Poem: Dark Iris – Lockdown 24

The next of these Lockdown Poems also contains an excursion, like the last.

This excursion is different, though, as it is one of memory.  Looking at the irises stirred up three memories.  Although one of the things I am seeking to do with these writings is to stay in the moment, to stay connected to what is before me, other thoughts will come, and this time I welcomed them.  Memory can prove rich when our daily experience is curtailed, and days can seem alike.

The third of these memories is of the beautiful Alde Valley Festival we went to last year, and in particular the huge iris paintings by Jelly Green, which I loved.

Memory can help, and can enrich our presence in the moment.  I am still exploring what those dark tongues of the iris may be saying to me.

 

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Dark Iris  lockdown 24

I am looking out at the
dark irises,
newly unfolding,
stem swinging like
an inverted pendulum
above the singing yellow
of the euphorbia,
looking at their tongues
of darkness,
their deep hearts,
rimmed with purple.

I remember three things –
my last art project at school:
the careful, layered painting
of purple, the sadness
at laying my brush down….

The iris bed at college:
white hard ground,
clear hot sky,
the background
anxiety of summer,
looking into their secret hearts…

Last year, Alde Valley Festival:
when festivals could happen –
those huge canvasses,
the exuberant life of the paint,
the depth of purple,
shading to night at
their very centres.

I am drawn into these
dark hearts,
to listen to the whispering
of those tongues,
to see, from within,
what they are –
and they are
illuminated,
purple and dazzling,
shining
in the high bright sun.

 

Poem: What Matters – Lockdown 14, and being on The Verb

This next Lockdown poem looks up to the sky – but it picks up the theme of bird calls,  a theme that has woven through these poems.  We’ll return to today’s poem later, but first I’d like to share with you a little bit about Friday.

Birdsong was the theme of Friday 15th’s edition of The Verb.  You can listen to it by following that most recent link.  I was enormously excited to have my poem, The Blackbird included.  My contribution is a little after 20 minutes in, but I would start at the beginning if you can.  The section on nightingales is so lovely.  It was strange having something that was part of my spontaneous record of lockdown being shared so wideley, and I felt a little nervous, and vulnerable, as it went out.  But I know that is somehow the point of this series, or sequence –  that it is unpolished, private even.  I hope it connects with people reading and listening because of that.  We don’t know where this is going, or where these poems will take us. It is, like everything else, a work in progress, a step into the unknow.

It was so good to find my recording in such excellent company on the programme, opening up, exploring, a love of birdsong, in particular as a means of deepening our connection with and affection for the rest of the natural world.  It is a feature of this lockdown, in spring, that many of us have been able to hear the birds with greater clarity, and deeper joy, than busy lives usually allow.

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Back to today’s poem, also featuring birds and their calls – a crow this time, a very different experience, and very powerful.  As it was a moment of aerial combat, I didn’t take any photos to share with you, but crows have featured in my poems before.  Here are links to two  – Crows and Crow, on the lawn

In the absence of photos, and continuing the home produced theme, here’s an experiment at linocutting to sit alongside the poem.

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One thing many of us are doing during this lockdown is thinking about what matters.  Our priorities seem sharper, and values clearer.  I thought of that as I watched this crow.

What matters  Lockdown 14

Sudden, sharp, deep –
I know that crow-call
and look up, suddenly,
sharply, to see one solitary
bird, small in the wide blue,
small next to the great buzzard
it harries, and parries.

The buzzard twists away,
and edges, back,
and twist, and edges,
back and back,
weaving a brown thread
through the relentlessly blue sky.

Just one crow, keeping them safe,
keeping the nest and the young
and the tribe safe,
for surely the buzzard must know
it’s too much bother to bother
with these, so well defended.

Does the crow feel fear,
anger, rage?
I do not think he makes
a cool calculation of odds.
The crow knows what matters,
defends what matters,
threading the blue with
its black zigzag,
keeping all safe.

Holy Week at home – Some readings, poems, and Good Friday resources here on my blog.

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As we approach Easter, many people take time to focus on the journey Jesus makes towards the cross.  Our usual practices at this time are those of meeting together, and remembering together.  We can’t do that this year.  Instead, as we stay inside, for love of each other, we will have to do things differently.

Perhaps we can focus on an inner journey, something quieter, more contemplative.  As we do so, we may find, as many have before, that we get to a place of deeper connection, more grounded truth, fuller love.  We may find new meaning in Jesus’ teaching and example, of letting things fall away, of finding himself alone, of allowing.

In case it helps, I’ve gathered together some of the blog posts here that you might find help.  I will add to it as more things occur to me, and as I write and update more.

