There’s definitely an autumnal feel about the colours here today, though still – relatively – warm. I’ll be on the lookout for colour this week though connection / wifi issues will mean I won’t get to post again until catch-up next week. See you soon!
The photographic eye helps one observe something closer and deeper, rather like the poet’s ear. I’ve spent an hour or two this evening mulling over the miracle of the multiple processes of unfolding in our garden. And in me.
My eyes already touch the sunny hill,
going far ahead of the road I have begun.
So we are grasped by what we cannot grasp;
it has its inner light, even from a distance —
and changes us, even if we do not reach it,
into something else, which, hardly sensing it,
we already are; a gesture waves us on,
answering our own wave …
but what we feel is the wind in our faces.
Rainer Maria Rilke Selected Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke
translated by Robert Bly
With an entire ocean separating us, I watched a traumatised woman, already suffering the effects of advanced Alzheimer’s, being rescued from chest high water in Houston this morning. The pathos well nigh overwhelmed me. And that was only the first of the day’s news that seemed to suggest, again, that the world has gone mad. There was so much more to follow. One simply doesn’t know what to think or say.
And yet inner light, even from a distance persuades me, even when unable to find words, to stay positive. To hear that it’s not true that everything’s gone to pot. To notice the tenacity and the goodness that resides deep in the heart of humanity and comes to the fore when needed. By grace at work in somebody the elderly lady was rescued and that ought to be held close to our hearts as encouragement for everybody.
May the people of Texas – and the afflicted and the fearful of the world wheresoever they may be – speedily find again a sunny hill.
I love Ullswater for many reasons and in all seasons – and always when it’s time to have a few cobwebs blown away. This long-exposure (clickable) photo, made this afternoon, captured racing clouds and a decidedly stiff wind – whipping the Union flag at the end of the pier into a frenzy that makes it appear phantom-like against the sky. If you look carefully you may spot the ghostly sage green hull of one of the steamers heading away from the pier too. And the cobwebs? They took flight!
I enjoy books about photography and photographers, surprise, surprise! But seriously, there’s always something new, even after years and years. Always some new take on things, new tips and suggestions that I’m keen to try out. Today I happened upon an old and anonymous newspaper clipping:
‘pick up your camera, walk twenty paces, and make a frame of the first thing that catches your eye, slowly (you, not necessarily the camera) …’
So I did. And the first thing that caught my eye was this tiny insect surveying the last of the our garden daisies to remain reasonably intact after recent wind, rain and their succumbing to old (for daisies) age. The photo is clickable to enlarge, and again for larger still. I’m enthralled by the detail I can observe in just one small daisy. And I wonder what might be the interesting details to be seen close-up were an extra-terrestrial giant to stoop down with a magna-camera to make a macro-frame of me ?
I never will have time
I never will have time enough
How beautiful it is
The way the moon
Floats in the air
And lightly as a bird
Although she is a world
Made all of stone.
I never will have time enough
The way the stars
Hang glittering in the dark
Of steepest heaven
Their dewy sparks
Their brimming drops of light
So fresh so clear
That when you look at them
It quenches thirst.
Anne Porter Living Things: Collected Poems, 2006
This lovely poem brings forth a question in me, perhaps intentionally. The poet writes ‘I never will have time enough to say …’ – and I understand the poetic gist readily enough. But is it true for me? Have I not time enough to say all that I need or want to say? So I follow Anne Porter’s example and head out for a few moments to look up at the night sky. And in my heart I find it is enough. Indeed it isn’t really necessary to say anything at all. Yes, enough. In this moment there is time. And perhaps tomorrow there’ll be some more.
Always a door within a door we find
When curiously we venture to explore
The obscure and labyrinthine corridor
Of man’s unsearchable immemorial mind –
Always a shrine within a shrine, when we
Would seek through courts and chambers crystalline
The temple’s holy of holies, to divine
The secret of the soul’s flame-folded mystery
Wilfrid Wilson Gibson, 1878-1962 Islands, 1932
Mystery keeps us searching – reaching both inward and out. This is our task – and it’s a vivifying and infinite one. We humans have access to ‘courts and chambers crystalline.’ That’s something worth getting out of bed for in the morning! Mystery is Life. And its Source. Gift and charism await us all, always. Much still unrevealed.
