Iona Nunnery

How many hands caressed these ancient stones
where now ivywort creeps?
Beauty in timeless peace.

How many hymns of praise arose
and graced this place?
Now filled with songs of birds.

Sparrows seen by You
fearlessly approach.
A reminder that You see me.

I sit midst ancient ruins
warmed by sun
sheltered by weathered walls
soaking Your presence - 
more evident here
than by golden altars 
and priestly tours.

Long worn tombs of Saints surround
the sky a roof,
yet these ruins are not dead - 
they teem with life.
flowers spill from brick's veins
and music all around.

God is here,
not mocked by missing walls,
but sits with us on grassy carpets
enjoying the song of sparrows and our hearts.

Loss

“Grief, I’ve learned, is really just love. It’s all the love you want to give, but cannot. All that unspent love gathers up in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat, and in that hollow part of your chest. Grief is just love with no place to go.” ―Jamie Anderson
The Landscape of Loss is vast.

Some say it is desert, but in my experience it is more varied than that. It certainly has large stretches of desert, but there are also roads. Many roads, all leading in different directions. There is no one way out of this place, and many of the roads are blind alleys. There are few road signs and, honestly, if you try to follow them, you may be misled or sent around in circles.

There are dangerous pitfalls and mine-shafts with concealed openings. Do not fear these, though - others have fallen down them before you and created tunnels to travel through. You will not be trapped there, with no way out. And you may find treasure in the darkness.

There are sinking sands of self-pity. Stay still too long and you may become trapped here. Though there is always a Rescuer who will come if you call and take His hand.

There are other dangers. Traffic that seemingly comes out of nowhere. You are blindsided. Hit-and-runs that leave you wounded and hurting. Strange forests of memory which may hinder or help you.

Oceans of grief to cross, when all that is supplied is a small one-person boat to cross them in.

It seems like the more losses you have, the larger this land becomes. Losses have a way of multiplying. If you lose health, soon you are losing abilities, strength, independence, hobbies. If you lose a job, soon your lifestyle suffers losses. If you lose your mind, you may lose friends. If you lose fertility, you lose your hopes and dreams. If you lose people … well, you may only lose one, but memories become lost, conversations lost, and casualties do have a way of mounting up.

You find yourself, therefore, in this Landscape of Loss, whatever it may look like for you (and it looks different to everyone). You may have gradually ventured into it, but most people find themselves knocked sideways by some enormous blow, and wake up to find themselves unceremoniously dumped in the middle of this place. 

It can take days and weeks just to get over the numbing shock. To simply get up and start moving can be a huge effort when the thought of curling into a ball, hiding and sleeping can feel so much safer. But you hear the Rescuer’s voice urging you to ‘arise, my love’. It is irresistible, for you long to be rescued.

A word of warning: though other people walk this land, and there are day-trippers who may venture in to try and help, none of these people can rescue you. If you try to grab their hand to pull you out of a pit, you may both fall in. Yes, there are some who are permitted, like guides, to walk alongside you for a while, offering food and refreshment. But do not look to them to rescue you - that is not their role. 

There are others like you, walking through this landscape, but each has their own path, and whilst some paths may cross, they are only wide enough to accommodate one person.

I am afraid that loneliness ‘goes with the territory’, as they say.

There is but one Rescuer. It is not likely that He will just lift you out of the landscape (though just occasionally He might) but He will always walk alongside you, even when you cannot see Him. Only He knows your way through this place. Only He constantly speaks of the destination of Hope-and-Joy that you will eventually reach. He is the one with healing ointment for your sore feet, comfort for your aching heart. Not only a Rescuer, but a Healer, a Comforter, a Guide and a Friend.

There is an enemy too, one who has many names - Accuser, Thief, Liar, Destroyer - and he is the prince of Despair. Don’t listen to him, for that empowers him. His power is limited, and ultimately he is already defeated, for how can Despair thrive when Hope-and-Joy is by your side and within you.

There is Refreshment here, though it is elusive. It feels almost impossible to continue to love and give to others on the outside, when inside you are trudging through this place of desolation. It is possible, though. When you manage it, it will be like a drink of fresh water to your parched soul. Refreshment can be nurtured. It is nurtured by practising gratitude, by learning to appreciate the small kindnesses that come your way, by giving. It is nurtured by Patience. Even patience through Pain.

More refreshment comes through Beauty. There’s not a whole lot of that here, but there is some, if you have eyes to see. Flowers do grow amidst the rubble, and there is a whole lot of Beauty that you can create. In your mind, in your hands, in your heart. Beauty is essential to your survival. 

