Category Archives: Theology and Arts

Trinity Sunday: A Sonnet

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Continuing my cycle of sonnets for the Church year. Here is one for Trinity Sunday which I am posting the day before, in case people would like to make use of it tomorrow.

By coming to us as the Son, revealing to us the Father, and sending to us the Spirit, Jesus revealed the deepest mystery; that God is not distant and alone, but is three in one, a communion of love who comes to make His home with us.

The Rublev Icon, above, shows the Three in One inviting us to share in that communion. If, as I believe, we are made in the image of God, as beings in communion with one another in the name of that Holy and Undivided Trnity whose being is communion, then we will find reflections and traces of the Trinitarian mystery in all our loving and making. I have tried to suggest this throughout the poem and especially in the phrase ‘makes us each the other’s inspiration’ and Margot Krebs Neale has taken this idea of mutual and coinherent inspiration and remaking in the remarkable image she has made in response to this sonnet which follows the poem, an image which involves the mutually -inspired work of three artists and is one picture woven of three images. She writes to me about this image:

“The Triune Poet makes us for His glory,

And makes us each the other’s inspiration.”

sent me in this direction…


The picture of you is by Lancia Smith

the picture of me is by Peter Nixon

the picture of the infinite is by an artist i don’t know

the composition is by me

As usual you can hear the poem by clicking on the ‘play’ button if it appears or on the title of the poem.

Readers who are interested in my use of the word ‘coinherent’ will find out more by watching the video of my talk about the British theologian Charles Williams, a friend and fellow inkling of CS Lewis which can be found here.

This sonnet is drawn from my collection Sounding the Seasons, published by Canterbury Press here in England. The book is now back in stock on both Amazon UK and USA and physical copies are shortly to be available in Canada via Steve Bell. It is now also out on Kindle. Please feel free to make use of this, and my other sonnets in church services and to copy and share them. If you can mention the book from which they are taken that would be great..

Trinity Sunday

In the Beginning, not in time or space,

But in the quick before both space and time,

In Life, in Love, in co-inherent Grace,

In three in one and one in three, in rhyme,

In music, in the whole creation story,

In His own image, His imagination,

The Triune Poet makes us for His glory,

And makes us each the other’s inspiration.

He calls us out of darkness, chaos, chance,

To improvise a music of our own,

To sing the chord that calls us to the dance,

Three notes resounding from a single tone,

To sing the End in whom we all begin;

Our God beyond, beside us and within.

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A Sonnet for Ascension Day

 Here is a sonnet for Ascension Day, May 29th this year, the glorious finale of the Easter Season.

In the mystery of the Ascension we reflect on the way in which, one sense Christ ‘leaves’ us and is taken away into Heaven, but in another sense he is given to us and to the world in a new and more universal way. He is no longer located only in one physical space to the exclusion of all others. He is in the Heaven which is at the heart of all things now and is universally accessible to all who call upon Him. And since His humanity is taken into Heaven, our humanity belongs there too, and is in a sense already there with him.”For you have died”, says St. Paul, “and your life is hidden with Christ in God”. In the Ascension Christ’s glory is at once revealed and concealed, and so is ours.  The sonnet form seemed to me one way to begin to tease these things out.

This sonnet is drawn from my collection Sounding the Seasons, published by Canterbury Press here in England. The book is now back in stock on both Amazon UK and USA and physical copies are shortly to be available in Canada via Steve Bell. The book is now also out on Kindle. Please feel free to make use of this, and my other sonnets in church services and to copy and share them. If you can mention the book from which they are taken that would be great.
As always you can hear the sonnet by clicking on the ‘play’ button if it appears in your browser or by clicking on the title of the poem.

I’m grateful to Oliver Neale for the image above, the image below was taken as we launched rockets to celebrate Ascension day at Girton College:

We have lift off!

Ascension

We saw his light break through the cloud of glory
Whilst we were rooted still in time and place
As earth became a part of Heaven’s story
And heaven opened to his human face.
We saw him go and yet we were not parted
He took us with him to the heart of things
The heart that broke for all the broken-hearted
Is whole and Heaven-centred now, and sings,
Sings in the strength that rises out of weakness,
Sings through the clouds that veil him from our sight,
Whilst we our selves become his clouds of witness
And sing the waning darkness into light,
His light in us, and ours in him concealed,
Which all creation waits to see revealed .

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What I’m doing next!

Photo by Lancia Smith

Photo by Lancia Smith

GK Chesterton famously sent a telegram to his wife saying. ‘AM IN MARKET HARBOROUGH. WHERE SHOULD I BE?’

