Thursday, 27 February 2014

The priest and the yoga mat

In my yoga practice today, as I was trying to rest in Corpse pose, I suddenly remembered that today is one of my favourite days of the Christian calendar. For today the Church remembers George Herbert, the 17th-century poet and priest of the parish of Bemerton near Salisbury.

I love Herbert's poetry for its tenderness and beauty, and for its understanding of what it means to seek an encounter with the Divine. Herbert is wonderfully aware of the motives, the hopes and the hesitancy with which human beings approach God, and also of the complete love with which God responds.

My favourite of Herbert's poems is the third poem in a short series called Love. It sums up the feelings of inadequacy humans often carry when coming into the Divine presence, and yet in every line it portrays the overwhelming welcome and acceptance which is offered in return.

And perhaps, after all, there is a connection between yoga and Herbert's poem: both are an invitation into Divine stillness and rest.

Love (III) by George Herbert
 
Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,
        Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
        From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
        If I lacked anything.

"A guest," I answered, "worthy to be here":
        Love said, "You shall be he."
"I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
        I cannot look on thee."
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
        "Who made the eyes but I?"

"Truth, Lord; but I have marred them; let my shame
        Go where it doth deserve."
"And know you not," says Love, "who bore the blame?"
        "My dear, then I will serve."
"You must sit down," says Love, "and taste my meat."
        So I did sit and eat.

Friday, 21 February 2014

A Doorway



This post from The Girl God arrived in my email inbox this morning:

The doors to the world of the wild Self are few but precious. If you have a deep scar, that is a door, if you have an old, old story, that is a door. If you love the sky and the water so much you almost cannot bear it, that is a door. If you yearn for a deeper life, a full life, a sane life, that is a door.  
Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes

Painting by Elizabeth Slettnes, from: thegirlgod.blogspot.co.uk/

There are many times at the moment that I long to live a 'wilder' life: one which is more spontaneous, more truthful, closer to the earth, more free from the expectations of those with whom I work (or, at least, the expectations I think they have of me...). What is my door into this fuller life?

I also, rather foolishly, and in my day-dreams, sometimes long for a door into other worlds: Narnia, Middle Earth, Avalon, Hogwarts. Perhaps this is a childish (or child-like?) activity, and something which, in the words of St Paul, I should have put away with other childish things (1 Corinthians 13.11)? But then, why should I not long to meet the characters who live in those other-worlds, who also seem to be longing to live deeper, fuller, saner lives? 

For me it is often story which is the door. I find that I carry stories around with me, and use them as sources of encouragement or strength. The journey of Frodo and Sam, the struggle of Harry and his friends, the terrifying kindness of Aslan - each of these can become for me a doorway into a fuller life, a more adventurous life, a more magical life. 

For others, the doorway might be something else. But I suspect that each of us has one. The key, I think, lies in discovering it and then having the courage to open it, however foolish or unlikely it may seem.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Healing... and Love

From my sermon for 16 Feb 2014. The gospel reading is Mark 1.40-45

This encounter between Jesus the nameless man is full of emotion: Mark tells us right from the start that the man came to Jesus begging him, and knelt down before Jesus to put his request. The man then puts a searching request to Jesus, in which he clearly shows the faith he has in Jesus: If you choose to, says the man, you can make me clean.

Face-to-face with this show of faith and feeling, Jesus makes his response. I do choose, says Jesus, be clean! And going against all the accepted custom and common sense of the time, Jesus does something deeply wonderful: he touches the man. Jesus reaches out both literally and emotionally, moved, as Mark tells us, with pity, with compassion. And the man is healed.

Jesus offers us here a pattern for the healing work of God's Church and all who follow Jesus: the touching of those considered untouchable; the loving of those thought unlovable; the welcoming of those thought beyond invitation. This is the work of grace and beauty that Jesus set himself to, the song that he sang in his life on earth. You and I, if we hear the call of Jesus to journey with him, are called to this work, too.

