Poem: Butterfly Path

This next poem is another written following a walk by our river, the Deben, as we make our way down towards the sea.

You can read the first, Waldringfield Salt Marshes, Seal, by following the link.

This poem is about a diversion.  We could not pick up the walk where we left off, by the seal, on the other side of the water.  The footpath was closed, there were diggers and warning signs as the flood defences were being shored up.  We took another route, and were rewarded by butterflies.  I am seeking to learn the names of the many wondrous plants and animals I see, to name them and honour their names.

Some of you may have come across the beautiful book, The Lost Words, written in response to the Oxford English Dictionary’s decision to lose nature words from its children’s edition.  It’s a beautiful, elegaic work – incantations of the names that are nearly, but not quite, lost.  Musicians too have responded, and I have been listening to The Lost Words Blessing, as I seek to do the work of honouring the natural world, and learning its names. It’s a fine piece of music, from Folk by the Oak. I find the lyrics very moving, and resonant.  They express what I hope to do in many of these poems, so coming across the piece was like finding someone who shares a way of seeing the world. Each verse begins with a variation on this refrain:

“Walk through the world with care, my love
And sing the things you see
Let new names take and root and thrive and grow”

You can read them all under the video, reached through the link above.

I didn’t take any pictures of the butterflies, unfortunately, but here are some from the Butterfly Conservation website.

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Butterfly path

Evening.  High summer.
To our right the open grass
ripples in the breeze.
And a kestrel hovers,
tail splayed, intent on
what is beneath

the surface of this
silvergreen
watery rippling,
while we walk
down the path
by its side.

Less a path, more a strip of
wildness, of wood and scrub.
Rich with nettles and pink
flowered brambles
and tumbles of flowers
under the shade of thorns
and oaks and hornbeams,
and before us, and around us
on our bright sandy path,
are butterflies.

Ringlet and meadow brown,
the showier admirals,
tortoiseshells and commas,
gatekeeper, small copper –
I am learning these names,

saying these names
for a beauty
I hardly ever see.
Years ago, they say,
butterflies rose in clouds
about you as you walked.

We did not intend to take this path.
Our planned way,
by the river,
was closed.
And so, I receive this shimmer
of beauty as a gift,
in a harmony
of grassland and field edge,
and scrub and wood –
We walk amongst plenty,
amongst what could yet be,
again, cradled in lightness,
and sadness for
what we have lost.
We walk quietly among
many wings,
eyes open,
wide open.

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: Longing for Rain – Lockdown 32

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We had an intensely hot, dry stretch of weather, in May, which was a time when the few miles to the sea was an impossible journey.  Even as the lockdown eased, and journeys became more possible, we’ve been tentative in our outings, and sought out remote and deserted stretches of coast.  I have been recalling the longing for rain, and the longing for the sea, even as the garden revives, and we’ve heard and smelled the sea.  I’ve been turning those two things over in my mind.

This poem expresses some of the longings of lockdown, and is part of the series of poems that are emerging at this time.  I feel we may be getting closer to the end of that series, and then, it may be time for something new to emerge.

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Longing for Rain  Lockdown 32

The sea has felt so far away,
here, in this sheltered space.
The sound of water lapping,
lapping, seems miles of
dry ground from here,
while the little strawberries
are hard and intense,
like jelly sweets,
and the grass begins to yellow,
and leaves curl,
under a white sky

There is a symmetry
to this longing.
The journey I long to make –
to the sea, to the
spume and the sea mist,
the grey stones and the brown waters,
and the journey I long for
those waters to make –
to visit us here
on this drying land,
blown by the wind
on rivers of cloud,
then falling softly –
hissing, hot-earth-smelling
rain.

May our paths cross,
our journeys
be completed,
may the life-giving waters
soak and soothe us.
May it be so.

Sunday Retold: The road to Emmaus

I thought I’d share with you a reading from my book, The Bible Story Retold, and something from Prayers and Verses, as we continue thinking and praying through Easter this year.  As with all the Sunday Retold series, I hope it will be of help for all ages, wherever you find yourself.

