Monday, 18 August 2014

Friday 1st August 2014

from the Psalms appointed for today's Morning Prayer

Psalm 4 v9

I will lay me down in peace, and take my rest, for it is Thou, Lord, only, that makest me dwell in safety.

Psalm 5 v8

Lead me Lord, in thy righteousness, because of mine enemies; make thy way plain before my face.      Crosfields School Boys Choir is the best version in my opinion.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Clive James Poetry - Sentenced to Life

And another Clive James poem from his website.

When I was first told that I had this auto immune condition, I thought "I going to die"

Then I thought "Stupid fool, everyone is going to die. And you might well die of something else anyway - who can tell?"

And then I thought "I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly." (John 10, 10, I looked it up later)

So I decided to fill my life, for as long as I could, with PLENTY, so that if and when I become less mobile (euphemism for "housebound") I would have PLENTY to reflect on. That's partly what this blog is about - a sort of on-line scrap book. But I might go as far as printing the pages and sticking them into a real book in case something happens to the virtual world and it disappears...

Anyway, the next thought I had was "This is not a death sentence, but a life sentence", which is now back to the point of this entry, because that's the name of the poem, and it is caught my attention because of its relevance.

Sentenced to life

Sentenced to life, I sleep face-up as though
Ice-bound, lest I should cough the night away,
And when I walk the mile to town, I show
The right technique for wading through deep clay.
A sad man, sorrier than he can say.

But surely not so guilty he should die
Each day from knowing that his race is run:
My sin was to be faithless. I would lie
As if I could be true to everyone
At once, and all the damage that was done

Was in the name of love, or so I thought.
I might have met my death believing this,
But no, there was a lesson to be taught.
Now, not just old, but ill, with much amiss,
I see things with a whole new emphasis.

My daughter’s garden has a goldfish pool
With six fish, each a little finger long.
I stand and watch them following their rule
Of never touching, never going wrong:
Trajectories as perfect as plain song.

Once, I would not have noticed; nor have known
The name for Japanese anemones,
So pale, so frail. But now I catch the tone
Of leaves. No birds can touch down in the trees
Without my seeing them. I count the bees.

Even my memories are clearly seen:
Whence comes the answer if I’m told I must
Be aching for my homeland. Had I been
Dulled in the brain to match my lungs of dust
There’d be no recollection I could trust.

Yet I, despite my guilt, despite my grief,
Watch the Pacific sunset, heaven sent,
In glowing colours and in sharp relief,
Painting the white clouds when the day is spent,
As if it were my will and testament –

As if my first impressions were my last,
And time had only made them more defined,
Now I am weak. The sky is overcast
Here in the English autumn, but my mind
Basks in the light I never left behind.

TLS, May 2, 2014

"trajectories as perfect as plainsong"

For me, the sharp focus of the words of this poem starts with the goldfish. I, too, am more noticing, more aware than I ever used to be. I pay more attention to the small, immediate things all around, close by, rather than moving through a blurred landscape with my eyes on some far, long-term future.

I too, have a sunset that I watch, one that I stored up in a memory created when I was 16, in a temple on a sea cliff in Bali, and thought, back then, "this is something I will want to carry with me forever".

Clive James Poetry - Driftwood Houses

May Bank Holiday 26th May 2014

On the Today programme, Radio 4, this morning, they announced that Clive James would be reading his new poem on Life and Death later on. Well, I couldn't wait for them to get round to it, because first of all they had to have one of their antagonistic interviews in the aftermath of the European Parliament Elections and I can't bear to listen to this kind of argumentative point scoring and ranting.

