A new book on the doorstep!

This morning, I was nursing a head cold in my own style – sitting on a bench in the sunny bit of the garden, wrapped up in a large blanket, and reading poetry. I thought I heard our postie so I pottered round to the front of the house, and saw this white envelope on the doorstep.

It’s always exciting opening something with the publisher’s frank on it, and this was very exciting! It’s the first copy of my new book, and BRF have done a lovely job of it. It’s a good size and weight in the hand, and the type and paper are crisp and clear. It’s a lovely thing. It’s particularly strange when something that began as a rather nebulous set of thoughts and hunches and feelings progresses through various birthing stages until it is an actual physical object you can hold in your hand. Wonderful! The joy of it seems to have lifted my coldy symptoms remarkably effectively – I hope it lasts!

The very physical bookness of the book has now been realised. I hope that those thoughts and feelings which have crystalised into the content may be equally real and tangible and helpful to those who read it. I’ve had a quick flick through and read a few snippets, too, and all seems well. The late amendments have gone in very efficiently, including an extract from one of the The ‘Mary, at your feet’ poems I had a yen to include.

You can pre-order it on most internet bookshops, and it should be available to order in high street bookshops in the New Year – but it might be worth asking before that just in case some distributors are ahead of the game. The publication date is 18th January 2019.

Here are a few online suggestions, in case you would like your postie to deliver one for you, too:

BRF – the publisher

Waterstones

Amazon UK

Thank you for your support and encouragement.

Otley Hall Quiet Day – 12th April

Here is some information about my next event, a day at the stunning Otley Hall in Suffolk on the Wednesday of Holy Week.
Otley Hall in the spring is a beautiful place.
It would be lovely to see you there!

Otley Hall Quiet Day
Wednesday 12th April 2017 10am-4pm

Entering imaginatively into the Bible

mary-anoints-the-feet-of-jesus-by-frank-wesley

We will read gospel stories, imagining ourselves into the scene, and then be free to respond however seems best  – quietness, poetry, prose, media of choice.  For those who wish, we will also think about how to communicate the treasures we find with others.

To book a place on the Quiet Day (£25 including lunch), contact Otley Hall
Otley Hall’s website
01473 890264

I will have a few copies of my books available to buy, thanks to Browsers Bookshop of Woodbridge.

 

Sunday Retold – Lazarus raised from the dead

Part of the Sunday Retold series, based on the readings some churches follow.
This week it’s

John 11:1-45

Please feel free to use any of my material that helps you, saying where it is from.

We are preparing to enter the season of Passiontide, towards the end of Lent when we turn our attention more fully to the coming of Easter.  This strange and powerful story is at such a  turn in John’s Gospel, a turn of the road that will take Jesus through death and into life.  We have had hints of what will come before, but this is something much more significant, which attracts much more attention. Crowds pour out of Jerusalem to see Jesus, and Lazarus, and the religious leaders are afraid, and their resolve to be rid of him hardens.

It also contains one of the great I AM sayings which form the backbone of my  next Book

 

Lazarus

By Jacquie Binns

……
4I5

Jesus is now close to Bethany, when Martha, Lazarus’ sister, comes out to meet him.

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died,”  she says, the same phrase  Mary uses later.  They have such confidence that Jesus would have healed their brother, if he had been there.  Then, Martha continues….”But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.”

Martha’s confidence in Jesus seems to hold even in the face of his delays, and her brother’s death.  We do not know what she expected might happen – maybe she didn’t know herself, speaking in fresh raw grief.  Perhaps she was simply throwing her whole self, her whole confidence and trust, on this dear friend who was unlike anyone else she knew.
“Your brother will rise again”
“I know he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”
To Martha, this talk of rising may have sounded like a conventional consolation, and  Martha takes it up, this hope, and places it on the Last Day, a day when the dead will rise. It is hope that death is not the end.  It is a distant hope, though, for a distant future.
“I am the resurrection and the life.”   Jesus moves that distant hope – a time, an event, a particular future thing, and says this instead:  He is the resurrection and the life .  Now.
In him is life.

Jesus is more than the one who rises from the dead on Easter Sunday, for others to look on and marvel, and believe if they can.  He himself  is resurrection, and that means something transformative for Lazarus, and Martha, and Mary, and all of us.

After Martha makes her extraordinary statement, she quickly moves on.  Her sister, Mary, is still shut inside.  She must be told that Jesus is here.

Jesus  meets Mary, and the raw grief that she and the others bring with them.  She says the same thing as her sister –
“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  She says it weeping.  She says no more words beyond these.  The tone, therefore, feels different.  Her words sound desperate, almost accusing.  Maybe they are accusing.