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The road to Emmaus by Daniel Bonnell

Things often emerge while walking.  Conversations can be deeper.  These two disciples, possibly husband and wife – Mary, wife of Clopas was at the foot of the cross – were leaving Jerusalem, their world fallen apart, talking over all that had happened.

Maybe, when we are out walking, we can be open to noticing the ways we need to talk through our fears and sadnesses, and then, be open to the possibility of a new perspective, a new vision, a new life.  It’s worth noticing how Jesus gave them time and space to tell them their story from their own perspective, and then, how he invited them into a new way of looking.

On the road

Two of Jesus’ followers left Jerusalem that day, walking to the village of Emmaus.  While they walked, they began to talk about all that had happened.  And as they shared their grief and bewilderment, Jesus joined them and walked with them. But they did not know who he was.
“What are you talking about?” he asked.

They stopped, and stood still on the white, dusty road. “Are you the only one from Jerusalem who doesn’t know what’s been going on?” said Cleopas.
“Tell me!” said Jesus.
“There was a prophet called Jesus of Nazareth, a true man of God. But the chief priests handed him over to be killed, and he was crucified.” Clopas paused. “We had hoped he was the one God had promised from long ago.  But then…. today, some of the women went to the tomb and came back saying it was empty, and that Jesus was alive!” For a moment, hope glimmered in Cleopas’s eyes, but then he shook his head.

“But don’t you see?” Jesus said.  “Haven’t you read the teachings of the prophets?  Don’t you know that these things had to happen?” And so he began to explain.  It was as if he were unrolling scroll after scroll along the road before them – all the Law, and all the teachings of the prophets – letting them see that the Messiah had to suffer and die and rise again.
“Stay with us, it’s getting dark!” the pair said as they came to Emmaus.  So Jesus stayed at their home.  Then, at the table, he took bread, and blessed it, and broke it to share with them.  In that breaking and sharing of bread, their eyes were suddenly opened and, with a gasp, they recognized it was Jesus who sat before them. But then he slipped from their sight.

“Did you feel it too, as we walked along? That buning – that deep, rising joy – that sudden understanding?” they asked each other as they grabbed their cloaks.  And they set off back to their friends in Jerusalem through the thickening darkness, laughing with joy, and leaving their supper on the table.

You can read the story in Luke’s gospel

 

From Prayers and Verses

When we are sad, help us to speak of our sorrow, and hear words of hope.  Help us know you walk with us, as you walked with the two on the Emmaus road.  Help us to recognise you in the breaking and sharing of bread, as you warm our hearts with your joy.

 

Please feel free to share my work, saying where it is from.

Jesus said, I Am – for Lent. Chapter 6 – I am the way, the truth and the life.

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This Lent, under the shadow of coronavirus, we are all giving up more than we anticipated.  Some of us are staying inside, perhaps feeling anxious, while others work to care for the sick, and to provide food and essential services for us all.  It’s a time when we need to find new ways of supporting each other, and connecting, as we thought about last week.

As we’re staying indoors at present, I thought I’d share with you some photos taken as we walked the Norfolk Coast Path a couple of years ago.  It’s good to remember beautiful places we’ve been to in the past, and share them, and think about good things we’ll do, with such gratitude, again soon.

I did hear an excellent idea, especially if you have children who are missing their friends and their favourite activities….. Take a large jar, and write down on pieces of paper the names of people you want to see, and things you want to do, as they come to mind and you miss them.  Make it colourful.  You’ll then have a beautiful jar to look at, and a collection of things to really look forward to doing as you pull them out of the jar, one by one, when we are outside again.

We are keeping each other safe, keeping our vulnerable people and our medical people safe, by giving up our going out and doing things.  This is a real act of love.

