I’m so delighted to have one of my poems included in the wonderful Diana Butler Bass’ blog. I love her work and am currently feeling quite excited! It’s almost like I’m participating in the Wild Goose Festival from my rather hot garden.
Here’s a link to the whole poem – the first of a series.
I was thinking of the small, wind-carried seeds that now fill the meadow patch of our lawn, and how we never know where our words will blow to, how they will land, or what future flowers they may bear.
Edit: 19th July. I’ve just listened to Diana Butler Bass’ sermon on All the Marys. Wow. It’s extraordinary. Some astonishing new scholarship and some powerful rethinking of the Mary and Martha texts. I’ll do some pondering, and find out more, but here it is. If you have access to Substack, listen and be astonished. What if this is a valid interpretation?
Sitting in the garden in the late afternoon today – the Summer Solstice – I watched the daisies in the sun and the breeze. Here they are.
Midsummer – and the tall daisies are full of light, nodding and glowing, glowing and nodding, saying yes, it seems, to all that is.
Simplicity – to receive the light and shine out in turn. To have roots in the dark earth, in the damp earth and to shine like this – with a purity of brightness, and such depth of yellow, while swaying, like this, in the breeze.
Perhaps it is so – simply to be is holy, to receive and to give is enough, this longest of days.
Alchemy – for surely it is a glory, and a wonder, to turn earth and damp and light into this brightness, this daily beauty, shining like the distant sun here, in this shady place, beneath my apple tree.
Over the past few years, I’ve gathered and shared with you links to various readings here on the blog that tell the Easter story. Whether you are joining together with many others, or perhaps staying within a smaller household group, or a gathering of friends, I hope you will find here something that supports you, whatever you are doing..
I notice that two posts are proving particularly helpful at the moment. I’ll share links to these at the beginning, and then go through everything in a Holy Week sequence.
Do please feel free to use any of these resources, acknowledging me and this blog. It’s always good to hear about that, though, so do let me know if you can!
These are the most popular links here on the blog at the moment:
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.
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.
Last time, I shared a wonderful piece of work with you. It emerged from the people of our town during the Global Day of Action for the Environment, at the mid-point of COP 26 earlier this month.
You may remember that we invited people to write down their hopes and fears for the environment on cardboard leaves, which we tied to a tree in the main shopping street, The Thoroughfare. I then wove those words together into a poem. You can read it, and more about it, here.
Now, the finished poem is itself tied to the tree where it began. It felt like a homecoming, tying the people’s words to the tree.
The leaves themselves seemed to precious to discard, carrying as they did such heartfelt words. St Mary’s Church in the town is taking care of them. They are hanging up near the back, as part of their display on caring for the world. It’s full of helpful, thoughtful suggestions and reflections.
There are some extra leaves so you can add your own contribution to the tree, too, as well as encouragement to “Go one step Greener”. The church is open for prayer and contemplation between 10 and 4 Monday to Saturday, unless there is a special event. Local people, it’s well worth a visit.
I’ve sent a copy to our MP, Dr Therese Coffey, too. Edit note 13th December: I’ve received a letter from Dr Coffey, with thanks for the poem and some information on what the government has done and hopes to do for the environment.
Last night, I was able to share the poem with the Town Council – reading it out and giving a physical copy. It seemed a very good, hopeful way for the meeting to start. They listened attentively and appreciatively, and responded with applause and real enthusiasm. So, if you were one of the local people who contributed their hopes and fears to the poem, do know that our local representatives have heard you, and will keep a record of your words in their minutes too.
It was so good to be able to do that. Our council are doing a great deal to take care of the beautiful place where we live, and are keen to do more. It’s good to be able to give voice to the hopes and dreams of people in the town, to share them in places where they will be heard, and will, in turn, do their work in other minds and hearts.
Each small thing matters. You never know what will grow from even these leaves.
It’s very exciting to receive a parcel for a publisher – and today, this one arrived.
It contains BRF’s book to celebrate 100 years of publishing, and includes a huge depth and breadth of wisdom and insight. They asked a wide range of people to contribute, including me. I’m very honoured to be invited to be part of this important project, it’s so good! I’ve written for them for a while, in Quiet Spaces, and now New Daylight. They also published my most recent book, “Jesus said, I Am – finding life in the everyday”. I find myself in excellent company. Here’s one of the pages that list the contributors, and you can see the depth and breadth BRF have pulled together to make this book. You might find me somewhere in the middle.
