Church is People.

Sitting in church with my mum trying to imagine what was church means for both of us.

A fertile field, an empty pew.
Ploughed, polished
Majestic oak rooted, harvested and carved.
Emerging growth, traditionally planted.

A muddy field, a quite pew
Scattering seeds, row upon row,
Self seeding, hybrid T’s.
Free-draining, managed soil.

An open gate, a heavy door.
Porous, water tight.
Weathering the seasons, heating on.
Exposed , sheltered
From the shared storm.

Coloured skies, painted roof.
Natures palette, hues of glass
Dog eared pages, carefully read.
Weathered cold and well feed.

Muddy footsteps, clicking  heals.
Boots and suits.
Kids that dig
Babies that scream.
Those that talk
Those that say nothing at all.

Flasks of coffee, teapots and cosies.
Picnics,  biscuits on china plate
A tree stump, a chair.
A shared conversation.
A friend.

We are all church
God’s  gathered people
Loved.
Growing.
In our own way.
Our own pace.
Same space.
Church is people.

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Matthew 18:20
“For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.”

A Hungry Heart.

What is poverty?

The common definition of poverty is:  the state or condition of having little or no money, goods, or means of support; condition of being poor.
It seems that by lacking in desirable ingredients we are deficient in the qualities that make us socially acceptable.
Poverty is nearly always viewed as a negative, by admitting our own poverty we are admitting that we are failures.
So because of being on a low income the dictionary along with Government statistics would label many as poor.
But for some living in poverty is not a label they would give themselves .
As a child my father lost his job, many would have seen us as poor.
This was never obvious to me until I needed a new winter’s coat for school. The one I chose was beyond my parents means. I remember the teenage me in floods of tears as I was told I could not have a new school coat as it was not available to purchase with the school uniform vouchers supplied to my mum.
Poverty, in and of itself, is only a bad thing if it keeps someone from obtaining things that they truly need. For example, not having a winter coat.
Poverty forces us to prioritise what is necessary, desirable or luxurious. It forces the luxuries and desires to be appreciated for the luxury they truly are. In a very real way, it eliminates non-essential distractions and shows you to value the simple things in life.
You value the potato harvest from the allotment, the abundance of the apple harvest. All these gifts are seen as the gift they truly are.
It eliminates the non essential in our life, forcing us to live by what we need as a minimum rather than to live to what we want.
Of course this is not the way for many living in poverty and to some life has become so dark their is no joy in the harvest. Debt and poverty become a dark desperate way of living and seeing often with no hope of away out.

We are all called to live simply and in freedom with respect to the riches we have—whether they are in the form of material possessions, talents, time, or love.
Giving our time, sharing God’s love frees us from our own poverty. You become aware of the lack of value money can hold.

We become less captivated by the shinny things that delight the eye as we know in our hearts they are beyond our reach.
In poverty there is helplessness and dependence of our own lives in which we learn lean on Christ.
We reach to only what’s within our reach, we stretch out deep prayers that echo our deep sighs of hunger.
Each time we reach out to God theirs a reshaping a invisible prioritising of the true values of a hungry heart. We look to hidden parts of our lives, to those ordinary, ignored, forgotten and hidden parts of our lives. This is where we find God patiently for us to kneel, walk and journey with the richness of knowing “God is with us”.

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Protecting the extraordinary.

