Angels Unawares: a little riff on Hebrews 13

Songs and Sonnets

Songs and Sonnets

One of the set readings for this Sunday, whose theme is hospitality, is the beautiful opening of Hebrews 13 which reads:

Let brotherly love continue.Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.

This passage of course contains a deft allusion to the story of how Abraham and Sara entertained three strangers in the wilderness and in so doing opened their tent and their hearts to the Lord who then fulfilled his promise to bless them with a child. In my new book Parable and Paradox I have a poem about that moment in genesis which you can read and listen to here.

But the phrase in Hebrews ‘angels unawares’ was also the inspiration, and indeed the title of a song of mine which I have  included on the new record Songs and Sonnets, which will very soon be available through iTunes etc and for order on the web.The song reflects on the many and various ways God sends his messages and his messengers to us. But as a reflection for tomorrow I thought I would post the lyrics here and also give you a chance to listen to one of the earlier mixes of the song, the final version of which is on the record. If you would like to use these lyrics or the song itself as part of a service please feel free to do so. I hope you enjoy it

Angels Unawares 

Some people say that life is just a given thing

but you and I both know by whom its lent

and that its right here in the dirt

where we’ve both been loved and hurt

that Love Himself has come to pitch His tent

 

sometimes we’re in the fields of holy roses

other times we’re rolling in the tares

breaking bread and sharing wine

did I feel your hand touch mine

or did we both touch angels unawares?

 

Abraham’s down by the oaks of Mamre

and Joseph dreams beside an empty barn

theres a woman by the well with dreams no man can tell

though a broken man might keep her safe from harm

Theres someone else inside this fiery furnace

and Jacob’s gazing up those endless stairs

we are wounded on the road, but we share each others load,

and make each other angels unawares

 

Everybody backs into the future

everyone’s just feeling for it blind

sometimes we get lost and the threads of our lives get crossed

but I’m sure glad yours got tangled up with mine

the day is gone and I know I should be going

theres barely light enough to say our prayers

ah but give me leave the while for to turn and see you smile

and leave to love like angels unawares

and leave to love like angels unawares

 

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Summer Tour part 2: Whistler, Orcas, and a CD!

With Roy Salmond and the new CD!

With Roy Salmond and the new CD!

I ought to begin this post by apologising for the strange little missive of indiscriminate gobbledygook which some of you may have glimpsed on these pages and even received in your emails. This was neither a rash experiment in free verse, nor, as some surmised, a bad translation of Welsh, but was in fact the free and random creation of the phone in my pocket! The mischievous little device not only switched itself on but also opened my wordpress app and managed to post its randomness to the world at large – perhaps my phone will in the end be due for its own literary prize!

But to return to something more deliberate, here is the second instalment of my North American Adventures. After my teaching stint at Regent and my joint reading with Luci Shaw my wife Maggie came out and joined me for 10 days holiday up in the mountains at Whistler where a kind friend had generously lent us his holiday house. Whistler is most famous as a ski resort and the scene of the Winter Olympics but it is also delightful in the summertime and home to a thriving colony of black bears some of whom we were fortunate to see whilst we were there. We hiked on trails, went wilderness canoing and took the impressive ‘gondola’ ride up to the top of whistler mountain and had a lovely walk up on the snowy heights.

Poetry: The original Olympic sport!

Poetry: The original Olympic sport!

I wrote no poetry whilst I was there, in a sense I felt the mountains were already doing it for me, but I took in great store of beautiful images which I hope will impress themselves into verse at some time in the future. I took occasion whilst I was up there to stand on the winter olympics podium and reinstate poetry as an olympic sport!

Another hi-light of this BC sojourn was meeting again with Roy Salmond the producer of my new CD ‘Songs and Sonnets’, which I know a number of you have kindly helped on its way through a crowdfunding page. and Behold! Roy had the CD fresh in his hand when we met. So it is in the world at last and there will be a more formal launch next month about which I will write in due course. I’m very happy with the result. Here is one of the poems I recorded for the CD ,which also contains songs and poems set to music:

Hospitality

 

I turn a certain key within its wards,

Unlock my doors and set them open wide

To entertain a company of words.

Whilst some come early and with eager stride

Others must be enticed and coaxed a little,

The shy and rare, unused to company,

Who’ll need some time to feel at home and settle.

I bid them welcome all, I make them free

Of all that’s mine, and they are good to me,

I set them in the order they like best

And listen for their wisdom, try to learn

As each unfolds the other’s mystery.

