Monthly Archives: December 2012

Ringing in The Year

bellsOn New Years Eve a group of us will gather in the mediaeval Bell Tower of St. Edward’s church in Cambridge to pray, and reflect, and to ring in the new year. We will be participating in a long tradition. George Herbert imagined Prayer itself as ‘Church Bells beyond the stars heard’ and the great turning point in In Memoriam, Tennyson’s great exploration of time and eternity, mortality and resurrection, doubt and faith, comes with the ringing of bells for the new year and his famous and beautiful lines beginning ‘Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,’ and concluding:

Ring in the valiant man and free,

The larger heart, the kindlier hand;

Ring out the darkness of the land,

Ring in the Christ that is to be. (For more of this passage and my talks on Tennyson click Here)

I love to hear our bells, the oldest of which has chimed in our tower since the fifteenth century, and so I have made my own small contribution to the poetry and meaning of bell ringing in the following sonnet, which is taken from my collection ‘Sounding the Seasons’

As always you can hear the sonnet by clicking on the title or pressing the ‘play’ button.

New Year’s Day: Church Bells

 Not the bleak speak of mobile messages,

The soft chime of synthesised reminders,

Not texts, not pagers, data packages,

Not satnav or locators ever find us

As surely, soundly, deeply as these bells

That sound and find and call us all at once

‘Ears of my ears’ can hear, my body feels

This call to prayer that is itself a dance.

So ring  them out in joy and jubilation,

Sound them in sorrow tolling for the lost,

O let them wake the church and rouse the nation,.

A sleeping lion stirred to life at last

Begin again they sing, again begin,

A ring and rhythm answered from within.

The Bell Tower at St. Edward King and Martyr Cambridge

The Bell Tower at St. Edward King and Martyr Cambridge

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Lisa Mullins’ moving farewell to ‘The World’

goth_eucharist_203_203x152On Friday Lisa Mullins made her final broadcast as ‘Anchor man’ to The World. a program produced by PRI the BBC and WGBH, and which seems to be the American equivalent of the British ‘World Service’. She contacted me the day before croadcast to say that she intended to use a story about our Goth eucharist at St. Edwards and an interview with me as her final piece for the show. I’ve just been sent the link which includes a sound cloud recording of the item. It took me vividly back to a service two years ago and told a moving story. The clip is about 8 minutes long I hope you enjoy it.

Here’s a link to the World’ page for the story

and heres the soundcloud player:

 

 

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The Holy Innocents

holy innocentsToday, the fourth day of Christmas, falls the feast day of the Holy Innocents. It is the day the Church remembers the story, told in Matthew’s Gospel of the appalling cruelty and wickedness of Herod in ordering the massacre of innocent children, in a bid to protect his own power-base. Appalling, but only too familiar. What Herod did then, President Assad of Syria is doing now, and many tyrants and evil individuals in between. This scarred and wounded world is the world into which Jesus was born, the world he came to save, and amongst those brought by his blood through the grave and gate of death and into the bliss of Heaven are those children of Bethlehem who died for his name without ever knowing him. But he knows them, as he knows and loves every child in Syria and every child at Sandyhook, and he says of them, to every Herod, ‘Whatsoever ye do unto the least of these, ye do it unto me.’

This sonnet, which follows the narrative in Mathew 2:13-18, a narrative which goes out of its way to mention the death of Herod, is published in my collection Sounding the Seasons. It has also been adapted and set powerfully to Music by Steve Bell on his Album Keening For The Dawn.

As always you can hear this sonnet by pressing the ‘play’ button, if it appears, or clicking on the title.

Refugee

We think of him as safe beneath the steeple,

Or cosy in a crib beside the font,

But he is with a million displaced people

On the long road of weariness and want.

For even as we sing our final carol

His family is up and on that road,

Fleeing the wrath of someone else’s quarrel,

Glancing behind and shouldering their load.

Whilst Herod rages still from his dark tower

Christ clings to Mary, fingers tightly curled,

The lambs are slaughtered by the men of power,

And death squads spread their curse across the world.

But every Herod dies, and comes alone

To stand before the Lamb upon the throne.

giotto-di-bondone-the-flight-into-egypt

You can listen Directly to steve Bell’s reworking of the song, with its ironic contrast between the tone of music and lyric here:

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A Sonnet for the Feast of St. John

The soaring glory of an eagle's flight

The soaring glory of an eagle’s flight

On the third day of Christmas falls the feast of St. John the Evangelist, and it is fitting that the Gospel writer whose prologue goes so deeply into the mystery of Incarnation, and whose words ‘The Word was made flesh’ are read at every Christmas Eucharist, should have his feast-day within the twelve days of Christmas.

