Poem: Holy Ground, barefoot. Exodus poems

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Cockle spit near the Chapel of St Peter-on-the-Wall, Essex

We come to the third poem I’ve written drawing on the early chapters of Exodus, the Bible’s second book. I intend to go back and write more – in particular about the burning bush – so I’m holding off formally numbering this one for now.  However this exploration proceeds, I’ll make sure numbers on the poems work with the story in Exodus, so they can be read together.

I was drawn to write from this foundational story as it begins at a mighty civilisation’s turning point – a time of divided peoples, of injustice, inequality, and exploitation.  The world we are in right now seems to be at a turning point, where things cannot go on as they have been.  I’ve been seeing echoes, and warnings, and hope, in this story from long ago.

For this poem, I have continued the theme of God saw, and God knew, from the previous poem, which you can read here.  I have progressed the story to when Moses stood before the burning bush, and took off his sandals, for the ground is holy.

You can read more from the Exodus text here.

Some things struck me, in addition to the themes I’ve explored before.  The first is, the matter of holy places, and temples.  For those of us who have a practice of corporate worship, most gather in a set-aside space.  Not all – there are many gatherings in homes and coffee shops and dance studios and woods where people, together, are open to the divine.  Now, we cannot gather, and our relationship with these places is changed, as well as our relationship with our worshiping communities.  Although I know, as the poem explores, that God has no need of temples, I find that maybe I do.  I include two photos here from the ancient chapel of St Peter-on-the-wall, founded in the seventh century.  And the wall of its name, the wall it is on, is Roman, so its history is very long. There is real peace in that space.  I find my spirit soothed by such places.  And I am finding, as the poems on this blog show, that I connect deeply with the divine in nature, too.  I am increasingly barefoot, on holy ground.  This seems a very deep and helpful truth, especially now.  It gives me hope.

A little tentatively, I have been thinking about gods and idols as I’ve been reading Exodus, and wondering what our equivalents might be. As I’ve been mulling over our economy, the systems that drive our lives that seem bigger than any of us, I have reached for the ancient language of idol.  I have found the word Mammon comes to mind, and it says something significant for our times.  I’ve mentioned it briefly before, in my blog post on The company of bees. As a modern person, I’m aware I’m dipping my toes into something that may stir up ideas of superstition, and that I don’t really understand what these concepts of idol and god meant to those whose culture they belong to.  But I do know that now, as ever, there are forces bigger than us, which we don’t seem to control, in our daily lives.  We call them economics, or big corporations, or debt. The ancient stories suggest they have feet of clay, and can fall.  They are human constructs, agreements and stories we hold in common about how the world works and what matters, they may become more…. but they are not laws of physics, and we can, through collective effort, change them.

I wonder what that might look like in our current world, where these systems, or machines, or idols, seem to be demanding the sacrifice of life to their ends.  We can see that in some places with the response to coronavirus.  We can definitely see it in how we contine to destroy ecosystems and drive creatures to extinction.  Are these things really more important than life? Can we decide to do better?

Here, in this poem, I look at how the enslaved Hebrew people were forced to build temples to gods who didn’t hear them, or help them.  I wonder how many people, in today’s economies, might feel they are doing something similar, as they are made to serve the demands for more, and faster, and cheaper.

This poem, though, only touches on these things.  It turns to something more hopeful, a promise of the deep reality of the glory of God in all things,  and carries echoes Isaiah 11, and our deep hope – of the dream of God, of the kingdom we pray will come. It circles back to the beginning, to considering a holy place, where we are safe, and heard. Even when there are no places of worship available to us, these things are true.

We can be grounded in the earth, in the depth of our connection to God, and to all.

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Inside the chapel (660-662 AD), looking out.

 

Holy Ground, barefoot.   Exodus poems 3

This people had no temple,
no worship-place.
This people built temples
for others,
for gods they dreaded,
rising in terrible power
over them, having
no regard for
their misery.

They prayed under
the weight of their burdens.
They cried out in
the unprayer of pain,
and God, having no need
of temples, heard,
as God always hears.
And God, leaning to the
brokenhearted, saw,
as God always sees.

For the very earth is holy.
The ground under our feet.
Take off your shoes and feel it,
feel the dry-ground-powder
and the sharp stones,
the infinite tiny beings
that call the earth home.

 
Take off your shoes.
Know you are part of
all this, part of the
the glory that fills
all things, as the waters
fill the seas.
You will be heard,
wherever you are.
You can listen,
wherever you are.
You are home.

Poem: Grandiflora – Lockdown 35

When I wrote this next poem, as the volume of traffic increases, as the number of people we encounter while out walking near our home increases, I felt that it was the last one.  The last one named and numbered for lockdown.  This series had come to a resting place, I felt.  The lockdown was ending, possibly disintegrating.

