Monthly Archives: April 2020

The Quarantine Quatrains: part 2: Zoom

The kind faces of my colleagues at college

Here is the second ‘episode’ in my occasional series of Quarantine Quatrains. In the first I opened out the apparent prospect of real leisure and comparatively unmeasured time, which was how I thought the quarantine might develop, and how it seemed to start. Of course I soon discovered, like most of us, that it was potentially as busy as ever though in a more fragmented, haphazard, but nevertheless demanding way. Especially as our organic and nuanced encounters with one another in real life, in real time and place, are usurped by a flat onscreen exchange. In these quatrains I muse on the the ambivalence of our zoom-life, on the genuine sense of relief and connection it brings and yet, at the very same time, the way it emphasises and underlines our loss. It teases us with absence and yet it keeps connection and hope alive.

Quarantine Quatrains pt 2

Some days you are diverted by a call

The soft computer chime that summons all

To show a face to faces that we meet

Mirages, empty mirrors on the wall.

 

Alas that all the friends we ever knew

Whose lives were fragrant and whose touch was true

Can only meet us on some little screen

Then zoom away with scarcely an adieu.

 

We share with them the little that we know

These galleries of ghosts set in a row

They flicker on the screen of life awhile

But some have left the meeting long ago.

 

We used to stroll together on the green

Who now divide the squares upon the screen,

The faces of our friends, so far apart

Tease us with tenderness that might have been

 

Some day we’ll break the bread, we’ll pour the wine

And meet and kiss and feast beneath the vine,

Till then we’ll sweeten solitude with verse

And yearn through pain, and watch each day decline.

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The Quarantine Quatrains: an occasional series

I have been re-reading Edward  Fitzgerald’s translation of the Rubaiyat of  Omar Khayyam, an old favourite. Somehow its tone of wistful elegy, poignant celebration of every passing beauty, defiant affirmation of love and life, and yet humble acceptance of mortality, seem even more fitting for this time, than for the many other phases and stages of life in which I have enjoyed that poem.

I was also savouring again the elegance of the quatrain form: the way those four-line stanzas work on the ear and the eye, Fitzgerald’s beautiful and mellifluous rhyming all on one sound in each quatrain, the way the first couplet sets up your expectations and the unrhymed third line increases the tension, then acts as a launchpad for the clinching final rhyme. If you read the first three quatrains in the picture above, of my little Folio Society edition, you’ll see what I mean.  I was surprised to realise that I had not yet tried this particular form myself.

All these musings led me to wonder whether it might not be fun to have a go at some occasional ‘Quarantine Quatrains’, to take a leaf out of Fitzgerald’s book, and start crafting a Rubaiyat for our own times. And that is exactly what I have decided to do. I start my quatrains with the same word that opens the Rubaiyat: ‘Awake!’ but I am trying, whilst keeping some echoes of the original, to make the poem contemporary rather than pastiche, so we’ll see how it goes. Anyway, here is the first instalment this new sequence, as usual you can hear me read it by clicking on the title or the ‘Play’ Button.

Quarantine Quatrains: A New Rubaiyat

Awake to what was once a busy day

When you would rush and hurry on your way

Snatch at your breakfast, start the grim commute

But time and tide have turned another way

 

For now, like you, the day is yawning wide

And all its old events are set aside

It opens gently for you, takes its time

And holds for you -whatever you decide.

 

This morning’s light is brighter than it seems

Your room is raftered with its golden beams

The bowl of night was richly filled with sleep

And dawn’s left hand is holding all your dreams

 

Your mantel clock still sounds its silver chime

The empty page invites an idle rhyme

This quarantine has taken many things

But left you with the precious gift of time

 

Your time is all your own – yet not your own

The rose may open, or be overblown

So breathe in this day’s fragrance whilst you may

To each of us the date of death’s unknown.

 

Then settle at your desk, uncap your pen

And open the old manuscript again

The empty hours may tease you out of thought

Yet leave you with a poem now and then.

