A lament – I hear the song of the Earth #EverybodyNow

I’m posting a series of pieces as my small way of joining Extinction Rebellion’s protests this week and next.

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This is something I wrote for myself, in the summer.  I was thinking about what I wanted to say in what may become my next book, I was thinking of what was on my heart, and I gave my heart some space to speak.  What came was this – I’ve tweaked it a tiny bit, and it may well turn into something else in time – this, though, was a felt rather than thought expression of my growing sadness as I attempt to follow those words from Job –

But ask the beasts, and they will teach you,
the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you:
or the bushes of the earth, and they will teach you;
and the fish of the sea will declare to you.

Job 12:7,8

I have called it a lament for now.  I am not sure what to call it.  I have tried to resist my natural urge to say something soothing, and, as in the parable I shared on Monday, let the piece be what it is.  Lament is powerful, and important.  We need to give space to it, and then in time we may find we can move through it, knowing what we love, what we risk losing, empowered by it to act, to cherish, to tend our beautiful Earth.

 

I hear the song of the Earth

I hear the song of the Earth –
so good and green,
in June, when the whole world sings,
and the fledgling birds walk fearlessly,
and the young badger sits on the grass.
I hear the song so poignantly
so ebbingly,
at the great green flood tide of the year.
For I hear within the bassnote of loss
of grief of absence,
of all the creatures
that are not,
are no more.
I hear the clatter
of plastic as it
rattles through
the web of life.

I hear the whales
that have thrown themselves
ashore as I wonder
what would they sing
if they still could.

I hear the forests burning
and splintered, the roar of
the orang-utan
fighting the gripper that
tears down the tree.

I hear silence, absence,
the butterflies I do not see
and the hedges that are gone.

The Earth cries out
and these are not birthpangs

Or if they are they are pangs
for our waking, awakening,
coming to our senses
and listening to the teaching
of the plants and the animals,
The water and the air.

It may or may not be too late.
we may or may not be able
to turn away from destruction.

That is no longer the point for me.
The point is that my voice must join
with the cry of the beached whale,
and the turtle laying her eggs
in trash,
and the hare chased by dogs,
and the young albatross
with a belly full of plastic.

That is my task, as a
being on the Earth.
my task is to feel the Earth’s pain,
and speak, and speak,
And cry out in a tongue we understand.

And so, I sing a song of the Earth,
in winter, when life ebbs.
I remember the good, and the green,
the fledgling birds and the young badger,
the butterflies and the hedgerows full of blossom.
I will sing of them still.

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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- Spider

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Photo – Matthew Ling

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Yesterday, I took part in a Poetry Workshop led by Beth Soule of the Suffolk Poetry Society

It was held in the Bank Arts Centre, Eye, which really used to be a bank.  I loved the solid mahogany, looking prosperous and dependable, hung with colourful pictures and full of new life.  The food we had was delicious, and the company stimulating as ever.  There is something very special about writing companionably with others, supporting each other.  It was good to be reminded of that!

The theme of the day was “They toil not” – spinning and weaving – and Beth gave us such a rich feast of material that, as we read our work to each other, we saw what ideas had been stimulated and encouraged.
My mind was turning over a poem by Walt Whitman as I came to write this:

 

Spider

Growing in a hidden place,
until the day those long, many jointed
legs begin to flex, and stretch,
and take you out
into the autumn light,
where gnats wail,
and flies buzz slowly

Until, balancing on the end
of the brown buttons of hollyhocks
you throw out your lines.
Where will they land?
You throw again across cool air,
beyond sight of your many eyes,
throw again until something

catches, some connection
holds fast, at last,
and you go into your unknown
along a trail
you have already laid for
yourself to follow,
familiar under your delicate feet.

 

It’s not the first time spiders have caught my attention.

Spiders – September

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Another poem from the workshop can be found here

I went to the workshop with my friend Tracy Watson-Brown, and her poem is here: Spider

Poem – Today, July 19th

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It’s been a busy few weeks.  I’ve had the enormous privilege of speaking at the 150th Anniversary Festival Service for my old college, Girton.  It was such a special service, and the choir filled the red brick chapel with marvelous sound.  How good to celebrate 150 years since the college’s small beginnings – the small beginnings of women’s higher education in this country.  It was so good to be able to contribute to a diverse and joyful weekend. A huge thank you to Malcolm Guite for inviting me to speak.

