Category Archives: christianity

O Radix: A Third Advent Reflection and Sonnet

O Radix Jesse

O Radix Jesse

Over the course of Advent I am posting again the seven ‘Great O’ advent Antiphons together with my verse reflections on them. Today we come to the third Advent Antiphon, O Radix! This prayer calls on Christ as the Root, an image I find particularly compelling and helpful. The Antiphon Prayer, whose text I give below, is referring to the image of he ‘tree of Jesse’ the family tree which leads to David, and ultimately to Christ as the ‘Son of David’, but for me the title Radix, goes deeper, as a good root should. It goes deep down into the ground of our being, the good soil of creation. God in Christ is, I believe, the root of all goodness, wherever it is found and in whatsoever culture, or with whatever names it fruits and flowers. A sound tree cannot bear bad fruit said Christ, who also said, I am the vine, you are the branches. I have tried to express some of my feelings for Christ as root and vine more elliptically in my song The Green Man, but here I do it more directly in my sonnet on the third Advent Antiphon. Once again you should be able to hear it by clicking on the play button before the poem or by clicking on the link in the title of the poem. I am grateful to Margot Krebs Neale for the beautiful picture that follows the sonnet. These Advent sonnets are now gathered together in a larger cycle called ‘Sounding the Seasons’ and which takes you right through the church year from Advent to the feast of Christ the King. It is out now with Canterbury Press, available in various bookshops, from Amazon, or direct from Canterbury Press. You can also hear this sonnet recited as part of a song on Steve Bell‘s amazing new album Keening for the Dawn.

Some more of my poetry for this seasons, including some new work is taken up into a new Ebook by Steve Bell called Advent, part of a series he’s started called Pilgrimage Its beautifully presented and includes songs, visual art and video as well sat Steve’s prose and my poetry. You can find out how to download and enjoy it here

 

O Radix

O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum,
super quem continebunt reges os suum,
quem Gentes deprecabuntur:
veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.

O Root of Jesse, standing
as a sign among the peoples;
before you kings will shut their mouths,
to you the nations will make their prayer:
Come and deliver us, and delay no longer

O Radix

All of us sprung from one deep-hidden seed,

Rose from a root invisible to all.

We knew the virtues once of every weed,

But, severed from the roots of ritual,

We surf the surface of a wide-screen world

And find no virtue in the virtual.

We shrivel on the edges of a wood

Whose heart we once inhabited in love,

Now we have need of you, forgotten Root

The stock and stem of every living thing

Whom once we worshiped in the sacred grove,

For now is winter, now is withering

Unless we let you root us deep within,

Under the ground of being, graft us in.

Picture by Margot Krebs Neale

Picture by Margot Krebs Neale

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O Adonai, my second Advent Antiphon reflection and sonnet

O Adonai initial letterBack on November 30th I posted a reflection and sonnet on the first of the seven great ‘O’ Antiphons of Advent; O Sapientia. today I turn to the second of these Antiphons; O Adonai. O Adonai touches on the ancient title of  God himself, who was called ‘Adonai’, meaning Lord, in the Old Testament, because his sacred name, the four letters known as ‘The Tetragramaton’, could not be uttered by unworthy human beings without blasphemy. But the Advent Hope, indeed, the Advent miracle, was that this unknowable, un-namable, utterly holy Lord, chose out of His own free will and out of love for us, to become known, to bear a name, and to meet us where we are. The antiphon prayer reflects on the mysterious and awesome manifestations of God to Moses on the mountain in the sign of the burning bush. For early Christians this bush, full of the fire of God’s presence, yet still itself and unconsumed, was a sign of the Lord Christ who would come, who would be fully God and yet also fully human. I have tried to pick up on some of these themes in the sonnet I wrote in response to this antiphon.