I was asked to write a reflection on a passage from John’s gospel, where Jesus speaks to a woman at a well. It’s a passage I love, and have spoken and written about before. I included a reflection on its themes in my book on the I Am sayings, as some scholars regard it as the first. You can read more about that here. As the title below says, the well is deep, and I find more and more wisdom, compassion and hope in the passage the more I allow myself to sink down into this encounter.
I’ve been having a browse through, and it is a beautiful, thoughtful book. It would make a good gift for someone interested.
You can buy it from the publishers here, or from wherever you like to purchase your books. It can be ordered from any local bookshop.
As we are beginning to venture out a little more, we thought we would pay a visit to Ely, and the vast indoor space of its ancient cathedral. They often have contemporary art there, which helps the old stones continue to sing, giving a new perspective on ancient truths. We knew that Gaia, an installation by Luke Jerram, was going to be there in July, and so we went and saw this beautiful, astonishing sight. The comparative emptiness of the cathedral space made it all the more powerful as it floated above us.
And as the space is vast, and it takes time to walk up to, around and beyond the piece, you do have time and space in which to allow the work to speak to you, to stir up responses, and to pray. I am sure that one of the intentions is to give us all an opportunity to experience something like “earthrise”, when the astronauts first saw the whole of the Earth from space, and how that shifted their perspective, and began to change the way all of us are able to see our home. The staggering, indescribable beauty of the whole called out my sense of awe, which sat uncomfortably alongside my awareness of the damage we are doing to our precious, unique home.
In the setting of the cathedral, as Gaia hangs in the nave under the painted ceiling which tells the long stretch of the Bible’s story, I found the language of repentance surprisingly, and helpfully, came to mind. Repentance both in our more familiar understanding of sorrow for wrongdoing, and desire to amend, and in the possibly more ancient meanings carried in the old texts, of returning home, and of undergoing a profound change of mind – a paradigm shift in the way you see.
Much of my writing celebrates the beauty of the natural world, how lovely, precious, and vulnerable it is. But sometimes, that love spills over into grief. So the old stones, and the old story, seemed illuminated by our current crisis, and, in turn, those ancient words seemed to express something necessary, and powerful, and, in the end, with the potential for hope.
Gaia at Ely Cathedral
She seems to float, lit up with her own light, slowly turning, blue and blooming with clouds as we walk up, look up, small before her.
While above our steps, the familiar painted roof rolls on, telling its painted story, from the tree, and the garden, on towards this
fathomless shining beauty, the ‘all’ that was so very good in that beginning. Now as she turns we see how she hangs below the story’s last scenes – the gift of a beloved child held on his mother’s lap, held forward towards us, loved and given and giving, and the wounded golden king, who gives still.
And below, below hangs the whole shining Earth, dazzling, vast with sea, turning and flowering with clouds from the southern ice-shine, melting although we do not see her weep,
And the land, those small green swathes and swags, are dressed in white too, a veil of vapour, while the deserts spread brown and red above our eyes.
The lands are small, countries seem tales we tell. What is certain is this one great flow – ocean and ice and cloud – and the unseen winds that bear them through our blue, breathing air.
And the people stand beneath her, lit by ice, and hold up their hands as if to carry her, or hold her, or save her from falling.
How beautiful it is. How strange and wondrous that we should be creatures who live within so much living perfection.
And as she turns slowly under the child and the king, I wonder, what do those familiar words mean now, ‘the sins of the world’, as the stain of our reckless harm seeps through the blue and green, through all this living glory,
And is there any hope in our waking up to beauty with grief and loss, even as dust and ashes float across the sky, across us all, late as we are in our repenting?
And is there hope, hope that we might be granted this grace – time for amendment of life, to tend the garden with its leaves and fruit, shining and greening, to take part in the work of loving and healing, of restoration, of making all things new.
Yesterday was the Autumn Equinox, and now, today, there is more dark than light. Yesterday, too, in the UK, there were announcements from politicians about measures to slow the spread of the virus. We are still experiencing pandemic, and six months to the day the first lockdown began. Many will be feeling anxious about the thought of the winter ahead. It feels as if the world grows smaller again.
