Poem: Waldringfield salt marshes – seal

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These beautiful photos are by Pete Skevington, with thanks.

We haven’t been far from home, since Lockdown started.  It’s been astonishing how that restraint has made us more inventive, seeking out places we haven’t been to, or haven’t been to for years.

We have a very loose walking project of seeing how far along our local river, the Deben, we can go. How much of it is walkable, and accessible by footpath. The river is an estury downstream from us, an unstable and changing and hazardous landscape.  At times, the public right of way marked on the map crosses open water.

We hadn’t attempted to walk this particular route for a very long time ideed.  My memory of it, my first experience of this kind of landscape, was nearly losing my boot in sinking, sucking mud, and being unable to pull myself free.  Now, being more accustomed to the great outdoors, we tried again, knowing the route would be completely different.  How far could we get?

Having got as far as we could, we paused where the marsh-creek joined the river, surrounded by mud and flowing water.  I ate some of the salty samphire that was growing there.  And then, we saw the head of a large seal in the creek, very close by.  The whole experience of being out on those marshes was full of awe, transcendent and earthy at the same time – a deep, lively peace, a beauty and a rightness.  Being met by a seal at the furthest reach of our footsteps was such a gift.

I’ve tried to catch some of that in the words of this poem.  I hope you enjoy an excursion over saltmarsh.

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Waldringfield saltmarshes – seal

This thin strip of solid ground
turns away from the shore,
snaking through saltmash –
sea lavender, sea purslane,
samphire glowing
in the fading light,
the saltsmell of algae –
until we are far from
ploughed earth,
far out on this wide,
flat, dizzying
land-water-scape.

Pools of infinite grey mud,
the hiss of water receding,
we walk just as the tide
turns to ebb,
this winding path our
thin line of safety,
draped with a strand-
crust of drying weed,
studded with hundreds
of tiny white crab-shells,
oysters, mussels.
How fragile I feel myself
to be.  How quick to be lost.

After many turns further,
and further out,
we come to the place
the path stops.
On the other bank,
we can see the woods
where great white egrets nest.
At my feet, the red of a
spent cartridge hurts
my eyes
as I hear oystercatchers,
and sweet skylarks,
and water,
and wind scuffing the water.

There, at the end,
the limit of where we could go,
we saw, in the water,
the seal –
a low flat head,
intelligent eyes,
sleek and fat,
as grey and rounded
as the mudbanks –
swimming.
We crouched, concealing
our profiles from the
luminous sky,
we held our breath,
and watched its dive,
and breath, dive,
and breath.

And as it swam upstream,
we turned to go back,
retracing our steps exactly,
watching its joy,
its contentment,
as we grew closer to solid
ground, the smell of ripe
barley after rain,
and mallows,
and sweet chamomile
carried on the breeze,
welcoming us.
But the taste of the saltmash
sustained us,
sustains us,
the peace of the seal
stayed with us,
stays with us.
And the cry of the curlew
remains.

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Poem: Grandiflora – Lockdown 35

When I wrote this next poem, as the volume of traffic increases, as the number of people we encounter while out walking near our home increases, I felt that it was the last one.  The last one named and numbered for lockdown.  This series had come to a resting place, I felt.  The lockdown was ending, possibly disintegrating.

And there are all the mixed emotions that go with everything to do with the covid crisis.  Of course, it is such good news that fewer people are afflicted with this terrible disease.  I am glad my little local shops are beginning to trade again, and people in my community are able to support their families.  I worry that this is a lull, and not an end.  I worry that we are missing an opportunity to make things better in our scramble to make things normal.

But also, I have really enjoyed this method of writing, and then sharing with you.  Thank you for your company.  I hope these poems have given moments of peace, or thoughtfulness, or connection, or beauty – as they are, and as you need.  I will continue writing like this, and also seeing what else calls to be written.  I think there are new things.  So, there are 35 of these, in this series.  I also wrote seven poems for Good Friday.
That’s quite productive for me, and some recharging of my creative batteries, some reading and thinking and seeing, is required.  Having said that, I may miss doing this so much there’ll be something tomorrow!

This last poem seems to say some things that had been rising up in me for a while.  I am finding, in my response to the multiple crises that are unfolding, that I am trying to understand what is going on, rather than value my own opinion so much.  There is a letting go for me here, which is the first step of learning.  It’s seeking to adopt a beginners mind, or seeking to become like a little child.  There is a reference to the wonderful piece of Medieval mysticism, The Cloud of Unkowing, in the poem, and you can read a bit more about that here.

Thank you again for your time, for sharing your time and virtual comany with me, and for your attention, and bless you.

