Category Archives: christianity

Old Age by Edmund Waller

image by Linda Richardson

image by Linda Richardson

The poem I have chosen for December the 9th of December in my Advent Anthology from Canterbury Press Waiting on the Word, is Old Age by the Seventeenth Century poet Edmund Waller. This gentle meditation on old age, on the light that shines ‘through chinks that time hath made’, may be one source for Leonard cohen’s famous lines about ‘how the light gets in’. You can hear me read this poem by clicking on the title or the play button. the image above, was created by Linda Richardson.

Linda Writes:

Some years ago my husband began collecting World War Two letters from soldiers who were writing home. I did a photo transfer of one of these letters onto a canvas board and it has been in my studio for several years waiting for the moment when I would find a purpose for it.

With this as the ground, I painted the board and rubbed it down many times giving the effect of layers and layers, much like paint work in an old house. The top half of the painting is pink and infantile, the bottom half is black. The halves are separated and distanced by a rich gold band that connects the two but the image only works because light is there with the dark. The painting is uncluttered as that of a life paired down and the words are barely visible beneath the layers of paint, hinting at life nearly snuffed out, of a past and a memory fading away. The gold line foams and swells into the upper and lower halves of the painting suggesting the boundless nature of our inner spirit or the Divine Life that resides within us all. How much is visible of the gold within, is up to us and the grace of God. ‘The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.’ (Isaiah 9:2)


You can find you can find the words, and a short reflective essay on this poem in Waiting on the Word, which is now also available on Kindle

Old Age

THE seas are quiet when the winds give o’er;

So calm are we when passions are no more.

For then we know how vain it was to boast

Of fleeting things, so certain to be lost.

Clouds of affection from our younger eyes

Conceal that emptiness which age descries.

The soul’s dark cottage, batter’d and decay’d,

Lets in new light through chinks that Time hath made:

Stronger by weakness, wiser men become

As they draw near to their eternal home.

Leaving the old, both worlds at once they view

That stand upon the threshold of the new.


Filed under christianity, Poems

A Christmas Invitation: new Christmas Music and Poetry

PLU Choir and Orchestra performing 'A Christmas Invitation'

PLU Choir and Orchestra performing ‘A Christmas Invitation’

I am pleased to say that a three-movement suite of Christmas Music composed by Jac Redford, for which he commissioned me to write new poetry, is being broadcast this month on a series of television stations across the United States. Broadcasts start on the 8th December in Texas and continue across the United States up to and including Christmas day itself. The full list and timings of these broadcasts can be found On This Page. You can also download the full concert program Here. And there is a DVD of the performance available Here.

The whole piece is a return to, and commentary upon, Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’, starting on fairly traditional ground with Fezziwig’s Ball, but then moving, with Christmas Present, and Future, into some contemporary concerns. The music is being performed by the choir and orchestra of the Pacific Lutheran University and here is how they introduce it in the programme:

A Christmas Invitation

Composed for Richard Nance and the Choirs & Orchestra of Pacific Lutheran University


A Christmas Invitation is a three-movement work for mixed chorus, soloists and orchestra. I have chosen Dickens’ A Christmas Carol
as inspiration, although the texts are original poems by Cambridge poet Malcolm Guite. The setting is not intended as a literal tableaux. Rather, because of the metaphoric value of the story’s spirits, Christmas Past, Present, and Future, I hope a variety of responses from convivial joy to thoughtful re ection will be invoked.

The first movement (Fezziwig’s Ball) revels in the nostalgia and merriment of our Victorian Christmas traditions, with music full of rhythm and vitality. As the movement closes, both text and music cast a shadow of loneliness over this beautiful scene, leading into a sober second movement (Look! Look! O man, look at the world you make) which re ects on Dickens’ surprising revelation of Ignorance and Want under the robe of the spirit of Christmas Present. The third movement (Christmas is the Lord’s own day, Rejoice!) proclaims hope for the future in the sort of redemption that was offered to Ebenezer Scrooge, while at the same time acknowledging that

there are significant choices still before us. I hope this new holiday composition will be memorable and enjoyable for all!

Here are the poems as they are sung in each of the three movements, I hope you enjoy them both as poems in themselves and in the musical setting for which they were written:

I – Fezziwig’s Ball


“Trim the lamps,” says Fezziwig,

“Tonight it’s Christmas Eve!”

And every lad is clearing space

And rolling up his sleeve,


And now we’ll have the shutters up,

And clear the desks aside

And make the warehouse snug and bright

To dance at Christmastide


Here’s porter for the fiddler,

And brandy for the guests,

And sweets and cakes and comfits

In richly laden chests.


