Through the maze…


I was regretting the past and fearing the future.

Suddenly my Lord was speaking: My name is I am.

He paused; I waited; he continued;

When you live in the past, with its mistakes and regrets, it us hard, I am not there: My name is not I was.

When you live in the future, with its problems and fears, is is hard. I am not there: My name is not I will be.

When you live in this moment it is not hard.

I am here: My name is I am.

These words are on a bookmark I have had for years, and looking at this photo taken a month or so ago in Castlewellan Country Park (it is the ‘Peace Maze’) they suggested themselves to me. I’ll let the image and the words speak for themselves.




Sometimes a series of random thoughts and experiences occur;

On the day that Aretha Franklin died the radio station I am listening to has been asking all sorts of people to reflect on her status and her voice, and inviting people to choose a favourite song of hers – mine is ‘Chain of Fools’ recorded in 1967 – I first heard it on the soundtrack of one of my favourite films ‘Sneakers’, when I rediscovered it on an Ace Records compilation I was amazed to find Franklin’s vocal was prefaced by a guitar introduction played by Joe South. Not to downgrade RESPECT or ‘Say a Little Prayer, or even ‘Think’, I always come back to ‘Chain’ to be reminded of this great voice now stilled.

When I bought the tickets to the Richard Thompson concert I attended last night in Belfast with my son Jonathan I elected to pick up the tickets on the door. Instead of tickets we got a black ink stamp on the back of my hand. The last time I got a stamp on the back of my hand was possibly when I attended a church discotheque as a callow teenager called The Brass Lamp – talk about the past being a foreign country!!

Even though I didn’t get to the beach today, I watched the acer in our back garden dancing in the breeze – sometimes, as I have no doubt said here before, it is the smallest and most commonplace things that pique the attention and stimulate the imagination.

Sorting through my books has inevitably revealed some things I had forgotten and other things I need to remember. These are the words of Thomas Aquinas about possibly the most difficult question of all, this is from his ‘Summa of Christian Teaching’;

“There are others who declare that any attempt to prove God’s existence is useless, but for very different reasons. Affected by the weakness of the arguments often offered, they declare that this truth cannot be discovered by reason. According to them, an act of faith in divine reason is needed”…..

In the time honoured fashion the italics are mine, and seem to be the best words for a day like this. Isn’t everything we do an act of faith?

The Empire roars back – Richard Thompson in Belfast August 2018.

The Empire roars back – Richard Thompson in Belfast August 2018.

Concert Set list; Bones of Gilead, Her Love was Meant For Me, Take Care the Road You Choose,  Meet on the Ledge, Can’t Win, They Tore The Hippodrome Down, Dry My Tears and Move On, 1952 Vincent Black Lightning, The Rattle Within, Guitar Heroes, Tale In Hard Time, Trying, I’ll Never Give It Up, Wall of Death, Put It There Pal, Tear Stained Letter, (First Encore) Beeswing, Down Where The Drunkards Roll, (Second Encore ) Sally B, Take a Heart (The Sorrows Cover).

I have seen Richard Thompson in concert numerous times and although the set list varies and most songs are familiar every performance brings its own surprises and delights. Although he is a guitarist nonpareil (and included in Rolling Stone’s list of all time ‘guitar greats’!) and is known principally within the folk rock tradition, I have always thought that he brings to his improvisations the touch of a jazz guitarist. This is celebrated in the song ‘Guitar Heroes’ from his 2015 album ‘Still’, a tribute to his influences where Django Reinhardt and Les Paul share equal billing with James Burton and The Shadows and which ends with the line “I still don’t know how my heroes did it”. At last night’s concert in the Belfast Empire all his skills were on display, backed by his long time rhythm section of drummer Michael Jerome, bassist Taras Prodaniuk, and a guitar tech (whose name I could not catch, Jerry?, providing second guitar “when he could be bothered” according to RT!).

The band roared through the songs I have listed above;  some of them from his forthcoming album ’13 Rivers’ due next month, but most from his extensive output (including two from the days of Fairport Convention – a band that is now 50 years young!). Several songs were treated to extended guitar work outs which carried all the usual Thompson signatures; bending notes, nimble runs up and down the fret-board and incredible invention, all backed by a behemoth of a rhythm section. However, as much I like the power and volume, for me the highlights were the more reflective songs; (‘Take Care The Road You Choose’ is a particular favourite), but the heartbreaking ‘They Tore The Hippodrome Down’ from 2017’s ‘Acoustic Rarities’ is another gem. And it is impossible to get through anything about RT (and Jonathan would never forgive me!) without mentioning the song ‘1952 Vincent Black Lightning’ (from 1991’s album ‘Rumor and Sigh’). He plays it at (almost) every concert and it sounds different every time!

The first encore of ‘Beeswing’ and ‘Down Where the Drunkards Roll’ was complemented perfectly by the tear em up rock and roll of Tear Stained Letter (possibly the only song to include American ballroom dancer Arthur Murray and the Clash in the same lyric!) and the concluding cover by The Sorrows ‘Take A Heart’. All in all a superb concert even if the venue did not feel quite right for the audience (RT opened the set by apologising to all the old people who had to stand up – “don’t lean” he said “it’s a sign of weakness!”). I am sure that my son Jonathan was not the youngest member of the audience and his graciousness found me a seat in the midst of a sea of grey hair (some it my own!). But music like this is ageless and timeless and last night the (Belfast) Empire truly roared back in approval and enjoyment. Having seen RT last October at The Sage in Gateshead I can only hope his next visit to Belfast will be at The Waterfront!

Changing places….

Changing places….


I took this photograph in a moment whilst walking along a beach recently. It is a deceptively simple image of a shell dislodged from its place in the sand, the imprint of its short journey can be seen clearly, and when the tide inevitably comes in, this journey will no doubt continue either further up or down the beach. Looking at the image again I was struck by how much it said to me about adjustment – the shell remains a shell despite being dislodged, as I approach retirement from ‘active work’I remain a Methodist minister (and I have a letter from this year’s Methodist Conference to prove it!). Like the shell I have simply moved into a new place, a new relationship to the beach if you like. I would like to think that this is one of what G.K. Chesterton called a ‘tremendous trifle’ – which I take to be those seemingly innocuous things that lead into a deeper reality. Or what the poet Rilke (not considered to be a religious poet by many) would describe as the “everything” that “beckons us to receive it”, which “murmurs at every turn, “Remember me!” (from his ‘Later Poems’).

There is always the temptation to overthink things, to see too far into what is going on and try and wrestle some meaning from it. But as I reflect on where I am now and the cost of adjustment I find some comfort in this simple image, and of course the shell has that added symbolism of being the badge of the pilgrim. I also need to find the courage to rise to the challenge of the following words recorded in Mark’s gospel, which are also to do with the challenge of adjustment in a perhaps more practical way!!

“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on to an old garment; if he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and leaves a bigger hole. No one puts new wine into old wineskins; if he does, the wine will burst the skins, and then wine and skins are both lost. New wine goes into fresh skins” Mark 2; 21, 22 (Revised English Bible).

A picture and a thought….

A picture and a thought….


“Thus it comes about that most people simply don’t know how beautiful the world is and how much splendour is revealed in the smallest of things. In a common flower, in a stone, in the bark of a tree or the leaf of a birch. Grown up people, who have occupations and cares and who worry themselves about mere trifles, gradually lose the eye for these riches, which children, if they are observant and good, quickly notice and love with their whole heart”.

Rainer Maria Rilke.

This photograph was taken last year in the countryside near Ballymoney, Northern Ireland.

Across the water….