Beauty is….

So far, summer has not afforded me as much opportunity to get out and get lost in photography as I would like. That said, I have recently been thinking through what beauty is…what it really is, not what we see it as from so many areas of society which wish to control what we want and how we look.

A few months ago I spent a week in Portugal and had the privilege of getting lost behind my camera, which was so refreshing. As well as the obligatory holiday snaps though, I wanted to capture a different view of beauty…

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This was the view from our hotel room…I found it bizarre that each day these were the items which were hung to dry, and yet I saw something of beauty in the simplicity of this display.

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We met a couple who were making their living through this art; one would paint the rocks the other would arrange them. Their messages were simple. For me the beauty was in the way they were seeking to challenge and their understated way of offering this to the world.

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I had never been so close up to even one peacock, let alone whole families of them. Here the beauty was in what had not been previously seen, as well as in their inquisitive charm!

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We had not been aware that it was PRIDE on our first day in Lisbon. Watching the parade come through the city was incredibly moving though. Again the beauty was in the simple sentiments, such as ‘Love has no limits’.

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Beauty as attraction! In the square bubbles were being blown and flying off in all directions due to the wind. It was so simple, and yet fascinating to watch them, wondering how long they would last, where they would land, when they would burst.

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Beauty in the simple solutions, in that which is old, or distorted by rust, beauty in that which many would not notice, or is the beauty in the blue backdrop?

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Beauty in the warmth of the evening, beauty in the sunset glow.

Whilst I am not sure I managed to capture a different view of beauty, I see this as the beginning of a conversation, which I invite you to join in with. A conversation where we capture beauty in all of its awe and wonder, beauty as breath-taking because of its freshness, not as perfection but rather as imperfection, beauty as that which is not known, beauty as something which allows us to glimpse the Divine in the everyday.

Please share your images of this kind of beauty in the comments section to enable us collectively to rewrite the meaning of beauty, so that our sons and daughters, nieces and nephews and grandchildren can grow up being released and liberated by its definition, rather than constrained or imprisoned by it, afraid to go out, to wear what they really like, or to be truly and wonderfully who they are!

Stop the Clock

Stop the clock give me a moment just to be
to breathe and catch up with myself
to be still and remember who I am and what is important
what I hold dear and want to protect
It is so easy to lose sight of these things
in our ‘dog eat dog’ sort of world
Stepping out for some fresh air risks being left behind
overtaken or performance managed out of position

Stop the clock get off the treadmill take a moment just to be without the rest of the world overtaking!

I look around to see that EVERYTHING has stopped
everyone frozen at a particular point in time
except me who is present and able to move to see and be
In this moment I have no idea what to do
Should I stay amongst people who work against me
Would it help or hurt to know
what they think who they are emailing what about
Better to break away take time without losing

Stop the clock get off the treadmill take a moment just to be without the rest of the world overtaking!

So out I go wondering how long this freedom will last
Who is in control and to whom do I plead for more
I walk out of my office out of the building into the street
Everything and everyone has stopped
even traffic is frozen at this one point in time 
The flow of coffee is at a standstill
Never before have I been so alone in an experience
unable to reach out to anyone to share the burden

Stop the clock get off the treadmill take a moment just to be without the rest of the world overtaking!

As I draw close to faces fixated on what was
lines of pain the drain of life are plain
Tiredness and overwhelming desperation are etched
where laughter lines once were
Eyes give way to souls worn away by demand
No matter how hard we try
it has never and will never be enough in our world
of instant gratification and hedonistic existence

Stop the clock get off the treadmill take a moment just to be without the rest of the world overtaking!

This becomes one of those defining moments
a time when you realise there is more
so much more to be experienced and to give than this
Nothing is worth selling your soul
There will come a stage when effort and time
will be insignificant it will be finished
Living to work is admirable but what comes next
Is any job really worth the sacrifice of life itself

Start the clock get off the treadmill take this lifetime henceforth to be and let the rest of the world overtake!

Torii – A Gate to God?

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Torii, a link between the sacred and profane – a gate to gods and all that lies beyond. Does this mean that God is there and not here? Are we left without guidance or care unless we search for it? And when we seek, is it enough to pass through, beyond? Who is there to greet us, and how far should we go? 

