Psalms for Passiontide: Passion Sunday: Psalm 51.1-13

A poem full of washing images seems utterly appropriate at this time of pandemic when I am so aware that where some are bored, others are paralysed by anxiety; when some are taking opportunities to get to grips with new technologies, others are pressured to the point of seeming breaking by the demands of being an NHS worker or carer, a logistics manager or food deliverer, a scientist or a farmer.

I am more fortunate than many, and in a multitude of ways, but particularly because the habits of self-isolation and solitude at home are not unusual to me.  I know how to spend time in silence, making space to ponder and pray slowly.  I know how to listen to the overwhelming fears of my noisy mind, making space to notice and see an opportunity to practice self-compassion.  I know how to look out of the window, making space to daydream paintings, patchwork, photographs, and poems into being.

I know how to be.  And yet, too many times a day to count, I don’t practice what I know.

You desire truth in the inward being;

therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.

(Psalm 51.6 NRSV)

The opportunities of this strange time for the world ‘out there’, as well as for my ‘inward being’ ‘in here’, means that the centuries-old themes of this Passiontide Psalm are tuned exquisitely to my present circumstances:

create in me a clean heart, O God,

and put a steadfast spirit within me…

restore to me the joy of your salvation,

and sustain in me a generous spirit.

(Psalm 51.10, 12 NRSV)

Teach. Create. Restore. Sustain.

I long to be clean, joyous and generous.

By Your Grace, Spirit, I pray these words from You so I can be in right relationship with my Source.

By Your Grace, Spirit, I pray these words from You so I can be in right relationship with my heart.

By Your Grace, Spirit, I pray these words from You so I can be in right relationship with my community.

Come, Holy One, ’shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life’:

What you’re after is truth from the inside out.

    Enter me, then; conceive a new, true life.

Soak me in your laundry and I’ll come out clean,

    scrub me and I’ll have a snow-white life.

Tune me in to foot-tapping songs,

    set these once-broken bones to dancing.

Don’t look too close for blemishes,

    give me a clean bill of health.

God, make a fresh start in me,

    shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life.

Don’t throw me out with the trash,

    or fail to breathe holiness in me.

Bring me back from gray exile,

    put a fresh wind in my sails!

Give me a job teaching rebels your ways

    so the lost can find their way home.

Commute my death sentence, God, my salvation God,

    and I’ll sing anthems to your life-giving ways.

Unbutton my lips, dear God;

    I’ll let loose with your praise.

(Psalm 51.6-15 The Message)

cleaning to create (bl)cleaning to create. Canon 7D. f20.1/60. ISO 3200.

be the epiphany

A miraculous event unfolds when we throw the lead of our personal story into the transformative flames of creativity. Our hardship is transmuted into something golden. With that gold we heal ourselves and redeem the world. As with any spiritual practice, this creative alchemy requires a leap of faith. When we show up to make art, we need to first get still enough to hear what wants to be expressed through us, and then we need to step out of the way and let it. We must be willing to abide in a space of not knowing before we can settle into knowing. Such a space is sacred. It is liminal, and it’s numinous. It is frightening and enlivening. It demands no less than everything, and it gives back tenfold.

 from Mirabai Starr, Wild Mercy: Living the Fierce and Tender Wisdom of the Women Mystics, p159-160.


During Advent I spent time imagining what would happen if an angel appeared in my living room, and angels, as God’s messengers, seem to have continued being on my mind, somewhat untraditionally, as I contemplate entering one of my favourite few weeks of the liturgical calendar: the Epiphany season. 

I have written before that I call Epiphany the ‘Feast Day of Contemplative Photographers’: a day to celebrate and give thanks for the slow becoming that is the transfiguration my mundane vision must undergo in order to become God’s extraordinary seeing.  I suspect that Mirabai Starr would widen that definition to name Epiphany as the ‘Feast of All Artists’.

