Two poems: ‘Because they are no more’ and ‘I’ve had better days’

Two inter-related poems by Dr. Cathy Ross, on the Massacre of the Innocents told in the second chapter of Matthew’s gospel. The text gives the context for the Holy Family’s Flight to Egypt, told in the installation of this image of Mary and the Christ Child as refugees

 

Because they are no more

Soldiers.
Levi and Joshua rush in from outside
Excited, noisy, eager to tell me
Soldiers! Soldiers! They shout in unison.

 

Hush.
Quiet! I admonish them gently
You will wake up our sleeping baby boy
Asleep now after incessant crying.

 

Soldiers.
The boys pant again, more softly this time.
Jumping out of trucks. Striding into homes.
Nervous, I peer out the curtained window.

 

Pounding.
At the door. At the front door. At our door.
Sudden, Brutal. Insistent. Entitled.
Slowly, terrified, I open the door.

 

Baby.
Where is the baby? The soldiers demand.
Sleeping in his cradle, replies Levi,
Awe, fascination and fear on his face.

 

No.
No baby I insist, heavy in my heart
Sensing danger, cruelty and evil.
I move my body to block their entry.

 

Panic.
As they push me to one side, carelessly.
Invade my home, my precious sanctuary
Tracking my sleeping baby boy, Samuel.

 

Abruptly.
The soldier tears him from his small cradle,
Samuel awakes, gurgles, chortles softly
Locks his gaze onto this khaki stranger.

 

Whimpers.
Now Samuel sees the soldier’s troubled face
Quickly the soldier turns his face away
How do you kill a gurgling baby boy?

 

Herod.
He mouths. We just have to obey the orders given.
I scream. I leap forward to save Samuel
The other one pins my arms. Well practised.

 

Blood.
He quietly slits my baby’s throat.

 

Silence.
The silence of the entire universe.
Because they are no more. No more. No more.

 

 

I’ve had better days

 

I had good days
The camaraderie. Training. Purpose.
Join the army. Travel and see the world.
Taxpayer funded. All bills paid, this gig.

 

I had good days
I lacked nothing. My body fit and lean,
My hands not idle. My mind engaged, alert,
My soul, the padre to attend to.

 

I had good days
I enjoyed being useful, part of a team.
Our platoon always obeyed the orders,
We made a difference. Our presence noted.

 

I’ve had better days
The mothers, the bitches screamed and wailed,
They fought like mad she-devils, insanely
Desperate to save their infant children
From our murderous slaughter.

 

I’ve had better days
I am crazy now. The boys’ small bodies
Haunt me still. Boys under two years old
Murdered by psychotic command of a
Paranoid king. Herod, he was called
If I remember rightly.
Or wrongly.

 

I’ve had better days.

 

Nov 2017.
Iffley.

 

massacre innocents.jpg

 

 

 

Geraldine Crimmins: wellbeing and the arts

During Arts Weeks 2018 at Ripon College Cuddesdon, artist and wellbeing advocate Geraldine Crimmins came to speak to students and staff at the college.

 

Geraldine Crimmins is a London-based artist, currently in a professional residency at the Old Diorama Arts Centre in Camden.

 

Geraldine has exhibited at Somerset House and Spitalfields amongst other places, and since 2015 has won four awards for her work, including ‘Outstanding Progression and Achievement in the Arts’ from the Westminster Adult Education Service in 2015, and in 2016 she was awarded the national prize at the UK’s Festival of Learning.

 

Geraldine has said that it is her view that creativity can be a source of nourishment, a kind of ‘food,’ especially for the vulnerable.

 

Although a budding artist in school, Geraldine convinced herself she ‘didn’t have the imagination’ and went on to pursue a successful career as a counsellor and psychotherapist.

 

Geraldine joined us to share the story of her remarkable life, and the part in which the arts have played on that journey, followed by a Q&A session towards the end.

 

A good introductory article on Geraldine’s life and work is provided in this interview in The Canary, and we encourage a visit to her website which has more information, and an an excellent gallery.

 

Here is the talk, followed by the Q&A (which begins at 22.00 minutes), with Geraldine in full:

 

 

 

Our Lady of Calais

 

The Arts Committee of Ripon College Cuddesdon are delighted to announce the installation of a new artwork at the college:

 

Our Lady of Calais

by Joy ‘CBloxx’ Gilleard

Spray paint on board, 250cm x 250cm

 

 

our lady 2

 

Painted and originally exhibited in St. Paul’s Cathedral, London, this picture depicts Mary and the Christ Child as refugees. The picture raises awareness around issues of forced migration and the plight of refugees across the world today. In 2015 the picture was part of a fundraising initiative on behalf of Save The Children.

 

our lady 2 - close up.jpg

 

Commenting on the piece in this 2016 interview, Joy reflects that one of the roles of the artist is to speak to the human condition, particularly on such a large-scale issue affecting human life as forced migration:

 

No work is purely for visual effect…there is a responsibility as a creative person to put a message out there … it is good to challenge perceptions and make people think.

 

Joy describes the process of engaging with the issues surrounding Mary and the Christ Child as refugees, and painting this picture, as a “spiritual experience in itself.”

 

In bringing this piece to the college, our hope is to contribute to raising awareness of the plight of refugees and those experiencing forced migration across the globe. This is an issue especially pertinent to Christians in light of the Holy Family’s flight to Egypt, described in Matthew 2:13-15 –

 

Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.’ Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I have called my son.’

 

Our Lady - in St Pauls.JPG

 

A formal launch of the painting in its new home at Ripon College Cuddesdon will follow in due course.

