Monthly Archives: April 2021

I am the Vine; a sonnet

How might it feel to be part of the vine?

How might it feel to be part of the vine?

Here is a poem intended as a kind of comment or illumination on the beautiful gospel from John 15 which is set for this Sunday, and which I post in advance in case anyone would like to use it in a service. It is from my book Parable and Paradox,  the last in a sequence of seven sonnets on the ‘I AM’ sayings in John’s gospel. this one is on one of my favourites ‘I Am the Vine, ye are the branches’.

Parable and Paradox is available on Amazon here and in the USA

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

I Am the Vine

John 15:5 I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.

How might it feel to be part of the vine?

Not just to see the vineyard from afar

Or even pluck the clusters, press the wine,

But to be grafted in, to feel the stir

Of inward sap that rises from our root,

Himself deep planted in the ground of Love,

To feel a leaf unfold a tender shoot,

As tendrils curled unfurl, as branches give

A little to the swelling of the grape,

In gradual perfection, round and full,

To bear within oneself the joy and hope

Of God’s good vintage, till it’s ripe and whole.

What might it mean to bide and to abide

In such rich love as makes the poor heart glad?

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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, but the Church of England is celebrating it on the 26th this year as the 25th falls on a Sunday.  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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Hatley St. George; a poem for St. George’s Day

On St. George’s day my thoughts turn again to Hatley St. George. Lockdown has eased a little and it can be visited again, as it continues 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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The Lord Is King: A Response To Psalm 97

Psalm_97,_Cantate_domino_canticum_novum,_quia_mirabilia_fecit,_King_David_and_a_woman_(Ecclesia?)_offering_him_a_chalice_-_Psalter_of_Eleanor_of_Aquitaine_(ca._1185)_-_KB_76_F_13,_folium_117vPsalm 97 is another psalm of pure joy and celebration, a psalm which sees, even through the shadows of the present time, the resplendent brightness of the coming Kingdom, as it says in that beautiful line:

There is sprung up a light for the righteous: and joyful gladness for such as are true-hearted.

The psalm begins with the words ‘ The Lord is King’! For Christians reading this psalm that King and Lord is Christ himself, who died for his people and rose again, not only to reign but to share his kingdom with all whom he has redeemed, and some of those themes are taken up in my response to the psalm.

Frustratingly, the new WordPress software seems to strip out the breaks between the three line stanzas every time I put them back in. If you have the book you will see that the poem is intended to be laid out in five three-line stanzas, not a single block of 15 lines, but there seems no way of restoring this arrangement! Clearly WordPress is not intended for poets!

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.

XCVII Dominus regnavit

With our own joy, we will take up the song

Of all creation: Jesus Christ is king!

The whole earth will be glad, for there has sprung,

A light for all the righteous who will bring

A final judgment to the earth, as bright

As lightening, and the round world will ring

With jubilation. For the mournful night

Of our long exile will be ended then

As darkness flees before his glorious light,

The bright ark of his covenant. And when

We see that holiness unveiled, the dark

Devices, all the substitutes, the vain

And empty images, the shoddy work

Of our own hands will fall to nothingness

For Christ himself will shine as the true ark.

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Sing A New Song: A Response to Psalm 96

psalm 96We come now to psalm 96, a glorious poem of pure praise which contains the beautiful line

O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness: let the whole earth stand in awe of him.

The psalm goes on to invoke the whole creation to join in the psalmist’s hymn of praise:

Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad: let the sea make a noise, and all that therein is.

Let the field be joyful, and all that is in it: then shall all the trees of the wood rejoice before the Lord.

In my own poetic response I have also delighted in nature and striven to get something of the music and beauty the psalmist invokes into the very sound of my words, because, as i say in the poem, it is one of our vocations as human beings, to voice creation’s praise.

Frustratingly, the new WordPress software seems to strip out the breaks between the three line stanzas every time I put them back in. If you have the book you will see that the poem is intended to be laid out in five three-line stanzas, not a single block of 15 lines, but there seems no way of restoring this arrangement! Clearly WordPress is not intended for poets!

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.

XCVI Cantate Domino

Our Saviour King and Shepherd calls us home

And on our homeward journey bids us sing,

To join that all-renewing song to him

Which all creation sings. The valleys ring

With praises and the mountaintops rejoice;

The greenwood trees and meadow flowers bring

Their silent praise and call on us to voice

It for them in our songs, to worship him

In awe, in beauty, and in holiness.

It is not for ourselves alone we hymn

The great creator, for we lift our song

To voice creation’s praise. The drowsy hum

Of honey laden bees, the lovely, long

And lapsing sigh of waves along the shore,

And our own joy, must all make up the song.

f you would like to encourage and support this blog, you might like, on occasion, (not every time of course!) to pop in and buy me a cup of coffee. Clicking on this banner will take you to a page where you can do so, if you wish. But please do not feel any obligation!

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O Come Let Us Sing: A Response To Psalm 95

After the rigours of psalm 94 its lovely to come to the familiar and gracious invitation of psalm 95, which is the regular canticle for morning prayer which we call by its first Latin word ‘The Venite’:

  1. O COME, let us sing unto the Lord: let us heartily rejoice in the strength of our salvation.
  2. Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving: and shew ourselves glad in him with psalms.

At the core of this beautiful psalm is the humble acknowledgement that we didn’t create ourselves but that we are all made by the one God to whom we owe our thanks, and this is something on which I have reflected with gratitude in my response.

