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Swimming to save the world August 28, 2019

Posted by Phil Groom in Appeals, Campaigns, Life.
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Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration: what Sue is actually doing is swimming to help people with spinal injuries, raising funds for Aspire, the charity that, in its own words, “provides practical help to people who have been paralysed by Spinal Cord Injury, supporting them from injury to independence.”

Ready for action...

It’s something that means a lot to Sue, even more so recently as she herself has been suffering with debilitating back pain and sciatica for several weeks, giving her a glimpse, albeit a small one, into that world. Sue’s personal history of chronic pain caused by CDH (Congenital Dislocation of the Hip) and a whole raft of operations to deal with that – culminating in a hip replacement in February this year – has given her a particular affinity for anyone struggling with pain and disability.

One thing that’s kept her going down the years, down the decades in fact, is swimming. Swimming quite literally takes the weight off your feet, relieves the stress on your joints and gives you a sense of freedom that’s difficult to find in any other activity. Starting the day with a swim is like pressing a reset button on your mind as you enter the rhythm of the strokes, stretching out and reaching for the pool’s far end, then repeat, occasionally changing stroke until, suddenly, you find that you’ve swum 40, 50 or even 60 lengths: where did the time go? But as the time flies by, your mind settles, ideas coalesce and new possibilities take shape.

New possibilities. That’s what Aspire offers to people with spinal injuries. Hope where there was no hope, a future where there was no future. And that’s why I, as Sue’s husband, am proud to support what she’s doing here and want to invite you to become a part of it with her by sponsoring her swim this year.

In action at Sidmouth

She’s really going for it this time around, out of the pool and into open water, swimming in lakes and in the sea, stretching out, recharging her batteries and, with your support and mine, saving someone else’s world.

Whether it’s as little as a fiver – less than the price of a coffee and a cake in most cafés these days – or something more, whatever you can afford, every contribution counts.

Thank you for your support.

Howling at the Moon and a Failed Messiah April 22, 2011

Posted by Phil Groom in Lent & Easter, Short Story.
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I AM WOLF. I howl at the moon:

Look-look-look! Look-at-the-moon — the mooooon! The moooooooooon!

Your sheep hear my voice: they know me, and they tremble. As they should: they are easy prey by moonlight, their white coats highlighted against the darker fields, picked out by the moon — the moooooooon! They are as stupid as they are woolly, crowding together, heads inward, no lookouts, the strong pushing towards the centre, the weak exposed. Easy prey — I dash in, seize a haunch, a quick toss of my head, she flies high, I catch her by the throat: she is no longer sheep, but meat. I drag her away for peace and quiet, away from the incessant bleating and the smell of fear. Once I am gone, they quieten down.

It was easier then ever that night, brighter than ever, and the shepherds had gone, leaving only a hireling and a dog: both fled at my approach as the moon lit my path.

She is a harsh mistress, the moon. She knows no compassion in her endless rounds; and when she is full, we are lost, dazzled, beguiled, unable to hunt. Who can hunt by moonlight? We live by scent, not by sight: by moonlight our prey see us coming and they scatter to their holes, to their dens, to the air. Give us darkness, a new moon and silence — we pass you by, a whisper on the wind: you don’t know where we’ve come from or where we’re going and we ignore you. Have you any idea how disgusting human flesh tastes? Or how you smell, with your soaps and perfumes and the moon only knows what else you cover yourselves in?

When she is full, we are frustrated, we raise our heads and we cry:

Look-look-look! Look-at-the-moon — the mooooon! The moooooooooon!

Are your human minds truly as dull as your senses? You slam your doors, you lock them and double lock them, shuttering the windows to keep us out. Only your shepherds have the sense the moon gave them: they know we cannot hunt and so they gather their flocks in folds and lay themselves across the entries. True, they do not stink as the rest of you, they smell only of their charges, but still we will not cross their bodies. We know they are armed and that they will kill.

