Category: Thoughts

A letter from Bewcastle – April 2024

Dear Friends,

A few weeks ago I welcomed a small group of special visitors to our benefice. They gathered from Europe and North America to spend some time looking at, and touching, one of the most important Anglo-Saxon monuments in northern Europe. I am, of course, referring to our Bewcastle Cross. They were the top Old English runologists in the world. What is a runologist? Well, someone who studies runes, the ancient form of writing that was used in the northern part of Europe by Germanic peoples, including Scandinavians, before the Latin alphabet was introduced, and for a long period after for special purposes. Runes are comprised of straight lines (although some later forms have a few have curved elements) and so are well adapted to carving on wood and stone. Both the Bewcastle Cross, and its sister at Ruthwell, have extensive runic inscriptions, and many of the characters have similarities to the letters we use today. For example:

This runic inscription from the Ruthwell Cross reads ‘Krist was on rodi’. ‘Rodi’ is ‘rood’ as in ‘rood screen’ that you find in some churches and is the Old English term for ‘cross’. So this translates as ‘Christ was on the cross’, a line from the ancient Anglo-Saxon poem ‘The Dream of the Rood’, which we read together and meditated on around the Bewcastle Cross on Good Friday.

The visit was organised by Professor John Hines of Cardiff University, an internationally renowned expert on Anglo-Saxon and Viking Age archaeology, history and literature, now retired. He wrote to me in December asking for permission to visit, with the small international community of runologists, to see if, together, they could make some progress on deciphering the main runic panel on the west face of the Cross. They came one weekend in early March; some of them, including Professor Hines and his wife, joining us for the Sunday morning service in St Cuthbert’s church. At the conclusion of the service I went outside, as I always do, to finish by greeting the cross with a kiss and praying before it for God’s blessing on all who have been worshipping, and the whole of creation. I think the runologists who arrived too late to join the service, and were outside looking at the cross and waiting for the others, were rather bemused to see this! For them, the cross was an archaeological object of intense interest, rather than an enduring icon of Christ’s presence among us.

But this old stone cross has been standing here, silently, for the last 1,300 years, proclaiming Christ’s passionate and unquenchable love for us and all creation; through the period of the Anglo-Saxon monastery that was once here, followed by the violence of the Viking invasion, the Norman conquest, the border battles, and then that turbulent and murderous period of sad reiving history. Always there, always silent, just waiting for us to listen.

Previous, rather over-enthusiastic Victorian antiquarians have tried force their own readings by engraving into the panel what they thought the runes should say (I wonder how often we do the same). That, plus the long years of rain and wind, have rendered much of the panel now indecipherable. Hence the visit by the runologists. It was fascinating and such a privilege to be in their presence. I spent the next couple of hours with them, watching, listening and occasionally asking questions, as these experts went over each line of carving. They gently ran their fingers over the runes feeling for the slightest hints of carved depressions. I think it was this, more than anything else, that most affected me: bare fingers, gently caressing this ancient rock-hard stone, millennia old, with extraordinary tenderness, and in so doing, yielding its secrets, identifying characters the eye could not detect, hidden from sight. It made me think of all the hidden things in the world that can only be detected through gentleness and tenderness – the reality that lies behind all life. And that reminded me of one of my favourite poems by Gerard Manley Hopkins that begins, The world is charged with the grandeur of God. It will flame out, like shining from shook foil…

Your friend and priest,

Robert

Permanent link to this article: https://www.bewcastlehouseofprayer.org.uk/a-letter-from-bewcastle-april-2024/

A Letter from Bewcastle – February 2024

The February 2024 edition of the Benefice newsletter is now available to view or download here

Dear Friends,

‘You never enjoy the world aright, till the Sea itself floweth in your veins, till you are clothed with the heavens, and crowned with stars.’

These words, and many more like them, were written in the mid-1600s by a young man from Herefordshire called Thomas Traherne. He died at the age of 37. His writings remained undiscovered until they were found “in a barrow of books about to be trashed” in the 1890s, rescued, and, after some doubts about authorship, eventually published in 1908, some 250 years later.

