Three P’s

Not my idea of course. Someday, some time, long ago, some folk gathered the 3 P’s together as landmarks of life, or at least what was life-giving to them. And so were established three pillars of Celtic spirituality. Poetry. Pilgrimage. Presence. I tie my flag to these.

I am pretty sure we find these all around us today. Poetry comes to us in lyrics to songs which we play over and over. Pilgrimage comes in the stories, books, TV documentaries, which inspire us to make our own journeys from here to over there. Even if we don’t know where this will actually take us and what companions we may come across on the way. Presence is something we didn’t take seriously. Then the pandemic took it away. Then gave it back again. So we know better now how to make ourselves actually available to each other.

poetry

I am and will always be jealous of those who can draw, or make music, or dance (I mean really dance). These ones have a short-cut to the Divine and to humanity as a whole for they can speak without words. Nevertheless, although it does rely on words and spaces in between words, poetry is a craft, an art form which is why for me it sits contentedly alongside spirituality. Like a portal to some kind of mystical space where truths are told and only what really matters stands up to inspection. Even if it is kind of daft, because it is also true that being funny and laughing raise our spirits and that humour can take the sting out of a great many things.

A poem can speak to something you didn’t know how to say. Sometimes even saying something you did not know needed saying but somehow it resonates and calls out a deep ‘yes’ in you. Finding poems like that are like gathering treasure, to take out and look at as time and need arises. Like some return to liturgy, I return to poems. A sacred gift to which I bow and humbly thank both the author and the hidden source from which they came.

pilgrimage

As you walk you are changed, as you travel from here to there, there are other shifts that take place. Some small, some seismic. There are some paths we take and we will never be the same again.

There are times when you absolutely want to give up. This is where the act of walking is powerful in and of itself. Because shoes and souls both get worn down, because both our legs and our hearts sometimes ache. All of me goes into this journey, all of me feels it. And what is life if not some crooked magnificent pilgrimage in the end, to the end, where all things end, because in the end the only thing which is guaranteed is safe arrival.

presence

Being present has something to do with first giving yourself permission to take up space. To be brave enough to inhabit our place in the world and in doing so being expansive enough to welcome room for others. Presence is some kind of emotional hospitality which says ‘all welcome’ – you don’t even have to wipe your feet. Presence – where people make a place sacred by being in it. Because there will be worse days and worser days . There will be roses and there will be thorns. Someone’s hands have to hold both of these. The only thing which makes this possible is that someone else is by their side.

So as you travel and make your pilgrimage may you find poems to tuck in your pocket to cheer you on and may you know the presence of others to smell your roses and bind up your wounds.

Image by Mary Gorobchenko from Pixabay

Peaches

Even at the end of a long road, even when I have reached a landmark I am always still hesitant about celebrating. This may be to do with my history of having celebrations sabotaged in some way. But I reckon it is more that I am always looking for the three R’s. For resolution, for reconciliation, for redemption. I find these somewhat elusive. But I lean in towards them nonetheless.

Just recently the three R’s came to me unexpectedly. On a week when I was just trying to get through, in a year when we had not had a sunny May and I had driven to and fro from work in the rain. I popped on my favourite podcast. On Being produce one called Poetry Unbound by Padraig O’Tuama. He read a poem by Li -Young Lee called ‘From Blossoms’. I absolutely cannot read it more beautifully than him so I link to the piece here.

From Blossoms

I listened to this on repeat all week. Then at the end, when my work was done, I gathered what steps I had taken for myself, for others and for the earth towards resolution, reconciliation and redemption (and go on then, a little celebration too) and acted. I acted towards myself, I took seriously the biblical words, ‘may your gentleness be evident to all’ – including myself. It was (finally) a sunny May day and I walked myself round the corner to our local line of shops. One had just opened selling Afro Caribbean goods. It was my best bet for fresh peaches. As I walked up I saw the lights on but the sign on the door saying ‘closed’. The opening hours are printed stating it should be open and in the window a single punnet of peaches. I peered in and knocked at the window. The owner jumped up and let me in, he had forgotten to turn the sign. His wife will be cross with him he said. We chatted, I bought the peaches in the window. I took them home, all ripe and beautiful and sat on the grass, next to budding tree and daisies. Eating what was now my peach and listened again to the poem ‘From Blossoms’. It took my breath away. Again. As I played it to myself, this time with a peach of my own. My way today of ‘turning toward signs painted Peaches’.

Resolution, reconciliation and redemption are when we ‘find nectar at the roadside’

Words of such meaning they seep through my skin into my very bones. 