Because epiphany isn’t just about a momentary flash of insight, a light bulb, an aha that surges forward when I am suddenly connected to the divine mains and our circuit is momentarily made complete, although it is all that.  An epiphany of the Source of Being, is an epiphany with the Source of Being.  For there to be an epiphany, there must first be a relationship.  Epiphany depends on an indivisible interdependence, on an intimacy, felt or not, artistic or not, that declares I am not all, You are; that I am not alone, You are with me; that I am not in control, Your Will be done. 

I don’t just have an epiphany; I am the epiphany.

When my I is enfolded into the divine We until even my very sight is transfigured, my work this Epiphany season might just become the holy exciting, wholly terrifying vocation of co-creating with my God. 


There is a grace approaching

that we shun as much as death,

it is the completion of our birth.


It does not come in time,

but in timelessness

when the mind sinks into the heart

and we remember.


It is an insistent grace that draws us

to the edge and beckons us to surrender

safe territory and enter our enormity.


We know we must pass

beyond knowing

and fear the shedding.


But we are pulled upward


through forgotten ghosts

and unexpected angels,



And there is nothing left to say

but we are That.


And that is what we sing about.


‘Millenium Blessing’

Stephen Levine

a tool of insistent grace (bl)

a tool of insistent grace. Canon 7D. f2.5. 1/2000. ISO 400.

Christmas Day 2019

May all the blessings of the One who is Light and Dark in our dark and our light, be on you, this day and for evermore.  Amen.


Word whose breath is the world-circling atmosphere,

Word that utters the world that turns the wind,

Word that articulates the bird that speeds upon the air,


Word that blazes out the trumpet of the sun,

Whose silence is the violin-music of the stars,

Whose melody is the dawn, and harmony the night,


Word traced in water of lakes, and light on water,

Light on still water, moving water, waterfall

And water colours of cloud, of dew, of spectral rain,


Word inscribed on stone, mountain range upon range of stone,

Word that is fire of the sun and fire within

Order of atoms, crystalline symmetry,


Grammar of five-fold rose and six-fold lily,

Spiral of leaves on a bough, helix of shells,

Rotation of twining plants on axes of darkness and light,


Instinctive wisdom of fish and lion and ram,

Rhythm of generation in flagellate and fern,

Flash of fin, beat of wing, heartbeat, beat of the dance,


Hieroglyph in whose exact precision is defined

Feather and insect-wing, refraction of multiple eyes,

Eyes of the creatures, oh myriadfold vision of the world,


Statement of mystery, how shall we name

A spirit clothed in world, a world made man?


‘Word Made Flesh’

Kathleen Raine

myriadfold vision (bl)myriadfold vision. iPhone image.

advent apertures 2019: Christmas Eve

I have learned

that fences are for climbing to see

if the grass really is greener on the other side;

and that if I leave the house at night,

and stretch high on the top of my tiptoes

I might touch the quivering stars,

play with the bright young moon.


I have learned that a mind is like the universe,

an immensity of twinkling lights and

far-flung galaxies to be explored.


I have learned that the world beyond

the fence is full of human beings as diverse as the stars,

each waiting to be recognized and named

and loved by me.  I have learned

that life is for loving and love is for living

and dying is for letting go.


I have learned that opposites

are inextricably linked,

that within all pain are tiny buds of beauty

and within all beauty seeds of pain;

that the sun disappears only to return

the following morning,

and that clouds are not solid;

that tears are for falling

and laughter is for taking wing;

that forgiveness is the better part of valor,

sweeter far than blame.


I have learned how

the sound of a full orchestra

can break me wide open;

that a piano’s single notes

played against adagio strings

are like raindrops of silver

falling on crushed velvet;

and that a violin concerto

can stretch me thin

and leave me full.


I have learned that

everything has its own language and that

if I listen carefully to the birds and the creatures,

and even the grasses,

I will hear the sound of God

in the music of the silence.

There are multiple realities surrounding me

and I know that I must keep the eyes of my heart open

to allow all of existence to be.


And I’m glad I was not told

any of these things

else I would not have grown as tall

nor stretched as far.

I am glad these things were kept hidden from me

until I could open the gate to taste and touch,

to smell and feel, and

to discover my self along the way.


‘Learning Life’

Catherine Garland


‘How can this be?’

“Yes. This can be in me.”

