The Bread Of Tears: A Response To Psalm 80

Psalm 80 is a psalm of lament, a cry for relief uttered from the depth of sorrow and weariness:

Turn us again, O God: shew the light of thy countenance, and we shall be whole.

O Lord God of hosts: how long wilt thou be angry with thy people that prayeth?

Thou feedest them with the bread of tears: and givest them plenteousness of tears to drink.

In this bleak January, well into our third lockdown, with no end in sight, and so many cruelly taken from us by the disease, we all feel what it is to have been given ‘plenteousness of tears to drink’, and I felt it even back in the first lockdown in May when I wrote my own poem of lament in response to this psalm. But the psalm ends with a turning point, ‘ turn us again O Lord’, and so does my poem.

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 should soon be available from Amazon Here.

There is also going to be a launch event/webinar on Feb 11th at 7pm GMT it will be completely free and you can register for it Here.

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

LXXX Qui regis Israel

Lord hear our sighs and bring us swift release

For we have nothing left to us but tears,

No light, no joy, no strength, no health, no peace,

 

Only the strife, the dread, the strain, the fears

Of these dark times. Oh turn to us again,

Show us once more the mercy of those years

 

When you were forming us. Remember when

You called us out of exile, planted us

As your own vineyard. Was it all in vain

 

The way you tended us and nurtured us

That we might bear good fruit in joy and peace?

We have born bitter fruit, but come to us

 

And help us start again. Come and release

With your right hand the grace we have refused,

Till shadows flee at last, and sorrows cease.

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Apostle! -a sonnet for St. Paul

Conversion of Saint Paul Artist Unknown Niedersaechsisches Landesmuseum, Hannover, Germany Conversion of Saint Paul Artist Unknown Niedersaechsisches Landesmuseum, Hannover, Germany

The 25th of January is the day the Church keeps the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. However often told or re-told, it is still an astonishing story. That Saul, the implacable enemy of Christianity, who came against the faith ‘breathing threats and slaughter’, should be chosen by God to be Christianity’s greatest proponant and apostle is just the first of a series of dazzling and life-changing paradoxes that flow from Paul’s writing. At the heart of these is the revelation of God’s sheer grace; finding the lost, loving the violent into light, and working everything through the very weakness of those who love him. Here’s a sonnet celebrating just a little of what I glimpse in the great Apostle.

This and my other sonets for the Christian year are published together by Canterbury Press as Sounding the Seasons; seventy sonnets for the Christian Year.’ You can get this book in the UK by ordering it from your local bookshop, or via Amazon.

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



Apostle

An enemy whom God has made a friend,

A righteous man discounting righteousness,

Last to believe and first for God to send,

He found the fountain in the wilderness.

Thrown to the ground and raised at the same moment,

A prisoner who set his captors free,

A naked man with love his only garment,

A blinded man who helped the world to see,

A Jew who had been perfect in the law,

Blesses the flesh of every other race

And helps them see what the apostles saw;

The glory of the lord in Jesus’ face.

Strong in his weakness, joyful in his pains,

And bound by love, he freed us from our chains.

 

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 Long Trial and Crisis: a Response to Psalm 79

Psalm 79 is one of those ancient psalms which we read with fresh eyes in this present crisis, a psalm that seems to speak directly into our situation with an uncannily contemporary edge and it does so with a single chilling phrase: ‘there was no man to bury them’. The original context was the sack of Jerusalem the destruction of the temple, and a massacre happening in the very place which was meant to be the centre of Israel’s stability, confidence, and certainty:

  1. O GOD, the heathen are come into thine inheritance: thy holy temple have they defiled, and made Jerusalem an heap of stones.
  2. The dead bodies of thy servants have they given to be meat unto the fowls of the air: and the flesh of thy saints unto the beasts of the land.
  3. Their blood have they shed like water on every side of Jerusalem: and there was no man to bury them.

We are not faced with an invasion of ‘the heathen’, with a visible, human enemy, but with an invisible virus that is tearing through our society and cruelly debilitating and killing so many. When I wrote my response to this psalm in the spring of last year, there were grim reports that hospital mortuaries were running out of space, and in some countries there was nowhere left to bury the dead and new cemeteries were being excavated, which is why that phrase in verse three had such resonance. But even as I write this post now, in the January of the following year, the numbers rise again and we hear once more of make-shift mortuaries. This is terrible and it calls for cries of pain and lament, but it is not new, and it is some comfort that at the heart of the Bible these same cries are recorded, sanctified, and given for us to pray in the verses of our holy scripture. And for a Christian there is more. I chose the form of a ‘corona’, a linked series of poems, for this sequence because I believe that the ‘corona spinea’ the crown of thorns which Jesus wore, foreshadowed in these psalms, is made up not only of his own suffering but of all he chooses to suffer in and with and for us as we go through these dark times, because he goes through them with us, for he is Emmanuel, our God with us. So my poem begins with the lamentations of the psalm but ends with a direct appeal to Jesus.

