Tag Archives: Christian

One retreat, two poems⤴

from @ blethers

I was on retreat on the Island of Lewis last month with three friends, directed by a fourth friend who lives on the island in a community of two Anglican religious. We four stayed in a self-catering house in Back; Sister Clare came over from Gress - though one day we walked there for the Evening Office. It was memorable in several ways, which I don't intend to go into here, and produced two poems.


OUTBURST

O, be silent when the God speaks - 
do not blurt your blunted vision
to distort or seek to bend
the flow of love and pain.
Listen. Open. Feel the keenness
of the shaft that wounds the soul;
feel the way you change, but quiet
like a child that hears a call.

Only then, within that silence
can the music truly sing,
make the wordless song of heaven
sweep you up until your tongue
is freed from all the weight of language
 - free to wonder, free to cease -
and your soul can shed what has been,  
free to wander heaven’s peace.


© C.M.M. Back, Lewis, June 2019


JORDAN

The burden of that sudden light
Overwhelms my shrinking self
As I step into the surge
Of life and what will come.
The holy dove, its wings outspread,
Hovers close. No comfort there.
I see the darkness pressing back
Around the edges of my world
Through eyes half closed,
Through lash and hair
That covers my defenceless face.
The water swirls. I feel the tug
Of forces far beyond my reach.
I will obey. God, I accept
- will lift this burden that is Light.

© C.M.M.
Back, Lewis, June 19.

This second poem was inspired by a painting by Daniel Bonnell of the Baptism of the Christ, which you can see here: http://www.bonnellart.com/2012-2015.html

The meeting⤴

from @ blethers


THE MEETING

This the night when under the dark dome
the hard stars shine and that one
shines brighter than them all, the night
when power and pomp and wisdom and wealth
come seeking a king and find instead
love in ordinary, human love, vulnerable
to all that wounds beneath the sky -
This is that night. It comes again.

For earthly power was melted then
in tears of joy, of journey done,
of understanding what lay there
in poverty of place and rank
and all they knew, these visitors,
collapsed in shards of sudden loss
and left them free to live again -
This is that night.

©C.M.M. 6/01/16

The meeting⤴

from @ blethers


THE MEETING

This the night when under the dark dome
the hard stars shine and that one
shines brighter than them all, the night
when power and pomp and wisdom and wealth
come seeking a king and find instead
love in ordinary, human love, vulnerable
to all that wounds beneath the sky -
This is that night. It comes again.

For earthly power was melted then
in tears of joy, of journey done,
of understanding what lay there
in poverty of place and rank
and all they knew, these visitors,
collapsed in shards of sudden loss
and left them free to live again -
This is that night.

©C.M.M. 6/01/16

The meeting⤴

from @ blethers


THE MEETING

This the night when under the dark dome
the hard stars shine and that one
shines brighter than them all, the night
when power and pomp and wisdom and wealth
come seeking a king and find instead
love in ordinary, human love, vulnerable
to all that wounds beneath the sky -
This is that night. It comes again.

For earthly power was melted then
in tears of joy, of journey done,
of understanding what lay there
in poverty of place and rank
and all they knew, these visitors,
collapsed in shards of sudden loss
and left them free to live again -
This is that night.

©C.M.M. 6/01/16

All we go down …⤴

from @ blethers


I was at a funeral yesterday, not as a mourner but as a provider of music, one of a quartet singing the Kontakion for the Departed at the end of a service in the Cathedral of The Isles on Cumbrae. This was significant for me personally in one important feature: it was doing exactly that at my very first funeral in that same cathedral 42 years ago that convinced me of all that I now believe in, as a consequence of which I was confirmed 9 months later and as a further consequence of which I came to live in Dunoon. There were differences, of course - that first funeral was of a friend, it was a requiem mass, the coffin was between the choir stalls and therefore right on front of me.

So I'd actually have gone a long way to sing this music again in that place and with these same musicians. But another truth dawned on me yesterday as I sang, and after the plainsong Nunc Dimittis with which we finished. It was a truth about music - that kind of music, timeless and beautiful and still. For after all the words, the telling to God of the deceased's character (thou knowest, Lord, the secret of our hearts ... ) and the hymns that were deemed suitable, this was the moment when it seemed to me that the otherness of death came close, that the life of the world was dimmed and the life of heaven opened, and the possibilities of eternity were real and endless.

And weeping o'er the grave, we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia.

