Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: Advent, advent calendar, nature, photography, photos, pilgrimage, poetry, RS Thomas, wales
I leafed through RS Thomas’ Collected Poems early this morning looking for Kneeling which fitted well into an Advent Sermon on waiting (along with AJ Levine’s insights on the Parable of the Widow and the Judge, where the widow uses a boxing term in her constant bothering of the Judge).
In the Thomas book, I read Welcome to Wales, which I haven’t seen for a long time. I can’t find the text online, but you can hear it being read on youtube.
Read or hear it if you can. It may me chuckle and then think deeply as I remembered the occasional hardness of the weather, of landscapes that wrecked my knee, of beauty, of wonderful and deep human hospitality.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: athanasius, camino, Camino Ingles, camino retreat, George Herbert, love, pilgrimage, poetry, RS Thomas, santiago, the bright field
Wednesday 5th February, our second day of walking, was a day of hard showers and interludes.
After breakfast – when Mike and I sought to disprove Rebekah’s assertion that Spanish doughnuts are no good (they fuelled the walking, but I’d go for porridge to maximise this) – we began with our morning reflection.
George Herbert’s Love was a good place to start, God’s grace gently summoning us back to him, and the theme of love happening through meals and hospitality – something that fits so well with what we receive on the camino, but also in each of the lives of the four of us (see the previous post on End Hunger Fast for how this fits in my life and ministry at the moment).
Love bade me welcome, yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-ey’d Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack’d anything.
“A guest,” I answer’d, “worthy to be here”;
Love said, “You shall be he.”
“I, the unkind, the ungrateful? ah my dear,
I cannot look on thee.”
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
“Who made the eyes but I?”
“Truth, Lord, but I have marr’d them; let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.”
“And know you not,” says Love, “who bore the blame?”
“My dear, then I will serve.”
“You must sit down,” says Love, “and taste my meat.”
So I did sit and eat.
We thought about Jesus’ call to follow him, about how we can tell we are close to him through our growing compassion for others. This quote from St Athanasius’ Life of Antony, perhaps counter-intuitively for those on pilgrimage, spoke to us:
Some leave home and cross the seas in order to gain an education, but there is no need for us to go away on account of the Kingdom of God nor need we cross the sea in search of virtue. For the Lord has told us, “The Kingdom of God is within you.” All that is needed for goodness is that which is within, the human heart.
There is after all the job of returning home and living there. Pilgrimage is an interlude which can make things clearer.
In the early morning, the rain stopped and something beautiful happened
The sun – those of us who live in Europe had not seen it since Christmas. Even Kathy, coming out of Californian drought was missing it. The fields around, full of water, were lit up. A rainbow – heralding the next rains – arced across a quarry. We stopped and I took out my notebook and read RS Thomas’ The Bright Field (you can read it here).
The weather made the walking much more comfortable. We were able to pause more, to look around. We passed some wonderful homemade sculptures.
We rested rather than sheltered in bars as we drank a coffee or a claro, we were able to sit next to a forest path to eat bocadillo.
We walked the long straight path into Sigueiro and celebrated with beer. As the accommodation there has declined, we had arranged to stay a few kilometres outside at the Hotel Vicente. Ignatio picked us up. Again, we found that we were the first pilgrims through this year. We had a good dinner of what the kitchen had – welcome warm caldo, fish, tarta santiago. Being with Rebekah meant we had good knowledge of the local wines. Good conversation, and then to bed to listen to the next storm beating the highway …
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: alister wedderburn, poetry, RS Thomas, standpoint, ted hughes, uncollected poems
While I’ve been poorly an Easter present arrived: Uncollected Poems by RS Thomas.
I’ve been enjoying dipping in as I feel able. There is an excellent review by Alister Wedderburn in Standpoint that you can read here. He makes an excellent point that it is important to remember that, at heart, Thomas is writing from positive insights and impulses rather than suspicion and rejection:
to focus on Thomas’s rejection of consumerism, secularism and technological progressivism is to ignore the positive impulses that provoked these suspicions: a love of mankind in the raw, a deep sense of respect for the wild, living world in which he made his way and an understanding of God as an agent giving clarity to both — albeit a clarity that could only stutteringly be perceived. Thomas’s struggle with these three compass-points and his understanding of the impossibility of equilibrium between them is the essence of his verse, a profound poetry that transcends his supposedly ogreish demeanour.
I love a late poem In Memory of Ted Hughes, illuminating deep similarities between the two poets and speaking of the essential tasks of poetry. It ends:
He bends now
over a darker river, making
his cast times out of mind,
for the big poem, bigger than the last.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: camino, Kneeling, Lent, lenten journey, liminality, Oseira Monastery, poetry, prayer, RS Thomas, The Real Work, Wendell Berry
I’ve been living a bit with the themes of living with questions, of waiting, of not knowing, or unknowing. I find liminal times hard and tough but they are so important.
I have remembered a few days in a Cistercian Monastery in Spain where I had paused:
The sheer granite cold gripping its corridors
hid the warmth of welcome at the monastery.
Throughout the day and night
I made my way to a high perch
from which I followed
slow Spanish chant
in the dark Church,
each Psalm succeeded utterly
Part of me was bored,
eager to rush on;
now I find myself
returning often in my mind.
creep up slowly
as if on all fours
and finally peer over
the silent edge.
I’ve been thinking about poetic wisdom on all this, Wendell Berry’s ‘The Real Work‘:
we have come to our real work,
we have come to our real journey.
or RS Thomas ‘Kneeling‘
“Prompt me God, but not yet, the meaning is in the waiting”
I am also prompted to remember that I may be one to dwell a bit much in the places of dark questioning and that it is important to know the time to step out of these into the light, although I am sometimes afraid to do this.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: Lent, lenten journey, poetry, RS Thomas, sea-watching
Grey waters, vast
as an area of prayer
that one enters. Daily
over a period of years
I have let my eye rest on them.
Was I waiting for something?
but that continuous waving
that is without meaning
Ah, but a rare bird is
rare. It is when one is not looking
at times one is not there
that it comes.
You must wear your eyes out
as others their knees.
I became the hermit
of the rocks, habited with the wind
and the mist. There were days,
so beautiful the emptiness
it might have filled,
was as its presence; not to be told
any more, so single my mind
after its long fast,
my watching from praying.
– R.S. Thomas
in Laboratories of the Spirit, 1975
I see them working in old rectories
By the sun’s light, by candlelight,
Venerable men, their black cloth
A little dusty, a little green
With holy mildew. And yet their skulls,
Ripening over so many prayers,
Toppled into the same grave
With oafs and yokels. They left no books,
Memorial to their lonely thought
In grey parishes; rather they wrote
On men’s hearts and in the minds
Of young children sublime words
Too soon forgotten. God in his time
Or out of time will correct this.
– RS Thomas
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: piero della francesca, poetry, retreats, RS Thomas, st bede's brandwood, the baptism of christ, the coming, urban ministry
I spent the weekend away leading a Retreat with a wonderful group of folk from St Bede’s, Brandwood. This was a special time, with space to focus and reflect on the Journey of Faith.
And God held in his hand
A small globe. Look, he said.
The son looked. Far off,
As through water, he saw
A scorched land of fierce
Colour. The light burned
There; crusted buildings
Cast their shadows; a bright
Serpent, a river
Uncoiled itself, radiant
On a bare
Hill a bare tree saddened
The sky. Many people
Held out their thin arms
To it, as though waiting
For a vanished April
To return to its crossed
Boughs. The son watched
Them. Let me go there, he said.