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 should soon be available from Book Depositary Here. There is also going to be a launch event/webinar on Feb 11th at 7pm GMT it will be completely free and you can register for it Here. 

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

LXXIX  Deus, venerunt

He pulled me through with patient tenderness

And now I need his patience in my soul.

For now I feel the force of wickedness

 

And fear the worst in us will take control

And make a ruination of the best

As this long trial and crisis takes its toll.

 

The psalmist also faced this deadly test

So many dying every day, no space

Or even time to bury them. Pressed

 

On beyond what’s possible, we face

Our dark dilemmas every day. We choose

For one another life or death. We race

 

Against the clock, and still we fear to lose

The lives we seek to save. O Jesus hear

Our sighs and pleas and bring us swift release.

 

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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An Invitation and a response to psalm 78

A few posts ago when I was reflecting on psalm 75 I invited you all to the book launch for David’s Crown. Unfortunately when I did that I used a temporary link for the event which turned out to be the wrong one and didn’t allow you to register. I have gone back and corrected that on the original post, but here, for the avoidance of all confusion, is the original invitation and this time with the correct link:

‘I’d like to take occasion to celebrate the fact that David’s Crown, the book in which all these poems are collected will be published at the end of this month, and also to invite you to a special celebration and launch event! On February 11th at 7pm Canterbury Press, my publisher will be hosting a webinar in which I will be joined by Christine Smith, my editor, and three distinguished guests, to discus the book, and the more generally the role of the psalms in our contemporary life, and to choose, read, and comment on a selection of the poems. My guests are Paula Gooder, the distinguished Bible Scholar and Canon theologian at St. Paul’s Cathedral, who wrote the introduction to the book, David Taylor, the professor of Theology at fuller, who wrote ‘Open and Unafraid’, a superb book on reading the psalms in a contemporary setting, and Roger Wagner, the artist and poet who has just published The Book of Praises: Translations from the Psalms. It should be a wonderful evening, it will be completely free and you can register for it Here. ‘

And now, continuing the series from the new book, here is my response to psalm 78. This is a wonderful long psalm in which the psalmist looks back on the dramatic story of Israel and how they were rescued from Egypt and brought into their promised land. But the psalm faithfully remembers not only God’s gracious rescue but also Israel’s many backslidings, and God’s nevertheless persistent grace. This story, the psalmist says, must not be hidden, but proclaimed afresh to each new generation both so that they should know that God is gracious and that they should learn from the mistakes of the past. What was true then is true now, and in my response I have tried to tell the story, as I do throughout David’s Crown, of my own experience of gracious rescue and also of my own fallings away from, and grace-led returns to, my saviour.

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

LXXVIII Attendite, popule

He led me out of darkness into light

And now I will proclaim all he has done

To rising generations. My delight

 

Will be to share the story of the one

Who came to me before I came to him,

Whose love still greets me with each rising sun.

 

But neither will I hide my sin and shame;

The many times that I refused his grace

And turned my back on him, forgot his name

 

And sought my former darkness, turned my face

Away from my redeemer. I’ll confess

My own perversity, and dare to trace

 

My wilful trespass in the wilderness

And how through all of this, my Lord stayed true

And pulled me through with patient tenderness.

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 Will Remember: A Response To Psalm 77

Psalm 77 is supremely a psalm of memory: the psalmist in their present distress remembers the great deeds of God in the past as well as their own times of personal deliverance and is able to take comfort and hope for the future. I find verses 5 and 6 especially moving:

I have considered the days of old: and the years that are past.

I call to remembrance my song: and in the night I commune with mine own heart, and search out my spirits.

So, as you will see in my response, this psalm has been a prompt to me to look back on my life and trace the way God has held me through dark times and never let me go.

These poems will all be gathered together and published on January 30th under the title David’s Crown.  There is already an Amazon page for the book if you wish to pre-order it Here

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

LXVII Voce mea ad Dominum

As heaven’s mercy falls like gentle rain.

I lift my face and let it wash me clean.

In all my times of trouble, darkness, pain,

 

I cry to him. I come to him and lean

Again into the comfort of his grace

And I remember all that he has been

 

To me in all my years of life. I trace

Once more the story of his love:

He sought me even when I turned my face

 

Away from him, descended from above

And found me in my hiding place. His might

Broke up my clouds of darkness, and he strove

 

Against the waves of chaos, in the night

Of my affliction, when he recued me

And led me out of darkness into light.

