Wednesday, 6 October 2021

Thin Places

Last month I took a trip to the Scottish island of Iona. It is a historic place of pilgrimage and has been described many times as a “thin place where only tissue paper separates the material from the spiritual”. Stepping out of my busy life, I expected to find lots of space on my trip to think and reflect, but instead found other busyness took over for much of it. However, I did come away with memories of a couple of significant moments (like the night where my friend woke me at 3am just to drag me outside in the freezing cold darkness to look at the stars!), and a determination to make more time in my busy life for deliberate breathing space.

Today’s deliberate space started with an early morning walk around the local park and little lake with my dog, where I paused to take in the sights and sounds of the beautiful autumn day. And then I went to a friend’s valley to sit and write. Immediately after Iona I had started to pen a poem about thin places – picturing myself standing as still as I could on tiptoes, reaching up with outstretched fingertips, straining to touch the spiritual. Today I binned that picture. There is no vast gap for us to traverse with massive effort, but rather multitude of places (from remote Scottish islands to the little park in the centre of the city) where worlds may quietly touch.

 

Sat motionless in the middle of the cold night,
Gazing at a billion galaxies
brightly shining above me
I am enveloped in the silence
and the warmth of wonder.
Here are the thin places.
Pausing at the break of the bright new day,
Noticing the vastness of heaven
reflected in the depths
I welcome this mysterious border
at the boundary of my fragile life.
For here in the thin places
we meet.
Not a desperate reaching out or crossing over
from one realm to the next,
But a convergence of all that is
and all that shall be.
And moulding together the fragments of my divided self
you make me whole.
Here in this thin place.



Sunday, 8 August 2021

Gaps

I have never written consistently - poetry, my journal, random posts on facebook or whatever - there have always been gaps. I have a friend who writes a blog post every day. I admire her, but I know I won't ever do that. For me life happens, and I fall silent for a bit.

Today I was walking my dog and pondering the gaps. Wondering if people notice the moments when I am not saying anything, and wondering what they read into that? Sometimes I fall silent because there is other positive stuff taking up my time and I am busy having fun with my family, but at other times it is less positive and I retreat because I am struggling with anxiety or depression. Often I have wished I could be rid of those less positive pauses in my life. However, my pondering today led me to recognise that to be fully me, I need all the gaps, irrespective of how they feel at the time. And I wrote the poem below in celebration of that.


In the spaces      between      my words,
And in the gaps
       between
              my lines,
You will find me.

--

In the paragraph I chose to skip,
And in the silent moments
as I tell my tale,
You will hear my story.

On the days I did not write,
Or had little to say,
On the days when efficient productivity
was superseded
by immobilising anxiety,
On those days,
You will find
I am still me.
Fully me.
In the gaps,
And in the silence.
For true music is formed
by the rests
between the sweet chords,
And harmony only created
by the inclusion
of the many differing notes.
So, take note of the pauses.
This is the symphony of my being.

Friday, 18 June 2021

Time for Beauty

The charity I work for runs a Foodbank. In addition to receiving public donations of dried and tinned foods that make up the basic food parcels we supply to those in need, on three evenings a week we pick up food from a local supermarket just after closing time. Food that has reached its sell-by date, had its packaging slightly damaged, or just been overstocked. Perfectly good food that can’t be sold but can be taken by us and offered freely to the hungry. 

Sometimes we are given other expiring items like bunches of flowers. 

Once, there was a plant. 

A few withered leaves and bare stalk. Considered worthless, it was thrown out. And possibly would have been thrown away if I had not seen it. For about 9 months it has sat on my windowsill. I have watered it and waited. Last month a bud appeared. Now the orchid is flowering. Every time I look at its delicate beauty it brings me joy. More joy than it would have done if I had just gone to the shop and bought it perfect condition. 

One of my fears for my children is that they are living in a world that moves so fast, with everyone expecting instant results, that they might miss out on knowing the deep joy that comes from waiting.


There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens.

In this high-speed world
of fast food
and instant messaging,
Child, do not be so eager
to avoid the wait,
do not confuse the dormant
with the dead,
nor overlook the potential
of the slow.

Know there is a greater joy
in the anticipation
of the blooming,
in the evidence
of hope not misplaced,
than in the hasty
grab and go,
split-second gratification
of the quick.

There is a time for everything,
and everything is made beautiful in its time.


Sunday, 16 May 2021

The River

Continuing on the theme of beach wanderings, the other thing that often grabs my attention is a river that I regularly cross on my walks. The river is always there, but it is never exactly the same - we'd be surprised if it was, because we know that rivers flow and move and change course. Change is an expression of the life a river has. So I wonder why we sometimes are surprised or fearful when we encounter the same in our own lives?

We stand at this fragile border
watch the river cut its course.
See the shifting boundaries
and discarded debris,
as the once familiar landscape
silently transforms.
We have passed this way before,
but now we pause -
marvel at the motion,
watch the emerging patterns
briefly establish
and slip away,
acknowledge change
is a certainty
for things that move.

