Monthly Archives: February 2012

Temptation in the Wilderness (2)

The penthouse suite with world-commanding views

So we come, in this Lenten sonnet sequence, to the second of the ‘temptations in the wilderness’ (I am following the order set out in Luke’s Gospel Chapter 4: verses 1-13).

This is the temptation to worldliness, to ‘success’, money and power set up obsessively on the throne of our hearts as rivals to God. It is the supreme temptation of our own materially obsessed culture. And it is our failure at this point that has led to the gross imbalances between the 1% and the 99%, against  which the Occupy movement are understandably protesting. ‘All this power I will give thee…’ is the dreadfully conditional offer that the devil still makes, and in my sonnet I have tried to flesh out in contemporary terms some of the figures who seem to be making and receiving that offer now.

The photo of 5th Avenue above was taken by Margot Krebs Neal and the compelling and disturbing fusion of sand and money in the image below was taken by her son Oliver. Of course the  tower of glass above is only made from the sands of the desert below and to sand it will eventually return.

You can hear the sonnet by clicking on the play button or the title.

All the Kingdoms of the World


‘So here’s the deal and this is what you get:

The penthouse suite with world-commanding views,

The banker’s bonus and the private jet

Control and ownership of all the news

An ‘in’ to that exclusive one percent,

Who know the score, who really run the show

With interest on every penny lent 

And sweeteners for cronies in the know.

A straight arrangement between me and you

No hell below or heaven high above

You just admit it, and give me my due

And wake up from this foolish dream of love…’

But Jesus laughed, ‘You are not what you seem.

Love is the waking life, you are the dream.’

So here's the deal, and this is what you get


Filed under imagination, Poems

Temptation in the Wilderness (1)

And He was led by the sprit into the Wilderness

It is traditional to spend the first Sunday in Lent reflecting on the three temptations Jesus endured and resisted in the Wilderness, though it is also possible to extend this meditation throughout Lent and this is what I propose to do within my sonnet series. Over the course of the next three weeks or so I will post three sonnets each reflecting on a different Temptation in  the wilderness starting this week with the Temptation to turn stones into bread, which prompts Jesus profound reply ‘Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. A word which certainly needs to be heard by Christians living in affluent western societies dominated by consumer culture. I believe that Jesus underwent this ordeal on our behalf, to break open the ground of the heart and make real choice possible for us.

However I think its essential not to see the temptations entirely in negative terms. All good things come from God and those things which the devil pretends to offer, but in the wrong way or for the wrong reasons, are cheap imitations of the very things that God does indeed offer and that Jesus himself recieves, enjoys, and crucially, shares. He does not turn stones into bread for himself on this occasion, but later, in the very same wilderness he takes bread, gives thanks, and breaks it, and feeds five thousand with all they want, and twelve baskets full left over! If Edmund had turned down the Witch’s turkish delight he would have come sooner to Aslan’s feast!. So here is the first of the three ‘temptation’ sonnets.

As always I am grateul to Margot for her thought-provoking images. you can hear the poem by clicking on the title or the play button.

Stones into Bread


The Fountain thirsts, the Bread is hungry here

The Light is dark, the Word without a voice.

When darkness speaks it seems so light and clear.

Now He must dare, with us, to make a choice.

In a distended belly’s cruel curve

He feels the famine of the ones who lose

He starves for those whom we have forced to starve

He chooses now for those who cannot choose.

He is the staff and sustenance of life

He lives for all from one Sustaining Word

His love still breaks and pierces like a knife

The stony ground of hearts that never shared,

God gives through Him what Satan never could;

The broken bread that is our only food.

His love still breaks and pierces like a knife


Filed under christianity, Poems

Ash Wednesday

Brought from the burning of Palm Sunday's Cross

I resume the thread of Sounding the Seasons, the sonnet sequence I have been posting here, with this sonnet for Ash Wednesday, posted a day or two early, in case people would like to use it in their liturgy or private prayers on the day. As I set about the traditional task of burning the remnants of last Palm Sunday’s palm crosses in order to make the ash which would bless and sign our repentance on Ash Wednesday, I was suddenly struck by the way both the fire and the ash were signs not only of our personal mortality and our need for repentance and renewal but also signs of of the wider destruction our sinfulness inflicts upon God’s world and on our fellow creatures, on the whole web of life into which God has woven us and for which He also cares. So some of those themes are visted in this sonnet. As we go through Lent I will post sonnets reflecting on each of the three temptations of Christ in  the wilderness, as well as for Mothering Sunday and the Feast of the  Annunciation which also falls in Lent. As before I am grateful to Margot Krebs Neale for the remarkable commentary on these poems which she is making through her photographs. As always you can hear the poem by clicking on the title or the Play Button

Ash Wednesday

Receive this cross of ash upon your brow,
Brought from the burning of Palm Sunday’s cross.
The forests of the world are burning now
And you make late repentance for the loss.
But all the trees of God would clap their hands
The very stones themselves would shout and sing
If you could covenant to love these lands
And recognise in Christ their Lord and king.