‘to carry within us an orchard, to eat
not only the skin, but the shade,
not only the sugar, but the days…’

And the reminder that no matter what our losses are, no matter how much our job means we have to live alongside death of one kind or another. Li-Young Lee reminds us that from blossom comes this promise;

‘There are days we live, as if death were nowhere in the background’

Because the world also grows blossoms and also grows peaches and there are out there some moments of joy to elevate us, for the time it takes to eat a peach, and perhaps…beyond.

Six to One

A study has shown that there are around 50 billion wild birds in the world. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/50-billion-total-wild-birds-inhabit-planet-study-estimates-180977753/

Birds outnumber humans 6:1. The way I see it that means each person alive today has 6 birds they can call on. 6 birds cheering you on, 6 birds by your side, or out your window, or sweeping across the sky above you, 6 birds nesting in your neighbourhood. They look out for you, you look out for them.

Miniature mirrors of our lives. First birthing then fledging, the unlikely gathering of all those fragile feathers that somehow makes the impossible possible. Feeding, mating, nest building, migrating, dying. Oh and flying – birds have that one up on us. Flying and the unstoppable need to sing their little hearts out at least twice a day. Greeting the day and the night just the same. Flying and singing. A little like the habits of the angels, so I’m told.

Odds are there will not be many days in our lives that go by without the sight or sound of a bird (or six). If we do have a day without our birds perhaps we will be graced with angels in their place. Reminding us we are never completely alone, that songs are sung even when we cannot sing ourselves, that freedom is on the wing even if we find ourselves trapped, that no matter how heavy things may become, some things are always, necessarily, as light as a feather.

Image by Oldiefan from Pixabay

Elements

This past year there has been a disease upon the earth, upon humanity today, that has managed to weaponised our very breath. No wonder our spirits have felt stifled along the way. It is the final straw in the outrage of the elements.

Up till now we have found ways to weaponised the earth by carving it into lands to defend, and drilling it for compounds for ‘living’.  Up till now we have found ways to take the warmth and power of fire to cook and make cosy, and use it to ignite fire arms. Up till now we have misunderstood the precious gift of water on which all depends. Instead of treasuring water, we had to harness and conquer that too, find ways to own and commercialise our rivers, lakes and seas. Acting as if all these elements belong to us and are ours by right. Now our final element has become a threat, the very air we breath. And it is like the earth, and fire and water are all gathered together and groaning and somehow pleading us to wake up and listen. They have our attention now because we are concerned about the air, because first and foremost we need to breath.

May we hear. May we see. May our spirits become free.

Image by Bob Dmyt from Pixabay
We are earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. 


We are made of stars
Star dust that is as ancient as time
That starlight which shines on us now
is 250 years old,
and reaches us still
and guides the way, giving us ways to remember those
we love who are now long gone
we sing, ‘look at the stars, and how they shine for you,
And all the things you do’.
The stars that began shining for you, long before you came to be.

We are earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

The nutrients that run through our veins
Are like that of the sea
We are mostly water,
fluid, so not much distinguishes you from me,

We are earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

The fire behind the eyes of passion
and love that burns as fierce as the flame.
that warms our hearts and homes
and feeds our bellies and stokes our celebrations.

We are earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

The breath, where the spirit resides
Living as we do with breaths necessarily stifled,
behind masks.
Nowadays even our breaths have become weaponised
This is why it has been so scary - the very idea -
Like we could harm each other with our spirits.

We are earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

We see, we hear,
all the ways we have set the elements against ourselves
And this last one, restricting the air we breath,
has shown us just how terrible it all is.
How inhumane it is to be kept apart
How there can never be justice
while we are not able to share the same air
Let alone land,
Or to sit round common fire
Or allow rivers to run free
Upon this earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.


Calling back

When you turn around and find yourself lost 
Somehow wandered too far outward or too far inward 
to places dark and tangled
having roamed so far out 
or been stuck, curled up, frightened in one of the many corners of the world.
When things have turned sour and you find yourself 
in toxic space and all this is somehow seeping into you
suffocating you
and then someone who you know a lot, or may be just a little
opens a window and this allows air and light in
reaching and filling all the spaces you thought were lost for good 
calling you back to yourself 
telling you terrible jokes so you remember these eyes can roll as well as cry 
and this belly which felt like it had been scooped out 
could also be overcome with laughter, so much that it aches. 
And you hear the scrape of chairs upon the floor as one 
is pulled out for you, at the long table 
where you find yourself 
in the good company of gathered lost souls 
who were found again somehow. 
And within you remember too that your heart is still there, 
not because it aches, 
but this time, because you were called back. 