I’ve been exploring some aspects of our crisis in my meditations on Exodus. You can read the latest poem in that series here. In those reflections, I’ve had at the back of my mind how we hold on to hope in difficult times, and I’ve been thinking of hope as an act of defiance, a radical act. Today’s poem looks at joy in a similar way. As well as looking at the difficulties we face, I am seeking to cultivate joy too as an act of defiance, a radical posture that looks deeper than circumstance, real and pressing though that may be. Of course, it is not always possible. Sometimes, we sit with our sorrows, or our sorrows sit with us, and are reluctant to leave.
Often, though, we can take this stance. Maybe, we can receive both the gift and the grace of joy when it comes, and maybe we can also work to cultivate it as a habit, a practice, a spiritual discipline, a work.
Can we do that? Can we, at least some of the time, choose to take joy where we find it? And even cultivate it, and treasure it?
When that is too hard, perhaps even such beauty as this poem seeks to share will be some help.
The hot lane is full of wings, rising over the sand-blown tar, spiralling together with the urgency of life.
Dragonflies, dozens – red, blue-green, yellow, joined or unjoined, flying with rainbows caught in their light, clear wings – I have never seen so many.
And large white butterflies dancing, spiralling, looking like great white poppies caught in the breeze, seeking each other, dazzling in the dazzling light.
How it lifts you to see them, how it lifts you to feel the warmth of the sun on your skin as it turns on its balance point towards sleep, and coldness.
And then, down past the foot ferry and the wild swimmers it all opens up – the great windy marsh-weave of river and saltwater, island and marshland, blue of the sky rippling in water, shining mud, and the hiss of rushes in the north wind
Which carries other wings. Long skeins and lines of loud geese, endlessly joined by threads of sound – the strong echoing call, the beat of thousands of wings that bring dark with them on their dark flight feathers, racing with cold at their backs.
And we know how winter comes, we know the night lengthens with its endless stars, we know our days grow short
Even as this joy rises, even as it rises up, bears you up like wings that beat with such effort of heart, with effort of voice to cry out, cry out like this – look, look how good it is, how good.
Thank you for following my journey through Exodus.
We live in turbulent times, times of great change. Through pandemic – plague, perhaps – and economic and social upheaval. Patterns of work are shifting, and many are seeking liberation from injustice – some long established, others growing insideously and out of sight. I feel the ancient story of Exodus has wisdom for us in our current crisis, and so I’m exploring the story through poetry, seeking to sink deep into it with my heart and imagination, and to study it with my mind. A series of poems is growing on this blog, and you can find the first of them here.
To sit alongside these poems, I’m also posting some extracts from my book, The Bible Story Retold in Twelve Chapters, its prose offering a counterpoint to the poetry. I use a similar way of working for both poems and prose – I study the original text, research, use my mind, and then I sink into contemplative and imaginative prayer, seeking to enter into the story, and see it through those different eyes.
This next small extract tells the story of Moses and Aaron before Pharaoh, which is echoed in the two poems, Bricks without straw. You can read the first here.
You can read Exodus Chapter 5, on which both the poems and the retelling draw, here.
Let my People Go
Moses and Aaron entred the soaring splendour of Pharaoh’s court to face the most powerful man on earth. “The God of Israel has said, ‘Let my people go: they must hold a festival to me in the wilderness……..'” “Who is this ‘god’ of yours?” asked Pharaoh, who was worshipped as a god himself in Egypt. “The God of my people, the Israelites. Please let us go into the wilderness….” “So, you slaves want a holiday, do you? Trying to get out of work again! You’re not going anywhere!” As Moses and Aaron left, they heard the instructions Pharaoh was giving to the slave masters. “Don’t give them any straw – they still have to make mud bricks, just as many as before, but they’ll have to collect their own straw to hold them together. If there’s any slacking, hit them as hard as you like!” The slave masters smiled cruelly. The slaves, beaten and bruised, came to see Moses and Aaron. “Now look what you’ve done! Call this a rescue plan?” Shaken, Moses prayed to God for help – and God spread out his plan before Moses, reminding him of all his promises to his people, and of the good land that would be their home. “Go on, prove it then!” roared Pharaoh, the next time Moses and Aaron came before him. “If your ‘god’ has power, let’s see it!” So Aaron threw down his staff and it turned, hissing, into a snake. Pharaoh summoned his own magicians, who performed the same marvel Aaron’s snake swallowed up the others, but still Pharaoh would not listen. And that was only the beginning.
