Poetry and pottery (of the sea)…

footprints on snady beach

Anyone fancy a day of poetry and clay next Sunday? We have places available- details and booking information here

We hope to weave together a day of quiet reflection and creativity. Exactly what we do will depend on the weather and the preferences of those of you who come along.

Go on… come and make some space for words to breathe.

beach

Sometimes when you stare at the sea
You hear a distant pulse of an engine
But see no ship
It is close
Like a fast heartbeat

And sometimes the hackle of the gulls
Masked as it is by the sigh of the sea
Can sound just like the cry
Of a child
In distress

The roll of a wake
Is a whales back
Which emigrants
Are riding
Back home

Ghosts…

I play cricket when I can in the summer. I play in the third division. The third division of three that is, which should give you some indication of my prowess with leather and willow. This kind of cricket is mercurial- sometime we win easily, at other times we are brushed aside. One good performance is often enough to make the difference.

We played yesterday away to a team in Glasgow- mostly young kids, on a capricious artificial surface and we lost badly, unable to cope with accurate bowling and horribly uneven bounce. I say all this by way of context, because I wanted to write about something else…

The team we played yesterday were all from an Asian background. They were a lovely bunch of folks, and we ended up playing two matches, as our first left time and energy for more. The start of the second match was staggered as half the opposing team were at prayer.

One of the things that is quite unavoidable if you spend any time around the sometimes excessively laddish culture of West of Scotland cricket clubs is something that shocked me the first time I came across it- naked overt, sometimes aggressive racism. The league has clamped down hard on this, but it remains, although I am proud to say that this is something we would not tolerate in the club I play for. But you hear it shadows all the time; “They’ are taking over.” “Tell them to speak English.” “There is not one white person on this team.” “Tell them to get back to where they came from.”

There are lots of reasons why some otherwise decent people see the cricket world through these kind of goggles but it is pretty unpleasant. I usually try to remind people that without the passion and commitment of Asian players, grass roots cricket in Scotland and perhaps the UK would be really struggling. I suggest that of course people like to play in teams with their mates, people who quite literally ‘speak their language’. However, this casual racism has little to do with cricket. The attitudes forced out in to the open by pressure of competition and club rivalry are ones that have been fostered within our wider culture, fed by Facebook memes and Daily Mail headlines.

Us and Them.

What is Mine, taken by them.

They get an easy ride because of Political Correctness. Houses, benefits, the NHS.

They smell different, think differently to us.

They are less than we, and should know their place.

The corrosive nature of this kind of thinking is so hard to shift. I often feel inadequate, as if I am complicit in something that diminishes me- it diminishes us all. I abhor a world in which Trump can build walls, but there are other walls that may be harder to knock down much closer to home.

I was reminded of this by listening to a song by one of my favourite bands- Lau.  The song is one called Ghosts. It reminds us that we are all immigrants. We all came from somewhere. Where we are is a place of meeting, not one of ownership.

Ghosts, playing cricket. There is a thought… Some Ghosts play better than others.

Here is the song.

 

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the (broken) earth…

Earth_from_Space

How do you deal with problems that seem too big?

Traditionally, we look for government intervention. But some problems seem bigger than one government even.

So we form international bodies; the EU, the UN, a thousand talking shops and gatherings of important people. Who seem to achieve so little.

The problems are so big, and we so small. And there is the mortgage to pay. And Game of Thrones is on the TV. Perhaps all I can do is look after me and what is mine. And try to be kind to others when I can. Digitally.

I was reading some of the words of Timothy Morton recently. He is perhaps the closest thing we have to rock-star philosopher, an academic professor who collaborates with Bjork. One of the awkward squad.

Morton suggested that some concepts (which he called ‘Hyperobjects’ might represent something very real, but they are no longer useful terms- they are too big to get into our heads; black holes, the internet, global warming. He even suggests scrapping the word ‘nature’ as it is so big that it is meaningless.

Meanwhile, says Morton, we have now firmly entered the Anthopocene age, we have created our own epoch, we have altered the whole planet. There is lots to fear- extreme weather, resource shortages, mass extinctions of species. We KNOW all this, but we are powerless to act on this information. Our relationship to the world has changed- now just living involves moral choices to continue destruction because although individual acts are insignificant, we are one of billions all careering towards the same precipice in what Morton calls a ‘traumatic loss of co-ordinates’. We caused it, but we can not control it.

Morton goes on to make some comments that might seem on the face of things horribly fatalistic.