‘You are as prone to love, as the sun is to shine; it being the most delightful and natural employment of the Soul: without which you are dark and miserable.’

Traherne was a poet, a priest, and a scholar. He was described as “a man of a cheerful and sprightly Temper…  ready to do all good Offices to his Friends, and Charitable to the Poor almost beyond his ability.”  He complained that he thought he was “too open” and had “too easy and complying a nature.”

‘Your enjoyment of the world is never right till you esteem every Soul so great a treasure as our Saviour doth.’

He is now recognised as one of the great ‘metaphysical poets’, whose number include the likes of John Donne, George Herbert, Richard Crashaw, and Henry Vaughan. These poets of the early to mid-1600s sought to write about the mystery of God’s presence in the world around us, his presence in the midst of us.

‘Your enjoyment of the world is never right, till every morning you awake in Heaven; see yourself in your Father’s Palace; and look upon the skies, the earth, and the air as Celestial Joys: having such a reverend esteem of all, as if you were among the angels.’

Traherne, it is thought, was the eldest son of his father’s third wife, the others probably having died in childbirth, many of his older siblings also having died in infancy. And so I find myself wondering how, amid such pain and sorrow, writers like Traherne could find such beauty, awe and wonder in the sad world around them.

And I wonder, too, what the world would be like if we were all able to see it in such a way, and to see the hidden beauty in each soul; to be filled with kindness and generosity towards each other and the world. Sometimes, when I’m on my morning prayer walk, I find myself pondering why people of different nations, races, religions, treat each other the way they do. Why do children grow up to carry on their parents’ grudges? What are these stories we tell our children? Where does all this hatred and conflict come from?

Then, sadly, I realise its already there in each of us. However much we long for peace and equity, it seems to evade us, not just in our communities, but even in our families. ‘Good fences make for good neighbours’ goes the saying. But, when you think about it, that says quite a lot about the way we relate to each other; borders, boundaries and ‘ownership’ being but one expression. For if your fences are in poor repair and your stock ends up on your neighbour’s land, angry exchanges begin and relationships sour. Or when someone receives an inequitable part of the inheritance. Or a whole host of other reasons that give rise to anger, resentment, a sense of injustice or hurt, jealousy and bitterness. And that’s the same seed that starts all the wars in the world.

Then I stumble across a couple of deer in the pasture, quietly grazing. They look up and see me, watch for a while, nibble some more grass, then trot away, nonchalantly leaping the fence, cross the lonning, over another fence and into another field. They are totally oblivious to these ‘boundaries’ that we create, have no concept of ‘ownership’, and care nothing for ‘possessing’ anything; they own nothing. And because they own nothing, the whole world is theirs and they are free. And there’s the oxymoron that Traherne (and Jesus) is talking about.

I find my heart lifted when I see the deer; their grace, gentleness and their freedom. I want to learn something about beauty and our relationship with the world around us from them, and Traherne. Then, perhaps, we may find peace at last, with God, each other and the good earth, and the Sea, itself, will flow in our veins.

Your friend and priest,

Robert

Permanent link to this article: https://www.bewcastlehouseofprayer.org.uk/a-letter-from-bewcastle-february-2024/

‘Come’?

Chocolate calendars, numbed shopping malls, new oil deals, and an unHoly Land. Dare we pray the prayer of Advent? Dare we not?

It is easy to become disillusioned, despairing almost, of the direction of travel that we, as a global species, appears to be taking. Western society seems infatuated with technological ‘progress’ irrespective of cost or consequence, and commercial interests have come to dominate most decision-making. How many sci-fi films do we need to warn us before the ultimate destination of, for example, artificial intelligence, is inevitable? But the alternative rise of so-called ‘populism’ demonstrates a dark, fear-driven revolt against the perceived threat to self-interest. The ‘other’, the ‘not us’, has become a target to rail against, to blame; exactly what happened in 1930s Germany.

