New year poem

We’re now a whole fortnight into twenty twenty two, I’ve frankly no-idea how that happened, do you?
Wasn’t so long ago I had mince pies and cake, I’m up to my neck now in work, for pity’s sake
What about you? How are you feeling? Tip top, or just like a house whose paint’s peeling?
I really wouldn’t blame you, I’d quite understand, if you felt out of sorts, unmoored or unmanned
It’s tough that back then it was angels and ‘Hark!’, and now all you’ve got is some bills, and it’s dark
The blackest and bleakest time of the year, that’s a-design-fault and a half, t’would appear
It stretches ahead, a whole year spanking new, but that’s not so helpful, when your head feels like stew
So here’s a little thought that might shed some hope, at a time when some of us, well, struggle to cope
If it’s gloomy outside, then it strikes me as clever, to find light within, well never say never
To grab the year by the horns, and put on it your stamp, try seeking light for your own inner lamp
The brilliant thing is, it’s not just down to you, there’s someone who tells us he’ll help us out too
Did you ever hear that Jesus is called the ‘light of the world’? It’s a special thought I reckon, in fact it’s a pearl
If he can help me out here, light me up from inside, well you know what? I might just be up for the ride.

A Dream Among the Spires

Glancing up at the Christmas lights and seasonal decorations, Arthur scowled and continued down the cobbled street. He always felt torn at this time of year. He liked the warm glow, but had less time for the origin story, and even less for all the fluffy excess. He drew up his coat collars and pulled his woolly hat further down. The street was thick with holiday shoppers. The growl of buses and their splashing wheels punctuated the city’s late afternoon background hum. His thoughts slipped into a melancholy furrow. Yes, he liked the festive traditions, twelve days of Christmas and all that – but found it next to impossible to believe that a world of angels and miracles might actually exist. First year student philosophy hadn’t helped. Neither did seeing the latest celebrity author title in a bookshop window. Surely any angel worth his salt could magic that away.
He almost tripped over the old homeless man slumped at the street corner – and immediately apologised. “Ach, don’t worry about it” said the tramp, a rosy-faced individual. Arthur offered to buy him a coffee. “That’s kind of you” the fellow replied, “but you look more in need of it than me.” From his coat pocket, he pulled out a small bottle and gave it to Arthur. “Try this. Just a wee dram of something. It’ll do you good. Promise.” “Er, thanks” replied the student, nonplussed. “I’ll take it with me if that’s ok”.
He carried on down the street. He of course had no intention of drinking an unknown liquid from a stranger – but was intrigued all the same. He turned back a moment – the tramp was gone. He scanned the bobbing pedestrians: nowhere to be seen. “Strange”, he thought. The bottle was exquisite. And though he was a sensible chap, his curiosity at that moment got the better of him. Twisting the lid, he put the rim to his lips, and in one quick movement gulped the contents down. It was smooth and fiery like a good malt whisky, with a hint of syrup. He felt it warm his throat, stomach, then limbs, fingers and toes in a delicious unfurling wave. He looked around him. Passers-by still trudged by grim-faced, and the red buses looked as grimy as before; but inside he felt different – though he couldn’t quite put his finger on how.
He turned down a cobbled alleyway. Thick flakes of snow tumbled down in the orange glow of an old street lamp. As he walked, they became larger, and the glow warmer and brighter. Suddenly he found himself lifted off his feet and drawn into their swirling midst. The street scene below became small. “Goodness!” he thought, “that must have been strong stuff”. But he had no time to rationalise further, before being overwhelmed by the wonder of what he saw. The fabled uniqueness of the (now saucer-sized) snowflakes was plain: a fabulous variety of fractal swirls, spokes, branches and crosses. Slowly Arthur became aware that these flakes were like people – which surprised and amazed him very much: each one unique, beautiful. And not just some people, but everyone. Even his landlady Mrs Thorpe, who he didn’t much like at all. Truly a troubling revelation.
The next thing he knew, Arthur felt himself being drawn out of the lamplight and up above the parapets and gargoyles, until a cluster of spires rose into view. Amid the eddying snowflakes, their pointed shapes were transfigured. Pinpricks of light sprang from their tops, and as he watched, one by one these fiery points shot up into the night sky and exploded high above, like huge Roman candles. He hadn’t been to a firework display for a very long time, and this strange sight brought all those childhood memories right back. It was turning out to be a very strange evening indeed, he decided, as remnants of the smoky odour dispersed.
He felt himself floating gently earthwards again. He then became aware of a warm flickering light, and turning, saw the small latticed window of an old pub. What felt like the crest of an invisible wave swept him through the window and into the midst of a raucous ceilidh. He had scarcely got his bearings before he was pulled into a spinning knot of dancers, blazing with a lava-like glow and beaming brightly. Arthur felt his usual social stiffness melt away as they embraced him, their heat enveloping him. It was like sinking into a warm water bed. For the first time in his life, he even found he could dance a few steps. It was the closest he had ever come to experiencing, not mere fun or happiness – but joy.

