Chair's June Blog: 'Wherever you are is called Here, And you must treat it as a powerful stranger’

Finding CPW's 'Here' with Four Symbols

Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.

-- David Wagoner (1999)

I am not lost.

CPW is not lost.

David Wagoner’s poem is an invitation to be still and listen to where we might be. It is a poem about a place called ‘Here’ and it is the only starting place we have.

So let’s stay here for a moment and look around us. What is CPW’s ‘here’? The poem conjures up the image of a forest, a natural space which holds us while we catch our breath. It is no accident that I first heard this poem quoted by Padraig O Tuama, leader of the Corrymeela Community, as the natural landscape has often been a source inspiration within Celtic spirituality.

         “I often think that our liturgies have become very bony and spindly and have none of the sensuous textures of landscape in them. Maybe that would be one way of reviving liturgy, bringing it out into the landscape and allowing the elemental force of the landscape to clothe the liturgy again with sensuous texture and enable us to come in.”
-- John O'Donohue: Walking on the Pastures of Wonder pp65-66

(My thanks to Fr Tim Redmond for bringing this excerpt to my attention -
I understand this is exactly what happened during the recent walking week.)

As I write this, I am sitting in my garden in the early hours of what is predicted to be the hottest day of the year so far. The wren and raven may be absent but the sound of the magpie’s cry warns other creatures of the prowling fox’s whereabouts, and invisible, more musical, birds trill on the higher branches (in-between the odd aeroplane passing overhead). Then the air is silent again, except for the birds’ cries. The city is not yet awake. Even in a city garden there is space for prayer and reflection.

I wonder where you are, right now, as you read these words. Can you imagine yourself in a CPW landscape? A mountainside? A garden? A forest? Look around you. What do you see? What can you hear?  

At this point I’d like to borrow from another spirituality, that of the First Nation Americans, who referenced the four directions of North, South, East and West to identify their ‘here’. Let me show you four places that I saw when I looked around CPW, and four accompanying scriptures that I ‘heard’ and then perhaps we can discover together the ‘powerful stranger’ of CPW’s Here.


Looking South, the place of Harvest and Plenty, I see the banquet we are all invited to and hear Jesus words to Peter in John 21:15-17 - “Feed my Sheep”. This was the title of one of the first CPW’s I chaired. I chose it because I was starved of nourishment in a parish setting and CPW had the resources to feed me and others with the soul food we so desperately craved.

Looking North, the place of Challenge, I see the growing awareness that CPW brought me of needs beyond my own; the needs of the poor, the displaced, the refugee, the dispossessed, the earth itself and I heard the call to action in Micah 6:8 to “act justly, love tenderly and walk humbly”. The muscles of my compassion needed a work out. I had grown flabby with the self-absorption of personal fulfilment. The strength of my body was needed to help where I could. CPW was my spiritual boot camp! 


Looking East, the place of the rising sun, of new beginnings, I see the search for wisdom and learning which drew CPW’s founders to consider founding a Catholic Peoples College and inspired my own mother to call CPW her ‘University’. I also heard the qualifying words of St Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:22-25 that “God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom”. CPW trains my mind to think differently, to banish lazy thinking, but reminds me that ultimately God’s wisdom is beyond me.

Looking West, where the sun sets, the place of fulfilment, I see the community of Love which holds us when we gather. When we gather and hear St. Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3, the words remind me that if “I do not have love, I am nothing”.

Love is the ultimate challenge, the energy that drives us, according to Teilhard de Chardin, and the food that sustains us.  Love is what kept me going when I cooked for 65 people at the Alton weekend last year (love is probably what made them eat it!). The community of love is both our source and our summit. Are we there yet? I wonder what you think?

I offer these pictures, these places, as a means of asking the question. Where is our ‘Here’? Dare we approach that dangerous stranger?

Finally I return to my own Celtic roots to quote the ancient rune of Hospitality:

We saw a stranger yesterday, we put food in the eating place,
Drink in the drinking place, music in the listening place,
And with the sacred name of the triune God
He blessed us and our house, our cattle and our dear ones.
As the lark says in her song: Often, often, often goes the Christ in the stranger’s guise

May you seek Christ, the dangerous stranger, here, today “with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength and with all your mind…” Luke 10:25-28.

Anne Dixon, CPW Chair

Chair's BlogAnne Dixon