The Voice of the Lord: a response to Psalm 29

Psalm 29 is one of those short psalms that thrills with an intense, almost electric poetic charge. It is a celebration of  ‘the voice of the Lord’ singing and ringing through nature and yet resounding and commanding from above and beyond nature:

It is the Lord that commandeth the waters: it is the glorious God that maketh the thunder.

It is the Lord that ruleth the sea; the voice of the Lord is mighty in operation: the voice of the Lord is a glorious voice.

The voice of the Lord breaketh the cedar-trees: yea, the Lord breaketh the cedars of Libanus.

He maketh them also to skip like a calf: Libanus also, and Sirion, like a young unicorn.

The voice of the Lord divideth the flames of fire; the voice of the Lord shaketh the wilderness: yea, the Lord shaketh the wilderness of Cades.

A Christian praying and responding to this psalm does so knowing that the Lord whose voice is celebrated in this psalm is Christ, whose voice is also within us as well as beyond us, who speaks to us in the voices of the poor and in his own Passion and compassion.

As usual you can hear me read the poem by pressing the ‘play’ button if it appears, or else by clicking on the title. For the other poems in my psalm series type the word ‘psalm’ into the search box on the right.

XXIX Afferte Domino

Call us oh Christ, and open up the gate

Call us to worship, with your mighty voice:

The voice that sings through rivers in full spate

 

The voice in which the forests all rejoice

The voice that rolls through thunderclouds, and calls

The deep seas and steep waves, the quiet voice

 

That stirs our sleeping conscience and recalls

Us to the love we had abandoned, leads

Us through the parting mists of doubt, or falls

 

Upon us like a revelation, pleads

With us upon the poor’s behalf, blazes

In glory from each burning bush, and bleeds

 

Out from compassion’s wounds, raises

Our spirits till we dance for joy

And gives us too, a voice to sing his praises.

 

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A Heart That Dances: Responding to Psalm 28

Returning to our psalm sequence we have come to psalm 28, another psalm which calls for and summons up strength and comfort, and, something more than comfort -Joy. For me, and for many others the key verse of this psalm is verse 8:

The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart hath trusted in him, and I am helped: therefore my heart danceth for joy, and in my song will I praise him.

There is a beautiful movement there from strength and protection into trust, and through trust into joy, and arising from joy the song of praise which is the psalm itself. And yet the psalmist is well aware of the struggle with evil, with ‘wicked doers: which speak friendly to their neighbours, but imagine mischief in their hearts.'(verse 3) The trust and joy towards which the psalm moves are all the stronger and more persuasive because they are not naive, because they engage with, rather than evading the problems of the world.

My poem in response to this psalm enters into the same paradox, how to keep tuning into and hearing the music of Heaven, even amidst the cacophony of hate, how to let go of the ego and receive again, how to keep turning, again and again to Christ as he calls us.

As usual you can hear the poem by pressing the ‘play’ button if it appears, or else by clicking on the title. For the other poems in my psalm series type the word ‘psalm’ into the search box on the right.

XXVIII Ad te, Domine

 

To dare each moment’s death, that I might live

Means both repentence and a plenitude

Of grace. Means letting go to let him give.

 

So Christ I beg for that beatitude

The grace to simply let go and receive

From your unsparing hand the amplitude

 

Of your beneficence, to have a heart

That dances to the measure of your music

Even here where evil seeks to part

 

Us from each promised good, and where the sick

And sickening cacophony of hate

Might deafen us or wound us to the quick

 

And break us down. May it not be too late

To turn to you again and start to live

Call us oh Christ, and open up the gate.

 

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Thank God for ‘Doubting’ Thomas!

