Saturday, 30 April 2011

Ugly Stories are human stories ...

This morning a package arrived addressed to Dr B but containing a present for me of the book Ugly Stories by Enrique Mayer. It was a wonderful surprise to get the book because I had been looking at another book of Enrique's online in recent weeks but hadn't even spoken to Stephen about that. I'd been looking at a book called "The articulated Peasant" and wondering about how a similar sort of title could work in urban and semi urban settings. The subtitle "Household economics in the Andes" triggered some passing thoughts on oikos, oikoumene and economics - how might economics or ecumenics be articulated in our different secular and ecclesial contexts? Perhaps I'll even have a chance to return to these passing thoughts one day.
Mayer is professor of anthropology at Yale University where the site says he:
cializes in Andean agricultural systems and Latin American peasantries. His work has shown that regions characterized by diversity (such as mountainous environments, small islands, and "marginal" lands), not suitable for agribusiness, are exploited by peasants in strikingly similar ways. Worldwide, peasant forms of production predominate and persist in these environments. These agricultural systems are important to those concerned about world genetic resources, or about environmental conservation, and to scholars who seek an understanding of ancient and yet also very contemporary Non Western rural life-ways.

I have never travelled to Peru nor have I ever met Enrique Mayer (yet), though it did make me smile that in some of the reviews of "Ugly Stories" he's described as "of Peruvian ancestry". I grew up looking at pictures of my parents wedding and being shown a good looking young man on my father's side of the family, someone I never saw at family parties, "that's Enrique" I would be told and his name always sounded splendidly exotic compared to the other members of the family. I suppose he is my second or third cousin and I did manage to engineer a meeting between Stephen and this part of my family when Dr B was travelling to Peru in 1996. By chance Enrique was also there, in part researching for what would eventually become "ugly stories". Over the years news of my family in Peru would reach me through both expected and unexpected routes - an Oxfam worker lodging with my landlady in Oxford who had worked with Maria Scurrah née Mayer - their aunt Lotte Carrive telling me my own mistakes in German mirrored those of Renate Millones née Mayer - and also regaling us with exploits of buying handbags when visiting (and embarassing) the family in South America.
Anyway it is wonderful to have a copy of Enrique's book for so many reasons. I've already devoured the introduction, acknowledgements and first chapter over breakfast. I was moved by his desciption of the painstaking way the book finally came into being - discarding much that was written more than a decade ago and then finally writing approximately a chapter a year each summer, relying on the encouragement of others, feedbook from those he read some of the stories to. It spoke to me of how things can come to fruition even after a long germination and growing time. Ugly stories are both human and deeply political, the book meshes together oral stories with scholarship. I'm looking forward to devouring more of it on my travels in coming weeks. And through reading I in some way get to meet the young man on my parents wedding photos as well as discover new areas of history.
I do also have to admit that the gift of a book at breakfast did not stop me buying further books from the Librairie Centrale at our trip round the market this morning.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Disjointed thoughts on wearing an apron on Easter Sunday and my months of magical thinking

