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”.

…….

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…..

The Little Christmas Tree – I’ve been thinking ….

I was checking availability of my Christmas book, and was very pleased to see that Amazon had rustled up a few more copies, when I looked at the cover, and started thinking…..

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I was thinking of how much more I know now about how precious woodland is to all the life of the planet.  The story came to me years ago now. I have always loved woods, but this year the urgent necessity of protecting the natural world – and forests in particular – has really come home to many of us.  Including me.

And so as I read this simple story again, I read it with a deeper awareness of the peril all us creatures face, and how vital it is that trees remain to shelter the creatures of the wood – and indeed all of us, one way or another. The kindness, the interconnection, the sanctuary provided by one small fir tree  provides safety for all the other creatures in the storm.  That kindness is blessed by the smaller stars of Christmas night, and the angels who fill the sky with their songs.

Now, as well as a tale of Christmas night, and Christmas itself, I see it as a story of hope for all of us who are trying to feed and shelter nature over the winter – in our own gardens, or in the wider countryside. A story of hope for all of us who are trying to do small and simple things to make the world safer and better for all its inhabitants – whether it’s reducing plastic, or taking the bus. These small acts matter, the Little Christmas Tree shows us.  They matter a great deal.

I hope that children, and their parents, will feel that message of hope, and the love of natural places, running through the words and beautiful pictures of this storybook.

 

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You can, of course, ask your local bookshop to order you a copy, or order one from any number of online book places.

The first Little Free Pantry in the UK!

Some good news from this corner of Suffolk…..

I’d like to share with you an article hot off the press at the Melton Messenger – the local parish magazine. I’ve tweaked it ever so slightly for the internet. In it, I talk about our open, freely accessible community food project, which we hope will be a sign of love and welcome, as well as practical help, to anyone who wishes to participate by either receiving or giving. Anyone is free to use the pantry, with no questions asked.

It’s such a simple idea, maybe it’s something you, or a community you belong to, could consider? It might be very welcome in the run-up to Christmas, and in the leaner days that follow. In the article is a link to the Little Free Pantry website, which is full of delightful and helpful things.

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Sharing the Harvest – New Community Food Project Launched!

We’re delighted to tell you that St Andrew’s new community food project is now up and running!

It’s a Little Free Pantry – a set of shelves in the Church porch which are freely accessible. Anyone can leave some tins, and anyone can take some. The ethos of the project is:

“Take what you need, give what you can”.

We are quite excited to be able to announce that we have successfully registered our shelves with the Little Free Pantry movement. It is now, officially, the first in the UK! You can find out more about the movement, and see St Andrew’s Melton on the map, at their website: http://mapping.littlefreepantry.org/

Back to the launch….. it was at our Harvest Festival. The Church was looking beautiful, decked out with orange autumn flowers, and wheat, and apples. It smelt as good as it looked. During the first hymn, as we gave thanks for the harvest, we all brought up our gifts of tins and packets and gave them to Rev Paul, who piled them on the altar. Later in the service, we joined hands to pray a blessing on the shelves, and for all who would use them. The shelves were stacked with the tins that had been brought. The surplus will go to the Salvation Army’s food bank. It felt that we were participating in something very ancient – giving thanks for, and sharing, the Harvest – in a way that was new to us, visibly opening our Harvest Thanksgiving to whole parish.

For we hope that Melton neighbours will want to join in. It’s a way we can all participate in the generosity of Harvest, whether we are giving, or receiving. We hope it will be a year-round sign of God’s love in a very practical, daily-bread way – with tins of beans, and soup, and such. We hope it will help to strengthen the sense of community in Melton. It’s so good that we can keep the Church and its garden open and accessible to the neighbourhood, and we hope this project will be a further sign of welcome, and of the inclusive community we are seeking to build here.
As people are free to take and leave when they like, the stocks may be variable, but we’ll do our best to keep an eye on things and make sure the shelves aren’t empty!

So, why not come along and take a look? Why not come along and join in?

Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can change the world — Howard Zinn

We have a tradition of sharing produce in the congregation – many people have productive gardens with gluts of tomatoes and apples. We now have a basket above the shelves where we can extend that sharing to all our neighbours – subject to the vagaries of harvest and weather!

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If you’d like to think some more about Bread, and hunger, you might like to read my Lent post on “I am the bread of life”, here.

Everybody Now – a parable to mark the beginning of Extinction Rebellion’s week of action

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All around the world, people are taking to the streets to draw our attention to the terrible destruction spreading over our home, the Earth.

It grieves me to learn of so many living things, plants and animals, that are on the brink of being lost from creation for ever.  It grieves me to read of the native European trees, like the ash, and the chestnut, that are now getting closer to dying, of British native mammals whose numbers are diminishing rapidly.

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But ask the animals, and they will teach you;
    the birds of the air, and they will tell you;
 ask the plants of the earth, and they will teach you;
    and the fish of the sea will declare to you.

Job 12: 7,8
It is time to listen.  What will we learn?

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Peaceful, imaginative and creative protest can help us wake up.  It can be a revelation, a prophetic voice showing the impact of human greed, and the poverty of our love for our neighbours.  We are not free from the consequences of our actions.

Much of my work draws on a depth of love for the natural world, and so this week I hope to post, and re-post, some pieces which speak into our current crisis, in my own small act of protest.  And so, I begin by reposting this parable.

