Category Archives: christianity

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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‘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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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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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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Corona Spina: the Crown of Thorns and the Crown of Glory: Psalm 21

We come now to psalm 21, often referred to as a coronation psalm because of the verses:

  1. THE King shall rejoice in thy strength, O Lord: exceeding glad shall he be of thy salvation.
  2. Thou hast given him his heart’s desire: and hast not denied him the request of his lips.
  3. For thou shalt prevent him with the blessings of goodness: and shalt set a crown of pure gold upon his head.
  4. He asked life of thee, and thou gavest him a long life: even for ever and ever.

From its original associations with David’s Crown, Early Christians applied this psalm to Christ ‘the son of David’ and therefore the understanding of coronation itself deepened. Before he wears  the golden crown prophesied in this psalm, Christ, the true Messiah, comes to suffer with his creation and to wear the crown of thorns, the Corona Spina as it was called in Latin. For the word corona which we have learned to dread, is there in the word coronation, and surely part of Christ’s Corona Spina is this current coronavirus crisis, for he enters into our suffering that we might enter into his glory.

This is the reason I chose the ‘corona’ form for ‘David’s Crown’ this new poetry sequence. For another meaning of corona is a crown or chaplet of poems interwoven so that the last line of the first poem is the first line of the next, and so on until the final line of the final poem is the first line of the first poem.

This psalm of course precedes 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. But first that glory is prefigured in psalm 21. All these themes have in different ways entered into my response to psalm 21, and I end it knowing that we will turn, in psalm 22, to Christ’s cry of dereliction from the cross.

As always you can hear me read the poem 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.

XXI Domine, in virtute tua

Now may you find in Christ, riches and rest

May you be blessed in him, and he in you

In Heaven, where to grant you your request

 

Is always blessing, for your heart is true:

True to yourself and true to Christ your king.

Breathe through this coronation psalm and view

 

The glory of his golden crown, then sing

The exaltation, goodness, life and power,

The blessing and salvation Christ will bring.

 

But first he wears a darker crown. The hour

Is coming and has come. Our Lord comes down

Into the heart of all our hurts to wear

 

With us the sharp corona spina, crown

Of thorns, and to descend with us to death

Before he shares with us the golden crown.

 

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Some Scent and Sense of Heaven: a response to Psalm 20

‘May each glimpse become epiphany’ (looking across Loch Broom from my mother’s cottage)

Psalm 20 opens with an act of pure blessing. You could speak it over someone and bless them with it, and the crown of that blessing comes in verse 4:

Grant thee thy heart’s desire: and fulfil all thy mind.

The response to this psalm, in my sequence ‘David’s Crown’ is also written as a blessing, and at its core is the idea that the deepest desires of  our hearts might lead us on to God, the one whom, in the end,we most deeply desire. A theme CS Lewis explores so beautifully in both Pilgrim’s Regress’ and Surprised by Joy. So I hope you enjoy this poem and receive it as a blessing spoken over you for good.

As always you can hear me read the poem 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.

XX Exaudiat te Dominus

All given for your growth, and your delight,

All flowing for you from his sanctuary.

Even before you enter in, his light

 

Is blessing you. May mystery

Still draw you on, arouse your heart’s desire,

And may each glimpse become epiphany.

 

May brief sparks blaze into a Holy fire

Whose light and warmth illuminate your mind.

And may some scent and sense of heaven inspire

 

Your thoughts and words. May everything remind

You of your Lord that you may put your trust

Entirely in his name, not in the blind

 

Dependence of this world, whose weapons rust

Into the soul and and kill it from within,

But may you find in Christ, riches and rest.

 

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Corpus Christi: Three Sonnets on Communion

Today is the the feast of Corpus Christi (the Body of Christ), which is really a celebration of the sacrament of Holy Communion. It is a painful and poignant day this year for those of us who have not been able to receive Holy Communion since the lockdown, though many have been making a profound ‘spiritual communion’ as they wait for the restoration of this sacrament.

In mediaeval times there used to be wonderful processions in which the consecrated elements were taken out of the church on this day and processed on the streets, showing that the Word made flesh was not just in a box labelled ‘church’ but in our midst, just as He was on the streets of Nazareth and Jerusalem. Rebecca Merry‘s lovely art work ( above) has the feel of those mediaeval ‘showings’ on Corpus Christi.