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Grandiflora  Lockdown 35

I am tired of argument,
although curious,
and seeking understanding.
I am done with the
certainty of knowing.

There is so much more
to be explored in unknowing,
so much awaits
in that soft mist
that rests on the skin.

These magnolia leaves,
rattling in the breeze,
some yellow, and falling,
some green, and shining,
do they know the flowers
will begin to open soon?

The flowers will open,
known or not,
releasing their
creamysweet
scent above me –
joining with
the honeysuckle,
with the rose –
revealing their strange
strong hearts.

Each day,
a new flower
will open.
Each day,
I will receive
their beauty,
and, in turn,
pour out tea leaves
for their dark roots.
I am finding
it is enough.
It is enough.

 

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Poem: Gift – Lockdown 20

I have been finding venturing to the shops hard.  It seems to uncover anxiety.  Firstly, there was the strageness of the distance, the rules, the queueing, the empty shelves, the rules you weren’t quite sure about.

Now, it’s changing.  The distance becomes more permanant.  I am wearing a mask – a lovely one, made by a local person, for Bev’s Eco Products, who donates one for every one she makes.  I have hand sanitiser, I roughly know what to do, and yet…. the strangeness continues.  It is so lovely to see friends out and about, but very hard to be sure you are staying far enough away at all times.  We worry we may take the virus with us where we go – into shops, back home to our households. The sense of threat has, for me, increased as I feel less confident in decisions being made by government.  There are, as always, other things behind our fears, but that is enough to be getting along with.

I go to my lovely local shops, where I know people.  I vary which ones, and when, to avoid patterns, and, on return, after cleaning hands yet again and disinfecting cupboard handles, I sit outside, and allow myself to be consoled.  Sometimes, that consolation takes a tangible form, as it did here….

So this is partly a Lockdown Poem, and partly an account of how my place is helping me venture out. Perhaps we will need some unlockdown poems, too.

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Gift  Lockdown poems 20

As I sat gently in the sun,
holding in my hands
a weird sea of sadness
a trip to my shops
had stirred,
I asked, gently,
why,
why this distress?
And listened.
Then, I took instead
a sip of tea,
and breathed, gently.
This rose petal fell
on my page
before I wrote a word.

I look up.
The rosebuds are tight
shut above me,
and yet, it fell.

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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News from the Little Free Pantry.

 

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The pantry at its Harvest Festival launch

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you  may remember posts about the Little Free Pantry at St Andrew’s Church, Melton.  It’s a simple thing –  a place where anyone can leave some tins or other food, and anyone can take what they need.

 

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Today at lunchtime

It was so sad that at the beginning of the lockdown we had to close the pantry for a while, but gradually, and in stages, and with much thinking, work and adjustment, it’s now up and running again!

It’s back in the church porch, 10 am to 5 pm, seven days a week.   There’s an extra table, with more space for fresh produce.
The ususal rules of keeping two metres apart apply.
It’s open for both giving and taking, no need to talk to anyone, just give what you can, take what you need.

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I do believe it is a particularly important neighbourhood resource at the moment.  Shopping can be difficult for so many reasons – you or a family member may be vulnerable, money or time or transport may be hard to come by, the shopping experience may be anxious for all the kindness of the shopworkers.  The pantry is here, a sign of love, and of the hand of friendship we wish we could extend.

We have been so encouraged that people are making donations, and withdrawals, are joining in with this simple way of neighbours helping neighbours.

There are two other little free pantries in church porches nearby that we’ve heard of – in Grundisburg and Hasketon.  Do tell us if there are more.  It’s such a simple idea, and it works well with social isolation, maybe more places would like to set one up.

 

So, thank you to everyone who is using the pantry in any way.  May it bless you.

 

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 – Today, July 19th

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It’s been a busy few weeks.  I’ve had the enormous privilege of speaking at the 150th Anniversary Festival Service for my old college, Girton.  It was such a special service, and the choir filled the red brick chapel with marvelous sound.  How good to celebrate 150 years since the college’s small beginnings – the small beginnings of women’s higher education in this country.  It was so good to be able to contribute to a diverse and joyful weekend. A huge thank you to Malcolm Guite for inviting me to speak.

What with that, and this – this, and that, I have rather lost my daily rhythm of writing, and today I thought I would try again.  Just to sit with a notebook and begin, and see where my pencil took me.

It didn’t take me very far at all.  It kept me right where I am.

 

Today, July 17th

Today is a day of butterflies –
white against the deep greens,
the purples,
tumbling over the lavender –
intoxicated.