  • The catastrophe we fear has already occurred. The greenhouse gasses we have released will be there still in 500 years.
  • We thought we could manipulate the planet (farming, engineering). We were wrong.
  • We are not any different from the other (non-human) part of the planet. We do not stand apart.
  • Anything we burn, flush or throw away does not leave.
  • The hunter is hunting himself.

From this mess, Morton somehow manages to conjure hope. He says that there is solidarity in ignorance which must eventually lead to change. We must come to the idea that we can’t transcend our reliance on other humans and the whole world. We can only live with these limitations. He says this should not be a matter for gloom, but rather for liberation.

Do you feel liberated?

What might set us free?

I have been thinking about this in relation to the Beatitudes, because of a project I am working on. You remember the Beatitudes I am sure, but just in case you need a nudge, these were the words spoken by Jesus as part of his incredible change-everything-turn-everything-upside-down Sermon on the Mount. You could say that the words he spoke were a distillation of everything that he wanted to say, everything that mattered;

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.

He said:

‘Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 ‘Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Matthew chapter 5, NIV

How are these words relevant to now? How do they engage with a world caught up in Morton’s ‘Traumatic lack of co-ordinates’?

I think the first things the words do is to remind us of the scale and reach of humanity. We are many, but we are one. We are community, but we are alone.

Next they remind us that life is full of challenge. Perfection and comfort were never guaranteed. We have no right to an easy long life, particularly at cost to others.

Then they remind us that the small things matter more, particularly small things done in love. One exchange at a time.

They remind us that people matter most, one at a time.

 

 

 

St Kilda…

Leaving St Kilda

I am just back from holiday… we had a fantastic week on Skye- I climbed some mountains for the first time in a while and we enjoyed lingering together in such a lovely place.

Oh, and Will and I took a trip out to St Kilda. This was been a life long ambition for me, finally realised as part of my 50th birthday year thanks to Michaela who organised the whole thing. Thanks too to gotostkilda, who made the whole trip even more special- if you are considering a trip yourself, check them out.

Be prepared for a challenge though- the islands are not reached easily. Whether we would make it at all was marginal for a while- in fact one of our party had tried 4 times previously only to be defeated by the weather each time. Our own trip had a delayed start and ended up having to force into heavy seas. It made for an extremely uncomfortable 6 hours on the way out (it should have taken 4.) Poor Will had 5 hours of sickness and we were both very glad to land on Hirta.

From that moment onwards however, the place was magical. I had immersed myself in the history of the island and suddenly there I was, walking along main street in glorious sunshine. We climbed high up to walk the edge of the highest sea cliffs in Europe, braving repeated attacks from the Great Skuas who objected strongly to our presence.

Later we bobbed  our way around the islands, and the majestic sea stacks, each containing their bird-cities.

The 71 mile return to Skye was much easier, leaving the islands far on a horizon ablaze with the setting sun.

This is what it looks like;

Hope rises, like tattered sails…

boat prayer 3

Since I last wrote anything here, the world has shifted a little, and I feel a surge of that most timorous of human emotions; hope…

What has changed?

On the surface at least, not much. Wars are grinding at flesh and bone in the background. Bombs are blowing up children at pop stadiums, fires are taking the lives of the poor under the cocked noses of the super rich.

Oh, and we had an election, which was won by the Conservatives, the same party who have overseen a move towards punishing austerity and made a bonfire out of lots of previous social and ecological priorities.

But… things really do seem to be changing.

Firstly, the political landscape in the UK has changed beyond what seemed possible even a few short weeks ago. Jeremy Corbyn, previously cast by all the mainstream media outlets as a forlorn figure, emerged throughout the election campaign as a man of integrity and humanity whose policies offered a plausible alternative. Rather than being ridiculed, suddenly he has become a man of statesman-like substance in stark contrast to the rather robotic and removed figure of the woman who actually won the election, albeit by a narrow and toothless margin.

Those of us who longed for a leader who could capture the imaginations of people towards a better world have finally got what we asked for in this crumpled and unpolished little man.

Alongside this political shift, something else seems to be happening however. The language of compassion is back. The feeling that inequality and privilege should not remain unchecked. People look at the gulf between the residents of Grenfell tower and their neighbours and wonder how things came to this.

Perhaps above all things, I have a sense that young people are becoming dissatisfied with the world we are making on their behalf. Corbyn has shown them his new/old politics and they have responded.

With hope.