Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday. It is warm. We walk towards the bridge. 

Waves of grey mist sweep across the river where

the mud is deep and sticky

and we tell bits of the story.

The mist blows and shapes appear

and reappear in the mud and the water

turning darker where they meet.  

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Puddly reflection

This morning new and seasonable coldblue-grey sky stretches still and steelyover the winding half-dark pathand as on other mornings my prayers by Christ’s five woundsare interrupted. Once lost in ardent dialogueI did not see what was in front of my face till it hit me in the facea low-hanging slender willow branchIt splashed me with cold clear rainwater.Or again as I ran out to the confluence of Trym and Avon, the dark tidal estuaryedged by mud and tufty stunted grassfrom out across the gently scented stale salty watersomeone shouted to me from a rowboat ‘Morning!’ ‘Good morning!’ I repliedflinging my arm high,then turning to run back downthe slippery path shining with grit and standing waterhome to our front door.   

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It’s not the heat…

Cut wet grass, life’s steam, everywhere is humididity.
Early morning overcast glare, warm July air, breathe fedundity.
Stepping through the door I have a sudden urge for poetry.
It’s St Bridget’s Day, mother, widow, patron of Europe, friend of generosity.
Time is now somehow suspended in the grass glimmer’s bright liquidity.
The granular, angular path disappears in a field of hollyhocks beyond the old oak tree.

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summer afternoon

Lockdown
I step out into heavy air
and the long road down the hill
St Thomas says the higher the degree of perfection shown in creation,
the more diverse it is.
A sudden cloudburst leaves
droplet worlds
on the bent dark leaves
of verbena and some unknown prickly bush
and now back at home orange gin and organic tonic
on the plain oak table

sunshine frothing

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Holy Week and Easter 2020

Holy Week and Easter 2020

A Series of Free Compositions

——————————————————

 

Palm Sunday. At the park early this morning no one yet.

Still sunshine.  Coronavirus has stilled the traffic.

 

Somewhere beyond the trees

two male woodpeckers compete and converse

 

across the luminous green-blue space

of sky and quiet football pitch.

 

———–

 

Good Friday morning.

I put on a dark shirt, old aftershave,

the sky steady blue

in Coronavirus stillness.

The sheer evergreen in the garden

reaches beyond the dark roofline opposite.

 

——–

 

Holy Saturday clear sun,

the path worn into the grass outside the fence

where people with dogs can still walk now

uneven, dry, brown-orange underfoot

but broken open

in the Coronavirus quiet

and birds in the big still bare apple tree squabble.

Life goes on open to warmth and suffering.

 

——-

 

Waiting for an answer to prayer is more than an untestable idea.

The shadows have shortened now

in the back garden and on the fields beyond.

 

——-

 

Park bright yellow-green

gate swinging. It’s Easter Day.

One shiny crow stock still.

 

———-

 

A patch of unstintingly blue sky

out of the kitchen window

is cut by the white windowsill.

Pain may take a long time.

It is not mere formalism to trust the forms of life,

the glass vase full of wilted purple flowers

still bright

three days after Easter.

 

———-

 

By the white house a bee moves jerkily from pink daisy to daisy,

It’s easy to feel you and all things useless.

Alleluia.

I’m jolted from reverie by something tickling my arm:

a cloud of dandelion spores floating

free

radiant, joyous, glorious.

 

——-

 

Clear May Day — and St Joseph the Worker’s Day — and sun shines over
broken arcs of dark tree boughs
and deep blue sky,
the many-coloured blur of passing cars,
glistening dew and residual rain,
the divets and ruts in the dirt path aruond the fenced playpark,
bright green
empty
in lockdown.
For a moment
we look on through the trees.

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1 Corinthians 10.1-17

<!– 10 –><!– Warnings from Israel’s History –>

<!– 10 –>I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters,<!– +fGk brothers+e –> that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea,<!– 2 –>and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea,<!– 3 –>and all ate the same spiritual food,<!– 4 –>and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ.<!– 5 –>Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them, and they were struck down in the wilderness.