July the 3rd is the Feast of St. Thomas the apostle. Sometimes known as ‘doubting’ Thomas, but maybe honest Thomas, courageous Thomas, even Tenacious Thomas would be nearer the mark!
I thank God for St. Thomas, the one disciple who had the courage to say what everyone else was thinking but didnt dare say, the courage to ask the awkward questions that drew from Jesus some of the most beautiful and profoundly comforting of all his sayings. “We dont know where you’re going, how can we know the way”? asked Thomas, and because he had the courage to confess his ignorance, we were given that beautiful saying “I am the way the Truth and the Life” Here is the poem I have written for St. Thomas, and also a sermon called ‘Touching the Wounds’ which I preached  at St. Edwards.

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.

I am greateful to Margot Krebs Neale for the thought-provoking image above, you can hear the poem by clicking on the ‘play’ button below or on the title of the poem and you can hear the sermon on my podcast site by clicking here: Touching The Wounds

St. Thomas the Apostle

 

“We do not know… how can we know the way?”

Courageous master of the awkward question,

You spoke the words the others dared not say

And cut through their evasion and abstraction.

Oh doubting Thomas, father of my faith,

You put your finger on the nub of things

We cannot love some disembodied wraith,

But flesh and blood must be our king of kings.

Your teaching is to touch, embrace, anoint,

Feel after Him and find Him in the flesh.

Because He loved your awkward counter-point

The Word has heard and granted you your wish.

Oh place my hands with yours, help me divine

The wounded God whose wounds are healing mine.

 

oh place my hands with yours, help me divine
the wounded God whose wounds are healing mine

 

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‘Seek ye my face’ A response to psalm 27

his bountiful presence shimmering

In my sequence of poems responding to the psalter we have come to psalm 27, the great psalm of vision and illumination, one of my all time favourites, indeed a favourite for many people. It’s not hard to see why. From the opening line: ‘THE Lord is my light and my salvation ; whom then shall I fear: the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom then shall I be afraid?’ to its beautiful motif of seeking earnestly for the hidden face of God:’ My heart hath talked of thee, Seek ye my face: Thy face, Lord, will I seek’, this psalm seems to lead us deep into the mysteries of God himself and promises to transform our vision of the world. It is also an invitation to trust in God, as its final words proclaim.

As the psalm has meant so much to me personally I found that it drew from me a poem in which I finally expressed, as fully as I can, my own spiritual vision, such as it is; my sense that God is always present shimmering behind the veil of things, and that he is calling us constantly through that veil, to trust ourselves to him and seek his face, and that until then we should look at the world through his eyes, allowing him to transform and renew our vision.

As usual you can hear the poem by pressing the ‘play’ button if it appears, or else by clicking on the title. For the other poems in my psalm series type the word ‘psalm’ into the search box on the right.

XXVII Dominus illuminatio

Oh let me see with his eyes from now on

Whose gaze on beauty makes it beautiful,

Who looks us into love and looks upon

 

His whole creation with a merciful

And loving eye. My heart has said of him

Seek out his face, I’ve sensed his bountiful

 

Presence shimmering behind the dim

Veil of things. That presence calls to me

Calls me to tremble at the brink and rim

 

Of lived experience, and then to free

Myself of fear. to trust him, and to dive

Right off that brink, into his mystery

 

Into that deep and holy sea of love

In which the living worlds all float and swim

To dare each moment’s death, that I might live.

 

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A Sonnet for Petertide, and the 30th Anniversary of my ordination

 

The 29th of June is St. Peter’s day, when we remember the disciple who, for all his many mistakes, knew how to recover and hold on, who, for all his waverings was called by Jesus ‘the rock’, who learned the threefold lesson that every betrayal can ultimately be restored by love. It is fitting therefore that it is at Petertide that new priests and deacons are ordained, on the day they remember a man whose recovery from mistakes and openness to love can give them courage. So I post this poem not only for St. Peter but for all those called to ministry who should have been ordained this weekend, but whose ordination may have been postponed. I also post it with thanksgiving for my own ordination at Petertide 30 years ago.

This poem comes from my collection Sounding the Seasons published by Canterbury Press. You can also buy it on Amazon Uk or US or order it in any bookshop.