A friend who is now working in Canada for the Naramata Centre, which looks like a wonderful centre for spiritual refreshment, posted to facebook about Resurrection as a spiritual practice. It set me thinking about what that might mean for me this Easter. I have been very aware of a personal anniversary on Good Friday and Easter Saturday, of a letter I wrote and sent a year ago and of its consequences.
Many of you will have gathered that in recent months - actually I'm shocked to realise that it is not only recent months but quite a lot longer than that - things have been difficult. I've been fortunate that I have never entirely lost my laughter but I have struggled with desperate sadness, depression and suicidal feelings for long months. Some of it has its roots situationally, some personally.
During this time friends and mere aquaintances have seen me in tears more often than I can remember crying in the whole of the rest of my adult life. Some mornings I would wake up already weeping and not knowing why. Despite "knowing" quite a bit about depression I found experiencing this very distressing. Even now I wonder whether it is the path of integrity to try to write about it, and please I don't want sympathy. There was one day when I realised that I was living without any sense of future - for any serious theologian this is a pretty shocking realisation. Fortunately I'm not all that serious ... :-)
In "resurrection as a spiritual practice" this in particular triggered something for me "Find meaning in your experiences and speak the truth to power, and you help put death in its place."
It reminded me of standing next to many gravesides and throwing in earth, a way of both symbolizing and making real the fact that even though we love the one who is dead we are not buried with them.
Sometimes the only way we can put death in its place is by that separation. Sometimes the only thing to do is to shake dust off your feet and name the forces of death for what they are and put them in their place. I was struck by this at morning prayer today as we read St John Chysostom's Easter sermon - repeatedly and poetically he puts death in its place: "hell was in turmoil having been eclipsed." Resurrection begins when we name and identify death for what it is, leave it in its place and let life surge beyond and above it.
Sometimes of course part of that death which needs to be put in its rightful place is within each of us, is within me. When you're depressed dealing with that in a guilt free way is particularly difficult.
On Sunday I put on an apron as I was cooking - I am a very messy cook and should acutally wear an apron more often than I do in the kitchen. The apron says "woman with attitude", I was still wearing it when our guests arrived and it made them smile. Throughout all these months I have been fortunate to have remained in some way myself, essentially a woman with attitude, but it has been hard at times. And I think that the worst times have been those times when I have begun to take myself and my pain too seriously. I'm sure I have been desperately boring at times.
The apron belonged to my friend Suzanne, who took her own life. Wearing it on Easter Sunday was a tiny act of resistance against the forces of depression and death. Even when I weep I shall be a woman with attitude. Also I was able to wear her apron because I know that I have, so far at least, received enough support not to take the same path she did.
Somehow I find strength in vulnerability and hope to rediscover generosity.
This morning we listened to the story of the resurrection in Mark's gospel - the empty tomb. The emptiness of possibility, the void, the germ of transformation, the menace or threat of resurrection.
Joan Didion called the account of grieving for her husband the Year of Magical Thinking and I have understood that more clearly as I ploughed through these months of mess. Depression is in some way magical thinking.
Learning to leave behind the obsessive meandering of the the grief-stricken depressive mind is perhaps the threat of resurrection for me this Eastertime - and please don't get me wrong this is not a judgement on others, just my path now. I hope.
So I suppose that this writing is in someways also more magical thinking. I know that as I have managed to get back to blogging I have begun to feel better and that as I have returned to reading I have felt the same. I also know that I have been very fortunate, I have not lost laughter or love completely and I have been blessed with friendship.
I wish I could say I feel I am a better person for going through all of this but I know quite clearly that I am not. Perhaps when I am at last able to forgive myself for that as well as much else I shall truly know that I am feeling better. John Chrysostom put it like this:
Let no one mourn that (s)he has fallen again and again;
for forgiveness has risen from the grave.

Each of us has to find what works for us. May you find yours if this is has also been part of your experience. May forgiveness of ourselves and of others rise from the grave for all of us.
Let's be people with attitude!

Easter blossoms, church going and festivities ...

Starters and appetisers
spicy beetroot blinis
Lightly poached green and white asparagus
fresh organic turpips
Italian plum tomatoes with basil
homemade mustard and balsamic mayonnaise
sour cream

Main course
Roast lamb
new potatoes
broad beans
Cardomon, pistacho and turnip greens fritata - the vegetarian option

Bleu de Termignon
brie à l'ail de l'ours

chocolate mousse
strawberries in cointreau and passion fruit

Coffee - much needed!
find our wine here!

Word of the day la Glycine - Wisteria blossoms in Ferney Voltaire - the locals certainly know how to "cultiver leur jardin"

These pictures of just one of the local wisterias in flower were taken on Easter Sunday as we walked down from the temple. There is an even more impressive wisteria growing across the driveway in the house just opposite this one. Back home in the rue de Versoix, our neighbour planted a wisteria which is finally flowering this year and has already reached 15 foot up to his kitchen window.
So sad I cannot post the scent of these glorious blossoms via my blog. Once though, many years ago, I did preach a rather good ecumenical sermon about the glorious honey made from the lilac, wisteria and blackthorn flowers intermingled in an Oxford college garden - the sermon however was preached in a French roman Catholic church!
For now I just concentrate on the wonderful dancing beauty of these ephemeral blooms and I hope that something in this Eastertide will be blooming and perfuming your lives with hope, meaning and glory.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Easter Sunday wine

Our friend Olive regularly brings wine to our house for special occasions - we do absolutely nothing to warrant this generosity, we are really rather indolent friends ... Anyway, thanks to her provisions, yesterday lunchtime we drank two extraordinary and very delicious bottles of "La Conseillante" from the year before we arrived in France ... we also drank a bottle of Candian icewine which had been a gift for a wonderful wedding I had pleasure taking a couple of years ago. After church in the morning one of the parishioners had brought a magnum of champagne to be shared after the service with the coffee and biscuits ... it's a great Easter tradition.
Meanwhile the Vermentino is the one wine we actually bought ourselves, and is considerably more modestly priced!
Just to reassure you, there was juice and much water consumed as well and there were more than just the two of us for lunch ... menu to follow!

