Poem: Two Trees – Lockdown poems 5

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

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

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

 

 

Two trees – lockdown 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

Poem: Red Leaves – Lockdown Poems 3

I’ve been spending time with my notebook, while we’ve been in lockdown.  Usually, the words come from what’s going on around me, grounding myself in my ground.  I am aware how fortunate I am to have sight of new leaves, as here, but I hope these small verses give you a place where your imagination can connect with the spring, wherever you are.

They are just moments as they come.

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The subject of this poem springs from the story of Moses and the Burning Bush, which you can read about here.

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A moment in the garden, shared with you.

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Red leaves   lockdown 3
Oh, the sun through those red leaves,
shiny and shining,
And here, too, the smokebush,
just kindling to red flame,
before the leaf-smoke thickens,
as the sun’s light strengthens.
You can almost feel them growing,
as you bask in their cold fire.

It’s all holy.
All this good earth.
As my knees feel the
softness of grass,
and the air smells so of green,
and of the damp warming soil,
and grass, and primroses.

Yes.  This place.
Yes.  This time, even this.

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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.

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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.

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

This post – for Holy Week – is the next in the series based on my book, Jesus said, I am – finding life in the everyday.

It’s also Palm Sunday, when we think of the crowds laying down palm leaves. This year, such crowds seem very far away from our experience, as we are isolating at home.  It’s a time when churches often fill with people, or process with branches.  This year, we can’t do that.  Instead, some are making palm crosses, or gathering greenery, to decorate their doors as a sign in participation in this time.  It’s part of how we are all adapting to our situation, and finding ways of connecting, and marking times corporately.  These things help.

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My Palm Sunday leaves.

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Back to another growing thing, to the Vine.

I do not have a vine in my garden, but I have so many other plants that are just opening up to new life.

I have been planting seeds.  My veggie beds, rebuilt a few years ago by my son and a friend, have not been productive in the past, but this year, there are signs of hope.  There are a few little shoots coming up, and raspberry canes beginning to grow.  I hope that we’ll have fresh salad leaves before too long.

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I’ve also been thinking of the wisteria, and the corkscrew hazel, in the light of this reading which tells of vines and gardeners.

This year, the wisteria is covered in long purple buds, and will soon be heady with scented flowers.  Last year, my gardener worked hard to cut back the unproductive growth, to focus the plant’s attention on the buds of  this year’s flowering.

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The corkscrew hazel requires less skilled intervention – I can manage to tell which stems are coming up straight, and need removing so the wild disarray of the corkscrew can grow freely.

These moments of intervention  are part of what happens here – I also love the wild flowers – or weeds, I love to watch what happens, what grows of its own accord. It is a hospitable place.  I love the rhythm of managed and wild.  I love the crowds of birds, the insects, the butterflies and bees that seem to thrive here.

This year, many are noticing and valuing the gradual creep of spring, the morning birdsong, the clearing skies, in a way they haven’t before.  These small joys are opening up to us, and we find they are deeply satisfying.  If we have a windowbox, or a garden, or a view, the subtle changes we see bring us joy.

Our Father is a gardener, we read.

John 15:1-17

Once again, we will just touch on some of the themes this image opens up for us.  There is always more.  Here are a few things, offered for your reflection – and some suggestions of how we might live inside this  song of the vineyard.

There is a way of seeing the overarching narrative of the Bible that looks like this: three gardens – the garden of Eden in Genesis, the garden tomb of the resurrection and the garden city of Revelation.  If we hold this narrative in our minds, we see a story of flourishing, of hope, of new growth despite the winters we encounter.  Gardens and their gardeners are a theme that runs through the whole Bible text.  Gardens are both beautiful and necessary, a sign of a settled life, a sign of peace and security, a promise of plenty.  And within the garden, the vine winds and trails its way through scripture, a sign of the people of God in both testaments, their frailty and fruitfulness, their need of a gardener to bring out their best flourishing, their provision of fruit and, more especially, wine to gladden the heart, wine soon to be poured out.

We are invited to be part of this fruitfulness and flourishing.  We are invited to be part of something bigger than ourselves, joined to others as well as to Jesus. We are invited to participate, and to contribute, to give and to receive.

As Jesus and his friend walked in the dark past vineyards, the image of the vine was real, fragrant, touchable.  This song was no distant allegory.  It was before them.  What would they have glimpsed, in the thin light?