Please feel free to use any of the resources you find helpful, and to share them, saying where they are from.
A little explanation about  Easter Retold

The Retold thread of my blog gives you sections from my book, “The Bible Story Retold in Twelve Chapters”, and “Prayers and Verses” that sits alongside it.  You can get hold of these through the internet, and maybe your local bookshop if they take orders for delivery.  It’s good for all ages, and is used in family services and care homes.

The House at Bethany, the Raising of Lazarus

Many spend time with this Gospel story in Holy Week.  It’s a story that means a great deal to me.  You can find some links below.

Sunday Retold – Lazarus raised from the dead

Here you will find the readings, and some things to ponder, as well as one of my Mary at your feet poem.  If you would like to focus on the poetry, you could go here:

The ‘Mary, at your feet’ poems – Two

The ‘Mary, at your feet’ poems – Three
This last also contains a contemplative prayer/writing exercise.

There are readings, things to do, things to reflect on, in the I Am series which draws on another of my books.

Jesus said, I Am – for Lent. Chapter 5, the Resurrection and the Life

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Artist – Frank Wesley

 

Other Holy Week stories – You can find these in Chapter 11 of my retelling – both editions:  The Bible Story Retold, and The Lion Classic Bible, which share the same text.  The second of these has lovely illustrations by Sophie Williamson.

Prayers and Verses also has a section in Chapter 11 called The Road to Good Friday, which you might find useful.

Maundy Thursday – The Last Supper, Jesus washes their feet.

Retold –
Retold: Maundy Thursday

Poem- Poem: Jesus washes Judas’ feet.

We also find two of the great I Am sayings in this narrative:
Jesus said, I Am – for Lent. Chapter 6 – I am the way, the truth and the life.

Jesus said, I Am – For Lent. Chapter 7, Vine

Later in the evening, when Jesus is arrested, there is a further I Am moment:

Lent: Jesus said I Am …… Holy Week, I am he – Jesus betrayed

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Jesus Washing the Feet of his Disciples, 1898 (oil and grisaille on paper) by Edelfelt, Albert Gustaf Aristides (1854-1905) chalk and grisaille on paper 58×47 © Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, Sweden Finnish, out of copyright

Good Friday

Retold: Good Friday Retold

Now, we come to the new poems I’ve written for Good Friday – based on the seven sentences Jesus spoke from the cross. I’ve put them together with some readings, music, and art, to give you a Good Friday Meditation.  I’ve recorded the readings and poems, and they should appear on YouTube, on Good Friday, under my name.  I’ll post the links here when that happens

The poems themselves: Poems – Seven Sentences from the Cross

The meditations: A Good Friday Meditation – including 7 new poems

And I’ll add the YouTube material here.

Francisco_de_Zurbarán_Angus Dei

Angus Dei  Francisco de Zurbaran

 

Easter Sunday

A simple retelling: Retold: Easter Day!

If you are following in my books of Bible retellings and prayers, Chapter 12 moves us into New Life.

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Thank you for joining me.  I hope you find these things help.
Keep safe and well.
Bless you.

A Good Friday Meditation – including 7 new poems

Welcome to this Good Friday Meditation.  This year, I had been invited to lead a meditation for a group of local churches, and was hoping to be able to put together something a little like what we have below.  Instead, we will be following this meditation online, on Good Friday afternoon, and I believe others will be joining in.

I am posting it early in case you might like to join in too.  As we cannot meet together this year, you might want to find a time when you can go through the meditation, perhaps with others.  I have  put together a very simple structure: a reading from the gospel story, one of my poems based on Jesus’ words from the cross, and a response from Psalm 22.

To that I have added music suggestions, with links to YouTube.  The music reflects a variety of styles, so please feel free to go with what you like.  If you find YouTube sends you a lot of ads, do remember the “skip Ad” box, bottom right, and the mute button!  If YouTube is distracting, you can go through without music, or find something else from another source.  The music is to help lead us into prayer, contemplation, worship, so whatever helps you do those things.  I anticipate the whole thing taking about an hour, depending how we go with the music.  Of course, you can always leave music playing in a tab while reading the next section of words.

I intend to try to put something very simple, without music, on YouTube.  If it all works, it’ll be available on YouTube on Good Friday, and I’ll post the link here.  It will be 20 minutes long.  You can pause it between each section, after the Psalm 22 response, and use the music and pictures here to help you.

Here is the YouTube link

If you’d like to see the poems all in one place, without the framework, you can find those here.

If you would like to use, or share, any of my material, please feel free to do so, saying where it is from.

I hope that’s explained things!

 

Now, as we prepare for our Good Friday meditation, let us focus our minds on Jesus, who loves us, and suffered for us.  May we have a deeper appreciation of that love and suffering this year.  May we, despite being apart, become more aware how deeply we are loved, and connected together.

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Elizabeth Frink, Chapel of the Transfiguration, St Edmundsbury Cathedral.

