23 February 2015

The wisdom of a stone

Not some famous latter-day president
carved into the fine Dakota granite, 
made to endure a thousand years or more
amidst the torrid heat and acid rain,
but an anonymous chalk behemoth,
half a forehead, an eye, and half an eye, 
an empty hole where once there was a mouth,
his whole face un-faced by mindless vandals
on the cliff where herring gulls nest and cry,
set high above the flat old Kentish beach.

The man, for man indeed he was, old eyes
sunk deep beneath heavy lids stared blankly
placid in freezing snow and burning sun,
silent, secluded, harmless and withdrawn,
a man of all seasons, attached to none.
His nose was flattened like a boxer’s nose,
his cheeks cracked like an old neglected floor,
his bulging forehead hung in weighty folds,
no words of greeting from his toothless mouth, 
no contact made from dim unfocussed eyes.

Lurking half hidden on his lofty perch,
eyes always on the path below, he was
a watcher not aggressive, but timid,
afraid to meet our cold dismissive stares
while, sneering at his disabilities,     
we might rail against him, as against
the nameless intruder in our backyards.
Origins unknown, this sculpted John Doe,
became a reminder that Love would have
us welcome a stranger to our table

In the Spring the calcite head disappeared, 
wiped away by rain and tide and storm,
but my heart still heard his heart's sad voice:
"Remember my friends this my poor sad face
which disturbed the beautiful passers by;
think on the anguish of the thief disowned
by the good who neither forgive nor trust;
consider the chasm which lies between 
wealth and destitution, cardboard boxes
in the cold beach caves - mansions on the hill. 

"In the name of God embrace the cripple, 
for the love of God visit the prisoner,
at the command of God feed the hungry
and invite the stranger into your home."
I saw again the white tears running down
his battered face, but his urgent bidding
left me awed that a stone could be so wise.
Alone on that still path beside the beach,
I was left to mourn his quiet departing
and ask God’s blessing on his lithic soul. 

03 February 2015

My sacred spaces

I have spent a lifetime slowly learning that I do not have an orderly mind, I do not have a rational time-table, I am a creature of fancy and unexplained perceptions. I am moved to worship and prayer by a strand of mist in the the sky, by the minute prism in an abandoned drop of rain, and by the mighty wave blown up from the sea which spills a cloth of living lace across the pebble strewn beach. 

On my bureau is a Nail Cross from Coventry Cathedral. It is a replica of the 1940 original, fashioned from three medieval nails taken from the ruins of the old Cathedral. The world is full of Crucifixes and Crosses, but none I have seen have ever spoken so poignantly as this starkly minimalist Cross which has become the symbol of Coventry’s Mission of Peace and Reconciliation. 

I have on the wall to the right of my desk a Russian blue enamelled Orthodox Crucifix which my most eccentric great-aunt brought back from Russia early in 1917. This has become for me a symbol of the essential unity in Christ that any liberal, unitarian and free Christians may find in the life and teaching of Jesus - whether he be man, myth or God - who was and is a living lesson of love and a mirror of the ineffable and the divine. 

I have shelves stacked with several hundred CDs, very many of them of religious music from every part of the world, from Europe, from Asia, from South America, from the Middle and Far East. These together with the poetry books, most particularly of the seventeenth century religious and metaphysical poets, of T S Eliot and R S Thomas, Mary Oliver and various others of contemporary American and English religious poets who provide the background to my home based religious life and worship. 

From my window I can see Viking Bay and the Channel which links the Atlantic Ocean to the North Sea.  I have been inescapably drawn to the sea, to the wonder and vastness and seeming eternity of it since I first set eyes on it in 1943.  But I had to wait nearly fifty more years before I made my home within sight and sound of what is now my ever changing and God-given seascape.  

Sitting on a bench, looking out across the living waters along the silver-gold path laid down by the sun beginning its journey towards evening I find that this is a very wonderful place for meditation and prayer.  It is here that I fancy in the pounding of the waves, the calling of the gulls, and the shining of the moon and sun that I can hear the voice of God - and for this I give Him my thanks.