Dream Prayer

I was having a night of turbulent dreams, in one of which I was pedalling a grand piano into the entrance to a Tesco carpark at a snails pace, despite my legs going round like mad. Eventually I gave up and pushed it. Tho it as hard, it was a lot easier. At this point I awoke and then this prayer came to me. 

I humbly kneel before your throne, great just and mighty God,
Attentive to the inner whisper of your presence.
Here the storm is banished - within this sanctuary of peace I feel your loving care and know that all is well. Obedience is a word I've lacked – faith another. 
You are the same God our forebears trusted and were preserved from harm. Be our protector too. 
Allow us please, the privilege of knowing that as we place our will at your disposal we become partners in the unfolding universe, and so fulfil our destiny as light-bearers – for whom faithful service is its own reward.

During the time this was dictated to me I began to feel the most wonderful peace, and so returned to sleep. 


The Spirituality of the Land - John Carey

Oriel College, Oxford
I hope I do not misrepresent  John Carey's Deep memory and the power of place in early Ireland, since many of its reference points were new to me. He opened with a paragraph from Augustine (Confessions 10.8) where he says that 'memory is an entire universe' wherein we are led to credit things that we do not otherwise know and/or which are beyond our personal experience. Augustine also talks of the 'the fields and palaces of memory', which I took to include archetypal imagination and dream space.

Carey's lecture concerned the dark ages of Irish history and the nexus between oral (Druid) and literate (Christian) memory; and the agendas of the latter in subtly distorting the former, whether deliberately or by misunderstanding. He said that, contrary to widespread belief, early Celtic culture was not illiterate. They used the Greek alphabet; however they did not use it for religious purposes since, no doubt, they felt that its two-dimensionality could not capture the importance of feeling /experience /memory in transmitting spiritual perception/s.
St Patrick began to evangelise Ireland in the 5thC, but the continuing presence of Bards in the 7thC may be inferred from certain references. And a fragment known as The Conversation between St ColumCille (Columba) and the Youth from the 8-9thC suggests that Bardic beliefs in reincarnation were still prevalent, for the 'Youth' seems to be talking about memories of former experiences /lives to the Saint, and contains the sentence: "If you truly know: death is but the middle of a long life."
Carey dwelt at some length on a (9thC?) account of the story of an encounter between Tuàn and Finnio. The latter is represented as a Christian scholar keen to learn from the oral memory of an old, thrice-reborn, high Druid. Carey made the point that the tale would seem to be an attempt to colonise memories of the old religion by representing the expiring Bard as voluntarily handing his tradition forward to Christianity as its natural successor – using the same technique by which sacred pagan locations and festivals were christianised.
     Nevertheless, the narrative reveals much of the old attitudes, particularly in relation to the concepts of transformation and rebirth – and thus to ideas of a reincarnatory continuity of perennial wisdom. Tuàn tells how when he grew too old he returned to an ancestral cave. There he fasted for three days, fell asleep (ie, surrendered consciousness) and was reborn. His first metamorphosis was to become a wild stag; at the end of which life by the same process he became a hawk; followed again by becoming a salmon.  
     In that life he was caught by a magic boy (a prince) and eaten by his virgin sister - from whom he was reborn for his final incarnation as a return to human form. He was now desirous of handing on his Druidic knowledge so that he could be released from further rebirth. By so doing he was implicitly entrusting Finnio, and thus the Church, with the guardianship of his lineage.

Carey showed pictures of Coull's Cave in the Mourne Mountains as a typical example of a natural formation used by bards to anchor myth/s within a landscape and make them real or credible to the populace. Fingal's Cave near Iona would be another. He made the point that the use of location appears to create a narrative legitimacy for articulating archetypal myth, and thus establishes a self-reinforcing connexion between [deep] memory and place.
     I would add that in his BBCtv series on the Greek Myths Robin Lane-Fox makes exactly the same point, and illustrates it brilliantly by citing classical authors in the very locations to which they alluded.

Carey's final reference was to a single gnomic illustration which appears to illustrate how Druidic mnemonic practice may have worked, by teaching bards to tie the sequential narrative of their sagas to specific elements within a landscape.  


