How big is a tree?

How might we measure
a mustard tree?
Is it by metres or cubits?
The Rabbi replied that the measure that matters
Is this: hospitality.

How big is a tree?

Can it offer a perch to a bird on the wing?
Can the pair of small sparrows
(once bought for a penny)
Have room here to build
an affordable nest?
Can they nurture their young,
In safety away from the devil
That prowls in the night?
That is the way that we measure a tree.

Like the wilderness oaks
That offered their shelter
to Abraham, Sarah, and all that they had,
So that he would be able
to offer the same to the visiting strangers
Who brought them the promise of hope
And the chance to fulfil the command
To be fruitful and fill all the land.


Like the wilderness broom bush
That gave to Elijah permission to stop,
And to sit and give voice to his grief and despair;
a place to find rest and be nourished
So he could continue his journey
And find in the cleft of the rock
The gift of God’s silence.

Like the sycamore tree
That was sturdy enough
To carry the weight
of a man who was rich
but had nothing of worth.


Like the tree that was felled
To be shaped like a cross
And offer a place
For all the world’s pain
to be faced and embraced
by the man who said,
That’s how you measure a tree.

When we measure with numbers
And money and cost
And reduce all the value
To what can be counted
We’ll find we have lost
All sense of what counts:

Our chances to offer the shade of a tree in the heat of the sun;
the grace to receive, sit down and admit that we cannot go on;
a way to stand tall when we’re burdened by all of the things we have done.
A place to feel safe, to love and be loved: a place to call home.

Hands holding a hazel nut

The seed is so small.
It’s a universe held
in the palm of God’s hand.
A hand that’s the only hospitable scale
for the measure of worth
For the God who loves everything.


These forty days of prayer and discipline
are given for us to slowly grow in grace
and learn to be your people once again,
to find our truest home in your embrace.
In pilgrimage, through hours and days and weeks
of changing who we are and what we do,
the human heart may find that which it seeks:
ourselves, once restless, find their rest in you,
our mother hen, whose chicks at last come home
to find the safest place where they may cling;
we need not face the wilderness alone,
but nestle in shadow of your wing.
Oh, forty days of learning how to be
what you have promised us eternally.

Dusty feet

This is a sonnet-format response to a friend’s facebook post asking if there are any hymns about shaking the dust off one’s feet. It’s not at all what he asked for – sorry Steve!

The dust reminds us of our origin,
from where we’ve come, not where we want to go.
And as it clings, brings with it all we’ve been:
familiar places, things we think we know
and may not like; perhaps we’d like to leave
them all behind, but they have made us who
we are today. The stuff we now believe,
the wisdom our experience treats as true
is just as much a part of us as all
the atoms of our flesh. And we are kind
of stardust. That’s a fact with its own call
on what we choose to keep or leave behind.
Then, when we shake the dust from off our shoes
we do so, knowing what we have to lose.

What do the stones say?

This is a reflection / poemy thing based on the Palm Sunday gospel (the one with the stones), and making reference, among other things, to the Temptations of Jesus, the averted stoning of the woman in John 8, and the prophecy about the destruction of the temple.

We could have been the temple,
if we were bigger, or more beautiful,
but we are the despised and the rejected,
our shape and size are wrong,
or we are broken, not quite strong
enough; the house of God surely demands
that only perfect stones
may be accepted.

We are the downtrodden,
trampled in the dust,
we are the cursed,
the cause of battered feet and stumbles,
the playthings of the poorest children,
and for the beggars as they sit in boredom,
Equally unnoticed, equally humble.

We are still stone, when once,
we might have become bread.
And just before he turned to look the devil in the face,
to us he bent his head, ‘Remember this,’ he said.

We are still unbloodied, still unscathed,
when once we could have been picked up and weighed
in the hand, and flung in cruel contempt.
He saw us then, as he leant
down to mark the dust
and whispered to us, once again, ‘Remember this.’

We remember how he saw us, even though we
were not intricately carved or nobly
combined in stately, sacred architecture.
He saw us as we were, the least, the small,
the unimportant, despised, rejected all.
We remember how he saved us from the shame
of becoming unwitting instruments of blame.
We remember how he wished that we were food,
but would never use us for a selfish good.

We remember.

