Monthly Archives: March 2021

Holy Week, Wednesday The Anointing at Bethany

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John 12 1-8,  tells us of how Mary of Bethany anointed Jesus. I love this intense and beautiful moment in the Gospels, The God of the Cosmos enters as a vulnerable man into all the particular fragility of our human friendships and intimacy. I love the way Jesus responds to Mary’s beautiful, useless gesture and recognises it as something that is always worth while, something that will live forever, for all the carping and criticism of Judas, then and now.

I feel a special poignancy in this gospel moment amidst the isolation of our present crisis, because it celebrates the touch and intimacy which so many of us are having to go without. My poem opens with the injunction ‘come close’ and yet the mantra of our time is ‘keep apart’. All the more then, as we are social distancing, must we seek intimacy with God, the intimacy he offers us in Christ.

This sonnet, and the others I will be posting for Holy Week are all 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.

I’m grateful to Lancia Smith for the image above. As always you can hear the poem by clicking on the title or the ‘play’ button

The Anointing at Bethany

Come close with Mary, Martha , Lazarus
So close the candles stir with their soft breath
And kindle heart and soul to flame within us
Lit by these mysteries of life and death.
For beauty now begins the final movement
In quietness and intimate encounter
The alabaster jar of precious ointment
Is broken open for the world’s true lover,

The whole room richly fills to feast the senses
With all the yearning such a fragrance brings,
The heart is mourning but the spirit dances,
Here at the very centre of all things,
Here at the meeting place of love and loss
We all foresee, and see beyond the cross.

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Holy Week, Tuesday: Cleansing the Temple

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When Solomon dedicated the Temple he rightly declared that not even the Heaven of Heavens could contain almighty God, much less this temple made with hands, yet God himself still came into the temple. He came as a baby, the essence of all light and purity in human flesh, he came as a young boy full of questions, seeking to know his father’s will, and today he came in righteous anger to clear away the blasphemous barriers that human power-games try to throw up between God and the world he loves. Then finally, by his death on the cross he took away the last barrier in the Temple, and in our hearts, the veil that stood between us and the Holy of Holies, the very presence of God, in us and beyond us.

But these outward events are also inward ones. We cannot go out to the outer edifice of church or cathedral this week, but we can certainly invite Christ to come in to us, and that is what I do in this sonnet, with its fourfold cry for Christ to come into the temple of my heart.

This sonnet, and the others I will be posting for Holy Week are all 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.

I’m grateful to Lancia Smith for the image.

Cleansing the Temple

Come to your Temple here with liberation

And overturn these tables of exchange

Restore in me my lost imagination

Begin in me for good, the pure change.

Come as you came, an infant with your mother,

That innocence may cleanse and claim this ground

Come as you came, a boy who sought his father

With questions asked and certain answers found,

Come as you came this day, a man in anger

Unleash the lash that drives a pathway through

Face down for me the fear the shame the danger

Teach me again to whom my love is due.

Break down in me the barricades of death

And tear the veil in two with your last breath.

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Holy Week, Monday: Jesus Weeps Over Jerusalem

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This strange Holy Week has begun in tears: tears of frustration, tears of lament, and for so many who have been cruelly bereaves, tears of grief. It’s hard to see through tears, but sometimes its the only way to see. Tears may be the turning point, the springs of renewal, and to know you have been wept for is to know that you are loved. ‘Jesus Wept’ is the shortest, sharpest, and most moving sentence in Scripture.

I have a God who weeps for me, weeps with me, understands to the depths and from the inside the rerum lachrymae, the tears of things.

This sonnet, and the others I will be posting for Holy Week are all 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.

Thanks to Lancia Smith for the image. as always you can hear the poem by clicking on the title or on the ‘play’ button if it appears.

Jesus weeps

Jesus comes near and he beholds the city

And looks on us with tears in his eyes,

And wells of mercy, streams of love and pity

Flow from the fountain whence all things arise.