I would like to think that this music will be present for my end.

All we go down …⤴

from @ blethers


I was at a funeral yesterday, not as a mourner but as a provider of music, one of a quartet singing the Kontakion for the Departed at the end of a service in the Cathedral of The Isles on Cumbrae. This was significant for me personally in one important feature: it was doing exactly that at my very first funeral in that same cathedral 42 years ago that convinced me of all that I now believe in, as a consequence of which I was confirmed 9 months later and as a further consequence of which I came to live in Dunoon. There were differences, of course - that first funeral was of a friend, it was a requiem mass, the coffin was between the choir stalls and therefore right on front of me.

So I'd actually have gone a long way to sing this music again in that place and with these same musicians. But another truth dawned on me yesterday as I sang, and after the plainsong Nunc Dimittis with which we finished. It was a truth about music - that kind of music, timeless and beautiful and still. For after all the words, the telling to God of the deceased's character (thou knowest, Lord, the secret of our hearts ... ) and the hymns that were deemed suitable, this was the moment when it seemed to me that the otherness of death came close, that the life of the world was dimmed and the life of heaven opened, and the possibilities of eternity were real and endless.

And weeping o'er the grave, we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia.

I would like to think that this music will be present for my end.

All we go down …⤴

from @ blethers


I was at a funeral yesterday, not as a mourner but as a provider of music, one of a quartet singing the Kontakion for the Departed at the end of a service in the Cathedral of The Isles on Cumbrae. This was significant for me personally in one important feature: it was doing exactly that at my very first funeral in that same cathedral 42 years ago that convinced me of all that I now believe in, as a consequence of which I was confirmed 9 months later and as a further consequence of which I came to live in Dunoon. There were differences, of course - that first funeral was of a friend, it was a requiem mass, the coffin was between the choir stalls and therefore right on front of me.

So I'd actually have gone a long way to sing this music again in that place and with these same musicians. But another truth dawned on me yesterday as I sang, and after the plainsong Nunc Dimittis with which we finished. It was a truth about music - that kind of music, timeless and beautiful and still. For after all the words, the telling to God of the deceased's character (thou knowest, Lord, the secret of our hearts ... ) and the hymns that were deemed suitable, this was the moment when it seemed to me that the otherness of death came close, that the life of the world was dimmed and the life of heaven opened, and the possibilities of eternity were real and endless.

And weeping o'er the grave, we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia.

I would like to think that this music will be present for my end.

Snuffing out the candles⤴

from @ blethers


 We are in the season of Epiphany. Today I took down the (moulting) tree, put the decorations back in the loft, looked out at the rain, noted that the gloom of early morning had moved imperceptibly into the gloom of early evening, and reflected. I reflected on the past fortnight or so, in which the raging energy brought on by the pronouncement of the Bishops (read back - the links are all there) had been dissipated in singing beautiful music and soothed by the magic of Christmas.

And I have been consolidating something I've known for a long time. It's a long time since I stopped thinking that the gospel accounts of the Nativity are literal truth, half a century or more since I realised that in fact the gospels are full of what a student of literature recognises as the hallmarks of a fictional account. (Think of all that direct speech, for starters). And over the years I've heard sermons that have, in their way, dealt with that - pointed out relevance, invited us to think. And I've thought.

Now, as the rain batters on my study window, I can see clearly what it does, all this magic. I don't care that the stories of the shepherds, the angels, the Magi (and Eliot's wonderful poem about them) - I don't care that they can't possibly be true in the way that it's true that I was born in Glasgow. I don't want them changed in any way, for they are perfect. They are perfect poems that contain a truth that inspires, and they are best absorbed as poems, enhanced by art and music and beauty.

And what does this truth inspire me to? I suppose in one way you could say that it inspired me to become a damned nuisance. It certainly knocked me off a comfortable path and set me climbing the spiritual equivalent of the Aonach Eagach, on a ridge walk that I'm still clambering along more than forty years later. It's exciting, it's bound only by trust and love and balance, and that's how I want it to remain.

What does not inspire is a set of rules. Dogma and authoritarianism aren't very thrilling either. Dry politicking within ecclesiastical structures leaves me cold, and people - men, usually - telling me what can and cannot be done because of history and prejudice will tend to set me off on yet another mountain, to sustain the metaphor.