I’ve recently been reminded of the cycling adventures I had as a teenager.
Balancing conversations whilst cycling hands free and eyes closed.
I remember on one occasion my lovely friend combined hands free cycling with hair brushing. Simultaneously I combined hands free cycling with eyes closed cycling. I trusted my friend to guide me. She trusted me not to trust her when she needed to brush her hair.
Needless to say we lost our balance and wobbled into each other and we both ended up a tangled heap in the road.
I remember our laughter and tears. Both battered and bruised we picked ourselves up and continued our journeys home. Neither of us prepared to explain to our parents how we came off our bikes.
I still cycle hands free but with my eyes open. I still cycle with my eyes closed but keep two hands firmly on the handle bars.
The other evening I experienced worship which was “ hands free “.
No service sheets, all responses where said by one person on our behalf.
No words to read, or misread, no responses to stumble over. It really was a place of freedom full of love and possibilities.
This paper free service took me right back to my teenager years of hand free cycling.
It reawaken a crafted space that in its simple creation allows myself to go deeper with God.
To step back on the path of discovery, to ponder the words that echo around me drifting to a place of awareness.
A place of wordless, imageless prayer.
It’s this place that I seek when I pray. That draws me inwards to God. This place might be cycling hands free, digging the garden, or just simply sitting in my own home.
I used to believe that prayer was words. That all prayer had an audible sound, a solid firm shape. A pattern of compulsory words. Yet the more I journey the more I learn that prayer is more than words. It can be the thin places that God has gifted us. My thin place will differ to another’s. A place from which I feel the radiant transparency of love, infused with a deep moment of silence from which all unspoken words and concepts are tidal.
It’s a place I Instinctively and habitually return to. My own personal place that protects my extraordinary. Opens the doors to the most
inaccessible places on earth, weirdly these places can almost be the most accessible places of my mind.

The spirited wind that ruffled my hair as I cycled hand free as a teenager was the early beginnings of a transformative spiritual practice that would sustain me .
Two risk taking teenage girls cycling hands free, have guided each other, supporting each other into adult life.
I have realised this friendship has prepared me and helped open myself to Jesus. It opened for me a path of adventure to follow my my deepest desire.
To understand that our risk taking may end up not as planned. I think back to myself and my friend in a tangled mess of bike and bruises. The gap of silence in which our tears turned to laughter. The unspoken words from our parents when we returned home battered and bruised. Those inner words of love that are parents never spoke.
I’ve come back as a adult to the thin places that feed the gentle gap between thoughts and words, a place to rest with God.
An inner silence, a stillness reinforced by a familiar habit of searching for a deeper stillness.
The places that taste and smell of creation. A conscious return to a unconscious place. Where my imagination traces pictures that have yet formed words.
A precious rediscovered energy, a gathered moment in time that held my breath and ruffled my hair.
A physical reminder of the breath of God that breaths within me. A tactile sensation of the wind blown Spirit. A mysterious force that guides my heart to prayer. That generates a core of outwardly focused energy.
When I stop focusing on what’s expected of me. When I follow my heart I bring myself to God. Letting go of the patterns of life that dampen my imagination, the words that confuse me, letting go of the handle bars that balance and guide me.
Closing my eyes I Listen to a silent love that prepares my soul ready for a purposeful action. A risk that’s so empowering it’s wrapped in love. A love that in which ordinary people can do ordinary things.

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A forgotten faded canvas.

As November drifts into December I feel robbed of daylight hours, starved of warmth and light. The changing seasons reflect my moods, my thoughts, my way of being. This seasonal change brings to me a foggy mind, an inner struggle. The landscape that feeds my soul has drifted into a  dormant sleepy slumber.
A frosty exhale of cold darkness stills the heart of the garden. Elements of the seasons provide a canvas of still waters. Autumn hues of Orange and Red are painted into the aqua.
A pure reflection, a united way of living within the seasonal changes. It can also be a  painful way of living, waiting and trusting God for the seasons to change.