 

 

First sentence
Reading (from Matthew 27 27-37 and Luke 23 33-34) 
Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers around him.  They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand and knelt in front of him and mocked him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” they said. They spat on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him. As they were going out, they met a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and they forced him to carry the cross. They came to a place called Golgotha (which means The Place of the Skull). There they offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall; but after tasting it, he refused to drink it. When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots. Above his head they placed the written charge against him: THIS IS JESUS, THE KING OF THE JEWS. Two criminals were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

Father forgive them, for they know not what they do

We don’t know what we do,
from the careless word that
starts a fire of anger,
to the careless killing
of a butterfly  –
who knows what
wide effects,
what winds and rains,
begin and end with just one death?

We walk in darkness, so often,
and so often, we close our eyes,
we do not wish to know.
And Jesus, seeing this,
that his life would end
with angry shouts,
with fearful washing of hands,
with indifferent playing of dice,
Knowing all this, even so, he bore
our lawful unthinking violence,
our blundering disregard for consequences.
Another would pay for our actions.

Yet as the ripple of our acts flows out,
through the world, who knows where,
so too, now, flows forgiveness,
following on, spreading and transforming,
watering dry ground, lifting burdens
and carrying them away.

 

Response from Psalm 22: v3-5

Yet you are holy,
dwelling in the praises of Israel.
In you our fathers trusted;
they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried, and were rescued;
in you they trusted and were not put to shame
.

Music:  Salt of the Sound  Lamb of God (and Your Ways) both – 6 mins 28
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p_5fsX8TEp4

Francisco_de_Zurbarán_Angus Dei

Angus Dei  Francisco de Zurbaran

Second sentence
Reading (from Luke 23 39-43)
One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom”.  Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.

 

Truly I say to you today you will be with me in paradise

Even as he hung upon the cross,
even with blood from that false crown
running down, not wiped away,
he saw the two men at his side,

One joined in mocking with the
priests and soldiers,
speaking from his pain,
and one did not, this second kept
his eyes on something else – a hope.

A hope the one he looked on was a king,
and of a kingdom where such things
as crosses are not lifted up,
a hope, even, of an end to death and pain –
this pain, this death.

And, ah, his king begins to speak,
of paradise.
What a world to gift him dying there.
A word of such sweetness, freedom, peace.
See  – clear water flowing, and flowers,
hear the sound of birds, the lazy
buzz of insects, the flutter of their wings.

What a word, at your end, to hold to,
to capture our beginning, once again.
But even more than this,
to be with him, beside the king,
seen and known,
held in the loving gaze of one who
hung up on the cross.
Might this, even this, be paradise?

 

Response from Psalm 22:v 27-28

All the ends of the earth shall remember
and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
shall worship before you.
For kingship belongs to the Lord.

 

Music: Gabriel Faure  in Paradisum from Requiem 3 mins 50 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rvYt-QA9vT0

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What do you think of, when you think of paradise?

Third sentence
Reading (from John 19 25-27)
Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Dear woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Son, here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

 

Woman, behold your son. Son, behold your mother

And still he sees, looks down
towards the one who bore him, bearing this,
the pain – not her own pain – worse,
the pain of watching one you love
twisting on those wooden beams,
the nails piercing her own flesh too.

The time has come when all the
treasure of her heart is broken open,
scattered, lying in the dirt.
What use to hold in mind
the words of angels,
the wealthy gifts brought by the wise,
what preparation Simeon’s warning,
when now she sees his agony with her eyes.
But she is not alone, his friend sees too.
John, who writes it down,
bears witness, even here, even so.
They turn their gaze upon each other
and see each other with new eyes –
a mother, and a son.
Gifting them each other –
his one last act of love,
this giving, from an empty cup.
This task of care can be ours too,
to behold each other in our pain,
and in our sorrow, walk each other home

 

Response from Psalm 22: v 9-11

Yet you are he who took me from the womb;
you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts.
On you was I cast from my birth,
and from my mother’s womb you have been my God.
Be not far from me,
for trouble is near,
and there is none to help.

 

Music:  Salt of the Sound – I’ll meet you where you are/Home to you  3 mins 31  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kFlXL3cgI6Q

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Pieta Michelangelo

 

Fourth sentence
Reading (from Matthew 27 45-46)
From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land. About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”–which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?

You felt your generous heart forsaken,
you felt the absence of the one who helps,
who was beside you, in the beginning,
who knew you from before first light.

We know too well the sparseness
of your isolation, without light,
and companionless,
in the darkness of our own long night.
And yet, within our dark, we find you there,
Find you have waited for us long days, and years,
while our poor eyes have
grown accustomed to the dark,
have learned at last to see you through our tears.
So as you know our pain and feel it,
you break our separation with your own.
Help us see the forsaken all around us,
invisible and in darkness, but seen by you.
May we seek each other in the dark,
May we have courage to cry out,
like you, and so be found.

