A poem from Moulton

 

Wyberton Church, Art and Flowers Festival, June 2014
Wyberton Church, Art and Flowers Festival, June 2014

One aim of The Light Ships is to draw attention to the artistic work of people connected with the Fenland churches. Yesterday, I was able to include two photographs by Michael Strutt, who is a bellringer at Gosberton. Today, I’m delighted to share this poem by Valerie Venables, a writer and member of Moulton Methodist Church. Valerie took part in a wonderful morning’s conversation I had last week with residents of the village, generously hosted by Mary Brice. This poem is one result;  my thanks to Valerie for sharing it with us.

 

The Lightships

The ancient barques are yet alive!

Alive with the love of those whose unnumbered hands,

over ages long, have filled their holds with treasures.

The skilled hands which have hewn and sewn, carved and painted,

bedecking the old walls and timbers with flowers,

hauling the ropes that sound the bells, ringing out joy,

and the one which solemnly tolls for departed souls.

Shoals of silvery words swim in pools of sunlight,

streaming through coloured glass, some caught and thought upon,

others dart away, lost to the day.

 

The music comes, the sound waves lapping

against the shores of consciousness, starting gently,

then billowing strongly, a storm of chords and notes.

The massed voices raised in praise, now and as always,

soar up into the roof space; an upturned ship shape.

Our country churches, the arks of preservation,

sail on through the ages, navigating changes,

yet remain constant still, to the ever profound.

Faith unfathomable, deep depths of mystery,

The lightships float on an endless sea.

 

Valerie Venables

The music of angels

BBC Radio Lincolnshire has a weekly arts programme called Tuesday Extra, and this week’s edition was particularly rich in connections to The Light Ships. The guests included Andrew Dennis, who runs Woodlands Organic Farm, near Boston, and whose vision of the land’s connection with people has made it such a rewarding place to visit. As someone who knows and loves the arts, Andrew has welcomed poets, composers and artists to spend time at Woodlands, creating new work inspired by the landscape, the people and their work in growing organic food and raising traditional Lincolnshire breeds. The programme included extracts from Cecilia McDowall’s lovely ‘Five Seasons’ (2006), whose composition was partly inspired by her stay at Woodlands and the fenland scene.

Richard Still, another guest on Tuesday’s programme, spoke about his efforts to reconstruct the instruments that were played in medieval churches. At a concert in Lincoln Cathedral, he’d found his attention caught by the pictures of angel musicians in the stained glass: the images above, from the cathedral, were all added by Richard to BBC Lincolnshire’s Facebook page so that listeners could see for themselves. A recorder player and expert in ancient music, he has made some instruments based on the versions that can still be found in churches, five hundred years or more after the echoes of their notes faded away.

A programme like Tuesday Extra – which you can still listen to online by clicking here – is wonderful partly because it’s so ordinary. One weekday teatime, you might be driving home or preparing supper (with local vegetables!) and find yourself transported by the haunting sounds of mediaeval music over the fields on whose produce we all depend.

‘In Church’

Sswineshead Church
Sswineshead Church

‘Often I try

To analyze the quality

Of its silences. Is this where God hides

From my searching? I have stopped to listen,

After the few people have gone,

To the air recomposing itself

For vigil.’

R. S. Thomas (1966)

R. S. Thomas (1913–2000) was one of the finest poets of the last century. He was also an Anglican priest, serving communities in mid and north Wales between 1936 and his retirement in 1978. In combining the vocations of poetry and ministry, Thomas is part of ancient tradition, old as the church in England as the legacy of Anglo-Saxon poetry shows. Rowan Williams, Welshman, retired archbishop and poet is part of its living continuity. Thomas’s poetry is a rich body of work, approachable yet tough, and well worth getting to know. The opening lines of ‘In Church’ give a glimpse of how a church might feel to the priest left alone after the congregation has gone home.

Links

God’s Acre

Luck be a lady

Ladybirds have a special place in our hearts, reflected in their many names, and their place in popular culture. Children are captivated by their dots and red shells, and the ease of getting close to them. They are gentle, inoffensive, nurturing creatures, as suggested by the old rhyme:

Ladybird, ladybird fly away home, Your house is on fire and your children are gone…

Ladybirds are associated with good fortune in many European cultures. A Polish children’s verse ends:

Biedroneczko leć do nieba, przynieś mi kawałek chleba

Fly to the sky, little ladybird, bring me a piece of bread

In France, they’re known as ‘la bête à Bon Dieu’ – God’s creature, in English, although it doesn’t sound as pretty. There is a legend that a ladybird saved an innocent man’s life by landing repeatedly on his neck and so obstructing the executioner.

Life among the graves

This ladybird, minding its business in Moulton churchyard, is a reminder of the life that is nurtured when churchyards are not trimmed and manicured like municipal gardens. Costs and changing attitudes have helped us see long grass in churchyards not as lack of care but as a different kind of care. After all, until quite recently, it was common for sheep to graze in churchyards, which was quite appropriate since their wool had often paid for the beauty of the building.

Cherishing Churchyards Week 2014

Caring for God’s Acre is a small charity dedicated to the conservation of churchyards and burial grounds, both for their importance to people and to nature. Their website is full of valuable information and resources about conservation, and they support volunteer-led conservation projects across the UK. Between 7th and 15th June, they are holding Cherishing Churchyards Week, encouraging more people to get involved in looking after their churchyards not least to make them good homes for ladybirds, among the many other creatures in need of sanctuary in the modern world.

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Hope springs eternal

The beginning of May is a lovely time in England. In the Lincolnshire Fens, usually so undemonstrative, it can be extraordinary. The fields, seeming as sterile as brown graph paper for so long, turn green in the blink of an eye as fresh shoots push themselves up through the earth, unconcerned by its weight. The verges and hedges blossom; the trees are dusted with buds. Spring has arrived.

It’s the time of flowers, when it seems that every church has its festival. Fountains of colour appear against grey stone: yellow, orange and green, red, blue and white, gorgeous colour, of an intensity that human artifice can rarely match in paint or pixel.

Village after village brings flowers into their churches, celebrating nature’s limitless diversity on which we all depend for our own life. The spring flower festival, like the autumn harvest festival, is a moment when people still pause to acknowledge the foundations of life on which everything else stands.

Long Sutton Flower Festival

Alexander Pope’s optimistic theology does not speak as loudly today as it did in the 18th century, but hope still springs eternal in the human breast.

Hope humbly, then; with trembling pinions soar;
Wait the great teacher Death; and God adore.
What future bliss, He gives not thee to know,
But gives that hope to be thy blessing now.
Hope springs eternal in the human breast:
Man never is, but always to be blest:
The soul, uneasy and confined from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come.

Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man, Book III (1731)

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