Where the streams come from; poem 3…

Here is the third poem from my recent poetry collection, available here.

This poem was written only recently,  for the ‘Where the Streams Come From’ exhibition, which was one of the inspirations for the book. I was playing again with the idea of how everything is connected and also with the question of what holds everything together. It brings me to an idea of God.

Do you remember that ancient Hebrew story of Moses and his encounter with a burning bush? He somehow knew that he was in the presence of the divine, and asked for the name of the divinity- this from a culture in which there were many Gods. This God told him his or her name was ‘I am’.

I just am.

I am behind and between everything. I am wrapped up in everything. Everything contains me and I contain everything.

This poem is part of my on-going attempt to understand something of this God. Poetry, I think, is perhaps unique in the way it allows us to encounter and engage with ideas of the divine. It is perhaps no surprise to hear that over one third of the books of the Hebrew Bible are poetry- something we often lose in translation…

Gannets off on missions

 

I am

 

I am bird, I am wind

I am scaled, I am skinned

I am soil, I am stone

I am flesh, I am bone

I am ebb, I am flow

I am stream, I am snow

I am all of these things

And I am nothing

 

I am love, I am light

I am morning, I am night

I am atom, I am star

I am close, I am far

I am start, I am end

I am stranger, I am friend

I am all of these things

And I am nothing

 

I am silence, I am song

I am right, I am wrong

I am sea, I am shore

I am less, I am more

I am young, I am old

I am iron, I am gold

I am all of these things

And I am nothing

 

 

Where the streams come from, poem 2…

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Most people who write will tell you that there is nothing quite like that moment when you open a box of crisp new copies of your new book. But like all ego-driven satisfactions, it is fleeting. Books actually only come alive when they are read by others.

In case you have not yet ordered your copy (why on earth not?) here is the link again.

The book is divided into a number of chapters, all streams related- river, irrigate, sea, souls swimming etc. Today’s poem is rather different. It is concerned with the what happens when the stream dries up, and we lose our connection what may be beyond.

It will happen to us all, sooner or later – all people of faith, if they are honest with themselves, know the presence of doubt. It is my contention however that doubt is not the opposite of faith, rather it is part of every faith journey.

If our reaching for meaning is to progress beyond fairy tales and St Christopher medallions, it will have to grapple with those moments, or those far-more-then-moments, when our certainties are stolen, to be replaced with something more fluid and frightening. Something that seems at first to be hollow and empty, but might just be the place of new beginnings.

This poem was written at one of these beginnings.

broken statue

The silence of God

 

Here I am again

Speaking into the vast unknown

Straining for resonance in a space left wide open

Waiting

 

They say you sing through sunsets

And voice the throat of sparrows

That I should look for you in the least of these

And that you also speak in silence

They say you are a jealous God

Who calls from beyond the periphery of understanding

 

But I am weary of mixing portents from

Selective mundanity

I hope for so much more than a God-in-abstract

Who is unmoved by weeping

 

Perhaps the problem is all mine

A deficiency of listening

Holes in my audial spectrum

My head snowed with white noise

My ears plugged up with sin-wax

 

But then again, can it really all come down

To religious technique?

An accident of genetics gifting only some

With God-ears?

Do you require holy smoke-filled sanctuaries?

Or flagellated enlightenment?

Can a loving God be so capricious?

 

I decided to stop sending out wish lists

No longer will I plead for success or significance

I will even intercede with reluctance

More out of habitual hope

A desire to carry the shape of you to others

 

I mean in this no lack of respect

For who am I to command your attention?

Neither is this related to my lack of faith

Even when I forget where I planted my

mustard seed

 

It is just honesty

In the face of

silence

 

But still I’m listening

Where the streams come from, poem 1…

I said I would post a few taster poems from my new book, available here (as a download or a hard copy.)

This one was my way of groping towards an understanding of what we are as humans, downstream of all that evolution but feeling elevated above it all – so much so that we seem to have lost our connection.