It’s living with a seasonal rhythmic heartbeat. A connection that’s drawn to the earth, to the ground of its being that makes growth possible.
Its this ground that holds me down, stops me from running. It frees me and ties me in one deep breath.
Immersing my whole body in a warm silent light. Hope an awakening to a new sun full of promise.
Balancing this earthy connection isn’t easy. I turn to the wisdom of the trees. Trees make exceptionally wise teachers, which is probably why Jesus refers to them so often. Trees breathe our breath, it’s a mutual exchange of unconditional love.  Breathing a dance of harmony, stepping out in light and love together.
A rooted spiritual growth, drawing nourishment from Jesus who gardens alongside me. It’s these roots that have taught me and shown me the word. It’s these roots that allowed me to survive the dormancy of my faith.
To turn inward, into the depths of my soul, to hear the changing seasons, to rest in the familiar rhythm of prayer.
To kneel under the leadership of the oak tree, knowing that Jesus has always gardened alongside me. It’s this union of love that is growing the peace and joy of a rooted seeing.
Reflecting  God’s beautiful goodness to the hungry world.
It’s a goodness of trust, joy and love. A rich love that has cleared the waters of my soul. My aqua canvas, a rich tapestry of life. A distant memory, a forgotten reality.
Tears of memories flow into my still waters. Splashing fresh colours of love on a forgotten faded canvas.

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Colossians 2 The Message (MSG)

6-7 My counsel for you is simple and straightforward: Just go ahead with what you’ve been given. You received Christ Jesus, the Master; now live him. You’re deeply rooted in him. You’re well constructed upon him. You know your way around the faith. Now do what you’ve been taught. School’s out; quit studying the subject and start living it! And let your living spill over into thanksgiving.

An unspoken Love.

In the beginning
Love met flesh
Love is patient, love is kind.
Love was unspoken word.
A nameless unspoken feeling of connection.
Love was a muted rhythm of life.
An unsaid.
A unseen connection
Love dwelled deeply in flesh.

One day flesh was squeezed and squashed.
Pain held her so tightly .
That she screamed to word.
Flesh met Word
Word collided with loves feelings.
Feelings collided with loves word.
Love and word held flesh.
Flesh became present to light.

They held her tears.
They comforted her day and night.
They walked together
Slept together,
Held her in their arms,
They counted her tears.
They cried with her.
Love helped flesh understand word.

Love and word are patient and kind.
They grew flesh gently.
They watched her cry.
They become her rock.
They nurtured her unsaid words.
Love and word protected flesh.
They gave her hope
An a light to live by.
Flesh stayed safe in her garden.
She was still to afraid to tell of words existence.
The unnamed love was patient and kind.
Love dwelled deeply in flesh’s heart.

Everything was ready.
Waiting for flesh to speak loves name.
To give voice to the word .
To breathe the spirited light of action.
A deep wobbly breath of trinity.
The father son and the Holy Spirit
Dwelled deeply in her heart together.
They showed her their people.
Showed her one light of a love.

She saw her created self, her true self.
They walked with her as she left the safety of her garden
They walked with her as she moved into her neighbourhood.
Love action and word are generous and kind.
Love never fails.
The story is just beginning.

Love ( Jesus ) Word ( God) action ( Holy Spirit ).

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What’s in a Tear.

