Pilsdon

I wrote this poem for the Pilsdon community, a small group of people living together and running a farm in rural Dorset. Their home is a haven for anyone in difficulty and they welcome people to come and take part in their life and work. In this remote and peaceful place, in an atmosphere of kindness and respect, lives are gradually changed for the better. This month the community celebrate their 60th anniversary.

 

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Pilsdon

Flagstone floors and creaking stairs,

a dining room with many chairs –

space enough for every guest:

the curious, those seeking rest

and wayfarers, men of the road,

trav’llers with no fixed abode,

those who have been devastated,

rejected, hurt, abused or hated,

the lonely and the one who grieves

find shelter under Pilsdon’s eaves

and join its life of work and prayer,

give what they have, receive their share.

 

Cows milked at dawn and dusk by hand,

food grown on carefully tended land,

log fires and homely cooking smells,

days ordered by the sound of bells

inviting all to rise and pray

and eat and work and rest and play

and, while working side by side,

perhaps find courage to confide.

 

As days are lived in this safe space,

gradually a change takes place –

unbinding, comforting, release,

the troubled heart discovers peace.

Through all, God weaves mysteriously,

slowly, imperceptibly,

works through this simple sanctuary

until at last the bound are free.

Wounds healed and broken hearts consoled,

now dare to let new dreams unfold.

 

The Pilsdon community are often looking for new people to join them in their work. If you would like to know more, see http://www.pilsdon.org.uk

I’m fine

I’m sharing this poem for Mental Health Awareness week. I wrote it a couple of years ago for a friend who challenged me to write something about the common experience of pain. Sometimes we are not very good at being honest about our pain, with ourselves or with each other.

“I’m fine”

 

You ask, I say I’m fine,

truth concealed behind this mask of mine.

Your question is off-hand, your tone is brisk.

Before I dare to take an honest risk

you’ve moved on.

Our opportunity is gone

if it was an opportunity,

not just thoughtless, superficial nicety.

Did you really want to know?

Is my world a place you want to go?

Would you risk involvement in my mess?

Face my fears and chaos and distress?

You never would have asked if you had known,

you’re carrying enough pain of your own.

 

Sometimes I’m glad that nobody can see

what it really feels like to be me.

Defensive walls conceal fragility,

hiding all my vulnerability,

mask of respectability in place,

no trace of true emotion on my face,

making sure that nobody can see

what it really feels like to be me.

 

But if you knew

what would you do?

I fear misunderstanding, pity, blame,

platitudes, dismissal, gossip, shame,

I fear that you won’t love me if you see

what it really feels like to be me.

I fear I’ll have to face my own pain too

if I’m going to tell the truth to you

but I’ve worn this mask so long,

appeared so capable and strong,

kept my real self confined,

forgotten, lost, resigned:

I never will be free.

Sometimes I wish that somebody could see

what it really feels like to be me.

 

Three voices from around the table – Judas

Imagine that Judas Iscariot is about to leave the Last Supper – what might have been going through his mind? I wrote this for a dramatisation of the Passion story at Scargill a couple of years ago:

 

Judas Iscariot 

How can this great man misunderstand all he could be?

Why all this talk of suffering, weakness, death, humility?

I have seen him raise the dead,

I’ve seen him feed a crowd of thousands with a few small loaves of bread,

keep them listening for hours to every word he said,

captivate men’s minds with the power of his word.

He could be the one to make our voices heard

and more – he could be the one to drive the Romans from our land,

raise a mighty army, take a stand,

join earth’s and heaven’s armies to fight at his command.

This great man – how can he misunderstand all he could be?

He must defeat them, by power and by sword.

If he won’t face them of his own accord,

will not be what victory and leadership demand

I’ll force his hand.

The hour has come.

A poem for Lent

Walk this way

Would you walk with me this way of grief and loss?

Deny yourself, each day take up your cross?

Would you see your own agenda laid aside?

Give up control, security and pride?

Would you sacrifice your comfort and success?

Lose yourself and break your heart for this world’s mess?

Would you give yourself for someone else’s gain

and open up your heart to hold their pain?

Would you walk this way though the world calls you a fool

for obedience to a different kind of Rule?

Would you trust my call and follow my direction?

Walk on through death by the power of resurrection

to a spacious place where new life is revealed.

You will be transformed and welcomed home and healed.

 

I wrote this in Lent last year, reflecting on Jesus’ words, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me…’ What did he mean then? And how may we interpret this statement now?

 

 

 

The day of the semi-colon

On 6th February it is the day of the semi-colon in Sweden. Only in Sweden. This is for Andreas who is Swedish and taught me about this wonderfully quirky tradition:

Semi colon

Let’s celebrate the semi-colon,

half a pause but not a whole one.

