Poem – Throwing sticks for the Black Dog

Today is the day some call Blue Monday – the most depressing day of the year.
Here in Suffolk, though, we have had some sunshine, and the frost has sparkled, so it’s less gloomy here – at least meteorologically – than it has been for weeks.

I thought I’d share this poem with you.  Churchill called his depression his Black Dog, and it seems a good name for it.  I have tried to express the care and nurture we wish we could give ourselves, and those we walk with, when we notice the Black Dog is beginning to sniff around.  Those gentle nudges towards the things that used to bring life and joy, in the hope that they will again. I hope that has quite a different feel to injunctions to pull up your socks, or whatever.  It’s more a hope of holding on to the capacity to notice what does you good, and to keep on doing that, even when you don’t feel the good being done.

I hope it is a simple and gentle hand to hold.

The Blurt Foundation offers compassionate support resources online, as do many other organisations.

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Throwing Sticks for the Black Dog

When I’m walking, I pick up sticks,
they feel rough and dry in my hand.
I have been collecting them for a while,
just in case.

And that black dog, well, can you see him?
Is he walking with us –
sloping through the undergrowth?
Or there, breathing at our heels?

I will throw some sticks.
Maybe he will turn playful,
maybe he’ll run after them
and not come back.  Maybe.
Maybe he’ll leave us alone for a while.
I can try.
Here are a few I have gathered:

Beauty, any sort of beauty
that takes you unawares
so the mind halts in its circling tracks.
Green beauty of growing things,
beauty that comes from the human
heart and mind –
words that build castles in the air.
Look, there they are!

Light, and the patterns it makes
through these leaves,
and darkness, when it is soft,
when, awake at night,
sitting by an open window,
I hear the owl – can you hear it?

Movement and prayer, together,
if movement and prayer remain possible.
Good food, that grows in the earth,
its colours and smells as I chop, chop.
Friendship, and kindness –
either given, received, or witnessed.
Love.
The memory of good things past,
the faintest trace of hope for
good things to come.
For good things may come.

And so, I carry this armful of sticks,
ready to throw – ready to give away –
like this,
and this,
and this.

 

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Here is a link to my poem Sorrows

Publication Day! Jesus said, I Am

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The day has arrived!  If you have ordered a copy, it should be on its way to you – online retailers dispatched it yesterday.

Thank you for your kindness and support.

Another little snippet, this time from Reflection and Response:

Good Shepherd, you know what lies before me today.
Help me to hear your voice, and remain close to you.
Guide me beside still waters, keep me at peace.
Nourish me with your presence, let me have enough to give.
Let me follow you this day, and always.

 

 

If you’d like a copy, you can ask your local bookshop, or order online.

Here are a few suggestions:

The publishers, BRF

Amazon

 

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Christmas Retold – Light in the Darkness

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As we are drawing to the end of Advent, and nearly at the shortest day, I thought I would share with you a few extracts to steady us in our Christmas preparations.  If you are feeling too busy and burdened, or not busy enough and on the edges of things, it can help to turn our attention to the Christmas message of light coming into darkness, of hope and new life emerging in the most unpromising of circumstances.

May you have a peaceful and blessed Christmas, wherever you are.

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Caravaggio – Adoration of the Shepherds

From Prayers and Verses

The Roman Emperor, Caesar Augustus, had ordered a census throughout the whole empire, when all the people would be counted, and taxed.  The orders spread along straight Roman roads, and were proclaimed first in the white marble cities and ports, and then in the towns and villages of the countryside.

Even quiet Nazareth heard the news, and Mary and Joseph began to gather together their belongings, ready to travel to Bethlehem.  That was Joseph’s family home:  he was descended from King David, of Bethlehem. They set off south on the crowded road, for the whole empire was travelling.  But, for Mary, the journey was especially hard, and the road seemed never ending. It was nearly time for her baby to be born.

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.”

The shepherds watched as light was added to light, voice to voice, until they were surrounded by a dazzling, heavenly host of angels, all praising God and saying
“Glory! Glory to God in the highest,
And on the earth be peace!”

And then, in an instant, the angels were gone, and the shepherds were left in dark night shadows, listening to the sound of a distant wind. But their eyes still shone with heaven’s light.
“Let’s go and see for ourselves!” they called to one another as they raced over the dark, rocky fields to Bethlehem.  There, they found Mary and Joseph, and, just as the angel had said, they found the baby wrapped tightly in swaddling bands and lying in a manger.  They saw him with their own eyes, and spread the angel’s message to all they met.
“The Promised One has come! The Christ, the Anointed One, has been born!” The angel’s words were on everyone’s lips that night in Bethlehem.  And, as the shepherds made their way back to their sheep, bursting with good news, Mary kept their words safe, like treasures, in her heart.

