Saturday, 27 August 2016

Humble Service Together

“It is only the little man who is self-important.”

I hate big occasions; I find them uncomfortable and I’m never quite sure about the formalities, what I’m supposed to do, who I should speak to, what to say. I’ve been to more than a few, of course, in my time - even once to Buckingham Palace, at the invitation of Her Majesty - but it’s never got easier; I’m always something of a fish out of water at these events. I envy those who take things like this in their stride and seem instinctively to know the ropes, those who have the right words to say, and probably wear the right tie. At big events I tend to play safe and be the last person to sit at table. That means I’ll probably be sitting next to the one person no-one wants to sit by. Unless, of course, that’s me.

I remember arriving once at a school concert where the hall was full. There were people standing at the back, so I joined them. The head teacher spotted me from her place at the top of the hall, bustled down to where I was standing, and urged me to come and take my seat with the VIP’s on the front row. I refused, which made her a bit cross I think - but it didn’t seem fair for me to sit in front of parents whose children were performing.

So this morning’s story from St Luke’s Gospel has a lot I can relate to. I can imagine being at the dinner party Jesus was at, where people were jostling for the best seats. But I don’t think I’d have been one of them. But Jesus has some good advice to give about how to do dinner parties and the like. If you grab the top seat and your host makes it clear that it’s reserved for someone else, you’ll be covered in shame. But if you go somewhere humble, maybe your host will bring you to sit by him, and then you’ll be honoured. And even when I’m just hanging around to see what chairs are left, it’s always nice when someone spots you and calls you over to say, “Come and join me here.”

At the height of his fame as a writer, Thomas Hardy ceased to write novels. His last novel, “Jude the Obscure” was published in 1895, but Hardy lived another 33 years, and he continued to write poetry. I like his poems, but I was fascinated to learn that, despite being so famous that any journal would have paid good money to publish his work, Hardy continued, whenever he submitted a poem for possible publication to include a stamped addressed envelope, so his manuscript could be returned if it was rejected. Humility like that is admirable, I think; it may even be the necessary mark of true greatness.

The late New York Methodist preacher and teacher Norman Vincent Peale, now best remembered as the author of “The Power of Positive Thinking”, once had one Donald Trump as his pupil. Apparently, he thought of Mr Trump as having a profound streak of honest humility, though maybe he’s lost a bit of that since. These days Mr Trump is humble enough to claim that Peale thought (quote) “that I was his greatest student of all time.” Now there’s positive thinking.

Humility has little to do with we look like on the outside, it’s the inside that matters. If a man went on purpose to take the lowest seat hoping he’d be called up higher and made a fuss of, he might well end up spending the whole meal seething with rage, if in fact he got overlooked and left where he was. True humility is when you sit in the lowest place and don’t mind at all if that’s where you stay. And humility like that does in fact require some positive thinking.

Positive thinking because we need to realise the truth, and to know where we really stand in the order of things. The world, and indeed the church if I’m honest, can be much damaged by the petty vanities and politicking of people who like to be big fish in little ponds. In a parish long ago, I had Ted. Ted was really a nice man, there was a lot about him that was genuinely good - but . . .

The but about Ted was that in twenty-two years as church warden, he’d made himself indispensible by de-skilling those around him, even whoever happened to be the other church warden. He managed to surround what he did with an air of mystique, adding job after job to the senior churchwarden’s role, and not letting anyone else know what he did and how to do it. All so he could be a big fish in a little pond, and so the church couldn’t survive without him. But, in the end, it did. Whoever we are, we don’t know it all and we can’t know it all. However important we may believe ourselves to be, or try to make ourselves, when we leave the scene - well, we may be missed, but in time the ripples smooth over, other people take over, the life and the work goes on. Or, if it doesn’t, then it wasn’t meant to.

It’s done me good to watch the Olympics. Watching amazing athletes doing things I couldn’t imagine doing puts what I do into perspective. Whatever we do, it’s good from time to time to compare ourselves with the real experts.

Jesus was in the home of a leading Pharisee. Pharisees were people who practised perfection; they were proud that they were able to keep every point of God’s Law. And Jesus struggled with people like that. God is best served not by people who think they’re perfect, but by people who know they’re not. Those are the people who know their need of God. William Barclay has written that “if we set our lives beside the life of the Lord of all life, if we see our unworthiness in comparison with the radiance of his purity, pride will die and self-satisfaction will be shrivelled up.” So here’s what I think. I am not important in the Kingdom of God, but we are. It isn’t as I stand out that God is served, but as we engage and work together. The measurement of me isn’t how high a place I’ve grabbed, or how highly my peers assess me; it’s what I can offer as part of the body of Christ, and as part of his apostolic Church.

