Monthly Archives: June 2020

Rescue Me: A response to psalm 18

David Delivered out of Many Waters c.1805 William Blake 1757-1827 Presented by George Thomas Saul 1878 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N02230

Continuing my series of responses to the psalms we come to Psalm 18. This is one of those anguished and dramatic psalms which come as a great  cry from the depths for help and give us a glimpse of  the God who comes down into those depths to rescue us. William Blake was drawn to this psalm and in his painting ‘David Delivered out of Many Waters’ picks up on those lines:

He bowed the heavens also, and came down: and it was dark under his feet.

He rode upon the cherubins, and did fly: he came flying upon the wings of the wind.

At the heart of this painting is the intense gaze between Christ as he descends with the angels his arms outspread in power and compassion, and David who gazes up from the waters, his arms stretched out and bound as though in crucifixion. Blake’s vision here perfectly expresses a Christian reading of the psalms. Of course they were written ‘BC’ but the God whom they address is the God who came down in Christ to rescue us, and the psalms themselves are rustling with the rumour of his coming, indeed many of them are quite literally Messianic. And of course the Christian who prays them now is praying them ‘AD’ and is bound to sing and pray them in the Light of Christ, and consciously address to Christ the psalms which Christ himself had continually on his lips.

In my own response to this psalm I drew not only on Blake’s vision, and the psalm itself, but also on my own personal experience of what it is like to be overwhelmed, to cry for help, and to be rescued by the intervention of a loving God.

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.

 

XVIII Diligam te, Domine

I will behold you, and be satisfied.

My strength my rock my buckler and my shield!

You came to rescue me, I saw you ride

 

The wind’s swift wings, I saw the waters yield

To you, as you reached down to lift me out

Out of the whelming panic, where I reeled

 

And flailed in fear of death. You heard my shout

My anguished cry for help, and carried me

And held me safe and put my fears to rout.

 

And now you give me back my liberty

You strengthen my weak hands and set my feet

To dancing lightly as a deer, as free

 

As any in the forest, and as fleet.

Soon you will call and draw me in your love

To that still place where earth and heaven meet.

 

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Corpus Christi: Three Sonnets on Communion

Today is the the feast of Corpus Christi (the Body of Christ), which is really a celebration of the sacrament of Holy Communion. It is a painful and poignant day this year for those of us who have not been able to receive Holy Communion since the lockdown, though many have been making a profound ‘spiritual communion’ as they wait for the restoration of this sacrament.

In mediaeval times there used to be wonderful processions in which the consecrated elements were taken out of the church on this day and processed on the streets, showing that the Word made flesh was not just in a box labelled ‘church’ but in our midst, just as He was on the streets of Nazareth and Jerusalem. Rebecca Merry‘s lovely art work ( above) has the feel of those mediaeval ‘showings’ on Corpus Christi.

For my contribution to Corpus Christi I am offering here a trio of sonnets about the experience of receiving Holy Communion, each from a slightly different angle. The first two sonnets were published in Sounding the Seasons, my cycle of seventy sonnets for the Church Year.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. The third sonnet, which is about the 16th Century Oak communion table in the church of St. Edward King and Martyr, is from my book The Singing Bowl also published by Canterbury Press

Margot Krebs Neale has reflected on my phrases ‘He does not come in unimagined light ‘ and ‘to dye himself into experience’ with an image not simply of a stained glass window but of that dyed and refracted light itself reflected in water. I am grateful both to Rebecca and Margot for the way their work reflects on and develops mine.

As always you can hear me read the poetry by clicking on the play button above each sonnet, if it appears, or on the title of the poem itself.


1 Love’s Choice

This bread is light, dissolving, almost air,

A little visitation on my tongue,

A wafer-thin sensation, hardly there.

This taste of wine is brief in flavour, flung

A moment to the palate’s roof and fled,

Even its aftertaste a memory.

Yet this is how He comes. Through wine and bread

Love chooses to be emptied into me.

He does not come in unimagined light

Too bright to be denied, too absolute

For consciousness, too strong for sight,

Leaving the seer blind, the poet mute;

Chooses instead to seep into each sense,

To dye himself into experience.

He does not come in unimagined light…


2 Hide and Seek

Ready or not, you tell me, here I come!

And so I know I’m hiding, and I know

My hiding-place is useless. You will come

And find me. You are searching high and low.

