Wildlife corridors – a hedge story, and a poem.

I’m really pleased to be part of Transition Woodbridge’s Wildlife Corridors project. You can read more about Transition Woodbrige here, and Wildlife Corridors here.

We’re a group of all sorts of people from about the town who are seeking to make it a bit more wildlife friendly, and learning and sharing as we go. So below, you’ll find a little story about one of our hedges which I wrote for the group’s newsletter. We’re beginning to do more of this – passing on our often falterning steps towards a different way of thinking about our gardens. Here, our hedge had a beetle problem, and we tried a gentler and more natural approach to the plague of viburnum beetles than we might have done in the past. We’re delighted that the hedgeline is gradually becoming much more beautiful, diverse, and better for a wider range of creatures than simply the dreaded viburnum beetle!

After the account, you will find a poem drawing on this same hedge, and its story of renewal.

A hedge story – from pest control to native beauty.

It was a thin strip of dark green, between drives and walls. Our viburnum hedge joins what’s left of the original roadside hedgerow with holm oak and wild cherry plums to the network of gardens and trees behind. A narrow corridor of life, but with precious winter flowers for the bees, and just occasionally, a wren or a bluetit nested there. It was part of the planting we inherited.

A few years ago, it began to sicken dramatically.  Viburnum beetle. It looked devastated, and I had my doubts if it would recover. We consulted the RHS website, cut away the worst of it, and scraped out some of the soil underneath where the grubs overwinter.  As I did so, I felt the poverty of the soil – it was grey, had no structure, with no visible worms or other minibeasts. So we piled on the homemade compost and autumn leaves.  We also decided to enrich it more permanently with native plants – for as it was, it could not renew itself, and the long strip of monoculture was an easy target for the dreaded beetle.

I bought some bare rooted spindle from Botanica and interspersed these with hazel that the squirrels had kindly planted around the garden. In the autumns to come, I’m hoping for a blaze of butter yellow hazel, with bright red leaves and pink/orange berries from the spindle. All to fall to the ground and feed it.

It’s limped through this year’s drought, but we’re getting there.  It’s drawn in so many more creatures already. The insects are returning.  The soil has worms, and frogs and mice make their way along it.  At night bats hunt over it, and by day, the dragonflies. Many plants are finding their way there, each making their own contribution.  At first, it was mustard garlic.  Now, there’s purple toadflax, birdsfoot trefoil, various bedstraws and all manner of other plants.  Butterflies and caterpillars, bees and hoverflies, and a healthy range of beetles are making a home here.

There’s a trellis separating our neighbour’s drive from this hedge and, in consultation with them, we’ve planted garden seeds and cuttings – vetch and perpetual sweet peas to improve the soil, honeysuckle, roses and jasmine.  Again, I hope that next year it will be truly beautiful.

And as for the beetle attack… there have been a few nibbled leaves in the last two years, but nothing more than that. And, if some of the original plants die, there is  plenty of life to take advantage of the light and air they leave.  We have moved from a dark monoculture to a diverse and increasingly native abundance, with so much more food for all life.  The viburnum still gives flower at a time of year when the natives are quiet, and deep cover too for plants and animals and birds. But the natives are making their presence felt now, and bringing so much beauty, diversity and abundance. It’s becoming a joy, and an example of how gentle care can slowly move a garden to something far more alive. I’m watching what it’s doing with real delight. What will be next?

And now the poem…..

Green ink 1
Hedge

And the garden now is my poem.
So this hedge, this long line of joy
and work, rhymes its meanings
back and forth, carries them through
seasons, through drought and cold
by bird and frog and bee. Carries
deep memory of the land, of wood
and hedgerow, orchard and field, and deep
hope too, for what may be, and
what is becoming. And growing.

For joy and work wrought it,
and renewed it, planted these
saplings of spindle and hazel
that will be red and gold as
leaves fade in late sun, fade
to such an illuminated brightness.


And I see what may be, what are,
sweet rose cuttings unfolding, and
growing, as honeysuckle twines,
and jasmine – tiny, with tiny leaves –
grows now in warmth, and sweet peas
begin their work of rising up
from hard coiled seeds.
 
