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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Poem – Crows

A few weeks ago we were away, staying near Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire.  I loved the deep steep valleys full of trees, with farmland and moorland above. I also loved the way we were close to towns, and railways, and the busy life of people. We were near Haworth, Bronte country, and staying at Hardcastle Crags, which some of you may know from the Sylvia Plath poem.  I hadn’t realised quite how close we were to the places where Ted Hughes grew up and lived, and was so excited to come across the occasional little plaque in the landscape referring to this poem, or that. My backpack carried collections of poems, and notebooks, as well as chocolate and water.

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So, I’ve been reading them both lately – Plath and Hughes – as well as beginning to turn some of our walks into poems of my own.  It’s taking a while, but reading Ted Hughes has reawakened my curiosity about the crows who visit our garden.  I remember doing an English project at school on Crow, and have come back to look at that collection again, in all its darkness.

What I noticed about the crows that I have come to know a little, here, is their sociability, their memory, their communication despite the apparent sameness of their cries.  They seem intelligent and sociable creatures, and I have written a couple of poems from here, in my garden.  It helps to pull things together – lived experience, and the inspiration of others – and to add a small voice to the other voices that sing songs in our landscapes.

I have also loved the wonderful exhibition at The Sainsbury Centre, UEA, of Elizabeth Frink’s work.  I have been so looking forward to that ever since I heard it was coming, as I have felt drawn to her sculptures for quite a few years, and wanted to see more.  The birds particularly struck me.

 

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Crows

Now it is winter, the crows have come back
with the north wind, with the darkness.
They land softly, and in number,
at their old roosting place –
what remains the great beech
just there, ahead of us.

And then they rise again, suddenly.
They land and rise and caw,
and land, and rise, and caw.
The branches shake their dry leaves.
Can the birds tell the tree is dead,
not sleeping?
They do not settle,
whatever they know.

They crisscross the sky in dark lines
above me in the garden.
They land first here, then there.
They try the blackthorn,
and the sycamore.
They drench the holm oak
with their dark wings,
and strip it of acorns.
Their sharp black beaks and
shark black claws work and work.

All the time their cawing calls,
they seek a new place,
they keep tied to each other
with these black lines,
with these cries,
as they fly restlessly
to and fro,
to and fro.

 

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I have  recently, and unusually for me, done a day’s workshop in lino cut printing at The lettering arts trust.  It was such an inspiring environment, surrounded by such excellent work.  I reminded myself to be inspired, not daunted! We had a very talented tutor, Louise Tiplady, who shared very generously of her time and talents.

I wanted to experiment with trying something at home.  It’s really satisfying to gouge away at the lino, letting shapes emerge.  The top of these two is the lino itself, and you can see how I’ve printed sometimes in red, sometimes in blue, taking out more as I felt I needed to.  I don’t have proper inks yet – I was using old ink stamps – and that might account for the blurry, grainy texture.  It’s something I’d like to keep trying, seeing if I can capture some ideas visually, as well as in words.