The tree…

Today I went in to Glasgow to lead a session at a poetry writing group at Kibble Palace, in the Botanical Gardens. I very much enjoyed it. A lovely group of people, all of whom write beautifully, so much so that I felt like a fraud being asked to ‘lead’ them. I hope that I might yet connect with them again.

I set a couple of writing tasks, one of which involved taking some time to walk out in to the park and write sometihng from the perspective of an object or plant that they encountered. People wrote as fish, as park benches and, of course, as trees.

I too chose a tree. It was a rather odd one; a highly scented tree that seemed to have two different kind of blossoms on it at once. A laburnum perhaps and something else. At first I was fascinated, wondering what miraculous wizardry or natural phenomena had formed this exotic oddity. Here it is, at distance so as not to interupt the girl sitting beneath it;

It reminded me of one of those creatures popular at Victorian freak shows; half rabit and half cat, or the woman whose legs were that of a deer or a goat.

The tree seemed to me to be a beautiful abomination.

I wrote this small sketch;

YOU decided

WE had no say in the matter

You spliced us like timber

Now our lovely limbs sway and splay

As if by clockwork

Let scent from our blossoms

Choke you

No…

No.

Let it rest on you like

A long lost memory

Of when you too

Walked the wild fields

When we were free

That old seducer called hope…

A few weeks ago I went with some old and new friends to a small island, for our annual ‘wildernss retreat’. These trips are very special to me, connecting me, grounding me and shaping me in ways that are sometimes only understandable in hindsight. Always I come away with things that need more thought, in the sense of things that have inspired me, or have troubled me. (The latter seem, if anything, more important.) One of the things that has stayed with me this weekend was the memory of a number of questions about hope.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I tend towards the melancholic and few of my friends would regard me as an optimist. Despite all of this, I found myself in a conversation with one of my island friends in which he seemed increasingly frustrated by what he apeared to regard as my blind, unenlighted, unrepentant desire to pursue this thing called hope. With hindsight perhaps I pushed back too hard, but he seemed committed to a gospel of nihalism that I found profoundly troubling. He spoke about it on an intellectual level and I made the mistake of replying in the same vein, forgetting that we often intellectualise deeper emotional states. I am not even saying I fully disagreed with him. After all, there is so much to feel overwhelmed by at the moment.

But this seems to me to be neither the whole truth nor a very useful lens with which to examine the world.

This song comes to mind;

Perhaps hope, when imposed or dictated in the way that I ofund myself in danger of doing, will always feel like a toxic cloud.

But I have walked this tightrope of hope and hopelessness for a long time. I am hoping to put the finishing touches to a book of poetry which charts some of this journey. This begins with the election of Trump and his pound-shop imitator this side of the Atlantic, and was then poured out into a series of protest poems about the state of the world; climate change, widening inequality, injustice, a loss of community and the rise of individualism. However, the pandemic shifted something in me. I feel those injustices as keenly as ever, but I decided that anger, unyoked from hope, achieved nothing. As we all stopped during the lockdowns, a different way seemed possible.

It is of course possible to point out that any hope for meaningful change that began during the cataclysm of the global pandemic (when we seemed to be rediscovering community and realising that collective action was not only possible, but the only way to survive) has been thwarted. Business as usual is now the name of the game, and a new war has pushed us further towards the abyss. Despite all this, I found myself writing poems of hope, like this one;

Hope

They say that hope comes

Only in the harshest times

When we need it most

I see it there in your eye

Feel it as our fingers touch

As our minds entwine

.

Inside this skin that bottles me

It moves like a liquid

Waiting for your cup

Not just the hope with feathers

But also sinew and carved stone

It is bone on bone

.

And when friends meet

Hope has breath

Hope has viral load

From ‘After the apocalypse’

Back to those conversations on the island. Because our group has (mostly) a shared faith background, even if this has taken us in very different directions, the lack of hope seemed all the more acute. Is that not what our faith is supposed to be based upon?

There is the rub, and perhaps this was the core of the debate with my friend. He is still very much within the institution of Church, frustrated at how the core messaging that Church contains still has not begun to engage with the unfolding stories that society tells itself. My impression is that this is pulling him towards his own adventure outside the institution, because if our faith has become irrellevant not only in the way the message is delivered, but in the message itsef, then how can it ever be a source of hope?

