Thursday, 28 May 2015

As love which flows ...

University feels a very long time ago (maybe because it is). But way back then I lived with a group of people who, even now, when I talk about them in the collective, I refer to as "my housemates" despite the fact that it is more than ten years since we lived together, and that one of them was, strictly speaking, never our housemate in the first place anyway. I am aware that I was very lucky to be thrown together with this group of people who I still count among my best friends.

Lives have moved on of course since university days, and our lives all look very different to they did when were 18 (thank goodness!) and different to each others too. I am really pleased then, that in spite of jobs, marriage, children, physical distance and the general busy-ness of life, we have maintained our friendship.

When, last summer, one of my "housemates" not only asked me if I would read at her wedding but also asked if I had any suggestions of suitable texts, I, somewhat rashly perhaps, offered to write something. Actually, there was nothing rash about it at all. I thought long and hard before making the suggesting the idea. I don't normally write 'to order' but simply when the mood takes me so I knew there was a fairly high chance that I wouldn't be able to come up with anything anyway. More significantly I was also very aware, in making the offer that I wanted her to feel absolutely free to say thanks, but no thanks; both immediately, and more importantly, as a response to whatever I wrote. I didn't want her to be left thinking, 'nah, that's not what we want to say, but I suppose now she's written it we ought to use it'. If I went ahead and made the offer, it was because I decided she knew me well enough to know that when I said I wouldn't be offended if she didn't use it, I really meant it.

Trying to draw together some of the themes they hoped to express at their wedding, and inspired partly by my own experience of, at that point, about ten years of married life (which is probably as close as I'm ever going to get to a romantic comment on this blog), this was the result:

As rain which pours
From endless skies

And in these drops
From heaven sent
Are born
The newness
A source
Welling up
And spilling over

And is this joy?
The bubbly exuberance
Of refreshment
Into rainbows
The confidence of youth

And in this
Tumultuous tumbling
A mass of rocky debris

The jagged edges
Which might yet be
The solid foundations
Of a life not yet lived

As criss-crossed streams
Through friendships formed
And moments shared
In tracks and grooves
Of other lives
Or carving out
A new way

All their own
And is this grace?
The giving way
To the twisting complications
These realities
We call life

Which bump and spill
Through obstacles
and invitations
The eddies of a pace
which speeds and slows
But is never

In streams which meet
And flows that mingle
Becoming one
As a stronger flow
Flows on
And carries
Greater burdens
Greater life

A river which at its joining
Offers no barriers
But opens space
Where others too

Might find a place
And is this faith?
The tumbling
Blindly off a cliff
With the energy
Of trusting
Life flows on
In an unknown
better place
Where the other
Also leaps

To follow
No straight line route
From a to b
The landscape of a lifetime
By this

And is this peace?
To know
The end may not be
The destination

When on this shore
Waves gently lap
Across rounded pebbles
Rubbed smooth
By the trusting of time

With the satisfied sigh
Of a life well-lived

As joy, and grace, and faith, and peace
Find love.

Friday, 15 May 2015

Beautiful Birmingham

I have never thought of myself as a big city person. One of the aspects of moving here I was less than sure about was how much I would enjoy living at the heart of the city. I recognised, of course, the practical value: everything on the doorstep, fantastic transport links, all of that, and I also knew that the opportunity at Carrs Lane was an exciting one; but for all that I wasn't really convinced city centre life was going to be for me.

And yet, almost two years on, I have grown to love Birmingham. Don't get me wrong, it is very far from perfect. I still find the number of people who choose to spend their weekends in the shopping centres slightly depressing, I still dislike being stuck on a bus in too much traffic, I still yearn for real, wild green sometimes...

But much to my surprise those things are outweighed by a love for this place I have adopted as home: by knowing that each time I walk out the front door the streets will be full of life and diversity; by knowing that there is so much going on and so much to be involved in that you will never be able to do it all; by knowing that there is hidden beauty in unexpected places if you are willing to open your eyes and look for it.

Thank you, Birmingham, for becoming home.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

The morning after the night before

I stayed up all night on Thursday. It made for a fairly depressing night of television viewing . With my facebook friends clearly not being an accurate reflection of the views of the nation, there was much doom and gloom by early Friday morning. It would have been easy for those of us who would describe ourselves as "left" to fall into a depressed inertia or wallow in the self-pity of wondering why everyone else couldn't just think like us. It was to remind myself, as well as others, that I wrote 
So a depressing election night draws to a close ... But politics doesn't just happen once every five years, it happens every day: in creative action, in voices speaking out about what they believe, in changing hearts and minds. So I will not cry into my morning cup of tea, I will aspire to go out and continue with the real politics I and others can believe in. because boy will there be work to be done!
I know I am extremely lucky to be able to be involved in lots of things about which I am really passionate. So for me, that real politics began on Friday morning when I had the privilege of helping facilitate a mock election among the students I teach at St Chad's Sanctuary. Their insights and ideas were just the inspiration I needed at that moment.