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Girton College Chapel 26th April: introducing the Lord’s Prayer

Girton CollegeChapel East Window . Photo Phil mynott.

Sunday 26 April – Introducing the Lord’s Prayer: Our Father

Welcome to the first Sunday ‘evensong’ chapel page of the new term. Although we cannot be together physically in our beautiful chapel, I hope that you will be able to come to this page each Sunday, either at 5:30pm, as you used to for evensong, or at another time that suits you. Here you will find some beautiful pictures to remind you of chapel, some prayers and responses, the psalm and readings, set for each Sunday, and, of course the beautiful settings of the Magnificat and the Nunc Dimmitis, sung by our choir, together with an anthem – the music that has been so much at the heart of our worship together.

You will also find, as you often did in chapel, a poem and a reflection from your chaplain, developing the term’s theme. Our theme this term is the Lord’s Prayer so each week I will offer a poem and a brief meditation taking us deeper into the power and wisdom of the Lord’s Prayer, a prayer we can say together whilst apart, a prayer which we share with Christians the world over, and most importantly a prayer we share with Christ who comes to share our present sufferings. We will start our reflections this week with the opening phrase Our Father.

Now, to begin our worship, we hear the opening responses, composed by Rhiannon Randle and sung by Girton Choir. As with all the audio you can listen by clicking on the ‘play’ button or the title.

Introductory Responses

V:O Lord, open thou our lips.
R:And our mouth shall shew forth thy praise.
V:O God, make speed to save us.
R:O Lord, make haste to help us.

V: Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost;
R: .As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
V: Praise ye the Lord.
R:The Lord’s Name be praised.

The psalm for today is psalm 48, I commend reading it out loud. You could say it yourself, or if you have others with you, you could say it ‘antiphonally’ alternating verses with one another

Magnus Dominus

  1. GREAT is the Lord, and highly to be praised: in the city of our God, even upon his holy hill.
  2. The hill of Sion is a fair place, and the joy of the whole earth: upon the north-side lieth the city of the great King; God is well known in her palaces as a sure refuge.
  3. For lo, the kings of the earth: are gathered, and gone by together.
  4. They marvelled to see such things: they were astonished, and suddenly cast down.
  5. Fear came there upon them, and sorrow: as upon a woman in her travail.
  6. Thou shalt break the ships of the sea: through the east-wind.
  7. Like as we have heard, so have we seen in the city of the Lord of hosts, in the city of our God: God upholdeth the same for ever.
  8. We wait for thy loving-kindness, O God: in the midst of thy temple.
  9. O God, according to thy Name, so is thy praise unto the world’s end: thy right hand is full of righteousness.
  10. Let the mount Sion rejoice, and the daughters of Judah be glad: because of thy judgements.
  11. Walk about Sion, and go round about her: and tell the towers thereof.
  12. Mark well her bulwarks, set up her houses: that ye may tell them that come after.
  13. For this God is our God for ever and ever: he shall be our guide unto death.

V: Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost;
R: .As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

Old Testament Reading: read by Jeremy West

1 Kings 8:22-30

Then Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in the presence of all the assembly of Israel, and spread out his hands to heaven.

He said, ‘O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and steadfast love for your servants who walk before you with all their heart,

the covenant that you kept for your servant my father David as you declared to him; you promised with your mouth and have this day fulfilled with your hand.

Therefore, O Lord, God of Israel, keep for your servant my father David that which you promised him, saying, “There shall never fail you a successor before me to sit on the throne of Israel, if only your children look to their way, to walk before me as you have walked before me.”

Therefore, O God of Israel, let your word be confirmed, which you promised to your servant my father David.

‘But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built!

Have regard to your servant’s prayer and his plea, O Lord my God, heeding the cry and the prayer that your servant prays to you today;

that your eyes may be open night and day towards this house, the place of which you said, “My name shall be there”, that you may heed the prayer that your servant prays towards this place.

Hear the plea of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray towards this place; O hear in heaven your dwelling-place; heed and forgive.