He loved us into life and longs to gather

And meet with his beloved face to face

How often has he called, a careful mother,

And wept for our refusals of his grace,

Wept for a world that, weary with its weeping,

Benumbed and stumbling, turns the other way,

Fatigued compassion is already sleeping

Whilst her worst nightmares stalk the light of day.

But we might waken yet, and face those fears,

If we could see ourselves through Jesus’ tears.

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Palm Sunday: A Sonnet

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image courtesy of Lancia Smith

We come now, on Palm Sunday, to the beginning of Holy Week: a strange Palm Sunday, a strange Holy Week, in which we cannot make the outward and visible journeys and gestures, exchanges and gatherings that have always bodied forth the inner meaning of this week; the procession of palm crosses, the choral singing of hosannah, all those things that echo the events of the first Palm Sunday.

But the inner journey is more necessary than ever, and in the sonnets that follow I have explored the truth that what was happening ‘out there’ and ‘back then’ as Christ entered Jerusalem is also happening  ‘in here’ and ‘right now’. There is a Jerusalem of the heart. Our inner life also has its temple and palaces, its places of corruption, its gardens of rest, its seat of judgement.

In the sequence of sonnets which begins today I invite you to walk with Christ, and let him walk with you on both an outer and an inner journey that leads to the cross and beyond.

This sonnet, and the others I will be posting for Holy Week are all 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 also out on Kindle.

Do feel free to reproduce these poems for any Church services in which you may wish to use them, just include a line to say “From Sounding the Seasons, by Malcolm Guite, CanterburyPress 2012”

As before I am grateful to Lancia Smith and  Margot Krebs Neale for the evocative images that accompany these poems. Of the image at the beginning of this post she writes:

– Who stands in the eye of the camera? behind that gate?
– The Savior? or me looking out and seeing in my fellow being an incarnation of the Saviour?

and for the image below she says: ‘this wax the child is melting could symbolise this resistance which becomes the source, the stock of the light that comes from us.’

As always you can hear the poem by clicking on the ‘play’ button below or on the title of the poem

Palm Sunday

Now to the gate of my Jerusalem,

The seething holy city of my heart,

The saviour comes. But will I welcome him?

Oh crowds of easy feelings make a start;

They raise their hands, get caught up in the singing,

And think the battle won. Too soon they’ll find

The challenge, the reversal he is bringing

Changes their tune. I know what lies behind

The surface flourish that so quickly fades;

Self-interest, and fearful guardedness,

The hardness of the heart, its barricades,

And at the core, the dreadful emptiness

Of a perverted temple. Jesus  come

Break my resistance and make me your home.

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On the feast of the Annunciation, A Quintet for Mary

The Theotokos of vladimirFor today we will pause our progress through Herbert’s Prayer, because on March the 25th many churches across the world, Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican, keep the feast of the Annunciation, and though we can no longer keep the feast outwardly and visibly in our churches, I would like to keep it inwardly and spiritually here with you.

The Annunciation, the visit of Gabriel to the blessed virgin Mary, is that mysterious moment of awareness, assent and transformation in which eternity touches time. In my own small take on this mystery I have thought about vision, about what we allow ourselves to be aware of, and also about freedom, the way all things turn on our discernment and freedom.

The scripture that says of Mary that “All generations’ will call her “blessed”, It is true that some Christians have disagreed with one another bitterly about her, but equally, in every age and every church she has been, for many Christians, a sign of hope, an example of prayer, devotion and service, and an inspiration.

In a strange way, which I will write about one day, she was a sign of hope to me even before I was a Christian, and it was something numinous and beautiful in the paintings and poetry she has inspired that helped lead me to her Son.

I thought for this feast day, I would offer a quintet of sonnets in her honour, gathering together  the four sonnets about her which are part of my wider collection ‘Sounding the Seasons’. and then adding a fifth, based on the antiphon O Virgo Virginum. The first four take us, from the Annunciation and her ‘yes’ to the angel, through the Visitation, with its beautiful magnificat, to the birth of Jesus, and then to her presence with him on the via dolorosa and at the foot of the cross. The final sonnet invokes her prayer and aid for the many women exploited and betrayed in our own age.

