THE VOICE OF SILENCE


THE VOICE OF SILENCE


There is the silence of air and space 
In which breathing is a momentous act 
And contemplation stretches like a long beach in the sun
Of limitless horizons

There is the muffled deadness which descends
like the padded ceiling of a too-small room 
left windowless to the imagination
which can no longer sing

This is a desperate desert pilgrimage
No stones mark the exit from the valley
Where music is dumb and words fall limp
From the trees: will we ever touch meaning again?

When freedom comes, will we be capable
Of walking out to face beyond ourselves
The sun that burns and dazzles the presumption 
And the poverty of all we thought we knew 

Listen as harmony and dissonance
Converse and rampage in our souls 
Play havoc with our ritual comfort certainties
And call us to the terror of new freedoms 

Or will we turn away and stumble blind
Among the ruins of our childhood building blocks
Forever numb, imagining we can contain
The voice of silence

NAME


NAME


Your name weighs heavy on the tongue, some days
It has been taken hostage by a foreign power
And rendered unpronounceable
Light years away from those simple lines
Traced in Aramaic on red sand
That say, without pretension, ‘I am here’
Melting the heart of violence 
With forgiveness

Buried under layers of gold leaf
Or dazzling with the neon Vegas touch 
Moulded to fit the fashion of the times
Your name is traded, branded, owned
Nailed to the edifice of certainty
To ward off those you do not love, at all,
As knees bend fast 
To pick up the first stone

Dragged through the mud of our self-interest
The pasted overlay of our imaginings 
Is peeled away by time from all its lettering
Restoring it to barefaced nudity
Which calls out in the core of darkness 
To the poor, defiled and dispossessed

The letters of your name
Sketched out in seeds
Deep-rooted in our soil
Slow-growing into trees with healing leaves
Breathe life into our tired skies
And the windows of our souls.

PRESENCE


PRESENCE


Into the absence
Inert chaos of nil
A word falls
Fires the cosmos
With pure presence
Extracts from grey nonbeing
Energy of light
Divides it from the dark

Crystal shards
Suffuse the universe
In flowing colour
Reflect in liquid movement
Essence of life
Give shadow from the heat
Retire behind ebony
For the sleep of night

Fists reach and fight
To grasp the rays that seep
Between clenched fingers
And elude all violation
Greedy palms pose concrete tiers
Woven with lies up to the skies
Vain attempt to take light captive
In the prism of cheap desires

Oil-stained hands
Toughened by power
Sinewed
Through manhandling
Mark their spot
A million silhouettes
Deaden the light across the universe
Dealing out absence once again

A pinpoint pierces
The centuries
Insignificant
To the naked eye
Unwelcome presence
Insistent morning star
Invites to the risk
That hope demands

The light at the end
Of the tunnel of this year
Broadens if we dare to look
As it shines on the inertia
Of our own dark places
That have allowed this world.
Eternal constant
Unquenchable source

One day there will be
No sun nor moon
No standard lamp nor neon
No fireworks nor sparklers
No Christmas illuminations
The pinprick of light
Will banish the night
By total presence

Te Deum

 

st-martin-in-the-fields-again

My  husband John has just finished composing a Te Deum in 12 movements, juxtaposing classical and contemporary modes. Over the months of hearing extracts of the text through the study wall, the music gradually coming into form around it, I’ve grown more familiar with it, and been asking myself how it computes with our times.

In an age where we believe that mankind is all, and controls all, but are confronted by the weight of the failure of our management of the earth’s resources, global conflict, poverty and migration, the two words, You God, come like a respite, a pause, a glitch in our systems analysis.

You God, words sometimes used in blame, but also in release. Relief in the idea that the energy of the world may be made to move in rhythm with this one thought. You, God.

The Te Deum is an unusual hymn of praise, which doesn’t skirt around the problem of doubt. It also contains concepts that are difficult for us.

Apostles, prophets and martyrs, white-robed or not, sound archaic and severe, particularly in the light of recent hijacking of the term ‘martyr’. But these are simply people who will not, in order to save themselves, be false to what they believe to be true. Rare company, these days. It could actually be quite refreshing to hang out with them.

The holy Church has not always done a great job being holy. The term ‘holy’ here perhaps says more about how forgiveness and grace work than anything else. But despite it all, the church continues to speak of the mystery of one God whose power is shared and shareable between Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in dynamic movement, without hierarchy, domination or coercion. It speaks of the God our society perceives as irrelevant and remote showing up right here among us, defeating the finality of the death which awaits us all by total self-giving, opening new ways of being, of living, and of seeing, with a limitless future. No mention of geography, race or gender, no small print to sign, no concept of national exceptionalism. Just, ‘you opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers’. But… belief is hard.

Belief is also unattractive when it is not accompanied by humility. Asking God to help, to save and to bless, is not staking a claiming some kind of ‘right’ to blessing, but an acknowledgment of frailty and dependence, a request to be kept from messing up yet again, today.  Rather than culminating in a blaze of triumphant certainty, the Te Deum ends with an acknowledgement of the fragile nature of our trust: you are our hope, God, please don’t let us down.