And there are all the mixed emotions that go with everything to do with the covid crisis.  Of course, it is such good news that fewer people are afflicted with this terrible disease.  I am glad my little local shops are beginning to trade again, and people in my community are able to support their families.  I worry that this is a lull, and not an end.  I worry that we are missing an opportunity to make things better in our scramble to make things normal.

But also, I have really enjoyed this method of writing, and then sharing with you.  Thank you for your company.  I hope these poems have given moments of peace, or thoughtfulness, or connection, or beauty – as they are, and as you need.  I will continue writing like this, and also seeing what else calls to be written.  I think there are new things.  So, there are 35 of these, in this series.  I also wrote seven poems for Good Friday.
That’s quite productive for me, and some recharging of my creative batteries, some reading and thinking and seeing, is required.  Having said that, I may miss doing this so much there’ll be something tomorrow!

This last poem seems to say some things that had been rising up in me for a while.  I am finding, in my response to the multiple crises that are unfolding, that I am trying to understand what is going on, rather than value my own opinion so much.  There is a letting go for me here, which is the first step of learning.  It’s seeking to adopt a beginners mind, or seeking to become like a little child.  There is a reference to the wonderful piece of Medieval mysticism, The Cloud of Unkowing, in the poem, and you can read a bit more about that here.

Thank you again for your time, for sharing your time and virtual comany with me, and for your attention, and bless you.

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Grandiflora  Lockdown 35

I am tired of argument,
although curious,
and seeking understanding.
I am done with the
certainty of knowing.

There is so much more
to be explored in unknowing,
so much awaits
in that soft mist
that rests on the skin.

These magnolia leaves,
rattling in the breeze,
some yellow, and falling,
some green, and shining,
do they know the flowers
will begin to open soon?

The flowers will open,
known or not,
releasing their
creamysweet
scent above me –
joining with
the honeysuckle,
with the rose –
revealing their strange
strong hearts.

Each day,
a new flower
will open.
Each day,
I will receive
their beauty,
and, in turn,
pour out tea leaves
for their dark roots.
I am finding
it is enough.
It is enough.

 

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Poem: Longing for Rain – Lockdown 32

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We had an intensely hot, dry stretch of weather, in May, which was a time when the few miles to the sea was an impossible journey.  Even as the lockdown eased, and journeys became more possible, we’ve been tentative in our outings, and sought out remote and deserted stretches of coast.  I have been recalling the longing for rain, and the longing for the sea, even as the garden revives, and we’ve heard and smelled the sea.  I’ve been turning those two things over in my mind.

This poem expresses some of the longings of lockdown, and is part of the series of poems that are emerging at this time.  I feel we may be getting closer to the end of that series, and then, it may be time for something new to emerge.

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Longing for Rain  Lockdown 32

The sea has felt so far away,
here, in this sheltered space.
The sound of water lapping,
lapping, seems miles of
dry ground from here,
while the little strawberries
are hard and intense,
like jelly sweets,
and the grass begins to yellow,
and leaves curl,
under a white sky

There is a symmetry
to this longing.
The journey I long to make –
to the sea, to the
spume and the sea mist,
the grey stones and the brown waters,
and the journey I long for
those waters to make –
to visit us here
on this drying land,
blown by the wind
on rivers of cloud,
then falling softly –
hissing, hot-earth-smelling
rain.

May our paths cross,
our journeys
be completed,
may the life-giving waters
soak and soothe us.
May it be so.

Little Free Pantry update

This is just a quick post to thank the wonderful people of Melton and Woodbridge for keeping the Little Free Pantry well stocked during the coronavirus crisis.

It’s in the porch of St Andrew’s church, and is opened by volunteers every day.  We aim to have it available from 10 am to 5 pm seven days a week.

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Thank you to Elaine for the photos, and keeping an eye on things.  Thank you to everyone who has participated, either by giving or by taking food.

 

It’s very simple.

Give what you can, take what you need.

The porch is open, and unstaffed, so you are free to come and visit the pantry if there is no one else there, without coming in to contact with anyone else. You are free to bring food, or take food, or both. It’s free, and freely available.  It’s a sign of neighbours loving each other, and of the love of God which holds us all.

 

It’s so good that our community is working together in this way, taking care of each other.  A hopeful sign.

 

Poem: Beetle – Lockdown 30

Like yesterday’s poem, this next is an observation of an insect.  There are so many insects in the garden.  Most days, I see one I don’t recognise, and this beetle is one of those.  I did not have my camera to hand to take a photo, but I hope you can imagine it.

