Not just Winnie-the-Pooh

E H Shepard is well known as the illustrator of A A Milne’s delightful Winnie-the-Pooh stories, the much loved little bear modelled upon his son Graham’s teddy bear. Shepard said he’d “never seen a finer bear”.

An exhibition at The House of Illustration off London’s Granary Square shows that Shepard’s work had a far wider audience. Awarded a Military Cross for conspicuous bravery in the trenches, detailed and meticulous drawings and watercolours kept Punch magazine supplied with regular accounts of the realities of life and death on the Somme in one of the very few ways that could get past wartime censorship.

Shepard was able to provide annotated drawings so accurate in scale and precision that intelligence was frequently able the better to assess enemy strategies.

Very well worth the visit.

And Granary Square itself, like nearby St Pancras and King’s Cross Stations, is a superb example of an Arts Capital aiming for public engagement with art.

A huge pavement level installation of LED illuminated fountains persuades crowds to sit down to listen to what sound like the footsteps of a thousand marching feet in one moment, giving way to the cooing of bathing pigeons and the delighted shrieks of small children who can pedal or toddle through the intermittent fountains without being overwhelmed.

Add readily available good coffee, plenty of elegant granite bench seating, blue sky, warm late October sunshine and smiles in every direction and before you know it a couple of hours have shaped a person happier, even, than the perfectly cheerful soul who arrived.


Stirred to the core tonight by newly knighted Sir Karl Jenkins conducting the London Philharmonic Choir and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall.

Dies Irae from Requiem;
Benedictus from The Armed Man; 
Song of the Spirit, Adiemus, Song of the Plains

All these and more were spellbinding.

Stabat Mater solos from soprano Lucy Knight, mezzo-soprano Katie Bray, the startlingly glorious Palestinian singer, musician and musicologist Reem Kelani, together with charismatic performance from percussionist Zands Duggan, and sheer exuberance and involved joy in two male choristers especially, all these moved me to tears and overwhelming joy in equal measure.

But, next to the breathtaking stardom of the maestro himself, I think the entire assembly was lifted early in the evening to a sublime height never experienced, or ever even dreamed about, by the presence in and of, and the violin solo Lament by, the spectacularly extraordinary Joo Yeon Sir.

Defying description, save by the soaring notes themselves, I think I was given a glimpse of how a capacity for Lament, reaching to breadth, depth and height, might ultimately and eternally unite all things; a glimpse of something truly redemptive, a longed-for restoration, a coming home, the ultimate arrival, eye-blinking and astonished awakening. Pure genius. A bridge between worlds.

Our Last Awakening

Bring us, O Lord God,
at our last awakening
into the house and gate of heaven,
to enter into that gate and dwell in that house,
where there shall be no darkness nor dazzling,
but one equal light;
no noise nor silence,
but one equal music;
no fears nor hopes,
but one equal possession;
no ends nor beginnings,
but one equal eternity:
in the habitations of thy majesty and glory,
world without end.

John Donne, 1571-1631
Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, London

One moment



Attachment to the self renders life more opaque. One moment of complete forgetting and all the screens, one behind the other, become transparent so that you can perceive clarity to its very depths, as far as the eye can see; and at the same time everything becomes weightless. Thus does the soul truly become a bird.

Philippe Jaccottet

Is this what’s behind fishermen leaving their nets, tax collectors leaping up from their counting tables, the marginalised fed-up life-watchers leaping out of trees to offer hospitality, saints and martyrs offering up their already transfigured lives?

Is it that some person, or some thing, or some event, or some place on land or sea suddenly give rise to our forgetting our dull selves just long enough to see that where we’ve all come from and where we’re all going are one and the same – because all things are one and the same?


Not conscious
that you have been seeking
you come upon it

the village in the Welsh hills
dust free
with no road out
but the one you came in by.

A bird chimes
from a green tree
the hour that is no hour
you know. The river dawdles
to hold a mirror for you
where you may see yourself
as you are, a traveller
with the moon’s halo
above him, who has arrived
after long journeying where he
began, catching this
one truth by surprise
that there is everything to look forward to.

R S Thomas
Collected Poems

A veil lifted

I’ve been driving in Northumberland today – though aquaplaning might be a more accurate description. Sheeting rain falling in heavy torrents out of a leaden grey sky pressed down upon us. In marked contrast to yesterday’s cloudless blue sky and sunshine, today the world we journeyed through was veiled. Sight – and even insight – depressed and dimmed.

