The 17th of September is the feast day of Abbess Hildegard of Bingen, a remarkable and prophetic woman, who described herself as ‘a feather on the breath of God’, and whose many works in theology, music, visual art, poetry and drama are still inspiring people today. Indeed she is coming more and more into her own, as one of her key ideas ‘Viriditas’, or the greening and life-renewing work of the Holy Spirit, seems especially apposite for our time. See this page on her by a contemporary Benedictine. Appropriately for Hildegard’s day, I will be taking part in a service at Ely Cathedral this evening at 6:30pm called Dark Reflections: Poetry Environment and Lament
August the 11th is the day the church remembers with thanksgiving the life and witness of St. Clare. She was the friend and companion of Francis, and founder of the Poor Clares. Her love for Christ, her share in the vision of St. Francis and her extraordinary gifts a soul-guide, friend, and leader made her a shining light and a clear mirror of Christ for thousands in her lifetime and still a light and inspiration to Christians from many denominations today.
Place your mind before the mirror of eternity!
Place your soul in the brilliance of glory!
Place your heart in the figure of the divine substance!
And transform your entire being into the image
of the Godhead Itself through contemplation.
So that you too may feel what His friends feel
as they taste the hidden sweetness
that God Himself has reserved from the beginning
for those who love Him”
So here is my sonnet in her honour reflecting on how the meaning of her name, ‘light and clarity’, was also the meaning of her life. This sonnet is taken from The Singing Bowl my most recent volume of poems, which is published by Canterbury Press and available through Amazon etc.
This is just an advance notice to readers of my blog,to say that I have finished work on a third poetry anthology for Canterbury Press which will be called Love Remember and will be published at the end of October. My first two Anthologies, Waiting on the Word and Word in the Wilderness, accompanied Advent, and Lent, two seasons of the liturgical year, though they are also seasons of the spirit. My new anthology is offered to accompany and express nt a season of the year, but a season of the heart. It is an anthology of poetry that takes us on a journey through bereavement, grief, lamentation, remembrance and hope. As I say in the introduction:
This book is written to give voice both to love and to lamentation, to find expression for grief without losing hope, to help us honour the dead with tears, yet still to glimpse through those tears the light of resurrection. It is written in the conviction that the grief which we so often hide in embarrassment, the tears of which some people would want to make us ashamed, are the very things that make us most truly human. Grief and lament spring from the deepest parts of our soul because, however bitter the herbs and fruits they seem to bear, their real root is Love and I believe that it is Love who made the world and made us who we are.
There are poems from the great tradition, by Shakespeare, Shelley, Browning, Tennyson, and also by contemporary poets like Luci Shaw and Carol Ann Duffy, as well as some of my own. As in my previous anthologies, each poem is followed by a brief essay which opens it out and reflects on its depths, which is something I know readers of my previous anthologies have found helpful. Here’s what I say in the introduction about how the book might be used:
This is an anthology into which one might simply dip, searching through the parts for a particular poem or finding the words that express or match a mood as it is needed. It might be used a resource to find language for oneself, for a friend, or even for a service or memorial; words that will give expression that needs to be said on that specific occasion. But it is also possible to use this book as a companion for the journey of grief itself, or as a means to accompany a friend who is making that journey. Most religions in their earlier traditions have set aside a special period somewhere between 30 and 40 days for a first intense and companioned encounter with mourning. In Judaism this was called Shiat. First the seven days of private grief, and then a further 30 accompanied lamentation. In the Catholic Church there was a tradition of 40 days of mourning, matching and balancing the 40 days of Lent. This book is also organised so that anyone who wishes can also make this journey with the poets over 40 days. For each day there will be the offered nourishment of a poem and my prose reflection on it. However you use this book I hope that it will give expression to Loving Remembrance and that you will find, as Tennyson did, that ‘it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all’.
Anyway the book is now available for advance order from Amazon and from Canterbury Press, I hope some of my readers here will find it helpful.
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.
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 blackened sky, this darkened scar
Eclipse that glimpse of how things really are.
I glanced up at the charcoal rubbing taken from Coleridge’s gravestone of his beautiful epitaph,which hangs on my study wall and realised that today, July 25th, is the anniversary of his death, no better day to give thanks for all he means to me, to pray for him as his epitaph asks, and to invoke his blessing on my own efforts to receive his insights and interpret them for a new generation.!
This year I published Mariner: A Voyage With Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Publication was timed to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Coleridge’s seminal book Biographia Literaria, and also the first full collection of his poems Sybilline Leaves. My book tells Coleridge’s story through the lens of his own great poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, a poem which was uncannily prophetic not only of Coleridge’s own life, but of our own history and culture. The book traces the vital thread of Christian thought and witness that runs through Coleridge’s life and writing and also the startling relevance of that life and writing to the challenges of the 21st century. Happily it has been well and widely reviewed and I am glad to say that there will be an American Edition in January and an English Paperback edition in February.
I could not begin to reckon the personal debt I owe to Coleridge; for his poetry, for his personal and Christian wisdom, above all for his brilliant exploration and defence of the poetic imagination as a truth-bearing faculty which participates in, and is redeemed by the Logos, the living Word, himself the Divine Imagination. We are only now coming to appreciate the depth and range of what he achieved. His contemporaries scarcely understood him, and his Victorian successors looked down in judgement at what they saw as the shipwreck of his life. Something of that experience of rejection, twinned with deep Christian conviction, can be seen in the epitaph he wrote for himself:
Stop, Christian passer-by!—Stop, child of God,
And read with gentle breast. Beneath this sod
A poet lies, or that which once seemed he.
O, lift one thought in prayer for S. T. C.;
That he who many a year with toil of breath
Found death in life, may here find life in death!
Mercy for praise—to be forgiven for fame
He asked, and hoped, through Christ. Do thou the same!
From my teenage raptures when I was first enchanted by Kubla Khan and the Ancient Mariner, to my struggles and adventures in the middle of life STC has been my companion and guide. In the chapter on Coleridge in my book Faith Hope and Poetry I have set out an account of his thinking and made the case for his central importance in our own age, but what I offer here is a sonnet celebrating his legacy, drawing on that epitaph I mentioned above, one of a sequence of sonnets on my fellow christians in my most recent book The Singing Bowl, published by the Canterbury Press.
As Always you can hear the poem by clicking on the title or clicking the ‘play’ button.
22nd July is Mary Magdalene’s day, and continuing my sequence of sonnets written in response to the church year I post this for her. As usual you can hear the poem by clicking on its title or on the ‘play’ button.
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 and physical copies are available in Canada via Steve Bell. 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.
Men called you light so as to load you down,
And burden you with their own weight of sin,
A woman forced to cover and contain
Those seven devils sent by Everyman.
But one man set you free and took your part
One man knew and loved you to the core
The broken alabaster of your heart
Revealed to Him alone a hidden door,
Into a garden where the fountain sealed,
Could flow at last for him in healing tears,
Till, in another garden, he revealed
The perfect Love that cast out all your fears,
And quickened you with love’s own sway and swing,
As light and lovely as the news you bring.
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 and physical copies are also available in Canada via Steve Bell. 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