All this abundance given freely
by the garden and gathered,
and tended, and shared,
as she freely gives more –
wind-blown seeds and bird-
carried berries filling the earth
to overflowing, as together we make
a line of such richness and beauty,
thought and imagining, sibilant
as the wind whips through it,
sounding like words spilling
on the page.
These words. This page.

I would write in green, I have
written in green, working
with all this life. Patient, resting
in its waiting, and growing, and fading,
ending, and beginning again.
And again. This long line of green.  

Easter readings and poems

Over the past few years, I’ve gathered and shared with you links to various readings here on the blog that tell the Easter story. Whether you are joining together with many others, or perhaps staying within a smaller household group, or a gathering of friends, I hope you will find here something that supports you, whatever you are doing..

I notice that two posts are proving particularly helpful at the moment. I’ll share links to these at the beginning, and then go through everything in a Holy Week sequence.

Do please feel free to use any of these resources, acknowledging me and this blog. It’s always good to hear about that, though, so do let me know if you can!

These are the most popular links here on the blog at the moment:

Mary of Bethany, at your feet a third time.

Seven Sentences from the Cross

The House at Bethany, the Raising of Lazarus

Many spend time with this Gospel story in Holy Week.  It’s a story that means a great deal to me.  You can find some links below.

Sunday Retold – Lazarus raised from the dead

Here you will find the readings, and some things to ponder, as well as one of my Mary at your feet poem.  If you would like to focus on the poetry, you could go here:

The ‘Mary, at your feet’ poems – Two

The ‘Mary, at your feet’ poems – Three
This last post also contains a contemplative prayer/writing exercise.

There are readings, things to do, things to reflect on, in the I Am series which draws on another of my books.

Jesus said, I Am – for Lent. Chapter 5, the Resurrection and the Life

mary-anoints-the-feet-of-jesus-by-frank-wesley
Artist – Frank Wesley

Other Holy Week stories – You can find these in Chapter 11 of my retelling – both editions:  The Bible Story Retold, and The Lion Classic Bible, which share the same text.  The second of these has lovely illustrations by Sophie Williamson.

Prayers and Verses also has a section in Chapter 11 called The Road to Good Friday, which you might find useful.

Maundy Thursday – The Last Supper, Jesus washes their feet.

Retold –
Retold: Maundy Thursday

Poem- Poem: Jesus washes Judas’ feet.

We also find two of the great I Am sayings in this narrative:
Jesus said, I Am – for Lent. Chapter 6 – I am the way, the truth and the life.

Jesus said, I Am – For Lent. Chapter 7, Vine

Later in the evening, when Jesus is arrested, there is a further I Am moment:

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

Jesus Washing Feet 11
Jesus Washing the Feet of his Disciples, 1898 (oil and grisaille on paper) by Edelfelt, Albert Gustaf Aristides (1854-1905) chalk and grisaille on paper 58×47 © Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, Sweden Finnish, out of copyright

Good Friday

Retold: Good Friday Retold

Now, we come to the new poems I’ve written for Good Friday – based on the seven sentences Jesus spoke from the cross. I’ve put them together with some readings, music, and art, to give you a Good Friday Meditation. 

The poems themselves: Poems – Seven Sentences from the Cross

The meditations: A Good Friday Meditation – including 7 new poems

Here is the meditation on YouTube

Francisco_de_Zurbarán_Angus Dei
Angus Dei  Francisco de Zurbaran

Easter Sunday

A simple retelling: Retold: Easter Day!

If you are following in my books of Bible retellings and prayers, Chapter 12 moves us into New Life.

img_0786

Thank you for joining me.  I hope you find these things help.
Keep safe and well.
Bless you.

Retold: Moses, the rescuer

 

candles_flame_in_the_wind-otherI’ve been sharing with you an emerging series of poems drawn from the first chapters of Exodus, in the Hebrew Scriptures.  I am finding they help give me a way of thinking about our own difficult time.  Sitting alongside those, I’m writing some posts which tell the story in prose, drawing on my book, The Bible Story Retold.

This next fragment falls in between two more well-known stories – On the banks of the Nile, and The Burning Bush. You can read these by clicking on the titles.