I empathise with both GKC and the long-suffering Frances as I too am often muddled, befuddled, and as like as not double-booked, when I come to look at my diary. In an attempt to straighten things out I have just gone through my commitments, as far as I can remember them, for the next year, and have discovered that I am indeed in Market Harborough in June, and in between, and beyond in all kinds of places on both sides of the Atlantic. I would be delighted to see, and to meet up with readers of this blog at any (or all) of the events/readings/retreats which I have discovered (sometimes to my great surprise) in my diary. so here they all are, as far as I know them, do join me at one or two of them if you can.

Here is a list of my forthcoming events including gigs, poetry readings, conference talks and retreats, as far as I know them, from May 2014-March 2015, more to be added soon

May 24th: I will be leading, and speaking at the annual Little Gidding Pilgrimage. Details will appear on the Friends of LG Events Page

May 30-th to June 1st: I will be reading at the Bloxham Literary Festival

June 6th: Charity Gig with Mystery Train at The Manor Barn Harlton 8pm

June 18th  I will be doing a poetry reading as part of a Quartet of Poets at Girton College FDR 8pm All Welcome

June 28th ‘Songs and Sonnets’ at Market Harborough Methodist Church from 2:30pm

July 22nd-25th: I will be a speaker and resident poet at Kindlingsfest on Orcas Island

July 28th-31st: I will be speaking at the CS Lewis Foundation’s Oxbridge conference, here in Cambridge

August 13-15th I will be a plenary speaker at the George MacDonald and the Victorian roots of Modern Fantasy conference in Oxford

September 1st-25th I will be Artist in Residence at Duke Divinity School, Duke University North Carolina. This residency will include A Public Reading, a Public Lecture and a concert in the Sean’s Singer-Songwriter series -more details to follow.

October 1st-November 20th: I will be a visiting fellow at St. John College Durham and will be doing various readings and lectures, at the College and the Cathedral more details to follow.

October 23-26th I will be leading an artists’ retreat at Laity Lodge in Texas, details here

December 12-14th I will be leading an Advent Retreat at Launde Abbey all welcome

March 14th 2015: I lead a day of prayer at Westminster Abbey, titled ‘Read Poems as Prayers'; praying through the poetry of George Herbert and Seamus Heaney’

March 23rd-27th: I will be ‘Visionary in Residence’ at Biola University Centre for Christianity culture and the Arts in Los Angeles. this residency will include poetry readings, performances and workshops, a concert with Steve Bell and a public lecture on Faith and the Arts. More details to follow.

 

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A Sonnet for the Annunciation

We miss the shimmer of the angels’ wings

Tuesday 25th of March is the feast of the Annunciation, that blessed moment of awareness, assent and transformation in which eternity touches time. In my own small take on this mystery I have thought about vision, what we allow ourselves to be aware of, and also about freedom, the way all things turn on our discernment and freedom.

This sonnet is drawn from my collection Sounding the Seasons, published by Canterbury Press here in England. The book is now back in stock on both Amazon UK and USA and physical copies are available in Canada via Steve Bell‘s Signpost Music. The book is now also out on Kindle. Please feel free to make use of these sonnets in church services and to copy and share them. If you can mention the book from which they are taken that would be great. You may also like to check out Steve Bell‘s wonderful Snippet eBook The Pilgrim Year, in which this sonnet also appears, together with some of my reflections on Fra Angelico’s great fresco of the Annunciation.

As so often I am indebted to Margot Krebs Neale for the accompanying images, and she has kindly offered the following note for the images that accompany this sonnet:

‘As I was making suggesting a picture for another sonnet, Malcolm said he was working on the Annunciation sonnet. A little cheeky I sent a picture of a beautifully blurred lily wondering if it might help. Malcolm liked it and could see angel wings in it, I thought we needed a face. A young woman of sixteen. One of the many 16 years old I know and love or…myself. I remembered and found this picture of me taken when I was 16 or 17. Why me? Because of the “We” of the first strophe, I read it like an “I” : We see so little, only surfaces, and yet we have a choice.

« Quel fruit lumineux portons-nous dans l’ombre de la chair? » What luminous fruit do we carry in the shade of our flesh?

« un fruit éternel enfant de la chair et de l’Esprit ». An eternal fruit, child of the flesh and the Spirit »

May we be granted the joy of giving it to the light.’

As usual you can hear the poem by clicking on the ‘play’ buton or on the title.

Annunciation

We see so little, stayed on surfaces,

We calculate the outsides of all things,

Preoccupied with our own purposes

We miss the shimmer of the angels’ wings,

They coruscate around us in their joy

A swirl of wheels and eyes and wings unfurled,

They guard the good we purpose to destroy,

A hidden blaze of glory in God’s world.