A winter vineyard looks as dead as dead can be.  The bark flakes and pulls away.  But, here, in the spring, buds would have been bursting out.  What appeared dead was returning to life, throwing out tendrils, leaves, maybe blossoms.  They knew the importance of the vine, and the care and wisdom needed to tend it and make it fruitful. Passover required the drinking of four cups of wine…. Their blood was warmed with wine as they walked through the chill of night.

…..

And in the spring, sap runs through its veins like blood – it pours through, swelling the hidden buds.  This is a kingdom vine.  The way life flows through it is like the way the Spirit will sustain Jesus’ followers after he has gone.  The vine is loved and cared for by the Father.  God alone is the gardener of this vine.

 

Remain

To a group of people who will soon be scattered in the darkness, who will abandon him, Jesus talks of remaining, abiding.  He talks to them, assuring them they are already connected to the vine, already clean.  What will happen does not change that for them  He says this first, at the beginning of the song.  All else that follows is held within the certainty that they are part of the vine.

Here is the melody of the song, and this is what we need to treasure – that we are also part of this vine, the sap flows through us.

The heart of it all is remaining in Jesus, as Jesus remains in the Father; remaining because of love, so that joy may be complete.  We may not understand, but we an hold open the possibility of this love and grace and belonging.

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Fruit

We have talked about abiding, remaining, but the purpose of the vine is the fruit and the purpose of the pruning is to increase the vine’s capacity to bear fruit.  As Jesus continues his song of the vineyard, we see this fruit linked to a circular pattern of love – it begins with the Father for the Son, flows from the Son to humanity, who are then, for the second time, commanded to love in their (our) turn. The outcome of all this is joy – Jesus’ joy will be in us and our joy will be complete.

Love, joy… from there, we are naturally drawn to another mention of fruit in the New Testament – the fruit of the Spirit.

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  There is no law against such things.
Galatians 5:22-23

The branches attached to the vine have the life of the Spirit flowing through them.  There is beauty in a fruitful vine, with its leaves, blossom and, in time, the ripening fruit.  Our lives, filled ith the flow of the Spirit, can have such beauty.  The life of Jesus, flowing through us, is transformative.  Maybe Jesus is telling us here how the Spirit works, how our lives can be part of something greater.  Connection to the soure of all life and love leads to flourishing.  We are not isolated, purposeless, lonely individuals.  We are part of the something greater, and we can live out our lives fruitfully.

Reflection and Response

Further Study

Read the account of the wedding at Cana (John 2:1-12). Reflect on the symbolic meaning of the empty jars used for religious cleansing, here filled with fine wine at a wedding.
……

Colossians 1:15-20.  How does this image of Christ connect with your thoughts on the vine? How do all things hold together in Christ?

Prayer and Meditation
Lectio divina
meditation – rooted and grounded in love
Read Ephesians 3:14-16, asking God to speak to you by drawing your attention to a word or phrase.  Read the passage out loud, slowly, twice, leaving silence between and around the readings.  See where your attention snags, what strikes you, and ponder that.  If you are with others, hold a time of silence, then share your words or phrases.

Read again.  On the last reading, be alert to anything that applies to you or your situation directly, any place where the Holy Spirit may be moving or guiding you.  Thank God for what you have learned.

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.  Now remain in my love.  John 15:9

 

When you dwell on the idea of all being connected, and held together in Christ, does that help as you navigate this world in which we are more physically separate than we would wish?

Have you ever experienced anything that felt like pruning?  What happened? What was that like?  Offer any loss, any gain, through that process to God in prayer.  Be alert to signs of new life that may emerge.
Our lives are seriously curtailed at present.  Might there be, even in this real difficulty, some space where something new and better might emerge?

 

How can we connect in a time of disconnection? How can we show solidarity, and offer help, when the normal means of being together are not available for us?

Life and service

Connection and community
Take some time to connect with people in your community.  Be on the lookout today, this week, for ways you can build connection with those around you.  It can be as simple as taking a few minutes to speak to a neighbour, smiling at a passer by or something more.

ways you might be part of making a stronger community.  Ideas could include:

  • using local shops
  • walking or cycling where you can.
  • with others, notice the needs in your community, and finding ways to bless and reach out – the elderly or housebound may require help, or young families, etc.
  • litter picking the streets around you, or clearing snow or leaves as appropriate

……..

Care for a garden, or a piece of land near where you are.  Collaborate with others to enrich and bless growing and living things nearby.

