New Year’s Eve

Reflecting this evening, I have so much to be thankful for – mind’s eye images of many immeasurable blessings celebrated and received in the past year – in my own life, in the lives of loved ones, and in the life of the world. But painful and utterly tragic images flash before my eyes, too. So, in saying farewell to the old year, I’m quietly praying for deeper thankfulness, healing and peace, for the peoples of the earth, wherever they are, and for me and my part in all that lies ahead, and for you, too, in the new.

Presence

And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean, and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man,
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things

William Wordsworth
Lines composed a few miles above
Tintern Abbey – excerpt

Books, exercise, more books, wind-stirred flooded fields in wintry sunlight, puppet-theatre Alice in Wonderland in company with involved imaginations in grandchildren, cautious crossing of fords not there yesterday, round table, fine supper and fireside. His own home forty minutes from here, though in another age (and farther and longer then, by trap or on foot) – yet, aeolian voice upon the wind, across the fields and waters, I hear the poet say: “you too” …

And I have felt
A presence

Unmoving majesty

The mist may seem to throw the mountain
into obscurity, but nothing can shake its grand
unmoving majesty!

Rabindranath Tagore
Jottings, 59, page 78

Living here in earth is to have access to art in incalculable forms. The sky above high fells and mountains in our part of the world is a celestial art gallery, and the mood of each and every “painted” sky and landscape changes second by second. Warmed by the sun, cooled and whipped by wind, sparkling with rainwater and overflowing rivers, lightly blanketed, darkly hidden and shrouded, black and blue and brown, and green and grey and gold, purple and red and violet and yellow – and always, beneath the vibrant kaleidoscope, unshaken – as Tagore observed – unmoving majesty. Art leads us to the Heart.

In the zone

Never even remotely sports-minded I’ve nevertheless noticed that the best amongst athletes are people who are, as the pyschologists would have it, “in the zone”. There’s an unmistakeable Presence about sporting people who are fully focused: Jessica Ennis-Hill. Mo Farah.

Or on stage and screen: Dame Judi Dench has it – her presence felt in a crowded room. A lone Edward Fox fills an empty stage. And in the wider public life: Pope Francis. The Dalai Lama. HM the Queen. In graceful flow, fully occupying their space, these people are frequently seen smiling. Unmistakeably alive, buzzing, energising, giving. We take notice.

Just back from rowing at the gym – more to do with time-of-life necessity than with any love for sport – I have a smile on my face, fully present. The rower’s a good place for just being, for contemplation, for the lithe, smooth movements of endorphins-encouraged fully-physical flow – a kind of “being plugged into” the energy shared by other focused people, there, and in the know. Yes. Smiling. Home in the zone. Communion.

Light

The “good news” that inspirited the Evangelist St John was of a Light shining in darkness that would never be overcome. For many years, on his feast day, 27th December, we have celebrated light with friends of over forty years standing – the light of faith, generally, and the light of love and long friendship, particularly.

Around warm and candlelit hearth and home, feeling like royalty in the presence of extraordinarily generous hospitality, we’ve shared so many of our highs and lows across the years that now – “friends on earth and friends above” – they seem, to us all, to have blended into one.

May the co-creating, faithing, living “poetry” of all the world’s good news bearers, from each and every gifted and poetic tradition, and in each and every home, draw us inexorably towards that great light, that ultimate one-ness or communion that St John the Evangelist knew – and was certain could never be overcome.

Their within

Things have their within

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
The Phenomenon of Man

From atoms, all the way up to galaxies and beyond, things have their within. The poetry of life invites us to praise – or, put another way, to draw up, to raise from within the particular gifts, the art at the heart, the hitherto unimagined potential in ourselves, as in all things, by which they and we may play our co-creating, offering part. So I train my ear – frequently to reach beneath surface noise to the inner guide, to in-tuition, to the quietly voiced phenomena, to revelation within.

Windows

For twenty-five days we’ve loved opening windows upon a vista of nature through the gift of a perfectly beautiful Advent calendar – and here renew our thanks to the lovely givers.

