Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Come to the Fair!

Here is page one of our flyer inviting you to the Bard Fair! Saturday 22nd October 6 - 9.30pm, the first ever Feast Day of the poet, playwright and social and cultural inspiration Pope John Paul II.

If you are tempted by the mix of people and arts on offer then please do reply to roseannekinvig@gmail.com and let us know that we can expect you.

There's Holy Mass at 6pm,
food and wine at 7pm,
performances at 7.30pm
and the Bard Fair at 8pm.

We are launching the new publication from Tignarius Press, an anthology of 21 Christian poets - 'Heartspeak: a Contemplative Chorus'.

It was edited by Piotr Stolarski to mark the Beatification of John Paul II. You will be able to hear readings and performances from the anthology. Some poems have already been set to music.

Mass at St Mary of the Angels, Bayswater will be celebrated at 6pm by Msgr Keith Barltrop with concelebrant Fr Dominic White OP, freshly returned from his MA in Theology of the Arts in Paris. He will be preaching and we look forward to his dynamic view of the arts in the expression of the mysteries of liturgy and of ordinary life. He now ministers in the lively University Chaplaincy in Newcastle.

And here on page two of our flyer you can see some of our other stall-holders who will be launching new products, exhibiting art work, or sharing new ideas in progress:

Jane Radford will be exhibiting her exquisite painting under glass, which is a technique she has pioneered herself and calls Nature Sous Verre.

Helen Munt who is also a singer songwriter will be sharing her new idea for a religious card business based on her rather arresting and memorable contemporary calligraphies of Scripture, which she calls Scripture Doodles. We have several other bards who design cards and we are developping a range called Cards from the Bards. If you know people who distribute cards then do bring them along!

I'll be launching workshops of some of my previous scenes and poems, now designed especially for use in the community, educational and business settings - Poetry Opens the World. This project was funded by the wonderfully supportive and innovative Faith in the Community. It's been great fun designing the visuals with Leo Earle and Claire Barrie our resident Bard designers. I love covers of the workshops from the next 2 Downloads which will also be launching on the day.

Asian fusion fans will not be disappointed by Hammad Baily's inimitable singing and guitar playing which has a breadth of classical indian and pop references to dazzle and move anyone. His latest album of Christmas songs in the Asian Dance mode are unique and impossible not to leap onto the dancefloor with!

Then you can relax with Roseanne Kinvig's striking and contemplative Hour Lilies - which she calls Designs to Dream to. If you are fans like we are of 'Momo' by Michel Ende, you'll understand the Hour Lilies reference. It was the only word we could come up with for what sprang from her imagination in times of peace and meditation. There'll be a separate bardschool post about those as we approach the Day of the Bard Fair.

Some Bards who are abroad or working, are still going to be represented and you'll be able to hear their music and read their workshops to see if you might be able to use them in your church, community or school, campaign, contemplative group or maybe just party!

Edwin Fawcett wrote a magnificent contemporary setting for voices (sung and spoken) and strings - for one of John Paul II's poem 'Shores of Silence' which has now been performed several times. You will be able to hear it at the Listening Station. Sarah Fordham who is presently ministering in Canada has researched and written wonderful workshops to use John Paul II's poetry in a pastoral setting. Come and browse through some of those materials and have a go at writing a poem, inspired by the man whose very first Feast Day falls on 22nd October - the day of the Bard Fair.

Another Polish poet once said that - "the Time will come when to be a great poet you will also have to be a saint". Perhaps that time has come.

Do come and join the mix of artists, commissioners of arts, social activists and evangelists as well as those who simply long to see a bit more soulfulness in their day, and see who you might meet, what you might create and what you will discover.

Just email roseannekinvig@gmail.com

Looking forward to seeing you there and hearing all about YOUR projects, initiatives and work. If you would like to leave flyers and cards on the Friends of the Bards Stall then just let Roseanne know.

All the best!


Friday, 9 September 2011

Summer's swansong in Bardic Margate for the Fellowship of the String

When I asked for some bardic tales of the summer I was delighted to receive this lovely account of Justin and friends' adventures on Margate sands with guitars, eccentric eateries-turned-theatres and all the quirky joys that only the English Seaside offers. With thanks to Barnaby for the wonderful photo of the sunset over Margate.

Let's not forget that the painter Turner declared that Margate had the greatest skies in Europe.. as you shall shortly hear:

Literary lunch... on sea...!

8 graduates of the literary lunches, and among them 2 contributors to Heartspeak, met up for a musical bank-holiday weekend at the seaside, staying at my parents' house, Ecclectica Cottage, in Margate. We brought guitars, voices and a determination to entertain them on the beaches and wherever cliffs and seagulls would allow.

There is a new feel in Margate of a resurgence of creativity and the arts and the old town numbers different cafes and studios and galleries which have sprung up of late: there was a performance on the beach on the Saturday night entitled 'Blink: Margate' which was amazing:

There were a hundred performers, fireworks, acrobatics, son et lumière, dancers, and the roads were closed and the street lights turned off for maximum impact- the night sky was full of explosions of light reflecting off the glass in the harbourside buildings. Beautiful!

We were due to be performing at a pop up venue cleverly titled 'theatre' (with a bit of paint), at an old cafe, where the shop sign had previously said 'the eaterie'! This was a venue that had been given to the owner of the pop up cafe next door, John McKiernan from Platform 7 (there are 15 platforms at London Bridge- number 7 doesn't exist!) The venue had made a mention in The Times recently.

In the end, however we performed at a nightclub/cafe on the beach and we also found a church barbecue where 40 to 50 people were happy for us to entertain them, and let's not forget our afternoon playing and singing at Bob Dic's wonderful tea garden in Botany Bay in the sunlight the day before.

We also serenaded half a dozen children, their parents and a few seagulls on the Saturday at Dave Osbourn's cafe at Palm Bay on the Saturday, having had a good gander round Margate's Turner Contemporary art gallery, newly built and much reported and seeming to be bringing new life to the town.

The three venues we played asked us to come back some time and we may have generated some business for 'The Fellowship of the String', members of which were playing, formed to entertain at a Christians in Government barbecue at Westminster Abbey this Summer.

A couple of the group said they had liked the feel of the town so much they would be interested to know about properties in the area: I spent much of Monday looking at a couple of houses with Miles Blackley, an Anglican clergyman friend. I saw a sign today down here at R.Scot's furniture emporium, that they had 2 workshops to rent from about £100 a month. There is an artist with a studio shop in the old town that he opens two days a week and paints in at other times right on the street with a large window to see him at work. A two bed house in Margate is about £100k.
The town is two hours from London.

6 of us had breakfast together on the Sunday at the remarkably eccentric Walpole Bay Hotel. As Barnaby Hughes and I grazed our way along the smorgasbord we found the napkin on which he had illustrated a poem of mine, framed on the wall in their Napery gallery. If you go to Margate and have a special memory of the place to share in words or drawing, Jane Bishop the owner may give you a napkin to illustrate and add to the exhibition. It was lovely to see one's work shown in this way and it was hugely encouraging to us both.

Turner reputedly said (somewhat unfortunately) 'The sun is God' as he lay dying. He painted a great deal in the town and described the skies there as the best in Europe: the staircase at the gallery named after him has an artwork exploring the ambiguities and possible meanings and reverses of that statement. Amongst the wordplays produced is 'The Son is God': certainly the skies over Margate are a sign of His Lordship of a wondrous creation.

Justin Harmer.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

The Four Winds - Quatro Vientos

Wild winds awaken
What duty and chaos dulled
in the concrete world.

2 million kneel
To touch the softening earth
as heaven descends.

This greater silence
Opens the heart of worship
and our souls revive.

around us the storm
dies as our peace is quickened
and the Spirit rests.

What is our bard work for?

Waking the spirit
Watering the thirsty ground
Reviving the soul

Drenching the hard earth
Softening the soil with storm
till the Spirit leaps.

Write and reveal
The ground of your own being
And you touch the Lord.

(written in the far western hill-town of Gata in Spain, from the balcony overlooking the Sierra, 3 days after attending the great prayer vigil with Pope Benedict XVI and 2 million others on 20th August 2011 at Quatro Vientos)

Leo, Claire and I are busy developping a website on which to launch the 'Poetry opens the World' workshops, which we were attempting to design last night over some chilled red wine in the old square. There's nothing like real work is there?