I say Yes to the ongoing revealing of God in my life.

I say Yes to the Invitation, to get up close and personal with the Living Light.

I say Yes to the consequences of Your revealing, especially those that lie hidden from my view in this moment.

A line from a Mumford & Sons song comes to me: ‘I will love the skies I’m under’.  So, however midnight blueblack, dawn rose madder, or sunset gold leaf my skies get, I will accept You are with me;

I will trust You are with-in and with-out me;

I will remember that we are connected in the intimacy of a feedback loop, we are one eternal Mobius strip;

I will commit to becoming a part of the means by which Your Will is done, in my here and now;

I will praise in wonder that not just my sight will be changed.


For that one moment, ‘in and out of time’,

On that one mountain where all moments meet,

The daily veil that covers the sublime

In darkling glass fell dazzled at his feet.

There were no angels full of eyes and wings

Just living glory full of truth and grace.

The Love that dances at the heart of things

Shone out upon us from a human face

And to that light the light in us leaped up,

We felt it quicken somewhere deep within,

A sudden blaze of long-extinguished hope

Trembled and tingled through the tender skin.

Nor can this this blackened sky, this darkened scar

Eclipse that glimpse of how things really are.



Malcolm Guite

loving the skies I'm under (bl)loving the skies I’m under. iPhone image.

advent apertures 2019: day 23

Light and darkness, night and day.

We marvel at the mystery of the stars.

Moon and sky, sand and sea.

We marvel at the mystery of the sun.

Twilight, high noon, dusk and dawn.

Though we are mortal, we are Creation’s crown.

Flesh and bone, steel and stone.

We dwell in fragile, temporary shelters.

Grant steadfast love, compassion, grace.

Sustain us, Lord; our origin is dust.

Splendour, mercy, majesty, love endure.

We are but little lower than the angels.

Resplendent skies, sunset, sunrise.

The grandeur of Creation lifts our lives.

Evening darkness, morning dawn.

Renew our lives as You renew all time.


from Siddur Sim Shalom (responsive reading)

(translated from the Hebrew by Rabbi Jules Harlow)


‘How can this be?’  It is time to answer my own question.

I have pondered over this question, trying to look for all the angles of what’s being asked of me; I have troubled over this question and scared myself silly, thinking of all my inadequacies, all the things that can (will) go wrong, all the things that people will think and say of me if I do whatever ‘this’ turns out to be; and I have glimpsed the possibility that I am being invited into a new relationship, a new way of being, a new way of seeing this world, invited into beholding the I AM.

As Sister Maggie Ross puts it, ‘Beholding is not an escape from our humanity or its angst but rather its transfiguration… it is precisely through our wounds that we come to beholding’:

All that God ever asks of people is that they behold, that they engage in the exchange of love by which God who is beyond being, God the creator of all, consents to have us, his creatures, hold him in being, in time and space, even as God is holding us in eternity. God who unfolds being in the creation enfolds to his heart the gift of our selves.

In the second century, Irenaeus emphasized this reciprocity in his famous saying, “The glory of God is the human person fully alive; and the glory of the human person is the beholding of God.” In our self-actualizing, self-authenticating culture, it’s not surprising that only the first half of the saying is usually quoted, but the two clauses are dependent: we cannot be fully alive without the beholding of God, because it is from this beholding that our own truth unfolds, our conceptual life becomes transfigured, and our compassion overflows into service.

Love Unrecognized: Sermon for Maundy Thursday, Bishop’s Ranch

(Voice in the Wilderness, Friday 2 April 2010)

Sister Maggie Ross


No matter how dark my darkness gets, I will never be beyond reach of the holy dark of God’s Light.

‘How can this be?’

It is time to answer: “Yes. This can be in me.”


Star of Wonder, Radiant Goodness,
today I turn to you as the Source of Love.
I remember your Light dwelling within me.
Keep me mindful of your transforming presence.
Shine this goodness and love on each person
with whom I come in contact this day.
Draw me to your irresistible love.
I open my whole being to you.
I send your love forth into our world.
May all those who suffer find solace in your love.
May all of creation be at peace.