Christians talk a lot about hope, but this tends to be only the hope of being saved from the consequences of sin, and the punishment we are due for our own sinfulness waiting for those who do not heed the call to repent. There is also a hope that arises from ‘goodness’, measured mostly in seperation from the world in an enclave of holiness, but this offers no hope of the general kind, only an escape pod for a select few.

Meanwhile, the world is still warming. Rich people still get richer and poor poorer. Politicians profit from lies and corruption. The fabric of our society is threadbare and coming apart and the old Durkeim glue of religion has lost its stickyness because it has nothing coherant to say about any of this, right?

So why do I still feel hope and where do I see it? What am I hoping for? These are difficult questions to answer, which is why I grapple with them in poetry. However, I sense in myself and in the wider society a hunger for a different kind of spirituality that I think is starting to emerge. Partly this is a consequence of the large numbers of church leavers who are still striving to live out a meaningful faith journey, but also because we are all of us spiritual beings, seeking meaning and truth despite all the distraction.

I think we might characterise this emerging spirituality in two main ways;

  1. Non duality, by which I mean a rejection of the old in/out, good/bad, sacred/profane, saved/unsaved dichotomies for something more fluid and generous.
  2. Connectedness and the one-ness of all things. The Christ who is another name for everything. The source and substance of every created thing who live and move and have their being in him.

Of course, I have no evidence to support these ideas other than my own flawed perceptions, but if I am right, I think the emergence of this spirituality is the source of a new hope. For the first time in the post modern age, we have a story to live by that directy engages with the challenges of our times.

  • Sectarianism and hard inflexible doctrines
  • The ‘problem’ of the other, particularly the black other, or the Muslim other
  • Plurality and difference
  • Climate change
  • Poverty and inequality
  • Individualism
  • Our place in the natural world
Photo by Vincent M.A. Janssen on Pexels.com

Perhaps this all seems like incoherant rambling to you, and you may be right, but I will have one more go. I mentioned earlier that I can only make sense of much of this through poetry, so I will re-post a poem in which I was reaching towards these same conclusions.

The great Becoming

.

How small we made you.

How constrained by our constraints;

We wore you like a lapel badge,

Pocketed you like a personal passport, then

Raised you at our borders like a flag.

We locked you in the pages of

Our Book, then threw away the key.

.

But how we worshipped you.

How we pointed at you with steeples.

You asked us to follow you, to

Give away our second shirts, but instead

We made a million icons, each one framed in gold.

We swayed and raised our egos, singing love songs-

Not to you, but to idealised versions of ourselves.

.

How is it that still, you love things by becoming them?

How was it that this brown-skinned man with the heart of a woman

Took upon herself another name for everything, so we could

Encounter her in all these beautiful things and bleed with her when she

Lies broken? And just when all seems lost, she whispers still;

See, I am making all things new.

Even you.

Passion: some belated thoughts on Easter and resurrection…

I am just preparing some things for our annual ‘wilderness retreat’, which is this weekend. This is a thing that I have been doing with friends for more years than I care to remember- we charter a boat and spend a few days on a deserted Scottish island. It is usually a wonderful combination of the sacred and the very profane- time in silence and time in uproarous laughter around a fireside- incidentally there are a couple of spaces free on the boat if anyone wants to jump in last minute and join us. (Drop me a message for more details.)

One of the things I find really useful about these weekends is that they make me stop and take stock- both over the weekend, but also in the prep for them. I always try hard to listen a take a reading of my perceptions of what feels important spiritually both personally and more broadly. When we commit ourselves to this work, it often seems to me that we discover (or perhaps we are gifted) a space in which oxygen seems richer and we breathe more deeply for a while.

As part of this I listened to this podcast, which seemed to have a lot of echoes with my own journey at the moment- the importance of wilderness to our spiritual journeys being one of the obvious themes.

https://anchor.fm/the-liturgists-podcast/embed/episodes/Church-of-the-Wild-e1hf5cd

However, there were other resonances too; to do with a shifting of the central assumptions that have long unperpinned western Christianity towards (and this is my summary) two main things;

  1. Non dualism- a rejection of old simple certainties and a move towards a more fluid both/and approach to doctine
  2. Connection/one-ness- a return, or a rediscovery, of the interconnectedness of all things.