Officially it’s a drop of water, containing elements which gives tears their characteristic salty taste.
Emotional tears also contain hormones which can improve our mood or ease our pains.
Tears release stories and emotions, expressing what our heart cannot say.
One single tear released in love is more powerful than a thousand tears cried in anger.
Just one single tear powerfully acted in the film “ Joker “ realeased me from the person I used to be.
In the opening few moments of the film before the story even starts, we watch the artist ( the clown ) applying his craft.
We see that familiar white clown face, with a coloured Blue  diamond painted over the eye.
Than a solitary tear escapes from the clowns eye. This single tear travelled through the perfect hues of White and Blue. Leaving behind it’s own imperfect trail. A tear trail …
God spoke so powerfully to me through this single tear locked into a frame of film.
It was in that moment that I realised  that this tear held the person I once was.
I was once a makeup artist. I would have scrutinised this tear from a technical view.
I would never see the true tear.. I saw the actors craft and the makeup artists skill. I saw lighting and editing. I saw film.
I questioned the products used, always looking for makeup continuity errors.
As that tear rolled I was released from thinking that way. Releasing me from the person I used to be.
In that one single tear; I saw emotions, I saw pain. I wanted to know the story behind the tear. Each tear holds more than we can ever imagine, more emotions more pain. Some tears hold stories that are just to painful to be told.
That one tear encapsulated my story. It was a tear that I was unable to cry myself . In the cinema God took that one tear and cried with me and for me.
I don’t miss the person I once was . Today I only see a life with Jesus . Sat in the cinema I said my goodbyes to the person I used to be.
It was not a time of my choosing, or a film of my choice. God spoke to my heart through the Jokers tear.
A tear that confirmed to myself that my recommendation for ordination training was real, realistic and from God
To serve God is a freedom thats full of creative energy, to serve is to remove chains and release love.
It is LOVE that inspires me and drives me to serve God . Only love can make such a choice. How different it is to serve another for love’s sake than it is to serve out of obligation or duty!
Jesus comes into the world not to be served, but to serve. He comes not to do his own will, but the will of the One who sent him.  He “empties himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in human likeness.” He does this for love.
When we love we want to serve. We long to be given some task that will contribute to the good purposes of the one we love.
A mother longs to serve her children – out of love. We willingly set aside our own desires and preferences, we lay down our lives, for the sake of those whom we love.
I am a chosen servant of Christ.
I will make the wrong choices, I will mess things up, I will cry, laugh and seek those on the margins of our community. To be a voice of comfort and a voice of truth. I will freely and willingly give all of myself to God’s creative purpose.
Only love can make this choice.

James 2:5

Listen, my dear brothers and sisters. God chose the poor people in the world to be rich in faith. He chose them to receive the kingdom God promised to those who love him

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Finding my own gardens ……

Theology in context was the title of our weekend’s learning. We used Stephen Bevans contextual models. Each model very helpfully gives an horticultural analogy. This analogy formed a very practical part of our learning.
I’ve played and reflected these analogy’s and traveled with them on a slightly different path .Each reflection is personal to me. Each reflects a garden but more importantly it reflects the methods and tools that gardener used to transform the landscape.
When we change the landscape we create spaces to share our passions, our hopes and our dreams.
When I journey with God it’s that changing landscape that feeds my passions giving new hopes to old dreams.

Counter cultural – Stourhead
( The soil needs wedding and fertilising so that the seeds can be planted )

When it first opened in the 1740’s Stourhead was described as ‘a living work of art’. Some 300 years later the meandering paths, vistas and temples of Stourhead are still described as a living work of art.
The garden has physically grown and matured. The message this landscape holds still remains the same.
Stourhead is a serious garden that’s valued for historical and cultural reasons.
Rooted in tradition and mythology. Totally faithful to the principles of garden design. This garden was designed to impress.
It reminds me a lot of a Cathedral. Cathedrals are built on Holy sites. Yet the cathedral often does not resemble the original Holy site in which it was built.
To me Stourhead is a garden cathedral, the original much loved landscape removed and changed beyond recognition to build the garden we see today. Everything we see when we journey through Stourheads landscape is planted. Placed carefully to enhance the plan. The lake, and woodland all planted and designed. Nothing was left to nature. Nothing to chance. It was planned to create and impress.
It’s a personal landscape which expresses the hopes and beliefs of its creator Henry the magnificent.
Henry created a classical landscape with a central lake. To me this lake represents the alter within my cathedral.

The lakes reflects the theology of this landscape. It’s a inward reflection that changes throughout the seasons. But the message it reflects does not change.
Stourhead’s landscape asks us not to look beyond its borders. Their is no space for change or something new. The extravagance of Stourhead’s design challenges me. Yet I like it, but would never want to recreate it . I find reassurance and peace in its bold strong design.
It’s a place that gives a glimpse into the mind of the gardens creator. See his personal passion for wealth and design. Stourhead stands proud in what it believes .