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Connected

 

They say that everything that ever was

Is with us still  and that we are all

Connected

Our DNA, or so they say,

Contains some manta ray

Along with pterodactyl

Every leaf and every tree

Grows in you and grows in me

Every fish and every bird

Listens close to our every word

For everything belongs to everything

And we are all

Connected

 

 

‘Where the Streams Come From’ book now available…

It is out! You can download or buy a hard copy from here. 

I’ll blog a few poems over the next few days to give you a taster or two.

Here is the blurb from Proost who said some very nice things so I blushed a lot when I read them. Thanks to Steve too who they quote…

Where the Streams Come From

If you’ve ever sat pondering the sea, a river or a stream then the sense of wonder and beauty of moving water will not have been lost on you.  This new collection of poems from Proost regular Chris Goan takes that neauty and creates a wonderful sense of reflection and movement in this moving book.

Where the Streams Come From is a collection inspired and created through the process of creating an exhibition at the lovely Tighnabruaich Gallery, over the other side of Cowal Peninsula, where Chris and wife Michaela live.

Chris writes:

“We cast around for a theme for the exhibition. We needed it to allow us to say something about the beauty of the area in which we live, but also to reach beyond the postcard-perfect image of wild places. We were interested in ideas of ‘becoming’ and ‘unfolding’ as well as the spirituality and psychology of wilderness. The imagery of moving water – rivers, streams, rolling waves – has long been employed by humans as a means of seeking to understand things beyond ourselves…Sometimes the water seems to be used to describe God, or an aspect of God, at other times it is used to describe life itself…It is perhaps the later description that most appealed to me as I began writing for the exhibition; the idea of streams of water as an allegory of the flow behind everything, the flow in the middle of everything, the flow that we are all part of.”

What came from that creative process is a beautiful poetry book which we’ve loved to read and are excited to share with you.

Chris writes with an honesty and a depth which is very rare.  Personally I love the pace of his poems, you can go gently with the words and like a meandering stream you feel very gently taken along, even when the subject matter is challenging.

This book has been highly commended, with writer Steve Broadway saying:

“Chris Goan is a poet for our time. Again and again, his thought- provoking, powerful, sometimes painful words get to the veryheart of what many of us are thinking and feeling. He’s frequently stopped me in my tracks. He’s made me laugh. He’s made mecry. He gives me hope, even in my doubts.”

The Pentecostal Bishop who stopped believing in hell…

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Just watched this film on Netflix. It pinned me to the spot.

It tells the (true) story of Bishop Carlton Pearson, star televangelist, mentoree of Oral Roberts, on his journey towards heresy.

Heresy of a kind familiar to many of us, including me. The man himself speaks here.

Except I did not have to go through the process in front of a baying mob of Evangelicals.

Watch the film!

 

Michaela brings up her half century…

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My lovely wife is 50. Wow.

Yesterday we had a party in the garden. The weather was kinder than it might have been, but we were still grateful for the loan of a marquee from some friends. We planted 50 trees and spent the whole day outside, playing music and eating good food (mostly thanks to friends too!)

It was a lovely, lovely day, full of most of the best things my life contains, with Michaela at the centre.

Thanks so much to those of you who came. Those that could not, there will be other times for us to meet soon hopefully…

Martin Luther King; revolutionary whose searing oratory has been sanitised…

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I can’t listen to this man without weeping; the way his voice is drenched in the power of emotion; the poetry and music in his cadences; the old-time-revival preacher style that then hits you with a sucker punch – this man lived and they killed him for it.

I watched Selma last night with my 17 year old son. He knew little of the story or the historical context that King lived through. Afterwards I found myself talking to him about what I knew of it all and to my shame, I felt a certain nostalgia. How could this be? I am not black and have no rights whatsoever to claim any connection to the struggles for freedom that black people have endured in the USA for generation after generation. What I was doing was making a pet of my own personal MLK – a bit like my own personal Jesus. MLK exists in that place of modern sainthood, from a simpler time when good stood up to evil and triumphed.

