Monday, December 31, 2007

Gates of Time.....

"Lost in love and found in reason
Questions that the mind can find no answers for
Ghostly eyes conspire treason as they gather just outside the door
And every ghost that calls upon us brings another measure in the mystery
Death is there to keep us honest and constantly remind us we are free

Down the ancient corridors, through the gates of time
Run the ghosts of days that we've left behind..."
(Dan Fogelberg 1951-2007): Ghosts

For a while now I have flirted with this post

And at last (to my relief) it's here

This will be my last entry. Two years ago I started blogging 'to save on therapy' - these days it gives me more headaches than heart-filled moments of pleasure or hope. So, finally, this part of my journey is closing.

I have decided to finally put some bloody time into finishing the damn book I started after I finished my MA - I've given it a catchy title:

Asylum: Comfort for the Spiritual Refugee

Based on my's a book of hope about my heart for those who live in the waste-lands and margins of spirituality, for the kind of inclusive community that brings the kind of solace and comfort that challenges, enriches and elevates our souls.

A Bruce Springsteen song profoundly moved me: Land of Hopes and Dreams. Based on an old folk song called ‘This Train’ that had often been performed by Woody Guthrie, this new song seemed to encapsulate the possibility of redemption for all those people who were beat up and broken on the wheels of living. Those people who struggled to find a spiritual home; those refugees caught in a divine asylum. It is a song that gives integrity and hope to the human spirit which aches from within the stress of the most desperate conditions, a song which gives an alternative promised land to the one most spiritual refugees meet; no abject hostility, no shame, and no destitution – just a place of belonging where sunlight streams, where we meet in a land of hope and dreams. In short it became a hymn to perseverance:

My final thoughts for this blog though are rooted in sad days, in the loss of those who should have had more years in the sun, in those we lost too soon. Two beautiful people who left this world so very recently. Jackie Bowell, wife, mum, sister, aunty who now leaves a huge gap in our family - a woman of grace, love, compassion, courage and spirit - whose greatest legacy I think was that she helped everyone she met, and she did that because she loved without condition. Put simply she embodied selflessness and that's why now, many feel a great chasm.

Then there was Mr Fogelberg - an artist whose music has shaped thousands and helped us dream and capture the hopeless romantic within us. His voice like velvet, his storytelling drew us to the mystery and struggles of love and life. His music, philosophy on life (particularly Native Americans) without any question changed my life during my travels through North America over a period of months in 1994.

Dan left us on December 16 at 6:00am . He fought a brave battle with cancer and died peacefully at home in Maine with his wife Jean at his side. His strength, dignity, and grace in the face of the daunting challenges of this disease were an inspiration to all who knew him.

Once more my friend Martin Wroe describes how I feel about death far more beautifully than I......

Death is:
Death is so far away
that you can't see it,
(when you are a child)
and so close
you can almost touch it,
(when you are old)

In between
we keep it waiting
at a polite distance
(not wanting it to interrupt our flow)

Death is
the end of everything.
And then
carries on
without you

Death is highly predictable
and, usually, most unexpected
disorganising your affairs
(and your marriage)
frustrating your plans
for your whole day
deleting the calendar
of the life you had organised

We spend our lives
hoping we will never die
fearing we will never live
wondering if there is a compromise

Death is
for making us wonder
what life is

Death is
our quiet companion
beside us
from the day we are born.
standing next to us,
courteous, discreet
waiting its moment,

Death is
a shock to the system
(particularly for the living)
It is
the beyond which,
beyond which we do not step

Death is
a clean cut through the tangled fabric of our friendships
a pinpoint thrust in the heart of all that we love

Death is
a serial killer, refusing to admit
it has lost its sting
(Pointing, reasonably, everywhere for proof)
An everyday terrorist
Detonating unknown futures
Where nothing, no more, goes to plan

Death is
Attended by many words and many tears
And a singular solitary ache

Death leaves a scar in a place
not located by x-ray
not healed by conventional medicine

Death speaks a language all of its own
words from a tongue you never knew you had
the great unspeakable
failing to express
the great unknown

Death is
a frame hung
around our days
three score years and ten wide
600 million breaths deep

Death is
stepping back for a better look
reflecting, regretting
wondering, lamenting
appreciating, understanding
This abstract expressionism
that is all our days

Death is life
(for a second)
Zooming into focus

Death is
a post-it note on your heart
Don't Forget.

