The Christmas holidays are a time when I tend to take old favourite books of the shelf, get comfortable in an armchair and re-read and savour familiar passages as much for their familiarity as anything else. In particular I like to savour seasonal favourites, so I have been re-reading some short pieces on Christmas by GK Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc. Some of these I have read aloud onto podcast and audioboo sites, so I thought I’d gather up the links and share them with readers of this blog. First up is GK Chesterton’s wonderful little piece ‘The Shop of Ghosts; a good dream’ and then, in three short parts, some readings from ‘A Remaining Christmas’, Hilaire Belloc’s wonderfully partial account of how he kept Christmas at Kingsland, his beloved old house in Sussex. I hope you enjoy listening to them as much as I enjoyed reading them.
Monthly Archives: December 2011
Here is a sonnet for Christmas Day. I post it a little early in case people want to print it or use it on Christmas day and also because on the eve of the feast and the day itself we will all have better things to gaze at than a little screen! As usual you can hear the sonnet by clicking on the ‘play’ button, if it appears or by clicking on the title of the poem.
Christmas On The Edge
Christmas sets the centre on the edge;
The edge of town, the outhouse of the inn,
The fringe of empire, far from privilege
And power, on the edge and outer spin
Of turning worlds, a margin of small stars
That edge a galaxy itself light years
From some unguessed at cosmic origin.
Christmas sets the centre at the edge.
And from this day our world is re-aligned
A tiny seed unfolding in the womb
Becomes the source from which we all unfold
And flower into being. We are healed,
The end begins, the tomb becomes a womb,
For now in him all things are re-aligned.
So we come to the last of the Seven Great O Antiphons, which was sung on either side of the Magnificat on Christmas Eve, O Emmanuel, O God with us. This is the antiphon from which our lovely Advent hymn takes its name. It was also this final antiphon which revealed the secret message embedded subtly into the whole antiphon sequence. In each of these antphons we have been calling on Him to come to us, to come as Light as Key, as King, as God-with-us. Now, standing on the brink of Christmas Eve, looking back at the illuminated capital letters for each of the seven titles of Christ we would see an answer to our pleas : ERO CRAS the latin words meaning ‘Tomorrow I will come!”
I have also tried in my final sonnet to look back across the other titles of Christ, but also to look forward, beyond Christmas, to the new birth for humanity and for the whole cosmos, which is promised in the birth of God in our midst.
As always you can listen to the antiphon and sonnet if you wish by pressing the play button or clicking on the poem’s title
I shall post a new sonnet for Christmas Day this coming Friday, assuming that on Christmas Eve and Christmas day itself we shall have better things than a screen to gaze at.
exspectatio Gentium, et Salvator earum:
veni ad salvandum nos, Domine, Deus nosterO Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver,
the hope of the nations and their Saviour:
Come and save us, O Lord our God
O long-sought With-ness for a world without,
O secret seed, O hidden spring of light.
Come to us Wisdom, come unspoken Name
Come Root, and Key, and King, and holy Flame,
O quickened little wick so tightly curled,
Be folded with us into time and place,
Unfold for us the mystery of grace
And make a womb of all this wounded world.
O heart of heaven beating in the earth,
O tiny hope within our hopelessness
Come to be born, to bear us to our birth,
To touch a dying world with new-made hands
And make these rags of time our swaddling bands.
The sixth great ‘O’ antiphon, O Rex Gentium, calls on Christ as King, yet also calls him corner stone and pictures him getting his hands dirty and shaping us with clay, wonderfully incongruous combination! But he is the king who walks alongside us disguised in rags, the true Strider! In this Sonnet I also reflect on on how God shapes us through all that happens to us in our living clay. He hasn’t finished with us yet! You can hear the antiphon and poem by clicking on the play symbol or on the title of the poem. for an excellent series of reflections on Christ as our maker and shaper, why not check out Diana Glyer’s Clay in the Potters Hands? There is more about the antiphons to be found at Umilita
O Rex Gentium, et desideratus earum,
lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum:
veni, et salva hominem,
quem de limo formasti.
O King of the nations, and their desire,
the cornerstone making both one, Come and save the human race,which you fashioned from clay
O King of our desire whom we despise,
King of the nations never on the throne,
Unfound foundation, cast-off cornerstone,
Rejected joiner, making many one,
You have no form or beauty for our eyes,
A King who comes to give away his crown,
A King within our rags of flesh and bone.
