Monthly Archives: April 2011

Marriage 4 A Renewal of Vows

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As they watch the Royal Wedding today and hear again, beneath the beautiful numinous arches of Westminster Abbey the cadences of the marriage vows, couples might be prompted to renew their own vows to one another. If so here is a sonnets about doing just that. The words in italics are taken directly from the wedding service

A Renewal of Vows

So, open up the treasure-casket, love,

The treasure is still there, the hidden things

That love contains. Old words like wedding rings

Surround their mysteries. They live and move

As breath renews them, burnished as the gold

Around our fingers, glowing as we make

The vows that make us new again: I take,

Protect and comfort, cherish, have and hold.

The same old words that cannot stay the same,

For they have grown, as we have, more than old.

They change and deepen like all things that live,

They compass more and still have more to give:

All that I have is yours, All that I am

I give again with all I will become.

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Marriage 3 Prayer in March

20110425-164515.jpgMaggie has a birthday in early March and every so often a sonnet would come along in time for it. For those of us prone to be shadowed by the long darkness of winter, March can be a very ‘low’ month when spring has not quite stirred, and this is a poem of thankfulness for fulfilment of that part of the wedding vows in which couples promise to ‘comfort’ one another

Prayer in March

Comfort you comfort me my lover
When sleep is falling soft upon your breast,
All the long daylight weariness is over,
Our room is full of shadowed quietness.
Through darkened branches ring-doves dart and flutter
In sudden starts of dusk and scented air,
Beneath the rainfall’s hurried pater noster
The stirring trees are rooted deep in prayer.
Wild winds outside are beating out their vespers,
Eleison they wail at our distress,
We hold each other close to God in whispers
And love each other into thankfulness.
Till all the worlds dark, restless night is over
Comfort you comfort me my lover

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Marriage 1 The Ring

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The garden at Westcott House

To start my series of poems leading up to the Royal Wedding, here is a sonnet I wrote for Maggie for our wedding on St. Mary Magdalene’s day in 1984. We had chosen ‘the wedding at Cana’ as our reading, our reception was in the beautiful cloister garden of Westcott House in Cambridge. As always you can hear the sonnet either by pressing the ‘play’ button, if it appears in your browser, or else by clicking on the title of the poem.

The Ring

Join hands with me and step into the ring

Shining in white with flowers in your hair.

The word Himself will give us songs to sing

And move the hidden voices of the air.

Here in his garden, where He laid His treasure

And came Himself before the day was dawning,

Here where he gave a gift beyond our measure,

And Mary’s footfall echoed in the morning,

Here He will raise us up and quench our thirst,

Setting upon our happiness his sign,

As, at His bidding in the wedding feast,

Waters of cleansing reddened into wine.

Then we shall turn to him with joy and sing

Whose love surrounds us in a golden ring.

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Marriage 2 The Sacred Ship

As a second for my series of poems about marriage, leading up to the Royal Wedding, Here is a poem I wrote for Maggie, to accompany an anniversary gift of a silver brooch bearing the image of a mediaeval ship. Sadly we no longer have the brooch as it was stolen when our vicarage was robbed, though it looked a little like this:
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Happily we still have the poem, as poetry, like love, is one of those things that nobody can actually steal. It goes like this:

The Sacred Ship

Here is the image of a sacred ship,

Her silver cross-beam set within a ring,

Love, let it be a token of our hope

When sudden storms or floods are threatening,

When faith gives way to doubt, or love to fear,

Then, as on Galilee, we’ll rouse the Lord,

For he is sleeping with us and will hear

And make our peace with his creative Word,

Who made us, loved us, formed us and has set

His chosen pair of lovers in an ark.

Borne upwards by his spirit, we will float

Above the rising waves, the falling dark

As fellow pilgrims, driven towards that haven,

Where all will be redeemed, fulfilled, forgiven.