Beginning with a discussion of the necessary qualities of a leader, none of them, funnily enough, mentioned being photogenic or media-savvy. Instead they called for those who are honest, promote justice, have faith in the new generation, are good diplomats, are fair, want human rights, are "strong but also kind" and, in a tell-tale sign of other experiences who are "able to pass the power to others in a good way". 

Fourteen students from Iran, Eritrea, Congo, Sudan, Guinea and Syria formed four political parties. They wrote their manifesto, trained up their candidate, presented their ideas and voted for the new prime minister. Any of them could have got my vote.

As this was going on, there was plenty of opportunity for discussion: about policies and the things they hold dear, but also about political experience and what it means. My Congolese student who had previously told me "I don't like elections because too many people died" was clearly in his element presenting his vision for an alternative. The Sudanese students reflected on whether the situation in their country, where opposition parties are allowed to exist even if the endemic corruption and violence means they are never elected, is perhaps slightly better than the experience of their Eritrean classmates, where all opposition groups are completely outlawed.

Relatively limited English didn't prevent them choosing policies which encompassed big themes. They were a reminder of how often our politics, bogged down in  minutiae and personalities, forgets to communicate the principles and values we ought to hold most dear. In spite of hesitant English and evident nerves, they presented their ideas with clarity and passion.

For all  of them, peace, justice and human rights were significant priorities. They spoke of their desires to stop all wars, to make friendship between different countries, to allow people to have different opinions, to value people's culture and religion and identity. They spoke of the need for economic development, suggested a higher minimum wage, better training and more jobs. They campaigned for affordable food for all. Education figured prominently, with calls for free, better quality education for all, and specific mentions of the need to educate girls in Africa. Access to free healthcare, medical centres in villages, better care for the disabled and more doctors and nurses were all mentioned. 

While lots of their ideas were clearly borne out of personal experience,it was refreshingly evident that these were not self-interested ideas seeking only what was best for themselves, but that they encompassed a vision of a better world being possible. One party even named themselves the "New Vision Party." "We will help all other people and other countries who don't have what we have" promised the young Eritrean woman who was eventually elected.

Sadly they are not allowed to vote and influence who is in power in Westminster. But as long as there are voices which dare to believe in a different vision, there is hope for our "politics" yet.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

The Mystery of Love

Another poem which has taken a while to see the light of day! This one was inspired by a workshop by Brother Stephen in Taize last summer. He used a number of artworks to explore different types of human love: between parents and children, between siblings, between friends, between lovers; leading to an exploration of what insights they offer into our understanding of divine love. This poem was my response to some of the ideas raised.

Rembrandt - The return of the Prodigal Son

As a beloved child
This warm embrace
Of discovering
This loving gaze
That’s scarce remembered
Yet deeply felt
Daring to stretch
A hand that holds
This gift of life
Our accepted vulnerability
In all we are and cannot be
There is a spark of the divine
In this unconditional welcome
We call love

Bonnat - Jacob Wrestles with an angel

As siblings side by side
This crucible of yearning
Of learning
To love and lose
To fight, to fall
And then forgive
Daring to stretch
A hand that says
In all the pain I do to you
And you to me
In all we are and cannot be
There is a spark of the divine
In this eternal struggle
We call love

Icon - Jesus and St Menas (Jesus and his friend)

As friends who tread
These interwoven journeys
Of exploring
Which converge, divide
But do not force
Daring to stretch
A hand that guides
And gives permission
To stay close, or drift away
In all we are and cannot be
There is a spark of the divine
In this shared understanding
We call love
Chagall - Song of Songs

As lovers lives which intertwine
These creative places
Of knowing
That I can just be me
And yet together
We are somehow something more
Daring to stretch
A hand that offers
In ways I didn’t know I wasn’t
In all we are and cannot be
There is a spark of the divine
In this burning passion
We call love

In the welcome and the struggle
The sharing and the passion
In this dance of human lives
With all we are and cannot be
There lives the whole
Of the divine
In this mystery of love
We call God