In my sonnet sequence Sounding the Seasons I have gathered my sonnets for the four Evangelists into one sequence at the beginning. But here in its proper place in the liturgical year is my sonnet for St. John, the evangelist whose emblem is the Eagle. (for an account of the four emblems see here. I love John’s Gospel and you an hear the five talks I gave on Logos, Light, Life, Love and Glory in John’s Gospel via links on this page.)

As always you can hear the poem by clicking on the title or the ‘play’ button.

John

This is the gospel of the primal light,

The first beginning, and the fruitful end,

The soaring glory of an eagle’s flight,

The quiet touch of a beloved friend.

This is the gospel of our transformation,

Water to wine and grain to living bread,

Blindness to sight and sorrow to elation,

And Lazarus himself back from the dead!

This is the gospel of all inner meaning,

The heart of heaven opened to the earth,

A gentle friend on Jesus’ bosom leaning,

And Nicodemus offered a new birth.

No need to search the heavens high above,

Come close with John, and feel the pulse of Love.

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On the Feast of Stephen

Witness for Jesus, man of fruitful blood

Witness for Jesus, man of fruitful blood

There is something telling about the fact that the very day after Christmas the Church celebrates the Feast of Stephen, the first Martyr. Martyr means witness, and Stephen witnessed that the Babe born at bethlehem was worth dying for, and more he witnessed the resurrection of Jesus and in that resurrection the promise of resurrection to humanity, for whom Christ died. The blood of the Martyrs is the seed of the Church, and the seed Stephen sowed bore almost immediate fruit.  I believe it was the witness of Stephen’s martyrdom that opened the way for Christ into the life of St. Paul. Even as he held the coats and was consenting unto Stephen’s death he was witnessing in Stephen’s face the risen life and love of Christ, and the road to Damascus led past the very place where Stephen died.

As always you can hear the poem by clicking on the title or on the ‘play’ button. This poem is taken from my collection ‘Sounding the Seasons; Seventy Sonnets for the Christian Year’ published by Canterbury Press and also available from Amazon UK, US, and Canada

St. Stephen

 

Witness for Jesus, man of fruitful blood,

Your martyrdom begins and stands for all.

They saw the stones, you saw the face of God,

And sowed a seed that blossomed in St. Paul.

When Saul departed breathing threats and slaughter

He had to pass through that Damascus gate

Where he had held the coats and heard the laughter

As Christ, alive in you, forgave his hate,

And showed him the same light you saw from heaven

And taught him, through his blindness, how to see;

Christ did not ask ‘Why were you stoning Stephen?’

But ‘Saul, why are you persecuting me?’

Each martyr after you adds to his story,

As clouds of witness shine through clouds of glory.

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Descent; A Christmas Poem

mangerHappy Christmas!

Milton wrote an Ode on the Morning of Christ’s Nativity, which no one can hope to emulate, but in the following poem I have followed his lead in drawing a contrast between the various gods of the Classical world and the full and astonishing revelation of God’s love in the manger at Bethlehem. This was originally a short three verse poem, but at the behest of Steve Bell I have re-written it so that it is now also a song, with a tune of his composing on his wonderful new Album Keening for the Dawn. I have written about our collaboration here.  I have also recorded  a reading of this poem which you can hear by clicking on the ‘play’ button below or the title

Descent

They sought to soar into the skies

Those classic gods of high renown

For lofty pride aspires to rise

​But you came down.

You dropped down from the mountains sheer

Forsook the eagle for the dove

The other Gods demanded fear

But you gave love

Where chiselled marble seemed to freeze

Their abstract and perfected form

Compassion brought you to your knees

Your blood was warm

They called for blood in sacrifice

Their victims on an altar bled

When no one else could pay the price

You died instead

They towered above our mortal plain,

Dismissed this restless flesh with scorn,

Aloof from birth and death and pain,

​But you were born.

Born to these burdens, borne by all

Born with us all ‘astride the grave’

Weak, to be with us when we fall,

​And strong to save.

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On Christmas Eve; A Sonnet for Mary

The Theotokos of vladimirChristmas Eve seems a good time to remember the one who bore our saviour for us, who was full of grace.