It’s a powerfully revealing fragment.  It shows Moses, perhaps becoming aware of the injustice his people were facing, taking violent – indeed fatal – action to defend them. This character trait of rescuing, or establishing justice, is further revealed in his actions defending the young women at the well – but this time, the incident ends with being received into Jethro’s family, and marrying one of those young women.  There seems to have been some progress in how Moses uses his impulse to defend and rescue.  It’s so easy, in rising up to oppose injustice, to become a mirror – demostrating the same behaviour as that which we might oppose.  Part of this narrative’s purpose is to show us different ways good ends can be accomplished.  And they begin with a change in us, a change in how we see, and understand the world.  This one will begin with a powerful encounter with the mysterious I Am of the burning bush.

WP_20171016_16_18_46_Pro

I explore this a little more in the poem, Moses, and the Burning Bush, which you can read here.

Now, back to the prose narrative……

IMG_0609.JPG

From Exodus 2-4

Moses never forgot his own people.  He could not walk among the carved colonnades of the royal palace without shuddering, for they had been built by the slave laour of his brothers and sisters.  Then, one day, at one of the great building sites, he saw an Egyptian beating an Israelite, and anger rose in him.  He came to the defence of the slave, but killed the Egyptian, and gave him a hurried burial in the sand.

“So this is how he repays our kindness to him!” roared Pharaoh when he heard the news. “We brought him up as one of our own, and now he’s fighting against us, on the side of those lazy slaves!”  When Moses saw Pharaoh’s anger, he ran to the desert, the land of Midian, fearing for his life.

He came to a well and sat down, gasping and exhausted.  Soon, seven young women arrived to water their sheep.  But some shepherds tried to drive them away and take the water for themselves.  Moses came to the girls’ rescue, and helped them water their flocks.  The young women returned to their father Jethro, a wealthy herdsman, and told him what had happened.  Jethro welcomed his daughers’ protector into his family.  Moses married one of the girls and cared for Jethro’s flocks.  He learned the ways of the wilderness: where to shelter from a sandstorm, the best paths through the high places.

Then, one day, as the sheep grazed on the slopes of Mount Sinai…….

This is where the story moves to the moment of the Burning Bush.

And from Prayers and Verses

O God,
How long must I call for help before you listen?
How can you let this wrongdoing go on…
all the fighting and the quarrelling?
Wicked people are getting the better of good people;
it is not right, it is not fair!

I will wait quietly for God to bring justice.
Even in the middle of disaster I will be joyful,
because God is my saviour.

based on the book of Habakkuk

 

This post draws on the Sunday Retoldseries.

Poem: Holy Ground, barefoot. Exodus poems 3

img_0356

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 – and I’m amending this post to tell you I have done so, and you can read that new poem here.  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, or. 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.

img_0367

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: God saw – and God knew. Exodus poems 2

img_0212

River Deben

This is the second poem I’ve written on these themes, drawing from the Exodus account of the life of Moses.  It carries with it many of the things that struck me as I was writing the first, Pharaoh’s daughter, and the child.  I have been thinking about how one group of people can be pitted against another, in fear, in believed superiority, and how, in this story, small acts of love and compassion begin the unravelling of this separation, and injustice. In particular, I have been turning over in my mind the idea that the unjust law of the Egyptians – all the Hebrew baby boys should be thrown into the River Nile – is so evil that it carries within it the necessity and means of its own overturn.  That this ark of rushes holding the baby Moses is one of the seemingly small means that begin the overthrow of an unjust system is fitting.

Once again, there are echos of the Gospel stories that tell of the beginning of Jesus’ life.  Tbe improbability, the vulnerability of a baby, cradled in less than ideal circumstances – a basket in a river, a manger in a stable – being so vital to the outworking of God’s love, challenges us in to how we think change for good might be accomplished.  Here, the urgency and reckless hope of a mother’s love, meets the compassion of a princess, and undermines an economic and political system which was cruel, and seemingly all-powerful. May we remember this, as we work for a more beautiful world.

My last post retells the story, and gives you links to the Bible passages.

But for this poem, what struck me was a few small verses at the end of Chapter 2.

During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help…. God saw the people of Israel – and God knew.

Once again, this story of emnity between groups of people, of inequality and injustice, carries warning and hope for our current situation.

What happens to any of us happens to all of us.
What might shift if we thought that was so?

wp_20161113_16_45_08_pro

Moon over the marshes at Walberswick.

