Rounding the last bend

Image

Or going round the bend?… It is all in the perspective.
This blog has been uncharacteristically quiet for some time, as I have been wrestling with words in the more formal ways of essays and dissertations. It may go very quiet again as I start my last term at theological college. The next few weeks are going to be breathless, to say the least. Essay and dissertation deadlines to meet. A house move with all its attendant tasks of clearing, sorting and organising. The house clearance of a parent. The emotional journeys that go along with both of those. An ordination to prepare for, logistically and spiritually. A whole new way of being/ living with a strange new wardrobe to boot. Enormous adjustments on every front.

Living in a community of other ordinands, half of whom are going through similar processes and pressures, this collision of demands feels almost normal. Those who went before us, followed similar paths, and those coming up behind, will find they hardly turn around and it will be upon them, too.  I did say ‘almost’, however. Like the child in the crowd of the story of the emperor’s new clothes, I feel I have to point out the obvious – that this is very far from ‘normal’. Crazy would be another way of putting it. It happens the way it does for a whole raft of historical reasons, and my plaintive cry that this is an extraordinary ask, isn’t likely to change anything.

When my husband qualified as a doctor, his first year of ‘house jobs’ involved working 120 hour weeks, with sleep happening in interrupted episodes. Not great for doctors, their wives or their patients!  Senior medics took the view that they had done it, and therefore the next generation must follow suit. What didn’t kill you, made you stronger. It was not entirely without merit. Young doctors learned fast, by encountering most emergencies, sometimes all in the same night. They had continuity with their patients, (seeing more of them, than anyone else) and were able to observe the patterns that were developing. They had masses of hands on, decision making experience none of which is wasted, even if  some of those decisions were made bleary eyed, at three o’clock in the morning. That has all changed now, and many would argue that the pendulum has swung way too far in the opposite direction, with the loss of all of the above, but that is another story.

Life as a deacon/priest won’t be easy. There will be plenty of tough stuff ahead. As much as I am looking forward to what I anticipate being a very fulfilling and rewarding next chapter, I am realistic about its challenges. So perhaps the last hurdles/fences being some of the highest is appropriate after all, as all part of the preparation and formation process. Perhaps. In the meantime I am hugely grateful for the prayers of friends and family as the next few months unfold. “More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of” comes from the poem Morte D’Arthur, by Alfred Lord Tennyson,  and is worth quoting in its fuller context:

Pray for my soul.  More things are wrought by prayer
Than this world dreams of.  Wherefore, let thy voice
Rise like a fountain for me night and day.  
For what are people better than sheep or goats
That nourish a blind life within the brain,
If, knowing God, they lift not hands of prayer
Both for themselves and those who call them friends?
For so the whole round earth is every way
Bound by gold chains about the feet of God.

Prayer is a precious gift we can give another. I have been on both the giving and receiving ends of prayer, all of my life, and hold it in very high regard. I don’t pretend to understand the way God uses it, but that He does, I have no doubt. So if you pray, then hold me, and those training with me, in your hands and hearts, as I do you, and thank you.

Light in the cracks

There is a crack in everything, that is how the light gets in” A famous line from Leonard Cohen’s song Anthem. I came across the song for the first time at an alternative Eucharist I attended recently, based on Cohen’s intense, insightful songs.  Robust, creative liturgy provided the framework in which the songs were used, each powerfully complimenting and enriching the other.  An ancient, candlelit church provided the backdrop for this powerful encounter with God in the broken bread and poured out wine.  Many songs were used, ‘Hallelujah’,’ Suzanne’ and others, and each is worthy of its own reflection, but I have picked out this one particularly, as  it touched a nerve in allot of us who were there.

 
 
“Anthem”
The birds they sang
at the break of day
Start again
I heard them say
Don’t dwell on what
has passed away
or what is yet to be.
Ah the wars they will
be fought again
The holy dove
She will be caught again
bought and sold
and bought again
the dove is never free.
 
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
We asked for signs
the signs were sent:
the birth betrayed
the marriage spent
Yeah the widowhood
of every government —
signs for all to see.
 
I can’t run no more
with that lawless crowd
while the killers in high places
say their prayers out loud.
But they’ve summoned, they’ve summoned up
a thundercloud
and they’re going to hear from me.
 
Ring the bells that still can ring …
 
You can add up the parts
but you won’t have the sum
You can strike up the march,
on your little broken drum
Every heart, every heart
to love will come
but like a refugee.
 
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
 
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
That’s how the light gets in.
That’s how the light gets in.

Leonard Cohen

This song has hovered in the background of the last few weeks which haven’t been the easiest start to a Lent term. Demands and stretching circumstances on a whole manner of fronts, have made juggling home and study, family and academic pressures, interesting to say the least!  Such is life, and that is how it goes sometimes. It has been my experience over my life time that if I let Him, God can use the hard times to be rich ground for growth or ‘formation’ as it is known at theological college.  The centre of Cambridge is being dug up ( again) at present. It doesn’t have a sign that says ” Men at Work” but it could. It is awkward, messy and  disruptive. Sometimes it feels like that in the spiritual/emotional realm. We need a big sign saying “God at work”.

