Saturday, 29 December 2012

Letter to Monty on the passing of the old and words on stones

Dear Monty,

I have just finished reading Italian Shoes by Henning Mankell, a Christmas gift from my psychotherapist sister-in-law, and it has unleashed a flood of thoughts, appropriate to read whilst watching the deluge continue outside. In this novel Mankell explores what it is to age, how the process of ageing changes the way we see ourselves and our place in the world in regard to human relationships.

' Life is a flimsy branch over an abyss' - Mankell

I read my copy of the bible every day, chapter by chapter, it challenges me, thrills me, horrifies me. I realise that this battered, small, pocket-sized bible; read at train stations on hills and in art galleries is the personal possession that means the most to me, it will probably never belong to anyone else, it will fall apart with me.

 Waldemar Januszczak recently extolled the wonky cross and standing stones of the northern Christian tribes - each tribe has its version of Christ and Christianity - the same is so of today - layers of history of interpretation and mis-interpretation. Which version of Christ and Christianity is closest to the truth is a huge issue and brings passion and dogma to the surface with wars and rumours of wars.

I too liked the wonky cross - imperfect like me - accepted like me. Anyway I wasn't going to write about that - but how beautiful were those words on stones. My scruffy, battered, written-over (blasphemy !) bible will die with me - put it in my coffin.

When I walked with a few weeks ago we came across a stone with a quote from 2 Timothy 2 it says in my modern version :

 ' Nevertheless, God's solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription : "The Lord knows those who are his"

This was written by Paul the apostle in response to quarrels about the word. Paul suggests in order to see truth, a man has to cleanse himself. Surely this has to be by personal revelation of the harm being done to our spiritual relationship by any 'wickedness' in us. Only then can a man cleanse himself. No-one else can do it, or force it into being. (although I have seen them try and even worse, have been guilty of it myself) A false repentance created out of fear will only mean future failure and more harm to the individual.

I draw a stone, and think that sometimes there are words which are better never spoken - because they bring hurt and struggle. Perhaps that is what living is all about. I, like Israel - struggle with God, I struggle with the truth, why is love such a painful thing?
The 'runes' on my stone speak of love, this is what the stone on the hill above Llangattock speaks of.
Even the stones cry out.

This is always a strange time of year, the passing of the old and the start of the 'new' with its hopes and fears.
The apostle Paul was small of stature, like me. He always called for his parchment and for a scribe to write down his letters. He was compelled to write, like many writers. There is still this compelling force - pushing the words out. My words falter and fall to the ground.

I looked at my small of stature body in the mirror last night, it has lost its definition - jowls sag, the belly sags a little. I no longer arouse desire or passion, this is a very difficult part of growing older which is rarely discussed because it brings shame. I am sorry if it offends you to mention it.

The world grinds on as trees and soil slip down the hill in Ystalyfera. The oak outside twists and flexes its bare branches as though they were made of rubber rather than the heavy dense living wood that they are. These are dark days with dark skies.
We have just celebrated Christ, the one who came to earth - born of a woman, a master builder, Jew and debater in the Synagogue and Temple, who prophesied the destruction of the building whose foundation stones now lay beneath the Dome of the Rock. He said that the new temple will be one not made with hands - what did he mean by that? This Christ child throws out difficult words for us to struggle with.

I thank God for this in-between time, a time of reflection. Christmas, a festival created to 'sanctify' the pagan festival of solstice is now a pale shadow of its former self, getting paler, thinner - less distinct year on year.

' Who despises the day of small things ?'

Perhaps living now is about holding on to the plumb line - an intention to build - but this building is one without stones. All I can do is hold on to the plumb line.

'Life is a dream impossible to pin down' - Henning Mankell

Maybe I will write to you again in the New Year.


Saturday, 22 December 2012

Letter to Monty on the flood, 'garden' and angels.

Dear Monty,

Like you we are currently experiencing flooding, not on the same scale, as we are high above the flood plain of the Tawe, but it requires sandbags to stop the burst brook coming through the front door of the old band room.

Water forms so much of our landscape, it carves and cuts through rock and soil, pouring toward the sea, it creates the character of this land.

I watch and wait. The Darren mountain forms a dark shadow opposite us, and is a reminder that we are on the edge of wilderness. Most towns border with other settlements, this one links with others in a sinuous line following the river valley with smaller and smaller communities the further North you go, eventually melting into the Brecon Beacons.

Here in Ystalyfera however, it is hard edged - a cut and bruised landscape of human struggle and industrial hunger. The land beyond the coal and the limestone in contrast is hedged and farmed.

Post industrial landscapes have a haunting quality to them, the ghost of mining can be heard in the gushing torrents off the old coal tip, and here in my small back garden - into which I bring chunks of washed out anthracite and coal measure plant fossils.

The Winter solstice has passed, soon light will return and 'The desired of all nations will come.' Peace is what I desire the most. I am sure that this year I have met with angels - messengers who have taught me so much.

'Are not the angels ministering spirits ?'

Peace to you Monty


( artwork photographed by

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

letter to Monty Don on 'wisdom transcending personal gain'.