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.

XCV Venite, exultemus

For equal rights and justice, cry out loud!

Then come before God’s presence and be glad,

And harden not your hearts. Do not be proud,

But kneel before your maker, for he made

You for himself and also for each other,

To share his good gifts equally. Our God

Is everyone’s salvation, and our Father

Is Lord and father equally to all.

Let us rejoice before him, let him gather

The scattered tribes and nations back from all

The corners of the earth, and also from

The wilderness of willfulness. His call

To bring our lives, and our whole world to him

Resounds in all of us. Could we but hear,

Our Saviour, King and Shepherd calls us home.

If you would like to encourage and support this blog, you might like, on occasion, (not every time of course!) to pop in and buy me a cup of coffee. Clicking on this banner will take you to a page where you can do so, if you wish. But please do not feel any obligation!

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Arise thou Judge Of The World: a response to psalm 94

41ylPajMpuL._SX313_BO1,204,203,200_After an Easter break I am resuming the thread of my postings from David’s Crown, my poetic response to the Psalms, and we come to psalm 94.

Psalm 94 is one of those bracing and challenging psalms that calls out for Justice, calls out for God to come as judge, and finally set the worlds wrongs to right. It is challenging for us to say because of course we ourselves are entangled and compromised with so much that is wrong in the world. At the time I was writing my poetic response to this psalm we were becoming aware of how acutely Covid itself was exposing and increasing the gap between the haves and the have-nots and we were also in the midst of the  ferment and protest against systemic prejudice and injustice in the wake of the killing of George Floyd. All these issues made this psalm more relevant and challenging than ever.

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.

XCIV Deus ultionum

My saviour stands and keeps my soul serene

But also sends me back into the world

To speak his word and challenge the obscene

 

Injustices we take for granted, sold

As we are on systems that preserve

Our privilege and barter truth for gold,

 

Putting our souls to silence.  We reserve

Our judgment, but the psalmist makes it clear

Justice is coming for God’s poor. We serve

 

Him best if we can serve them here,

Rise up and take their part against the proud

Deliver them from harassment and fear.

 

We have been pietistic, quiet, cowed

But we must come out publicly and cry

For equal rights and justice, cry out loud.

If you would like to encourage and support this blog, you might like, on occasion, (not every time of course!) to pop in and buy me a cup of coffee. Clicking on this banner will take you to a page where you can do so, if you wish. But please do not feel any obligation!

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This Breathless Earth: a recent sonnet

The reading set in many churches for this first Sunday of Easter is the account in John 20:19, of how Jesus appeared to the disciples in the upper room where they were cowering behind locked doors, and how he brought them peace, and breathed on them, saying ‘receive the Holy Spirit’ and sent them out, renewed into the world. Meditating on that scene I have made a new sonnet, voiced for one of the disciples in that room, but written also from our present context where we are all fearful and so many of us are struggling even to draw breath. I am posting the new poem here in case anyone finds it useful, either for a virtual church service on Sunday, or for reflection during the week. Please feel free to reproduce this poem but if you can include a link to this blog that would be great.

As always you can hear me read the poem by clicking on the title or the ‘Play’ button.

This Breathless Earth

We bolted every door but even so

We couldn’t catch our breath for very fear:

Fear of their knocking at the gate below,

Fear that they’d find and kill us even here.

Though Mary’s tale had quickened all our hearts

Each fleeting hope just deepens your despair:

The panic grips again, the gasping starts,

The drowning, and the coming up for air.

Then suddenly, a different atmosphere,

A clarity of light, a strange release,

And, all unlooked for, Christ himself was there

Love in his eyes and on his lips, our peace.

So now we breathe again, sent forth, forgiven,

To bring this breathless earth a breath of heaven.

If you would like to encourage and support this blog, you might like, on occasion, (not every time of course!) to pop in and buy me a cup of coffee. Clicking on this banner will take you to a page where you can do so, if you wish. But please do not feel any obligation!

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Three lovely settings of my Easter poems

To my amazement I received, on Easter Monday, three separate links to beautiful performances of new musical settings of three poems of mine, all with an Easter theme, and I thought I would share them with you here. The first was a setting, by composer Zebulon Highben, of my sonnet Easter Dawn, performed beautifully by the choir of the chapel at Duke University as part of their Easter Sunday service.

Here it is:

The other two were performances by Girton choir of settings of a series of quatrains I wrote on the mysteries of Christ, one on Easter and another on the Ascension. Here are the words for my Easter Quatrain:

Resurrection:

A stone flung in a pool makes waves of light

Until, like every life, it sinks alone.

They plunged Him too, into the pool of night,

Today His waves of light fling back the stone.

The setting is by the composer Cevanne Horrocks Hopayian, here it is:

And finally here is the Ascension piece:

Ascension

Let there be light.  The light leaps up

That was in deepest darkness drowned.

There is no realm or kingdom now

In which the lost cannot be found.

The setting is by the composer Libby Croad, here it is, (I hope) the link is to facebook rather than youtube so you may have to follow through and find it there: https://www.facebook.com/libby.croad.9/videos/10165061013315607

If you would like to encourage and support this blog, you might like, on occasion, (not every time of course!) to pop in and buy me a cup of coffee. Clicking on this banner will take you to a page where you can do so, if you wish. But please do not feel any obligation!

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Easter Day: an Aubade

the sun is on the rise

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