So we howl, louder and more insistently. And we remember: we remember the world as it was before you humans took it from us, when sheep were wild and the hunt was free — when a ram would charge us, enraged as we threatened his flock. But now, even the rams are tamed, pathetic creatures fathering runts on pathetic bundles of fear. You humans — you have all but destroyed our world, your world, and the closest most of you will ever come to us is a fox. Oh, what an insult, to be likened to those vermin! But that’s what you have done to our world.

Silverwind draws alongside and whispers to me: on with the story, he says, on with the story. I am too easily distracted nowadays as I await my homecoming.

You humans fear death, don’t you? Even your failed messiah sweated blood as he cried out to his father, surrounded by the sheep he had gathered around him. Human sheep, there for the slaughter as human wolves gathered around them. You are a strange breed, you humans: you fear us but you harbour far worse within your own community. I guess it’s a part of your aloneness: that none of you truly knows another or is truly known, isolated within your own minds, with your faulty, selective memories.

We wolves are never alone, even when separated from the pack; and we do not forget. We are one: one heart, one mind, one pack, one purpose, a unity stretching back through time to the first wolves who gave us birth. We inherit our ancestors’ memories as our memories are in turn inherited by our descendants, and we cannot die. True, our bodies grow old and frail, our bodies can be captured and butchered by you or your hounds as the whim takes you; and like you, we fight to survive: we do not surrender our bodies easily. But nor do we fight death when we know that our time has come: death holds no fear for us, for life is rooted in death, in rhythm and tide, in the balance of seasons.

Your failed messiah understood this, despite his fear: he knew where he came from, where he was going. He knew the power of memory, knew that his father would not forget him, and he put rituals in place to help his followers to remember. He came from a people of memory, he remembered his forebears, their fears and hopes and follies; and he lived in those memories, reawakening those fears and hopes but countering the fear with love, building on the hope with golden possibilities, with stories of enemies becoming friends. “Follow me,” he said, and they did, in droves.

This was his undoing: his popularity with the poor, with the outcasts, the weak and the lame. He welcomed them all: enemy collaborators, prostitutes and pimps. He turned no one away but bade them all to follow his way, his way of questioning and challenging the accepted way, of revisiting ancient memories and asking what they meant, where they pointed, what they could lead to.

We knew him. He loved our hills, our empty places, away from human company. He too howled at the moon, cried out to his father, wept with frustration, desperation, anger and grief. We mocked him at first: a god in human clothing. Ah, he laughed at that one and took his revenge: beware, he told his followers, beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing. That made us laugh more than ever and when he returned we danced, running rings around him as he dipped and dived and tried to keep up.

Failed Messiah, we called him, and he accepted the name — the name, the shame and the blame. He knew that he could not succeed: too many opposed him, too many had invested too much in the system that had brought them their wealth and status. But he refused to back down, to walk away: memory and hope drove him forward.

So you killed him. “He dances with wolves,” they said, and one of his own sheep, a wolf in sheep’s clothing but without a wolf’s honour, brought the dogs and the sheep ran away — all but one, but your failed messiah had seen the end from the beginning and told him to leave too.

We howled that night, howled as we had never howled before, howled until the cock crowed and the blood flowed and the human folly played itself out and he breathed his last, a failed messiah. One of the sheep found his courage and rescued the body. We gathered there that night, licked and pawed at the blood-soaked ground as his ghost moved amongst us. Silverwind, we named him, ghost of a failed messiah, who led us back into the desert and taught us to find ourselves.

We watched and we waited and his memory played true: his father remembered him and we knew, long before his followers found out. “Walk with me,” he said, “and remember the ancient paths.”

To those who remember, the ancient paths are still there, will always be there. I have walked them, I walk them still: but will you? Will you dance as he danced and risk your all to be free? Or, like so many of your kind, will you simply panic like sheep, the strong trampling over the weak as you force your way to the centre of your meaningless flock, forgetting that one day you will be the weak one pushed to the outside?

Beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing, he said, but be warier still of sheep who think only as sheep and of their own fortunes. There can be no life without the shedding of blood and much of it will be your own: the life that he offers is a blood-filled life; but it is a rich life if you will only learn to give it away.

