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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Pascale Deloche

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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Poem: What Matters – Lockdown 14, and being on The Verb

This next Lockdown poem looks up to the sky – but it picks up the theme of bird calls,  a theme that has woven through these poems.  We’ll return to today’s poem later, but first I’d like to share with you a little bit about Friday.

Birdsong was the theme of Friday 15th’s edition of The Verb.  You can listen to it by following that most recent link.  I was enormously excited to have my poem, The Blackbird included.  My contribution is a little after 20 minutes in, but I would start at the beginning if you can.  The section on nightingales is so lovely.  It was strange having something that was part of my spontaneous record of lockdown being shared so wideley, and I felt a little nervous, and vulnerable, as it went out.  But I know that is somehow the point of this series, or sequence –  that it is unpolished, private even.  I hope it connects with people reading and listening because of that.  We don’t know where this is going, or where these poems will take us. It is, like everything else, a work in progress, a step into the unknow.

It was so good to find my recording in such excellent company on the programme, opening up, exploring, a love of birdsong, in particular as a means of deepening our connection with and affection for the rest of the natural world.  It is a feature of this lockdown, in spring, that many of us have been able to hear the birds with greater clarity, and deeper joy, than busy lives usually allow.

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Back to today’s poem, also featuring birds and their calls – a crow this time, a very different experience, and very powerful.  As it was a moment of aerial combat, I didn’t take any photos to share with you, but crows have featured in my poems before.  Here are links to two  – Crows and Crow, on the lawn

In the absence of photos, and continuing the home produced theme, here’s an experiment at linocutting to sit alongside the poem.

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One thing many of us are doing during this lockdown is thinking about what matters.  Our priorities seem sharper, and values clearer.  I thought of that as I watched this crow.

What matters  Lockdown 14

Sudden, sharp, deep –
I know that crow-call
and look up, suddenly,
sharply, to see one solitary
bird, small in the wide blue,
small next to the great buzzard
it harries, and parries.

The buzzard twists away,
and edges, back,
and twist, and edges,
back and back,
weaving a brown thread
through the relentlessly blue sky.

Just one crow, keeping them safe,
keeping the nest and the young
and the tribe safe,
for surely the buzzard must know
it’s too much bother to bother
with these, so well defended.

Does the crow feel fear,
anger, rage?
I do not think he makes
a cool calculation of odds.
The crow knows what matters,
defends what matters,
threading the blue with
its black zigzag,
keeping all safe.

Poem: Here, a sudden green – Lockdown 12

A very simple moment recorded today – how quickly the spring races ahead now. Soon, all will be full-leaved, and slow, but now, it seems things grow almost before your eyes. What is even more disconcerting is how, if you’ve been watching something, and then turn your back, everything changes.

It’s a reminder of the passage of time, like how much taller the children we know will seem when we see them again. How different things may be after this time.

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These Lockdown Poems are turning into a record of the spring, sometimes moment by moment. And tomorrow, Friday 15th May, you’ll be able to hear me read one of this band of poems on Radio 3’s The Verb. I’m feeling a little excited, and also nervous, but mainly awed by the opportunity to contribute something to our shared experience …..

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Here, a sudden green Lockdown Poems 12

How did the silver birches grow
so green so quickly?
the stems of the rambling rose
lost now in all those tiny leaves –
those yellow catkins.

Now a tree in leaf,
yesterday, it seems,
a tree in bud,
and here, too,
the acacia, like
a yellow maidenhair fern,
shook out in the breeze,
so suddenly, so suddenly,
after a winter of waiting.

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News from the Little Free Pantry.

 

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The pantry at its Harvest Festival launch

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you  may remember posts about the Little Free Pantry at St Andrew’s Church, Melton.  It’s a simple thing –  a place where anyone can leave some tins or other food, and anyone can take what they need.

 

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Today at lunchtime

It was so sad that at the beginning of the lockdown we had to close the pantry for a while, but gradually, and in stages, and with much thinking, work and adjustment, it’s now up and running again!

It’s back in the church porch, 10 am to 5 pm, seven days a week.   There’s an extra table, with more space for fresh produce.
The ususal rules of keeping two metres apart apply.
It’s open for both giving and taking, no need to talk to anyone, just give what you can, take what you need.

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I do believe it is a particularly important neighbourhood resource at the moment.  Shopping can be difficult for so many reasons – you or a family member may be vulnerable, money or time or transport may be hard to come by, the shopping experience may be anxious for all the kindness of the shopworkers.  The pantry is here, a sign of love, and of the hand of friendship we wish we could extend.

We have been so encouraged that people are making donations, and withdrawals, are joining in with this simple way of neighbours helping neighbours.

There are two other little free pantries in church porches nearby that we’ve heard of – in Grundisburg and Hasketon.  Do tell us if there are more.  It’s such a simple idea, and it works well with social isolation, maybe more places would like to set one up.

 

So, thank you to everyone who is using the pantry in any way.  May it bless you.

 

Poem: The Blackbird – Lockdown poems 7

Lockdown Poem News!

I am delighted to be able to share with you that this poem was featured on BBC Radio 3’s The Verb on Friday 15th May at 22:00 BST.    You will be able to find a recording of the poem on the link above, under the date.  The programme is entitled Birdsong.     If you start at the beginning, you’ll hear a marvelous piece on nightingales, but if you are short of time, my contribution is just after 20 minutes in. You can read more about being on the programme here.

It’s so exciting!

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Welcome back to the garden. It’s been a harder week, this week, with much, and much needed, rain. It has felt more confined, being more indoors. I have ended up watching more news, and felt more sucked into our strange, shifting reality, our uncertainty.

As you may have gathered, these Lockdown Poems tend to emerge in bursts, and find their way here a little while later, so this poem was one that came on one of the brighter, sunnier days. Coming back to it now, it helps to connect with a time when it was less hard work to be in the moment, to settle into stillness, and to be open. It reminds me of all that. It reminds me of the connection we can feel to the creatures we share our space with, and what riches we can find in such connection.

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I hope, whatever your week has been like, you can take another moment to listen to the birdsong, as we did together in the last poem, and hear its dark and beautiful strangeness.

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A female blackbird – I can’t find the name of the photographer to credit this.

The Blackbird – lockdown 7

The blackbird lands just
behind my shoulder,
I hear the air in his throat,
I hear the slight preparations
for song,
then song.

I scarcely dare move my pencil,
and yet, my pencil moves.
Oh, for the gift of
interpretation of tongues,
that I might write,
in words, that song,
that meaning, the cares
belonging to this small soft being
with its deep globe eyes
and stabbing beak.

I see you, I hear you,
in all your dark and
beautiful strangeness,
as you shift from
spreading branch
to spreading branch,
open to receive you.

 

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.