And from Prayers and Verses

What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man
I would do my part;
Yet what I can, I give Him –
Give my heart.
Christina Rosetti 1830-1894

Also from Prayers and Verses, a poem I wrote as a child.

The dawn is breaking, the snow is making
everything shimmer and glimmer and white.

The trees are towering, the mist is devouring
all that is in the reaches of sight.

A bell is ringing, the town is beginning,
slowly, gradually, to come to life.

A candle is lighted, and all are excited,
for today is the ending of all man’s strife.

5b Walter Launt Palmer (American painter, 1854-1932) Winter's Glow
Walter Launt Palmer

The light is coming into the world.

 

Please feel free to use the extracts, saying where they are from.

Poem – Moment/Joy

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The Sower  Vincent van Gough

 

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So, I thought I would offer you another poem, quite simply.

As I’ve been trying to deepen a prayer practice of stillness, of patience, I’ve found other things can begin to  emerge in the quietness of each moment.  They include – at times – acceptance, gratitude, joy, blessing.  At other times, I feel I am constantly lassoing my thoughts, and asking them to rest and wait quietly for just a minute.

Stillness and waiting and being present, now, can feel awkward.  And yet, it is daily bread, not worrying about tomorrow, manna that must be eaten now, while the sun is still above the horizon.  It is gentle work.

 

Moment/Joy

It has to be made afresh
each day
like bread.
It is only for today,
only for now.

My fingernails are thick with flour,
I breathe warm yeast,
my arms ache with the kneading,
the stretching,
feeling it come alive
in my hands.

I have done it before, and before,
and before,
but the warmth of the dough,
the smell of the bread,
are enough.
I roll up my sleeves,
pour out soft flour.
I begin again.

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Poem – Like Noah’s raven, and the dove

 

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Artwork by Amy Rose Moore

This poem emerged slowly, over weeks, as they sometimes do.  I let it sit for a while in the cold and the dark of our late winter. Looking at it again, I haven’t been quite sure whether it’s come to a place of rest, but I feel that now’s the time to let it fly and see if it finds a place to settle.

I’ve always found the story of Noah quite disturbing and unsettling, and although I feel I have made some peace with it now, it’s often these troubling places that drive you to engage with the original story in a different way.  This one in particular feels that there are depths to be plumbed, sunk into, with an imaginative and almost intuitive reading, which is what I sought when I did my retelling for Lion

 

The rains swamped valleys and plains, and crept up the sides of the mountains, until all was swallowed up in black, endless water.  As they drifted helplessly over it, Noah and his family knew that all living things left behind on the land had been drowned.  They were alone on the ark. When, after 40 days, the rain finally stopped, the silence was as cold as the waters.

Noah’s family loved their precious cargo of animals: the only other living, breathing creatures left on the earth.  They fed them, and cared for them.  As they did so, a wind blew, and the waters began to sink slowly down.  Then, one day, they heard the keel of the ark beneath them scraping and shuddering.  The ark juddered to a halt, for it had struck the top of a mountain.

Every day they scanned the horizon, longing for land, and after many weeks they saw distant purple mountains breaking free of the water.  Noah waited 40 more days, then set a raven free.  It criss-crossed over the waves, looking for somewhere to perch.  But there was nowhere.

A week later Noah tried again, sending out a dove.  It came back with an olive twig.  Noah held the bird tenderly in his hand, hope rising within him.

A week later he sent the dove out again.  This time, it did not come back.  It must have found somewhere to perch.  At last, the flood was drying up!  Noah’s face broke into a wide smile as glistening land slowly emerged and dried.

From The Bible Story Retold

The image of releasing the birds from this narrow, confined space stayed with me, drawing on my memory of Emily Dickinson’s wonderful poem Hope, which is well worth having by heart for difficult times.

I thought of the raven, how it is a carrion bird, associated with death.  Although reading the symbolism of such a long-ago story is best done humbly, I do wonder if Noah’s releasing of this bird first suggests he was expecting there to be carrion around, that it was a bird released into a imaginative landscape of death, not life.  And yet we find, later, there was now something green and growing, something to sustain and anoint and bless – the olive – and that the world that was emerging from all that destruction was peaceable, and hospitable, a place of the dove and the olive. It is a new beginning.

We are not there yet, though, at the moment of this poem.  We are at that point of wondering if we dare hope.  Wondering if it is worth the costs of hope.  Sometimes we have to remind ourselves it’s good to look for signs of hope, even when all seems lost.  It takes courage, and discipline, and persistence.  But learning to read the signs in our own landscapes, shifting our focus up and out, can begin to lift us.  And we can find that, astonishingly, green growing things are appearing.

