Category Archives: Current affairs

Silence: a Sonnet for Remembrance Day

As we approach Remembrance Sunday I am reposting this sonnet about the two minutes silence, which was first published in my book Sounding the Seasons.  I’m posting it a few days early so that any one who wishes to can use it in services or events either on remembrance Sunday or on Remembrance day itself. As you will see from the little introduction below, I wrote it in response to the silence on Radio 4, and two years ago it was featured on Radio 4’s Remembrance Sunday Worship.

So here is how it came to be written. On Remembrance Day I was at home listening to the radio and when the time came for the Two Minutes Silence. Suddenly the radio itself went quiet. I had not moved to turn the dial or adjust the volume. There was something extraordinarily powerful about that deep silence from a ‘live’ radio, a sense that, alone in my kitchen, I was sharing the silence with millions. I stood for the two minutes, and then, suddenly, swiftly, almost involuntarily, wrote this sonnet. You can hear the sonnet, as I recorded it on November 11th three years ago, minutes after having composed it, by clicking the ‘play’ button if it appears or clicking on the title.

The striking image above is ‘Poppy Day’ by Daliscar and the one below is ‘Silent Cross’ by Margot Krebs Neale


November pierces with its bleak remembrance
Of all the bitterness and waste of war.
Our silence tries but fails to make a semblance
Of that lost peace they thought worth fighting for.
Our silence seethes instead with wraiths and whispers,
And all the restless rumour of new wars,
The shells are falling all around our vespers,
No moment is unscarred, there is no pause,
In every instant bloodied innocence
Falls to the weary earth ,and whilst we stand
Quiescence ends again in acquiescence,
And Abel’s blood still cries in every land
One silence only might redeem that blood
Only the silence of a dying God.

Silent Cross by Margot Krebs Neale


Filed under Current affairs, literature, Poems, politics

A Sonnet for St. Francis

st-francis-of-assisiIn honour of the great saint, whose feast day falls on October 4th, and as a reflection on the new Pope who has chosen that saint’s name, and so affirmed their common task, in Christ, to rebuild his Church, I thought I would post this sonnet which reflects the way Francis responded to Christ’s call by casting away the rich trappings he had inherited and embracing holy poverty.The sonnet, which I wrote shortly after the election of the new Pope, is also a prayer that Pope Francis the 1st will enable the wider church to do the same! As always you can hear the sonnet by clicking on the ‘play’ button or the title

My sonnets for the Christian Year are available from Canterbury Press Here and on Kindle here

This sonnet for Francis is taken from my new book The Singing Bowl, published by Canterbury Press. It is also available from Amazon UK Here, and USA Here and in Canada you can order it is kept in stock by SignpostMusic

‘Francis, Rebuild My Church’; a sonnet for the Saint and for the new Pope

‘Francis rebuild my church which, as you see
Is falling into ruin.’ From the cross
Your saviour spoke to you and speaks to us
Again through you. Undoing set you free,
Loosened the traps of trappings, cast away
The trammelling of all that costly cloth
We wind our saviour in. At break of day
He set aside his grave-clothes. Your new birth
Came like a daybreak too, naked and true
To poverty and to the gospel call,
You woke to Christ and Christ awoke in you
And set to work through all your love and skill
To make our ruin good, to bless and heal
To wake the Christ in us and make us whole.

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Filed under christianity, Current affairs, Poems

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.


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.



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.” ’


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.


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


Filed under christianity, Current affairs

A Lament For Lost Words

words omitted from the Oxford Junior Dictionary

words omitted from the Oxford Junior Dictionary

I was very distressed to read that The Oxford Junior Dictionary had been ‘culling’ words concerning nature’, words like catkin, acorn, cowslip, otter meadow, in order to make room for words like broadband, chatroom, and celebrity. Reading the list of deletions in alphabetical order, as they are presented in the image above, which I first saw taken from Simon Kings wildlife page, I felt there was a poem waiting to be uttered just in the sheer listing, and lost sounds, in these lovely names, so I set them, as they were, and in their order, in this lament.

