From dust

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It was warm and we were ambling. Glorious cloud formations floated in the blue dome above us and I suppose I must have been waxing lyrical a bit! ‘Where does your imagination come from?’ my friend asked. ‘From dust,’ I replied immediately. ‘Or, to be more precise, from dust flecks in my eyes.’

Everyone’s experienced them. Perhaps lying in sunshine, on a freshly mown lawn in August. I didn’t know then, as a very small boy, about the Hebrew vision of Creation formed out of dust. But, in company with summer daydreamers all over the world, I could see – behind closed eyelids – little floating flecks of dust (or whatever it is that floats there) and thus began the habit of a lifetime: ‘watching’ a Creator’s playtimes. The beginnings of meditation, one might say. Knowing with a faith-full certainty that there are colours and causes, glories and great wonders, lights and shades of darkness, silences and sounds, warmth and coolness, profound music and mysteries, that are already ‘accessible’ to us long before we complicate our lives by straining (or training!) to see, or hear, or smell, or touch, or taste.

And in that garden ‘knowing’ I learned that faith is about something deeper and greater than humankind could possibly draw ultimate boundaries around. So, for me, our philosophical, political and religious convulsions, and our loves and hates – important though they be – are situated in a space much larger and freer than we usually inhabit.

And here, and there, in the poetry of eternal creativity, I anticipate, I imagine, and whether my eyes are closed or open, for me and for all of us, I hope. Today’s flecks of dust – ourselves and all created things – will be reshaped for the joy of creation.

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The Wind on the Downs

The Wind on the Downs

I like to think of you as brown and tall,
As strong and living as you used to be,
In khaki tunic, Sam Brown belt and all,
And standing there and laughing down at me.
Because they tell me, dear, that you are dead,
Because I can longer see your face,
You have not died, it is not true, instead
You seek adventure in some other place.
That you are round about me, I believe;
I hear you laughing as you used to do,
Yet loving all the things I think of you;
And knowing you are happy, should I grieve?
You follow and are watchful where I go;
How should you leave me; having loved me so?

We walked along the towpath, you and I,
Beside the sluggish-moving, still canal;
It seemed impossible that you should die;
I think of you the same and always shall.
We thought of many things and spoke of few,
And life lay all uncertainly before,
And now I walk alone and think of you,
And wonder what new kingdoms you explore.
Over the railway line, across the grass,
While up above the golden wings are spread,
Flying, ever flying overhead,
Here still I see your khaki figure pass,
And when I leave the meadow, almost wait
That you should open first the wooden gate.

Marian Allen
from The Wind on the Downs,
Humphreys, 1918

Friendships, peace, and freedom of movement in Europe and beyond are of profound importance to me.

I’ve always failed to understand the attraction of too-proud-nationalism – on the battlefield or the sports arena. I cannot begin to imagine the horror of being required to take up arms against another person.

I cannot be persuaded that my political, religious or social beliefs and opinions are the only ones worth having. I have virtually no inclination to set myself in competition with anyone. I’m frequently dumbstruck by the casual violence implicit in the way some people speak of others.

I smiled wryly when I recently read an earnest report about the (relatively benign) effects of light pollution, wishing dearly for higher concentration instead on the thumping noise pollution that blights town and countryside alike. I’m genuinely and generally horrified by the uninvited racket that accompanies such a great deal of cinematic and television output, and even just ordinary social engagement.

And I am frequently beleaguered by the impression that some in our society are absolutely obsessed with gratuitous violence as forms of filmed and televised “entertainment”.

I was touched to the core when I first read Marian Allen’s The Wind on the Downs. I felt I knew her. But more, more even than that, my heart was touched by the millions of other hearts who, for similar reasons, have written poems like this one throughout human history; and by those who are writing similar poetry today, and will be – perhaps with stubby pencil on scraps of paper whilst crammed on board a dangerously overloaded inflatable boat, or perched in the midst of bombed-out dusty concrete dereliction in Syria, tomorrow.

Here still I see your khaki figure pass,
And when I leave the meadow, almost wait
That you should open first the wooden gate.

I want to learn from Marian Allen’s humility, and from the sacrifice of her beloved. And I pray for a personal way of life, and for a humankind, whose first and last priority is – here-and-now – a generously humble, inclusive, quietly reflective and loving heart.

Where the pot’s not

The uses of not

Thirty spokes
meet in the hub.
Where the wheel isn’t
is where it’s useful.

Hollowed out,
clay makes a pot.
Where the pot’s not
is where it’s useful.

Cut doors and windows
to make a room.
Where the room isn’t,
there’s room for you.

So the profit in what is
is in the use of what isn’t.

Lao Tzu

Ecology, economics, gender, politics, poverty, religion, sexuality. Walls keep getting in the way. So, wearily, we return to same old, same old, same old. Cycling round the same old certainties. And the pot’s become more important than the life it’s made to contain.

In the melting pot of our early 21st century societal debate it strikes me as absolutely true that

Where the pot’s not is where it’s useful. 

When and where we’re hollowed out we learn to hold water.