Saturday, 23 April 2011

He descended to the Dead - what did we gain by this?

What happened when Jesus descended to the dead? How did God die? Is the Corpse of Christ also God? What is Sheol, Hell, Hades? How do you picture it?

Do you imagine Him falling into the horror of death as helpless (and yet as triumphant) as Gandalf falling into the abyss in Moria, battling with the Balrog as He descends to the uttermost depths? Or have you pictured it like Aragorn taking the Paths of the Dead to summon the 'oathbreakers' to fulfil their promise and be summoned to a great victory?

I only realised how little I’d thought about what this descent might be, until I read these words of Von Balthasaar and imagined the terrible reality of a place into which all the world’s sin is finally cast – the second chaos..

Christ's final act of obedience toward His Father, is that He descends into hell - the place into which all the world's sin is finally cast. In hell He encounters His own work of salvation, not in Easter triumph, but in the uttermost night of obedience, truly the obedience of a corpse.

He encounters the horror of sin separated from men. He walks through sin and, traversing its formlessness, He experiences the second chaos. While bereft of any spiritual light emanating from the Father, in sheer obedience, He must seek the Father where He cannot find Him under any circumstances.

It is strange how little we hear meditations on the reality of this extraordinary day in the western church. But last year in Bet Shemesh I attended again the Byzantine Catholic Liturgy of Holy Saturday, in which the mind and heart must contemplate all the day this astonishing fact: “God is dead and we have killed Him.” Nietzsche.

Martin photocopied and sent me some words from the Holy Father’s introduction to Christianity recently and they were illuminating: beginning with the idea that this Death of God is very particular to our own age, in which we have so often chosen to overlook and to do without Him. And yet this phrase of Nietzsche’s, he points out “God is dead and we have killed him.” belongs linguistically to the tradition of Christian Passiontide piety.. and so to the Liturgy in Bet Shemesh in which a tomb is set up in the centre of the chapel.

Then a beautiful icon of Christ, printed on cloth, is carried with immense reverence, and drapped over it. Throughout the lamentations, flowers and incense are brought with great solemnity by all the congregration and people prostrate themselves before the flower-strewn tomb.

The lamentation continues throughout the day and the poetry of the ancient liturgies makes one marvel at the paradoxical truth that this corpse is still the Godhead. Silent and utterly without power.

God has spoken, God is word, but this does not entitle us to forget the truth of God’s abiding concealment. Only when we have experienced him as silence may we hope to hear his speech, too, which proceeds in silence.” Pope Benedict XVI

What can we learn from this?
What appears as the innermost heart of his Passion is not any physical pain, but radical loneliness, complete abandonment. But in the last analysis what comes to light here is simply the abyss of loneliness of man in general, of man who is alone in his innermost being.

This loneliness, which is usually thickly overlaid but is nevertheless the true situation of man, is at the same time in fundamental contradiction with the nature of man, who cannot exist alone: he needs company.

That is why loneliness is the region of fear, which is rooted in the exposure of a being that must exist, but is pushed out into a situation with which it is impossible for him to deal
.” More real and uncomfortable words from the Holy Father.

And yet God enters even into this radical loneliness and this uttermost region of fear..

In truth – one thing is certain; there exists a night into whose solitude no voice reaches, there is a door through which we can only walk alone – the door of death.

In the last analysis all the fear in the world is fear of this loneliness. From this point of view, it is possible to understand why the Old Testament has only one word for hell AND death, the word 'sheol': it regards them as ultimately identical. Death is absolute loneliness. But the loneliness into which love can no longer advance is – hell.

And so the Holy Father returns to consider this article of the creed from point of view of this existential loneliness:

This article asserts that Christ strode through the gate of our final loneliness, that in his passion He went down into the abyss of our abandonment.

Where no voice can reach us any longer, there is He.

Hell is thereby overcome, or, to be more accurate, death, which was previously hell, is hell no longer. Neither is the same any longer because there is life in the midst of death, because love dwells in it

When I was in Jerusalem I climbed almost to the top of the Mount of Olives and found there a strange set of tombs I knew nothing about. The Tombs of the Prophets, with some very unprepossessing advertising on a rusty sign! Very Israeli. Often their great archeological sites are left almost desolate and unmarked.

But there in the cool of the stone underground caves, are some tombs carved out, one of which is certainly the tomb of the Prophet Haggai. The others bear traces of being various ancient officials and officers, but at the back of the tomb series is one, which Brother Pierre, who looks after the tombs, tells us may just possibly be one of the places where Christ may actually have been laid.

I took a few pictures down there in the half light.

This one however, I like the best, because it echoes for me what we have just been considering. That there in the depths of Sheol, already we experience the light of the intimation of the resurrection, because even there, by entering into those mysterious realms “into an abandonment so deep that no “you” could reach into it any more, Christ has triumphed.

The door of death stands open since life – love - has dwelt in death.”

And that is a consoling thought.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Come to Oxford for new play on JPII on 27th- 29th April

Leonie Caldecott has written a new play about John Paul II and her daughter Tessa is directing. Why don't you come with us to begin our celebration of the Beatification of JP II? Piotr, Dan, Karolina and I are already booked to go on 27th April. The play starts at 8pm at the Oxford Uni RC Chaplaincy.

Just ring the Oxford Playhouse on 01865 305305 and you can pay for your tickets over the phone. £10 or £5 concession.

Note that the play is taking place in THE OXFORD UNIVERSITY CHAPLAINCY not the playhouse. The playhouse is merely handling the bookings.

Here's where the Chaplaincy is - Rose Place off St Aldates - look out for Cafe Loco!

We'll probably go by Oxford Tube - coaches leave every 10 minutes from various locations from Victoria to Notting Hill.

We may also get the chance to meet some of the Caldecott family who are all inspiring. Leonie and Stratford edit Magnificat at present but Stratford also writes and edits the beautiful print and online Journal Second Spring, which is full of revelatory content. You can even buy back copies, if you've missed it thus far and I would greatly recommend doing so.

Leonie has an amazing gift for making theology accessible as a lived experience, which is the talent of the true theatrical writer.

When I first heard, (around a plate of excellent home-baked brownies) about Leonie's plans for her play on St Therese of Lisieux, I was impressed, but slightly stunned. She intended to combine Dr Who, Dante and the Little Flower, Doctor of Souls, some time-travelling in the woods and a couple of young people, neither of whom had any idea that this Doctor was in fact St Therese or indeed who Therese was at all.

But when Tom and I travelled to Oxford to find out how the local parish had managed to pull off this marvel, we were not disappointed. It was moving, tender and sincere... the scenes of Therese's realisation of her vocation within a vocation and the struggles of her darkest sufferings on behalf of those who most despised her, were realised in such a way that they survive in your memory as a personal experience. I expect no less of the new play THE QUALITY OF MERCY:

This, in Leonie's words, is its premise -

"Where, in the slow reprise of a life well-lived might the dying actor-Pope go, in his mind?

His last words thanking young people for coming to pray for him in St Peters Square during that week made me feel that he was thinking of them in particular. As the sands of his earthly time touched eternity, might this most pastoral of men not dream of walking, one last time, with a group of young people in the mountains, amidst the beauty of God's creation, helping them to find the beauty of truth in their own lives?

What then would he have said to them, how would he have 'accompanied' them in their own journey of faith? And most importantly of all, how would he have helped them to understand the suffering, death and resurrection of Christ, as it touched their lives and his own, culminating in that death on the vigil of the feast of Divine Mercy, which he himself had instituted for the whole Church a few years earlier? How would he make them feel the quality of mercy, and its transformative effect, in their own lives?

THE QUALITY OF MERCY is our attempt to use the very medium which Pope John Paul II appreciated so well, in order to express his vision of faith and his profound understanding of human experience. It touches on all the principal themes of his teaching, from the Theology of the Body to the mystery of vocation, but not in a didactic way.