I have since discovered the source of the list in the image above in an excellent article by Robert McFarlane, who is doing so much to restore the richness and texture of our language and to celebrate our wild places.

As always you can hear it by clicking on the title or the ‘play’ button

To graceful names and lovely woods farewell
To acorn, adder, ash, to beech and bluebell,
Farewell old friends I name you in my sonnet
Buttercup, catkin, conker, cowslip, cygnet
Farewell, your fields are brick, our books are barren
No dandelion or fern, hazel or heron
We’ll go no more alone, no more together
The mountain thyme is gone and gone the heather
The clinging ivy‘s gone and soon to go
The kingfisher‘s blue bolt, the mistletoe
Nectar, newt, and otter, pasture, willow
To their last rites my muse comes footing slow
We’ll hear no more the heaven-scaling lark
We’ll all go down together in the dark.


Filed under Current affairs, imagination, Poems

In the Wilderness 7: Christ amongst the refugees

this scant and tented city outside Syria.

this scant and tented city outside Syria.

When Adam Boulter sent me the final sketch for his Wilderness series, titled ‘Contemporary Christian Refugees,’ I began to see the whole series in a new context. These stories of life-changing wilderness journeys which began with the well-known and resonant Biblical Narratives are not over. The Lord is still with his people in an exodus through the desert, Jesus is still with the displaced people ‘on the long road of weariness and want’. We have all been horrified by the events unfolding in Syria and Iraq, and as Christians flee from Mosul and the other places where ‘ISIS’ has persecuted, and painted ‘Nazarene’ on their doors, we are tempted to ask ‘Where is Christ in all this’?

But we must answer,’Christ is where he said he would be! With his people on the road, with the poor and persecuted, even where two or three are gathered together.’

Adam visited the UNHCR refugee camp where he sketched this tent, and there was something about the tent itself that moved me. Not only that it linked with the tent of hospitality pitched by Abraham and Sarah in the first painting and poem of this sequence, but because it set me in mind of how the powerful Greek word that’s used for ‘dwelt’  in John 1:14 14 ‘And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us,’ is εσκηνωσεν (eskenosen) which comes from ‘skenoo’, which means ‘to have one’s tent’, or ‘to pitch one’s tent’. As I saw the tented city of these Christian refugees I thought in a new way of how Christ pitches his tent in our humanity, and I try to suggest a little of that in this final poem in the series, into which other details Adam had observed at the scene, like the dark smoke from a devastated city looming over the horizon are also woven.

As always you can hear the poem by clicking on the title or the play button and you can visit the exhibition with the finished paintings and poems at St. Margaret’s Westminster throughout Lent. If you are not able to come to the exhibition, Adam has created a page on which you can see images of all seven finished paintings alongside their corresponding sonnets HERE

Christ amongst the refugees


That fearful road of weariness and want,

Through unforgiving heat and hate, ends here;

We narrow sand-blown eyes to scan this scant

And tented city outside Syria.

He fled with us when everything was wrecked

As Nazarene was blazoned on our door,

Walked with the damaged and the derelict

To where these tents are ranked and massed, foursquare

Against the desert, with a different blazon;

We trace the letters: UNHCR,

As dark smoke looms behind a cruel horizon.

Christ stands with us and withstands, where we are,

His high commission, as a refugee;

To pitch his tent in our humanity.


Filed under christianity, Current affairs, paintings, Poems

In Praise Of Decay (and against plastic)

In pale gold leaf-fall losing shape and edge

In pale gold leaf-fall losing shape and edge

I walk each morning in some woodland near my home and especially savour in this late autumn, early winter season, the damp carpet of fallen leaves, now decaying and forming  rich mulch that will feed the soil for future growth. Even in their decay, losing edge and shape, melding and blending together there is in this carpet of leaves, a kind of grace and beauty. The other morning though, these meditations were interrupted by a sudden intrusion. There amongst the gold and mottled leaf mould, like some harsh alien excrescence, was a discarded plastic bag. It was totally out of place and told its own tale of indifference and carelessness; not just the carelessness of the person that dropped it, but the carelessness of the culture that produced it. The trees shed their leaves, and in that fall and letting go  achieve a new grace, the leaves themselves let go of shape and colour and in that change and decay become something rich and nurturing. That plastic bag will just persist in unchanging ugliness, and we who make and discard that plastic will continue to be maimed and made ugly by our accumulations, we who might have learned from the trees something about the grace of  diminishment and renewal.