And though we know each word is my free guest,

They sometimes leave a poem in return.

With the indefatigable and ever-generous Jerry Root!

With the indefatigable and ever-generous Jerry Root!

Then, when the holiday was over we drove down to the States and took the ferry to Orcas Island where I spent a happy few days at the Kindlingsfest, speaking about the notion of Sabbath and rest and meeting with old friends. Amongst these was Jerry Root who had brought me the gift of an American College Football T-shirt bearing the legend ‘Fear the Poet’! This is a genuine football supporters’ shirt, apparently the emblem of the Whittier College football team is the poet after whom the college is named

Then began the next part of the adventure, a flight to Alberquerque and a wonderful week in Santa Fe and the chance to meet one of my favourite bands of all time: Over The Rhine! more about that in the next post.

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Summer Tour Part 1: From Amherst to Vancouver (and some poems!)

Outside Emily's House in Amherst

Outside Emily’s House in Amherst

I’m just back from an exhausting, but stimulating, expedition to North America in which I travelled from Boston to Vancouver, from Seattle to Albuquerque, from Santa Fe to LA and then home, so I thought I’d share a little of my adventures on the way.

The adventures began flying in to Boston so as to speak at the CS Lewis Foundation‘s Eastern Regional conference in Amherst. The Conference was on the theme of Lewis and Truth in the Public square and I gave a keynote address, preached a sermon on the Sunday and led a seminar on poetry as well as giving a reading/performance of my songs and sonnets. There was an impressive mix of people from many walks of life and many different churches all drawn by the common strand of Lewis’s Mere Christianity, and the sense that his plea for the Faith as offering truths robust and relevant in the ‘public square’ and not just a private ‘lifestyle option was well worth exploring. A highlight of that conference for me was a visit to emily Dickinson’s house still preserved just as it was. Seeing the tiny desk on which she wrote such great poetry inspired a new poem in me which I have given in a separate blog post here.

Emily's desk

Emily’s desk

Then it was a flight to Vancouver to spend a week at Regent College teaching a course called ‘ Poetic reflections on the sayings of Jesus’ which gave me a chance to develop the themes and ideas set out in my new poetry sequence Parable and Paradox. One of those themes was the way in which Jesus, in all his teachings, appeals directly to the imagination, as well as to the reason. In parables and paradoxes he asks us to imagine what the kingdom is like and to begin living, even now, as if we were already in it! Two poems in the new collection, particularly bring that into focus: ‘ As If’ and ‘Imagine’. The latter poem is also my own response to John Lennon’s song of the same name! As always you can hear the poetry by clicking on the title or the play button so here they are:

Parable and Paradox hi res

As If

 

Matthew 5:42 Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away. 

 

The Giver of all gifts asks me to give!

The Fountain from which every good thing flows,

The Life who spends himself that all might live,

The Root whence every bud and blossom grows,

Calls me, as if I knew no limitation,

As if I focused all his hidden force,

To be creative with his new creation,

To find my flow in him, my living source,

To live as if I had no fear of losing,

To spend as if I had no need to earn,

To turn my cheek as if it felt no bruising,

To lend as if I needed no return,

As if my debts and sins were all forgiven,

As if I too could body forth his Heaven.

 

Imagine

 

Luke 6:37 Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.

 

Do not judge and you will not be judged.

Imagine if we took these words to heart,

Unselved ourselves and took another’s part,

Silenced the accuser, dropped the grudge…

Do not condemn, you will not be condemned.

Imagine if we lived our lives from this

And met each other’s outcasts face to face,

Imagine if the blood-dimmed tide was stemmed.

Forgive and you yourselves will be forgiven.

What if we walked together on this path,

What if the whole world laid aside it’s wrath,

And things were done on earth as though in heaven,

As though the heart’s dark knots were all undone,

As though this dreamer weren’t the only one?

 

With Luci Shaw at Regent College

With Luci Shaw at Regent College

My week at Regent ended with a wonderful invitation to join the poet Luci Shaw in one of her poetry readings, and so I had the opportunity to read to Luci in person, the poem I had written for her and published in Parable and Paradox. As always you can hear the poetry by clicking on the title or the play button. Here it is:

For Luci Shaw

 

Luci I love the gift you have for green:

Green fingers in your garden, a green art

In writing too, a feel for life and growth,

Kindly encouragement and yet a keen

Eye for the form, for what needs weeding out

To give a poem room to breathe and grow.