I cannot finish without mentioning Pain. Pain is a constant here, be it physical, mental or emotional. Pain can be a huge mountain, and there is no way around it. It hurts. I have no secret answer here, no short cut, no bandage big enough to cover it. Pain has to be faced. Endured as a sacrifice of Love to the Rescuer who knew Pain more intimately that you or I ever will. 

‘No pain, no gain’ so they say. A nifty phrase invented, I suspect, by those whose pain was temporary, though there may be truth in it. The atmosphere in this place is laced with pain. You breathe it in with every laboured breath. I cannot tell you how to survive it. I can only point you to the Rescuer. I suspect He knows the answer, for He was the first one to blaze a path through it to the Kingdom of Hope-and-Joy.

Jesus wept.

He knows the Landscape of Loss.

What was left?

You left so little behind.
No stuff.
Just garments 
To be won or lost in a gamble.
A broken body
To be anointed
And buried.

And vast, empty chasms
In our hearts.
Silence in that place
Where once your words and laughter dropped like hopeful seeds.

No stuff
You left yourself behind.
And soon that broken body
Could no more be dead and hid.
Rumbles shook earth -
The dawn of resurrection life
And dead bursting from their graves.

Those seeds flourishing and growing
Where now your words of rebuild temples
Made so much sense.

And when you left
Your spirit left behind.

No stuff
But life spirit pulsing within
Whispering your words in our hearts
Wrapping us now in your garments of righteousness.

No stuff.
Just you .
Forever.

God’s Love

A friend asked me recently if I could send her a photo of a heart as she was doing a visual project regarding love.
Whilst I have many hearts around the house, I wanted something fresh and new. I couldn't think of anything so, somewhat hesitantly, ask God to give me an idea. Two days later I was walking along a local beach and picked this up. 
Do Zoom in and see the secret heart. So much I could say about this. The heart is 'concealed' in marble within an ordinary-looking red stone. It is surrounded by glistening 'jewels'. It reminds me of how precious our hearts are - they are like treasure to God, and when Jesus takes up residence, he perfects us from the inside out. We are hid in Him, and He is within us. Inside the 'heart' itself, the marble has cracks running through it - reminding me that Christ was broken for us, the very heart of Jesus was pierced with a spear. I was so grateful to God for this gift.

A couple of weeks later, we were taking the garden rubbish to a local compost heap. It is on private land but the farmer allows us to put green rubbish there. In return we remove any litter. We dumped our grass cuttings and glanced around, picking up an old beer can and disposable coffee cup. Something midst the rubbish caught our eyes, something sparkling...
A  beautiful shining heart in amongst all the rubbish.

Such a reminder that even with all the rubbish in our lives, even on days when we feel we have done nothing right, even when we feel rubbish about ourselves His Love is right there.

In times of pruning, when our branches are cut short and discarded, when we wonder if we will ever bear fruit again. When we are locked down and cannot do anything much except mow the lawn and throw away the clippings, there He is, amongst those shorn off clippings declaring:
 "I love you, I love you, I love you - your worth is nothing to do with productive you are... I love YOU!!"

Lockdown Lament

Lord I hate what the enemy has done
 
He has shut us down
In isolation.
 
He has stopped our mouths from singing,
Hidden our smiles
Broken our fellowship
Separated us until
We are alone
In a virtual world with no hugs.
 
Our world has turned grey and drab
We are surrounded by pain and need
And cannot even leave our homes to help.
 
But even as the dark clouds gather overhead
And mock us with ceaseless rain
 
I know that there is sun above those clouds.
And though some of us are lost
I see we are found in you.
 
Our lives are like a heart beat
Ba-boom and we are done.
But your heart beats for eternity
And when ours are done
We find ourselves in you
Forever.
 
We will sing in our hearts
We will smile in our homes
We can never be alone
For you are with us.
 
Come like a mighty wind 
And blow this pestilence from our land
Many times you have rescued from the enemies hands
You have fortified our coastline
And defended our borders
And rescued our hearts.
 
Our hope is in your Salvation.
Lord Jesus
Bare your sword and come.

Who holds who?

Picture by Sr Jackie Smith
 Happy Holidays
 Winter Wishes
 ’Tis the holiday season
 The Festival of Light.
 
 When and Why
 did the word ‘Christmas’
 become such a threat?
 A word to be avoided?
 
 Why do we take offence
 at the sight of a baby?
 Poor, conceived out of wedlock 
 Homeless.
 
 When I enter the darkness of the stable
 I see little.
 No tinsel here.
 Yet I am drawn to the scene.
 