The Infinite a sudden Guest
Has been assumed to be—
But how can that stupendous come
Which never went away?
from The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson
World news causes fairly widespread breathlessness. Sometimes I’m comforted – for all its enormity – by reflecting upon my little space and place within the context of the infinite. The phrase ‘underneath are the everlasting arms’ comes to mind.
But the silence in the mind is when we live best, within listening distance of the silence we call God. This is the deep calling to deep of the psalm- writer, the bottomless ocean we launch an armada of our thoughts on, never arriving.
It is a presence, then, whose margins are our margins; that calls us out over our own fathoms. What to do but draw a little nearer to such ubiquity by remaining still?
Many years ago I spent a night in a comfortable bed, set in the centre of a palatially large stone-walled bedroom, in an exquisitely beautiful converted priory in Northern France. Many generations of monks hadn’t entirely left. The beauty of deep silence all around me moved me to inexpressible joy. Silence spoke eloquently of one of the chief trials of contemporary, Western, human experience: the perils of too much noise.
In the morning sunlit-warmed mist, over wide and silent horizon, rooted me to the landscape. It was painful to leave. And I am daily faced with a choice. Either to complain about noise, or to make space often to withdraw from it. Most often I choose the latter, having found it entirely possible, for most of my adult life, and much of boyhood too. Letting go of complaining is best, for it takes up too much time and energy.
Better to remember that old priory, and the morning mist; better to listen for deep calling to deep, the bottomless ocean, the presence. Better to choose regular silent space. And to be still. It’s a matter of will. Yes: counterpoint.
Born quietly from deepest night,
It hid its face in light,
Demanded nothing for itself,
Opened out to offer each of us
A field of brightness that travelled ahead,
Providing in time, ground to hold our footsteps
And the light of thought to show the way.
The mind of the day draws no attention;
It dwells within the silence with elegance
To create a space for all our words,
Drawing us to listen inward and outward.
We seldom notice how each day is a holy place
Where the eucharist of the ordinary happens,
Transforming our broken fragments
Into an eternal continuity that keeps us.
Somewhere in us a dignity presides
That is more gracious than the smallness
That fuels us with fear and force,
A dignity that trusts the form a day takes.
So at the end of this day, we give thanks
For being betrothed to the unknown
And for the secret work
Through which the mind of the day
And wisdom of the soul become one.
John O’Donohue The Inner History of a Day
To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings
I’ve been enjoying photos of the Eclipse as seen in the US; and good and brave souls embracing and ‘getting back to normal’ on Las Ramblas in beautiful Barcelona; and hundreds of other snapshot fragments of life around the world on the 21st August 2017.
And I’m so grateful for John O’Donohue’s calling our attention to the ‘eucharist of the ordinary’ – that quiet inner life, the dawn ‘born quietly from deepest night,’ where all humankind and natural phenomena together are joined in the ‘work through which the mind of the day / and wisdom of the soul become one.’
The best thing about a
poem is that no-one
has to read it unless
they want to: the poem
exists though, here and there –
everywhere, inside me
perhaps, and also in
you too, but quietly
art and recreation
for a contemplation
that might be for many
a kind salvation, full
of gift and grace and free –
even if demanding
in the reading, and for
me – again – the best thing
is that no-one has to
read the poem unless
they want to, so many
may do, as though that had
been poetic grand plan.
This is the first, the wildest and the wisest thing I know: that the soul exists and is built entirely out of attentiveness
Mary Oliver cited by Parker J Palmer,
Quaker elder and columnist for On Being – here
What would the world feel like tomorrow morning if broadcast ‘world news’ tonight was comprised of just the one piece of Wisdom Mary Oliver notes here?
No advice, no opinions, no looking to leaders of any kind, nor any seeking to lead or be led. Just every single person in the world watching quietly, without reaction, and with benign interest, the stream of soul-destroying thoughts ticker-taping inside their own head. And letting them go.