He sees the slow destruction of those trees,
He weeps to see the ancient places burn,
And still you make what purchases you please,
And still to dust and ashes you return.
But Hope could rise from ashes even now
Beginning with this sign upon your brow.

Beginning with this sign upon your brow


Filed under christianity, literature, Poems

A Song for Valentine’s Day

Playing Maggie's song in the BBC studios

I was a guest on Sue Marchant’s Big Night In radio show the other day and took the opportunity to play this song live and dedicate it to my wife Maggie in time for Valentine’s day! I wrote it for her a few years ago and its on my new CD Dancing Through the Fire. Ironically its the only song of mine in which the movie industry has ever aken an interest, And for a while it looked as if it might be part of the sound track of a romantic movie. but the movie never got funding and the plans were dropped so I guess the title of the song turned out to be true after all!

I hope you enjoy it.  You can hear the full CD version with Oli Smith’s wonderful sax solo by pressing the play button or clicking on the title and the lyrics are posted below:

Movies s3 t3 m2

They Don’t Make Movies (Out of Love Like This)

All those people in the movies look so healthy young and tanned

And I know there’s nothing that they wouldn’t sell.

I can see their words of promise run like water into sand

So I draw my water from a deeper well.

When we wake up in the morning you can hardly face the day

And I see the courage other people miss,

As you spend yourself for others, as you keep the dark at bay,

But they don’t make movies out of love like this.




There’s no glamour like the magazines, no glitter like the stars,

No putting on the make-up to impress,

But we still stand together love, for all our battle-scars,

We hold each other’s hearts and still say yes.



You cant photograph fidelity, or merchandise restraint,

Your inner beauty wont be selling soap.

And sometimes from the outside it might seem that love grows faint

On the inside its renewed each day in hope.

So there’s nothing on the surface to attract a stranger’s gaze

There’s not photo-genic posed romantic bliss,

Just two people staying faithful through the darkest winter days,

But they don’t make movies out of love like this.



And its been a long day’s journey just to get us up to bed,

But we’re not too tired to share a loving  kiss,

And the truest and the deepest things are more than can  be said,

And they don’t make movies out of love like this.


Filed under imagination, Music, Songs

Sounding the Seasons

tramelled in time...sounding the seasons

In my last post I set out the overall plan for my sonnet sequence Sounding The Seasons. Now here, as promised, is the sonnet which will open the whole sequence, a sonnet which meditates on what we hope to achieve by keeping the seasons, keeping holy and memorial days. Of course the truths on which we meditate over the course of the liturgical year, from the mystery of Christmas to the all-transforming drama of Good Friday and Easter, are true all the time! But we do not remember or think of them all the time, for time itself, ‘the subtle thief’, can so easily take even the memory of truth from us. So it was a deep wisdom that led the early church to turn ‘Time the thief’ into ‘Time the messenger’, to make the very medium that might have taken the truth away from us become the medium that restores it, as Time brings round and renews each Holy Day.

Anyway here is my poetic reflection on these things. As always you can hear the poems by clicking on the ‘play’ buton or the title, and as always I m grateful to Margot Krebs Neale for the images which accompany and reflect on aspects of the poem. Margot has kindly sent me the following comments on the two images she has chosen for this poem; the bell which you see above, and the shaft of light you will see at the end of the sonnet:

Margot writes: “In a comment on his blog Malcolm mentioned the title to a series of “sonnets for the whole ‘churchyear” “Sounding the seasons” the first image I saw in my head, was the bells calling, bells and seasons, bells and time. I was talking about it and then I thought “sounding” is also “sounding the depth” and I could see the lead weight. English is not my mother-tongue and words are not “mine” they are very much themselves.

So I looked for the most impressive set of bells I have seen, in Rostov, Russia. I so wanted to go and take a beautiful powerful picture. Then I remembered that I had been given 3 Russian bells, small but beautiful when I left Russia. They have accompanied every Easter and Christmas in my house.  And I set this picture modestly in my kitchen, sounding the New Year in.

Malcolm sent me the sonnet and I then wanted to illustrate sentences which were not visual, those who touched me: “Sometimes the heart remembers its own reasons”. I also loved “We sometimes glimpse the Love that casts out fear,” and Malcolm suggested  it as something visual, “glimpse”. OK, but we needed to see love and fear…

I browsed through month and month of my pictures without a clear purpose. Then this picture, which was a failed attempt or so I thought. I had kept it because that light, I wanted to remember how I had tried many small holes, the smaller the hole the brighter the light was, camera obscura effect. Still my camera was struggling with the contrast too much light and too much dark. Many attempts, many failures. I liked that sense of a passage, I tried readjusting the light and it brought back the “path” on the foreground and the sense of a cross in the webs. We had the fear and the light.”