When he finally came to, Arthur found himself sitting on a coat in the snow, leaning against a cold college wall. In front of him he saw flakes still falling, the glow of a lit window, and a single spire piercing the night. Strange recollections were fading fast. But inside, something had changed. As he watched the people hurrying past, he felt an appreciation and compassion that he hadn’t known before. He saw that the spire was like a finger, pointing toward the possibility of truths ‘out there’ of which he’d been sceptical, or unaware. The window glow held the promise of a celebration that would not end at ‘throwing out time’. Through the chill night air floated the muffled strains of a college evensong. He got up, dug his hands into his pockets, shook his head and smiled to himself, and walked towards the music.

For BBC Upload. A seasonal tale of revelation and discovery.

Image by pasja1000 at Pixabay

Narnia Christmas

Christmas once again is near us, do you feel its velvet tread
Through the schmaltz and gaudy trappings, can you trace a different thread
Join me as I ponder now a Narnia story, simple, spare
A frame though which to view the season, see what we’ll uncover there.

Will I have a heart like Lucy, stepping through the wardrobe door
One that’s open to enchantment, forest cones for wardrobe floor
Hungry, ready to discover hidden world of wintry white
A place beyond the ordinary, glimpsed through faith and not by sight?

Will I let the wonder of this Advent season work on me
In the drear of dark December, will I pause, and look, and see?
Lucy, spying glow of lamplight, tracked a path through wintry waste
Will my eyes to Light be open, primed this Christmas wine to taste?

Just as Lucy, trusting, followed after a mysterious faun
Ready to encounter stuff of miracle, of pale doubt shorn
Like the humble shepherds in the gospel, used to muck and mire
Will my heart be ready now to see the angels, hear the choir?

And as Lucy wisely left the portal open, chink of light
So that she could navigate her way back home in dead of night
Or like magi, journeying ‘cross foreign soil to seek the child
Will I seek the One who stills my stormy heart so restless, wild?

For a real Lucy, Lewis wrote this much loved ‘fairy tale’
Making fresh a truth beyond, that might have stayed opaque and pale
Every time I read, I feel my consciousness begin to shift
Again, and so may I be changed by swift approaching Christ-child gift.

Broadcast on BBC Radio Leeds & Premier Christian Radio

Advent poem

In the deepening twilight, of a waning year
Hopeful yet mysterious, ‘Advent’ now appears
See the hurried shoppers, in the settling gloom
Of a dark December, tell me is there room
In our imaginations, at the very least
To see behind the bustle, a different kind of feast
Shops a little sparser now, usually overflowing
Still our souls are thirsting, yearning, little knowing
In the midst of credit cards, and debt, and money spent
Where the true source lies of peace and joy and deep content
December now grows pregnant, rising expectation
Dreams, desires and fragile hopes, permeate a nation
Yet behind the gaudy mess, a different hope prevails
A light that breaks upon the heart, a joy that never fails
Could it be, that birth long buried in the mists of time
Still retains its power to captivate your heart and mine?
What would happen if we paused, a moment stilled our thoughts
Might this child yet prove to be, the treasure that we sought?

Broadcast on BBC Radio Leeds, Guernsey & Sussex/Surrey, and Premier Christian Radio

Toxic 3 – Hope

Something that doesn’t quite fill me with mirth –
Thinking a moment about the future of earth –
Is, how will we come to a place where we care
About something so far off, remote, over there?
We hear about it, but how we can be troubled by heating
The global kind, when impacts here are so fleeting?
I wonder, if we’re to move past a short-sighted view
Do we need to look deeper at ourselves a bit too
We could do with regaining a perspective quite rare
A fuller and richer vision of care
We’d do worse than recover some wisdom of old
To move from being small to big-hearted and bold
We might even shift from the selfish rat race
To relate more, and move in the rhythms of grace
What if behind everything there’s a power
Of love and of good, which we need in this hour
If we’re made in the image of God, that gives scope
To move forward determined, with courage and hope
To give up addictions and foul toxic ways
Pursue a strong future for all, for always

Broadcast on Premier Christian Radio

Toxic 2 – Food

In all of life’s pressures, do we have room
To give some attention to what we consume?
Are we uneasy, alarmed, do we brood
When we consider our treatment of food?
Stark, in the light of nature in retreat
Are we at peace with addiction to meat?
The forests it fells and the gas it exhales
The land it consumes and the wildlife it nails
Can we imagine and fresh contemplate
A healthier variety of food on our plate?
A diet that’s filled with attention and care
Not with anxiety, tension, a snare
What if the path to good health had its start
Not in the things we consume, but the heart?
What if the thing that is fragile and rare
Planetary health, had its best allies there?
What if the medicine for Earth in distress
Was firstly a humble consumption of less?
What if those roots of a future that’s bright
Lay in those heart-shoots of faith, hope and light?

