The quality of the story in which we take part…

Story-telling circle in the woods by Jeff Buck is licensed under CC-BY-SA 2.0

I read this quote recently which seemed to follow a familliar furrow on this blog;

The significance—and ultimately the quality—of the work we do is determined by our understanding of the story in which we are taking part.

Wendell Berry

I went looking on t’internet to see if I could find where this quote is from, and to my slight disgust, I found it emblazoned on motivational posters and used to promote business success speak. It occurred to me that most people who use Wendell Berry quotes have not read much of what he wrote. Then it occurred to me that I was being an intellectual snob because I have not read much of what he wrote either, beyond a few poems here and there…

Quotes like this are used to tell stories, even when the quote is reminding us that it is the story that matters most.

The absence of a story makes us sick.

But not all stories are equal.

A song comes to mind;

I am entering a new season. After being being cloistered for some time, locked into my own world of words and distractions, I am trying once more to connect with others, to get out into the flow, to chase stories that matter. (More of this below…)

I don’t think we can do this on our own.

Partly, we need story tellers. We need people who tell stores of better, of more whole, of more beautiful, of more peaceful. Perhaps they will tell old stores or perhaps they will be brand new.

I did a little review of stories that have been important to me on this blog. Here are some of them, in no particular order;

Recovery stories of those who have trancended their mental illness stories.

Post-pandemic stories that have callenged previously accepted narratives.

Economic stories in which we change the relationship between communities and global commerce.

Religious stories in which we find ourselves, if we can see beyond the religion.

Political stories and the limitation of these stories if you carry idealism.

I won’t go on – suffice it to say that I remain convinced that our society, saturated as it is by a constant deluge of information, has lost our stories. Or rather we have allowed our stories to be told for us by corporations for whom our only value is that of consumer. Where is the magic, the mystery and the majesty in that?

Far be it from me to make my blog about…me, but I mentioned the start of a new season.

Part of this is to take my latest book – concerned as it is with these ideas of a better story for a post pandemic world – on the road. The poster above is the first of these events, and underlines the degree to which it is not possible to find new stories on your own. These things would never happen without those who would host them, Michaela who organises them, Yvonne and the other musicians who play at them – not to mention people who come to be part of them.

In other news, in conspiration with a couple of friends (fellow poets Chris Fosten and Vicky Allen) we will shortly be launching a new podcast, named (Theo)Poetics, exploring the connection between meaning-making and poetry. Or at least this is what I think it will be about but all good things evolve.

In order to find new stories, we need to articulate them first.

That is not the same thing as inventing them, but unless stories are told together, they are not real, they are just merchandise on a shelf.

The spiritual practice of evolution and change…

Photo by Diego Madrigal on

If I am right (and Richard Rohr) then if our belief systems remain the same from young adult into middle age and beyond, then something has gone very wrong.

Surely, any spiritual path that has meaning must involve transformation through reformation, rejection, rediscovery, letting go, doubting, leaving, finding and just… being?

I can not offer my own experience as any kind of exemplar, unless we add the word ‘failing’ to the list above (and perhaps we must) but in many ways it seems to me that defining beliefs is almost pointless. I don’t mean to be rude, but who cares what you believe?

So what that the Bible/Koran/Bhagavad Gita told you it was true?

What does spiritual truth mean if not anchored to our actual lived experience?

What is spirtual knowledge for if not to facilliate progress?

What is religion for if not to help us help things get better?

Photo by Markus Spiske on

Having said all that, what we believe does matter.

Without new ways of understanding and seeing the world, how can we hope?

Sometimes it seems that my religion has gone. I have few rituals any more, few things that I collectivise with others around. When pushed I can give you an explanation but perhaps it might be easiest just to share this Mary Oliver poem with you, which says (like all poems do) what I was not sure how to say for myself.

