4 years on

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I’m preaching this morning; something that I now do only sporadically. More particularly I’m leading worship at a service that I helped start nearly 13 years ago in a community centre. Today is the last one; I’m surprised that it gave life for so long, but excited that I go to a church where they try new things; more particularly with a new demographic that now have contact with the church.

It struck me that this is almost 4 years to the day since I had a ‘farewell’ service in the same church and it got me reflecting about what has changed and the difficulty of that change (in effect, becoming homeless, moving house, financial pressures, but bigger than that: there are no maps).

I’ve been reading Mary Oliver poetry recently and this one helped:-

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice –
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do –
determined to save
the only life you could save.

Finding a plant with branches on a rock overlooking Scarba


A couple of weekends ago I enjoyed a glorious weekend on Eilean Dubh Mor as part of a ‘wilderness retreat’. I’ve been a part of them for several years (5 of the last 6) and they are something that I look forward to more than I ever did a Christian convention in years past.

There is something about the space, silence, laughter, raw honesty, prayer, swearing and whisky that never fails to move me or persuade me that there is still hope. My friend writes about it more beautifully and with better pictures than I do ( see https://thisfragiletent.com/2018/05/09/wilderness-retreat-photos-2018/ for example).

During one of the times when I wandered and wondered around the island, I came across this plant, high up on a rock and surrounded by rockpools. It is a small heather plant; how it lodged in such a fissure and grew is unusual and its presence captured me. In fact I circled back to take the above photo as I wanted the memory.

I wrote some words: kind of a prayer I guess. Parts of it mine from a rich seam of cliche, but other parts I like.

May the eddying wind,

Carry at least one small seed

Of Hope

Deep into the crevasse

Of the rock face of



May it find


Blown there by

the same swirling wind.


May that earth

be moistened by

Unlooked for rain.


And may that seed

Nervously advance roots

And start to grow;

frail at first

and then defiant.


And may that plant

Be found

By travellers in the wilderness,

looking for they know not what.


And may it give them


that they cannot articulate,

A wry smile,

Sparkling eyes


A soul that sings again.

Resurfacing once more on 50 plus 1…

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A couple of years ago I set up a page called ’50 things for 50 years’. It was to be a list of things that I would try and do in the year before I was 50 and in the year after I was 50.

I’m 51 today: the challenge has ended. To be honest, it never really started; I only managed a few items on the list: I changed job/vocation, read a book I really wanted to, acted in a serious play…and that was about it. Something that was not on the original list was having a massive 50th party with a friend where we invited loads of people: that was a really good memory- not because it was ‘just so’ but because we just kept inviting and inviting. If I could do it again, I would invite more; I don’t like walls.

I think it was partly because life became a bit more hectic: there was no space to do a whole list of things. Maybe if/when I reach 60, I will try again; our children will be grown and financial outgoings should have lessened.

But I think the real reason was ‘bucket lists’ became less important; as a John Lennon lyric goes ‘Life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans’. Those things that happened were lovely, but then again, each day and each moment were potentially also as well.

I think at the end what most of us remember are ‘Normal’ things: family life, friends, holidays etc, but mostly those moments where nothing seemed to happen:

‘and our ordinary afternoons

where nothing is apparent

apart from the sky’s subtle palette

and the sound of

our children’s skins, growing’

(Stewart Henderson ‘Prayer of Aspiration’ (part))

When I composed the list I used a quote from Douglas Coupland’s ‘Generation X’: ‘Purchased experiences don’t count’. They don’t; time passes and life is lived- hopefully well.

And there are always birthdays to mark the passing.

Christmas Day

I never thought I’d do this again, but I’m leading worship today (10am, Hutton Rudby Hub, if you are interested).

I’m using this to open with:-


This was the moment when Before
Turned into After, and the future’s
Uninvented timekeepers presented arms.

This was the moment when nothing
Happened. Only dull peace
Sprawled boringly over the earth.

This was the moment when even energetic Romans
Could find nothing better to do
Than counting heads in remote provinces.

And this was the moment
When a few farm workers and three
Members of an obscure Persian sect
Walked haphazard by starlight straight
Into the kingdom of heaven.

(UA Fanthorpe).

Happy Christmas!

Christmas Eve poem.

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This poet died on Christmas Eve 4 years ago. Even before I knew that fact, I was thinking of using this on Christmas Eve: when I look at nativity plays and see people singing carols , this comes to mind. When I develop severe ‘bah humbug’ in the middle of shops with saccharine Christmas displays with no reference to The Story that led to this season, this comes to mind. And whenever I see adverts that just exhort ‘more, more, more’ to have a ‘perfect family time’ (TM) this comes to mind.

Missing God

by Dennis O’Driscoll

His grace is no longer called for
before meals: farmed fish multiply
without His intercession.
Bread production rises through
disease-resistant grains devised
scientifically to mitigate His faults.

Yet, though we rebelled against Him
like adolescents, uplifted to see
an oppressive father banished –
a bearded hermit – to the desert,
we confess to missing Him at times.

Miss Him during the civil wedding
when, at the blossomy altar
of the registrar’s desk, we wait in vain
to be fed a line containing words
like “everlasting” and “divine”.

Miss Him when the TV scientist
explains the cosmos through equations,
leaving our planet to revolve on its axis
aimlessly, a wheel skidding in snow.