There are those who work behind the scenes, refusing to give in to these seemingly insurmountable forces, whose agenda is to help bring about a better world where care and kindness towards people and environment are the measure of our action and ‘telos’, or endpoint. But their gains are hard won and easily overturned.

Prophets have rarely been popular figures. Their warnings and offers of an alternative way upset too many, especially those with something to lose. The way we have structured our societies places inordinate power, and therefore trust, in the hands of the few. Whether they be public politicians who make laws and direct policies, hoping to keep our vote, or private board-room directors who exploit human weakness and need, for power and wealth, their decisions shape our society, subtly influencing our values, often cynically, by making us feel inadequate compared to others, and then appealing to the self in us to become like them. Perhaps we need a few more David Attenboroughs who can command our respect and affection while encouraging us to walk a different path, the path of compassion and care for creation.

This ‘different path’ is the Advent calling, set, as it is, in the approach to the darkest part of the year, when the forces that would exploit us by playing to our interests of self-preservation are most powerful. The prayer ‘Come’ requires us to prepare ourselves, to be brutally honest about who we are, both in our vulnerability and in our self-interest. For when we are, terrifying as this may be, we are met by the One who loves us with a passion that will lead him to the Cross on our behalf.

Dare we pray the prayer? Dare we not?

The Bewcastle Benefice sermon for Advent Sunday 2023 can be found here.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.bewcastlehouseofprayer.org.uk/come/

A Letter from Bewcastle – December 2023

Dear Friends,

So another year draws to a close. If you’re like me, you’re left wondering where it has gone. It doesn’t seem that long ago that 2019 was the new year. Even 1980 doesn’t feel that old! But, when you look back, so much has happened, both internationally and locally this year. The war in Ukraine entered its second year; Hamas invaded Israel committing acts of utterly depraved cruelty and violence; Israel bombs Gaza killing thousands of women and children; Charles and Camilla were crowned; artificial intelligence burst upon the world; we had the hottest June and September on record; medical, teaching, civil service and rail strikes disrupted the country; and so on. Locally, several families lost loved ones, and communities have lost much respected and loved members. But our primary schools, especially, continue to do a fantastic job looking after and teaching our children to delight in learning, to be kind and thoughtful towards others, and to care for the creation around them, in an ever more difficult safeguarding environment.

Just as we said goodbye to summer visitors over the autumn months, so we welcomed the winter ones in their multitudes. Fieldfares and redwings, our two thrush visitors, come in large flocks to winter with us from Scandinavia and Iceland, feasting on the berries of our hedgerows, especially hawthorn, holly, juniper and yew (providing they haven’t yet been trimmed). You’ll see them in the fields, or suddenly rising from the hedges and trees as you walk along a lane, calling their characteristic ‘kyak-yak-yak’ and with a surprisingly fast wingbeat. Bramblings, too, in their scores flock into our beech trees escaping the snow of the Scandinavian winter, feeding off the beech mast. But the most majestic are, of course, the Barnacle geese, arriving in their noisy, yapping skeins all the way from Svalbard, deep inside the Arctic Circle, to winter on the Solway. The Svalbard-Solway Barnacle population is the third largest in the world at around 24,000, and they come here to stay with us.

Sometimes its difficult to remember, deep in the dark months of winter, when all the flowers have gone and the trees are bare, the days are short, wet, and cold, when the bees, dormice and hedgehogs are all hibernating, passing the months, waiting for the sun to return, that these birds have come to keep us company in our milder winters! They join the faithful birds that stay with us all year through; the blackbirds and song thrushes, the wrens and robins, the finches and tits, the owls, raptors and corvids. I often think about them in the trees, hedges and fields when the fierce wind is lashing the icy rain in horizontal sheets. Same for the sheep and the deer, sheltering in woods or against fences. I am so grateful to be indoors by the fire – how do they survive?

The answer is, of course, that not all of them do. The old, the weak and the vulnerable often don’t make it. Their lives here, like ours, are finite and one day come to an end.

But the enigma is that the end isn’t the end. Death is a portal through which we pass. How do we know? Well, last month Bishop John quoted some famous lines by Elizabeth Barrett-Browning:

Earth’s crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes, The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.