Back to our Lent series.  Once again, these familiar stories and words of Jesus seem to take on an added depth of meaning as we consider them from inside – inside our homes, inside this strange time we are living through.  Thank you for joining in.  I hope that, by reading and praying together, we may be aware of all that connects us.

As we enter the traditional season of Passiontide, drawing closer to the Cross, we enter too, in our reading, an intense dialogue between Jesus and his friends, in which Jesus seeks to explain the terrible thing that is going to happen.  To prepare them, and to show them the necessity for it.

We will touch on the themes of Way, Truth and Life here, and seek to work them into our days.
We are continuing this Lent series drawing on my book, Jesus said, I am – finding life in the everyday.

John 13- 14

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Jesus knows that the time when he will be abandoned and betrayed by his friends, and then crucified, is getting close now.  Knowing this, despite this, he loves them to the end.  Knowing that the Father had put all things into his hands, he strips and kneels and washes their feet.  He gives them bread.  In doing so and by what he says, he tries to prepare his friends for what will come – must come.  He does so with sadness and compassion.  These are dark and difficult words.  But, there is more.  There is also a vision of love, service and life itself – the way of the Spirit, the Comforter. It offers them a way they can live when Jesus is no longer with them  They do not want to see ahead to such a time.  This next ‘I am’ saying is part of all this preparation – showing them a way forward – a way that will endure.  Jesus is that way.  He will remain that way, even after.

We are not there yet, though.  We need to stand back a little and see more clearly

 

The towel

Jesus gets up from the table, strips off his outer clothes, wraps a towel around his waist and kneels to wash his friends’ feet.  This is part of the way ahead – the way of love and service.  It is an instruction for how they are to live when he is gone.  They are to imitate this act – and a concrete task can help us through a difficult time.  It is hard for them to receive it.  This kneeling and washing, acting like a humble servant, is part of the self-emptying way that Jesus is following, a small foreshadowing of the self- emptying of the cross.  The way of love and life passes through the darkness of death.

………

Glory

No wonder it was hard to grasp.  This is what glory looks like: tying a towel around your waist, a friend leaving to betray you with the taste of bread still in his mouth, being lifted up on a cross.

What might it mean for us, to know there is glory even here?

This encounter between Jesus and Judas – as he washed his feet, as he shared bread with him – has given me much to think about.  I wrote about it here.

However much they did not understand, his friends did seem to grasp that he was going to leave them.  That this leaving would be for their good – that it would bring them the greatest good  – was beyond them.  The loss of Jesus could not be but terrible in their eyes.

And so, he tries to frame it for them.

Something profoundly essential is happening – terrible as it is – that will ultimately work for the good.

This is the only way.

A spacious home

Jesus gives them a picture of what the good will be – a picture of the host going on ahead to prepare rooms, or dwelling places. This is why he must leave, to unlock the door, to get things ready, to open and air the rooms.  It is a large and spacious illustration, one that would conjure up Middle-Eastern principles of hospitality and welcome…..

There is an expansion in these pictures, and a deep sense that Jesus will go to considerable pains, even to the loss of his life, to bring home the sheep, to make a place in the Father’s house.  Images of hospitality abound in the other three gospels, for the kingdom – images of banquets and wedding feasts and wide tables. Here, we find these: a large and hospitable house, a generous sheepfold.

It is entirely understandable that Thomas replies, “We don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”  Now is the ‘I am’ moment: “I am the way, the truth, and the life”.  Can we think of a person as a destination? For that is what we are invited to do. ….

As we seek to walk along the way of love and service, we walk along with Jesus.  We remember that the earliest name given to Jesus’ people was not Christians, but followers of the Way.  We walk with Jesus, and with each other, on this path.  That is the way.

It is Jesus who is Way, Truth and Life all. That begins to shift us to a different way of understanding what these things might be.

The reality behind it all, the reality we can trust, is love.  That is why Jesus goes on ahead through what we cannot, and then comes back for us again.