 

Response from Psalm 22: v11, 14

Be not far from me,
for trouble is near,
and there is none to help.

I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint,
my heart is like wax
it is melted within my breast

Music: Casting Crowns  Praise you in this storm 5 mins 3
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0YUGwUgBvTU

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Fifth sentence
Reading (from John 19 28)
Knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I thirst.”

I thirst

The well is deep, and you have nothing to draw with.
Where now that living water?
Where is that spring within you, gushing up
to fullness of life?
Do you remember, now,
the woman by the well?
Your deepening talk of thirst and water,
as now, again, you humbly ask another for a drink –
this time,
a sponge of sour wine?

Do you remember too, as the taste dries on your lips,
that wedding feast, where water changed to finest wine?
The richness and fullness of that beginning
soured to this cold bitterness.

You are our source, the spring of all our rivers
and still you thirst like us, need help to drink.
And so give us this grace,
that as we do for the least of these,
we may know we do for you.

May we see you
in each thirsty face.

Response from Psalm 22: v 15

My strength is dried up like a potsherd
and my tongue sticks to my jaws
you lay me in the dust of death

 

Music: Taise  O Lord hear my Prayer  7 mins 43
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LKyU5BIlxc0

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Sixth sentence
Reading (John 19 29-30)
A  jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips.  When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.”

It is finished.

All things come to an end.
Even pain like this,
Even the anger and the cruelty of a crowd,
of us all,
even the certainty of those so certain
of God they hang a man upon a tree.
Even the punishment and scapegoating
even violence,
even death.

The work is done.
It has all been borne.
You have poured out your love, your life.
You have carried our sorrows, suffered
under our iniquities.

Your head bowed now, you sink
into the final pain of nails,
your body bears no more,
having borne all.
The work is done.

Response from Psalm 22: v 24

For he has not despised or abhorred
the affliction of the afflicted.
and he has not hidden his face from him
but has heard, when he cried to him.

Music:  Ola Gjeilo  Ubi Caritas 3 mins 30
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xp3IHBSyZKY

stars in the wood

 

 

Seventh sentence
Reading (from Luke 23 44-49)
It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, while the sun’s light failed; and  the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”

 

Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit

There is darkness now, deep darkness,
over the face of the deep,
and no hovering like a brooding bird,
instead, the temple curtain torn in two,
from top to bottom,
and the Holy of Holies empty.

God is not found there,
but here, with this dying man
on a tree,
He calls out father, and talks of hands,
and we remember what his own hands have done,
how many were healed by their touch,
raised up and restored from cruelty and death,
and now, he too will be held in loving hands,
a reconciliation beyond our grasp,
a trust even at this moment of last breath.

Dying, he taught us to die,
dying he brought us life.
May we be reconciled, may we know
at our end, the comfort of those hands.

Response from Psalm 22: v 26

The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied
those who seek him shall praise the Lord
May your hearts live for ever.

Music:  John Tavener Svyati (trans O Holy One)  12 minutes 35
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yssF24v5iBs

Or a traditional hymn, such as When I survey the wondrous cross.

 

salvador dali crucifixion

Detail from – Crucifixion (Corpus Hypercubus) Salvador Dalí 1954
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

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Held

 

 

Jesus said, I Am – for Lent. Chapter 5, the Resurrection and the Life

Welcome back to this Lent series, based on my book Jesus said, I Am – finding life in the everyday.

We come to this chapter at an extraordinary time, the time of coronavirus, when so many are praying anxiously, concerned for their loved ones, maybe separated from their loved ones. This chapter, dealing with the death and rising of Lazarus, may reveal new treasures for us at this time.  As many of us have stepped back from our spiritual communities,  I hope our reading and praying together helps.  We are evolving and strengthening other ways of being community.

As we walk through John’s gospel, getting closer to Easter, and the cross, we see the days grow longer.  There is an inbuilt hope in this season of spring.

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John 11- 12:8

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Let us return to the gospel story.  As we follow it through, it is worth being on the watch for the flowering of the themes sown in the prologue, at the very beginning, where John talks of light and life, the light that shines in the darkness and the darkness not overcoming it. We see in this story of Lazarus the beauty of that light and life breaking through, and also the power and depth of the darkness.  If we are alert, we will also see the other great themes of the gospel: seeing the glory, grace and truth of God in the life of Jesus, and an invitation to belief.  All these things open and flourish in the account of Lazarus, Martha and Mary.

This is an extraordinary and profound passage of Gospel, so rich and deep.  We’ll just look at a few aspects of it here on the blog – aspects that I hope will give some nourishment,  or encouragement, or consolation – and also ways of living it out, living in the light of this bursting out of life and hope in a place as dark as the grave.  No details are wasted with John, and the slow introduction to this story has lessons for us too.