These sonnets now form part of Sounding the Seasons, a longer sequence of seventy sonnets for the Christian Year. It is out now, published by Canterbury Press. You can buy it from them, from Amazon, or order it through your local bookstore. You should be able to hear the antiphon, sung by Ed Button and the sonnet, read by me, by clicking on the ‘play’ button below, or if that does not appear in your browser then click on the title of the poem and you will be taken to my audioboo page.

Some of more of my poetry for this seasons, including some new work is taken up into a new Ebook by Steve Bell called Advent, part of a series he’s started called Pilgrimage Its beautifully presented and includes songs, visual art and video as well sat Steve’s prose and my poetry. You can find out how to download and enjoy it here

O Adonai, et Dux domus Israel,

qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti,

et ei in Sina legem dedisti:

veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento

O Adonai, and leader of the House of Israel,

who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush

and gave him the law on Sinai:

Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm

O Adonai

Unsayable, you chose to speak one tongue,

Unseeable, you gave yourself away,

The Adonai, the Tetragramaton

Grew by a wayside in the light of day.

O you who dared to be a tribal God,

To own a language, people and a place,

Who chose to be exploited and betrayed,

If so you might be met with face to face,

Come to us here, who would not find you there,

Who chose to know the skin and not the pith,

Who heard no more than thunder in the air,

Who marked the mere events and not the myth.

Touch the bare branches of our unbelief

And blaze again like fire in every leaf.

Image by Margot Krebs Neale

Image by Margot Krebs Neale

Thanks to Margot Krebs Neal for the beautiful photo above.For more information about the Advent Antiphons and the wisdom of the mediaeval mystics see Julia Bolton Holloway’s great site Umilita

To read and hear my first Advent sonnet O Sapientia click here

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Advent in Music, Poetry, and Steve Bell’s Pilgrim Year

Tomorrow is Advent Sunday! The first Sunday in the Church’s year. The beginning of a holy season in which we connect again with our ‘inconsolable longing’, as CS Lewis called it, our yearning for the One who is to come and is also, mysteriously, the One who has come already, come as child, come as fellow-sufferer, come as Saviour, and yet whose coming, already achieved, we hold at bay from ourselves, so that we have to learn afresh each year, even each day, how to let him come to us again.

In the first centuries the Church had a beautiful custom of praying seven great prayers calling afresh on Christ to come, calling him by the mysterious titles he has in Isaiah, calling to him; O Wisdom. O Root! O Key  O Light! come to us!

I have responded to these seven “Great O” Antiphons, as they are called, with seven sonnets, revoicing them for our own age now, but preserving the heart of each, which is a prayer for Christ’s Advent for his coming, now in us, and at the end of time, in and for all. These sonnets form the opening sequence of my larger cycle of sonnets for the church year which some of you have been following on these pages. That cycle has been published as a book called Sounding the Seasons. It is available  from Canterbury Press, the publishers, and is also available from from Amazon etc. The book is also available in North america from Steve Bell here, or Amazon here.

Over the course of this Advent season I shall post these sonnets onto my blog, so here is the first one; O Sapienita, (O Wisdom). I shall also give you the original o antiphon, in both Latin and English. You should also be able to hear the antiphons sung and hear me read the sonnet if you click on the play button just before the poem, or else click on the title of the sonnet to be taken to my audio page. Also check out the wonderful resources on the Advent Antiphons and aother mediaeval Wisdom on Julia Holloway’s beautiful website  The Great O Antiphons

One of my great joy’s is that these sonnets have also inspired some beautiful work from other Artists and Musicians. Steve Bell has woven some of them into his award-winning Advent CD Keening for the Dawn (also see the links at the bottom of this page)) and now JAC Redford, who originally set my O Sapientia sonnet to choral music has now completed a suite of all seven sonnets. these have been professionally recorded, I will post further details once that recording has been released.Meanwhile you can learn more about my work with JAC and to play a recording of his setting of O Sapientia see my earlier post here)

In a new development for this year Steve Bell has also produced a wonderful, media-rich resource for Advent as a ‘snippet’ ebook, The Pilgrim Year Advent to which I have also contributed poems and reflections which you can check out Here

O Sapientia

O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem, fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia:
veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.