 

our wonderful choristers

The Magnificat Octavi Toni (Cardoso),  Sung by Girton choir. From the Choir’s CD Manuel Cardoso

MAGNIFICAT

Luke 1

MY soul doth magnify the Lord :
and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.

For he hath regarded :
the lowliness of his hand-maiden.

For behold, from henceforth :
all generations shall call me blessed.

For he that is mighty hath magnified me :
and holy is his Name.

And his mercy is on them that fear him :
throughout all generations.

He hath shewed strength with his arm :
he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.

He hath put down the mighty from their seat :
and hath exalted the humble and meek.

He hath filled the hungry with good things :
and the rich he hath sent empty away.

He remembering his mercy hath holpen his servant Israel :
as he promised to our forefathers, Abraham and his seed, for ever.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son :
and to the Holy Ghost;

As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be :
world without end. Amen.

New Testament Reading: Matthew 6:9-13 read by Rosalind Skillen

‘Pray then in this way:
Our Father in heaven,
 hallowed be your name.
 Your kingdom come.
 Your will be done,
 on earth as it is in heaven.
 Give us this day our daily bread.
 And forgive us our debts,
 as we also have forgiven our debtors.
 And do not bring us to the time of trial,
 but rescue us from the evil one.

The NuncDimmitis from The Girton Service(Wilson), sung by Girton choir

NUNC DIMITTIS

 

Luke 2.29

LORD, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace :
according to thy word.

For mine eyes have seen :
thy salvation;

Which thou hast prepared :
before the face of all people;

To be a light to lighten the Gentiles :
and to be the glory of thy people Israel.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son :
and to the Holy Ghost;

As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be :
world without end. Amen.

Final Responses set by Rhiannon Randle sung by Girton Choir

 

V:The Lord be with you.
R:And with thy spirit.
V:Let us pray.
Lord, have mercy upon us.
Christ, have mercy upon us.
Lord, have mercy upon us.

OUR Father, which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy Name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, in earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; And forgive us our trespasses, As we forgive them that trespass against us; And lead us not into temptation, But deliver us from evil. Amen.

V:O Lord, shew thy mercy upon us.
R:And grant us thy salvation.
V:O Lord, save the Queen.
R:And mercifully hear us when we call upon thee.
V:Endue thy Ministers with righteousness.
R:And make thy chosen people joyful.
V:O Lord, save thy people.
R:And bless thine inheritance.
V:Give peace in our time, O Lord.
R:Because there is none other that fighteth for us, but only thou, O God.
V:O God, make clean our hearts within us.
R:And take not thy Holy Spirit from us.

Sermon:Our Father: A reflection and poem from the chaplain:

The text of the poem:

Our Father

I heard him call you his beloved son

And saw his Spirit lighten like a dove,

I thought his words must be for you alone,

Knowing myself unworthy of his love.

You pray in close communion with your Father,

So close you say the two of you are one,

I feel myself to be receding further,

Fallen away and outcast and alone.

 

And so I come and ask you how to pray,

Seeking a distant supplicant’s petition,

Only to find you give your words away,

As though I stood with you in your position,

As though your Father were my Father too,

As though I found his ‘welcome home’ in you.

 

The Anthem this evening is a setting of the Lord’s Prayer in Latin composed by our Chapel Music Director Gareth Wilson and  sung by Girton choir:

Pater Noster (Wilson)

Now here, as always is the blessing which concludes our service:

A Blessing from the Chaplain:

The peace of God, which passeth all understanding keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God and of his son Jesus Christ our lord, and the blessing of God almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be with you and remain with you and those whom you hold in your hearts, this day and always, Amen

Blossoms in Girton Orchard last week. (Photo Liliana Janik)

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A Sonnet for St. Mark’s Day

A winged lion, swift immediate

The 25th of April is the feast day of St. Mark the Evangelist,  so I  am posting again my sonnet on St. Mark’s Gospel, one of a set of four sonnets on each of the four evangelists. As I re-read it during this lockdown, as we too make the shift ‘from grand to intimate’, I am struck afresh by the transition in Mark from Christ’s action to his passion, from doing to suffering, from being in control to experiencing with us and for us what it is to depend, patiently, on the actions of others.