 

God saw – and God knew   Exodus poems 2
During these many days,
the king of Egypt died –
that man who thought
himself a god, having
a god’s power of life
and death –
and God saw, and God knew.

Those living between walls
of cool marble,
dressed in linen,
making offerings to the gods,
those who floated down the Nile
while others laboured –
They thought, being rich,
being mighty, they had
the ear of God.
And God saw, and God knew.

During these many days,
those oppressed cried out –
those forced to labour,
those whose race was
feared, then despised.
They cried out,
and did they dare hope
that God saw, and God knew?

God saw and listened long.
Endlessly.  Through
many days, through
incessant lamenting,
God saw, and God knew.

So, I stand and ask, why?
why so long, those many days?
And will not soothe
myself with “perfect timing”,
or “plan”.  Under the
slavemasters’ whip,
such words sting.
And yet, God saw,
and God knew.

I lower my gaze.
Caught in the reeds,
there is a dark basket,
black as pitch,
that desperate hopeless hope,
that boychild cast by his mother
into the Nile, a loving reversal
of a cruel law –

and within that law’s dark heart –
an ark of reeds and pitch
woven tight of love –
with fists curled,
was one who would
overturn that cruelty.
A tiny child.
crying, hungry,
and alone.
And God saw,
and God knew.

Poem: Pharaoh’s daughter, and the child. Exodus poems 1

img_0212

The banks of the Deben, high tide

As I was coming to the end of writing the Lockdown Poems, a couple of things were tugging at my attention.  One was the thought of doing a series of poems on the I Am sayings, revisiting some of the prose and prayer from my book.  The other was the huge sweep of the cry for justice that is circling the world – the cry for racial, environmental, and economic justice.  One of the things the coronavirus crisis has done has been, as we’ve said before, to reveal painful things – to draw back the veil and show aspects of society that many of us have been fortunate enough to be able to overlook.

As I was looking at the origins of the I Am sayings – Moses’ experience with the burning bush – I was deeply struck by the relevance of the Exodus story  to our current world situation.  I would encourage you to read Exodus Chapters 1-3 to start with, if you can, and see what strikes you.  Many things opened up for me, and I intend to explore them imaginatively and prayerfully, inhabiting the story, and asking for wisdom. I hope I’ll return to the I Ams again, but for now, these matters seem too pressing to ignore.

We can see how the story of Exodus progresses.  It begins with forgetfulness.  Forgetfulness of the way Joseph, ex-slave, ex-prisoner, had saved the country from famine with his vision and good management, forgetfulness of how we are all interconnected, and bring gifts to our situation.  The Egyptians forgot, and were afraid.  Their enslavement of the Hebrew people is told as an act of weakness, not strength.  How that fear led to justifying the terrible law for the slaughter of baby boys – a story echoed in the Gospel here, where the baby boys of Bethlehem were killed, and Jesus’ family escaped to Egypt.  At the time of Exodus this was the known world’s richest and most powerful empire, and the process of unravelling that power and wealth seems to be begun within that unjust law. So contrary to all that is good and right in human relations was it, that it carried the seeds of its own undoing. And maybe that sheltering of the infant Jesus was, knowingly or unknowingly done, a kind of restitution.

In this story of Exodus, I’m powerfully struck how the action of one young woman changed nations. Her compassion was the point of turning. That is not to say that we measure our small acts of kindness by their global impact, or only do them if we feel there will be some kind of payback, but that this story reveals the hidden power of compassion, and can offer encouragement to us to not think better of our moments of better feeling, but to act on them – to reach out and help, offer what we can.  What those feelings and acts accomplish is, in many ways, not our business. We can offer them, release them, and what happens happens.  If we praying people, we can simply offer them to God, with no thought of future benefipayback. They can cease to be our own. Of course, we can try to be mindful of unintened negative consequences, but we seek to act from love and goodness independent of outcome for ourselves. For Pharoah’s daughter, if she survived to the time of the plagues and freedom for the slaves, this mercy to Moses may not have seemed such a good act after all.

