made!”
“That is not the kind of making I intended you for!” replied the father. “And see, see this child, poisoned! How will you enter that in these books of yours?  What have you done with all that I have made – do you not know that I love it all?”

Some prayers from the first chapter of Prayers and Verses

Lord, purge our eyes to see
Within the seed a tree,
Within the glowing egg a bird,
Within the shroud a butterfly.
Till, taught by such we see
Beyond all creatures, thee
And harken to thy tender word
And hear its “Fear not; it is I”.
Christina Rosetti 1830-94

O God, enlarge within us the sense of fellowship with all living things, our brothers the animals to whom thou gavest the earth as their home in common with us.
Basil the Great c330-379

He prayeth best, who loveth best
All things both great and small;
For the dear God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge 1772–1834

A Poem for the road – Returning

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As we enter into Lent, I have been thinking about pilgrimage, journeys, wandering in a wilderness, being unsure of the way and the destination.  I have been reading Malcolm Guite’s wonderful Word in the Wilderness anthology of poetry, and I turned back to this poem of mine, and looked at it through the eyes of the wanderer in the desert.

The poem was written a few years ago for the Alive Festival, which used to run here in Suffolk, UK.  We were looking for something for our Sunday morning gathering, something which spoke of our sense of longing for home. Something that would help with the journey.  As I was searching, these words began to circle in my mind  They would not leave me alone.  I had to walk them out, pacing restlessly until the poem below took its form.

It draws from many of the stories in the Bible which help us make sense of our life’s journey.  They filled my mind as I paced.  Imagery from Genesis 3 which many churches read together as we prepare for Easter, seemed the starting point.  I moved on to homesickness and exile, which are threads that run through much of the Hebrew scriptures, and also of the discomfort of wilderness, which seems very good to remember now, as we think of Jesus in the wilderness.   But I did not stay there.  My imagination circled round to images drawn from the very end of the book of Revelation  All these images flowed together, as part of a larger, arching story.

I read this poem that morning at the Alive festival, set to  astonishingly beautiful music – Arvo Paart’s Spiegel im Spiegel , played then by Andrew Lord and Jonathan Evans.  The music still moves me to tears.

I hope this poem helps you today, as you walk, whether the way seems hard, or gentle.  May you come to a place of home.

 

Returning

We left the garden long ago,
Do you remember, though,
still, the trees heavy with fruit,
and how sweet it was?
To stretch out your hand was to be blessed.
Do you remember the cool waters of that deep river
silver with fish, alive and shining in the splashing sun?
And the flowers, bending and bending with the
weight of bees, the low hum of the land
that flowed with milk and honey?
He walked with us then, in the garden.

We have been wanderers for so long
in strange lands, wanderers looking
for a place of shelter, a place to lay down
the heavy loads we gathered at the gate,
when we left the garden. The pain we bear
so hard to bear for it is borne alone.

Our songs dried on our lips, the echoes of the
garden growing distant, and small:
the rhymes of the children playing in the apple tree,
the laughter and the ease of love,
hope’s courage    failing as the long dry road
wound through high and rocky passes
where nothing grows.

The path home is long, but that it what it is,
the path home to the garden,
to return to that place so distant
it has become the place of dreams.
And the gate stands before us,
terrible and splashed with blood,
the gate love made to bring us home.
And the gate is always open,
and beyond, beyond the Tree grows strong,
its green leaves fresh and full of light,
And the river flows deep and wide,
Deep, and wide, and always.
And you know the voice,
you have heard the voice say
Come, all you who have been thirsty for so long,
Come and lay your burdens down,
rest, and drink from these bright waters.
I am your home, your refuge, your song.

You can listen to the poem here.

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Poem: Aldeburgh Beach, January

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Photos taken at Dunwich Heath beach, a little along the coast, by Peter Skevington

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I love the North Sea in winter – its wild brown, its keen winds.  The coast is unstable here, lumps of WWII concrete, of building materials, and old fragments of glass  are thrown onto the shore.  The pebbles hiss in the breaking waves.  The waves in turn sound like a vast heartbeat.

The wind blows you alive, if you wrap up warm!

The photos above were taken this Christmas holiday, with my husband and son, as we stood on the beach and let the waves chase us.  We were not far, here at Dunwich, from Aldeburgh, where I went with a dear friend for a walk on a different day.

I am so grateful for my friends, and my family.  It is so good to be able to spend time with people you can be real and true with.  I feel very blessed to be able to count quite a few people as those whose company is as free as solitude, but enriched by their unique ways of seeing and being and insight.  The poem below attempts to capture something of my walk with one of these dear people, and I hope it can also say something bigger about the power of friendship.

I have been reading Bandersnatch, a Christmas gift from my son, which explores the relationships which formed the basis for the Inklings group, including Lewis and Tolkien, and it has clarified for me how much I need the encouragement and shared thinking and being a close group of friends can provide.  Our differences can give new vision and perspective, our mutual support can get us through difficulties that are too much for us alone.

Thank you to all my friends, and may you, reading this, have such sources of goodness in your life.

Aldeburgh Beach – January

We stood there, friends, on the beach,
facing into the east wind,
being blown full of cold,
icy and alive,
by a wind strong enough to lean on.

We stood on a cliff of pebbles
new thrown up by storms,
near the edge,
where stones rattled down,

while the sea, high and brown,
roared and crashed,
mist and foam flung
with the generosity of joy,
into our faces.
Our lips were salt with it.