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The Stations; a postscript-The Wedding; a prelude

Willows by Alexandra Drysdale

Easter Monday is a day for looking back and looking forward; back to the drama of Holy Week and Easter, Forward to the new life, in the coming spring and summer, that those events make posssible. Here in England the focus will suddenly swing from the festivities of Easter to the Royal Wedding on Friday, more of that shortly.
First I’d like to thank my readers, and especially my new readers who have been following me through my sonnet sequence on the stations. I hope you found them helpful and will feel free to return to them, even outside this ‘holy season’. If you wish to use them in liturgy or church events please feel free to do so, though if you could put a link to this site that would be great. Many people have asked me if they will be printed and the answer is yes. I am planning a book together with the artist Alexandra Drysdale who has done a moving series of pastel drawings of the stations. We did a joint event on Saturday here in Cambridge and the plan for a book with her pastels and my sonnets was born there, as soon as we have a publisher and publication date sorted I will let everyone know. I am lucky to know a group of very fine visual artists here in Cambridge and I also have another collaboration planned with the artist Rebecca Merry, centred on a series of poems I am writing on the four elements, so watch this space. I have been thinking alot about the visual arts recently, partly in preparation for a conference of CIVA, (Christians in the visual arts) at which I will be speaking in LA this June. For the first of my reflections on this theme see their blog here.

May by Rebecca Merry

Manwhile in England our thoughts are turning to the Royal Wedding. There is of course some sneering and cynicism in our media as there always is about anything that still has some grace and beauty about it or echoes of a more ancient and numinous world view. In my view marriage is more than just a social bond or convention, it is also a sacrament, a touching-place where the risen Lord Jesus breathes his being and his renewing power into our ordinary lives, and I look forward to seeing Rowan Williams enact that sacrament and give us all as a nation a chance to renew our vision of what marriage is about, another glimpse of George Herbert’s ‘heaven in ordinary’. By way of prelude and run up to the event I am going to post, (with Maggie’s permission!) some of the poems I have written for her over the twenty seven years of our marriage, chosen because they are also poems about marriage itself. So we will start tomorrow with a poem I wrote for our wedding day and conclude on Friday with a poem about renewing Marriage vows. I hope you enjoy them.

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XV Easter Dawn

Heres is an unexpected extra fifteenth sonnet for Easter Morning

Which I dedicate to my friend Mary who asked me to write it, and to the memory of her husband Gavin. May he rest in peace and rise in glory.

The Image of Christ and Mary Magdelene is by Alexandra Drysdale

as always you can hear the sonnet by clicking on the ‘play’ button if it appears, or else on the title of the poem

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[audio http://audioboo.fm/boos/339341-xv-easter-dawn.mp3]

XV Easter Dawn

He blesses every love which weeps and grieves

And now he blesses hers who stood and wept

And would not be consoled, or leave her love’s

Last touching place, but watched as low light crept

Up from the east. A sound behind her stirs

A scatter of bright birdsong through the air.

She turns, but cannot focus through her tears,

Or recognise the Gardener standing there.

She hardly hears his gentle question ‘Why,

Why are you weeping?’, or sees the play of light

That brightens as she chokes out her reply

‘They took my love away, my day is night’

And then she hears her name, she hears Love say

The Word that turns her night, and ours, to Day.

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Stations XIII and XIV


XIII Jesus’ body is taken down from the cross

His spirit and his life he breathes in all
Now on this cross his body breathes no more
Here at the centre everything is still
Spent, and emptied, opened to the core.
A quiet taking down, a prising loose
A cross-beam lowered like a weighing scale
Unmaking of each thing that had its use
A long withdrawing of each bloodied nail,
This is ground zero, emptiness and space
With nothing left to say or think or do
But look unflinching on the sacred face
That cannot move or change or look at you.
Yet in that prising loose and letting be
He has unfastened you and set you free.

XIV Jesus is laid in the tomb

Here at the centre everything is still
Before the stir and movement of our grief
Which bears it’s pain with rhythm, ritual,
Beautiful useless gestures of relief.
So they anoint the skin that cannot feel
Soothing his ruined flesh with tender care,
Kissing the wounds they know they cannot heal,
With incense scenting only empty air.
He blesses every love that weeps and grieves
And makes our grief the pangs of a new birth.
The love that’s poured in silence at old graves
Renewing flowers, tending the bare earth,
Is never lost. In him all love is found
And sown with him, a seed in the rich ground.