Spirituality of the Land Conference - Caitlin Matthews

Meeting others on the same path is always rewarding. Additionally so when meeting a group whose collective assumptions, discoveries and conclusions you can compare with your own. Having long been conscious myself of the spiritual characteristics of different landscapes, to find myself among others of similar sensitivity was an affirmatory and at times moving experience.

The speakers at this conference in Oriel College Oxford included the organiser, Prof Arthur Versluis (U Michigan) on Entering the mysteries - living sacred sites in N America and W Europe, John Carey on Deep memory and the power of place in early Ireland and John Matthews on the Green Man. 

But of all the talks it was Caitlin Matthews' The place of true abiding: healing the ancestral communion with the land that spoke most strongly to me. She explained how the place of our birth imprints a psychic resonance on us as clearly as the microbial DNA that is found in our teeth and bones. Thus, for her, the quest for where /what /to whom one belongs ('the place of true abiding') has to begin with taking account of the physical and psychic nature of the terrain, the flora, fauna, water and earth as well as parents and society we first encounter. Un-/consciously, we will in one way or another be driven by attempts to replicate this throuout our lives; and therefore it is importantly to reengage with and reconcile these experiences before we can move on to redefine ourselves in different contexts. 
     I might add that one can see the relevance of this approach to the ideas that inform astrology – regardless of whether or not one accepts their validity.

Matthews said that we derive knowledge of our place in the worlds from more than human ancestry. All the organic beings within our birth habitat are elements in the perpetual choir whose song stands outside time yet is heard within us. Analog TV sets used to require adjustment of vertical and horizontal hold. Here, the horizontal hold is provided by the totality of place, while the vertical hold comes from knowing the 'ancestral current' of which we are a tributary, as she put it.

We are called to strike a balance between the place where we are now – 
the place that is calling to us – 
and our origins. 
Becoming whole involves reentering and reconciling these nested realities.
History is not a pyramid or an ever-extending road; it is a circle or cycle in which we are brought back to intersecting points with our past by many life events, not least our Saturn Return every 28 years. She noted that exiles seek to replicate their native cultural context wherever they end up, because it is throu a sense of the restoration of place that psychic wholeness is recovered.

It's as if we need this in the same way that salmon and other migratory species are drawn back to their origins in order to become fertile and so transmit their essence to the future. In consequence of which, certain places have an indefinable depth for us. It may also be that we carry within us ancestral memories which have been subconsciously transmitted to us, and which we re-cognise despite not having encountered them before. Caves and other natural de-/formations become powerful entry points in the outer world by which we can enter inner experience. Who you walk with alters what you see.

When we reach the place of true abiding it has an authenticity that stands outside time, like a scholar immersed in study /a parent immersed in hir child /a musician immersed in performance, or a child immersed in a game. Time and space fold in on themselves and we become lost in wonder and enter into communion with the otherness of the experience.  Finding this 'place of our true abiding' cancels the sense of exile.

Caitlin's most beautiful thought was 'we are the gift our ancestors give our children.'


Eccelsiasticus – Qoholeth (the preacher) - chapter 2

The book known to us as Eccelsiasticus* – in hebrew Qoholeth. the preacher – is one of the most luminous wisdom writings. But as it comes in the Apocrypha it is little know. I have here rendered into modern gender-neutral language.
*Not to be confused with Ecclesiastes, a book of ritual in the OT.

My child if you aspire to serve the Lord prepare yourself for an ordeal.
Be sincere of heart and steadfast, and do not be alarmed when disaster comes.
Hold to your vision and do not abandon it, that you may be honoured in old age.
Whatever happens to you: accept it, and in the uncertainties of your humble state be patient –

     since gold is tested in the fire and they who are chosen in the furnace of humiliation.
Trust in your inner truth and it will uphold you. Walk a straight line. Keep faith.

You who are awed by the raw power in the universe – remember that everything is in flux,
so don’t give up in tough times lest you lose sight of your real self.
You who are awed by the raw power in the universe –
trust your inner experience and you will not be denied your reward.
You who are awed by the raw power in the universe – 

     pray for the common good, for lasting happiness, and for mercy.

Look at the record of faith and see if anyone who truly trusted in this power was defeated? 

     Or who truly connected with this power and was abandoned?
     Or who called on it and was ignored?
For this raw power in the universe is full of love and healing, regrowing what is broken
     and responding compassionately in extremis.