Yesterday  I was leading our tutor group prayers/meditation. I used Cohen’s words paired with another powerful poem which goes further in developing the theme of growth and the cracks it causes. I didn’t know at the time, but it was written by a priest, Dave Bookless, when he was himself at theological college, some years ago. He used it for his own tutor group worship.

Cracks

There are cracks in my world
I noticed them one day and now they are everywhere:
Sinister hairline cracks that start and finish out of sight
cracks that grow and gape and laugh at my certainties
My world has been declared unsafe
 
I have tried to paper them over,
paint them out,
move the furniture to hide them,
but they always return, 
cracks that hang like  question marks in my mind.
And now I begin to think:
why do the cracks appear?
from where do they come? 
They have made my room unsafe
BUT
 
They have thrown it open to new horizons
drawn back the curtains
raised long closed shutters.
One day I looked and crack had become a window.
Step through it said, what have you to fear?
Do you wish to stay in your crumbling room?
 
And then I remembered a childhood dream.
Watching the egg of some exotic bird
oval and perfect, spotted blue and cream
I wished to hold that egg and keep it on a shelf
BUT
 
As I watched it, cracks appeared.
Tiny fissures spread like zigzag ripples.
It broke in two and life struggled to its feet,
Wet and weak and blinking at the world.
 
Without those cracks that egg could hold
no more than rotting stagnant death
 
without its cracks my world would be
a room without a view
Cracks maybe uncomfortable, disturbing gaps
BUT
 
Could it be that I need them?
Do you believe in cracks?
Because I keep searching for God in the room
and find he is hiding in the cracks.
 
Dave Bookless    
 
This poem can be found in Dave’s book God Doesn’t Do  Waste IVP 2010 , and you can find out more about him and his work with A Rocha  here: www.blog.arocha.org  
 

Later that morning, one of my group shared with me yet another poem on this theme. The writer Imtiaz Dharker was inspired to write about her experience of the ceiling of her house falling in, leading to a cathartic giving away of her possessions, moving into a new freedom. She puts  this so much better in her own words on the website, Sheer Poetry:
http://www.sheerpoetry.co.uk/gcse/imtiaz-dharker/this-room

“In the poem ‘This room’ I wanted to suggest first of all that some kind of constriction is suddenly falling away. The walls of the room could mean different things to different people, and I hope when you read the poem you will find something in it that you can relate to your own life. Very often people try to trap us inside the box of a word, a label, a definition or an expectation. The box could even be self-imposed, our own limited idea of ourselves, the structures we build up around ourselves to keep ourselves ‘safe’ – nationality, religion, social barriers that keep others out.

The poem is about a moment when the structure falls away. The room is personified. It breaks out of itself, out of something suffocating. The image of ‘cracking through its own walls’ could suggest an egg and something about to be born into the light. The lines are short and broken, the sounds sharp.

Instead of falling, the everyday objects in the room take flight to unknown possibilities. ‘No-one is looking for the door’ because doors have become irrelevant. There is no need for one conventional exit when so many openings have appeared.

Perhaps I was working towards the idea that a person or a whole culture actually becomes stronger by opening up to the outside instead of closing inward.

The poem ends with a feeling of amused dislocation and a final moment of celebration in the last lines

‘In all this excitement, I’m wondering where
I’ve left my feet, and why
my hands are outside, clapping.’

(Just an extra note: I started writing this poem when a ceiling in my house in Bombay actually fell down. I should have felt terrible about it but I didn’t. Afterwards I gave away all the things I owned in the room and that gave me a great feeling of freedom).

You could also see this as a poem about writing a poem, when the writer steps away from an experience and looks at it from the outside, from an odd angle. This is the moment of celebration.

As often happens at one of the Poetry Live! days, a student added something else to the poem. She said the words ‘this room’ could apply to the room of the title and also to the ‘room’, the space, at the end of the poem.

That’s an example of how important you are as the reader and how a poem can grow in your reading of it.”

 
 
This Room by Imtiaz Dharker

This room is breaking out
of itself, cracking through
its own walls
in search of space, light,
 empty air.The bed is lifting out of
its nightmares.
From dark corners, chairs
are rising up to crash through clouds.
 This is the time and place
to be alive:
when the daily furniture of our lives
stirs, when the improbable arrives.
Pots and pans bang together   
in celebration, clang
past the crowd of garlic, onions, spices,
fly by the ceiling fan.
No one is looking for the door.
In all this excitement I’m wondering where
I’ve left my feet, and why
my hands are outside, clapping.