What with that, and this – this, and that, I have rather lost my daily rhythm of writing, and today I thought I would try again.  Just to sit with a notebook and begin, and see where my pencil took me.

It didn’t take me very far at all.  It kept me right where I am.

 

Today, July 17th

Today is a day of butterflies –
white against the deep greens,
the purples,
tumbling over the lavender –
intoxicated.

Today the hard nubs of
apples wait for their
slow ripening,
and the last of the buttercups
shimmer faintly.
Tomorrow, and yesterday,
yesterday, and tomorrow,
but now,

Today, is a day for hollyhocks,
frilled and pastel,
full of large fat bees,
while the young newts
hide there, under the red
watering can,
and the sky turns white,
and the swifts fly high,
and my eyes fill with
limpid light.
It is enough.

 

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Poem: Jacob’s Ladder

 

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One of the loveliest spots in my home is the window seat.  In the winter, the radiator does its work through the wood, and it is warm and snug.  At this time of year, as you sit you are surrounded by flowers, and every day you see something new opening.

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This poem is a poem of waking up. To begin with, the life of the world seems far away, on the other side of glass.  Gradually, though, I begin to see.

 

Jacob’s Ladder

Sitting on the window seat, in this box of light,
I drink warm, bitter coffee, my mind waking slowly from  sleep.

There is a fly buzzing against the glass, black and slow,
not getting through.  On the other side is the cool sun,
the flowerheads and flowerbuds swaying in the breeze,
their stems crossing and crisscrossing  in straight green lines,
Making rhomboids, diamonds of the brightness.
And so I sit here, as if among the flowers,
not feeling the breeze, not catching the scent.

There are the bright, tissue paper flames of poppies,
and the soft deep pinks of the columbine,
dove among flowers,
And the euphorbia – black with bees –
their green flowers full of sweetness.

But there, suddenly, are the tall spikes of Jacob’s ladder,
new dazzling white, startling, perfect.
They must have opened early while I slept.
Those flowers – small, spread out skirts
of pure white, anthers gold with pollen,
the delicate deep ring of purple veins –
drawing you deep to the green-dark heart of the flower,
curled, mysterious, where the heavy bee probes
for nectar as sweet as the honey yet to come.

Angels ascending and descending,
ascending and descending
as the stiff green stems are swaying,
are still swaying in the cool breeze.  The day begins.

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The name of this plant calls to mind the story of Jacob in Genesis, which is also a story of coming to see, of waking up.
Here is my retelling from The Bible Retold, the text shared by The Lion Classic Bible

Jacob went alone, travelling unitl it was dark.  Shivering in the chill of the desert night, he took a stone for a pillow, and lay down to sleep.  As Jacob slept, a dream came to him.  He saw a ladder, with its feet on the ground, stretching up and up to heaven.  In his dream, he watched as God’s bright angels travelled up and down in between heaven and earth.  And in his dream, God himself was there.
…….
Jacob woke with a jolt and looked around.  He was alone.
“God was here and I didn’t know it!  This place is the gate of heaven!” he said  Then he took the stone he had slept upon and set it up as an altar to God. He poured oil on it as an offering, and worshipped there.

You can read the Genesis story here

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Sophy Williams’ beautiful illustration from The Lion Classic Bible

 

Help us, like Jacob, dream of angels.
Help us, wherever we wake,
to know that you are there, too.
Help us to see with new eyes.

The Alde Valley Festival – a glimpse of a more beautiful world.

I don’t know how I have managed to miss this astonishing festival in previous years – it’s not far from where I live, but tucked away in the network of lanes between routes to other places.

Perhaps that’s one reason why, going down the drive laced with cowparsley and buttercups, it felt like we were slipping into another world – a world we are losing and a new one we are finding.  There are ribbons tied in trees, and sculptures, and everyday objects that look like they have been placed with transforming love and care.  You feel yourself relaxing, and being lifted, and filling with wonder, even as you arrive.

Jason Gathorne-Hardy writes in the programme

The farm sits within a landscape that has been planted and cultivated for hundreds, possibly thousands of years. Small areas of farm parkland and pastures [known locally as pightles] are enclosed by hedges of hawthorn, crab apple, blackthorn, field maple, hazel and elm.  This grassy landscape is punctuated by free-standing trees: oak, ash and poplars tower above the hedgerows……

White House Farm is a truly remarkable place.  They have been running this festival since 2011, using their working farm buildings as workshop space, studio space, and exhibition space.  This year’s theme is Florabundance.

