Poem: Jacob’s Ladder

 

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One of the loveliest spots in my home is the window seat.  In the winter, the radiator does its work through the wood, and it is warm and snug.  At this time of year, as you sit you are surrounded by flowers, and every day you see something new opening.

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This poem is a poem of waking up. To begin with, the life of the world seems far away, on the other side of glass.  Gradually, though, I begin to see.

 

Jacob’s Ladder

Sitting on the window seat, in this box of light,
I drink warm, bitter coffee, my mind waking slowly from  sleep.

There is a fly buzzing against the glass, black and slow,
not getting through.  On the other side is the cool sun,
the flowerheads and flowerbuds swaying in the breeze,
their stems crossing and crisscrossing  in straight green lines,
Making rhomboids, diamonds of the brightness.
And so I sit here, as if among the flowers,
not feeling the breeze, not catching the scent.

There are the bright, tissue paper flames of poppies,
and the soft deep pinks of the columbine,
dove among flowers,
And the euphorbia – black with bees –
their green flowers full of sweetness.

But there, suddenly, are the tall spikes of Jacob’s ladder,
new dazzling white, startling, perfect.
They must have opened early while I slept.
Those flowers – small, spread out skirts
of pure white, anthers gold with pollen,
the delicate deep ring of purple veins –
drawing you deep to the green-dark heart of the flower,
curled, mysterious, where the heavy bee probes
for nectar as sweet as the honey yet to come.

Angels ascending and descending,
ascending and descending
as the stiff green stems are swaying,
are still swaying in the cool breeze.  The day begins.

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The name of this plant calls to mind the story of Jacob in Genesis, which is also a story of coming to see, of waking up.
Here is my retelling from The Bible Retold, the text shared by The Lion Classic Bible

Jacob went alone, travelling unitl it was dark.  Shivering in the chill of the desert night, he took a stone for a pillow, and lay down to sleep.  As Jacob slept, a dream came to him.  He saw a ladder, with its feet on the ground, stretching up and up to heaven.  In his dream, he watched as God’s bright angels travelled up and down in between heaven and earth.  And in his dream, God himself was there.
…….
Jacob woke with a jolt and looked around.  He was alone.
“God was here and I didn’t know it!  This place is the gate of heaven!” he said  Then he took the stone he had slept upon and set it up as an altar to God. He poured oil on it as an offering, and worshipped there.

You can read the Genesis story here

Jacob's ladder

Sophy Williams’ beautiful illustration from The Lion Classic Bible

 

Help us, like Jacob, dream of angels.
Help us, wherever we wake,
to know that you are there, too.
Help us to see with new eyes.

Poem for Pentecost, and some readings

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Wind and fire – two of the ways people have tried to describe the Spirit.

As we approach Pentecost Sunday, I am sharing with you some readings and a poem.  Please feel free to use them if they help you, saying where they are from.

Firstly, a reading from my book The Bible Retold

 

From the fields it came: the first sheaf of barley cut for that year’s harvest.  It was carried high through streets crammed with visitors, and on to the Temple. And then the priest offered it to God, giving thanks for the good land, and for the gift of harvest. For that day was the celebration of the first fruits.  It was Pentecost.

Meanwhile, the disciples were all together, waiting.  Then, suddenly, it began.  It stared with sound – a sound like the wind – but this was no gentle harvest breeze.  This was a shaking and a roaring: a sound of power, whooshing and howling about the house, rattling every door and shutter.  The sound seemed to come down from heaven itself, and filled the house as the wind fills sails.  Then, the disciples watched wide-eyed as something that looked like fire came down, and tongues of flame peeled off it and rested on each of them without burning them.  All of them were filled, for the Holy Spirit had come.  And as it happened, their tongues were loosened, and they began to speak as the Spirit gave them words.  These words were not Aramaic, their own language, but in languages that were unknown to them.
A crowd had gathered by the house because of the extraordinary sound, but then they heard voices. There were pilgrims in Jerusalem from all over the known world, and they recognized the words the disciples were speaking.
“He’s talking Egyptian!” said one.
“That one’s talking my language,” said a visitor from Crete – and the same was true for all.  Each person heard God’s praises in their own tongue.
“What can it mean?” they asked each other.  But others among the crowd joked that the disciples had been drinking.
The Twelve heard what they were saying, so Simon Peter stood up to speak to the crowds.
“Listen, I’ll tell you what’s happening.  We’re not drunk! It’s too early in the day for that! This is God’s promise come true.  Do you remember what one of the prophets wrote long ago?
I’ll pour out my Spirit on everyone – young and old.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
young men will have visions, and old men dreams.
All who follow me – men and women – will
be given my Spirit, and there will be wonders!