“Where have you laid him?”
“Come and see”

The pain of the moment now is overwhelming.  Jesus is described as being greatly disturbed, deeply moved.  There is no talk here of denying the hope of the resurrection by grieving.  No accusation of lack of faith for being overcome with emotion.  Grief here is fully experienced – for his friend, and for those who love him still.  Grief too for all the death and loss that are caught up in this, and in the death that Jesus himself will face very soon…..

Jesus moves to stand by the grave with those who weep, and weeps too.

Perhaps we can learn from this “come and see”, to invite Jesus into the darkest places in us.  It is the same phrase Jesus uses to answer “Where are you staying?” right at the beginning, inviting Andrew and another to follow him (1:35-39).

He will follow us too, even to the grave of one we love.

And then, and then…….

JESUS AND LAZARUS 

Jesus followed the road on towards Jerusalem, stopping at the desert place by the Jordan where John had baptized him: where the sky had opened and the Spirit had come down like a dove.  Many people came to him there, and many believed.  While he was by the Jordan, a messenger arrived.
“Teacher, I bring word from Martha and Mary of Bethany.  Your dear friend, their brother Lazarus, is very ill.”
“This sickness will not end in death, but in God’s glory!” Jesus replied.  But he did not follow the messenger back.   Two days later, he stood up and turned to his disciples.
“Come on, let’s go!” he said.  But they were afraid to go so close to Jerusalem, remembering how Jesus’ life was in danger there.
He stepped forward into the sun-baked road. “Now it’s daylight.  Lazarus is asleep, and I’m going to wake him up!”  And the disciples followed Jesus despite their fears.

As they came close, they saw Martha running towards them.  “Lord,” she called out, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Sobbing shook her as Jesus stepped towards her, steadying her. “But I know,” she carried on, quietly, “even now, God would do anything you asked.”
“Your brother will rise again,” Jesus said.
“Yes, I know, on the Last Day – the day of resurrection, of new life.”
“I am the resurrection, I am the life.  Whoever believes in me will live, and will never be swallowed up by the dark emptiness of death. Do you believe this?”
“Yes, Lord, I believe you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was promised from long ago!”  Then she went back to find Mary.
“Sister, the Teacher is here!”  Straight away Mary got up and went out, followed by those who had come to mourn with her.  She went up to Jesus and fell weeping at his feet. “Lord!” she said. “If you had been here, my brother would not have died!”   Jesus saw her sorrow, and looked at those around, draped in black, and weeping. And he, too, shuddered under the heavy weight of grief.  “Where is he?”  Jesus asked.
“Come and see, Lord,” they answered. And Jesus wept. “See how he loved him!” said some.

“Could he not then have saved him?” questioned others.

They came before the tomb – a cave with a stone rolled across the entrance.
“Take away the stone!” Jesus said, but Martha hesitated.
“Lord, he has been dead four days.  The body will smell,” she said.

“If you believe, you will see God’s glory!” Jesus answered, and they rolled the stone away.  He prayed in a loud voice, and then, he looked into the deep darkness of the tomb. “Lazarus, come out!” he called.  And Lazarus came out, wrapped in linen grave clothes, with a cloth around his face. “Set him free from his grave clothes!”  Jesus said to those around him, who stared in astonishment as the man they had been mourning stood before them, alive again.

From The Bible Retold

Henry_Ossawa_Tanner_Resurrection_of_Lazarus.jpg

Henry Ossawa Tanner

the-raising-of-lazarus-after-rembrandt-1890.jpg

Vincent van Gough

What would it mean to be a resurrection people?

To follow Jesus into this experience too? To participate with Jesus in this walk down to the darkest, deadest places, and participate in this bringing of life and hope,  of making things new.  To be part of the new heavens and new earth, to pray and work for his kingdom to come now, on earth, as it is in heaven.  Is it possible to move from discussion of the meaning of resurrection, important as that is,  to beginning to practice it, to live as if it were the way things were meant to be and were becoming?  In any experience of darkness, perhaps we can take courage  to walk through the valleys of the shadows (Psalm 23), to not be afraid, to trust there is a way out the other side.  And, when we are ready,  to look up, to look for signs of light, and life.

Here is a poem, one of a series.  You can find the first, and follow them through,  here

Mary, sister of Lazarus, at your feet a second time

She sits in the shuttered room,
the room where her brother had laid,
dying, dead, the messengers sent out
returning empty, with no reply,
like prayers that bounce  off ceilings
or stick to the roof of the mouth,
choking with sorrow.
When you stay by the Jordan
that shuttered room is where Mary stays.