Joyce Rupp (Advent 2001)


I can only behold this in the dark (bl)I can only behold this in the dark. Canon 7D. f15. 0.8s. ISO 3200.

advent apertures 2019: Sunday 4

Joy Unspeakable
is not silent,
it moans, hums, and bends
to the rhythm of a dancing universe.
It is a fractal of transcendent hope,
a hologram of God’s heart,
a black hole of unknowing.

For our free African ancestors,
joy unspeakable is drum talk
that invites the spirits
to dance with us,
and tell tall tales by the fire.

For the desert Mothers and Fathers,
joy unspeakable is respite
from the maddening crowds,
And freedom from
“church” as usual.

For enslaved Africans during the
Middle Passage,
joy unspeakable is the surprise
of living one more day,
and the freeing embrace of death
chosen and imposed.

For Africans in bondage
in the Americas,
joy unspeakable is that moment of
mystical encounter
when God tiptoes into the hush arbor,
testifies about Divine suffering,
and whispers in our ears,
“Don’t forget,
I taught you how to fly
on a wing and a prayer,
when you’re ready
let’s go!”

Joy Unspeakable is humming
“how I got over”
after swimming safely
to the other shore of a swollen Ohio river
when you know that you can’t swim.
It is the blessed assurance
that Canada is far,
but not that far.

For Africana members of the
“invisible institution,” the
emerging black church,
joy unspeakable is
practicing freedom
while chains still chafe,
singing deliverance
while Jim Crow stalks,
trusting God’s healing
and home remedies,
prayers, kerosene,
and cow patty tea.

For the tap dancing, boogie woogie,
rap/rock/blues griots
who also hear God,
joy unspeakable is
that space/time/joy continuum thing
that dares us to play and pray
in the interstices of life,
it is the belief that the phrase
“the art of living”
means exactly what it says.

             Joy Unspeakable
the unlikely merger of
trance and high tech lives
ecstatic songs and a jazz repertoire
Joy unspeakable is
a symphony of incongruities
of faces aglow and hearts
on fire
and the wonder of surviving together.

from Joy Unspeakable: Contemplative Practices of the Black Church, xvii-xviii.

Barbara A. Holmes


‘how can this be?’


Gabriel greeted her:

Good morning!

You’re beautiful with God’s beauty,

Beautiful inside and out!

God be with you.

She was thoroughly shaken, wondering what was behind a greeting like that. But the angel assured her, “Mary, you have nothing to fear. God has a surprise for you …

Nothing, you see, is impossible with God.” …

And Mary said,

I’m bursting with God-news;

    I’m dancing the song of my Savior God.

God took one good look at me, and look what happened—

    I’m the most fortunate woman on earth!

What God has done for me will never be forgotten,

    the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others…

(Luke 1: 28-9, 36, 46-7. The Message)

When I ask the question, “how can this be?”, to whom am I addressing it?  For as the dialogue between Mary and Gabriel shows, my question is really directly addressed to God.  I have a choice about how to respond to this holy visitation, for all this is about my very relationship with God: can I really believe I am Your chosen vehicle to do this great thing of bringing You into the world?

Will I choose to believe that the God who enters into the fabric of my reality is coming to be Emmanuel, to be ‘God with me’?

“How can this be?”  This question gets personal.  The Emmanuel who chooses to reside within me, as well as all around me, answers me with a question in return: “Can you burst with my ‘God-news’ today?”

And what if, in response to my hesitations and my stunned silences, my turnings away and my petrified terror, God keeps coming, repeating over and again, “Nothing is impossible with ME”? 

Can I, will I, let myself be caught up in this vision imparted by the Spirit hovering over me?  Can I, will I, decide once and for all to encircle my life from here on in with an attitude of Praise and excitement? 

(Listen to this soaring version of Mary’s song: Voces8 sing ‘Magnificat Primi Toni’ by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina – perhaps whilst reading the poem below.)

This Advent moon shines cold and clear,
These Advent nights are long;
Our lamps have burned year after year,
And still their flame is strong.