However, a search on Google brought me to this website;
It has a video of Clive James reading the poem in question "Driftwood Houses", and the write up below, from the New Statesman 
Clive James is, by some miracle, 74 years old. He was diagnosed with terminal leukemia and emphysema in 2010, and has come close to death a number of times. I'm in no doubt that everything depends on modern technology, he said, when we visited him recently in Cambridge, and the availability of cheap electricity”.
Everybody has a favourite Clive James. He is a poet, broadcaster, critic, author and translator, whose most recent work – his “crowning achievement” – is a translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy. Since arriving from Australia in 1962, he has forged a reputation unlike any other in British public life. Even now he is brimming with ideas. He plans to abandon journalism over the coming months in order to start work on a new book – or two. There’s already one in the bag, however, a book of poetry criticism which will be published this autumn, “even if I drop off the twig, as we say in Australia”.
While we spoke, James’s sentences were punctuated by a violent, rattling cough. “This has exhausted me,” he said as we drew to a close. “But I’ve loved every minute of it.”
As we left and loaded our cameras into the car, he came out and stood by the gate. He thanked me for my questions, for taking care of the poem published in this week’s New Statesman, and for coming up to visit. “Oh to be starting out,” he said. “What I wouldn’t give to be starting out again.”

Further searching took me here;

Driftwood Houses is in "Recent Poems" - again, another introduction first, this time by Clive James;

Except for my micro-epic "Aldeburgh Dawn", all of the poems in this section have been written and published since my collection Nefertiti in the Flak Tower came out in the UK in 2012. (Publication in the USA is scheduled for late 2013.) Most of them are already ear-marked for yet another collection, which doesn't have a title yet, but which I hope I will be still around to see published. I have been quite ill for three years now but have found that when I have any energy and clarity of mind at all, poetry has been my first means of signalling how I feel. I don’t quite know what this says about how deep the instinct must lie to express oneself in verse. Maybe the whole impulse is just a reaction to the kaleidoscope of medication, with all those pills of different shapes and colours.

and here's the poem and its illustration

Driftwood Houses

The ne plus ultra of our lying down,
Skeleton riders see the planet peeled
Into their helmets by a knife of light.
Just so, I stare into the racing field
Of ice as I lie on my side and fight
To cough up muck. This bumpy slide downhill
Leads from my bed to where I’m bound to drown
At this rate. I get up and take a walk,
Lean on the balustrade and breathe my fill
At last. The wooden stairs down to the hall
Stop shaking. Enough said. To hear me talk
You’d think I found my fate sad. Hardly that:
All that has happened is I’ve hit the wall.
Disintegration is appropriate,

As once, on our French beach, I built, each year,
Among the rocks below the esplanade,
Houses from driftwood for our girls to roof
With towels so they could hide there in the shade
With ice creams that would melt more slowly. Proof
That nothing built can be forever here
Lay in the way those frail and crooked frames
Were undone by a storm-enhanced high tide
And vanished. It was time, and anyhow
Our daughters were not short of other games
Which were all theirs, and not geared to my pride.
And here they come. They’re gathering shells again.
And you in your straw hat, I see you now,
As I lie restless yet most blessed of men.

-- New Statesman, April 18, 2014

The point is that this sums up how I feel about my own condition; the various elements that affect my health result in my lungs feeling as though they are full of glue, and coughing up the gunk is physically hard work. Walking stairs and slopes makes me breathless, walking up a steep hill is very slow work, but is still possible, a few paces at a time. The second part of the poem says it all,

"To hear me talk you'd think I found my fate sad. Hardly that. All that has happened is I've hit a wall; disintegration is appropriate, ......
........ They're gathering shells again. And you in your straw hat, I see you now, As I lie restless yet most blessed of (wo)men."

So I'm not sorry for my self, (not yet, anyway!). I'm blessed by the life I have had, and the life still to come.

His rhyme structure is so subtle, so neat. The poem is a perfect thing.


Saturday, 18 January 2014

"Look to him and be Radiant"

A theme of Sunday School classes I was teaching at the end of last year was "Light" - letting the light of God shine out from your eyes to brighten up other people's lives.

The following post put a different spin on the idea of shining with the light of God;


All of the following copied and pasted from

I always enjoy the Poetry Chaikhana blog, and especially so yesterday's poem by Izumi Shikibu:

Watching the Moon 
at midnight,
solitary, mid-sky,
I knew myself completely, no part left out.