For each of these sonnets I have meditated on the traditional association of each of the evangelists with one of the ‘four living creatures’ round the throne, and how that helps us to focus on the particular gifts and emphasis of that Gospel writer. For a good account of this tradition click here. Mark is the lion. There is a power, a dynamic a swiftness of pace in Mark’s Gospel, his favourite word is ‘immediately’! and that suits the lion. His Gospel starts in the wilderness and that suits it too.

But the great paradox in Mark is that the Gospel writer who shows us Christ at his most decisive, powerful, startling and leonine is also the one who shows us  how our conquering lion, our true Aslan, deliberately entered into suffering and passion, the great ‘doer’ letting things be done unto him. In this sonnet, I am especially indebted to WH Vanstone’s brilliant reading of this aspect of Mark in his wonderful book The Stature of Waiting.

For all four ‘Gospel’ sonnets I have also drawn on the visual imagery of the Lindesfarne Gospels, as in the one illustrated above.

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. 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.

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

Mark

A wingèd lion, swift, immediate

Mark is the gospel of the sudden shift

From first to last, from grand to intimate,

From strength  to weakness, and from debt to gift,

From a wide desert’s haunted emptiness

To a close city’s fervid atmosphere,

From a voice crying in the wilderness

To angels in an empty sepulcher.

And Christ makes the most sudden shift of all;

From swift action as a strong Messiah

Casting the very demons back to hell

To slow pain, and death as a pariah.

We see our Saviour’s life and death unmade

And flee his tomb dumbfounded and afraid.

 

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Join us at Girton for Evensong!

Girton Choir and Brass in the chapel

Dear Readers and Subscribers,

I hope you are all managing ok through this lockdown, and indeed that the pages of this blog are helping you in one way or another. One consequence of isolation is that my students and I cannot meet together for worship in our college chapel this term, nor can our fabulous choir gather to sing there. Therefore, like many Christian communities, we are finding other ways to worship and to celebrate our traditions. So for each Sunday I am curating a page from which anyone can pray and enjoy Choral Evensong, our usual evening service. There will be responses, canticles, and an anthem sung by our choir, drawn from their various excellent recordings, lovely images of the college and chapel, and each week, a new reflection from me on our termly theme, which is The Lord’s Prayer. Each reflection will conclude with a sonnet.

Now since this blog is the one piece of web technology I actually understand, and can operate from home without assistance, it seemed best that this Sunday page should appear as a blog post here, with a link sent to everyone in the college. Happily this means that I can now invite all the readers and subscribers of this blog, to join us, if they wish, for our Sunday Worship. This can be done at your own time and pace, the page should appear first thing on Sunday morning BST. I hope you all enjoy it!

As ever

Malcolm

 

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Hatley St. George; a poem for St. George’s Day

On St. George’s day my thoughts turn again to Hatley St. George. Alas it remains locked for a little while longer, like all the other lovely parish churches, yet still keeping its silent witness. And one part of that witness is to declare that we have been through this before. Our churches have stood and held and deepened the faith for us through other times of pestilence, through change and crisis as deep as this, a witness ‘in all the changes and chances of this fleeting world’ to the deeper things that abide.

If St. George, as our patron saint, inspires English patriotism, then I’d say my own patriotism is not about wrapping one political party or another in the flag. It was certainly not about ‘Brexit, that kerfuffle that seems so irrelevant now. But rather it is about loving the little particularites of my native land. Not the big nationalist rhetoric or the aggrandising imperial history, but the patchwork of little parishes and quiet shires. That’s one of the reasons why I love little mediaeval church dedicated to St. George in the village of Hatley St. George, not far from here.

Though the church goes back to the fourteenth century , in the late sixties it suffered the apparent misfortune of a collapse in its sanctuary which was declared unsafe and taken down. A new east wall was built but the architects had the wisdom to set in the new east window an arch of clear glass. For beyond that window, across the still sacred space of what had been choir and sanctuary, stands the most beautiful beech tree, which church-goers can see now in all its glory , through the changing seasons, simmering above their altar.