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Easter bunnies on the communion table ...

The service yesterday morning in Ferney was really good, great music, a very mixed congregation with lots of children, a good sermon grappling with resurrection in a time of bad news, reference in the notices to the upcoming Peace Convocation in Jamaica, coffee and Champagne served after the service ... and bunny rabbits and orchids on the communion table. I just had to get a picture ...

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Mid-week evening drinks and Friday lunch

Within a few seconds walk from our front door ... restaurants and drinking establishments, out of shot there's a book shop, boulangerie and around another corner there's a newspaper shop and supermarket. the sort of place in France we might choose to go and spend our holiday. But this is where we live. Time to count our blessings and enjoy.

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Easter Saturday at the Ferney market

Asparagus and borad beans, rhubarb, basil, mint, beetroot, tomatoes, carrots, new potatoes and lost of salad and some peonies not in shot and waiting to be put in a vase.

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Friday, 22 April 2011

A poem by Charles Causely as we meditate the cross ...

From a Normandy crucifix of 1632

I am the great sun

I am the great sun, but you do not see me,
I am your husband, but you turn away.
I am the captive, but you do not free me,
I am the captain but you will not obey.

I am the truth, but you will not believe me,
I am the city where you will not stay.
I am your wife, your child, but you will leave me,
I am that God to whom you will not pray.

I am your counsel, but you will not hear me,
I am your lover whom you will betray.
I am the victor, but you do not cheer me,
I am the holy dove whom you will slay.

I am your life, but if you will not name me,
Seal up your soul with tears, and never blame me.

Charles Causley

Ways of meaning on Good Friday

In German it's called Karfreitag - "Kar" it would seem is derived from an old-high-German word "chara", which means complaint, misery or mourning, so "grief Friday" or "grieving Friday". I can almost hear the keening or the lament in "chara". In English we call it Good Friday - good also has the meaning of "pious" or "holy". In Norwegian it's called Langfredag - long Friday, perhaps because of the unbearable time spent watching and waiting for death, or perhaps just the long time spent in church services in centuries gone by ... In French the day is called vendredi saint - holy Friday...
These bits and pieces of meaning and translation all contribute to my sense
of this day in the Christian calendar. In addition there are the memories of other Good Fridays, of my father carrying the cross on the walk of witness into the town centre in the year that he was mayor, of my mother playing passion chorals on the violin, of preaching, of praying, of music and silence. And of Hans Ruedi Weber's book "On a Friday Noon", given to me for my 18th birthday. Christ's generous suffering and death speaks of so many other deaths, due to human violence and intolerance ... have we learnt from the passion story, have I learnt? Was I there when they crucified my Lord? ... well no, but in many ways I am still there for he is still being crucified, raped, violated, stoned, strung up today.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Fragments for Maundy Thursday

We weave together on this day
Perfume and water
Wine and bread
Tales of liberation
Meals of hope and a story of deep, deep betrayal
We know that death will follow the bread and the wine
And yet they still speak of hope
Of a red sea crossed
Of an older covenant fulfilled and a new one to be fulfilled in our wtiness

And then a Brazilian Friend on Facebook translated the beginning to my homily ...

Fragmentos de uma Quinta-feira Santa.
Tecemos juntos neste dia
Perfume e água
Vinho e pão
... Contos de libertação
......Refeições de esperança e de uma história de profunda, profunda, traição
Sabemos que a morte seguirá o pão eo vinho
E ainda assim eles nos falam de esperança
De um mar vermelho atravessado
De uma antiga aliança cumprida e uma nova para ser cumprida em nosso testemunho ...

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

The valley of consolation ...