Messages and prayers

While he is by the Jordan, a desperate message arrives saying that Lazarus, his [Jesus’] beloved friend, is very sick.  And he does not respond. For all of us who have prayed for healing for someone we love, or for the resolution of some terrible situation, we send our messages to God, and then, sometimes, nothing happens.  This experience of silence is one all of us who have prayed encounter.

And yet, and yet, we pray……

When I don’t know how to pray, I ask God to accompany me, to be with me and to be with the one I am praying for.  I find myself expanding my prayer – for others I know in similar circumstances, and then for those I don’t know.  I pray for the support that is there, or that it may be there.  I ask if there are things I can do to be part of the solution.  That is what, in practice, I do.  Even when I don’t know how to pray, or why I am praying, I find that I do.

 

The death and raising of Lazarus, this journey to the grave and into life, foreshadows the Easter story in all its brightness and strangeness.  Also, in a very real and practical sense, the raising of Lazarus precipitates Jesus’ arrest and all that follows.

So, while Jesus was waiting, was he coming to terms with what was going to happen and seeking the Father? John’s gospel is very full of the bond between the Father and the Son.

Prayer is nothing less than oneing the soul to God.  Julian of Norwich

Prayer propels him into action, as it does now. …. We are not dealing here with a Saviour who is indifferent to the suffering of the world, but who is preparing to enter into it more fully than we can imagine.

And, we know, that Jesus does come, and the two sisters speak to him in their fresh raw grief.
I wrote a sequence of poems about this Mary, and the second one speaks of that moment.  You can read it here.

 

Lazarus

Lazarus by Jaquie Binns

 

Lazarus needed to be released from the grave-clothes, but maybe there were other kinds of letting go he needed now.

This story shows us the hard journey into new life Lazarus and his sisters went through, and the possibility, and power, of resurrection.

Practise resurrection

What would it mean to be a resurrection people – to participate with Jesus in making things new, to be part of the new heavens and new earth, to pray and work for his kingdom to come now, on earth, as it is in heaven? Is it possible to go deeper than believing in resurrection, to begin to practise it, to live as if it were the way things were meant to be?  In any experience of darkness, perhaps we can take courage from this story to enter into it, to not be afraid, to know there is a way out on the other side.  Even in darkness, we can look for signs of life.

The line ‘Practice resurrection’ [is]from the poetry of Wendell Berry.

You can see a performance of  Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

by Wendell Berry following the link.
I wonder how much of a manifesto it might be for these strange times, and our hopes for the times to come.  (A link to my previous post, a Poem for a time of isolation)

 

Once Lazarus is restored to them, they throw a party to celebrate this resurrection power, and to thank Jesus for their brother and their friend.

Feast

One thing resurrection means, in this story of Lazaus, is an extravagant feast and an extravagant anointing…..

Now, this is a ‘Jesus’ uprising – of feasting, a celebration of an empty grave. The feast, the open house, is an image of the kingdom we have come across elsewhere in the gospels, in Jesus’ parables of wedding feasts and banquets, of the hospitality of the Father’s house.

As the feasting continues, Mary enters. In an extravagant act of thanksgiving, a prophetic act too, she pours out precious perfume and anoints Jesus’ feet.  She unbinds her hair, an undressing, a vulnerability, as she gives the most precious gift the house can offer – a jar of nard.  This act of kneeling has its later echo: as Jesus kneels to wash his disciples’ feet.  I wonder whether Jesus was remembering this act of Mary’s when he knelt before his friends.

Maybe, for those of us who are missing Mothers day, or birthday parties, or even their own weddings, because of coronavirus isolation, we can think and begin to plan the kind of joyful gatherings we’ll have, the kind of reuniting with loved ones, when this situation has passed.

This feast as recorded by John, and this kneeling, is the subject of the final of my poems for Mary.  You can read that here.

 

Reflection and response.

Greening

You will need: a dry twig and a vase or jar, paper cut into leaves, green pencils or felt-tip pens, cotton.
Music suggestion: Hildegard von Bingen (perhaps Antiphon, Caritas Habundant in Omnia

Think of people and situations in need of new life – of healing and restoration and new beginnings.  Write them down on the leaves, colouring them in with green. Ask for the Spirit of life to be given them.  Tie them to the dry twig, giving thanks for new life.

Is there something you could do to support or cheer a sick person, or someone caring for a sick person? Or is there a seemingly dead situation that could be open to new life?

Alternatively, you can pick a budding twig to watch unfold, visiting it each day and praying as above, or cutting it and putting it by a light place in your home. Celebrate the hope of new life coming from something that looks as if it might well be dead.

There are many community groups, and individuals, who are gathering together – often virtually – to help and support those around them – cooking meals, arranging deliveries, making calls – showing love in a way which respects the increased personal boundaries we need at the moment.  If you are feeling anxious, or helpless, in the face of the current situation, there may be something you can do to bring hope or help to someone else.  You can be part of the movement to bring new life to dark places.