Today the hard nubs of
apples wait for their
slow ripening,
and the last of the buttercups
shimmer faintly.
Tomorrow, and yesterday,
yesterday, and tomorrow,
but now,

Today, is a day for hollyhocks,
frilled and pastel,
full of large fat bees,
while the young newts
hide there, under the red
watering can,
and the sky turns white,
and the swifts fly high,
and my eyes fill with
limpid light.
It is enough.

 

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Lent: Jesus said, I Am, Week 2….. Bread

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John 6:1-15, 25-35

We are following my book for Lent – the quotes below give you a little taste.

As lent begins, we think of the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness, and the hunger and temptations he faced there.

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The first of these was to turn stones into bread, so it seems good to think about this first of the traditional I Am sayings at the beginning of Lent. Those two occasions of considering bread, or not, in the wilderness – the temptation, and the feeding of the five thousand – offer interesting contrasts.  You might like to hold them both in your mind as we proceed, seeing what light they might throw on each other.

Jesus fed a hungry crowd.  They had followed him to a remote place by the lake, where there was nowhere for them to get food.  There, he gave them bread to sustain them, and later he said he himself was bread – bread that came down from heaven, the bread of the life of the world.  Not surprisingly, they were mystified.

Some may be fasting during Lent, and this idea of following Jesus to a remote place, and finding that Jesus is bread, is coming to be your experience.  Maybe, imagining yourself into the story,  you see yourself as one of the hungry crowd.  Maybe you are one of the hungry crowd. Maybe lack of food is not a chosen discipline, but your economic experience.

At the very beginning of his ministry, Jesus spent time in the wilderness where he fasted, prayed and was tempted.  One of the temptations the hungry Jesus faced was turning stones into bread.  Jesus answers, “It is written, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God””….. but as Jesus answers the temptation we are reminded of a deep thread in Hebrew thought – that the wisdom, the mind of God, the Word, nourishes and sustains us like food….. God feeds us like bread.  This way of seeing helps us remember that our inbuilt need for God is a deep hunger.

In Jesus, tempted in the wilderness, we see a paradox.  Jesus, this Word made flesh, feels hunger like us, needs bread like us.  Now, astonishingly, after this feeding of the hungry people, he says that he is bread, and that he will be broken for us.  This Word made flesh has become bread for us…..

Knowing that there is more than one sort of hunger, that the hunger of our hearts and souls is real too, does not mean that the hunger of the body is less important.  Jesus feeds the hungry people.  He feeds all of them.

Firstly, we notice who was fed: everyone, all that multitude.  Here we see the extravagant generosity of Jesus, and the extent of human need.  Bread was given to all the hungry people who were in the crowd: there is no payment, no worthiness criteria, no belief criteria in this feeding; simply, if you come, you will be fed.

All who need it receive bread.

The tradition of fasting in Lent was always coupled with acts of service.  As we think about hunger – our own, and others – we can think too of ways of feeding that hunger.  There is an abundance and a generosity in this story of feeding so many that can liberate us into our own giving. We think of the small child who gave the little he had.

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And so, we see what Jesus does with the little he has been given by a child: he takes it in his hands, gives thanks, and then gives it away…… He gives thanks for the little he holds before it is enough.  This is another practice we can engage with: thanksgiving.  It is a powerful way of shifting us from a perspective of scarcity and anxiety to one of gratitude, of noticing the good and the blessing and the small loaves among so many hungry people. …..

Jesus models many things here for his followers: compassion for the hungry, a desire to help, seeing much in little and giving thanks.  After all have eaten, Jesus tells the disciples to gather all the broken fragments up, and there are twelve basketfuls.  Nothing is wasted………..

As we seek to find ways of living out these I Am sayings, perhaps we too can be a people who gather up the broken pieces, so that nothing and no one is wasted and lost.  It humbles us, it involves us stooping and searching for each broken thing.  By gathering the broken, we are following Jesus’ instruction and example.  The kingdom is the very opposite of a throwaway society.

 

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Reflection and Response

Enough, not enough?

Sometimes we can look at the little we have at our disposal, and the greatness of the needs we see, and be overwhelmed.  Look at the exchange between Andrew and Jesus. What have you to offer? Where do you feel a lack? Meditate on this scene, bringing objects that represent what you have and where you feel a lack, and lay them before you.  Use words and paper if more practical.  Ask Jesus to bless them and give thanks for them.

Make a practice of always doing the little you can, and asking Jesus to bless it and multiply it.  What do you notice as you do so?

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If you have done the meditation above, and you have considered that you may have some financial resources, or cooking ability, you might like to move to the next activity.  If not, feel free to adapt to find some way to be generous – giving attention, a smile, a blessing, can transform things.
If you feel very empty right now, do think on the hunger of the crowd, and how they were fed.  It is good to ask for what you need.

