The Anointing at Bethany

Come close...

I love this intense and beautiful moment in the Gospels, The God of the Cosmos enters as a vulnerable man into all the particular fragility of our human friendships and intimacy. I love the way Jesus responds to Mary’s beautiful, useless gesture and recognises it as something that is always worth while, something that will live forever, for all the carping and criticism of Judas, then and now.

I am grateful to Oliver Neale for the image above and to Margot Krebs Neale for the one below. As always you can hear the poem by clicking on the title or the ‘play’ button

The Anointing at Bethany

Come close with Mary, Martha ,  Lazarus
So close the candles stir with their soft breath
And kindle heart and soul to flame within us
Lit by these mysteries of life and death.
For beauty now begins the final movement
In quietness and  intimate encounter
The alabaster jar of precious ointment
Is broken open for the world’s true lover,

The whole room richly fills to feast the senses
With all the  yearning such a fragrance brings,
The heart is mourning but the spirit dances,
Here at the very centre of all things,
Here at the meeting place of love and loss
We all foresee, and see beyond the cross.


Filed under imagination

13 responses to “The Anointing at Bethany

  1. Sally Phalan

    Since I posted my last comment, about your sonnet, “Jesus weeps over Jerusalem”, I have felt a bit uncomfortable. This morning when I woke up I thought about that gospel story of Mary anointing Jesus’ feet, which was read on Monday during our liturgy, so you can imagine my surprise to open my mail box this morning to your beautiful sonnet on the same scene. Meditating on that gospel, when I previously heard it, I was aware of the beauty and sacredness of the moment and what a harsh note was struck by Judas’s comment – he just didn’t get it! This morning I thought that while my response was fair enough, within the context of the sacredness and beauty of the sonnet, and the holiness of this week, it wasn’t the time or place to express a critical comment! Apologies to you and to anyone else who may have found it an interruption! And yet this is also a week of harsh interruptions and broken flow, so maybe it isn’t so much out of context after all?

    • margotkrebsneale

      “Sans la liberté de blâmer, il n’est point d’éloge flatteur” (“Without the freedom to criticise, there is no true praise” P. de Beaumarchais. A response to art is always a compliment! especially as you seem to be looking for deep meaning and a better understanding.

    • A response to art however demanding is always a compliment 🙂

    • malcolmguite

      No worries Sally I didn’t find it an interruption at all and I think Margot is also right that critical response is always a compliment to art. If I didn’t want comment and response I wouldn’t share these here so I’m absolutely fine with it
      As ever

  2. Sally Phalan

    Thank you Malcolm!

  3. Sally Phalan

    and Margaret too!

  4. Sally Phalan

    Oops, Margot!

  5. Sally Phalan

    I love your name so don’t know why the other popped out!

  6. “The alabaster jar of precious ointment
    Is broken open for the world’s true love”

    The restoration of beauty to all that is broken – Thank you, you trinity of artists!

  7. Hello… your voice is incredible, as are these words that draw us in to share the intimacy and depth of this encounter. Thank you for sharing your gifts with us. This further confirms to me that poetry at it’s fullest must be experienced by the ears, and therefore find a deeper root in the heart. If I may, I would like to link your posting to my Facebook page as today’s offering for Passion Week. I look forward to reading and listening to more of your work.
    Lesley-Anne Evans

  8. "LadyLorraine"

    bless you and thank you, malcolm guite

  9. shelley

    Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful sonnet. It has touched my heart as I think of our daughter, our very own Mary of Bethany. Mary’s story has always been so close to my heart.

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