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, 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 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

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 - 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
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.

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 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: / 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