In the sound of the wind we brought
our heads close enough to speak –
of the breath of God, alive,
breathing into us,
the glory of God in the brown shining.
The power of each small thing,
each small thing,
as the spray and the pebbles
danced wild around us.

Advent – a poem

 

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As we are close to the darkest time of year, it’s good to go and snatch what moments of light we can find.  Sometimes, I have to sit still, in the face of the cold wind, and allow my eyes to be open, just looking, before I begin to see the hope, the life, the turning of light’s tide.

We need the light now.

 

 

Advent

Now, at the turning of the tide,
when the days shrink small,
and night seeps through shadows,
the river flows with palest light.

Now, when light and life seemed frail,
and failing, the tide turns, water returns,
eddying and rippling the  slow, chilled, flow,
a river new filled with salt, with wide sea.

And the white gulls dive, and lift their heads,
and rise, quicksilver water
pouring off their opening wings,
beaks full of flailing, silver fish.

And here, on these grey banks,
flowers are open again: stems
split and burst with green leaves and
yellow petals, new touched with life.

 

 

November Sowing

 

 

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We have a couple of small veggie patches in our garden.  Maybe, when the garden was planned and the trees were smaller, they were in the perfect place.  Now, they are rather shady, and need just the right weather for things to thrive.  Leaves will grow, though, and sometimes surprisingly.

There are often some seeds left over by the end of the season, and sometimes, I feel inclined to plant anyway.  Maybe, with a mild winter, and some protection, they’ll get a head start in the spring, before the trees are in full leaf.  As I was planting, I thought about all the times when it can feel too late, hopeless.  When we can feel too old to start something, or as if we have blown our chances.  Whatever it was we dreamed of, it can seem like there isn’t enough warmth for our dreams to grow.  It can feel like planting in November with chilly fingers.

I love the defiance of November sowing.  What is wasted by taking a chance, anyway?  A few leftover seeds… and who knows? Come the spring, my veggie patch may be full of little green plants.  I may have good things to eat, and to share.

 

It is not too late!

 

 

 November Sowing

I planted seeds today, scraping my fingernail
into the corners of old packets:
cavolo nero, romanesco, mizuna –
such names – exotic, full leaved, sharp.

I sowed them where I sowed before,
under tall trees thick and damp with falling leaves,
remembering how spring was baked dry,
and summer was pitted with rain, lightless.

But now, today, this low slanting sun is warm.
Now, in this out of season sowing
with leftover seed, I am surprised
to find myself hopeful, joyful
even, at this extravagant gesture.

I know full well that they may never grow,
But maybe, just maybe they will.
Each day is a day for sowing,
it is not too late.

 

 

 

From Prayers and Verses

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.

 

Selworthy Green

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We’ve recently come back from a very tranquil holiday in Exmoor, at Selworthy Green.  Thatched cottages stand around the Green, while a little lane winds alongside towards the church.  It has views out over a valley to the moors, but itself is sheltered in beautiful, steep woodlands.  The cottages were built for pensioners, who were responsible for maintaining the woodland paths.  The tiny cottage where we stayed was home to the maid who took care of them.

Our first full day was bright and clear, and we spent all of it outside walking from our quiet base in the Green.  As the sun was beginning to go down, we sat at its highest point, and watched the light change over the hills.  My notebook came out, and I wrote this first:

 

Selworthy Green

Green is the colour of a stillness,
the kind of stillness
that is round and full
with a whole bellyful of life

like those apples over there,
clustered in shining handfuls
on the branch,
and the yellow green of the ash behind,
and behind that the olive of the holm oak,
and above and beyond that
the black green of the tall pines.

Breathe its sweetness,
its clearness,
as easy to a fragile body
as an oxygen mask
but with all this, all this, too.
You can’t take a breath,
can’t live,
without such gratitude
to the trees.

The Little Christmas Tree – a few pictures!

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I love the illustrations for my first book by the fabulous Lorna Hussey, so I thought I would take it out on a sunny day and snap a few pictures to share with you.  She draws out the different characters of the trees so well, and the animals are delightful.  I am particularly fond of some of the minor characters, such as this beautiful owl, and the badger who appears later.

Whenever I take the book to schools, I always take the foreign editions.  The children enjoy trying to work out the different languages – and are particularly intrigued by the different scripts.  It’s a wonderful thought that the book has found  homes so far away.

I am very grateful for the way young readers have taken this book to their hearts.

The Little Christmas Tree remains a favourite of mine, too.
It is selling quite fast on Amazon at the moment, but other on-line shops and actual shops have it too if that’s your usual and it’s out of stock!  Here is a link to the publisher’s online shop

Redshanks

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Photo – Clive Timmons

 

When I walk, I often take a notebook, and sit and watch.  Watch isn’t quite the right word – it is more of an opening yourself up, a forgetting yourself and becoming lost in what you see before you.

This poem records a moment of change, when, with a rising wind, the birds began to fly.
I wondered what it was that moved them.  Whatever it was, it moved me, too.  I got up, and walked on.

 

Redshanks

Light on grey mud, grey water,
clouds high and thin.
By the edge of the river
redshanks probe thick
cold with their long beaks.

The wind breathes
over the flowing tide,
ice breath that mists
the watersheen.
And the birds begin to lift,
first the northernmost, then
up like a piece of loose lace,
flashing dark and light from
opening wings.

They circle and cry, raising
long mudsplattered legs,
wingtips close now, wheeling
the air into many breezes.

And what moved them, and what
tied them?  That pull, the breath
of wind over the water. That nudge,
seeing open wings all about them.

That longing  to fly