“Watchman, what of the night?” we cry,
Heart-sick with hope deferred:
“No speaking signs are in the sky,”
Is still the watchman’s word.

The Porter watches at the gate,
The servants watch within;
The watch is long betimes and late,
The prize is slow to win.

“Watchman, what of the night?” but still
His answer sounds the same:
“No daybreak tops the utmost hill,
Nor pale our lamps of flame.”

One to another hear them speak,
The patient virgins wise:
“Surely He is not far to seek,”—
“All night we watch and rise.”

“The days are evil looking back,
The coming days are dim;
Yet count we not His promise slack,
But watch and wait for Him.”

One with another, soul with soul,
They kindle fire from fire:
“Friends watch us who have touched the goal.”
“They urge us, come up higher.”

“With them shall rest our waysore feet,
With them is built our home,
With Christ.” “They sweet, but He most sweet,
Sweeter than honeycomb.”

There no more parting, no more pain,
The distant ones brought near,
The lost so long are found again,
Long lost but longer dear:

Eye hath not seen, ear hath not heard,
Nor heart conceived that rest,
With them our good things long deferred,
With Jesus Christ our Best.

We weep because the night is long,
We laugh, for day shall rise,
We sing a slow contented song
And knock at Paradise.

Weeping we hold Him fast Who wept
For us,—we hold Him fast;
And will not let Him go except
He bless us first or last.

Weeping we hold Him fast to-night;
We will not let Him go
Till daybreak smite our wearied sight,
And summer smite the snow:

Then figs shall bud, and dove with dove
Shall coo the livelong day;
Then He shall say, “Arise, My love,
My fair one, come away.”


Christina Rossetti

visitation (bl)visitation. Canon 7D. f2.8. 1/250. ISO 400.

feeling vulnerable: Blue Christmas 2019

The following was written for the Godspace blog, as part of their Advent series on ‘Who is this child?’


visual journalling page from Kate Kennington Steer


I was unable to have children of my own, so holding my nephews, niece and friends’ children over the years has been such a precious bittersweet joy.  As time has gone on my grief for myself has largely healed, so that now not every beautifully taut swollen pregnant belly automatically makes me want to cry or propels me from the room.  Yet I wonder if there is something about God I will never be able to understand because I am not a parent.

Yet does that necessarily mean that ‘birthing God’ is reduced to being merely a metaphorical spiritual idea? Christians believe God reentered the physical universe by being born as a child. The wonder of that sentence is incalculable. The material laws of the cosmos changed when God’s matter transformed into human flesh.  It sounds far fetched I admit.  The stuff myths are made of.  But if I let the reality of this wonder incarnate in me, surely nothing will ever be impossible again.  And that includes what God might want to do, in my life, with my life; how God might want to use me to draw the kingdom of heaven near – now.

However, before that possibility can take root within me, I come to a screeching mental halt: I often struggle hugely with an abiding sense that I am somehow intrinsically unloveable.  Intellectually, I know this cannot be true; the love my family and friends show to me gives me practical evidence that this is not truth. Theologically, I absolutely reject the medieval concept of original sin; the experience of holding a new born child convinces me that I too, cannot have been born with that dark baggage.  The whole story of Advent reminds me time and again that God has come and is coming into the world, precisely to eliminate that lie of separation.

Sometimes, I so wish I could hold the Christ child in my arms, maybe then I would see in that child the miracle of God wanting to be brought to birth in this very specific way; maybe then I would believe I too am a child of God who is intimately loved and loveable; that God wants me to birth the Beloved into the world around me – now.  (And I hear Jesus whisper, “Blessed are those who do not see and yet believe”.)

Despite all the images that surround me at Christmas in the western northern hemisphere there is absolutely nothing sentimental about this birth of Love into Love’s world.  God’s birthing continues to be a hard joy, a jagged light, as so many women will testify.  There is always an element of danger in birthing no matter how we wrap it up in technology.  So too then, I shouldn’t be surprised if God’s birthing in me is hard labour, long and slow in coming, requiring plenty of extensive preparation, and then demanding a long moment of absolute surrender to the process. God asks me to relinquish all my attempts at control to render myself absolutely vulnerable, just as God made the God-self vulnerable to come as a child – by choice.  The risks were huge.