The way of love is not soft, comfortable or secure.  It will take Jesus to hell and back.  It will take him to the very worst that can be done to a human being. This is the way that humanity will see God’s outstretched arms, and be liberated to enter abundant, overflowing life.  Jesus is making the way.

Way, truth and life are here.

“In him was life, and the life was the light of all people.” John 1:14

Reflection and response

John often has parallels, patterns in his Gospel.  You might like to think about Mary kneeling to anoint Jesus’ feet (see last week’s post) and Jesus kneeling before the disciples.  You can use the pictures in each post to imagine what it would have been like to be there. You might like to think about what they have in common.

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Further Study

Exodus 12:1-28
Consider more deeply these themes of the Passover: slavery and servanthood; a meal overshadowed by death and departing. Do these help your reading of the last supper?

I am struck by the fact that the Passover celebrates liberation from slavery, and this newly formed Passover – the Last Supper – includes a command to imitate the actions of a slave – washing feet – in free loving generosity.

It might be worth opening our minds to consider how often the plagues we see in the Hebrew Scriptures are seen as connected to oppression, inequality and injustice. That’s a big theme, and a diversion from our current study, but it may be worth noticing as we consider what kind of world we want to help make when we do emerge from our time of isolation.

 
How do you respond?

Creative Response

Foot washing
You will need: water, washable pens, paper, kitchen paper.

Imagine Jesus kneeling before you to wash your feet.  Imagine you are there, in that upper room. What do you feel at first? What do you feel at the end? You might like to paint your response.

You could use washable pens on your hands, remembering things that do not fit with the command to love.  Then dip your hands in water and watch them become clean.

Thank Jesus for his loving sacrifice and his example.  Thank him for the gift of forgiveness.

Remember a time when someone offered you love, and practical service. What was that like? Remember a time when you did the same for someone else.

Think of what it means to be a leader like this.  Where do you have opportunities to lay aside status and simply serve?

 

Life and Service

Love
In every situation today, take this as your starting point: how can I best love and serve this person, these people?

My Father’s House
Think about times you have received hospitality, and given it.  What stays in your mind?
Can you expand your current practices of hospitality – even a small step?

For both of the above, we will need to adapt in our current circumstances, and consider acts of service and hospitality even that make space for people, hold patience when people are stressed or afraid, considering new forms of hospitality and connection online.

And below, we will all need to use the option for those who have difficulty getting about.  We can think of ways of doing a virtual pilgrimage with friends, perhaps sharing places that have meant something to us online, and describing the experience.

We can also plan what we would like to do when the time is right.

Pilgrimage

You may wish to go on a journey with a spiritual purpose and particular destination in mind.  You could travel far or go on a walking tour of local places of worship and ancient holy sites. You could use maps and photos to imagine yourself on such a journey if mobility is an issue.  You can go with friends, or alone.

Take a look after the photos for another suggestion for walking the way….

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These three are taken on a walk near Wandlebury Ring in Cambridgeshire.

Labyrinth

Make a labyrinth.  It could be a large one in the garden, temporary and marked with twis or stones, on a roll of paper or old sheet for indoors, or a small one on paper you could walk with your finger.  Walk it prayerfully, becoming aware of the presence of Jesus with you and you make your way.

Have a look online for suggestions and resources.  This might be a good project for self isolation.

Truth

In the current state of our news and social media, I think this response below is particularly relevant.  I would add to it now, as we are all empowered to generate our own content, and to share stories….. what are we spreading?  Is it true, loving, kind? Does it promote understanding or division?

It is also worth considering how much news we consume.  It is important to be well informed, but we can so easily be sucked into relentless news coverage which leaves us feeling passive and afraid.

 

Truth

Be on the lookout this week for where and how you learn about the world.  Look at your news sources.  Consider how you listen to more personal news from friends and colleagues.  Whom do you trust and believe? If you do not already do so, consider fact-checking, and reading and viewing things from perspectives that differ from your own.  What do you find out?