It uses music, vocal recordings, choral speaking, scriptural imagery and realistic drama to encompass that which he had closest to his heart: the truth that only Love 'makes life alive'. And only in faith does love find its true expression. Furthermore, as he said in his Letter to Artists (1999), "unless faith becomes culture, it has not been really welcomed, fully lived, humanly rethought." And for John Paul II, theatre is the great cultural medium for this task." Leonie Caldecott

She loves also to quote these wonderful lines on Theatre from catholic theologian Hans Urs von Balthasaar;

"Through the theatre, man acquires the habit of looking for meaning at a higher and less obvious level. In theatre man attempts a kind of transcendence, endeavoring both to observe and to judge his own truth, in virtue of a transformation... by which he tries to gain clarity about himself.”

and let's not forget those words from John Paul II's Letter to Artists that have so often inspired the Bards of the Bard School;

"In situations where culture and the Church are far apart, art remains a kind of bridge to religious experience... Art is by its nature a kind of appeal to the mystery.

Even when they explore the darkest depths of the soul or the most unsettling aspects of evil, artists give voice in a way to the universal desire for redemption...

The Church is especially keen that in our own time there be a new alliance with artists. I appeal to you, artists of the written and spoken word, of the theatre and music. I appeal especially to you, Christian artists: I wish to remind each of you that you are invited to use your creative intuition to enter into the heart of the mystery of the Incarnate God and at the same time into the mystery of man."

See you there! And let's tell our friends in Oxford all about OUR plans to celebrate John Paul II's life; our new Anthology of Poetry from Bards and friends of the Bard School, Heartspeak - A Contemplative Chorus. More of that on the blog later.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Southwark Arts Forum Conference Saturday 26th March

On Saturday 26th March, Bards are invited to the Tate Modern to participate in a Professional Development conference run by Southwark Arts Forum, helping arists to find new and innovative ways to get things done in today's climate.

All info is here. You will also need to sign up on that page too if you'd like to attend. Price is £15 for members of SAF and £25 for non members.

Do come for a chance to be inspired by artists doing great projects in new ways and to see what Bridget Edwards is achieving as head of Southwark Arts Forum. She is a longstanding friend of the Bardschool and has helped me in many ways in my artistic career with support, stage-management at my shows and also financial sponsorship. She employed me as a freelance Creative Writing tutor for 3 years at her church in Croydon as part of King David Kompany.

It's been great to see how her career in facilitating professional development for artists has taken her from supporting artists in Church, to working for 'Arts and Business' in Brighton, followed by advocating in Parliament for the needs of artists in Prison work, to her present role developing this supportive forum for artists in Southwark - a wonderfully strategic area.

Make sure you check out the benefits of free and full membership!

You might be interested in Sit-Down comedy on 17th March.. or their professional development programme for artists. 1 hour sessions are £30 for members.

Hoping to see you on 26th, and remember the Globe Theatre is only 3 minutes away. Do let me know if you are thinking of coming.

Note that also on 26th, Sarah Fordham is offering her amazing workshop on John Paul II's poetry. More info coming soon on the blog.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Hammad's beautiful song for the murdered Shahbaz Bhatti

Hammad, who composed the music on my CD and follows events at the Bard School from Slough and Pakistan, and whose name means "One who sings for God", stayed up all night after hearing the news of Shahbaz's brutal killing, to compose this lament for him.

You won't need to understand urdu to be moved and to pray.

Our hearts and prayers are with the Christians of Pakistan, who are suffering martydom on a daily basis at this time, both in the discrimination they face in their daily lives, as well as in these more dramatic fatal attacks.

I have since heard that the Bhatti family heard of Hammad's song and requested that it be played at his memorial service. And it was.

Monday, 28 February 2011

Gloriously eccentric and soulful castle renovations with Leo & Claire at La Mouline

I put out a request for Bards to send in Stories and Pictures of where they were and how they were doing, learning, being and becoming more bardic.  Rejoicefully I received this from Leo and Claire... I'll let their words and pictures tell you about their adventures volunteering in magical places in the Pyrenees and beyond..

In November last year Claire & I went to volunteer at Irving, Julianne & Oscar's "La Mouline" (near Rennes-Les-Bannes in the south of France) through the HelpX volunteer organisation.

Leo & Claire at La Mouline
Irving Bastin, for over 30 years, had been renovating a derelict building - possibly a former castle or monastery. More recently he had done this with the help of his partner Julianne, baby Oscar & Jasper the dog.

What made his renovation so unique is that Irving had restored the castle using things he had found in the street and in dustbins, recycling everything from cutlery to beds to religious statues. He even made a table by placing an old car windscreen on top of a broken statue of St. Joan of Arc (see below).

Table made from St. Joan of Arc
I slept on a bed that was attached to the wall on one end and the edge of the floorboards on the other, with a 15 foot drop on either side (see YouTube video below).

Irving's philosophy on work was truly unique. While looking for some nails to fix up insulation on his roof, he insisted that we didn't sort out his box filled with screws/nails/pins/dirt as he said that a disorganised box always offered the hope that somewhere within it lay the screw or nail he was looking for...

Irving's kitchen of reclaimed objects
Our stay made me think of the Incarnation. When we recycle or repair old objects, we imitate Jesus who Himself came down to restore Creation's brokenness.

Watch Claire's video tour of part of La Mouline below...

"Cleo" the chick at La Mouline

Saturday, 26 February 2011

The trials of Staying Free and the House Elf Liberation Front

It is a very funny scene and as with most good comedy, has a serious subtext that makes the humour work. Harry Potter fans will know the scene, though it doesn't apear in the film of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, which is why I'd forgotten all about it till yesterday.

Just by chance, I'd been reading a website on the long and arduous process of recovering from spiritual abuse and staying free from the destructive patterns that some dysfunctional and controlling church groups can set up and maintain, when I came across some of these very dynamics cleverly depicted, through the misadventures of Dobby, Winky, Hermione, Harry, and Dumbledore..

In the previous book, Dobby the House-Elf has been freed by Harry Potter from generations of enslavement. He is no longer forced to serve cruel masters who can demand total obedience of him, whilst in reality giving him nothing in return except the sense that they are doing him a favour letting him work for such a noble family for nothing.

But Harry, by tricking Dobby's master into giving him an old sock (ie real clothes) has caused Dobby to become a Free Elf! However, Dobby has now found it hard to find work, since people aren't used to paying House-Elves for their labours and what's more, the other House Elves are perfectly disgusted at Dobby now having ideas above his station.

So the scene begins when Hermione, (who is fighting a lone battle for House-Elf rights) brings Harry and Ron down to the Hogwarts kitchens to where Dobby the Free Elf is now working with the other enslaved Elves and Winky, who has also been made free, but quite against her will:

"Dobby has travelled the country for two whole years, sir, trying to find work!' Dobby squeaked. 'But Dobby hasn't found work, sir, because Dobby wants paying now!"
The house-elves all around the kitchen, who had been listening and watching with interest, all looked away at these words as though Dobby had said something rude and embarrassing.
Hermione, however, said, 'Good for you, Dobby'

'Thank you miss!' said Dobby, grinning toothily at her. But most wizards doesn't want a house-elf who wants paying, Miss. "That's not the point of a house-elf," they says, and they slammed the door in Dobby's face! Dobby likes work, but he wants to wear clothes and he wants to be paid, Harry Potter.. Dobby likes being free!"

The Hogwarts house-elves had now started edging away from Dobby, as though he was carrying something contagious. Winky, however, remained where she was, though there was a definite increase in the volume of her crying."

and so they come to work at Hogwarts and Dumbledore is more than happy to pay Dobby if that's what he wants. But as TS Eliot says in Murder in the Cathedral, 'Mankind cannot stand very much reality', and so it seems that House Elves cannot cope at first with too much freedom:

"and Dobby gets a Galleon a week and one day off a month!"
"That's not very much!" Hermione shouted indignantly from the floor, over Winky's continued screaming and fist-beating.
"Professor Dumbledore offered Dobby ten Galleons a week, and weekends off,' said Dobby, suddenly giving a little shiver, as though the prospect of so much leisure and riches was frightening, 'but Dobby beat him down, miss... Dobby likes freedom, miss, but he isn't wanting too much, miss, he likes work better."

and then the master stroke

'And how much is Professor Dumbledore paying you, Winky? Hermione asked kindly.
If she had thought this would cheer Winky up, she was wildly mistaken. Winky did stop crying, but when she sat up she was glaring at Hermione through her massive brown eyes, her whole face sopping wet and suddenly furious.
'Winky is a disgraced elf, but Winky is not yet getting paid! she squeaked. Winky is not sunk so low as that! Winky is properly ashamed of being freed."

and so Dobby explains

"Winky is having trouble adjusting, Harry Potter, squeaked Dobby confidentially. "Winky forgets she is not bound to Mr Crouch any more: she is allowed to speak her mind now, but she won't do it". ... "Tis part of the house-elves enslavement, sir. We keeps their secrets and our silence, sir, we upholds the family's honour, and we never speaks ill of them; though Professor Dumbledore told Dobby he does not insist upon this. Professor Dumbledore said we is free to - to -
Dobby looked suddenly nervous, and beckoned Harry closer. Harry bent forwards.
'Dobby whispered, 'HE said we is free to call him a - a barmy old codger if we likes, sir!"

and then there is a marvellous moment when Dobby dares to tell the truth about his old masters and to admit that they were.. 'Bad dark wizards", but this act of brazen truthfulness is too much for him -

"Dobby stood for a moment, quivering all over, horror-struck by his own daring - then he rushed over to the nearest table, and began banging his head on it, very hard, squealing, "Bad Dobby!, Bad Dobby!"
Harry seized Dobby by the back of his tie and pulled him away from the table.
'Thank you, Harry Potter, thank you' said Dobby breathlessly, rubbing his head.
"You just need a bit of practice", Harry said."