Woe betide the faint-hearted and lazy; and those who try to have it both ways.
Woe betide those unwilling to commit, for they are without protection.
Woe betide you if you give way to despair – what will you do if things get worse?

They who sense this power seek to understand its principles; 

     and love all who make the same discoveries.
They who sense this power seek to align with it;
and find their greatest satisfaction in the groundedness it brings.
They who sense this power hold their hearts open, and honour whatever life brings.

Let us rely on this power of the Lord, not on our fellow humans or their technology; 

     for as is its immensity – so is its intimacy.


Lament for Jo Cox

Today I finished a stand-alone string movement, Lament for Jo Cox, which was originally going to be the beginning of the third movement of the choral work. Listen to a midi demo Adjacent to it are the two movements of the Elegy, for which I hope to record the vocal parts shortly in order to begin the process of seeking a concert performance.

The human cost of selling news

Written August 2015
Time has moved on in a ferocious way since this, but the fundamental points remain.

This week I've finished reading Nick Davies' Hack Attack, his riveting first-person account of the Guardian’s 8 year campaign to expose News International’s systematic invasion of privacy and illegal surveillance, and the tightly knotted conspiracy of silence which included the entire power elite of the country: the Metropolitan Police, the PCC, senior politicians and the rest of Fleet Street. I was also struck by Paul Mason’s column in The Guardian (18/05/13) where he offers these striking observations on Mad Max: Fury Road; a film which he calls 'one of the most grotesque and, at the same time, most perfect dystopias ever presented on screen. […} The reasons why are not hard to fathom, but they are unpleasant to face. First, the world around us is in flames, and has been so more or less constantly for decades.

'The period from 1945-79 had its downsides, but the imagery it left on celluloid reflects the mental life of a generation that knew peace, prosperity, and restraint. After 1979, with the “new cold war”, it became possible to imagine the world ending in a ball of flame, and what a post-apocalyptic society might look like. 'As we learned about what death-squads do – from El Salvador to Angola – the themes of torture and sexual violence began to inhabit dystopian fiction. The dystopian genre is so strong that the audience implicitly understands its conventions. There is always a descent into tribalism; it always involves slavery and violence against women. And usually the dystopia is a steady state. If there once was order, it is forgotten. If there is rebellion, it is pointless. […] Either we are failing to imagine heroism as the journey from alienation to redemption, or something in the real world is making such complex heroism seem pointless. I think it is violence.

'In 1979, in order to actually witness what a .50-calibre bullet does to a human body you would have had to be reporting or fighting on the frontline of a dirty war.  […] Now in all action movies the .50-calibre bullet routinely explodes the ribcage, the knife across the throat jets blood into the air, the Orc’s brains are filleted even in movies aimed at children. No action movie set is properly dressed without random body parts strewn around. '

The link here is that the violence—both physical and mental—is commercial. It is sold to us by profit-driven corporations who understand the bizarre rule that humans will pay much more for bad news than they will for good? So plainly we have noone to blame but ourselves for this deluge of violent and exploitative images that engulfs us.

The issue that confronts us as Quakers is how we frame a public debate that engages with the psychology of violence in human nature – how and why humans find it exciting to the degree that commercial operators see a profit in reproducing it – how we can present a credible alternative?

There is a further issue underpinning this and that is that violence is very largely a function of testosterone and therefore a male issue. 78.7% of murders worldwide are by males (90.5% in the US). 80.5% of children under 5 in the US are murdered by men. The statistics in England are no less striking.   

Censorship would solve nothing, even if it were feasible. Historically  many moral outrages—slavery, animal-baiting, child labour and prostitution—were normalised in their society, as was domestic violence. Yet pioneers have succeeded in bringing about changes of attitude in two out of three, and the tide is turning in the last as well. Surely it is time for the Quaker Testimony on War to be remodeled to take account of images of violence as well as the violence itself – and more particularly to question their function?

I know that news gatherers constantly agonise about what is acceptable to show on TV. But the problem is that we simply know too much and too quickly about the latest examples of inhumanity overseas. How can Quakers contribute light rather than heat to this issue? And to the degree that we cannot, how can educate the public and promote an alternative perspective, and if so, what should that perspective be, and what is the most constructive way of framing the debate?