Death is parting
Less them from us
Than us from them
Part of us had gone with them
We have become separated from ourselves
We will not be ourselves again
Not until this parting is over
Then we will also feel like ourselves

Death is punctuation
comma, semi-colon,
Death is not a full stop
Death is not a sentence

Death is the absence
(not of your life, just your pulse)

Death is
everything to be frightened of
and nothing to fear
a valley of shadow
tread carefully
fear no evil

Death is the limit of your sight
stretch out your hand
it's there
got it?
hold tight to rod and staff

Death is
pretty quickly
by going to ground
In the ground is a mystery
Which you cannot see - it is hidden
Which you cannot hear - it is silent

Death is
a seed buried in pitch black
Of time and season,
Knowing, beyond knowing,
Of all that's ahead
You have to be buried
in order to rise again
The darkness covers death
death knows
it is always waiting
to be overcome

Breath out
for the last time
Breathe in
Like never before
(The Sky's Window: Lines and lyrics in search of a numinous now - available at

Two years ago on January 1st I, and a couple of mates, went into the mountains for an ice climb to welcome in the New Year. We climbed Blencathra by Sharp Edge which, with its high exposure, is one of the most difficult ridges in the Lakes – throw in Freezing snow and ice and it became a veritable tour de force on a beautiful clear but cold day. I’ve been climbing trees for years but mountains are something else, still, the two guys who were climbing with me weren’t exactly novices.

I was sandwiched in between two Marines, my brother-in-law Craig, a Sergeant, who having served in Bosnia and Iraq (twice) last year called it a day because of his disillusionment with our presence there, and Darren (aka Swifty), who is one of only fourteen people in over a hundred years to be awarded the ‘Stand Hope’ Gold Medal by the Royal Humanic Society. He was given this honour for rescuing a man on the summit of Everest four years ago. Due to head for the summit some time during the following 24 hours his team became aware of someone in difficulty. He sacrificed his chance at the top of the world at 7,600 meters at Camp 5 to save another. It still is the highest rescue that has ever been made on Everest. Suffice to say, I was in pretty good company on the extremity of ‘Sharp Edge’.

Just yesterday though, the same close family who lost dear aunty jackie had to deal with a man who fell from this ridge - he fell a long way - in vain they tried to keep him alive, but his injuries were too horrific.

Just days after saying goodbye to a wife and a mum, this - in trying to find solace in the hills, more death. Sting was fragile we are

When I heard of Aunty Jackie's passing I put down these words, ‘Last night felt the sky fall, and it just kept on falling, relentlessly out of my control.’ She was gone, she was gone to a place I’ve heard of, a place I’ve even allowed myself to dream of, even journey toward, yet in my dreams I always return, Aunty Jackie cannot. I talked with close friends concerning how we might best deal with this kind of loss. We concluded that just maybe we need to look into the void that remains, be still, and sit with that emptiness for a while.

This life we lead is not the kind that gives us any peace of mind. I’m not sure it was ever meant to. There are times when I find myself enveloped in circumstances which beg me to ask of God the question, ‘Why?’ Less cynical people might counter the question by asking ‘why not?’ I think, from a place that is not often visited, I know what they mean; but I am not in a place where I can neither say it with any conviction nor own it.

These things can’t be explained; why it happens, the providence of God and the mysteries of life and death are the very fibre of our faith. They were gifts of love and life, and so are we, let us not turn our backs on them. A friend penned the words that, ‘love is as strong as death, and many waters cannot quench it when it’s true.’ The bible talks of love being set as a seal on our hearts. These are beautiful and affirming words, until that love somehow seems to be erased in some fashion. There are those who now stand before the abyss, not knowing how to put one foot forward for fear of falling. I suppose the fear is that you just keep on falling, and that you’ll never make it back. Some journeys though are harder to make than others, and for the broken hearted who mourn, the journey may seem impossible.

Philip Yancey suggests that, ‘sometimes the only meaning we can offer suffering people is the assurance that their suffering, which has no apparent meaning for them, has meaning for us.’ Our real power lies in our brokenness and pain, and it’s a power that even the angels in heaven do not have. There is no rhyme or reason to it, but Jesus ruins our lives, yet out of those ruins he does make something more beautiful than we can imagine – it’s just a different kind of beauty than this world is ruled by.

Bebo Norman sang, ‘It was not your time, that’s a stupid line. A fallen world took your life.’ This is a hard truth to face though when the void you stand before is as wide as the Grand Canyon. Maybe that’s what living for a cause greater than ourselves enables us to do – to face eternity with the strength that comes from faith. For those left behind, somewhere deep inside, I believe there is an assurance, even today, in our culture of isolation and death, of hope in a Nazarene who embodies a bigger picture and a bigger love. My prayer is that we all have the courage to find it, regardless of what the journey holds. Jesus always had a very special place in his heart for the broken…and I do not believe for a moment that anything has changed.