 

Practice resurrection

Ask God whether there are ways you could ‘practise resurrection’. God delights in using the flawed, the old and the cast aside, like Moses or Abraham….. Ask Jesus to bring his resurrection life into yours now, to breathe into the dead and dark places.  Similarly, ask him to do the same for those you love and for your community.

Ask, too, where you could be part of this process of making all things new, bringing new life.

Start simply – renew an old, thrown-away object: restore a piece of furniture, reuse old fabric for a sewing project, plant vegetables in a neglected place, make compost, use broken plates for mosaic, make something beautiful out of what has been cast aside.

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Wells Cathedral – you can read about it in Lent: Jesus said, I Am….. Week 3, Light

 

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

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The sower, the seed, and the soil. A talk at Girton College Chapel.

 

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Last Sunday, I had the enormous privilege of speaking at Girton College Chapel. Malcolm Guite, the chaplain and poet, invited me to speak.  I’d been for the 150th anniversary celebrations last year, and Malcolm is continuing to invite Old Girtonians back this year too.

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It was so good to be back, and in the chapel which was good to me as a student.  It’s a beautiful, safe, nurturing space, and it also has a superb acoustic, which means that at evensong, you feel immersed in the roll of the music.  The choir are excellent, well worth hearing, and it was particularly good to have music by another Old Girtonian, Rhiannon Randle.  Her new work, Our Burning World, was performed on Monday.  You can read about it on her website linked above.

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One of Vincent van Gogh’s astonishing paintings of The Sower

Malcolm very generously gave me some flexibility to talk about what was on my mind, and I decided to follow where my thoughts, readings and prayers are taking me and talk about one of the parables.  I’ve been particularly drawn to Jesus’ parables of the natural world, curious to find out how he noticed to the flowers of the field, the birds of the air, and the work of tending soil for food.

Having driven to Cambridge through the tail end of a storm, it seemed very appropriate to be speaking from a parable of the soil. It is good to return to the gospels for wisdom, especially as humanity seems to be on the brink of a crisis in our relationship with the rest of creation.

Malcolm has kindly published the text of the talk on the College Website.  You can read it
here.

My thoughts on the parables are gradually taking shape into something, I hope it will be another book.  Sometimes, I know that there is some treasure to be dug, but I’m not sure what it will be until the digging is well underway.  So, I shall return to my digging, and see what good things I unearth along the way.

 

If you’d like to read more about seeds and sowing, you can look elsewhere on my blog, as below.

Sunday Retold – The Sower and the Seed 16th July 2017

November Sowing

Sunday Retold – Small Seeds, from Luke 17

 

Poem- Spider

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Photo – Matthew Ling

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Yesterday, I took part in a Poetry Workshop led by Beth Soule of the Suffolk Poetry Society

It was held in the Bank Arts Centre, Eye, which really used to be a bank.  I loved the solid mahogany, looking prosperous and dependable, hung with colourful pictures and full of new life.  The food we had was delicious, and the company stimulating as ever.  There is something very special about writing companionably with others, supporting each other.  It was good to be reminded of that!

The theme of the day was “They toil not” – spinning and weaving – and Beth gave us such a rich feast of material that, as we read our work to each other, we saw what ideas had been stimulated and encouraged.
My mind was turning over a poem by Walt Whitman as I came to write this:

 

Spider

Growing in a hidden place,
until the day those long, many jointed
legs begin to flex, and stretch,
and take you out
into the autumn light,
where gnats wail,
and flies buzz slowly

Until, balancing on the end
of the brown buttons of hollyhocks
you throw out your lines.
Where will they land?
You throw again across cool air,
beyond sight of your many eyes,
throw again until something

catches, some connection
holds fast, at last,
and you go into your unknown
along a trail
you have already laid for
yourself to follow,
familiar under your delicate feet.

 

It’s not the first time spiders have caught my attention.

Spiders – September

Silk

Another poem from the workshop can be found here

I went to the workshop with my friend Tracy Watson-Brown, and her poem is here: Spider

The Alde Valley Festival – a glimpse of a more beautiful world.

I don’t know how I have managed to miss this astonishing festival in previous years – it’s not far from where I live, but tucked away in the network of lanes between routes to other places.

Perhaps that’s one reason why, going down the drive laced with cowparsley and buttercups, it felt like we were slipping into another world – a world we are losing and a new one we are finding.  There are ribbons tied in trees, and sculptures, and everyday objects that look like they have been placed with transforming love and care.  You feel yourself relaxing, and being lifted, and filling with wonder, even as you arrive.