All of us have the gift, like Moses, to see each common bush afire with God. All it takes is the time and openness of spirit to catch it, and to see the hidden wonder of creation before us. But life and busyness has a habit of blinding us. We are used to using our physical eyes, but less so our spiritual ones. And yet without them we remain unseeing of the reality in front of us. Like the baby born in the cattle byre to the young mother and her fiancé one cold winter’s night long ago, in whose birth we can see death, but then, extraordinarily, another birth at Easter. We listen to the same story year after year, celebrate it with gifts, gatherings, food, glitter and song. But we have to make a special effort to hear it, and to see it with our real eyes. Let’s make sure we’re the ones who take off our shoes this Christmas, and not be those who just sit round a cosy fire eating turkey and cake, nice as that may be. Have a Happy Christmas.

Your friend and priest,

Robert

Permanent link to this article: https://www.bewcastlehouseofprayer.org.uk/a-letter-from-bewcastle-december-2023/

A Letter from Bewcastle – October 2023

Dear Friends,

Each morning before breakfast, whatever the weather, I go out for a walk, taking the dog, and often my binoculars. Its when I offer my Morning Prayer, using ancient prayers of the Hebrew people and the Church, and then pray for all of you, as parishioners, some by name, depending on circumstance, others more generally.

But half way through the walk I stop and be still for 10-15 minutes, just listening and watching the world around me. I look at the sky to notice the clouds, their shapes, their types, whether cirrus, cumulus, stratus, lenticular and so on, and their direction of travel. But also to appreciate their ever-shifting beauty. I listen to the sounds, of sheep bleating, cattle lowing, an occasional quad bike or tractor in the distance, but more interestingly, to which birds I can hear. It’s a deliberate act to listen, to become aware of what’s going on around me; to hear a robin in that tree, a wren tutting in that bush, a chiff-chaff in those woods that hasn’t left for southern Africa yet, a blackbird as it starts from under a hedge and flies, low-level, across the path to the hedge on the other side. All this life going on around, an entire existence for all these wild creatures, completely independent of “the state of the British economy”, or whatever other such worry that’s currently making the headlines.

And oftentimes there will be a special moment. It may be the glance of a roe deer in my direction, or watching a pair of hares chasing each other for a few seconds and then washing themselves. The other day it was the sound, and then the sight, of a pair of lapwings in the field next to me, that I haven’t seen all year. Sometimes it might be a flock of goldfinches twittering and flitting just along the lane. Once it was a tawny owl watching me watching it for at least two minutes, 20 metres away on a post in the woods. Whatever it is, it’s a moment of unexpected serendipity, joyful surprise. In that moment I take delight as it fills me with wonder and lifts my spirit. I see it as ‘my gift from God’ for the day. And so, I close my eyes, let it soak in, and say ‘thank you’ to God for the gift of that moment. It is like drinking from a cool, clear spring on a hot, dusty day, for my soul.

The natural world is so full of wonder, ‘charged’, as it is, ‘with the grandeur of God’, to use Gerard Manley Hopkins’ majestic phrase. And we know so little about it. What, for example, are the swallows chattering to each other about as they sit in rows on the telegraph wire? Sometimes there’s only one swallow, and she sits alone chattering away. Is she talking to me? But I’m too ignorant to understand what she’s saying. Then again, she chatters even when I’m out of sight, so to whom is she talking then? Same for that starling. He just sits atop the pole wheezing, clicking, and whistling with no one to hear him but me. To whom is he talking? Not another starling in sight. Is he just too stupid to realise, or is it just ‘instinct’ and he can’t help it? Or is he talking to the other birds around? To the swallows, perhaps? Or the wren in the bush below? Do the creatures communicate with each other in ways about which we know nothing?

Even domesticated animals that we live with every day, cattle, sheep, horses, dogs, cats have such subtle means of perception and communication about which we are almost entirely ignorant. We know they establish unique relationships and friendships with each other, even across species. But how, for example, do these animals ‘name’ each other in their brains? We think in words. How do they ‘think’ about each other?

