Category Archives: christianity

Regret, Remembrance, Restoration: Mary Magdalene at Crossbones Graveyard

1024px-Cross_Bones_Graveyard-0052On the 22nd of July, the day I posted my sonnet on Mary Magdalene, the day I was flying back from Canada, a profound and beautiful service was taking place in a scrap of reclaimed garden on the South Bank of the Thames, a service at which I was spiritually, though alas not physically present.  The service was for the consecration of an ancient burial ground, which had hitherto been formally unconsecrated ground, a place where the outcast and rejected, those unrecognised by the church, the unbaptised and those out of communion had been buried. Many of them were exploited women, working as prostitutes in the ‘stews’, the pleasure houses that lined the south bank alongside the play houses, such as Shakespeare’s Globe. These women and often also the many unbaptised babies, born out of wedlock ,sometimes not surviving birth or even their first few weeks were buried in unmarked graves in this scrap of waste ground. The terrible irony is that the church which excluded them was at the same time conniving with and profiting from their exploitation, for all this land belonged to the church which collected rent from the brothel keepers, well knowing how the money was made.. The grave yard itself was several times sold and many times nearly developed and concreted over. And all that time whilst it was fenced off and in course of being privatised local people would come and leave ribbons and prayers and memorials on its gates.

1024px-Cross_Bones_Graveyard-050

prayers and memorials on the closed gates of crossbones

It belongs now to London Transport, but thanks to strong local action and the  involvement of the church itself, the land has been saved and turned into a memorial garden, a safe quiet, beautiful space in the bustle of the city. On the 22nd of July this year, Mary Magdalene’s day, the grave-yard garden was formally consecrated and dedicated by the Dean of Southwark Cathedral in a beautiful liturgy which he himself composed and I am honoured and moved to say that my poem for Mary Magdalene was part of the service. Mary, a woman, despised and condemned by the self righteous, but loved by Jesus was chosen by him to be the first witness of the good news of his resurrection, and in her meeting with the love of Christ a graveyard once more became a garden. What better day to dedicate this new garden to the memory of those women who had suffered so much like her. The Dean of Southwark has given me permission to post the whole of this short and moving service. Do take time to read it, it has a great deal to teach, and do pray the prayers it contains especially for those caught up in present day human trafficking. Something was set to rights, some threshold onto grace was opened in a garden by the Thames last Wednesday. May it be for all our Good

An act of regret remembrance restoration

Crossbones Graveyard

The Feast of St Mary Magdalene 2015

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier.

Today is the Feast of St Mary Magdalene. More has been said about Mary than is probably true. Her story has been mixed up with other stories –
of fallen women, of disturbed women, of faithful women, of passionate women, of accused women, of scandalous women – and all rolled into one story. But Jesus met all those women who challenged convention, who dared to speak, who dared to act and he welcomed them, as he welcomes us, with all our contradictions. But what we do know is that of all the people he could have met in the garden by the tomb in the first dawn of Easter Day, it was Mary, and he asked her to be the apostle of his resurrection.

This land on which we stand has received the bodies of women of our community and their born and unborn children, who served the needs of men, but whose own needs were ignored; who were paid a price for love but were refused the gift of real love; who were used to line the coffers of the church but rejected by the church; whose sins excluded them even though Jesus would have included them.

We cannot undo the sins of yesterday but we can do right today and that is why we are here, with regret, in remembrance and to pray for restoration, of this land, of these memories and of the eternal souls of our sisters and their children.

So let us pray.

Almighty God,
whose Son restored Mary Magdalene
to health of mind and body and called her to be a witness to his resurrection:
forgive our sins and heal us by your grace,
that we may serve you in the power of his risen life;
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Amen.

Readings

A Sonnet for Mary Magdalene by Malcolm Guite

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 loves own sway and swing,

As light and lovely as the news you bring.
We repeat this chant three times

All: Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom; Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.

A reading from the Holy Gospel according to John (John 20.11-17)

Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said
to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father.But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” ’

Prayers

Let us pray.

Lord Jesus, you received all who came to you. Forgive us when we exclude others.
Lord in your mercy

All hear our prayer.

Lord Jesus, you exploited no one but gave yourself with generous love. Protect the exploited, the slaves, the abused
and change the hearts of those who use and abuse them.
Lord in your mercy

All hear our prayer.

Lord Jesus, men put a price on your head
and exchanged your life for money.
Liberate those who are trafficked in our world
and give us the courage to confront the traffickers. Lord in your mercy

All hear our prayer.

Lord Jesus, they buried you outside the city walls in a stranger’s grave. Receive with your love the bodies of those killed and lost
to their communities and families.
Lord in your mercy

All hear our prayer.

Lord Jesus,
hear our prayers
and as you received the love of Mary hold in your presence
the souls of all who have gone before us and give them peace.

All Amen.

Restoration

Let us ask God who created this land to hallow it still further this day.

It is right and good,
our duty and our salvation,
to praise you, the all-powerful Father, in every season,
and on this holy day to celebrate all who have gone before us. In Mary Magdalene you kindled a fire of love for Christ, whose word had set her free.
You gave her the courage of love
to follow him even to the cross.
Seeking her teacher after his death,
so great was her longing
that you made her the first to behold him
risen from the dead,
and the first to announce to the apostles
his new and glorious risen life.
As she stood in a garden
that had become a graveyard
we stand in a graveyard
that has become a garden.
Her words still ring throughout your world,
to strengthen faith and encourage hope
in those who gather faithfully for prayer.
May this be a holy place in our community,
set apart for the past, the present and the future
and a place where the dead and living may know your peace.