It gives and alternative garden view that’s unprepared to change. Yet the world and its visitors are changing. I wonder if the families that picnic by the lake give any thought to the lakes creator.
The message that the creator wanted to give to the world has been lost in cultural change.
I wonder how many visitors to Stourhead’s lake see Henry the magnificences hope and dreams. See the unity harmony and the principles of garden design working within the landscape.
I wonder when we visit Cathedral’s do we see what the designer hoped we would see. Do we see or gain more understanding of God our creator or just see the extravagance of architecture.
The language of Stourhead and the language of our cathedrals speak of a creator that wants to share a vision in a communal landscape.
The creator challenges our thinking . Asks us to question .
The altar in the cathedral and the lake in Stourhead are only seen for their true purpose by those that already understand the voice of the creator.
We can all sit by the lake or kneel at the altar, but unless the context tells the story of the creator in a language we understand we may fail to see the true beauty and joy of the picnic.

Translation – Allotment
( Bring seeds and plant them in native ground ).

Alloments are an Individualistic communal environment. Each allotted plot holder working within the guide lines set down my their allotment association . Each plot holder translating what these guidelines means to them. Theirs flexibility, an authenticity in this individual communal place where people grow together. It’s a place that you grow what’s relevant to you. In a method that’s of your choosing.
Some choose to double dig. Some choose to plant through a weed suppressant membrane. I choose a method called no dig.
Each method translates the wording that “ plots must be cultivated “. Each method so very different but all produce crops.
It’s a place to share knowledge, a place where the harvest is abundant.
Growing seasonal local food means you become more in tune with the seasons. Plot holders naturally nurture new members. We want to share our knowledge, we know the joy in the harvest and
want others to feel that joy too. That moment when you realise “I grew that from a seed”.
The allotment holds onto and works with the traditions of the past. It’s an earthy visible process. That openly shares its highs and lows with its community. It’s a place open to all, regardless or wealth knowledge. Plot holders pay astonishingly low rents charged by local authorities, which is a powerfully consistent rejection of spiralling urban land market values.
Produce grown by allotmenteers cannot be sold commercially for profit. The standard treatment of a surplus or seasonal glut is to give it away. The allotment generates a community that’s gives . Its a combination of self-help and mutual aid… allotments are a place of doing.

Synthesis – Portmeirion.
( Cross pollination brings new life).

This is one of my favourite gardens . Wondering around this Italianate village the practical teaching of garden design were lifted from the text book, and illuminated my imagination. For the first time the terms borrowed landscape, unity, harmony, scale and proportion etc had a real meaning. I come alive when I step into this magical space. I bounce of the energy and the passion from which it was created.
Portmeirion takes the past and present to ensure its future will continue to transform the imagination of another generation .
It attempts to hold the vision of its creator Clough William Ellis, and the culture of its welsh heritage.
It has its own unique eccentric charm all balanced very precariously on the coastal edge of snowdonia national park.
It magically mixes tropical planting with traditional English gardens. The Echium’s tower over the roses as if they have always grown along side one another. It’s almost to strong a word to use but it’s almost perfect . Even the buildings have their own individual story to tell. Many have been relocated brick by brick to find Portmeirion as their final resting place. Portmeirion was built as a hotel and gardens today that still remains its primary function.
The hotel has changed over the years, once a exclusive retreat for the rich and famous. Today its doors are open to all . With self catering seaside apartments to five star accommodation all available on the same site.
Portmeirion is a little place of possibilities with a big heart.

Praxis – My garden
( A garden needs to be constantly weeded and tended; the work never ends; practise makes you a better gardener).

