The Bible Story Retold – an idea for Christmas 2020

This post is a follow up from yesterday’s on ideas for using my children’s picture book, The Little Christmas Tree, this year for Advent and Christmas. You can read that post here.

I’ve also been contacted by another person who’d like to use my retelling of the Bible this Christmas. My old friend Rev Jenny Tebboth of Chalfont St Giles has had a lovely idea for involving families in an alternative crib service out of doors, which should be possible even if there are restrictions. Jenny has very generously given me permission to share the outline of her idea, in case it is of any help to another community trying to plan Christmas activities…. It’s well worth thinking about if you are puzzling over what to do for a crib service, or nativity of any sort.

It’s like a treasure trail…..

“Families will work through the story in six scenes round the village, read part of the story at each scene, pray and listen to a carol – ending behind the inn for hot chocolate.”

I’m so excited to think that my retelling will form the framework for such a lovely idea. The book is in twelve chapters, and Chapter 8 is mainly the birth and early life of Jesus, so there is a good flow of narrative for the six scenes. It’s a very exciting and innovative way to do a socially distanced Christmas adventure. Being out in the cold of winter will be a powerful way of entering into the Nativity story imaginatively, and offers something new and memorable to do to feel involved in Mary and Joseph’s search for shelter, and the birth of Jesus. It’s a beautiful idea, and I look forward to hearing more about it. I’ll post an update when I know more.

If you’d like to read more of my Christmas Retold, you can do so on a previous blog post, here. There, you’ll also find some prayers from my book, Prayers and Verses, and some beautiful pictures.

Here’s some of the story, though, to give you an idea:

At last they came to Bethlehem, but it was not the end of their troubles.  The city was noisy, bustling, and heaving with crowds, and Joseph searched anxiously for somewhere quiet for Mary to rest – her pains were beginning, and the baby would be born that night.  The inn was already full of travellers, and the only place for them was a stable.  There, among the animals, Mary gave birth to her firstborn son, and wrapped him up tightly in swaddling bands and laid him in a manger full of hay.  Then, she rested next to the manger, smiling at the baby’s tiny face.

There were shepherds who lived out on the hills nearby – the same hills where King David had once watched over the flocks, long ago.  The sheep were sleeping in their fold under the shining stars, while the shepherds kept watch.  Their fire flickered and crackled, and the lambs would bleat for their mothers, but they were the only sounds. All was peaceful.  All was well.

Suddenly, right there in the shepherd’s simple camp, appeared and angel of the Lord, shining with God’s glory and heaven’s brightness.  The shepherds gripped each other in terror, their skin prickling with fright.
“Don’t be afraid, I’m bringing you good news – it will bring joy to all people!”  The shepherds listened, awestruck, their faces glowing with the angel’s light.  “This is the day the good news begins, and this is the place.  In the town of David, a saviour has been born.  He is Christ, the Anointed One, the one you have been waiting for.  And this is the sign that these words are true: you will find a baby wrapped tightly in swaddling bands, lying in a manger.”

From The Bible Story Retold in Twelve Chapters


If you’d like a copy of The Bible Story Retold, you may well be able to order through your local bookshop even if it’s closed. Alternatively, there are the usual online places. I’m particularly excited about this new venture, though, and commend it to you….

Bookshop.org is a new enterprise which supports local bookshops while selling online. It’s applying for B corporation status in the UK, which means it operates to high ethical standards and makes a positive contribution to communities. You can read a newspaper article about it here.

If you follow this link, you’ll find my book The Bible Story Retold on sale there. It may be they don’t have many copies, so….

You can also find it on Eden bookshops, and all the other online shops.

Once again, it’s so good to hear and share these ideas. If you’d like to use any of my material, I’d love to hear from you. If you’d like, I can share what you plan to do on this blog nearer Christmas. You are very welcome to use my material whether you get in touch or not. Please do acknowledge where it’s from, and that will be good.

The Little Christmas Tree – some ideas for 2020

Last year, I shared with you how my children’s Christmas book had taken on a new resonance as we considered the need to protect our wild spaces – the home of so many beautiful creatures. The story is set in a wood, and the characters are the woodland animals. You can read more about it in last year’s post here. As we’ve been in lockdown, many of us have experienced a closer bond with nature, realising how important the natural world is to us. In simple ways, we can deepen that bond. I am finding it helps to care for the creatures I share my garden with – in the last few weeks I’ve built – or assembled – a hedgehog house, and put up a new bird feeding station. It gives me joy to watch the birds through my window, even as I’m typing away here.