Today I’m hiding low, down here, below,

Below the sunlit surface others see.

Oh find me quickly, quickly come to me.

And here you come and here I come to you.

I come to you because you come to me.

You know my hiding places. I know you,

I reach you through your hiding-places too;

Touching the slender thread, but now I see –

Even in darkness I can see you shine,

Risen in bread, and revelling in wine.

3 This Table

The centuries have settled on this table
Deepened the grain beneath a clean white cloth
Which bears afresh our changing elements.
Year after year of prayer, in hope and trouble,
Were poured out here and blessed and broken, both
In aching absence and in absent presence.

This table too the earth herself has given
And human hands have made. Where candle-flame
At corners burns and turns the air to light
The oak once held its branches up to heaven,
Blessing the elements which it became,
Rooting the dew and rain, branching the light.

Because another tree can bear, unbearable,
For us, the weight of Love, so can this table

 

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Compline’s Familiar Chant: A Response To Psalm 17

Returning to my series on the psalms, we come now to psalm 17, a favourite for many reasons, not least because it is the source of many of the most beautiful and comforting phrases in the lovely service of Compline. Compline, or ‘night prayer’ is the final service of the day and its name is derived from the Latin completorium as it is spoken and sung at the completion of the day. One of the joys and privileges in my role as chaplain at Girton college is to sing compline, late on each tuesday night with our wonderful college choir, but anyone can say or sing it, and in this lockdown, away from college, my wife and I have said it together. In fact she has made a podcast of that for others to join in, which you can find HERE.  There is so much to love in this service but i am especially moved by the response:

V:Keep me as the apple of an eye

R: Hide me under the shadow of thy wings

All these phrases are drawn from psalm 17, a psalm which has the beautiful ending:

But as for me, I will behold thy presence in righteousness: and when I awake up after thy likeness, I shall be satisfied with it.

So when I came to make my response to this psalm I decided to make it a poem of thanksgiving for the comfort of Compline and to reflect on how the beauty of that service serves to re-enchant a disenchanted world.

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.

 

XVII Exaudi, Domine

Oh comfort me until I fall no more.

In this dark season when I am so frail

And fearful, comfort me. I stand before

 

You in your house at evening. I avail

Myself of compline’s long familiar chant

To call on you. I ask you to prevail

 

Over the powers that dull and disenchant

Over the scoffing of a world that’s steeped

In its own excess. And instead to plant

 

Me firmly by your waters, and to keep

Me as the apple of an eye, to hide

Me in the shadow of your wings. I’ll sleep

 

In peace and take my rest. I will abide

In your rich presence now, and when I wake

I will behold you, and be satisfied.

 

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Columba and my calling.

A fierce dove racing in a fiercer gale

A fierce dove racing in a fiercer gale

June the 9th is Saint Columba’s day, a saint who has a special place for me, as somehow, he feels bound up in my own journey to Faith. When I was 19, and moving from  atheism, towards a greater spiritual openness, but by no means yet a Christian, I went for a long slow walk round Ireland. I went without a map because the Zen practice in which I was interested at the time, and on which I still draw in prayer, was always emphasizing ‘The map is not the reality”! You must utterly and absolutely be in the place you’re in, and let that place be what it is and teach what it has to teach without any overlay from your maps and preconceptions. So I took that literally and walked round Ireland without  a map, just keeping the sea on my left! One evening, St. John’s Eve it was, right at the end of my journey, I came round a headland at sunset into a beautiful little bay and inlet on the west coast in Donegal, just as the fires were being lit around the headlands for St. John’s Eve, and there was drinking and fiddle playing and dancing round the fires that evening. And I asked where I was, and they said Glencolmcille, and I felt a sudden quickening and sense of connection, as though a memory stirred. And they asked me my name and I said ‘Malcolm’, and they said, ‘Ah that is why you have come, because he has called you’, and I said ‘who?’ and they said ‘Colm has called you, Malcolm, for this is the place he fought his battle and gathered his disciples and from here he left for the white martyrdom and Scotland. And they told me the story of St. Columba, and the battle he had fought, of his repentance, his self-imposed exile, his journey with twelve disciples from this glen to Scotland where he founded the abbey of Iona from whence Scotland and much of the north of England was converted. ‘Of course he is calling you here’, they said, ‘for your name, in Gaelic means’ servant of Colm’, which is Columba. And as they spoke I remembered at last, right back into my childhood, how I had been told stories about this saint, and how I was named for him, and how my grandmother had published poems about him and sung her lullaby for the infant Columba over me as a child. I wandered down to the shore whence he had set sail and felt how thin the veil was, how something of heaven, whatever heaven might be, seemed to glimmer through the sky and the sea itself in this place. And I thought: ‘I’m not a Christian, and I don’t see how I could ever become one, but if I do ever become one, I’ll remember Columba and I’ll go to Iona and thank him’. Which I did, and I did. Now here’s my sonnet for the saint. This poem is now collected in my book The Singing Bowl from Canterbury Press which you can get on amazon, or better still, order from your local bookshop! Click on the title or the ‘play button to hear me read the poem!