O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the
Most High,
reaching from one end to the other mightily,
and sweetly ordering all things:
Come and teach us the way of prudence.


O Sapientia

I cannot think unless I have been thought,

Nor can I speak unless I have been spoken.

I cannot teach except as I am taught,

Or break the bread except as I am broken.

O Mind behind the mind through which I seek,

O Light within the light by which I see,

O Word beneath the words with which I speak,

O founding, unfound Wisdom, finding me,

O sounding Song whose depth is sounding me,

O Memory of time, reminding me,

My Ground of Being, always grounding me,

My Maker’s Bounding Line, defining me,

Come, hidden Wisdom, come with all you bring,

Come to me now, disguised as everything.

Another way you might like to consider entering into and rediscovering Advent as a season of longing is through Steve Bell‘s new cd Keening for the Dawn. Steve has written a moving sequence of songs taking us from  longing and waiting in the dark, through the oracles of prophecy, to the first fulfilment in the birth of Christ and the deeper glimpses of epiphany. He has woven some of my poetry into his songs and I feel deeply honoured to be part of this record.

Steve Bell's Advent Album

Steve Bell’s Advent Album

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The Feast of Christ the King; a sonnet

20111119-111210.jpg
We come now to a feast of Ends and Beginnings! This Sunday is the last Sunday in the cycle of the Christian year, which ends with the feast of Christ the King, and next Sunday we begin our journey through time to eternity once more, with the first Sunday of Advent. We might expect the Feast of Christ the King to end the year with climactic images of Christ enthroned in Glory, seated high above all rule and authority, one before whom every knee shall bow, and of course those are powerful and important images, images of our humanity brought by him to the throne of the Heavens. But for this Sunday the lectionary does an unexpected, but very wise thing. It sets as a reading the passage in Matthew (25:31-46) in which Christ reveals that even as He is enthroned in Glory, the King who comes to judge at the end of the ages, he is also the hidden King, hidden beneath the rags and even in the flesh of his poor here on earth. As Tolkien, that profoundly christian writer knew, He is our Strider, whose glory is for the most part hidden, as he walks in our midst and shares the burdens of our journey. And though we will be with him at that coronation when his true glory is revealed and the usurping Dark Lord is finally overthrown, we have the honour of meeting and knowing here, in the midst of our quest, for he has come to lead us us through middle earth and even asks us to play our part in proclaiming the Return of the King.

Here is a sonnet written in response to the gospel reading for the feast of Christ the King.

This sonnet comes at the end of my sequence ‘Sounding the Seasons’ published by Canterbury Press.

The book is available in North america from Steve Bell here, or Amazon here

You can hear the sonnet by clicking on the ‘play’ button if it appears, or by clicking on the title.

Christ The King

Mathew 25: 31-46

Our King is calling from the hungry furrows
Whilst we are cruising through the aisles of plenty,
Our hoardings screen us from the man of sorrows,
Our soundtracks drown his murmur: ‘I am thirsty’.
He stands in line to sign in as a stranger
And seek a welcome from the world he made,
We see him only as a threat, a danger,
He asks for clothes, we strip-search him instead.
And if he should fall sick then we take care
That he does not infect our private health,
We lock him in the prisons of our fear
Lest he unlock the prison of our wealth.
But still on Sunday we shall stand and sing
The praises of our hidden Lord and King.

Aragorn

A hidden King, clothed in humility

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Samuel Taylor Coleridge; a sonnet, and a new book!

SamuelTaylorColeridgeThe great poet, philosopher, and Christian sage, Samuel Taylor Coleridge was born on the 21st of October in 1772, so I am posting this sonnet for his birthday!