I could say so much more about this, but suffice it to say that one point in the podcast helped me see this more clearly. Victoria Loorz makes a point about the greek word Logos, usually translated in the Bible as ‘the word’. The most famous use of this translation is the magnificent searing beginning to the gospel of John;

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome[a] it.

Loorz suggests that the translation is problematic, and that Logos is often used in a much broader sense. It is used sometimes to suggest things like- plan, presence, reason, or conversation. It is this latter word that opens us up towards what I think might be a new slice of resurrection. If you read the passage above and insert ‘conversation’ for ‘word’ or ‘him’ this starts to illustrate the point.

In this reading, we see all things as being in relationship and dependency. Held together and connected by the essence. The Great Spirit. The Christ. Space-time continuum. The Word. Love. Yahweh. Allah.

The real question here is what this might mean for us as individuals as well as our wider cultures, or even the whole created world that we are part of. It seems to me that this puts us in a very different place… perhaps you disagree, but that is OK. We are connected anyway.

A cross carved in a hermits cave some time back in the 7th C BCE on the island we are going to this weekend.

Every year I have tried to write a poem for Easter. This year I struggled, and so this one is late. Here it is though;

.

Passion

  1. Good Friday

We are all dying

These molecules that make us are not ours at all

They are merely borrowed, soon to be passed to another.

All that we are;

The good, the bad

The broken, the beautiful

All our dreams. Our fears.

Our glories and grubby failures

All that we see. All the songs that sing in our souls.

All that passion that pulses where we are most alive.

The anger. The love.

The moments when we stand before the great big sky and wonder…

All of this lingers just for a while in our own Gethsemenes

On the way to our good Golgothas

Because without death, how can there ever be new life?

.

  • Easter Saturday

There is no meaning when even God is dead.

There is no point to anything.

There is no truth to find.

There is no hope to draw us.

There is no solution to be found.

No Messiahs.

It is always this way; change is always preceded by pointlessness and defeat.

It always begins when we are blinded by darkness.

It even follows the loss of hope, as if to remind us of our own powerlessness.

Change begins with death.

.

  • Easter Sunday

Behold all things are being made new

Then they are being made new again

Then again.

In the beginning was not just the Word

But the Conversation.

In the beginning was an am-ness that held

Everything in eternal embrace

In the beginning, there was no thought of an end

There was only now, but this goes on forever

In the beginning there was you and me.

But there was also we.

In the beginning was love.

And since then there has only ever been

Love.

Love.

Love.

Love…

Jubilee…

We watched this film last night;

It tells the story of a girl growing up in the extreme poverty of Ugandan slums who discovers a gift for chess, which becomes her way out and up. Along the way she is supported by a remarkable man who recognises her talent and then through kindness and persistence, supports her learning. In common with all such Disney stories, the story had been made ‘safe’ in all sorts of ways but it still made me cry like a drain.

As I thought about why it was upsetting me so much, I realised it was about two things; firstly it was because of the kindness it contained. Whenever I see kindness, particularly towards small ordinary people, it breaks me open. Secondly it was because of the fact that chess is not an option for most poor children. Let me say more about this.

Films like this work because Phiona, the girl at the centre of the story, has a secret superpower that allows her to transcend the poverty that she was born in to – she can play chess. The story then becomes a redemption story of the self-made kind (albeit with the aforementioned help/kindness.) Phiona succeeds because of her inate abilities and her hard work and persistence which allow her to achieve an escape simply not available to others who grew up in her community. In many ways, this is the American dream, transplanted to Africa. It is the myth of meritocracy and exceptionalism applied to a place where the lie is most cruel.

Of course some people always transcend the poverty, they are born in to through luck, through good judgement, through hard work and through giftedness. These stories of survival and prospering can be inspirational and uplifting, but are they ever liberating? Or might they actually have the very opposite effect? The problem with gifted exceptionalism is that it is… exceptional. It has no relevance whatsoever to the vast proportion of the population.

It changes nothing.

The poor stay almost exclusively poor. The middle class can feel vindicated by their own worthyness. The rich can support a few chess tournaments and welfare programmes aimed at uncovering other exceptions.

We also learn nothing about the nature of poverty, whether in Manchester or Kampala. We can continue to blame the poor for their own squalor, as if it arose from indolence. We can watch programmes like ‘Benefits Street’ safe in the assumption that these people chose their own station in life and/or lack the gumption to emerge from it.