Columba

 You called me and I came to Colmcille

To learn at last the meaning of my name

Though you yourself were called, and not the caller,

He called through you and when He called I came.

Came to the edge at last, in Donegal,

Where bonfires burned and music lit the flame

As from the shore I glimpsed that ragged sail

The Spirit filled to drive you from your  home,

A fierce dove racing in a fiercer gale,

A swift wing flashing between sea and sky.

And with that glimpse I knew that I  would fly

And find you out and serve you for a season,

My heaven hidden like your native isle,

Though somehow glimmering on each horizon.

Glencolmcille, scene of a small epiphany

Glencolmcille, scene of a small epiphany

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Girton College Chapel: Forgive Us and Deliver Us

Gazing out into Girton’s Beautiful gardens. Photo by Liliana Janik

Welcome back to Girton’s ‘virtual chapel’ Evensong page. After the two big feasts of Ascension and Pentecost we are returning to our termly theme, which is a deep dive into The Lord’s Prayer. As we have missed a couple of Sundays and are coming towards the end of term we are going to look at two petitions from the prayer today, ‘Forgive us our trespasses’ and ‘Lead us not into temptation’, or as another translation puts it, ‘ do not bring us to the time of trial’, but as there are deep links between these two parts of the prayer I hope it will be helpful to handle them together.

As always, our readings, music, and reflections develop our theme in different ways. The choir, once more accompanied by the Conservatoires’ Cornett & Sackbutt Ensemble directed by Jeremy West, will bring us music from Ingegneri and from our own Gareth Wilson, and Once more we will enjoy responses and prayers set for us by up and coming composer Rhiannon Randle, ! (You can find the choir’s CDs Here)

So we will begin with the opening responses:

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.

our wonderful choristers

Since our reading and sermons this week touch upon the passion, let us read psalm 22 together. You may like to read this psalm ‘antiphonally with someone else in your household:

  1. MY GOD, my God, look upon me; why hast thou forsaken me: and art so far from my health, and from the words of my complaint?
  2. O my God, I cry in the day-time, but thou hearest not: and in the night-season also I take no rest.
  3. And thou continuest holy: O thou worship of Israel.
  4. Our fathers hoped in thee: they trusted in thee, and thou didst deliver them.
  5. They called upon thee, and were holpen: they put their trust in thee, and were not confounded.
  6. But as for me, I am a worm, and no man: a very scorn of men, and the outcast of the people.
  7. All they that see me laugh me to scorn: they shoot our their lips, and shake their heads, saying,
  8. He trusted in God, that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, if he will have him.
  9. But thou art he that took me out of my mother’s womb: thou wast my hope, when I hanged yet upon my mother’s breasts.
  10. I have been left unto thee ever since I was born: thou art my God, even from my mother’s womb.
  11. O go not from me, for trouble is hard at hand: and there is none to help me.
  12. Many oxen are come about me: fat bulls of Basan close me in on every side.
  13. They gape upon me with their mouths: as it were a ramping and a roaring lion.
  14. I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart also in the midst of my body is even like melting wax.
  15. My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue cleaveth to my gums: and thou shalt bring me into the dust of death.
  16. For many dogs are come about me: and the council of the wicked layeth siege against me.
  17. They pierced my hands and my feet; I may tell all my bones: they stand staring and looking upon me.
  18. They part my garments among them: and casts lots upon my vesture.
  19. But be not thou far from me, O Lord: thou art my succour, haste thee to help me.
  20. Deliver my soul from the sword: my darling from the power of the dog.
  21. Save me from the lion’s mouth: thou hast heard me also from among the horns of the unicorns.
  22. I will declare thy Name unto my brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise thee.
  23. O praise the Lord, ye that fear him: magnify him, all ye of the seed of Jacob, and fear him, all ye seed of Israel.
  24. For he hath not despised, nor abhorred, the low estate of the poor: he hath not hid his face from him, but when he called unto him he heard him.
  25. My praise is of thee in the great congregation: my vows will I perform in the sight of them that fear him.
  26. The poor shall eat and be satisfied: they that seek after the Lord shall praise him; your heart shall live for ever.
  27. All the ends of the world shall remember themselves, and be turned unto the Lord: and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before him.
  28. For the kingdom is the Lord’s: and he is the Governor among the people.
  29. All such as be fat upon earth: have eaten and worshipped.
  30. All they that go down into the dust shall kneel before him: and no man hath quickened his own soul.
  31. My seed shall serve him: they shall be counted unto the Lord for a generation.
  32. They shall come, and the heavens shall declare his righteousness: unto a people that shall be born, whom the Lord hath made.

