Today we hold the funeral service for our poet, 92 year old Sheila Billingsley, who died last month. May she rest in peace with her husband Reg, and rise in glory! Here is her Easter poem from four years ago. She was fascinated by the physicality of Easter, the renewal of all life through Christ’s resurrection. Pray for her and those she has left behind.
Did it Rain that Morning ?
How did the sun rise that morning?Did it roar into the sky?Did it dance, throwing its flames across the void?Did it rain?Surely it rained?A penetrating April deluge,Short, sweet, cleansing. Penetrating like grief,Like relief.Did the wind blow?With no-one to feel it lift the dirt, the dust,Sweep clean,Prepare the way.The sun at darkness’ end.The lightning, thunder.Fit entrance to a forgiven world.Fit entrance for a Prince, a Lord.Did the birds and the creatures rejoice together? The flowers tremble,Their perfume astonish?Till all ablaze,You stepped forthAccompanied by Angels,And went your way, about your world.Until the women came,Looking,Peering,Anxious,Worried.All was calm again by then,Nothing untoward, Except that you had gone to GalileeAnd left a message with an Angel.
To sing break-heartedly of light
Like dying sunflowers
Gathering to themselves their life,
Defying that which is their source.
Small suns, we grasp your wantonness
And would reverse your death.
Our poorness seize your gold.
But go you must,
Dear small reflections
Of so great a God,
We would you stay.
Sheila Billingsley, August 2019.
The sunflowers are indeed ‘gathering to themselves their life’ as Summer strolls into Autumn. The seed heads will turn to black, attracting the birds when they are hung up in the garden in weeks to come; we cannot seize their gold, but we can remember them, and save a few seeds to reflect God next year.
Sheila Billingsley has sent us a poem about the great golden cloud that descends on Southern England and elsewhere at this time of year – oilseed rape, a member of the cabbage family and the source of much of the vegetable oil on supermarket and kitchen shelves. It’s actually a staple of our diet, keeps us alive, so deserves a poem of its own.
Do you then reflect the sun ?
Out-- buttering the buttercups.
You gild our fields and hillsides
With your glory!
Your down-to-earth mothering
To feed yet glorify the earth.
There must be-----somewhere----
In God's eternal memory,
Another, golden name.
SB February 2021
Ines’s foreshortened view of Canterbury crosses a patch of bright yellow oilseed rape, or colza as the French call it. I don’t know that colza is quite the golden name that Sheila was looking for; it won’t catch on!
The photograph above is by Myrabella, and shows a crop of colza – or oilseed rape – in Burgundy, France.
I am the wood
On which you chose to die.
I am the beam you carried on your shoulder,
Pulling at your torn and scourged flesh.
I am the rest on which they laid your hands,
You held me close,
As close as nails could hold.
You drew my pain
To make it yours.
And then they lifted you
And you forgave me.
Saint Francis, we know, received the marks of Christ’s passion in his own flesh; here he contemplates the instruments of the Passion. Sheila has a Franciscan insight here; the Cross itself feels the pain of a broken world. Perhaps we, too, should be seeking forgiveness for the wrong we are unwillingly complicit in committing against God and his Creation.
Two poems from American poets that harmonise with this one were published here a couple of years ago. Start with Joyce Kilmer’s prayer of a soldier in France and follow the arrow to the next post by Christina Chase. Happy Easter!
Yesterday, Tim; today his mother, Sheila, brings a poet’s eye to the face mask and what it might teach us, now and when we can discard them (and please, not on the street!) Thank you again, Sheila for your artist’s wisdom.
Will we remember that we're beautiful?
When, masks discarded, hands once more held out,
Will we remember - beauty born - oh! Beauty born,
Made by Beauty to be beautiful.
Will we recall when the wrinkles show once more, how smiles light up that beauty,
When mouths now visible
May kiss and speak in beauty?
In tenderness, you made it so, in praise, in song?
Will we have forgotten the gentleness of touch?
The scent of the winter's buried spring,
Still masked, but waiting.
Sheila Billingsley understands that the sweetness we need at Christmas is more than soft-centred chocolates or saccharine carols in the Supermarket. Those bring very little joy. But the joy of Christmas is paradoxical …
When Christmas seems like Calvary
And stars concealed by cloud,
With stable dark
And manger cold, we seek our childhood's needs
Of sweetness and angels' song.
So quiet the night ...
Rest in the care,
The wondrous care, of a new-born scrap - to be ...
to be our Joy.