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

The Gypsy Nun

A translation of Federico García Lorca’s ‘La Monja Gitana’ and reflection by Lyndon Webb

La Monja Gitana

Silencio de cal y mirto.
Malvas en las hierbas finas.
La monja borda alhelíes
sobre una tela pajiza.
Vuelan en la araña gris,
siete pájaros del prisma.
La iglesia gruñe a lo lejos
como un oso panza arriba.
¡Qué bien borda! ¡Con qué gracia!
Sobre la tela pajiza,
ella quisiera bordar
flores de su fantasía.
¡Qué girasol! ¡Qué magnolia
de lentejuelas y cintas!
¡Qué azafranes y qué lunas,
en el mantel de la misa!
Cinco toronjas se endulzan
en la cercana cocina.
Las cinco llagas de Cristo
cortadas en Almería.
Por los ojos de la monja
galopan dos caballistas.
Un rumor último y sordo
le despega la camisa,
y al mirar nubes y montes
en las yertas lejanías,
se quiebra su corazón
de azúcar y yerbaluisa.
¡Oh!, qué llanura empinada
con veinte soles arriba.
¡Qué ríos puestos de pie
vislumbra su fantasía!
Pero sigue con sus flores,
mientras que de pie, en la brisa,
la luz juega el ajedrez
alto de la celosía.

The Gypsy Nun

Silence of lime-wash and myrtle.
Mallows among the culinary herbs.
The nun embroiders wallflowers
on cloth the colour of straw.
Within the grey spider soar
seven birds of the prism.
The church groans in the distance
like a bear, paunch to the sky.
How well she sews! Such grace!
Across the straw-coloured web,
she longs to embroider
the flowers from her dreams.
O sunflower! O magnolia
of sequins and ribbons!
O crocuses and moons,
for the altar cloth!
Five grapefruits are ripening
in the nearby kitchen.
The five wounds of Christ
cut in Almería.
Before the nun’s eyes
two horsemen gallop by.
A soft and final whisper
slips off her blouse,
and seeing clouds and mountains
in the rigid distance,
it breaks her heart
of sugar and lemon verbena.
Oh! the soaring plains
with twenty suns overhead.
What rivers begin to run
in her dreams!
But she continues with her flowers,
whilst standing overhead, in the breeze,
the light plays the high
chess of the trellis.

Federico García Lorca, 1928
from the ‘Romancero Gitano’ (Gypsy Ballads)

 

Training for ordination during LBGT history month and the current political climate, Lorca’s voice speaks with a particular freshness, and an unsettling urgency. His nun is unaware of the nationalism which will sweep over Spain in the coming decade, drawing the country as tightly behind the Pyrenees as she is drawn behind the lime-washed walls of the monastery. Already she feels the repression of her gypsy heritage, a common mallow among the ‘fines herbes’ of the other nuns. That repression will tighten and tighten under Franco, whose regime will murder Lorca in less than ten years for being too colourful himself. He was executed in 1936 at the ‘Great Spring’ for ‘homosexual and abnormal practices’.

 

As he stood in that final place, I wonder whether Lorca thought of the rivers which sprung up at his gypsy nun’s feet as she too dreamt of a more colourful world; I wonder whether some church stood idle nearby, paunch to the sky; I wonder whether he thought of the outrageous cerise of grapefruits, and the wounds of Christ, another man too colourful for his climate. I hope the church of the day had not whitewashed Christ into one more oppressive figure at that moment; I hope in the crucified and risen one, Lorca saw a friend for the seven bright birds of his indecent imagination, which dared to remind Spain about the earth and sex and the strength of women – who invariably take centre stage in his works, alongside men of the fields and the road, in protest against the fragile masculinities of Francoist Spain.

 

I look forward to being sent out of this place, in the name of the indecent Christ, Son of the Creator who dared to embroider the flowers of Her dreams across the straw-coloured earth; I can’t wait to call out the colours in other people’s lives.

 

gypsy

Nautilus Shell

A poem by Claire Carruthers.

 

Claire Carruthers lived at Ripon College Cuddesdon while her spouse trained for ordained ministry from 2015-17. The poem below was written following a bible study, as Claire reflected on the works of Thomas Keating and Cynthia Bourgeault in relation to nuance and mystery in biblical interpretation. The image of the Nautilus shell came to her: “so accepting of everything, and not judging anything. It has helped me going forward to cope with the times like that and also when I feel so far behind in my spiritual journey. So I offer it to you!”