From The Bible Story Retold in Twelve Chapters
And a prayer
Lord of Heaven and Earth, who was a friend to the slaves of Egypt, and heard their cries, we pray for all those whose lives are crushed by hard labour, by injustice, and lack of freedom. Where we carry these burdens in our own lives, we cry out, and ask that you heed our cries, as you did theirs.
We are sorry for the ways we participate in systems which are unjust, and do not lead to the flourishing of all. We ask that you help us participate in the prayer and work of your kingdom coming on Earth, as in Heaven. We pray that each day we may do justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly with you. Amen
He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? Micha 6:8
Thank you for spending time with me on this journey today.
This next in a series of poems drawn from the story of Exodus circles again around the mystery of the burning bush. Like all these poems, it draws on my meditations on the Hebrew scripture held in one hand, and an awareness of our current situation in the other. I am exploring what this ancient story may have to tell us at this critical and bewildering time.
This poem takes the delightful idea that maybe there are burning bushes all around us, and moves us to a consideration of what the voice from the burning bush said to Moses, and what that may mean for us if we are on the look out for revelation, and hope, as we go about our daily business. It follows on from Holy ground, barefoot – an earlier poem in the series.
This poem touches on an episode from the gospels, where Jesus is revealed in brightness on a mountain in the presence of Moses, and Elijah. The two stories are deeply connected. You can read about the Transfiguration here, if you would like to. It is the time of year when some churches celebrate the Festival of the Transfiguration, and my link will lead you to a beautiful blog from the Iona Community, “This new light”.
If you would like to read the story of the burning bush, you can do so in my earlier post, here. If you do, you will also find some fragments of writing by others which helped inspire this meditation.
On fire, but not burned Exodus poems 5
Do angels speak
from every bush?
Whispering in the
rustle of leaves,
the low hum of insects –
or louder, clearer,
Was that holy fire
for one place,
or might it
could it happen –
The bush on the hill
of Horeb was aflame,
we read of it –
worth turning aside
from the work of tending
sheep, or finding water,
turning aside to see.
But I glimpse, too, a deeper
peeling back an ordinary
moment to reveal
depth, and warmth,
I catch a glimpse,
a hope, of
each living thing
with a heart of life-fire,
not of burning,
not of perishing,
but of God-fire growing,
giving, sustaining, all.
Maybe, angels still speak,
to take off our shoes,
for the very earth is holy.
of a God who has talked
with our ancestors,
those who walk behind us
speaking old wisdom
we tend to forget.
But most of all
these living flames
speak of affliction,
they spark forth
the pain of all things,
of a suffering people,
they call to the work of
the body of one
who will listen to
who will turn aside
to gaze on
We’ve been leaving more of the lawn long this year, especially at the end pictured, where the grass has been unsuccessful, and other plants want to grow. It’s been so good to see butterflies and bees above the flowers, and, in close inspection, to see so many small creeping things below.
We have various heights of hawkweed growing prolifically now, and I particularly love their seedheads – like dandelion clocks.
There is something very special about these windborne seeds – their profligacy, abandon, opportunism – which I find good to think about right now. When our movements and interactions are reduced as we seek to keep one another safe from the virus, I find it helps to think of these seeds blowing freely. You never know where they will go, and what their impact will be. The task of the plant is to produce the seeds, and to release them to the wind.
It reminds me of the extravagance of the parable of the Sower, and of the many times Jesus talks of seeds falling to the ground. These things help remind me to be less attached to outcome, to just do the task before me, and to trust the blowing of the wind.
I love the softness of this path
mown through the long grass,
the many yellow flowers.
How it curves to here, where
the old gate is bound by ivy,
where the silver birches,
planted as chance seedlings,
are growing tall and graceful
above wild strawberries.
I love the round seedheads,
that dip their opaque globes
in the breeze,
and the self-heal,
and the speedwell,
The seeds shake in the breeze,
and blow free.
The lightest fragments of life.
Who knows where they will
Who knows, the smallest of
things – a thought,
a hope, a prayer,
can be borne up
by many breezes,
and tumble and travel
through many airs,
and find a place to catch,
to break open, to root,
and to grow.