Bede Griffiths, a Benedictine monk, spent the last forty years of his life in India making synthesis between Eastern and Christian mysticism, living the simple life of a Hindu sannyasin. As a schoolboy he was transported by a mystical experience in a sunlit field. A veil lifted that altered the course of his life. In his spiritual autobiography* he wrote

“This experience may come, as it came to me, through nature or poetry, or through art and music; or it may come through the adventure of flying or mountaineering, or of war; or it may come simply through falling in love, or through some apparent accident, an illness, the death of a friend, a sudden loss of fortune. Anything which breaks through the routine of daily life may be the bearer of this message to the soul. But however it may be, it is as though a veil has been lifted and we see for the first time behind the facade which the world has built around us. Suddenly we know we belong to another world, that there is another dimension to existence … We see our life for a moment in its true perspective in relation to eternity. We are freed from the flux of time and see something of the eternal order that underlies it. We are no longer isolated individuals in conflict with our surroundings; we are parts of a whole, elements in an universal harmony”

Bede Griffiths, 1906-1993
*A new vision of reality

No let up in the grey cloud cover and the teeming rain today until, as so often before, just before sunset. And then a veil lifted. Suddenly orange and yellow hues of sunlit western skies, like the simple robes of a lifelong contemplative, were bright and glorious, everything around and within illuminated, warmed and heartened – “freed from the flux of time” …

A little temple

I love a particular tree in each of the seasons – but especially, if truth be known, when, after presenting an appearance of fire for a few weeks, it remains brave and bending as late autumn winds divest it of its still glorious leaves.

It’s a particular tree, very close to me, that I have in mind, though a single fallen leaf, all bright and beautiful, on a pavement, ten years ago at Châtelet in Paris – and others in other cities besides – are all attached to heart-stories still, and wind-blown clouds, and contemplation, and prayer.

Mary Oliver speaks of a poem in The Leaf and the Cloud

It wants to open itself,
like the door of a little temple,
so that you might step inside and be cooled and refreshed,
and less yourself than part of everything.

That’s how my particular tree is for me. Like a little temple. And the temple is before me in the veins and in the blown-about fragility of the fallen leaf on the path in front of me, every bit as much as in, on a larger scale, the tree.

The Leaf and the Cloud have history, origins, inner life, and an ultimate destination – like the tree, like each and every living and dying thing, like me. “Like the door of a little temple …” I am being invited, season by changing season, to enter in and sit awhile, and therein, to see: in life and in death, we’re all “part of everything.”

Pasture for gazelles

There was a time I would reject those
who were not of my faith.
But now, my heart has grown capable
of taking on all forms.
It is a pasture for gazelles,
An abbey for monks.
A table for the Torah,
Kaaba for the pilgrim.
My religion is love.
Whichever the route love’s caravan shall take,
That shall be the path of my faith.

Ibn Arabi
Andalusian Sufi mystic, poet and philosopher, 1165-1240

There’s a glorious super-moon illuminating the unlit streets and byways of our village tonight, the peace and calm of holy-night remembrances, as it were, all about us. There’s a liberality, a generosity about such tranquility that is in such stark contrast to the same moon’s shining over destruction and devastation in countless places all over the earth. So many of us alive in our twenty-first century have not learned what Ibn Arabi had learned in the twelfth.

And so I shall continue to hope and to listen and to pray until “my heart has grown capable of taking on all forms”.

Inscrutable Design

One thing leads to another, and so often we discover later that they’re all linked. Perhaps that’s what will be writ large in the heavens when our sojourn upon this earth gives way to new depths and adventures –

“They’re all [we’re all] linked.”

Anyway, today led me to Carl Jung’s writing about an experience in Uganda in 1925:

” … After a while an elderly Englishman, obviously a squatter, joined me, sat down, and likewise took out a pipe. He asked where we were going. When I outlined our various destinations, he asked, “Is this the first time you have been in Africa? I have been here for forty years.” “Yes,” I told him. “At least in this part of  Africa.” “Then may I give you a piece of advice? You know, mister, this here country is not man’s country, it’s God’s country. So if anything should happen, just sit down and don’t worry.” Whereupon he rose and without another word was lost in the hordes surrounding us. His words struck me as somehow significant, and I tried to visualise the psychological state from which they had sprung. Evidently they represented the quintessence of his experience; not man but God was in command here – in other words, not will and intention, but inscrutable design.”

C G Jung
Memories, Dreams, Reflections, p285f
Harper Perennial / Fontana Press, London, 1995

I wonder how much more at home we’d all be in this world if we rested in the knowledge that it is “God’s country”; that will and intention, however great and important they may be, can never trump inscrutable design.

What would the world look like if all humanity were able to “just sit down and don’t worry”, trusting in a life-provision – in a fundamentally benevolent design – that is, for all its nearness and immediacy, also truly unfathomable?