 

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And in response, some prayers from Prayers and Verses

Christ has no body now on earth but yours,
no hands but yours, no feet but yours…
Yours are the feet with which he is to go
about doing good,
and yours are the hands with which he is to
bless us now.
St Theresa of Avila 1515-82

 

Pentecost

Spirit of God
put love in my life.
Spirit of God
put joy in my life.
Spirit of God
put peace in my life.
Spirit of God
make me patient.
Spirit of God
make me kind.
Spirit of God
make me good.
Spirit of God
give me faithfulness.
Spirit of God
give me humility.
Spirit of God
give me self-control.

From Galatians 5:22–23

When I’m retelling stories from the Bible, I often spend time before them quietly, sinking into the story, wondering what it would have been like to have been there, to have seen and heard and felt…..  As well as the retelling, this poem emerged from that process of contemplation.

SPIRIT

How would it feel, then, to live
in that God-shaken house?
To feel the wind,
like the very breath of life,
like the stirring of the
deep before time,
gusting through these small
daily rooms, clattering and pressing
against doors and shutters,
not to be contained?

How would it feel to look up, eyes
dried by wind-force,
and see fire falling, flames bright
and crackling, and resting with
heat that does not burn on each
wondrous head?

To be blown open
lock-sprung
lifted
with wild reckless joy
as words tumble out into
the clear singing light?

It would feel like this,
it feels like this,
and it is still only morning.

 

 

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This post draws on the series Sunday Retold

 

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Retold: Easter Day!

Happy Easter!

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Life and Love triumph over darkness and death.

Here are a few extracts from my books  The Bible Retold and Prayers and Verses.

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

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New Life

Where is he?

The door was locked, the shutters were closed over the windows, and a faint lamp smoked fitfully in the corner.  Jesus’ followers hardly dared speak: they hardly dared breathe. As they sat in the small room where they had all gathered after the night of the crucifixion, they hung their heads. The shock of Jesus’ death had stunned them, and fear for their own lives kept them shut away behind locked doors.

But now, it was near morning on the third day after Jesus had died, and Mary Magdalene began to watch the crack in the shutters for the faintest glimpse of new light.  When she could wait no longer she slipped out of the house, keeping to the deepest shadows, and ran to the place where she had kept watch – the place where Jesus was buried.

Then, she stopped. The stone covering the entrance of the cave-tomb had been rolled away – who could have done it? She ran back to the others. “He’s gone – they’ve taken him!” she gasped.  Simon Peter and John raced to the tomb ahead of her. They saw the strips of linen, and the burial cloth, but there was no body. The men ran back to Jerusalem, but Mary stayed, weeping, exhausted, and bent low.

Then she looked into the tomb. She saw two angels in white, seated where the body had been.  Their voices were strong, yet gentle. “Woman, why do you cry?”
“They’ve taken my Lord away, and I don’t know where he is!” she answered.  Then she straightened, and turned, seeing a man through her tears.
“Woman, why are you crying? Who are you looking for?”
Mary thought he must be the gardener, beginning his work in the cool dawn.  “Have you taken him, sir? Tell me where he is, and I’ll go and get him.”
“Mary!” said the man.  And Mary knew his voice.  It was Jesus, standing there before her. Alive!
“My Teacher!” she called, reaching out.
“Don’t hold onto me – go back and tell my brothers, my disciples, that I am returning to my Father and their Father, my God and their God.”

She stepped backwards and then ran, as dawn began to colour the sky.  She threw open the door to the room where the disciples were hidden, and pale, golden light washed over their faces. She called out, “I have seen the Lord!” Her voice rang loud in the still room and here eyes were wide with wonder, but they did not know how to answer her.