As you meander through the farmyards, directed by handwritten signs on wood, you find open doors to peer behind, revealing breathtaking beauty.  There is so much, but I’ll just pick out a few details among a true abundance.

 

In the lamb nursery room – which is used as such earlier in the season – laid out on white tops, were the most exquisite bronze vegetables, fruit and seeds. Alice-Andrea Ewing had cast them from produce during her residency at the farm.  The beauty of the natural forms coupled with the weight and seriousness of bronze gave them an extraordinary presence, as if we could see and feel everyday things as truly wonderful.

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The combination of old farm buildings and small cubes of art gallery white really charged ordinary food with a sense of the artist’s reverence, such as with these pears, and medlars.

 

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I loved the way the whole place was so hospitable.  There were were toys and picnic tables and clues to adventures outside – and inside the lovely Suffolk chairs, old and new, were often beside piles of books that, if you felt inclined, would send you on the trail of other adventures – of friendships and connections between the artists and those who had gone before, and the places they love, and their mutual “cross pollination”.   The Benton End trail was a joy to follow – especially the connection with the iris paintings we would come to later.

I loved the transformation of the everyday, the desire to honour simple planting and growing, that was evident everywhere.  In particular, Tessa Newcomb with works “The onions continued to be elegant”, “The last moment of the Year, 2018”, and a whole barnful more….. and Ruth Stage’s limpid winter light, again in pictures of the farm and nearby walled garden.

It was the corrugated old threshing barn that held the largest and most breathtaking works though.  Jane Wormwell’s large canvasses of detailed corners of her garden, and tangles of hedgerow brambles, were remarkably powerful and moving.  These huge flowers put me in a better perspective.  The main exhibition space was given over to Jelly Green’s iris paintings.  This is why we had come – the publicity material had small snatches of them, and I really wanted to see them in real life with all the thickness of the paint and vividness and aliveness of the colours.

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Some of these were flowers cultivated at Benton End by Cedric Morris, who taught Maggi Hambling, who taught Jelly Green.

The vivacity, the joyfulness of the paintings was breathtaking.  I could have spent much longer there.

There is a tiny chapel in one of the barns, with a cross on the table before an animal feeding trough, a manger.  The walls have small pictures of refugees, and brick-sized scriptures alongside.  It was a good place to stop, to breathe, to pray.  The whole place is full of a deep sense of presence, of connection, of goodness, of life.

We walked through the bluebell wood, following the winding path, slowly, breathing deeply, letting the colour and the scent fill us.

 

More from Jason Gathorne-Hardy

It is easy to believe that we, as humans, can control our environment: that we dictate the terms on which we live on this planet. But that notion of power over of all that we survey is probably a mistake.  Plants give us oxygen to breathe, clean water to drink and the raw materials for shelter, food, medicines, comfort and rest.  To borrow a phrase, ‘we live in their world’. We have lost a lot of biodiversity in the past two hundred years.  Locally, this is made abundantly clear by referring to George Crabbe’s plant list for Framlingham and District in the early C19th…….
The Exhibition also seeks to honour their presence in our gardens and landscapes and celebrate the importance of plants in our lives – alongside natural pollinators and seed carriers – through the work of selected guest artists.  Implicit in this is a positive and hopeful story: that the diversity of flora and fauna that we once lived with…. in whose world we lived…. may once again become abundant and resurgent…. which is something to celebrate!

 

What a joy it was to come home, and to see that the irises in our own garden were beginning to open.

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If you live in Suffolk, the exhibition is open for one more weekend – the Late May Bank Holiday.  The tea in the farmhouse is very good too!

 

 

Lent: Jesus said I Am …… Holy Week, I am he – Jesus betrayed

This post draws on the final chapter of my book, Jesus said, I Am, finding life in the everyday

The last time Jesus said “I am”  was in the garden, at the moment the soldiers, and Judas, came to arrest him.

John 17:25-18:11

This is the decisive moment, when everything changes: Jesus steps forward, moving away from his friends.  He steps unarmed towards the guards, soldiers, and Judas.  This step delivers him into the hands of violent men. And yet, and yet.