You can listen to the poem here: https://andreaskevington.podbean.com/e/poem-like-noah-with-the-raven-and-the-dove/

 

Like Noah’s raven, and the dove

Can I let hope fly, send out birds
to brood and hover
over the chaos,
like Noah, with the raven,
and the dove?

For too long, there
has been nothing
on the horizon,
no fixed point
on the Earth’s
endless circle.
How would you ever know
if the water was falling,
or rising?

So can I now find courage to
cup birds in unsteady hands –
raven-black,
dove-white –
and throw them upwards
one by one?

To let fly a dark hope
even though there is
nowhere for it to rest,
even though it returns
like a gift
that comes back unopened.

Can I try again
and again,
in case something
living and growing has
pierced this water,
until finally a gentle bird
does not return.
Until, at last,
there is somewhere
other than this poor boat
for it to land.

May I have such birds to release.
May I let them fly, like Noah,
with the raven, and the dove.

 

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

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

From Prayers and Verses

Poem – The courtesie of pigeons

Each morning at the moment, I go outside to see what’s happening.  I don’t get up with the dawn, so by the time I go outside, life has been bursting out for a couple of hours – there’s always something beautiful that makes me catch my breath.

I spend time sitting, meditating, or in contemplative prayer, and then I get out my notebook and try to write what I see, what is happening right now.

Our old bench was beginning to rock and sway, especially if more than one person sat on it, so we have a beautiful new one from Genesis, Orwell Mencap  I particularly like the way that someone involved in making the furniture comes to help deliver it, and see where it will be enjoyed.

 

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Sometimes, sitting on the bench, life’s dramas play out before you. This one, with the pair of pigeons who nest in our garden, felt like part of an old chivalric romance, hence the rather archaic spelling….

The courtesie of pigeons

The pigeons, on the roof-ridge,
or on the black line of the
telephone wire,
begin this dance the same
each day.

She, head bowed slightly away,
He, with a deep murmur,
bows low, his beak sinks
to meet the wire, or the tile.
With a tail elevated to the sky,
he puffs up, more than
his full size,
his wings droop slightly.
He rises and bows,
Rises and bows.

My strength, lady,
is yours to command,
is at your disposal
should you wish it, lady.

But she steps sideways,
and again,
and flies, nonetheless,
but, nonetheless,
she cannot always do so,

for each year, come summer,
plump grey squabs sidle
across the lawn,
feasting on its richness.

 

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Photograph by Africa Gomez

 

It calls to mind another pigeon saga…..Nest

Quiet Spaces – one on The Four Loves, by C S Lewis, and a bit about the Wedding.

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Philip Wilson Steer – Walberswick,       a beach on the Suffolk Coast

I’ve just finished writing a series of meditations drawing on C S Lewis’ short book, The Four Loves.   It’s for a BRF publication, Quiet Spaces , a series I love to read, and to write for.  I always feel I go deeper as I try out my ideas for meditations and exercises, and as I work on them with Sally Smith, the editor.

The publication isn’t coming out till next summer, but I thought I might just share a few snippets with you, especially in the light of Harry and Meghan’s wedding on Saturday, and the joy of love, and the sometimes pain of love, that occasion embodied.  The palpable absence of the groom’s mother, the solitary presence of the bride’s mother, remind us that nothing is unmixed, that sorrow and difficulty are found in every place, in every heart.

Bishop Curry’s moving and powerful sermon captivated so many of us watching.  I will listen to it again and again. I hope I can take it to heart, to seek to live more in the light of its truth. The power of love to transform, the way of love shown us by Jesus, were shown us in the words, and heart behind the words, that flowed out to those present, and to those far away.  It was deep and authentic.

He was drawing on the Song of Solomon, one of the readings I had chosen to dwell on for this work.  The reading at the wedding was from chapter 2 and also chapter 8, and can be found here.

You might like to use this combined passage for the exercise below.

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Philip Wilson Steer

 

So, here are some snippets from the meditations.  I hope they enrich your day.

 

From my introduction:

“”God is love,” says St John”  – this is Lewis’s opening sentence. It is the spring from which all the rest flows. The essence of Jesus’ teaching is that we love – love God, our neighbours, even our enemies.

