Wednesday, 31 July 2013


I am not good at praying.
I have the lip of prayer,
I can find and form the words and speak them well.
But I have not the heart for prayer,
nor have I the ear for prayer.

I ask, Lord, for patience
and for stillness before you,
for surely true prayer begins
when I set aside my own agenda.
I shall not need to be so articulate,
nor is there any great distance for my words to cross.

All I need (all!)
is honesty and humility
and to be able to feel and to know
how close you are.

Nothing is hidden from you.  I have been adept
at self-presentation;  sometimes
I may even convince myself.  But you see
into the innermost depths of me,
into the places I dare not visit myself;
and still you love me.

I shall light a candle,
and sit for a while
with the dusk closing around me.

Grant me the grace, Lord,
to receive your love,
and then to pray.

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

On Finding the Way

Panic is rising now like bile in his gut;
he feels its acid measure within him
as he stumbles on through the waste of bracken and bramble.
The vegetation is sodden from the rain that has soaked through his clothes,
while thunder continues to rumble along the far horizon,
and the day's light is failing.  There are no
landmarks to be found, no signs to direct his path,
no safe ground on which to stand.  Behind him the trees are black,
and echo already with the screech of owls.
Now he pushes between unruly clumps of tall rushes, and
beneath his feet the hungry mud is
sucking and pulling at his boots, and it soaks between the seams.
He no longer has the breath for calling out, all his effort must go
to keep moving, best he can. And yet he finds he is singing now
as he walks, singing against the demons of the dark, singing
to time and encourage his steps, that old song from his childhood,
from those dusty Sunday afternoons in chapel:  "Lead, kindly light,
amid the encircling gloom."  Oh, if only he had not strayed
from the well-trod and waymarked path, if only he had listened
to the instructions given for the long day's journey.
If only he could have swallowed his pride.  Already
it is so very dark, so fearfully dark;

and yet as he presses forward
in that dark a light has appeared, small but clear,
and he hears singing to match his own, that
somewhere up ahead carries the promise of help and warmth of welcome,
of a known way and companions for the journey on; and of a certain
rejoicing in heaven.

Monday, 29 July 2013


We don't see many sparrows in our garden.  They're mostly over the road, where the houses are closer together.  Maybe the woodland edge that is our garden feels hostile or in some way unsatisfactory to them. Well, most of the time we're content with our robins, tits, finches and nuthatches, but yesterday a couple of sparrows did wander in to our patch, and it was a pleasure to watch them.

As communal birds with an air of the 'chancer' about them, adaptable, companionable, argumentative, there's much in the life and behaviour of a sparrow that we can relate to as human beings.  We are always being told that the behaviour of wild creatures is governed for the most part by instinct, that they don't so much think things out and make decisions as respond in a programmed and predictable way to environmental stimuli.  I suppose this is true, even when we see birds (like the black-headed gulls I was watching not far from here the other day, wheeling and soaring above the lake and marshes) seeming to do things just for the sheer fun of it.  But the common house sparrow really does seem to me to be making it all up as he - or she - goes along.

I suppose in the end it's a question hard to answer - firstly, what capacity other creatures have to override instinct and think out for themselves how to behave in this or that situation;  and secondly, the other side of that coin, to what extent are decisions we think of as the result of thinking things through and exercising our human free will are in fact predominantly instinctive. All I can say is that the sparrows I was watching had a nerve and a swagger about them (in my estimation) that suggested birds unafraid of strange and different places, and looking to turn new every situation to their own advantage, and that reminded me a bit of us.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013


I felt sad for a moment or two
today.  And the weight of it was pulling me down,
closing me off from the blue skies,
with my dark and desperate imaginings beginning to
feed off each other.  When it gets like that
I feel myself trapped in the vortex,
pulled down into a black hole, I am lost
to the light.  But today the fall was for
only a moment, until
somebody smiled who didn’t need to, and
their hand was placed upon my shoulder just for an instant
and at just the right time;
and so a small but necessary
miracle was enabled.  Like the man
on the Jericho road, I felt myself
taken to a safe place,
helped back onto my feet, amazed and delighted
to find the sun still shining.  My thank you goes
to someone I do not know, and
will likely as not never see again (probably
you do not even know what it was you did) - but that is in the nature of
good Samaritans.

Breaking Down

We had rain last night for the first time in a while.  I had been very confident we would, and so I hadn't done my usual round of watering everything.  It was cooler, fresher and gently misty this morning, a refreshing start to the day.  And so far as I could see, we'd had a gentle splash of rain, rather than the big thunderstorms the weathermen had promised, and which indeed arrived overnight not too far away, flattening flowers and fruit.

