Category Archives: Girton

I Am the Resurrection and the Life

2105504I am returning, after various diversions, to the series of sermons and sonnets on the mysterious I Am sayings in John’s Gospel which I mentioned to you in a previous post. In the midst of so many crises, so much sudden carnage, so much grief and bereavement, perhaps its good to return to that poignant and painful moment in John’s Gospel when the desperately grieving Martha confronts Jesus with the loss of her brother Lazarus and asks him why he wasn’t there, why he didn’t prevent it. And she wins from Jesus, who weeps for Lazarus as much as his sisters, the declaration ‘I Am the Resurrection and the Life’. The new life, and the redemption of all things is already in our midst to inspire our hope, the true good ending, the ‘eucatastrophe’ as Tolkien calls it, has come to meet us in the midst. Below I have pasted part of the passage from St. John, then the poem I wrote in response, a kind of dialogue with Jesus, which you can hear by clicking on the title or the ‘play’ button, And then the sermon I preached on this text at Girton on All Souls day. I hope you find some of this helpful. The Poem will be published in my next book Parable and Paradox which will come out with Canterbury Press in 2016

John 11:20-27:

When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ Martha said to him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ She said to him, ‘Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.’


I Am the Resurrection 

“I am the resurrection and the life” John 11:25


How can you be the final resurrection?

That resurrection hasn’t happened yet.

Our broken world is still bent on destruction,

No sun can rise before that sun has set.

Our faith looks back to father Abraham

And toward to the one who is to come

How can you speak as though he knew your name?

How can you say: before he was I am?


Begin in me and I will read your riddle

And teach you truths my Spirit will defend

I am the End who meets you in the middle,

The new Beginning hidden in the End.

I am the victory, the end of strife

I am the resurrection and the life.


You can listen to my sermon on this passage, which also includes a reading on this poem, by clicking HERE


Filed under christianity, Girton, Poems

November’s Song

Kindle old flames, until it's bonfire night.

Kindle old flames, until it’s bonfire night.

Our Girton College Poetry Group recently set the theme of fire, the form of the Pantoum and the phrase ‘November Song’ as starting points for a poem. We all write to the theme and read the poems anonymously and with free and open critique. We had a wonderful session doing just that last night, but as it’s bonfire night tonight I thought I’d post my own effort here. The Pantoum is an intricate form which involves repeated lines and is therefore particularly helpful for poems which deal with issues of memory, repetition, and renewal, very much the themes of November which begins with All Saints and All Souls and moves on through bonfire night to Remembrance Day. Naturally these collective rites of remembrance also evoke personal and intimate memories, especially those of longing, loss, and bereavement, but it is good to have a season when these things find their voice and sing their own song, however melancholy its undertone or minor its key.

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

November’s Song


November sings its song with tongues of fire,

From the first flame of candles for the dead,

To the last embers of an old desire,

Shifting to ashen grey from glowing red.


From the first flame of candles for the dead,

A mass for All Souls held against the dark,

Shifting to ashen grey from glowing red,

Till dust and ashes smother every spark.


A mass for All Souls held against the dark,

Kindles an old flame till it’s bonfire night,

Till dust and ashes smother every spark,

And faces, strangely changed in firelight,


Kindle old flames, until it’s bonfire night.

Then comes the shadow of Remembrance Day,

For faces strangely changed in firelight

Are ashes now, or lowered in the clay.


Out of the shadow of Remembrance Day,

Out of the embers of an old desire,

Out of these ashes and this silent clay,

November sings its song with tongues of fire.



Filed under Girton, Poems

Before Abraham Was, I AM

The-God-who-Called-us-is-the-Great-I-AM-and-He-is-the-God-of-our-FathersI have begun a series of sermons at Girton College Chapel on the mysterious ‘I AM’ sayings in John’s gospel.  I started the series with the strange saying that perhaps provides the key to all the others, in John 8:58: ‘Before Abraham was, I AM’. Scholars agree that this is no mere confusion of tenses but rather a proclamation by  Jesus that he is indeed the great I AM, the one who disclosed himself to Moses at the Burning Bush as the God of Abraham and who named himself  ‘I AM’. We know that this is how his first hearers interpreted this saying, for they heard it as blasphemous and tried to stone Jesus for having said it (John 8:59).But for those of us who accept that Jesus is the great I AM, that revelation is the very root of our faith. The first and primal reality, the foundation of the Cosmos, is ‘I AM’, not ‘it is’. The deepest reality is not a collection of meaningless objects, but a personal God who speaks in the first person and shares the gift of personhood with us. When we turn to Christ we turn towards the great I AM, the source and origin of our own little ‘I-Amness’. Turning and returning to that source is always a great refreshment. No longer do we toil to ‘make ourselves’, no longer are we anxious about who we are, we simply receive our being as what it has always been: a gift. For this reason link this saying in my mind with Jeus beautiful call ‘come unto me all ye who labour and I will give you rest’. You can hear the sermon Here. I have brought both sayings together in this sonnet which will be part of my forthcoming Parable and Paradox collection with Canterbury Press.

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


Before Abraham Was I AM


Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am. John 8:58


Oh pure I AM, the source of everything,

The wellspring of my inner consciousness,

The song within the songs I find to sing,

The bliss of being and the crown of bliss.

You iterate and indwell all the instants

Wherein I wake and wonder that I am,

As every moment of my own existence

Runs over from the fountain of your name.


I turn with Jacob, Isaac, Abraham,

With everyone whom you have called to be,

I turn with all the fallen race of Adam

To hear you calling, calling ‘Come to me’.

With them I come, all weary and oppressed,

And lay my labours at your feet, and rest.



Filed under christianity, Girton, Poems

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


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.


Filed under christianity, Girton, Poems

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?


Filed under christianity, Girton, Poems

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!


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 .


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


Filed under christianity, Girton, Poems