Sometimes a comma seems too short;

a semi-colon lets me pause for thought

and much-needed inhalation

but not long enough to sound like hesitation.

A perfect pause in speech’s flow:

Thoughts gathered, breathe, and on I go.

Decluttering

I wrote this for my Mum. She is a declutterer – she goes to people’s homes and helps them to sort out all the things they have accumulated. She has always been the organised one in our family, knowing not only which drawer something was kept in but that it would be in the back left hand corner underneath the teatowels. I cannot move house without her.

She started her own decluttering business about ten years ago at the suggestion of a friend. She had gone to help her friend sort through all her late husband’s possessions which were boxed up and stacked haphazardly in the garage, shoved out of sight and too painful to deal with after his untimely death. There were garden tools inaccessible behind the boxes and Mum offered to help reclaim the space, a task her friend was unable to face alone. At the end of a productive and cathartic day, the idea for Mum’s decluttering work was born and she started ‘Home Freed’.

Our ‘stuff’ can weigh us down yet there are all sorts of reasons why we hang on to it and sometimes we need help to find freedom.

 

Decluttering

A prayer for change

 

I’m trapped inside the prison of my stuff,

built in fear I’ll never have enough.

The walls are made of things I can’t let go –

at some point I might need them, I don’t know.

I face an unknown future, full of doubt

and these are things I dare not go without.

 

I’m trapped inside the prison of my stuff,

built in fear that I’m not good enough,

strong walls made from the things I have acquired –

things I coveted and worked for and desired,

things I bought to make me feel complete,

to satisfy a need that ‘stuff’ can’t meet.

Tantalising idols telling lies,

‘This is all you need, pursue this prize,’

but status symbols, tokens of my pride

entangle me: I’m stuck not satisfied.

 

I’m trapped inside the prison of my stuff,

overwhelmed, I’ve got more than enough,

sentiment the lock upon the door –

things left by generations gone before,

gifts given with the kindest of intent

become the means of my imprisonment,

inanimate possessions that conceal

emotions, stories, wounds that will not heal.

 

I daren’t tear down this edifice I’ve built,

be vulnerable, exposed and racked with guilt.

All I’ve consumed is now consuming me,

O God of spacious places, set me free.

Come inside my prison, speak your peace,

break down the walls, bring healing and release.

Loose my grip when I cling onto stuff,

help me trust that you’ll provide enough.

Let the things I own be means of grace

and in my life assume a proper place –

not a source of worry, guilt or greed

but lightly held and given to meet need.

As I clear space for something new to grow,

please help me find the courage to let go

of stuff outside and in, and then to wait,

entrust myself to you to recreate.

Spirit, breathe new life into the void.

Grow in me your fruit to be enjoyed

and shared so others’ needs may be supplied:

Through me, Lord, let your love be multiplied.

 

Here’s a link to Mum’s book if you would like to read more!

Companions

I wrote this last year in gratitude for some of the people with whom I share life:

Thank you for your presence,

companions on the road,

sometimes silent, sometimes laughing,

together carrying the load.

Thank you for patient listening

–  some things are hard to share

but as I struggle to explain myself

you turn it all to prayer.

Thanks for words of challenge,

thank you that you see

a better version of who I am

as a possibility.

Thank you for your honesty,

for truth lovingly spoken.

Thanks for kindness and compassion

when you see I’m stuck and broken.

Thanks for asking the right questions,

thanks for helping me to see

a different way of understanding

and another way to be.

Thank you for choosing friendship,

a conversation not a fight.

We’re different but you offer peace

instead of striving to be right.

Thanks for seeing what I have to give,

for encouraging, receiving it.

Thanks for dreaming what I could become

and speaking and believing it.

Thanks for giving of yourselves,

for simply being there.

The unique gift of all you are

is the treasure we all share.

Silence

I live at Scargill, home to a working community and we welcome dozens of guests each week so our life is busy and often noisy. But we are also a worshipping community and we live by a rhythm of prayer. These haikus offer snapshots of the still moments and silences in our days, the spaces we create for each other, for our guests and for God. This was written for the Retreat Association Handbook 2018 – see www.retreats.org.uk to learn about many places which aim to create silence and space as a place to encounter God.

 

Deer in the meadow

grazing undisturbed at dawn;

people still slumber.

 

Morning worshippers

gathering before breakfast;

prayer begins the day.

 

Coffee cup refilled

before the request is made,

serving a dear friend.

 

Acknowledging pain

a wordless hug is given,

lending strength to cope.

 

Absorbed in our tasks,

companionable silence

as lunch is prepared.