This evening on the eve of Maundy Thursday I have made a surprise discovery.
There is a place not very far from where we live up in the Jura mountains in the Franc-comtois called the "val de consolation" or the valley of consolation. Up in the Jura there are many strange and extremely beautiful geological formations and wonders but this is not one we have visited so far.
I try hard not to write too much on my blog about the total despair I sometimes feel, my inner pain, its complete pointlessness and uncommunicability. Silence is sometimes the only option. Yet in my own version of the dark night of the soul, I have been offered much solace, support and humour. The promise too that there is a way forwards, somehow - though at the worst I have sometimes felt as if the present was no longer attached to a future. I have been fortunate that my laughter has never completely left me - perhaps the most frightening time was when I began to take myself far too seriously. If you are British and this happens to you then you know that things are pretty bad!
Psalm 23 talks about the valley of the shadow of death but by pure chance this evening I dscovered the existence of the valley of consolation. So wonderful. Just knowing that people could be so inspired as to give a glorious green wooded valley such a wonderful name lifts my spirits. And the fact that it is not far away from where I live speaks to me too. See, something green and abundant and beautiful is already there - you just need to find it and it may be closer than you realise. Perhaps this all sounds too easy and rather too much like Chicken Soup for the Soul. Our need for consolation may indeed be insatiable, but that consolation may sometimes just be a google click away!
Christ risen from the dead promises the Spirit to his followers and friends, the comforter, the one who begins the work of consolation ...

Monday, 18 April 2011

Springtime supper on the terrace

Yes thank you it was delicious. Made with all the leftover bits of cheese still lurking in corner of the frig, some sweated onions, greens from the new season's turnips bought at the market on Saturday and some organic eggs. And the sweet cicely in the salad was just wonderful too.

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What do you hold in your hands at the beginning of Holy Week - nails or palm branches?

For the beginning of Holy Week the service this morning in the ecumenical centre was called "From hosanna to crucify him".
In the meditation I asked - what do you have in your hands? Palm leaves, palm crosses, branches to greet the coming king? Or nails to crucify him?
There is such hope among the crowd as they strew their garments and give Christ the red carpet treatment - Hosanna is a cry of wanting to be saved, save us, be our saviour ...
Do the same ones just a few days later scream crucify him?
This movement from the jubilant expectant hopeful crowd to the murderous mob is one of the aspects of the passion story I find most difficult to bear and contemplate, am I too so unable to remain faithful even for a few days?
As I reflected this morning I realised that I hold both nails and celebratory branches in my hands - the capacity to be part of the murderous mob and the hopeful crowd.

And when the resurrection comes it is not in the first place to crowds but to individuals, small groups of doubting, stunned, hopeless believers. Hosanna ...

After asking my question about the nails and the palms I read this wonderful poem which my colleagues Manoj Kurian wrote in 2008. And we kept silent as the sun streamed into the chapel before singing "Jesus Christ is waiting ..."

Are we part of the crowd or are we among the witnesses?

Are we part of the crowd ?

Swayed by the influential and the appealing?

Making convenient compromises,

Preserving and expanding our power and status;

Oblivious of the Messiah among the vulnerable and the poor;

Broadening the highways of our selfish desire;

Obstructing the narrow paths;

That lead to the reign of God.

Are we among the witnesses?

Striving consistently to know God;

In creation, community, in the other and in oneself;
Reflecting truth in our own lives and all that we do.

To recognize the crucified Christ amongst us;

To be with and work with the suffering and the tortured;

For the liberation of all creation;
From the shackles of greed and exclusion.

Striving consistently to see the risen Lord;

In creation, community, in the other and in oneself;
Working for liberation in all we endeavor.

Humbly persisting to be transformed, to transform the world.

In victory and in failure;

In joy and in pain;

In solidarity and in betrayal;
Are we among the witnesses or are we with the crowd?

Manoj Kurian / WCC

Sunday, 17 April 2011

more photos from "a visage découvert"

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Palm Sunday service on "ecoute Dieu nous parle"

It's not every Sunday that you go to church and are welcomed by a photographer. This morning outside the Temple de Divonne, Jean-Jacques Bauswein took everyone's portrait photo before we went into church. And church was packed - by the time we got there - not quite late but very nearly - there were only seats left right at the every front! The service for Palm Sunday was prepared by the people who teach the young people and children. We were surrounded by the large posters of the EELF and ERF "à visage découvert" evangelisation campaign. Each of these is a picture of the face of a member of one of the Lutheran parishes in Paris together with the Bible verse they have chosen. The photos are also used on postcards and on a calendar. At the end of the service the wholoe congregation left the church in silence and went to the Alain Blancy parish hall to find printouts of our photos and to choose a Bible verse to put beneath our photos. Then we all stuck our photos on the large panel on the wall. Our choice of Bible text revealing a little bit more about ourselves than just our faces. I was impressed by how both adults and children managed to keep silent as we chose our verses and crowded around the tables in the parish room. You can find out more about the campaign here and here.
The Lutherans and the Reformed in France are on the way to becoming a united church in 2013. Although there are legal texts and votes that need to take place, the essence of the union is to bear witness to Jesus Christ today. This creative campaign is part of that. What is great about it is that it builds confidence and offers people reticent about talking about faith simple ways of affirming what is important for them. I'm proud of my church.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Fixing the date of Easter ...