In his very quietness, quiescence, there is a power and a strength they do not understand.  For their power is no power.  Jesus has freely chosen to drink from this cup of betrayal and suffering and death.  He knows what is to come.  He steps forward, into all that is to come, knowing this to be the way of justice, love and peace.  He steps forward, knowing this is the way to something unimaginably great – overcoming and forgiving the worst evil humanity can do.  But also, it is an immediate, personal, loving step – he keeps his friends safe, draws the eyes of the solders away from them as he enters their circle of glaring torchlight.

‘For whom are you looking?’
‘Jesus of Nazareth’
‘I am’ – ego eimi – ‘I am he’

 

Once again, we see something – someone – real – someone you can talk to, touch, kiss even – who is also this ‘I am’ we have been holding in our mind.  Those who came to arrest him fall to the ground as he says these words.

This is the great ‘I am’ of the burning bush in the shadowy brightness of the soldiers’ torches.  We are on holy ground.

Swords

Peter must put away his sword, and he does.  Jesus undoes our common narratives of violence – killing, defeat of our enemies, power and control are not the way of the cross.  Luke (22:51) records Jesus healing Malchus, the one Peter wounded.  Even now, this is how Jesus loves his enemies.

Judas Norwich

With gratitude to Norwich Cathedral

There is a very moving C14th painting in the Chapel of the Holy Innocents at Norwich Cathedral which shows the arrest of Jesus. Jesus is at the centre, with soldiers around him. Judas is on his left, embracing him, and Jesus receives this embrace, moving slightly towards it.  And Jesus’ other hand rests on a poor naked scrap of humanity, Malchus, restoring his ear.  It is all one beautiful, graceful movement.  This movement, this gesture, seems to transform even the betrayal of a friend, turning it into something life-giving for the naked soldier.  Even in all his ugliness, he is healed.  At some point, someone has scratched away Judas’ lips and eyes, presumably unable to bear the betrayal.  But Jesus bore it; he submitted to it.

The path of the sword is not the way of the cross.  For love and life to triumph over cruelty, separation and death, Jesus chose this way.

The way towards Good Friday is also the way towards Easter Sunday.

We have seen Jesus bring many things together.  These I am sayings reconcile, among other things, the everyday world of bread and gates and plants, with something that seems mystical and far away – the great I Am of the burning bush.  Perhaps we can come to hold these things together, see that they are not so far apart, after all.

Perhaps we too, in all our common, daily life can connect these two things.  Our lives can seem so insignificant and ordinary, but they are illuminated by a life-light, a love and a grace, a hope and a way that is so deep and true it connects our very depths to the very depths of a God who loves us enough to come, in fragile flesh, and stretch out his arms to show us the full extent of his love.  It is in our very ordinariness, our very smallness and failure and seeming insignificance, that we encounter the love and grace of God.  Even there, we can live out of that life-light. We can live in abundant life.

 

Reflection and response

Take some time to look at the picture of the betrayal above.  Seek to do so prayerfully, open to God.  What do you notice?  What catches your attention?
Ask if there are things for you here.
Ask if this speaks into your life, what you are facing now, today.

You might like to think more about Judas.  You can find my poem about him at the last supper here.

Prayer

Dear God, may we be forever caught up in your love and life.  May we never consider ourselves to be too small, too ordinary, too insignificant to be part of your great story of love and abundant life.  May we remember how Jesus came, humbly, and compared himself to bread, to a shepherd, to a vine.  May we see in the rough materials of our lives the wonder of your grace, your glory, your love.
Amen

 

Life and service

We can do no great things, only small things with great love.
St Teresa of Calcutta

As you consider the ordinariness and extraordinariness of ‘I am’, that great union of the everyday with the divine, develop the discipline of seeing each thing as capable of being filled with great love.  This day, seek to do one humble thing with great love. Repeat every day.

Thank you so much for walking this Lent path with me.

If you’d like a copy of my book, you can ask your local bookshop, or order online.

Here are a few suggestions:

The publishers, BRF

Amazon

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Poem: The green of rose leaves

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The progress of the rose – some, taken last year.

The roses that ramble through the silver birch give me great joy – I love to watch them as they grow and get ready to flower, and then fill the trees with startling beauty. I’m waiting for them, I can almost anticipate their scent …..

but not so much as I don’t love the spring as it is now, today.

Sometimes, we just need to look long enough to see it.