Dear Monty,

11/12/12  I read an article published in the States by someone called Jed Diamond. It was shared on Twitter by Philippa Perry . The argument put forward is that mental illness is a myth - and that the whole earth is sick and needs fixing : 'The buildings are sick, the banking system's sick, the schools the streets - the sickness is out there. '

I have seen this insidious change for myself in the last 4 decades, but the process of movement toward global insanity continues at a faster pace. Belief, love, commitment, patience, rest are all being eroded by  selfishness, stress, anxiety and an inability to rest, to take stock, to think about this earth, this lung, the thing that feeds and clothes us.

The disconnect is palpable - the anxiety, stress and anger is palpable. When we become disconnected from our roots we fail to thrive.

Our roots are not connected to our genius - but to the genius of the organism of the living planet. So often we assume the planet is in our own hands to do with as we please, but I believe that it is given to us, and that this is the fundamental difference.

14/12/12  'There is no rest for the wicked' is often quoted in a glib way - but the prospect of no rest is awful. There is no rest in many parts of this world, or even in our own lives. No rest, no rest. We always have to be somewhere, to be doing something We cut one another up with words and cars and supermarket trolleys.

16/12/12  I felt so sick at the news of the quiet nurse taking her own life, and the terrible massacre at that American school. I also witnessed on the BBC Panorama how the banks treat the less well off if they get into debt. I felt so angry that a 52 year old woman with a relatively small debt as a result of getting breast cancer and having to stop work whilst getting treatment - had her home repossessed. How can that be justified?

Why are financial institutions so incapable of caring for borrowers ?  Can it not be written into their constitutions to care, to use discretion to endeavour to look after the poorest in society ? Is profit truly more important than life ? If our politicians represented love in action, faithfulness and justice I may be tempted to start voting again. However, I think they believe in bowing down to the god of the economy at all costs, and are afraid of offending the rich.

Micah the prophet wrote this about 2700 years ago :

'Woe to those who plan iniquity, to those who plot evil on their beds!
At morning's light they carry it out because it is in their power to do it.
They covet fields and seize them,
and houses, and take them.
They defraud a man of his home, a fellow-man of his inheritance.'

Sorry Monty, soon I will write again of gardens. Merry Christmas ?


Sunday, 9 December 2012

Letter to Monty on wind, mountains and revelation.

Dear Monty,

'Do two walk together unless they have agreed to do so ?'

I realise that there are consequences to all our actions, and that our place on this earth is fragile, we are not here forever.

There is something being said by the mountains, I heard a voice speak.

'He who forms the mountains creates the wind
and reveals his thoughts to man'

I had a thoroughly enjoyable walk in the hills above Abergavenny with Charles Hawes Walking away from the rush of roads, having time to see and hear what nature is, is just so refreshing for the soul. I believe we are meant to be connected to this earth, yet most of our lives today seem to be more and more distanced from it.  Life has become dulled by our pursuit of wealth. It seems that the economy and economic theory is to be pursued above all else for the supposed 'good' of us all.

Amos, a shepherd who started to hear the voice in the wind said this about how life starts to go astray once we pursue wealth for wealth's sake :

' When will the new moon be over that we may sell grain again
and the Sabbath be ended that we may market wheat,
skimping the measure
boosting the price
and cheating with dishonest scales
buying the poor with silver
and the needy for a pair of sandals
selling even the sweepings with the wheat.'

'Many times I struck your gardens and vineyards
I struck them with blight and mildew
locusts devoured your fig and olive trees
yet you have not returned to me.'

What does returning mean ? Is it something fundamental to our well being to be connected, do we see our dishonesty more clearly and strive to live a more connected life ?

Here on a less profound level are some words and pictures to pay tribute to a fine day in the hills.

Two men
Grouse about
Scripture on stone
Orange Blorenge
Blue pool
Sheep like stars
And the shepherd.


How rich we truly are


Saturday, 1 December 2012

Letter to Monty - whetting the appetite for life

Dear Monty,

Three musings (or unedited drivel)

26/11/12 How can the mechanical sound of a car engine in the distance bring a sense of comfort ? Yet that sound did just that a few moments ago. Perhaps it unlocks a memory from the past, a good memory of belonging and safety within a loving family. Perhaps it is linked to my childhood spent on another hill in another house. The little end of terrace house on the hill above the sea in Swansea with its view over to the docks and the steelworks in one direction, and the curve of Swansea Bay to the Mumbles in the other.

Forgive the old pastel drawings, they serve to remind me of my roots.

There is a positive thing about growing older that gets lost - 'older and wiser' is the saying. Maybe it isn't wisdom but a distillation of experience and knowledge. The small things take on greater significance, like memories evoked by sounds. Life becomes enhanced by the brevity of it - becomes more beautiful.

28/11/12 I have been taken by your beautiful prose on the silver flood at Longmeadow. You captured in words the beauty of something centuries old - the rhythm of the living earth.

Your house is presumably spared, so the flood is a spectacle and not a disaster. Ancient houses built on flood plains can probably take a flood in their stride, unlike our modern homes. We build against nature at our peril.

A full moon casts an ellipse of silver cloud behind the firs above the mountain.

1/12/12 We move toward the middle of Winter - frost nips and rain crackles on the frozen ground.

Christ came not at Christmas - so many myths mixed with truth.

' There is no faithfulness, no love, no acknowledgement of God in the land......... Because of this the land mourns and all who live in it waste away; the beasts of the field and the birds of the air and the fish of the sea are dying....
But let no man bring a charge, let no man accuse another ....... my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge'.

I think this knowledge can be seen in the pulse of the earth.