Or we can look to Africa and claim that the starvation and subsistence living are caused by corruption/poor education/over population – despite all evidence to the contrary. Despite the long term destructive effects of imperialism and globalised resource extraction. We can do this because clearly that girl can still thrive.

Photo by namo deet on Pexels.com

Poverty is a prison, but one with escape tunnels pre-installed, allowing a steady trickle of escapees. Just enough to convince us all that it is not a prison after all. The walls of the prison are not made from concrete, but rather from impaired opportunity of the kind that starts even before we are born. (This Australian account of the effects of poverty on child development is worth reading.)

How do you tear down this prison?

What is needed is a new kind of Jubilee.

In case you are not familiar with the ancient Hebrew idea of Jubilee, it was given to the Israelites by Yaweh as a kind of reset, in which all the economic, social, cultural and environmental circumstances in the society where examined in the interests of justice and liberation. There were to be seven year ‘sabbath’ years and then every seventh sabbath would be- jubilee. There is of course much debate as to how and if this law was every applied, but whether or not it was, the idea still resonates.

What would jubilee look like in Kampala? Would it look like a chess tournament from which a gifted girl was plucked and elevated?

I think not.

Tall towers must always fall…

We are on the cusp of what might yet become a global conflict, emerging right in the heart of a European peace and prosperous stability that we thought would be the new normal. Why did we think this? Has any century ever gone past in which wars did not significantly shape our human experience? Have we learned to let go of the dream of empire?

This sounds cynical, as if I am accepting of the nature of violence as part of normal discourse. I am not.

Rather I think that human history is characterised by a struggle between opposing ideals; altruism and aquisition and that it is our job to examine what we are as both individuals and communities in order to find a better ballance between these imperatives. This is a constant, life long thing for all of us, something which in the west is made all the more difficult by affluence and comparative ease. Our great religions know this paradox well, but it is no surprise that this aspect of their teachings has often been lost to the service of empire, leaving it to prophets and troublesome priests to raise their voices from the margins.

We see this again right now. The head of the Russian Orthodox church has justified the war, but not all his priests have followed him.

History, we are told, is told from the perespective of the victors. I would take this further and say that it is written and propogated almost exclusively from the perspective of ascendant empire. The empire builders have always needed a justifying narrative – in Putin’s case it is a load of wierd stuff about Nazification and liberating people from corruption. Meanwhile, we in the west raise our eyebrows in moral outrage and compulsively watch grainy videos of real tanks and real bombs which kill real people.

But what of our own history? In the UK there is a battle going on over this. Attempts to understand the nature of our own colonial/imperial history have been recieving a push back from the very top.

Perhaps the ‘anti-woke’ culture war are nothing more than a convenient distraction, but it is an effective strategy because the mythology that has been woven around the British Empire has such a stronghold over our sense of identitiy. When we think of British history, we think of Nelson and Spitfires and benign civilisation offered to the dark heart of Africa by missionaries like Livingstone. This indeed is history told from the perspective of the victors and the empire builders.

The lies it contains are so strong that they still seem true a hundred years after the empire has fallen- at least to us anyway. The rest of the world is not so sure. Caroline Elkins has revealed this in carefully researched detail;

What Elkins and many other historians have been able to show is that these empire excesses where not outliers, but rather violence and conquest were at the very heart of the whole British empire project. It evolved over time, shifting and becoming more sophisticated, but it was always a story of torture, subjugation and massive theft.

Legacy of Violence is a formidable piece of research that sets itself the ambition of identifying the character of British power over the course of two centuries and four continents. Elkins, perhaps minded of her previous brush with controversy, sometimes approaches her task with the meticulous doggedness of a trial lawyer rather than a storyteller in search of an audience. Examining the Boer war, the Irish war of independence, the uprisings in India, Iraq and Palestine, as well as British rule in Cyprus, Malaya and Kenya, she insists that such appalling acts as the Amritsar massacre, far from being – as Churchill argued in parliament – “an event that stands in singular and sinister isolation” were much closer to being a default position.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2022/mar/13/legacy-of-violence-a-history-of-the-british-empire-by-caroline-elkins-review-the-brutal-truth-about-britains-past

Am I just the wokest person on-line?