There was an article in the Guardian recently about a fellow called Tim Birkhead who has spent the last 52 summers on the vertical cliffs of Skomer Island, off the Pembrokeshire coast in Wales, observing the behaviour of guillemots. After all this watching and examining, there probably isn’t anyone in the world who knows as much about these seabirds as him. And yet he was astonished when, in a homemade hide just a metre away from a bird incubating an egg, he heard it begin its greeting call. He scoured the horizon with his binoculars before picking up a tiny speck in the air almost 1km away. He watched, until it landed by this bird that had been calling. It had recognised its mate, where he saw just a speck.

This earth isn’t ours. We are merely a part of a mysterious, extraordinary, deeply complex and interwoven whole, about most of which it appears we have very little understanding. We need to be so careful about our attitudes towards this world of creatures, especially when we introduce that most toxic element into our thinking, money. For some reason that, above all else, has the power to drive an existential chasm between us and the rest of creation, almost requiring us to consider ourselves apart from, and superior to, the whole. No wonder Jesus said you cannot serve both God and money.

Stillness, listening, becoming aware of the world around. And thanksgiving to God for the gift of sharing life and wonder with ALL other beings. This is the call of Christ.

Your friend and priest,

Robert

Permanent link to this article: https://www.bewcastlehouseofprayer.org.uk/a-letter-from-bewcastle-october-2023/

A Letter From Bewcastle – August 2023

Dear Friends,

The long summer holidays are here. For some. Gone are the days when the break from school was needed so children could help with the harvesting. But still the tradition lingers on – the highlight of the year for so many children, and a childcare headache for so many parents. For gone, too, are the days when most families could get by on one income and the other parent could dedicate their lives to that most daunting and responsible of tasks, bringing up children.

Harvesting still happens, of course, but now its usually undertaken by huge machines run by teams of contractors. Around us, the main harvest is silage for winter feed for the cattle, and, if the weather is good enough, haylage, or even hay, for the sheep. The times when neighbours would go round to help gather the harvest in at each other’s farms has disappeared, and with it, one of the main community-forming practices of rural life that revolved around growing food for the country.

Growing food is, by and large, what farming is all about. The business of growing crops, or grass and animals, is the business of growing life to give life. And because it is about the care and growing of life, it is holy, since all life comes from God.

In the last assembly of term at one of the primary schools I visit, the children asked to sing one of their favourite songs, called ‘As for me and my house’. It’s a song based on the words of Joshua, who led the people of Israel after Moses in the Old Testament, in which he effectively says, ‘This is what it looks like to follow God, and its up to you to choose to do so. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.’ There is a line in the song that the children love because they get to shout it, ‘In this place, we’re going to say grace’. I asked the children what that means, and, sure enough, one of them says ‘thanking God for the food we have.’ But why do we ask, and thank, God for food in particular? (‘Give us this day our daily bread.’)

It all comes back to this business of life. Everything that we eat, whether we are vegan, vegetarian, or omnivorous, everything we eat has lived and died. Plants and animals that have lived and grown, ultimately from the soil, have died for us to eat in order that we may live. Our lives only continue because something else has lived, and has given its life to us. Without eating other creatures, we could not exist. Our bodies depend on the life of other bodies to remain alive. So every meal is a sacrament – the passing of one life to another to give life. Every meal is therefore holy, and that is why we give thanks. Not just because we have enough to eat, enough to get by, but because of the gift of life that everything we eat passes on to us.

This is such an important point to realise. We only exist in our bodies. Without them we have no existence. Our bodies are holy, given life by God through the life, first of our mothers, and then from everything we eat. Our bodies are us.

A long time ago the Ancient Greeks came up with the idea that we are really eternal ‘sparks’ of life trapped inside these clay bodies, and that when we die we are released from them to be free once again. Our bodies are, therefore, accidental things that can get in the way of who we truly are. They need to be manipulated, changed, made to conform to the person we think we really are on the inside. That idea still finds a lot of strident traction in society today. Indeed, it is so strong that government policies are now based on it.