Thanks for journeying a while with a vagabond and ragamuffin - just because I will not be blogging doesn't mean I won't be dropping by the gems that have amused, stretched and stirred my soul - who knows, I may even comment!

Grace and beer always.....and a very happy new year to all, from Australia through London, Belfast through to Canada and the West Coast of America.....I'll be seeing you!


Barbara (aka Layla) said...

I am sad...but I will look forward to your book. This was a great post to end one of my all time favorite blogs. It will be missed by many. I hope you leave the URL up so we can read it when we need a does of your writing.

Well, Paul, I hate to say goodbye so I won't. Just as I typed that a Springsteen song came on (Nebraska) if it would have been "Land" I would have freaked!

1 i z said...

Goodbye to the 5 o'clock club and now goodbye to this blog. Is this any way to start a new year? ;-)

Will miss your words in this space, but understand the 'time to move on' thing.

Take care, lovely man.

Kathryn said...

Oh Paul - your writing and your images have inspired, moved, delighted. Thank you for these words and all those that preceded them.
Love and blessings on the journey

Christianne said...

It has been a blessing to have met you this past year through these blogs. I'm sorry to see you go but trust you are moving into the next good season of your life and work. I'm so sorry to hear of so much pain in your world this year. You are an incredibly feeling human being, and I love that God made you that way. Your book sounds fabulous, and I hope the publisher is smart enough to stick with the title you've given it. I look forward to plucking it off the shelf of my Borders bookstore sometime in the future. Blessings on you and your path, Paul. Godspeed and hope and love to you.

Awareness said...

i am truly lost as to what to have chosen to share the lyrics written by a beautifully feeling man, who like you, touched me deeply at a time in my life when i too was travelling........

On a high and windy island I was gazing out to sea
When a long forgotten feeling came and took control of me
It was then the clouds burst open and the sun came pouring through
When it hit those dancing waters in an instant all eternity I knew
There's so much we take for granted--there's so much we never say
We get caught up in the motion of just a living day to day
We are fettered to the future, we are prisoners of the past
And we never seem to notice 'til our lives have finally
Slipped right through our grasp

You can see forever in a single drop of dew
You can see that same forever if you look down deep inside of you
There's a spark of the creator in every living thing
He respects me when I work but He so loves me when I sing (Magic Every Moment, River of Souls, Dan Fogelberg)

thank you for sharing some of the sparks deep down inside of you, my ragamuffin friend.

Dave said...

Thanks for the insight into a world full of beauty and pain over the last couple of years. Like a good book your blogs will continue to remain alive - long after the author laid down his pen.

So till the next time we read your words, take care and may you continue to be inspired by all that surrounds you.

Julie said...

There's a hole now without your words and insights.

Gonna miss this place very much.



mister tumnus said...

hey paul. sorry to hear about your recent bereavements. thank you so much for your blog. it has meant a great deal to me. i hope to see you again very soon.

Rainbow dreams said...

Paul, so sorry to hear of your bereavements, sending thoughts your way...

seems you've been doing a lot of redirecting those sails lately...may they take you everywhere you ever dreamed...

good luck with the book - am pleased you will still be writing... your words touch hearts.

Thank you for all you have shared on here, take care, Katie

Society's Elite said...


i go away for a while and come back to read YOUR LAST POST... there is definitely gonna be a void left in the web.. thanks for giving us a glimpse of your life... for being so transparent... for being, you.. and in turn reminding 'us' to be ourselves, beautiful and messy... such a great paradigm...

i am sad you won't be posting, but do know you have a friend here in NJ... who knows? maybe one day you'll make it here and we can have some pints with bruce at the stone pony... and if not here, then you know where...

wishing you abundant love and peace in life...

The Father said...


On a night when we lost a beautiful Irish writer to that place we've heard of and dreamed off .......I'm glad your writing in some form, even if its not the blog. Come see your people in Belfast soon. You have the body of Sam and the conscience of Toby. Use it well in your new role.


father m

Malcolm Chamberlain said...


sorry to hear of your losses and I'll miss reading your honest reflections on your blog. If ever you want to guest post...!

Hope you are well

Anna said...

I am missing you Paul! :) Just wanted to let you know!

Niki said...

You'll be missed here, in a cold Northern flat - but also in my warm Southern heart.