Tag Archives: walking

Prayer/Walk

The land's long memory in ridge and furrow

The land’s long memory in ridge and furrow

Here is today’s poem and commentary from my Lent Book The Word in the Wilderness

 
https://audioboom.com/boos/2952243-prayer-walk.mp3
Prayer/Walk   Malcolm Guite

 

A hidden path that starts at a dead end,

Old ways, renewed by walking with a friend,

And crossing places taken hand in hand,

 

The passages where nothing need be said,

With bruised and scented sweetness underfoot

And unexpected birdsong overhead,

 

The sleeping life beneath a dark-mouthed burrow,

The rooted secrets rustling in a hedgerow,

The land’s long memory in ridge and furrow,

 

A track once beaten and now overgrown

With complex textures, every kind of green,

Land- and cloud-scape melting into one,

 

The rich meandering of streams at play,

A setting out to find oneself astray,

And coming home at dusk a different way.

 

Continuing these reflections on the nature of prayer itself, I offer another of my own poems, which, like Gwyneth Lewis’s ‘Homecoming’, is written in direct homage to Herbert’s poem ‘Prayer’. I had come to notice that on retreats it was not always in the ‘offices’ in chapel, but also on walks and rambles in and around retreat house grounds that I found the deepest spiritual renewal and the best prayer. So I decided to write a poem that would be at once a celebration of walking in the countryside and of prayer itself. Every phrase in this poem is, I hope, both an account of what walking is like and an emblem of what prayer is like. As I have done with the previous two poems I will just lift out and open one or two phrases and encourage my readers to do likewise with the rest.

 

A hidden path that starts at a dead end,

 

I have noticed how often interesting footpaths and bridleways start just beyond the brambles at the end of tarmacked roads marked ‘dead end’. And it seemed, for me at least, that is very often where prayer starts too. I am sure that prayer should be a first resort, but for me it is sometimes the last resort when I’ve tried everything else! I’ve also noticed that the places in life where I get stuck and come up as it were against a ‘dead end’ sign, are inevitably the important places, the places where there is real stuff to deal with and that is precisely why I get stuck or find it difficult to move forward. Too often one simply shies away from these personal dead-ends and goes for the first diversion (usually Facebook!) to try something easier. But when I’m walking, the opposite is true. It gives me pleasure to walk down the apparent dead-end and find the hidden path where the cars can’t go, strike out across the fields and leave the traffic behind, so I have tried to apply this to my prayer life. To begin the prayer at one of my personal dead-ends and ask God to open up the path. That technique has had some surprising and beautiful results!

 

The sleeping life beneath a dark-mouthed burrow,

The rooted secrets rustling in a hedgerow,

The land’s long memory in ridge and furrow,

 

You sense, on a good country walk, the hidden richness and depth of everything that is going on around you. You know that what you actually see; the close up path ahead of you, the distant panorama, the occasional sweeping view of wider fields, are only a trace, a hint of what’s really there. Sometimes you suddenly hear the hedgerow rustle or see the tracks of badgers or deer and you realize that you are walking past a whole web of life and exchange of which you are only partly aware. Again, features in the landscape itself suddenly speak of a long history and almost take you there. The ridges and ripples in a field you cross that are remnants of the mediaeval ‘ridge and furrow’ agriculture, where your ancestors toiled on their separate ‘strips’ of soil, divided between the children of a large family. Again it seemed to me that this experience is very true of our prayer life. When we begin to pray we have to start where we are, usually just on the surface of our lives, but there is always so much else going on. We all have a familiar surface to our lives but are there not also, deeper in our psyche, the burrows and dens, where the shyer and more furtive elements of our inner life are rooted and nestling. Might these, half-acknowledged parts of ourselves also be brought to God for blessing, noticed a little and offered to him? Have we not also those longer and deeper memories, perhaps going right back into our family histories, which have, as it were shaped the landscape of who we are? Perhaps prayer, and particularly prayer in Lent might be a time to bring them for blessing and healing to God, for whom all times are present, in whom is the fullness of time.