And children rush around the feast

And gaze with shining eyes

On roast meat and cold meat

And minced meat and pies


(The holly berries glisten,

The ivy holds the light,

A blaze leaps up the chimney

To warm the winter’s night)


Here’s music for the couples

And dancing to the tune

As we all weave around and back

Beneath a Christmas moon


And here the young and and hearty

Cut capers at the ball

With their old host and hostess

As nimble as them all


But silent in the corner

Invisible to all,

An old man and a spirit

Who cannot join the ball.


His long life on the outside

Is looking in at last

And longing for the chance he missed

In every Christmas past.


The power to make men happy

Had once been in his hands

If he could just release it now

That he might make amends!


And will he bloom or wither,

That long-excluded shade,

Who leaves a ghostly Christmas Past

And hears the music fade?



II – Look! Look! O man, look at the world you make!


We close the shutters up to make our feast

To share our plenty only with our own

But who is this? A stranger, not a guest,

Who calls us now to take the shutters down?


Look! Look! O man, look at the world you make!

These are your children, Ignorance and Want!

Look at the ones who suffer for your sake;

Pinched in their poverty, withered and gaunt,

Sewing the clothes and shoes you throw away,

Assembling every shiny new device.

You wrap the goods they make for Christmas Day,

Your children get the gifts –these pay the price.


But you can change, for change is in the air,

Want is a child who might yet find relief.

Loosen your love, release your heart and share,

O dare to be a patron, not a thief!

Let all your love for family and friends

Be widened by His Love, and make amends.


Rise from your table, throw the window wide

Take down the shutters and unbar the door

Welcome the stranger, call him to your side,

That he might teach you what this feast is for!



III – Christmas is the Lord’s own day, Rejoice


Christmas is the Lord’s own day, Rejoice!

Rise and recover while you have the choice!

This is the day to loosen and release

The day to hear again His living voice.



“On Christmas day I come to be with you,

Today I take your nature for my own,

Today I offer you a heart of flesh,

Or will you choose again a heart of stone?



This Christmas choose between true life and death,

This Christmas choose between the good and ill,

This day I breathe in you my living breath,

This day you may do any good you will!



Oh come with me and I will come with you

And show you how to love my world with me

To bring your best to Ignorance and Want,

To be and bear the gift that makes them free.”



Christmas is the Lord’s new day, Rejoice!

Rise and recover, you still have the choice!

This is the day to loosen and release

The day to hear again His living voice.



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Kenosis by Luci Shaw

Kenosis image by Linda Richardson

Kenosis image by Linda Richardson

Here is the next poem in my series of posts for Advent,  in which I read each day’s poem to accompany my Advent Anthology from Canterbury Press Waiting on the Word, alongside a series of reflective images kindly provided by Linda Richardson

Today’s poem is Kenosis by Luci Shaw. You can click on the title or the ‘play’ button to hear me read it and you can find the words, and a short reflective essay on this poem in Waiting on the Word, which is now also available on Kindle.

Linda shares the following reflection on today’s art work:

The temptation as an artist is to illustrate a theme, but here is the problem: figurative painting grounds us in the human experience but the poem we read today, whilst rooted in the imagery of human experience, is transcendent because it points us to the divine nature of the new born child.

There are monks who celebrate the Christmas child as The Little Word, a title made even more tender, coming as it does from men who live such unsentimental and austere life. Malcolm tells us that the word infans means, literally, ‘without speech’, and so my approach to this work had to go beyond pictorial sentimentality. I wanted it to transcend speech and form as far as I could because receiving God in the form of a helpless baby is untranslatable in terms of human experience.

I painted the surface with thin washes of paint, rubbing it down between each coat, like sanding or planing wood. I wanted the surface to have quietness and transparency. On the top of this surface, in the finest pen, I drew delicate white tracery lines suggesting the softest threads of wool (from a sheepfold) that might swaddle an infant. In the top left corner I painted a lighter area, again rubbing it down to help us see through it. It hints at a doorway, alluding perhaps to Christ who is the door, who knocks at our door and who himself, ‘hung..a door’.

As we come to this most beautiful of poems, all we can do is receive the vision and be stilled by its inner peace. ‘Surely I have composed and quieted my soul; Like a weaned child rests against his mother, My soul is like a weaned child within me.’ (Psalm 131.)


In sleep his infant mouth works in and out.

He is so new, his silk skin has not yet

been roughed by plane and wooden beam

nor, so far, has he had to deal with human doubt.


He is in a dream of nipple found,

of blue-white milk, of curving skin

and, pulsing in his ear, the inner throb

of a warm heart’s repeated sound.


His only memories float from fluid space.