What would the world feel like tomorrow morning if there was a complete absence of noise – noise replaced with no thing other than focused attentiveness, however brief?
Could we laugh at ourselves and our shifting certainties? Could we put to one side our politics and religions, our tribes and education, our perceptions of culture and dominions – even for a little space? Would we yearn to return soon to the stillness and silence of such a soul-building place?
In the morning and at afternoon and evening: let it begin, again, with me.
It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,
and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have begun our real journey.
The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.
Wendell Berry Standing by Words, Essays by Wendell Berry
Friends ask ‘do you really have a poem for pretty much any occasion?’
Two answers come quickly to mind: the first, that I’m not nearly well read enough for that to be true; the second, that I’m wary of the proposition – believing as I do that thoughtlessly ‘dishing out texts’ willy-nilly can lead to some pretty unhealthy outcomes.
Yet, for all that, there’s no getting around that I do look to poetry as guide, nourishment and sustenance almost every day. Sometimes this involves taking down books from shelves, and at others going down deep and in silence into the library of the soul.
Sometimes a poet’s message is clear, read or remembered, plain as a pikestaff – and that’s good, so long as I remember that next time I come to the same poem the experience – and the message – will be, probably ought to be, quite different, or at least a little more evolved.
At other times it’s a poem’s nuance that I’m attracted to. A certain open-endedness, invitation to an abiding, to contemplation and / or reflection.
Poetry is always a gift for those who are lost, confused, unsure, unclear and perplexed (that’s to say, all of us at different times in our lives) because it brings us to a halt for a while, even if only for seconds, reminding us that we’re never in full possession of ‘answers’ to this world’s mysteries. Never were, are not, never could be.
And yet there is an enduring melody, a cantus firmus somewhere in the depths of us. In the place where we recognise
The mind that is not baffled is not employed,
The impeded stream is the one that sings.
And in the singing come to grow, if not to know. And today’s new work becomes clear. Here.
Oh Barcelona! Beautiful city. Home and host to the Temple of Light, unsurpassed art, my nephew, and a host of international friends; beautiful, warm city where only months ago 160,000 compassionate and humane citizens marched in favour of opening wide gates of welcome to desperate refugees from Syria – how are we to retain optimism tonight?
How are we to avoid sounding cheap or trite when our hearts reach out to friends, some as close as family, in these days of bewilderment in the United States of America? Or Berlin, Brussels, Damascus, Homs, Jerusalem, London, Manchester, Nice, Paris, Stockholm …? I do not know.
I only know that I must reach out, holding fast to – and speaking frequently of – the kind of optimism that on the surface of things simply doesn’t make sense on evenings and in weeks like these. Holding fast to the kind of optimism (if that’s even the right word?) that insists every day on recognising the height and depth and breadth of goodness that does, truly, exist in the heart of humankind, though loud and shocking minorities work to have us believe otherwise.
Human love and tenderness, hospitality and welcome, compassion and forgiveness, holding fast to good – these things are not controlled by, nor in the gift of lawmakers, nor the ‘politically correct,’ nor presidents, princes, preachers or praters; not controlled by, nor in the gift of the demanding, the domineering, the fanatical, the leering, the violent, nor those who have difficulty hearing anything but the sound of their own tragic, woeful ignorance.
Optimism, the hope of the world, human love and tenderness, hospitality and welcome, compassion and forgiveness, holding fast to good, walking hand in hand, standing shoulder to shoulder – these things are in the gift of the majority of humankind – whose hearts lurch in horror as they think on events in Barcelona today, or in Charlottesville just days ago.
‘They tried to kill my child, shut her up, but guess what, you just magnified her,’ said Heather Heyer’s mother, Susan Bro …
Height, depth and breadth! Love in the mothering heart of just one humane human that may leave us speechless for a while. Speechless but not hopeless. Our task, wherever we are in this wounded yet still beautiful old world, is to turn up the volume, not of rhetoric, but of Susan Bro-like optimism and magnifying love. Like a candle in the dark.