Friday, 19 August 2016


A sermon prepared for this Sunday at Welshpool Methodist Church and Holy Trinity, Leighton :-

A few years ago, I had the interesting experience of travelling the Tan-Zam Highway from Iringa to Dar es Salaam. It was a busy road, but a well-made one on the whole. Double white lines ran down the centre of the road for long stretches. In the UK that would be an instruction not to overtake, and I feel sure the same must be true in the Tanzanian highway code. But you wouldn’t think so, given the way most people were driving; you’d think they were an invitation - if not an instruction - to overtake. Actually, our driver was quite law abiding; not true of most others, though.

We were at first amused at the antics of the local drivers, until a large tanker came a bit too close to us for comfort. And indeed, it is no joking matter. Road traffic accidents are a substantial cause of injury and death in the UK, but in Tanzania and indeed in much of the developing world, the statistics are truly awful. There are road safety posters everywhere in Tanzania, but no-one seems to take much notice. Then again, here in the UK we tend to think of traffic laws as somehow different from other laws; very few people drive at 30 or less where the signs tell them they should, even though not to do so is illegal.

I do try very hard to obey the rules of the road, but I have to confess to having points on my licence. For speeding. Speed is dangerous, and the rules of the road are there for our protection and for the protection of others, not just for the sake of it. Even speed cameras; they only catch you if you’re breaking the law. We shouldn’t really feel aggrieved when that happens.

Having said that, rules may be important but they’re there to serve us, not to be our masters. Most of my school rules were sensible, like not speaking in class without permission, or not running in corridors, or getting homework in on time. But not all of them were. For example, we were required to wear a green cap with a grey centre button, which could only be bought from one rather expensive shop.

And this was a silly rule, not least because in practice the centre button got removed and thrown away within an hour or so of starting as a new kid in school. Result - any green cap from the Co-op or wherever would have done just as well. So some rules are pointless.  When a rule doesn’t enhance our quality of our life together, then we’re better off without it. Good laws restrict my freedom, but only so that everyone can have a share of freedom, or their safety and security is protected. If they do more than that - if, for example, they restrict the liberty of some people in order to enhance and perpetuate the dominance of others, then something has gone wrong. Laws can be unjust and immoral, and just because it’s the law doesn’t make it OK; most of the immoral actions of Nazi Germany, or apartheid South Africa (just two examples among many) were legal according to the laws of the day.

Many Christians in Nazi Germany, and indeed in apartheid South Africa, believed that it was their Christian duty to be good citizens of the state, and to obey the law. Those who didn’t, the so-called Confessing Church in Germany for example, led by people like Martin Neimoller and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, were operating very much outside their comfort zone, for obedience to the state was something of a fundamental principle within the Lutheran Church.

For the Jewish nations of the Old Testament, Israel and Judah, the law of the land and the law of God were one and the same thing. All law derived from Moses, and therefore from God himself. All law, even what we would think of as secular law, expressed the mind of God, and his desire and will for his people. But when you read the great prophets of the Old Testament, you find that things are not that simple. Justice and the law (the law as applied, anyway) are not the same thing. The prophets found people perverting justice.  They hadn’t abandoned the law, they looked as though they were keeping it, but in fact they’d customised and tweaked it so that it suited their needs while in reality they cheated on others, and made themselves fat while other folk were suffering.

So you find prophets saying again and again that God is not to be fooled by fake piety. There’s no point in keeping all the pilgrim feasts, making all the right sacrifices, praying as and when you’re supposed to, when the rest of the time you’re cheating the very people God wants specially protected and looked after - widows, orphans, homeless people, visitors from elsewhere?  God desires true and righteous justice, not the keeping of laws just for the sake of looking good.

In his turn, Jesus found much the same sort of thing going on. People looking good, saying prayers at the right time, keeping the rules. Pharisees especially, who were looked up to as specially holy people, great keepers of rules. But God isn’t served in the letter of the law, but in its spirit; that’s the message of Jesus. But there were always some among the Pharisees who were keen to catch him out, so they could accuse him of being against the law, and therefore against God who gave the law. They were quick to say, whenever they could, “You can’t do that, it’s against the rules!”