The other thing which struck me forcibly was the fact that she acted from a place of safety, and privilege.   She did something that would have brought swift punishment if someone else had done it.  She seems to have used her safety almost without thought of the consequences, to help this one child.  We don’t know any surrounding information – what her attitude to her father’s law was before, or after.  All we know is this one thing about her. This one act.  Maybe it can encourage us to listen to one another, in different circumstances, to speak of our difficulties when we experience them, and to speak and act for others when they cannot do so for themselves.
And here is another thing our current crisis has revealed – deep wells of compassion and community, the capacity of people to act to help and support people they know, and don’t know.  The veil drawn back has shown us good, too. There is hope in this deeper reality.

The ending of this poem carries an echo of William Blake’s The Divine Image, which is incredibly apt for our current situation. It was published in 1789, and carries its message of equality in language of the time.  It’s a powerful read.

Songs_of_Innocence_copy_G_object_12_The_Divine_Image

There are major shifts happening in the world right now, and I am attempting to listen, to keep my mind open, to pray, and to understand, and to act.

AA037808

Taken from Exodus Chapter 2

Pharaoh’s Daughter, and the child.  Exodus poems 1

You named him Moses,
drew him out of
that small ark,
a precious cargo.
Out of the Nile-reeds,
where crocodiles wait,
out of the flood and the snakes
and the hum of mosquitoes,
out of the sentence of death
your father had passed.
In that moment, your heart responded,
the moment when you heard him cry
hungry, closed in the dark
and the silence
of his pitch-black basket,
in a moment, you reached out your hand,
and touched – not a slave-child,
but simply a hungry one, alone.

From your place, at your father’s side,
standing in his love for you,
you saved one small life
from his fearful stony heart’s rage,
from the might of law and empire.

Marvellous princess, you did more.
You paid a slavewoman wages,
you acted with justice and mercy,
you saw a child, and not an enemy.

And so you are remembered,
you are thanked by generations
yet unborn
For an act of kinship with one
from a feared race,
as golden Nile-waters
swirled and eddied and
rippled outwards, outwards
from the place where you stood,
shining in the light of dawn.
Mercy bore, in you,
the beauty of a human face.

Poem: Snake, not in the grass

Since my series of Lockdown Poems came to an end, my new notebook is filling up with different things…. I’ll share more with you another day, when I’ve worked up something more shareable, perhaps more complex.

This, though, was what happened yesterday, and I wanted to share it with you now.  If anything, it’s an unlockdown poem, reflecting the impact that increased traffic has had on one creature.  Once again, I feel pulled in different directions.  I am glad our local businesses are cautiously open again, but I miss the quiet roads and the space for nature.  I wonder how many creatures had become used to safely crossing, and have lost the habit of caution.

IMG_0980

The road earlier in the Spring, quiet in lockdown.

I am not particularly keen on snakes.  I don’t recall seeing a grass snake in this area before, and certainly I’ve never seen one in or so close to the garden..  That the first one I have a chance to look at closely should be dead saddens me.  It has troubled me, and I still can’t shake the image from my eyes. We can hold more than one impression – I am a little afraid of this snake, but I see its beauty, and feel its loss.

Our garden continues to be full of life.  The newts are back sheltering under the red watering can, and there are small frogs among the strawberries – I hope they are growing larger on the slugs.  Maybe this snake was on its way to our small sanctuary, and didn’t make the crossing.  Maybe I’ve run over things myself, and not even noticed – I must have done.

This one dead creature seems to be weighty with significance, so, as ever, I have explored that with words.

 

grass snake animalia

Grass snake from Animalia on Pinterest

 

 

Snake, not in the grass

There’s a coil of something
long, with a faint gleam,
on the road by our drive.

A prickle crosses my neck.
The heat rising from tar
brushes my legs as
I take a slow step nearer.
Silver underside, dark stripes.
Snake.

Its tail is flat,
its pale interior exposed
to this drying sun,
It doesn’t move.

Its shape is burned
in my mind.
I can’t forget it,
can’t settle.
Such beauty,
such strangeness,
dead.

The road must not be
its resting place,
unnatural with the
hardness of cars
and the smell of tar.
Its long fluid form,
its pale green and grey,
the strip of yellow brightness
by its intelligent head,
these things call for
softness, and respect.

I do what I can do.
Not enough.
Scoop it as tenderly
as I can with my
cautious spade,
and lay it in the long grass
where I try to grow wildflowers.