Yesterday I posted part of Ernesto Cardenal’s translation of Psalm 19 – a hymn to Creation on the grand scale. Today I’ve been reading his 1970 book Love. With what Thomas Merton’s appreciative Preface describes as his ‘lucid and “Franciscan” simplicity’ Cardenal sees Love at the heart of, literally, everything – even when it doesn’t recognise itself. And such a proposition gives rise to pause and contemplation. Really? Love at the heart of everything? Which led me to thoughts about essence – that which Jesus said ought not to be kept hidden beneath a bushel – which led me back to Danna Faulds:

Who you are

Who you are is so much more than what you do. The essence, shining through the heart, soul, and center, the bare and bold truth of you does not lie in your to-do list. You are not just at the surface of your skin, not just the impulse to arrange the muscles of your face into a smile or a frown, not just boundless energy, or bone wearying fatigue. Delve deeper. You are divinity; the vast and open sky of spirit. It’s the light of God, the ember at your core, the passion and the presence, the timeless, deathless essence of you that reaches out and touches me. Who you are transcends fear and turns suffering into liberation. Who you are is love.

Danna Faulds
Go In and In

Essence and remembrance. Keywords – and key people – I’ll be returning to here.


Nicaraguan liberation theologian Ernesto Cardenal renders the opening verses of Psalm 19 thus:

The galaxies sing the glory of God
and Arcturus 20 times larger than the sun
and Antares 487 times more brilliant than the sun
Dorado Sigma with a brightness of 300,000 suns
and Orion Alpha which is equal
to 27,000,000 suns
Aldebaran with its diameter of 32 million miles
Lyra Alpha 300,000 light years away
and the nebula of Boyer
200 million light years away
all announce the work of your hands …

Ernesto Cardenal
Psalms of Struggle and Liberation
Burns and Oates

And here in my little space I observe that, far from being discomfited by universal enormity, I rest in the strength of the Creator of such a context, and in the gentleness of the same One to Whom both psalmist and translator address the prayer at the Psalm’s conclusion: “may the words of my poems be pleasing to you / Lord my Liberator”.

What the spirit reaches for

I have decided

I have decided to find myself a home
in the mountains, somewhere high up
where one learns to live peacefully in
the cold and the silence. It’s said that
in such a place certain revelations may
discovered. That what the spirit
reaches for may be eventually felt, if not
exactly understood. Slowly, no doubt.
I’m not talking about a vacation.
Of course at the same time I mean to
stay exactly where I am.

Are you following me?

Mary Oliver

I’ve never met her, though I think of Mary Oliver as a trusted friend and spiritual counsellor. The poet asks here “Are you following me?” and I respond “I hope so, Mary.” At any rate I am daily resolved to sit awhile, to stay, thereby to find myself a home where “certain revelations may be discovered.”

The Ubiquity of a Presence

Writing, like faith, springs and falls in seasons: sometimes daily, sometimes weekly, sometimes monthly …

And months have flown by since my last post here and “Fall” is now upon us – in glorious technicolour in my part of the world. As leaves fall reflections rise – ever-renewing the want to meditate, to pray, to reflect and to remember, and to set aside a little time to write.

Today, I think, it was reflecting upon the ever-changing technicolour around me that brought to mind one of Richard Rohr’s daily meditations at the end of September. Writing, beautifully and generously as always, in a piece called “Your Imaginarium“, Rohr cites Joseph Campbell quoting Thomas Merton:

One cannot apprehend a symbol unless one is able to awaken, in one’s own being, the spiritual resonances which respond to the symbol not only as sign but as ‘sacrament’ and ‘presence.’ The symbol is an object pointing to a subject. We are summoned to a deeper spiritual awareness, far beyond the level of subject and object.

Thomas Merton
Symbolism: Communication or Communion?
New Directions 20
(New York: New Directions, 1968), pp 11-12

. . . Mythologies and religions are great poems and, when recognised as such, point infallibly through things and events to the ubiquity of a “presence” or “eternity” that is whole and entire in each. In this function all mythologies, all great poetries, and all mystic traditions are in accord; and where any such inspiriting vision remains effective in a civilisation, everything and every creature within its range is alive. The first condition, therefore, that any mythology must fulfil if it is to render life to modern lives is that of cleansing the doors of perception to the wonder, at once terrible and fascinating, of ourselves and of the universe of which we are the ears and eyes of the mind.

Joseph Campbell
Myths to Live By, p 255
The Collected Works of Joseph Campbell

Here’s a vision that sets the spirit’s wind whistling in my wheels: ‘great poems … the ubiquity of a “Presence”‘.

Ah yes: always and everywhere, no matter the circumstance or season. Vivifying challenge to both the xenophobic and the theologically smug.

Would that all of us might find our locus in poetry’s truths. I’m reminded of some words in Michael D Higgins’ wonderful poem, Take Care

… Belief
that you hold steady.
Bend, if you will,
with the wind.
The tree is your teacher,
roots at once
more firm
from experience
in the soil
made fragile.

Your gentle dew will come
and a stirring of power
to go on
towards the space
of sharing.

Michael D Higgins
from Take Care
New and Selected Poems
Liberties Press, Dublin, 2011