September the 21st is St. Matthew’s day, so here is a sonnet for the Evangelist, drawn from my sonnet sequence Sounding the Seasons. Like my sonnets for the other three evangelists, it draws on the traditional association of each evangelist with one of the four living creatures around the throne of God. As always you can hear it by clicking on the title or the ‘play’ button. I am grateful to Rebecca Merry for the image above.
First of the four, saint Matthew is the Man;
A gospel that begins with generation,
Family lines entwine around the Son
Born in Judea, born for every nation
Born under Law that all the Law of Moses
Might be fulfilled and flower into Grace
As every word and deed in time discloses
Eternal love within a human face.
This is the gospel of the great reversal
A wayside weed is Solomon in glory
The smallest sparrow’s fall is universal
And Christ the heart of every human story
‘I will be with you, though you may not see
And all you do, you do it unto me’
Today, is Holy Cross day. It originally commemorated the day when Helena the Mother of Constantine was believed to have found the true cross, astonishing the inhabitants of Jerusalem by searching the rubbish tip of Golgotha and, on unearthing this discarded sign of shame, exalting it as the greatest treasure on earth. But this festival has become since then a day when any of us can again find the cross, still a discarded sign of shame, and find in it the greatest treasure and the source of grace. To mark the day I am reposting here four of the sonnets for the Stations of the Cross, which form the core of my book Sounding the Seasons and are also intended to be read on Good Friday.
Please feel free to make use of them in anyway you like, and to reproduce them, but I would be grateful if you could include in any hand-outs a link back to this blog and also a note to say they are taken from ‘Sounding the Seasons; seventy Sonnets for the Christian Year, Canterbury Press 2012′ so that people who wish to can follow the rest of the sequence through the church year, or obtain the book, can do so. The book has an essay on poetry in liturgy with suggestions as to how these and the other sonnets can be used. The book is now back in stock on both Amazon UK and USA and physical copies are s available in Canada via Steve Bell‘s Signpost Music. The book is now also out on Kindle.
The Image above was made by Lancia Smith and the images below are taken from a set of stations of the cross in St. Alban’s church Oxford. I have also read the sonnets onto audioboo, so you can click on the ‘play’ button or on the title of each poem to hear it.
See, as they strip the robe from off his back
And spread his arms and nail them to the cross,
The dark nails pierce him and the sky turns black,
And love is firmly fastened onto loss.
But here a pure change happens. On this tree
Loss becomes gain, death opens into birth.
Here wounding heals and fastening makes free
Earth breathes in heaven, heaven roots in earth.
And here we see the length, the breadth, the height
Where love and hatred meet and love stays true
Where sin meets grace and darkness turns to light
We see what love can bear and be and do,
And here our saviour calls us to his side
His love is free, his arms are open wide.
The dark nails pierce him and the sky turns black
We watch him as he labours to draw breath
He takes our breath away to give it back,
Return it to it’s birth through his slow death.
We hear him struggle breathing through the pain
Who once breathed out his spirit on the deep,
Who formed us when he mixed the dust with rain
And drew us into consciousness from sleep.
His spirit and his life he breathes in all
Mantles his world in his one atmosphere
And now he comes to breathe beneath the pall
Of our pollutions, draw our injured air
To cleanse it and renew. His final breath
Breathes us, and bears us through the gates of death.
His spirit and his life he breathes in all
Now on this cross his body breathes no more
Here at the centre everything is still
Spent, and emptied, opened to the core.
A quiet taking down, a prising loose
A cross-beam lowered like a weighing scale
Unmaking of each thing that had its use
A long withdrawing of each bloodied nail,
This is ground zero, emptiness and space
With nothing left to say or think or do
But look unflinching on the sacred face
That cannot move or change or look at you.
Yet in that prising loose and letting be
He has unfastened you and set you free.
I’m just back from an exhausting, but stimulating, expedition to North America in which I travelled from Boston to Vancouver, from Seattle to Albuquerque, from Santa Fe to LA and then home, so I thought I’d share a little of my adventures on the way.
The adventures began flying in to Boston so as to speak at the CS Lewis Foundation‘s Eastern Regional conference in Amherst. The Conference was on the theme of Lewis and Truth in the Public square and I gave a keynote address, preached a sermon on the Sunday and led a seminar on poetry as well as giving a reading/performance of my songs and sonnets. There was an impressive mix of people from many walks of life and many different churches all drawn by the common strand of Lewis’s Mere Christianity, and the sense that his plea for the Faith as offering truths robust and relevant in the ‘public square’ and not just a private ‘lifestyle option was well worth exploring. A highlight of that conference for me was a visit to emily Dickinson’s house still preserved just as it was. Seeing the tiny desk on which she wrote such great poetry inspired a new poem in me which I have given in a separate blog post here.
