Advent 4 – Love – Christmas Readings

We are getting close to the last Sunday in Advent, and I’m sharing again a post on it’s theme, Love. This year, I’ve been very struck by the contrast between this run up to Christmas, and what we have grown used to in previous years. There is a sadness and a weariness, an underlying anxiety, as we run our errands in masks, seeking to give each other space. It has brought up sharply the old notion of Advent as a time of darkness, waiting while hardly daring to hope, hardly knowing what we are waiting, or hoping, for.
And this year, as many of us are holding back from seeing those we love, we are experiencing in our often aching hearts how much Love means to us, how essential it is.  Our very essence.  So here are some readings, and thoughts, on our hope that Love still comes down at Christmas.

Andrea Skevington

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It’s getting close now….
It’s nearly midwinter, nearly the shortest day….
It’s nearly Christmas.

And I want to give my attention to the story, to let the wonder of it seep through me, and there is a pile of ironing, and things in the kitchen that need attention, even though I am keeping things simple, even though.

It’s easy to feel the darkness closing in, even though there are lights and music flashing and blaring out there. In here, it’s cosy, and the sun is setting already. I will hold on to the wonder of love being born among us, even though the circumstances could hardly have been less promising – for circumstances are never quite what we hoped, and there’s the lesson. To look deeper than circumstance. To make a courageous decision to hold on to hope, and peace, and joy, and love, even though. For these things are…

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Advent 2 – Peace

Here, I’m sharing again a post for the second week of Advent, when some traditions focus on the theme of Peace as we wait in the gathering darkness for the birth of Jesus.
If we look at the world around us, its sometimes a real challenge to hold peace in one hand, when there is so much trouble in the other. And yet, it’s there.
May you have peace today, this week, this Advent.

Andrea Skevington

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We’re drawing deeper into Advent now, the days are shortening, the cold and wet are creeping closer.  Meanwhile, the shops are full of – beautiful things, and plastic tat, and carols, and cheesy music, all jumbled and clashed together as we go from one to another, and back again.

How to hold on to some kind of centre, some kind of Peace, in the midst of lists and duties and timetables and so many forgotten-to-do-in-time things?  How to hold on to a centre, and to peace, in the midst of loss, and loneliness, and Christmas pasts? This Sunday, the second of Advent, sometimes takes the theme of Peace, and peace is much needed.

IMG_0928 This beautiful Advent ring is from The Chapel in the Fields,  and you can read more about it, and the words on it, here.

Once again, readings for this week turn to the prophets.

A shoot shall…

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Advent 1 – Hope

As Advent Sunday is getting closer, I’m sharing again a post on Hope. This year, we need hope more than ever, and the lighting of Advent candles can help us find enough light to live out our hopes as the days grow shorter.

Andrea Skevington

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Starting a little late, I thought I’d share with you some thoughts as we go through the four weeks of Advent.

This week’s theme is Hope. Ah, hope. We were talking about that in our Thursday group a few weeks ago, reflecting on how hope feels different when we hold it in difficult, uncertain times. Not as a glib avoidance strategy that it’s all fine, really, it’s all going to be fine…. but as a deliberate and courageous stance, holding on to a vision of how things could be. With politics in uproar, and the climate crisis deepening, we need courageous hope, that’s prepared to work to refashion things around us in defiance of what we see. There is real power in such acts.

During this time of darkening days, we often revisit the words of the prophets. They often spoke into desperate, unpromising circumstances with a mixture of a…

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Retold: The Burning Bush, from Exodus

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You can read a Lockdown Poem on this burning bush here.

I’ve been sharing a few poems drawing on the Exodos story, and, to sit alongside those poems, I’m also sharing extracts from my book The Bible Story Retold.

I am also sharing from its companion volume, Prayers and Verses through the Bible.

I hope that these passages will place the poems in a wider and deeper context.  Thank you to all the people who are reading my blog.  I really value your time and attention.  I’m aware that people from a wide variety of places and backgrounds gather here, in virtual space, and I hope these extracts enrich your time reading.

Here are links to the poems so far:

Pharaoh’s daughter, and the child.

God saw, and God knew.

Holy ground, barefoot.

 

And here is my retelling…. based onExodus 3 (and 4:27)

 

Then, one day, as the sheep grazed on the slopes of Mount Sinai, Moses saw something: it was bright flames leaping up from within a bush.  He began walking towards the burning bush, curious, because he saw that although it was crackling with flames, the bush was not being burned up. And then a voice called from within the flames.
“Moses, Moses!”
“Yes?”
“Don’t come any closer.  Take off your shoes, for you are on holy ground!”  Moses obeyed the voice.
“I am the God of your forefathers: the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob…”

Moses hid his face, afraid to look on God.