Jesus would seem to have made something of a habit of healing people on the Sabbath, and so he did in the reading we’ve heard this morning, in the synagogue, during divine worship. On this occasion it isn’t Jesus who got told off, by the leader of the synagogue, but the lady who was healed - and everyone else there too, it would seem - for daring to come and seek healing on God’s holy day, when everyone’s supposed to be resting! You’ve got six other days, she was told, come and be healed on one of them. If ever there was a judgement founded in jealousy, that was it, perhaps the synagogue leader felt he was losing his grip on things. How would I feel as preacher here today if somebody else got up and started to heal people during my service, I find myself wondering. The simple rule I hope I’d apply (but would I?) is surely that if it’s good and genuine, and of God, then it should happen. And, as Jesus said elsewhere, the Sabbath is made for us, not us for the Sabbath.

Jesus very clearly said that he hadn’t come to do away with law. Not one jot, not one tittle -  not the slightest smallest bit of God’s law would go. But laws are supposed to be useful; laws are utilities. And wherever rules are being used to stop good things happening that need to happen, or to harm or damage or restrict the lives of people just so that other people can prosper at their expense: well, Jesus has past history - read the Gospels - of ignoring and opposing rules like that. They run counter to what God’s law is supposed to provide, they run counter to what God wants to happen. Law is given so we can live together well; Sabbaths are given because hard-working folk need a rest and a change of pace in life. Neither law nor Sabbath is given so we can beat each other over the head with strictures about what is allowed and what isn’t. Neither law nor Sabbath is given as an excuse for laziness or apathy or self-interest, or to stop good being done.

As ever with the things we see Jesus do, and the things we hear Jesus say - go and do likewise. Don’t forget that rules are important; act in a way that affirms the fact that most rules, most of the time, are there to do us good and to protect us. We may find them restrictive, but crossing double white lines or even doing 35 in a built up area really will increase the chance we could do harm to someone else. If other people do it, it increases the risk to us. But where, as can happen, the rules themselves are harmful, or where they’re administered unfairly, we need to be acting justly, and that may mean ignoring the rules; it could even mean opposing the rules. Where Jesus would do that, then we should too. We should obey the governing authorities, pay our taxes, be good citizens, but remember: our first allegiance is to God, and his call to his justice holds first importance for us. The justice of God isn’t always the same as the justice of the law courts. Put simply, rules are here to serve us, and we are here to serve God; and that’s a perspective we need to get right before anything else.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

The Learning Process (Haiku)

That thing you just did,
don’t do it again, capisce -
don’t do it again.

Monday, 15 August 2016

New Arrivals

(My nature notes column for the month ahead)

My son, who lives in London, sent me an email the other day to tell me about a new and strange spider he had seen. It was big, with a body about a quarter the size of a golf ball, and long legs. The abdomen was brightly striped in yellow and black. John doesn’t much like spiders, so to find one that size coloured like a wasp must have come as a shock.

I was able quickly to identify it as a wasp spider, which these days is not uncommon across the South of England. But it’s quite a new arrival, a Mediterranean species originally, first recorded in England in 1920. Since then it’s spread widely across the south, and recent mild winters are encouraging a spread further north, so who knows? Maybe one day we’ll find them here. They’re not dangerous, by the way, except to grasshoppers, their favourite prey, and other insects.

New species are arriving in the UK all the time, some naturally, others either deliberately or accidentally introduced by human intervention. We think of brown hares, rabbits, pheasants as native species, but none of them are, even though hares at least have been here since Roman times. A more recent interloper that my son knows very well and sees every day is the ring necked parakeet, common now in London and across a swathe of the South-East (also, closer to us, in Cheshire). They have escaped from collections - or may have been deliberately released - but they seem to like it here. You can see thousands roosting at a time in Syon Park, London.

Birds that have arrived unaided include the collared dove, now seen in most gardens. At the beginning of the last century the nearest collared doves to us would have been in Turkey. Since then they’ve spread across Europe, arriving here in the 1950’s. Another recent colonist is the Cetti’s warbler, a resident (unlike most of our warblers which are summer visitors) that inhabits reed beds. This was first recorded nesting in 1973, and now there may be as many as 2,000 pairs. It is found as far north as Monmouthshire, but not easily seen, being small, brown and secretive. However, its explosive song is a dead giveaway - if it’s around, then in the season you’ll hear it.