This year, the story’s themes of kindness and hospitality, of gentleness and welcome, matter greatly. At a time when so many people in our community are facing loneliness and hardship, considering how we can best help when our usual practices of hospitality are not possible is very important. For instance food banks, and our Little Free Pantry, are a good way of giving and sharing if we can. A reverse advent calendar, where you add something to a box for every day leading up to Christmas, can be a way of sharing.

So that’s a couple of ideas that draw on the themes of the book. They might be appropriate for Advent this year, things we can do as individuals, households, or maybe schools. I’d like to share with you some ideas from other people, too…

I’m finding it’s really hard to think about Christmas this year – what might be possible, and what might be wise. It’s hard to think of not seeing those we love as we would wish, and it’s hard not being able to plan ahead. But we can begin. I am greatly encouraged that people are making plans, and beginning to get in touch and share how they’d like to use my books this year.

Here is the sparkly paperback edition

I’ll share something else about The Little Christmas Tree here, and then, an idea for another book another day!

The first idea comes from Janeene Streather, who makes engaging Youtube videos using BSL. Her videos are for the deaf community, their families, and schools – many of whom integrate some BSL into their classrooms and assemblies. You can find a link to her channel here.

She would like to make a BSL video of The Little Christmas Tree, as part of her series of stories for children. Once again, I’ll post more details when I have them. I hope to share the link with you, so you can easily watch Janneene.

For all of us, we are used to being able to visit schools, or churches, or share our work with communities in other ways, and are unable to do so this year. But we can share here.

Please do use these ideas and resources, acknowledging the source. If you’d like to use my book, I’d love to hear your ideas from you, and share them on here if you’d like me to.

If you’d like a copy, you may well be able to order through your local bookshop even if it’s closed. Alternatively, there are the usual online places. I’m particularly excited about this new venture, though, and commend it to you….

Bookshop.org is a new enterprise which supports local bookshops while selling online. It’s applying for B corporation status in the UK, which means it operates to high ethical standards and makes a positive contribution to communities. You can read a newspaper article about it here.

If you follow this link, you’ll find my book The Little Christmas Tree on sale there.

You can also find it on Eden bookshops, and all the other online shops.

Note and Correction:

In an earlier version of this post, I shared an idea for an outside nativity. I’d got my wires crossed and thought it was using The Little Christmas Tree. It will be using another of my books, The Bible Story Retold. You can read all about that here. Apologies for the muddle!

Poem for Pentecost, and some readings

Sharing again some readings, prayers and a poem, for Pentecost.

I gave a variation of this reading for  St Edmundsbury’s service, Catching the Fire.  You can watch the whole thing here.

Andrea Skevington

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Wind and fire – two of the ways people have tried to describe the Spirit.

As we approach Pentecost Sunday, I am sharing with you some readings and a poem.  Please feel free to use them if they help you, saying where they are from.

Firstly, a reading from my book The Bible Retold

From the fields it came: the first sheaf of barley cut for that year’s harvest.  It was carried high through streets crammed with visitors, and on to the Temple. And then the priest offered it to God, giving thanks for the good land, and for the gift of harvest. For that day was the celebration of the first fruits.  It was Pentecost.

Meanwhile, the disciples were all together, waiting.  Then, suddenly, it began.  It stared with sound – a sound like the wind – but this was no gentle harvest breeze.  This was a shaking and…

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Poem: What Matters – Lockdown 14, and being on The Verb

This next Lockdown poem looks up to the sky – but it picks up the theme of bird calls,  a theme that has woven through these poems.  We’ll return to today’s poem later, but first I’d like to share with you a little bit about Friday.

Birdsong was the theme of Friday 15th’s edition of The Verb.  You can listen to it by following that most recent link.  I was enormously excited to have my poem, The Blackbird included.  My contribution is a little after 20 minutes in, but I would start at the beginning if you can.  The section on nightingales is so lovely.  It was strange having something that was part of my spontaneous record of lockdown being shared so wideley, and I felt a little nervous, and vulnerable, as it went out.  But I know that is somehow the point of this series, or sequence –  that it is unpolished, private even.  I hope it connects with people reading and listening because of that.  We don’t know where this is going, or where these poems will take us. It is, like everything else, a work in progress, a step into the unknow.