At work, we've just put out a press release to mark the fact that this year churches in both east and west are celebrating Easter on the same day - the next time won't be until 1917 and after that, 2025. Today the Guardian had an editorial proposing a fixed date for Easter noting that in 1928 the British government passed a law fixing the date of Easter as the Sunday following the first Saturday in April, though the law has never been implemented, pending discussions with the churches. This proposal made me smile, and even prompted me to post a comment:

Maybe it would help the churches to just hand over the date of Easter to secular authorities - but which secular authorities? The Russians, the Greeks, the Indians, the Brazilians, the Kenyans? There is a world out there beyond Britain which might also appreciate a say. Easter is a festival in those places too - and its date is not something even the different churches have yet managed to come to agreement on over the centuries.

I live on the border between (nominally) Protestant Geneva and (nominally) Catholic France. France, where there is separation of Church and state, has a huge number of religious holidays, but not Good Friday. On that day the French restaurants in the small town in France where I live are filled with Swiss people eating lunch - they have a public holiday. Maybe these vestiges of religious holidays are all that religion can offer today - a little bit of time out from over-work and the drive to fulfill the business plan and make money. Whether you believe or not enjoy the time away from work, be it God-given or State given, holiday is a good thing.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Of tears, laughter and flowers ...

It is desperately hard to explain the personal pain one feels to someone else, and in some ways it is quite pointless yet of course entirely necessary. You can tell that one part of my reaction to the pain I myself feel comes from that British stiff upper lip school that doesn't let much hang out. The other part of me though speaks freely, perhaps too freely about how I feel. I can see how my pain shocks people, makes them step back and really - whatever their origins - hope that you will be well-mannered enough not to mention such distress again over the post lunch coffee. Hmmm ...
Today someone really saw my distress and didn't avoid it, he put his hands on my shoulders and showed compassion, he wasn't frightened by my pain. As that happened, I thought, thank God. It was quite a relief.
And then, as is the way of life, my stiff upper lip kicked in again and I decided I wouldn't write too much more about that side of things. Let's just say it's been a day when tears have threatened to dominate - even while I've been preparing budgets. It's a very strange state of affairs but oddly I've begun to realise too that just like when I have a cold I blow my nose, now too so long as I have enough hankies available, I can continue even if the computer screen looks a little blurry now and then.
Meanwhile, I also today heard a good and for me moving and invigorating sermon from my colleague Deenabandhu Manchala. Given that yesterday morning in church we had experienced one of the worst ever sermons, this morning really was a blessing. Bandhu spoke about how joy and the capacity to rejoice are signs both of resilience and of resistance. He preached on the text from Philipians 4.4 "Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say rejoice"

To be able to rejoice, to smile and be hopeful amidst fear, loss and adversity is a gift, a sign of resilience and of profound inner spiritual strength. It asserts that the spirit of life has the final word over the forces of death.
Listening to Bandhu preaching about the power and resources of joy I felt myself smiling and I also felt something of the Easter promise burning through into our Lenten reflections. I have often preached on "Easter laughter" but I had never take Philippians as my text. Lost in the pointless pain of depression it is easy, far too easy to forget joy and laughter, and their restorative resurrection values. I have been fortunate that throughout my own pain I have continued to be able to laugh and be joyful at least to some extent.
We can only rejoice and be happy when we have no fear. When violence is caused by the fear of the powerful, let us not preach non-violence to the victims, but in obedience to God, let us preach non-violence to the structures and cultures and to the agents of death and destruction. Let us call them to repentance, telling them to ‘rejoice in the Lord’, and not to fear and act violently, to submit themselves to God's sovereignty and peace. Let us therefore attempt to bring hope in the lives of the threatened through a discipleship of resistance, and transformation. Let us strive for justice and wait for peace to sprout and flourish.
Meanwhile we had some surprise visitors on Saturday afternoon who brought us flowers from the mountain top. It was an act of spontaneous pleasure and joy at having found such a perfect meadow on their part and we were the first people they knew on their way home. It was a lovely moment to see them standing there at the door, holding out the pretty posy pictured here, and to know with a smile on my face and a slightly sinking heart, that I had 10 minutes earlier decided to put off tidying the house for a little while longer ... aie! However, many who have experienced the untidy houses I have lived in may think that my levels of embarassment have perhaps not quite reached the required level for ensuring a tidy place!
The flowers from the mountain top will have faded and wilted by the end of the week but their meaning for me, the memory of their fragility and the smiles with which they were offered will remain. "Say it with flowers" the adverts used to say ... yet there was much that was unspoken in this small bunch of colour we received and which I placed in our favourite jug. So the yellow daffodils and the purple vetch speak for all that cannot be, for those things which cannot be said, for the deisre for joy even when this seems far off, for the promise that fear will truly be overcome.
For such small fragile yet powerful signs I give profound thanks.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Remembering: passion, betrayal, resurrection and ... painting