Perhaps these last two poems, both responding to Herbert’s prayer, might encourage you to make a ‘listing’ poem of your own, filled with the images that have become, or could become, living emblems of your prayer life.

 

If English readers would like to buy my books from a proper bookshop Sarum College Bookshop here in the UK always have it in stock.

I am happy to announce to North American readers that Copies of The Word in the Wilderness are readily available from Steve Bell Here

Here also is a beautiful journal and illustration responding to today’s prayer from Tracey Wiffen whose blog you can find Here

Tracey Wiffen's journal

Tracey Wiffen’s journal

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Filed under literature, Meditation, Theology and Arts

First Steps, Brancaster

Here is today’s commentary and poem from my book The Word in the Wilderness, whose readers  may like to click the play button or the title below and hear me read the poem.

First Steps

This is the day to leave the dark behind you
Take the adventure, step beyond the hearth,
Shake off at last the shackles that confined you,
And find the courage for the forward path.
You yearned for freedom through the long night watches,
The day has come and you are free to choose,
Now is your time and season.
Companioned still by your familiar crutches,
And leaning on the props you hope to lose,
You step outside and widen your horizon.

After the dimly burning wick of winter
That seemed to dull and darken everything
The April sun shines clear beyond your shelter
And clean as sight itself. The reed-birds sing,
As heaven reaches down to touch the earth
And circle her, revealing everywhere
A lovely, longed-for blue.
Breathe deep and be renewed by every breath,
Kinned to the keen east wind and cleansing air,
As though the blue itself were blowing through you.

You keep the coastal path where edge meets edge,
The sea and salt marsh touching in North Norfolk,
Reed cutters cuttings, patterned in the sedge,
Open and ease the way that you will walk,
Unbroken reeds still wave their feathered fronds
Through which you glimpse the long line of the sea
And hear its healing voice.
Tentative steps begin to break your bonds,
You push on through the pain that sets you free,
Towards the day when broken bones rejoice

And here is my commentary from the Word in the Wilderness:

It’s good that this call to journey and pilgrimage in Lent usually comes in spring and the turn of the year. For many of us winter is dark and difficult. It was particularly so for me in the winter of last year as I coped with a broken leg. This poem, written to celebrate my first walk outdoors after the accident, alludes to Psalm 51, the great Lenten penitential psalm with its prayer to ‘make me to hear of joy and gladness that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice’.

The poem is set on the North Norfolk Coastal Path near the village of Brancaster and I hope it gives some sense of that wide, wild, bracing countryside. It is customary to speak of ‘the pathetic fallacy’; the habit whereby we project our inner feelings, our distinctively human ‘pathos’, onto the surrounding environment, so that the outward becomes expressive of the inward. But I don’t think this is quite as fallacious as some people assume. The very fact that we find a constant and seemingly natural correspondence between the outer and inner may itself be a clue to the nature of the universe and our role in it. It may not be simply that we project, but that we, ourselves a part of nature are finely attuned to and can give a conscious ‘inward’ expression to its outer meanings. Indeed Coleridge went so far as to suggest that we are able to read the ‘eternal language’ which is already patterned into the appearances of nature. In his beautiful conversational poem frost at midnight he imagines how his son in opening himself fully to the experience and meaning of landscape will

 

see and hear
The lovely shapes and sounds intelligible
Of that eternal language, which thy God
Utters, who from eternity doth teach
Himself in all, and all things in himself.
Great universal Teacher! he shall mould
Thy spirit, and by giving make it ask.

‘Frost at Midnight’

 

This is not the pantheism of which Coleridge is sometimes falsely accused. On the contrary God transcends nature, which is not God himself, but is his language. Certainly one sometimes has the experience of an outer scene entering deeply into ones soul as an expression both of consciousness and healing. This was my experience walking in Norfolk on the day commemorated in this poem. The lines that came first:

 

Kinned to the keen east wind and cleansing air,
As though the blue itself were blowing through you.