It was so good to find my recording in such excellent company on the programme, opening up, exploring, a love of birdsong, in particular as a means of deepening our connection with and affection for the rest of the natural world.  It is a feature of this lockdown, in spring, that many of us have been able to hear the birds with greater clarity, and deeper joy, than busy lives usually allow.

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Back to today’s poem, also featuring birds and their calls – a crow this time, a very different experience, and very powerful.  As it was a moment of aerial combat, I didn’t take any photos to share with you, but crows have featured in my poems before.  Here are links to two  – Crows and Crow, on the lawn

In the absence of photos, and continuing the home produced theme, here’s an experiment at linocutting to sit alongside the poem.

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One thing many of us are doing during this lockdown is thinking about what matters.  Our priorities seem sharper, and values clearer.  I thought of that as I watched this crow.

What matters  Lockdown 14

Sudden, sharp, deep –
I know that crow-call
and look up, suddenly,
sharply, to see one solitary
bird, small in the wide blue,
small next to the great buzzard
it harries, and parries.

The buzzard twists away,
and edges, back,
and twist, and edges,
back and back,
weaving a brown thread
through the relentlessly blue sky.

Just one crow, keeping them safe,
keeping the nest and the young
and the tribe safe,
for surely the buzzard must know
it’s too much bother to bother
with these, so well defended.

Does the crow feel fear,
anger, rage?
I do not think he makes
a cool calculation of odds.
The crow knows what matters,
defends what matters,
threading the blue with
its black zigzag,
keeping all safe.

Poem: Here, a sudden green – Lockdown 12

A very simple moment recorded today – how quickly the spring races ahead now. Soon, all will be full-leaved, and slow, but now, it seems things grow almost before your eyes. What is even more disconcerting is how, if you’ve been watching something, and then turn your back, everything changes.

It’s a reminder of the passage of time, like how much taller the children we know will seem when we see them again. How different things may be after this time.

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These Lockdown Poems are turning into a record of the spring, sometimes moment by moment. And tomorrow, Friday 15th May, you’ll be able to hear me read one of this band of poems on Radio 3’s The Verb. I’m feeling a little excited, and also nervous, but mainly awed by the opportunity to contribute something to our shared experience …..

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Here, a sudden green Lockdown Poems 12

How did the silver birches grow
so green so quickly?
the stems of the rambling rose
lost now in all those tiny leaves –
those yellow catkins.

Now a tree in leaf,
yesterday, it seems,
a tree in bud,
and here, too,
the acacia, like
a yellow maidenhair fern,
shook out in the breeze,
so suddenly, so suddenly,
after a winter of waiting.

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Lockdown Poem on the radio!

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I am delighted and astonished to announce that one of my Lockdown Poems is going to be included in this week’s episode of BBC Radio 3’s wonderful  The Verb.

That’s Friday, 15th May at 22:00 BST. If you follow the link to the programme above, you’ll be able to find it on that date.  The programme is entitled birdsong.  I’m just after 20 minutes in, but if you start at the beginning, you’ll hear the nightingales…..

It’s a fascinating programme, and very beautiful.  It explores our relationship with birdsong, which has become much more intense during the lockdown, and how people have been inspired by it, and how we connect to the natural world through it.  The producer invited me to say a little bit about myself and the process, as well as reading the poem.  So I’ve been learning how to record myself on my phone, which is one of many new tech experiences of this time.  The poem is The Blackbird – Lockdown 7.

I sat on my bench quite early in the morning, and did manage to capture some birdsong in the background, which was just perfect.  The blackbird was joining in, as is only right.  It’s his poem as much as mine.

Thank you for your virtual company through these poems – there are more in the notebook, wainting to emerge.

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A Good Friday Meditation – including 7 new poems

Welcome to this Good Friday Meditation.  This year, I had been invited to lead a meditation for a group of local churches, and was hoping to be able to put together something a little like what we have below.  Instead, we will be following this meditation online, on Good Friday afternoon, and I believe others will be joining in.

I am posting it early in case you might like to join in too.  As we cannot meet together this year, you might want to find a time when you can go through the meditation, perhaps with others.  I have  put together a very simple structure: a reading from the gospel story, one of my poems based on Jesus’ words from the cross, and a response from Psalm 22.