Sermon and sonnets by the chaplain:

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A Sonnet for Trinity Sunday

20110619-000808.jpg

Returning for a moment to my cycle of sonnets for the Church Year, here is one for Trinity Sunday which I am posting the day before, in case people would like to make use of it tomorrow.

By coming to us as the Son, revealing to us the Father, and sending to us the Spirit, Jesus revealed the deepest mystery; that God is not distant and alone, but is three in one, a communion of love who comes to make His home with us.

The Rublev Icon, above, shows the Three in One inviting us to share in that communion. If, as I believe, we are made in the image of God, as beings in communion with one another in the name of that Holy and Undivided Trnity whose being is communion, then we will find reflections and traces of the Trinitarian mystery in all our loving and making.

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

Readers who are interested in my use of the word ‘coinherent’ will find out more by watching the video of my talk about the British theologian Charles Williams, a friend and fellow inkling of CS Lewis which can be found here.

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 . 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..

Trinity Sunday

In the Beginning, not in time or space,

But in the quick before both space and time,

In Life, in Love, in co-inherent Grace,

In three in one and one in three, in rhyme,

In music, in the whole creation story,

In His own image, His imagination,

The Triune Poet makes us for His glory,

And makes us each the other’s inspiration.

He calls us out of darkness, chaos, chance,

To improvise a music of our own,

To sing the chord that calls us to the dance,

Three notes resounding from a single tone,

To sing the End in whom we all begin;

Our God beyond, beside us and within.

 

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A Goodly Heritage: my response to psalm 16

Continuing my series of poetic responses to the psalms, we come to psalm 16. A favourite with many people, it comes as a sweet relief, a kind oasis after the tension and struggles of psalms 9-14, and the moral challenge of 15. Here we come to a sheer recognition of our blessings and a thanksgiving for them:

The Lord himself is the portion of mine inheritance, and of my cup: thou shalt maintain my lot. The lot is fallen unto me in a fair ground: yea, I have a goodly heritage.

and then of course the beautiful promise in the final verse:

Thou shalt shew me the path of life; in thy presence is the fulness of joy: and at thy right hand there is pleasure for evermore

My response here picks up on that hope in our true heritage, especially as so many of the frail and unstable goods in which we use to put our trust have been withdrawn or are collapsing around us.

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.

XVI Conserva me, Domine

Then help me, step by step, my guide and friend.

Preserve me O my God in whom I trust.

My other goods are nothing in the end,

 

How quickly they decay, how swiftly rust,

But through it all you stay and comfort me,

My one abiding joy, when all the rest

 

Have flown so suddenly. For now I see

My true inheritance, now I look up

And find you still beside me, showing me

 

The path of life. In your right hand the cup

Of blessings full to overflowing, your

Left hand upholds me still, gives me hope.

 

I have a goodly heritage! You pour

On me your graces, undeserved, you raise

And comfort me until I fall no more.

 

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Two New Poems In My Corona On The Psalms: ‘The Fool’ and ‘The Holy Hill’

In my new sequence of poems written in response to The Psalms we have come to psalm 14, with its portrait of human folly and insolence and it famous opening line: THE fool hath said in his heart: There is no God. We can certainly recognise the characteristics of those who, whatever religiosity they profess with their mouths, have nothing of God on their hearts, and the psalmist’s portrait has been as telling in every previous generation as it is in ours:

Their throat is an open sepulchre, with their tongues have they deceived: the poison of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: their feet are swift to shed blood. Destruction and unhappiness is in their ways, and the way of peace have they not known ; there is no fear of God before their eyes.