 

came spontaneously as an expression of how that deep blue, keen air and wide horizon, after months of confinement, seemed somehow to change and expand my inward self. The walk itself was brief and painful, pushing myself with each step and leaning still on my crutches, but somehow also transformative. I include the poem here because the experience it seems to me corresponds with a real experience on most people’s spiritual journey, a moment when vision is renewed, new possibilities become apparent even though we are still hobbled by our brokenness. That renewal is what gives us the courage to ‘push on through the pain’ in a strange and paradoxical combination of effort, grace and freedom.

If English readers would like to buy my books from a proper bookshop Sarum College Bookshop here in the UK always have it in stock.

I am happy to announce to North American readers that Copies of The Word in the Wilderness are readily available from Steve Bell Here

 

20130403-152420.jpg

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First Steps

Here is a poem written on my brief post-Easter break on the North Norfolk coast near Brancaster. It was written on the occasion of my first outdoor walk since I had the cast removed after breaking my leg in January. It wasn’t a very long walk, and it wasn’t pain free but it was a breakthrough of sorts, as this poem records.
As always you can hear it by clicking on the title or the ‘play’ button

First Steps

This is the day to leave the dark behind you
Take the adventure, step beyond the hearth,
Shake off at last the shackles that confined you,
And find the courage for the forward path.
You yearned for freedom through the long night watches,
The day has come and you are free to choose,
Now is your time and season.
Companioned still by your familiar crutches,
And leaning on the props you hope to lose,
You step outside and widen your horizon.

After the dimly burning wick of winter
That seemed to dull and darken everything
The April sun shines clear beyond your shelter
And clean as sight itself. The reed-birds sing,
As heaven reaches down to touch the earth
And circle her, revealing everywhere
A lovely, longed-for blue.
Breathe deep and be renewed by every breath,
Kinned to the keen east wind and cleansing air,
As though the blue itself were blowing through you.

You keep the coastal path where edge meets edge,
The sea and salt marsh touching in North Norfolk,
Reed cutters cuttings, patterned in the sedge,
Open and ease the way that you will walk,
Unbroken reeds still wave their feathered fronds
Through which you glimpse the long line of the sea
And hear its healing voice.
Tentative steps begin to break your bonds,
You push on through the pain that sets you free,
Towards the day when broken bones rejoice

20130403-152420.jpg

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Filed under imagination

A Spring in my step? looking forward!

I fell and broke my leg at the end of January and for the last two months I have been wearing a cast, either flat on my back with the leg up, or latterly, using crutches and a wheel chair. And the one thing I have missed more than anything else is walking! I used to walk every day with my dog, in the mornings by the ‘paradise’ woodlands, and in the afternoon by the river along the famous and beautiful Granchester meadows. It was always on walks that thoughts and poems and insights would come, and I would glimpse the patches of God-light on my path. Well today I finally got rid of my cast and began, slowly and painfully to flex my foot, and gingerly to trust it with a little weight. It’ll be a while yet before I can lose the crutches and really walk, but that day is in sight. So to keep me going and cheer my spirits I thought I’d post again this poem about a spring walk I took in this very season last year. It’s about walking on a wild wet windy early spring day, but as you will see, it’s also about the four elements within and around us and also, perhaps a little meditation on those hints in Paul that in Christ’s redemption and renewal of humanity will also be the redmption, in and through us, of all nature, that the creation waits with eager longing for glory, hidden in us, in us to be revealed. Anyway I hope you enjoy it.

