Monthly Archives: July 2015

I Am the Bread of Life

I Am the Bread of Life

I Am the Bread of Life

The reading this Sunday, in the Common Lectionary, shared by so many churches, is from John 6: 24-35, and ends with the nourishing  ‘I Am’ saying:

‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty’.

Indeed the whole of that chapter in John is a series of reflections stories, meditations, and scriptural allusions to bring out the myriad senes in which Jesus is the Bread of Life. As it happens I am working on a sequence of sonnets on the seven ‘I Am’ sayings which are threaded like pearls through John’s Gospel, so in case it is helpful for those preparing to preach this Sunday, I am posting my sonnet on this saying in advance. This poem will eventually appear in my next poetry book ‘Parable and Paradox’ to be published by Canterbury Press next year. As always you can hear me read the poem by pressing on the play button or clicking on the title.

I Am the Bread of Life

 

35 Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

 

Where to get bread? An ever-pressing question

That trembles on the lips of anxious mothers,

Bread for their families, bread for all these others;

A whole world on the margin of exhaustion.

And where that hunger has been satisfied

Where to get bread? The question still returns

In our abundance something starves and yearns

We crave fulfillment, crave and are denied.

 

And then comes One who speaks into our needs

Who opens out the secret hopes we cherish

Whose presence calls our hidden hearts to flourish

Whose words unfold in us like living seeds

Come to me, broken, hungry, incomplete,

I Am the Bread of Life, break Me and eat.

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Mary, Martha and Lazarus

Today the church remembers Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, the family at Bethany who became close friends with Jesus and whose stories became intimately bound up with his.

John 12 1-8 tells us of how Mary of Bethany anointed Jesus.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.

This sonnet is drawn from my collection Sounding the Seasons, published by Canterbury Press here in England. The book is now back in stock on both Amazon UK and USA and physical copies are also now available in Canada via Steve Bell‘s Signpost Music. The book is now also out on Kindle. Please feel free to make use of these sonnets in church services and to copy and share them. If you can mention the book from which they are taken that would be great.

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.

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Regret, Remembrance, Restoration: Mary Magdalene at Crossbones Graveyard

1024px-Cross_Bones_Graveyard-0052On the 22nd of July, the day I posted my sonnet on Mary Magdalene, the day I was flying back from Canada, a profound and beautiful service was taking place in a scrap of reclaimed garden on the South Bank of the Thames, a service at which I was spiritually, though alas not physically present.  The service was for the consecration of an ancient burial ground, which had hitherto been formally unconsecrated ground, a place where the outcast and rejected, those unrecognised by the church, the unbaptised and those out of communion had been buried. Many of them were exploited women, working as prostitutes in the ‘stews’, the pleasure houses that lined the south bank alongside the play houses, such as Shakespeare’s Globe. These women and often also the many unbaptised babies, born out of wedlock ,sometimes not surviving birth or even their first few weeks were buried in unmarked graves in this scrap of waste ground. The terrible irony is that the church which excluded them was at the same time conniving with and profiting from their exploitation, for all this land belonged to the church which collected rent from the brothel keepers, well knowing how the money was made.. The grave yard itself was several times sold and many times nearly developed and concreted over. And all that time whilst it was fenced off and in course of being privatised local people would come and leave ribbons and prayers and memorials on its gates.

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prayers and memorials on the closed gates of crossbones

It belongs now to London Transport, but thanks to strong local action and the  involvement of the church itself, the land has been saved and turned into a memorial garden, a safe quiet, beautiful space in the bustle of the city. On the 22nd of July this year, Mary Magdalene’s day, the grave-yard garden was formally consecrated and dedicated by the Dean of Southwark Cathedral in a beautiful liturgy which he himself composed and I am honoured and moved to say that my poem for Mary Magdalene was part of the service. Mary, a woman, despised and condemned by the self righteous, but loved by Jesus was chosen by him to be the first witness of the good news of his resurrection, and in her meeting with the love of Christ a graveyard once more became a garden. What better day to dedicate this new garden to the memory of those women who had suffered so much like her. The Dean of Southwark has given me permission to post the whole of this short and moving service. Do take time to read it, it has a great deal to teach, and do pray the prayers it contains especially for those caught up in present day human trafficking. Something was set to rights, some threshold onto grace was opened in a garden by the Thames last Wednesday. May it be for all our Good

An act of regret remembrance restoration

Crossbones Graveyard

The Feast of St Mary Magdalene 2015

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier.

