Category Archives: Girton

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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Jesus and our wealth: dwelling with a hard saying

Jesus and the rich young man

Jesus and the rich young man

In Chapter 10 of Mark’s Gospel, verses 17-27 we are told the challenging story of Jesus encounter with a rich young man, and how Jesus tells him to sell all he has and give it to the poor, and how he goes away sorrowing because he can’t bring himself to do it. It’s a haunting story, full of paradox; the young man who has everything discovers from Jesus that he ‘lacks one thing’, Jesus loves him and calls him, and yet he cannot find the freedom and strength in himself to choose Jesus and return the love, for he is so encumbered by his possessions. I felt that in my new poetry sequence Parable and Paradox I must tackle this story and particularly the central saying of Jesus at its heart, ‘sell all you have’:

21Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, ‘You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ 22When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

But of course it’s very difficult for any of us to reflect freely on this saying because we are all haunted by the fact that none of us have actually done what it asks! We deal with our discomfort either by ignoring this passage altogether or by deflecting Jesus’ words away from ourselves and applying them instead to some special category of persons ‘this is only for special people like monks and nuns’ or alternatively ‘this saying about the rich only applies to people who are much richer than I am’. Somehow we all take it that he is not speaking to us! But perhaps rather than always ignoring, evading, or deflecting, we should honestly keep asking, ‘who is he speaking to? might it be to me? might it be to me at some future date? ‘Where your treasure is, there your heart will be’, says Jesus in another place, and this story poses the question very sharply, ‘where is our treasure’? I preached on this text in Girton last Sunday and wrestled with the many ways of approaching this teaching and you can hear the sermon from This Page.

I also wrote a sonnet in which I tried to voice some of our evasions and excuses, and perhaps some of the feelings of the rich young man, but also to keep returning to the unanswered question. To whom is Jesus speaking here? As always you can hear the poem by clicking on the title or the ‘play’ button

‘Sell all you have…and follow me’

To whom, exactly, are you speaking Lord?

I take it you’re not saying this to me,

But just to this rich man, or to some saint

Like Francis, or to some community,

The Benedictines maybe, their restraint

Sustains so much. But I can’t bear this word!

I bought the deal, the whole consumer thing,

Signed up and filled my life with all this stuff,

And now you come, when I’ve got everything,

And tell me everything is not enough!

But that one thing I lack, I cannot get.

Sell everything I have? That’s far too hard

I can’t just sell it all… at least not yet,

To whom exactly, are you speaking Lord?

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A Sonnet for Ascension Day

 Here is a sonnet for Ascension Day, which will be this Thursday, the 14th of May; the glorious finale of the Easter Season.

I am posting this a couple of days in advance, in case anyone would like to use this sonnet in their celebrations or devotions that day.

In the mystery of the Ascension we reflect on the way in which, one sense Christ ‘leaves’ us and is taken away into Heaven, but in another sense he is given to us and to the world in a new and more universal way. He is no longer located only in one physical space to the exclusion of all others. He is in the Heaven which is at the heart of all things now and is universally accessible to all who call upon Him. And since His humanity is taken into Heaven, our humanity belongs there too, and is in a sense already there with him.”For you have died”, says St. Paul, “and your life is hidden with Christ in God”. In the Ascension Christ’s glory is at once revealed and concealed, and so is ours.  The sonnet form seemed to me one way to begin to tease these things out.

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 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 always you can hear the sonnet by clicking on the ‘play’ button if it appears in your browser or by clicking on the title of the poem.

I’m grateful to Oliver Neale for the image above, the image below was taken as we launched rockets to celebrate Ascension day at Girton College:

We have lift off!

Ascension

We saw his light break through the cloud of glory
Whilst we were rooted still in time and place
As earth became a part of Heaven’s story
And heaven opened to his human face.
We saw him go and yet we were not parted
He took us with him to the heart of things
The heart that broke for all the broken-hearted
Is whole and Heaven-centred now, and sings,
Sings in the strength that rises out of weakness,
Sings through the clouds that veil him from our sight,
Whilst we our selves become his clouds of witness
And sing the waning darkness into light,
His light in us, and ours in him concealed,
Which all creation waits to see revealed .

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Filed under christianity, Girton, imagination, Poems, Theology and Arts

Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground…

john-12-24-unless-the-grain-of-wheat-dies-it-abides-alone-but-if-it-dies-it-bears-much-fruitContinuing with my work in progress, a new sequence of sonnets called ‘Parable and Paradox’, which this term I am linking with a sermon series at Girton, I come to Christ’s central and challenging saying

Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain, but if it dies, it bears much fruit John 12 verse 24

This saying comes at a crucial turning point in John’s Gospel; Jesus has often been saying ‘My Hour has not yet come’, but just before this verse he says ‘The hour has come for the son of man to be glorified’! And so begins the unbearable, beautiful, all transforming sequence of paradoxes in which God’s power is shown forth in weakness, Christ’s Lordship is know in the service and his willing death at the hands of those who hate him releases Life and love inton the world, and Death’s apparent moment of triumph turns out to be death’s defeat, as Christ himself the Gospel seed is sown in the Garden tomb and rises on Easter day, the first fruits of those who sleep.

and yet there is more, the first and prime reference of this saying about falling into the earth and dying in order to bear fruit is certainly Christ’s own death and resurrection, but he goes on immediately after to make it clear that this is a universal principle; those who love their life lose it, those who set it aside gain it eternally. this is true at every level, we all know that selfishness is self-defeating, that clinging and possessing destroys and spoils the treasure or the relationship we over-possess and on the contrary  letting go, restores it. Blake knew that when he wrote in the auguries of innocence:

He who binds to himself a joy

doth its winged life destroy

but he who kisses the joy as it flies

loves in eternity’s sunrise.