I had set up sound equipment for a funeral today, and left cabling in place ready overnight - piping the service from a small chapel not far from here into the community hall nearby . . . so I was a bit worried in case the rain did it damage.  I needn't have been, as so far as I could tell, they didn't have any there, even though it's not that far away from here.

Nonetheless, our spell of subtropical weather is breaking down, and we'll be back to something like a normal British summer by the end of the week, or so they tell me.  I don't mind, really;  I'll sleep a bit better if the nights are cooler and fresher, and I'm happy not to go a-watering every evening.  But there's still a bit of sadness in me to be at the end of what has been a super spell of weather if you like that kind of thing - and lots of people seem to.  Yes, it may have been a bit hot to work in, and to sleep in, but an hour or so out on our veranda with a good book or a cryptic crossword, a glass of decent ale and a pair of field glasses to hand:  well, I have enjoyed that of an evening.

The field glasses have been employed in following the antics of the many families of young birds that have turned up in our garden.  Yesterday, there were clouds of young blue tits - plumage much greyer than that of the parents;  this morning, a quarrelsome pack of chaffinches, doing exactly the things that young creatures of all kinds, human included, seem to do - picking fights and playing games with one another, begging off mother, and being a bit gauche and awkward as they learn the ropes.  I have to say, our local birds seem to have produced well this year!

Sunday, 21 July 2013


Tonight I found myself asked to take evensong at very short notice - a bit of an emergency had happened;  so, instead of attending the service and sitting with Ann in one of the front pews, I took my place in the stall by the organ with a degree of trepidation.  It's been a few years since I last led an Anglican service, and my departure from the Anglican ministry was painful, traumatic and - I would have to say without saying more - reflected poorly on me.  It has been a long journey from where I was that day to the sense I have today of the beginning of a revived confidence in myself not just as a Christian believer and disciple but as a minister, and there's a fair way to go yet.

The service went well, I think;  I enjoyed it, we had a good sing, and one or two people said some very kind things at the end.  The testimony I gave was very personal, but clearly touched other hearts too, and I thank God for that.  I am still waiting on him, and maybe I need to learn to do that with more patience and hope;  at the moment so many things remain difficult, muddled, uncertain, unsatisfactory - while the answer I sense to my prayers is along the lines of 'Just hang on in there; you remain my dear child, and in my own time I will show you what must happen next.'

So I will just hang on in there.  Holy Trinity, Leighton on a bright and sunny Sunday evening in July is, in any case, no bad place to be doing it.  I am among friends, and in a safe and peaceful place.  When the time is right I shall reach up and reach out, and find his hand is waiting for me.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Bronybuckley Wood

I had to walk down into town the other day, and decided to take the path through the woods.  It was a baking hot day, but I reckoned it would be a fair bit cooler under the trees, and so it was.  From here it's a bit of a pull up through the estate and out along the road to Guilsfield, until a stile is spotted with footpath sign, over on the left hand side.  Over that, dodging the nettles, and down the side of the field, through a gate, and then into the wood.

The way into the wood isn't all that easy to spot, in fact, and the best trodden paths seem to lead you away from it.  I'm a touch reminded of the small and low entrance to the great Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem - and the resemblance is enhanced by the cathedralesque nature of the space you then step into.  This is a mature beech wood, with great smooth trunks rising up like the pillars in the nave of a medieval church, and a monastic stillness (at this season anyway) to go with that.  A few great tits were calling, and a chiffchaff.  Later I heard a green woodpecker, and was disappointed not to see it.  Otherwise, all was still.

There is not much vegetation under beech cover.  A few campions and herb Robert plants were blooming, but little else, just a few brambles, until towards the bottom of the fairly steep path I found some fair stands of the delightfully named enchanter's nightshade.  This is not a nightshade (Solanaceae), but belongs with the willow herbs.  It is able to grow in deep shade, and flowers much later than most woodland plants, with very small white or occasionally pinkish flowers that together can give quite a pleasing impact.  It spreads by creeping stolons which are a very bright white in colour, and can develop (as here) substantial colonies.

I like it, but it can be a bit of a pest in local gardens, as it is quite persistent.  Having said that, it pulls up easily, so is nothing like as much a problem as squitch, creeping cinquefoil or rose bay willow herb, to name three of the familiar perennial weeds I encounter.  There has been at least one garden variety in fact, or so I am told, though I do not think I have seen it.  As a garden plant, it would be grown more for its foliage than its flowers;  the leaves are heart-shaped but fairly undistinguished in the wild, but I think varieties were developed with mottled leaves that I can imagine would have covered some ground quite attractively.

At the bottom of the bank I emerged from the darkness and coolness of the cathedral wood into the bright sunlight and busy gardens of the town, a pleasant stroll that left me feeling well prepared for the choir practice for which I was headed.