Many water and marshland birds are new arrivals. These include birds deriving from escapes from collections, of which the Canada goose is the most widespread, but you could add to that such species as mandarin duck, Carolina wood duck, and Egyptian goose. More genuine recent colonists include the little egret, which is now found all over the country. Other herons include the great white egret, which I have seen at Llyn Coed y Dinas, and the cattle egret which is visiting in increasing numbers and has bred in Somerset. The glossy ibis is also a possible new breeding species.

Many species are declining in numbers, which is always a cause for concern. But some decline is natural, and some arrivals are too, and some changes result from climate change rather than direct human interference. Having written mostly about bird species, perhaps I’ll return to this topic to look at, say, mammals or insects.

Saturday, 13 August 2016


Today is the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity; but tomorrow is the feast of Mary the Mother of our Lord, and since this is St Mary’s Church I’d like to make her and her song the Magnificat my theme for today. The Church gives Mary many titles, like Queen of Heaven, Star of the Sea, Mother of God, First among Women. But none is as profound as the one she gives to herself, when we hear Luke tell her story: “Handmaid of the Lord”. I am the Handmaid of the Lord, says Mary; let it be to me according to your will.

As I take over as editor of the Diocesan Prayer Diary I’ve found myself having a number of conversations recently that have touched on what it means to be doing mission together across the globe. I’m lucky enough to have travelled the world a bit, so I’ve been reminded of people I’ve met in churches overseas: people I’ve met in some tough places, shacks and shanty towns, remote villages many miles from a tarmac road, people of real and impressive faith. These were people who in the spirit of Mary had offered themselves as handmaids, servants of the Lord.

What an immense faith we celebrate in Mary! We know very little about her home circumstances, only the hints provided by tradition and legend; but I’ve always pictured her as coming from a simple village home, not unlike the places I’ve seen or visited in Peru, Brazil, Tanzania, Palestine. There too I’ve discovered a response to God that mirrors that of Mary and puts my own to shame: people saying yes to God, ready to be used in his service.

The song of Mary, the Magnificat, includes the words “My spirit shall rejoice in God my Saviour”. In Tanzania we were welcomed with joy, and overwhelmed by the generosity of people who didn’t have very much. We who have more than enough can often be rather too careful in the way we ration out our kindness and hospitality. Someone once said very well that we may think we own our possessions, but far too often they end up owning us.

Many of the places I visited were places where they had a lot less than enough. In Tanzania I remember visiting dispensaries with very few drugs, and a college library with hardly any books. In Peru I recall struggling up dusty paths in a shanty town to join midweek worship in a church built of hardboard sheets, and in Brazil helping to ladle out soup to families from the favela, soup that for most of them would be their only meal of the day. But people I met in these places were many of them so strong in faith, people who persisted in hope, who waited expectantly on God, people who’d pledged themselves to be handmaids and servants of their Lord, and were keeping that pledge.

Not that I want to be looking back through rose-tinted glasses. I met lots of good people, but there were plenty of bad people there too. Rich people here can be greedy and thoughtless, but not all of them are. Some are wonderfully prodigal with their wealth, Bill Gates for example whose dollars were helping to conquer AIDS in the part of Tanzania I visited. And the developing world has more than its share of sinners, sadly: cheats and criminals and corruptors, people only too ready to make themselves a little richer by deepening the poverty and misery of those around them. Even in churches you find cases of corruption and financial irregularity, and that’s often endemic in central and local government.

But let me turn back to the Song of Mary, the Magnificat. Here are some words from the New Testament scholar William Barclay: “There is loveliness in the Magnificat, but in that loveliness there is dynamite. Christianity begets a revolution in each person and revolution in the world.”  Revolution is a big and dangerous word, but there’s no doubt that the Magnificat is a revolutionary song, so much so that regimes have been known to ban it. It’s a song about turning the world upside down, and powerful people don’t like to hear about God casting the mighty from their thrones, and raising up the humble and meek.

When you visit a strange place it can be confusing. You don’t know the geography, the language, the customs, maybe your skin is a different colour, so you feel disorientated; it can take a while for your head to stop spinning. But I was also disorientated by my anger that people should have so little, and my embarrassment at having so much. To re-balance our world revolution is needed, both there (wherever there may be) and also here.