 

I am so sorry this was your end,
beautiful creature,
beneath wheels,
you, the first snake seen here,
in this place.
It’s a strange welcome,
but welcome you are.
May you rest in this pale
dry grass,
be part of this land,
thank you for your life,
your part in the life
of this place.
We are the poorer
for your loss.

Poem for Pentecost, and some readings

Sharing again some readings, prayers and a poem, for Pentecost.

I gave a variation of this reading for  St Edmundsbury’s service, Catching the Fire.  You can watch the whole thing here.

Andrea Skevington

candles_flame_in_the_wind-other

Wind and fire – two of the ways people have tried to describe the Spirit.

As we approach Pentecost Sunday, I am sharing with you some readings and a poem.  Please feel free to use them if they help you, saying where they are from.

Firstly, a reading from my book The Bible Retold

From the fields it came: the first sheaf of barley cut for that year’s harvest.  It was carried high through streets crammed with visitors, and on to the Temple. And then the priest offered it to God, giving thanks for the good land, and for the gift of harvest. For that day was the celebration of the first fruits.  It was Pentecost.

Meanwhile, the disciples were all together, waiting.  Then, suddenly, it began.  It stared with sound – a sound like the wind – but this was no gentle harvest breeze.  This was a shaking and…

View original post 588 more words

Poem: Two Trees – Lockdown poems 5

IMG_0982

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?

IMG_0970

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.

Jesus said, I Am – for Lent. Chapter 5, the Resurrection and the Life

Welcome back to this Lent series, based on my book Jesus said, I Am – finding life in the everyday.

We come to this chapter at an extraordinary time, the time of coronavirus, when so many are praying anxiously, concerned for their loved ones, maybe separated from their loved ones. This chapter, dealing with the death and rising of Lazarus, may reveal new treasures for us at this time.  As many of us have stepped back from our spiritual communities,  I hope our reading and praying together helps.  We are evolving and strengthening other ways of being community.

As we walk through John’s gospel, getting closer to Easter, and the cross, we see the days grow longer.  There is an inbuilt hope in this season of spring.

Featured Image -- 5148

 

John 11- 12:8

IMG_0471

Let us return to the gospel story.  As we follow it through, it is worth being on the watch for the flowering of the themes sown in the prologue, at the very beginning, where John talks of light and life, the light that shines in the darkness and the darkness not overcoming it. We see in this story of Lazarus the beauty of that light and life breaking through, and also the power and depth of the darkness.  If we are alert, we will also see the other great themes of the gospel: seeing the glory, grace and truth of God in the life of Jesus, and an invitation to belief.  All these things open and flourish in the account of Lazarus, Martha and Mary.

This is an extraordinary and profound passage of Gospel, so rich and deep.  We’ll just look at a few aspects of it here on the blog – aspects that I hope will give some nourishment,  or encouragement, or consolation – and also ways of living it out, living in the light of this bursting out of life and hope in a place as dark as the grave.  No details are wasted with John, and the slow introduction to this story has lessons for us too.

Messages and prayers

While he is by the Jordan, a desperate message arrives saying that Lazarus, his [Jesus’] beloved friend, is very sick.  And he does not respond. For all of us who have prayed for healing for someone we love, or for the resolution of some terrible situation, we send our messages to God, and then, sometimes, nothing happens.  This experience of silence is one all of us who have prayed encounter.

And yet, and yet, we pray……

When I don’t know how to pray, I ask God to accompany me, to be with me and to be with the one I am praying for.  I find myself expanding my prayer – for others I know in similar circumstances, and then for those I don’t know.  I pray for the support that is there, or that it may be there.  I ask if there are things I can do to be part of the solution.  That is what, in practice, I do.  Even when I don’t know how to pray, or why I am praying, I find that I do.

 

The death and raising of Lazarus, this journey to the grave and into life, foreshadows the Easter story in all its brightness and strangeness.  Also, in a very real and practical sense, the raising of Lazarus precipitates Jesus’ arrest and all that follows.

So, while Jesus was waiting, was he coming to terms with what was going to happen and seeking the Father? John’s gospel is very full of the bond between the Father and the Son.

Prayer is nothing less than oneing the soul to God.  Julian of Norwich

Prayer propels him into action, as it does now. …. We are not dealing here with a Saviour who is indifferent to the suffering of the world, but who is preparing to enter into it more fully than we can imagine.