I sense your patience when that growth is slow,

Knowing that slow growth bears a fuller fruit.

I love your eye for detail too, the rich

Particularity of earthy things,

The way you strike the right note till it sings,

And all you have withheld is within reach;

The poem opens for us, and makes room

For fleeting apprehensions to come home.

Luci and I deferring to one another at Regent!

Luci and I deferring to one another at Regent!

In my next post I will tell you about my holiday in the mountains in Whistler and my adventures at Kindlingsfest on Orcas Island!

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Transfiguration

Russian -inspired icon of the transfiguration, artist unknown

Continuing my series of sonnets ‘Sounding the Seasons’ of the Church’s year, here is a sonnet for the feast of the transfiguration. The Transfiguration is usually celebrated on August 6th, but sometimes on the Sunday nearest, and sometimes in mid-Lent, which is a good time for it, as I believe the glimpse of glory in Christ they saw on the mount of the Transfiguration was given in order to sustain the disciples through darkness that would lead to Good Friday. Indeed it is for a disciple, looking back at the transfiguration from Good Friday, that I have voiced the poem. As always please feel free to copy or use the poem in prayer or liturgy; you can hear me read the poem by pressing the ‘play’ button or clicking on its title.

Transfiguration

For that one moment, ‘in and out of time’,
On that one mountain where all moments meet,
The daily veil that covers the sublime
In darkling glass fell dazzled at his feet.
There were no angels full of eyes and wings
Just living glory full of truth and grace.
The Love that dances at the heart of things
Shone out upon us from a human face
And to that light the light in us leaped up,
We felt it quicken somewhere deep within,
A sudden blaze of long-extinguished hope
Trembled and tingled through the tender skin.
Nor can this this blackened sky, this darkened scar
Eclipse that glimpse of how things really are.

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Emily Dickinson’s Desk

Emily's desk

Emily’s Desk

Whilst I was speaking at a CS Lewis conference in Amherst I had the opportunity to visit Emily Dickinson’s house, now beautifully preserved as the Emily Dickinson Museum. And so I came to stand in that ‘mighty room’ where all the poems were written, and there, plain and simple and strangely, paradoxically, small was her little desk: a small square writing table.  I was filled with wonder at how much had flowed from so small a space, but then I thought about Dickinson’s characteristically concentrated and terse verse forms; those compact and concentrated little quatrains with the emphatic dashes linking and yet binding in the energy of her phrases, and it seemed to me the smallness of the desk was itself part of the form of the poetry, part of her gift.

Anyway the whole experience stirred me on to this: (as always you can hear me read it you click on the title or the play button)

 

Emily Dickinson’s Desk

So slight and spare a square of wood
Sustains so great a muse-
How plain and flat the door is made
To such a subtle maze.

Perhaps the limits of this desk-
-It’s strict restraint of space-
Informed the poet’s take and task
And turned restraint to grace.

Here in this narrow paradise
She pledged and kept her troth-
And trimmed her lamp and trained her verse –
And- slant-wise- told her truth.

 

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A sonnet for St. Benedict

20130710-093249.jpg

On July the 11th the Church celebrates the feast of St. Benedict of Nursia, the gentle founder of the Benedictine order and by extension the father of Monasticism. A moderate and modest man he would have been astonished to learn that his ‘simple school for prayer’, his ‘modest rule for beginners’ led to the foundation of communities which kept the Christian flame alight through dark ages, preserved not only Christian faith, scripture, and culture,but also the best of Classical Pagan learning and culture, fed the poor, transformed societies, promoted learning and scholarship, and today provides solace, grounding, perspective and retreat not only to monks and nuns but to millions of lay people around the world.
Here is my sonnet for Benedict, drawing largely on phrases from the Rule, I dedicate it to the sisters at Turvey Abbey. It appears in my new book with Canterbury Press, The Singing Bowl

The book is now back in stock on bothAmazon UK and USA and physical copies are available in Canada via Steve Bell. 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.

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

Benedict

You sought to start a simple school of prayer,
A modest, gentle, moderate attempt,
With nothing made too harsh or hard to bear,
No treating or retreating with contempt,
A little rule, a small obedience
That sets aside, and tills the chosen ground,
Fruitful humility, chosen innocence,
A binding by which freedom might be found

You call us all to live, and see good days,
Centre in Christ and enter in his peace,
To seek his Way amidst our many ways,
Find blessedness in blessing, peace in praise,
To clear and keep for Love a sacred space
That we might be beginners in God’s grace.