Or did it? What was King actually fighting for? What was that ‘promised land’ that he so powerfully evoked in all those speeches? What was he dreaming about?

More pertinently, what would he make of the rampant inequality that still exists between black and white people across the planet, but in his own country too? What would he make of how those who he described as ‘poor whites’ are still sold a lie that at least they are better than… in the USA perhaps it is still black people, but we could substitute refugees, Moslems, benefit scroungers, etc etc. King saw this kind of invective as the way that rich people stopped us all lifting our heads and believing in something better, something that God was calling us towards.

This article in The Guardian today says it all;

This week, the US will indulge in an orgy of self-congratulation, selectively misrepresenting King’s life and work, as if rebelling against the American establishment was, in fact, what the establishment has always encouraged. They will cite the “dream” speech as if it were his only one – and the line about wanting his children to be “judged not by the colour of their skin but the content of their character” as if it were the only line in it.

In so doing they will wilfully and brazenly omit the fact that before his death in 1968, King was well on the way to becoming a pariah. In 1966, twice as many Americans had an unfavourable opinion of him as a favourable one. Life magazine branded his anti-Vietnam war speech at the Riverside church, delivered exactly a year before his assassination, as “demagogic slander”, and “a script for Radio Hanoi”. Just a week before he was killed, he attended a demonstration in Memphis in support of striking garbage workers. The protest turned violent and police responded with batons and teargas, shooting a 16-year-old boy dead. The press and the political class rounded on King. The New York Times said the events were “a powerful embarrassment” to him. A column in the Dallas Morning News called King “the headline-hunting high priest of nonviolent violence” whose “road show” in Memphis was “like a torchbearer sprinting into a powder-house”. The Providence Sunday Journal called him “reckless and irresponsible”. He was back in Memphis supporting the strike when he was killed.

MLK was hated not just because he was black, but also because of his political stance on things like the Vietnam war and poverty. These led him to the same inevitable conclusion that many activists have come to; in order to improve the lot of individual groups, you have to look in detail that economic power structures that are keeping the status quo. You have to look at the nature of Capitalism itself. This from the same article;

“We must honestly face the fact that the movement must address itself to the question of restructuring the whole of American society,” he said in August 1967. “There are 40 million poor people here, and one day we must ask the question, ‘Why are there 40 million poor people in America?’ And when you begin to ask that question, you are raising a question about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth. When you ask that question, you begin to question the capitalistic economy … when you deal with this, you begin to ask the question: ‘Who owns the oil?’ You begin to ask the question: ‘Who owns the iron ore?’ You begin to ask the question: ‘Why is it that people have to pay water bills in a world that’s two-thirds water?’”

It is an interesting question; what would MLK’s legacy have been, had he lived? Would he have a achieved greater things, or would his star have inevitably fallen? There is after all some indication that it was already falling even before the fateful bullet. The point is however, that he died. Ever since then, people have used him to illustrate a version of history that made sense to them.

Like Jesus, MLK sought to be God’s revolutionary. Like Jesus, perhaps he knew that this was not going to end well. Like Jesus, the power of his ‘rightness’ ultimately (if grudgingly) was accepted by the culture that he came to, but with conditions. Only some of what he said was accepted. His words were applied to illustrate a version of America that could make people believe that it was indeed the promised land, despite all the evidence to the contrary. The article again;

So in life, King’s one-time contemporaries struggle, as he did, with a white America that is dismissive and a black America that demands more than their movements can deliver. In death, the struggle is to ensure that King’s legacy isn’t eviscerated of all militancy so that it can be repurposed as one more illustration of the American establishment’s God-given ability to produce the antidote to it’s own poison.

MLK was a remarkable man, born into remarkable times. He achieved much, but also far less than he hoped and longed for. There is no promised land, just people who still have a dream that it might yet be brought a little closer.

50 years after his death, I am going to remember him as a revolutionary peace maker, which is a title redolent with irony because it is a contradiction in terms. Jesus turned over tables remember?