 

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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Weapons Fail: A Response To Psalm 76

Psalm 76 from the Parma Psalter

Psalm 76 is a psalm of hope for the peace makers, for it says that the coming of the Lord will bring an end to human violence and reduce our weapons to nothing: There brake he the arrows of the bow: the shield, the sword, and the battle. and again: The fierceness of man shall turn to thy praise: and the fierceness of them shalt thou refrain. As you will see these are themes I have also drawn out in my poetic response to this psalm.

These poems will all be gathered together and published on January 30th under the title David’s Crown.  There is already an Amazon page for the book if you wish to pre-order it Here

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

LXXVI Notus in Judaea

We lift the cup of blessing, life and hope

To one whose name has leapt from Israel

To circle all the world, who opens up

 

His heart to every nation.  Weapons fail;

The sword and shield will rust; the tank and gun

Must come to nothing. Every dark betrayal

 

Of peace will come to judgment. For the one

Upon the throne will vindicate the meek

And turn our fierceness into praise: The Son

 

Of God, become the Son of Man. The weak

Will find their strength in him. He will restrain

The men of violence, but all who seek

 

Their peace in him will find it. And the stain

Of our blood-guiltiness will wash away

As heaven’s mercy falls like gentle rain.

 

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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The Song Of Heaven: A Response to Psalm 75

We come now to Psalm 75, a milestone in our journey through the Psalter for now we are exactly half way through! Before I write about this psalm and give you my poem in response, I’d like to take occasion to celebrate the fact that David’s Crown, the book in which all these poems are collected will be published at the end of this month, and also to invite you to a special celebration and launch event! On February 11th at 7pm Canterbury Press, my publisher will be hosting a webinar in which I will be joined by Christine Smith, my editor, and three distinguished guests, to discus the book, and the more generally the role of the psalms in our contemporary life, and to choose, read, and comment on a selection of the poems. My guests are Paula Gooder, the distinguished Bible Scholar and Canon theologian at St. Paul’s Cathedral, who wrote the introduction to the book, David Taylor, the professor of Theology at fuller, who wrote ‘Open and Unafraid’, a superb book on reading the psalms in a contemporary setting, and Roger Wagner, the artist and poet who has just published The Book of Praises: Translations from the Psalms. It should be a wonderful evening, it will be completely free and you can register for it Here. 

David’s Crown will also be available to order at a discount that evening for those who register for the webinar.

Now, turning to psalm 75, I feel we reach an upland of clarity and confidence after the dark material with which some of the other psalms have been dealing, particularly the lamentation and protest of psalm 74. In psalm 75 the psalmist is assured that in the end, ‘God is the Judge’, that he alone ‘bears up the pillars of the world, and that in the end he will renew the earth and set all wrongs to right. As in so much of the Old Testament, there is still of course a strong element of fear, fear of judgement and fear of wrath, and the image of that in this psalm is of a cup full of blood red wine which the earth will drink to the dregs:

For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup, and the wine is red: it is full mixed, and he poureth out of the same.

As for the dregs thereof: all the ungodly of the earth shall drink them, and suck them out.

But of course for the Christian this image is completely transfigured by the sacrifice of Christ and the gift of holy communion. as I say in my poem:

we lift our heads and gaze 

At you in wonder, for we see the cup

The psalmist feared, so full of blood red wine,

Is now a cup of blessing, life and hope.

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

LXXV Confitebimur tibi

When darkness fled before your holy Word

You brought a world of beauty into being.

The sons of morning sang, creation heard

 

The song of heaven, and its echoes fleeing

Still stir a kind of music in our hearts,

As traces of that light transform our seeing.

 

And when we hear those echoes, heaven starts

A song in us that lifts us into praise.

You show us how the wickedness that hurts,

 

The sin that harms creation, the dark maze

Of our confusions, will be broken up

And cast aside. We lift our heads and gaze 

 

At you in wonder, for we see the cup

The psalmist feared, so full of blood red wine,

Is now a cup of blessing, life and hope.

 

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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The Random Vandals: A response to psalm 74

 

Psalm 74 is, amongst other things a lament and outcry against wanton vandalism, the spirit of mere mindless destruction:

Thine adversaries roar in the midst of thy congregations: and set up their banners for tokens.

He that hewed timber afore out of the thick trees: was known to bring it to an excellent work.

But now they break down all the carved work thereof: with axes and hammers.

They have set fire upon thy holy places: and have defiled the dwelling-place of thy Name, even unto the ground.

Yea, they said in their hearts, Let us make havock of them altogether: thus have they burnt up all the houses of God in the land.