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

St. Peter

Impulsive master of misunderstanding

You comfort me with all your big mistakes;

Jumping the ship before you make the landing,

Placing the bet before you know the stakes.

I love the way you step out without knowing,

The way you sometimes speak before you think,

The way your broken faith is always growing,

The way he holds you even when you sink.

Born to a world that always tried to shame you,

Your shaky ego vulnerable to shame,

I love the way that Jesus chose to name you,

Before you knew how to deserve that name.

And in the end your Saviour let you prove

That each denial is undone by love.

 

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Judgement and Clemency: A response to psalm 26

The opening three verses of psalm 26 announce a theme that balances judgement and clemency, truth and loving kindness:

  1. BE THOU my judge, O Lord, for I have walked innocently: my trust hath been also in the Lord, therefore shall I not fall.
  2. Examine me, O Lord, and prove me: try out my reins and my heart.
  3. For thy loving-kindness is ever before mine eyes: and I will walk in thy truth.

To ask God to be our judge is both an alarming and a comforting thing to do. Alarming because there can be no evasion of truth since God sees all things, but comforting because in Christ we see that the God of truth is also the God of grace ‘ We beheld his glory…full of grace and truth’ as John testifies. Our own judgements on the other hand are partial, both because our knowledge is incomplete, we only know in part, and because we are inclined to partiality, to favour ourselves and be over severe with others. This is why Jesus specifically says ‘ do not judge and you will not be judged.’  and Paul says ‘ I judge not even myself’. The psalmist here seems confident of his innocence and his clean hands. I cannot say the same for myself, but I can still trust myself equally to God’s judgement and mercy.

These themes were all in my mind as I responded to psalm 26 and so was a beautiful hymn by Faber which we sing regularly which begins:

There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,
like the wideness of the sea;
there’s a kindness in his justice
which is more than liberty.

but I was especially remembering the verse:

But we make His love too narrow
By false limits of our own;
And we magnify His strictness
With a zeal He will not own.

So my poem became a plea to let him judge, to rest in his mercy and to see with his eyes.

As usual you can hear the poem by pressing the ‘play’ button if it appears, or else by clicking on the title. For the other poems in my psalm series type the word ‘psalm’ into the search box on the right.

XXVI Judica me, Domine

That I may find my peace in all he wills

I call on him in faith, to judge for me,

Since my own judgement fails and all my skills

 

In reckoning forget his clemency.

For when I judge myself, when I judge others

I do so with a false severity.

 

He has a far more patient love, that gathers

All his lost and fallen children home

Into that habitation where he mothers,

 

Fathers, and befriends, us, where the same

Love is lavished on the least as on

The greatest and he welcomes all who come

 

To him. I may have shunned them, but the son

Who died for them knows better than I do,

Oh let me see with his eyes from now on!

 

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New Perspective: a Response to Psalm 25

The wide skies Speak of his mercy, and the distant hills Stand in his steadfast love

We resume our poetic journey through the psalms and come today to psalm 25, a little landmark and staging post, exactly one sixth of the way through the psalter. It’s a good psalm for pausing on the journey, taking stock, getting a good view of the way ahead for psalm 25 is all about putting earthly life in the heavenly perspective. I particularly like the line in verse 14:

Mine eyes are ever looking unto the Lord: for he shall pluck my feet out of the net.

If I look down too often at my own tangles they get more tangled still whereas if I look up to Christ and trust him, he can gradually do some of the untangling for me, a theme I have developed in my response to this psalm.

As we reflect at this staging post, can I say a big thank you to everyone who has supported me me with a friendly ‘cup of coffee’ over the past month or so. It’s been very encouraging, and as a result I feel much more secure going forward into my new life as full-time poet. But can I also add that although the ‘buy me a coffee’ button is there for anyone to use at the end of these posts, there is absolutely no obligation, and it need only be an occasional thing. These posts themselves will of course always be absolutely free to all. (you can read more about the whole coffee thing and why I started it on this previous post)

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

XXV Ad te, Domine, levavi

The gates will open for us both, look up!