But the plastic in our lives does much worse than just disfigure the occasional patch of woodland, it literally chokes the life out of other living things and then returns, in the food chain, to poison us from within. The morning’s Guardian has a harrowing piece about how prevalent and deadly discarded plastic is in the world’s oceans. you can read that here. One of the most distressing consequences of this plastic accumulating in the seas is being fed to young albatrosses by their parents as a result of which the birds, their bellies full of indigestible plastic cannot retain enough real food and starve to death. This has been chronicled with great power and pathos by Seattle Photographer Chris Jordan, one of whose pictures I have included after the poem. You can read more about that and see his film about it Here.  As so often, Samuel Taylor Coleridge was prophetic when he made the destruction of an albatross a sign of our wanton indifference to other life and our disturbance of a balance in nature which will eventually wreak havoc on us.

My morning walk, and the wider awareness of the damage caused by plastic’s bleak persistence led me to write this sonnet in praise of decay and praying for a return to older and wiser ways of living. As usual you can hear the sonnet by clicking on the ‘play’ button or the title. Do feel free to share this with other people.

In praise of decay

So much is deadly in the shiny new,

Persistent plastic choking out our life,

The landfill of each ego’s empty stuff,

Where poison and possession still accrue.

So praise Him in the old and mouldering,

In pale gold leaf-fall losing shape and edge,

In mottled compost rustling and rich,

From which the stuff of life is still unfolding.


Change and decay is what our plastic needs

To break the bleak persistence of our waste.

Pray that we learn the lost arts of our past,

The arts of letting go and sowing seeds,

That secrets of the lowly and the least

Might save us from the dreadful things that last.


 Persistent plastic choking out our life Chris Jordan's bleak picture

Persistent plastic choking out our life Chris Jordan’s bleak picture


Filed under Current affairs, literature

Remembrance Sunday Afternoon

november sunlight on the Wear

November sunlight on the Wear

There was a very moving Remembrance Sunday service in Durham Cathedral this morning. The Cathedral was packed, not only with civic dignitaries, and representatives of the various uniformed organisations but with the people of Durham itself and with young men in uniform some of whom stood through the silence with tears in their eyes, clearly remembering good friends and perhaps recent experience in war zones. An occasion that had seemed, in my childhood to be about distant and receding history seemed now completely relevant and contemporary. The words of the service and the sermon certainly remembered the horrors and waste of war as well as the extraordinary courage and service those horrors brought out in so many, glimpses of heaven in the midst of hell, as the preacher put it. Afterwards there was an amazing parade through the town with people standing on the streets and applauding the veterans as they passed. And in the early afternoon I sat on a bench by the river as the November sunlight shone off the Wear and, just below me fisherman quietly cast their lines, and that seemed to me as good an image as any of the peace for which we had been praying in the Cathedral. Sitting where I was I composed these lines:

(As always you can hear the poem by clicking on the title or the ‘play’ button)

Remembrance Sunday Afternoon


November sunlight shimmers on the Wear,

Wide waters slip unhurried  by each bank

And soothe Remembrance Sunday afternoon.

After the service, after the parades,

After the poppies, after the last post,

I sit and drink in quietness and peace,

The peace those Durham infantry forsook

To keep it sacred for the likes of me.

Some of them surely fished this very spot

Where Durham fishermen are sitting still

On folded camp stools. May those fallen men

Whom we remembered in the high cathedral

Drink deep now from the river of true life

Where all their wounds are healed, where living light

Flows from the source of every time and tide

And may they know that we remember them.



Filed under Current affairs, Poems