When you leave a group that cannot be questioned, the very members of the group whom you think would be delighted at the news of a freer and more truthful life are the very ones that will shun you as though you were contagious.

One of the hardest things to do, when you are used to being used up, is to receive gifts. Real grace actually scandalises people who have been in performance-orientated groups, where all approval has to be earned by excellence or by simple obedience. Grace is essentially foreign to the culture, even if it is spoken about. The culture is one of self punishment and self deprecation. Anything else feels very strange indeed.

Thirdly, as in Winky's refusal to accept that she is not bound any more, there is a sense that the person themselves keeps the enslavement going, when it is not actually present in actuality. It can take a long while to learn new habits and establish within oneself real self knowledge that is not bound to the context of the group.

Next there is the fact that members of a self-enclosed group will protect the group and its secrets even when they go against the conscience of the individual because it cannot be believed by the individual that the group could be wrong. This has become an entirely unacceptable idea, to the person immersed in an abusive group.

Finally I love that final section where Dobby is trying to get out of the habit of punishing himself for being truthful. It truly is a little masterpiece of insight.

If you'd like to read a more orthodox analysis of the development of such dynamics and their healthy unravelling, there is a very helpful and insightful book called The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse that offers some very balanced and accurate diagnosis, without pointing the finger at any particular groups. It is a phenomenon that exists in many places, but the symptoms, if you have ever experienced them are clear indeed.

There's nothing like a good diagnosis, if you are looking for a cure. And in the meantime, there's always the power of a good laugh -

"Practice! squealed Winky furiously. "You is ought to be ashamed of yourself, Dobby, talking that way about your masters!"
"They isn't my masters any more, Winky!' said Dobby defiantly. 'Dobby doesn't care what they think any more!"
'Oh, you is a bad elf, Dobby!' moaned Winky, tears leaking down her face once more. 'My poor Mr Crouch, what is he doing without Winky? He is needing me, he is needing my help! I is looking after the Crouches all my life, and my mother is doing it before me, and my grandmother is doing it before her.. oh, what is they saying if they knew Winky was freed?"

What is they saying, indeed?

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

'The evidential power of beauty' by Fr Thomas Dubay

I've been browsing again through the book that Helen lent me, Fr Thomas Dubay's "The Evidential Power of beauty - Science and theology meet"
The quote that opens the book comes from Von Balthasar - "Every experience of beauty, points to infinity".

I highly recommend it for the wet weather; by which I mean that it deeply re-invigorates one with a high enthusiasm for life, of Chestertonian proportions!

Allow me to tempt you with the Chapter headings alone:
1. Charting our Course; deep thirst for endless beauty, a brisk tour, a needed nudge.
2. Beauty Beckons, the classical analysis, scientific concept of beauty, Glory, Divine beauty, transcendental objectivity.
3. Radiant form, Philosophical usage , the enrapturing form, musical form, triggering the Divine.

Under the section 'Savouring the Symphony', he shares with us Macromarvels, midimarvels, micromarvels, artistry and design, anthropic principle and providence and then the crown of the cosmos; human life and the grandeur of spirit.

In the final section called Divine Glory, the titles reach up into The Beauty of Sanctity, the Splendor of Revelation, Glory Supreme and Afterglow...
.. under the title Glory Supreme even the subtitles are tantalising:
Speaking of the unspeakable, The Christ Form, Screens before the Radiance, The absolute Singularity, Specific Glimpses, Compelling Impact , Crucified Glory, Trinitarian Splendor and Trinitarian Effulgence.

He never tires of being amazed and his amazement always leads onwards to the place where our amazement can rest and then be taken upwards into God. Our work as artists falls into this vast continuum of wonder and attempted comprehension.

It is good to return to the roots and marvel at the staggering complexity of a single cell.

Fr Doubay in his chapter on Micromarvels reminds us -

"Imagine a city so tiny it cannot be seen by the naked eye, and yet having millions of opening and closing gateways. It possesses a transportation system, libraries of information, manufacturing plants, computers, and much else. Imagine each of these microcities making others like them in an afternoon. If readers have not yet exhausted their wondering energies, we may note how all this happens on a vast scale. A single rye plant has 14 million roots and 14 billion root hairs. In one summer it can grow well over 300 miles of roots, which means that on average it grows three miles of roots each day. When we recall that one single cell in one root hair is as complex as New York City, we can be pardoned if we blanch with amazement. "

I look forward to the full journey he is going to take us on.. and as I often begin a book by reading the end, as I like to see where I'm going if at all possible, I'll share with you the final sentence..

"The marvels of our created arena are foretastes of the immeasurably greater eternal ecstasy awaiting those who embrace fully the plan of the supreme Dramatist. 'Within the beautiful the whole person quivers'.

Sit nomen Domini benedictum.
May the name of the Lord be blessed."

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Behold the inscape and the zook that your leaves may not fade!

There's something about contemplating the psalms using this gorgeous and soulful old interlinear translation printed in 1906 that makes the experience even more of a return to being planted by the water courses so that one's leaves may not fade.

Is it the inscape and the instress? That is, the absolute individuality of the thing that causes it to leap with even more glorious vigour into the realm of one's experience and awaken your spirit?

Well, as you can tell, I've just been reading about Gerard Manley Hopkins' lovely invention of these evocative words inscape and instress.

It says 'ere in this book "Hopkins is mainly fascinated by those aspects of a thing, or group of things, which constitute its individual and 'especial' unity of being, its 'individually-distinctive beauty' or the very essence of its nature. For this unified pattern of essential attributes he coined the word inscape and to that energy or stress of being which holds the inscape together he gave the name instress..

for Hopkins, inscape was a glimpse or strain of a universal harmony, and as such revealed its divine origin. Writing in 1870 on the inscape, strength and grace of a single bluebell he added: 'I know the beauty of our Lord by it.'

(intro to the poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins edited by Gardner and MacKenzie)

Well, this is a coincidence! For 2 reasons; I just wrote a poem the other day, in a fit of enthusiasm, called Implements of Divine Origin about the glorious kitchen implements in the house where I live and how thoroughly revived one feels just to behold them! Pestle and mortors of elemental alchemy and dutch orange slatted spoons of near perfect delight. Ah, those Dutch people know how to design things. AND THEN, just when I was feeling that matter knew no greater capity to inspire, James sends me this wonderful picture of the Zook he has been enthusing about since BardFest, which has just been re-strung to the irish tuning. Oh Glory! And the children have been so inspired too they are going to be jamming along with recorder and guitar! Could domestic bliss know any greater assistance?

Behold the Zook! as James said in his Picture text.. the first I have ever received.

So, as the Middle East transforms itself, the weather makes us ill and the economy tests our sense of humour, the best I can manage at the moment to accompany the evolution, withstand the damp and prepare myself for being big enough for the Big Society, is to continue in my quest to recognise inspiring inscape and instress wherever they may be found, and if not found in sufficient quantities - to create them!

Your favourite examples and creations will all be happily received. Thank you James and family! I'm looking forward to the first soul-nourishing, Elvish renditions on Bouzooki, guitar and recorder..

Monday, 21 February 2011

Prophecy and Potency in the Psalms of King David and in the arts

I've been thinking about different types of Prophecy.

