A gentle Still Life, thoughts on Deconstruction, a sweet treat Recipe, Poetry overflowing, Books, Films and cosy Autumn Playlists.
‘Time held me green and dying” - Dylan Thomas, Fern Hill
“We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body.” - 2 Corinthians 4:8-10 KJV
And hello October! I’m ready to embrace autumn with all its manifold comforts. Speaking of which, I have a favourite seasonal recipe for you today and a few other fireside treats.
I’ve a collection of dear poems to weave into these illuminated pages this month. It seems the season for copious heart stirring words, I simply couldn’t leave any out in the cold. I’ve been harvesting the last apples from my garden as well as diving deeply into belly warming soups with oven warmed crusty sourdough. I’m excited to bake pumpkin spiced muffins this month as I found tinned puree in my local supermarket, hurrah! I’ve shared the recipe below.
The Beagle is three years old, officially a toddler! You can read the first birth issue here and how its come along.
I’m occassionally asked where the name for the Beagle came from. It was inspired by a poem by Eugene Peterson which I felt perfectly encapsulated my heart for this publication.
Beauty by Eugene H Peterson, from Holy Luck “He had no form or comeliness that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.” -Isaiah 53:2 A whiff. A beagle for beauty I sniffed Monet’s haystacks, Van Gogh’s sunflowers, Devoutly meditated Marilyn’s breasts, Watched kingfishers — lost the scent. Kiss the leper’s wound: taste honey. Touch the blind eye: learn Braille. Keep vigil at the cradle: change diapers. Drink tears from the chalice: live Eucharist. Happened on found things, found in gutters, Found on a cross, found under a stone, Heard in the whispering grass, heard in A tongue stammering sabacthani. Found when I wasn’t looking, heard When I wasn’t listening. Found beauty.
A beagle, I understand why Eugene used this analogy, a most tenacious breed, single-mindedly committed to hunting down its target.
What captures me about his words are the contrasts in beauty’s sources; art, the human physique, the natural world then juxtaposed with scenes of suffering, pain and the mundane.
The beauty of God shows itself in the everyday ordinary, the least obvious and unexpected, even in pain and suffering.
Eugene begins with Isaiah 53:2; Jesus the undesirable, yet closes by arriving at the same Christ. Not that we looked first or desired him. We were deaf to the recall of the Master, fixed on our own track and pursuits. Then we lose the scent; life holds no beauty or lustre. We get quiet and hear a voice, in a whisper we are called.
Beauty finds us.
The senses are quickened in this poem, there is a very real sense of being present and alert to the surroundings yet it all seems quite accidental, a stumbling upon, an ambush of graces. Doesn’t it seem to work that way in our own lives.
The poem further on by Sylvia Plath pairs wonderfully with these thoughts.
The Beagle Has Moved
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“The rhythm of the autumn harvesting went on as usual, in spite of all, and the beauty of it stole into anxious hearts and brought its peace and with the peace came hope.” - The Castle on The Hill, Elizabeth Goudge
I’m harvesting some of the last of the Cosmos, the deep purple and white Nicotiana are also now in their fading days. I created a quiet little scene welcoming in the long shadows of October; the lighting of candles as the daylight hours shorten and a sweet pastoral image leaning against the floral ironstone jug. Autumn for me is framed in a golden glow of candle flicker and I love the delicate hand sculpture holding forth the light.
Why I need to fail and fall: my take on Deconstruction.
Last month, bookending the same week, I attended first a funeral and then a baby shower. Death and life both held in the same space.
Each gathering was deeply moving, rich in words, and held a profound weight of love. Listening to others share their stories of friendship, expectation versus experience, reflections of fond memories, hopes for the future, it was like sitting at the feet of sages.
I remember being in the Word of Faith movement and it was almost a sin to talk of death, in fact we never used those words, people were always ‘promoted to glory’. Death was not a sorrowful occasion, we were persuaded into a toxic positivity and willed ourselves to laugh at the enemy because “hahaha, where is your sting?” but it hurt. I shared last time about religious emotional dissociation, this was another classic example of heart experience failing to align with head knowledge.