I have tried to weave some of these thoughts into the following sonnet which also draws on the other biblical image, which calls on us to be separated from the outer husk of our sinfulness and be left ‘sheer and clear’ as Hopkins says, to be God’s harvest.

As always you can hear the poem by clicking on the title or the play button and after it I have also posted a link to a recording of the accompanying sermon

Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies…’

 

Oh let me fall as grain to the good earth

And die away from all dry separation,

Die to my sole self, and find new birth

Within that very death, a dark fruition,

Deep in this crowded underground, to learn

The earthy otherness of every other,

To know that nothing is achieved alone

But only where these other fallen gather.

 

If I bear fruit and break through to bright air,

Then fall upon me with your freeing flail

To shuck this husk and leave me sheer and clear

As heaven-handled Hopkins, that my fall

May be more fruitful and my autumn still

A golden evening where your barns are full.

 

You can listen to the sermon, second in the Parable and Paradox series at Girton College Here

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A Sonnet for Ascension Day

 Here is a sonnet for Ascension Day, May 29th this year, the glorious finale of the Easter Season.

In the mystery of the Ascension we reflect on the way in which, one sense Christ ‘leaves’ us and is taken away into Heaven, but in another sense he is given to us and to the world in a new and more universal way. He is no longer located only in one physical space to the exclusion of all others. He is in the Heaven which is at the heart of all things now and is universally accessible to all who call upon Him. And since His humanity is taken into Heaven, our humanity belongs there too, and is in a sense already there with him.”For you have died”, says St. Paul, “and your life is hidden with Christ in God”. In the Ascension Christ’s glory is at once revealed and concealed, and so is ours.  The sonnet form seemed to me one way to begin to tease these things out.

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 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 always you can hear the sonnet by clicking on the ‘play’ button if it appears in your browser or by clicking on the title of the poem.

I’m grateful to Oliver Neale for the image above, the image below was taken as we launched rockets to celebrate Ascension day at Girton College:

We have lift off!

Ascension

We saw his light break through the cloud of glory
Whilst we were rooted still in time and place
As earth became a part of Heaven’s story
And heaven opened to his human face.
We saw him go and yet we were not parted
He took us with him to the heart of things
The heart that broke for all the broken-hearted
Is whole and Heaven-centred now, and sings,
Sings in the strength that rises out of weakness,
Sings through the clouds that veil him from our sight,
Whilst we our selves become his clouds of witness
And sing the waning darkness into light,
His light in us, and ours in him concealed,
Which all creation waits to see revealed .

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Filed under christianity, Girton, imagination, Poems, Theology and Arts

Temptations! The new Opera based on my sonnets

temptationsThis First Sunday in Lent is the day the church reflects on the three Temptations of Christ in the Wilderness. These three Temptations, to material goods, to irresponsible power and to Spiritual pride are Universal and Christ faces them all for and with us, so that our disobedience can be redeemed and made perfect in his obedience. I will be reposting each of my sonnets on these three temptations on the coming days, but in this post I want to share with you an amazing Chamber Opera, based on those same three temptations which was written by Rhiannon Randle one of the music Students here at Cambridge, in my own college and performed, with a cast of brilliant young Cambridge musicians and singers, at the end of January. Rhiannon has, in my opinion, gone right to the heart of what I was trying to do in the sonnets and then re-worked and re-imagined it through the medium of her own art, with the result that when I saw the opera the whole thing became fresh, new, and challenging for me again. I hope it has the same effect on you. Below, with her permission I am posting a link to the complete libretto, a sound cloud link to a recording of the opera, and a youtube link to the St. John’s college performance, which was professionally filmed. Do enjoy it.

The Full Libretto is here: Temptations – final libretto

Here is the sound cloud recording: Temptations

And here is the film:

 

 

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A Sonnet for Ascension Day

 Here is a sonnet for Ascension Day, May 9th this year, the glorious finale of the Easter Season.

In the mystery of the Ascension we reflect on the way in which, one sense Christ ‘leaves’ us and is taken away into Heaven, but in another sense he is given to us and to the world in a new and more universal way. He is no longer located only in one physical space to the exclusion of all others. He is in the Heaven which is at the heart of all things now and is universally accessible to all who call upon Him. And since His humanity is taken into Heaven, our humanity belongs there too, and is in a sense already there with him.”For you have died”, says St. Paul, “and your life is hidden with Christ in God”. In the Ascension Christ’s glory is at once revealed and concealed, and so is ours.  The sonnet form seemed to me one way to begin to tease these things out.

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 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 always you can hear the sonnet by clicking on the ‘play’ button if it appears in your browser or by clicking on the title of the poem.

I’m grateful to Oliver Neale for the image above, the image below was taken as we launched rockets to celebrate Ascension day at Girton College:

We have lift off!

Ascension

We saw his light break through the cloud of glory
Whilst we were rooted still in time and place
As earth became a part of Heaven’s story
And heaven opened to his human face.
We saw him go and yet we were not parted
He took us with him to the heart of things
The heart that broke for all the broken-hearted
Is whole and Heaven-centred now, and sings,
Sings in the strength that rises out of weakness,
Sings through the clouds that veil him from our sight,
Whilst we our selves become his clouds of witness
And sing the waning darkness into light,
His light in us, and ours in him concealed,
Which all creation waits to see revealed .

6 Comments

Filed under christianity, Girton, imagination, Poems, Theology and Arts