As always you can hear the poems by clicking the ‘play’ button if it appears, or clicking on the title.

Annunciation

We see so little, stayed on surfaces,

We calculate the outsides of all things,

Preoccupied with our own purposes

We miss the shimmer of the angels’ wings,

They coruscate around us in their joy

A swirl of wheels and eyes and wings unfurled,

They guard the good we purpose to destroy,

A hidden blaze of glory in God’s world.

But on this day a young girl stopped to see

With open eyes and heart. She heard the voice;

The promise of His glory yet to be,

As time stood still for her to make a choice;

Gabriel knelt and not a feather stirred,

The Word himself was waiting on her word.


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.

Theotokos

You bore for me the One who came to bless

And bear for all and make the broken whole.

You heard His call and in your open ‘yes’

You spoke aloud for every living soul.

Oh gracious Lady, child of your own child,

Whose mother-love still calls the child in me,

Call me again, for I am lost, and  wild

Waves suround me now. On this dark sea

Shine as a star and call me to the shore.

Open the door that all my sins would close

And hold me in your garden. Let me share

The prayer that folds the petals of the Rose.

Enfold me too in Love’s last mystery

And bring me to the One you bore for me.

Jesus meets His Mother

This darker path into the heart of pain
Was also hers whose love enfolded him
In flesh and wove him in her womb. Again
The sword is piercing. She, who cradled him
And gentled and protected her young son
Must stand and watch the cruelty that mars
Her maiden making. Waves of pain that stun
And sicken pass across his face and hers
As their eyes meet. Now she enfolds the world
He loves in prayer; the mothers of the disappeared
Who know her pain, all bodies bowed and curled
In desperation on this road of tears,
All the grief-stricken in their last despair,
Are folded in the mantle of her prayer.

O Virgo Virginum

O Virgin of virgins, how shall this be?

For neither before thee was any like thee, nor shall there be after.

Daughters of Jerusalem, why marvel ye at me?

The thing which ye behold is a divine mystery.

Who are the daughters of Jerusalem,

Who glimpse you still as you transform their seeing?

Whom have you called to this mysterium,

And bathed in the blithe fountain of your being?

Daughters of sorrow, daughters of despair,

The cast-aside, the overlooked, the spurned

The broken girls who scarcely breathe a prayer

The ones whose love has never been returned.

O Maid amongst the maidens, turn your face,

For when we glimpse you we are not alone,

O look us out of grief and into grace,

Lift us in love made stronger than our own,

Summon the spring in our worst wilderness,

And make us fruitful in your fruitfulness.

O Virgo virginum, quomodo fiet istud?

Quia nec primam similem visa es nec habere sequentem.

Filiae Jerusalem, quid me admiramini?

Divinum est mysterium hoc quod cernitis.

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Lockdown Anniversary: The Quarantine Quatrains

The garden hut mentioned in the poem, and where it was written

I thought that for this 1st anniversary of lockdown I would repost the complete set of my Quarantine Quatrains, the first of several literary projects I have undertaken during the course of this lockdown year. It traces the progress of that first lockdown and concludes, fittingly for today, with an elegy for those whom we have lost over the course of this year.

I have recently posted one or two sections of a longer poem called The Quarantine Quatrains, written in a kind of  loose conversation with Fitzgerald’s translation of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, and employing his same quatrain stanza form. The poem began in the same laconic, wistful, urbane manner as Fitzgerald’s original, and continued its theme of savouring and cherishing each moment of our brief lives, but, in these extraordinary times, my poem moved naturally towards something more meditative, and ends in elegy and prayer for those who have lost their lives.