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I really value the way writing these snatches of life in the garden has encouraged me to be on the look out for all the huge diversity of plants and creatures that I share my home with.
The frame through which we see anything is shaped and coloured by the thoughts we bring with us, of course. And this poem, like many of the others, carries something of that knowledge of the loss and sadness of our communities around its edges, and in its ending.

Perhaps these snatches of writing are an encouragement to acknowledge those feelings, gently and compassionately, accepting them as we are able, at that moment.

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This pencil case was made an appearance in an earlier poem.

 

Beetle  Lockdown 30

Here, a long black beetle
rearranges its wings,

Black as funeral veils
that cannot be worn,
opening
and closing its
hard shell.

So fragile, the wings –
impossibly so,
folded precisely
as it moves along the
edge of my blanket,
then, with the breeze,
it flies, is gone,
lost to the shadows.
Out of sight, not out of mind.

Retold: Mary visits Elizabeth

For those who have joined this blog following the Lockdown Poems, here’s a small taste of something else.  Another occasional series here is Sunday Retold, drawing on my retelling of the Bible.  This – although not on a Sunday – is part of that series.

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We often hear this story – of how, in the early part of her pregnancy, Mary visits her older, also unexpectedly pregnant relation – as part of the cycle of stories in the run up to Christmas. It is part of the preparation for the birth of Jesus.  But traditionally, now is the time it is remembered and celebrated, in keeping with the months.

It seems very appropriate that we should read of these two women supporting each other, and being moved by the power of the Spirit to speak, just at the time of Pentecost.  The Spirit is indeed being poured out on all, young and old, men and women.  These two are obscure, unimportant to those in power, on the edges of things, and we see, yet again, that is where God is at work.  Mary sees that too.  Her words are a real challenge, upending power, pride and privilege.  Regrettably, we need those words of challenge now just as much as we ever did.  Inequalities of race, gender and wealth are still a potent source of injustice.  Mary sees justice coming, though.  The Kingdom promised is one of justice, and hope.  We can work for that, as we pray for it in the Lord’s Prayer.

We pick up the story just as the angel Gabriel has told Mary what is to be, and how Elizabeth, from her own family, is with child despite her age….

Then Mary thought of Elizabeth. “The angel knew all about her – I must go to her.”  She got ready, and set off quickly for Elizabeth’s home in Judea to the south, near Jerusalem.

As soon as she arrived at the house, she hurried to Elizabeth and took her hands.  At the sound of Mary’s voice, the baby leaped inside Elizabeth, and the Holy Spirit filled her.  She understood at once what had happened to Mary.
“You are blessed among all women, and blessed is your unborn child!” she said.  “Why have I been so honoured? Why should the mother of my Lord God come to visit me?” Elizabeh laughed, and put Mary’s hand on her belly. “You see how my child leaps for joy at the sound of your voice?”

At last, Mary could say all that was on her heart.

“I’m so full of joy my spirit is dancing
before God, my Lord, my Saviour.
God did not turn away from me
becase I am poor, and now
I will be called blessed by
all the generations yet to come.
God, the great, the holy,
has done so much for me.
God brings down the powerful,
but lifts up the weak.
The well fed are empty,
and the table of the hungry
is piled high with good things.

“God looks at us with kindness,
giving hope to the hopeless,
caring for those who trust him,
remembering his promises to our people.”

From The Bible Retold

You can read the story in context in the first chapter of Luke’s gospel.

Mary’s song, the Magnificat, makes a powerful basis for prayer. Going through each part, holding it before God, allowing it to search you and being open to the possibility of being moved to change and to act, is a worthwhile and humbling way to pray.

It is widely said and sung in Christian worship.  There are many versions you can find online.  This one is Arvo Part’s setting.

As we think of those two women supporting each other, it’s good for us to think of ways we can continue to be present for one another, and listen and share lives, even when separated at this time. It’s good, too, to remember the slow growth of a child, how much patience is needed, as we wait and work and pray for the coming of the Kingdom.

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Poem: Shadow Tree – Lockdown 19

I’ve been intrigued by the early morning light through a tree in my garden.  The way the shadow that falls on the lawn seems so substantial compared to the dazzling, light-backed living original.  I found myself drawn to sitting within the scope of the shadow tree as I watched the sun rise.

 

This photo was taken a few weeks ago now, the tree is in much fuller leaf these mornings, so the sensation of being caught in the net of shadow less acute. I have loved watching the leaves unfold day by day.  I have even tried to develop a practice of sketching the tree and the shadow, but I am not being very rigourous in keeping that up.  I shall try again, though.

I am keeping up my tradition of the Lockdown Poems, though, so I sat on the ground with my notebook, and wrote what follows.

 

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Shadow Tree  Lockdown Poems 19

I sit on morning damp grass
in the criss-cross light
at the top of the shadow tree –
part of its dark, elegant structure.