Further reading – I recommend Richard Rohr’s book, The Divine Dance – the Trinity and your Transformation

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The Rublev icon

 

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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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Jesus said, ‘I Am’ – for Lent. Chapter 3, Light

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Mike Lacey Photography.

Welcome, and welcome back if you are following this Lent journey with me.  Whoever you are, I hope you find something that helps here.  We are now beginning week three by my schedule, and turning our attention to Jesus, the light of the world.  We’ll be continuing to draw on my book, Jesus said, I am – Finding life in the everyday

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“What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all peoples.  The light shines in the darkness, and darkness did not overcome it.” John 1:3-4

 

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The days grow longer – each day, we are tipping a little more from darkness to light. I’m watching the plants respond to that light. I even have a few tiny seedlings coming up in my veggie patch.  At this time of year, the connection between light and life is clear, and fills us with hope.

Life and light.

It is often a good idea, particularly in John’s gospel, to look at the first mention, first use of a word or idea.  And often the roots of his themes are found in his opening words, the prologue.  But that prologue in itself carries echoes of something earlier, it takes us back to the very beginning of Genesis, where light is the first form spoken into being.

It starts with light. The things that live and grow on the Earth, our home, all depend on  light.  We cannot live without it.

And so when Jesus says he is the light of the world, we have a sense that these words are life-giving, momentous.  They speak of something we need every day, and yet the physics of light  – what light is – is hard for most of us to grasp.

“The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world” John 1:9.

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As the gospel stories are told, we hear Jesus saying I am the light of the world twice, and both times it’s at a turning point for someone, a moment which changes everything for them.  So once again we see that something that seems perhaps high and exalted, beyond our understanding, is revealed in the deep reality of our lived experience.

Jesus first says, “I am the light of the world”, in a very dark place.  The setting was the Feast of Tabernacles, or Booths, when the huge candlestick was lit at the temple, and the light from it was seen in Jerusalem’s streets……..

They [the religious leaders] seem to be policing the celebrations while Jesus is teaching in the temple, an eager crowd listening to him.  The religious leaders bring a woman before Jesus, caught in adultery, and ask Jesus if she should be stoned as the law demands.  The woman, whose life hangs in the balance, doesn’t seem to be of much concern. At this this challenge, Jesus does something remarkable. He shows us a different way of seeing, a different way we can think about the law.

The law can be used to judge and condemn another, or it can be used to throw light on our own hearts and motives.

“”Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”” John 8:7

…….

with the stones lying on the ground, Jesus says, “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” for the first time. It is an active sentence – of following and walking, and even the light is the light of life.

It is easier to walk forward, into new life, when we can see the way.

The second time Jesus said it is better known – and that’s in a conversation before the man born blind.

“It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.  We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world” John 9:3-5

We see some parallels between this story and that of the woman who was not stoned – in both cases, people seem most concerned about pointing the finger, apportioning blame.  Jesus does not do this.  He sees with clear-sighted compassion, not naively, but looking with the light of love, and looking for God’s work of healing and restoring.

Jesus did not go looking for sin and guilt, and did not apportion blame.  Human pain is, rather, the place where God’s work is to be done.

…..

God seems to specialise in the transformation of bad things. It is the resurrection power, to redeem, restore, make new.  What is more, it seems that the work is not God’s alone:  ‘We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work’.
There is a ‘we’ in that sentence…. So the challenge is not to judge, but to join in with God’s work.  God longs for us to act, as partners.  What an extraordinary thought! The hope is that when we are in hopeless and most desperate situations, like the man born blind, like the woman, we can encounter the glory and mercy of God.  We are open to the possibility of transformation.  Once again, Jesus’ language is full of action. ‘Work’ is the key repeated word.

 

Night is coming for Jesus, and this is his response – to give sight to the blind.

 

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We act now to lift the darkness we can.  We work while it is light.  This theme emerges again in the story of the raising of Lazarus (11:9-16). Light and work go together – and the work is the transformation of suffering and death, sin and despair, into hope and life.  It is the bursting out of a new dawn, a new light to live by. This is the life-light in action: the glory-light that is found in the strangest places.

Can we notice this life-light, the light of Christ?  Can we learn to see in its loving clarity? We know that if we turn towards light, like the plants, we will grow and grow well.

 

Reflection and Response

Oh, God, who spoke and light came into being, may we forever dwell in the brightness of knowing you.

