Monday, 6 June 2016

The Boat by Kabir

The Guest is inside you, and also inside me;
you know the sprout is hidden inside the seed.
We are all struggling; none of us has gone far.
Let your arrogance go, and look around inside.

The blue sky opens out further and farther,
the daily sense of failure goes away,
the damage I have done to myself fades,
a million suns come forward with light,
when I sit firmly in that world.

I hear bells ringing that no one has shaken,
inside 'love' there is more joy than we know of,
rain pours down, although the sky is clear of clouds,
there are whole rivers of light.
The universe is shot through in all parts by a single sort of love.
How hard it is to feel that joy in all our four bodies!

Those who hope to be reasonable about it fail.
The arrogance of reason has separated us from that love.
With the word 'reason' you already feel miles away.

How lucky Kabir is, that surrounded by all this joy
he sings inside his own little boat.
His poems amount to one soul meeting another.
These songs are about forgetting dying and loss.
They rise above both coming in and going out.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

A little anniversary poem...


It isn’t always down to the grit,
whatever they say.
Some pearls are ‘cultured’ -
seeded, a bead at the centre
carefully placed.

A seed of hope -
not knowing what will be learnt and unlearnt,
a seed of faith -
able to stretch and hold
both joy and pain,
a seed of love -
there as a first beginning.

Love, adding a layer, year by year
each with its own lustre
lit by all we have shared -
homes, people, children
challenge and call,
despair and delight,
layers coloured more deeply
as light falls through each one.

A pearl beyond price
made not of nacre’s sheen
but grown from grace.
A wonder and a source of praise -
another on the never ending string
formed in human hearts and lives,
all held in the ocean’s deepest depths of love.

Saturday, 16 May 2015


I don't take your words
Merely as words.
far from it.
I listen
To what makes you talk -
Whatever that is -
And me listen.

Shinkichi Takahashi
translated by Lucien Stryk and Takahashi Ikemoto, from Soul Food

Saturday, 28 February 2015

The vicar was called

There aren’t so many local labels left.
Family doctor - off duty,
village policeman - gone with the scrumping boys
but still Our Vicar has a common meaning,
albeit only vaguely understood.

Vicar - it’s a hard, ugly word
without the rounded depth of ‘Rector’
or the other worldly veil of ‘priest’.
It’s an English word, easy to say with
tired and misplaced respect
easier still to spit with scorn
over a Vicarage hedge.
Anachronistic, clinging to a past privilege
impersonal, speaking only of the role
or of the gleefully discovered flaws
revealed by sly tabloids and their wicked rhymes.

What does it mean, this title not beloved by anyone?
What is a Vicar for?
Someone who stands in - vicarious
stands in a line of names painted on a board
connecting back this baby squawking in his tiny three piece suit
to one brought here in time of plague, or war
and to the one who takes him by the ancient font
hands tipping the same water onto newborn heads.
Standing before couples from a world and time away
making the same leap into the same unknown.
Standing - each one - at every coffin’s foot
speaking the words, signing with the cross
before the spadefuls of the same earth fall.

Someone who stands for - what?
What we would all like to believe…?
What we the church would like to be…?
What this place of living might become
in our best hopes and hearts…?

A person who stands in for God?
No wonder that we prick the pompous claim
delighting when we bring one down to earth.
But, maybe, in that place where downward V
and upward reach just touch, and hold
someone who wears an old and unloved label
(uncomfortably tight around the neck)
can dare to stand - to stand for us
and say ‘this is our place’

laughable as it is, with all our fears and flaws
our robes of ridicule and bluster,
still, underneath it all, this poor bare soul
dares to stand here
with one hand reaching up to heaven
and one hand reaching down to earth,
pulled half in two, but holding
saying, ‘I am the vicar - your vicar
standing in for you
- this is your place.’


Friday, 28 November 2014

Mixed feelings in Snowdonia

After walking the lush green valleys of the Clywd, the Elwy, the Aled and the Conwy, it was sad to see the majesty of the mountains so harshly treated...

Welsh slate
They gouged deep scars in your beauty
tearing the skin
blood flowing hard and grey. 

As if in sympathy
sad terraces streak your face
running down to pool
in the flooded cemetery square.

It’s hard to see the beauty
under your disfigurement -
the raw wounds draw the eye. 

The healing green is slow to grow
on these dark rocks.
Only the snow pulls over
a cold white sheet.

Words from a prayer card - by Hub Oosterhuis

your words are like hands
embracing me, enfolding me.
your words are like a sword
piercing to the core of me.
your words are like a net
drawing me in
from the deep waters.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Retreat gatherings

Sometimes retreats are the settings for profound encounters with God, like the one referred to in this first poem, which was given in the chapel in the picture (and there just happened to be a storm that night).  The other poems show the way that 'ordinary life' can take on an extra level of significance to the person on retreat...

