Listening and watching

pausing from piles of paper

Spiegel im Spiegel

a cello and a piano

slowly thoughtfully


a hand lifts slowly

in the air


then gently hits the key

but it is in the pauses

that the beauty lies

and then

a touch on my shoulder

a paw tentatively rests

and pauses


have you forgotten that I’m here?

she watches the pianist

and his balletic hand

pause and listen

I tell her

listen to the pauses

that’s where the music lies.



Recently I have had a few experiences of worshiping in ‘the round’ with chairs in circle or oval round an altar. It completely changed my experience of the Eucharist. I could see more of what was going on at the altar. I could see faces of people and not the backs of heads. I could see musicians and not just hear them. It was a big change for me and I liked it.

This Lent I thought that I might do the same in my church. Each Sunday we have to set out the chairs in rows because during the week the building is used from morning to night by community groups. But the church is rectangular and there is plenty space to create a circle of chairs round an altar so that’s what I did. It wasn’t perfect the first week but I think we got it right last week. Two semi-circles of two rows of chairs facing inwards, with a small table to be our altar.

Oh how I wish I’d had a camera to capture the looks on faces as my little flock arrived. Mouths dropped. Frowns settled in. Eyes narrowed. Oh what is she doing now, I could see them think. Where’s MY chair, I could see them think. Enthusiastically I ushered them in. We’re just trying it for Lent, I exclaimed. Let’s try something new to give us a different perspective on things. Look, you can see the altar closely. Look, you can see one another’s faces not the back of their heads. Look, how different it can be. Look!

It’s just for Lent, they asked hopefully. How many more weeks?

Is change always good for us? Are you someone who likes new things, is excited by something different? Or do you like the same old same old? Do you prefer things to stay just the way they’ve aye been?

Sometimes Lent can be a good time to make changes. We are asked to give up things which take us away from God, to take on things which bring us closer to God. Lent is a time for new things, new ways of being, new ways of seeing, new ways of doing. Change can bring growth.

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Mary Oliver gives Instructions for Living a Life

Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.

Head down, thumping the keys on the computer, worrying about getting all things done.

Pay attention… the trees are changing, buds are forming, little signs of green and yellow, the wind is moving them and the sunlight is making silver flashes here and there. Stop for a moment to watch, to pay attention to what is around me outside. Stop and breathe more deeply. Stop and drop my shoulders, sit back, let the tension go.

Another day, another to-do list, another phone call to add to all the rest of stuff to do.

Be astonished… a painting on my desk catches my eye, of Mary and Martha, a reminder to be more like Mary but the painting focuses on the things Martha has to work with, food to get ready, hospitality to be offered, and I wonder how much freedom a working woman has to make the right choices.

Things to ponder in Lent, books to read, prayers to pray, confessions made, alms given.

Tell about it… when you have nothing how easy is it to sit and contemplate, to listen to holy things, to not fret about what you have to do? When you are working three jobs to make ends meet, how can you find time to sit and just ‘be’ let alone get to church? I know it is a parable, a story to astonish us. But it seems so unfair to ask this of men and women who have no time but struggle every day just to exist. Tell that story.

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Diego Velazquez, Christ in the House of Martha and Mary, 1618



I was sitting in the hospital waiting room surrounded by dozens of people all waiting and listening for their name to be called. Some were reading, some scrolling through things on their phone, some flicking through old magazines, some just sitting and waiting and listening. Look at their faces… wrinkled frowns, worried looks, mouths down-turned, eyes focused on the desk where the nurse or doctor will appear and call their name. Heads tilted to hear the voice, anxious not to miss it.

It occurred to me that I don’t listen enough. In the morning the radio goes on and stays on all day. In the car music or words accompany me on my journeys. I get bored so I phone someone for a blether. My prayer book tells me silence should be left here and I pay it little heed. I count to ten. Will that be enough for the introverts? It’s Lent so I’ll make it twenty.

And I remembered a poem prayer I once read. But what was it called and who wrote it? And I found it in my Quotes Journal and I read it and switched off the radio and listened. Today I remembered that peace can be mine if I just listen. I might hear my name called. You are my beloved child.

The Word

Down near the bottom
of the crossed-out list
of things you have to do today,

between ‘green thread’
and ‘broccoli’ you find
that you have pencilled ‘sunlight’.

Resting on the page, the word
is as beautiful, it touches you
as if you had a friend

and sunlight were a present
he had sent you from some place distant
as this morning – to cheer you up,

and to remind you that,
among your duties, pleasure
is a thing,

that also needs accomplishing
Do you remember?
that time and light are kinds
of love, and love
is no less practical
than a coffee grinder

or safe spare tyre?
Tomorrow you may be utterly
without a clue

but today you get a telegram,
from the heart in exile
proclaiming that the kingdom

still exists,
the king and queen alive,
still speaking to their children,

to any one among them
who can find the time,
to sit out in the sun and listen.

Tony Hoagland

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George Frederic Watts – Hope (1886) Tate National Gallery


Each soul stands in the splendour of its own existence. In each person there is something precious that is in no other person.  (Martin Buber)


Each of us is unique.

Nobody has a dimple quite like my dimple. (Yes I only have one dimple, not two – that’s how unique I am.)

I am uniquely me and not you; you are uniquely you and not me.

Nobody has a smile quite like your smile.

Each of us is unique.

When I was young I wanted to be like everyone else. I wanted to wear the same clothes, the latest fashion that everyone else was wearing. Oxford bags, loon pants, Harrington jackets, DMs, Sacha platforms, mini skirts, midi skirts, maxi skirts, hot-pants (why did I think I should wear hot-pants?), cheesecloth shirts, Adidas track suits, and who made those green and white tennis shoes? I didn’t even play tennis but everyone else had them. It took me a long time to realise that fashion was best left alone and that I should find my own style which suited my own body. And if was purple, all the better.

Nobody has style quite like your style.

Each of us is unique.

I made my first Confession just before Lent began. Perhaps I was about 30 and I had a whole list of sins. Pages of them but I’d been told not to list them all. I didn’t need to because God already knew them. And that took some getting my head round. God knew all my sins. All my unique sins. And there were some humdingers in that list. Not very nice things at all. But guess what? I was forgiven! God forgave me all those horrid sins. Each and every one, even the ones on the list I didn’t have time to read out. All of them forgiven. And finally I believed I was a beloved child of God. Uniquely forgiven and loved. Imagine that. I danced over the Meadows after that first Confession.

Nobody sounds quite as melodious as you do.

Each of us is unique.

Nobody bakes bread like you do, bakes a cake like you do, writes a letter like you do, sings like you do, laughs like you do, sobs like you do… There is nobody quite like you and God loves you just as you are.

There is nothing you can do to make God love you less, and there is nothing you can do to make God love you more. God loves you just as you are. (Desmond Tutu)

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