Aparently not – this seems to be Owen Jones. And on that note, it is worth checking this out for a different perspective on woke wars, and how ludicrous it can be to try to preserve perspectives that are forever changing;

It can be hard – almost impossible – to have an honest conversation about the history of empire, but one thing is undeniable; all empires fall. No matter how desperately imperial powers try to hold on to the power and privilege they have carved out, in the end the tall towers that they build must all fall.

The problem in our history is that as each one falls, another one rises up.

I will finish with this. One reading of the words and teaching of Jesus is to understand that it was all about empire. In the face of oppression, inequality and violence he proposed an alternative kind of empire known as ‘The Kingdom of God’. This exists not to save us after we are dead, but to propose a way of living that is extra-empire/post-empire/anti-empire. The subversive morality of this teaching got him and many of his followers in to trouble and still does.

If we are to have an honest conversation about the violence unleashed by Putin, we have to start by remembering that he follows in a long chain of exemplars, many of whom were white British.

Legacy #2…

One of the things that Graham picked up on brilliantly when he spoke at my mothers funeral is the way that her life was defined by the extreme deprivation of her childhood. I knew this of course, but my friends words helped me understand it again, almost as of for the first time. When we are too close to a thing, we do not see it clearly, as a whole. When our lives are intrinsically linked to an other, complexity and shared detail make it difficult to understand broader themes.

The day after the funeral, we made a start in clearing out things from my mothers house- I say we, but this was mosty my lovely family because I found amost every object to be loaded with shared history and deep sadness. Some of this sadness comes from the evidence everywhere that Graham was right.

The stockpiled food, constantly added to as if no amount of food would allay the fear of hunger. Dozens and dozens of containers of powdered milk. Out-of-date mountains of coffee. Scones she could never eat. Vast stockpiles of cans. A chest freezer in which every inch is stuffed with food, despite the fact that the bottom has not been reached for decades.

The clothes overfilling wardrobes, as if someone would look at what she was wearing and judge her as poor. Dozens of Clarks shoes still in boxes, because if you have good shoes you could go far.

But most of this food and these clothes were never used, and this made me unbearably sad. This was not the best that this lovely little girl could have hoped for, surely?

On the long 7 hour drive home, interrupted by a welcome stop-off to walk in a park with some old friends, we made the obligatory toilet stop at Tebay services on the upper M6. I found myself wandering around the expensive clothing shop, and (very unusually for me) expressing a desire to buy an over-priced tee shirt. Michaela quite reasonably did not encourage me and suddenly, there it was. The old feeling in the pit of my stomach.

I can only describe it well by telling another story. I have a painful memory from when I was about eight or nine of being desperate for a watch, but not just any watch, I wanted – no I really wanted – a digital watch. One of those early ones that glowed red when you pressed the button.

My mothers response to her own poverty was, on the whole, to make sure that we NEVER went without. We always had clothes (even if they were second hand or home made,) good shoes (Clarks again) and food on the table. But mum was a single mother on benefits, and even though she was incredibly, self-denyingly frugal, money would always only go so far. We simply could not have what our friends had.

So I did get a watch for Christmas; a wind-up, perfectly serviceable, sensible watch. I remember clearly trying so very hard to be grateful, biting my lip so hard that I my mouth filled with the iron-like taste of blood, but then to my shame I cried. I told her that this was not what I really, really wanted. This watch that she had saved for and carefully selected was not good enough for me. I do not remember how my mother reacted but I still have that watch, even though it does not work anymore.

Back to the tee shirt. I tried to describe to Michaela what was on my mind, and she initially felt guilty for not buying it, but I was quick to make clear that I did not want the bloomin’ overpriced thing, that that was not the point I was trying to make at all. Rather it was about two things;

Firstly, the understanding this silly little feeling gives me for my mother. When we grow up in relative poverty (or absolute poverty in her case) we never fully escape it, no matter how many things we accumulate.

Secondly, the clarity once more about how poverty impoverishes everything; our intellect, our world view, our sense of self-worth, our ability to form and sustain relationships of trust and our confidence. If you have not been poor, then it is easy to think that everyone is like you, and that the playing field it level. It is not.

I have so much to be grateful for, sitting here in my warm room in my own house in one of the most beautiful places in the world, surrounded by people I love. In many ways, I have won the life lottery.