I struggle to say what my garden really means to me. It’s almost to much to put into words, it’s a unsaid spiritual connection.
My garden mirrors my personal changes: we grow together. The garden reflects me and vice versa.
Its a place of doing, a place of learning by trying. I don’t spend hours reading about gardening “I just garden”.
Somethings work and sometimes I just have to rethink and re sow.
My garden brings change in me. As I spend time in my garden so I spend time with God.
I seek answers and ask questions, ponder what’s next. What’s next in my life? What’s next to do in the garden?
I prune, weed, create, sow and tidy. I witness the complexity of nature in its simplest form. I can’t imagine a life without my feet in the muddy theology that drives my reflections.
I struggle in the winter when my place to grow falls sleepy. It’s October today and as I write I’m planning how this year I will put the garden to bed for winter. How the choices I make will effect my garden next year and in some ways effect me to.
My garden is a place to seek and grow in faith it’s my place, in my context.
When I open my garden to the public ( once every 24 months ) they don’t see what I see. They wander around and presume because I am the gardener I know all my plants by name. They want to know the variety of the roses. They wander from the mown paths. They feed my fish and drink tea and coffee. I feel totally exhausted at the end of each day.
I open my garden because I want to share what gifts God has given me. I don’t expect my visitors to understand how interwoven and connected our patterns of life really are.
Those that visit my garden comment that it’s peaceful, reflective and calming. What more could I ask for.

Transcendental – Hidcot
(If I cultivate my garden, another will be inspired to cultivate theirs).

Hidcot is nestled in a small Cotswold hamlet.
As historical gardens go, Hidcot is relatively modern . The garden we see today dates from 1907-1948.
It’s creator Lawrence Johnston started with a blank canvas putting into practice what he had learnt from studying gardening books such as The Art & Craft of Garden Making by Thomas H. Mawson.
He created a garden of rooms. Each room almost a complete garden within the larger garden. Each room reveals something different. Uses different planting and design techniques but all link together to create one garden.
It’s almost as if Johnston allowed his imagination to self seed around the garden. Each sowing creating something slightly different.
Each visit to Hidcot is unique . The changing seasons, the changing planting, the route you view this garden. create a colourful labyrinth that seeks adventure and understanding.
It’s a bilingual garden that speaks of mischievous colour and adventurous design.
Hidcot is about the journey, it’s a place to enjoy the garden, to see what inspires you, to excite your imagination.
Hidcot was created to be a garden that the public could enjoy. Even before it’s completion Lawrence, then in his 70s, began to put his mind to the long term future of the garden.  He first approached the National Trust in 1943 to see whether they would take over the garden.
He saw his garden as a gift that could keep giving.
Some see his garden as serious and over complicated. But I personally love the concept of Hidcot and have created my own garden using some of Lawrence’s techniques.
As you wonder through a garden of rooms you are never sure of what’s behind the hedgerow.
A garden of rooms creates mystery, a place to wonder and seek.

Anthropological – Bishops knoll
( The seeds are in the ground they just need to be watered and cared for)

Bishops Knoll is a wonderful hidden garden and woodland from the 19th Century. The site is on the outskirts of Sneed Park Bristol.
It has a fascinating history, first recorded as a medieval deer park, gifted by Henry VIII after the dissolution of the monasteries to Sir Ralph Sadler. It later became the grounds of a large late-nineteenth century estate house called The Knoll when it was developed into a series of terraced gardens, a sloping arboretum, orchards, lawns and paddocks. The house was used as a First World War hospital for Australian soldiers, set up and run by the then owner Robert Bush at his own expense.
Today the land is a nature reserve ,the woodland is slowly being uncovered discovering the lost ornamental terraced gardens and arboretum. The woodland contains a mix of mature exotic and ancient trees and planted native broadleaves including oak, ash, hazel and hawthorn.
Bishops knoll is a very special place. When you wander the terraces you get a glimmer of the past. But what excites me when you walk the paths you see the magic of a new way of doing. You see first hand what happens to a area when you allow nature to reclaim a place in which she once reigned .
The dormant land is being reawakened. When we stop trying to control nature beautiful things start to grow.
In bishops knoll the old roses that climb over a rusty rose arch have been given the space to flower. The land has been reclaimed by the people of bristol. The woodland is alive with wildlife, it’s a place for the people to form relationships with creation. To explore the past but to be firmly rooted in the now.
Bishops knoll is growing something new, the space which holds this something new is being listened to by people with a passion and love for this little oasis in the heart of Bristol.