The word Quarantine, of course contains the word 40, because 40 days was the original period of quarantine. I fear our lockdown will last much longer than that, but by my reckoning, today is our 40th day: a good day to publish these 40 Quarantine Quatrains, arranged in seven episodes. I will continue to post and comment separately on some of the individual sections, but here, for those who would like to read or hear it whole, are all seven sections of the complete poem. As always you can hear me read each section of the poem by clicking on the ‘play’ button or the Roman numeral.

The Quarantine Quatrains: a new Rubaiyat

 I

1

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.

2

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.

3

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

4

Your mantle 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

5

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.

6

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

II

 7

I think of old Khayyam who ‘stood before

The tavern shouting open up the door’

And wish I might carouse the night with him

Alas that such carousals are no more

8

I’ll keep the rules my country has imposed

My life, like my small garden, is enclosed,

But still I’ll raise a glass and pledge my friends

Although, for us, the tavern door is closed

9

For in my cellar, ranged in dusty rows,

Are sleeping poets waiting to disclose

Deep memories of St. Emillion

Whose vineyards reach to where the Dordogne flows

10

And with these wines I travel where I please

From Rhineland to the lofty Pyrenees,

I saunter though the chateaus of the loire,

Drawing the cork on any one of these.

11

So with the poets let me praise the vine

And pledge my absent friends in vintage wine

Sensing, sometimes, the savour at my lips

Speaks of a love both human and divine.

12

And when I come to taste my life’s last drop,

When all that flowed in me comes to a stop,

Then let me see my saviour pledge his love,

Come close to me, and help me drink the cup.

III

 13

Some days I am 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.

14

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.

15

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.

16

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

17

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.

IV

 18

Here in my garden hut, just on the brink

Of making some new song of all I think,

A sudden thrill and ripple of true song

Makes mockery of my poor pen and ink.

19

Beyond my hut a vivid glimpse of red:

A bright-eyed robin by the garden bed

Sings his mellifluous and liquid notes,

That utter more than all I’ve ever said.

20

Three busy sparrows soon take up the song,

Chaffinches and blue tits join the throng,

A pattern of bright music nets the air

And catches me off guard and makes me long,

21

Long for the joys that I have yet to sing

Long for the sudden flight, the lifting wing,

Long for the songs of summers yet to come

Long for the freedom future days may bring.

22

Though sorrow runs so deep, and our brief songs

Are burdened still with all the ills and wrongs

Of this sad exile, something in us sings,

Sings from that garden where the soul belongs.

V

 23

On Sunday morning, standing on my lawn

I bless the kindling of this Sabbath dawn

And do not seek withdrawal from the world

Since all the world itself is now withdrawn.

24

In Piccadilly Circus, still as stone,

Its central hub become a quiet zone,

Eros may loose his arrow as he will

The little love-god languishes alone.

25

From Marble Arch and all along The Mall

Only the pigeons still stand sentinel

And all the streets that thronged with rush and fret

Are soaked in silence almost magical.

26

No need to find the Isle of Innisfree,

Or seek with Brendan islands in the sea

For now the town and countryside alike

Partake the Sabbath rest of Galilee

27

And all that smudge of noise, the muffled roar

Of distant rush hour traffic is no more

The ‘roadway and the pavement grey’ both keep

A greater silence in the deep hearts core.

VI

28

They say the Lion and the Lizard keep
The Courts where Jamshýd gloried and drank deep
:

But now in every corner of the world

The wild things flourish whilst the cities sleep

29

For when they see our influence abate

The banished creatures soon resume their state:

Blithe dolphins sport along the grand canal,

Coyotes call across the golden gate.

30

The grass grows green in every city square,

The little foxes, once so shy and rare,

Saunter our streets and boulevards by day

Whilst birds and insects throng the cleaner air

31

How soon the tide of nature has returned

How soon renew the forests that we burned

How soon they seed and repossess our streets

Those precious plants and animals we spurned.

32

Perhaps in all this crisis, all this pain,

This reassessment of our loss and gain

Nature rebukes our brief authority

Yet offers us the chance to start again

33

And this time with a new humility,

With chastened awe, and mutual courtesy;

To re-accept the unearned gift of life

With gratitude, with joy and charity.