Jason Gathorne-Hardy writes in the programme

The farm sits within a landscape that has been planted and cultivated for hundreds, possibly thousands of years. Small areas of farm parkland and pastures [known locally as pightles] are enclosed by hedges of hawthorn, crab apple, blackthorn, field maple, hazel and elm.  This grassy landscape is punctuated by free-standing trees: oak, ash and poplars tower above the hedgerows……

White House Farm is a truly remarkable place.  They have been running this festival since 2011, using their working farm buildings as workshop space, studio space, and exhibition space.  This year’s theme is Florabundance.

As you meander through the farmyards, directed by handwritten signs on wood, you find open doors to peer behind, revealing breathtaking beauty.  There is so much, but I’ll just pick out a few details among a true abundance.

 

In the lamb nursery room – which is used as such earlier in the season – laid out on white tops, were the most exquisite bronze vegetables, fruit and seeds. Alice-Andrea Ewing had cast them from produce during her residency at the farm.  The beauty of the natural forms coupled with the weight and seriousness of bronze gave them an extraordinary presence, as if we could see and feel everyday things as truly wonderful.

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The combination of old farm buildings and small cubes of art gallery white really charged ordinary food with a sense of the artist’s reverence, such as with these pears, and medlars.

 

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I loved the way the whole place was so hospitable.  There were were toys and picnic tables and clues to adventures outside – and inside the lovely Suffolk chairs, old and new, were often beside piles of books that, if you felt inclined, would send you on the trail of other adventures – of friendships and connections between the artists and those who had gone before, and the places they love, and their mutual “cross pollination”.   The Benton End trail was a joy to follow – especially the connection with the iris paintings we would come to later.

I loved the transformation of the everyday, the desire to honour simple planting and growing, that was evident everywhere.  In particular, Tessa Newcomb with works “The onions continued to be elegant”, “The last moment of the Year, 2018”, and a whole barnful more….. and Ruth Stage’s limpid winter light, again in pictures of the farm and nearby walled garden.

It was the corrugated old threshing barn that held the largest and most breathtaking works though.  Jane Wormwell’s large canvasses of detailed corners of her garden, and tangles of hedgerow brambles, were remarkably powerful and moving.  These huge flowers put me in a better perspective.  The main exhibition space was given over to Jelly Green’s iris paintings.  This is why we had come – the publicity material had small snatches of them, and I really wanted to see them in real life with all the thickness of the paint and vividness and aliveness of the colours.

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Some of these were flowers cultivated at Benton End by Cedric Morris, who taught Maggi Hambling, who taught Jelly Green.

The vivacity, the joyfulness of the paintings was breathtaking.  I could have spent much longer there.

There is a tiny chapel in one of the barns, with a cross on the table before an animal feeding trough, a manger.  The walls have small pictures of refugees, and brick-sized scriptures alongside.  It was a good place to stop, to breathe, to pray.  The whole place is full of a deep sense of presence, of connection, of goodness, of life.

We walked through the bluebell wood, following the winding path, slowly, breathing deeply, letting the colour and the scent fill us.

 

More from Jason Gathorne-Hardy

It is easy to believe that we, as humans, can control our environment: that we dictate the terms on which we live on this planet. But that notion of power over of all that we survey is probably a mistake.  Plants give us oxygen to breathe, clean water to drink and the raw materials for shelter, food, medicines, comfort and rest.  To borrow a phrase, ‘we live in their world’. We have lost a lot of biodiversity in the past two hundred years.  Locally, this is made abundantly clear by referring to George Crabbe’s plant list for Framlingham and District in the early C19th…….
The Exhibition also seeks to honour their presence in our gardens and landscapes and celebrate the importance of plants in our lives – alongside natural pollinators and seed carriers – through the work of selected guest artists.  Implicit in this is a positive and hopeful story: that the diversity of flora and fauna that we once lived with…. in whose world we lived…. may once again become abundant and resurgent…. which is something to celebrate!

 

What a joy it was to come home, and to see that the irises in our own garden were beginning to open.

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If you live in Suffolk, the exhibition is open for one more weekend – the Late May Bank Holiday.  The tea in the farmhouse is very good too!

 

 

Lent: Jesus said I Am …… Holy Week, I am he – Jesus betrayed

This post draws on the final chapter of my book, Jesus said, I Am, finding life in the everyday

The last time Jesus said “I am”  was in the garden, at the moment the soldiers, and Judas, came to arrest him.

John 17:25-18:11

This is the decisive moment, when everything changes: Jesus steps forward, moving away from his friends.  He steps unarmed towards the guards, soldiers, and Judas.  This step delivers him into the hands of violent men. And yet, and yet.

In his very quietness, quiescence, there is a power and a strength they do not understand.  For their power is no power.  Jesus has freely chosen to drink from this cup of betrayal and suffering and death.  He knows what is to come.  He steps forward, into all that is to come, knowing this to be the way of justice, love and peace.  He steps forward, knowing this is the way to something unimaginably great – overcoming and forgiving the worst evil humanity can do.  But also, it is an immediate, personal, loving step – he keeps his friends safe, draws the eyes of the solders away from them as he enters their circle of glaring torchlight.