Bread for a hungry world: social action
Feeding people was a sign of God’s kingdom.  How can we live that out where we are – open-handed – thankful for what we receive, ready to share? Perhaps there are food banks or homeless people near you for whom you  can buy food.  Perhaps you can cook and share what you have made. Perhaps you can support a charity that feeds the hungry.

If you are fasting from any  sort of food, you could consider buying it anyway and putting it in the food bank.  Our little local Co-op supermarket has a collection box for the Salvation Army.

Let nothing be wasted.
Set yourself a challenge for the week: to avoid waste, especially food waste.

 

Think about these three things, and how to make them your practice this week:
gratitude, generosity, avoiding waste.

 

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Vincent Van Gogh

You might like to extend your reading with thinking about The Sower and the Seed or small seeds from the Sunday Retold series.

A blessing for food from Prayers and Verses

Lord Jesus, who broke bread beside the lake and all were fed,
thank you for feeding us.
Lord Jesus, who asked his disciples to pass food to the crowds,
may we do the same.
Lord Jesus, who saw to it that all the spare food was gathered,
may we let no good thing go to waste.
Lord Jesus, who gave thanks,
we thank you now.

 

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

Here are a few suggestions:

The publishers, BRF

Amazon

 

A link to Malcolm Guite’s thoughtful sonnet on this saying can be found here.

Jesus said I AM – finding life in the everyday ……… Bread

Publication date is nearly here!
Friday 18th January is the day.

Thanks so much for your support and encouragement.

I thought I’d share with you a few snippets from the book, starting with something on Bread.

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And, so, the people all ate.  There was enough.  One of the many things this sign does is take our natural fear of ‘not enough’ and offer God’s ‘enough’ instead.  We find it hard to be generous when there are only a few small loaves and fish, and so many hungry people. With Jesus we see a picture of what it means to shift our perspective, to reframe our notions.

…….

What if we began seeing what we had – not in terms of what it was not, but in terms of what it was? Of seeing things not as our resource, but as a kingdom resource? This is food, these people need food, that’s what we’ll do – give.  Of course, the rational counting and measuring parts of our minds are not satisfied with that, and we are grateful for the stock control systems and emergency relief manages who count well enough to make sure all can be fed, but perhaps this is a different kind of lesson: one that turns our minds from what we see to a God of abundance.  Perhaps even this small act of generosity is magnified, amplified by a God who loves and longs to be generous.  What if each small act in the direction of goodness has consequences beyond our imagining?

….

And so, we see what Jesus does with the little he has been given by a child: he takes it in his hands, gives thanks, and then gives it away.

 

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

Here are a few suggestions:

The publishers, BRF

Amazon

 

I’ll share a few more snippets as we go along!

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Dorset Poems – Autumn lambs at Upcot farm

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It’s a long time since I shared a Dorset poem with you – it was last October when we went there, and there is still much in my notebook to turn back to.  They fill up with words, these books, like ore, which can be taken up to the light, and sifted, and cast into something to keep, to help another day.  They fill up with things you rediscover, and see afresh.

If you would like to go back to a few other pieces from that time, you can do so here:

Dorset Poems – Scrumping in a Hurricane

and

Dorset Poems – St Gabriel’s Chapel, 1
So, while I am preparing and mullling over some more recent work to share with you – and I will do so – I thought I’d bring you this.  While we’ve been out and about walking this autumn, I remembered hearing these lambs last year, after a day of many miles and many hills, and wondering if I was imagining things.  The wind was whipping about very strangely, and I was in need of tea and cake. Rounding the corner and coming across this farm, it felt like a strange, sheltered place where, rather than things falling into decline, and ending, and growing darker, we were looped back to spring, and hope, and the almost reckless persistence and optimism of life and new beginnings.

It’s very gloomy here today in the UK.  It has grown suddenly cold.  The clocks have gone back, and it’s dark early.  I felt I needed this today, to remind me of the strange tenacity of hope.

Autumn lambs at Upcot Farm

A high thin bleating carries
on the wind
as we draw close to the farm.
It sounds like lambs, I say
It’s October, you reply,
yes, but even so,
even so…..

Twins, newborn, their chords still visible,
blue, elastic bands around each tail,
short, white wool,
ears like pink shells
full of light
with the sun behind.
Soft, new, wide-eyed,
wide-mouthed.

And another mother,
and lamb
and another
and a hen with a
cluster about her
cheeping like spring,
as the gale gusts
and blows sharp leaves
in our faces.

Here, amid the berries
and apples
and bright golden leaves
there is still the sound
of life, there is still
unexpectedly,
wonderfully,
the bleating of new lambs.

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All photos by my husband, Peter.  With thanks.

 

 

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