34

Perhaps we’ll learn to live without so much

To nurture and to cherish, not to clutch,

And, if I’m spared, I’ll hold the years I’m given

With gentler tenure and a lighter touch.

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 beloved 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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Trusting Him: a Response to Psalm 93

Psalm 93 is one of the great psalms of confidence and reassurance in the stability and steadfast love of God, a reassurance we have all desperately needed over the course of this pandemic. As we have experienced a second and even a third wave of the virus we can all relate to those verses:

The floods are risen, O Lord, the floods have lift up their voice: the floods lift up their waves.

The waves of the sea are mighty, and rage horribly: but yet the Lord, who dwelleth on high, is mightier.

I have picked up on that image of ‘wave after wave’ in my response, but also I hope, returned, as this psalm does, to the sure foundation we all have in the God who loves us, and knows us, and has come to meet us in Christ.

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

The full set of these poems has now been published as a book David’s Crown which you can buy from UK Amazon Here, or, in North America, it is available from Amazon Here.

XCIII Dominus regnavit

And trusting him until the day I die,

I will not fear the surging of the sea,

Though troubles in a flood-tide rise so high;

 

Wave after wave of panic surges through me

And other people’s fear and rage increase

My own, until the toxic mix is deadly.

 

But when it seems these troubles never cease

I sense beneath them all some solid ground,

A sure foundation and an inner peace,

 

And, over-arching them, the starlit round

Of heaven’s firmament. Though in between

The storms of life rage on, with all their sound

 

And fury, I still trust that all unseen,

Founded below and glorious above,

My saviour stands and keeps my soul serene.

 

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Week 5: prayer that pierces

image courtesy of https://lanciaesmith.com

Here is my usual Sunday posting resuming our pilgrimage together through Lent, using my book The Word in the Wilderness I am once again posting recordings of me reading all of this week’s poems together with the texts of the poems themselves.

The image above is once again kindly provided by Lancia Smith

Now, in Passiontide, Christ becomes all the more visibly, our companion. We walk with him and see him face and overcome our own worst fears, we see him take on, in us and for us, the pain the frailty, the fear the failure, and the death itself that haunt and shadow our life. We stay with him through his Good Friday as he stays with us through ours, so that when Easter dawns we also share with him, and he bestows abundantly on us, the new life and light which death can never overcome and swallow for it, indeed has overcome and swallowed up death. In this section we will pay particular attention to Gethsemane and the agony in the garden, through a sequence of four linked poems, starting with Herbert’s poem ‘The Agony’, and moving then to Rowan Williams’ poem ‘Gethsemane’ which has the same setting and draws on Herbert’s poem. This is followed by two Hopkins’ poems that also seem to be in close contact with the Rowan Williams poem. All four poems turn on the press and pressure, of Gethsemane understood as an oil press, releasing God’s mercy into the world.

But we begin, on Sunday with Edwin Muir’s beautiful poem The Incarnate One

The Incarnate One   Edwin Muir

The windless northern surge, the sea-gull’s scream,

And Calvin’s kirk crowning the barren brae.

I think of Giotto the Tuscan shepherd’s dream,

Christ, man and creature in their inner day.

How could our race betray

The Image, and the Incarnate One unmake

Who chose this form and fashion for our sake?

 

The Word made flesh here is made word again

A word made word in flourish and arrogant crook.

See there King Calvin with his iron pen,

And God three angry letters in a book,

And there the logical hook

On which the Mystery is impaled and bent

Into an ideological argument.

 

There’s better gospel in man’s natural tongue,

And truer sight was theirs outside the Law

Who saw the far side of the Cross among

The archaic peoples in their ancient awe,

In ignorant wonder saw

The wooden cross-tree on the bare hillside,

Not knowing that there a God suffered and died.

 

The fleshless word, growing, will bring us down,

Pagan and Christian man alike will fall,

The auguries say, the white and black and brown,

The merry and the sad, theorist, lover, all

Invisibly will fall:

Abstract calamity, save for those who can

Build their cold empire on the abstract man.