‘For whom are you looking?’
‘Jesus of Nazareth’
‘I am’ – ego eimi – ‘I am he’

 

Once again, we see something – someone – real – someone you can talk to, touch, kiss even – who is also this ‘I am’ we have been holding in our mind.  Those who came to arrest him fall to the ground as he says these words.

This is the great ‘I am’ of the burning bush in the shadowy brightness of the soldiers’ torches.  We are on holy ground.

Swords

Peter must put away his sword, and he does.  Jesus undoes our common narratives of violence – killing, defeat of our enemies, power and control are not the way of the cross.  Luke (22:51) records Jesus healing Malchus, the one Peter wounded.  Even now, this is how Jesus loves his enemies.

Judas Norwich

With gratitude to Norwich Cathedral

There is a very moving C14th painting in the Chapel of the Holy Innocents at Norwich Cathedral which shows the arrest of Jesus. Jesus is at the centre, with soldiers around him. Judas is on his left, embracing him, and Jesus receives this embrace, moving slightly towards it.  And Jesus’ other hand rests on a poor naked scrap of humanity, Malchus, restoring his ear.  It is all one beautiful, graceful movement.  This movement, this gesture, seems to transform even the betrayal of a friend, turning it into something life-giving for the naked soldier.  Even in all his ugliness, he is healed.  At some point, someone has scratched away Judas’ lips and eyes, presumably unable to bear the betrayal.  But Jesus bore it; he submitted to it.

The path of the sword is not the way of the cross.  For love and life to triumph over cruelty, separation and death, Jesus chose this way.

The way towards Good Friday is also the way towards Easter Sunday.

We have seen Jesus bring many things together.  These I am sayings reconcile, among other things, the everyday world of bread and gates and plants, with something that seems mystical and far away – the great I Am of the burning bush.  Perhaps we can come to hold these things together, see that they are not so far apart, after all.

Perhaps we too, in all our common, daily life can connect these two things.  Our lives can seem so insignificant and ordinary, but they are illuminated by a life-light, a love and a grace, a hope and a way that is so deep and true it connects our very depths to the very depths of a God who loves us enough to come, in fragile flesh, and stretch out his arms to show us the full extent of his love.  It is in our very ordinariness, our very smallness and failure and seeming insignificance, that we encounter the love and grace of God.  Even there, we can live out of that life-light. We can live in abundant life.

 

Reflection and response

Take some time to look at the picture of the betrayal above.  Seek to do so prayerfully, open to God.  What do you notice?  What catches your attention?
Ask if there are things for you here.
Ask if this speaks into your life, what you are facing now, today.

You might like to think more about Judas.  You can find my poem about him at the last supper here.

Prayer

Dear God, may we be forever caught up in your love and life.  May we never consider ourselves to be too small, too ordinary, too insignificant to be part of your great story of love and abundant life.  May we remember how Jesus came, humbly, and compared himself to bread, to a shepherd, to a vine.  May we see in the rough materials of our lives the wonder of your grace, your glory, your love.
Amen

 

Life and service

We can do no great things, only small things with great love.
St Teresa of Calcutta

As you consider the ordinariness and extraordinariness of ‘I am’, that great union of the everyday with the divine, develop the discipline of seeing each thing as capable of being filled with great love.  This day, seek to do one humble thing with great love. Repeat every day.

Thank you so much for walking this Lent path with me.

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

Here are a few suggestions:

The publishers, BRF

Amazon

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Jesus said I Am – finding life in the everyday….. Light

Just a few days to go now until the launch on Friday!

So, here is another snippet.  This one draws on a talk I gave a few years ago, the Sunday after Easter, when this memory seemed to speak of resurrection, of new life for things that were broken.  Beauty can be made out of even the most unpromising materials.

It tells of how we went to Wells Cathedral, and how the stained glass in the Lady Chapel was made of thousands of broken fragments, gloriously put together, after the windows had been destroyed centuries before.

 

They were a vibrant kaleidoscope of shape and colour, exuberant and abstract, scattered with recognisable pieces of face and clothing.  But this was nothing to the beauty of the light that poured through them, for they turned the morning light to wild splashes of colour, transforming all it touched – all that old stone and wood and metal – to vibrant life.

…….

All those broken pieces, all those jagged edges, all those lost pictures were put together in a new way, transformed into something glorious.  Something new was made out of the discarded, useless pieces.  And the light of the morning sun poured through them, making everything within shine, lit up with glorious colour.

I saw a parable in this glass, a kingdom story of the new creation.  We, broken and discarded and small as we may be, can be held up to the light…….
Christ, in whom all things hold together, can indeed hold us together.

 

 

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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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