<!– 6 –>Now these things occurred as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil as they did.<!– 7 –>Do not become idolaters as some of them did; as it is written, ‘The people sat down to eat and drink, and they rose up to play.’<!– 8 –>We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day.<!– 9 –>We must not put Christ<!– +fOther ancient authorities read the Lord+e –> to the test, as some of them did, and were destroyed by serpents.<!– 10 –>And do not complain as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer.<!– 11 –>These things happened to them to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us, on whom the ends of the ages have come.<!– 12 –>So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall.<!– 13 –>No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.

<!– 14 –>Therefore, my dear friends,<!– +fGk my beloved+e –> flee from the worship of idols.<!– 15 –>I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say.<!– 16 –>The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ?<!– 17 –>Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.

 

slight change of grey sky 

plum blossom beyond the fence

sandals not quite dry

 

Being pushed to the limit but being given the resources to meet the challenge may seem too neat. Any honest observation of real suffering suggests this is not how it is. but maybe beign honest about that tension is part of  the deal. And maybe that tension of being pushed and having what we need speaks as much to how we take part in the mystery that there is anything at all as it  describes particular social and political situations.  Attentiveness to that mystery can start to shift things. It is awareness of taking part in what gives the possibility of being at all.  

Morning Prayer today brings us the reading 

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other-space (Luke 19: 41-48)

14 June 2013
Reading
Luke 19:41-48 (NRSV)
41 As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, 42 saying, ‘If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43 Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. 44 They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.’ 45 Then he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling things there; 46 and he said, ‘It is written, “My house shall be a house of prayer”; but you have made it a den of robbers.’ 47 Every day he was teaching in the temple. The chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people kept looking for a way to kill him; 48 but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were spellbound by what they heard.
The Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
We often want to have control over things beyond us and so assume that our acting of failing to act brings events about. Jesus challenges his hearers with the assertion that Jerusalem will be destroyed because its inhabitants did not recognise the time when Christ ‘dwelt among them’. But of course bad things do happen to God-fearing people. Surely Jesus was not being so naive. Another way of looking at this is by asking how things can go really wrong when our priorities get out of whack. There are countless truisms and horror stories from all sections of society and all occupations which tell us that this is true. Of course it’s easy to ignore when we’re caught up in the excitement. The Great Gatsby dramatizes the dizzying drive towards a glittering tomorrow. Jesus is reminding us that when we do not actively leave space in our lives and in our hearts for God as Other—and we experience and serve Him in our neighbour and that Other may be seen in the otherness of the poor, the disabled, the socially marginalized—we run the risk of falling into ruin. As it happened, the Romans did sack Jerusalem and fulfil Jesus’ prophecy. We must not lose sight of the divine other in navel-gazing and run the risk of falling into ourselves.

bright air in rain-drops
back garden grass where you are
somehow twice as deep

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persistence (Luke 18: 1-8)

6 June 2013
Reading
Luke 18:1-8 (NRSV)
Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. 2He said, ‘In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. 3In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, “Grant me justice against my opponent.” 4For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, “Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, 5yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.”‘ 6And the Lord said, ‘Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? 8I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?’
The Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
Keeping faith asks us not to lose heart. We have to continue the turn outward towards the other. This sounds like hard work. Yet not losing heart also brings us towards the other: we open our hearts. ‘Inspiration’ may not always come and we all go through moments and periods of fear, frustration, and feeling fragile. It seems that Jesus today reminds us that all of that is OK. We can be and feel powerless. A widow in the ancient Mediterranean cultures was pretty close to the bottom of the pile. (And a king was of course pretty much at the top!) But keeping faith is not an exercise of power. It is a way of being. Or it is a way of Being. Jesus suggests that God ‘keeps faith’ with those who persistently ‘cry to him’, who turn themselves inside out towards Him. And yet Jesus reminds us of the paradox: the gap between us as beings and God as Being itself can be experienced as our ways of wavering. Jesus uses the idiom of his culture and time, the imagery of the coming Son of Man spoken of by the prophets, to bring home the encounter with the divine which sometimes throws into relief the category difference between Being and beings. And yet for all that gap Jesus reminds us that there is an irreducible bond between Being and beings, an inexhaustible faithfulness a fidelity of origin and image which does not constrain either but which also enlivens the intervals, the embraces, the ellipses between them.