 

A soft breeze stirs and all my thoughts are blown

Far out to sea and lost. Yet I know well

The bloodless word will battle for its own

Invisibly in brain and nerve and cell.

The generations tell

Their personal tale: the One has far to go

Past the mirages and the murdering snow.

 

MONDAY

 

Golgotha   John Heath-Stubbs


 

In the middle of the world, in the centre

Of the polluted heart of man, a midden;

A stake stemmed in the rubbish

 

From lipless jaws, Adam’s skull

Gasped up through the garbage:

‘I lie in the discarded dross of history,

Ground down again to the red dust,

The obliterated image. Create me.’

From lips cracked with thirst, the voice

That sounded once over the billows of chaos

When the royal banners advanced,

replied through the smother of dark:

‘All is accomplished, all is made new, and look-

All things, once more, are good.’

Then, with a loud cry, exhaled His spirit.

 

TUESDAY

 

The Agony   George Herbert


 

Philosophers have measur’d mountains,

Fathom’d the depths of seas, of states and kings;

Walk’d with a staff to heav’n and traced fountains:

But there are two vast, spacious thins,

The which to measure it doth more behove;

Yet few there are that sound them, ‒ Sin and Love.

 

Who would know Sin, let him repair

Unto Mount Olivet; there shall he see

A Man so wrung with pains, that all His hair,

His skin, His garments bloody be.

Sin is that press and vice, which forceth pain

To hunt his cruel food through ev’ry vein.

 

Who knows not Love, let him assay

And taste that juice which, on the cross, a pike

Did set again abroach; then let him say

If ever he did taste the like,

Love is that liquor sweet and most divine,

Which my God feels as blood, but I as wine.

 

WEDNESDAY

 

Gethsemane   Rowan Williams

Who said that trees grow easily
compared with us? What if the bright
bare load that pushes down on them
insisted that they spread and bowed
and pleated back on themselves and cracked
and hunched? Light dropping like a palm
levelling the ground, backwards and forwards?

 

Across the valley are the other witnesses
of two millennia, the broad stones
packed by the hand of God, bristling
with little messages to fill the cracks.
As the light falls and flattens what grows
on these hills, the fault lines dart and spread,
there is room to say something, quick and tight.
Into the trees’ clefts, then, do we push
our folded words, thick as thumbs?
somewhere inside the ancient bark, a voice
has been before us, pushed the densest word
of all, abba, and left it to be collected by
whoever happens to be passing, bent down
the same way by the hot unreadable palms.

 

THURSDAY

 

I wake and feel the fell of dark, not day   G. M. Hopkins

I wake and feel the fell of dark, not day,

What hours, O what black hours we have spent

This night! what sights you, heart, saw; ways you went!

And more must, in yet longer light’s delay.

With witness I speak this. But where I say

Hours I mean years, mean life. And my lament

Is cries countless, cries like dead letters sent

To dearest him that lives alas! away.

 

I am gall, I am heartburn. God’s most deep decree

Bitter would have me taste: my taste was me;

Bones built in me, flesh filled, blood brimmed the curse.

Selfyeast of spirit a dull dough sours. I see

The lost are like this, and their scourge to be

As I am mine, their sweating selves; but worse.

 

FRIDAY

 

God’s Grandeur   G. M. Hopkins

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.

It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;

It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil

Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?

Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;

And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;

And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil

Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

 

And for all this, nature is never spent;

There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;

And though the last lights off the black West went

Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs ‒

Because the Holy Ghost over the bent

World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

 

SATURDAY

 

Love’s as warm as tears   C. S. Lewis

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Cuddy; a sonnet for St. Cuthbert

 

cuthberts-tombOn the 20th of March we remember with thanksgiving St. Cuthbert, the great Apostle of the North, in whose honour the Lindesfarne Gospels were made and on whose breast was found the beautiful Gospel of St. John which is our oldest complete book. Indeed, I was inspired to write a sonnet about the experience of standing in front of Cuthbert’s copy of St. John, which you can read Here.