I took this photo of a beautiful statue of King David near his tomb in the old city of Jerusalem. Note that before he became king, he was asked to play the harp for King Saul, which healed the King of an "evil spirit". Presumably, David learnt his music whilst being a shepherd, surrounded by the sounds of nature, but his music has the power to heal from oppression.

Much later, David becomes King, but he is also a prophet. "The spirit of the Lord hath spoken by me and his word by my tongue" (2 Samuel 23:2) is a direct affirmation of the prophetic inspiration in the poem that follows. On the New Advent website I learnt that St. Peter tells us that he was a prophet in Acts 2:30 and that his prophecies are embodied in the Psalms, "many of which refer to the suffering, the persecution, and the triumphant deliverance of Christ, or to the prerogatives conferred on Him by the Father."

In addition to prophetic utterance through art, his whole life is deemed to be prophetic in the sense that he is a type of the Messias to come -

"Bethlehem is the birthplace of both; the shepherd life of David points out Christ, the Good Shepherd; the five stones chosen to slay Goliath are typical of the five wounds. The betrayal by his trusted counsellor, Achitophel, and the passage over the Cedron remind us of Christ's Sacred Passion."

So, perhaps to be worshipful is the beginning of prophecy because it is truthful, but prophecy itself, is an additional gift of the Holy Spirit - Ruach HaKodesh. I love reading about the worship in the Temple and imagining the incredible sound of the levitical choir. You can read about the amazing details of the worship on Nigun website here.

There must be so much to learn about artistic gifts being anointed with a spiritual gifting, whether of healing, prophecy, worship or even guidance of the nation. If the Lord is present in the praises of His people then surely worship awakens the prophetic?

What do others think? Does anyone have any good books to recommend about the prophetic nature of the psalms and the spiritual nature of artistic gifts? Which colleges of the arts would you recommend, that seek directly to understand, research and apply the spiritual nature of the giftings attached to artistic work? These seem to be expressed frequently in the theosophical sites and courses, but is the Judeao-Christian tradition becoming shy about the practical application of the spiritual potency of the arts? If so, I think it's time we took our work more seriously and approached the power of beauty not just in an intellectualised sense, but with a sense of awe and capacity.

Megan recently pointed out to me a fascinating course at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology with a focus on the Arts, in California, it definitely seems to major on the academic, rather than positioning the academic as a truthful foundation for actual artistic professional work. I need to investigate further, and give them a ring. Maybe bards need to offer something here and also learn? Surely we need both the academic foundations and the mentoring in the full potency of the practical application.

If it's happening elsewhere, let's hear about it!

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Persian gorgeousness from 14th century poet Hafez

"Where are the tidings of union? that I may arise,
Forth from the dust I will rise up to welcome thee!
My soul, like a homing bird, yearning for Paradise,
Shall arise and soar, from the snares of the world set free.
When to my grave thou turnest thy blessed feet,
Wine and the lute thou shalt bring in thine hand to me,
Thy voice shall ring through the folds of my winding-sheet,
And I will arise and dance to thy minstrlsy."

from 'The Garden of Heaven', translated by Gertrude Bell
written by Hafez of Shiraz

Friday, 18 February 2011

Who's on Your Street of Prophets?

Well I couldn't resist photographing this gorgeous ceramic street plaque in Jerusalem, and I was thinking today - who lives on the street of prophets? I was also wondering who you would nominate for your street of prophets.. Don't worry we aren't going to be eliminating anybody if they don't play Amusing Party Games to our Satisfaction on Live TV. I was just thinking it might be good to meditate on what a prophetic person today would be doing, seeing, earning, giving, investing, creating.. and what DOES prophetic really mean?

Off the top of my head, I'd say it meant speaking the truth, expressing the truthfulness of being, being at the cusp of events in order to penetrate them to new depths for the purpose of enlightening others and awakening society, being an embodiment of such insights, being a beacon to lead others into greater truthfulness and freedom.

A prophet is someone who leaves you with the feeling of having seen something with God's eyes, glimpsed newly. I think traditionally, a prophetic life involves hearing from God in such a way as to receive an imperative command to communicate whatever message God wants conveyed, using the means He inspires. Check out how many different forms of 'art' Ezekiel uses! I counted them once..

So here's my question, what are the prophetic people and artworks that are influencing you now?

I'll mention a few of my favourites to get it rolling..seen as we are in the season of BAFTAs and BRIT awards:

Most prophetic person I've met and been inspired by would be Jean Vanier, founder of L'Arche. And he ties with John Paul II whom I was in a small audience with 3 times. Definitely a life-defining encounters.

Most prophetic novel that keeps coming back to inspire me, Middlemarch. If life is every tiring me, I read the last 3 chapters.

Most prophetic film, ...er you are going to laugh, but the first one that comes to mind was one I saw when I was a child, and as I never read the Bible and didn't go to church then, I was STUNNED by Cecille B de Mille's 'The Ten Commandments'. I will never forget my horror at the moment when Moses came down the mountain and discovers the people worshipping the Golden Calf. An overwhelming scene that had me transfixed, years before I ever went to Church or knew what people did there.

So there's a few! Looking forward to hearing more of those personal Icons on Revelation..

Please inspire us!

Creating Eyes and Creating Ears at the Angel's Den

When I saw this gorgeous Russian icon in a shop in the Old City of Jerusalem, I knew I had to have it! It was surprisingly inexpensive (unless of course I misunderstood the shekels!) .. but it's an amazing creation. I asked an old man called Fr Seraphim why John the Baptist had wings. He said, 'Ah that's for two reasons. Firstly because he is like a messenger from God and secondly because he is already living the life of heaven on earth'.

'And who is that in the chalice? I asked. 'Is it Jesus, being recognised by John even when he was in the womb?' He thought it might be.

But then he added. 'I think it's a font not a chalice, so the icon is covering a lot of time - Jesus being recognised by John when they were both unborn, and then simultaneously John baptising him when he is old. Icons are clever like that they can cover a lot of perspectives simultaneously. And look! The baby in the font is blessing him!'

Well, I was pleased with all this new knowledge from Fr Seraphim, but why have I felt the need to put up a picture of my icon today? (By the way I bought it for all the bards, actually, and it hangs at present in Tom's kitchen like a Pilgrim Icon. I'm not sure where it's going next.)

But today I was reminded of it because I've just returned from that wonderful meeting tonight at the Angel's Den, where I was listened to and prayed for, advised and encouraged about my bardic business, so carefully and attentively by 3 business men and 1 business woman, who were giving their time for free, that it made me think 'Yes, there are people who want to live as though it matters that they live like heavenly messengers and that if you want to make others realise that Jesus is present, you only have to listen with the ears and eyes of the spirit, so that others feel heard.'

You think that sounds a bit too easy? I have met very few people over the years who give up their time to really deeply listen to other peoples' journeys, hearts and plans. But when you are in the presence of someone who is attending, your heart leaps up and you feel recognised.

Often, as artists, we think that our great gift is what we say or create. What I learnt again tonight is that one of the most creative things we can do is listen to someone with the ears of the spirit. And at that moment your ears become creating ears, your eyes creating eyes.

Now that's what I call prophetic!

More of the Angel's Den another day when I've assimilated all I learnt.

with thanks to Sally, Dave, John and Andrew and all those at the Family Business and Sharon from Faith in the Community, who also listens with a prophetic heart..

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Walking through the force-field to fun and funding

There's a certain power in knowing you are going to find something. It's called confidence - which means With Faith, if you know your latin. And I think that lots of us have got into a habit of thinking we aren't going to get something, so we don't. And there we are; stuck.

But tonight Fr Dominic, Karolina and I were at a well attended, commissioned dance event at the Cathedral in Westminster, where some young dancers had proposed that their dance event might raise money for the Cathedral and they got sponsored to put it on and it was free to anyone who wanted to attend. Donations encouraged of course. What a bold move! Well done all concerned!

So here are a couple of other funding ideas that have come to my notice today, beyond the mere fact of clarity and acts of confidence like that of the young choreographer above (who, by the way set up his dance company when only 13 years old!).

Here's an idea from the music industry called Crowdfunding - Basically there are websites that recieve your money for a project, such as a band, making an album and they take a small cut for doing the collecting. It's also called Fan-funding. Pozible is one of those sites and you can take a look at the projects they support here.