Bare branches, badgers, berries, cottage in the woods, deer, dogs, festal tree, foxes, hare, hedgehog, jackdaws, mice, owls, robin, snow blanketed fields, sparrows, squirrels, Christmas roses, winter walkers …

And daily mind’s eye transport through it all – to cows and sheep and donkey, and to “oxen lowing”, and a natal celebration, just beyond the window, in an animal shelter, long ago.

This Christmas morning we spoke of how we’ll miss the happy daily ritual – though the artwork itself will remain in honoured place for the forseeable future. And then our talk received an answer.

Just inches beyond the kitchen screen a perfectly splendid pheasant strolled into our own garden and was delicately helping himself to seed mixture – perfectly placed in the feeder so that no more than the gentlest of stretches was required for his convenient reach. We were enchanted.

Iridescent copper-coloured plumage. Head, small ear tufts and neck of green, throat and cheeks in glossed purple. Face and wattle of splendid red. Calendar advent come alive: “great and mighty Wonder” – past, present and future. And praise. Happy Christmas.

Little Icon

Shepherds, wisdom seekers, astrologers, hoteliers, flute players … Everychild, Everywoman, Everyman – any and all of us may find ourselves surprised and touched to the core by the advent of an infant. A tiny little living icon. The contemplation and the meditation come naturally as we take in the miracle: eyes, nose, little mouth, fingers, toes …

The life lessons – for all of us – begin with the the wonder of perfectly proportioned littleness, moving on to the realities of words beginning with every letter of every human alphabet – words like awakened, becoming, crying, dependence, education, feeding, growing, hoping, imagining, joy, knowing, learning, mothering, newness, otherness, purpose, quietness, radiance, simplicity, thankfulness … 

Whosoever and wheresoever we are in the world, with or without faith tradition, with or without much expectation or imagination, we’re never very far from a tiny little living icon of Life present to and with us, a living, breathing wonder of both immanence and transcendence, a reminder of where we’ve all come from and where we’re all heading, encouragement in hope and strength, and in weakness and vulnerability.

Tiny little living icons turn our lives upside down and right side up again, and in each and every one of them, in good times and in bad, theirs and ours, we come face to face with the imprint of the Life-giver, with the Immortal, with the Invisible, and – even if unknowingly – yearn to become Wise. Oh, Shalom, precious little Icon. Shalom.

He’s delivering

Your cheerful smile and friendly few words have been consistent time after time throughout the past year. Driving DPD for miles through sunshine, flood, storm and tempest you appear never to miss a beat. Your van is packed tight with many dozens of packages to be delivered to untold numbers, and the race to beat the clock leaves little time for two-way appreciation over signature and exchange.

So: Happy Christmas, courier friend. May Christmas Day deliver to you a well deserved opportunity to be exactly where you want to be, with whoever you most want to be with – and maybe one or two packages addressed especially to you. With many thanks.

Pen strokes paint

Light oak polished
floor, mantel-shelf,
hundreds of books
lining walls each side
small tables, reading
lamps, wall lights – four

modest tv, and film
collection, clicking
knitting needles, coffee
cups, pens, inks, paper
iPad, Mac, iPhone
Bethle’m nativity scene
star above stable door

bright Persian rug
set centred on the
floor – Libertino’s
Italian magic carpet
rides to places
unheard of heretofore.

Beige leather sofa
and chairs, black
stove warming
hearts and home
low round table
books, journals, arts

Zbigniew Herbert poems
Thomas Merton, Thomas Mann
watercolours, Richard Rohr
Rabindranath Tagore
Ken Wilber, Austin Farrer’s
The End of Man

Rembrandt’s The Artist
in his Studio
has inward
looking eyes – painted-out
dulled and black. His
great paintings seen
in mind’s eye and

nothing did they
lack. So from my
mind’s eye in a
favourite room at
home, pen strokes
paint – in words

alone.