Today is the Feast of St Mary Magdalene. More has been said about Mary than is probably true. Her story has been mixed up with other stories –
of fallen women, of disturbed women, of faithful women, of passionate women, of accused women, of scandalous women – and all rolled into one story. But Jesus met all those women who challenged convention, who dared to speak, who dared to act and he welcomed them, as he welcomes us, with all our contradictions. But what we do know is that of all the people he could have met in the garden by the tomb in the first dawn of Easter Day, it was Mary, and he asked her to be the apostle of his resurrection.

This land on which we stand has received the bodies of women of our community and their born and unborn children, who served the needs of men, but whose own needs were ignored; who were paid a price for love but were refused the gift of real love; who were used to line the coffers of the church but rejected by the church; whose sins excluded them even though Jesus would have included them.

We cannot undo the sins of yesterday but we can do right today and that is why we are here, with regret, in remembrance and to pray for restoration, of this land, of these memories and of the eternal souls of our sisters and their children.

So let us pray.

Almighty God,
whose Son restored Mary Magdalene
to health of mind and body and called her to be a witness to his resurrection:
forgive our sins and heal us by your grace,
that we may serve you in the power of his risen life;
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Amen.

Readings

A Sonnet for Mary Magdalene by Malcolm Guite

Men called you light so as to load you down,

And burden you with their own weight of sin,

A woman forced to cover and contain

Those seven devils sent by Everyman.

But one man set you free and took your part

One man knew and loved you to the core

The broken alabaster of your heart

Revealed to Him alone a hidden door,

Into a garden where the fountain sealed,

Could flow at last for him in healing tears,

Till, in another garden, he revealed

The perfect Love that cast out all your fears,

And quickened you with loves own sway and swing,

As light and lovely as the news you bring.
We repeat this chant three times

All: Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom; Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.

A reading from the Holy Gospel according to John (John 20.11-17)

Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said
to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father.But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” ’

Prayers

Let us pray.

Lord Jesus, you received all who came to you. Forgive us when we exclude others.
Lord in your mercy

All hear our prayer.

Lord Jesus, you exploited no one but gave yourself with generous love. Protect the exploited, the slaves, the abused
and change the hearts of those who use and abuse them.
Lord in your mercy

All hear our prayer.

Lord Jesus, men put a price on your head
and exchanged your life for money.
Liberate those who are trafficked in our world
and give us the courage to confront the traffickers. Lord in your mercy

All hear our prayer.

Lord Jesus, they buried you outside the city walls in a stranger’s grave. Receive with your love the bodies of those killed and lost
to their communities and families.
Lord in your mercy

All hear our prayer.

Lord Jesus,
hear our prayers
and as you received the love of Mary hold in your presence
the souls of all who have gone before us and give them peace.

All Amen.

Restoration

Let us ask God who created this land to hallow it still further this day.

It is right and good,
our duty and our salvation,
to praise you, the all-powerful Father, in every season,
and on this holy day to celebrate all who have gone before us. In Mary Magdalene you kindled a fire of love for Christ, whose word had set her free.
You gave her the courage of love
to follow him even to the cross.
Seeking her teacher after his death,
so great was her longing
that you made her the first to behold him
risen from the dead,
and the first to announce to the apostles
his new and glorious risen life.
As she stood in a garden
that had become a graveyard
we stand in a graveyard
that has become a garden.
Her words still ring throughout your world,
to strengthen faith and encourage hope
in those who gather faithfully for prayer.
May this be a holy place in our community,
set apart for the past, the present and the future
and a place where the dead and living may know your peace.