In 2005, before deconstruction was a thing I was in the throws of questioning everything I’d ever been taught. I had to lay it all down at God’s feet and say, ‘If it’s not of you God take it, and what is of you redeem it to me”.
The path seemed so clear under legalism, so certain and safe: do this and that will happen, pay your tithe and you’ll be blessed, withhold it and you’ll be cursed. Confess God’s word and it will come to pass. Fear and you’ll bring it upon yourself. Believe for a miracle and healing will happen. Spank your kids and they’ll turn out right. Have nightly devotions let by dad and your household will be a happy one.
Formulas are for laboratories not for life.
I thought I had all the answers. Over time it was a series of seismic shifts when I came to see that what I’d thought was bread in my hand was in fact a stone.
I spent many years holding tightly onto my beliefs at the expense of relationship. In the course of wanting to be faithful I countless times fell into legalism and judgment of others. In my naïve and badly trained beginnings, making a point and being right trumped creating connection. Nuance doesn't exist in the legalist’s thinking.
Life is not black and white or concrete. It’s a multitude of greys and unpredictable.
Deconstruction became about asking questions and daring to be curious when circumstances and situations didn't fit the mould. It also became about sitting uncomfortably in the tension of trust while having no clue.
In my wrestlings I wasn't walking away from God, I wanted to know him more truly. The temple of my certainty had to be destroyed in order for the work of true faith to be constructed. Leaving behind those certainties was at first terrifying, I felt like a novice ice skater white-knuckle gripping the side rail. But you let go and venture out because the spacious place is calling, and you fall and fail and that’s okay.
In the failings and fallings a sacred beauty springs up.
If we want to find the authentic soul-led life we must first lose the egocentric driven life.
If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it. Matt 10:38
All must fail, all must fall, then comes redemption.
If they fall, it isn’t fatal, for the Lord holds them with his hand. Psalm 37:24
This is a vulnerable undertaking, to lay yourself open to the humbling process, to admit to yourself ‘I don’t know’. The camel laden with cares must get on its knees and unburden its back before it can enter in through that narrow passage. But oh what a relief! And what rest, to stop kicking against the goad with our ‘I know better’.
“Come to me and I will give you rest—all of you who work so hard beneath a heavy yoke.” Matt 11:28
A friend once told me, ‘You have to let go of all your ideas, that way you’ll avoid many tears’.
Beginning to question can feel like losing your faith, like your covering of religion is stripped away and you’re living bare. Yet within this Eden-like nakedness there’s a vital quickening that cannot perish. As C.S.Lewis wrote of Aslan, a deeper magic.
I’ve had some beautiful poetry this month and wanted to share them all as I simply couldn’t whittle it down. Consider this your fireside book basket for curling up and pondering deep, rich words.
I gave a little reading and my thoughts on this poem here if you’d like to listen.
Sonnets Are Full of Love by Christina Rossetti’s
Sonnets are full of love, and this my tome Has many sonnets: so here now shall be One sonnet more, a love sonnet, from me To her whose heart is my heart’s quiet home, To my first Love, my Mother, on whose knee I learnt love-lore that is not troublesome; Whose service is my special dignity, And she my loadstar while I go and come And so because you love me, and because I love you, Mother, I have woven a wreath Of rhymes wherewith to crown your honoured name: In you not fourscore years can dim the flame Of love, whose blessed glow transcends the laws Of time and change and mortal life and death.
My next offering is the surprising and dazzling Black Rook in Rainy Weather by Sylvia Plath. I first came across this poem during Advent a couple of years ago. It brings me powerfully into a present mindfullness which helps me keep my antennae up for ‘kisses from heaven’ as I call them, throughout my day.