May we bring the light of Christ to those in darkness,
may we chase away the shadows with hope and love,
may we hold a lamp for feet that stumble,
may we too be lights in the world.

 

The account of the woman and the stones we considered briefly above invites us to look at our own hearts and behaviour.  Lent is a good time for self-examination.

Quaker light meditation

The light of love and grace transforms our seeing.

The Society of Friends have various pamphlets available to help introduce the practices of meditation and silent prayer.  These are usually undertaken together, as a group, and the meditation below can be done alone or with others.  The words in inverted commas are those of George Fox, founder of Quakers, 1624-1691.  Many of the others are a paraphrase.  Again, you may wish to begin this in darkness, or use a small light or candle to focus.

Look Inside  “Your teacher is within you.  Mind what is pure in you to guide you to God” – remember the work of the Spirit within you.

2 Identify the light  “Now this is the Light with which you are lighted, which shows you when you do wrong.”  When you bring yourself into the light, you see your troubles, your temptations and your wrongdoings.

3  Let the light show you yourself “Mind the pure light of God in you” which shows the things in you that are not light: let your conscience be stirred.  Let the light of Jesus Christ search you.  Do not be afraid.  It is the light of love.

Trace the light to its source  Stand in God’s counsel, learn from the light that “you may be led forth in his life and likeness.” God is restoring God’s image in you.

5 Trust the light to show you the alternative.  Have courage to stand still in the light: it is the light of your saviour.  If you look at your sin, you are swallowed up in it, so look to the light by which you see it instead, and let your focus be on the source.

Feel the new life grow  “He who follows the light comes to have the light of life.” The Lord has sown a seed in you that lies shut up in the darkness, with winter storms about it.  He sends his light to the seed, that with time the new life will grow.

7 See other people in the light  “As you abide in the light, the life-light, you will see the kinship that is amongst you, for in the light no self-will, no mastery can stand.”  We are all equal before the light.

See the world in the light  This light lets you see all the world as it is, and keeps you mindful of God.

Learn to love in the light  Standing in the eternal power and light of God, we have strength to love those who persecute and wrong us; we have light enough to shed light on the paths of those who are against us.  This is how we learn to love.

Prayerful reading – for yourself or others
If you find yourself in a dark place, read through the stories again –  the woman with the stones, the man born blind.  Notice the depth of the pain these two were experiencing, and the easy condemnation.  Notice how Jesus responds. Notice how his presence transforms things.  Bring your situation into the light of life,  inviting Jesus, the light of the world, into your dark place.  Allow yourself to lay aside worry, and be lit and warmed by the love that waits for you. Stay in that place for a while.
You can bring someone you love, or a situation, before God in this same way.

Creative
Not knowing when the dawn will come, I open every door.  Emily Dickinson
Photography, light-writing.  Why not take on a photography project, perhaps one of these every day for a week, or take a camera/phone with you wherever you go.
Light-sources in your home/community
Reflections and light effects
the same object or view at different times, in different light.
The same subject using various filters.
You could print off any you like, to pin up, or make into “sending you light” cards.

Living from a place of light.

Jesus calls us not to judge, and yet reminds us to know a tree by its fruit.

Can we develop the discipline of looking at ourselves and others with a clear-sighted vision, which sees truly and yet does not condemn?
This week, seek to lay aside harsh judgements.  Perhaps we can seek to learn lovingkindness even in situations of hostility.  Kindness to ourselves means we can keep ourselves safe, kindness to others means we do not need to condemn or retaliate.
Perhaps we can begin our own move towards light in the way we interact with each other on line.

Social Media .  Think about the arguments  in these chapters [of John’s gospel], and compare them to those you encounter on social media and comments sections online.  How can we respond in a way which is more like Jesus?  How can we be light in this particular dark place?

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Scatter the darkness in our hearts, that we may be children of light.

 

I wrote a poem as darkness fell while I was sitting on the beach.  You can read the poem, Light, here.

A prayer for the opening of the eyes (to be said throughout the day)
May I see signs of your kingdom springing up like seeds, working like yeast in the dough.

Thank you.  Next week, we’ll be looking at the Shepherd and the Gate.

 

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

Remember you are dust….. Ash Wednesday, for life.

 

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I’ve been thinking a lot about being the same stuff as the earth as I’ve been pottering around in the garden watching spring emerge, and reflecting on the parable of the sower, and other stories Jesus told.

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Ransoms, or wild garlic – as I made dumplings with them, and enjoyed them, I felt part of our local wood.