Miss Him when the radio catches a snatch
of plainchant from some echoey priory;
when the gospel choir raises its collective voice
to ask Shall We Gather at the River?
or the forces of the oratorio converge
on I Know That My Redeemer Liveth
and our contracted hearts lose a beat.

Miss Him when a choked voice
at the crematorium recites the poem
about fearing no more the heat of the sun.

Miss Him when we stand in judgment
on a lank Crucifixion in an art museum,
its stripe-like ribs testifying to rank.

Miss Him when the gamma-rays
recorded on the satellite graph
seem arranged into a celestial score,
the music of the spheres,
the Ave Verum Corpus of the observatory lab.

Miss Him when we stumble on the breast lump
for the first time and an involuntary prayer
escapes our lips; when a shadow crosses
our bodies on an x-ray screen; when we receive
a transfusion of foaming blood
sacrificed anonymously to save life.

Miss Him when we call out His name
spontaneously in awe or anger
as a woman in the birth ward bawls
her long-dead mother’s name.

Miss Him when the linen-covered
dining table holds warm bread rolls,
shiny glasses of red wine.

Miss Him when a dove swoops
from the orange grove in a tourist village
just as the monastery bell begins to take its toll.

Miss Him when our journey leads us under
leaves of Gothic tracery, an arch
of overlapping branches that meet
like hands in Michelangelo’s creation.

Miss Him when, trudging past a church,
we catch a residual blast of incense,
a perfume on par with the fresh-baked loaf
which Milosz compared to happiness.

Miss Him when our newly-decorated kitchen
comes in Shaker-style and we order
a matching set of Mother Ann Lee chairs.

Miss Him when we listen to the prophecy
of astronomers that the visible galaxies
will recede as the universe expands.

Miss Him the way an uncoupled glider
riding the evening thermals misses its tug.

Miss Him, as the lovers shrugging
shoulders outside the cheap hotel
ponder what their next move should be.

Even feel nostalgic, odd days,
for His Second Coming,
like standing in the brick
dome of a dovecote
after the birds have flown.

Poetry thoughts and blogging

I rediscovered this book of poetry a few days ago. Poetry only really began to mean something to me a few years ago: I finally ‘got’ what poetry could mean and started to explore. The poems of Wendell Berry often speak to me: earth, space and slow thinking & being.

I put the book down after flicking through it for a while: no time to read. I sighed- the way life is at the moment means that I do not have the space that I always crave. Don’t get me wrong; I love the place I have ended up in, but the longer spaces for contemplation that I managed to carve out in full time ministry have become somewhat eroded.

That sigh confirmed something I have thought for a while now: soon I will cease blogging, or at least daily blogging. I have ran this blog from June 2008: it was an experiment that I started in a sabbatical and from February 2009 I have blogged daily. That is somewhat startling realisation, but I never found it that hard- something would always come up in moments of contemplation that I wanted to write about. I have come to realise that not everyone thinks like that: before I started I just assumed that everyone had long periods of introspection.

That moment is planned to be on Epiphany- a time for realisation and new direction…and maybe for me, a time for carving out new spaces for contemplation.

The uses of not

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I love the stark simplicity of this poem and the way it acts as a corrective to an over busy or striving to be significant life…

Thirty spokes
meet in the hub.
Where the wheel isn’t
is where it’s useful.

Hollowed out,
clay makes a pot.
Where the pot’s not
is where it’s useful.

Cut doors and windows
to make a room.
Where the room isn’t,
there’s room for you.

So the profit in what is
is in the use of what isn’t


Still Water

I read this poem and thought ‘I wish’ (although someone said something very kind to me this week about my role in a specific situation along the lines of this poem). But then, the pressure all around us is to ‘be more productive’, ‘work harder’ or be ‘busy, busy, busy’.

This is a poem for Saturday, but it is really a poem for any day.

We can make our minds so like still water
that beings gather about us that they may see,
it may be, their own images,
and so live for a moment with a clearer,
perhaps even with a fiercer life
because of our quiet.



This is more ‘Christian’ than most I post, but hey-sometimes you need comfort and to feel safe. Even though this becomes explicit, there is enough that is elliptical in it to draw me in.

There is a place where the

wounded soul goes to hide,

a place that cannot be reached by

human caring,

though it nods at the effort.

It’s a dark, retractable place,

without windows and doors;

a place where the soul would be

more alone than it has ever known

unless Someone –

Someone able to walk through walls –

was not already there waiting.


Susan Lenzkes

When someone deeply listens to you

The guy who wrote this is described as a ‘poetry therapist’. I suppose poetry, writing, music making etc is therapy of itself. I find this poem therapeutic as what it describes is so rare…

When someone deeply listens to you
it is like holding out a dented cup
you’ve had since childhood
and watching it fill up with
cold, fresh water.
When it balances on top of the brim,
you are understood.
When it overflows and touches your skin,
you are loved.

When someone deeply listens to you
the room where you stay
starts a new life
and the place where you wrote
your first poem
begins to glow in your mind’s eye.
It is as if gold has been discovered!

When someone deeply listens to you
your bare feet are on the earth
and a beloved land that seemed distant
is now at home within you.

(John Fox. From ‘Finding what you didn’t lose’)