I don’t know who God is exactly.
But I’ll tell you this.
I was sitting in the river named Clarion, on a water splashed stone
and all afternoon I listened to the voices of the river talking.
Whenever the water struck a stone it had something to say,
and the water itself, and even the mosses trailing under the water.
And slowly, very slowly, it became clear to me what they were saying.
Said the river I am part of holiness.
And I too, said the stone. And I too, whispered the moss beneath the water.

I’d been to the river before, a few times.
Don’t blame the river that nothing happened quickly.
You don’t hear such voices in an hour or a day.
You don’t hear them at all if selfhood has stuffed your ears.
And it’s difficult to hear anything anyway, through all the traffic, the ambition.


If God exists he isn’t just butter and good luck.
He’s also the tick that killed my wonderful dog Luke.
Said the river: imagine everything you can imagine, then keep on going.

Imagine how the lily (who may also be a part of God) would sing to you if it could sing,
if you would pause to hear it.
And how are you so certain anyway that it doesn’t sing?

If God exists he isn’t just churches and mathematics.
He’s the forest, He’s the desert.
He’s the ice caps, that are dying.
He’s the ghetto and the Museum of Fine Arts.

He’s van Gogh and Allen Ginsberg and Robert Motherwell.
He’s the many desperate hands, cleaning and preparing their weapons.
He’s every one of us, potentially.
The leaf of grass, the genius, the politician, the poet.
And if this is true, isn’t it something very important?

Yes, it could be that I am a tiny piece of God, and each of you too, or at least
of his intention and his hope.
Which is a delight beyond measure.
I don’t know how you get to suspect such an idea.
I only know that the river kept singing.
It wasn’t a persuasion, it was all the river’s own constant joy
which was better by far than a lecture, which was comfortable, exciting, unforgettable.


Of course for each of us, there is the daily life.
Let us live it, gesture by gesture.
When we cut the ripe melon, should we not give it thanks?
And should we not thank the knife also?
We do not live in a simple world.


There was someone I loved who grew old and ill
One by one I watched the fires go out.
There was nothing I could do

except to remember
that we receive
then we give back.


My dog Luke lies in a grave in the forest, she is given back.
But the river Clarion still flows from wherever it comes from
to where it has been told to go.
I pray for the desperate earth.
I pray for the desperate world.
I do the little each person can do, it isn’t much.
Sometimes the river murmurs, sometimes it raves.


Along its shores were, may I say, very intense cardinal flowers.
And trees, and birds that have wings to uphold them, for heaven’s sakes–
the lucky ones: they have such deep natures,
they are so happily obedient.
While I sit here in a house filled with books,
ideas, doubts, hesitations.


And still, pressed deep into my mind, the river
keeps coming, touching me, passing by on its
long journey, its pale, infallible voice

“At the River Clarion” by Mary Oliver, from Evidence: Poems, Beacon Press.

First of our After the Apocalypse, ‘seatree ‘on the road’ events…

I am both excited and not a little nervous about the first of our live poetry/music/art events. We hope to do a series of them through the year. If you are anywhere near the west of Scotland, please come along!

24th Feb, 7PM, Uig Hall (Which is very close to Benmore Gardens, on the Lock Eck road out of Dunoon.)

In case you are wondering how such an event will work – one answer is, who knows? This will be our first, so we will be flying blind to a certain extent. But then again, this is not entirely honest. The ingredients are incredible after all- Yvonne Lyon will be weaving keyboard and song around my poetry, accompanied by Will Goan on Guitar/vocals and perhaps other instumentalists too (yet to be confirmed!)

Alongside this we will be projecting art from the book from the fantastically talented Si Smith, like this one.

The whole thing is about hope. Even when hope is hard to find. Our politics is often toxic, and the meaning we used to find in churches has largely been left behind. How else do we start to hope again, if not together with our friends, and if not through sharing art?

By the way, thanks so much to those of you who offered to host one of these events. If we have not already been in touch, then we will be soon. Michaela is trying to thread together a plan for the year.

We still have room for more events though. We can scale what we do to fit your venue, so if you think an event like this might be worth hosting in your living room/garden/pub/church hall/cafe/theatre, drop me a line!