For my contribution to Corpus Christi I am offering here a trio of sonnets about the experience of receiving Holy Communion, each from a slightly different angle. The first two sonnets were published in Sounding the Seasons, my cycle of seventy sonnets for the Church Year.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. The third sonnet, which is about the 16th Century Oak communion table in the church of St. Edward King and Martyr, is from my book The Singing Bowl also published by Canterbury Press

Margot Krebs Neale has reflected on my phrases ‘He does not come in unimagined light ‘ and ‘to dye himself into experience’ with an image not simply of a stained glass window but of that dyed and refracted light itself reflected in water. I am grateful both to Rebecca and Margot for the way their work reflects on and develops mine.

As always you can hear me read the poetry by clicking on the play button above each sonnet, if it appears, or on the title of the poem itself.


1 Love’s Choice

This bread is light, dissolving, almost air,

A little visitation on my tongue,

A wafer-thin sensation, hardly there.

This taste of wine is brief in flavour, flung

A moment to the palate’s roof and fled,

Even its aftertaste a memory.

Yet this is how He comes. Through wine and bread

Love chooses to be emptied into me.

He does not come in unimagined light

Too bright to be denied, too absolute

For consciousness, too strong for sight,

Leaving the seer blind, the poet mute;

Chooses instead to seep into each sense,

To dye himself into experience.

He does not come in unimagined light…


2 Hide and Seek

Ready or not, you tell me, here I come!

And so I know I’m hiding, and I know

My hiding-place is useless. You will come

And find me. You are searching high and low.

Today I’m hiding low, down here, below,

Below the sunlit surface others see.

Oh find me quickly, quickly come to me.

And here you come and here I come to you.

I come to you because you come to me.

You know my hiding places. I know you,

I reach you through your hiding-places too;

Touching the slender thread, but now I see –

Even in darkness I can see you shine,

Risen in bread, and revelling in wine.

3 This Table

The centuries have settled on this table
Deepened the grain beneath a clean white cloth
Which bears afresh our changing elements.
Year after year of prayer, in hope and trouble,
Were poured out here and blessed and broken, both
In aching absence and in absent presence.

This table too the earth herself has given
And human hands have made. Where candle-flame
At corners burns and turns the air to light
The oak once held its branches up to heaven,
Blessing the elements which it became,
Rooting the dew and rain, branching the light.

Because another tree can bear, unbearable,
For us, the weight of Love, so can this table

 

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Hidden Joys: A Sonnet for the Visitation

The feast of the Visitation usually falls on the 31st of May, but this year it was displaced from that date by the great feast of Pentecost, and so we keep it on the 1st of June instead. It is in fact very fitting to remember the visitation on the day after Pentecost, for it is a perfect example of the vivifying and prophetic work of God the Holy Spirit. The feast of the Visitation celebrates the lovely moment in Luke’s Gospel (1:41-56) when Mary goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who was also, against all expectations, bearing a child, the child who would be John the Baptist. Luke tells us that the Holy Spirit came upon them, and that the babe in Elizabeth’s womb ‘leaped for joy’ when he heard Mary’s voice, and it is even as the older woman blesses the younger, that Mary gives voice to the Magnificat, the most beautiful and revolutionary hymn in the world. There is much for the modern world to ponder in this tale of God’s blessing and prophecy on and from the margins, and I have tried to tease a little of it out in this sonnet. I am grateful again to Margot Krebs Neale for her inspiring image, and , as always you can hear the poem by clicking on the ‘play’ button or the title.

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 . 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..

The Visitation

Here is a meeting made of hidden joys

Of lightenings cloistered in a narrow place

From quiet hearts the sudden flame of praise

And in the womb the quickening kick of grace.

Two women on the very edge of things

Unnoticed and unknown to men of power

But in their flesh the hidden Spirit sings

And in their lives the buds of blessing flower.

And Mary stands with all we call ‘too young’,

Elizabeth with all called ‘past their prime’

They sing today for all the great unsung

Women who turned eternity to time

Favoured of heaven, outcast on the earth

Prophets who bring the best in us to birth.

 

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