Love like this is received as a gift, but also needs to be learned, to be worked out.  The way of the Cross shows us a love which is far from easy.  The natural loves can help us take steps, to steady our walk, as we seek to follow the path of Jesus, who loved us, and gave himself for us…

Meditation with drawing

“And we were put on Earth a little space,
That we might learn to bear the beams of love.”
Wm Blake (Songs of Innocence and Experience)

Find a quiet space
Rest in the knowledge that God loves you, and delights in you.
Breathe in and out slowly
Know God is with you, looking at you tenderly and compassionately. You can imagine God enfolding you if you prefer.
You are God’s beloved child.
Breathe in love.  Breathe out love.
If you can, call to mind some action or thought of yours which is good, and loving.
Thank God for the love that flows through you.
Breathe in love.  Breathe out love.

Take some pencils or other art equipment.  Draw and write the words of Blake above, or a Bible verse about God’s love.  Return your attention to God’s love for you again and again.

And, in honour of the royal wedding, and all who are committing their lives to loving each other this summer, from the sections on Eros ….

Romantic love – Eros

Lewis describes Eros as “the kind of love which lovers are in”.
……
Eros transforms a ‘need pleasure’ into an ‘appreciate pleasure’.  We see the miracle of the beloved – they are wondrous.  We see in them something of the “imago dei”, the image of God.    This love can wipe out the distinction between giving and receiving.  It can take us to a point beyond ourselves:  “love you, I am you!” (89).
This kind of love… is close to the kind of love God has for us.  The total commitment, the adoration and sacrifice of God’s love for us has its echo here.

……..

Drawing meditation
Read a passage from the Song of Solomon, suggest Ch 2.
Reread it slowly, and draw or paint a response, freely and spontaneously.  Doodle if that suits you.  Feel the abundant life and energy of the passage.
Dwell with the love of the couple.
Then, when you are ready, turn your mind to considering how God delights in you, and celebrates you in love and song.  Can you receive that?
How might it change your relationships to be so “rooted and grounded in love” (Eph 3:17-19)?

BRF are publishing my book, Jesus said “I am” in October this year.  It started life as a similar series of meditations, but it was wonderful to have more space to explore and develop ideas, and to include a wide range of possible responses to take into our everyday lives.  Soon, I’ll have the text to go through one last time……..

 

Sunday Retold – The Spirit Comes, Pentecost

Sharing a reading and prayers for this Sunday – Pentecost.
Peace and Joy to you!

Andrea Skevington

4epenb-jyoti-sahi-pentecost Picture Source: Jyoti Sahi

We celebrate Pentecost this weekend, and the story continues its extraordinary movement outwards.  Last week, it was Ascension, when Jesus left the disciples. They were still thinking in terms of their own people, and Jesus showed them an ever widening perspective (Acts 1:6-9)

Now, we see how God continues to open and include.  It seems that all those gathered together (1:14-15) were part of the great outpouring of the Spirit, and the impact on the listeners suggests God was at work beyond even those.  The barriers between us of race, gender, nationality, language, youth and age, are being broken down, moving us towards a deep unity (Col 1:17, Gal 3:28). No wonder the whole house was filled with a great sound! This is powerful and much needed work.

We notice how the barrier of language is overcome.  We notice that God’s priority is not to change…

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Good Friday Retold

Some simple readings for today.

Andrea Skevington

A simple reading and prayers for this Holy Friday

From The Bible Retold and Prayers and Verses

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

cano_alonso-zzz-crucifixion Cano Alonso

THE ROAD OF TEARS, AND THE PLACE OF THE SKULL (Luke 23:26-49)

Jesus stumbled under the heavy wooden cross, weak from his beating, and so the soldiers seized Simon, a visitor from Cyrene in north Africa, and gave him the cross to carry.  Jesus followed slowly over the rough, hard road.

A large crowd followed, and among them were many women, sobbing.  He turned to them and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me. You and your children will know enough pain.”

Two other men were led out to be crucified with Jesus at Golgotha, the Place of the Skull: one on his left, and one on his right.  So Jesus was…

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Christmas Retold – Escape to Egypt

Andrea Skevington

Part of the Sunday Retold series – for the first Sunday of the Christmas Season.The readings many churches will be following this week are Matthew 2:13-23 and  Isaiah 63:7-9
Today, 28th December, is also the day the church remembers those who suffer in the Matthew story – the children who are killed at Herod’s order, and all those who weep for them.

It is one of the hardest stories to read in the gospels – that of Herod’s terrible plan to put to death all the tiny boys in Bethlehem.  It calls to mind Pharaoh’s instructions that all the newborn boys should be killed, and that calling to mind is no accident  (Exodus 1).  Matthew’s account is full of reference to the earlier story. The family run to Egypt, across the wilderness, later to retrace the journey, like a second Moses.  All these elements of Israel’s suffering and…

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