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.

Silk

 

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c 2016 Matthew Ling

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c 2016 Matthew Ling

 

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Selworthy Green, Peter Skevington

A November poem for today –
when the days are growing darker, a poem which tells of a moment of brilliant light.

When the sun is low, and when dawn and dusk happen at times when we are more likely to be about, we can sometimes catch a moment of pure glory, like this one.
The sun hit an angle which not only illuminated the spidersilk that covered everything, but transformed it – the silk acting like a prism and splitting the light into its rainbow colours.
Everything in that plain muddy field shook with all the colours, all the light.
Even an unremarkable morning stroll can leave you breathless with wonder.
Even in dark times, we can look for the light.
Keep looking.

 

SILK

November – early morning –
clear sky – rising mist.
You note details, how it was
when it began,
when the spidersilk hummed with light,
the way a wire hums in the wind.

Just one or two threads at first,
then each blade of grass, each reed,
joined in strands of brilliant light.

Silver shakes and splits
into red, blue, violet.  Threads
shuddering into colours of such
brightness, such purity.

Even backs of crows
are iridescent white,
and heavy water-drops
that bend the reeds
flash indigo and orange

for a moment –
a long held breath
Then the silk turns silver again,
and then it vanishes.
Brown mud. Green grass.
A field where cows swish slow tails,
and the curlew and the heron
walk through reeds.
With thanks to Matthew Ling and Peter Skevington for the use of their beautiful photographs.

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.

Sunday Teatime Penygroes – for All Souls Day

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The second of November is marked as All Souls Day by many churches, following on from All Saints Day the day before.  As the nights close in, we remember those who have gone before us.  We honour their memory, and remember that we are not alone, that there is a cloud of witnesses in those who have gone before.  We treasure their wisdom and their memory.

I wrote this poem as I remembered a childhood visit to my great grandparents in South Wales.  I remember the sensation of going back in time, of encountering an entirely different age, it seemed to me.  I remembered their kindness, their gentle laughter, the way they switched between English and Welsh.

Recently I discovered something about my great grandfather that makes me immensely proud.  During the General Strike of 1926, he was arrested and imprisoned for leading out 800 miners in support of their colleages who were suffering terrible hardship.  He was a man of honour and principle, a man of deep faith.

There are many others who have gone before us, whose lives we may barely know.  Today, we remember those we do know, we remember them in the love of God.

 

SUNDAY TEATIME –  PEN-Y-GROES

I remember that room so clearly.
My last visit,
although I didn’t know, then.
The room was dark,
peaceful among voices.
Rich browns of paint and polish.
The black kettle over the fire.
The tick of a clock.
Two voices speaking in
two tongues of
times far back,
tunnel-dark under the earth.
The smell of coal.
The smell of baking,

The table spread.
A gold-brown velvet cloth
topped with creamy-white lace.
Best china – edged with
gold like an open Bible.  Quiet.
While through the window were
row after row of cabbages and leeks
and tomatoes, waiting in the green sun.
The henhouse was empty.
They used to scratch and cluck
they said, and smiled.
So much, so much is left behind.
This poem was first published in Poems to help you through the Week

 

 

Sunday Retold – Naaman and the river

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It’s time for the next Sunday Retold, and this week’s readings include the story of Naaman from Aram.
You can find all the readings following these links:

2 Kings 5: 1-3, 7-15;2 Timothy 2.8-15; Luke 17:1-19.

The story of Naaman is rich in so many ways.  Reading it alongside the Luke passage – the healing of the ten lepers – brings two aspects into particular focus:  how we view those not of our tribe, or group, or belief system; and the practice of gratitude.

It’s easy to favour people who are like us, who are part of our group, whatever that may be. It’s easy too for us to slide into hostility, a feeling of superiority, a certainty that we alone are right.  In both of these stories, we see God not limited by our categories and barriers, but working in the lives of two people who were regarded as outsiders, enemies even.

Naaman was leader of the armies who were fighting against Israel – as clear an enemy as you could imagine.  Yet, he was a human being with a secret need, and a secret fear – of leprosy, which would have put an end to his military career, and made him an outcast.  That the enemy of God’s people should be stricken in this way might be something to  rejoice over – but not for the young slave he had captured.  She had reason to ill-wish her master, but she did not.  She conspired to bless him instead.  It was three servants, or slaves, who play a key role in this story.  They are the ones who move the narrative forward, who nudge the powerful towards right action.  The general does well to listen to the one who apparently has no power.

Naaman, who arrived in great power and pomp, causing a diplomatic incident, was not greeted by the prophet in the way he expected – but by a servant.  He was asked to take off his robes, his armour, his signs of status, and expose his vulnerable flesh.  He had to wash in a foreign river, when he had fine waterways of his own. He would have to bend down, bow into the water.
And then, he was healed, and then, what ripples flowed out from that action. The fates of nations hinged on this act which began with the words of a slave-girl.