blank afternoon sky
somewhere over the Portway
light freight ecstasy

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opening (Luke 14 1-11)

24 May 2013
Luke 14:1-11 (NRSV)

On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the Sabbath, they were watching him closely. 2Just then, in front of him, there was a man who had dropsy. 3And Jesus asked the lawyers and Pharisees, ‘Is it lawful to cure people on the Sabbath, or not?’ 4But they were silent. So Jesus took him and healed him, and sent him away. 5Then he said to them, ‘If one of you has a child or an ox that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on a Sabbath day?’ 6And they could not reply to this. 7 When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honour, he told them a parable. 8‘When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honour, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; 9and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, Give this person your place, and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. 10But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, Friend, move up higher; then you will be honoured in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. 11For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’

The Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.

Humility and generosity are at the heart of how Jesus shows people to live. When the religious authorities tried to catch Jesus violating the strict rules about what was permitted on the Sabbath day, he rebuked them not by directly defending his right to cure people then but by asking them if they would hesitate to help a child or an ox who had fallen into a well on a Sabbath day. Giving help is the issue. And in giving help you put someone else first who has less power and honour than you have. So Jesus criticizes those who seek status and do not create chances to receive it as a gift. (The ancient Mediterranean world including Palestine as well as Greece and Rome was characterized by extreme awareness of social status and honour.) It is natural to try to get recognition and to feel diminished or even threatened as people if we are ignored. And recognizing others is essential to the generosity Jesus teaches. Recognition itself is not the problem. It is when we try to get recognition for its own sake that we make ourselves and others unhappy. (We do not need to think of the phenomenon of reality TV programs and the usually-short-lived careers of their stars to be reminded of this.) Jesus does not say that recognition is bad. With the example of the dinner-party feast he shows how making ourselves open to surprise is most valuable. Staying and being humble requires us to remember we don’t have all of the answers all of the time (or all at once) and to be eager for and curious about what surprises will come along.

another grey sky
red boots pointing out the door
footpath washed away

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one is more (Luke 13:31-35)

23 May 2013
Luke 13:31-35 (NRSV)
31 At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, ‘Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.’ 32He said to them, ‘Go and tell that fox for me, Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. 33Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem. 34Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 35See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’
The Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.

Why is it impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem? Our Lord refers to the workings of the Jewish authorities: the great Sanhedrim only sat at Jerusalem, and it was the responsibility of that group to judge a prophet and if he were found to be false, to condemn him and put him to death. Jesus also points out how groups and societies resist change. We might say that the Sanhedrin was not an ‘independent body’ since it was convened at Jerusalem, the centre of power of Israel about which prophets would most probably speaking.
And Jesus here prophesies that Jerusalem will ‘will not see [him] until the time comes when you say, Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’ Here Jesus alludes to Psalm 118: 26. There the phrase refers to David as he enters the temple to give thanks to the Lord for his victories in battle and for his ascension to the throne. Jesus seems to use the traditional phrase to refer to his own triumphant arrival. He seems to refer primarily to his future entry into the city before the final days of his ministry and his Crucifixion since he has also mentioned how prophets are killed. He seems simultaneously to refer to his death and to his coming again at the end of time. Jesus’ habit of quoting Hebrew Scripture in talking to his followers shows us how plurivocity-the way one word or symbol suggests more than one other word or symbol—is integral to his message and so to his kingdom. And so power is never simple, power never ‘meaning’ one king dominating other subjects. Experiencing Christ’s rule as transcendent King calls us to live out that plurivocity, affirming both Christ’s absolute lordship and his companionship with us in suffering.

cold twilight air now
beyond that single lamp-post
longer blue shadows

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