Mary has been given many titles down the ages and some Christians have disagreed with one another bitterly about her. But equally, in every age and every church she has been, for many Christians, a sign of hope and an inspiration. In a strange way, which I will write about in another post, she was a sign of hope to me even before I was a Christian, and it was something numinous and beautiful in the paintings and poetry she has inspired that helped lead me to her Son.

Her earliest ‘title’, agreed throughout the church in the first centuries of our faifth, before the divisions of East and West, Catholic and Protestant, was Theotokos, which means God-Bearer. she is the prime God-Bearer, bearing for us in time the One who was begotten in eternity, and every Christian after her seeks to become in some small way a God-bearer, one whose ‘yes’ to God means that Christ is made alive and fruitful in the world through our flesh and our daily lives, is  born and given to another.

So here is my sonnet for her. I have taken a small liberty with one of Dante’s finest lines, when through the eyes of St. Bernard, he gives us a glimpse of her in heaven.

This poem is included in my new book Sounding the Seasons; Seventy Sonnets for the Christian Year, Published by Canterbury Press and now also available in the USA and Canada via Westminster John Knox Press

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

Theotokos

You bore for me the One who came to bless

And bear for all and make the broken whole.

You heard His call and in your open ‘yes’

You spoke aloud for every living soul.

Oh gracious Lady, child of your own child,

Whose mother-love still calls the child in me,

Call me again, for I am lost, and  wild

Waves suround me now. On this dark sea

Shine as a star and call me to the shore.

Open the door that all my sins would close

And hold me in your garden. Let me share

The prayer that folds the petals of the Rose.

Enfold me too in Love’s last mystery

And bring me to the One you bore for me.

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A Seventh Advent Sonnet, and a Hidden Message

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 antiphons 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!”

O Emmanuel

O Rex

O Oriens

O Clavis

O Radix

O Adonai

O Sapientia

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

These Antiphons and some of their accompanying sonnets have inspired a great piece by Steve Bell, the song O Emmanuel on his new CD Keening for the Dawn  (you can hear the song O Emmanuel from this page do give it a listen if you can.

I have gathered these and other sonnets into a new book called Sounding the Seasons; Seventy Sonnets for the Christian Year published by Canterbury Press. It is also available on Amazon or by order from your local bookshop.

O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster,
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 come, O come, and be our God-with-us
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.

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A Hidden King; My Sixth Advent Sonnet

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

Like the other Advent sonnets, this one is now collected and published in my larger sonnet sequence Sounding the Seasons, from the Canterbury Press, also available from Amazon etc.

These Advent sonnets have also been taken up and transformed into song on Steve Bell’s wonderful new Album Keening For The Dawn


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 Rex Gentium

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.

unfound foundation, cast-off cornerstone

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Lancelot Andrewes on Christmas: a sermon lives again

Lancelot Andrewes 1555-1626

Lancelot Andrewes 1555-1626

At the request of various members of St. Edward’s Church I recently preached one of Lancelot Andrewes‘ great Christmas sermons. In this one he reflects on what it means to say ‘The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory… full of grace and truth’

Here is a soundcloud link to a recording of the sermon, preceded by my brief introduction and kindly recorded and posted by Honor Clare White. This is the full Seventeenth Century Monty, so if you want to hear it all. you’ll need about an hour! There’s also quite lot of Latin and some Greek, but almost always Andrewes translates as he goes along, so you dont need Latin to get this, though you’ll enjoy the sound and the word plays I hope. as an encouragement I should mention that in my view this sermon is the source of some other great poetry and writing. I believe it contains the essence of what became, George Herbert’s poem Come my Way my Truth my Life, it is the starting point for TS Eliot’s lines about ‘The word without a word’ in Gerontion and Ash Wednesday, and I think it may also be the original locus for the children’ first glimpse of Aslan emerging from his Pavilion in the midst of the encamped Narnians. (It is also the source for two lines in my song ‘Angels Unawares’; ‘Its right here in the dirt, where we’ve all been loved and hurt, tat Love Himself has come to pitch his tent’. If you have a chance sometime over Christmas I hope you enjoy it.

You can find the full text of the sermon here:

Andrewes Christmas Sermon 1611

I preached the sermon from Latimer’s pulpit, which was made in 1510 and may well have been seen in St. Edwards by Andrewes who was Master of Pembroke, just round the corner. The famous pulpit was already over a hundred years old when Andrewes preached this sermon in 1611, the year in which the great Authorised Version of the Bible, which he had done so much work on, was finally published

478344_509315935768073_1964792257_o

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