This is her shadowed valley, the dark forest of her path,
foreshadowing yours, it is all foreshadowing you.
The room where her brother had laid,
how can she ever leave it now?

But leave she did, at last, when you called for her,
she came quickly, running, trailing darkness behind
her weeping.  Mary, once more at your feet,
and when you saw her weeping, you wept too.

You know us in our grief.  You come to us, call to us.
In our darkest, most shuttered places,
your spirit moves, breaks with ours.
Death lay heavy upon you, too, and all the sooner for
this, what you do now, standing before that tomb.

For now, you who are Life,
Word made warm and beating flesh,
and weeping,
call Lazarus out,
You, who are life, and will rise,
call out one who is dead from the cold tomb.
You watch as they run to free him from the graveclothes,
pull darkness from him, calling in strange bewildered delight,
and you see Mary’s face as she sees now,
her brother, who was dead, once more in light,
astonished, seeing your glory, part of your glory,
as she weeps again, is weeping again
breathless with joy.you staying, right at the beginning, inviting Andrew and another to follow him(

Come, O Joy:
Let heaven break into my dark night of sorrow
like the early dawn of a summer morning.

From Prayers and Verses

 

1:35-39).  He will follow us too, even to the grave of one we love. 

The one coming into the world.  This is an interesting bit.  I like the continuous tense.  It is not just the one who was promised, although it holds that meaning too.  It is one who is coming into the world.

The ‘Mary, at your feet’ poems – Three

mary-anoints-the-feet-of-jesus-by-frank-wesley

Artist – Frank Wesley

This is the third and final ‘Mary, at your feet’ poem, which tells of an evening in Bethany, at the home of Martha, Mary and Lazarus.  Jesus is there, too.  They are holding a feast to celebrate Lazarus coming back from the dead, and, it being near Jerusalem, they are joined by many others.

I found some spikenard on line, the closest I could find to nard, the rare perfume Mary pours over Jesus, and burnt it as I meditated on the story.  It is pungent and earthy, an intense fragrance.  As I meditated, I remembered all the times that Jesus had told stories of the Kingdom involving feasting, and banquets, and how he left us a shared meal to remember him. This particular banquet, celebrating a man coming back from the dead, seems like that.

I thought of Mary giving something so costly out of love, I thought of the other story of a woman anointing Jesus’ feet (Luke 7:36-50).  And I remembered that Messiah means anointed one, and that the only earthly anointing Jesus receives is like this, at a feast, in an outpouring of love and gratitude.

This poem, too, was read at the Alive festival 2014, and I used it as a starting place for prayerful writing with a group of people.  We burned spikenard, and imagined ourselves into the story.  Some beautiful work resulted.  People were able to connect with times when their life had been restored to them in some way, with times they were grateful, and wanted to pour our love and thanksgiving.  For others, they felt they were outside, looking in at the feast.
In this poem I see the doors wide open, like the gates of the city in the book of Revelation (21:25).

You can read the first poem here
and the second one here

 

Mary, of Bethany, at your feet a third time

And so you come once more to Bethany,
and share a meal with Lazarus,
a resurrection feast,
foreshadowing, foreshining
all those kingdom feasts you told of:
wedding banquets with long tables
set wide with good things,
with room enough for all,
welcome at your table.

Now, in Bethany, the house is ablaze with light,
shutters and doors thrown open,
all wide open with joy unspeakable,
music, laughter, dancing, wild thanksgiving
for one who was dead is alive again,

And all night, while crowds pour in from Jerusalem,
the feast goes on, and on,
as Mary enters now, cheeks glistening with joy,
past her brother at your side, back from the grave.

She kneels at your feet again,
pours out extravagant nard,
scandalous anointing of your warm, living feet,
unbinds her hair and lets it flow like water
over them, wiping them in such reckless
and tender thanksgiving.
Fragrance fills the room, the house, the night,
as more people pour from Jerusalem to you,
to you, who comes to us in our weeping,
who shares our bread with us,
and brings us to such joy as this.

 

John 12:1-11

 

 

The ‘Mary, at your feet’ poems – Two

Lazarus

Lazarus, by Jacquie Binns, with her permission.

We come to the second in the ‘Mary, at your feet’ sequence.  This, too, was read at the Alive festival, 2014.  It contains a bigger reversal than a poem can hold – from death to life, for it draws on Mary’s response to the death and raising of her brother Lazarus.