 

Come, Holy Angels,
into this dark night.
Roll away the stone of death.
Let the light of life
shine from heaven.

Good Friday is locked in winter,
in grief and death and dark;
Easter Sunday begins the springtime,
rising up like the lark.

 

My life flows on in endless song;
Above earth’s lamentation
I hear the sweet though far-off hymn
That hails a new creation:
Through all the tumult and the strife
I hear athe music ringing;
It finds an echo in my soul-
How can I keep from singing?
Robert Lowry

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Retold: Good Friday

A simple reading and prayers for this Holy Friday

from my books  The Bible Retold and Prayers and Verses.

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

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Cano Alonso

THE ROAD OF TEARS, AND THE PLACE OF THE SKULL (Luke 23:26-49)

Jesus stumbled under the heavy wooden cross, weak from his beating, and so the soldiers seized Simon, a visitor from Cyrene in north Africa, and gave him the cross to carry.  Jesus followed slowly over the rough, hard road.

A large crowd followed, and among them were many women, sobbing.  He turned to them and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me. You and your children will know enough pain.”

Two other men were led out to be crucified with Jesus at Golgotha, the Place of the Skull: one on his left, and one on his right.  So Jesus was nailed to the cross, and a sign was hung above him, saying: “This is the King of the Jews.”
From the cross, Jesus spoke slowly, painfully. “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

But some among the crowd sneered “Save yourself if you are God’s Chosen One. You saved others!”

The soldiers joined in, as did one of the men being crucified. But the other said, “Don’t you fear God, at the hour of your death?  We are guilty, but this man has done nothing wrong.”  He turned his head towards Jesus.  “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom!”

And Jesus answered “Today, you will be with me in paradise.”

Then, a deep darkness came over the land, and the shadows spread and joined together.  In the Temple, the curtain that hid the holiest place was torn in two.  “Father, take my spirit!” Jesus called in a loud voice, and then his head fell forward, and his breath stopped.

The Roman centurion at the foot of the cross said, “Surely this was a good man.”  And many of the crowd were overcome by sadness, and turned away.  But those who knew him, men and women, stayed, and kept watch.

THE TOMB  (John 19:38-42, Matthew 27:57-61)

Joseph of Arimathea, a secret follower of Jesus, went to see Pilate. “I request permission to bury Jesus,” he said, and Pilate gave him the body.  So Joseph and Nicodemus, the man who had visited Jesus at night, took Jesus away.  Nicodemus had brought a great weight of spices – myrrh and aloes – and together the two men prepared Jesus’ body with the spices and wrapped it in linen.  Then they carried him to Joseph’s garden tomb, cut into the rock, and there they laid him. They rolled the stone over the entrance, shutting out the last red rays of light. Then they turned, and walked away. But Mary Magdalene, who had been healed by Jesus, and the other Mary, stayed and kept watch in the chill of the deepening shadows.

 

 

Lord Jesus, who died upon the cross:
You know this world’s suffering,
You know this world’s sorrowing,
You know this world’s dying.

In your name, Lord Jesus, who rose again:
I will work for this world’s healing,
I will work for this world’s rejoicing,
I will work for this world’s living.

 

Jesus, who walked to the cross,
be with us when we feel abandoned.

Jesus, who walked to the cross,
be with us when we face danger.

Jesus, who walked to the cross,
be with us when we are suffering.

When sorrow threatens to defeat us,
Jesus, who rose from the dead, be with us.

 

Come, O Joy:
Let heaven break into my dark night of sorrow
like the early dawn of a summer morning.

 

Bless you this Easter

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Angus Dei by Francisco de Zurbaran

Retold: Maundy Thursday

As we approach Easter, I’ll share with you retellings and prayers that might help you in your preparation, and might be useful for faith communities to share.  Today, we’ll look at the time when Jesus knelt before his followers to wash their feet, and gave them a new commandment – to love each other.
The word Maundy derives from the word commandment.

The commandment is that we love and serve one another.