I am deeply immersed in Coleridge at the moment, because, I am happy to announce, I have signed a contract with Hodder and Stoughton to write a new book, which will be called Mariner! A Voyage with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and will be published in the spring of 2017, to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Coleridge’s seminal book Biographia Literaria, and also the first full collection of his poems Sybilline Leaves. My book will tell Coleridge’s story through the lens of his own great poem The Ryme of the Ancient Mariner, a poem which was uncannily prophetic not only of Coleridge’s own life, but of our own history and culture. My book will try both to show the vital thread of Christian thought and witness that runs through Coleridge’s life and writing and also the startling relevance of that life and writing to the challenges of the 21st century, so, as they say, Watch This Space!

I could not begin to reckon the personal debt I owe to Coleridge; for his poetry, for his personal and Christian wisdom, above all for his brilliant exploration and defence of the poetic imagination as a truth-bearing faculty which participates in, and is redeemed by the Logos, the living Word, himself the Divine Imagination. We are only now coming to appreciate the depth and range of what he achieved, his contemporaries scarcely understood him, and his Victorian successors looked down in judgement at what htey saw as the shipwreck of his life. Something of that experience of rejection, twinned with deep Christian conviction, can be seen in the epitaph he wrote for himself:

Stop, Christian passer-by!—Stop, child of God,
And read with gentle breast. Beneath this sod
A poet lies, or that which once seemed he.
O, lift one thought in prayer for S. T. C.;
That he who many a year with toil of breath
Found death in life, may here find life in death!
Mercy for praise—to be forgiven for fame
He asked, and hoped, through Christ. Do thou the same!

From my teenage raptures when I was first enchanted by Kubla Khan and the Ancient Mariner, to my struggles and adventures in the middle of life STC has been my companion and guide.In the chapter on Coleridge in my book Faith Hope and Poetry I have set out an account of his thinking and made the case for his central importance in our own age, but what I offer here is a sonnet celebrating his legacy, drawing on that epitaph I mentioned above, one of a sequence of sonnets on my fellow christians in my most recent book The Singing Bowl,  published last year by the Canterbury Press.

As Always you can hear the poem by clicking on the title or clicking the ‘play’ button.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

‘Stop, Christian passer-by!—Stop, child of God!’

You made your epitaph imperative,

And stopped this wedding guest! But I am glad

To stop with you and start again, to live

From that pure source, the all-renewing stream,

Whose living power is imagination,

And know myself a child of the I AM,

Open and loving to his whole creation.

Your glittering eye taught mine to pierce the veil,

To let his light transfigure all my seeing,

To serve the shaping Spirit whom I feel,

And make with him the poem of my being.

I follow where you sail towards our haven,

Your wide wake lit with glimmerings of heaven.

Steve Bell captured me in ancient mariner mode!

Steve Bell captured me in ancient mariner mode!

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Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus: a Requiem sonnet for All Souls

Mozart's requiemIf there is ever a moment when the veil is thin, when, as we come close to Christ, we come close to those who are alive in Christ, then it is when we sing the Sanctus in Communion. As the liturgy says:

‘Therefore with Angels and Archangels and with all the company of Heaven we laud and magnify thy glorious name evermore praising thee and saying: Holy, Holy, Holy…

Here we consciously echo the song of the angels as Isaiah heard it, and for a moment, by grace of the sursum corda, the lifting up of our hearts, we sing for a moment, not only with the angels, but with those whom we have loved and see no longer, those with whom we are still bound together in the communion of saints. This is why the setting of the Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus, the Holy, Holy, Holy, in any Requiem is especially poignant. Such music must have an element of yearning and longing, since we sing for those we have lost,  and since all the best and even the most joyful of the songs of the earth have that elegiac note of exile and yearning for home, but it must also have an element of joy and mystery, since it echoes the joy and music of Heaven. The great Sanctus in Mozart’s final Requiem seems to me to combine these two qualities in music of heart-breaking beauty.