 

Joy is one of the artists behind the 2017 artwork Athena Rising, a 150ft tall mural on the side of the Platform building in Leeds, the UK’s largest ever piece of street art.

 

Refugee Mother and Child

A Poem by Chinua Achebe

 

No Madonna and Child could touch

that picture of a mother’s tenderness

for a son she soon would have to forget.

The air was heavy with odours

 

of diarrhoea of unwashed children

with washed-out ribs and dried-up

bottoms struggling in laboured

steps behind blown empty bellies. Most

 

mothers there had long ceased

to care but not this one; she held

a ghost smile between her teeth

and in her eyes the ghost of a mother’s

pride as she combed the rust-coloured

hair left on his skull and then –

 

singing in her eyes – began carefully

to part it… In another life this

would have been a little daily

act of no consequence before his

breakfast and school; now she

 

did it like putting flowers

on a tiny grave.

God of Restoration and Repair

Rev’d. Caitlin Carmichael-Davis reflects on the resurrection life in Christ through the poetry of Philip Larkin, the scripture of Isaiah, the prose of Marilynne Robinson, and the paintings of Stanley Spencer. 

 

I was once told that you don’t get back what you lose. Lost is lost. Your childhood, your children’s childhood, those who have died, those long summer days of happy completeness before the photographs become pain.  Life is a process of learning how to lose, as life shrinks and reduces and more and more is lost and disappears.

 

Truly, though our element is time,

We are not suited to the long perspectives

Open at each instant of our lives.

They link us to our losses: worse,

They show us what we have as it once was,

Blindingly undiminished, just as though

By acting differently, we could have kept it so.

Phillip Larkin, Reference Back

 

If this is the lesson life teaches us, it seems unlikely that the afterlife will be about getting things back. Lost is lost. Our resurrection, our heaven, will be something new.

 

Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?.

Isaiah 43.19

 

Yes, I thought, that seems true. Christianity cannot be about making those holiday photographs complete again, those Christmas tables whole. If being ordained has taught me anything it is this — sorrow is weaved into the very fabric of our lives. Under the cheerful ordinariness of Sunday morning coffee, grief lurks unspoken. That wish could easily become the whole of one’s religion. Some sort of destructive spiritualism, a religion of the dead.

 

So I lived for many years with a sketchy, figurative, amorphous vision of the afterlife, a non-interventionist God, an ephemeral Jesus. Christianity was difficult to grasp, I said. Part of its very strength is its shifting oddness.

 

And then I read this:

 

“Memory is the sense of loss, and loss pulls us after it. God Himself was pulled after us into the vortex we made when we fell, or so the story goes. And while He was on earth He mended families. He gave Lazarus back to his mother, and to the centurion he gave his daughter again. He even restored the severed ear of the soldier who came to arrest him — a fact that allows us to hope the resurrection will reflect a considerable attention to detail. Yet this was no more than tinkering. Being man He felt the pull of death, and being God He must have wondered more than we do what it would be like. He is known to have walked upon water, but He was not born to drown. And when He did die it was sad — such a young man, so full of promise, and His mother wept and His friends could not believe the loss, and the story spread everywhere and the mourning would not be comforted, until He was so sharply lacked and so powerfully remembered that his friends felt Him beside them as they walked along the road, and saw someone cooking fish on the shore and knew it to be Him, and sat down to supper with Him, all wounded as He was. There is so little to remember of anyone — an anecdote, a conversation at table. But every memory is turned over and over again, every word, however chance, written in the heart in the hope that memory will fulfill itself, and become flesh, and that the wanderers will find a way home, and the perished, whose lack we always feel, will step through the door finally and stroke our hair with dreaming, habitual fondness, not having meant to keep us waiting long.

Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping

 

There is an oddness, of course, to all these stories. Those distant words “Talitha koum!”, the Jesus who passes through walls and disappears at will. And yet, distracted by strangeness, I’d missed the consistency and the domesticity. While Jesus was on Earth he mended families, resurrected he returned to eat supper with his friends.

 

Memory is part of resurrection — part of a God who is greatly moved, greatly troubled, groaning inside at our grief for those we have lost. Restoration of our relationships is part of resurrection — Thomas’s doubts and Peter’s denials healed by the energy of God’s love. In so many of the stories, incomplete tables are made whole —Jesus returns to eat, to fill the space and the loss and the memory he had left.

 

And if the raising of the widow’s son, the centurion’s daughter, Martha’s brother describes Jesus’s resurrection, and Jesus’s resurrection describes our own, then this will be a resurrection of domesticity and relationship. These are stories which endow the small importance of our homes, lives and memories with all the power and wonder and oddness of this God of undefeatable life. Judaism had always understood the power of memory to create reality, that memory and loss have a creative as well as a destructive power. In these stories that intimation reaches its fulfilment. For out of memory and death God brings into being wholeness and life.

 

spencer - reunion

Stanley Spencer, Reunion of Families

This is what Stanley Spencer showed in his Resurrection paintings. There is a physicality of joy and hope and reunion, Jairus’s daughter become real for all creation. The promise of that distant, chaotic, heat filled day is heard in the familiar greenness of the Oxfordshire countryside, “Talitha koum!”. The beautiful strangeness and physical domesticity of resurrection suddenly visible.

 

As I stand, hand resting on a coffin, commending the departed to God, I believe “That memory will fulfill itself, that the missing, whose lack we always feel, will step through the door finally and stroke our hair with dreaming, habitual fondness, not having meant to keep us waiting long”. That our God is a God of restoration and repair. That the lost will be found.