So many questions spring from a deep desire for the divine, to encounter the one who created, formed and fashioned. Yet this Shinto shrine is not where HaShem dwells. Instead people come to pay respects to Kami gods. Does this mean that God is absent, the Alpha and Omega is limited by space and belief?

So often we are guilty of confining God, of organising God within our own understanding. Why is this torii filled expression of God not acceptable? That deep yearning to know, to be heard, to find that which lies beyond propels people to pursue, to purify themselves and pray. It is beautiful and honourable.

Even though these expressions do not fit with that western, middle-class, male driven understanding of God and worship, does that make them second rate, or worse, unacceptable? Must all ritual and practice fit into one single understanding of God and salvation? Is Jesus the Christ absent in this space?

Does Jesus, our intercessor, fail to hear or acknowledge the steady stream of pleas written on ema? Does he refuse to take them to God our Creator? Is this a place where the Holy Spirit refuses to go-between one and another? Is the Trinity absent or unwelcome here? I cannot conceive that it would be so.

God is not limited by time and space – Adonai cares for creation, people and place. God is here as I pass through the Torii, and God is present on my return. God lives in each of us, we see an echo of that divine, perfect face in one another. Torii, rather than being a gate towards the  sacred, is a reminder that God is here – now.

間 – ma (space between)

I have spent a great deal of time thinking about the ways in which difference is held together in Japan, and the Japanese understanding of beauty and stillness. I have been struck by the number of people from other lands who have made Japan their home for so many years, as well as reflecting on my own story, and why I returned to Britain after living here for four years. There is a mix of ancient and modern, secular and sacred, stillness and disturbance, each held in such close proximity.

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There can be invitation alongside hostility…

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…it can feel like two parallel universes; equally as a foreigner here, all that I have known can feel like it is from a parallel universe, one that is presently inaccessible.

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Rituals and respectfulness can demonstrate the beauty of the soul.

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Often blue sky and sunshine can elevate the soul.

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Equally, without warning, unfortunate events unfold; those that you would much rather leave behind or not have to receive, like ‘bad fortunes’ that can be left in the safety of the shrine rather than accompanying you home.

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Then there are customs which bring you to your knees, like these prayers for children – especially those who did not have very long with us – given hats and bibs to keep them warm, as well as windmills to offer relief from the sun.

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It seems that there is nowhere quite like this wonderful place of contradictions amidst harmony – where space or stillness is sought after within a busyness that I may never truly understand….

The draw of Meiji Jingū

What better activity for a wet and dreary Saturday afternoon than to visit a Shinto Shrine? Having been in Tokyo for just a week, working through the jet lag for most of that, I was keen to get out and about.

Slightly surprisingly, we weren’t the only people who had this idea, and the weather was little distraction for most.

But why Meiji Jingū, why this day, why in the rain? Is this about belief, tradition, or something else? In the midst of the busyness of Tokyo life, whether or not Shinto traditions are followed, is there some sort of peace and calm to be found in such a place of pilgrimage?

What draws people to leave their Ema or prayer requests under the divine tree?

Is it really possible to claim that belief in God is on the decline, when people pilgrim from all walks of life, from all stances of belief, to remember those whom they love before the divine?

Could we be doing more to help those who are seeking the light?

Is it possible that such a divine light can be found in many places, if only we were more open to see? In the hands and feet, eyes and ears of one another?

For me, Godly encounters are not in churches, jinjas or temples; though the peaceful, holy presence can be so tangible. Rather, when the rain trickles down my face, and I am amongst something of God’s divine creation – then I feel most alive to the presence of the living God.

Take off your shoes

Before standing on her own two feet
practical, not pretty Start-Rite shoes
shielded her; she tentatively walked
endless pavements to school alongside
familiar, reassuring, rhythmic, adult feet.
Soon childlike shoes were gone, replaced;
the landscape was different, new paths,
alternative possibilities, came into focus.
Not letting the grass grow under her feet
she kept moving, step by step – desperate
to escape, to leave well-trodden, mundane,
uniformed pavements and paths, but why?

