Mushrooms

Mushrooms, by Sylvia Plath, is my poem of the month. Do you want to know what it’s about? One person says it’s about mushrooms. The beauty of poetry is its surplus of meaning. Poems mean a lot – a lot more than the sum of their words and usually a lot more than the poet intends.

Context matters. Friend Helen Scarisbrick, who always wants to explore chaos and complexity, introduced this poem as part of opening worship for a leadership day in the Diocese of Chester alongside the parable of the mustard seed.

Jesus said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we sue to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade.

Instantly the poem becomes much more than about mushrooms. It was then a poem about everything that ever lives – for me, anyway, who carries at the back of my mind these words from Dee Hock, (founder of Visa), railing against failed command and control methods and thinking his way to a better understanding of life from the earth beneath his feet. In Birth of the Chaordic Age he wrote the words which forever challenge my understanding of organisation and leadership:

Soil is building as thousands of gophers, mice and moles work assiduously carrying grass underground and dirt to the surface. Beneath us, billions of worms, ants, beetles and other creatures till the soil around the clock. Trillions of microscopic creatures live, excrete, die beneath my feet, fulfilling their destiny and mine as well, just as surely as fulfil theirs.

In that context it becomes a poem about the power of perseverance, the power in weakness, the place of the seed. It becomes a reminder of the organisms that are part of our organisation which we ignore or oversimplify to our peril, and a reminder that there is “room” in “mushroom” to think again about life, organisation and leadership. It becomes a reminder of what and who we don’t notice, a voice for the voiceless. That makes it my Poem of the Month.

Mushrooms

Overnight, very
Whitely, discreetly,
Very quietly

Our toes, our noses
Take hold on the loam,
Acquire the air.

Nobody sees us,
Stops us, betrays us;
The small grains make room.

Soft fists insist on
Heaving the needles,
The leafy bedding,

Even the paving.
Our hammers, our rams,
Earless and eyeless,

Perfectly voiceless,
Widen the crannies,
Shoulder through holes. We

Diet on water,
On crumbs of shadow,
Bland-mannered, asking

Little or nothing.
So many of us!
So many of us!

We are shelves, we are
Tables, we are meek,
We are edible,

Nudgers and shovers
In spite of ourselves.
Our kind multiplies:

We shall by morning
Inherit the earth.
Our foot’s in the door.

PS. Mushrooms is from Sylvia Plath’s first collection of poems, The Colossus and Other Poems (1960).

#cLectio – David’s counter culture

52029310_10218201991904229_4334449603207233536_nWho counts counts? Counts count numbers,‬
‪overpower them, reducing them, demeaning them‬
‪making them number, dumber, cannon fodder,‬
‪forced labour, numbers & counters who don’t count,
won’t count.‬ Beware those who count
counter to those God counts dear.

#1Chronicles21 #cLectio #morningprayer

A reflection for Twitter on 1 Chronicles 21 – the set reading for Morning Prayer today.

Sunflowers weeping

kiefer_hortus_conclusus.990x0

The sunflowers weep. Anselm Kiefer has done several paintings of sunflowers. He was born in 1945 in Germany, two months before the end of the war. It is hard to imagine the state of mind of the German nation at that time – on the edge of a shameful defeat, confronting the horrors of their totalitarian regime and, of course, the Holocaust. How does a society ever recover from sinking that abysmally low?

Anselm Kiefer has been determined to confront  his culture’s dark past. Here, the sunflower weeps. The sunflower looks so different in Kiefer’s work to the glory of its portrayal by Van Gogh. In Kiefer’s work, the sunflower stands for the national shame. Once proud and tall, the sunflower hangs its head in shame and disgrace – and weeps.

We can see the tears falling – they are the sunflowers going to seed. The seed is watering the earth for a new cycle of life – for a better season.

I was hoping to use this picture in a sermon – (particularly appropriate for Holocaust Memorial Day). I asked myself, “is Kiefer a Christian?”. Then I thought, “what is the point of that question?”, and “what an ugly question to be asking”. In that question there is a “as opposed to what?” – as in “if he is not a Christian then what is he?”. It becomes “Is he a Christian – (as opposed to a Jew)?” See what I mean. It’s an ugly question, particularly on Holocaust Memorial Day.

