Sunday, 29 April 2012

A Hymn to the Humber.

You couldn't make it up (nor could I, but my friend Adrian could!)
"We are gathered near the river,
Where brig
ht angel feet have trod,
With its Humber tide forever,

It is there, and for us, that of God.
Yes, we're gathered near the river,
Our very own (the beautiful), this river;
Joining with the saints by the river:
So close to the very flow of God.

On the margin of the river,

The Hull* meets the Humber's way,
We sing now and worship ever,
Giving thanks, giving thanks, as we may.
Yes, we're gathered near the river,
Our very own (the beautiful), this river;
Joining with the saints by the river:
So close to the very flow of God.
The blue, blue Humber
       [If in Barton, sing 'Trent']

We do love this bluest river,

Soon our worshipping will cease;
Our glad hearts are a-quiver
With a yes to the fine song of peace.
Yes, we're gathered near the river,
Our very own (the beautiful), this river;
Joining with the saints by the river:
So close to the very flow of God.

Ere we know this shining river,

Lay we every burden down;
To our spirits will deliver,
Grace to hearts, uplifts souls, making home.
Yes, we're gathered near the river,
Our very own (the beautiful), this river;
Joining with the saints by the river:
So close to the very flow of God."

Psalm 133: 2's and 3's.

Ordinary stuff
It's always a nerve-wracking moment, starting a new psalm embroidery. This is the little heap of stuff I've assembled for the start of psalm 133. It's very ordinary-looking stuff, because I think the idea in this psalm is that of ordinary things being transformed by the addition of ingredient X. Dwelling in unity, oil for anointing, and life-giving dew that turns into life-giving streams. What would life be without the things represented here? We all know what life is like when harmony is disrupted; and without the sweetness of the celebratory things in our faith that sustain us, in my case sung evensong comes high; and we can only imagine what it must be like to have to go and fetch water from some far-away well as opposed to a fresh mountain spring or its equivalent for us, and not to be able to trust its quality. Even though there are only three or four verses in this psalm, its scope of reference is huge. Family/social harmony, the joyous binding together of a community in faith and ritual, and the maintenance of healthy life itself. I doubt I can do it justice.

 I was pleased to discover, then, that I could see a few pairs of ordinary things for the base layer, which are to be transformed by an over-layer of the three transforming presences of oil and water and harmony. I see (1) kindred flesh/Aaron's clothes (though these are a bit posh); (2) rock/green growth; (3) hair on the head/beard. The numbers 3 and 2 keep cropping up, which is pleasing to a pattern-seeker. Only yesterday, a woman from Belgium in a lovely blue frock passed through our church, saying she was considering moving here, and it made me see for the first time that there was corresponding blue in the hanging crucifix; and also a friend turned up out of the blue with a blue basket for me! The day was transformed by 3 blue things. Now I have to transform that heap of stuff above into another something-to-show, by the addition of ingredient Y. It's not easy, I tell 'ee.
Approximation of the blue frock design

Adrian was here

It's got a blue edge!

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Viv's RNLI Humber Bridge abseil event

Anyone who would like to help me raise some funds for the RNLI by means of sponsoring me for my abseil down the Humber Bridge, please go to this page to donate online:

I really hope someone will, or else I'll have to stump up the whole £150 I've pledged to raise myself.

Sadly not this bit
I know - you'll think I'm only doing it for the thrill. I cannot lie, and indeed the idea of dangling off a rope in a howling gale somewhere over the river Humber was so attractive to me that I decided to risk the possibility that I might not raise a cent.

Phew! That's the awkward bit over with. Now let's just enjoy the bridge.

The view through the wheel is what I thought I'd be abseiling down, but sadly no, we aren't allowed up there. (It's only possible to get a pic like this by lying on the ground, clicking quickly in the split second before the bike falls on you, then requiring disentanglement. The Humber Bridge is permanently under CCTV surveillance, so this could provide a little entertainment for someone somewhere.)

Down the leg over there.
The other pic shows the place where we really are to abseil, down one of the legs, I assume jumping off the little ledge sticking out. OK, not jumping then, being let down. I had hoped too that there would be a Batman and Robin aspect to it, and when I tried to find a You tube of the real thing, all I could find was hundreds of charity abseilers dressed as Batman and Robin! That rules that out then. I thought of possible fancy dress for myself -  as Grayson Perry, carrying a teddy bear that I'd call Freda Chickenpox - but I suspect I'm far too busy with embroidery to do anything other than turn up in my biking stuff, which is the litte red bike-riding skirt I've had for years.