All Amen.

The Dean first sprinkles holy water on the ground and then censes the area as we sing

Be still, for the presence of the Lord, the holy One is here: Come bow before him now with reverence and fear:
In him no sin is found, we stand on holy ground.
Be still, for the presence of the Lord, the holy One is here

Be still, for the glory of the Lord is shining all around: He burns with holy fire, with splendour he is crowned: How awesome is the sight, our radiant king of light! Be still, for the glory of the Lord is shining all around.

Be still, for the power of the Lord is moving in this place: He comes to cleanse and heal, to minister his grace:
No work too hard for him, in faith receive from him.
Be still, for the power of the Lord is moving in this place.

David J Evans

Eternal Lord God, you hold all souls in life:
shed forth, we pray,
upon your whole Church in paradise and on earth the bright beams of your light and heavenly comfort; and grant that we, following the good example of those who have loved and served you here and are now at rest, may at the last enter with them into the fullness of your eternal joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

All Amen.

And the blessing of God almighty,
Source of all being, eternal Word and Holy Spirit, Be among you and remain with you always.

All Amen.

Memorial Garden

Memorial Garden

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Coleridge comes to bless my study!

 

Coleridge's self-composed epitaph

Coleridge’s self-composed epitaph

Today I returned from the framers with a charcoal rubbing taken from Coleridge’s gravestone of his beautiful epitaph, all clearly mounted and ready to hang in my new study in Linton, the last picture to go up. It was only as I unwrapped it that I realised that today, July 25th, is the anniversary of his death, no better day to  to set this poem above my desk and give thanks for all he means to me, to pray for him as his epitaph asks, and to invoke his blessing on my own efforts to receive his insights and interpret them for a new generation.!

I have signed a contract with Hodder and Stoughton to write a new book, which will be called Mariner! A Voyage with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and will be published in the spring of 2017, to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Coleridge’s seminal book Biographia Literaria, and also the first full collection of his poems Sybilline Leaves. My book will tell Coleridge’s story through the lens of his own great poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, a poem which was uncannily prophetic not only of Coleridge’s own life, but of our own history and culture. My book will try both to show the vital thread of Christian thought and witness that runs through Coleridge’s life and writing and also the startling relevance of that life and writing to the challenges of the 21st century.

I could not begin to reckon the personal debt I owe to Coleridge; for his poetry, for his personal and Christian wisdom, above all for his brilliant exploration and defence of the poetic imagination as a truth-bearing faculty which participates in, and is redeemed by the Logos, the living Word, himself the Divine Imagination. We are only now coming to appreciate the depth and range of what he achieved. His contemporaries scarcely understood him, and his Victorian successors looked down in judgement at what they saw as the shipwreck of his life. Something of that experience of rejection, twinned with deep Christian conviction, can be seen in the epitaph he wrote for himself:

Stop, Christian passer-by!—Stop, child of God,
And read with gentle breast. Beneath this sod
A poet lies, or that which once seemed he.
O, lift one thought in prayer for S. T. C.;
That he who many a year with toil of breath
Found death in life, may here find life in death!
Mercy for praise—to be forgiven for fame
He asked, and hoped, through Christ. Do thou the same!

From my teenage raptures when I was first enchanted by Kubla Khan and the Ancient Mariner, to my struggles and adventures in the middle of life STC has been my companion and guide. In the chapter on Coleridge in my book Faith Hope and Poetry I have set out an account of his thinking and made the case for his central importance in our own age, but what I offer here is a sonnet celebrating his legacy, drawing on that epitaph I mentioned above, one of a sequence of sonnets on my fellow christians in my most recent book The Singing Bowl,  published by the Canterbury Press.

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

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

‘Stop, Christian passer-by!—Stop, child of God!’

You made your epitaph imperative,

And stopped this wedding guest! But I am glad

To stop with you and start again, to live

From that pure source, the all-renewing stream,

Whose living power is imagination,

And know myself a child of the I AM,

Open and loving to his whole creation.