Then it was a flight to Vancouver to spend a week at Regent College teaching a course called ‘ Poetic reflections on the sayings of Jesus’ which gave me a chance to develop the themes and ideas set out in my new poetry sequence Parable and Paradox. One of those themes was the way in which Jesus, in all his teachings, appeals directly to the imagination, as well as to the reason. In parables and paradoxes he asks us to imagine what the kingdom is like and to begin living, even now, as if we were already in it! Two poems in the new collection, particularly bring that into focus: ‘ As If’ and ‘Imagine’. The latter poem is also my own response to John Lennon’s song of the same name! As always you can hear the poetry by clicking on the title or the play button so here they are:
Luke 6:37 Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.
Do not judge and you will not be judged.
Imagine if we took these words to heart,
Unselved ourselves and took another’s part,
Silenced the accuser, dropped the grudge…
Do not condemn, you will not be condemned.
Imagine if we lived our lives from this
And met each other’s outcasts face to face,
Imagine if the blood-dimmed tide was stemmed.
Forgive and you yourselves will be forgiven.
What if we walked together on this path,
What if the whole world laid aside it’s wrath,
And things were done on earth as though in heaven,
As though the heart’s dark knots were all undone,
As though this dreamer weren’t the only one?
With Luci Shaw at Regent College
My week at Regent ended with a wonderful invitation to join the poet Luci Shaw in one of her poetry readings, and so I had the opportunity to read to Luci in person, the poem I had written for her and published in Parable and Paradox. As always you can hear the poetry by clicking on the title or the play button. Here it is:
On July the 11th the Church celebrates the feast of St. Benedict of Nursia, the gentle founder of the Benedictine order and by extension the father of Monasticism. A moderate and modest man he would have been astonished to learn that his ‘simple school for prayer’, his ‘modest rule for beginners’ led to the foundation of communities which kept the Christian flame alight through dark ages, preserved not only Christian faith, scripture, and culture,but also the best of Classical Pagan learning and culture, fed the poor, transformed societies, promoted learning and scholarship, and today provides solace, grounding, perspective and retreat not only to monks and nuns but to millions of lay people around the world.
Here is my sonnet for Benedict, drawing largely on phrases from the Rule, I dedicate it to the sisters at Turvey Abbey. It appears in my new book with Canterbury Press, The Singing Bowl
The book is now back in stock on bothAmazon UKand 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 always you can hear the sonnet by clicking on the ‘play’ button or the title.
You sought to start a simple school of prayer,
A modest, gentle, moderate attempt,
With nothing made too harsh or hard to bear,
No treating or retreating with contempt,
A little rule, a small obedience
That sets aside, and tills the chosen ground,
Fruitful humility, chosen innocence,
A binding by which freedom might be found
You call us all to live, and see good days,
Centre in Christ and enter in his peace,
To seek his Way amidst our many ways,
Find blessedness in blessing, peace in praise,
To clear and keep for Love a sacred space
That we might be beginners in God’s grace.
I am pleased to know that Parable and Paradox is finding a wide readership, and I know that a number of readers hope to use the book as a resource in worship and preaching. To that end I thought it might be helpful to provide a full Biblical Index. For all the sonnets on specific sayings of Jesus, I provide the text of the saying directly before the sonnet in the book itself, but there are of course many wider Biblical references and people preparing to preach or pray from a particular text may wish to look it up here and see if there is a poem that might help them.
Those wishing to know more about the book and my hopes and purpose in writing it, might like to read the in-depth interview about it conducted by Lancia Smith Here
Here is the index:
Parable and Paradox: A Biblical Index
Genesis: 1:1 -2:3 Seven Whole Days pp: 79-82
18:1-16 Abraham and Sarah at Mamre p: 22
32:22-32 Jacob Wrestles with the Angel p:23
Exodus 3:13-15 Before Abraham Was I Am p: 55
Matthew 4:17 Repent p: 29
4:30-32 The Lest of All Seeds p: 34
5:3-12 Beatitudes p: 30
5:29-30 Better To Enter Life Maimed p: 41
5:42 As If p: 31
6:9-13 Seven Sonnets on the Lord’s Prayer pp: 65-71
6:24 The Mammon of Unrighteousness p: 43
10:34-35 A Sword p: 40
10:40 Whoever Welcomes p: 37
11:15 ‘He Who Has Ears To Hear p: 28
13:3-9 The Sower p: 48
13:31-32 The Least of All Seeds p: 34
13:33 Like Unto Leaven p: 32
15:21-28 It’s Not Fair! p: 35
18:5 Whoever Welcomes p: 37
18:8-9 Better To Enter Life Maimed p: 41
18:23-35 Forgive as We Forgive p: 69
19:30 First And Last p: 72
24:29-31 World’s End p: 73
25:40 A sonnet for the Unseen p: 11
25:41 Refusal p: 74
26:52 By The Sword 49
28:20 I Will Be with You p: 78
Mark 1:15 Repent p: 29
4:1-9 The Sower p: 48
4:24 Good Measure p: 47
7:24-30 It’s Not Fair! P: 35
7:31-37 Be Opened p: 36
8:4-8 The Sower p: 48
8:31-33 Get Thee Behind Me Satan p: 38
9:36-37 Whoever Welcomes p: 37