Then there are a couple of initiatives called the Family Business. I'm presenting my draft of a business plan to them tomorrow. They are a group of Christian Business people who just want to help small businesses grow and to give them tips on how to do it. But they want the ambiance to be value and Gospel based, so the event tomorrow is called An Angel's Den! You see, you can always do it Your Own Way!

Then there's Funding the Family Business, which is a site advising you mainly on funding for Christian projects. I like the design of it too. There's a book that goes with the site too, to skill you up to raise support and cash for your ministry and projects.

Finally, I thought you might be inspired by the sheer positive energy and hutzpah of this 79 year old in the music business - Jac Holzman. He set up a label from the money he scraped together from his Barmitzvah. This site celebrates 60 years of amazing recordings - the fruit of intense dedication, passion and joy that still come across in all he says and does.

"Record making is about process and your joy in the process
If you have a hit record or breaking artist, it is a wondrous, euphoric yet fleeting series of moments. Tomorrow always comes. Process is a personal attitude and a series of protocols developed through your own experience which guide you daily and are the script by which you move forward. As Harry Chapin sang, “It’s the going not the getting there that’s good.” Trust your process, it is all you have for sure.

Check out the site that celebrates 60 years of his label. You won't believe the range of people he's signed - from Nanci Griffiths to Billy Bragg to Bjork. And he's still encouraging everyone to go out and do it how they want to. So let's step through the scary force-field and face the possibility that it might all really be scarily, Possible!

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

The thorns around the sleeping princess

When I saw this window in the Garden by the pool of Bethsaida, I thought it was scary, so I photographed it!

I thought, 'Wow, the Prince is going to have to do a good bit of thorny-wood-chopping with the sword of innocence to get through to the sleeping princess in that castle!'

Do you find that often, producing one piece of art can be 90% thorny-wood-chopping and only 10% 'proper' gardening?

I thinks it's more normal than not. It's just that people don't tell you how many thorns really do need dealing with, before the garden is properly ready for planting.

Once you know, then you don't need to feel so bad about how long it took you to "get around to it".

All the work and all the preparation is important.

Happy chopping!

Monday, 14 February 2011

The heart itself has a heart

'As the Hasidic master Rebbe Nahman of Bratslav said, “Everything in this world has a heart; the heart itself has its own heart.”

I was reading www.aish.com today, looking for thoughts on the Heart and found this -

Nobel Prize-winning author and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel today took out a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal, in the form an open letter to President Obama, with whom Wiesel visited the Buchenwald death camp last year. Here is the text of the letter

'Jerusalem is the heart of our heart, the soul of our soul.'

He speaks about the sense of homecoming a Jew experiences when coming to Jerusalem, even for the first time. As a catholic, I felt the same. I felt the same when attending the beautiful Shabbat meal with an Orthodox Jewish family in Mea Sherim - I could have wept at the sense of returning to the place where I had come from.

In Hebrew they call it 'Teshuva' and it can also mean a return to the wellsprings of life, to the House of the Father. Our word for it, though less poetic and soulful, is 'repentance', but it suffers much in translation. Jesus' story of the Father who waits eagerly for His son to return home, with a fine robe, a ring and a feast all ready for him, captures it a little better.

Indeed, I could not sleep for hours after the banquet of Shabbat, just contemplating the beauty of the Shabbos (pronounced Shabbis). A poem about that evening is on my poetry blog as today's poem. "I have waited till beauty was restored to me, before I built my house".

During Valentine's Day, I thought it would be good to think about what is at the heart of my heart. All my actions will flow towards or away from it, so it's worth knowing!

Some of the most beautiful days I spent in the Holy Land were with the Sisters of Bethlehem in Bet Shemesh (where the Ark of the Covenant came to rest for a time). The Monastery was built by a female architect and its beauty, simplicity, restfulness, soulfulness and capacity to produce a sense of the unexpected as well as involvement in mythic glory without pretention, is unparalleled!

Firstly she built a synagogue on one of the floors. There are levels and unexpected twists and turns - the building flows into the heart, from the place of the Menorah to the Byzantine Chapel.

No building I have ever been in gave me such a sense of the Light of the Old Covenant leading into the Glory of the New, with such gentleness, respect and awe.

This photo is of the synagogue on the right and the corridor on the left led to the cell where I was staying, called Tiberias.

And here the chapel. Need I say more?

Here is where I found the Heart of my heart. I hope you get a sense of its perfect peace. You need only add the birdsong and the liturgy sung in Hebrew, Arabic and French. The prayers always for peace.

Strawberries in Slough - truly there is love in all things!

This is my Valentine's Card to whoever doesn't have one today!

I photographed these strawberries in Slough this summer, and they look happy.

So Happy Valentine's Day wherever you are in life or on the planet. Let it shine!

Friday, 11 February 2011

Happy Foundation Day under the gaze of Bernadette

Today is the Feast Day of Our Lady of Lourdes, which is also the day we began the Bard School. I was struck, (after looking through the many websites and articles on Lourdes and the Immaculate Conception of Mary), by this intense and penetrating gaze of Bernadette, the 14 year old peasant girl from a village in France that no one had heard of.

We see so many faces of women gazing out of magazine articles every day. What do their eyes reveal, I often ask?

And what is this gaze, from eyes that have beheld perfect purity, and retained their own simplicity and wholehearted determination to be true to what they have seen?

When I was 15 I first heard about Bernadette and Our Lady of Lourdes and a few days later I was confirmed and chose her name as my confirmation name. I wasn't at all fond of the name itself, I have to admit, and had to breathe in once or twice before choosing it, but it was what she represented that appealed to me; I had to have it!

It's only as the decades go by, I realise how much I need what she stood for.

Her gaze takes you beyond herself. Her message doesn't lead you to her, but towards the Person who has been revealed to her.

As artists we could do worse than follow her lead.

Happy Feast Day!

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Inventive, essential, whimsical and Practical - Come and upscale!

Hurrah for wonderful people who do things with originality and humour.. Check out Out of the Ordinary a workshop in East London where you can make beautiful and useful things from the flotsam and jetsam of everyday life.

Their blogspot homepage says - "Imagine an urban habitat for people who like to tinker with a bit of ironmongery and a lot of imagination, a new kind of social space combining creative and practical skills.

Drop in and you’ll find our team of artists and technicians happy to help you hem your trousers, reupholster a sofa, turn a bicycle into a chandelier, or build a spaceship with your kids"

These are nice people. I want to go play.

The link was sent to me by my friend Fiona, who together with her husband Neil financed my first album with a daring loan. We met in a papiermache evening class in South London many years ago..

So, a bit of bonding with paper and glue can truly change your life and society, so go and investigate how to take part in developping an Orphanage for Furniture and a Wall of Tools that will make DIY a cheaper and more joyful affair.

They are looking for volunteers NOW, SO if you haven't yet made your decisive move during this BardFest (1st to 14th February) to try your hand at something new, creative, gorgeous, meaningful, life and planet-saving, aesthetically pleasing and truly merry, then this, I would suggest is an obvious opportunity.

Here's that blogspot again for those within cycling distance of Whitechapel..

I'm loving the Reading Room..

and there's a video on how to make books..

This is part of my mission to encourage joyful collaborations with creative and fun people in our City who you haven't discovered yet...for example..have you found the magazine "Oh Comely" in WH Smith's yet! go find.. Well done those people. Let's have tea at the Biscuit Factory where their magazine began.

If you discover wonderful cafes and projects that bards should be singing, writing, designing and cooking at then just send them to the bardschool blog and let's keep the Fest rolling.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

The Hidden Stair in the Old City of Jerusalem

In Jerusalem this year, the joy of the iphone became a new way of praying!

You always had the opportunity to look more carefully, then capture, remember and reflect.

Once in the old Christian Quarter, I turned aside and saw this previously hidden stairway, within a courtyard and behind an arched door.

Just to look at it brings me back into a place of prayer..

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

A Gift for Merriment - the Bards of Lavender Hill

I've always thought that True Merriment was a gift of grace;
a very particular hobbity gift, much needed and full of soul restoring joy.

Here is Justin's account of the Literary Lunch in Lavender Hill that he organised as his contribution to the Bard Fest 2011 and it looks as though there will be more to come. He definitely has a talent for this as well as for singing Basso Profundo, playing amazing piano improvisations, composing songs, playing the guitar, making recordings, etc etc etc!!! but here's his recipe for hospitality if you have more friends than will fit in your sitting room..