Be particularly alert to this question: does this presentation of the facts encourage love and peace between people, or fear, hatred and hostility?
Does it help or hinder me in loving God and loving others?

 

Thank you for reading.

Please feel free to share any of the material you find helpful, saying where it is from.

If you’d like a copy of the book, you can ask your local bookshop – some are taking phone orders and delivering, or order online.

Here are a few suggestions:

The publishers, BRF

Amazon

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Bless you.  Thank you for joining me, and with each other, in this walk.

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Poem – Poldhu Cove #EverybodyNow

I’m carrying on with this season of posting work which speaks of Earth’s beauty, and at times my sadness as that beauty, the very life of the Earth, is under threat.   As the Extinction Rebellion protests continue in London and elsewhere, I hope that some of these short pieces with help remind us of the astonishing loveliness, variety and vulnerability of the systems of earth and ocean, forest and animal that nurture us all.

We need to reconnect, to feel again a love and delight in the goodness of it all.  All the good earth.  I hope what I am sharing with you today, words and pictures, will help.

Today, I am sharing with you a poem wrote on a Cornish beach just over a week ago, some of the time sheltering under a towel from the rain, all of the time completely in awe of the vast waves.  While we were in Cornwall, we discovered the work of the extraordinary photographer Mike Lacey, whose work captures the beauty and the power of the sea.  His work is well worth exploring, and supporting.  All the pictures on this post are his.  His work shows you what, in the words of my poem, I wish I could show you.

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Poldhu Cove

I wish I could show you
the turquoise water,
rolling and rising high above,
rolling from the wide sea
into the dark arms of this cove,

With its little stream crossing the beach,
sandy, dune-grassy,
with piles of grey shingle, lined with quartz,
and the crosswaves that meet there
at the stream bed as the water rolls
back from the rocks that welcome it.

I wish you could feel how warm the water is, here,
where it’s shallow, and the longing,
and the fear, to go out deeper.
And I wish I could show you the light folded into
those great waves, like glass as they rise above you,
above the line of the horizon,
as you feel, with a strange joy,
your smallness, your body’s softness,
how easy it would be to be tumbled in this light
overturned in this water,
upended –

And the cold wind prickling the skin of your
outstretched arms,
open to welcome this Atlantic, nonetheless,
as your damp hair whips,
as you are part of all this,
knowing your place,
feeling your place.

 

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This is one of the poems I have uploaded onto the lovely Places of Poetry map. If you are in the UK, why not see what’s been added where you are?

Poem – The wings of Gabriel’s Wood #EverybodyNow

Today I’m sharing another poem to mark Extinction Rebellion’s actions in London and elsewhere.
There’s a long tradition of poetry helping us to see both more clearly and more deeply – it can help us linger on those moments of beauty and connection with the natural world that remind us of our proper place, and inspire us to love and to act.

This poem was a scrap in my notebook for some time.  It describes the experience of entering Gabriel’s Wood on the Golden Cap (Dorset) estate in the path of the remains of a hurricane.  The living things that gathered there seemed less disturbed by my presence while seeking shelter from the coming storm.  We had a commonality of purpose, and a connection.

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The Wings of Gabriel’s Wood

Far above the wood fly buzzards –
I can see four,
or five –
young who have grown
and ready to fly,
their thin cries
carry on the wind.

They are harried by crows,
dark, gyring to keep moving
as the wind booms in the trees,
as their feathers twist.

Entering under the dome of trees,
into a loud stillness, I join
pheasants who are sheltering,
and a tiny wren who skirts
the ground like a mouse,
and fat pigeons picking up acorns
that clatter like hail,
and warblers who snatch notes,
not risking a song.

The wood is full of wings,
folded, sheltering.
And I too take my shelter here,
a creature, too, before the storm,
in this loud wood,
among the falling leaves.