And now we see him, riding like a king amid the raving crowd,
towards the Temple’s lofty towers, so tall and strong.
And just as we begin to wonder if we’d read him wrong,
he looks deliberately at the stony ground,
then lifts his head and looks about
and speaks aloud:
If all the crowds were silent,
then the very stones would shout!

Call us as your witness,
hear this testimony,
about a man who saw us
and gave us this, a story.

We tell that story on every pebbled path
and in every wayside cairn,
in every church that’s built from rocks
to be a house of prayer and living sign
of the man who was himself
a stumbling block
to all who could not
love him as the corner stone.

A Psalm of Repentance
with apologies and thanks to whoever wrote Psalms 22 and 139.

My God, my God, why do I forsake you?
When your salvation was so near,
so near to the words of my distress?
O my God, you cry to me in the daytime,
but I have not answered,
by night also, but instead I took my rest.
Yet you are the Holy One of Israel,
enthroned on their praises,
my forebears trusted in you
and you delivered them.
But as for me I am a worm and no man,
worthy of the people’s scorn.
Why do those who see me not laugh me to scorn?
Why do they take pity on me, saying,
“If only she would trust in God,
for God delights in her, and will deliver her.”
For it is you that took me out of the womb,
and laid me safe upon my mother’s breast.
On you was I cast ever since I was born,
you are my God even from my mother’s womb.
And you are never far from me,
even when trouble is near at hand,
especially when trouble is near at hand.
But instead I run to the mighty oxen,
and to the fat bulls of Bashan.
I have poured out myself like water,
and I have put my own bones out of joint.
I have turned the heart of flesh you gave me
into a heart of stone.
My mouth and my tongue are free
Yet I chose to choke on the dust of death,
And have not called on you for help.
I have joined with the hounds and with the pack of evildoers,
And I have pierced your hands and your feet.
I cannot look on as your bones accuse me,
While I cast lots for my own life.
And yet you are not far from me,
You are still my strength when I call upon your name,
Deliver my soul from myself,
My poor life from the snares that I have laid myself,
For you have always answered me:
My God, my God, why have you never forsaken me?

Pilate’s random thoughts about how it’s everyone else’s fault.

The eastern sky was liquid-red this morning.
Though the sun’s well up, the air is cold,
There’s something dark – a shepherd’s warning?
That’s the phrase, I think. And I’ve been told
They had a shepherd-king, once, long ago.
A king! Imagine that. Who’d want to rule
A people who, in fear, would stoop so low?
They’d throw their own man to the wolves. The fool!
He had his chance to plead his cause and sway
My judgement. I am not the one to blame.
Is this the truth? I don’t care either way.
Die now or later? End result’s the same.
I take the bowl and watch the ripples still.
“You have no power over me” he said.
He’s right. I soak my dirty hands until
Some quirk of sunlight turns the water red.

Christmas (now rewritten as a sonnet)

Prophetic visions since the world began
(so far before salvation’s human birth)
would speak of God’s tremendous loving plan
for heav’n to touch the long-estrangèd earth.
Those ancient words at last began to be
in flesh and skin and bone and blood unfurled
In maiden womb and half-made family –
so heaven stooped to touch a fallen world.
Amongst the stable beasts behind the inn,
the baby’s eyes saw first a loving mother;
even though their world was full of sin,
yet heav’n touched earth for each in one another.
Now we can cry for peace, goodwill to men,
and for God’s heaven to touch his earth again.

HOLY WEEK AND EASTER (Blessed is the one)

Is it in triumph,
That he comes riding through the crowd?
Just as the prophet wrote so long ago,
Is this the one that we’ve looked forward to?
In this man, Jesus,
Can we see all our hopes fulfilled?
Can we see liberty from all our bonds,
And as we shout do we hear heaven respond?

For he is blessed,
Blessed is the one who came to us,
in God’s name.
So we sing ‘Blessed,
Blessed is the one who came to us,
in the name of the Lord.’

What is he thinking?
What’s that expression in his eyes?
As he sees countless gazes drawn to him
In expectation, wanting more from him.
He tells us plainly
That he’s the one we will despise;
His path will lead him to rejection, grief,
And execution like a common thief.

But he is Blessed,
Blessed is the one who wept for us,
in God’s name.
So we sing ‘Blessed,
Blessed is the one who wept for us,
in the name of the Lord.’