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Detail from: Jesus Washing the Feet of his Disciples, 1898 (oil and grisaille on paper) by Edelfelt, Albert Gustaf Aristides

 

THE SERVANT KING (John 13: 1- 17)

Evening came, and Jesus and his disciples were together in the upper room they had been given.  Jesus knew the time had come to leave the world – and those he loved, and would love to the end.  Jesus knew that God had given him power over all things, and so he took a towel, and tied it around his waist. He knelt down before his followers, and began washing their feet.
“No, Lord!” burst out Simon Peter when Jesus came to him. “I can’t let you do that!”
“You don’t understand yet – to be part of me, you must let me serve you.”
“Then wash my hands and my head, too” Peter replied.

Jesus came to Judas.  He knew that Judas had already agreed to betray him to the high priests and the Temple guard, but still, he carried on washing his feet.
“Do you understand?” he said when he had finished. “I’m your Teacher, your Lord, and yet I take the place of the humblest slave.  So you must serve each other, and you will be blessed in doing so.”

BREAD AND WINE  (Matthew 26:20-29, from John13:31-17:26)

Then, they began the Passover meal.  They ate flat bread with bitter leaves, and dipped greens in salt water, to remember the bitterness and the tears of slavery in Egypt.  Once more, they told each other the story of how God saved the people of Israel.  But then, Jesus’ face clouded with sadness.
“One of you is going to betray me!” he said.
“No!” they all answered, pale with shock.
“One who shares my bread,” Jesus said, giving a piece to Judas.

While they were eating, Jesus took the bread, gave thanks, and broke it, giving it to all of them saying, “Take and eat, for it is my body.”  Then, after supper, he raised the cup, and gave thanks.  “Drink, all of you. For this is my blood, poured out for forgiveness.  It is the blood of the new covenant – the binding promise of God.”

During the meal, Judas slipped out unnoticed into the dark, dark night.

“Now the glory begins, and I give you a new command.  You must love one another.  Your lives will be marked by love, and all will know you are mine because of it. For I will leave you, and you cannot follow yet,” Jesus said.
“I’ll follow you anywhere!” said Simon Peter.
“Will you?  Before the cock crows, you will deny you even knew me three times.”

They were all silent, stricken with sadness.
“You are troubled – don’t be.  Think of it like this.  I’m going ahead to my Father’s house, to get rooms ready for you.  Then I’ll come back for you. You know the way!”

Thomas said “We don’t know where you’re going, and we don’t know the way!”
“I am the way,” said Jesus. And his disciples remembered the many long, dusty roads they had followed him along.   Now, where would they go, what would they do? He saw their sadness, and spoke gently to them for a long time, planting hope.
“I am a vine, and from me grow branches – you. The vine gives the branches life, and they bud and blossom and fruit.  So draw your life from me, and you will too.

“When I go, the Spirit will come, to guide you into all truth. In this world, you will face trouble.  But take courage: I have overcome the world!”

From The Bible Retold

This reading contains reference to two of the great I AM sayings of Jesus – I am the way, and I am the vine.

Dear God,
Help me to love you with all my heart,
with all my soul and with all my mind.
Help me to love those around me as I love myself.

O God,
Let me learn how to love.
May I grow more patient.
May I speak more kindly.
May I act more humbly.
May I never give up learning to love.

Lord Jesus,
May our lives bear the mark of love.
As we are kind, as we share, as
we are gentle, may your love be seen in us.
Help us, for this is hard for us.

From Prayers and Verses

Please feel free to use my material if it helps you, saying where it is from.

Poem: Jesus washes Judas’ feet.

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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

Why did Judas do what he did?

 

We can’t know, of course.
Can we seek to imagine what motivated something so terrible?
Might it help to do so?

It is a truly terrible thing to betray a friend, but maybe Judas was expecting a very different outcome.  Maybe.

Maybe he  thought there was a good to be served by doing what he did. He must have felt he had a reason. Maybe he was trying to force Jesus’ hand, make him reveal and initiate the Kingdom in a dramatic burst.  Maybe, an idealist, he was disillusioned with small progress, maybe the way things were turning out was not what he expected or felt he signed up for.

