Author Archives: malcolmguite

About malcolmguite

Malcolm Guite is a poet and singer-songwriter living in Cambridge. He is a priest, chaplain, teacher and author of various essays and articles and a book about contemporary Christianity. He also plays in Cambridge rock band Mystery Train, and lectures widely in England and USA on poetry and theology.

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.

If you are enjoying these posts, you might like, on occasion 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.
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And here, an a little bonus is the outline of a Pentecost Sermon, using this sonnet, by my good friend Cathy Michell:

Meditation on Malcolm’s poem: Pentecost

5 This is the feast of fire, air, and water

6 Poured out and breathed and kindled into earth.

The 3 elements:

1) WIND

1 Today we feel the wind beneath our wings

3 Today the church draws breath at last and sings.

7 The earth herself awakens to her maker
8 And is translated out of
death to birth.

Acts 2 ‘Suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house’.

The wind blowing yesterday and today – its roar and its visible effects – powerful, exciting/dangerous.

To the people of the Bible wind, breath and spirit were blended ideas (see M’s wind/breath in vv 1 and 3), all closely related in God who was seen to be all these things and therefore ‘gave ‘ all these things. The rush, roar and obvious effects of wind in nature, where paralleled by the equally obvious effects of breathing. In turn the spirit, the life in all creatures, was present because of the presence in them of breath.

In Genesis, when what ever existed or did not exist, was formless, void and dark, it is God who brings life, ‘a wind from God swept over the face of the waters’. Likewise in Genesis 2 we see God creating humans from the dust and then breathing into their nostrils the breath of life. Wind and breath are the same. They are of God and they bring the world and humans life, not just in the beginning but always. Just listen to the roar outside. Just listen to your own breath as it reanimates you over and over.

The prophet Ezekiel experienced the same in the valley of the dry bones. God tells the prophet that the bones will be brought from death to life (as M’s v8, ‘translated out of death to birth).

God says to the prophet, ‘I will cause breath to enter you and you shall live’. Ezekiel is instructed,‘Prophesy to the Breath..and say……’come from the 4 winds., O Breath, and breathe upon these slain that they may live’.

In this passage all 3 meanings of the words ‘ruach’ (Heb) or ‘pneuma’ (Gk) (breath/spirit) are found overlaid upon each other. So Jesus in John’s gospel is seen to breath on his disciples when he appears to them one evening as they are locked inside a house after the crucifixion. John tells us that Jesus breathed on them so that they might receive the Holy Spirit.

And then there’s that other account in John’s gospel about what Jesus said to the pharisee Nicodemus as they spoke about being born again. Here Jesus likens the nature and presence of The Spirit to the wind, saying,

‘The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of The Spirit.’ (Jn 3:8)

So we have looked at the key words here, wind and breath, but see also the word ‘awakening’ that Malcolm uses in v7. The Spirit awakens the earth, the disciples and us as from sleep. The Earth is awoken at its Creation by God. Each Spring is a new waking up from winter; we are woken by God’s loving spirit from our own deadliness, to a renewed eternal life (reborn as with was Nicodemus). And at our mortal, our actual death, we wake up to resurrection Life.

In Acts it is the Church that is reawakened and given ruach, breath and Spirit at Pentecost. It’s the scared, cowed, lost and grieving disciples in their lock-down who were miraculously given life again. And it was this that sent them out to ‘sing’ as Malcolm puts it – to preach their joyful gospel to all.

And how we are longing to do the same. To draw breath, as if for the first time, to sing again. But more than that – to speak new things, hope and joy; be heard and come alive again in this community. We want to be ‘translated out of death to birth’ again and to be agents of that Life that is Christ, to others. For this breath of God is also what inspires (inspire and expire!) us, what a lovely play on words. It is the life that is found in every creative act, every leap of the imagination, clear intuition, or innovative plan. There in art, music, song, study, craft or kitchen, in theatre or church. It sings out, it patterns our life in vibrant colour. It is what the Church is in constant need of, if it will let that wind blow through its dark, dusty and often closed down ways.

We need the wings Malcolm refers to in v 1, as he speaks about the wind blowing where it will. Wings allowing us to take flight and glide on the breeze carried aloft by the Spirit. These wings are also there to remind us of the hovering dove, balancing, held up by the air. The Spirit comes to us from God. It descends upon us and always hovers over the Church in blessing and protection. It reminds us of Jesus himself receiving God’s Spirit at his baptism. And we think of our own baptism and the life it has given us as we have journeyed a long time perhaps, in the company of Jesus. And this is why Malcolm’s second verse brings in our next element or image of Pentecost, and it’s…..