But sometimes I hear myself cry, “Lord, does the process have to be quite so long and so hard?”

Just as the Christ-child is made and born vulnerable in flesh, the God-child my Creator makes and bears in me is just as vulnerable in spirit.  The risks are huge for this birthing too; not least that I will allow grief to harden into embittered defensiveness, or allow depression to cripple me by convincing me I am utterly alone, or allow chronic ill health to shrink my world so that I no longer seek opportunities for connecting with others or for exercising my creativity.  Because even all God’s power did not, and does not, make God invulnerable.  God is joyful when I am joyful but equally, God is wounded when I am wounded, because that is the exactly the miracle of the incarnation which is encapsulated in the name Emmanuel: God with us.

In The Dark Night of the Soul psychologist Gerald May takes this idea further, as he reflects on Teresa of Avila’s contemplative vision of ‘the Holy One’s being surrendered to us in love and needing us to love, to be loved by, and to manifest God’s love in the world’.  He continues:

Theologically, if God is all-loving – if God is Love – then that love must necessarily temper God’s omnipotence.  Love always transforms power, making it something softer, deeper, and richer.  Conversely, it may only be in our vulnerability, in or actually being wounded, that love gains its full power.  Thus true omnipotence may not be found in a distant and separate power over something or someone, but rather in the intimate experience of being wounded for and with. (197; original emphasis)

God was wounded for me, God is being wounded for me, God is being wounded with me.  Out of all the murk of my muddy soul, this feels like the beginnings of a revelation.  I may not be a parent but perhaps my experiences of being made vulnerable physically, mentally and spiritually by chronic ill health brings its particular understandings of God’s character with it too.  Perhaps me becoming a host-space for God, a Light-bearer, is perhaps not out of the question either. 

Perhaps by embracing my vulnerability is how, finally, I learn to live loved.

advent apertures 2019: Blue Christmas

Evening says to night:

“Are you always this beautiful under your clothes?”

Night says to the moon:

“All day I dreamed of you but I couldn’t bring myself to call.”

The moon says to sleep:

“There are doorways in the dark.”

Sleep says to dawn:

“As if forward were the only direction!”

Dawn says to early morning sun:

“Sing sung sun”

Morning says to noon:

“Trees also do research.”

Noon says to early afternoon:

“Builders and dreamers need to listen to each other.”

Early afternoon says to late afternoon:

“I am becoming possible.”

Late afternoon says to the setting sun:

“Tell me about the texture of fire.”

The sunset says to the twilight:

“In a circle there is no beginning or end.”

Twilight to the first star says:

“Thank you for your light.”

First star to evening:

“Thank you for your dark.”


J.Ruth Gendler


The circling tone of light during the day is something that often preoccupies me, especially on days when I am just ‘stuck’ in bed, watching the light shift as I try to read, to listen to an audiobook or to scribble a doodle.  I watch it change across my bedroom walls as the seasons change too, and I find the lack of light at this time of year particularly difficult.  But celebrating the December Solstice with the feast of Blue Christmas has changed my attitude (if not yet the physiological effects of SAD).

Blue Christmas is the feast for all those who find Christmas difficult, for all those who are grieving, lonely, suffering in body, mind or spirit; for those who are homeless, poor, refugees, exiles, prisoners.  For many, the shortest day can be the nadir of hopelessness and bleakness in a season of general darkening.

But if the shortest day is the ‘bluest’ day in terms of my mental health, by practicing turning my focus outwards towards others who are also feeling ‘blue’, I can project compassion instead of depression into the world- no matter how I might personally be feeling that day.

Because I then get wondering, what kind of blue does it feel like today?  If one doesn’t  really think about colour much then that question might seem nonsensical; but there really are cool blues and warm blues, and every tone of blue will reflect light differently; every tone of blue will elicit a different emotion in the viewer.  Yet, crucially, how I react emotionally to one tone will differ vastly from how a friend might react to exactly the same tone. 