Friday, 19 July 2013


Just found a very confused baby blackbird on our veranda.  I suspect it had hit something and come down there unexpectedly;  it could fly, quite strongly and rapidly in fact, but without much sense of co-ordination or direction.  It eventually decided to fly down into the garden, and almost made it between the uprights of our balustrade - result: another crash landing, this time on the lawn, though no great harm done, happily.

Another short flight took baby to the paved area by our shed.  Here it sat, cheeping piteously, and after a while mother appeared, clucking and clearly trying to tempt junior up onto the sloping roof of the shed, where she was sitting with a tasty berry in her bill.  Nothing doing;  baby sat there cheeping, and eventually mother wandered off.

Maybe two or three minutes later she returned, still with the berry in her bill, to take up her position on the same corner of the shed roof as before, clucking, raising her tail, and turning her head to see where the youngster was.  It was out of sight of me (sitting at the veranda table, glass of Stella in hand), but from the crashing sounds I would say it was trying to climb up the nearby hedge to reach mother, not trusting its wings any more.

Mother decided enough was enough, swallowed the berry, changed the tone of her voice to something that sounded to me more like a scold (but let's not be anthropomorphic), and, moments later, flew off into one of our ornamental trees, the berries of which are a particular favourite with blackbirds.  Seconds later, with an energetic whirring of young wings, a second bird crashed into the tree behind her.


A lady whose garden I help look after asked me yesterday to completely remove the lush trailing vine that was a feature of her back garden.  The vine did not produce edible grapes, but its leaves were picked through the season for making dolmades, a traditional Green dish; but no more, alas - her Greek Cypriot husband passed away last year, and maybe the vine, growing so lushly, was too potent a reminder of his absence.

So the vine had to go (the main stem remains, so it will grow back, if allowed to), but it was a sad task to remove it, the more so in that the vine is such a symbol of life in Scripture.  It is such a free-growing plant, so rampant in its profusion of new leaves and shoots - and is held up as an example of self-sacrifice, as the trailing branches, which need to be supported as they cannot support themselves, are supposed to pass on all of their strength and vigour to the fruit, keeping nothing back.  No wonder Jesus shared a cup of wine on the eve of his crucifixion.

The lushness of the growth of this vine could be in part I suppose because it had not been cut back as usual before the growing season - but I imagine this year's warm summer will also have played its part.  Anyhow, there was growth a-plenty - a large builder's sack was filled to the brim with the collected leaves and branches.

They will be recycled, composted - and so life goes on.  But this potent symbol of life remains only as a shadow of what it was, and I am sorry to have been the one who had to wield the shears.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013


We had a lovely day out yesterday.  Ann and I and our two Mums took the road out through Llanfair Caereinion, Mallwyd and Machynlleth to Aberystwyth, and later drove back via Llangurig, Llanidloes and Newtown.  Rather a nice round trip along open roads with mountain scenery such as only Wales can provide, with a stroll along the prom and cod and chips with a fine and sunny sea view.

On the way we also stopped at the 'Osprey Project' at Cors Dyfi.  This is the most famous component of the conservation work of the Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust, having features on BBC Springwatch, which I suppose makes Monty, the male who has been at Cors Dyfi for a fair few summers now, Britain's most famous osprey.  This year he has a new mate, but the late spring and a very confused start to their relationship mean that their two chicks are maybe a month behind where one might expect them to be, in terms of growth and development.  Most years that would be very bad news, but maybe this year, with our pretty good summer so far, will be an exception.

We watched the webcams of the nest, and scanned the marshes with our field glasses.  The chicks are little punks with their spikey feathers, but are growing well.  Monty brought a fish while we were watching (a pollack, I think), and his mate fed the chicks with great care, tearing off very small pieces.  We also walked along part of the boardwalk through the marshes, noting a fine stand of marsh St John's wort but not seeing the reclusive water buffalo which help graze the area.

But I think we enjoyed the hide best, not just because of the views of Monty and his family, both on screen and through our glasses, but also because of the busy feeding station just outside.  I love finches, and they were there in plenty - chaffinches and greenfinches, but also (and delightfully) the smaller and very lively siskins and redpolls.  The males are specially colourful, the male redpoll having not just a prominent red cap to his brow but also pink suffusing the brown streaks of his breast.  Male siskins are lovely birds, with a black cap and green plumage with prominent black and yellow markings.  One male had so much yellow that he really shone in the bright sunshine of the day.

These are lively and acrobatic birds, and to watch them jostling for space on the feeders was an entertainment in itself.  For this stage in the season they were all in fine condition, which is I suppose a tribute both to the excellent weather and the excellent feeding they get from the Trust!  In our garden, these small finches are winter birds, not seen at this time of the year (we have to make do with chaffinches, greenfinches and bullfinches, not that that's much hardship!), so it was good to see them on a bright summer's day.