A Universal Song


Writing is a journey of discovery that takes me places that I never expected …

… a friend wrote to me today. And – in the way of such things – I have been taken thereby to places that I never expected, wondering all day about the extraordinary gift of languages in words, and in music, which can sometimes transport our words so exquisitely.

When I was first moved by Les Miserables in the 1990s I remember being sure in my mind that Marius’ grieving in Herbert Kretzmer’s Empty Chairs and Empty Tables was not for one revolution alone, but for every reflection and reconsideration of past, present and potential. A Universal Song.

Hearts are breaking all over the world for innumerable reasons today. Too many empty chairs and empty tables. I find myself awed by the purity of young Cormac Thompson’s rendition here – a clarity that carries an invitation to reflect straight to human hearts.

May our words be quiet, kind and clear; may our music sometimes be hope-filled silence – so that we really hear both, allowing ourselves to be reshaped, that we may the better transform our world. A quiet revolution. Thus may we be taken to unexpected, perhaps joy-filled and hopeful places.

archive – a list of all earlier posts


Hmm. There has been, I think it’s fair to say, a breeze of hot air in the inner courts of Westminster this week – just as in most weeks, and just as in my own conversations with myself! By chance I came across some pondering from way back in Summer 2016 today. I’ll carry the re-reading with me into the coming week …

When we have put it into words
windinmywheels.com – 11 July 2016

Another day of surprises in British politics – and a new Prime Minister (Teresa May) lined up for Wednesday evening. I wish outgoing and incoming leadership every possible success. The burdens of high office are immeasurable – and are incalculably demanding across any and all party boundaries.

As I’ve suggested many times before, it would be the sea of words that would most get to me. Language is the vehicle of depth and of essence – but is too easily trivialised, tripping off tongues that have too many, too quick, demands made of them. Something in me insists on reaching deeper than the mere surface meaning of words – and it’s a reaching inwards that I aspire to, every bit as much as a reaching outwards. Richard Holloway has put a finger on why:

… we are creatures who use language and sometimes only know that we know something when we have put it into words. We are, therefore, destined to struggle with language and concepts, to find the words that approximate to the realities we encounter. We must recognise a fundamental difficulty with this at the outset: language can sometimes suggest the reality of the thing to which it refers, but it can never be the thing to which it refers. This is true when we are talking about one another and human experience; it is trebly true in our attempts to describe spiritual realities. Language is analogical, it describes by likening one thing to another; or it is metaphorical, it operates by using dramatic figures of speech that suggest the reality of the thing described in an image or a sound sequence, such as Tennyson’s

The moan of doves in immemorial elms,
And murmuring of innumerable bees.

Language is revelatory. It can bring us close to the reality described but we always have to remember that it is not itself the reality. It is an interpretation, a way of thinking about something, but never exactly the thing itself; it is flesh made word.

Richard Holloway
The Stranger in the Wings

So be we president, prime minister, prophet or observing person in the street, any and all who write, or place their hope in human manifestos must also “hear” them, deep within, if ever we’re to believe that flesh made word might truly be turned into word made flesh.

Yes: leadership on the one hand and “ordinary” human lives on the other are tough calls! Talk is not the same as action – and shouldn’t always be allowed to trump the wisdom found in deep reflection and silence. And too hasty action can sometimes be worse than none.

There are no easy answers to be found when it comes to the governance of nations, nor even of our own governance of ourselves. All humankind then ought to do everything it can to reach deeper than merely skimming words.

When we have put it into words
windinmywheels.com – 11 July 2016

Time to say

photo at pixabay

Looking at the sky

I never will have time
I never will have time enough
To say
How beautiful it is
The way the moon
Floats in the air
As easily
And lightly as a bird
Although she is a world
Made all of stone.

I never will have time enough
To praise
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.

Questions and no answers

Make no mistake, I only achieve simplicity with enormous effort. As long as I have questions and no answers I’ll keep on writing.

Clarice Lispector
Hour of the Star

There’s no music without depth of silence upon which to paint notes. Often I have shared my love of ‘silent music’ – the spaces in between. Absence of answers, the unfinished, the infinite, the eternal, the questions – are as important to me as expressed chords and symphonies, every bit as important to me as the words I yearn to read, and shape upon my tongue, and set down upon a page, and have engraved upon my heart, occupying my days and nights, my soul-work, my love, my leisure.

It’s not arriving, or the making of judgments, proclamations, speeches or songs that draws me towards the eternal. It’s living with questions that have no trite answers. Writing, reading, making poetry and prayer, long-savouring notes and words, meditating before the great backdrop of silence. Effort. Gratitude. Occasionally glimpsing an Eden of simplicity.

Words and community

We begin life in community from the time of our earliest awareness of family members and our chosen friends. It’s a special joy to watch grandchildren begin to sense wider belonging, and celebrate it.

For my part, continuing contact with innumerable people I’ve encountered across a lifetime, some of whom I actually meet only rarely, is one of life’s richest gifts. Handwritten letters are treasures. I can still ‘see’ some such letters that passed into history years ago, and often something as simple as a distinctive hand restores huge swathes of detail and story to my mind one might have thought long forgotten.

Always something of a daydreamer in my schooldays (and since!) I wasn’t overly keen on learning penmanship and writing exercises. How glad I am today for those who persevered in teaching me the joys of the written word. I cannot imagine life, or story, without them.


Words are fools
Who follow blindly, once they get a lead.
But thoughts are kingfishers that haunt the pools
Of quiet; seldom-seen …

Siegfried Sassoon
from Limitations

“Words are fools / Who follow blindly” said Sassoon, the poet of the First World War – who loved the glories of measured words, whilst well understanding that they’re a tool that can be misused with sometimes catastrophic consequences.

In post-EU Referendum days here in the UK we’re feeling what it is to be a society convulsed by words-induced panic. I, for one, am glad to observe that there appears to be a great deal of feeling being experienced in the midst of it all – for it’s often the case that when human beings really feel something at gut and heart level they’re a little less likely to be brow-beaten by orators great and small.

My little X-in-the-box on Referendum day was not so much informed by words as by emotion. And that emotion, that feeling, tells me – every bit as much today as it has ever done – that what human beings can do together, what nations and continents can do together, we ought to do together.

Perhaps the present leadership vacuum need not be wholly lamented since it affords at least a little space for  kingfishers that haunt the pools / Of quiet; seldom seen …

Mr Holmes

Were I able to shut
my eyes, ears, legs, hands
and walk into myself
for a thousand years,
perhaps I would reach
– I do not know its name –
what matters most.

Anna Swir
To that which is most important
Talking to my body

I am reflecting upon having been much moved by Sir Ian McKellen’s Mr Holmes earlier this evening. The world renowned actor has recently said that he is finding it increasingly difficult to remember his lines. But his magisterial presence is about so very much more than well delivered words. McKellen’s charisma is, I think, profoundly empathetic, possessed of heart and soul that deeply knows and understands something of the harsher realities and uninvited vicissitudes of the human condition. Sir Ian would grace stage or screen were he never again to speak a word thereon. He is, even wordlessly, in his own person, graced.