Category Archives: literature

Kenosis by Luci Shaw

Kenosis image by Linda Richardson

Kenosis image by Linda Richardson

Here is the next poem in my series of posts for Advent,  in which I read each day’s poem to accompany my Advent Anthology from Canterbury Press Waiting on the Word, alongside a series of reflective images kindly provided by Linda Richardson

Today’s poem is Kenosis by Luci Shaw. You can click on the title or the ‘play’ button to hear me read it and you can find the words, and a short reflective essay on this poem in Waiting on the Word, which is now also available on Kindle.

Linda shares the following reflection on today’s art work:

The temptation as an artist is to illustrate a theme, but here is the problem: figurative painting grounds us in the human experience but the poem we read today, whilst rooted in the imagery of human experience, is transcendent because it points us to the divine nature of the new born child.

There are monks who celebrate the Christmas child as The Little Word, a title made even more tender, coming as it does from men who live such unsentimental and austere life. Malcolm tells us that the word infans means, literally, ‘without speech’, and so my approach to this work had to go beyond pictorial sentimentality. I wanted it to transcend speech and form as far as I could because receiving God in the form of a helpless baby is untranslatable in terms of human experience.

I painted the surface with thin washes of paint, rubbing it down between each coat, like sanding or planing wood. I wanted the surface to have quietness and transparency. On the top of this surface, in the finest pen, I drew delicate white tracery lines suggesting the softest threads of wool (from a sheepfold) that might swaddle an infant. In the top left corner I painted a lighter area, again rubbing it down to help us see through it. It hints at a doorway, alluding perhaps to Christ who is the door, who knocks at our door and who himself, ‘hung..a door’.

As we come to this most beautiful of poems, all we can do is receive the vision and be stilled by its inner peace. ‘Surely I have composed and quieted my soul; Like a weaned child rests against his mother, My soul is like a weaned child within me.’ (Psalm 131.)


Kenosis

In sleep his infant mouth works in and out.

He is so new, his silk skin has not yet

been roughed by plane and wooden beam

nor, so far, has he had to deal with human doubt.

 

He is in a dream of nipple found,

of blue-white milk, of curving skin

and, pulsing in his ear, the inner throb

of a warm heart’s repeated sound.

 

His only memories float from fluid space.

So new he has not pounded nails, hung a door

broken bread, felt rebuff, bent to the lash,

wept for the sad heart of the human race.

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A Hymns of Heavenly Love Edmund Spenser

An hymns of heavenly love image by Linda Richardson

An hymns of heavenly love image by Linda Richardson

Here is the next in my series of posts for Advent,  in which I read each day’s poem to accompany my Advent Anthology from Canterbury Press Waiting on the Word, alongside a series of reflective images kindly provided by Linda Richardson

Today’s poem is taken from Edmund Spenser’s Hymn of Heavenly Love. You can click on the title or the ‘play’ button to hear me read it and you can find my short reflective essay on this poem in Waiting on the Word, which is now also available on Kindle.

Linda Writes about her image:

The theme of God’s love and action through Jesus is so unfathomable, so vast, neither words nor imagery are sufficient to grasp it and yet we continue to try. Words only refer to other words, images to created things. It is only through experience that we truly come close to the love that brings us peace, and even then only as a movement of heart and soul within us. Silence has so much to teach us about God, so the image I made reflects this silence. We call it faith because our experience is more often one of knowing about God in our heads, but actually experiencing that heart bursting glance of love is a rare occurrence.

In the painting, I imagine our fall into darkness, ‘enrooted in fleshly slyme’ in the dark paint at the bottom of the pages. Above that is the blue emptiness of the cosmos, but in one vertical line of yellow ochre, I imagine the act of the ‘eternal King of Glorie’, piercing the darkness of our consciousness, down descending into our heart and deepest being.