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Parable and Paradox: A Biblical Index

Parable and Paradox hi resI am pleased to know that Parable and Paradox is finding a wide readership, and I know that a number of readers hope to use the book as a resource in worship and preaching. To that end I thought it might be helpful to provide a full Biblical Index. For all the sonnets on specific sayings of Jesus, I provide the text of the saying directly before the sonnet in the book itself, but there are of course many wider Biblical references and people preparing to preach or pray from a particular text may wish to look it up here and see if there is a poem that might help them.

Those wishing to know more about the book and my hopes and purpose in writing it, might like to read the in-depth interview about it conducted by Lancia Smith Here

Here is the index:

Parable and Paradox: A Biblical Index

 

Genesis:         1:1 -2:3 Seven Whole Days pp: 79-82

18:1-16 Abraham and Sarah at Mamre p: 22

32:22-32 Jacob Wrestles with the Angel p:23

 

Exodus           3:13-15 Before Abraham Was I Am p: 55

 

Matthew        4:17 Repent p: 29

4:30-32 The Lest of All Seeds p: 34

5:3-12 Beatitudes p: 30

5:29-30 Better To Enter Life Maimed p: 41

5:42 As If p: 31

6:9-13 Seven Sonnets on the Lord’s Prayer pp: 65-71

6:24 The Mammon of Unrighteousness p: 43

10:34-35 A Sword p: 40

10:40 Whoever Welcomes p: 37

11:15 ‘He Who Has Ears To Hear p: 28

13:3-9 The Sower p: 48

13:31-32 The Least of All Seeds p: 34

13:33 Like Unto Leaven p: 32

15:21-28 It’s Not Fair! p: 35

18:5 Whoever Welcomes p: 37

18:8-9 Better To Enter Life Maimed p: 41

18:23-35 Forgive as We Forgive p: 69

19:30 First And Last p: 72

24:29-31 World’s End p: 73

25:40 A sonnet for the Unseen p: 11

25:41 Refusal p: 74

26:52 By The Sword 49

28:20 I Will Be with You p: 78

 

Mark              1:15 Repent p: 29

4:1-9 The Sower p: 48

4:24 Good Measure p: 47

7:24-30 It’s Not Fair! P: 35

7:31-37 Be Opened p: 36

8:4-8 The Sower p: 48

8:31-33 Get Thee Behind Me Satan p: 38

9:36-37 Whoever Welcomes p: 37

9:43 Better To Enter Life Maimed p: 41

10:21 Sell All You Have p: 42

10:31 First and Last p: 72

12:28-31 Five Dialogues on the Two Great Commandments pp: 50-54

13:24-29 World’s End p: 73

 

Luke               2:21 The Naming of Jesus p: 27

6:20-23 Beatitudes p: 30

6:29-30 As If p: 31

6:37 Imagine p: 46

6:38 Good Measure p: 47

9:48 Whoever Welcomes p: 37

10:27 Five Dialogues on the Two Great Commandments pp: 50-54

10:25-37 The Good Samaritan p: 44

11:2-4 Seven Sonnets on the Lord’s Prayer pp 65-71

11:33 Beatitudes p: 30

12:51-53 A Sword p: 40

13:18-19 The Least Of All Seeds p: 34

13:20-21 Like Unto Leaven p: 32

13:30 First and Last p: 72

16: 9 & 13 The Mammon of Unrighteousness p: 43

21:25-28 World’s End p: 73

23:24 Father Forgive p: 75

24:17 Emmaus 1 p: 76

24:25-26 Emmaus 2 p: 77

 

John                3:16-17 So Loved The World p: 33

6:35 I Am The Bread Of Life p: 56

6:68 The Words of Life p: 39

8:12 I Am the Light of the World p: 57

8:58 Before Abraham Was I Am p: 55

10:7 I Am the Door of the Sheepfold p: 58

10:11 I Am the Good Shepherd 59

11:25 I Am the Resurrection p: 60

11:43 He Who Has Ears to Hear p: 28

12:24 A Grain of Wheat p: 63

14:1-3 Let Not Your Hearts Be Troubled p: 64

14:6 I Am the Way the Truth and the Life p: 61

15:5 I Am the Vine p: 62

 

Acts                9:1-19 Paul Blinded Being Led Into Damascus p 24

 

Romans         2:1 Imagine p: 46

 

Colossians 1:15-17 Everything Holds Together p: 1

 

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