But on this day a young girl stopped to see

With open eyes and heart. She heard the voice;

The promise of His glory yet to be,

As time stood still for her to make a choice;

Gabriel knelt and not a feather stirred,

The Word himself was waiting on her word.

but on thi day a young girl stopped to see

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Apostle! -a sonnet for St. Paul

Image by Margot Krebs Neale

Continuing with Sounding the Seasons, my sonnet-sequence journey through the Church year, we approach the 25th of January, the day the Church keeps the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. However often told or re-told, it is still an astonishing story. That Saul, the implacable enemy of Christianity, who came against the faith ‘breathing threats and slaughter’, should be chosen by God to be Christianity’s greatest proponant and apostle is just the first of a series of dazzling and life-changing paradoxes that flow from Paul’s writing. At the heart of these is the revelation of God’s sheer grace; finding the lost, loving the violent into light, and working everything through the very weakness of those who love him. Here’s a sonnet celebrating just a little of what I glimpse in the great Apostle.

This and my other sonets for the Christian year are published together by Canterbury Press as Sounding the Seasons; seventy sonnets for the Christian Year.’ You can get this book in the UK by ordering it from your local bookshop, or viaAmazon, and I am vey happy to say that both this and my other poetry book The Singing bowl are now available in North America from Steve Bell who has a good supply in stock. His page for my books is HERE

As always you can hear the poem by clicking n the ‘play’ button if it appears, or on the title of the poem.

Apostle

An enemy whom God has made a friend,

A righteous man discounting righteousness,

Last to believe and first for God to send,

He found the fountain in the wilderness.

Thrown to the ground and raised at the same moment,

A prisoner who set his captors free,

A naked man with love his only garment,

A blinded man who helped the world to see,

A Jew who had been perfect in the law,

Blesses the flesh of every other race

And helps them see what the apostles saw;

The glory of the lord in Jesus’ face.

Strong in his weakness, joyful in his pains,

And bound by love, he freed us from our chains.

Caravaggio: The Conversion of St. Paul

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CS Lewis and The Inklings ‘Ideas’ with CBC Part 2

lewis-inklings-featuredAs part of the commemorations for Cs Lewis’s ‘Jubilee’ year the Canadian Broadcasting Company have commissioned two in depth programmes on CS Lewis and the Inklings for their Flagship ‘Ideas’ series. I was happy to be involved with Frank Faulk in this endeavour and did an extensive interview with himwhich has been used in both programmes. I was impressed by the research he has done for this programme and the range of people he has speaking on it. Two good results of that research are first that he is not content with second hand cliches about Lewis but goes out of his way to scotch falsehoods, and secondly that he gives due weight to the neglected ‘other inklings’ beyond Lewis and Tolkien, and particularly gives the much-neglected Owen Barfield who is allowed at last to come into hi own. Finally, Faulk has, in my view rightly, identified Imagination, and the truth of Imagination as the key to the whole ‘Inklings endeavour. Here is my post on the first programme. Here us what CBC say to introduce the second program on their website:

C.S. Lewis, JRR Tolkien, Owen Barfield and Charles Williams were the core of the legendary literary group The Inklings at Oxford University. They were united by a love of myth and the belief that it is through the imagination that reality is illuminated. In Part 2 of this series,  producer Frank Faulk looks at C.S. Lewis’s conversion from atheism to Christianity, and his deep friendship with Tolkien, Barfield and Williams. Together Lewis and his three friends would forge a radical critique of modernity’s reductionist, mechanistic and materialistic understanding of reality. It is a critique that today remains more relevant than ever.

And here is the link to both the first and second programmes:

Lewis and the Inklings Part one

Lewis and the Inklings Part two

I hope you enjoy them.

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CS Lewis and The Inklings ‘Ideas’ with CBC

lewis-inklings-featuredAs part of the commemorations for Cs Lewis’s ‘Jubilee’ year the Canadian Broadcasting Company have commissioned two in depth programmes on CS Lewis and the Inklings for their Flagship ‘Ideas’ series. I was happy to be involved with Frank Faulk in this endeavour and did an extensive interview with him, some of which is used in this first programme and most of which will be in the second one, to be broadcast on the 17th to which I will post a link next week. I was impressed by the research he has done for this programme and the range of people he has speaking on it. Two good results of that research are first that he is not content with second hand cliches about Lewis but goes out of his way to scotch falsehoods, and secondly that he gives due weight to the neglected ‘other inklings’ beyond Lewis and Tolkien, and particularly gives the much-neglected Owen Barfield who is allowed at last to come into hi own. Finally, Faulk has, in my view rightly, identified Imagination, and the truth of Imagination as the key to the whole ‘Inklings endeavour. Here us what CBC say to introduce the program on their website:

C.S. LewisJRR TolkienOwen Barfield and Charles Williams were the core of the legendary literary group The Inklings at Oxford University. They were united by a love of myth and the belief that it is through the imagination that reality is illuminated. In this two-part series producer Frank Faulk first explores the early life of C.S. Lewis, and the experiences that would shape him on his journey to becoming one of the 20th century’s greatest thinkers and writers on Christianity. Part 2 airs Thursday, October 17.

And here is the link to the page from which you can listen to and download the program:

Lewis and the Inklings Part one

 

I hope you enjoy it.

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A Spell for National Poetry Day

Here is a poem called Spell, which I re-post for National Poetry Day, as it celebrates the magic powers of language itself. I have written in a previous post about the ‘daily miracle’ of our language and literacy, the magical way that words can summon up images, images that bring with them whole worlds, all the hidden correspondences between Word and World, a magic witnessed by the way a word like spell means both to spell a word and to make magic, the way chant is embedded in enchantment, the way even the dry word Grammar turns out to be cognate with Glamour in its oldest magical sense. But if all language is a kind of spell, it is a Good Spell (or Gospel as we later shortened that term). For Christian Faith points to a single source, in the Word, the Logos of God, for both the mystery of language and the mystery of being. Christ is the Word within all words, the Word behind all worlds.

Certainly many Christian writers have reflected on the paralells between the Genesis narrative in which God says “Let there be..” and each thing he summons springs into being, and the way, the uttering of words, the combination and recombination of a finite set of letters, can call into being the imaginary worlds, the sub-creations, as Tolkien calls them, that God in his Love has empowered us to create. It seems that being made as ‘Makers’ (the old word for poets) is one of the ways in which we are all made in God’s image.

Of course, because we are fallen we can abuse this gift of sub-creation, we can abuse language itself, making the very medium of creation a means of destruction. I have explored that shadow side of language in my poem “What IF…” But now I want to celebrate the God-given power and mystery of language, the magic of naming, the summoning powers entrusted to us in the twenty-six letters of our alphabet., in a sonnet I have simply called “Spell”. As always you can hear it by clicking on the title or pressing the ‘play’ button.

This poem will appear in my next collection The Singing Bowl which will be published at the end of October by Canterbury Press

Spell

Summon the summoners, the twenty-six

enchanters. Spelling silence into sound,

they bind and loose, they find and are not found.

Re-call the river-tongues from Alph to Styx,

summon the summoners, the shaping shapes

the grounds of sound, the generative gramma

signs of the Mystery, inscribed arcana

runes from the root-tree written in the deeps,

leaves from the tale-tree lifted, swift and free,

shining, re-combining in their dance

the genesis of every utterance,

pattering the pattern of the Tree.

Summon the summoners, and let them sing.

The summoners will summon Everything.

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From Westminster to Cambridge! A special day on CS Lewis Nov. 23rd.

mag7I know that many of my friends and readers will be going to the Westminster Abbey conference and celebrations to mark the  occasion of CS Lewis’s admission to ‘Poet’s Corner’. Those who are coming over for the Westminster event may like to know that on the very next day, November the 23rd, there will be a one day conference on Lewis as Critic in Magdalene College Cambridge, where Lewis was a fellow whilst he was Cambridge’s Chair in Mediaeval and Renaissance Literature. There’s a wonderful line-up for this one day event, speakers include Professor Helen Cooper, who is Lewis’s sucesor in the Cambridge Chair, and Dr Rowan Williams, now master of Lewis’s old college. This will be an important event as academics from Cambridge and beyond re-assess Lewis’s importance as critic, and the way in which his literary scholarship developed and influenced the rest of his work. I will be giving a paper on his important short book ‘The Abolition of Man’, assessing the various ways in which it has proved prophetic and looking at its implication for contemporary education.

Full details are available by clicking this link: Lewis as Critic conference

You can register for the conference or make any enquiries by emailing here: lewisascritic@gmail.com

Finally here is a brief extract from the conference website:

This conference aims to redress this neglect by reappraising the significance of Lewis’s contribution to the practice of criticism, fifty years on from his death (22nd November, 1963). We will be joined by the Rt. Rvd. and Rt. Hon. Dr. Rowan Williams, Master of Magdalene College and recent author of a book on Lewis’s Narnia; Professor Helen Cooper, current Professor of Medieval and Renaissance Literature – the post created for Lewis; Professor Ad Putter; Professor Stephen Prickett; Dr. Stephen Logan and Rev. Dr. Malcolm Guite.