But I am my mothers child so for me, gratefulness is a decision. It is something I have to work at and live towards.

May there be generations to come where the great promise of childhood is not shadowed by poverty, but in the meantime, let the rest of us practice in all things, compassion.

Legacy…

My mother some time in the 1950’s

Last night we arrived home after an exhausting weekend which began with my mothers funeral, then progressed towards taking stock of the momentous task of clearing out the house containing the vast accumulation of almost 60 years of continued occupation.

Despite the emotional exhaustion and the pain of loss, it has been a ‘good’ weekend.

It was full of good people; my dear family who supported me every step of the way, old friends who stepped in and made such a huge difference (more of that later) and contact with so many people from my past – albeit a past that I had tried hard to escape from. In the end there were about 60 people at her funeral, which was remarkable, considering how isolated and she had been for much of her adult life.

I think the lesson here is we can never be sure what kind of legacy we leave in the lives of those we have touched.

I spoke at the funeral, trying to do justice to the legacy that this woman had left in my own life, for both good and ill. I wanted what I said to be honest, but also full of love; honest about how difficult my own childhood was but also how much more difficult was hers; honest too about her mental illness and how this formed a bubble in which my sister and I were cut off from the ‘normal’ world outside. But I also wanted to somehow express my gratefulness for how her life was totally subjugated to the needs of my sister and I, so much so that after we grew, she never found a replacement.

My friend Graham led the service. Even though he had not met my mum, he knew her through me, so that when he contacted me and offered to do it, I felt a gathering sense of relief and ‘rightness’. We had a long conversation about her life, but the conversation from my point of view seemed incoherant, because how on earth can you sum up a whole life on Zoom? Somehow Graham took these ramblings and pulled together a story that made sense, bringing a depth of insight even to me, whose clarity was perhaps obscured by proximity.

I will say more about what Graham said in another post, because I am still processing some of it, but here is what I said at the service;

There were three of us; my mum, my sister and me, growing in our own bubble, cut off from everything else by…

By what?

By being different perhaps. Two children raised by a single mother on benefits on a middle-class suburban estate, but no, it was more than that…

We went to church, when others did not – and a particular kind of church. The black-and-white, bonkers kind of church where people raised their hands and spoke in tongues. We had no TV and listened to different kinds of music. But it was more than that too…

My mother was not the average kind of person. You could say, not normal. She had odd ideas about the world and wild rages, often triggered by minor childish infractions.

My sister Katharine externalised her rebellion.

I internalised mine.

Both of us carried our scars, but it was my mother whose upbringing was the most damaging.

She grew up as the unexpected and unwanted child of aging parents at a time when the word ‘bastard’ was a literal insult. There was no warmth on offer, no love, no understanding of the emotional needs of a small girl. No presents at Christmas or birthday. No encouragement to overcome her struggles at school, which would now have been diagnosed as dyslexia.

Small wonder that she wanted to escape. She had dreams of a different kind of life; for someone to whisk her away, like what happened in films.

Instead, she found herself alone with two small children.

My sisterand I with my mothers parents, 1967.

There was much about the way she raised us that was very problematic, but one thing I have no doubt of is this- she did the best that she could. She took everything that she had, every bit of knowledge, every scraped-together penny, and poured it in to my sister Katharine and me. We were her everything; her reason for being, and as we grew beyond needing her, she found no easy replacement.

The bubble we lived in burst. I moved away, although Katharine and my mother continued with their tempestuous interdependent relationship. Despite all of this, our bond was never broken.

Even with the coming of our beautiful next generation of grandchildren, it was still about the three of us, because only we could ever really understand what that bubble had been like.

Today is a day when I remember the other two people who shared my bubble- not only my mother, but also, my dear sister who died last year.

Now, I am the only one holding these memories. This knowing, that was once shared, is mine alone.

For now at least.

I do not know what happens when we leave this life, but I do not believe it is the end.

The life of my mother is over…

…but not the life she set in motion. That continues on in me and my family.

Nor the life that was in her. That has moved on.

She was life, but now she is life.

On remembering to rest…

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Some need to learn this lesson more than others (I feel I might have learned it too well).

I wrote this poem for my wife, and gave it to her for Christmas, along with a… chair.

May those of you who need to sit for longer than you normally might.

.

Sit

.