 

The parable of the good craftsman

Once there was a craftsman who had two children. As you might expect, he had built a beautiful house out of seasoned wood, with wide windows that looked out over his lush green fields, his flocks and herds.  He had made fine, carved furniture for his house, and he had smiled when he made it, and said, “That’s good!”  He had made beautiful plates and cups and jugs out the red clay near his house, he had smiled when he made those, too, and said, “That’s good!”  He had made a sheepfold to keep his flocks safe, and smiled, then, too.  In fact, all that was around him was good and flourishing and abundant, and as he looked at it all, he laughed out loud and said, “That is all so good!”

The day came when he needed to go on a journey, as the people in these stories often do.  He thought, “My children are old enough to be left in charge now.  They have watched what I did, some of the time, and I have told them how good it is.”  And so he left, and the children looked around, and they, too, saw that it was good.  So good, in fact, that they started to think how much it was all worth.  So they sold the furniture, and the plates and cups and jugs, for a fortune.  They were made by a master craftsman, after all.  The plastic ones they bought to replace them were good enough. They looked at the lush green fields and thought, “We could rear more animals in pens.”  So they did: twice as many, three and four times even, the poor creatures.  They sold the pasture they no longer needed, and a factory and a car park grew there, large and grey and ugly.  The water from the well their father had dug became bitter, but they bought water in bottles with all the money that they had made.

Then, the time came for the father to return.  As he drew near the house, he noticed the trees along the road were withered and dying, and his smile left him.  He came across a bird trapped in plastic that blew across the fields, and he set it free.  Then, near the house, he found a thin child sitting by the side of the road.
“What is the matter?” he asked.
“I drank water from the stream that flows from over there, by that factory.  It tasted bad. Now I’m sick.”  The father gave the child water from his own flask, and picked up the child to take home. He had herbs for medicine there.

But when he got even nearer, he could see that the factory was on his own land, and that where his own fields should be was all noise and smoke.  He could see the plastic rubbish spilling over from his own front garden, from where the flowers and the vegetables and the herbs had been.  He saw his own children, with grey, indoor faces, and said, “what have you done?”
“Father, we are so pleased to see you!  Come inside, we will bring you the accounts and you will see what we have made!”
“That is not the kind of making I intended you for!” replied the father. “And see, see this child, poisoned! How will you enter that in these books of yours?  What have you done with all that I have made – do you not know that I love it all?”

Some prayers from the first chapter of Prayers and Verses

Lord, purge our eyes to see
Within the seed a tree,
Within the glowing egg a bird,
Within the shroud a butterfly.
Till, taught by such we see
Beyond all creatures, thee
And harken to thy tender word
And hear its “Fear not; it is I”.
Christina Rosetti 1830-94

O God, enlarge within us the sense of fellowship with all living things, our brothers the animals to whom thou gavest the earth as their home in common with us.
Basil the Great c330-379

He prayeth best, who loveth best
All things both great and small;
For the dear God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge 1772–1834

 

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Prayers for a new term – from Prayers and Verses

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September.

This year, it’s rich, and green, and everything is starting to grow again, like a second spring.  It feels like a new beginning, which is appropriate as it’s the beginning of a new academic year.  And, like all new beginnings, even for those who are almost looking forward to it, it can be a little daunting, and make us feel a little anxious.

For others, it’s the beginning of a new adventure, or a welcome return to time spent with old friends in a safe, familiar space.

Whatever it is for you, may you be blessed in the weeks to come.

 

Here is an extract from my book, Prayers and Verses.

A new school

Do not imitate what is bad, but imitate what is good.
3 John 11

Goodbye, dear old school,
Hello, bright new start.
May God guide our lives,
Head and hand and heart.

Dear God,
Help us as we learn new things.
If we learn quickly and easily,
may we help others to understand.
If we make mistakes,
may we understand what went wrong.
help us never to be afraid of new things,
but to see them as an adventure.

 

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Otley Hall Quiet Day – the vine, and other growing things.

Last Saturday I had the enormous privilege of leading a Quiet Day for St Mary’s Church of Woodbridge, based on I am the vine.  I’m afraid I wasn’t taking photos, just giving my attention to what was going on around me.

The gardens are so beautiful, as ever, and it was particularly good to see several vines growing and entwined, with small grapes forming.  They were forming a tunnel, you could walk through the vine, almost grafted in.

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A photo from earlier in the year from Postcard from Suffolk

It was so good to sit by the water, and watch the fish and the dragonflies.

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Here is a picture from an earlier visit, in spring.

One of the things we talked about was how Jesus’ I am saying – I am the vine – gives us a way of seeing ourselves as deeply connected.  We talked of many things – how we can deepen that connection to God, and each other.   We talked about everything holding together, ourselves and everything else, in Christ.  We read about that in Colossians.

We used poetry to help us towards prayer, and contemplation, including Malcolm Guite’s sonnet, set to music here by St Brides.

I can’t help thinking today, about our connection to this good green earth.  It is precious and beautiful, and we are only just beginning to learn how it does hold together, interconnected, and mutually dependent, as we are watching with horror as the Amazon burns, and Siberia too.  We know how ancient woodland in our own land has been cut down, or is under threat.

May we find our way home to tending for this beautiful world.

May we take inspiration from the song of the vine.

You can read some more about the vine, from my book on the I am sayings, here.

God, source of all light and life,
help us to see your hand at work
in the beauty of creation.
Help us to know that, in you,
the whole earth is holy ground.

O Lord,
Your greatness
is seen
in all
the world!
Psalm 8:9

From  my collection of prayers, Prayers and Verses

 

You might like to read A parable for Earth day.

 

 

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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