In his poem 'Love', the priest and poet George Herbert portrays the invitation, the love, the welcome that Christ offers to you, to me and all who look to him for divine healing and acceptance. I would like to end with that poem, and to invite us to consider what it might mean for us to both receive and then offer that unconditional love.

Love (III) by George Herbert

Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,
        Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
        From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
        If I lacked anything.

"A guest," I answered, "worthy to be here":
        Love said, "You shall be he."
"I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
        I cannot look on thee."
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
        "Who made the eyes but I?"

"Truth, Lord; but I have marred them; let my shame
        Go where it doth deserve."
"And know you not," says Love, "who bore the blame?"
        "My dear, then I will serve."
"You must sit down," says Love, "and taste my meat."
        So I did sit and eat.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Calling the Spring

As part of a Junior School assembly I led yesterday, I wrote a song to play to the school. We were thinking about Candlemas, and the presenting of the infant Christ in the Temple.

The song echoes the theme of Candlemas and the image of the Christ as Light to the World. But I also tried to include something of the role of Brigid and the idea of calling back the Spring to the Earth, one of the themes of the Celtic festival of Imbolc.

The lyrics of the song are below. The images in the song are deliberately ambiguous and, of course, it sounds better sung than read!

Calling Spring

In the darkness of the night
memories of warmth are far from sight.
Where have they run to?
Where do they roam?
Where is the place that they call home?

Where the mother, where the child?
Where the love that runs so free and wild?
Where have they run to?
Where do they roam?
Where is the place that they call home?

Calling, calling Spring back
to the earth again.
Calling, calling spring back
to the earth again.
Calling Spring to make her home
in every leaf and branch and stone.
Calling Spring back to the world...


In the darkness of the dawn
ancient eyes saw hope reborn.
Light to the nations,
hope for the world.Earth is the place that he calls home.

Calling, calling Spring back
to the earth again.
Calling, calling Spring back
to the earth again.
Calling Spring to make her home
in every leaf and branch and stone.
Calling Spring back to the world...

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Candlemas Song

The beginning of February brings the celebration of the Celtic festival of Imbolc, Brigid's Day and the Christian festival of Candlemas. Imbolc marks the coming of Spring, the warming of the earth and the still-hidden possibility of new growth. Brigid is associated with everlasting fire, and with the abundance of the natural world at springtime. She is also said to be the mid-wife of Christ, just as the season of Imbolc is thought of as the 'mid-wifing' of the year.

Mary, the mother of Christ, is also celebrated at this point of the year. The feast of Candlemas tells the story of Mary and Joseph taking the child Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem to dedicate him to God. They offer a sacrifice in thanksgiving for their child and Mary receives purification after the rigours of childbirth. As they enter the Temple, Mary and Joseph are approached by the wise and aged Simeon, who praises God for the child who will bring light to the whole world. Having seen the promised holy child, Simeon places himself into God’s hands knowing that the end of his life is near. But Simeon also speaks dark words to Mary: there will be opposition to her son, and suffering and sorrow will pierce Mary’s heart like a sword – the pain of motherhood.

This poem, which I wrote for Imbolc last year, reflects on Mary’s experience in the Temple, the significance of her child and the themes of light, warmth and new growth which the Imbolc season expresses.

    Candlemas Song

    I was not there.
    I did not dream my way
    up prayer-worn Temple steps
    as you did, Christ-Mother, that day.

    I was not there.
    I did not scan the gloom
    or clutch a hand for courage
    in the Temple waiting-room.

    I was not there.
    I did not hear the praise
    which ancient ones sang of your child
    at the midnight of their days.

    I was not there.
    I did not feel the sting
    which bitter-sweet horizons
    of your motherhood will bring.

    But I am here.
    And I would know a birth
    to bring Divine Light’s love
    into an aching, longing earth.

    Yes, I am here.
    And I would do my part.
    O let a rising blade of Spring
    strike fire into my heart.

Follow me by email