Some things are only possible

From a sitting position, because

Standing is too prone to induce the appalling

Pursuit of progress. Sometimes we must

Let our chasing shadows catch us.

We must share stories of what is, and

Worry a whole lot less about what might

(Or might not) be coming.

.

Some things can only be understood whilst

Looking upwards from low down; when

Letting the curve of the earth come closer

To hold us in a kinder embrace.

Let us might remember that life

Can never be dialled from distance.

A root needs its loam, and we need

A place to call home

Christmas day 2021…

My dear friends, here we are again.

May you know love, particularly if love has been distant. Remember that it surrounds us even when we fail to percieve it, because we are all held in the great mercy.

May you know joy, even in the presence of difficult things. May it come to you in tiny parcels, like little laughs.

May you know peace, like the settling of a snowflake in the palm of your open hand.

Every year I have tried to write a poem for Christmas.

Todays poem has a quote from Richard Rohr as an introduction;

“There’s really only one message, and we just have to keep saying it until finally we’re undefended enough to hear it and to believe it: there is no separation between God and creation. That’s the message. But we can’t believe it.

And so this Word, this Eternal Word of God that we read about in the prologue to John’s Gospel, leapt down, as the Book of Wisdom [18:14–15] [1] says, and took its abiding place on Earth, in order to heal every bit of separation and splitness that we experience. That splitness and separation is the sadness of the human race. When we feel separate, when we feel disconnected, when we feel split from our self, from our family, from reality, from the Earth, from God, we will be angry and depressed people. Because we know we weren’t created for that separateness; we were created for union.

So God sent into the world one who would personify that union—who would put human and divine together; who would put spirit and matter together. That’s what we spend our whole life trying to believe: that this ordinary earthly sojourn means something.

Sometimes we wake up in the morning wondering, what does it all mean? What’s it all for? What was I put here for? Where is it all heading?

I believe it’s all a school. And it’s all a school of love.”

From here.

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Light of the world

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The low winter sun takes on power from

Puddles of last nights rain and I turn away

Resonating to a signal sent from distant stars

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Something glints in the top of the bare branches

A flash of wing or a white tooth or maybe

The coming together of a choir of angels

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And in the wet manger of heavy earth, summer

Sleeps, waiting for light to burst out again

In brand-new hallelujahs

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For behold, the light is with us. The light is

In us. The light shines out in the darkness

And all things will be well.

Advent 27: Acceptance…

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My kids are not kids any longer. Christmas eve is no longer about heady anticipation or the manufacture of magic so that it will be ‘special’ for our little ones. (But then again…) Mostly, despite the nostalgia, this feels like a release.

But still we are surrounded by Instagram ideals. They are not real, but are still powerful.

Here is my suggested response; let us step aside and remember to accept what is given.

Take a few moments in the press of the day-before to look around and acknowledge what you have, in all its chipped-paint beautiful imperfection.

The Christmas tree may be wilting, but if you take up one of those dropped needles and pinch it between your fingernails, it still smells of the deep forest.

Where there are families, there may also be sharp squabbles and old rolled-eye frustrations. But there will also be great love.

The dinner you cook may not look like those shiny feasts on the TV adverts, but still it is likely that you will eat until you can eat no more.

The sofa you slump down on may sag in one corner and the TV remote require tape to hold in the batteries but who cares, because you are home.

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I love it that at the heart of the Christmas story, the is no ideal. No soft bed, no picture-perfect beginnings. Instead there is a teenage couple, travelling to pay homage to an invading empire, and one of them is heavily pregnant with another man’s baby (because any other explanation must have seemed like craziness.) It is the story of teenage love, in all its up and down extremes. The sort that we say ‘will never last.’

Out of this little bubble of love and kindness, there came in to the world goodness that is almost impossible to understand.

From this small broken beginning, the Mercy, which was already within us, also came to us in the form of a baby…

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The stable, BC

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Hold me close, my gentle love

The night is cold and hollow

Make me a cave

Within your arms

And deep within I’ll

Burrow

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See that floor all trodden down?

Let it be our carpet

Make me finest silk

Like buttermilk

From this feed-sack

Blanket

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Let’s whisper dreams of things to come

When we are done with caring

When what we have

Will be enough

With a little spare for

Sharing

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The light from stars is far away

It takes a long time falling

So just for now

It is enough

To hear your gentle

Snoring