So new he has not pounded nails, hung a door

broken bread, felt rebuff, bent to the lash,

wept for the sad heart of the human race.

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A Hymns of Heavenly Love Edmund Spenser

An hymns of heavenly love image by Linda Richardson

An hymns of heavenly love image by Linda Richardson

Here is the next in my series of posts for Advent,  in which I read each day’s poem to accompany my Advent Anthology from Canterbury Press Waiting on the Word, alongside a series of reflective images kindly provided by Linda Richardson

Today’s poem is taken from Edmund Spenser’s Hymn of Heavenly Love. You can click on the title or the ‘play’ button to hear me read it and you can find my short reflective essay on this poem in Waiting on the Word, which is now also available on Kindle.

Linda Writes about her image:

The theme of God’s love and action through Jesus is so unfathomable, so vast, neither words nor imagery are sufficient to grasp it and yet we continue to try. Words only refer to other words, images to created things. It is only through experience that we truly come close to the love that brings us peace, and even then only as a movement of heart and soul within us. Silence has so much to teach us about God, so the image I made reflects this silence. We call it faith because our experience is more often one of knowing about God in our heads, but actually experiencing that heart bursting glance of love is a rare occurrence.

In the painting, I imagine our fall into darkness, ‘enrooted in fleshly slyme’ in the dark paint at the bottom of the pages. Above that is the blue emptiness of the cosmos, but in one vertical line of yellow ochre, I imagine the act of the ‘eternal King of Glorie’, piercing the darkness of our consciousness, down descending into our heart and deepest being.

From An Hymn of Heavenly Love

Out of the bosome of eternall blisse,

In which He reigned with His glorious Syre,

He downe descended, like a most demisse

And abiect thrall, in fleshes fraile attyre,
That He for him might pay sinne’s deadly hyre,
And him restore unto that happie state
In which he stood before his haplesse fate.
In flesh at first the guilt committed was,
Therefore in flesh it must be satisfyde;
Nor spirit, nor angel, though they man surpas,
Could make amends to God for man’s misguyde,
But onely man himselfe, who selfe did slyde:
So, taking flesh of sacred virgin’s wombe,
For man’s deare sake He did a man become.
And that most blessed bodie, which was borne
Without all blemish or reprochfull blame,
He freely gave to be both rent and torne
Of cruell hands, who with despightfull shame
Revyling Him, that them most vile became,
At length Him nayled on a gallow-tree,
And slew the lust by most uniust decree.
O huge and most unspeakeable impression
Of Love’s deep wound, that pierst the piteous hart
Of that deare Lord with so entyre affection,
And, sharply launcing every inner part,
Dolours of death into His soule did dart,
Doing him die that never it deserved,
To free His foes, that from His heast had swerved!
What hart can feel least touch of so sore launch,
Or thought can think the depth of so deare wound?
Whose bleeding sourse their streames yet never staunch,
But stil do flow, and freshly still redownd,
To heale the sores of sinfull soules unsound,
And clense the guilt of that infected cryme
Which was enrooted in all fleshly slyme.
O blessed Well of Love! O Floure of Grace!
O glorious Morning-Starre! O Lampe of Light!
Most lively image of thy Father’s face,
Eternal King of Glorie, Lord of Might,
Meeke Lambe of God, before all worlds behight,
How can we Thee requite for all this good?
Or what can prize that Thy most precious blood?
Yet nought Thou ask’st in lieu of all this love,
But love of us, for guerdon of thy paine:
Ay me! what can us lesse than that behove?
Had He required life for us againe,
Had it beene wrong to ask His owne with gaine?
He gave us life, He it restored lost;
Then life were least, that us so little cost.

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The Good Riddle GK Chesterton

Image by Linda Richardson

Image by Linda Richardson

I am continuing my series of posts for Advent,  in which I read each day’s poem to accompany my Advent Anthology from Canterbury Press Waiting on the Word, alongside a series of reflective images kindly provided by Linda Richardson. In today’s poem, which is an extract from GK Chesterton’s Ballad of the white Horse I am continuing yesterday’s theme; the paradox that the God who is rightly our Lord and Master, comes to us, out of his sheer love, as a servant.

Linda writes about today’s image:

How beautifully the subject of servant continues from yesterday, but in this poem we are served by God, not through human hands but through the material of our bodies and the environment. Perhaps we consider our bodies as our own possessions, unique down to our very DNA. But here we can ponder the thought that God sealed our skull and made our ribs. We are the created ones, we don’t create ourselves however much contemporary culture tells us otherwise.

