Wilderness retreat- anyone want to come?

tents, in high wind

A late shout this, but we have  few places available this year if any intrepid souls want to join us next weekend…

We will be heading out to Eilean Dubh Mor from Easdale on Saturday morning (5th May) @ 10.00, returning on Monday (7th May.)

If you are wondering what these retreats are all about, there are a few accounts of previous trips on this blog, not to mention a video that Andy did a few years ago. We tend to divide our time in half- agreeing to spend time in silence and time in community. We laugh a lot, and there are always campfires and lots of conversation. The weather can be challenging, but this time we are guaranteed a dry cave for two should they be needed.

This year we will be taking two boats, which means we have a bit more room as a couple of people have dropped out. If you are interested, drop me a comment below and I will contact you with some more details.

Cost will be just for the boat by the way- £55 each.

Where the streams come from, poem 4…

empirewindrushgett_3347461b

Here is the fourth poem from my new book ‘Where the streams come from’, available here.

I chose to share this one because our newspapers in the UK are full of stories of how our government has established policy and culture within the Home Office that has resulted in terrible injustice being done to immigrants who have lived in this country, in some cases, for decades. The centre of this has been talk of the so-called ‘Windrush Generation’ of black people of Caribbean extraction who were invited over to the UK to fill a labour shortage in the aftermath of WW2. The government seem to have created a deliberately hostile environment to all immigrants in the country in order to placate all those Brexit voices that blamed all sorts of woes on ‘the other’. It is an utterly repugnant policy, playing to the basest of racist fear- stoking it even for political advantage.

I found myself asking how all this started? Where we always like this- tribal, given to fear and loathing of the other, the outsider? Is there really no hope of how things could be different?

The poem below was written for Greenbelt Festival several years ago. The theme of the festival was ‘home’, and the poem explores a story at the beginning of the bible in the book of Genesis describing how Cain and Abel fell out. It perhaps records the point when tribalism and the ‘property’ first began to get us in to trouble.

It is possible to see these early passages of the Bible as a record of the rise of man;

from hunter-gatherer

to farmer

to accumulator

to town dweller

to city builders who raised up Babel-towers

…and eventually onward into the struggle of successive empires who rise and fall, each one with its own winners and losers. Each one making its own refugees as it clears more space for its own avarice. Read this way, the stories at the beginning of the Bible are an ancient warning of how far we might have come from what we were meant to be.

Home becomes defined not only as ‘mine’, but crucially as ‘not yours’. In this way, like Cain, we remain to the East of Eden.

City of London, construction

 

 

A place called wandering

 

There is this story from the beginning of us

Of brothers who started to measure their relative success

It began with small things –

the domestic injustices, the long silences

 

One brother loved the wild places

The freedom of the forest – to hunt the deer and gather the low fruit

He could bear no borders

 

The other was a man of industry

He fenced the land

and turned the earth to fields

And the land was bountiful

His store houses were overflowing

In this he was vulnerable

 

Somehow these things became a wall between them –

Leading to violence

And death.

 

We think we were the first to ever feel

 

The first to dream of higher places

The first to fall

The first to scream at sharp things

The first to feel that indescribable sting

called love

 

The first to make music

The first to feel shame shrinking

our callow souls

The first to seek the promised land

The first to eat from the tree

Called puberty

 

We were not

 

Long before light could be conjured

by a switch

Men and women sat around fires and

dreamed of starflight

They rose high above the flat old earth

Pregnant with new possibilities

Favour rested on their fields

 

But every generation grows and leaves home

We make and break and forge our own magnificence

And these palaces we build need solid doors

To protect what is mine

From what you will never have

And we wander – marked like Cain

East of Eden

 

Sometimes it seems that you and me

Have spent forever

Looking for a way

Back

 

Paddling for Palestine…

William, canoe trip lock eck 2009

At the end of May, Will and I are going to take a canoe trip across Scotland, via the Great Glen Canoe Trail, which goes from Fort William to Inverness, via the Caledonian canal and Loch Ness.  It will take us around 5 days, unless weather or decrepitude (on my part) intervene. In doing so, we hope to raise some much needed funds for Children of Peace,  This is the blurb from our just giving site;

Will and I are a father/son team who wanted to combine our love of wild places with the chance to raise some money for something we care deeply about. The news has been full of terrible stories about what is happening in Palestine; some are about an oppressed, dispossessed people, walled off from their homelands by the neighbourhood bully. Others tell the story of violence and terror that has to be opposed by a civil society.

There are other stories however- stories of resilience and small successes. Stories of partnerships and friendships forged across the wall. Real lives full of good things are lived despite of the huge problems faced by people in Palestine. That is why we love what Children of Peace are doing- finding ways for people to connect, share life and understanding. Helping those with to give to those without.

Any contributions you can give to this brilliant cause would be very much appreciated, particularly as we nurse our blisters and aching backs!

So dear friends, if you could see your way to helping us with a donation, Will and I would be most grateful! You can do so via our Just Giving page here

Canoe, Loch Striven

 

Not-quite-night…

Magnolia

I love this time of year above all others. I know I am not alone in feeling the arrival of spring as an almost physical thing- a bubble of goodness deep in my body. All that newness. All of the possibilities that are being made possible again.

Everything is late this year, but all the more miraculous for that. The first bat as flown. Lambs leap in fields. Yesterday, we played the first cricket match.

The evenings are drawing out into those long soft West Highland dusks that seem to go on for ever, as if time itself was suspended. Michaela and I walk the shoreline, allowing ourselves to be hushed to the core.

And I wrote this. Consider it a word-photograph, because I carried no camera other than the one I was born with;

 

Not-quite-night

 

The dusk lingers

As if the sea itself, is

Releasing light only

Reluctantly, and

In this no-longer-day

But not-quite-night

I am suspended

 

Sound is carried,

cushioned by sea,

To land on this shore like mirage

The bark of a seal

An engine, ten miles away

A curlew seems no closer

But the sea itself is silent

 

In the not-quite-seeing

A bird flies, a black silhouette

Against the pewter sky

Flicks the scimitar tips

Of each graceful wing

Then gone,

Not waiting for tomorrow

 

The Clyde seals are no longer safe…

IMGP1391

Today we were treated to the awe inspiring sight- a pod of Orcas in the Clyde, swimming up past Innellan and onwards towards Dunoon.

An amazing sight, unless you are a seal. We watched as the adults seemed to be teaching a young orca to hunt.

They also seem to have driven some terrified porpoise towards the shore.

Not sure when the last sighting of killer wales was in the Clyde- decades certainly. Who knows how long they will stay?

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