Poem – The Cave and the Quarry #EverybodyNow

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Gibsons Cave and Summerhill Force by David Allen

Here is a poem, part of a series of posts that mark the Extinction Rebellion protests which are drawing our attention to the damage we are doing to the world around us.

It’s about a walk in Teesdale, in the North East of England, which I did with my husband.  We followed rivers upstream, past waterfalls.  This one, with its legends of runaways hiding behind the water, caught my imagination.  In the North East, you don’t go far without stumbling across remnants of past industries, and here it was a quarry.  These places can be desolate, they can remind us of the costs of changing the way we live for those whose livelihoods, whose families, depend on the way things are.  They remind us of the importance of imagining new ways of living, that promote dignity and independence, as well as creativity and sustainability.

What struck me here, though, and elsewhere, was the power of nature to return and to thrive even in places that seem wrecked and spoiled.  Whatever political and social difficulties we may face in times of transition, living things will come back to desolate places, given half a chance.

“For there is hope for a tree,
if it is cut down, that it will sprout again,
and that its shoots will not cease.
Though its root grows old in the earth,
and its stump dies in the ground,
yet at the scent of water it will bud
and put forth branches like a young plant”
Job 14:7-9

May it be so.  May the trees that we have cut down sprout again, may the scars we have cut into the earth be healed, may the land sustain us, and all living things.

And so, this poem is one of hope, of the return of life, of seeing things anew.

 

The Cave and the Quarry

We followed the valley down –
Down from Gibson’s cave,
where the river poured over
a high lip of rock,
undercutting a dark, hidden place.

It stayed in my mind, that place –
What would it be like to stand there,
behind the falls,
to look at the world
through that fast, cold, brown, water?
Would it wash your eyes to
see things you hadn’t seen?
Was it an enchanted place?

It seemed so, for, walking back,
we saw an old quarry
we had not seen before,
dark, and hidden –
and now we walked by
strange hillocks –
spoil-heaps sprouting trees
like ancient burial mounds,
where crowds of small birds
bounced through the air,
landing on ledges of rock
that once were sharp, fractured.
Now, moss dripped off everything,
and there was a sign
that promised flowers,
for it asked us not to pick them,
and we wondered – what flowers would come?

And I thought as we walked down the
path that carts carrying stone had made –
how long did this take?
How long before the green
and the birds and the
trees crept back into their place?

How strong, how eager, life is.
Water, and greenness,
flowers, and small birds,
moss and grass,
they soothe our scars,
they make the dead come back to life,
we need only step back,
step back and say “yes”.

Poem: Sheringham Park Pigeons

 

 

 

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The Norfolk coast is such a beautiful and fragile place.  We walked there again,  close to cliffs that seemed to be sheering away into heaps of sand.  I tried to keep the recommended five meters from the edge.  I am not afraid of heights, but I was afraid of these cliffs.

Living in East Anglia we are very aware how precarious we are, with the power of the North Sea beside us, with the ground under our feet seeming sandy, and uncertain.  I feel the threat of that sea driven by north winds, rising as the ice melts.  These places, and the creatures that live there, like the sand martins, like us, are in uncertain times.  And although it may be tempting to despair of what is happening to our world, what our systems of greed have done and are doing to the world, I feel our sense of beauty and fragility offers us a note of hope, too.  The sorrow for what we have lost, and what we are losing – all those precious creatures, plants, places – can bring us to our senses, can help us wake up, and treasure what is close, what greets us every day with a soft, green welcome.

Sheringham Park is full of bright colour in spring – first the azaleas, then the rhododendrons.  There is a tower you can climb to look over the tops of these extraordinary banks of pink, and purple, and red.

What caught me, though, what filled me with wonder, what made me feel a part of this place, was a beech tree, and some pigeons.  The startle as they all flew away made me feel that moment, and that place – a sense of awe, of connection, of being one with a place.
It seems such a small thing in the face of potential global catastrophe – to love a place, to be awed by such ordinary things as a beech tree in new leaf, as a crowd of pigeons.  I wonder if it is such a small thing, though.  I wonder if that sense of love and connection can open us to another way of being in the Earth – humbled by its hospitality, aware we have gifts to offer in return, walking softly.