Is it even possible to tackle the ubiquity and ease with which the toxic mix of violent images, including violent sexual images, and advertising are combined? Where are the pinch point to which moral pressure could be applied? Hack Attack demonstrates that the Murdoch Empire use of unparalleled mental violence and invasion of privacy was driven by profit and combined with unparalleled political cunning and ferocity towards anyone who opposed it. There was never any moral justification in parading the intimate secrets of those they monstered, but in everything they were driven by a diseased form of profit-driven journalism masquerading as free speech. After reading the book it occurred to me that there was a direct similarity with  the US gun lobby: both they and the Murdoch empire take the moral stance that any actions which don’t contravene the law (or aren't discovered) are legal. The book says that in 2006/7 when Scotland Yard refused to investigate, not merely were the top brass of the Met on regular dining terms with Rebekah Brooks-Wade, but four of them were having extra-marital affairs and would have known that News of The World would have known.    


Dark Money

I wrote this on Facebook in July 2016, but have decided to repost it here during the shenanigans attending Trump's presidency.

New Yorker journalist Jane Mayer’s painstaking analysis of the immense Dark Money streams funding rightwing Republican politics would be incredible if it were not so meticulously researched and presented in her ground-breaking book Dark Money (Scribe 2016). She claims that ultra-libertarian donors forum organised by Charles and David Koch (say Coke) holds a pot worth $889 MILLION ready to dump attack ads all over Hillary Clinton, once the presidential election kicks off in earnest. This paragraph gives a flavour of it.
'While amassing one of the most lucrative fortunes in the world, The Kochs had also created an ideological assembly line justifying it. Now they had added a powerful political machine to protect it. They had hired a top-level operatives, financed their own voter databank, commissioned state-of-the-art polling, and created a fundraising operation that enlisted hundreds of other wealthy Americans to help pay for it. They had also forged a coalition of some 17 allied conservative groups with niche constituencies who would mask their centralised source of funding and carry their message. To mobilise Latino voters, they formed a group called the Libre Initiative. To reach conservative women, they funded concerned Women for America. For millennials they formed Generation Opportunity. To cover up fingerprints on television attack ads, they hid behind the American Future Fund and other front groups. Their networks' money also flowed to gun groups, retirees, veterans, anti-labour groups, anti-tax groups, evangelical Christian groups, and even $4.5 million to something called the Centre for Shared Services, which coordinated administrative tasks such as office space rentals and paperwork for the others. Americans for Prosperity, meanwhile organised chapters all across the country. The Kochs had established what was in effect their own private political party.’ p313
‘On its own, in 2012 the Koch network of a few hundred individuals spent at least $407 million, almost all of it anonymously. This was more than John McCain spent on his entire 2008 presidential bid. And it was more than the combined contributions to the two presidential campaigns made by 5,667,658 Americans, whose donations were legally capped at $5000. Politico’s Kenneth Vogel crunched the numbers and discovered that in the presidential race the top 0.04% of donors contributed about the same amount as the bottom 68%.’ p314
The irony, not lost on Mayer, is that while to the civilised world Trump seems to be the epitome of a rightwing racist Republican demagogue tailor-made for delivering the American proletariat trussed and bound for corporate use he is in reality the Kochs’ worst nightmare. In the first place he is rich enough not to have needed to kowtow to them – so far – but far more to the point is his appeal to the white blue-collar voter rests on a jobs and protectionism which is THE most serious threat to the Kochs’ neo-con game plan of unfettered free markets. THEIR man was the sly Texas conservative Cruz with his carefully-manufactured right-wing talking points designed to bamboozle the ‘moral majority’ into electing him in order to execute his paymasters’ bidding. Bizarrely, the Clintons’ record of negotiating free trade agreements puts Hillary closer to the Koch camp than Trump.
Mayer explains that Koch Industries have been serial polluters over decades from their oil, coal, pipeline and logging activities. And that a significant part of their agenda has been to neutralise the US Environmental Protection Agency, under the rubric of shrinking government, and to weaken or minimise all forms of state controls and bureaucracy throu catspaws like the Tea Party. They are also fervent climate-change deniers, and have forced all candidates such as Mitt Romney seeking their funding to reverse their public stances on these and other issues dear to them. Apart from creating a range of think-tanks to peddle neo-con values, one of the network’s greatest successes was the corruption of academic debate by endowing faculties on hand-picked universities with dedicated programs promoting free-market values, such as 'The Centre on poverty, work and opportunity' within the University of North Carolina School of Law, and the 'James Madison program in American ideals and institutions' at Princeton University.
