Cuddesdon Soundscapes

Through Cuddesdon soundscapes, Ollie Blease reflects on the miracle of creation in the Psalms. 

 

For all the beasts of the forest are mine, the cattle upon a thousand hills. I know every bird of the mountains and the insect of the field is mine.

– Psalm 50:10-11

 

The heavens are yours; the earth also is yours; the world and all that is in it, you have founded them. The north and the south, you have created them.

– Psalm 89: 11-12a

 

Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD from the heavens; praise him in the heights! Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his hosts! Praise him, sun and moon, praise him, all you shining stars! Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens! Let them praise the name of the LORD! For he commanded and they were created. And he established them forever and ever; he gave a decree, and it shall not pass away.

– Psalm 148:1-6O

 

I look up at your heavens, shaped by your fingers, at the moon and the stars you set firm – what are human beings that you spare a thought for them, or the child of Adam that you care for him?

– Psalm 8:3-4

 

Proximity to God is found in a myriad of ways: Eucharistic worship, scriptural devotion, and corporate prayer, for example. However, for many it is helpful to intentionally recall God’s work in creation around us.

 

This is especially easy at Cuddesdon, which is outside of the nearby city of Oxford, and is something of a rural idyll. I regularly walk around the surrounding fields and woodland, and feel a closeness to God when I spend time among that which God has created.

 

Recently I have begun to record the birds and the sounds of the life around us.

 

As something of a visual learner, I have loved seeing the images of the waveforms in the software, showing a graphical form of the sound transmitted from the birds and surrounding elements.

 

I find birdsong a glorious background to quiet prayer. It is easy to meet God in creation – nothing so complex or beautiful, or endlessly content, has been made with human hands as the blossom on the tree at the entrance to the college. When the writer of Psalm 8 asks “what are human beings that you spare a thought for them…?” I can’t help but ask the same when faced with the beauty of the landscape and creation of this place.

 

But I must accept that no matter how much we love our surrounds, the mystery and majesty of creation (including one another), God’s love is infinite in capacity and grace, and overshadows all. This is scary and beautiful, and I accept it as a river of hope amidst occasional uncertainty and seeming chaos.

 

Below are a few soundscapes of Cuddesdon, which I hope you will enjoy. Some of these are recorded by Lee Chantler, some by Nick Wells, and some by myself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The full list and other audio clips are posted here.

Stitch by Stitch

Gemma Wilkinson reflects on the renewing creativity of God through embroidery. 

 

My mum taught me to crochet. I could do it before I was an ordinand and I can still do it now too! It is a skill I have honed and developed… I am teaching myself embroidery now because I feel I need to learn something other than theology while I’m training.

There are days where all I want to do is make things. Bread, cake, crocheted toys, or embroidered pictures. I wonder sometimes if this creative desire I have, the desire I must make things is a part of how I am made in his image. Creator God in whom all things had their beginning…

Some days I don’t feel like I contribute anything beautiful to the world, or the community to which I belong. Everyone has non-beautiful days, right? For me when they arrive I survive them by doing my best to make something beautiful anyway… Out of yarn, thread and fabric… To make something that is somehow lovelier than the sum of its parts. So, then I think God is making something beautiful out of me… perhaps in spite of me! Something that is more beautiful than the sum of my parts.

I also find that I cannot think too deeply or worry unduly when my mind is occupied by counting stitches. In those moments I feel myself relax and become less concerned with being perfect and more content with doing my best. It might not be the type of prayer you can read out in chapel… But for me it is the type of prayer where God answers back. In the quiet moments in my head I can hear that the spirit reminds me that I am not alone and bring me back to where I need to be. Stitch by stitch.

 

A Moment of Curious Holiness

Two poems, ‘This is My Body,’ and ‘Gifted,’ by Cat Connolly, with a reflection on playfully tracing lines between God and humanity through words. 

Illustration: ‘Wings’ by Matthew Colclough

 

My understanding of what it means to be artistic has been stretched in the last couple of years. For a long time I inwardly mourned my own lack of ability when it comes to painting, drawing, crafting, and all related subjects.

 

However, I was prompted a while ago to start writing, and to think of writing as being an art form. Perhaps this is obvious to some. For me it was bizarrely revolutionary.

 

And I love words. I love that emotions and images unique to each person can be conjured as the reader is taken by the hand and linguistically twirled. I love the beauty and flow of language captured on a page. I love the ambiguity and power that can coexist in simple communication.