Simon Marsh

Rudolph with bumps

It used to be just the song: familiar tune and words that could be sung sitting down. But it’s much more fun now – even if fairly exhausting – and the old-fashioned way just so, well, passĂ©, I guess, and grandfatherly.

Today I learned that it’s supposed to go something like this:

Rudolph the re …

(grandchildren fall to the ground shouting “bump”, laughing)

d nosed reind …

(grandchildren fall to the ground shouting “bump”, laughing)

eer had a very shiny no …

(grandchildren fall to the ground shouting “bump”, laughing)

se. And if you ever saw it, you would ev …

(pattern repeated, forte, until the end of the song, followed by further repetitions of the entire piece until parents and grandparents are without voice and / or energy and the little ones are still shouting for more)

There’s never a day, not even the “shortest day”, when there isn’t something new to be learned. Wonder of wonders.

Pen and ink

I’ve spent the greater part of this afternoon handwriting letters, many of them rather overdue, and have been glad of it. Letter-writing slows me down and focuses heart and soul and mind. The deliberate, precise marks of pen and ink upon paper need to be made slowly enough to allow for deciphering later – always a tricky business with my hand; and for reflection upon things one wants to share with the recipient, and upon the person herself or himself, and upon where our life-correspondence has brought us thus far, making of quietness a necessity.

This is wholesome and good. Both the address and the quietness in which it is made remind me that all of our lives are sustained in relationship. We make marks upon paper in much the same way that our addressees, and life itself, make marks upon us, and we upon them. Unique and very personal signature beneath “yours ever”, or “sincerely”, or “faithfully” or “gratefully”, or “with love” brings persons into one another’s company, wheresoever we or they may be. And in company there can be no limit to the possibilities we may come to see.

Tied with ribbon

“My agent says I’m a PR dream: a Muslim who celebrates Christmas”.

Nadiya Hussain, Great British Bake-Off winner, enjoys a big family celebration for her birthday on the 25th December, writes Tony Turnbull in the Times today, but will also find time for a personal Christmas tradition:

“Every year, I always make things like biscotti, florentines or shortbread as gifts. I’ve got a rule that if I can see your front door from my house, you’ll be getting a little bag of chocolate biscuits, biscotti or shortbread, wrapped in cellophane and tied with ribbon. It’s not so much about celebrating Christmas as being mindful that some people don’t have family and friends, perhaps, and want nothing more than a friendly chat.”

Jesus of Nazareth and other big hearted, big minded teachers in every nation and age have shown that it’s little “rules” like Nadiya’s that are the building blocks of the uni-verse, the one-world.

“If I can see your front door” … or any neighbour’s, or a whole street of homes, or a town, village, country, continent, globe – or international space station and beyond: if I can see you – there’ll always and everywhere be something to celebrate. Connection, giftedness, humanity, relatedness – “tied with ribbon”.

Little fir tree

We must learn to see the world anew
Albert Einstein

Mr Einstein was right, of course, so I seek out times of stillness, simply to gaze, sometimes, upon what is before me, allowing silence to colour, hearten, illuminate, imagine, recollect and suggest in all that I see.

Hence deep moments with a little four-foot fir tree. Installed festal guest in our home just a few hours ago, its sweet scented simplicity, bedecked in tiny coloured lights, is both warm-familiar and mystery to me.

And tonight, by grace of contemplation and gift of imagination, each lamp, steady and true, brings heartfelt and thankful nearnesses to mind, with you, and with you, and with you (dear fellow writers, over there) too.

Newborn-starry-hands

I thought I would count the stars –
My counting went on all night.
But I kept on losing the thread.
This morning I’ve understood
That only by not
Looking too closely,
Do we see a whole thing right.
Just look at the sea –
Don’t drive yourself crazy
Trying to scoop it out!

Rabindranath Tagore
Jottings, 160, page 98

Just look. That’s all. Just look. (At the stars, or the ocean, or her tiny-little-perfectly-formed-newborn-starry-hands). Breathe softly. Just look.

Wonder of Wonders. That’s All.