However the supreme bete noire to billionaire neo-con has been Barack Obama himself. He represents everything they hate: he is black: he is charismatic: he is a community builder; and most unforgivably, he is an able politician whom the majority of American supported. Having tried all the dirty tricks in the arsenal to stop him at both elections they decided that the game would be humiliation, and in consequence the Republican leadership in consultation with their paymasters chose to withdraw all cooperation - including such bizarre episodes as witholding budget approval leading to the Government shutdown of 2013, the outright opposition to the Affordable Healthcare Act, and many other stunts. The range of dirty tricks employed at state level defies both belief and enumeration, notably in N Carolina - where '
'With a final tally all $7 billion in traceable spending on the presidential and congressional campaigns, it was the most expensive election in American history by far. One donor alone, Sheldon Adelson, who had a vowed to spend “as much as it takes," had dumped nearly $150 millions, $92 million of which was disclosed, and had still come up short. Approximately $15 million of that had reportedly gone to the Kochs’ group, Americans for Prosperity. All in all, super PACs and independent groups that could take unlimited contributions had spent a staggering $2.5 billion and, it seemed, Change nothing Obama would remain in the White House, and the Democrats would continue to dominate the Senate, and Republicans would continue to control the House.’ p331.
'Black voters, meanwhile, held steady, casting an overwhelming 93% of their votes for Obama. The America that the conservative donors were counting on was out of touch with the reality.’ p330
At a seminar for conservative donors one of the strategists, President of a front organisation called the American Enterprise Institute: 'explained why conservatives had lost: only a third of the public agreed with the statement that Republicans "care about people like you." Further, only 38% believed that they cared about the poor.’ p355
‘The Kochs’ extensive research has shown that what the American “customer" wanted from politics, alas, was quite different from their business-dominated free-market orthodoxy. It wasn't just that Americans were interested in opportunity for the many, rather than just for themselves. It also turns out, Fink acknowledged, that they wanted a clean environment and health and high standards of living, as well as political and religious freedom and peace and security.
‘These objectives would seem to present a problem for a program led by ultrarich industrialists who have almost single-handedly stymied environmentalists' efforts to protect the planet from climate change. The extraordinary measures that the Kochs and their allies had taken to sabotage the country's first program offering affordable healthcare to millions of uninsured citizens might also seem to be problematic.
‘These political problems would seem to have been compounded by new statistics showing that the top 1% of earners had captured 93% of the income gains in the first year of recovery after recession.’ p359
So what was the Kochs’ answer? Another astroturf campaign headed by a ‘philanthropic’ front organisation to persuade the US public that life was fairer under Republicans! To accomplish this they made a $25 million donation to the United Negro College Fund in order to ‘increase well-being and help people improve their lives.’ And Wake Forest University, that already had a Koch-funded Center for the Study of Capitalism, was also to get a “well-being center.”
So it goes on. Every year, every day, policy wonks funded by the Koch’s network of donors are systematically coming up with strategies to deceive voters as to the true intentions of the Republican high command. 'The idea of sugar-coating anti-government free-market aetiology as a nonpartisan movement to enhance the quality of life had clear advantages.’ p363. ‘The Kochs were also directing millions of dollars into online education, and into teaching high school students, so a non-profit that Charles devised called that Young Entrepreneurs Academy. The financially pressed Topeka School system, for instance, signed an agreement with the organisation which taught students that, among other things, Franklin Roosevelt didn't alleviate the Depression, minimum wage laws and public assistance hurt the poor, lower pay for women was not discriminatory, and the government, rather than the business, caused the 2008 recession.’ p365
If I've whetted your appetite, go buy the book - and the scales will fall from your eyes as you realise how Dark Money has been systematically corrupting the public discourse in America, and to a considerable extent in Britain too, for 30 years. It’s unlikely to be accidental that Andrea Leadsom, the would-be Conservative leader, had accepted an expenses-paid invitation from ‘a conservative group of Christians’ to visit America – which she was unable to accept owing to the leadership election. But it tells you where her heart is, and why the big money backers recognised her as their candidate of choice.


