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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Thursday, September 16, 2004
    The tools of poetry and laughter
    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.

    My back garden looks like a world's end. Now and in England. A wilderness. I haven't cut the grass for a while. It has grown, and grown, it has been been tousled by high winds, small birds have beaked around in it for worms, spiders have woven patches of grey nets across it, cats have likely left their smelly mark. The clergy conference in Lancaster opened many doors to me about God and the ground on which we walk. Now on my return, I have to face opening my back kitchen door to the world's end beyond it, to walk dishevelled ground, to trace deep lawnmower cuts through the wilderness I have helped create.

    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.

    I kneel upon the soil which surrounds this humble dwelling. Weeding.

    It was a good conference. Not least because it had poetry at its core. On Monday Roger McGough set the tone with a priceless performance: warm, witty, very considered. His portraits of all kinds of ordinary folks with their fears and foibles demonstrated deep insights into aspects of the human condition. He made himself vulnerable offering poems about his relationship with his father. He showed an understanding of the priestly task and smiled with us at its contradictions. And through all this McGough demonstrated how poetry reaches higher and wider than plain language ever can; hearing him brought home how the poet's voice eclipses sense and notion, burns way beyond the need for verification, instruction, or information to offer understandings into the deep complexities of our relationship with the earth and how our faith informs it.

    And this went on through the weekend. Michael Northcott offered considered reflections on the scriptural resources for exploring the present environmental crisis, drawn from the deep wells of the biblical poets - the prophets, Jesus' own highly inventive, radically subversive wordplay. Alaistair McIntosh surprised us all by using his lecture time to read extensive extracts from T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets, without much explanation other than occasional suggestions about how deeply that classic poem draws together so many of the themes we were exploring. And another of Liverpool's finest wordsmiths sparkled and shone, had us aching with laughter and crying with recognition of the bizarreness and beauty of our human condition on this earth: Ken Dodd was with us on Tuesday night. It was perfect.

    Now I'm gazing bemused at my garden and the bustling bus-lane carriageway beyond, thinking, the bishop's definitely onto something. In one of England's most urban dioceses it is the subject of the earth which has enlivened our fellowship this week and which gives us something to work at corporately, into the future. And the revelation that we will do it equipped with the tools of poetry and laughter, is a beautiful, beautiful thing.

    With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this calling
    We shall not cease from exploration
    And the end of all our exploring
    Will be to arrive where we started
    And know the place for the first time.