Kiefer is an artist in the business of lament and hope. There are plenty of others – largely inspired by the Jewish artists and prophets of the Hebrew scriptures.

Mornings at Blackwater – Mary Oliver shines through

Mary Oliver died January 17th 2019. She survived her past and made much of her “one and precious life”. Hers is the poetry of mindfulness and love. Here she writes of Mornings at Blackwater.

For years, every morning, I drank
from Blackwater Pond.
it was flavored with oak leaves and also, no doubt,
the feet of ducks.

And always it assuaged me
from the dry bowl of the very far past.

What I want to say is
that the past is the past,
and the present is what your life is,
and you are capable
of choosing what will be,
darling citizen.

So come to the pond,
or the river of your imagination,
or the harbor of your longing,

and put your lips to the world.
And live
your life.

photo taken at Stavanger

A Saviour Stitched to a Star

moravian starThe Feast of Epiphany – when wise ones followed a star, seeing in it the shape of things to come.

Poet Mary Karr stitches crucifixion and resurrection to a star (not her words) in a poem called Descending Theology: The Resurrection. I wonder if it is that same star, and I wonder whether the wise ones saw the shape of things to come in the star they followed.

I have stitched Mary Karr’s poem to a particular image of the star of Bethlehem. It is particularly three dimensional, with a reach not just from east to west, but in all directions – to all the nations. (In fact, it has 26 points – that makes a full alphabet for me.)

The poem:

From the star points of his pinned extremities,
cold inched in – the black ice and squid ink –
till the hung flesh was empty.
Lonely even in that void even for pain,
he missed his splintered feet,
the human stare buried in his face.
He ached for two hands made of meat
he could reach to the end of.
In the corpse’s core, the stone fist
of his heart began to bang
on the stiff chest’s door, and breath spilled
back into that battered shape. Now

it’s your limbs he comes to fill, as warm water
shatters at birth, rivering every way.

If you liked this poem you might also like Descending Theology: The Nativity, also by Mary Karr. There’s an interview with Mary Karr by Krista Tippett here. Here’s how to get instructions to make a Moravian star (as pictured).

I don’t know who the man born blind is either, but idly speculating …

Who is the man born blind? Who do you think he is? How do you picture him? When Jesus went looking for him (John 9:35), after he had been thrown out, who did he ask for? Did he have a name?

John leaves him anonymous. He may be Bartimaeus but if it is John has stripped him of his name. Anyway, Bartimaeus is another man who is blind in Mark’s gospel – it’s the other one (also nameless) that Jesus uses spit on to help him see (Mark 8:22-26).

Even if it is Bartimaeus the meaning is unclear, for if Bartimaeus is an Aramaic name his name means “unclean”, but if it is a Greek name his name means “honoured”. He certainly isn’t unclean in the eyes of Jesus and John. In fact he is a man whose blindness is accompanied by other gifts – a kind of biblical sage who is such a contrast to the able-bodied disciples.

Is he then, the model disciple?

We guess the identity of the “beloved disciple”. There are theories – could be John, Peter, Lazarus – but there’s no settled answer.

It might be that John has deliberately anonymised both of them, the man born blind and the beloved disciple.

Who is the beloved disciple? My suggestion is that the beloved disciple is whoever has his or her head on the bosom of Jesus (John 13:23), so that he/she can hear the whispered will of God, so that he/she can feel how the heart of Jesus ticks.

And similarly I wonder, is the man born blind the one who comes to see? – was blind, but now s/he sees – not through their own efforts, experience, wisdom or learning but through the gift and creation of God.

I don’t know whether you ever call rain “spit”. Our dog always pokes her nose out of the door warily to check whether it is spitting. Even if it is just spitting she turns tail and heads back in.

The rain is the spit on the earth, and the making of mud. It was from the mud that the Lord God formed humanity to become a living being (Genesis 2:7) and it was with the mud and a rub of the eyes by the lord both of light and darkness that the man born blind could see (John 9:6).

But is this just about the one man born blind? Is it about all those who “come to see”? And is the man born blind a new Adam? Is the man born blind the beloved disciple?

Just speculating. Who do you think he is?