Creator of touch
Giver of pleasure.
Transformed by your grace we dance together.
Intertwined in a sacrament of divine love.
Shadows nudge a whispered breath.
Danced deep into our souls.
A creative voice
An ingrained tattered prayer
Covering dry bones.
Scratched and bruised
Listen to a new stirring
A global outcry
Flow though us.
On my Grandmothers mantle piece sat a glass bottle containing layers of multi coloured sand. This little bottle was a souvenir gift from the Isle of wight (Alum bay). The sands are made of three minerals – quartz, felspar and mica. In their pure state these minerals are white with other colours being produced through contamination by other minerals.
As a child I would repeatedly ask my grandmother if I could remove the cork from the bottle of layered sand. I wanted to mix the coloured layers, to move them from order into a place of multicoloured chaos.
To pour the layered colours into a shallow bowl. Creating and uncovering unsymmetrical patterns in the coloured sand. To run the textured colours of history through my hands.
Somewhere in my loft wrapped in newspaper this little glass bottle of coloured sand is waiting to be rediscovered.
A static hour glass sitting out time. The separated colours never changing. The sand holds firmly to the stories of the past, tells of traditions and cultures of our ancestors.
We look to the past to discover lessons for the present.
What happens when we change the lens which we see the sand. When we see it’s true uncontaminated colours.
I don’t feel any desire to rummage into the depths of my loft to find the bottle of sand and mix it.
I am learning to see beyond the coloured layers to look at the individual grains, to the true colours/ true self.
During this past year I have started to learn how to see these true colours. To see the sparkle and glitter in each treasured grain ( person ). I’ve learnt the remarkable power of story. The value of spending time just listening. Discerning the gifts of the spirit working in each of us .
I’ve come to realise and acknowledge that I have gifts too. To not underestimate the gift of being myself. The importance understanding my true colours . I’ve discovered how these gifts are working within me, how they relate to my context .
The gifts of the Spirit are being poured out upon us . I’m beginning to understand that these gifts don’t come in coloured uniformed patterns. We don’t have to comprehend them, but we do need to see them as actual, making them real.
I’m learning to see that it takes bravely and courage to mix the coloured grains of sand. Learning how essential it is to hold onto my true colours. I’m becoming more robust in my thinking and actions. Discovering how exhausting life can be when the landscape try’s to fade and erode my colours.
The colourful bottle of sand holds thousands of years of heritage and history. Its colours and traditions alone are not enough to hold the our future foundations.
God pours out the gift of the Spirit upon us, not as the historic re-enactment of static sand trapped in a bottle, but as the lived reality of the revelation of God, who is ever present and ever new.
It is our joy and privilege, not simply to share in those gifts, but to realise them, to see them sparkle, making them real in our lives, and for our time.
Simone Weil was a French Jew who died of hunger during World War Two.
Simone was extremely well educated and came from a wealthy family.
She worked in the factories and lived on tinned rations. Simone was so affected by what was happening to others she decided to live as they lived.
Simone was drawn strongly to the sacramental life of the church . Her desire to be baptised became overwhelming to her.
Yet she declined, and spent the rest of her short life regarding the bread and wine of holy communion without ever eating them.
Regarding them was enough for her, determination to stay hungry gave her strength.
During this time of lockdown I’ve been hungry too.
Experiencing those familiar unsettled feelings often felt during the first few weeks of a new diet. The longing to find chocolate and cheese in the fridge . Only to find precooked jacket potatoes and a withered salad .
After a while you start to understand the answer to satisfying your hunger cannot be found in the fridge.
It’s about a change of attitude.
As the world endures the worst imaginable suffering . The hunger I feel pierces a bright light in this dark storm.
It’s from these pains of hunger that I take a new fresh bearing. Discovering worship in a different timeless dimension. Worship that does not start at 9.15 on a Sunday morning. Nor does it end after 45 minutes.
Worship is barren of rules, no dress code, no words. A sacred intimate place of mystery. Time stands still as struggle with the pain and sorrow . Tears roll uncontrollably as I find joy in this creative hunger.
An empty glass move my thoughts from hunger to freedom. I become more aware of my own personal rhythms of prayer. Awareness of the frailness and pain of the earth.
It’s taken me back to the story of Simone Weil. I am reminded that is important and ok to be deeply affected by what’s happening around us.
To weep each day does little to ease the pain. The tears have an energy of their own. A salty unity that partners with a overflowing love for each other.
During lockdown we have literately fed each other. Prepared meals for neighbours and friends.
Our combined hunger is woven and twisted into a strong soft blanket. A blanket that hugs me into Gods waiting arms, sharing sorrows of the world.