Having wondered this, having thought, too, how well Jesus knew Judas, and that he knew what Judas was intending to do, I imagined that instead.  I wrote a response.

Here it is.

 

Jesus washes Judas’ feet.

That moment, when you knelt before him,
took off his sandals, readied the water,
did you look up?  Search his eyes?
Find in them some love, some trace
of all that had passed between you?

As you washed his feet, holding them in your hand,
watching the cool water soak away the dirt,
feeling bones through hard skin,
you knew he would leave the lit room,
and slip out into the dark night.

And yet, with these small daily things –
with washing, with breaking and sharing bread,
you reached out your hand, touched, fed.
Look, the kingdom is like this:

as small as a mustard seed, as yeast,
a box of treasure hidden away beneath the dirt.
See how such things become charged,
mighty, when so full of love. This is the way.

In that moment, when silence ebbed between you,
and you wrapped a towel around your waist;
when you knew, and he knew,  what would be,
you knelt before him, even so, and took off
his sandals, and gently washed his feet.
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This is a picture that was in display at the Chapel of the Holy Innocents, Norwich Cathedral.  It shows the Jesus being betrayed, and healing, at the same moment.
I write about it in the last chapter of Jesus said, I am – finding life in the everyday
You might like to read the gospel story in John 13

Jesus said I Am – finding life in the everyday -The woman at the well

It’s only a week till publication day – 18th January.  It is a strange that these thoughts that have been circling round my head for quite a few years now, will soon be released, to make their own way in the world, launched. They will have different work to do then, and will be enriched by the responses of those who read them.

I’ve already shared with you some of my thinking on this chapter in the Sunday Retold series – a while ago now.  You can read that here.  If you do, you  will find some suggestions which have become items in the Reflection and Response section of the chapter, and get a flavour of that, too.

Although we tend not to notice in our translations, it seems to me very significant that the first time John records Jesus saying I Am is here, in Samaria, to someone outside our usual narrative of God’s favour.

So, here is a small snippet from the story of the unnamed woman who met Jesus in the heat of the day.

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Perhaps she will come to see that Jesus is the gift, and he has living water. We are going deeper now.  Living, life-giving, flowing water in a hot land, to a parched and weary soul, is life itself.  It is a daily necessity and a joy.  We know that in John, there is often an association between water and Spirit.  Jesus’ previous encounter, with Nicodemus, reveals that.  The Spirit can be to us as water on a parched land, softening, enlivening, refreshing and freeing the seeds locked in dry husks, so they grow and flourish and flower.

……..

This encounter, which stared with a request for water, has become the source, the spring, of transformation that changed a whole community.  Jesus gives value to a person, and to a whole people, who were despised.  Here, in the heat of the day, they were offered fresh, life-giving water.  And they drank from this new well

 

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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

 

Jesus said I AM – finding life in the everyday ……… Bread

Publication date is nearly here!
Friday 18th January is the day.

Thanks so much for your support and encouragement.

I thought I’d share with you a few snippets from the book, starting with something on Bread.

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And, so, the people all ate.  There was enough.  One of the many things this sign does is take our natural fear of ‘not enough’ and offer God’s ‘enough’ instead.  We find it hard to be generous when there are only a few small loaves and fish, and so many hungry people. With Jesus we see a picture of what it means to shift our perspective, to reframe our notions.

…….

What if we began seeing what we had – not in terms of what it was not, but in terms of what it was? Of seeing things not as our resource, but as a kingdom resource? This is food, these people need food, that’s what we’ll do – give.  Of course, the rational counting and measuring parts of our minds are not satisfied with that, and we are grateful for the stock control systems and emergency relief manages who count well enough to make sure all can be fed, but perhaps this is a different kind of lesson: one that turns our minds from what we see to a God of abundance.  Perhaps even this small act of generosity is magnified, amplified by a God who loves and longs to be generous.  What if each small act in the direction of goodness has consequences beyond our imagining?

….

And so, we see what Jesus does with the little he has been given by a child: he takes it in his hands, gives thanks, and then gives it away.

 

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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

 

I’ll share a few more snippets as we go along!

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