To that I have added music suggestions, with links to YouTube.  The music reflects a variety of styles, so please feel free to go with what you like.  If you find YouTube sends you a lot of ads, do remember the “skip Ad” box, bottom right, and the mute button!  If YouTube is distracting, you can go through without music, or find something else from another source.  The music is to help lead us into prayer, contemplation, worship, so whatever helps you do those things.  I anticipate the whole thing taking about an hour, depending how we go with the music.  Of course, you can always leave music playing in a tab while reading the next section of words.

I intend to try to put something very simple, without music, on YouTube.  If it all works, it’ll be available on YouTube on Good Friday, and I’ll post the link here.  It will be 20 minutes long.  You can pause it between each section, after the Psalm 22 response, and use the music and pictures here to help you.

Here is the YouTube link

If you’d like to see the poems all in one place, without the framework, you can find those here.

If you would like to use, or share, any of my material, please feel free to do so, saying where it is from.

I hope that’s explained things!

 

Now, as we prepare for our Good Friday meditation, let us focus our minds on Jesus, who loves us, and suffered for us.  May we have a deeper appreciation of that love and suffering this year.  May we, despite being apart, become more aware how deeply we are loved, and connected together.

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Elizabeth Frink, Chapel of the Transfiguration, St Edmundsbury Cathedral.

 

 

First sentence
Reading (from Matthew 27 27-37 and Luke 23 33-34) 
Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers around him.  They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand and knelt in front of him and mocked him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” they said. They spat on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him. As they were going out, they met a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and they forced him to carry the cross. They came to a place called Golgotha (which means The Place of the Skull). There they offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall; but after tasting it, he refused to drink it. When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots. Above his head they placed the written charge against him: THIS IS JESUS, THE KING OF THE JEWS. Two criminals were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

Father forgive them, for they know not what they do

We don’t know what we do,
from the careless word that
starts a fire of anger,
to the careless killing
of a butterfly  –
who knows what
wide effects,
what winds and rains,
begin and end with just one death?

We walk in darkness, so often,
and so often, we close our eyes,
we do not wish to know.
And Jesus, seeing this,
that his life would end
with angry shouts,
with fearful washing of hands,
with indifferent playing of dice,
Knowing all this, even so, he bore
our lawful unthinking violence,
our blundering disregard for consequences.
Another would pay for our actions.

Yet as the ripple of our acts flows out,
through the world, who knows where,
so too, now, flows forgiveness,
following on, spreading and transforming,
watering dry ground, lifting burdens
and carrying them away.

 

Response from Psalm 22: v3-5

Yet you are holy,
dwelling in the praises of Israel.
In you our fathers trusted;
they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried, and were rescued;
in you they trusted and were not put to shame
.

Music:  Salt of the Sound  Lamb of God (and Your Ways) both – 6 mins 28
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p_5fsX8TEp4

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Angus Dei  Francisco de Zurbaran

Second sentence
Reading (from Luke 23 39-43)
One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom”.  Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.

 

Truly I say to you today you will be with me in paradise

Even as he hung upon the cross,
even with blood from that false crown
running down, not wiped away,
he saw the two men at his side,

One joined in mocking with the
priests and soldiers,
speaking from his pain,
and one did not, this second kept
his eyes on something else – a hope.

A hope the one he looked on was a king,
and of a kingdom where such things
as crosses are not lifted up,
a hope, even, of an end to death and pain –
this pain, this death.

And, ah, his king begins to speak,
of paradise.
What a world to gift him dying there.
A word of such sweetness, freedom, peace.
See  – clear water flowing, and flowers,
hear the sound of birds, the lazy
buzz of insects, the flutter of their wings.

What a word, at your end, to hold to,
to capture our beginning, once again.
But even more than this,
to be with him, beside the king,
seen and known,
held in the loving gaze of one who
hung up on the cross.
Might this, even this, be paradise?

 

Response from Psalm 22:v 27-28

All the ends of the earth shall remember
and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
shall worship before you.
For kingship belongs to the Lord.

 

Music: Gabriel Faure  in Paradisum from Requiem 3 mins 50 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rvYt-QA9vT0

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What do you think of, when you think of paradise?

Third sentence
Reading (from John 19 25-27)
Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Dear woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Son, here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

 

Woman, behold your son. Son, behold your mother

And still he sees, looks down
towards the one who bore him, bearing this,
the pain – not her own pain – worse,
the pain of watching one you love
twisting on those wooden beams,
the nails piercing her own flesh too.