I hear that voice each day when I’m downcast

I hear it when I’ve almost lost my hope

 

And now, when I’m entangled by my past,

My feet are netted by necessity,

Snared in the traps of time that bind so fast,

 

My eyes turned downward, dimmed by what they see,

I hear that voice again and raise my eyes

And he untangles me and sets me free.

 

He alters my perspective. The wide skies

Speak of his mercy, and the distant hills

Stand in his steadfast love and make me wise

 

In his simplicity, and all my ills

Diminish and recede to their true size.

That I may find my peace in all he wills.

 

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A pair of sonnets for St. John the Baptist.

So keep his fires burning through the night
Beacons and gateways for the child of light.

We pause for a moment in our poetic journey through the psalms, to mark an important moment in our other journey through the sacred seasons of the year. For now we have come to midsummer and the traditional Church festival for this beautiful, long-lit solstice season is the Feast of St. John the Baptist, which falls on June 24th, which was midsummer day in the old Roman Calender. Luke tells us  that John the Baptist was born about 6 months before Jesus, so this feast falls half way through the year, 6 months before Christmas!

The tradition of keeping St. John’s Eve with the lighting of Bonfires and Beacons is very ancient, almost certainly pre-Christian, but in my view it is very fitting that it has become part of a Christian festivity. Christ keeps and fulfills all that was best in the old pagan forshadowings of his coming and this Midsummer festival of light is no exception. John was sent as a witness to the light that was coming into the world, and John wanted to point to that light, not stand in its way, hence his beautiful saying ‘He must increase and I must diminish’, a good watchword for all of those who are, as the prayer book calls us, the ‘ministers and stewards of his mysteries’.

I have written two sonnets,  one for St. John’s Eve reflecting on the lighting of the fires and another for St. John’s day in which , in honour of the Baptist, I reflect on the mystery and grace of baptism itself.

I am very grateful to the artist Rebecca Merry  for her beautiful interpretation of this feast and these poems.

Both these sonnets were published in Sounding the Seasons, my cycle of seventy sonnets for the Church Year.The book is now back in stock on bothAmazon 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.

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

St. John the Baptist: 1 St. John’s Eve

Midsummer night, and bonfires on the hill

Burn for the man who makes way for the Light:

‘He must increase and I diminish still,

Until his sun illuminates my night.’

So John the Baptist pioneers our path,

Unfolds the essence of the life of prayer,

Unlatches the last doorway into faith,

And makes one inner space an everywhere.

Least of the new and greatest of the old,

Orpheus on the threshold with his lyre,

He sets himself aside, and cries “Behold

The One who stands amongst you comes with fire!”

So keep his fires burning through this night,

Beacons and gateways for the child of light.


St. John the Baptist: 2 Baptism

Love’s hidden thread has drawn us to the font,

A wide womb floating on the breath of God,

Feathered with seraph wings, lit with the swift

Lightening of praise, with thunder over-spread,

And under-girded with an unheard song,

Calling through water, fire, darkness, pain,

Calling us to the life for which we long,

Yearning to bring us to our birth again.

Again the breath of God is on the waters

In whose reflecting face our candles shine,

Again he draws from death the sons and daughters

For whom he bid the elements combine.

As living stones around a font today,

Rejoice with those who roll the stone away.

 

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Who Shall Ascend? A Response to Psalm 24

Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord?

In the last post we saw how psalms 22 and 23 are linked, as I said in that post: ‘The Lord can only be my shepherd and lead me through the valley of the shadow of death if he himself makes that journey with me, and psalm 22 tells me he does just that.’ I think this prophetic sequence, which began with psalm 22 continues into psalm 24, a coronation psalm which has always been used by the church to reflect on and celebrate the ascension of Christ, understood as the King of Glory in this psalm

Lift up your heads, O ye gates, and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors: and the King of glory shall come in.