We have plenty of time for discussion in the day and would love you to join us to mark this anniversary and explore Lewis’s role as critic.

I look forward to this immensely.

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‘Sing yourself to where the singing comes from': Remembering Seamus Heaney

With Seamus Heaney at Little Gidding

With Seamus Heaney at Little Gidding

I dont know where to start, or how to say how much I owe this man. I have celebrated his verse extensively in my book Faith Hope and Poetry which concludes with a chapter setting out the way in which his poetry redresses a lost balance in our culture and enables a new vision of truth through the lens of imagination, but that was public academic discourse, just briefly today I want to be entirely personal.

I heard the news of his death at lunchtime today as I stood in a queue for coffee in a Cambridge Cafe, and found by the time I got to the front of the queue that I was blinded with tears. I thought he would live on to a long rich old age like his friend and fellow visionary Czeslaw Milosz, I looked forward to a rich harvest of that Late Ripeness he so praised in his friend Brian Friel, I didn’t know as I stood in line, shocked, that it would feel like such a personal bereavement.

But I should have known. I began to read his poetry in 1974 when  I was 17, a year of recovery from darkness, and a year self discovery for me, his words ‘I rhyme/ to see myself, to set the darkness echoing’ had become part of my own call as a poet, those phrases from ‘Exposure': ‘grown long-haired and thoughtful’ and ‘feeling every wind that blows’ helped me understand who I was called to be. And from that day to this each new book has been taken deep down inside and formed part of the texture of my being, part of the music of what happens, the music I never would have known to listen for.

I heard him read in Cambridge many times, and in 1996 a reading of his poem ‘The Rainstick’ produced a sudden epiphany in me which crystallised what I had begun to feel about faith and poetry, about the relationship between theology and the arts, and slowly, in the midst of pressing parish life, I began to wonder if I could write something. Then in 2002 came a life-changing encounter. A friend had been asked to interview him for the Shropshire Star on the occasion of his being awarded the Wilfred Owen Memorial prize and asked if I would come over to Shrewsbury and give her a crash course in Heaney! I obliged, but when it came to it she asked if I would step into the breach and do the interview. We got to the hotel early and were sitting in the deserted bar when the man himself arrived, also early, and came over to join us. soon the interview, which was full of his rich phrasing and deep appreciation of Wilfred Owen, was lost in a wider, longer, deeper conversation about poetry itself, about the heart of things, about Dante, which really kindled him, as he saw it kindled me, and then, amazingly, he turned the conversation back on me. He became the questioner, wanted to know how poetry fitted with my vocation as priest, probed me about my deepest things, and I found myself opening things I scarcely admitted were there; the longing to spread wings, the desire to take the gospel, as I understood it, outside the confines of the church and religious language, the urge to write, to take risks, but could I? should I? how free was I really? After we’d wrapped things up, and there had been the dinner and the prize-giving and his speech, he took up my copy of ‘Opened Ground’ and signed it, but it wasn’t until I got home that I saw what he had written:

‘To Malcolm, with high regard: “Walk on air against your better judgement” Seamus Heaney’

It was a moment of confirmation and release into a new understanding of my vocation, and a new daring. That phrase he quoted (from his Nobel Prize acceptance speech) has become a kind of watchword, and the unexpected spacewalk of this parish priest, the books, the songs, the poems, all owe something to a gift of wings that day.

his dedication in the flyleaf of my 'Opened Ground'

his dedication in the flyleaf of my ‘Opened Ground’

One consequence of my walking on air was that I somehow ended up helping to start and continue the TS Eliot Festival in Little Gidding and in 2002 Heaney came, not only to read Eliot’s poem aloud for us but also, to my intense delight, to read the gospel for me and when I preached on the text ‘ Why this is the very gate of heaven’ he embraced me afterwards and said, ‘Malcolm, that wasn’t just a sermon, it was an Action’. again a kind of confirmation. And I’m sure my story here is just one example amongst countless of his extraordinary humility, his keen ear, his discernment, his attention to others, the way he wore his fame and distinction so lightly, the way he homed in on and cared for always and only the particular and little spark, the kernel of truth in front of him.

In his poem ‘At The Wellhead’ he encourages a singer, saying ‘Sing yourself to where he singing comes from’.  Now this great soul, the greatest singer of our age, has come home to where the singing comes from.

 

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