On the stiff twig up there Hunches a wet black rook Arranging and rearranging its feathers in the rain-I do not expect a miracle Or an accident To set the sight on fire In my eye, nor seek Any more in the desultory weather some design, But let spotted leaves fall as they fall Without ceremony, or portent. Although, I admit, I desire, Occasionally, some backtalk From the mute sky, I can't honestly complain:A certain minor light may still Lean incandescent Out of kitchen table or chair As if a celestial burning took Possession of the most obtuse objects now and then —Thus hallowing an interval Otherwise inconsequent By bestowing largesse, honor One might say love. At any rate, I now walk Wary (for it could happen Even in this dull, ruinous landscape); sceptical Yet politic, ignorant Of whatever angel any choose to flare Suddenly at my elbow. I only know that a rook Ordering its black feathers can so shine As to seize my senses, haul My eyelids up, and grant A brief respite from fear Of total neutrality. With luck, Trekking stubborn through this season Of fatigue, I shall Patch together a content Of sorts. Miracles occur. If you care to call those spasmodic Tricks of radiance Miracles. The wait's begun again, The long wait for the angel, For that rare, random descent.
This next poem is quite new to me but I am gong to relish feasting on its rich imagery.
God's World By Edna St. Vincent Millay
O world, I cannot hold thee close enough! Thy winds, thy wide grey skies! Thy mists, that roll and rise! Thy woods, this autumn day, that ache and sag And all but cry with colour! That gaunt crag To crush! To lift the lean of that black bluff! World, World, I cannot get thee close enough!
Long have I known a glory in it all, But never knew I this; Here such a passion is As stretcheth me apart,—Lord, I do fear Thou’st made the world too beautiful this year; My soul is all but out of me,—let fall No burning leaf; prithee, let no bird call.
This will be me through the darker evenings of autumn.
Evening Reading by George Pauli.
These have become an autumn tradition and don't last long though they’re great for freezing. I tweak the recipe slightly by adding chopped pecans into the topping.
And if you’re curious about my chalkboard it reads:
Falling Upward by Richard Rohr. This is one of those arresting key life-moment reads. I’m only up to chapter 4 but it’s a slow and savouring read that requires contemplation and deep thought.
“There is a deeper voice of God, which you must learn to hear, and obey in the second half of life. It will sound an awful lot like the voices of risk, of trust, of surrender, of soul, of “common sense,“ of destiny, of love, of an intimate stranger, of your deepest self . . . . The true faith journey only begins up at this point. Up to now everything is mere preparation.” - Falling Upward I think this could be describing mid-life crisis, deconstruction, a break down, burnout, a loss . . . Richard’s thoughts are both resonating and challenging. He affirms the restlessness of transitional seasons and invites you into deeper displacement in order to meet with God more truly.
The Castle on the Hill by Elizabeth Goudge. If you’ve known me for five minutes you’ll know how dear this book is to me and how often I draw on its rich language and imagery. Having struggled to connect with a new fiction read of late this old friend seems to be calling and feels like a good Autumn re-read. If you’d like to join me I would so love that. I’ll plan a Zoom bookish chat in November so we can share favourite quotes, scenes and passages. Let me know if you’re reading along, tag me on your socials or drop me a message.
‘Miss Brown, wielding the brown teapot, marvelled at the powerlessness of evil to destroy that everlasting pattern. It might strike at it, wounding and mutilating, but the severed parts only sort their complement again in a new Trinity.’ - The Castle on The hill
Gentle Claw: Cat’s Chill Music Journey (yes!) for study or reading atmosphere.
Joy Clarkson’s Autumnal Toons playlist.
Volcano by Jungle and I’m particularly obsessed with the track Back on ‘74, the choreography for the video is outstanding. You might need your explicit filter on if playing around kiddos, I think there are only a couple of spicy tracks.
Virgin River, Season 5 on Netflix. Oh I do love the slow, savouring pace of this show. I love the scenery, the music score, cinematography and the characters.
Love at First Sight on Netflix. I wasn’t expecting this, it’s up there as far as romcoms go but grab a box of tissues!
Signing off . . .
I wish you a well, warm and wondrous Autumn, filled with candlelight, crisp walks and many mugs filled with something hot.
I’ll close with a lovely little Autumn Benediction by a favourite poet Malcolm Guite. You can hear Malcolm read it here also.
Now for the harvest! All is rich and full; The swelling grape is ripe upon the vine, So may his blessing sanctify your fall, And old love be remembered in new wine. Now may your ears be open to his call, You stand on holy ground, look up and see: His love burns red and gold in every tree.
May the days ahead be interwoven with moments of grace as we see God’s love burning in every tree.