When I was working with USPG, the mission agency, a few years ago, maybe I was in some small way an agent of revolution. Revolution doesn’t have to mean violent change, but it must mean fundamental change, and real change begins with the opening of eyes and ears and minds. One thing to help this happen is the making of companion links between dioceses here and elsewhere in the world. By now there are lots of them: our own diocese of Hereford is linked with four dioceses in Tanzania (and one in Germany); I also worked in Worcester diocese which also has a German link, and is linked with the Anglican Diocese of Peru, where I went to visit. In Gloucester diocese I was part of a team set up to establish new links with two South Indian dioceses, Dornakal and Karnataka Central.

These links weren’t intended to be vehicles for the handing out of stuff. They were companion links, and that word companion really means those who eat bread together. So our links are about being friends and - in its widest sense - sharing communion. Magnificat isn’t about hand-outs, either. Hand-outs are scraps tossed from the rich man’s table that may help the poor man a bit but ultimately deny him the right and freedom to choose his own way. Magnificat is about subverting that world, turning it upside down, and travelling somewhere new. Companion links are only a little faltering start in this, but they can be a good first step. So I wasn’t in Tanzania or Peru to provide hand-outs, or to instruct people who didn’t know how to do things. Hand-outs are an expression of colonialism, not of friendship. I was there to listen, to debate, to question, and to learn: and to help establish links of friendship.

So the aim of companion links is to learn how to be responsive and responsible friends who are eager to work together for the common good. That needs movement on both sides. It’s tempting for those who have very little to see their English visitors as walking bundles of cash, and to concentrate only on what we can give them. It’s tempting for visitors from here to give wherever we think it’s needed, without thinking about why, where it’s going, what it’s doing. It feels good to be able to give, but giving according to our own priorities can disrupt the plans and priorities our partners already have. Companionship needs careful thought and preparation, and lot of prayer; it needs time for serious listening and the sharing dreams and hopes; it needs us to recognise that each partner has things to receive, things to learn, things to give. It can’t be a one way street. We must learn to be friends, and, as we commit to do things together, to enhance what is already good, and to encourage what needs to grow.

On my visits people I met were often very poor in financial terms, but they weren’t short of ideas and plans, hopes and dreams, nor were they lacking in faith. I was humbled by the faith I found, by people who delighted in God. I realised I had as much to receive as I had to give. Christian friendship finds its foundation in our commitment to each other, and chiefly in the commitment we each make to our Lord. It’s as we offer ourselves to be handmaids, servants, and stewards of the God of Magnificat, that his revolutionary change can begin in us.

Companions are those who commit themselves to serve and support one another. That means praising what’s good, and being honest and critical about what might need to change. It means belonging to God and belonging to one another in God. Being linked to Tanga, Masasi, Nawala, Dar es Salaam and Nuremberg shouldn’t just be something we do as the diocese of Hereford, but essential to who we are. And God whose love can change the world still calls from his Church everywhere the humility, love and service we praise in Mary.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Writing Class

My tip for the budding writer:
start with a great big
pile of words,
biggest you can build,
then just keep throwing away
everything that isn’t poem

until poem is all you’re left with.

Saturday, 6 August 2016


A sermon to be preached at Leighton and New Street, Welshpool :-

They also serve who only stand and wait. One of those quotes that everyone knows, but maybe without knowing who actually said it. It’s actually the last line of John Milton’s poem on his blindness; Milton is affirming the place he still has, despite his disability, in the service of the kingdom of God.

Most of us don't much like having to wait around, but sometimes it can be good. Some years ago I’d spent my day off walking in Warwickshire, not far from Stratford; and I arrived at the small country station I was due to travel back from just after my train had gone. I was quite cross, but there was nowhere else I could head for within walking distance, so all I could do was to wait another hour for the next train. Well, I'd got a bar of chocolate and an apple with me, and something to drink; so I found a bench seat of Great Western vintage under some rambling roses, planted maybe by some long gone station master. It was a warm and sunny afternoon with the air full of the buzzing of bees and the calling of birds. Rarely have I passed a more contented and peaceful hour,  but it was only by accident I was granted it.

There’s a lesson there for me I know. I give in too easily to the temptation to spend my time rushing about making things happen. Sometimes it’s better to pause and allow things to happen to me. When things get slowed down there’s often blessing. It’s worth taking quiet time, quality time; if I don’t I’m missing out.