Psalm 22 par excellence
My bike, refusing to look sad.
Since I'm embroidering the psalms just now, I tend to see psalms everywhere I go. It struck me that it would be a lot quicker to get some photographs printed out and say 'This is psalm 22', such as this one here. It's a very bleak view, and reminds me of the two halves of the psalm, seen from the standpoint of the first part. Forsaken.

This is the underneath of the bridge, and really a view with some human scale is needed; or maybe not. I tried hard to take a pic of a 'sad bike' but the bike just would not look sad! So that's a failed picture really. The bike itself is a great success of course, and pedalling hard against a head-wind is the best cure I know for an attack of melancholy. No-one worries about me when I'm out on it.

Psalm 22:30 'A seed shall serve him'.
From another angle still, the bikers' underpass looks positively cheerful, helped by the cheeky weed. I did rather wish I had better shoes on, though, when I took this - they were far to slithery and I hoped to get up higher to take it; but the weed is a perky little thing saying, 'In the midst of the congregation I will praise thee', so it worked out well.

Don't forget! You were supposed to be thinking about giving some money to the RNLI!

Friday, 27 April 2012


Psalm 104, especially vv.15,18,19,23,26
I've just got a new camera - it cost about £50, and I can't even remember what kind it is - a Canon something or other, small, black.... and it does all kinds of things that I will probably never use, such as detect when the subject is smiling and click all by itself when this happens. Honestly! But when set on 'auto' it will decide when a subject is a close-up or not, and focus all by itself, so this is great for working quickly, which I am usually wanting to do. In the old days I was a big fan of my Olympus OM1 SLR, over which I had total control - everything could be set up manually, so what you saw was what you got, and there was no 'the camera does it for you' aspect. It did a really big, loud click too, which all added to the experience. It lies gathering dust somewhere, in a kind of forgotten shrine.

The new one will be put through its paces on the bridge soon, but just now here is a close-up it did all by itself of my latest bit of work, which might be the best work I have ever done, of Psalm 104.

Person 2
Coincidence 1. My next task is to apply myself to Psalm 133. There are great coincidences in life, and it happens that our 3 sons recently arranged a great little holiday for us all in the Peak District, and it was so good to be all together under one roof, and provided me with just the feeling I needed to start to think about the psalm. I did one of those thought-experiments they do to kick off conferences and break the ice and said to t'owd man, 'If the boys were the Trinity, which Person would they each be?' and we agreed exactly on what the answers would be! I'm ridiculously proud of the boys, even though they were so easy to make (we were very lucky in this respect).
Persons 1 & 3

Coincidence 2. Other recent coincidences have been sinking into a bath with the Church Times to read, and into the water plopped a leaflet about the lack of water in Kenya, and how the charity Practical Action hopes to help by the application of some very simple technology requiring nothing fancy to do it. 

Coincidence 3. Then on the Sunday when we celebrated my birthday with a glass of champagne, a local teenaged out-of-work lad knocked at the door and asked if we had a bike he could have. We didn't, but that evening I had a request put out at evensong, and within 3 days, the lad was fixed up with a mountain bike. I was pleased that the church could step in like this; practical action of a kind. (Next week I'm going to see if they can do the same with a pogo-stick for me.) But the idea of a teenaged lad without a bike.... awful. What a world we live in. As he stood in our hallway there were the new rucksacks that t'owd man and I have just got, and I'm saying we had nothing for him, and I felt ashamed at the big gap between what we and our boys have, and what he had.

Cloth Q
Psalm 133 - it's all about trickle down, but not the Thatcherite kind, far from it, quite the reverse I think, but I don't mean trickle up. Everything wants to gleam and glisten. Trickle round, up, down, all over the place. It starts with dew, then I think goes on to rivulets, torrents. The oil too. So I have to get on and find all the shiny threads in the right colours, and something to look like oily hair. I got some years ago when I made the doll that is Cloth Q, and this will do fine.

Here's Cloth Q. I'm not sure he is a morning person; all that going on about work, I think he's trying to persuade himself to get going, like I do. He looks a bit shocked by the flash I used on him. You'll be telling me there is nothing about windsurfing in Qoheleth; I beg to differ.


Sunday, 22 April 2012

Orange things

Flames, raw materials
Flames in situ
The great thing about the Golden Year - my name for this year when I have to produce ten things to exhibit in Southwark cathedral's teashop - is the time I can give to experimenting. I'm really quite pleased with this little patch of colour on my Psalm 104 piece, which is meant to represent flames, but perhaps that was obvious - it probably doesn't look like marmalade in its final form, though I do wonder just how much I will need to 'explain' and how much is best left for discovery by the viewer - that's a perennial problematic thought. But these flames took shape from the basic dyed but unfelted wool shown here, and made the day at the Ropewalk to do this worthwhile.