 

Nautilus Shell

 

Old Ken woke at sunrise

on winter mornings to

collect nautilus shells

before the seagulls

tore them apart.

I was transfixed

by his rows of shells:

each one utterly perfect

and completely whole

whether large or very tiny.

 

The growing nautilus

creates new chambers to move into

whilst retaining earlier ones.

At every moment and at

any time, it remains

completely, mathematically whole –

whether a simple coil

or a multi-layered ancient.

And none of its work is

ever lost; long vacated chambers

exist as beautiful

logarithmic spirals within its

pearlescent heart, always

part of the whole, always completing the pattern.

 

And it is so with our own inner work –

whether we are a many-whorled ancient or

just starting out.

Our present growing, along with every chamber

from which we have

expanded, forms part of an

organically perfect whole

that is at every moment

and at any time, always

complete.

 

 

The Light Overcomes the Darkness

Revd. Dr. Sarah Brush reflects on light overcoming darkness through drawing. 

 

It was some time in 2005 that an image came to me which I just had to get on paper. I started drawing it and like many adults or even over 7s who are drawing, I was dissatisfied with it as it didn’t look like I wanted it to look. The pencil didn’t do what it needed to.

So, I tried again and again.

Finally, prayerfully, the image was there.

In simple black and white:

A silhouette of the head of the Christ on the cross, crowned with thorns.

Yet there was another crown too; a crown of light bursting forth from the head of Jesus and breaking through the darkness.

Of course, drawing in pencil, the light was created by filling in the dark and leaving the light. It rather touched me that; the light was already there – I filled in the darkness and through the darkness the light showed more clearly. The light was already there. It is we who bring the darkness.

Uniquely the cross is the place where the light meets the darkness and where it overcomes it.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. … The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.

John 1.1-5 & 9-12

 

This passage from John sets out John’s whole take on the Good News. The light into darkness. The world in which Jesus was crucified was in darkness. They saw the cross as darkness – misery, torture and death. They did not understand. On Good Friday we try to focus on the cross in this way. Yet I find it very difficult. I cannot see the cross of shame without seeing the cross of glory. “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it”

So this black and white sketch developed into the picture below.

 

Dr Sarah Brush - Crucifixion

Note that the darkness is not all bleak and blackness.

No there are colours there.

Just as sin is not all repulsive and evil – if only it were, we would never sin at all.

No in fact sin can be enjoyable and seemingly fulfilling.

Yet the light is not all pure stark whiteness either, far from it.

The cross here is like a prism which shows the light as it truly is; a rainbow of colours.

 

The Iona Chicken

 

A Poem by Sorrel Wood

 

 Jacob woke up and said, “The Lord is here! He is in this place, and I didn’t know it!”

Genesis 28:16

 

The wind swirled and pummelled the thick morning rain

And the pale sheaves of corn swayed to its music.

The sea was a charcoal chasm

Rippling out towards purple islands:

Islands beyond islands, blurring into mist.

Iona Abbey crouched, squat, on the hillside-

Old stone booming with the loudest silence.

I fretted. Where was my holy moment

In this monastic place? Beside the road,

A fat, brown chicken pecked amongst the stones

Scratching around round dark puddles in the grey dirt.

It strutted, puffed up with feathery importance.

Beyond it- the abbey, beside it- the bins:

Black for ordinary, green for recycling,

Exactly the same as at home. I worried:

Was I the chicken, bothering at worms,

Oblivious to majesty and depth?

But no, that wasn’t it, it wasn’t that.

It was that dirt, chicken, abbey, worm

Recycling- all were holy in this place.

I was as holy as the island, alive as the wind,

Significant as Saint Columba’s bones

Imagining the light beyond the blurred mist.

Surely, God was in this place and I did not know it.

 

I scrambled to capture the poem

Before the wind cast it out to the waves.

The island was alive with whispered song

And I reached out to catch it like butterflies,

But it was like grasping at rainbow light

streaming through glass. And all I knew

As a clear stream babbled past the abbey

down to the sea, was that the spaces between

words are as important, as weighted with meaning,

as the inky scratches from the biro;

as much as the water stretching between islands

as much as the breaths between words,

and that my holy moment

was silence.