It’s a magical place, but like many such, struggling for survival and recognition. I originally wrote this poem both to celebrate the church and to help raise funds for its mantenance. Do visit it if you can, once our lockdown is lifted, and support those who are working for its upkeep. One of the congregation has written this poem out in beautiful calligraphy and it is hanging on the wall there, and each summer I go and read it aloud for them as part of their summer fete. This poem is in my book The Singing Bowl which you can buy on Amazon or order from any good bookshop.

You can listen to me read the poem by clicking on the title or the ‘play’ button. As you listen you will also hear the scatter of bright birdsong which lifted the early April morning where I read the poem in my little writing hut ‘The Temple of Peace’

the window of Hatley St. George

View through the window of Hatley St. George

Hatley St. George

Stand here a while and drink the silence in.
Where clear glass lets in living light to touch
And bless your eyes. A beech tree’s tender green
Shimmers beyond the window’s lucid arch.
You look across an absent sanctuary;
No walls or roof, just holy, open space,
Leading your gaze out to the fresh-leaved beech
God planted here before you first drew breath.

Stand here awhile and drink the silence in.
You cannot stand as long and still as these;
This ancient beech and still more ancient church.
So let them stand, as they have stood, for you.
Let them disclose their gifts of time and place,
A secret kept for you through all these years.
Open your eyes. This empty church is full,
Thronging with life and light your eyes have missed.

Stand here awhile and drink the silence in.
Shields of forgotten chivalry, and rolls
Of honour for the young men gunned at Ypres,
And other monuments of our brief lives
Stand for the presence here of saints and souls
Who stood where you stand, to be blessed like you;
Clouds of witness to unclouded light
Shining this moment, in this place for you.

Stand here awhile and drink their silence in.
Annealed in glass, the twelve Apostles stand
And each of them is keeping faith for you.
This roof is held aloft, to give you space,
By graceful angels praying night and day
That you might hear some rumour of their flight
That you might feel the flicker of a wing
And let your heart fly free at last in prayer.

 

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Let not your hearts be troubled: a sonnet revisited

I recently had a request from some one, bereaved in this Coronavirus crisis, who had read this sonnet in my book Parable and Paradox  and wanted permission for her grandson to read it at his grandfather’s online funeral. Of course I granted that permission immediately and freely, and it prompted me to repost the sonnet here, in case their might be others to whom it might bring comfort or for whom it might express what they needed to say. If you, or someone you know would like to use this sonnet, either the text or the recording or both for an online general or memorial please feel free to do so, it was written for just such an occasion.

The sonnet itself is a reflection on John 14:1-3.

 Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.

This saying was not uttered on some sunny morning when all is going well, but on the night Jesus was betrayed, the night before he died, and in that poignant scene he shared their pain, and shares with all us the sheer tragedy of our mortality. But even as he prepared them for the sorrow of parting  he also instilled in them the hope of resurrection, the hope of Heaven and homecoming which they could not yet see.

This passage in John is very often chosen, and rightly so, as a reading at funerals, because it expresses both empathy and hope, and when I came to compose this sonnet I was gathering together the thoughts and prayers of the many funerals I have taken and hoping to write something that might be helpful, in opening these verses for people who choose to have them read at a funeral.

I have also developed these ideas a little in a sermon I preached this last Sunday at Girton which you can listen to here

As always you can hear me read the sonnet by clicking on the title or the play button


Let not your hearts be troubled

 Always there comes this parting of the ways

The best is wrested from us, borne away,

No one is with us always, nothing stays,

Night swallows even the most perfect day.

Time makes a tragedy of human love,

We cleave forever to the one we choose

Only to find ‘forever’ in the grave.

We have just time enough to love and lose.

 

You know too well this trouble in our hearts

Your heart is troubled for us, feels it too,

You share with us in time that shears and parts

To draw us out of time and into you.

I go that you might come to where I am

Your word comes home to us and brings us home.

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