From An Hymn of Heavenly Love

Out of the bosome of eternall blisse,

In which He reigned with His glorious Syre,

He downe descended, like a most demisse

And abiect thrall, in fleshes fraile attyre,
That He for him might pay sinne’s deadly hyre,
And him restore unto that happie state
In which he stood before his haplesse fate.
In flesh at first the guilt committed was,
Therefore in flesh it must be satisfyde;
Nor spirit, nor angel, though they man surpas,
Could make amends to God for man’s misguyde,
But onely man himselfe, who selfe did slyde:
So, taking flesh of sacred virgin’s wombe,
For man’s deare sake He did a man become.
And that most blessed bodie, which was borne
Without all blemish or reprochfull blame,
He freely gave to be both rent and torne
Of cruell hands, who with despightfull shame
Revyling Him, that them most vile became,
At length Him nayled on a gallow-tree,
And slew the lust by most uniust decree.
O huge and most unspeakeable impression
Of Love’s deep wound, that pierst the piteous hart
Of that deare Lord with so entyre affection,
And, sharply launcing every inner part,
Dolours of death into His soule did dart,
Doing him die that never it deserved,
To free His foes, that from His heast had swerved!
What hart can feel least touch of so sore launch,
Or thought can think the depth of so deare wound?
Whose bleeding sourse their streames yet never staunch,
But stil do flow, and freshly still redownd,
To heale the sores of sinfull soules unsound,
And clense the guilt of that infected cryme
Which was enrooted in all fleshly slyme.
O blessed Well of Love! O Floure of Grace!
O glorious Morning-Starre! O Lampe of Light!
Most lively image of thy Father’s face,
Eternal King of Glorie, Lord of Might,
Meeke Lambe of God, before all worlds behight,
How can we Thee requite for all this good?
Or what can prize that Thy most precious blood?
Yet nought Thou ask’st in lieu of all this love,
But love of us, for guerdon of thy paine:
Ay me! what can us lesse than that behove?
Had He required life for us againe,
Had it beene wrong to ask His owne with gaine?
He gave us life, He it restored lost;
Then life were least, that us so little cost.

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The Good Riddle GK Chesterton

Image by Linda Richardson

Image by Linda Richardson

I am continuing my series of posts for Advent,  in which I read each day’s poem to accompany my Advent Anthology from Canterbury Press Waiting on the Word, alongside a series of reflective images kindly provided by Linda Richardson. In today’s poem, which is an extract from GK Chesterton’s Ballad of the white Horse I am continuing yesterday’s theme; the paradox that the God who is rightly our Lord and Master, comes to us, out of his sheer love, as a servant.

Linda writes about today’s image:

How beautifully the subject of servant continues from yesterday, but in this poem we are served by God, not through human hands but through the material of our bodies and the environment. Perhaps we consider our bodies as our own possessions, unique down to our very DNA. But here we can ponder the thought that God sealed our skull and made our ribs. We are the created ones, we don’t create ourselves however much contemporary culture tells us otherwise.

Making an image every day is quite a challenge on top of family and work life. I already had this image in the studio and felt it suited the poem very well as it has a bark-like surface hinting at oaks on the upland, and primordial slumber. The words that sprung into my mind were, ‘who…shall speak of the Holiest’, and Psalm 139, ‘thou hast knit me together in my mother’s womb.   I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made’. I considered how I am a marvellous work, I am created by Him, utterly unique with my own fingerprint, and how His fingerprint is upon all His creation if only we took the time to see it. The art work was completed when I cut a square in the centre and placed a fingerprint upon it.

As always you can hear the poem by clicking on the ‘play’ button or on the title, and read my reflective essay in Waiting on the Word

From the Ballad of the White Horse

And well may God with the serving-folk

Cast in His dreadful lot;

Is not He too a servant,

And is not He forgot?

 

For was not God my gardener

And silent like a slave;

That opened oaks on the uplands

Or thicket in graveyard gave?

 

And was not God my armourer,

All patient and unpaid,

That sealed my skull as a helmet,

And ribs for hauberk made?

 

Did not a great grey servant

Of all my sires and me,

Build this pavilion of the pines,

And herd the fowls and fill the vines,

And labour and pass and leave no signs

Save mercy and mystery?

 

For God is a great servant,

And rose before the day,

From some primordial slumber torn;

But all we living later born

Sleep on, and rise after the morn,

And the Lord has gone away.

 

On things half sprung from sleeping,

All sleeping suns have shone,

They stretch stiff arms, the yawning trees,

The beasts blink upon hands and knees,

Man is awake and does and sees-

But Heaven has done and gone.

 

For who shall guess the good riddle

Or speak of the Holiest,

Save in faint figures and failing words,

Who loves, yet laughs among the swords,

Labours, and is at rest?

 

But some see God like Guthrum,

Crowned, with a great beard curled,

But I see God like a good giant,

That, laboring, lifts the world.