Image by Peter H from Pixabay

Who are you when you are not?

Chances are, if you are an adult, then you are many things now that you did not have to be as a kid.

Perhaps you got to be whatever you dreamed about becoming when you were growing up. The pilot, the farmer, the nurse, the hairdresser, the explorer, the writer, the teacher, the inventor.

Perhaps too you have found joy in sisterhood, being an adult son or daughter, as a parent yourself.

Perhaps you’ve been lucky enough to find something in life that you are good at, that brings you joy and this too has gifted you with a circle of friends and achievements.

There are times though, just like when you were a kid, when no one cares much about these things. Don’t get me wrong – they care about you. They love you – the way an infant is loved just by being in the world. The way a 4 year old in a twirly dress is already a dancer. The way a 6 year old with a set of paints over the table (and floor), is already an artist, and the kid with scrawled notes of ideas is a writer. The way a 12 year old daydreamer, experimenter, risk-taker is already a scientist. The way a stick of rock from the beach can be wrapped in shiny paper and made into hundreds of brightly coloured patterns, screaming ‘pick me’, ‘love me’, ‘choose me’ but what really matters is where you are when you eat this rock, and who is next to you on the sand as you taste it. What really counts is when things break, seeing what is written at the centre? What is in the very core of us when all the outer layers are stripped back?

This is one of the reasons why I especially love old friends. The ones who loved me before. Before exam results, before courses and training, before first jobs and tenth jobs. Before career changes and promotions, before redundancies and retirement. Before moving from jobs we love for the sake of our kids, or to take care of elderly relatives. Before the responsibilities and professional facades. Before our interests and passions became gloatable. Because as kids we did them anyway whether someone was watching or not, without having to track it and post it in order to validate ourselves.

When we just did it. Who we are when we are not…

Who are we when we can no longer…

In Mo Willams series of Elephant and Piggie books there is a scene where one asks the other

‘what is pretending?’

‘pretending is when you go out and act like something you are not’

‘wow, and you can just do that? you can just go out and act like something you are not?’

‘sure. everyone pretends.’

‘even grown up people?’

‘all the time’.

At the hospital bed I often ask what is most important to a person. The dialogue almost never gets round to thier career. They almost never tell me. It’s almost never what’s most important. Often times, it has gone now anyway. Who they are, as is, with fewer abilities than ever. Who are they now? What is left which is of utmost value? What remains is who they truly are.

It has been said ‘I am’ is a complete sentence.

There is not much truer than this.

I recall a way back when my son had heard about a certain US President and he asked ‘what’s so bad about him?’ I explained, ‘well you know those values you’ve been learning about in school like kindness, respect, care for the earth, honesty?’ ‘Yes’ he says. ‘Well he doesn’t have any of those’ I replied. Because you can see values like this, they are self evident and pervade everywhere and are not choosy about where they are distributed. They are not achieved through study or exams or by being particularly clever or gifted or rich. You cannot create a portfolio as such because they are only evidenced in lives touched by them. And this can only be done day by day. There is no five year plan for kindness. You can only be kind now, or not. In which case we may have to call upon that other more elusive value of forgiveness, for one another, and for ourselves. This will get us through. Values are our make-up of being, the way of living. Whatever is left when it is only living we can do. What was there right at the start, all that innate, innocent goodness. What will be left at the end.

In the end.

Where our treasure is.

Right at our core.

Where our heart is.

Image by Phil Riley from Pixabay

Kisses on the verge





They gave me a nod 
bundles of flailing bright
catching me off guard 

from my head clouded
from hours of 
kissing sorrows cheek

someone planted these
bundles of light 
on the verge 

unaware of their distant
cousins on hillsides 
of white clean air 

these ones are witness 
to the trundling lorries
commuters, travellers

ministers to the 
heavy hearts 
that drive by 

comfort comes in 
the absolute certainty 
that these heads of joy 

will be here again 
year on year springing 
up to kiss our cheeks 

These words come out imperfect

One year ago I called on my courage and put out a blog post for the first time. In days since I’ve noted little phrases or moments of curiosity in amongst mundane day to day living. All the while these curiosities and intrigues simmer and percolate within me, until at some unplanned hour the words form themselves, tumbling and emerging in patterns and rhythms. Poet Wendell Berry writes in one of his works ‘make a poem that does not disturb the silence from which it came’. This is quite the benchmark to live and write by. At times I wish I could dedicate more time to nurturing words as they form. But mostly, as I look back with all things considered, I’m glad I got to write at all, no matter if the words came out imperfect. This seems appropriate really, because this year came out imperfect as well. Life does that. Life comes out imperfect too.

