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Sharing my Spiritual Scrapbook

Today, at my Centering Prayer group, we tried out a different format. Instead of listening to some teaching on DVD we decided to bring a poem to share. We started with our usual 20 minute silent meditation then the four of us who were present read out poems or canticles that spoke to us in some way.

It was a moving time, and the most amazing range of poems and emotions were shared. Two that stood out for me were:

The Bright Field by R S Thomas
St Francis and the Sow by Galway Kinnell.

For myself, I shared a poem that my mother had once typed out and sent to me. It is called Under a Wilshire Apple Tree and is attributed to Anna Bunstone de Bary, date unknown. It begins with the following stanza:

Some folks as can afford,
So I’ve heard say,
Set up a sort of cross
Right in the garden way
To mind ‘em of the Lord.
But I, when I do see
Thik apple tree
An’ stoopin’ limb
All spread wi’ moss
I think of Him
And how He talks wi’ me.

Sharing this, I also shared with my friends the Spiritual Scrapbook that I have been keeping for 20 years. This is a very special hard-backed A5 book that my sister gave me when I had an adult baptism in 1997 (I had not discovered the Quakers then and was part of a vibrant Baptist church). My sister wrote an inscription at the front: ‘For your thoughts and special prayers’, and the book is very dear to me. I share some photographs of a few of the pages in this post.

annedegruchy.co.uk image: Spiritual Scrapbook Page

Over the years I have written or stuck into the book sayings, prayers, postcards and poems that have had special meaning to me. There are parts of Celtic liturgies that we used when I studied Contextual Theology, postcards of crosses at monasteries and in mud huts, spoken ministry from Quaker meetings, and many cards with prayers and poems sent to me by my mother when she was still alive.

My mother was such a special support to me, and her faith saw me through some very dark times in my life. I treasure every single thing she sent when I was down and she wanted to help me through. My biggest sadness is that in the last few years of her own life she experienced a crisis of faith. But my mother was a gardener, and God was very close to her, and I’m sure that God spoke to her through that apple tree with stooping limb even when the light of faith was dim.

    

MAD MOMENT

New man, new distance relationship! Watch this space!

MARVEL MOMENT

As above!!!

© Anne de Gruchy

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Haikus for my Dad

Breakfast routine lost
because there’s no jam. Wondrous
result – full fry-up!

Dad, dog, Bramcote Hills,
mud and early daffodils,
unpredicted sun.

Birthday theatre trip,
puzzled by play. Dementia?
East Midlands’ accents!!

Outside his window
birds in the aviary.
Daily choral joy.

Memory fogs and
can’t play CD. Inside head
The Sound of Music.

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A Blessing for Woodbrooke

This is a blessing I used at one of the evening ‘Epilogue’ sessions at Woodbrooke. It was inspired by the connection I felt to Celtic spirituality while I was here – the relationship this place has to the gardens and nature, and to the rhythms of work and the year.

At the rising of the sun,
when the night disperses with a whisper
and we welcome the promise of day,
let us embrace this place and the people in it:
welcoming their work
welcoming their leisure
welcoming the Spirit that travels with them.

At the height of the sun in the sky,
when community gathers to share food
and news of their efforts and of each other,
let us celebrate the harvest of our hours,
welcoming bounty
thankful for friendship
humble in the face of the beauty of this world.

At the slow, red, setting of the sun,
when the light spreads into crimson wonder
and our hearts are opened wide,
let us drink from the well of the silence,
living only in this moment
drawing deep
lighting our souls from within.

© Anne de Gruchy

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Olympic Dream

I was recently alerted to Benjamin Zephaniah’s brilliant reading of ‘Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night’ by Dylan Thomas. This was filmed as part of the Poetry Society’s Page Fright project and can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vaH2XO7z4l4. This poem is a villanelle – a form of poem where the first and third lines are repeated in a specific pattern, giving an intense and rhythmic feel. Sylvia Plath’s ‘Mad Girl’s Love Song’ is another example.

This reminded me of my own attempt at a villanelle, which it seems appropriate to share at this time with its Olympic theme…

Olympic Dream

(A villanelle)

They always said that she would go for gold:
No schoolgirl dream – she pushed for each last stride.
Classmates withdrew and watched the games unfold.