Making an image every day is quite a challenge on top of family and work life. I already had this image in the studio and felt it suited the poem very well as it has a bark-like surface hinting at oaks on the upland, and primordial slumber. The words that sprung into my mind were, ‘who…shall speak of the Holiest’, and Psalm 139, ‘thou hast knit me together in my mother’s womb.   I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made’. I considered how I am a marvellous work, I am created by Him, utterly unique with my own fingerprint, and how His fingerprint is upon all His creation if only we took the time to see it. The art work was completed when I cut a square in the centre and placed a fingerprint upon it.

As always you can hear the poem by clicking on the ‘play’ button or on the title, and read my reflective essay in Waiting on the Word

From the Ballad of the White Horse

And well may God with the serving-folk

Cast in His dreadful lot;

Is not He too a servant,

And is not He forgot?


For was not God my gardener

And silent like a slave;

That opened oaks on the uplands

Or thicket in graveyard gave?


And was not God my armourer,

All patient and unpaid,

That sealed my skull as a helmet,

And ribs for hauberk made?


Did not a great grey servant

Of all my sires and me,

Build this pavilion of the pines,

And herd the fowls and fill the vines,

And labour and pass and leave no signs

Save mercy and mystery?


For God is a great servant,

And rose before the day,

From some primordial slumber torn;

But all we living later born

Sleep on, and rise after the morn,

And the Lord has gone away.


On things half sprung from sleeping,

All sleeping suns have shone,

They stretch stiff arms, the yawning trees,

The beasts blink upon hands and knees,

Man is awake and does and sees-

But Heaven has done and gone.


For who shall guess the good riddle

Or speak of the Holiest,

Save in faint figures and failing words,

Who loves, yet laughs among the swords,

Labours, and is at rest?


But some see God like Guthrum,

Crowned, with a great beard curled,

But I see God like a good giant,

That, laboring, lifts the world.

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Waiting on the Word: Advent Poetry

Waiting on the Word

Waiting on the Word

Tomorrow will be the first Sunday of Advent, so I thought I would repost this link to my Advent anthology Waiting on the Word. This Anthology which offers the reader a poem a day throughout Advent and on through Christmas and Epiphany. I also offer a little reflective essay to go with each poem, which I hope will help the reader to get into the depths of the poem more easily and will draw out some of the Advent Themes and the way the poems link to each other. The book works entirely as a stand-alone thing and could be used privately or in groups, but I shall also be recording each poem and will post a recording of my reading of that day’s poem for each day of Advent on this blog, so that readers of the book who wish to, can also hear the poem being read. Readers of this blog can of course also enjoy hearing the poems, and might like to get hold of the book (which is also on Kindle) so that they can follow along the text and read the interpretive essay.

Last year we enjoyed the poetry accompanied by Lancia Smith’s interpretive photographs, this year, continuing that tradition of art to accompany poetry, I am happy to say that we will have an original painting to accompany each poem from the talented Linda Richardson, who created a book of images to reflect on each poem whilst she was using the book devotionally last year, and has kindly agreed to share those pictures with us this year. Do join us on the journey via the pages of the book and the pages of this blog.



Filed under christianity, literature, Theology and Arts

Everything Holds Together: The Feast of Christ the King

christ-the-king-constantinopleToday is the Feast of Christ the King, and one of the readings set this year is Colossians 1:11-20 a passage containing the beautiful Hymn to Christ, the core verses of which are these: 15-17:

He is the image of the unseen God, the first-born of all creation, for in him were created all things in heaven and on earth: everything visible and everything invisible, thrones, ruling forces, sovereignties, powers — all things were created through him and for him. He exists before all things and in him all things hold together.

So here is a poem I wrote about those verses, it is taken from my book Parable and Paradox, but this poem also appears on a wonderful album by Alana Levandoski , Behold I Make All Things New,

Here is the poem. the Greek phrase in the poem ‘Eikon tou theou, means image of God and is taken directly from the Greek text of Paul’s letter

Everything Holds Together


Everything holds together, everything,

From stars that pierce the dark like living sparks,

To secret seeds that open every spring,

From spanning galaxies to spinning quarks,

Everything holds together and coheres,

Unfolding from the center whence it came.

And now that hidden heart of things appears,

The first-born of creation takes a name.


And shall I see the one through whom I am?

Shall I behold the one for whom I’m made,

The light in light, the flame within the flame,

Eikon tou theou, image of my God?

He comes, a little child, to bless my sight,

That I might come to him for life and light.

As usual you can hear me read it by clicking on the title or play button, but better still you can hear it with Alana’s music, hear the other three poems that are woven in with it and see the beautiful paintings by Julie Ann Stevens that go with the Album. You can check out Alana’s website here.



Filed under christianity, imagination, Music, paintings, Poems