The danger however, with psalms like this is that we use them to point the finger at others rather than to hold up as a mirror to ourselves. Sometimes it’s the contrasts in the sequencing of the psalms that brings us up short. Psalm 15 provides a contrasting portrait to the fool of psalm 14. It starts with the searching question: LORD, who shall dwell in thy tabernacle: or who shall rest upon thy holy hill? and then goes on to paint the portait of a righteous man, which is in direct, almost point by point contrast with the portrait of the fool:

He that leadeth an uncorrupt life: and doeth the thing which is right, and speaketh the truth from his heart. He that hath used no deceit in his tongue, nor done evil to his neighbour: and hath not slandered his neighbour. He that setteth not by himself, but is lowly in his own eyes: and maketh much of them that fear the Lord.

Of course if I try to hold this psalm up as a mirror, I see not my own face, but the face of my saviour. Only he can ascend that ‘holy hill’ and I will have to ascend with him or not at all. But, thanks be to God, he has come to have mercy on the fool as well as the wise man.

Because of all the ways these two psalms are contrasted and linked I am posting my two poems in response together so that they can be read in sequence. 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 poems.

XIV Dixit insipiens

When heaven’s hidden gates are drawn apart

And our captivity is ended, we’ll rejoice,

But now the fool’s in charge, and in his heart

 

He only echoes his own emptiness:

No god, no vestiges of reverence

Disturb his vanity. Just weariness

 

And mockery, just cruel insolence,

And greed that still consumes the poor like bread,

These only seem to move him. Violence

 

Is like a drug to him. He cocks his head

And speaks his poison words with hissing tongue

And yet we still believe him.  Let him dread

 

The day that’s coming, it will not be long.

The poor have cried, and now they have been heard

The fool will fall before their joyful song.

 

XV Domine, quis habitabit?

The fool will fall before their joyful song

But maybe I will fall with him as well.

You know me Lord, you know how much I long

 

To rise with you, how much I long to dwell

Within your tabernacle, to ascend

The path that glimmers on your holy hill,

 

But you know too how much I just pretend

To virtues not my own, I am not fit

For that ascent. I fail unless you lend

 

Your strength and take my life and make of it

A new life altogether. Oh descend

Into my darkness, lift me from the pit

 

And set me on the way that you intend

How ever slow and spiralling the path

Then help me, step by step, my guide and friend.

 

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Hidden Joys: A Sonnet for the Visitation

The feast of the Visitation usually falls on the 31st of May, but this year it was displaced from that date by the great feast of Pentecost, and so we keep it on the 1st of June instead. It is in fact very fitting to remember the visitation on the day after Pentecost, for it is a perfect example of the vivifying and prophetic work of God the Holy Spirit. The feast of the Visitation celebrates the lovely moment in Luke’s Gospel (1:41-56) when Mary goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who was also, against all expectations, bearing a child, the child who would be John the Baptist. Luke tells us that the Holy Spirit came upon them, and that the babe in Elizabeth’s womb ‘leaped for joy’ when he heard Mary’s voice, and it is even as the older woman blesses the younger, that Mary gives voice to the Magnificat, the most beautiful and revolutionary hymn in the world. There is much for the modern world to ponder in this tale of God’s blessing and prophecy on and from the margins, and I have tried to tease a little of it out in this sonnet. I am grateful again to Margot Krebs Neale for her inspiring image, and , as always you can hear the poem by clicking on the ‘play’ button or the title.

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 . 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..

The Visitation

Here is a meeting made of hidden joys

Of lightenings cloistered in a narrow place

From quiet hearts the sudden flame of praise

And in the womb the quickening kick of grace.

Two women on the very edge of things

Unnoticed and unknown to men of power

But in their flesh the hidden Spirit sings

And in their lives the buds of blessing flower.

And Mary stands with all we call ‘too young’,

Elizabeth with all called ‘past their prime’

They sing today for all the great unsung

Women who turned eternity to time

Favoured of heaven, outcast on the earth

Prophets who bring the best in us to birth.

 

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