Elegy for Jo Cox

This week I finished the first movement of a piece I've been working on since September. It’s the first movement of an Elegy for the murdered MP. I began to think about it a few weeks after her death when it became patently clear that her death was going to have no impact on the snarling nastiness that has become integral to our contemporary version of the peasants’ revolt.    

It was an interesting challenge to write lyrics that expressed the situation without recourse to religious or rhetorical language – which I was pretty certain would erode support among those who might otherwise give it. Eventually what emerged was 

Why is it that the golden ones are taken?
Why is it that those who bear most love fall first?
Why is it that what is noble can awaken
Poisoned feelings in a hate-filled breast?

Oh but this saddest of tales is the oldest of stories,
Those who risk least in their lives attract the most praise,
While those risking all for love are ignored within their days
and only afterwards accorded glory.

A week or so later I felt I knew the tone /feel it needed and a musical motif appeared. So the journey that lasted months began. I find that ideas as they are forming often cause depression – something of which you’re not at first aware seems to be sucking life and energy out of you; and then when it first pokes its nose out from its lair in the subconscious it’s like a tapeworm (I've heard) or a cobra that has to be coaxed into the light with milk, so that you can begin the business of wrestling it and the supporting framework into a unity. 
Philip Larkin once said ‘you can only usefully write poetry for about an hour a day; so you might as well do another job in the meantime.’ Not only do I find that true, but actually I've found over my life that whenever I sit and wait for inspiration nothing happens – but when I'm at full stretch then what/who-ever the geist is that brings ideas smiles like a Cheshire cat and places the final straw on the camel’s back, as if to say ’there you are: make of it what you will.’ And of course you have to, because if ignore it it won't return.* 
During this four months there weeks at a time when ideas didn’t flow. At one point I broke off and composed the second movement. It was like being stuck on a sandbank, waiting for the tide to float you off again, but not when when /how /whence /whether that tide would come.
Id always wanted to write a piece for choir and orchestra, but the occasion had never presented iself. The challenge here was to write something within the range of a choral society that wasn’t banal; so I tried to address that issue by creating orchestral interludes around the vocal sections. I think it works, but without hearing it live I don’t know whether /how well. But then all composition is just a hypothesis waiting to be validated by others.  

If you would like to hear it click here. I've placed a midi-audio demo on SoundCloud which lasts 9’45". Alas you cannot know what is being sung as the ‘voices’ are but ghosts in a machine; however you get the sense by reading the first two verses. The words are repeated so you have to hold back v2 till about 6' in. It is my plan to record just the vocal parts with live singers in order to put the piece in presentation form, and then see if I can muster any enthusiasm among Jo Cox’s former colleags before offering it to choirs in the north which is probably Elegy’s best chance of finding a ‘constituency’. Verse two is quite different, for acappella SAATB semichorus, but that won't be part of my presentation.

If you think this love’s labour lost, then you cannot think it more wholeheartedly than I – but for me creativity isn't simply about pleasing others, it’s about the process of being attentive. [The actual meaning of the word Muslim] And after a lifetime of coming to terms with my inner anarchy I've realised that when I listen best I am most fulfilled. A situation best exprest in this poem by the 1thC Indian mystic Kabir 

* In this tree a single bird
with dancing song almost unheard
swoops & thrills its deepest leaves
with the enchanting tune she weaves.

Who knows its purpose? For at night
she comes, and leaves by first light.
For whom she sings, if not for me,
who knows? It may be nobody.

Holystone Well, Northumbria

What is beyond us? What is it that we reach out to? What is it that sometimes rewards us with a blast of oxygen in a smog-filled world? Bigger than all these questions: why has consciousness evolved in humans to be so blind, destructive and disconnected from its own natural environment?

At times like the present, when naked bigotry has been elevated to a political principle, only reconnecting to the ancient wisdom of the earth can restore faith in a future. It has seen it all before. Sadly, many times over. And Holystone Well is a perfect place to reconnect Self to Otherness - using whatever language you prefer. I first saw it on the delightful BBC4 series Pagans & Pilgrims, and was immediately drawn. Recently I was filming in the north and made sure I scheduled time for a visit.