"Just to let you know that we had a 'fabulous' Literary Lunch at the charming Terre di Sud on Lavender Hill, and literary and musical contributions from a dozen of our 25 guests who came and went through the course of the day aged from 4 and a bit to 60 something (that includes the unseen guest at every meal where 2 or 3...).

We kicked off at 1230pm and stayed at the cafe till 4ish feasting on delicious bean soup and an Italian smorgasboard of delights with music and recitations (comic and otherwise) from Spike Milligan to the Kinks; from Robbie Burns to Bess Twiston-Davies; from reflections on the difference between loneliness and solitude from the Arctic, to poetical musings on love and loss and identity, and we all joined in together in singing Laughing Leonard Cohen's 'Hallelujah'.

The majority then relocated to the Elephant on the Hill for a few hours and then 5 of us ended up round the pizza boxes and my piano till about 1030pm. (There's an hour and a half on old fashioned tape...)

I will aim to do another of these Literary Lunches (or something similar) within the next 2-3 months and it would be good to have even more people attend. Thank you to our brave contributors; this was a place, I felt, to roadtest our creative efforts, share the wisdom and beauty and humour of other people, whether there in person or with us through being published, and have some fun along the way.

Thanks too to our host Barbara Carrieri who provided a wonderful atmosphere and great food.

There are several photos on my facebook page and a couple of videos from later in the evening on youtube (under harperharmer, happy song, and Adolf loved his moustache.)

If anyone would like more information about future Literary Lunches or has suggestions about how we might improve them please let me know.

God Bless,




Aletheia - the removal of the veils

It's useful to look back at old notes from years back sometimes to see what your vision and values were then.. and to see how they are unfolding: what new revelations they are being held in tension with and enriched by.

I found some notes from a book that was inspiring me in 1987: it's a definition of truth taken from a Greek word. "Aletheia, the gradual removal of the veils from truth itself, revealing it to us in all its wholeness, unity, brightness, beauty, harmony, and being."

At the time I remember thinking, well there's something worth living for. You know when you've met someone who does.

Your heart and your hope awaken.

I've found since that whatever you seek, you will automatically discover those who are seeking too. It's almost impossible to be alone for long when you set out on a quest. The very nature of embarking seems to ring bells in high places. So don't wait for companions. They'll be along.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Life and Death on the Edge in Beachy Head..prayer saves from Suicide

Reflecting on the life-giving power of art as we sat around the fire on Saturday, we also reflected on the number of suicides we'd heard about recently - the train from Slough was delayed that morning by someone throwing themselves in front of a train. The guard told me how frequent it was and added, 'It's when people stop thinking. Hope can no longer reach them. They think they have no choice left and death seems easier.' So what stops people thinking and how do you start them thinking and seeing again?, we asked.

Sarah Fordham's reply was to point to a really unusual chaplaincy she'd just heard about on Beachy Head.. a community of only 9 people who have started a chaplaincy at the top of a cliff, because they heard that up to 20 people a month commit suicide there. Since they've been praying there and patrolling the cliff top, things have been changing. Here's a chart of the statistics of incidents over the last 6 years which involved an incredible 3,748 incidents and searches for missing persons.

It makes sobering but encouraging reading to see how they describe their searching for missing and despondant persons. Their prayer and a few well chosen words makes the difference between life and death.

Do we realise that as artists we can do the same for people, with prayer and art that brings hope through a vision of reality that shares the truth of suffering but does not leave it there?

People may not be missing persons, but they may be absent from their lives in other ways and great art can bring them back into contact with their true selves. They may not be on the edge of Beachy Head, but they may well be on the edge and we need to remain vigilant for others, for each other and for ourselves. I know people who have become accustomed to chronic sadness and have known times in my life when I thought that chronic anxiety was just a norm I needed to get used to. It isn't. God came to bring us freedom - real freedom from every form of bondage. I know that prayer, art and fellowship have brought me to a place where I can genuinely say that anxiety now plays no role in my life at all. Praise God.

Artists have rather high casualty figures with regards to suicide so let's keep up the prayer and the fellowship.

It does make a difference.

Gorgeous abundance and the King of Gentleness

Well, we had a day of gorgeous abundance and I hope you did too. We were by the fire, with coloured tissue paper, the Sacred Romance, poetry and St John of the Cross.

Sarah Fordham asked us to write a response to this simple prayer, so you might like to try it too:

Prayer of Peace by St John of the Cross

O blessed Jesus,
give me stillness of soul in You.
Let Your mighty calmness reign in me.
Rule me, O King of Gentleness,
King of Peace.

She also shared with us her brochure of poems of John Paul II, which she is using in a pastoral context. This is a quote from Song of the Inexhaustible Sun after which Sarah asks What do you adore? It's a simple writing exercise that can yeild interesting results.

I adore you, fragrant hay, because in you
no pride ripens as in ears of corn;
I adore you, fragrant hay, because you cuddled
a barefoot baby, manger-born.

I adore you, rough wood, because I find
no complaint in your fallen leaves;
I adore you, rough wood: you covered His shoulders
with blood-drenched twigs.

And you, pale light of wheat bread, I adore.
In you eternity dwells but for a while,
flowing in to our shore
along a secret path.

What do you adore? Over to you!

Friday, 4 February 2011

Poems and readings by a master of prayer can lead you to the place within..

'Thus Wojtyła's literary writings can be regarded as poetic phenomenology which gives an account of the process and essence of religious experience." Krzysztof Dybciak' quotes Sarah Fordham on her blog http://karolwojtylapoetry.blogspot.com/

Yes, Karol Wojtyla (later John Paul II) was a phenomenon in many ways, and looked particularly good in sunglasses.

Just looking at the photos and videos on this blog is a joy, but if you also want to be instantly drawn into prayer, I don’t think you can do better than listen to John Paul II reading so tenderly one of the psalms, in Italian, as you watch a slideshow of photographs from his life. Then encounter his meditative and soulful spirit in his poetry, which is there collected under the themes of art, time, work, and prayer:

‘Hope rises in time
from all places subject to death –
hope is its counterweight …
I wander on the narrow pavement of this earth,
not turning aside from Your countenance
unrevealed to me by the world …
I wrestle with myself,
with so many others I wrestle
for my hope …
And so I am inscribed in You
by hope.’

Taken from Hope reaching beyond the limit

Sarah's workshop on his poetry, which is being used pastorally in Ireland this Easter, will be aired again tomorrow at 2 to 4pm on February 5th, as part of a creative and meditative day, which begins with Karolina’s workshop on the Sacred Romance at 11am.

Call Karolina on 07508020822 tomorrow morning and someone will pick you up at the station. It’s only 5 mins walk away from the row of cottages.

We hope that the experience of the creative day and of exploring the blog will help to bring you to the Place Within; where the fire of God longs to dwell more powerfully.

'Forgive my thought, Lord, for not loving enough.
My love is so mind-manacled, forgive that, Lord;
it subtracts you from thought, leaving it as cool as a stream, where you want an embrace of fire'

From Song of the Inexhaustible Sun

The Danger of loitering in the Church porch..

Tom had a lovely experience of a new beginning this week. One he hadn't planned.

He was loitering without intent in the church porch after mass and suddenly realised the priest was there too. As he didn't really feel like talking to him at that point - Tom not being one for chatting when he doesn't have something particular to say - he decided to pretend to look intelligently at some chart on the wall and hoped Father would wander off. Fr Pascal though, not being one for wandering off when there is a parishioner to talk to, came up to him and said, "Oh Tom, I see you're planning on starting some volunteering with the homeless! That's an excellent idea. What day would you like to start?".

To which Tom replied "Errr" and looked again at the chart and of course realised it was a volunteering rota. So either by grace or a slight lack of desire to disappoint Fr Pascal's happy and expectant expression, he said "oh um, Wednesday morning".

He rang me on Thursday full of joy. He was just so happy about the experience of the volunteering. The sweeping, the folding the blankets, the learning what to do from a kind elderly lady in the parish. The exchange of a few words with one of the men who had slept in the hall. Everything had not only filled him with an unexpected delight, but left him feeling lighter and quite free from any trace of anxiety.

He's been working all this morning on a sonnet and has taught me how to write one too, as I'd quite forgotten (see sarahdenordwall.blogspot.com - Sonnet Catwalk)

He's really looking forward to next Wednesday. Another window on Light.