I'm a total colour junkie, so it's just as well the psalms are written in technicoloured language. I was trying to persuade a secular artistic person of their glories yesterday - I might even have said 'The psalms are not religious! Not all, anyway!' and I think I almost believe this, on some definitions of 'religious'. There seems to be more allergy to religion out there now than I have ever known and we church-going folk can be jumpy, and so I find myself defending myself from any possibility that I might be thought a 'religious maniac' as we used to call them; now we say things like 'fundamentalist'. Thankfully these flames are meant to be those of God's messsengers/ministers, though there are others at the bottom of the piece that are more destructive in the text of Psalm 104. I don't want these things editing out, as they do rather add something..... colour for a start, and we 'religious' people don't do everything that's recommended in the Bible after all.

But back to this word 'religious'; there are quite a few people who like to say they are 'spiritual but not religious', because 'religious' has become the thing not to be, (though I like to think this idea and the language expressing it might be getting a bit tired). I like to say I'm 'religious but not spiritual', because 'spiritual' smacks to me too much of dream catchers, crystals, Tibetan prayer wheels, runes, Andean flutes etc (I am indebted to Davidson & Milbank's 'For the Parish: A critique of Fresh Expressions' p.112 for this list. See For the Parish.), the kind of situation where (Davidson & Milbank cont'd) 'religion has become indistinguishable from interior decorating'.

Getting into a bit of muddle, you think! Is she/isn't she/the psalms religious? It all depends what the opposite is in the conversation of the moment. So I'm happy to be 'religious but not spiritual', and I actually like the C of E equivalents to joss sticks etc - which could be scones with home-made jam, perhaps - but when I said 'the psalms are not religious' I'm trying to say in a shorthand and populist way that they are not pushing full-blown dogmatic systems in the way that fundmentalist Christians or some RC bishops might do.

For a discussion of 'spiritual but not religious', see where the term is shown to cover a multitude of different positions.

There aren't enough pictures here now, so let's find one..... part of my rendition of 'Daisies are our silver'. When I used to sing that, school was the only place I got to partake in religion, and it interested me, (along with fairies I readily admit). Hymns like that made me feel that religion was a kindly thing that made all kinds of aspects of life better.... that the world was made by God and to be enjoyed, savoured and cherished.... that it was good to be satisfied with simple things.... would that it were always so.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Green things

What is Viv up to when there is no blog for ages? Is she not having any thoughts? Far from it, dear reader; the problem is more likely to be that she is having far too many, and has had to go and lie down. Today, I went to a private viewing of a new exhibition at the Ropewalk in Barton: and was so excited by what I saw, that I had to get out on the bike for the afternoon to calm myself down. Tony Bellars does things with bits of wood and wire, and...well, you'll have to look, and chase up his work to see what I mean.

Homeward bound, looking forward to my bath after the hailstorm.
After the ride over the bridge, home and into the bath with some wine and a theology book, John Rogerson's Theology of the Old Testament since I will be going to his lecture on Wednesday 25th April at the opening of Sheffield University's biblical studies department's 65th anniversary celebrations. See If I can possibly read the whole of this book, I stand a chance of being able to feel that I might be able to sound as though I did once study theology in the normal way. I've had the book a while, but you know, every book has its time, and I think this book is for me now. Being excitable, I found the first few pages, well, exciting, because my former teacher - always my teacher in fact - writes not with a sidelong glance at what the OT might be for us now, but with that aspect fully integrated into the aims of writing the book in the first place. I look forward to reading his matured and distilled thoughts after his distinguished lifetime of study. I'm interested in the idea of the 'hot' and the 'cold' narrative that he speaks of. Chronicles is a 'cold' narrative, because it stresses continuity with the past, support for the status quo; the Deuteronomistic history is 'hot' in describing events with a view to challenging readers to look critically at their situation with a view to making changes and improvements. I must look at anything I read with this distinction in mind; I know I often want to read something that is both cold and hot - cold in confirming me in beliefs I already hold, but hot in that those beliefs often involve hoping that change will happen in ways I support - towards a more environmentally wholesome society, for example; life is complicated! As part of his preparation John Rogerson says he 'spent three months at the end of 1994 in  Göttingen
reading all the Old Testament theologies that I could find that had been published in German in the nineteenth century.' Oooh dearrrrrrrr - I hope he will not be disappointed in his student and what I have tried to do with my life since I sat at his feet in a literal-ish sense.