     Standing under a tree

     It was the night of the thunderstorm
     when lightning struck.
     In the Woodland Chapel
     I sat rooted to my chair
     a surprised conductor
     of joy.             
Happy blending 
Silently aware of my fellow retreatants
in all their rich variety
(which, after four weeks together in silence, you know)
all tucking into our vegetable soup
it occurs to me –
God doesn’t hate celery.
Even if, for some of us
it isn’t to our taste
or disagrees with us
- no reference to fellow diners intended.
Which is good
because I am certainly some people’s celery.
 Maybe, as I begin to see
how much God appreciates my flavour
that will help me to acquire
more inclusive tastebuds.
God given
Take a picture
get an experience
steal a look -
our words betray our urgent grasp.
But to receive a gift
requires waiting.
The stream presents its tumbling notes
singly to the open ear.
The landscape’s complex shape and pattern
is unfolded slowly to the patient eye.
The blessing of the birds is laid gently on the shoulders
of one who pauses under the tree. 
Only the heart that is held open -
opened, held -
can receive the slow look of love,
the slow love of God.

Colloquy by Rory Geoghegan SJ
Inner Colloquy
Mind                This ‘talking with the Lord’ is fine, I’m sure
                        as long as you don’t think he’s really there.

Heart               My ‘really’ means much more than what’s up there
                        - I know the love that fills me when he’s near. 

Will                  If I can just let go, then he comes near
                        and answers with his calling my desire. 

Soul                 There is the taste of God in that desire
                        and he becomes the clothing that I wear. 

                        So, maybe we’ll both differ and concur:
                        we know, although we never can be sure.


After the retreat

A wise person once told me about how a retreat marks you. That is my hope...

heart felt
I know that your soft hands of love
have smoothed and thinned
the rough hardness around my heart
to something permeable, translucent
yielding to the touch.

I know this because
the last yellow leaves of the hazel
blazing in the hedge
strike joy to the centre of me,
and the birds collect my soul
to ride with them
the autumn skies.

In at the deep end

I was sent the first wonderful poem by a friend just before going on my 30 Day Retreat. It stayed with me, resonating with my experience of being wonderfully overwhelmed, with the experience of a fellow retreatant who went swimming every day, and with the from Tagore in a card given to us by our director. The last poem is my own beginnings of a response.

House by the Sea : Carol Bialock 

I built my house by the sea.
Not on sand, mind you.
Not on the shifting sand.
And I built it of rock,
A strong house.
By a strong sea.
And we got well-acquainted, the sea and I.
Good neighbors.
Not that we spoke much.
We met in silences.
Respectful, keeping our distance,
but looking our thoughts across the fence of sand.
Always, the fence of sand our barrier;
always the sand between.

And then one day
(I still don't know how it happened),
but the sea came.
Without warning.
Without welcome, even.
Not sudden and swift, but sifting across the sand like wine.
Less like the flow of water than the flow of blood.
Slow, but coming.
Slow, but flowing like an open wound.
And I thought of flight and I thought of drowning and I thought of death.
And while I thought the sea crept higher,
till it reached my door.

I knew, then, there was neither flight nor death nor drowning.
That when the sea comes calling you stop being good neighbors,
Well-acquainted, friendly-from-a-distance neighbors.
And you give your house for a coral castle,
And you learn to breathe under water.
Traveller, where do you go  by Rabindranath Tagore

'Traveller, where do you go?'
I go to bathe in the sea in the redd'ning dawn,
along the tree-bordered path.'

'Traveller, where is that sea?'
'There where this river ends its course,
where the dawn opens into morning,
where the day droops to the dusk.'

'Traveller, how many are they who come with you?'
I know not how to count them.
They are travelling all night with their lamps lit,
they are singing all day through land and water.'

'Traveller, how far is the sea?'
'How far is it we all ask?
The rolling roar of its water swells to the sky when we hush our talk.
It ever seems near yet far.'

'Traveller, the sun is waxing strong.'
'Yes, our journey is long and grievous.
Sing who are weary in spirit, sing who are timid of heart.'

'Traveller, what if the night overtakes you?'
'We shall lie down to sleep
till the new morning dawns with its songs,
and the call of the sea floats in the air.'

Going under

We put in a toe
have a paddle
then maybe take the plunge – or fall
into this other way of being.

Barrelling along,
floating in stillness…
or masked and snorkelled
to look down in wonder at this other world.

Until one day we’re taken by the hand
and gently pulled right under –
discovering that there is no need
for flailing panic or for gasping breath.