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Sheringham Park Pigeons

 At the top of the ridge –
from here the land slopes to the sea –
from the top of the tallest beech tree
singing with new green,
shining with life,
the pigeons fly
away in clattering waves,
circle after circle of them.

My steps disturbed them,
although my shoes are soft.
How could there be so many,
crashing through the blue air
in tens, in hundreds it seems,
in circles that grow wider and wider
their flights the spokes of a wheel.
And here, this smooth old grey trunk
its very centre.
Where I stand,
the very centre.

Lent: Jesus said I Am….. Week 6, The Way, Truth, and Life

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The photos in this post were taken last year, as the very short spring warmed up suddenly into summer.  We were walking the Norfolk Coast Path, which was my first long distance path – flat, and easy to navigate with the sea on one side.  It took us through many lovely, varied landscapes and small settlements.

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It helps to have an image in your mind when thinking about the Way, as we are this week.

As we enter the traditional season of Passiontide, drawing closer to the Cross, we enter too, in our reading, an intense dialogue between Jesus and his friends, in which Jesus seeks to explain the terrible thing that is going to happen.  To prepare them, and to show them the necessity for it.

We will touch on the themes of Way, Truth and Life here, and seek to work them into our days.
We are continuing this Lent series drawing on my book, Jesus said, I am – finding life in the everyday.

John 13- 14

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Jesus knows that the time when he will be abandoned and betrayed by his friends, and then crucified, is getting close now.  Knowing this, despite this, he loves them to the end.  Knowing that the Father had put all things into his hands, he strips and kneels and washes their feet.  He gives them bread.  In doing so and by what he says, he tries to prepare his friends for what will come – must come.  He does so with sadness and compassion.  These are dark and difficult words.  But, there is more.  There is also a vision of love, service and life itself – the way of the Spirit, the Comforter. It offers them a way they can live when Jesus is no longer with them  They do not want to see ahead to such a time.  This next ‘I am’ saying is part of all this preparation – showing them a way forward – a way that will endure.  Jesus is that way.  He will remain that way, even after.

We are not there yet, though.  We need to stand back a little and see more clearly.

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Jesus Washing the Feet of his Disciples, 1898 (oil and grisaille on paper) by Edelfelt, Albert Gustaf Aristides (1854-1905)

© Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, Sweden
Finnish, out of copyright

The towel

Jesus gets up from the table, strips off his outer clothes, wraps a towel around his waist and kneels to wash his friends’ feet.  This is part of the way ahead – the way of love and service.  It is an instruction for how they are to live when he is gone.  They are to imitate this act – and a concrete task can help us through a difficult time.  It is hard for them to receive it.  This kneeling and washing, acting like a humble servant, is part of the self-emptying way that Jesus is following, a small foreshadowing of the self- emptying of the cross.  The way of love and life passes through the darkness of death.

………

Glory

No wonder it was hard to grasp.  This is what glory looks like: tying a towel around your waist, a friend leaving to betray you with the taste of bread still in his mouth, being lifted up on a cross.

What might it mean for us, to know there is glory even here?

This encounter between Jesus and Judas – as he washed his feet, as he shared bread with him – has given me much to think about.  I wrote about it here.

However much they did not understand, his friends did seem to grasp that he was going to leave them.  That this leaving would be for them – that it would bring them the greatest good  – was beyond them.  The loss of Jesus could not be but terrible in their eyes.

And so, he tries to frame it for them.

Something profoundly essential is happening – terrible as it is – that will ultimately work for the good.

This is the only way.

A spacious home

Jesus gives them a picture of what the good will be – a picture of the host going on ahead to prepare rooms, or dwelling places. This is why he must leave, to unlock the door, to get things ready, to open and air the rooms.  It is a large and spacious illustration, one that would conjure up Middle-Eastern principles of hospitality and welcome…..