The alters maybe naked, the candles extinguished and the church doors locked. My spiritual diet has changed.
I’m hungry; the hunger pains are real essential and fruitful.
Back in the early 1990’s a Uk animal laboratory went into liquidation.
The beagles they used for their research needed to be rescued. This was to be a massive undertaking, with the beagles being transported to RSPCA animal shelters across the uk.
These dogs had never seen the outside world, never walked on a lead. They had spent all of their lives in living kennels. They where regarded as a product, one that produced puppies as part of a profitable business.
Although not badly treated the dogs lacked any life skills and had no idea what a dogs life was all about.
Some of these beagles both young and old came into my care ( I was working at a RSPCA animal shelter) .
The puppies took well to their new environment.
As with most puppies they responded to human interactions. They learnt quickly from each other, finding huge joy in playtime and meal times.
The older breeding bitches, many of which arrived in pup had a long difficult journey of adjustment ahead of them.
As time moved on they slowly allowed me to love them.
To be with them as they gave birth to their puppies . Very Slowly they started to trust me.
They learnt to bark and loved the sound of their own voices. Their individual cheeky personality’s started to shine.
With a lot of patience they leant to walk on a lead, Soon they where enjoying lunch time walks along the river bank.
The beagles that arrived cowering and petrified soon started to greet meet with excitement, tails wagging.
The time came when not only did they TRUST me but I started to trust them.
All but one. LIBBY.
Libby found all this trust thing hard, she refused to walk on the lead. She was deeply sad and traumatised . The stress of the move from the laboratory kennels to the animal shelter had caused her to loose the litter of puppies she was carrying .
I often wondered if Libby could / should be rehomed. I wondered if the world even had that special family for her.
Libby was liberated from the kennels that robbed her confidence and released her into a life she could not understand.
Reflecting on the word TRUST this morning I thought of Libby and her beagle friends. The image of her sad pale face came to mind.
Reminding me how trust transformed the lives of these traumatised beagles. How their confused and dull faces, become colourful expressions of playfulness.
Trust not only transforms, but it’s visible.
When we come to know the trust of living with Jesus the changes in us can also be visible. The trust we put in Jesus enables and equips us to get through the hard times.
In the midst of this pandemic. I find myself speaking to God full of worry. I’m worried for the families that have lost loved ones. Worried about going out in a world that is full of anxiety and fear.
I’m afraid of losing our friends and family , afraid that our business won’t survive.
The moment is fearful, but in this fear their is hope for the future. The world no longer seems safe, it’s drowning and struggling to breathe. I feel it’s been struggling long before the pandemic started. The world is confused insecure and frightened .
The breathless world is still to be trusted. God still loves us. This love liberates us to live as God’s gifts to others, bringing refreshment and relief to those who suffer. And we are freed to welcome others as God’s gifts to us, receiving all the richness they can bring into our lives.
It was magical moment when Libby trusted enough to hide behind me while I introduced her to a wonderful family that would love and care for her. Except her just the way she was.
Trust is visible, we experience a joy so great that our tails wag. As we overcome our fears we learn to live out our faith to draw on the strength that comes from trusting in Jesus.
Psalm 27:5 Good News Translation
In times of trouble he will shelter me;
he will keep me safe in his Temple
and make me secure on a high rock.
Soil and soul.
The circle is broken and I cannot raise a tune
The fairies have left and they will not return
When the fairies danced on the land the circle was whole
And then you could raise a tune.
Words from a Gaelic song translated into English and published in Alistair Mcintoshs book soil and soul.
There’s a deep well of love that connects the tunes of the heart to our souls.
Our hearts have the capacity to feel vision, to write poetry, to raise a tune so powerful that it must be sung.
When we sing these tunes we do so with an energetic unashamed joy.
It’s so natural that I do not doubt the acoustic rhythms of my soul.
I find this fusion of heart formed notes when I cycle. The rhythm of pedalling, infuses with the seasons of my life, until a tune overflows into fully formed words.
These songs are different to the tunes we sing in church, different to the music that is played on the radio.
A tune so unique that doesn’t conform to the rhythms of life. The songs of the heart are so much more than musical notes.
You don’t sing these notes; you embrace them, you ride into them, you feel them in your hair. They give you balance, stability and freedom.
During this huge time of uncertainty and stress we must look for the songs that unite us. To the tunes that build communities, the melodies of Gods grace .
To equip our hearts and voices our first duty is to STOP and listen to the whispering earth.
Sitting in church with my mum trying to imagine what was church means for both of us.
A fertile field, an empty pew.
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.
We are all church
God’s gathered people
In our own way.
Our own pace.
Church is people.
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”.
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.
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
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 ).
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.