Once again I am indebted to Margot Krebs Neale for the beautiful images which accompany these poems. As usual you can hear it by clicking on the title or on the ‘play’ sign

Out in the Elements

I crunch the gravel on my ravelled walks
And clabber with my boots in the wet clay
For I myself am clay that breathes and talks
Articulated earth, I move and pray
Alive at once to walk and be the way.
The root beneath, the branch above the tree
These hedges bright with blossom, white with May,
Everything concentrates, awaits in me
the coming of the One who sets creation free

Earth opens now to sudden drumming rains,
The raised and falling waters of the sea
Whose tidal pull and play is in my veins
Spilling and spreading, filling, flowing free
Whose ebb and flow is still at work in me
And in the wombing pulse of play and work
When heart beats pushed in waves of empathy
Till waters broke and bore me from the dark
And found this foundered shore and took me from the ark

As rain recedes I pause to fill my pipe
And kindle fire that flickers into light
And lights the leaf all curled and cured and ripe
Within a burr-starred bowl. How fierce and bright
It glows against the cold. And I delight
In taste and fragrance, watching whisps of grey
And graceful smoke in their brief flight,
As sun breaks from the clouds and lights my way
I feel the fire that makes the light that makes the day

Now air is all astir in breaks and blasts,
The last grey rags of cloud are blown aside
The hedgerows hush and rustle in the gusts
As clean winds whistle round me. Far and wide
Bent grasses and frail flowers lean aside
I breathe the world in with this brimming breeze
That tugs at me and eddies at my side
Quickens and flickers through the tangled trees
And breathes me back to life and brings me to my knees

Akin to every creature I will learn
From each and all the meaning of my birth
I love the dust to which I will return
The subtle substance of my mother earth,
From water born by fire fathered forth,
An index and epitome of nature,
I sum and summon all the world is worth,
And breathing now His elemental air
I find the One within, without, and everywhere.

I find the One within, without, and everywhere

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A Spring Interlude; ‘Out In The Elements’

In the little space between Mothering Sunday, which was also of course Refreshment Sunday!! (what a relief!) and Passion Sunday, I thought we might have some refreshment and change here as well before resuming the sonnets, so I am posting a new poem which is an experiment in using Spenserian Stanzas. It’s about a walk on a wild wet windy early spring day but as you will see its also about the four elements within and around us and also, perhaps a little meditation on those hints in Paul that in Christ’s redemption and renewal of humanity will also be the redmption, in and through us, of all nature, that ‘the creation waits with eager longing of a hidden glory in us to be revealed’. Anyway I hope you enjoy it.

Once again I am indebted to Margot Krebs Neale for the beautiful images which accompany these poems. As usual you can hear it by clicking on the title or on the ‘play’ sign

Out in the Elements

I crunch the gravel on my ravelled walks
And clabber with my boots in the wet clay
For I myself am clay that breathes and talks
Articulated earth, I move and pray
Alive at once to walk and be the way.
The root beneath, the branch above the tree
These hedges bright with blossom, white with May,
Everything concentrates, awaits in me
the coming of the One who sets creation free

Earth opens now to sudden drumming rains,
The raised and falling waters of the sea
Whose tidal pull and play is in my veins
Spilling and spreading, filling, flowing free
Whose ebb and flow is still at work in me
And in the wombing pulse of play and work
When heart beats pushed in waves of empathy
Till waters broke and bore me from the dark
And found this foundered shore and took me from the ark

As rain recedes I pause to fill my pipe
And kindle fire that flickers into light
And lights the leaf all curled and cured and ripe
Within a burr-starred bowl. How fierce and bright
It glows against the cold. And I delight
In taste and fragrance, watching  whisps of grey
And graceful smoke in their brief flight,
As sun breaks from the clouds and lights my way
I feel the fire  that makes the light that makes the day

Now air is all astir in breaks and blasts,
The last grey rags of cloud are blown aside
The hedgerows hush and rustle in the gusts
As clean winds whistle round me. Far and wide
Bent grasses and frail flowers lean aside
I breathe the world in with this brimming breeze
That tugs at me and eddies at my side
Quickens and flickers through the tangled trees
And breathes me back to life and brings me to my knees

Akin to every creature I  will learn
From each and all the meaning of my birth
I love the dust to which I will return
The subtle substance of my mother earth,
From water born by fire fathered forth,
An index and epitome of nature,
I sum and summon all the world is  worth,
And breathing now His elemental air
I find the One  within, without, and everywhere.

I find the One within, without, and everywhere

8 Comments

Filed under imagination, Poems