 This babe in whom all our hopes rest
 The mother lifts him and gestures.
 I draw near and he is placed
 into my waiting arms.
 
 Just a baby
 a chubby arm flails up and meets my cheek.
 holding him a wave of love consumes me.
 For somehow, he is mine own.
 
 This child will live and grow
 and die and live and be mine. forever.
 What comfort to hold him
 knowing this is so.
 
 Here I can leave my pain
 My disappointments 
 My grief.
 The Christ Child will take them all
 and remain with me
 loving
 comforting
 forever.

Emmanuel

It was a cunning disguise.
 
You’d have won a fancy dress competition.
 
Who would have thought 
to look for God
in the womb of an unmarried teenager
in the barn belonging to a pub?
in a crying baby?
in poor people far from their simple home
hounded by bureaucracy?
in a child who would soon be ‘wanted’?
who would soon be a refugee?
 
Who would have thought to find God later
in an immigrant?
in a backward fishing village?
in a carpenter’s workshop?
 
Well yes – in his celebrity status
performing miracles and healings…..
I would expect to find God there….
 
but then
to find God
on a cross
alongside two thieves
and convicted of blasphemy?
 
Who would have thought
That God would be found now
Here, in you, in me.
 
Do you wince thinking ‘only on my better days?’
No friend, He is in you even now - 
This treasure likes to live in broken pots
That His glory may be seen through the cracks.
 
That His presence delights to be with me
Is a wonderful mystery born of love
 
God with us
Emmanual

Review of 2020

As we entered the year, few were aware of the cloud over China
 The size of a mans fist
 That would grow to encompass the planet
 Dripping disease, spreading fear and anxiety
 Locking down the frenetic world
 Till all was still
 
 We hunkered in homes
 Disconnected with all that went before
 Isolated 
 from each other
 Counting the death toll.
 
 The pundits quick to criticise
 All that was done
 But having no answers of their own.
 
 Much that had meaning was shed
 as shops shut, workplaces closed
 We stopped our rounds of visits.
 
 It was time to stop.
 
 ***
 
 How swiftly life reduced
 To four walls. 

 And I was challenged
 By my inner sparseness 

 Stripped of activity
 Faced only with news
 Of disease and death,
 It was time to clean the clogged fountain
 And let the spring rise up anew.
 
 This small cave grew and expanded
 Simple beauty pervades my heart
 Inspired by creation 
 Through which I stroll

 The light of God my source
 In this darkness. 
 
 These burdens too heavy
 I pass them to my King
 Who bears all things
 And gives me life
 
 How sweet His name. 
 
 And now I furnish His house
 My heart
 With good things
 With beauty

 Forests of peace
 Lakes of kindness
 Mountains of faithfulness
 Waterfalls of joy
 Good fruits
 Pathways of self control
 The scent of patience on the calm sea
 I walk across the gardens of gentleness
 And relish the landscape of love
 
 How can my life be called constrained 
 When this richness is in You Lord
 Within me.
 
 Your song drowns out 
 the clamouring circumstances 
 Glory outweighs suffering
 This outward world so quickly shrank
 But the inner world expands
 For all time
 Until one day, we will see you clearly
 Walking over the waves towards us
 To greet us in a holy embrace.
 

Hope

What!?? Two posts in as many days!! What’s THAT about then?

The thing is, yesterday, a wave of HOPE washed over me, just as I was was driving along. I've written about it:

 Yesterday, an illogical wave of Hope swept over me.
 It felt so good.
 Even amidst the global crisis I was reminded that there is Hope.

 Jesus himself walked with us in our darkest times.
 He lay, emaciated in Bergen-Belsen
 He crouched in the Anderson shelter hearing the bombs whining and crashing.
 He waded into the water at Hiroshima, in skies red and black.
 He fled the great fire of London.
 He sat on dusty plains of Africa's famines
 and cried in Romania's orphanages
 He heard the cries 'bring out your dead' as plague stalked the land.
 He was a refugee, fleeing murderous threats.
Oppressed, like honest men under communist rule.
Rounded up, like the Jews. Did I mention he was Jewish?

He was the object of lies, and mockery, falsely arrested.
Betrayed and tortured and murdered, 
like monks as their monasteries were pulled down around their ears.
He walks  through hospital wards and sits by hospice beds
And rules from a throne, highly exalted.

He is alive. He is hope. In our midst.  Personified.
His cry of 'HOPE' can be a whisper deep inside, almost unbelievable. Almost.
Or HOPE can be a cry from Heaven, echoing across the land
Bouncing off mountains and oceans alike.
Coming from an empty tomb in Israel.
It is a sure thing.
Hope. Hope. HOPE.