Your glittering eye taught mine to pierce the veil,

To let his light transfigure all my seeing,

To serve the shaping Spirit whom I feel,

And make with him the poem of my being.

I follow where you sail towards our haven,

Your wide wake lit with glimmerings of heaven.

Steve Bell captured me in ancient mariner mode!

Steve Bell captured me in ancient mariner mode!

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Mary Magdalene: A Sonnet

22nd July is Mary Magdalene’s day, and continuing my sequence of sonnets written in response to the church year I post this for her. As usual you can hear the poem by clicking on its title or on the ‘play’ button.

This sonnet is drawn from my collection Sounding the Seasons, published by Canterbury Press here in England. The book is now back in stock on both Amazon UK and USA and physical copies are shortly to be available in Canada via Steve Bell. The book is now also out on Kindle. Please feel free to make use of these sonnets in church services and to copy and share them. If you can mention the book from which they are taken that would be great.



Mary Magdalene

Men called you light so as to load you down,
And burden you with their own weight of sin,
A woman forced to  cover and contain
Those seven devils sent by Everyman.
But one man set you free and took your part
One man knew and loved you to the core
The broken alabaster of your heart
Revealed to Him alone a hidden door,
Into a garden where the fountain sealed,
Could flow at last for him in healing tears,
Till, in another garden, he revealed
The perfect Love that cast out all your fears,
And quickened you  with love’s own sway and swing,
As light and lovely as the news you bring.

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John Keble and The Christian Year

Portrait_of_John_Keble_(cropped)On the 14th of July the Church of England remembers with thanksgiving the life and work of the priest-poet John Keble. Keble who was part of the Oxford Movement, a  revival of depth and sanctity in the church’s ritual life, was ordained in 1815 and in 1827 published, anonymously, a little volume of poetry which gave a poem for every Sunday of the Church Year, called’ The Christian Year. It was quite simply the most popular book of verse in the nineteenth century and went through 95 editions in Keble’s life time! Some of its poems, for example ‘New Every morning is the love’ have become well known hymns. Whilst I haven’t written an individual sonnet for Keble, my entire volume ‘Sounding the Seasons; seventy sonnets for the Christian Year’, was, as the title suggests, partly inspired by Keble’s example. So here, on his day, is the opening poem of that book 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.

 

 

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’.

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A sonnet for St. Benedict

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On July the 11th the Church celebrates the feast of St. Benedict of Nursia, the gentle founder of the Benedictine order and by extension the father of Monasticism. A moderate and modest man he would have been astonished to learn that his ‘simple school for prayer’, his ‘modest rule for beginners’ led to the foundation of communities which kept the Christian flame alight through dark ages, preserved not only Christian faith, scripture, and culture,but also the best of Classical Pagan learning and culture, fed the poor, transformed societies, promoted learning and scholarship, and today provides solace, grounding, perspective and retreat not only to monks and nuns but to millions of lay people around the world.
Here is my sonnet for Benedict, drawing largely on phrases from the Rule, I dedicate it to the sisters at Turvey Abbey. It appears in my new book with Canterbury Press, The Singing Bowl

The book is now back in stock on bothAmazon UK and USA and physical copies are available in Canada via Steve Bell. It is now also out on Kindle. Please feel free to make use of this, and my other sonnets in church services and to copy and share them. If you can mention the book from which they are taken that would be great.

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

Benedict

You sought to start a simple school of prayer,
A modest, gentle, moderate attempt,
With nothing made too harsh or hard to bear,
No treating or retreating with contempt,
A little rule, a small obedience
That sets aside, and tills the chosen ground,
Fruitful humility, chosen innocence,
A binding by which freedom might be found

You call us all to live, and see good days,
Centre in Christ and enter in his peace,
To seek his Way amidst our many ways,
Find blessedness in blessing, peace in praise,
To clear and keep for Love a sacred space
That we might be beginners in God’s grace.

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