The time has come when all the
treasure of her heart is broken open,
scattered, lying in the dirt.
What use to hold in mind
the words of angels,
the wealthy gifts brought by the wise,
what preparation Simeon’s warning,
when now she sees his agony with her eyes.
But she is not alone, his friend sees too.
John, who writes it down,
bears witness, even here, even so.
They turn their gaze upon each other
and see each other with new eyes –
a mother, and a son.
Gifting them each other –
his one last act of love,
this giving, from an empty cup.
This task of care can be ours too,
to behold each other in our pain,
and in our sorrow, walk each other home

 

Response from Psalm 22: v 9-11

Yet you are he who took me from the womb;
you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts.
On you was I cast from my birth,
and from my mother’s womb you have been my God.
Be not far from me,
for trouble is near,
and there is none to help.

 

Music:  Salt of the Sound – I’ll meet you where you are/Home to you  3 mins 31  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kFlXL3cgI6Q

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Pieta Michelangelo

 

Fourth sentence
Reading (from Matthew 27 45-46)
From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land. About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”–which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?

You felt your generous heart forsaken,
you felt the absence of the one who helps,
who was beside you, in the beginning,
who knew you from before first light.

We know too well the sparseness
of your isolation, without light,
and companionless,
in the darkness of our own long night.
And yet, within our dark, we find you there,
Find you have waited for us long days, and years,
while our poor eyes have
grown accustomed to the dark,
have learned at last to see you through our tears.
So as you know our pain and feel it,
you break our separation with your own.
Help us see the forsaken all around us,
invisible and in darkness, but seen by you.
May we seek each other in the dark,
May we have courage to cry out,
like you, and so be found.

 

Response from Psalm 22: v11, 14

Be not far from me,
for trouble is near,
and there is none to help.

I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint,
my heart is like wax
it is melted within my breast

Music: Casting Crowns  Praise you in this storm 5 mins 3
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0YUGwUgBvTU

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Fifth sentence
Reading (from John 19 28)
Knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I thirst.”

I thirst

The well is deep, and you have nothing to draw with.
Where now that living water?
Where is that spring within you, gushing up
to fullness of life?
Do you remember, now,
the woman by the well?
Your deepening talk of thirst and water,
as now, again, you humbly ask another for a drink –
this time,
a sponge of sour wine?

Do you remember too, as the taste dries on your lips,
that wedding feast, where water changed to finest wine?
The richness and fullness of that beginning
soured to this cold bitterness.

You are our source, the spring of all our rivers
and still you thirst like us, need help to drink.
And so give us this grace,
that as we do for the least of these,
we may know we do for you.

May we see you
in each thirsty face.

Response from Psalm 22: v 15

My strength is dried up like a potsherd
and my tongue sticks to my jaws
you lay me in the dust of death

 

Music: Taise  O Lord hear my Prayer  7 mins 43
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LKyU5BIlxc0

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Sixth sentence
Reading (John 19 29-30)
A  jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips.  When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.”

It is finished.

All things come to an end.
Even pain like this,
Even the anger and the cruelty of a crowd,
of us all,
even the certainty of those so certain
of God they hang a man upon a tree.
Even the punishment and scapegoating
even violence,
even death.

The work is done.
It has all been borne.
You have poured out your love, your life.
You have carried our sorrows, suffered
under our iniquities.

Your head bowed now, you sink
into the final pain of nails,
your body bears no more,
having borne all.
The work is done.

Response from Psalm 22: v 24

For he has not despised or abhorred
the affliction of the afflicted.
and he has not hidden his face from him
but has heard, when he cried to him.

Music:  Ola Gjeilo  Ubi Caritas 3 mins 30
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xp3IHBSyZKY

stars in the wood

 

 

Seventh sentence
Reading (from Luke 23 44-49)
It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, while the sun’s light failed; and  the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”

 

Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit

There is darkness now, deep darkness,
over the face of the deep,
and no hovering like a brooding bird,
instead, the temple curtain torn in two,
from top to bottom,
and the Holy of Holies empty.

God is not found there,
but here, with this dying man
on a tree,
He calls out father, and talks of hands,
and we remember what his own hands have done,
how many were healed by their touch,
raised up and restored from cruelty and death,
and now, he too will be held in loving hands,
a reconciliation beyond our grasp,
a trust even at this moment of last breath.

