Monthly Archives: May 2020

Our Mother-tongue Is Love; A Sonnet for Pentecost

A Pentecost Banner at St. Michael ‘s Bartley Green

Here, once more is my sonnet for Pentecost.

Drawn from ‘Sounding the Seasons’, my cycle of sonnets for the Church Year, this is a sonnet reflecting on and celebrating the themes and readings of Pentecost. Throughout the cycle, and more widely, I have been reflecting on the traditional ‘four elements’ of earth, air, water and fire. I have been considering how each of them expresses and embodies different aspects of the Gospel and of God’s goodness, as though the four elements were, in their own way, another four evangelists. In that context I was very struck by the way Scripture expresses the presence of the Holy Spirit through the three most dynamic of the four elements, the air, ( a mighty rushing wind, but also the breath of the spirit) water, (the waters of baptism, the river of life, the fountain springing up to eternal life promised by Jesus) and of course fire, the tongues of flame at Pentecost. Three out of four ain’t bad, but I was wondering, where is the fourth? Where is earth? And then I realised that we ourselves are earth, the ‘Adam’ made of the red clay, and we become living beings, fully alive, when the Holy Spirit, clothed in the three other elements comes upon us and becomes a part of who we are. So something of that reflection is embodied in the sonnet.

 

As usual you can hear me reading the sonnet by clicking on the ‘play’ button if it appears in your browser or by clicking on the title of the poem itself. Thanks to Margot Krebs Neale for the beautiful image which follows the poem.

Sounding the Seasons, is published by Canterbury Press here in England. The book is now back in stock on both Amazon UK and USA . 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..


Pentecost

Today we feel the wind beneath our wings
Today  the hidden fountain flows and plays
Today the church draws breath at last and sings
As every flame becomes a Tongue of praise.
This is the feast of fire,air, and water
Poured out and breathed and kindled into earth.
The earth herself awakens to her maker
And is translated out of death to birth.
The right words come today in their right order
And every word spells freedom and release
Today the gospel crosses every border
All tongues are loosened by the Prince of Peace
Today the lost are found in His translation.
Whose mother-tongue is Love, in  every nation.

Whose Mother-tongue is Love in every nation

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Girton College Chapel: A Service for Pentecost

Welcome back to Girton College Chapel Page for a special service to celebrate the great feast of Pentecost, also known as WhitSunday, when the church celebrates the gift of the Holy Spirit

The choir, once more accompanied by the Conservatoires’ Cornett & Sackbutt Ensemble directed by Jeremy West, will bring us music from Ingegneri, Cardoso, and Palestrina and I will share with you a sonnet and a reflection for the festival! (You can find the choir’s CDs Here) Once more we will enjoy responses and prayers composed by our own director of Chapel Music Gareth Wilson

Now to usher us into worship we hear the opening responses The KCL Preces (Wilson)

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 set for Pentecost is number 104 verses 24- end, you might like to say this psalm out loud, or antiphonally with other members of your household:

O Lord, how manifold are thy works: in wisdom hast thou made them all; the earth is full of thy riches.

So is the great and wide sea also: wherein are things creeping innumerable, both small and great beasts.

There go the ships, and there is that Leviathan: whom thou hast made to take his pastime therein.

These wait all upon thee: that thou mayest give them meat in due season.

When thou givest it them they gather it: and when thou openest thy hand they are filled with good.

When thou hidest thy face they are troubled: when thou takest away their breath they die, and are turned again to their dust.

When thou lettest thy breath go forth they shall be made: and thou shalt renew the face of the earth.

The glorious majesty of the Lord shall endure for ever: the Lord shall rejoice in his works.

The earth shall tremble at the look of him: if he do but touch the hills, they shall smoke.

I will sing unto the Lord as long as I live: I will praise my God while I have my being.

And so shall my words please him: my joy shall be in the Lord.

As for sinners, they shall be consumed out of the earth, and the ungodly shall come to an end: praise thou the Lord, O my soul, praise the Lord

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.

Soon we will return to our strong tower! Photo by Jeremy West

Our first reading, from the Acts of the Apostles is read for us by Ben Pymer, a member of the choir:

Acts 2:1-13

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.

  And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.

  Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.

  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem.

  And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.

  Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?

  And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?

  Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,

  Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes,

  Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’

  All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’

  But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’

Girton gardens aflame with blossom – photo by Liliana Janik

In place of the Magnificat we will hear the choir singing Quae Est Ista by Ingegneri

Our Gospel reading tells of how Jesus gave the gift of the holy Spirit to his disciples and is read for us by Rachael Humphrey, College Office Administrator

John 20:19-23

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’

  After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.

  Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’

  When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.