But the still more ancient Jewish faith, from which Christianity derives, turns this on its head. We are made from the soil of the earth, and the gift of life is breathed into us. Our bodies are not accidental things to be discarded, but are the essence of who we are, holy, made by God, and without which we have no existence. It was precisely for this reason that God sent his Son in a body of flesh and bone and blood to redeem us. His death on the Cross was the death of a body, and the resurrection meant an empty tomb – the body raised from the dead. The Greek idea was blasted apart. Embodied life is holy. Indeed the earth itself is holy.

So when we say ‘grace’ before a meal, we are remembering the holiness of life, and give thanks to God for all that has lived before us, for our life, and for those who work to bring us life through our food.

Your friend and priest,

Robert

Permanent link to this article: https://www.bewcastlehouseofprayer.org.uk/a-letter-from-bewcastle-august-2023/

A Letter from Bewcastle, June 2023

Dear Friends,

“That’s the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,
Lest you thought he never could recapture
The first fine careless rapture!”

Those words are immortalised in Robert Browning’s poem, ‘Home-Thoughts, from Abroad’, which some of you know off by heart from school-days years ago! The poem celebrates the English countryside in Spring, with the singing of the chaffinch and the song-thrush, and the arrival of the whitethroat and the swallow. Of course, he could have added the willow warblers and the blackcaps as well, which we have in abundance.

The song-thrush is often the first to sing in the dawn chorus here at Greenholme, although this morning it was the robin, followed by the blackbird, who, once warmed up, forms the bedrock of the orchestra. The song thrush was third and, once the melody is established, the indomitable little wren breaks out into his belting song. If your window is open and you weren’t awake yet, chances are you soon will be, even if its now only 3.30am! A short while later the others join in; great tit, chaffinch, dunnock, blackcap and willow warbler. For us, though, the blackbird tends to save his most beautiful song for the evening, best enjoyed while sitting outside after a hard day’s work, relaxing with a cool beer, or better still, a refreshing gin and tonic!

Biologists tell us that the dawn chorus has to do with birds reclaiming territory, or calling for a mate, and put forward various theories about why that is the best time to do this. It may be to do with the amount of light, making it easier for predators to spot singers when its lighter; or while its still too early to be foraging for food; or competing for a mate by showing off how powerfully they can sing.

But actually the real reason is because they’re celebrating and thanking God for a new day to be alive – its spring going on summer, and the world is full of promise – let’s sing! And what a song – the whole wood reverberates with a cacophony of glorious music that surrounds and lifts the spirit in its unabated energy and delight. Such joy – its so good to be alive!

Since the earliest days of the Church, the dawn has been greeted with joy as a symbol of God’s new creation, the rising of Christ from the tomb, new life breaking out of the darkness of death, the gift of God, and thanking him ‘who hast safely brought us to the beginning of this day.’ “Lauds” its called, from the Latin meaning ‘praise’. And each day is a gift. We only live it once. We will never pass exactly this way again. Each encounter, each moment, even if it seems routine, is never the same. The world has turned another spin, aged a fraction, and so have we.

And no one knows when their time will come. This month I have known of two sudden deaths that were completely unexpected; people who were making plans, doing the normal routine things, buying plants for the summer, or going out to take the dog for a walk, and then suddenly they’ve gone. I know some of you have lost loved ones in the same way.

This makes it so important to live each day with kindness and grace. So many people carry hurt and pain around with them, like a burden slung over the shoulder. The refusal to forgive those who have hurt us, or we feel have cheated us, or been mean, unkind, or selfish towards us, who don’t ‘deserve’ forgiveness (as if anyone does), weighs us down, resulting in bitterness and resentment. We rehearse the hurt, recalling the unfairness, and it acts like a cancer in our spirit and our body. But this is not life, it is death, and no good will ever come out of it. No, the gateway to life lies through the difficult door of forgiveness. But the reward is freedom: freedom to love and so freedom to live. The strength to open that door and take that path comes from God, himself, in his Holy Spirit, who brings the forgiveness of Christ to us in the stillness and the song.

