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.

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


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


Filed under christianity, Theology and Arts

10 responses to “Apostle -a sonnet for St. Paul

  1. Elizabeth

    Those of us, and it must be most of us, who have been thrown to the ground often forget the mystery of how God changes evil to good. Thank you for this sonnet.

    • malcolmguite

      Thanks Elizabeth, ive been in that place too. Do you know Donne’s sonnet “Batter my heart three-personed God’?

  2. Margot Krebs Neale

    When I took that picture, I was under great psychological pressure in what was for me a strange and uncomfortable place: Frognerparken in Oslo. I saw my son and something of what I felt was there visible, I let the camera write it for me.
    That night, I became psychotic and was taken the next day to psychiatric hospital, in a foreign country for three weeks. The beginning of looking into an abyss, an abyss where angels, real ones of flesh and bones, came and went.
    A Russian friend told me, later you will look back not with nostalgia but a certain fondness. And I do.

  3. malcolmguite

    Thank you for sharing that Margot it helps us glimpse more of the depths of the image and also make sense of the words Paul heard the lord say to him: ‘My strength is made perfect in weakness’.

  4. The world breaks all of us, and, afterwards, many are strong at the broken places. (hemingway). Many, not all. Margot, thank you. Bless you. I did not only “happen” across this blog tonight in Vancouver, British Columbia. It found me. Malcolm: most powerful lines “thrown to the ground and raised at the same moment.” Paradox. Everything. Always. Otherwise, nothing makes sense.

    • malcolmguite

      Thanks for this Elsie, The right words do sometimes just find us at the right time, and its good to be alert to those moments when they come. you are right about paradox, we are always retreating to the shallows of one half or another of a paradox, but god is always bringing the two halves together again and giving us back the depth we need.

  5. God is the seam that holds together the broken heart(ed)? The bouyant dynamic that causes/allows us to rise to the shallows of the depths so we can breathe in again — for the next going under…or out to sea? We are all leaky vessels made, for moments, whole. Nothing stays. Everything changes. Those moments that sustain us are not sustainable. Yet, we row on…

  6. Poem – What is love?

    Two men came to Jesus
    With different motivations.
    They asked Him the same question
    Relevant to all the nations:

    Which is the Most Important?
    The answer was the same.
    Jesus did not manipulate
    He was not there to play a game.

    “Love the Lord your God” said Jesus
    as He quoted from The Law –
    to fulfill and not abolish
    was His purpose, full of awe.

    Jesus did not make all Scripture
    Into one new great commandment.
    He summarized The Law and Prophets
    “First and Greatest” and “The Second.”

    The Love of God is higher
    Than the love of any man.
    Receive from God, give back to God-
    Then to others, that’s His plan.

    The Love of God involves much more
    Than simply “love your fellow man.”
    Worship, trust, and pray to God,
    and obey Him – that’s His plan

    To worship and pray to neighbors,
    Whoever they may be,
    Or trust and obey our enemies
    Would be idolatry.

    The love of God is first and greatest,
    And the love of man is second.
    “All we need is love” are words
    of dead Beetles on the pavement.

    “The entire law is summed up in a single command”
    are not the words of Jesus our Salvation.
    It’s false teaching of Paul the Pharisee
    “an accuser of our brethren.”

    “Love” without God is Satan’s word through Paul
    in his chapter to the Corinthians.
    “I will show you the most excellent way”
    is the road to eternal perdition.

    Where is God in Paul’s chapter on love?
    Nowhere in view of the eye.
    Paul sings about himself like a Mexican Mariachi
    “I, I, I, I.”

    Jesus is The Most Excellent Way
    Not the words of a Pharisee.
    The words of Jesus are very clear.
    Jesus said, “You must follow ME.”

    [sing it to the tune of “Rapture” by Blondie]

    I’m Boss Paul, the Pharisee
    My hypocrisy’s plain for the world to see
    I travel the land and travel the sea
    to make a convert who is just like ME

    “All have sinned” – we know that’s true
    but it never means ME – it only means YOU
    My sins are all theoretical
    “I’m the worst of sinners”- but don’t ask where

    To be more like Jesus is what some strive
    except for me – I’ve already arrived
    I’m the perfect model since the road to Damascus
    What were Paul’s sins? Don’t ask us!

    I justify everything I do
    If I testify about myself it MUST be true
    I’m the only man in all history
    whose testimony doesn’t need two or three

    If I did something it MUST be right
    Don’t use the Scripture to shed any light
    Don’t do as I say, do as I do
    and then you can be a Pharisee too.

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