And now for some Viv-ish expression of theology, here Psalm 104, which is almost finished. Just a snippet of it, incomplete, but this is the Shape that is meant to evoke the Almighty 'clothed in light', and somehow I feel it succeeds; at any rate, I didn't feel the need to pull it out, which is all I ask. Shapes have meaning, don't they? And this one has both male and female attributes - female in looking graceful and balancing on a pointy bit, and male in being wider at the top like the male torso. The rainbow colours are meant to suggest light split into its component parts. But there was also a bit of a thought in the back of my mind that just wouldn't go away, as the shape seemed to want to move and it stirred a memory of a kind that prevents me ever taking my stuff too seriously, and if you have a moment, do look at this (notice too a woman in the media who has not been surgically enhanced; not too sure about the chaps):
The background to the whole embroidery is a green crocheted mesh, and no longer looks like what you see above as it is ALL covered up now (see left), but is still there as a kind of symbolic support network underlying all, and it peeps out here and there. And to the right of the Shape, you can see a stream of blue water, actually it is like a ring of water, constantly flowing round in a self-contained system, which is a support-network-within-a-support-network, which is what the psalm is all about - creation and its interlinked support networks, which we spoil at our peril.

I did a Humber pic above - few blogs escape this - but what about something from the Peak District where we went a week or so ago? The green thing is a puddle encountered in a walk out of Eyam - yes yes yes, I have messed with it a little, something I rarely do and always tell you if I have; and another pic, (this one cosmetically un-enhanced, like myself so far) that was green to start with, of part of the view across the valley from our holiday home. Greenish anyway, but by comparison with that fake green puddle, it may seem less so.

Dear reader, I am too tired now to remember why I included these pictures, so I hope you enjoy them. It could be I put them here because they are green; minds make strange connections, don't they, especially when tired. I'm going to bed, with my theology book, and also hoping that in my sleep I can come up with some ways to evoke Psalm 133 and its dew that turns into streams. I have a wonderful memory of a spring gushing forth from a Yorkshire moorside of about 50 years ago that has lit up my life ever since with its gleaming emerald crystal-clear-water-over-moss-and-lichens, much like that puddle above in fact, and this will be my guiding light in the next piece.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Clothed in light

I get a ridiculous amount of pleasure from the filling in of another couple of square inches of embroidery ground. I love the word 'ground' in this respect, as for Psalm 104 it is especially appropriate. I have just finished the section I call 'clothed in light'. That's God's clothes, not mine, though heavens if it were possible, I'd wear it if it were decent. It's verse 2 'Who coverest thyself with light as with a garment'. You can see I'm moving up the ground; the green ground to the upper right and left of the column of light is still to be filled, with stars and wind and flames. I was lying in the bath experiencing a moment of wonder at how the human sees something and then seeks to represent it in some other form, and how there are various languages for indicating things. Like music, it being a standard thing in that system, at least in the west, for a minor key to indicate sadness or seriousness of some kind. Why? How would you explain this to a Martian? (This is my standard question when I think of human absurdity in general). So it may not be so odd that words describing natural phenomena should beg for the picture to be reconstituted in embroidery. These things I'm doing... do they work? Does 'my' language speak intelligibly to anyone else? I don't know. In a way, it doesn't matter whether they are anything but a 'slice through my brain' while I'm thinking about Psalm 104 or whatever. I'm especially pleased to have completed 'clothed in light' in this Easter season.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Leviathan & qwertyuiop (Ps 104)

 Leviathan occupied me for quite a lot of yesterday. Here he is in ebryonic form. Made of Kumihimo braid from these bobbins. Kumihimo is related to lacemaking and weaving and mathematics, thus a holistic experience for the brain, plus a bit of hand-eye co-ordination, and DO NOT answer the phone in mid-braid without thinking very carefully about where you're up to so you can get back to it. Somehow the pic I took of the bobbins being used didn't appear on the camera, so to know what it entails, see this: Kumihimo and the book by Jacqui Carey is the best on the subject, Kumihimo book.
 And here he has sprung to life, on the text from which he came, a bit tangled up and newborn. The braid went a bit wrong at one point due to answering the phone, so I had to make lots so that there would be plenty of perfect braid; I don't know why, but I have this image of the Embroidery Police looking at it when it's all finished, and noticing that there is a mistake in the placing of Leviathan's spots. (This must be a sign of some madness.)
He's about to be captured and dropped into the sea, but first I have to make the sea.
Here he is, playing, and in front of him is the work humans do, which I have characterised by letters (qwertyuiop!) and numbers, which seems to encompass most of what is particular to us as opposed to the animal world, though heavens, I think many of them can count and do geometry as well as we do; it's just that we deal in the theory of it all too.

Now I must do something else with these threads.... the cedars of Lebanon call... it's a hard life! It really tires me out, and if I feel like a rest from embroidery, then a bike ride across the Humber in the lovely windy rainy weather we are having will be just the thing. Will Leviathan be in the Humber? I think he'd love it.