Daily Archives: December 14, 2016

St. John of the Cross; a sonnet

St. John of the Cross

St. John of the Cross

St. John of the Cross also has his day in dark December, just the day after St. Lucy in fact. That seems right for the saint who, more than any other, understood and dealt with the darkness that sometimes comes upon us, the saint who gave us the phrase ‘The Dark Night of the Soul’.

John encountered darkness not only spiritually and psychologically, but actually: both physical darkness and the darkness of human evil when he was imprisoned in a dark dungeon by fellow Christians and indeed, members of his own order! But he did not give in to darkness, rather he perceived that it might become fruitful, the darkness not of evil but of God, that the way down might become the way up, that hidden even in the deepest darkness was the promise of that light which the darkness can never overcome. So he wrote that beautiful poem ‘Although it is the Night’, which Seamus Heaney translated so movingly, opening with the line:

How well I know that fountain, filling., running,

Although it is the night.

The other deep element in his writing is the way he understands Christ as our true lover and is able to draw on the deepest language of human loving to give voice to his intimate relationship with Christ.

I have drawn on ‘Although it is the Night’, poem and on some of the elements in his story and his spiritual writings in making the following sonnet in his honour. My sonnet also reflects on the fact that his day falls in Advent when we are all waiting in Darkness for the coming of God’s marvellous light.

This sonnet has now been collected and published by Canterbury Press in my new book Parable and Paradox. As always you can hear the sonnet by clicking on the title or the ‘play button’.  There is a very fine meditation on St. John of the Cross and a song to go with it on Steve Bell‘s lovely Advent snippet book, which you can find Here

John of the Cross

Deep in the dark your brothers locked you up

But not so deep as your dear Love could dive,

There at the end of colour, sense and shape,

The dark dead end that tells us we’re alive,

You sang aloud and found your absent lover,

As light’s true end comes with the end of light.

In the rich midnight came the lovely other,

You saw him plain although it was the night.

 

And now you call us all to hear that Fountain

Singing and playing well before the Dawn

The sun is still below this shadowed mountain

We wait in darkness for him to be born.

Before he rises, light-winged with the lark,

We’ll meet with our beloved in the dark.

El Greco's landscape of Toledo depicts the priory in which John was held captive

El Greco’s landscape of Toledo depicts the priory in which John was held captive

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Autumn by David Baird

'Autumn' image by Linda Richardson

‘Autumn’ image by Linda Richardson

The poem I have chosen for December 14th in my Advent Anthology from Canterbury Press Waiting on the Word, is Autumn by the contemporary poet and theologian David Baird. You can hear me read this poem by clicking on the title or the play button. The image above is from Linda Richardson’s book of responses to Waiting on the Word.Linda writes:

Ten days before Christmas Eve and the pressure is upon us. Will we continue to find the time to read these poems, to contemplate and wait upon the Word? A few days ago I encouraged the reader, if they were responding in some way, not to dismiss the response if it didn’t resonate, because later reflection could reveal hidden meaning.

Last year, responding to this poem, I reached out for what was at hand. I found a leaf that I had pressed in a book and a piece of medical gauze, found in the bedroom where my Mother-in-law had nursed my Father-in-law until his death on the 12th December 2005, almost ten years before I made this work in December 2015. These seemingly poor objects became the grist for creating the response to David Baird’s Autumn.

The art work is by-the-way, but reflecting on it a year later, the media is of greater interest. As death drew near to my Father-in-law, these words became his reality: ‘then fallen nature driven to her knees flames russet, auburn, orange fierce from within, And bush burns brighter for the growing grey’.

 George Richardson was a man of Faith who lived by and for the Word. There were times in his younger years when he was inclined to unmake the incarnation and turn the Word made flesh back into legal words again as Edwin Muir the Scottish poet writes, “King Calvin with his iron pen, And God three angry letters in a book’. But George was utterly intent upon his Lord Jesus and came to a fuller, richer more loving faith, so that by the end of his life he glowed ‘orange fierce from within’. He would greet each person he met with complete attention, speaking to them as if they were the most important person, and the meeting, the most happy of his week. Being met by George at this time of his life was an invitation into the vast emptiness of his loving heart.

I didn’t realise the significance of the leaf and the gauze until I came to write about it this year.

 You can find you can find a short reflective essay on this poem in Waiting on the Word, which is now also available on Kindle


Autumn

Was certainly not winter, scholars say,

When holy habitation broke the chill

Of hearth-felt separation, icy still,

The love of life in man that Christmas day.

Was autumn, rather, if seasons speak true;

When green retreats from sight’s still ling’ring gaze,

And creeping cold numbs sense in sundry ways,

While settling silence speaks of solitude.

Hope happens when conditions are as these;

Comes finally lock-armed with death and sin,

When deep’ning dark demands its full display.

Then fallen nature driven to her knees

Flames russet, auburn, orange fierce from within,

And bush burns brighter for the growing grey.

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