“… and I have heard the cries of my people.  I have seen their suffering, and felt their pain.  I want to pull them out from under their slave masters’ whips and bring them to a good, gentle land: a land of plenty.  You are the man I have chosen to send to Pharaoh.  You will rescue my people form Egypt.”

Moses was stunned, utterly shocked.  “But…. but…. I can’t! Why me? What if they ask me who sent me?”
“I am God, and I am sending you.  I am the God of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob: the God of the Israelites.”
“But…” Moses was still full of fears at the thought of returning to Egypt and speaking for his people.  He blurted them out to God: no one would listen to him; he stuttered; there had to be someone else for the job.  But God did not give up.  Glod promes to help, and to work miracles through Moses.  Aaron, Moses’ brother, would help him, and God would be with them.

So, fearful and uncertain, Moses left with his wife and sons.  And, as he raised his eyes toward Egypt, he saw his brother, Aaron, running to meet him.

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And from Prayers and Verses

Grant us a heart wide open to all this beauty; and save our souls from being so blind that we pass unseeing when even the common thornbush is aflame with your glory, O God our creator, who lives and reigns for ever and ever.
WALTER RAUSCHENBUSCH (1861–1918)

 

Dear Lord, Help us to see you today in all the ordinary things when we walk, and talk, and play; help us to know that the whole earth is full of your glory, and that the ground is holy. Amen

 

 
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil.
GERARD MANLEY HOPKINS (1844–89)

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This post draws on the Sunday Retold series on this blog, which pairs the readings and prayers together.

If you’d like to order the books, you can do so in the links in their names at the top of this post, or through your usual internet shops.  If you have a local bookshop, they should be able to order it for you quickly.

Little Free Pantry update

This is just a quick post to thank the wonderful people of Melton and Woodbridge for keeping the Little Free Pantry well stocked during the coronavirus crisis.

It’s in the porch of St Andrew’s church, and is opened by volunteers every day.  We aim to have it available from 10 am to 5 pm seven days a week.

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Thank you to Elaine for the photos, and keeping an eye on things.  Thank you to everyone who has participated, either by giving or by taking food.

 

It’s very simple.

Give what you can, take what you need.

The porch is open, and unstaffed, so you are free to come and visit the pantry if there is no one else there, without coming in to contact with anyone else. You are free to bring food, or take food, or both. It’s free, and freely available.  It’s a sign of neighbours loving each other, and of the love of God which holds us all.

 

It’s so good that our community is working together in this way, taking care of each other.  A hopeful sign.

 

Poem: Nightingale – Lockdown Poems 23

I wonder if this poem is more of an unLockdown Poem, written as it was after a short trip out to a small scrap of heath between wood and river so close to our house. I had been feeling too tired to walk for a few days, and this was the first short outing.  I am very glad I went.  Since I have understood and learned to hear the nightingales, I am aware that there are many near where we live – they appeared in the last poem, Night Music, and will again.

I have no photos of my own of nightingales, such illusive birds, who like to hide away, but here are a few things from the internet.  Perhaps, if you don’t already recognise the song, you’ll find you do hear them after listening.  If you haven’t had a chance to catch up with The Verb, from Radio 3, the episode on Birdsong begins with singing with nightingales, before my poem, The Blackbird. The tradition of poetry about nightingales is also touched on, and people’s responses to the sound over thousands of years.  It’s beautiful.

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Photo from free sounds library

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My local wood.

 

 

Nightingale  Lockdown Poems 23

It’s the quality of sound,
rather than any melody –
loud,  round embodied timbre,
rills and repeats
and variations, strange,
almost more than mechanical,
more than the ghost
in the machine,
the spirit and the flesh,

Stunning the air to silence.

There, in the thicket, in the
low grown oak,
overlooking the creek.
I stop, and let my heart
steady, and listen.

I have never been certain
of it before,
the nightingale’s song –
and I was expecting
more song,
more melody,
less strangeness,
less command of the evening
held by such a soft
brown and
hidden bird

Sound

Stunning me to silence.

Poem: Alpine strawberries – Lockdown 15

Welcome to the next in this series of Lockdown Poems.  Although things are growing busier, and there is far more traffic on the road, many of us are still at home.   Some are islolating.  It is an unsettling, and a frightening time, this time of venturing out a little. And for those who are braving going back to work, maybe a glimpse of green growing things will help too.

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As I was looking at the unfolding of the strawberry flowers, I was thinking of all that was hidden, folded within the bud, waiting.  The beauty of the flower, and the prospect of fruit.  Same with the apple blossom, and, perhaps, same with the moments and days themselves.  I thought of how time changed within the deep moments of prayer, too, when we find we are in an enfolded moment, upheld in love.