Martha went out to meet Jesus when he finally arrived, and their exchange is sorrowful and powerful and contains words of life and hope.  Mary stays inside, and when she finally goes to Jesus, we feel the depth of their mutual grief. In John’s gospel, where we find this account, the raising of Lazarus plays a crucial role in the events that lead to the crucifixion – the themes of death and life, life from death sound like a returning motif in a piece of music. Here, standing by Lazarus’ tomb, Jesus weeps with Mary, in the company of many who also grieve there.  And then, everything changes.

I am very grateful to Jacquie Binns for permission to use this photograph of her work. She is a textile artist and sculptor of rare vision, and it was an honour to meet her a few years ago, when I saw this piece. It is haunting and breathtaking.  I was particularly struck by the whiteness of the bindings, the light and whiteness seem so cold.  The set plaster holds the fabric grave-clothes in this one moment when the viewer sees Larazus for the first time, before we begin to know the power of what it is we see.

You can read the first poem in this sequence here.

 

Mary, sister of Lazarus, at your feet a second time

She sits in the shuttered room,
the room where her brother had laid,
dying, dead, the messengers sent out
returning empty, with no reply,
like prayers that bounce  off ceilings
or stick to the roof of the mouth,
choking with sorrow.
When you stay by the Jordan
that shuttered room is where Mary stays.

This is her shadowed valley, the dark forest of her path,
foreshadowing yours, it is all foreshadowing you.
The room where her brother had laid,

how can she ever leave it now?

But leave she did, at last, when you called for her,
she came quickly, running, trailing darkness behind
her weeping.  Mary, once more at your feet,
and when you saw her weeping, you wept too.

You know us in our grief.  You come to us, call to us.
In our darkest, most shuttered places,
your spirit moves, breaks with ours.
Death lay heavy upon you, too, and all the sooner for
this, what you do now, standing before that tomb.

For now, you who are Life,
Word made warm and beating flesh,
and weeping,
call Lazarus out,
You, who are life, and will rise,
call out one who is dead from the cold tomb.
You watch as they run to free him from the graveclothes,
pull darkness from him, calling in strange bewildered delight,
and you see Mary’s face as she sees now,
her brother, who was dead, once more in light,
astonished, seeing your glory, part of your glory,
as she weeps again, is weeping again
breathless with joy.

 

John 11:1-50

You can read the third poem here

 

 

The ‘Mary, at your feet’ poems – One

 

Two years ago, in May, I was thinking about the three times Mary of Bethany was at Jesus’ feet.  One story is recounted in Luke, the other two in John, where they are a part of the extraordinary Lazarus narrative.  I wanted to explore them more, and I did so in what turned into a series of three poems.  I read early versions of these poems at a local Christian festival, Alive, and as the time of year comes around again, I find I am remembering them, and going back to those thoughts.  I share the first one with you today, and the others will come in their own time, over the next week or so, as I continue to turn them over in my mind.

This first one draws on the story in Luke’s gospel where Jesus visits the home of Martha and Mary, and Mary sits at his feet.  I have not referred to Martha directly, except for in the title.  I do feel her lack. I wonder, in particular, what happened next.  Maybe there are some poems to write about her, too.

There is so much to ponder in this story, but what caught my attention was how hard it is for us to be still, to be.  We are so distracted, so pulled by so many things. We can end up  feeling that those things are what define us. That it is what we do, or think, or believe, or  how people view us that makes us who we are. Just being doesn’t seem enough, but our efforts to be more or different or better than we are can be life-sapping.
Acceptance can be hard to accept!

In writing this poem, I hoped to create a place of stillness. The kind of place where contemplative prayer begins.  A place where we can open up a little to love, and light. A place where we know we are welcomed.

The photograph is taken in the Chapel of St Peter on the Wall, Bradwell on Sea, Essex.

IMG_0366.JPG

Mary, sister of Martha, at your feet for the first time

You came in search of rest
away from the road,
that bright, shadeless road,
where so many came,
and you gave so much.

You came and sat down
in the cool room,
the shutters pulled
against the heat,
and Mary sat, too,
and it was enough.
Just sat, quietly, at your feet,
her face turned up to
yours as she listened.
And you saw how the light
fell across her,
as if for the first time.

And this is what you want,
what you long for.
Not the elaborate
preparations we would make,
not ourselves swept and
scrubbed to perfection,
our acts and our
thoughts impeccable
in lifeless rows,
but to be,  here in this light,
to be, here at your feet,
Luke 10:38-42

 

You can read the second poem here

and the third one here