 

So now, gently encouraged, I write. Not often, not much, and not with the dexterity of an acclaimed wordsmith. But it has become for me a way of being, journaling marbled with prayer and wonder, self-reflection and creativity tentatively combined.

 

It has become something vulnerable, but also bold. A small step of playful bravery. Musings between myself and God. And somehow, this encapsulates the way I have come to think of art.

 

 This is My Body

 

A moment of curious holiness.

Juxtaposition of beauty and brokenness.

As the melody of the Agnus Dei surrounds my soul with calm, the wafer is cracked.

A sharp cut of sound against a softness of voices.

And as we sing to the Lamb, the altar again bears the weight of outpoured love,

fractured

so that each can receive to themselves.

Wonderment surrounds the indwelling of God.

So violently torn asunder,

the broken reaches out and offers restoration

with open,

bleeding,

blessing hands.

 

 

Gifted

 

‘Are those wings?’ you ask, looking over my shoulder.

‘What?’ Caught off guard the question surprises me. Someone asked me that once before, a long time ago. ‘I dream of flying sometimes, but I don’t have wings!’ I laugh.

Your smile is quizzical, as if you don’t quite believe me.

Later, I wonder. What is that other people see? I am quite ordinary and unremarkable. Only the gifted people have wings.

I dream it again that night – the gentle whisper of wind, the graceful dancing beneath the stars, the music carrying my bare feet – only, my feet aren’t on the ground.

When I wake I turn in the mirror. Is that a glimpse, a glimmer of something? But it can’t be, I tell myself. It’s not possible.

Time passes by. I see you again, and now, finally, I ask the question.

‘What makes someone gifted?’

This time your smile is kind. ‘They believe’, you reply.

My favourite place in the world is a roof garden by the river, where fairy lights twinkle in the overhead branches. It is quiet, and peaceful. Eventually I am alone in the twilight. The calm serenity falls like a mist around me and all seems content, full of wonder, perfect.

I take a breath and step out into the evening air.

My wings are beautiful.

 

wings

God and the Jolly Bored Bog-Mouse

Tom Britt reflects on hope amidst despair through Wendy Cope’s poem ‘God and the Jolly Bored Bog-Mouse.’

God and the Jolly Bored Bog-Mouse

God tried to teach Mouse how to sing.
‘Piss off! I’m not the sort.’
Mouse squelched away across the bog.
‘It’s jolly cold,’ he thought.

Stone-numb, Mouse watched the ice-bright stars,
Decided they were boring.
Cradled in roots and sodden turf,
Soon he was jolly snoring.

Mouse dreamed a Universe of Blood,
He dreamed a shabby room,
He dreamed a dank hole in the earth,
(Back to the jolly womb).

Mouse tried to vomit up his guts
Then got up for a pee.
A comet pulsed across the sky –
He didn’t jolly see.

Wendy Cope. 

Wendy Cope’s, God and the Jolly Bored Bog-Mouse is a darkly humoured poem that parodies the writing styles of some famous male poets (Ted Hughes, Philip Larkin, Seamus Heaney and Charles Causley).

But I was moved by the relationship between God and a bog-mouse. So I’ve decided to interpret the poem literally, to reflect upon how it captures the suffering many know.

First God tires teaching Mouse to sing: ‘Piss off! I’m not the sort’, he retorts. Praise won’t work; Mouse’s spirits are too low for that! He’d rather fend for himself, because this is all he knows. At least that’s what he keeps telling himself!

He’s unable to see the stark beauty of God’s creation:

Stone-numb, Mouse watched the ice-bright stars,
Decided they were boring.

Mouse is entrenched in his own surroundings: this perspective is all he’s willing to see, hear, feel and experience. Mouse is safe in the muddy bog, but he’s not fully alive:

Cradled in roots and sodden turf,
Soon he was jolly snoring.

Mouse finds a primitive comfort in the familiarity of his home. What will it take for him to see God’s glory? What is stopping him?

Even his dreams reflect his downcast spirit that does not know hope:

He dreamed a dank hole in the earth,
(Back to the jolly womb).

When interpreted literally this poem is troubling. Mouse acutely feels the weight of existence and he’s searching for meaning.

Waking from the dullness of sleep doesn’t help Mouse. It’s another day and Mouse is merely surviving.

The poem ends starkly, but hope is also present. Mouse’s lament is bodily; he ‘tries to vomit up his guts’. In this abjectly bleak situation God sends Mouse another sign:

A comet pulsed across the sky –
He didn’t jolly see.

I don’t know where this ending leaves Mouse. But in the morning gloom, God is there alongside Mouse.

That’s where God will stay.