This is our element now, and we are in it
fully, fearless and free
gliding with him through the golden light.

Pilgrimage meetings

I'm finally getting round to updating the blog with some poems I have written during my sabbatical this Autumn - and hopefully then some of the earlier ones I never put on. Here's the first, inspired by discovering that meeting people (on the North Wales Pilgrim's Way) was even more of a gift than watching the birds...


You begin to learn how
if you just keep your eyes fixed
on that tree, that group of bushes, where
you thought you saw
a flash of wing
a bright eye looking back 

then, drawn along the line of your attending
from branch to branch
a movement in the leaves -
- the bird will come. 

We also are great hiders,
wary of the world
keeping our vulnerable selves
safe in the topmost branches
or the deep hedge shadows. 

But I am learning how
if I just keep my face turned
towards your face, if I can -
I may then notice there, with eyes alert
(and other nameless senses)
the briefest shadow
or the flash of fire. 

And if I keep my eyes and heart so still and steady - open
with my attention fixed and fully given -
then down along that line between us
may come, slow inch by inch,
another such as I 

learning that here is one that can be trusted
teaching that I can trust this time of meeting
finding that we can learn to trust together
the one who watches us.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Ripeness is all...

Plum harvesting
on the day before he leaves for university
We gazed at the spring foam
racing over the branches,
wondering at such beauty
and potential.
We watched anxiously
for the first fruit to appear…
Would they set?
Would the wind knock them off?
The branches looked so fragile.
We caught sight - in unbelief -
of the full clusters, ripening
to warm greens and pinks,
impossibly, suddenly there.
Now the harvesting,
colanders of sweet maturity.
Gathered and shared,
stewed and crumbled,
as we prepare to drop him off
to feast on these autumn days.
And we will wait
thankful, a little sad, and hopeful
for a homecoming jar
of preserves.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Palm Sunday - and afterwards

Palm Sunday

Now to the gate of my Jerusalem,
The seething holy city of my heart,
The saviour comes. But will I welcome him?
Oh crowds of easy feelings make a start;
They raise their hands, get caught up in the singing,
And think the battle won. Too soon they’ll find
The challenge, the reversal he is bringing
Changes their tune. I know what lies behind
The surface flourish that so quickly fades;
Self-interest, and fearful guardedness,
The hardness of the heart, its barricades,
And at the core, the dreadful emptiness
Of a perverted temple. Jesus come
Break my resistance and make me your home.
from Sounding the Seasons by Malcolm Guite - see

Trust exercise
On looking at the figure of Christ on the cross in the chapel of Loyola Hall
Close your eyes.
Put your arms out.
Just let yourself fall back…
He did.
He closed his eyes.
He put out his arms.
He let himself fall.
The ultimate exercise in trust.
And what a catch!
So he can say to us
it’s alright -
God won’t suddenly step back,
he won’t misjudge it,
he won’t take his eye off the ball.
Close your eyes.
Put your arms out.
Let yourself fall…
Dare you?

Friday, 15 March 2013

A long way from Bread

Here's a poem passed on by my friend Peter from the wonderful priest-poet, David Scott:

A long way from bread 


We have come so far from bread. 
Rarely do we hear the clatter of the mill wheel; 
see the flour in every cranny, 
the shaking down of the sack, the chalk on the door, 
the rats, the race, the pool, 
baking day, and the old loaves: 
cob, cottage, plaited, brick. 

We have come so far from bread. 
Once the crock said 'BREAD' 
and the bread was what was there, 
and the family's arm went deeper down each day 
to find it, and the crust was favoured. 

We have come so far from bread. 
Terrifying is the breach between wheat and table, 
wheat and bread, bread and what now goes for bread. 
Loaves come now in regiments, so that loaf 
is not the word. Hlaf 
is one of the oldest words we have. 

I go on about bread 
because it was to bread 
that Jesus trusted 
the meaning he had of himself. 
It was an honour for bread 
to be the knot in the Lord's handkerchief 
reminding him about himself. So, 
O bread, breakable; 
O bread, given; 
O bread, a blessing; 
count yourself lucky, bread. 

Not that I'm against wafers, 
especially the ones produced under steam 
from some hidden nunnery 
with our Lord crucified into them. 
They are at least unleavened, and fit the hand, 
without remainder, but it is still 
a long way from bread. 
Better for each household to have its own bread, 
daily, enough and to spare, 
dough the size of rolled towel, 
for feeding angels unawares. 
Then if the bread is holy, 
all that has to do with bread is holy: 
board, knife, cupboard, 
so that the gap between all things is closed 
in our attention to the bread of the day. 

I know that 
'man cannot live on bread alone'. 
I say, let us get the bread right. 


David Scott