Tag: Gill Henwood

A Symbol made of Straw

Sunrise on St Brigid’s Day, February 1st 2021. Photo taken in the Lake District by my friend Gill Henwood

One of the highlights of a visit I once made to Ireland was to arrive at Kildare which was made famous by St. Brigid (sometimes known as Brigit, or Bride). She is said to have been baptized by Patrick and with him is known as Patron Saint of Ireland.  She founded a monastery there just after Patrick began to convert the Irish. Brigid’s monastery was a mixed house of women and men—something that was unknown outside Celtic lands. (They were more enlightened than most!)

Her feast day kept today, on February 1st, coincided with the pagan festival of Imbolc, the Celtic season that marked the coming of light after the dark days of winter. Once again, the Christian Church displayed ingenuity and common sense in replacing a pagan feast with a Christian one because Brigid’s day is quickly followed by Candlemass, the day when we celebrate Christ as the Light of the World—the light which overcomes darkness or to put it in the words of Simeon’s song the Nunc Dimittis: a light to lighten the Gentiles (non Jews).

There is a further connection between Brigid and the feast of Candlemass. Just as we are pointed, by Simeon’s prophecy, towards the Cross of Christ, so too is the story of Brigid connected to a Cross. The story goes that on a visit to a sick friend who was close to death, Brigid reached down and picked up pieces of straw from the floor of the cottage. As she prayed for healing she wove the straw into a simple square-braided cross and hung it in the rafters over the bed. The friend began to get better and the Cross became a symbol of this healing. Today, it is known as St Brigid’s Cross.

Christianity is often a faith of paradoxes and none more so than the connection of birth with death. At Candlemass we complete our Christmas celebration of Christ the Light and then begin our journey towards Holy Week and Our Lord’s death on the Cross. Yet there is nothing strange in this. Christ’s victory over the human heart, and the darkness which so often besets our lives, begins in the Christmas event but needs Calvary to complete it. There Christ’s love shine from the Cross and in the light of that love we can claim our place in God’s heart.

Brigid’s cross, woven from simple straw became a sign of healing and of life.  The straw of the Manger and the wood of the Cross, woven together, are symbols of our healing and salvation.  A salvation that  we Christians believe only Jesus Christ can offer.

[Mr G]

Cyclamen in the Snow

Cyclamen in fresh Snow photographed by my friend Gill Henwood in the Lake District.

Gill sent me this photograph a little while ago. It moved me very much at the darkest time of the year just as we were entering the 3rd Lockdown. At the time I couldn’t decide how to respond to it. There were allusions to lockdown, hope, struggle at a very difficult time for us. Gill used the word endurance.

As I continued to mull over it, I discussed it with my friend Piers and he came up with this reflection:

Initially I looked at this image and thought of the ice and snow as something that was holding the flowers back; through which they had to struggle – and this made me think of feelings thrown up by this current lockdown. But actually, as I thought more and read Geoffrey’s poem, it dawned on me that the ice and snow protect and insulate the seed as it germinates and emerges to flower. The struggle is filled with new hope and possibilities.
We tend to see being in lockdown as a negative, threatening thing but of course it’s a collective act in which we’re protecting each other and ourselves – and looked at that way it feels far more positive. And just as the dormant plant flowers to new life, we can also use it as a time to discover what is truly important: what values and priorities will help to sustain our lives, our society and our planet.
What if the snow and ice of lockdown are allowing us to emerge into really new life?


Here’s a poem I have written on this photograph.

Lockdown wake-up

Earth’s untidy clutter
of hurried hibernation
covered over with scattered flakes
of heaven’s protection.
Opaque cloak of winter
wraps warmly around dormant seed.

Early buds break open crusty ground
scattering melted crystal.
Coloured life announces
Nature’s lockdown ended,
beckoning us to New Beginnings
at last!


[Mr G]
Photo | Gill Henwood.
Reflection| Piers Northam

In the bleak midwinter

photo \ Gill Henwood

Had we been able to sing carols this year, many of us would inevitably be singing ‘In the bleak midwinter’. It was written by the romantic poet Christina Rossetti who was sister of the artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

Its imagery, particularly the first verse, is borrowed from the signs of winter in the Northern Hemisphere. So the frosty winds moaning, begins to paint a picture of a winter which was harsh. The earth was hard as Iron and water was so frozen, it was like stone. Inevitably the ground was also white with snow. Snow had fallen, snow on snow…In the bleak midwinter long ago.

Rossetti, I suspect, drew her description of an earth sleeping in the depth of winter from her own experience of hard winters and dark nights which were part of her lot.  In her early teens, her father had to give up his teaching post because of severe illness. He was plunged into depression. This was something which began to cloud her own life. When she was 14 she had a nervous breakdown and bouts of depression dogged her until she discovered the Anglo-Catholic expression of religion. So, In the bleak midwinter, may well have had an autobiographical foundation but also it reflects the kind of winters that were common in Britain and Northern Europe at the time.

Whilst Rossetti gave Christians of that period something to which they could relate, it was a far cry from the birth of the Christ-child in a Middle Eastern climate.
But it celebrated a Christmas which was not unconnected with the turning of the earth away from darkness towards light and, as such, it captured the essential message, particularly promoted by St. John in his Gospel account that the birth of Jesus was the Light coming into the world  and which the world could not overcome.(something we need to remember and hold on to right now!)

Christmas and the turning of the year back towards the sun are related. One is the physical movement of the earth towards the lighter nights and the movement towards Spring whilst the other expresses a spiritual turning towards the Light of God which Jesus came to bring. A light which includes renewed growth and hope. The world turns in a pivotal way towards the new birth of Spring and the Incarnation turns human destiny toward the new life which becomes our inhertance  through the life, teaching, Passion and Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

In the birth of the Christ child, the tiny shoots of this new life, hope and love are expressed in the manger and in the Adoration of the Shepherds (not forgetting the animals!)
In the world of nature, the buds are already forming on the trees and tiny shoots appear pushing up through the soil of the earth.
All around us, if we but look, we see nature hard at work as new growth appears, though there are plenty of signs that the beauty of nature never really sleeps.

Which is why the photo I have chosen to head this piece is of an Iris unguicularis which originates in North Africa, Syria and possibly the Holy Land, not to mention Cumbria where this photo was taken by my dear friend Gill Henwood. She tells me that it flowers from November to March.

In the bleak midwinter may well be a sign of the phase of the earth near to Christmas but so is the Iris illustrated above. There will plenty of other flowers just around the corner , such as aconites and snowdrops, Hellebores and crocuses.
Christmas follows soon after the shortest day and so becomes another sign that the world is turning in a new direction which brings renewed light, but this time in our hearts. Whatever darkness is dragging us down right now, we need to look up, look out and look around us.

The last line of Rossetti’s poem/hymn says that whilst we can’t give Jesus seemingly very much, we can give him our hearts.
In the midst of the darkest time of our planet with Covid, Global warming, and destruction of nature, it may not seem very much but, in truth, it is enough. It is everything.

[Mr. G]