One of the ripples was gratitude.  And that is the theme of the Gospel story.  The gratitude of one who was not part of Israel, had a different theology, different worship practices.  Nonetheless, he sought and found healing with Jesus, and was the only one of the ten who returned to say thank you.  The nine who were on home territory did not.  Perhaps the foreigner could teach us something, here.

Gratitude is a powerful and life-affirming discipline – and it is a discipline.  Gratitude sometimes flows naturally, but most of the time, we need to remind ourselves to be thankful.  We are so used to problem-solving, that we only see the things we think are broken, and cease to see what is good.  When we do, things shift.  Gratitude to God and to others can transform things – and not just for us, but for those around us, too.

And, to pick up the earlier theme again, perhaps we can consider how to bless those we think of as not like us, how to break down hostility – even if we find it in our own hearts – and do good to others.  Perhaps, like Namaan, we can also learn to receive good from the foreigner, the one we might regard as of low status.

What would the world be like if more of us lived out these two disciplines – blessing the other, and gratitude?

The following extract is from The Bible Retold

Please feel free to use these extracts if they help you, saying where they are from.

  NAAMAN FROM ARAM (2 Kings 5)

The little Israelite slave-girl was brushing out the hair of her mistress – the wife of Naaman, whose armies had captured her and brought her to Aram.
“My lady, why are you sad?” she asked.
“My husband the general’s skin is growing worse.  It must be leprosy.” She replied, weeping.
“If only my master would visit the prophet of Samaria – he would be cured!”  So Naaman went in great state, with his horses and chariots, attendants and guards, through enemy territory to Elisha’s house.  But Elisha did not go to greet his mighty guest.  He sent a slave with a message “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and you’ll be healed.”  Naaman shook with fury.
“What kind of service is this from a holy man?  I expected prayers and the laying on of hands!  But he just sends this puny messenger!  I could have washed at home!”  And he turned on his heels to leave.  But his servant intervened
“My lord, if the prophet had asked something hard of you, would you not have done it?  So why not do this simple thing?”  And so Naaman did.  He washed in the Jordan seven times, and as he came out into the bright sunlight, he looked down at his skin.  It was smooth, perfect, like that of a child.  Beaming, he rushed back to Elisha, opening his treasure chest. “Now I know that the God you serve is the true one.  Nothing else comes close.” “That is reward enough – you may keep your gold!” Elisha replied.  And Naaman went home, telling everyone of God’s great goodness.

 

And, from Prayers and Verses

May we learn to appreciate different points of view:

To know that the view from the hill is
different from the view in the valley;
the view to the east is different from the
view to the west;
the view in the morning is different from
the view in the evening;
the view of a parent is different from the
view of a child;
the view of a friend is different from the
view of a stranger;
the view of humankind is different from
the view of God.

May we all learn to see what is good, what is true,
what is worthwhile.

 

O God, help us not to despise or oppose what we do not understand.
William Penn 1644-1718

The olive tree I thought was dead
has opened new green leaves instead
and where the landmines tore the earth
now poppies dance with joy and mirth.

The doves build nests, they coo and sigh
beside the field where corn grows high
and grapes hang heavy on the vine,
and those who fought share bread and wine.

 

Lord, because you have made me, I owe you the whole of my love;
because you have redeemed me, I owe you the whole of myself;
because you have promised so much, I owe you all of my being.
I am wholly yours by creation: make me all yours, too, in love.

Anslem, 1033-1109

May we enter into God’s conspiracies of blessing this week.
Keat’s Autumn is on my mind at the moment, with the wonderful phrase, “conspire to bless”!

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Last autumn, I went to a warm and inspiring poetry morning in Burgh parish schoolroom – a tiny but beautiful space on the edge of the ancient churchyard.  It was part of a series of such mornings, but I was only able to make this one.   The people there made me so welcome, and we shared tea and cake and some beautiful poetry on the theme of Autumn, which we had all experienced on our way.  As I left, one of the other people there kindly offered me a fig from her garden.  It was most precious.  I took it home and baked it with a little sherry and honey, and eating it was an act of thanksgiving – for her kindness, for the morning, the welcome, the poetry,  the beauty of the season, for life.
As it baked, I wrote this.

Thank you again.

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The fig is heavy in my cupped hand,
warm, still, from the sun,
purple and green.
I walk slowly, for the skin
is thin, ready to burst open.
I feel the juice, the seeds,
move inside, sway with me
as I walk

from the room.

There was cake,
and bunting,
and people,
and we read together – Keats’
“Ode to Autumn”,
while the hawberries glowed
from one window,
while the brown stubblefield sloped
through the other.

How rich, how full
this life.
An unexpected gift,
fragile in my hand.