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Alpine Strawberries – Lockdown poems 15

The white flowers of the
alpine strawberries are
opening, everywhere,
under the hum of insects,
under their faint perfume,
groundcover where
newts hide,
and slugs, no doubt.

Each day lengthens,
each day seeming
to hold an infinity
folded within itself,
opening out,
nonetheless, endless,
as the patterns
run on –

Wind and sun,
sun and wind,
playing against each other
as the new apple tree shakes,
holding its new blossom.
Life bending before
time – supple, resilient,
turning to sun –
hopeful, relentless.

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Poem: Two Trees – Lockdown poems 5

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The next poem that came from this Lockdown is a little different from the others at first glance.  Once again, it was emerged on the page, and has had minimal tweeks.  I was intrigued to find it there.  Its subject is the trees in the Garden of Eden, and it asks tentative questions about human nature, and the human experience, which they raise for me.  I have wondered before why the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil was prohibited, when so many religious systems seem very preoccupied with such knowlege.  I have wondered too how Jesus’ warnings against judging help us understand that, and balanced those warnings with the image of knowing a tree by its fruit, as he advises us to do.

I find it helps to allow the images – of trees, and fruit – to grow in our minds, and see what kind of shoots emerge. This is not a theological exploration, but a poetic instinct. Here,  I have been asking questions of myself, in a kind of uncertain echo of a chatechism, and allowed the questions to be there, partially or inadequately answered.  What if there is a choice, moment by moment – the fruit of the knowlege of good and evil, the fruit of life?  Might that have something to say to us as we seek to choose life, again and again?  Can we say yes to life, moment by moment, even in these moments?

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I don’t have two trees growing in the centre of my garden, but I do have this tree, whose early morning shadow delights me.  I hope you can make it out. The early light was tricky.  I thought I’d offer it to you to see if it might help give another image to add to the trees in this poem – a growing tree and its shadow.

 

 

Two trees – lockdown 5

Two trees grow in the midst of the garden; the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.   paraphrase from Genesis 2:9

What if we stand
in the middle of the garden,
choosing the wrong tree,
moment by moment,
again and again?
There they both grow –
tall, beautiful,
pleasing to the eye,
laden with fruit.

And we are drawn to one,
not the other, at least at first.
Wanting power to say things are
this, or that, the illusion of
control, wanting to judge,
wanting to be right.

Do we need to lay all that
hollow fruit aside in order
to eat from the tree of life?
I think so, yes,
Maybe empty-handed is better.

And what if we had made
a different choice
from the beginning?
Chosen that other tree,
unprohibited,
free.
What indeed!
And yet we did not,
and ever since, we have
hungered for its fruit.

And can we choose differently
now, each day, each moment?
I think so, yes, I think that we can
set down the fruit that
sours and spoils,
and choose life
again, and again,
and again.

Poem: Today, sound. Lockdown Poems1

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As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I am writing during this lockdown – as a way of expressing something, as a way of grounding myself in the physical experience of where I am, of keeping some kind of a record of what this time feels like, which is very different from what watching the news feels like, at least for me.  What emerges from this practice is simple, free, unpolished.

My notebook comes with me into the garden, and so it’s to the garden that I invite you now, especially if you are in a place where you have no view of green growing things, and hear no birdsong. I am aware how fortunate I am to have such a place, and how much harder it is to navigate this time without sight of spring.  So I hope that, as I share these poems with you, you can come outside in your imagination, and sit on the bench, and rest awile in the sun.

 

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Today – sound.  
Lockdown poems 1

Today, it is quiet.
Cars, if they pass at all,
come one by one, strung out,
separate,
dark beads running along
a dark thread.
The old sound comes, and goes,
comes, and goes.

Here, today, in this green space,
we hear, instead, the buzz of
long-tongued bees, feasting
and drunk among the primroses.
Primroses, spilling yellow,
everywhere, in the lawn
on which a faint dark
line threads – the path
of a soft deer
who comes by night.
And above, now,
buzzards and hawks
have the high sky to themselves,
flying in their wide circles.

I hear now, as if for the first time,
full birdsong, triumphant, liberated.
Suddenly an audience has turned
from its spent tables
towards this wide green stage,
and listened, amazed,
as loud song rises louder,
louder, knowing it will be heard.

 

 

 

 

Thank you – Jesus said I Am – publication day

A year ago, on the Friday evening, we had a little launch for my new book, Jesus said, I am.
I am so grateful to all who helped support me then, and who have done so much to encourage me since.

Andrea Skevington

I just wanted to say thank you for the help and encouragement people have given me as this book has been launched. It’s been a very special time.

Here are a few pictures from the evening at St Andrew’s Melton.

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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

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