these words come out imperfect
this life does too 
i edit what i can 
what is left will have to do 

i wish i could repeat things 
go over, start anew
but these words come out imperfect
this life does too 

i imagine the finished product
all glossy and ready to review
but these words come out imperfect
this life does too 

these words are muddled and mispronounced
i sometimes miss a few 
these words come out imperfect
this life does too 

this life is more than highlights 
a life ordinary, but true 
these words come out imperfect
this life does too 

re-wilding


Valentines day 2021
a 6 year old sits at his small wooden table
plucks out a felt tip pen
What does his hand choose to draw this day?
He scribbles what his heart tells him to,
what love would be.
Love would be a 2 metre climbing frame,
a 2 metre climbing frame
so he can play at a safe distance
at the park
with his friends.
What matters is not the distance
but the park
and his friends
and thier playful hearts.

Its been a long year for us all,
its been a longer year for our small ones,
one sixth of his whole life in fact.
That's too much time,
not enough climbing frames.
Too much, 'stay still, quiet now, calm down, keep away'
and not enough, 'go, run, shout, be free, play'
The year that did its best to steal the play away,
except it is kids we are dealing with,
and they will find a way.

It is time to re-wild the hearts of our small ones,
the tiny hearts which have broken,
and it has gone unspoken.
They have not the words to frame their loss
rather a deep sense that all has not been right with the world.

It has become clear to them that
their parents are great at being parents,
but they are really not great
substitutes for their half-pint-sized friends.
Turns out adults are not as funny as they like to think
Kids know this now.
Kids seek one another.
they have been hiding for too long.
They are coming...ready or not.

It is time to bring back the sticky, sweaty hands
poking out from miniature high viz jackets.
The walking bus of endless meaningless chatter,
that means so much in the end.
Time to bring back tag playing, secret keeping, joke telling nonsense,
which is all that is needed to make sense of the world.
It is time to dangle upside down on the swing,
fall off the slide,
and get grazed knees,
reclaim the playground,
re-wild our young ones,
to be free.





Three fields

Back along I lived among the fields. In that first lockdown when we all of a sudden felt obliged to take a walk a day whether we wanted to or not. Those days were spring days. But also troubled days and so I found myself taking something to the fields. I came to internally name these as a ‘one field problem’,  ‘two field problem’,  ‘three field problem’. How many fields it took to absorb some of my pain. The gritty earth, the trampled grass, the ignorant flowers that bore the weight of my soul for me.

Somehow the left and right repetition of it, the deep breath cleansing of it, the physical sun on my face, wind in my hair, mud on my shoes, heart pumping rigour of it, shifted things around. The problems not solved exactly, my mind often raced around and around. But it raced slower than normal because it also had to navigate the stile and my ears could not help but hear what the birds had to say about things, singing as they do doggedly at the start and close of every day.

Just now I live a bit farther from a field and it is winter. The dull winter time too when we have endured January but there are weeks to go before spring will start to sing. And I awake with my problems, a new set has been added in, rendering my soul void but my head spinning. I am tired to the bone and am inclined to remain in the warmth of my bed which has held my exhaustion, is familiar with my tears. But my pillow has absorbed so many anxious thoughts at 3am it is saturated and will not comfort me.

And my kids are up, one twirling round singing with lightness and daftness, the other delivering me their poem, a gift to me in my sadness. He has called it ‘Snow’.

Out the window snow covers the ground completely. I notice also that the sun has found her way in the sky today.

I remember the three fields.

I pull on boots, leave my phone at home and head out. I walk and walk and keep on walking to that ever moving horizon until things in me start to shift, until the racing slows, until I stop a moment and see. See the winter that slows all the seasons, see the snow that covers all that grows, the trees that stand still and patient, wrapped under layers of white cold.

I find my soul in this cold climate.

Turns out my son knew this already. For his 8-year-old, misspelt, scrawled, folded up, poem to me this morning reads;

 The nice place is home, 
 The warmth of the bed. 
 The wonderful snow. 
 The snow is white and calm, 
 kind and beautiful. 
 Take care, because the snow
 will guide you, 
 to where you belong, 
 your heart.  

LFR 2021

Image by Kurt Bouda from Pixabay