 

Midday in chapel,

turning hearts and minds outwards,

praying for our world.

 

Prayerful listener

open-hearted to receive

another’s story.

 

Summertime garden

vibrant with life and colour,

peaceful sanctuary.

 

Guest room made ready:

chocolate placed on folded towel,

a wordless welcome.

 

We gather at six

to meditate in silence,

wrestling with a Psalm.

 

Conversation lulls,

we disperse after cocoa.

Sleep enfolds each one.

Mary, mother of Jesus

There are lots of images of Mary, many of them cute cartoons of a girl in a blue dress with a blissful expression on her face. I don’t think these pictures do justice to Mary and her courage in saying ‘Yes’ to what God asked of her.

A couple of years ago I was asked by Rev Jackie Reily to write ‘something unsentimental’ about Mary. The following poem is written in Mary’s voice. Imagine that she is 36 weeks (about 8 months) pregnant, it is the middle of the night and everyone else in the house is asleep:

 

36 weeks

Sometimes I’m sure –

I know what I saw

and I heard what he said

but sometimes at night as I lie on my bed

the doubts overtake,

I am restless, awake

and I whisper the words of my victory song

but what if I’m wrong?

 

He is growing inside,

that can’t be denied –

I’m aware of his movements,

his kicks in my side,

my belly so swollen I can no longer hide

and he carries on growing,

pushing all else aside –

innocence, pride.

 

I’ve always lived in this place

and once I was loved but now in disgrace.

As I walk into town

people whisper and frown,

say I’ve betrayed Joseph,

let my family down.

Neighbours, old friends turn their faces away

and what can I say?

That I am His chosen one?

That the baby I carry is God’s only Son?

They’ve drawn their conclusions,

my voice goes unheard –

no-one will credit a young woman’s word.

 

Was there ever a choice?

That glorious angel, his powerful voice –

how could I refuse?

Would I refuse –

had I known then how much I would lose?

‘Don’t fear,’ he said, ‘the Lord is with you,’

and I thought that I knew,

in that moment it seemed such a right thing to do.

And I wait to see – is it true?

Is He true?

Waiting and hoping, I will see this through.

 

Christmas Card List

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I received this Christmas card from an old friend yesterday, a lovely surprise as I hadn’t heard from her in a while. I have a stack of cards waiting to be written too. It’s a time-consuming task but one that I enjoy on a dark winter evening and I think it’s worth making the time to do it. I love the opportunity to remember and reconnect with people from previous chapters of life and to hear how they are getting on. Here’s a poem inspired by a friend who writes about twenty times more cards than I do:

The Christmas Card List

It’s coming up, that time of year –

Christmas time is almost here!

I must send cards, I’ve made a list,

I hope there’s nobody I’ve missed.

Why do I feel I have to send

a card to every distant friend?

Some I don’t see or hear from much

but I hate the thought of losing touch…

 

Buying cards – an important task

and is it really too much to ask

for cards that reflect what Christmas means

with gospel words and manger scenes?

I want pictures of the nativity story,

angels from the realms of glory,

a beautiful star, shining bright,

reverent wise men drawn by its light

and humble shepherds, bowing low

but all I can find are pictures of snow

and tinsel and turkey and baubles and holly

and reindeer and Santa Claus, fat and jolly.

 

What can I write in my Christmas letter?

Whatever I’ve done, my friends have done better.

Steve got married and a PhD –

he always was a lot smarter than me.

Six-year-old Jim got grade eight on the oboe;

I got third prize for jam in our village show –

not much of an accolade, you see

there weren’t many entries, in fact, only three.

Last year one old school friend wrote

of wonderful holidays on board her new boat

and what an adventurous time they’d had.

I’d been camping in Wales with Mum and Dad.

 

The cards are purchased and the letter is done

and now for a task that’s much more fun:

Write a line to each friend I’ve not seen for a while.

As I think and remember and write them, I smile.

 

I mustn’t forget the last posting date,

December 19th, I don’t want to be late

or else intended Christmas cheer

might be delayed until new year.

Each card is addressed, signed, stamped and stuck.

Licking all those envelopes – yuck!

I’ve got a hundred more to lick

and I’m already feeling sick.

By the time I’m done I’ll feel much sicker,

I should have just emailed, it’s cheaper and quicker.

 

My favourite part has got to be

when friends send their letters and cards to me.

Sharing their news and their views and reflections,

re-establishing old connections,

rekindling fond memories,

a celebration of friendship and shared histories

and each one thinking of me as they wrote

a friendly line, a personal note.

I treasure these cards and the joy they bring

but I must confess just one thing –

much as I love the festive cheer

I’m relieved when the task is complete for the year!