In this year of quarantine, I have been observing a DIY Lent. I thought it would be wonderful to get together (via Zoom of course) with one or two different friends each week. Both of us bring a poem, or piece of poetic prose, or art, or music to share and reflect on.
It is also a chance to catch up with old friends and get to know new friends better 🙂
So far it has been a beautiful, nourishing, joyful, real thing, and I wanted to share the idea with the world. So I am posting our ‘playlist’ as it emerges.
My only regret is that I do not have enough time in my diary for everyone! But then, there’s no reason why I can’t continue into Eastertide and beyond…
with A on Thursday 18 February
My first meeting was with A. We shared:
- The Peace of Wild Things, Wendell Berry
- Chartless, Emily Dickinson
- Trinity Sunday, George Herbert
- Sabbath, Wendell Berry
I didn’t come into the meeting with a fixed pattern in mind. I didn’t want it to be a workshop! We had a short catch up and agreed to take it in turns to share.
Each time: start with a short silence, a first reading and short silence, reader shares why they brought the poem, listener responds to the poem, we reflect together, a second reading and short silence. We concluded with the Grace.
with E on Friday 19 February
E and I shared:
- Eve Remembering, Toni Morrison
- Tripping over joy, Hafiz
- a note on the body, Danez Smith
- “Hope” is the thing with feathers, Emily Dickinson
with H on Friday 26 February
H and I shared:
- Our True Home, Walter Brueggemann
- The Bright Field, RS Thomas
- [i carry your heart with me(i carry it in], ee cummings
- If you must be heard, Kerry Hillcoat
with K on Monday 1 March
K and I shared:
- Prayer/Walk, Malcolm Guite
- Disclosure, Ann Lewin
- The Lord’s My Shepherd, Stuart Townend
- I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud, William Wordsworth
with M on Thursday 4 March
M and I shared:
- Fragments of Light 2020, Elaine Goodwin
- The Lantern Out of Doors, Gerard Manley Hopkins
- Wild Cherry Sapling (after Rothko), nature the artist, the photo mine
- Love Itself, Leonard Cohen
Each time I have met with a friend, it has struck me that what we have shared has in some way been linked. Either in the work or in how it strikes us. Often it has been related to the natural world… trees or water. Tonight was fluid light.
with M on Tuesday 9 March
- The Caged Skylark, Gerard Manley Hopkins
- Covenant, Margaret Halaska OSF
- Leaning on the Bark, MS, unpublished
- Vatersay 4, Kevin Marston
I have been very touched by how many of my friends have taken the risk of sharing something that is profoundly personal to them, that they really love, that touches a deep wellspring of tears. I am reciprocating as I can. If I share pieces that are important to me too often, their vitality will fade. So I am choosing pieces that are connected in a meaningful way to our relationship and and I hope will deepen it.
with A on Thursday 11 March
A and I shared:
- Separation, from Letters & Papers From Prison, Dietrich Bonhoeffer | in German
- The Airy Christ, Stevie Smith
- Coming to terms, Christopher Southgate
- from East Coker, TS Eliot | Eliot himself reading
with S on Friday 19 March
S and I shared:
- Prayer, from The Little Book of Lent
- Two Countries, Naomi Shihab Nye
- from Burnt Norton, TS Eliot [V 1st stanza]
- The Skylight, Seamus Heaney
I have a folder on my computer called Gems: poetry, prose, prayers and images that I have saved in the past because they have in some way been important to me, helped me, or struck me. I have really enjoyed rummaging in this folder, remembering, and being struck afresh by many. Some of my choices have been Gems that winked at me as I rummaged.
Yet some of my choices have also been quite new to me, poems that I might have stumbled across while reading about something quite different, or that featured in a podcast. They too have winked 😉
with S on Monday 22 March
S and I shared:
- Wa Habibi, Kronos Quartet | arr based on Fairuz
- Evensong, Sharon Jones
- Nada te turbe, Teresa of Avila
- Crucifixus, Antonio Lotti
with W on Thursday 25 March
W and I shared:
- The Annunciation by Veneziano, RS Thomas (expand in right sidebar)
- from Echoes of Eckhart, Richard Skinner
- Night Prayer (Compline), Church of England
- Lily crucifix, St Helen’s Church, Abingdon
I had a visceral reaction to the RS Thomas: how dare he assume “what all women / desire to hear”, or treat Mary’s virginity as flowers to be plucked?
Poetry to provoke…
A moment of reflection: surely I (and others) would desire to hear “Hail Mary,* full of grace, God is with you”?
*your own name?
And a different reading: maybe “the flowers that / he has taken from her” are the wholehearted Yes that Mary has freely chosen and given to the angel.
It led to a look at the Veneziano and other Renaissance and more modern depictions of the Annunciation:
- Annunciation, Domenico Veneziano
- Annunciation, Fra Angelico
- The Annunciation, John William Waterhouse
- Annunciation, John Collier
And finally back to poetry and at last a woman:
with I on Monday 29 March
I and I shared:
- Psalm 130, The Liturgical Psalter
- Is it Dual-Natured? Elizabeth Jennings
- Everyone Sang, Siegfried Sassoon
- The Windhover, Gerard Manley Hopkins
on this blessed Easter Day, Sunday 4 April
A final [penultimate – see update below] reflection:
I am deeply grateful to all my friends who joined me on this poetic, musical, visual pilgrimage through Lent. We used the word ‘gift’ many times, and I truly did feel that I received many gifts, of new poems and songs, of trust and stories, of attention and laughter.
It is a teaching to me to be more open and receptive day-by-day to the possibility of gift, in any aspect of life, ordinary and extraordinary… which usually amount to the same thing.
And now we remember the greatest gift of all.
Alleluia! He is risen indeed!
And a final poem to share:
Another final reflection
Lockdown was eased enough by June to be able to meet my conversation partner S for lunch. Our conversation touched on giving back to the world, inner work, art and teaching, rootedness in place, and much more.
I had decided not to offer my Medical Humanities unit to the 4th year Exeter Medical School students in 2021/22, and explained that one of my reasons was that I hadn’t been making any art in the last year. S immediately jumped on this and contradicted me. For her, my Lent practice had been art. In fact, she insisted it was an artwork, in that I had created something beautiful here through bringing people together. Even though it was just the two of us in our Zoom conversation, she felt part of a wider community of the friends I had invited to share poetry, painting, photography and music. By extension, we also shared a community with the creators of the works we shared. It was deeply meaningful to her, and she was grateful to have been invited and able to be part of it.
So given that I haven’t made or been part of any other performance recently, I am going to categorise this as performance:
“Stories from the Living”
A series of one-to-one conversations
18 February to 4 April 2021