This is My Body

A poem by Rev’d. Ruth Wells

This is my body
This
Is my body
This is
My body
This is my
Body;
Broken

I trace the cross on my belly
Vertical linea nigra
This black line, marking out your expected arrival
Then the horizontal one I barely dare to touch
The ‘sun roof’ as my sister called it
Made for your quick escape
Your great evacuation
Made in haste.
This is my body broken for you.

This is my blood shed.
The messy reality of new life
Carnage
The aftermath
Blood for weeks
That secret that nobody told me first time round
The woosiness of the initial venture out of bed
Tentative steps like learning to walk again
The return of sensation to limbs numb
The shock of it all.
This is my blood.

And as I flit inbetween sleep and wake
In the liminal hours
The sound of your guzzling
Lulling me into dreamlike trance
I chance again upon the Eucharist
The broken body
The blood shed
And I’m walking the line
Placing your broken body into outstretched hands
Some eager
Others hesitant
All broken
And my brokenness
My bloodshed
Becomes all the more poignant
The collision of humanity & the Divine

And as I hold you to me
Our heartbeats echoing
I am caught up in it all
The brokenness and the beauty.

Wells

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.

 

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.

 

Lila: Life, Blood, and Birth into Love

Jamie Franklin reflects on parenthood, God’s love for humanity, and the miracle of birth into love, through ‘Lila’ by Marilynne Robinson. 

Published in 2014, Lila is the third book in Marilynne Robinson’s rightly celebrated Gilead trilogy. It is also, in my opinion, its crowning glory. Robinson is a deeply and obviously Christian writer, and yet she is also widely accepted by the broader society as one of the greatest living Western novelists, winning the Pulitzer Prize for literature and being chosen as an interviewee by no less than Barack Obama due to his affection for her books.

The eponymous Lila is a multi-dimensional narrative that illuminates Lila’s present by gradually revealing to us her past. We find her as a child ‘just there on the stoop in the dark, hugging herself against the cold, all cried out and nearly sleeping’ and we come to understand that she was neglected by her parents to the point of death when her salvation arrived in the form of Doll, a mysterious woman who takes upon herself the burden to remove Lila from her abusive situation and to give her the best life that she can. Doll and Lila spend the latter’s formative years wandering around from place to place, sometimes alone, sometimes with a gang of similarly rootless nomads headed up by the ruthlessly pragmatic character of Doane, who at one stage abandons Lila on a church porch when Doll is absent for a few days and hence not around to take care of her. After the death of Doll and a period in the hell-like prison of a whorehouse (the book’s language), the present of the book finds Lila in Gilead, the hometown of preacher and genuine man of God John Ames, living in an abandoned shack. Ames meets Lila, falls in love with her, marries her, seemingly unconcerned about her past, and then has a child with her, a baby boy. He is also very old, but I am fairly that his exact age is never mentioned in any of the novels. The moving denouement of the work finds Lila’s existence transformed by the relentless love of John Ames, whose affection for her is something that she finds it hard to accept much less to comprehend. Ames’ age, however, means that inevitably Lila will be left alone to raise their son at a not-so-distant point in his young life, the tragic side to love, being the fear and the inevitability of this sort of parting.

I was deeply moved reading Lila, and I have thought about it a lot subsequently, particularly around the time of the birth of my own son, Rupert, and our continued raising of our one year old boy Rafe. The temptation of critics of Lila (though I’m not aware of any) would be to say that it is a fundamentally patriarchal text that indicates that the woman Lila’s only possibly redemption could come in the form a male hero-character. This criticism, though tempting, would be to miss entirely the point and hence the power of the story. The fact is that Lila is twice saved and twice utterly helpless: the first as a little girl, neglected by the selfishness of her parents, and the second as a woman, whose life has gradually declined into a state of sub-human non-being. The first time, she is saved by Doll; the second time, she is saved by the prodigal love of John Ames. A leitmotif in the novel is the continual reappearance of Ezekiel 16:6: ‘And when I passed by thee, and saw thee polluted in thine own blood, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live; yea, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live.’ Indeed, the book could be seen as an extended commentary upon this passage. The fact is that Lila stands for all of us: we are all helpless, like the little girl sitting outside on the stoop of her house; no eye pitied us, nobody had compassion upon us, but the Lord came to us in his grace. This is the love that Lila finds it so hard to accept, to draw near to. But it is the love by which she is ultimately transformed. It is a love which is sheer grace, totally unnecessary for God to give but absolutely vital for us to receive. It is giftedness and prodigality.

I watched Rupert being born (I really watched it) and this verse came back to me powerfully: ‘I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live; yea, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live.’ When Rupert’s head popped out, I could see nothing else but blood. When eventually his little body followed it was entirely grey and it took him a few second to draw breath to cry, hoping that someone, something, would be there to help him on the other side. He was covered in blood and meconium and other unidentifiable gunk. Strange images occur to you: I thought he looked like a small, hollow sock, so inhuman and incoherent did he look at that moment.

Children simply cannot live without love, not just because they need it emotionally, but because if somebody didn’t care for them, from the moment of conception in the womb to their birth and early fragile and vulnerable days and ever beyond, they would die without hope. And, in that sense, we are all, every single one of us, however imperfectly, literally loved into being. If somebody hadn’t taken pity on us; if somebody hadn’t seen us wallowing in our blood and from then on said to us, ‘Live”, we could not have done so. Maximus the Confessor says in the Four Centuries on Love, ‘We do not know God from his being but from his magnificent works and his Providence for beings. Through these as through mirrors we perceive his infinite goodness and wisdom and power’. Childhood and infancy is unquestionably one of those mirrors, in which, as parents, we are invited to participate in an imperfect way in the perfect parental love of God for us, and, in which, as children, we first learn utter dependency and reliance upon another which is the crucial, base and fundamental fact of our existence. As Maximus taught, if we can have eyes to see these things, then truly we can sense God’s presence among us. Nowhere is this clearer to me than in the beauty of my children’s lives, in their love and dependency upon me, and in my love for them.

And when I passed by thee, and saw thee polluted in thine own blood, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live; yea, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live.

I finished Lila during a long period of reading late into the night. After I had finished, and despite the fact that we have been trying to get our toddler Rafe to sleep in his cot recently, when he awoke a bit later on, I took him to bed with me and allowed him to sleep with his arms around my neck, in the still darkness aware of the mystery of his being.

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.