And if the biologists are right as well, perhaps we could learn a lesson from the birds. What if we were to solve all our disputes and arguments, personal and global, by singing the most beautiful song? Imagine what the world could look like then…

Your friend and priest,

Robert

Permanent link to this article: https://www.bewcastlehouseofprayer.org.uk/a-letter-from-bewcastle-june-2023/

Lord and Lady

A friend recently wrote:

Of anything I’ve ever read, it’s the para below that I’ve found most profoundly affecting.  Intensely beautiful.  The context is a world, literally, in ashes

‘Once there were brook trout in the streams in the mountains. You could see them standing in the amber current where the white edges of their fins wimpled softly in the flow. They smelled of moss in your hand. Polished and muscular and torsional. On their backs were vermiculate patterns that were maps of the world in its becoming. Maps and mazes. Of a thing which could not be put back. Not be made right again. In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery.’

from Cormac McCarthy’s novel ‘The Road’

I thought I’d share my response as its an area at the heart of what it means to be fully human, ie made in Christ’s image.

The passage is both beautiful and profound, and speaks of the depth and longing that I believe exists in each one of us, if we but give it the space in our spirits to unfurl, even just a little, as you clearly have.

For me, it is precisely this mystery of beauty and depth, of stillness and otherness, of the before and pureness, that I find invited into in the Creator’s gift of himself to us. It is like a homecoming, which, far from offering resolution, instead offers the invitation, not just to explore and breathe unfathomable depths, but to re-become part of.

It is here that we start to walk on holy ground, for the offer is the discovery that all this mystery is, in a sense, meant to reside in us, who are of the soil, living and breathing earth. This is the gift and offer of Christ’s redemption, of his holy blood seeping into the soil beneath the Cross, of broken bread offered to us in sacrament. Our delight in this depth of otherness and ‘friendship’ and care towards all creation is, and was always meant to be, our offering back to the Creator.

But it is the nature of our fallenness (‘sin’ – with that ‘I’ at its centre) that clogs and cloys, that darkens and destroys. It is the forgiveness of the Creator, and his gift of a new becoming, his Holy Spirit, that cleanses us to begin anew each day. Stillness in his presence becomes openness to his creation. This is the nature of prayer.

There is a poem by CS Lewis, who, as in his Narnia Chronicles (remember the thrill of that whisper, “Aslan is on the move”?), invites us to re-discover exactly this deep sense of intended ‘being’ with the rest of creation. It is called ‘The Adam At Night’.

Except at the making of Eve Adam slept
Not at all (as men now sleep) before the Fall;
Sin yet unborn, he was free from that dominion
Of the blind brother of death who occults the mind.

Instead, when stars and twilight had him to bed
And the dutiful owl, whirring over Eden, had hooted
A warning to the other beasts to be hushed till morning
And curbed their plays that the Man should be undisturbed,

He would lie, relaxed, enormous, under a sky
Starry as never since; he would set ajar
The door of his mind. Into him thoughts would pour
Other than day’s. He rejoined Earth, his mother.

He melted into her nature. Gradually he felt
As though through his own flesh the elusive growth,
The hardening and spreading of roots in the deep garden;
In his veins, the wells filling with the silver rains,

And, thrusting down far under his rock-crust,
Finger-like, rays from the heavens that probed, bringing
To bloom the gold and diamond in his dark womb.
The seething, central fires moved with his breathing.

He guided his globe smoothly in the heaven, riding
At one with his planetary peers around the Sun;
Courteously he saluted the hard virtue of Mars
And Venus’ liquid glory as he spun between them.

Over Man and his mate the Hours like water ran
Till darkness thinned in the east. The treble lark,
Carolling, awoke the common people of Paradise
To yawn and stretch, to bleat and whinny, in the dawn.

Collected now in themselves, human and erect,
Lord and Lady walked on the dabbled sward,
As if two trees should arise dreadfully gifted
With speech and motion. The Earth's strength was in each.

The artwork at the top is based on sculptures by Dellamorte & Co

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