A lot of us can relate to that.

The image is the East window of St Martin in the Fields church in London, by Shirazeh Houshiary

NEW YEAR SPEED BUMP


NEW YEAR SPEED BUMP


I drag my case over the man-made border 
Between one year and the next 
A sleeping policeman
Lying in the road
Marks time in yellow and black
Opens an eye and speaks 

‘New Year!
No room for baggage!
Ditch it in the past!
Shade your eyes
Against bracing skies
Look resolutely into 
The brand new morning
Of the virgin year!
Get on, get on, get on!’

As I cross into unblemished time
My load has already carved a trace in the soil
Shot through with the double skein silk 
Of joy and bruising, disillusion and hope 
It is heavy and beautiful 
With memory and experience
Acute wonder and the crushing reality
Of life in a world out of sorts with itself
Fragments of past too precious to be left behind

The years at my back outnumber 
Those at my face
The cake will sag with the weight 
Of yet another candle 
But I am not ready to start falling upwards
As the eyes brushing my face
Consign me to the wings reserved for age
I have not finished painting the name you gave me
On the roof of the world
While singing against the wind

DIEU-MOBILE


DIEU-MOBILE


Dieu dit
J’en ai marre : 
De plus en plus cons
Les hommes creusent la terre
En extraient la moelle,
Minent le sol sous leurs pieds.
Il ne restera plus 
Que des trous du gruyère
D’ici peu. 
Les voilà assis,  
Enfants sur un manège 
Armées jusqu’aux dents
Faisant leurs jeux
Rien ne va plus

Faut faire une descente,
Intervention musclée
Leur montrer qui est boss.
Mon Dieu-mobile doré 
Devrait faire l’affaire
Ce vaisseau spatial 
De la taille des US
XXL
Remplira le ciel
On ne verra que ça,
Engin dominateur
Ses finitions diamantées
Certes un chouia vulgaires
Sont en plein dans le mille
Du tape à l’œil qu’ils adorent.

Maison Blanche, d’abord ?
Ou alors chez Poutine ?
En tout cas, il me faut
Rediffusion mondiale
De mon speech d’arrivée
Ecran géant encerclant 
Le monde tout entier
Effets spéciaux grandioses
Machines à fumée
Son et lumière,
… la totale, quoi.

Côté musique
L’ange compositeur
Doit prévoir du couillu.
Mélange imposant de
Marche militaire Russe
Façon Wagner et Orff,
Générique Happy End
de film Outre Atlantique
(Vous voyez le moment –
Quand le héros salue
Le toutou aboie 
Et la famille rigole)
Le tout joué à l’orgue
D’une puissance de tonnerre
Qui envahit l’oreille
Une chorale - 100 000 voix ?
Une commande difficile
…  il va se débrouiller

Pour parler, il faudra
Un mégaphone mal réglé
J’ignore pourquoi, 
Mais ça leur fait de l’effet
Retransmis sur les ondes
Emanant des hauts lieux
Stations télé, temples, mosquées
Sièges gouvernementaux
De Bruxelles à Beijing
Sydney à Toronto
Pour annoncer comme suit :

J’envoie sur le champ
Une multitude d’anges
Tout vêtus de blanc 
Et de gilets pare- balles
ONU genre céleste 
(J’espère, plus efficace)
Avec comme atout
Unité spéciale de classe :
Police de la pensée
Pour implanter au besoin
Une puce sous la peau
Qui programme et assure
Qu’on se tienne à carreaux
Et voilà les problèmes du monde
 … Résolus

Vous m’avez cru ? 
… sérieux ?
Non mais c’était pour rire
Et désormais j’en pleure.
Je vois bien que
Vous ne me connaissez pas.

Je ne suis pas celui
Qui impose de loin
Je suis venu chez vous
Dépouillé de toute
Parure d’empire
Par l’amour qui me place
Au-delà du pouvoir.
J’étais nu
Enfant de réfugiés 
En territoire occupé
Mes anges ont donné
Un concert impromptu
Pour des gens 
Sans statut
Dans un bled paumé
Du Moyen Orient

Peu savaient que j’étais là
Mais ceux que j’ai croisés
N’ont pas oublié.
J’ai côtoyé ceux
Qui marchaient tête baissée
Je leur ai montré les étoiles,
Comment rire, pleurer, aimer.

J’ai donné de moi-même
Pour semer une graine
Petite, infinie
Qui prend racine
Au cœur de l’existence humaine
Et invite à la vie.

Sabbatical Musings

SABBATICAL MUSINGS
Based on reading books by Rowan Williams, Graham Tomlin, Richard Rohr, Susan Cain, and places and people visited.