To say therefore that the ‘blue’ that sums up how I am feeling today is not the same as the blue my neighbour may be feeling might sound obvious, but the distinction is important, and goes way beyond the limitations of language.

To me, the feast of Blue Christmas is about remembering the multiplicity and infinite variety of ways humans experience blue, and use the word blue to describe unique internal states and infinite fine gradations of emotional association.  That I can only see blue because of the nature of the spectrum of light itself is a cause of wonder in me.  It is the light that makes it possible for that day’s tone to shimmer, no matter how much excruciatingly pain-filled struggling that blue expresses.

My blue is not merely blue to God.  The God who comes to experience the blues of humanity will not see my blueness as a humdrum ordinary tone, a blurred indistinctness easily overlooked. By Grace, my blue will no longer isolate me, but become connected to every other blue in the spectrum.

An encounter with the Living Light transfigures my blue into impossible colours I cannot yet conceive; colours that will burst forth from me, reflecting the Light of the Possible One into the blues of others. 

What I call blue will become a precious part of the very ingredients God needs to call forth the Impossible in me; to help heal the blues of the one next to me.


Dear Morning

you come

with so many angles of mercy

so wondrously disguised

in feathers, in leaves,

in the tongues of stones,

in the restless waters,

in the creep and the click

and the rustle

that greet me wherever I go

with their joyful cry: I’m still here, alive!


Mary Oliver

singing the hot blues (bl)singing the hot blues. iPhone image.

advent apertures 2019: day 20

A moment when sound and vision were inverted themselves, torn inside out and filled my attention to capacity.  A moment when everything else dropped away and the experience of seeing, of sensing, became so overwhelming, so all encompassing, that the very idea of interpretation did not, could not, exist.

Uta Barth


Sister Maggie Ross has been one of the most influential women on my spiritual life.  I was privileged enough to be taught by her at Oxford University, and for the last twenty five years her writings on silence (and on mysticism, apophatic prayer and transfiguration) have fed my soul.  She was the first person to get me to think about the theology and spiritual practice of ‘beholding’, although it took me an extraordinarily  long time to realise beholding is the key part of contemplative photography; and it seems to me that a moment of ‘beholding’ is precisely what the photographer Uta Barth is talking about above. 

An encounter with an angel in my living room that will change me – if I let it – is all about beholding.  An encounter that is about seeing with eyes other than the physiological, in order to envision the Divine: this is beholding.  “Behold!”: the Advent stories are littered with experiences of beholding once one begins to look, all of them signposting life-changing encounters with the Holy.

Beholding is a gift; it is a way of being in the world … The more one ‘seeks to the beholding’, in Julian [of Norwich]’s words, through intention and vigilance, the more beholding becomes the hidden referent, the fountain from which we draw the energy for our daily lives. If we try continually to seek to the beholding—not a ‘state’ or a ‘technique’ but as a way of being in the world, of a deep inner opening and detachment—then gradually we will be re-centred—we cannot re-centre ourselves … We might think of beholding as … reciprocal … by intention and the practice of detachment (especially from our own ideas and even more especially our ideas about the so-called spiritual life, and about God), we make a space where God can be present and work in us, out of our sight … Perhaps the biggest [discipline] is to accept what we think (and perhaps secretly despise) is ordinary, but which is anything but if one’s perception has been transfigured by beholding.  To seek to the beholding is so simple: perseverance in simplicity and ordinariness is the difficulty. As St Paul says, beholding is always ‘more than we can ask or imagine’. To have the deep interior attitude/intention of openness, receptive responsiveness, attentive receptivity, is all that is required. 

God does the rest.

(Ross,, 8.12.11)

Through beholding, my eyes are opened to seeing what I cannot (yet) understand.  Through beholding, what is ordinary and normally beneath my notice might become treasure where the Holy Possible waits to reveal itself to me in my here and now, in an encounter that will transfigure how I see from this day on.


The Spirit, like a sun lighting up the view for a healthy eye, will show you in himself the Image of the invisible, and as with great delight you contemplate that Image, you will see the inexpressible beauty of the Archetype.

St Basil

inexpressible beauty (bl)inexpressible beauty. iPhone image