Today, Ash Wednesday, I emptied our Baxi grate, and carried the ash to the compost heap, getting covered in the stuff as a gust of wind blew.  It was a far more comprehensive ashing than we normally receive in church, and it felt given to me, a reminder of my state as dust, ash, earth.  As I stirred them into the first grass clippings of the year, and yesterday’s lemon peel from Shrove Tuesday, I thought about the beloved tree that we lost in our garden, and how it’s kept us warm this winter. I gave thanks for it. I thought too about Malcolm Guite’s Sonnet for Ash Wednesday, that speaks of the burning of the world’s forests.  I though how complex and delicate our relationship with the rest of the natural world is, and how easy it is to abuse and neglect its care.

It’s good we have these days and seasons – Ash Wednesday is right for penitence, and even lament, as we consider how separately we have tried to live from all that is good and true and sustaining.  How we have broken the Shalom, the peace and harmony of God’s intent for us and for all things.

It holds its own remedy, too.   People are normally given a cross of ash at a communion service, the great reminder and restorer of our unity with God, with each other, with the gifts of the earth in the form of bread and wine.  With the gift of Jesus.  Also, a reminder that we are one with the earth puts us in our place, and that place, if we stay with it long enough,  is a deep unity and kinship.  And that circled my thinking back to the parables, back to the talk I gave at Girton College ten days ago. It might help in the context of the burning of our world, and our state of being ash and soil.  Jesus told stories that speak deeply to our nature, and the nature of God and the world.  As we are made of the same stuff as earth, we can rediscover that connection, and in it find hope for an amendment of life, living more fully and abundantly, more joyfully and humbly and thankfully.

As we enter this season of Lent, may we be quiet enough to hear the whisperings, and the stirrings, of – not just new life, but a new way of living. We can repent – the Hebrew word normally translated such carries a meaning of turning back home, the Greek of having a change of mindset.  Both of these carry great hope – the reign of God is very close, all around, within us, if we but look and see.

Jesus said, ‘I Am’ – for Lent. Chapter 1, the woman at the well.

 

The bible scene with Jesus at the well with the Samaritan woman shows signs of damage and peeling of paint

Mural by  Emmanuel Nsama

If you are following my Book for Lent, welcome! I hope you find it helps.
If you’d like to begin at the very beginning, you could take a look at the chapter on Moses, and the burning bush – the first I Am. You can find a link to my post about that here.

 

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John 4:1-30, 39-42

It may seem a strange place to start, with this deep conversation that is not normally mentioned as one of the I AM sayings – and indeed, it isn’t one of the classic seven.  However, it is a story which has intrigued me for years, and when I found that this is the place where Jesus first says “I am”, I wanted to explore it more fully.  It is the longest recorded conversation Jesus has with one other person – and it is with someone who was on the other side of so many cultural barriers.

At a time when our politics is increasingly divided and divisive, where people box each other into categories, and make some lesser than others, this is a particularly relevant conversation.

John the Evangelist prepares us for this story very carefully, for it is profoundly counter-cultural. Jesus stops to rest near the plot of ground that Jacob gave his son Joseph. Jacob’s other name was Israel – one who wrestles with God. We are going back to Israel’s common spring, common source, at Jacob’s well. We are being reminded of a time long ago, before the time when and the Jews and Samaritans became peoples who saw themselves as separate. It is a place that holds meaning and memory for Jews and Samaritans – of their common father, and their common salvation story. John is placing us on common ground……

I think it is no coincidence that John begins this story by setting it against an atmosphere of potential conflict – between cousins, between related nations. We see Jesus acting out his mission to be a peacemaker, a reconciler. “For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us” Eph 2:14. Jesus himself is common ground, and his presence changes things. If we look carefully at how we are prepared for this encounter, we can see that we are being led away from conflict, towards reconciliation, to inclusion, and to hope…….

And so, as Jesus waits by the well in the heat of the day, a woman approaches.  We can only imagine what it must have been like for her, in a culture where a woman could be divorced “for any and every reason” (Matt 19:3). We often think of her as one utterly disgraced in her community, having to visit the well at such a time.  That may be so, but we must remember that at this time divorces were easy for a man to come by and early death not uncommon.  Whatever her circumstances, she must have known more than her share of tragedy and disappointment.  She may have known deep shame and disgrace.  She may well have been a rejected member of a rejected community.