2 WATER


2 Today the hidden fountain flows and plays. (‘poured out’)

Water. Yes it is about baptism, but more than this, as water takes us back again to the Creation stories; the great sea over which God brooded; the rivers, lakes and streams emerging, even the great flood as it swept the earth clean of human sin yet led to new life, a new start – God’s promise to Noah through the rainbow sign, that He would establish an everlasting covenant of love with all humanity. And under that covenant (renewed on June 6th at the service in the chapel) we still stand.

Water, like breath, is essential to us. Just like our breathing, it is Life, it is God. And of the many Bible passages we might think of, it’s the story of Jesus’s meeting the woman at Jacob’s well that rings true here (John 4); their complex, subtle discussion about being thirsty, and about where to source a water to quench not only the thirst of the body but the craving and deep need of the soul.

‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink’, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water……those who drink of the water that I will give them, will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.’

This water carries the Spirit within it, as Jesus rather enigmatically refers to again, when he and the woman go on to speak together about worshipping God.

John 4:23-24

‘the hour is coming’, says Jesus, ‘when true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth………..God is Spirit and those who worship Him must worship in Spirit and in truth.’

There is so much here for us to reflect on – the meaning and impact of our own baptism; our own heart and soul longing to be refreshed and washed by Jesus the Living Water of our Life; how God’s Holy Spirit flowing through our lives may be known and listened to. And what might it be calling us to as individuals and as church in this place?

And so to our 3rd element…………….

FIRE (kindled)


4 As every flame becomes a Tongue of praise.

12 All tongues are loosened by the Prince of Peace.

Acts 2 ‘Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each one of them.’

Look how cleverly Malcolm has used the double meaning of ‘tongues’ in his poem (and in the final line as well) to make us think, and to place this element of fire alongside what the Acts account says later about the disciples, that they were filled with the Holy Spirit and so praised God as if drunk on his good wine – with very loosened tongues!

If we were to think of just one Bible narrative of many that speak about God as fire, we have to turn aside, as Moses did, to the miracle of the burning bush. (Ex 3)

There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”

He is told by God in no uncertain terms, “Do not come any closer, Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground. ……..At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God’.

The elemental power, glory, and beauty of fire – yes and its holy danger too – is one with the nature of God himself. The Spirit is not only God’s breath upon us, God’s living water pouring down into out hearts, it’s the fire of his energies, passion, love and desire, burning within us and lighting all around. This is what energised those fragile disciples in their cold, closed dispirited house. This is where we too may source our own energy and only by noticing and waiting on this Spirit of fire as Moses did, can we hear God’s voice and his will for us as Christians and as Church.

——————————–

And it’s to the Church and its mission that Malcolm turns at the end of his poem, by taking us back again to our Acts reading.


9 The right words come today in their right order

10 And every word spells freedom and release

11 Today the gospel crosses every border

13 Today the lost are found in His translation.

14 Whose mother-tongue is Love, in  every nation.

Pentecost is about words – and how appropriate then that Malcolm chose poetry, the craft of words, to express its truths in ‘right order’. The wind, the breath and the Spirit of God descends on the disciples, where God’s breath becomes God’s Word – that Word with a capital W which John tells us was at the beginning with God, ‘and the Word was God’. This Word becomes translated into human speech, into the disciples’ praise and preaching, into Peter’s sermon given to the crowds. And of course this translating power of the Spirit is understood by everyone, just as all humans understand wind, fire, water and spirit. This is the reverse of the OT’s Tower of Babel, an incomprehension wrought by human arrogance and sin. God’s Spirit makes all things clear, its wind blows away the chaff, its waters enliven and purify, its fire burns away impurities and forges new strengths.

These gospel words spoken now, cross every border. In them ‘There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus’ as St Paul says (Galatians 3). These Spirit – inspired words embrace all those whose experiences of being human have breathed sorrow, hurt, illness, rejection, poverty, captivity, death. For them the Spirit speaks of freedom and release.

As Jesus says according to Luke’s gospel (Lk 4:18)

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed,

And as the hymn writer John Bell puts it so beautifully,

To the lost Christ shows his face,
to the unloved he gives his embrace,
to those who cry in pain or disgrace
Christ makes, with his friends, a touching place.