Do read it there, and Ivan Granger's commentary. He says that, like the Moon, our individual consciousness only gives light if it reflects... And here I would say: if it reflects the Light of God, the 'love that moves the Sun and the other stars.'  'Look to him and be radiant', says the Psalmist in what has long been a 'touchstone' verse for me.  I give thanks for the ways in which that reflected light shines on me through pastors, preachers, dear 'soul friends' and (God forgive me!) the most unexpected of people. And all the graces I pray for can be summed up as the grace to grow to fullness, like the Moon, so that I can reflect more.

Sunday, 29 December 2013

December 29th 2013 - Leadership

from Rule of St Benedict, second part of chapter 64 (adapted for a female community)

Once she has been constituted,
let the Abbess always bear in mind
what a burden she has undertaken
and to whom she will have to give an account of her stewardship,
and let her know that her duty is rather to profit her sisters
than to preside over them.
She must therefore be learned in the divine law,
that she may have a treasure of knowledge
from which to bring forth new things and old.
She must be chaste, sober and merciful.
Let her exalt mercy above judgment,
that she herself may obtain mercy.
She should hate vices;
she should love the sisterhood.

In administering correction
she should act prudently and not go to excess,
lest in seeking too eagerly to scrape off the rust
she break the vessel.
Let her keep her own frailty ever before her eyes
and remember that the bruised reed must not be broken.
By this we do not mean that she should allow vices to grow;
on the contrary, as we have already said,
she should eradicate them prudently and with charity,
in the way which may seem best in each case.
Let her study rather to be loved than to be feared.
Let her not be excitable and worried,
nor exacting and headstrong,
nor jealous and over-suspicious;
for then she is never at rest.
In her commands let her be prudent and considerate;
and whether the work which she enjoins
concerns God or the world,
let her be discreet and moderate,
bearing in mind the discretion of holy Jacob, who said,
"If I cause my flocks to be overdriven,
they will all die in one day."
Taking this, then, and other examples of discretion,
the mother of virtues,
let her so temper all things
that the strong may have something to strive after,
and the weak may not fall back in dismay.
And especially let her keep this Rule in all its details,
so that after a good ministry
she may hear from the Lord what the good servant heard
who gave the fellow-servants wheat in due season:
"Indeed, I tell you, he will set that one over all his goods" (Matt. 24:27).

In reading the rule of St Benedict, I have been struck by how compassion, mercy, and kindness are interwoven into the rules. There is always a "bottom line", the point at which the Rule solidifies to an immovable steeliness.

Humility and virtue, learning and prayer are prime requisites, guiding principles, for leadership in the monastery. It is useless to try and puck out one sentence, one phrase in the writing above; everything is needful, none is surplus.

Actually, I started this post from reading the two blog entries which I have copied below, related to leadership in schools.  They have a lot in common with the Rule of St B.


h/t twitter:  Alex Quigley @HuntingEnglish 17h
: This much I know about resisting the misery of life in our schools...." ”. < The time of year for hope!
Great organizations have leaders who:
  1. Have mentors and coaches.
  2. Point out uncomfortable truths quickly, honestly, and compassionately.
  3. Live authentically. Fakers can’t be trusted. Trust is foundational to influence.
  4. Monitor and manage emotional states. Feelings impact performance.
  5. Expect results and don’t make excuses.
  6. Compare themselves with their potential, not others.
  7. Concentrate on people. Love is a leadership word.
  8. Clarify and narrow focus.
  9. Make others feel powerful. Employees in great organizations don’t say, “Things never change.”
  10. Love winning and compete aggressively.
  11. Talk and act humbly. Great leaders make others great. They’re never full of themselves.
  12. Engage with others without interfering.
  13. Ask “stupid” questions. They aren’t afraid to look stupid by not knowing.
  14. Prioritize culture building.
  15. Set direction but delegate decisions to those closest to the action.
  16. Hold themselves and others to high, agreed upon, standards.
  17. Have fun. Many leaders I know take themselves too seriously.
  18. Recognize, reward, praise, and honor others.
  19. Give back to the community. Generosity is normal, not rare, for leaders who build great organizations.
  20. Face forward by thinking, talking, and acting with the future in mind.
and then from the same blog at