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Those Winter Sundays by Robert Hayden

image by Linda Richardson

image by Linda Richardson

For the 5th of December the poem I have chosen in my Advent Anthology from Canterbury Press Waiting on the Word, is Those Winter Sundays by Robert Hayden. You can hear me read this poem by clicking on the title or the play button. The image above, bodying forth so much of the poem, was created by Linda Richardson, who writes:

Sometimes a piece of art comes into your mind already complete. So it was with this work. I used the homely linen fabric as the base, and in the middle of the work there is a rip, a rift, burnt round the edges. Beneath that, orange paper glows at the centre. The fabric is stained and frayed and there are pine needles stitched into the work because they make excellent fire lighters. The text is taken from Bible pages, ‘Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’ (Matthew 11.) I embroidered the words, ‘What did I know’ onto the work and added some turquoise silk. There are also real ruby beads and one pearl.

For me, the poem addresses the perfectionist in us who would like home life to be an idyll of peace and love when in reality we are dealing with the warp and weft in the characters of the people we live with. Don’t we all relate in some way to ‘the chronic angers’? So often we neither understand nor appreciate, ‘love’s austere and lonely offices’, and I think of my own Dad who used to get up at five in the morning to do a post round before he opened his shop and post office in the village where I grew up in Yorkshire.

Whilst this work may not be beautiful in a traditional sense, I wanted to combine poor cotton threads and paper with ruby and pearl to make use of many different materials, just like the diversity of human experience. We know where some of the stains, rips and burns are in our lives and it is often our challenge to be enriched by the silk, the gems and the pearls of promise that we also find within ourselves and each other.

You can find you can find my short reflective essay on this poem in Waiting on the Word, which is now also available on Kindle

Those Winter Sundays

Sundays too my father got up early

and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,

then with cracked hands that ached

from labor in the weekday weather made

banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

 

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.

When the rooms were warm, he’d call,

and slowly I would rise and dress,

fearing the chronic angers of that house,

 

Speaking indifferently to him,

who had driven out the cold

and polished my good shoes as well.

What did I know, what did I know

of love’s austere and lonely offices?

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Annunciation by Scott Cairns

Image by Linda Richardson

Image by Linda Richardson

Yesterday we considered a poem by John Donne, today we pair and compare it with a poem of the same title by Scott Cairns. I draw out some of the parallels and differences in the brief essay on this poem in my Advent Anthology from Canterbury Press Waiting on the Word. The image above  was created by Linda Richardson in her book of visual responses to Waiting on the Word. Linda writes:

This poem spoke particularly to my Celtic ancestry and my earthy upbringing in a farming community. As children we spent good days outside throwing dried cow pats and crab apples at each other and stacking bales of hay. I confess that without Malcolm’s commentary I would have wallowed in the lovely words of this poem without necessarily returning to Genesis at all!

The work I made is on brown wrapping paper and is full of rich earth colours. I tore a hole in the paper, leaving the virgin white paper showing through and surrounding the hole with large stitches in thick embroidery cotton. It is meant to suggest a radiating of light, or perhaps a womb, or the homeliness of stitching.

You can find my short reflective essay on this poem in Waiting on the Word, which is now also available on Kindle and you can hear me reading the poem by clicking on the ‘play’ button or the title.

Annunciation by Scott Cairns

Deep within the clay, and O my people

very deep within the wholly earthen

compound of our kind arrives of one clear,

star-illumined evening a spark igniting

once again the tinder of our lately

banked noetic fire. She burns but she

is not consumed. The dew lights gently,

suffusing the pure fleece. The wall comes down.

And—do you feel the pulse?—we all become

the kindled kindred of a King whose birth

thereafter bears to all a bright nativity.

 

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The Moons by Grevel Lindop

The Moons, image by Linda Richardson

The Moons, image by Linda Richardson

Here is the poem set for the 2nd December in my Advent Anthology from Canterbury Press Waiting on the Word, The Moons comes from Grevel Lindop‘s latest collection of poems Luna Park (which I highly recommend!) and is used with his permission

You can read my brief essay on this beautiful poem in Waiting on the Word, and click on either the title or the ‘play button below to hear me read it. Linda Richardson writes about her image:

‘Here it is, distant gleam on the page of a book.’ These final words were the ones that jumped out for me as I responded to this poem, and also Malcolm’s comment, ‘offered to a companion in the darkness of our common journey’. So my starting point was night time, the soul’s time, when light gleams through our consciousness in dreaming. The poem spoke to me of memory and the sharing of life with someone, not the immediacy of sense experience. To paint a moonlight image was too immediate so I let the words literally gleam in white ink on black paper. In this way I felt that it was keeping the integrity of the poem, that our memories are uniquely our own, and we will recall them either for enriching or impoverishing our lives and the lives of those who are on our common journey.I noticed that it was she who saw and brought him to seeing. It was the feminine leading the masculine away from the desk of the intellect, to step out into the dark womb of the night and to apprehend a phenomenon of nature, the wonder of the reflected light of the sun at night. I am left with the wonder of the contrasts in our lives, the light and dark, the male and female, all the many different parts that form one body and one spirit.