Dying, he taught us to die,
dying he brought us life.
May we be reconciled, may we know
at our end, the comfort of those hands.

Response from Psalm 22: v 26

The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied
those who seek him shall praise the Lord
May your hearts live for ever.

Music:  John Tavener Svyati (trans O Holy One)  12 minutes 35
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yssF24v5iBs

Or a traditional hymn, such as When I survey the wondrous cross.

 

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Detail from – Crucifixion (Corpus Hypercubus) Salvador Dalí 1954
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

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Held

 

 

The sower, the seed, and the soil. A talk at Girton College Chapel.

 

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Last Sunday, I had the enormous privilege of speaking at Girton College Chapel. Malcolm Guite, the chaplain and poet, invited me to speak.  I’d been for the 150th anniversary celebrations last year, and Malcolm is continuing to invite Old Girtonians back this year too.

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It was so good to be back, and in the chapel which was good to me as a student.  It’s a beautiful, safe, nurturing space, and it also has a superb acoustic, which means that at evensong, you feel immersed in the roll of the music.  The choir are excellent, well worth hearing, and it was particularly good to have music by another Old Girtonian, Rhiannon Randle.  Her new work, Our Burning World, was performed on Monday.  You can read about it on her website linked above.

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One of Vincent van Gogh’s astonishing paintings of The Sower

Malcolm very generously gave me some flexibility to talk about what was on my mind, and I decided to follow where my thoughts, readings and prayers are taking me and talk about one of the parables.  I’ve been particularly drawn to Jesus’ parables of the natural world, curious to find out how he noticed to the flowers of the field, the birds of the air, and the work of tending soil for food.

Having driven to Cambridge through the tail end of a storm, it seemed very appropriate to be speaking from a parable of the soil. It is good to return to the gospels for wisdom, especially as humanity seems to be on the brink of a crisis in our relationship with the rest of creation.

Malcolm has kindly published the text of the talk on the College Website.  You can read it
here.

My thoughts on the parables are gradually taking shape into something, I hope it will be another book.  Sometimes, I know that there is some treasure to be dug, but I’m not sure what it will be until the digging is well underway.  So, I shall return to my digging, and see what good things I unearth along the way.

 

If you’d like to read more about seeds and sowing, you can look elsewhere on my blog, as below.

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

November Sowing

Sunday Retold – Small Seeds, from Luke 17

 

Otley Hall Quiet Day – the vine, and other growing things.

Last Saturday I had the enormous privilege of leading a Quiet Day for St Mary’s Church of Woodbridge, based on I am the vine.  I’m afraid I wasn’t taking photos, just giving my attention to what was going on around me.

The gardens are so beautiful, as ever, and it was particularly good to see several vines growing and entwined, with small grapes forming.  They were forming a tunnel, you could walk through the vine, almost grafted in.

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A photo from earlier in the year from Postcard from Suffolk

It was so good to sit by the water, and watch the fish and the dragonflies.

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Here is a picture from an earlier visit, in spring.

One of the things we talked about was how Jesus’ I am saying – I am the vine – gives us a way of seeing ourselves as deeply connected.  We talked of many things – how we can deepen that connection to God, and each other.   We talked about everything holding together, ourselves and everything else, in Christ.  We read about that in Colossians.

We used poetry to help us towards prayer, and contemplation, including Malcolm Guite’s sonnet, set to music here by St Brides.

I can’t help thinking today, about our connection to this good green earth.  It is precious and beautiful, and we are only just beginning to learn how it does hold together, interconnected, and mutually dependent, as we are watching with horror as the Amazon burns, and Siberia too.  We know how ancient woodland in our own land has been cut down, or is under threat.

May we find our way home to tending for this beautiful world.

May we take inspiration from the song of the vine.

You can read some more about the vine, from my book on the I am sayings, here.

God, source of all light and life,
help us to see your hand at work
in the beauty of creation.
Help us to know that, in you,
the whole earth is holy ground.

O Lord,
Your greatness
is seen
in all
the world!
Psalm 8:9

From  my collection of prayers, Prayers and Verses

 

You might like to read A parable for Earth day.

 

 

The Alde Valley Festival – a glimpse of a more beautiful world.

I don’t know how I have managed to miss this astonishing festival in previous years – it’s not far from where I live, but tucked away in the network of lanes between routes to other places.