  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’

In place of the Nunc Dimittis we hear Aquam Quam Ego Dabo by Cardoso

Now we turn to God in Prayer with Gareth Wilson’s setting of the responses

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: Pentecost, a reflection and a sonnet, by the chaplain

The text of the sonnet:

Pentecost

 Today we feel the wind beneath our wings,

Today the hidden fountain flows and plays,

Today the church draws breath at last and sings,

As every flame becomes a tongue of praise.

This is the feast of Fire, Air, and Water

Poured out and breathed and kindled into Earth.

The Earth herself awakens to her maker,

Translated out of death and into birth.

The right words come today in their right order

And every word spells freedom and release.

Today the gospel crosses every border,

All tongues are loosened by the Prince of Peace.

Today the lost are found in his translation,

Whose mother-tongue is Love, in every nation.

Our anthem this evening is Tu Es Petrus by Palestrina

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

Another blaze of glory in Girton Grounds Photo by Liliana Janik

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The 13th poem in my Corona on the Psalms: A Song of Sudden Hope

who drank the bitter cup and in so doing made it flow with wine

Psalm 13 is one of the shortest in the whole psalter, and although it starts in distress there is a sudden welling of hope and renewal in the last two verses, as grief turns to grace and the heart is once more joyful, a pattern I have reflected in my poem. As with the other poems in this Corona sequence, I seek once more to draw out how the pattern of Christ’s death and resurrection is hidden in the pattern of the psalms.

As always you can hear me read the poem by clicking on the play button or the title and you can find the other poems in this evolving series by putting the word ‘psalms’ into the search box on the right. I hope you enjoy the poem.

XIII Usque quo, Domine?

Come down to free us, come as our true friend,

How long, how long? Oh do not hide your face

Or let me sleep in death, but light my end,

 

Till it becomes a bright beginning. Place

Your wounded hands in mine and raise me up

That even grief itself may turn to grace.

 

Then I will sing a song of sudden hope,

Then I will praise my saviour, the divine

Companion who drank the bitter cup

 

And in so doing made it flow with wine,

That his strong love might overrun my heart

And all his joy in heaven might be mine.

 

Then I will sing his song, and take my part

In Love’s true music, as his kingdom comes

And heaven’s hidden gates are drawn apart.

 

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The 12th Poem in my Corona on the Psalms: A Plea for Liberation

whose icons all prove idols in the end

We come now to the 12th poem in my interwoven series of responses the the Book of Psalms. We have been praying these ancient texts together as a church for two thousand years, but each generation in their turn must make these prayers their own and bring them to bear on the way we live now, and this is what I am seeking to do in these poems. When I came to read the opening verses of this psalm:

  1. HELP me, Lord, for there is not one godly man left: for the faithful are minished from among the children of men,
  2. They talk of vanity every one with his neighbour: they do but flatter with their lips, and dissemble in their double heart.

And also the 4th verse in which the oppressors say: ‘with our tongue we will prevail’, I began to think about all the technology of communication, and the lives we live online. Like many people I have been alarmed not only by the anger and absence of charity in so much internet discourse but also about the insidious ways in which some social media platforms have turned their users into saleable ‘product’, harvesting and marketing our personal data. Now we have brought this on ourselves and I am very conscious of the irony of even discussing it on the very media I am criticising, though I have to say the appearance of my poetry on social media is only a stopgap, its true habitat os the good old fashioned book, or the in-person recitation, and of course I hope the readers of this page will eventually prefer to have a real book in their hands when these poems are eventually published.

Happily Psalm 12 doesn’t leave us in despair about the human abuse and cheapening of language, but brings us back to the redemptive words of God himself:

The words of the Lord are pure words: even as the silver, which from the earth is tried, and purified seven times in the fire.

And so in the end my poem too returns us to hope in the words of Christ himself. As always you can hear me read the poem by clicking on the play button or the title and you can find the other poems in this evolving series by putting the word ‘psalms’ into the search box on the right. I hope you enjoy the poem.

XII Salvum me fac

To topple tyrants and exalt the low,

Up lord and help us! Hear our hapless sighs,

We have been cowed by ‘people in the know’,

 

The worldly wind us in a web of lies,

We have been flattered into servitude,

Snared with devices that the rich devise.

 

They purchase us with their fake plenitude,

They keep us clicking on false images.

The one percent control the multitude

 

With virtual distractions, online purchases,

Whose icons all prove idols in the end.

They market us as passive packages.

 

Send us instead your pure words, Jesus, send

Us hope, still silver-bright, tried in the fire,

Come down to free us, come as our true friend.

 

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Behind Each Number, One Belovèd Face

I am thinking of my American friends today as the tragic death-toll from the virus there passes 100,000. These are mind numbing numbers and only the exercise of compassionate imagination can give us even a glimpse of the harrowing personal stories behind each one. When I began to hear our statistics mount on our own evening radio news, I found myself again and again in prayer, knowing that even though I only heard the numbers, God knew and loved and died for the people behind those numbers.