Today I taught KT on my own and turned up to spend time with the young people with some paint brushes and a clear idea that we would read the passion narrative together.

We began by doing about half an hour of remembering the passion story. To help with this I put on the table some branches of hazel - a bowl, a towel, a jug of water, one of the communion chalices and the communion patten. The more I use the remembered Bible method the more I realise how affiriming of people's inner Bibles it is. It was great with the young people today because the two less academic ones actually know the Bible stories much better. One thing that struck me as we were remembering together was how time is concertina-d - you go forwards backwards and sideways - and of course you're dealing with four gospels at the same time too so there's lots going on and amazing how details get remembered - one girl today remembered the ear being chopped off.

After our remembering we started reading Luke's gospel, aloud, sitting peaceably around the table. We began with the entry into Jerusalem - the branches on the table were to prompt thoughts of this. Palm Sunday is called "branches Sunday" in French. It is branches rather than palm crosses which are blessed and taken home from Roman Catholic churches. We ended with Jesus being laid in the tomb. It was qutie extraordinary sitting there on a wonderful sunny spring day with a group of adolescents remembering and reading the Bible. After reading we wrote prayers of thanksgiving for Christ's witness for the way he had chosen. Each of us tried to focus on three things. All of us wrote powerful words. I could tell that the group were completely engaged with the story. We also read the footwashing from John's gospel ... and we talked about prisoners of conscience and the work of Amnesty International and Christian Action Against Torture, and we prayed. We talked about violence, their experiences of it at school and in daily life.

After lunch we read the story of the resurrection in Luke's gospel, the Emmaus story right on through to the ascension. And we talked about hope and life, the meaning and gift of resurrection. And then we painted and they just took over and the act of painting became part of our remembering and understanding. They created a sort of Jackson Pollock like fabulous mess in the centre of the paper, then surrounded it with images of flowers and smiley faces hearts and points of colour and their names and words of hope. What was brilliant was listening to how they came to an agreement about what to do and then seeing their pure glee in all starting to paint together and throw the paint around. Wonderful energy. I think I was moved that they wanted to put their own names as part of the resurrection framework for the painting.
Now I just have to hope that they become friends with me on Facebook so that I get to see the photos of our work of art - yes I took my paintbrushes but forgot to take my camera so we'll have to wait a while for some pictures.

Friday, 1 April 2011

So do you take off your shoes or eat blackberries? The solace of poetry

... Earth's crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God[de]:
But only s/he who sees, takes off [her] shoes,
The rest sit around it, and pluck blackberries...
From Aurora Leigh by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

The quote above came to me today at the bottom of an email from a friend and it sent me off reading Elizabeth Barratt Browning's poetry on the net. I realised that I have hardly read any Barratt since school and that I do not have a collected version of her poetry, something to treat myself to very soon. It is powerful stuff.
Spingtime is not at all the time to think of the autumn harvest of the hedges filled with the finger-staining dark fruit that are blackberries, bringing sweetness just before the winter. I love the flavour and fragrance of the humble blackberry - though given the choice I would probably still opt for the raspberry.
But the quote in this fragment (really that word seems to be one of the major subthemes to my blog these days) of the poem is actually a judgement on those sitting around gorging ourselves thoughtlessly on late summer fruits. The bramble, like the biblical burning bush, is full of thorns. An invitation, a reminder ... of God's grandeur, of humility, of the possibility that like Moses before us, we too could remove our shoes as we remember we are on holy ground.
I glimpsed some of the immensity and beauty of creation this evening, walking through the wonderful trees, smelling the sweet violets and listening to the wonderful birdsong as the sun persisted in picking out the primroses in the grass. With every step I gave thanks for the burgeoning season that is spring - these early flowers speak of fruit to come. Truly a miracle. God turns not only water into wine but petals into fruit and pollen into honey - earth is surely crammed with heaven!