Thinking on her feet she landed in a
varied town, then county, yet paths were
still littered; countless over-worn feet.
Well-loved Doc Martens of every colour
replaced the once worn Start-Rites –
still practical not pretty, yet beauty lies
in the eye of the beholder! The start of a
new adventure, discovery, exploration of
novel places, original spaces, unique faces.
DMs were powerless to ward off itchy feet.
Before long lovable DMs jumped in feet first
to find warmer climates favoured sandals!

Sandals accompanied bold cumbersome
daredevil enthusiastic feet, then cold feet.
they caught tears of loneliness, defeat;
they tried running, finding a different way;
still she persevered. Sandals grew tired
as did novelty of alternative paths, pastures.
Returning home she’d be back on her feet!
Where was that? Too far to walk or run! Home –
it felt like a moment in time unable to stand still.
Homely paths had changed remarkably….
They took new people to the same places
amongst different faces in nostalgic spaces.

Going back was no mean feet! Before one foot
was in the door she knew this would be raw!
It wasn’t right – she had two left feet!
They explored the lure of being bare along
a distinctive, strange, overgrown path:
hallowed ground. She fell to her knees
at the feet of the One who was, and is
and ever shall be! Awe grasped her,
she gasped as breath left…it returned anew.
Feet now firmly on the ground felt echoes of
creation underfoot urging her home,
finally taking the weight off her feet.

The Bread of Love

Bread and jam or daily bread? 
Bread winner or maker? 
Bread of life or of love? 
Bread with raise or 
that which draws gaze? 
Bread of diversity: 
naan, chapattis, pita, 
flat bread, baguette, 
garlic bread and pizza….
It is kneaded – it grows, 
it feeds, it permeates
The bread of love

The body of Christ
broken for you
to preserve body and soul

Bread draws the world
in a never-ending meal.
Never just for bread, 
but something more real!
People gather near bread,
bread of life, of heaven – 
bread of love!
Manna given by God 
nourishes heart and soul
in the house of God,
not where we gaze at God,
but where God gazes on us!

The body of Christ
broken for you
for everlasting life

Bread because Jesus said
this is my body…
and so the ritual began.
Like the Emmaus journey;
disciples full of lament
met the risen Jesus
in broken bread.
It was the way he did it:
he took it, blessed it, broke it
and gave it to them…
the bread of love revealed!

The body of Christ
broken for you
to eat and remember

“Our hearts burned within!”
This bread of love,
more than bread,
more than being fed.
A nourishment stretching
to all of your being….
Take-bless-break-give
Jesus’ ‘real presence’
God-with-us now
in the gaze of the
self-giving Jesus
in the bread of love.

The body of Christ
broken for you
feed your heart with thanksgiving

It feels like acceptance,
true appreciation
of things said or done –
like a warm glow
but so much more!
Why then keep it,
or build barriers
around God’s table?
Protect the bread of love!
LGBT, disabled, disfigured,
marginalised people –
Step away from the bread!

The body of Christ
broken for you
that you may have faith

No – this banquet is holy,
utter inclusivity a necessity,
Jesus, offered for all!
This bread of love
transforms with a taste;
a meeting of souls.
As Meister Eckhart said,
‘your eyes which see God
are the same eyes through
which God first saw you.’
Great is the bread of love,
the mystery of faith!

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The Agony

I love this poem, and have been dwelling in it as I ponder what it might mean to be a priest…

Philosophers have measured mountains,
Fathom’d the depths of seas, of states, and kings,
Walk’d with a staff to heaven, and traced fountains
But there are two vast, spacious things,
The which to measure it doth more behove:
Yet few there are that sound them; Sin and Love.

Who would know sin, let him repair
Unto Mount Olivet; there shall he see
A man, so wrung with pains, that all his hair,
His skin, his garments, bloody be.
Sin is that Press and Vice, which forceth pain
To hunt his cruel food through every vein.

Who knows not Love, let him assay,
And taste that juice, which on the cross a pike
Did set again abroach; then let him say
If ever he did taste the like.

Love is that liquor sweet and most divine,
Which my God feels as blood; but I, as wine.