It’s a misleading title, since in its present incarnation, Holystone is a pool not a well. But the spring feeding it provides enough flow to supply water for the neighbouring hamlet, so in that sense it can be called a well. And doesn't that make you think about the word's original meaning? "All shall be well, and all manner of thing ...” For our ancestors clean water would have been a prerequisite of being well.

I came here seeking to be well - whole in mind and purpose - and wellthy, having the energy to serve causes that create common-wealth. And I came away with a renewed connexion to the silent sanity which still underpins the collective madness of humanity. I drew deep reassurance from the fact that the invisible flow of Holystone's well-ness, a springing gift from the the planet itself, is beautifully maintained today by the National Trust as a sacred space, set aside for reflexion.

Someone from Austin Texas was here in 2014 and left a medallion. Visitors have contributed a little spiral of coins, a rosary and a crucifix - witnesses to the many dimensions of time and existence. Nominally the pool is dedicated to St Ninian, who is represented in a medieval statue - but as a psychic reality the figure is the genius loci, the spirit of the place. The being or thought-form who has grown alongside and because of the spring, the trees, the nourished earth and the humans who became part of the nurturing cycle.

And so in this unbroken chain of pilgrimage came my wife and I and dog to this magical space, and like the great precession we were rewarded with a re-vision of possibilities. The reflexion I took away was that while we humans have made a mess and a mockery of our only habitat we alone are the solution. Yet we few cannot work as effectively alone as we can together, and to articulate a vision that unites people we need leadership. And uh-oh …

This too will pass.

The re-creation offered by Holystone is beautifully evoked in this poem The Divine Bird by the 15thC mystic, Kabir (around the time St Ninian’s statue was carved), which I versified from Tagore’s translation a couple of years ago.

In this tree a single bird
with dancing song almost unheard
swoops & thrills its deepest leaves
with the enchanting tune she weaves.

Who knows its purpose? For at night
she comes, and leaves by first light.
For whom she sings, if not for me,
who knows? It may be nobody.

Suddenly present, as if from nowhere,
she may as quickly disappear.
I was not told about this tree,
far less the bird – nor have I seen

either its colour or its form,
nor e’en what dance it may perform;
yet its etheric call I hear –
its ballet, tho unseen, is clear.

Beside an abandoned path, this place
is missed by those who’re ruled by haste.
Few there are who know the way,
and fewer still who choose to stay.

Brother sadhu, Kabir says,
don’t invite the race of fools,
who’ll drown the songs and cut the branches:
rather, merely leave them clues.

One or two within your days
may note your path and share your gaze –
them you’ll know without a word:
for in their silence sings that bird.

Bk2:95. #33 


A Quaker Perspective - January

The tour of the north I made with my wife Clancy in the first week of the year to film more interviews for A Quaker Perspective was one of the most intensive but fulfilling of my life.  

Standing in Brigflatts Meeting House I felt in the centre of a centuries-old continuity of faith & testimony that was at once robust, unemphatic yet totally contemporary. Zen-like in its strength and detachment. 

The interior was totally unchanged from this 19thC photo (except for the removal of the stove) to the degree that it had no power sockets in the MH – an unforeseen hazard. This drawing of a wedding ceremony was  particularly charming – an interesting period detail being the ‘hat honour’ of the men on the back row.

I felt drawn to go there and shoot an opening sequence. Probably this won't be relevant for a Quakers-only version, but I thought it might be handy for outreach purposes. 

Our first port of call was Marcie Winstanley near Hexham, a 19 y/o Friend who was coherent and focused in her intention to enter politics at some point after she graduates as a teacher. It's an ambition she has held since seeing the Iraq War on TV at the age of 8. On of the reasons for going to film before doing any further fund-raising  

I hope to have clips ready in a fortnight or so. Editing each interview is at least 3 days’ fulltime work.

Some of Marcie’s Quaker roots stem from her grandparents by whom Clancy & I were handsomely entertained. David and Caroline Westgate run a series of Peace Lectures in Hexham, and while we were there they were busy preparing for a WW1 exhibition  voicesandchoiceshexham.org/ presented in Hexham to travel to Noyan, France. 