At Girton we often sing a Requiem on All Soul’s Day, which falls this Sunday, 2nd of November. I won’t be there this season, but will hear it instead in the glories of Durham Cathedral. But here, for the feast, is a sonnet which was originally composed about the experience of listening to Mozart’s Requiem at Greenbelt in 2001,as I took leave of good friends, and now has its place, slightly adapted and re-titled ‘Sanctus’, as the final poem in my book Sounding the Seasons. I post it again for all those who need, in this season of remembrance, the quickening touch of the Sanctus


Mozart at Greenbelt

We lie upon the grass on God’s good earth
and listen to the Requiem’s intense,
long, love-laden keening, calling forth
echoes of Eden, blessing every sense
with brimming blisses, every death with birth,
until all passion passes into praise.

I bless the winding paths that brought us here,
I bless this day, distinct amidst our days,
I bless the light, the music-laden air,
I bless the interweaving of our ways,
the lifting of the burdens that we bear,
I bless the broken body that we share

Sanctus the heart, Sanctus the spirit cries,
Sanctus the flesh in every touch replies

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All Saints and All Souls: A Last Beatitude

‘the faithful server’s on the coffee rota’

At this season of the year, on the 1st and 2nd of November, the Church keeps the feast two days running, with a pair of feasts; All Saints and All Souls, each of which begins with that wonderfully Biblical and inclusive little word  All. I remember the effect that little word had on me, coming again and again in the verses of psalm 145, when I read that psalm a little before my conversion, how as each ‘all’ seemed to widen the circle of God’s love, till I began to wonder if even I might be included in one of those alls.. Do you remember them?

9The LORD is loving to everyone *

and his compassion is over all his works.

10All your works praise you, O LORD, *

and your faithful servants bless you.

….

14The LORD is faithful in all his words *

and merciful in all his deeds.

15The LORD upholds all those who fall; *

he lifts up all those who are bowed down.

16The eyes of all wait upon you, O LORD, *

and you give them their food in due season.

17You open wide your hand *

and satisfy the needs of every living creature.

18The LORD is righteous in all his ways *

and loving in all his works.

19The LORD is near to all who call upon him, *

to all who call upon him faithfully.

In the end it was those two little alls in verse 14 that included me; ‘The Lord upholdeth all such as fall: and lifteth up all those that are down.’

Anyway to return to the two lovely alls of these feasts, All Saints and All Souls, I have been reflecting on how easy it is for us to be partial and selective, where God is generous inclusive, and especially of how when we think of great saints and holy souls, we tend immediately to think of already prominent people, the writers and teachers of the church, the priests and prophets, the big historical figures, people who already have a bit of the spotlight, people whom the world also admires. So in the spirit of the Beatitudes, and of Psalm 145, I thought I’d add to my sonnet sequence for this season, a little sonnet about the ones we overlook, but whom God knows and loves intimately. Its called A Last Beatitude. As always you can hear the poem by clicking on the title or the ‘play’ button. I borrowed the lovely image of serving coffee from the website of St. Laurence church Cowley Rd

This sonnet is  from Sounding the Seasons, the collection of my sonnets for the church year, published by Canterbury Press,

If your church is marking all saints or all souls day do feel free to print the words or use the recording. I will be reading this sonnet as part of an All souls Day service on Sunday 2nd November at Saint Oswald’s Church in Durham at 6pm. All Welcome.


A Last Beatitude

And blessèd are the ones we overlook;

The faithful servers on the coffee rota,

The ones who hold no candle, bell or book

But keep the books and tally up the quota,

The gentle souls who come to ‘do the flowers’,

The quiet ones who organise the fete,

Church sitters who give up their weekday hours,

Doorkeepers who may open heaven’s gate.

God knows the depths that often go unspoken

Amongst the shy, the quiet, and the kind,

Or the slow healing of a heart long broken

Placing each flower so for a year’s mind.

Invisible on earth, without a voice,

In heaven their angels glory and rejoice.

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