All Amen.

The Dean first sprinkles holy water on the ground and then censes the area as we sing

Be still, for the presence of the Lord, the holy One is here: Come bow before him now with reverence and fear:
In him no sin is found, we stand on holy ground.
Be still, for the presence of the Lord, the holy One is here

Be still, for the glory of the Lord is shining all around: He burns with holy fire, with splendour he is crowned: How awesome is the sight, our radiant king of light! Be still, for the glory of the Lord is shining all around.

Be still, for the power of the Lord is moving in this place: He comes to cleanse and heal, to minister his grace:
No work too hard for him, in faith receive from him.
Be still, for the power of the Lord is moving in this place.

David J Evans

Eternal Lord God, you hold all souls in life:
shed forth, we pray,
upon your whole Church in paradise and on earth the bright beams of your light and heavenly comfort; and grant that we, following the good example of those who have loved and served you here and are now at rest, may at the last enter with them into the fullness of your eternal joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

All Amen.

And the blessing of God almighty,
Source of all being, eternal Word and Holy Spirit, Be among you and remain with you always.

All Amen.

Memorial Garden

Memorial Garden

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Coleridge comes to bless my study!

 

Coleridge's self-composed epitaph

Coleridge’s self-composed epitaph

Today I returned from the framers with a charcoal rubbing taken from Coleridge’s gravestone of his beautiful epitaph, all clearly mounted and ready to hang in my new study in Linton, the last picture to go up. It was only as I unwrapped it that I realised that today, July 25th, is the anniversary of his death, no better day to  to set this poem above my desk and 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.!

I have signed a contract with Hodder and Stoughton to write a new book, which will be called Mariner! A Voyage with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and will be published in the spring of 2017, 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 will tell 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. My book will try both to show 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.

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.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

‘Stop, Christian passer-by!—Stop, child of God!’

You made your epitaph imperative,

And stopped this wedding guest! But I am glad

To stop with you and start again, to live

From that pure source, the all-renewing stream,

Whose living power is imagination,

And know myself a child of the I AM,

Open and loving to his whole creation.

Your glittering eye taught mine to pierce the veil,

To let his light transfigure all my seeing,

To serve the shaping Spirit whom I feel,

And make with him the poem of my being.

I follow where you sail towards our haven,

Your wide wake lit with glimmerings of heaven.

Steve Bell captured me in ancient mariner mode!

Steve Bell captured me in ancient mariner mode!

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Mary Magdalene: A Sonnet

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 shortly to be 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.



Mary Magdalene

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.

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For the Feast of St.Thomas The Apostle

Once again we come to the eve of St. Thomas’s feast day, so I am posting again my sonnet on favourite New Testament character!

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 confes 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 this Sunday 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 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

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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A Sonnet for Petertide, and for my ordination anniversary

 

The 29th of June  this year is a Silver Jubilee for me: the 25th Anniversary of my ordination as Deacon. So next year will be the jubilee of my priesting. The 29th is of course also 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 being ordained this weekend and in memory of my own ordination on this day 25 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. My Canadian readers can get it from Steve Bell.

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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A pair of sonnets for St. John and St. John’s Eve.

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

In our poetic journey through the sacred seasons of the year we have come to midsummer! 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 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 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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The Beatitudes: a little lifting of the veil

beatitudes wordcloudHere is another new sonnet from my work in progress ‘Parable and Paradox’, a sonnet sequence on the sayings of Jesus, to be published next year by Canterbury Press. In this sonnet I am reflecting on The Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapter 5 verses 1-16, and on the beautiful series of  beatitudes, or blessings with which it begins, as well as on the image of a hidden light, taken out and set at last on a hill which follows these  beautiful blessings. It seems to me that one way to understand how it is that the poor, and those who mourn, the persecuted, and those who keep yearning and hungering, in spite of everything, for a righteousness we do not yet see, are all nevertheless, even now, somehow blessed, is to see in the beatitudes a little lifting of the veil, a little glimpse into the coming kingdom. We can so easily feel defeated by the darkness of this present age and the apparent defeat of goodness at every turn, but in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus lifts the veil and gives us hope! The Cross, his cross and ours, is not the end of the story! The kingdom is coming and one day His Easter, his glorious resurrection will also be ours! The beatitudes are an invitation to live from and for that coming day, even now, to take the hidden light of his love and goodness and let it shine through us into the pre-dawn darkness of our world.

As well as writing the sonnet I have also focused some of these reflections into the final sermon of a six sermon sequence, also called ‘Parable and Paradox, which I preached this term at Girton. The whole sequence is online now and can be found here.

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

Beatitudes

Matthew 5:1-16

 

We bless you, who have spelt your blessings out,

And set this lovely lantern on a hill

Lightening darkness and dispelling doubt

By lifting for a little while the veil.

For longing is the veil of satisfaction

And grief the veil of future happiness

We glimpse beneath the veil of persecution

The coming kingdom’s overflowing bliss

 

Oh make us pure of heart and help us see

Amongst the shadows and amidst the mourning

The promised Comforter, alive and free,

The kingdom coming and the Son returning,

That even in this pre-dawn dark we might

At once reveal and revel in your light.

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