Broadcast on Premier Christian Radio

Toxic 1 – Oil

We are all different, I don’t know what you think
But there’s something I know and it’s starting to stink
I don’t know if you’re worried, I don’t know if you’re scared
Or if this big thing that is troubling me is shared
Still I’ve been thinking about the way that we live
All of the habits and stuff we hang with
The way that our life is embedded in oil
All of the ways it has us in its coils
You can’t look too hard at your daily routine
And not see how it’s scarred by the fossil fuel queen
What we put in our hair, what we pour in our cars
It gives me a scare just to see how it mars
Our life on this fragile and beautiful earth
How it holds and it moulds and it drains us of mirth
So I think that it’s worth giving quite a big pause
To ask how this dragon got us in its claws
I wonder, to quench such a ravaging fire,
Do we need to examine our roots of desire?
To tame and restrain this compulsive affliction
Do we need to think hard about carbon addiction?

Broadcast on Premier Christian Radio during COP26

Earth Remembrance

I sense a fresh dimension to Remembrance this year
Fallen soldiers, not for them alone we shed a tear
Another source of sadness now engulfs our troubled world
The tendrils of a different grief around our hearts now curl
Remembering former conflicts, honouring those who fell
Let’s listen to that other grief that in our hearts now swells
Conflict, it has meanings that are not confined to war
Bayonets and battles are not all we’re grieving for
A shrill alarm, a clarion call: our conflict with the earth
Novel forms of death to which destructive ways gave birth
This Remembrance Day, let us not solely view the past
Let us weigh a future that is coming at us fast
How better can we honour those who paid such sacrifice
Than dare give up our comfort for the sake of future life
Life encompassing the ones who’ll live here after us
People, creatures and a planet placed within our trust
Climate – it is said the situation’s like a war
A scale and challenge unlike anything we’ve fought before
A safer, greener, fairer earth is surely worth the price
Of careful thought and action now, a personal sacrifice
Echo faint yet resonant of sacrifice once made
By One who dwells within creation, on whom grief was laid
Love of God, a tenderness and breadth of endless scope
Like poppy red, where all seemed dead, now springs afresh with hope

Broadcast on BBC Radio Leeds Sunday Breakfast

Poem: To a refugee

As the media glare is shifting, as the headlines fade from view

Each of us will face the question, how we see and think of you

You have made a leap into the great unknown, and so I’ll try

To imagine just a little what it’s like, to see things through your eyes

From the moment of arrival, in this new and foreign place

A different struggle for survival waits, an unfamiliar space

It may feel at times confusing, word and gesture to decode

Encounters raw and sometimes bruising, on this long and winding road

You may find things hard to fathom, you may find us hard to read

You may feel an aching chasm, may I have eyes to see your need

Before all else, like me you’re human, clothed with strength and dignity

This thought I’ll hold in each encounter, through this lens I’ll seek to see.

(penned in response to the Afghanistan crisis. Addressing an imagined refugee).

Olympics & Justice

This radiant contest, this sparkling thing:

The Olympics, a spectacle to make the heart sing

Gathering of rare-gifted sporting elite

The strong and the skilled, the honed and the fleet;

And yet a pandemic asks us to stop

Revise our obsession with those at the top

Take a step back, embrace a collective

Overdue appraisal, a change of perspective;

Just a suggestion, a novel idea

For you now, immersed in the Olympics this year:

As you marvel at those at their physical peak

Can you also make space in your heart – for the weak?

For those indisposed and with no chance to shine

On such a big stage, no medal to mine;

As you praise the perfected, think too of the poor

Remember the values the Olympics stand for;

Excellence, friendship, equality, respect

Are just a selection of good ones, and yet

Why stop with those, why not increase

Our struggle for justice, our wrestling for peace;

Running for goodness, a deep dive for truth

Not minding if I look unhinged or uncouth

And let’s not go solo, into this fight

Team up and dream up, keep hope in sight

And when you are tempted to drop off the pace

Look up and be helped by that rare thing – called grace.

Broadcast on BBC Radio Solent & Premier Christian Radio

Image by Thomas Wolter at Pixabay.

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