Thursday, 6 May 2021

Exposed


It’s been a while since I wrote a poem. There have been a lot of half formed ideas and musings but nothing concrete that I wanted to share until this:

In my recent beach wanderings I have been fascinated by a couple of exposed old tree stumps; they are well worn and must have been there for years buried under the sand but only now, because the beach profile has undergone natural changes, can we see them. It made me think about the people I have known for years and how they have changed over time. This poem is for the people who I now truly see.


And you have weathered storms
that shifted sands
and rocked the boat.
Stood your ground
while certainties slipped away
beneath the waves
of change.
Remained here.
Forever dependable,
but not unaltered,
As the receding tides
expose your fragile layers
and reveal the beautiful truth
of who you have always been.

Thursday, 31 December 2020

Immanuel

This Christmas the one word I have kept coming back to is "Immanuel", the name given to Jesus in Matthew's account of the virgin birth. But the verse in the gospel is a quote from the old testament scriptures. 

Isaiah chapter 7 tells a story from around 735BC when Ahaz was king of Judah. Israel is divided and the northern kingdom is marching against Jerusalem in order to tear apart kingdom of Judah. God speaks to the prophet Isaiah and tells him to go to Ahaz with a message. Ahaz is told to not be afraid nor lose heart, and then God tell him to ask for a sign. However, Ahaz refuses saying that he will not put God to the test...
Then Isaiah said, "Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of humans? Will you try the patience of God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel." Isaiah 7 v 13&14

It seems a strange sign for God to promise in the midst of the battle. And stranger, yet, when you consider that it was not fulfilled until centuries later. But the more I have looked at this story, the more parallels I see between the struggles faced at time of Ahaz, the story of Jesus's birth and life, and the state of the world in which we now live.

This may not seem a very Christmassy poem, but this is Immanuel - God with us. Here and now.


You are with us here.
Here, where the wars rage
and nations quake with fear
divided
and broken
once-united peoples
fall.
Here, where treaties are debated
and signs are offered
tested
and rejected
with pious purity
man lies.
Here, with the forgotten people
seemingly insignificant for centuries
silent
and unnoticed
gathering on the margins
of faith.
Here, with the virgin
meek and mild.
Here, with the child
broken and rejected.
Immanuel.
You are with us here.




Sunday, 11 October 2020

Shoreline #3

I see you.
Recognise the shattered remnants
of protective shells cast aside,
See paltry mountains rise and fall
overwhelming you as you slide,
Note the sculpted trail of contours
formed by paths you’ve tried,
Burrowing deep beneath the layers
silently you hide.
But I see you.

Saturday, 10 October 2020

Shoreline#2

Beneath the sand of Swansea Bay is a layer of blue clay. Twenty five years ago it was barely visible - I recall a field trip as part of my civil engineering degree where we all donned wellies and trekked across the sand to dig holes and study the stuff. Nowadays it lies exposed in lumps moved along the shoreline.

Lifted from your bed of slumber,
you embrace the change.
Smoothly moulded
by the movement
of the rolling waves.
But tides do turn
and shunned by sea
you return to shore.
Tumbling slowly over land,
unwittingly exposed.
Embedded here
remains the debris
of your journey’s end.
Sands will shift
and you will rest
hidden from sight once more.

Friday, 9 October 2020

Shoreline #1

I have always found the coast fascinating. Memories of geography field trips and family holidays to the southern coast of England where over the years I observed the power of the sea eroding the land, as rocks crumbled and the paths I walked on as a toddler sank beneath the waves. Then I moved to south Wales and observed a different set of processes, the sand shifting around the bay causing dunes to rise up one end while exposing bedrock and clay at the other. And an awareness of the increasing battle between nature and mankind as bulldozers regularly redistribute the sand back along the beach, and the sea deposits along the beach the rubbish we have let pollute it.

I walk along the shore almost daily. Often my eyes are drawn to the open expanse of sea, and it inspires me. However, this week I decided to challenge myself to write a number of short poems that focus more on the shore itself. This is the first.

Along this boundary
between fluid movement
and solid ground
you will find the scattered pieces
of what was
and what will be.
Hope
and heartache
lie exposed
by ever changing tides
as man and nature
draw their battle lines.

Wednesday, 7 October 2020

Held

As the global pandemic continues, I am aware of the widely differing thoughts, opinions and approaches that surround me; news reports and analysis all seem to contradict and, at times, I find myself unsure which way to turn as I question what is true, and how best to protect those I care about. It is easy to end up feeling alone in trying to make sense of it all.

Last weekend I was reminded of a poem I wrote for the Presence Project on the theme of Protection. It was based on Proverbs 4v6:
"Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her and she will watch over you."

It was good to be reminded, once again, that I am not alone and I don't need to rely on my wisdom to get through this. I am held and supported - by friends, family, and by the One who is above all. So I am putting this here today (along with a cute picture of my puppy because that always helps!) in case you too need reminding that you are not alone.

In arms secure we are cradled
Nurtured here with hidden strength
Whispered through the fearful night
Mother’s words
our comfort.

Stepping out we seek our own paths
Weighty teachings laid aside
Deaf, we turn to walk away
Forgetting,
we are exposed.

Wandering lost through desert lands
Until enfolded in your shadow
Experience and insight entwined
Father’s truth
our shelter.

Drawn together in shafts of light
Illuminating the darkest corners
Watching over one another
Brother’s wisdom
our protection.