Much of my sabbatical reading turned out to be connected with issues of power, control, and vulnerability. Not surprising then, that I simply had to take a photo of this massive installation on a wall in the MACBA museum of contemporary art in Barcelona. A lot to chew over in it. You’ll have to click on the picture to see it properly (Apologies, collective MACBA exhibition, I cannot find the name of the artist.)

In the last few months, I have read that, strangely enough, the omnipotent God would seem to be beyond power, at least in the sense that we know it.

It is when Christ is stripped of all worldly accompaniment of power that he reveals who he is. Through his unwillingness to wield power to magic up our idea of a happy ending, he achieves, with this seeming ‘failure’ that leads to resurrection, something more important than power. ‘The recreation of a relationship of trust on the far side of the most extreme of human suffering and death’.* It would seem that the power of God is the power to love to the point of sacrifice.

This thought is inconvenient to us Christians, because we like the idea of surfing on the power of God, (which we equate with BIG IMPRESSIVE STUFF) as if riding to victory holding on to a dolphin’s fin. But the death of Jesus puts paid to the idea that God’s power is like ours only bigger, and that we need to cling to it, since he gave it to us. If it is his kind of power he invites us to seek, it is a counter-cultural gift which we are invited to allow to take its place inside us.

The relationship of trust is important to God. He does not coerce like a dictator. Richard Rohr calls Him ‘The great allower’ and says ‘we need to forgive God for being too generous in freedom’. Often we want God to just MAKE humans behave right. Or even make US behave right, instead of allowing us perplexing choice? Perhaps this reflects our own desire for control over aspects of our lives that escape us, and over other people’s lives, choices and emotions. And how often do we say, ‘If Christianity were true, this or that wouldn‘t be happening’.

So in struggles with idealism, disappointment with areas of failure, I have to remember that God does not impose from the sky, but restores from within. That Jesus takes his stand in the middle of two realities, came to live in our world among chaos and disappointment (Judas was one of his closest friends), and that Christians are called to do the same. We have contradiction at our core but Jesus meets us there, and that is where we need to meet others. The coast at Freswick spoke to me strongly about grace: beauty has emerged in a landscape sculpted by conflict of the elements. ‘The crucifixion tells us that God is not dethroned by any extent of failure’*.

How do we find words to convey the reality of this ‘unconventional triumph’* of Christ? Our vocabulary is smooth, full of short cuts, media soundbites. How is it that the church speaks so often with a vocabulary of power, rather than from a place of vulnerability? And ‘How do we wear our Christian identity ‘?+ Like the badge of a club, we have the power to belong, they do not? ‘The Christian identity can never be a way of separating myself from others, placing myself against the ‘ungodly’ but an identity which invites me to be for them’+.

While at Lee Abbey I was lent Susan Cain’s book ‘The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking’. Susan Cain charts the rise of the Extrovert Ideal throughout the twentieth century, exploring how deeply it has come to permeate our culture and, in one chapter, our churches. A church leader tells her quite frankly that should he receive an application from a pastor who showed up in tests as an introvert (it is illegal to use personality tests in job selection procedures, but that apart) he would reject the application out of hand since Jesus was clearly an extrovert. Really?

The contemporary western church knows the power of extrovert communication, social media, talking up the numbers, and the use of a uniform power-dressed style of music in worship. Is there room for a counter-cultural art that lifts the spirit in a different way? For allowing introverts, and people who have little power, the space to have a voice? How do we account for the power-struggles and spiritual one-upmanship we encounter in our churches? Which way are things happening? The church’s alternative type of power renewing society, or the church being moulded by society’s concept of power?

We have visited Barcelona 3 times, and each time the Monastir de Pedralbes, with its angel on a fountain, singing or conducting into a corner, has moved us. Singing into a corner could actually be not bad, since the sound will bounce back out into the courtyard, but it isn’t guaranteed to give you a great sense of self-worth. Breaking the alabaster flask was also a strange thing to do, a misunderstood gesture of devotion.This Monastery feels like a place in which God has been loved. It would be great to create a musical space, a home, a text, where God has been loved, in which people can wander in a similar way.

There are too many threads that came out of reading and discussion and too many rich experiences to link them all together here. The inexplicably strong sense of God’s love, in the landscape of Scotland. Meals with friends. A comment on the good wine being last, that the later years of a career can produce the best work. That being wholehearted for God does not represent imprisonment and limitation, but the opposite. An impromptu post-dinner rendering of traditional Basque songs. Being asked to represent in clay the story of our lives. We worked out what motivates us, what stresses us out, and where we need to draw some boundaries. We will need help in that, but in the relationship of trust God chooses to build, we ‘dance with a partner’**, not alone.

I found this phrase in the chapel of The Society of Mary and Martha, in Devon.
‘Servant Christ, renew your spirit in our hearts’. Seems like the kind of thing we ought to be praying ….

*Rowan Williams: meeting God in Mark and Baptism, Eucharist and Prayer
+Graham Tomlin: Looking through the Cross
**Richard Rohr: Breathing under water