The invitation remains.

How do we respond?

 

 

The green of rose leaves

I watch the long arching branches
of the rambling rose bend in the breeze,
noticing how the leaves lighten,
like a colourchart of
pea green,
like a Deco lithograph.

So dark by the stem,
and look, how vibrant
by the tight bud –
with its white flower
to come.

Today, I can sit here,
and do this.
Today, I give my attention
to the spring,
which warrants it.

It has been here all along,
calling with the blackcap’s
fluid, full-throated voice,
it was here,
all this green,
saying
“Look, look……”
and asking me now,
“So, are you going
to join in?”

Poem – Pulling down trees

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Last year was hard on a beautiful tree in our garden – the late snow, followed by drought, killed a cotoneaster that gave us shade in the summer.  The bees loved its blossom, and the birds came in late winter for the berries. We had fieldfares and redwings hungrily stripping it when the fields froze.  And another tree too, a cedar, that was rather cramped in, died in the drought.  It had lovely grey green leaves, and was a favourite perch of the pigeons who watch for food.

So this poem is a tribute, a thank you, to the trees.  I was intending to write about both, and gave it the title I did because I pulled on the rope that brought down the cedar, but it was one tree that ended up filling the space.  I’ve kept the title, in a kind of echo of another poem, Pulling up trees , as it seemed to work for this one too.

The garden looks so different without them, and I couldn’t bear to have the cotoneaster taken out completely right away.  I wanted something to remember it, and some time to adjust to the loss of it.  I’ve been thinking of replacing it with an apple tree or two, to echo the shape, and the bark, and the blossom and fruit.  I still may plant an apple, but, on clearing around the base, we found there was already something new growing, ready to take advantage of the light and the open space.  So, we’ll see.  The garden has its own plans.

 

Pulling down trees

Dark now, the chainsaws growl on
under lights, taking down
the spreading tree I loved,
with its blossom and berries,
its deep shade in summer.
Full of birds it was,
its arched branches
chattering with life.

They leave the dead trunk behind,
for now, for remembrance,
for that wild rose to climb.

Tomorrow, when the sun rises,
I will see how bare the sky looks
without it,
how wide, how open the space.
How light.
And I will see, too,
at the base, sheltering, a
bending sapling,
holm oak,
already growing.
Such a gift,
always,
there is a gift.

 

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Poem – Crow, on the lawn

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My first home-attempt at lino cut

 

Here is the second poem I have written about the crows who have increasingly appeared in my garden.  You can read the first, and something of the background, here.

It’s a small story, but not small for the crows.  It intrigues me to think that, as I go about my daily life, noticing or not noticing the lives around me, so many creatures are living fully, experiencing – well, we can’t know what, but what we see leads me to suppose that there may be some more commonality of experience than we tend to assume. I am trying to notice more, to see more of that commonality we share, creatures of earth that we are.

I still remember the blackbird who stood guard, in what looked like a vigil of grieving.  You can read that poem here.

I have seen various birds of pray above the garden – kestrels, a buzzard, and, greatly to my delight, a red kite.  I have seen the kestrel in pursuit of a pigeon through the trees here, and the pigeon got away.  It gives me great pleasure to see these magnificent birds, and to know that the land is healthy enough to sustain them.  But I have also seen feathers on the lawn, and blamed the neighbourhood cats.  I know now it isn’t always the cats.  And on this occasion, I saw the aftermath of the grim event.  I hope this poem honours the community of crows.

I do not know how long these crows will stay.  I think they need taller trees than the ones in my garden.  I shall keep watch, and see what they do as they search for a home.

 

Crow, on the lawn

And through the window
I see a sleek small grey bird,
with a yellow-rimmed eye,
with a curved beak,
that stands on the belly
of a crow lying on its back.
Its black flight feathers are
curled up, ruffling in the breeze
as if it lives.

And the hawk pulls on the flesh
of the crow until what remains
is light enough to carry

And then it flies,
with a low, slow flight,
leaving behind
ruffles and pom-poms
of black feathers,
a strange mourning.

Later, though, I see two
crows flying fast and straight
across the sky, intercepting
the curved, grey shape of the hawk.
They circle it close,
cawing, chasing, harrying.

And the hawk has not returned,
and the crows above me
fly in slower circles now,
and the black feathers
still tumble across the lawn.

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