We pierce the flesh that pierces our disguise,
For we ourselves are found in you alone.
Come to us now and find in us your throne,
O King within the child within the clay,
O hidden King who shapes us in the play
Of all creation. Shape us for the day
Your coming Kingdom comes into its own.
The fifth ‘great ‘O’ antiphon calls on Christ as the Oriens, the Morning Star, the Dayspring, and it comes as an answer to the sense of darkness and captivity in the fourth antiphon, O Clavis‘ I find the idea of Christ as rising light in the east very moving, for He is Alpha, the ‘Beginning’. The Translation of this antiphon which gives ‘Dayspring’ for Oriens I especially love, both because ‘Dayspring’ suggests at one and the same time, both light and water, two primal goods in life which I love in combination, especially light reflected on water, and also because ‘Dayspring’ was the name of a ship my great grandfather built for Scottish missionaries. It was from the deck of a little gaff cutter, also called Dayspring, that I saw the dawn, after a long period of darkness. And that personal moment of transfigured vision and release forms the opening image of this sonnet. I should also mention that the line from Dante means “I saw light in the form of a river’ another touchstone moment for me in the Paradiso. As before you can either click the play button to hear the antiphon and sonnet, otr click the hyperlink on the title to go to my audioboo page and hear all the sonnets in turn. You can read more about the antiphons on Julia Holloway’s lovely site Umilita
The rather blurry picture above is a photo of a watercolour I was painting at the time I wrote this sonnet. Thanks to Margo Krebs Neale for the photo after the poem.
O Oriens, splendor lucis aeternae,
et sol justitiae:
veni, et illumina sedentes
in tenebris, et umbra mortis
splendour of light eternal and sun of righteousness:
Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.
E vidi lume in forme de riviera Paradiso XXX; 61
First light and then first lines along the east
To touch and brush a sheen of light on water
As though behind the sky itself they traced
The shift and shimmer of another river
Flowing unbidden from its hidden source;
The Day-Spring, the eternal Prima Vera.
Blake saw it too. Dante and Beatrice
Are bathing in it now, away upstream…
So every trace of light begins a grace
In me, a beckoning. The smallest gleam
Is somehow a beginning and a calling;
“Sleeper awake, the darkness was a dream
For you will see the Dayspring at your waking,
Beyond your long last line the dawn is breaking”.
Oh Clavis, Oh Key!
Of all the mystic titles of Christ, this is the one that connects most closely with our ‘secular’ psychology. We speak of the need on the one hand for ‘closure’ and on the other for ‘unlocking’, for ‘opening’, for ‘liberation’. The same ideas are also there in the lines from O Come O Come Emmanuel that are drawn from this antiphon, which could easily be part of anybody’s work in good therapy:
“Make safe the way that leads on high,
and close the path to misery.”
I see this antiphon, and the sonnet I wrote in response to it, as the ‘before’ picture that precdes the beautiful fifth antiphon O Oriens about Christ as the Dayspring and when l wrote this sonnet I found that I had at last written something clear about my own experience of depression. I hope that others who have been in that darkness will find it helpful.
I am grateful to the photographer Margot Krebs Neale for the images on this page.
You can learn more about the antiphons from Julia Holloway’s wonderful site Umilita
As before there should be a play button just before the poem for you to hear the antiphon sung and the poem read aloud. Alternatively you can click the hyperlink on the poem’s title and listen to it on my audioboo page.
O Key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel;
you open and no one can shut;
you shut and no one can open:
Come and lead the prisoners from the prison house,
those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death
O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel;
qui aperis, et nemo claudit;
claudis, et nemo aperit:
veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris,
sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.
Even in the darkness where I sit
And huddle in the midst of misery
I can remember freedom, but forget
That every lock must answer to a key,
That each dark clasp, sharp and intricate,
Must find a counter-clasp to meet its guard,
Particular, exact and intimate,
The clutch and catch that meshes with its ward.
I cry out for the key I threw away
That turned and over turned with certain touch
And with the lovely lifting of a latch
Opened my darkness to the light of day.
O come again, come quickly, set me free
Cut to the quick to fit, the master key.
The third Advent Antiphon, O Radix, 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.
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
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.
The second of the ‘Great O’ Advent Antiphons, 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. You should be able to hear the antiphon and the sonnet 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.
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
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.
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