The next port of call was Lancaster, where Sam Barnett-Cormack spoke eloquently on topics which included disability campaigning and his own position as a non-theist Quaker - a term which I discovered had nothing in common with atheism.

Finally to Ackworth School where Junior Head Katharine Elwis argued forcefully for the importance of Quaker schools as a bridge between doctrinaire nature of the state system and the economic elitism of the private sector.

But for me, the highlight of the trip was Brigflatts. Someone /sun-one was smiling on us since our scheduled afternoon there was the most beautiful ‘mid-winter spring’* amid a week of fairly grim weather. I felt that in that truly sacred space the essence of what I am trying to capture today has always existed and that our job is merely to be the means through which it speaks. 

This film is a celebration of Quaker testimonies in the lives of the interviewees. See our first interviewee Harvey Gillman.

In February I shall announce the next step, which is a crowd-funding appeal in order to meet the costs of the filming - which so far I have met myself. 

LITTLE GIDDING - The last of TS Eliot's 'Four Quartets')
Eliot was writing about the church of the religious community started by Nicholas Ferrar in Little Gidding Cambs in 1625; but what he writes applies just as much to Brigflatts.

Midwinter spring is its own season
Sempiternal though sodden towards sundown,
Suspended in time, between pole and tropic.
When the short day is brightest, with frost and fire,
The brief sun flames the ice, on pond and ditches,
In windless cold that is the heart's heat,
Reflecting in a watery mirror
[…] This is the spring time
But not in time's covenant. Now the hedgerow
Is blanched for an hour with transitory blossom
Of snow, a bloom more sudden
Than that of summer, neither budding nor fading,
Not in the scheme of generation.
Where is the summer, the unimaginable
Zero summer?
[…]                 And what you thought you came for
Is only a shell, a husk of meaning
From which the purpose breaks only when it is fulfilled
If at all. Either you had no purpose
Or the purpose is beyond the end you figured
And is altered in fulfilment. There are other places
Which also are the world's end, some at the sea jaws,
Or over a dark lake, in a desert or a city—
But this is the nearest, in place and time,
Now and in England.
                               If you came this way,
Taking any route, starting from anywhere,
At any time or at any season,
It would always be the same: you would have to put off
Sense and notion. You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more
Than an order of words, the conscious occupation
Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying.
And what the dead had no speech for, when living,
They can tell you, being dead: the communication
Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.
Here, the intersection of the timeless moment

Is England and nowhere. Never and always.

A Quaker Perspective - December

This is the first (December 16) news update about my planned documentary about Quakers in Britain.

The idea crystalized on the day of Trump’s election. I thought: there isn't much I can do to oppose the darkness that he represents except to make a film celebrating the light – people who are attempting to do positive things for others and the planet. I don’t want A Quaker Perspective to be sectarian, but I feel that Friends' unique record of peace-making makes them ideal standard-bearers against the kind of divisiveness and spite that Trump stirred up in his campaign. Moreover there is a sufficient diversity of viewpoints within Quakers  to cover the gamut of constructive opinions for people wishing to express both spiritual and non-theist motivation/s. 

The project has arisen in part from the film I made with Shaftesbury Young Friends during this summer featuring members of Shaftesbury Meeting. Despite being principally a musician, I have always enjoyed film-making and always wanted to make a documentary but had never previously found a suitable subject that within my scope to complete on my own. 

Last week I took a meeting with three senior office-holders at Friends House, who were incredibly helpful in making me aware of all sorts of factors and people able to can give the project form.  I am presently commissioning a logo for the film, and have bought a second hi-spec Canon video camera to go with my other and the lighting and sound equipment I have built up over the years for music recording. 

I shall be launching a crowd-funding site in Jan/Feb to assist with the costs of the enterprise. But already I am making filming plans. 

Next week I shall kick off with Harvey Gillman, who was a particularly imaginative and effective Outreach Secretary for the Society whom I knew 20 years ago.  Then over the new year I intend to film three Friends in the north. One has recently been an intern in with an English MEP, one is the Head of Ackworth (Quaker) Junior School, and the third is a campaigner for disabled people. Of those who have already responded to my research these guys struck me as having more than one qualification for inclusion. If possible, I hope to film Quaker Homeless Action over Christmas. Of course, all this has to be fitted in around my other commitments.