9:43 Better To Enter Life Maimed p: 41
10:21 Sell All You Have p: 42
10:31 First and Last p: 72
12:28-31 Five Dialogues on the Two Great Commandments pp: 50-54
13:24-29 World’s End p: 73
Luke 2:21 The Naming of Jesus p: 27
6:20-23 Beatitudes p: 30
6:29-30 As If p: 31
6:37 Imagine p: 46
6:38 Good Measure p: 47
9:48 Whoever Welcomes p: 37
10:27 Five Dialogues on the Two Great Commandments pp: 50-54
10:25-37 The Good Samaritan p: 44
11:2-4 Seven Sonnets on the Lord’s Prayer pp 65-71
11:33 Beatitudes p: 30
12:51-53 A Sword p: 40
13:18-19 The Least Of All Seeds p: 34
13:20-21 Like Unto Leaven p: 32
13:30 First and Last p: 72
16: 9 & 13 The Mammon of Unrighteousness p: 43
21:25-28 World’s End p: 73
23:24 Father Forgive p: 75
24:17 Emmaus 1 p: 76
24:25-26 Emmaus 2 p: 77
John 3:16-17 So Loved The World p: 33
6:35 I Am The Bread Of Life p: 56
6:68 The Words of Life p: 39
8:12 I Am the Light of the World p: 57
8:58 Before Abraham Was I Am p: 55
10:7 I Am the Door of the Sheepfold p: 58
10:11 I Am the Good Shepherd 59
11:25 I Am the Resurrection p: 60
11:43 He Who Has Ears to Hear p: 28
12:24 A Grain of Wheat p: 63
14:1-3 Let Not Your Hearts Be Troubled p: 64
14:6 I Am the Way the Truth and the Life p: 61
15:5 I Am the Vine p: 62
Acts 9:1-19 Paul Blinded Being Led Into Damascus p 24
I am delighted to say that we are well on with the project of recording my new record Songs and Sonnets, produced by Roy Salmond and Steve Bell. As a taster I thought I would share with you one of the poems on the record; Saying the Names. It was the poem which inspired the Faye Hall Painting that adorns the cover of the record. I had written the poem out by hand for her and she in turn incorporated these hand written lines from the poem throughout her painting, which I hope you can see in the image above. We are nearly, but not quite ‘there’ in our attempts to raise the funds to make this album’s production and release possible and if you would like to go over to the Gofundme Page‘, take a look at the video which tells you more and decide whether you would like to support it, that would be great. The record has both spoken word and song, and some of the poems also have a gentle musical or soundscape commentary as you will hear when you listen to this one. I hope you enjoy it. You can listen to the poem on Roy’s Soundcloud Page by clicking on the title, or from my files by clicking on the ‘play’ button. I have also given you all the words of the poem on this page. It was first published in my Canterbury Press book The Singing Bowl
June the 9th is Saint Columba’s day, a saint who has a special place for me, as somehow, he feels bound up in my own journey to Faith. When I was 19, and moving from atheism, towards a greater spiritual openness, but by no means yet a Christian, I went for a long slow walk round Ireland. I went without a map because the Zen practice in which I was interested at the time, and on which I still draw in prayer, was always emphasizing ‘The map is not the reality”! You must utterly and absolutely be in the place you’re in, and let that place be what it is and teach what it has to teach without any overlay from your maps and preconceptions. So I took that literally and walked round Ireland without a map, just keeping the sea on my left! One evening, St. John’s Eve it was, right at the end of my journey, I came round a headland at sunset into a beautiful little bay and inlet on the west coast in Donegal, just as the fires were being lit around the headlands for St. John’s Eve, and there was drinking and fiddle playing and dancing round the fires that evening. And I asked where I was, and they said Glencolmcille, and I felt a sudden quickening and sense of connection, as though a memory stirred. And they asked me my name and I said ‘Malcolm’, and they said, ‘Ah that is why you have come, because he has called you’, and I said ‘who?’ and they said ‘Colm has called you, Malcolm, for this is the place he fought his battle and gathered his disciples and from here he left for the white martyrdom and Scotland. And they told me the story of St. Columba, and the battle he had fought, of his repentance, his self-imposed exile, his journey with twelve disciples from this glen to Scotland where he founded the abbey of Iona from whence Scotland and much of the north of England was converted. ‘Of course he is calling you here’, they said, ‘for your name, in Gaelic means’ servant of Colm’, which is Columba. And as they spoke I remembered at last, right back into my childhood, how I had been told stories about this saint, and how I was named for him, and how my grandmother had published poems about him and sung her lullaby for the infant Columba over me as a child. I wandered down to the shore whence he had set sail and felt how thin the veil was, how something of heaven, whatever heaven might be, seemed to glimmer through the sky and the sea itself in this place. And I thought: ‘I’m not a Christian, and I don’t see how I could ever become one, but if I do ever become one, I’ll remember Columba and I’ll go to Iona and thank him’. Which I did, and I did. Now here’s my sonnet for the saint. This poem is now collected in my book The Singing Bowl from Canterbury Press which you can get on amazon, or better still, order from your local bookshop! If you are in Canada you can get it direct from the excellent Steve Bell’s online store Here