Great leaders always:
  1. Tell the truth.
  2. Demand the truth.
  3. Act in the best interest of their organization.
  4. Get results through others.
  5. Celebrate the success of others.
  6. Challenge the status quo.
  7. Press into the future while honoring the past.
  8. Try.
  9. Receive criticism gracefully.
  10. Learn.
  11. Inspire.
  12. Improve.
  13. Encourage.
  14. Listen more than speak.
  15. Take responsibility.
  16. Show gratitude.
  17. Pursue clarity and specificity.
  18. Engage in self-reflection.
  19. Act in alignment with who they are.
  20. Rest.

Saturday, 28 December 2013

Places to Visit - St Nectan's Glen

Here's a whole new category to add to this scrapbook of things that I want to try and remember.

This looks like such a glorious place. I have copied and pasted the rest of this post from the link below.

7. St Nectan's Glen, Cornwall

St Nectan's Glen, Cornwall

Until the making of Sacred Wonders, I had never heard of St Nectan's Glen in Cornwall. It is an astonishingly beautiful, even magical spot, like a fairy glen made real. The glen has been cut by water and erosion during who knows how many millennia. What greets the visitor now is a waterfall that drops around 20m into a natural bowl and then emerges through a circular hole cut by the endless stream. Moss and lichen cloak the sheer sides, along with precariously perched trees, so the whole place has a mysterious, otherworldly atmosphere. Once revered by pre-Roman Celts, who venerated the spirit of the water, and later associated with the 6th Century Saint Nectan, it is still visited today by thousands of people from all over the world. The Arthur myth too has been bolted on and folk thereabouts believe the king and his knights came to the glen to be blessed, before heading out in search of the Holy Grail. Christians, Buddhists, pagans and curious visitors with no religious beliefs of any kind are drawn to the place to this day. Many leave little souvenirs of their visit - single coins wedged into tree trunks, old train tickets from the journey, photos and keepsakes of loved ones.

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Christmas Eve 2013 - I AM

Reflection on Sermon at our church at the Midnight Communion on Christmas Eve

I was sooo tired at this service, that I could barely listen to the sermon. In the end, I let myself off, and just held on to two points.

One is an old thought, but struck me afresh; how the I AM sayings of Jesus follow on from Moses' encounter with GOD at the burning bush;     

Image from Icon Reader.
found at


Exodus 3:1-15    Moses and the Burning Bush

Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”
When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”
And Moses said, “Here I am.”
“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Then he said, “I am the God of your father,[a] the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.
The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. 10 So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”
11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”
12 And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you[b] will worship God on this mountain.
13 Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”
14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am.[c] This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”
15 God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord,[d] the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.’

“This is my name forever,
    the name you shall call me
    from generation to generation."
I wonder what Jesus actually said - for the words "I AM" were too holy to be spoken aloud. Did he really say "Jehovah the Good Shepherd", or "Jehovah the Way"? If he did, then no wonder the Jews were shocked. As if English parents called their son "Jesus" - common enough in other countries, but definitely strange and shocking in England.
The other thing that struck me is that the vicar said that Jesus never said "I was born", but always "I came", or "I have come".
John 10:10
"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full."
It makes it clear that he comes from heaven, rather than just being born. 
There were other good things in the sermon, connected, linking, expanding, illustrating how Jesus IS God, and has come to save us, now and for always, but I just stayed with these two thoughts, resolving to get them concreted into my mind before they vanished under everything else that happens at Christmas.
Emmanuel. God, with us, always, everywhere.