Cuthbert, or ‘Cuddy’ as he is known affectionately in the North, was a man whose whole life was shaped and lived in and by the Gospel, by reconciliation, by good news for the poor and supremely by that free movement of the Holy spirit, flowing like water, and like the wind, blowing where it listeth. Though Cuthbert worked tirelessly for the church and for the poor he was at heart a hermit and a mystic, in intimate communion with God in his hermitage on his beloved inner Farne island . I feel a particular connection with Cuthbert and have walked on pilgrimage along the Cuthbert Way from Melrose Abbey in Scotland to the Holy island of Lindesfarne in Northumberland.

This poem is taken from my collection The Singing Bowl, published by Canterbury Press. Canterbury have also launched a Kindle Edition

If English readers would like to buy my books from a proper bookshop Sarum College Bookshop here in the UK always have it in stock.

I am happy to announce to North American readers that copies of The Singing Bowl and my other books are readily available from Steve Bell Here

As always you can hear the poem by clicking on the title or the play button

‘Cuthbertus’ says the dark stone up in Durham
Where I have come on pilgrimage to pray.
But not this great cathedral, nor the solemn
Weight of Norman masonry we lay
Upon your bones could hold your soul in prison.
Free as the cuddy ducks they named for you,
Loosed by the lord who died to pay your ransom,
You roam the North just as you used to do;
Always on foot and walking with the poor,
Breaking the bread of angels in your cave,
A sanctuary, a sign, an open door,
You follow Christ through keening wind and wave,
To be and bear with him where all is borne;

The heart of heaven, in your Inner Farne

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Lindesfarne where Cuthbert was Bishop

Lindesfarne where Cuthbert was Bishop

the heart of heaven in your inner Farne

the heart of heaven in your inner Farne

 

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St. Patrick: A Sonnet

PilgrimYear_SaintPatrickMeme

We may not be able to celebrate St. Patrick in the streets and pubs this year but here, nevertheless is my sonnet for Saint Patrick’s day, with a prayer that we might share his ‘passion and compassion’ wherever we are.

While Patrick is of course primarily associated with Ireland where he flourished as a missionary in the second half of the fifth century, he was not Irish to begin with. He seems to have been a shepherd on the mainland of Great Britain and was in fact captured there, at the age of sixteen, by raiding pirates and taken across the sea to Ireland where he was sold as a slave. He was six years in captivity before he finally made his escape and returned to Britain. And this is where the story takes a truly extraordinary turn. While he was enslaved in Ireland, working as a shepherd for his masters, Patrick became a Christian and when, having made good his escape, he returned home he had a vision in which a man gave him a letter headed ‘The Voice of Ireland’, a letter urging him to go back to the very place from which he had escaped and bring the Gospel to his former captors! That Patrick obeyed such a vision seems to me a greater miracle than any of the others subsequently attributed to him, and it is on this return that my sonnet turns. That capacity to return, face and forgive former oppressors or enemies seems a particularly vital gift for Ireland’s patron to bestow. As well as alluding briefly to ‘St. Patrick’s Breastplate’, my sonnet also touches on the story that wherever Patrick planted his staff to pray, it blossomed.

As always you can hear the sonnets by clicking o the title or the play button

Patrick

Six years a slave, and then you slipped the yoke,

Till Christ recalled you, through your captors cries!

Patrick, you had the courage to turn back,

With open love to your old enemies,

Serving them now in Christ, not in their chains,

Bringing the freedom He gave you to share.

You heard the voice of Ireland, in your veins

Her passion and compassion burned like fire.

Now you rejoice amidst the three-in-one,

Refreshed in love and blessing all you knew,

Look back on us and bless us, Ireland’s son,

And plant the staff of prayer in all we do:

A gospel seed that flowers in belief,

A greening glory, coming into leaf.

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