The occasion of the psalm is the desecration of holy places in Israel, but we have all seen episodes in history and in our own time of similar outbreaks. (I should say that I wrote this months before the terrible events of January 6th in Washington, but since then it has, perhaps, taken on an extra layer of meaning)

The original psalm though, also points beyond the symptoms to the cause:

We see not our tokens, there is not one prophet more: no, not one is there among us, that understandeth any more.

In my response to this psalm I turned my attention more to the intellectual and cultural vandalism that arises out of the poisonous combination of arrogance and ignorance, out of a failure of vision, rather than to the physical vandalism that takes a hatchet to the carved work in choir and sanctuary, though sometimes these things are not unrelated

These poems will all be gathered together and published on January 30th under the title David’s Crown.  There is already an Amazon page for the book if you wish to pre-order it Here

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

LXXIV Ut quid, Deus?

When we awake in you all will be well,

But now we feel your absence and we cry

‘How long will the destroyers work their will?

 

The random vandals who don’t even try

To understand the good things they deface.

They trash the past, and cast a jaundiced eye

 

On all the works of beauty, art and grace

That once made up our culture. In their pride

They ruin things that no-one can replace

 

As, making havoc of their lives, they slide

Back into chaos. Rouse us up O lord

Who rode upon the seraphim. Divide

 

Once more the waters, draw the flaming sword,

Bring order out of chaos, as you did

When darkness fled before your holy Word.

 

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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Truth Beyond The Daily Veil: a Response To Psalm 73

In psalm 73 the psalmist expresses a sense of frustration with the way things are going in this world which I think we can all share. Especially his frustration at the seeming injustice whereby wicked people who exploit their fellow human beings and indeed the world itself, seem to prosper and get away with it:

They come in no misfortune like other folk: neither are they plagued like other men.

And this is the cause that they are so holden with pride: and overwhelmed with cruelty.

Their eyes swell with fatness: and they do even what they lust.

But as the psalm proceeds the psalmist in his perplexity goes into the sanctuary of God and has a vision, an insight in which he sees that we are all in God’s hands and that his Justice, as well as his truth and mercy will ultimately prevail: Yea, even like as a dream when one awaketh: so shalt thou make their image to vanish out of the city.

So in my poetic response I also seek to live in that ‘truth behind the daily veil’. I also take occasion by this psalm to honour and give thanks for the truth and beauty to be found in the Hebrew Scriptures.

These poems will all be gathered together and published on January 30th under the title David’s Crown.  There is already an Amazon page for the book if you wish to pre-order it Here

LXXIII Quam bonus Israel!

Though one day the whole world will live in him

The story of his saving love began

In Israel and still we honour them,

 

The prophets of the coming Son of Man

Whose poetry and scriptures form our mind,

As with this psalmist, sharing all his pain,

 

His doubts and his frustrations. For we find

That all his old misgivings are our own.

So in this psalm he rails against the blind

 

Injustice, as it seemed to him, when men

Who lived by exploitation did so well

At the expense of those they cheat. But then

 

You showed him truth beyond the daily veil

How wickedness will vanish like a dream

And when we wake in you all will be well.

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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The First Sunday of Epiphany -Jesus’ Baptism

The dove descends, the spirit soars and sings

The season of Epiphany is an invitation to reflect on the many little ‘epiphanies’, glimpses of how things really are, which are vouchsafed us in the Gospel. This coming Sunday, the first Sunday of Epiphany is a time to reflect on the moment when ‘the heavens opened’ at Jesus’ Baptism and we were given a glimpse of Father Son and Holy Spirit at the heart of all things. This sonnet, which I am posting a little early in case people might want to use it on Sunday, is a reflection on that mystery. As always you can hear it by clicking on the ‘play’ sign or on the title of the poem. I am grateful to Margot Krebs Neale for the beautiful photograph, taken at the river Jordan which says as much as, if not more than the poem. The poem itself is from my collection Sounding the Seasons, published by Canterbury Press and available on Amazon or from your local bookshop.  After the text of the poem I have included links to the wonderful song Steve Bell wrote from it.

Epiphany on the Jordan


Beginning here we glimpse the Three-in-one;
The river runs, the clouds are torn apart,
The Father speaks, the Sprit and the Son
Reveal to us the single loving heart
That beats behind the being of all things
And calls and keeps and kindles us to light.
The dove descends, the spirit soars and sings
‘You are belovèd, you are my delight!’

In that quick light and life, as water spills
And streams around the Man like quickening rain,
The voice that made the universe reveals
The God in Man who makes it new again.
He calls us too, to step into that river
To die and rise and live and love forever.

Also check out Steve Bell’s amazing album Keening for the Dawn in which he reworks this sonnet into a beautiful song
Keening for the Dawn
You can hear the song itself on sound loud here:

Epiphany on the Jordan

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