And yet she, like everyone else, gets thirsty and needs water to drink and water to wash with.  She is as human as everyone else.  So often, we do not see people like this.  So often, we make quick judgements, build fences, wonder about people’s worthiness and, in our own pride and insecurity, seek to feel superior, chosen, righteous in some way.  Not so Jesus.

His question bursts through all our categories and barriers in its gentleness, its humanity.  It is a question that changes everything for this woman, and for her community.

“Will you give me a drink?”

Jesus humbly admits his own thirst, his own need.  If we have heard the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matt 25:31-46), this question may have a deep resonance for us, for there Jesus says that whoever gives a thirsty person water, gives it to him.  This story in John gives us a way of thinking about the needs before us.  How would we respond – how do we respond – if a stranger asks us for a drink?

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And from the Reflection and Response section.

Pour out a jug of water and set it before you, together with a glass.
Ask yourself what you thirst for.  Allow honest answers to emerge and note them.  Where does your life feel dry and unproductive?  What would help?

 

“I was thirsty and you gave me a drink”
….If you buy drinks out, perhaps you could fast from one or two a week, and give the money to a charity instead………

You could carry extra bottles of water to give to the homeless or buy tea or coffee for those you encounter and drink with them.  I have gift vouchers for coffee shops in my bag to pass on………

 

 

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Think about this picture – look at the two trees, and the fence.
Where do you find connection in your life, and where separateness?
Are there ways you can reach across divides?
Pray for wisdom.  Remember how Jesus slipped away from potential conflict with the religious leaders.

“For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us” Eph 2:14.
What comes to mind as you meditate on this verse? Does it speak into an particular situation for you?

 

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

Amazon

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This blog post also draws on the Sunday Retold series.

Thank you for sharing this time with me.

 

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

 

Jesus said, ‘I Am’ – for Lent. Getting started

 

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Here in the UK, our late winter weather seems brutal.  This is not what we expect for February, and many people are beginning this season with the heartbreak of seeing their homes flooded.  This Lent, the Archbishop is encouraging us to take seriously the call to tend and care for the living earth.

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We are all increasingly aware of the fragility of the natural world, as well as its beauty, and the response sections of my book pick up these themes and give some practical suggestions for ways we can move towards greater connection, and greater care, of the living earth.  I am so glad to hear various groups, churches, and groups of churches are going to use my book as guide through Lent, and, if you would like to follow, you can find a suggested programme here.

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Each week I’ll share with you a little from the relevant chapter.  This week, it’s from the first – I am: Moses and Abraham.  It’s short, so I hope you’ll be able to find time to read it together.  If not, we’ll begin next week with The Woman at the Well.

Moses and I Am
Exodus 3:1-14

 

John’s gospel looks back to Moses’ ancient story, recording for us how Jesus called himself by this name – “I am”.  This name, which emerged from a burning bush so long ago, is one of the most identifiable features of John’s account. It resonated with his early readers and listeners in Greek Ephesus, and it stirs our imagination even today, millennia later.  Before we go deep into John’s account, and explore why that may be, we will look back to Moses’ story and see what we understand of this earliest “I am”.

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Nothing is wasted in God’s economy.  God used the rubbish – and the good – in Moses’ upbringing and his life as a shepherd.  He became ideally suited to his task.  As well as his circumstances and experience, God used his character; in this case, a sense of justice and an indignation at bullies.  What must have felt like failure and a downwards path was the place where Moses encountered God.

We do not know if he was seeking God when God appeared.  We do know that he was in the middle of his everyday, working life, and that God did something strange to arrest his attention, awaken his curiosity, draw him nearer.  Attention and curiosity can guide you, can awaken you to God in the burning bushes we pass every day.

Moses certainly didn’t seem to looking for a job, let alone a great mission.  It is easy to read his rather thin excuses and wonder why he spent so long arguing.  His unwillingness to respond seems to come from uncertainty.

Moses is uncertain about himself, and he is uncertain about God.

“Nothing is wasted in God’s economy” – can we live from this realisation?  Can we acknowledge that even very difficult things can be fuel for something better?
Can we work to eliminate wasteful ways of living?

And from the Reflection and Response section

Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God.
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning

As you start your day, pray for open eyes to see where God may be at work, or may be seeking to catch your attention today.  Set off with open eyes, a camera and a notepad.  Record anything that draws your attention.  At the end of the day, mull over what you have recorded in prayer.  What did you see?

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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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Thank you for joining me in your reading.  There is more to come…..