All this found its way into the concluding section of my Quarantine Quatrains which I am posting here as a poem on its own

VII

35

At close of day I hear the gentle rain

Whilst experts on the radio explain

Mind-numbing numbers, rising by the day,

Cyphers of unimaginable pain

36

Each evening they announce the deadly toll

And patient voices calmly call the roll

I hear the numbers, cannot know the names

Behind each number, mind and heart and soul

37

Behind each number one belovèd face

A light in life whom no-one can replace,

Leaves on this world a signature, a trace,

A gleaning and a memory of grace

38

All loved and loving, carried to the grave

The ones whom every effort could not save

Amongst them all those carers whose strong love

Bought life for others with the lives they gave.

39

The sun sets and I find myself in prayer

Lifting aloft the sorrow that we share

Feeling for words of hope amidst despair

I voice my vespers through the quiet air:

40

O Christ who suffers with us, hold us close,

Deep in the secret garden of the rose,

Raise over us the banner of your love

And raise us up beyond our last repose.

 

 

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The 11th Poem In My Corona On The Psalms: In Domino Confido

‘I envy birds their wings’ image by Peter Swain

Continuing my series of poems in response to The Psalms we come to Psalm 11 I mentioned in my last post that this is part of a  sequence of four psalms from 9 through to 12, which strongly emphasise God’s promise to defend the poor and needy. Psalm 11 highlights our sense of unfairness when some of the best people, ‘the true of heart’ are specifically targeted by the worst people, and how even if we had wings to fly, someone would want to shoot us down

IN THE Lord put I my trust: how say ye then to my soul, that she should flee as a bird unto the hill? For lo, the ungodly bend their bow, and make ready their arrows within the quiver: that they may privily shoot at them which are true of heart.

But the Psalmist opens and closes the psalm with confidence in God and the final establishment of his justice. It is both challenging and comforting for us to read this: challenging because we may be complicit in the oppression f the poor it describes, but comforting because in trusting God alone we may be liberated to change the way we live. In my poem I confess the constraint and complicity but also try to deepen the trust and the comfort. As always you can hear me read the poem by clicking on the title or the play button. If you put the word ‘psalms’ in the search bar you will find the other poems in this series.

XI In Domino confido

 

Arise my God, and give the poor their day!

For now I see the powers taking aim

And targeting the weakest. See, they slay

 

The true of heart and still they claim

To be our shepherds!  Where then can I fly?

I envy birds their wings, but sorrows maim,

 

And my complicities constrain me. I

Long with all my soul to seek the hill

Where God has set his citadel on high,

 

Yet through these sad constraints I trust him stlll,

I know that he can see the way things go

I know that these dark ways are not his will

 

For he loves justice, and the poor will know

That he is their defender when he comes

To topple tyrants and exalt the low.

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The tenth poem in my Corona on the Psalms: A Rebel Song

Continuing my series of poems in response to The Psalms we come to Psalm 10. I mentioned in my last post that this is part of a  sequence of four psalms from 9 through to 12, which strongly emphasise God’s promise to defend the poor and needy. Psalm 10 certainly continues that theme but is distinguished by its vivid portrait of the ‘ungodly’ who persecute or exploit the poor:

The ungodly for his own lust doth persecute the poor: let them be taken in the crafty wiliness that they have imagined. For the ungodly hath made boast of his own heart’s desire: and speaketh good of the covetous, whom God abhorreth. The ungodly is so proud, that he careth not for God ; neither is God in all his thoughts. His ways are alway grievous: thy judgements are far above out of his sight, and therefore defieth he all his enemies. For he hath said in his heart, Tush, I shall never be cast down: there shall no harm happen unto me. His mouth is full of cursing, deceit, and fraud: under his tongue is ungodliness and vanity.

And this description of a character all too familiar in modern as well as ancient times, is followed by the great cry of the psalmist in verse 13

Arise, O Lord God, and lift up thine hand: forget not the poor.

This cry must surely rise to God from the lips of the poor today, and it certainly found its way into my poetic response to the psalm. As usual you can hear me read the poem by clicking on the title or the ‘play’ button. you can find the other poems in this series by entering ‘psalms’ into the search box on the right.

 

X Ut quid, Domine?

We sing with all the daughters of true Sion

But now our song must be a rebel song:

A song against the proud devouring lion,

 

A song that cries aloud, O Lord how long?

How long will you stand back and let them be

These vicious tricksters, thinking they’re so strong,

 

Who make a boast of their own vanity;

Self-serving ‘leaders’ feeding their desire

For self-aggrandisement, whose idiocy

 

Sickens the nations that they should inspire.

They care for nothing but themselves and say

That God will never see it. They retire

 

Onto their yachts and golf-courses, where they

Mock the very people they oppress. Arise

Arise my God, and give the poor their day!

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