Sounding The Seasons

Tramelled in time, we live with hints and guesses
Turning the wheel of each returning year,
But in between our failures and successes
We sometimes glimpse the Love that casts out fear,
Sometimes the heart remembers its own reasons
And breathes a Sanctus as we tell our story,
Tracing the tracks of grace, sounding the seasons
That lead at last through time to timeless glory.

From the first yearnings for a Saviours birth
To the full joy of knowing sins forgiven
We gather as His church on Gods’s good earth
To share an echo of the choirs of heaven
I share these hints, returning what was lent,
Turning to praise each ‘moment’s monument’.

We sometimes glimpse the Love that casts out fear


Filed under literature, Meditation

A Thank-you, and a Plan!

'The Temple of Peace' where I do most of my writing.

'The Temple of Peace' where I do most of my writing.

Well, we have come to the end of quite a long intense sequence of ‘High days and Holy days’ stretching from the beginning of Advent through to Candlemas, during which I have been posting my ‘seasonal’ sonnets almost every week! We have a bit of a ‘breather’ in the Church Calendar now until things start again in earnest with Ash Wednesday and Lent. I thought I’d take advantage of this ‘space between the seasons’ to fill you in a little more on the whole ‘sacred sonnets project’ and how the sonnets you’ve been reading fit in to my larger plan for a new book, to be called “Sounding the Seasons.”

But first, a big thank you to everyone who has subscribed, and follows this blog, its very encouraging to know that readers around the world are finding the poems and reflections here sufficiently helpful to choose to ‘follow’ the blog.  I am currently sending a proposal out to publishers to turn the poems on these pages into a little book and the more subscribers I have to the blog the more I can show publishers that there is a market and a potential readership for something as unusual as a 21st Century Sonnet-Sequence!

Secondly, I have only recently discovered that WordPress have been placing advertisements, (for I know not what goods and services!) on my blog! They don’t appear in my browser so I didnt know they were there. I have been using WP as a free service but I have found out that by paying a subscription I can remove all ads, so from today I will be doing that.The only thing ‘on sale’ on these pages therefore will be my own modest little poetry books and cds, and if anyone who doesnt have them feels like buying them to help me defray the small expense of running the blog, that would be great. The links for poetry are here, and for the cds here. You can also get the music on itunes.

Now let me tell you about the Plan for all these sonnets!  My plan is to complete a sequence of seventy-five sonnets to be called ‘Sounding the Seasons’,  which could be read for pleasure or devotion by individuals, but which would also provide a liturgical and worship resource for churches and church groups, in which individual sonnets would reflect not only the theme of festivals and saints’ days, but also pick up and develop themes and language from the lectionary readings. The idea is that the sequence would not only take you on a journey through the Church Year but also through the life of Christ, the mysteries of the faith, and a journey, in Christian life, from the font to the altar, from the cradle to the grave which has become for us, the gate of heaven. So the overall cycle, Sounding the Seasons, will be divided into three sections as follows:

I The Year’s Journey:

A sequence of sonnets that takes the reader on a journey through the Church Year from the longings of Advent, through the Incarnation, Presentation, Baptism, Temptation, Transfiguration, Death and Resurrection of Christ, on to the Ascension, Trinity Sunday, and Pentecost, finishing at last with the feast of Christ the King.

II The Company of the Saints:

This section of the cycle would celebrate the saints, as the great cloud of witness who accompany and encourage us on the journey, starting with Mary and each of the Four Evangelists, including Mary Magdalene, Saint Peter and Saint Paul, and going on to some well-known extra-biblical saints such as Saint Francis, and ending with a ‘gathering poem’ for the feast of All Saints itself.

III The Household of Faith:

The third and final sequence within the whole cycle is focused on the life the Church lives now, and comprises another kind of journey, from the Font at the West door towards the Altar, which is also the journey of the individual Christian through life. These sonnets aim to reveal the inward and spiritual through the outward and visible, so there are sonnets about the Font, the Lectern and the Communion Table, but also sonnets on Marriage and Renewal of Vows, on receiving Communion, and the sequence ends with a sonnet on the glimpse of Heaven revealed in listening to the Sanctus at a Requiem.

So that is he plan, and the whole sequence is now nearly complete. In my next post I will share with you a sonnet called ‘Sounding the Seasons’ which I have written to open the whole sequence and set out the heart of what its all about. Let me know what you think and thanks again for following me thus far!


I pause for a pipe in the temple of peace, for a little mid-sonnet inspiration Thanks for the photo Lancia Smith:

kindling a little inspiration in the Temple of Peace!

kindling a little inspiration! (Photo by Lancia Smith)


Filed under imagination, literature