And, we know, that Jesus does come, and the two sisters speak to him in their fresh raw grief.
I wrote a sequence of poems about this Mary, and the second one speaks of that moment.  You can read it here.

 

Lazarus

Lazarus by Jaquie Binns

 

Lazarus needed to be released from the grave-clothes, but maybe there were other kinds of letting go he needed now.

This story shows us the hard journey into new life Lazarus and his sisters went through, and the possibility, and power, of resurrection.

Practise resurrection

What would it mean to be a resurrection people – to participate with Jesus in 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 go deeper than believing in resurrection, to begin to practise it, to live as if it were the way things were meant to be?  In any experience of darkness, perhaps we can take courage from this story to enter into it, to not be afraid, to know there is a way out on the other side.  Even in darkness, we can look for signs of life.

The line ‘Practice resurrection’ [is]from the poetry of Wendell Berry.

You can see a performance of  Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

by Wendell Berry following the link.
I wonder how much of a manifesto it might be for these strange times, and our hopes for the times to come.  (A link to my previous post, a Poem for a time of isolation)

 

Once Lazarus is restored to them, they throw a party to celebrate this resurrection power, and to thank Jesus for their brother and their friend.

Feast

One thing resurrection means, in this story of Lazaus, is an extravagant feast and an extravagant anointing…..

Now, this is a ‘Jesus’ uprising – of feasting, a celebration of an empty grave. The feast, the open house, is an image of the kingdom we have come across elsewhere in the gospels, in Jesus’ parables of wedding feasts and banquets, of the hospitality of the Father’s house.

As the feasting continues, Mary enters. In an extravagant act of thanksgiving, a prophetic act too, she pours out precious perfume and anoints Jesus’ feet.  She unbinds her hair, an undressing, a vulnerability, as she gives the most precious gift the house can offer – a jar of nard.  This act of kneeling has its later echo: as Jesus kneels to wash his disciples’ feet.  I wonder whether Jesus was remembering this act of Mary’s when he knelt before his friends.

Maybe, for those of us who are missing Mothers day, or birthday parties, or even their own weddings, because of coronavirus isolation, we can think and begin to plan the kind of joyful gatherings we’ll have, the kind of reuniting with loved ones, when this situation has passed.

This feast as recorded by John, and this kneeling, is the subject of the final of my poems for Mary.  You can read that here.

 

Reflection and response.

Greening

You will need: a dry twig and a vase or jar, paper cut into leaves, green pencils or felt-tip pens, cotton.
Music suggestion: Hildegard von Bingen (perhaps Antiphon, Caritas Habundant in Omnia

Think of people and situations in need of new life – of healing and restoration and new beginnings.  Write them down on the leaves, colouring them in with green. Ask for the Spirit of life to be given them.  Tie them to the dry twig, giving thanks for new life.

Is there something you could do to support or cheer a sick person, or someone caring for a sick person? Or is there a seemingly dead situation that could be open to new life?

Alternatively, you can pick a budding twig to watch unfold, visiting it each day and praying as above, or cutting it and putting it by a light place in your home. Celebrate the hope of new life coming from something that looks as if it might well be dead.

There are many community groups, and individuals, who are gathering together – often virtually – to help and support those around them – cooking meals, arranging deliveries, making calls – showing love in a way which respects the increased personal boundaries we need at the moment.  If you are feeling anxious, or helpless, in the face of the current situation, there may be something you can do to bring hope or help to someone else.  You can be part of the movement to bring new life to dark places.

 

Practice resurrection

Ask God whether there are ways you could ‘practise resurrection’. God delights in using the flawed, the old and the cast aside, like Moses or Abraham….. Ask Jesus to bring his resurrection life into yours now, to breathe into the dead and dark places.  Similarly, ask him to do the same for those you love and for your community.

Ask, too, where you could be part of this process of making all things new, bringing new life.

Start simply – renew an old, thrown-away object: restore a piece of furniture, reuse old fabric for a sewing project, plant vegetables in a neglected place, make compost, use broken plates for mosaic, make something beautiful out of what has been cast aside.

wells-cathedral-5492

Wells Cathedral – you can read about it in Lent: Jesus said, I Am….. Week 3, Light

 

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

img_20181130_114736372319885.jpg