There is an expansion in these pictures, and a deep sense that Jesus will go to considerable pains, even to the loss of his life, to bring home the sheep, to make a place in the Father’s house.  Images of hospitality abound in the other three gospels, for the kingdom – images of banquets and wedding feasts and wide tables. Here, we find these: a large and hospitable house, a generous sheepfold.

It is entirely understandable that Thomas replies, “We don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”  Now is the ‘I am’ moment: “I am the way, the truth, and the life”.  Can we think of a person as a destination? For that is what we are invited to do. ….

As we seek to walk along the way of love and service, we walk along with Jesus.  We remember that the earliest name given to Jesus’ people was not Christians, but followers of the Way.  We walk with Jesus, and with each other, on this path.  That is the way.

It is Jesus who is Way, Truth and Life all. That begins to shift us to a different way of understanding what these things might be.

The reality behind it all, the reality we can trust, is love.  That is why Jesus goes on ahead through what we cannot, and then comes back for us again.

The way of love is not soft, comfortable or secure.  It will take Jesus to hell and back.  It will take him to the very worst that can be done to a human being. This is the way that humanity will see God’s outstretched arms, and be liberated to enter abundant, overflowing life.  Jesus is making the way.

Way, truth and life are here.

“In him was life, and the life was the light of all people.” John 1:14

Reflection and response

John often has parallels, patterns in his Gospel.  You might like to think about Mary kneeling to anoint Jesus’ feet (see last week’s post) and Jesus kneeling before the disciples.  You can use the pictures in each post to imagine what it would have been like to be there. You might like to think about what they have in common.

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Further Study

Exodus 12:1-28
Consider more deeply these themes of the Passover: slavery and servanthood; a meal overshadowed by death and departing. Do these help your reading of the last supper?

I am struck by the fact that the Passover celebrates liberation from slavery, and this newly formed Passover – the Last Supper – includes a command to imitate the actions of a slave – washing feet – in free loving generosity.
How do you respond?

Creative Response

Foot washing
You will need: water, washable pens, paper, kitchen paper.

Imagine Jesus kneeling before you to wash your feet.  Imagine you are there, in that upper room. What do you feel at first? What do you feel at the end? You might like to paint your response.

You could use washable pens on your hands, remembering things that do not fit with the command to love.  Then dip your hands in water and watch them become clean.

Thank Jesus for his loving sacrifice and his example.  Thank him for the gift of forgiveness.

Remember a time when someone offered you love, and practical service. What was that like? Remember a time when you did the same for someone else.

Think of what it means to be a leader like this.  Where do you have opportunities to lay aside status and simply serve?

 

Life and Service

Love
In every situation today, take this as your starting point: how can I best love and serve this person, these people?

My Father’s House
Think about times you have received hospitality, and given it.  What stays in your mind?
Can you expand your current practices of hospitality – even a small step?

 

Pilgrimage

You may wish to go on a journey with a spiritual purpose and particular destination in mind.  You could travel far or go on a walking tour of local places of worship and ancient holy sites. You could use maps and photos to imagine yourself on such a journey if mobility is an issue.  You can go with friends, or alone.

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In the current state of our news and social media, I think this one is particularly relevant.  I would add to it now, as we are all empowered to generate our own content, and to share stories….. what are we spreading?  Is it true, loving, kind? Does it promote understanding or division?

Truth

Be on the lookout this week for where and how you learn about the world.  Look at your news sources.  Consider how you listen to more personal news from friends and colleagues.  Whom do you trust and believe? If you do not already do so, consider fact-checking, and reading and viewing things from perspectives that differ from your own.  What do you find out?

Be particularly alert to this question: does this presentation of the facts encourage love and peace between people, or fear, hatred and hostility?
Does it help or hinder me in loving God and loving others?

 

Thank you for reading.

Please feel free to share any of the material you find helpful, saying where it is from.

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

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