This is the Spirit’s work. And Her or His work is, finally, nothing more or less than LOVE – ‘whose mother-tongue is love, in every nation’ as Malcolm says. What more is there to say?

This Pentecost, let’s turn aside again to stand before the love of God, to hear again for ourselves love’s invitation and allow ourselves once more to enjoy its dove-like tenderness in our lives. Let’s sing again, ‘Come down O love divine, seek thou this soul of mine’. And pray that by God’s generous grace and through the Spirit’s life-giving power, we too, like those disciples, can be given the words and the energy that will send us out to live that great love in the world.

Amen

Cathy Michell may 2021 (Toft St Andrews)

Whose Mother-tongue is Love in every nation

 

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Be Joyful In The Lord: A Response To Psalm 100

unnamedWe come now to psalm 100, a real milestone in our journey through the psalter and one of the great psalms, cherished by generations of hymn singers as ‘Old Hundredth’, the name of the tune to which it has been traditionally sung, though there are many beautiful versions of this psalm titled Jubilate Deo in the prayer book.

In my response to the psalm I have reflected on that great hymn singing tradition and the sense of connection and kinship it gives us with our forbears and the long tradition of our faith, something celebrated in the psalm itself in its final line:

For the Lord is gracious, his mercy is everlasting: and his truth endureth from generation to generation.

But I also reflect on the essential and timeless truths, truths which our age has mostly forgotten, which are embedded in this psalm:

Be ye sure that the Lord he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

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.

C  Jubilate Deo

Love bids us welcome with them to the feast

Let us be joyful therefore, let us sing

Old Hundredth with our forbears. One high priest

 

Calls us together in a great thanksgiving

To come before his presence with a song,

Enter his courts with praise, be glad and bring

 

Our very best to him. For we belong

To him since he has made us, and our hearts

Will find their peace in him alone. We long

 

Therefore to come at last beyond the gates

Of time and space, and with the saints to taste 

That joy for which the whole creation waits.

 

But whilst we wait there is no time to waste

In keeping faith with each new generation,

And showing them his mercy and his grace.

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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A Sonnet for Ascension Day

 Here is a sonnet for Ascension Day, the glorious finale of the Easter Season. I’m posting it a day in advance, in case anyone would like to use it in a service, either on the day itself or else this Sunday.

In the mystery of the Ascension we reflect on the way in which, one sense Christ ‘leaves’ us and is taken away into Heaven, but in another sense he is given to us and to the world in a new and more universal way. He is no longer located only in one physical space to the exclusion of all others. He is in the Heaven which is at the heart of all things now and is universally accessible to all who call upon Him. And since His humanity is taken into Heaven, our humanity belongs there too, and is in a sense already there with him.”For you have died”, says St. Paul, “and your life is hidden with Christ in God”. In the Ascension Christ’s glory is at once revealed and concealed, and so is ours.  The sonnet form seemed to me one way to begin to tease these things out.

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 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.
As always you can hear the sonnet by clicking on the ‘play’ button if it appears in your browser or by clicking on the title of the poem.

I’m grateful to Oliver Neale for the image above, the image below was taken as we launched rockets to celebrate Ascension day at Girton College:

We have lift off!

Ascension

We saw his light break through the cloud of glory
Whilst we were rooted still in time and place
As earth became a part of Heaven’s story
And heaven opened to his human face.
We saw him go and yet we were not parted
He took us with him to the heart of things
The heart that broke for all the broken-hearted
Is whole and Heaven-centred now, and sings,
Sings in the strength that rises out of weakness,
Sings through the clouds that veil him from our sight,
Whilst we our selves become his clouds of witness
And sing the waning darkness into light,
His light in us, and ours in him concealed,
Which all creation waits to see revealed .

If you are enjoying these posts, you might like, on occasion,(though 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.
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The Lord Is King: A Response to Psalm 99

15501Psalm 99 is a joyful acclamation that ‘The Lord is King’, enthroned between the cherubim, and that his kingdom, and its goodness and glory must come to earth at last. It also looks back through Israel’s history, to the great figures of the past, Moses, and Aaron, and Samuel and the psalmist takes comfort and encouragement that he stands in their succession and that God’s purposes will also be fulfilled through him.

I have taken up these themes in my response to the psalm, but I have asked myself ‘Who are the figures from the Church’s long story who have inspired me?’ and so in my poem I have delighted to name some of the other priest-poets who have inspired me in this work and in whose succession I too, in my poor way, stand and sing!