Be careful how you loiter without intent, if you're standing in the porch of a watchful Priest.. and under the aegis and grace of the Heilige BardFest. Kairos matters.

It was Louis who mentioned in one of the Bardschool meetings that a priority of every bard in training should be a dedication to some specific regular service to others, that had no obvious bearing on one's art. This seems to me to be a perfect example of the fruit of such a choice.

Happy BardFest and Happy new beginnings!

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Poems for prayer at Candlemas and a new blog by Karolina Stolarska

Every day of the BardFest 1st to 14th Feb, we are taking steps forward in new artistic ventures, seeking out good collaborations and creating a space and a platform for each other's work.

Today I'd like to feature Karolina's new blog Beautiful Truth. She has been regularly creating a new poem each month, springing from her meditation on the readings for the day for the Jesus Christ Fullness of Life prayer group. This poem opens the time of prayer and helps people to encounter the Word by awakening their imaginations; personal experience opens the heart.

I particularly liked this one from December;

The Lord is the Rock

Drive steel deep to

Where there is truth

Pour Your light like liquid gold
Into all the recesses
Let the soul stand like a flame
Give it gravity

The Lord, the Lord is the Rock

Storms outside and
Storms behind the eyes
Sky-scraping roars
Crashing palaces in a paper game
And in the bay the sparkling
Ships may end up crypts
The world’s breath heaves
Dislodging inner stagnant floods
Hang like a barnacle

The Lord, the Lord is the Rock

Inside my Father’s house
I lay my head so still
My heart’s not among the debris
Peace perceives :

The Lord, the Lord is the Rock


If you can be at the Candlemas JCFL prayer group on Thursday 3rd Feb, then you'll hear her poem for Candlemas too. Or you can read it on the blog. If you'd like to come and pray in an atmosphere in which beauty and fellowship, silence, chant, Gaelic, Hebrew, Scripture and reflection are regularly combined to powerful effect, prepared very lovingly by Peter Kingsley then do come along at 7.30pm to Farm Street.

All the details and directions are here.

This day is especially dear to the Bards because we present our artstic work in a special way to the Lord to be blessed. For He comes to be purified and prophesied over. He comes as a sign of contradiction, humbly, carried by Mary and Joseph - a small beginning, destined to rock the world.

It is also the day on which Religious enter the noviciate and remember their vocational dedication. How appropriate that as artists dedicated to holiness in this world, we should be re-dedicated and re-orientated on this day too.
Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Bard Fest Begins on Feast of Patron Saint of Poetry, Healing and Abundant life - St Brigid of Ireland

Bard School Festival February 2011 : The Heart Sees!

Our Bard Fest each year has been slowly growing.. It's aim is to become a subtantial programme from 1st Feb to 14th Feb, which covers the Feast Day of the Patron Saint of Poetry, Candlemas, Our Lady of Lourdes,(Bard School Foundation Day) and of course Valentines Day.

The idea is that YOU can all try this at home, putting on your own events by your very own hearth... as St Brigid is also the great Saint of Hospitality and the Hearth. One of her symbols is a Perpetual Fire!

But here are some of the prayer, poetry and creativity events arranged so far - do come because they will all be beautiful, joyful, inspiring and most of all sacramental; which means that their roots are deep in the Waters of Life that flow from the side of the Temple ie from the Heart of Christ.

3rd Feb - Candlemas and prayer with Jesus Christ Fullness of Life prayer goup at Farm Street, Church of the Immaculate conception. This is the day we traditionally bring our art to the temple to be blessed. Please come to this beautiful church and to the prayer vigil which is always stunningly prepared by Peter and a really contemplative and deep encounter with God. Complete with reflective poetry and original Celtic song. Bring friends and bring yourself. You absolutely won't regret it.

5th Feb - - Justin's Literary Lunch with poetry and food

Literary Lunch

On saturday 5th February
1230pm till 3pm

At the charming Italian Cafe,
Terre di Sud,
42 Lavender Hill
SW11 5RL

To reserve a place or ask for more information please email me at harperharmer@aol.co.uk
Or phone 07950882824
Or 02072288471

Buffet lunch and wine / juice priced at £10 and the opportunity to share some homegrown work with likeminded folk - hopefully there will be live music too and feel free to contribute to that as well: bring a guitar and or/music or other instruments.

Bring cameras and videos. We will adjourn to the local pub The Elephant on the Hill afterwards, probably from about 3pm.

137 or 452 from sloane square
137 or 345 from clapham common
77 or 87 or 156 from clapham junction
77 or 87 or 156 from vauxhall

Parking easy nearby. Terre di sud is on the corner of Ashley Crescent and Lavender Hill.

Babysitting can be arranged.

Justin Harmer

5th Feb - - Sarah Fordham's poetry workshop on JPII's poetry and Karolina Stolarska's new Workshop on the Sacred Romance
- both at Sarah Fordham's gorgeous fairy tale cottage in Peckham Rye.

The day starts at 10am - with tea/coffee introduction.

The Sacred Romance - workshop : 11am-1pm (lead by me :)

Chesterton said "Romance is the deepest thing in life, romance is deeper even than reality" - and this is what our faith promises us -journey full of beauty, truth, excitement, intimacy, adventure and meaning – and the re-assurance that we are both coming home and heading towards our ultimate goal.

Sometimes – through disappointment or the distraction and disconnection of our lives it seems that the Storyteller's plot is incomprehensible– or, He is somehow absent, and the sense of his guidance and presence in our lives faded.
Using inspiration from John Eldredge and Brent Curtis’ book “The Sacred Romance” which draws on theology and literature these workshops will be looking to re-link the (true) story of Creation, Fall and Redemption – a story “big enough to live in” with the minutae and milestones of our individual lives to make sense of them and God’s manifestation within them.
The session will involve engaging with imagination and art expression to find “ a way of seeing that reveals life for the romantic journey it really is” and to re-discover our roles and identities and that of the divine Author.
He invites us to ask, to knock, to find out :
“Could it be that our lives actually make sense, every part – the good and the bad?”. John Eldredge.
Afternoon Workshop : 2pm-4pm. The Place Within - Poetry of John Paul II - lead by Sarah Fordham. http://karolwojtylapoetry.blogspot.com/

It was the soon to be beatified John Paul II that first enabled me to see how the truths of faith could be integrated with authentic human experience - its sloughs & transports and this was through art - the art of his poetry. As Christian artists we are called to awaken all sources of truth within us - feel, live, think, contemplate and through our art make sense of apparent dissonance and fragmentation - thus piecing back together the reality of the Triune God that persists and sustains our individual lives and that of the world.

This promises to be a brilliant and re-vivifying intro to JP II's work and how it can inspire yours - fascinating and fun (as those Bards who participated in Sarah F's Oct 09 workshop can attest!) - invaluable for Bards who want to follow our Patron's inspiration!


PLEASE EMAIL rozakinga@live.co.uk or call 07508020822 TO LET US KNOW YOU'D LIKE TO COME - the cottage (though magical) has limited capacity! We'll let you know address/arrange to meet you at Peckham Rye station.
Please bring some food to share for lunch.
Please bring blank notebooks/journals to start collecting clues & inspirations about your individual journey! Plus any non-liquid (!) art materials (markers, pastels, pencils). Basic paper and selection of materials including collage provided.

12th Feb Sr Sheila Gosney and Alice Robertson doing an art and prayer workshop in Wapping called Beyond the Door.
Day of Prayer and Creativity

You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows Ps. 23:5

with Sr. Sheila Gosney rjm
‘Beyond the Door’

Saturday 12th February 2011
11am - 4.30 pm
Old St Patrick’s School, Dundee Street
Wapping E1W 2PH

There will be Mass at 10 am—all Welcome!

Come and join us in day of spirituality and creativity
opening doors on our spiritual journey through art and prayer.
Please bring something for a shared lunch. Coffee and tea provided.

Contact Alice Robertson for bookings:
alicerobertson@hotmail.com / Tel: 07714 200 505

Do post any other events you are organising - even if it's just inviting people to a film at home, or a gallery exhibition you don't want people to miss.

I really recommend the film The King's Speech.

Any other ideas?

Happy Feast Day and Happy Bard Fest!
More to come for the Feast Day of Our Lady of Lourdes..

much love