So what about all the beauty and mystery and the stories that tell us of Love incarnate and inspire us to love justice and truth and our neighbours as ourselves? I can't imagine that our bishops, for example, haven't had a bit of that for themselves this Christmas. None of them, after all, is as old as I am - surely they're not blasé about the mysteries they dispense? Does none of it do something to rekindle the fire that, presumably, used to burn in them?

Because in the end, that 's what it does, this season we've just had. It rekindles a fire. Dangerous element, fire - but warming and wonderful. Gives you courage. Gives you passion. I have heard at least one of our bishops preach with passion - but a new image has just presented itself to me, and it seems horribly apt.

Bishop's mitre as candle snuffer.

Icon, anyone?


Waiting for the dawn⤴

from @ blethers

sunrise
The longest night is very close now. The dark comes before we know it, and lasts so long. On these western fringes our fires burn small – pinpricks of light in the wide darkness. The warmth of summer, the plenty of autumn – these are memories. Food is hoarded against the midwinter feasting, and after that we will hunger a little.
If we look to the north, we see only the night. Further west there is the wide restless sea – and nothing. In the southern sky, there is a bright star with a lesser in attendance. But it is to the east that we look, the eastern sky where the rim of light will grow, the distant lands where, long ago already, something wonderful happened. More wonderful still: it happens again and again, coming to assuage our darkness at the year’s turning, bringing light to the hidden places of our hearts, promising us that we have not been forgotten.
It is dark now, but it will be light. The child will bring it. Come, Lord Jesus.


Long ago, in a universe far away …⤴

from @ blethers

I have been thinking I ought to write to the College of Bishops about that pronouncement that is now all over yesterday's Herald, quite apart from anywhere else, but my exhibitionist side actually prefers to ruminate here, where anyone can see it and no-one can decide to interpret it in their own way in private. Strangely, it was learning of the death of Bishop Michael Hare-Duke that stirred up the memories that, it seems to me, make this latest situation so absurd.

Long long ago, when I was very young and had only been a member of the SEC for 5 years, I was chosen to be one of the two lay representatives from Argyll and The Isles to sit on the Provincial Synod. This relatively small body met annually in Perth, and it was with some trepidation that I travelled there that first year (it was 1978, the day Pope John Paul 2 was elected) to find that I was the youngest person in the Synod and hadn't a clue what was expected of me.  I remember spending many hours debating the language of the New Liturgy - what is now the 1982 Liturgy and itself regarded as positively old hat. As the years passed - during which the Provincial Synod abolished itself and the RCC and I vanished from the wider church and concentrated on my day job - I became aware of what was going on and who was who in the hierarchy - and one of the most interesting of the bishops was Bishop Michael, the poet and thinker who did so much to shape the 1982 Liturgy.

But to my point. One of the first issues I recall being involved in voting about was The Remarriage in Church of Divorced Persons. This gave rise to much heated discussion and seemed a Very Important Matter Indeed. And then there were women. In the run-up to this particular Synod my husband answered a phone-call (I was out). The conversation ran thus:
"May I speak to Christine, please?"
"I'm sorry, she's out. Who's calling?"
"It's George."
(Suspiciously) "George who?"
(Plaintive)"George the bishop."
"Oh. Hello. She's not here."
"Give her a message, will you? For God's sake tell her not to vote for women priests."
"Oh. Right. I'll tell her."

And he did. At the Synod the next week, a lovely older woman (maybe the age I am now) told me I was the kind of woman who ought to be ordained. I didn't know whether to be gratified or horrified. Her son became one of our bishops, incidentally, but he is no longer with us.

It should be painfully obvious why I'm telling these anecdotes. I'm now older than any of the current diocesan bishops, and have a far longer memory than to be able to let their current burst of ill-placed authoritarianism pass without asking them what in all seriousness they think they're at. If it weren't so serious, so damaging to people I care about and the institution I still, after all the years and all the setbacks, care about also, I'd laugh. I'd laugh the way I do when I hear small children playing - "Let's make it that you're the mummy and I'm the daddy"... "Let's make it sound as if we can actually tell people what to do/think/believe."

I'm sorry. We're adult Christians. We've learned about justice, compassion, equality, fairness - not to mention common sense. And long ago, Bishop Michael Hare-Duke exemplified these qualities to a very young, very inexperienced new Christian. The last time I met him was some 7 years ago - at the first Provincial conversation about the status and experiences of gay Christians. We were both much older - but he at least hadn't changed.