What do we feel now?
Aren’t we the ones who called him ‘Lord’?
And then betrayed him to the enemy,
And left him all alone in agony?
Is it too late now?
Can what was broken be restored?
Though we weep tears of shame with every breath,
For all we did to send him to his death.

But he is Blessed,
Blessed is the one who died for us,
in God’s name.
So we sing ‘Blessed,
Blessed is the one who died for us,
in the name of the Lord.’

His tomb is empty,
The garden bathed in morning dew,
But can it really be that he’s alive
And that our fragile faith can still survive?
He stands among us,
Though we can scarce believe it’s true,
His wounded hands and feet have made us whole,
His holy name we’ll ever more extol:

For he is blessed,
Blessed is the one who lives for us,
In God’s name.
So we sing ‘Blessed,
Blessed is the one who lives for us,
In the name of the Lord.’

GOOD FRIDAY (my first attempt at a sonnet)

If we had walked with Jesus long ago
That way of suff’ring, agony and loss,
Would we have found ourselves still stood below
the place where he would die upon the cross?
Would we have grasped what nailed him to the beam?
That pride, and lies, and cruel hypocrisy,
humanity’s dark catalogues of sin
were all that kept him firmly on the tree?
Would we have stood and watched his final strife,
And heard him sigh and cry with every breath?
Would we have seen him giving up his life,
and handing over victory to death?
Would we have seen our Lord as weak or strong
in taking up the place where we belong?

Harvest Festival (too long to fit into a sonnet!)

We bring the spare we do not really need
(for surely God will honour all we bring
although it cannot make up for our greed).
And place into Christs’s hands our offering:
“Turn water into wine again,” we say,
“and multiply my token loaves and fish
to feed another hungry crowd today.”
Our gifts, we know, will put some flesh
on words of charity. Then into those
twelve empty baskets, let us place the gifts in us
that need to be increased and shared
with greater generosity than we may be prepared
to offer on our own account.
For we are God’s most rich and splendid bounty,
sown as seeds and scattered by the Lord
in every place.
the human race:
the crowning glory
of the ever-evolving creation story.
We thank God that he does not only separate the wheat from tare,
but takes our very best then turns us into far more than we are.

HARVEST FESTIVAL (The feeding of the 5000)

We bring our gifts:
The first-fruits of our labour,
or perhaps the spare we do not need,
(an offering to mitigate against our greed).

To the church we bring them,
and into the hands of Christ we place them,
and we say, ‘Take this,
and do with it some miracle:
Turn water into wine again,
or multiply my loaves and fish
to feed a crowd again.’

And Jesus takes them from our hand,
(this fruit of the ocean, this product of the land)
and blesses them, accepting back
what always was the Lord’s.
Our gifts will fill the lack
of hungry people,
putting flesh on words
of charity, and making folk
in our small corner of the world
more equal.

We know there is enough for everyone.
But once the leftovers are gone –
taken to the homeless, hungry poor –
what of those twelve empty baskets standing idly by?
Can there yet be more
that we can ask our Lord to multiply?

Into those baskets therefore let us place ourselves,
those parts of us that need transforming,
grace and strength and healing,
the gifts in us that need to be increased and shared
with a greater generosity than we may be prepared
to offer on our own account.

For we are God’s rich and splendid bounty,
seeds, sown and scattered by the Lord in every place.
the human race:
the crowning glory
of the ever-evolving creation story.
We thank the Lord
that he does not just separate wheat from tare,
but takes our very best
then turns us into far more than we are.

Poems written on the underground by someone who doesn’t go to London very often.

Man in a dark blue suit,
grizzled hair,
the corners of his eyes creased
with middle age,
his face impassive,
but brown eyes alive.
His respectable shiny black shoes
are tied with purple laces.

Young man all in black,
security pass half hidden
in the fold of his jacket,
stands, eyes closed,
and sways in time
with every bump on the track.
A tannoy announcement
twitches his mouth
into a smile.
Is he home?
Or somewhere else?

Vicar in a leather coat
and unmarked shirt,
ruksack heavy
with worn clothes
and neglected laptop,
and heart slowly
sinking back into the parish.

Hands of every colour, shape and size
grip plastic coated poles and rails,
anchoring the present
to the ever-flowing stream
of passengers whose fingers
have left their dirt and sweat and oil
in former minutes, hours and days;
and still the yellow circles turn,
pumping the city’s lifeblood
around its underground veins.

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