The living tree before me
has the sun caught in its branches,
as I am caught in the net
of shadow twigs –
the sun rising,
while lime green
leaves are unfolding
before and above me.

The shadow-trunk curves
towards the base,
to join the living green sap
of the roots, so I see
the tree exists in two planes –
one light, one dark,
one light, one dark.

For a while, despite the
discomfort of sitting cross
legged in my gardening boots,
I shall stay here within
the shadow tree,
seeking its wisdom,
watching its dark leaves grow.

 

Poem: Yellow-leaved Maple – Lockdown 18

The mood of the Lockdown is changing considerably.  It seems fraying and fractured, with grief and anger rising and being held alongside our deep care for each other, our families and communities.

Many are returning, or facing the prospect of returning, to something not normal, but strange and different.  Some are relieved, some are afraid, most are, I suspect, both.

The words of Wendell Berry’s wonderful and sustaining poem, The peace of wild things, keep coming into my mind.  They sum up for me what I am seeking to do in these Lockdown poems, and what I am doing in my life.  Keeping grounded in the beauty and grace I am experiencing in the spring, and finding in them a deeper beauty and grace than the surface, than the expected.  It speaks to something more, within and beyond, as if, by considering the lilies of the field, we may find a deeper truth and insight.

So here is a poem about trees, and also about the shadows that can fall across life, and the possibility of growth, even so.

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I decided to include this one, even though it is imperfect.

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Yellow-leaved Maple   Lockdown Poems 18

I am watching these strange pink
and buttery leaves unfold on the maple,
its long green flowers
covered with bees.

All its life till now
the tree’s canopy leaned back,
partial, growing around the
darkness of that old cedar,
now gone,
as it sought the light.

So now, new leaves are opening
on those thin bare branches
to the south,
exploring that new clear space,
leaves growing where
they did not, before.

Its shape is becoming an
open dome, it will be complete,
and even now is gilded, shining,
and mosaiced with lapis blue light.
Under it feels a holy place.

Patience.  Patience.
When the shadow has passed,
the growth will begin,
and be seen.

Poem: Home/Safe – Lockdown 16

A very small poem today, the next in the Lockdown series, but written a few days ago.  It’s another moment captured. Today, on the Friday before a bank holiday, there are more cars about, but I find I am noticing the pattern of quiet in between the sounds, and holding onto that stillness, at least today, in a way I haven’t before.

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The feeling of safety is so important to me, as to us all, and its so good to have a place where you feel safe.  One of the things I have valued at this time is an increased feeling of safety, and peace.  I know this is not everyone’s experience.

I am glad that some action is being taken to support those who are not safe in lockdown, that the police, Boots the Chemist, and others, are opening ways for people to receive help. It’s good to find safe ways of speaking up, and for all of us, it’s so important we listen to subtle clues that someone might need help.

Here are some UK links

Government website
NHS support
Refuge helpline

 

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The bluebells are wilting in the heat now, but this is how they were, growing and flourishing.

May peace and safety grow, and bless our homes.  May we have safe spaces.

 

Home/Safe   Lockdown 16

In this quiet,
so few cars,

Behind this green hedgerow
my feeling of safety,
a feeling of home,
grows, along with these
bluebells.
it is a good place,
a green pasture,
and I am learning here
not to fear,
where all is well,
where there is peace.

 

 

And for when we venture out….

May God make safe to you each steep,
May God make open to you each pass,
May God make clear to you each road,
And may he take you in the clasp of his own two hands.

From Carmina Gadelica – included in my book, Prayers and Verses

Poem: Alpine strawberries – Lockdown 15

Welcome to the next in this series of Lockdown Poems.  Although things are growing busier, and there is far more traffic on the road, many of us are still at home.   Some are islolating.  It is an unsettling, and a frightening time, this time of venturing out a little. And for those who are braving going back to work, maybe a glimpse of green growing things will help too.

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As I was looking at the unfolding of the strawberry flowers, I was thinking of all that was hidden, folded within the bud, waiting.  The beauty of the flower, and the prospect of fruit.  Same with the apple blossom, and, perhaps, same with the moments and days themselves.  I thought of how time changed within the deep moments of prayer, too, when we find we are in an enfolded moment, upheld in love.

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Alpine Strawberries – Lockdown poems 15

The white flowers of the
alpine strawberries are
opening, everywhere,
under the hum of insects,
under their faint perfume,
groundcover where
newts hide,
and slugs, no doubt.

Each day lengthens,
each day seeming
to hold an infinity
folded within itself,
opening out,
nonetheless, endless,
as the patterns
run on –

Wind and sun,
sun and wind,
playing against each other
as the new apple tree shakes,
holding its new blossom.
Life bending before
time – supple, resilient,
turning to sun –
hopeful, relentless.

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