Doing nothing can be good therapy. But my theme today is really about purposeful waiting, which is something Jesus told several parables about. In today's Gospel he tells his disciples how they should wait. They should wait attentively and watchfully; they should be alert and expectant, like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding feast. They mustn't sleep on the job, of course, but neither should they be so busy doing stuff that they’re not properly watchful. If they’ve too much stuff of their own to worry about they might miss their master's return.

Most Christians I guess are aware of a tension between doing and being. The Protestant work ethic persuades us to see church as mostly a place where people are doing things: so we run classes, have groups, engage in social projects, and draw up a calendar of events. And if we’re not doing all of this, we can be made to feel that we're not pulling our weight.

Well, of course churches do need to do things - churches need to be addressing human need, studying the Bible, learning about our faith and what it means to be disciples. And we need to have fun and n the process raise some cash: we’ve got buildings to look after, and ministry costs to meet too. But let’s not forget to be also a waiting church, and not to be so hooked on doing things we miss out on the vital task of simply being God’s people.

Churches have an awful lot of history, and that’s what mostly interests the people who come to visit them. It fascinates me too. Church buildings can be full of architectural clues that can help us trace the way communities and their worship have changed and developed over the centuries. I enjoy looking through old books and registers - or even reading old minutes of church meetings. We could even see the Church today as being mostly a band of folk keeping the flame burning, so that the work of past generations isn’t forgotten, and the faith of the ages is preserved.

And to some degree that is our role. Certainly when I enter an old church I’m quickly aware of it as a place made holy by generations of prayer and piety, so that I feel moved to thank God for the faith of generations past, and to pray that we may be worthy inheritors of their work. But it isn’t our job to wait for the past to come round again. It won't. If we’re waiting, we’re waiting prayerfully and expectantly for what Jesus will do next. So we need to direct our vision forward, not back. And remember that one of the things Jesus told his disciples was that the Son of Man would come at a time when he was least expected.

So they were to hold themselves in constant readiness for that day; and therefore, alongside all our activity as church we have an equally vital task of quiet and prayerful waiting on our Lord.  The other day I had an interesting conversation with a parish priest I’ve known for many years. The smallness of congregations came up. So what, he said - big isn't always best. He wasn’t disillusioned by the smallness of his congregations, it just meant he had to work with them in an appropriate way. There’s a real and Biblical ministry of being the faithful remnant, he told me, that isn’t the same as just hanging on till you drop off the twig; perhaps small churches can’t grow in numbers, but they can grow in faith, and maybe that matters more. Being big and busy with lots of energetic projects isn’t everything; if you can do that, great! But what really counts is that we’re faithful to God.

And that’s a faithfulness we show by regularly attending Sunday worship, especially here at the table of Holy Communion; in the discipline of daily prayer, especially as we pray for one another; in the quality of our fellowship, in our use of time and talents and money, and in our study of scripture and our delight in the word of the Lord. These are all ways in which a faithful church offers itself to God, trusting his love and his promises.

That’s what it means to be children of Abraham: we are children of Abraham not through any bloodline, but because we are children of promise and faith. In Hebrews we read: "From one man, a man as good as dead, there sprang descendants as numerous as the stars in the heavens or the grains of sand on the seashore." Abram (or Abraham as he became) put his faith in the Lord: even though he couldn’t have seen how God's promise could come true, he still believed it would.  We need the same trusting, offering, 'yes to God' faith today. In our weakness, in our uncertainty, even the awareness we have of decline and age, we should look forward in faith and expect God’s blessing. He’s still working his purpose out: he keeps his promise to those who wait on him in faith.

Wednesday, 3 August 2016


(A new poem under construction)

It first began to flower in February -
we had an unexpected warm spell -
and pretty much continued through until
midsummer. And it was lovely of an evening
to be hit for six by that perfume
as soon as I opened the front door
to listen for owls, or as I brushed by
arriving home from some meeting.

Then through July, the leaves  got crinkled and spotty,
while clusters of berries gradually turned
deep red, and summer began to slip from my grasp.
The month ended, and nights began seriously
to draw in. The swifts disappeared all of a sudden
from the evening air. August is the month
when Autumn really begins, I think,
even if the world’s still taking its summer break.

Then to my surprise, overnight it seemed,
a host of new shoots appeared, bearing
fresh green leaves and swelling flower buds
eager to burst once more into fragrance.
And I am glad of the timely reminder
that we are not yet done. There are still
new colours and scents untasted, and
fresh adventures and songs unshared.