Perhaps that’s one reason why, going down the drive laced with cowparsley and buttercups, it felt like we were slipping into another world – a world we are losing and a new one we are finding.  There are ribbons tied in trees, and sculptures, and everyday objects that look like they have been placed with transforming love and care.  You feel yourself relaxing, and being lifted, and filling with wonder, even as you arrive.

Jason Gathorne-Hardy writes in the programme

The farm sits within a landscape that has been planted and cultivated for hundreds, possibly thousands of years. Small areas of farm parkland and pastures [known locally as pightles] are enclosed by hedges of hawthorn, crab apple, blackthorn, field maple, hazel and elm.  This grassy landscape is punctuated by free-standing trees: oak, ash and poplars tower above the hedgerows……

White House Farm is a truly remarkable place.  They have been running this festival since 2011, using their working farm buildings as workshop space, studio space, and exhibition space.  This year’s theme is Florabundance.

As you meander through the farmyards, directed by handwritten signs on wood, you find open doors to peer behind, revealing breathtaking beauty.  There is so much, but I’ll just pick out a few details among a true abundance.

 

In the lamb nursery room – which is used as such earlier in the season – laid out on white tops, were the most exquisite bronze vegetables, fruit and seeds. Alice-Andrea Ewing had cast them from produce during her residency at the farm.  The beauty of the natural forms coupled with the weight and seriousness of bronze gave them an extraordinary presence, as if we could see and feel everyday things as truly wonderful.

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The combination of old farm buildings and small cubes of art gallery white really charged ordinary food with a sense of the artist’s reverence, such as with these pears, and medlars.

 

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I loved the way the whole place was so hospitable.  There were were toys and picnic tables and clues to adventures outside – and inside the lovely Suffolk chairs, old and new, were often beside piles of books that, if you felt inclined, would send you on the trail of other adventures – of friendships and connections between the artists and those who had gone before, and the places they love, and their mutual “cross pollination”.   The Benton End trail was a joy to follow – especially the connection with the iris paintings we would come to later.

I loved the transformation of the everyday, the desire to honour simple planting and growing, that was evident everywhere.  In particular, Tessa Newcomb with works “The onions continued to be elegant”, “The last moment of the Year, 2018”, and a whole barnful more….. and Ruth Stage’s limpid winter light, again in pictures of the farm and nearby walled garden.

It was the corrugated old threshing barn that held the largest and most breathtaking works though.  Jane Wormwell’s large canvasses of detailed corners of her garden, and tangles of hedgerow brambles, were remarkably powerful and moving.  These huge flowers put me in a better perspective.  The main exhibition space was given over to Jelly Green’s iris paintings.  This is why we had come – the publicity material had small snatches of them, and I really wanted to see them in real life with all the thickness of the paint and vividness and aliveness of the colours.

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Some of these were flowers cultivated at Benton End by Cedric Morris, who taught Maggi Hambling, who taught Jelly Green.

The vivacity, the joyfulness of the paintings was breathtaking.  I could have spent much longer there.

There is a tiny chapel in one of the barns, with a cross on the table before an animal feeding trough, a manger.  The walls have small pictures of refugees, and brick-sized scriptures alongside.  It was a good place to stop, to breathe, to pray.  The whole place is full of a deep sense of presence, of connection, of goodness, of life.

We walked through the bluebell wood, following the winding path, slowly, breathing deeply, letting the colour and the scent fill us.

 

More from Jason Gathorne-Hardy

It is easy to believe that we, as humans, can control our environment: that we dictate the terms on which we live on this planet. But that notion of power over of all that we survey is probably a mistake.  Plants give us oxygen to breathe, clean water to drink and the raw materials for shelter, food, medicines, comfort and rest.  To borrow a phrase, ‘we live in their world’. We have lost a lot of biodiversity in the past two hundred years.  Locally, this is made abundantly clear by referring to George Crabbe’s plant list for Framlingham and District in the early C19th…….
The Exhibition also seeks to honour their presence in our gardens and landscapes and celebrate the importance of plants in our lives – alongside natural pollinators and seed carriers – through the work of selected guest artists.  Implicit in this is a positive and hopeful story: that the diversity of flora and fauna that we once lived with…. in whose world we lived…. may once again become abundant and resurgent…. which is something to celebrate!

 

What a joy it was to come home, and to see that the irises in our own garden were beginning to open.

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If you live in Suffolk, the exhibition is open for one more weekend – the Late May Bank Holiday.  The tea in the farmhouse is very good too!