 

 

Focusing on the Light

Andrew Hunter reflects on bereavement, and re-discovering God through light and the camera lens. 

 

My name is Andrew and I lived here at Cuddesdon from 2015-17, where I was confirmed into the Church.  My interest in photography stems from visiting a David Hockney exhibition as a child.

 

I left my camera in our bags when we moved here, but I picked it up again after my friend Robbie passed. Robbie was one of the young people I got to know through the church. When he was 18 he found out he had a tumour at the bottom of his spine. I visited him in hospital and later at his parents house, where he was confined to a wheelchair. Life changed quickly for him, but he found some sense of normality by attending college, and discovering a love for photography.

 

He passed in January 2016. My faith was shaken and I could not understand why God would allow such a thing. I didn’t want to go back to doing youth work, or talk to God… Then, one day, I picked up my camera and I remembered Robbie. Also, I joined Cuddesdon Junior Church!

 

I soon found out, I too had a flair for photography, and I started taking lots of pictures around college. Nowadays I continue to help out with childrens’ groups and I still love taking photos.

 

As a wiser man than I once said, “It is during darkest moments, we must focus on the light”. With my camera I can focus on that light. I follow it, getting up stupidly early, so I can race through the fields to find the perfect shot. It gives me hope and a true sense of delight. It helped me find my way back to God. Through the lens I can focus on the beauty that surrounds me. I try to look for that little spark everyday. That little opening to the magical… to the Divine.

 

Andrew Hunter 1

Andrew Hunter 2

Andrew Hunter 3

Andrew Hunter 4

Andrew Hunter 5

Madonna Lactans

Alice Watson reflects on Mary, Motherhood, and the mystery of Christ.

  1. What was

bouts

Dieric Bouts, Madonna mit Kind (ca. 1475)

He is eleven days old and we take him to Church. I am broken.  Not yet learnt how to reform, or realised that it might even be possible.  Swallowed up by silence, and doubt, that nothing can make sense any more.

I feed him in the vestry, I’m afraid he’ll fuss, of the looks, the milk that won’t be controlled, how he coughs and splutters and how I don’t really know what to do.  How I don’t really know who I am.  How I don’t really know.  Squished between the discarded decorations and the sign for the fete, I look up and in a dusty old picture I see you.  Did you know what to do, birthing your own Lord, Word made flesh. Your flesh. How you held in your arms a little ball of universe, and sprayed milky stars across his skin.  In chaos and in love.  What trauma did you know too?

He still feeds long after the bell has rung, after the rows of shuffling feet and crossing hands have made it back to their pew.  But the curtain swishes, and the veil is lifted, and the body of Christ (amen)  And the blood of Christ (amen).  How long until the Blood is my blood, and how long until it’s his?  For His blood was once yours, no purification needed, only grace.  So very full of grace.

  1. And is

Hansen

Kate Hansen. 2010. ‘Gladys and Elizabeth’

He is eight months old and I run back from classes to feed him.  Leaving behind the patriarchs, and the evangelists, and the dead German theologians.  There are quite a few of them. I don’t read many women in these early days.  I am tired and I pretend I’m not.  I drink too much coffee.  I keep up.  Sometimes.  Sometimes barely.  I think of you as my hands move around the beads, or as my mind moves around them as I will him to sleep.

At night I whisper the Magnificat to him.  Half promise, half threat, half dream.  Cast the mighty down.  Raise up the lowly.  Did you do the same, night after night, rocking chair revolutionary.  Is that how he became his Mother’s son?

I don’t go to Walsingham.  I stay home and nurse.  I think you’d approve.

  1. And is to come

icon

Icon of the Mother of God of the Inexhaustible cup.

And so this is this.  Time passes, and I am moulded, formed, softened by the love that has flowed through my ducts, toughened by the fire that burns in my veins.  Perhaps not tough enough.  Still.

I learn of loss, of fear and trembling.  I learn of trust and of acceptance.  I learn of laughter and of lament.  And I learn a little something of the mystery, and the wonder of transformation.  Of pain transfigured to strength, scars to art, nights of tears to mornings of joy.  And of the power that can transform blood, to milk, and to blood again.

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for all of us who cry, who mourn, who are shamed, cast down, who carry heavy burdens.  And for all those who lift them. Now and at the hour of our deaths.  Amen.

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.