Who is the King of glory: even the Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory.

This interpretation throws new light on the crucial question asked earlier in the psalm

Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord: or who shall rise up in his holy place?

The psalm answers that by describing a person of complete holiness, with ‘clean hands and a pure heart’. In the Old Testament perspective only such holy people can ascend and come into the presence of the Holy,  and for the Christian only Christ belongs naturally in heaven. And yet because he has atoned for us and we have put our hearts into his, we are able to ascend, not by our own rights, but with and in him. So a psalm that might have been forbidding to us, is transformed by Christ into a Royal Invitation.

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 ‘psalms’ into the search box on the right.

XXIV Domini est terra

And draw me into his eternity?

But who can rise up to that holy place?

Can all its splendours really be for me?

 

Before that holy fire I hide my face

My hands were never clean, as for my heart

He’ll search out its impurity and trace

 

The sources of its sin in every part,

And in the whole, its weariness and stain.

Who can ascend? I cannot even start.

 

But even as I fear my hopes are vain

My saviour comes, his love revives my hope

I feel him search my wounds, deal with my pain,

 

And offer me again the healing cup.

Raising my head, he says: Now rise with me

The gates will open for us both, look up!

 

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Through the Valley of The Shadow: responding to Psalms 22 and 23

led me beside still waters

In my last post, reflecting on psalm 21, a coronation psalm, I mentioned that it stands at the threshold of the special prophetic sequence of psalms 22-24 which speak in turn of Christ’s crucifixion, his leading us through the valley of the shadow death as our good shepherd, and his ascent into heaven as our lord and king. Because of the way these psalms and the poems written in response are linked, I am going to post my responses to psalms 22 and 23 together, so that you can read them as a sequence and also experience the effect of the linked closing and opening lines which make the sequence a ‘corona’.

In these poems I am often drawing on or responding to the language of Coverdale’s translation of the Psalms in The Book of Common Prayer, and you might like to re-read these psalms in that translation alongside the poems

For all Christians reading psalm 22 has a special power and poignancy because it was on the lips of Jesus when he died. As I say in my poem, ‘Christ himself is crying through this psalm’. And psalm 23 is perhaps the nation’s favourite, with its comforting image of the Lord as our shepherd leading us by still waters. People seldom link the two psalms, but the link is essential. The Lord can only be my shepherd and lead me through the valley of the shadow of death if he himself makes that journey with me, and psalm 22 tells me he does just that. Jesus goes to the cross, cries out that psalm, and passes through the gates of death, not only to make my peace with God, but also to be with me and lead me through when I make the same journey.

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 ‘psalms’ into the search box on the right.

XXII Deus, Deus meus

Before he shares with us the golden crown,

He comes to share with us the crown of thorns.

Our hurts and hates close in and hem him round

 

Mock and humiliate him. All the scorns

With which we blaspheme God in one another

Are concentrated here among ‘the horns

 

Of unicorns’, the lions mouths, the slather

Of our devouring wickedness. He takes

It all and turns it into love. He gathers

 

All of us and by atonement makes

Our peace with God. He speaks to us of mercy

Even as we pierce him. No-one slakes

 

His thirst. I tremble at the mystery

For Christ himself is crying through this psalm,

To suffer my own dereliction for me.

 

XXIII Dominus regit me

To suffer my own dereliction for me,

To be my shepherd, and to lead me through

The grave and gate of death, in strength and mercy

 

Christ has come down. At last I’ve found the true

Shepherd and the false just fade away,

Before him. I will sing of how he drew

 

Me from the snares I set myself, how day

Dawned on my darkness, how he brought me forth

Converted me and opened up the way

 

For me, and led me gently on that path,

Led me beside still waters, promised me

That he’d be with me all my days on earth,

 

And when my last day comes, accompany

And comfort me, as evening shadows fall,

And draw me into his eternity.

 

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