George Herbert

Uniqueness of creation…

Signs of spring, and even the heat of summer, have been with us for the last few weeks now. I remembered walking in winter amongst sleeping trees and seemingly dead and gone plants, thinking about the life cycle. It is amazing therefore to walk amongst new life at this time of year and see beautiful bursts of colour and a flourishing of our natural creation.

It’s a beautiful reminder that we are not in control…

That the rich diversity of our natural world reflects something of the character of God…

Beauty is present in many different forms and in the most unexpected places…

God who creates such diversity must surely value difference and individuality…we are all uniquely made!

Why then do we insist on a fixed understanding of beauty?

Why are we so intent to convince others that there is only one way to see things, only one way to make sense of life?

Beauty depends not on the subject, but the seers being prepared to look and really notice; or glimpse the glory of God in something or someone – it’s always there, we just have to take time! Each will see something slightly different, and that diversity of seeing is also part of the glory of God! The only challenge is to embrace it, and to be open to the uniqueness of creation.

The Encounter

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Above the beauty and bustle of the valley
An expanse of heather filled space awaited.
The beautifully radiant blue sky was fresh,
Fragrant with the scent of the morning.
A light wind wound its way towards me –
It caressed my face urging me ahead.
Every step gave way to astonishing awe,
Wonderment grew within…my heart raced;
A mixture of excitement and delight
At all that my eyes were able to take in.

From the edge I heard only the wind.
Stronger now it whistled around my being
Awakening, sharpening my senses.
A man standing some way to my left,
His gaze undoubtedly directed at me,
Drew my attention momentarily. I looked
In that way which we often try to look,
Without looking like we are looking.
His was staring intently, still unmoved,
Yet I walked towards him…as if being drawn.

Close enough to speak, uttering silently,
His eyes remained thoughtfully on mine.
Reading me, delving right into my core,
Like one would an old abandoned book
Beginning to read on the page it fell open at –
It’s like he knows me…like I know him,
Even though I have never seen him before?
He had familiarity in his beautiful radiance,
His face attracted attention, necessitated it –
Its depth of wisdom brought a perfect peace.

His eyes were infinite dark ink pools with
Potential and understanding illuminating.
Pure kindness and laughter lines surrounded,
Softened, magnitude emanating, without threat.
His smooth olive skin blushed by the wind
Was accented by a beard outlining his jawline.
Wavy almost black hair blown about his face
Failed to distract from his present occupation: me!
An unusual encounter avoidable with a sharp turn –
Why, oh why, would I even contemplate that?

Unable to move, unaware of life around me,
Why do I not want this moment to end…ever?
It’s like I have been noticed, no not noticed…
Not merely seen for a spilt second!
Truly encountered and profoundly known.
Such knowing continues as I remain unable,
No unwilling, to move. Silent for if I dare
This moment will be gone, over, lost….
Oh that for once bringing ruin would fail me,
That clumsiness in word and deed would absent.

There is something about this moment
Which tells me none of that matters.
It is insignificantly significant in that
It is relevant because it is about who I am
But it is also irrelevant. It does not change now.
It will not stop it or move it in a direction
Other than the one already intended, and yet
It happens due to the insignificantly significant;
Because of who I am utterly and completely.
So many feelings washing over me right now….

I am known from the deepest part of me
Right to the crumb of toast which has rested
In the corner of my mouth since breakfast!
Every single memory is part of that knowing
Those I love and those I would care to forget
Even those that I have sought to push out –
Guilt and shame can overpower and overwhelm –
But they are there also and they are known.
That is undoubtedly good, perfect and right.
Fear, insignificance and inferiority melt away….

I am liberated floating over the artistry of the valley,
Then quite suddenly, with the blinking of an eye,
His or mine…this moment passes. Freedom
Begins to fade, fear and insignificance pervade.
Perhaps slightly less consuming…the man
Has moved. I turn around slowly yet he is nowhere.
Nowhere amongst the vast expanse of heather.
Did he disappear, was he ever here? My heart knows
He was and is and ever shall be…transformed
I yearn for this again as I realise that this is prayer.