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Dead Gods and Butterflies: Part 2 April 15, 2010

Posted by Phil Groom in Christianity, Theological Reflection.
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So there she was: alone. Nothing existed. Nothing was everything and everything was empty. Except for the pain… the ache of emptiness, of loneliness, of infinite void.

She reached within herself. There was nowhere else to reach, and from the depths of her being, from the essence of her very self, she took something precious: her love.

She knew what would happen, she knew there was no  way back, she knew that once she set things in motion they would go on … and on, for ever. But she did it anyway:

“Let there be,” she said; and other sprang into being. Other. Wild, free, beautiful, uncontrollable: other.

Other was light and darkness fled. Other was sound and silence ceased. Other was hope and dream and horror and nightmare. Other was loneliness ended and tears begun.

Who could have dreamt it? Who could have imagined such tears were possible? That so much blood could flow? That wounds could be so deep? The blood flowed and the ground soaked it up, the thirsty ground, the yearning ground, the screaming ground.

She stepped down and the ground welcomed her. She walked and talked and danced and sang. She told stories of love and laughter and light and life. She reached out and touched, she spoke words of peace, she bade the blood-soaked ground be still, she calmed the storm and stilled the wave. She fed the hungry and healed the sick. She gave sight to the blind and sound to the deaf. Cripples danced in her presence, thieves returned their ill-gotten gains, harlots ceased their trade, soldiers laid down their arms and true friendships blossomed. Some spoke of the dead being raised. And she laughed, oh how she laughed…

Until that night when the thieves came. The thieves who had not returned their stolen wares, who did not wish to surrender to love. They seized her and whipped her and beat her and raped her and killed her … and the thirsty ground drank her blood.

But her wounds were our wounds and her death was our death and she bore our grief, our iniquities. She had no loveliness or attractiveness to draw us to her: she was stricken and bruised and broken and used and spent and torn apart and left in a gutter.

And then came the stranger, a wanderer. Where did he come from? No one knew: no one saw him arrive and no one saw him leave. Gently he picks her up, gently he cradles her in his arms, gently he carries her. His tears fall upon her face and mingle with her blood and stream down her side … and the thirsty ground drinks of both her blood and his tears.

And from that ground, where blood and tears mingle, there blossoms red a million, million shimmering butterflies: life, endless, glorious life, death defeated, death no more.

And still she weeps and still she bleeds and still she loves and still butterflies swirl through space and time and wherever their wings pass, new life is born. Life of life and death of death and love of love of all.

Prayer of the Bánfaith February 1, 2010

Posted by Phil Groom in Books, Prayer.
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Came across this prayer in Scarlet, Book 2 of Stephen Lawhead’s King Raven Trilogy (pp.243-244). Hope it touches your spirit as powerfully as it touched mine; even more, I hope that you can join me in making it your prayer:

O Wise Head, Rock and Redeemer,
In my deeds, in my words, in my wishes,
In my reason, and in the fulfilling of my desires, be Thou.
In my sleep, in my dreams, in my repose,
In my thoughts, in my heart and soul always, be Thou.
And may the promised Son of Princely Peace dwell,
Aye! in my heart and soul always.
May the long awaited Son of Glory dwell in me.

In my sleep, in my dreams, in my repose,
In my thoughts, in my heart and soul always, be Thou.
Thou, a bright flame before me be,
Thou, a guiding star above me be,
Thou, a smooth path below me be,
And Thou a stout shield behind me be,
Today, tonight and ever more.
This day, this night, and forever more
Come I to Thee, Jesu —
Jesu, my Druid and my Peace.

I guess it’s the idea of Jesus as Druid that connects with me most powerfully: not some majestic, other-worldly Lord of the Universe but a fellow human being on the same journey through life with me, yet one who has already touched the mystery, upon whom I can call to sustain me in my journey.

Walking with him, the veil is thinner and hope grows stronger.

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