The Shell Is Breaking: a Response To Psalm 39

‘Take thy plague away from me: I am even consumed by the means of thy heavy hand.’

This verse from psalm 39 will resonate with all of us in the midst of the covid crisis, and so perhaps will those verses about our mortality and the frailty of things in this world, verses calling us to set our hope more firmly on God:

‘Behold, thou hast made my days as it were a span long: and mine age is even as nothing in respect of thee; and verily every man living is altogether vanity.

For man walketh in a vain shadow, and disquieteth himself in vain: he heapeth up riches, and cannot tell who shall gather them.

And now, Lord, what is my hope: truly my hope is even in thee.’

For a Christian of course that hope is rooted in Christ, in his death and resurrection. This was all in my mind as I composed my poem in response to psalm 39, but so were those lines of Leonard Cohen’s, that it is just when you begin to perceive the ‘crack in everything’ that you also perceive that that is ‘how the light gets in’!

This present plague has prompted me, like many, to reflect that we must not return, afterwards, to our old ways, but must take this kairos moment as an opportunity to strengthen the things that remain and renew our true hope in Christ

As usual you can hear me read the poem by pressing the ‘play’ button if it appears, or else by clicking on the title. For the other poems in my psalm series type the word ‘psalm’ into the search box on the right.

XXXIX Dixi, Custodiam

Deliver me and raise me from the dead

For I have walked in shadows. Nothingness,

The vanity of things fills me with dread,


The sheer inanity, the pointlessness

Of how we used to live – we can’t go back

To that – the rush that masked our emptiness,


All the pretence that covered what we lack

When what we really lacked was always you.

I held my tongue, but I could see the crack


In everything we build and say and do.

And now the crack is widening. I pray

That we will turn and see a light break through


These fissures that so fill us with dismay.

The death we fear is birth, the shell is breaking:

The stone itself will soon be rolled away.


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Filed under Poems

9 responses to “The Shell Is Breaking: a Response To Psalm 39

  1. Michael Wildgust

    Malcolm, I’m that friend of Sue Smith’s from our Birmingham days, who was brought up in Sheffield at Banner Cross, and have since retired back here in Brincliffe Edge. Thank you, thank you for all your beautiful words that you feed us week after week full of encouragement, hope, nourishment for the soul and much more. It is so good to be back in touch with Sue again after so long. My wife and I are so pleased. Strength and peace Mike Wildgust. Ps. Our Methodist minister here for us is Gareth Jones…..remember him ?

    Sent from my iPad


  2. Alice Hornbeck

    I do like this. I agree, we must be very strong against this bio-weapon.

  3. lynndmorrissey

    This is so powerful and hopeful–a reminder that we are but dust (and we are cracked, ourselves)–and through it all, God is strengthening us. To what end? To be delivered from the dead–all that is dead in us, all the futile (and by extension, broken) things to which we have clung; we can’t go back to inane pointlessness. Interesting phrase, this: “masked emptiness.” I wrote a FB blurb awhile ago, connecting the masks we wear now and the masks we’ve always worn, especially as Christians. We mask our sin, our fear, our doubt, etc. These are hidden, spiritual masks we wear and bear. While we maintain our physical masks for safety, let’s remove our spiritual masks that put our souls in peril. I don’t want to go back…but then I must soul-search and ask myself, have I yet left what I *need* to leave behind?! I need to ponder this.

  4. The death we fear is birth, the shell is breaking:

    The stone itself will soon be rolled away.
    ~ Malcolm Guite

    Malcolm, I have never ever considered the above thought. That the shell is birth and the stone will be rolled away. So many complex things, stated together. Simply light filled. Thank you.

  5. Beautifully expressed and I like how the rhyming elements tie together in the preceding verses. Sheer genius Sir!

  6. David C Brown

    Optimistic. I don’t think we can underestimate the capacity of mankind just to go back to where they were. Not that the Christian should!
    Thanks for this.

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