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Stations X-XII


X Jesus is stripped of His garments

You can’t go on, you go on anyway
He goes with you, his cradle to your grave.
Now is the time to loosen, cast away
The useless weight of everything but love
For he began his letting go before,
Before the worlds for which he dies were made,
Emptied himself, became one of the poor,
To make you rich in him and unafraid.
See as they strip the robe from off his back
They strip away your own defences too
Now you could lose it all and never lack
Now you can see what naked Love can do
Let go these bonds beneath whose weight you bow
His stripping strips you both for action now


XI Crucifixion: Jesus is nailed to the cross

See, as they strip the robe from off his back
And spread his arms and nail them to the cross,
The dark nails pierce him and the sky turns black,
And love is firmly fastened onto loss.
But here a pure change happens. On this tree
Loss becomes gain, death opens into birth.
Here wounding heals and fastening makes free
Earth breathes in heaven, heaven roots in earth.
And here we see the length, the breadth, the height
Where love and hatred meet and love stays true
Where sin meets grace and darkness turns to light
We see what love can bear and be and do,
And here our saviour calls us to his side
His love is free, his arms are open wide.


XII Jesus dies on the cross

The dark nails pierce him and the sky turns black
We watch him as he labours to draw breath
He takes our breath away to give it back,
Return it to it’s birth through his slow death.
We hear him struggle breathing through the pain
Who once breathed out his spirit on the deep,
Who formed us when he mixed the dust with rain
And drew us into consciousness from sleep.
His spirit and his life he breathes in all
Mantles his world in his one atmosphere
And now he comes to breathe beneath the pall
Of our pollutions, draw our injured air
To cleanse it and renew. His final breath
Breathes us, and bears us through the gates of death.

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Stations VIII and IX

VIII Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem

He falls and stumbles with us, hurt again

But still he holds the road and looks in love

On all of us who look on him. Our pain

As close to him as his. These women move

Compassion in him as he does in them.

He asks us both to weep and not to weep.

Women of Gaza and Jerusalem,

Women of every nation where the deep

Wounds of memory divide the land

And lives of all your children, where the mines

Of all our wars are sown: Afghanistan ,

Iraq, the Cote d’Ivoire…  he reads the signs

And weeps with you and with you he will stay

Until the day he wipes your tears away.

IX Jesus falls the third time

He weeps with you and with you he will stay

When all your staying power has run out

You can’t go on, you go on anyway.

He stumbles just beside you when the doubt

That always haunts you, cuts you down at last

And takes away the hope that drove you on.

This is the third fall and it hurts the worst

This long descent through darkness to depression

From which there seems no rising and no will

To rise, or breathe or bear your own heart beat.

Twice you survived; this third will surely kill,

And you could almost wish for that defeat

Except that in the cold hell where you freeze

You find your God beside you on his knees.

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Stations VI and VII


VI Veronica wipes the face of Jesus

Bystanders and bypassers turn away
And wipe his image from their memory
She keeps her station. She is here to stay
And stem the flow. She is the reliquary
Of his last look on her. The bloody sweat
And salt tears of his love are soaking through
The folds of her devotion and the wet
folds of her handkerchief, like the dew
Of morning, like a softening rain of grace.
Because she wiped the grime from off his skin,
And glimpsed the godhead in his human face
Whose hidden image we all bear within,
Through all our veils and shrouds of daily pain
The face of god is shining once again.



VII Jesus falls the second time

Through all our veils and shrouds of daily pain,
Through our bruised bruises and re-opened scars,
He falls and stumbles with us, hurt again
When we are hurt again. With us he bears
The cruel repetitions of our cruelty;
The beatings of already beaten men,
The second rounds of torture, the futility
Of all unheeded pleading, every scream in vain.
And by this fall he finds the fallen souls
Who passed a first, but failed a second trial,
The souls who thought their faith would hold them whole
And found it only held them for a while.
Be with us when the road is twice as long
As we can bear. By weakness make us strong.

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