At ten, she raced; at twelve long limbs ran bold,
collected trophies, fuelled parental pride –
they always said that she would go for gold.

No time for boys, a girl whose soul was sold.
Friends dated, loved – a world she was denied,
so she withdrew and watched their games unfold.

They told her once that she would break the mould,
show others how, with work, you turn the tide,
and, as they said, she knew she’d go for gold.

For ten long years she trained, Olympics rolled
within her reach, opponents pushed aside.
Her coach withdrew and watched the games unfold.

Crouched at start-line, her breath, her life on hold,
she stood, then walked away – something had died.
They always said that she would go for gold,
but she withdrew, then watched The Games unfold.

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Angels

A miracle, dear readers! In my blog post on 1 February I lamented the loss of a poem. Less than two weeks later and I have found it! I was looking in a file of mine where I keep ideas for new novel themes, and there it was – filed in the wrong place (very unusual for someone as organized as me!). Serendipity indeed – I was only looking in this file because I have finished the first draft of my novel and am thinking about possibilities for the next one.

The poem was bundled together with the details of the Christian Writers’ Group workshop where I wrote it. We were looking at the work of Thomas Traherne, and one of his poems triggered the image of angels for me. It was the poem ‘Wonder’ that begins:

How like an angel I came down!
How bright are all things here!
When first among His works I did appear
O how their glory did me crown!…

So here, for your delight, is my own lost poem:


Angels

Angels in raindrops,
trapped in reflective globes,
beating their wings against surface tensions
so fragile
so nebulous
that they craze and burst at the first
flared
feathered
pulse of energy.

Fractured and fragmented
they split,
spilling into a thousand million orbs
that scatter like mercury
across the ridges of a leaf.

And plunge…

plummeting to earth,
free-falling
only to be trapped by the lace of a spider’s web.
Garnering the light they shine,
patterned by arachnid labours.

Come morning they greet me
as I approach with a basket of washing.
Cornered between line and post
the multitude of Heavenly Host.

I turn and take my load indoors
to spread
damp clothes
on radiators.

 

© Anne de Gruchy

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Love Came

This poem was written at Advent, but works equally as an Easter poem. It was written many years ago, before I became a Quaker, and holds a strong resurrectional message. Now that I am worshipping in a less trinitarian based setting, many people I know would find the words of this poem difficult. This also applies to myself, as I have moved towards pluralism in my beliefs over time. But however much we value other traditions and ways to access God, we each have practices and experiences that work for us, individually. I read this poem back and I still get a very strong sense of God working in my life – of the eternity we are given to live a life in God and the spirit, whatever words we use to describe our experience, and whatever route we come to it…

Love came to us in white, a virgin’s child,
Wrapped tight in swaddling bands, a boy
Laid in a manger, straw for bedding piled,
Because of Him, I hold an Advent joy.

Love came to us in black, the curtain torn
From top to bottom, heralding His death
Upon a cross, destiny of baby born,
Because of Him, sin-free I live on earth.

Love came to us in red, Passion of blood,
From human womb to glory wrought from Thee,
An infant’s smile, wide as a river flood,
Because of Him, I have eternity.

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The Colour of Poppies

This poem was written in November 2014 at a time when there were many events to commemorate the centenary of the commencement of the First World War…

The poppy that I wear is white.
Safety-pinned to my coat, self-conscious in its isolation
amidst a sea of red.

At the Cenotaph, at hundreds of ‘lesser’ memorials
scattered amongst market towns and village greens,
people stand, heads bowed, and for a moment
a precious silence falls.

No silence, though, in those far-flung lands.
Not poppy-seeded, centagenarian fields,
but arid, mountain-fringed desert.
Towns, villages, mortared to rubble,
Prayers called
from the remnants of a mosque.

Bloodied:
A child, schoolbook in hand.
A missing limb
A missing parent
A missing brother, holed up with rebels in the hills.

Politicians speak but do not listen
to the screams of the souls of their dead.
‘No more, no more’ the chant of the grieving,
the wail from white-sheeted bodies
lining a corridor where lights flicker and fail.
No water to wash them clean.

Even I, immersed in the politics of peace,
Fail to resolve the conflicts at my door.
What hope for those, three thousand miles away,
caught up in war?

And, after all,
the poppies that we wear are red.

annedegruchy.co.uk image: poppies

© Anne de Gruchy