The Moons by Grevel Lindop

Too many moons to fill an almanac:

the half, the quarters, and the slices between

black new and silvercoin full –

pearl tossed and netted in webs of cloud,

thread of light with the dull disc in its loop,

gold shaving afloat on the horizon of harvest –

How many times did you call me from the house,

or from my desk to the window, just to see?

Should I string them all on a necklace for you?

Impossible, though you gave them all to me.

Still some of their light reflects from memory.

Here it is, distant gleam on the page of a book.

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The Glance by George Herbert

The Glance -Linda Richardson

The Glance -Linda Richardson

For the 1st of December the poem I have chosen in my Advent Anthology from Canterbury Press Waiting on the Word, is The Glance by George Herbert. The illustration above is the first in a series of responses to the book made by Linda Richardson which she has kindly agreed to share with readers of my blog. She writes:

The images that accompany the poetry in Waiting on the Word were part of my spiritual discipline last year, Advent 2015. I made an image every day, so they are experimental, sometimes impulsively done, often inspired by the work of other artists. If I had known they would be shown here, I probably wouldn’t have had the freedom to make one every day. I am delighted to show them, and to tell you how they came about, and would like to encourage you to have a go too. As I come to reflect upon my own work a year later, I can see nuances that I hadn’t intended, areas where my subconscious by-passed my mind and made artistic decisions that have only been revealed as I return to them now, twelve months later.

Here are Linda’s notes on today’s image:

One night, when I was very young, maybe as young as four, I had a strange and deep experience. I got up to sit near the storage heater in the bedroom I shared with my sister, drawn there by the little light and by the warmth. As I sat there I was overwhelmed with a feeling of utter joy, happiness and deep reassurance that I was part of something safe and deeply good.

I didn’t relate that experience to God and as I grew up, religion taught me that I could not trust myself, that God was watching me from a distance, and watching out for my sin. The experience I had as a child was not mediated to me through religion, but as I have continued in a religious tradition I can now see that child’s experience as God’s glance of love.

Meister Eckhart says: ‘The eye through which I see God is the same eye through which God sees me; my eye and God’s eye are one eye, one seeing, one knowing, one love.

In the very simple work I made as a response to the George Herbert’s The Glance, there are two eyes but one face, two tones of paper but one experience, and as I sit in daily meditation, I do so both in darkness and in light. God is the mystery that no-one wants, the mystery we see, ‘through a glass darkly’ (1 Corinthians). These days I mostly ‘see God face to face’ when I am outside watching the soaring flight of a flock of birds or hear a robin in winter. You may see The Glance as you lift a baby’s foot to your lips, or watch two elderly people walking along holding hands. Perhaps we see God in these diverse ways because, ‘We shall be like him for we shall see Him as He is’. (1 Corinthians).

You can hear me read this poem by clicking on the title or the play button. You can also find  a short reflective essay on this poem in Waiting on the Word, which is now also available on Kindle

The Glance

When first thy sweet and gracious eye

Vouchsaf’d ev’n in the midst of youth and night

To look upon me, who before did lie

Weltring in sinne;

I felt a sugred strange delight,

Passing all cordials made by any art,

Bedew, embalme, and overrunne my heart,

And take it in.

 

Since that time many a bitter storm

My soul hath felt, ev’n able to destroy,

Had the malicious and ill-meaning harm

His swing and sway:

But still thy sweet originall joy

Sprung from thine eye, did work within my soul,

And surging griefs, when they grew bold, controll,

And got the day.

 

If thy first glance so powerfull be,

A mirth but open’d and seal’d up again;

What wonders shall we feel, when we shall see

Thy full-ey’d love!

When thou shalt look us out of pain,

And one aspect of thine spend in delight

More then a thousand sunnes disburse in light,

In heav’n above.

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