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.

XCIX Dominus regnavit

With every gift that grateful hearts can bring

We celebrate the glory of the one

Who sits between the cherubim. We sing

A song of love and judgement met in one;

Mercy meets righteousness, and truth meets grace

Made one in Christ, as in him we are one.

The world may waver, we’ll delight to trace

The long line of his loving, and to name

The holy ones who see him face to face:

Moses and Aaron, whom he has called home,

And Samuel. But I shall name each priest

Within my heritage, who looked to him:

John Donne and Herbert, Hopkins, each a priest

As much of language as of sacrament.

Love bids us welcome with them to the feast.

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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Finding Christ in Isolation: A Sonnet for Julian of Norwich

Icon of Julian with her cat by Br Robert Lentz OFM

The 8th of May is the feast day of Julian of Norwich, sometimes known as Mother Julian or Lady Julian. She was an English Mystic of the late fourteenth Century, living as an anchoress in Norwich.  Her life as an anchoress, finding Christ in isolation, and then finding that Christ transfigured that isolation into a communion of love, has been an inspiration for many in the current lockdown. Her ‘Shewings’, or Revelations of Divine Love, a series of mystical visions of and conversations with Jesus, remain a source of profound wisdom and a gift to the church, present and future. For a good introduction to her work I recommend Julia Bolton Holloway’s website, she is herself an anchoress in Florence, and Robert Llewlyn’s classic work ‘With Pity, not With Blame, now reprinted by the Canterbury Press.

This poem is from my book The Singing Bowl which you can buy on Amazon or order from any good bookshop.  Please feel free to use this poem in services, and print it in service bulletins, just include a brief acknowledgement that it comes from ‘The Singing Bowl’, Canterbury Press, 2013. Thanks

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


Mother Julian

Show me O anchoress, your anchor-hold

Deep in the love of God, and hold me fast.

Show me again in whose hands we are held,

Speak to me from your window in the past,

Tell me again the tale of Love’s compassion

For all of us who fall onto the mire,

How he is wounded with us, how his passion

Quickens the love that haunted our desire.

Show me again the wonder of at-one-ment

Of Christ-in-us distinct and yet the same,

Who makes, and loves, and keeps us in each moment,

And looks on us with pity not with blame.

Keep telling me, for all my faith may waver,

Love is his meaning, only love, forever.

1413

From the Amhurst Manuscript of Julian’s showings

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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Sing A New Song! A Response to Psalm 98

41ylPajMpuL._SX313_BO1,204,203,200_Psalm 98 is an absolute favourite of mine, I love the great invitation in its opening line to stir our own creative powers and sing a new song to God:

  1. O SING unto the Lord a new song: for he hath done marvellous things.
  2. With his own right hand, and with his holy arm: hath he gotten himself the victory.

But of course, when Christians respond to this psalm it really is a new song. When the psalmist wrote the words ‘with his own right hand and with his holy arm he hath gotten the victory’ I’m sure they imagined victory in a conventional battle with wounds inflicted on an enemy. But a Christian contemplating the right hand and holy arm of the Lord is taken straight to the mystery of the cross where the enemy defeated is Sin and Death itself and the victory is gained not by inflicting wounds on others but by the Lord of Life and Love, in the mystery of atonement, taking those wounds on himself, taking the worst that we can so  to him and one another and turning it into Love and forgiveness, and so that is the theme of my response to this psalm.

The other thing I love in this psalm is the great invitation to take up all the instruments at our disposal to sing his praises:

Praise the Lord upon the harp: sing to the harp with a psalm of thanksgiving.

With trumpets also and shawms: O shew yourselves joyful before the Lord the King.

That too comes out in my poem, where I interpret it not only as the actual musical instruments but also as all the art forms we have: music, drama, dance and poetry!

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.

XCVIII Cantate Domino

For Christ himself will shine as the true ark,

The holy one between the cherubim,

In his right hand and holy arm the mark

And imprint of the wounds we gave to him

Which he returns as love.  He has declared

That love with open hands and heart.  To him

The world with all its wounds, its shared

Desires and fears, will come, to seek the peace

Which he still offers freely. He has spared

The guilty, for he chose to take their place

And suffer for them. Therefore we will sing

A new song, in the all-renewing grace

Still flowing from those wounds. The world will ring

With music, drama, dance, and poetry,

With every gift that grateful hearts can bring.

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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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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Parable and Paradox hi res

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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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Filed under imagination